Tanks: A Black Ice AAR. Operation Unity

Author: Yoper101
Published: 2017-02-02, edited: 2017-02-06

Part of the campaign:

Tanks, A Black Ice AAR

Notes on this AAR:

I'm playing using Black Ice version 8.4 for Hearts of Iron 3 Semper Fi edition. I've used a custom start option to lower my neutrality to the point where I can declare war at a reasonably early start time.

I twiddled my thumbs nervously as I awaited the arrival of my superior. I felt like chewing on a nail too, but the older man sitting next to me on a folding chair of his own stopped me.

I would have never imagined to find myself here when I was still a boy. Hell, I'd not really considered it during my year training in the military academy in Belgrade, that I'd actually see a war.

I was waiting on my superior, Lieutenant General Broz Tito. He'd also never seen combat before, but in his case it was not due to his age. Broz Tito had been working his way up the ranks since just after the Great War ended and he did not like me for it. No matter what everyone said about my sharp mind and natural talent, I owed my rank entirely to my family.

My mind's wandering was interrupted by the sound of the rusty door creaking open. I snapped to my feet and threw a sharp salute. The man sat beside me did likewise, if a bit slowly.

Broz Tito waved us to relax with one hand, while he used the other to open his dark green briefcase. He set aside several papers, before coming across a rolled up map. He spread it across the low wooden table and we quickly scrounged up some tin mugs to weigh down the corners.

'Gentlemen,' the Lieutenant General began, 'As of two hours ago we are now at war with Bulgaria. Headquarters wants us to spearhead a path to the port at Varna and then work with the rest of the Southern Slavic Army to encircle and capture Sofia.

'The King thinks it can be done in three months.' He paused to underscore how much he disagreed with the King. 'I think we'll probably be stuck in the freezing Bulgarian mountains in three months, so don't be too over-enthusiastic about distributing supplies to the men.

'Get to your divisions and wake the men. I want us all to be moving by dawn. High command has some more specific orders for you here;' He selected two sheets from the papers he had set aside earlier and handed one to each of us. 'Now are there any last questions?'

I quickly looked over the typewritten sheet. There wasn't anything too surprising; confiscated equipment to be returned to supply dumps whenever possible, prisoners of war to be sent to the camps near Skopje, the usual. Hmm… there was one oddity though.

'Sir, wouldn't it be easier for us to command from an infantry transport? Our tanks don't have radios yet.'

Broz Tito sighed just enough to let me know I'd annoyed him with the question. 'Sometimes we have to improvise around our orders, Major General Ivetic. You'll have to get used to it.'

When it was clear there was nothing else, the Lieutenant General packed up his map, bade us a good morning, and left.

After the door clicked shut, major general Nikolic favoured me with a wry smile. 'I'm as surprised as he is that you got posted with the tanks at your age. You'd better show some talent real soon or you'll get booted right back down the ranks, your family be damned.'
Signs of battle
It was four days before I first spotted any sign of Bulgarian resistance. A pair of my motorcycle-mounted scouts came speeding up from ahead of the infantry trucks. They made a bee-line for the truck I'd selected to be my command post, so I ordered the division to halt in case the news was bad.

It wasn't. There'd been scattered fighting just ahead, but it seemed that the Bulgarian defence was unprepared for the war.

I called a halt to the division's advance as the sun first touched the horizon and ordered a watch to be set up. The small town of Montana was just behind us with its rail marshalling yard. If the Bulgarians hadn't destroyed the tracks, we could use the town as a supply base. A division from the second infantry corps was securing the town itself, but headquarters' orders had insisted that we keep away from Bulgarian civilians when possible, so I'd moved my men beyond the town.

We secured a fallow field for ourselves. A camouflaged command tent was set up, sentries were posted, and the soldiers searched out places to lay down their sleeping bags. I waited by the radio set until eleven, but nothing of significance was said. After that, I wrote the day's report out, encoded it according to the little red book that all senior officers carried and had the message sent back to Broz Tito who trailed our position with his own command post.

I took a look at the maps of the land ahead before I went to bed. Over the next few weeks the division would be fighting mostly across farmland and plains. There were a few villages and small towns that the enemy could entrench at, but they would be easily surrounded if they tried it. I yawned and put the maps aside for the night. The rest of the war would not be this easy, I suspected.
First blood
I suppressed a flinch as an artillery shell exploded in the distance. A suggestion came through the radio from the more experienced Nikolic and I ordered one of my divisions' two-hundred motorcyclists to pass it on to the tanks fighting a few miles distant. We were trying to flush out the Bulgarian artillery, but the enemy soldiers had set up machine gun nests and there was no cover out in the open fields, so the tanks were advancing without infantry support.

Nikolic claimed to have seen what machine guns do to advancing soldiers, and suggested that I shouldn't throw away the lives of my men so carelessly. So, the infantry stayed back, sat in their transports in case a breakthrough opportunity presented itself. I expected one would come. The Bulgarians had arrived not even an hour before my Serbs had. They'd barely had time to set up their guns.

I looked through my binoculars just in time to see the motorcyclist I'd sent out turn into a ball of fire and red mist by what must have been a maximum range artillery shell. That was the second I'd lost since the fighting began.

I grimaced and called for another messenger.
The battle of Pleven
'If you can keep them busy on JK Storgozia, I can come around on the top road and hit them in the back,' Nikolic said.

'Sounds good to me. Any word on those planes?'

'None yet.'

'Alright, I guess I'll see you for dinner in Pleven then.'

I put down the radio and went to my brigade commanders, who were all stood around a map of the railway hub.

'The tanks are to advance down JK Storgozia with infantry on foot as escort,' I said, pointing at the main road that ran straight through the town. 'Advance slowly, clear out houses and side streets and keep a clear line back out of the town. We're to hold the enemy in position until the Second Motorised hits them in the flank. Is that understood?'

Once all the men around the table had nodded, I finished with a few encouraging words before the bloody work began.

Half-an-hour later, a wing of the United Slavic Airforce encouraged the last Bulgarian defenders to give the town up.
New orders
I peered down at the body; a Bulgarian irregular by his uniform. His right arm was twisted under him and his whole left side had been burned. Something must have blown up near him. It was surprising how easy he was to look upon. I'd always been afraid of unmanning myself if I ever had to fight, but I felt more curious than repulsed.

'Major General!' A shout interrupted my musings.

I turned to meet the scout coming from the direction of the warehouse where I'd set up my command post.

'Major General, we've got new orders from from the Lieutenant General,' He said while brandishing a sheet of paper.

After I decoded the document, I sent a message Nikolic to tell him that we'd be splitting up for a while.
The gates of Varna
At the end of the next week, I found myself at the gates of Varna. Progress was slow and Nikolic had been delayed by heavy Bulgarian resistance in the north. I'd already lost one tank to a mine, so I'd ordered extensive searches before any advance was attempted. We'd cut off any rail links the Bulgarians had, but the port was still open for them to get food in and out of the city.

I've put in a request to Headquarters for some infantry divisions to re-enforce our supply lines. I can't help but feel vulnerable with holes in our line like we have. Once we take the port, we can ship in supplies from Split but that might take weeks yet.
The battle of Varna
This mourning I woke up to a report that two-thousand more Bulgarians were approaching the city from the north. I've modified our advance accordingly, but I worry that we will be forced to a standstill if these re-enforcement bring any heavy guns with them.

The gunfire has been almost constant over the last week. I fear that I'd go deaf if I were fighting with the men on the front. The slow advance I ordered seems to be working. I'm taking very few casualties and every day we clear out several streets. We took the railway marshalling yard three days ago, but the rails are blocked by a train car the Bulgarians tipped over the track. One company that I'd rotated away from the front to rest tried to move it. One of the men broke his hand, so I put a stop to it and told them to wait for heavy duty machinery.
Bad news
Drat. The enemy re-enforcements have arrived. My scouts tell me that they're in a bad way, but more enemies can't be good for us.
Victory in Varna
The Bulgarian command has pulled out! I don't know why rightly, but they've clearly decided that Varna is a deathtrap. They had their men board boats and cross Lake Varna to escape to the south.

I've sent a report to the Lieutenant General and also one straight to Headquarters. I'm sure we will receive new orders soon, but until then I want to scour the city and make sure nothing was booby trapped before the enemy left. I've had to sign enough letters of condolence already.
The Yugoslavian flag
The morning of the twenty-second of December was a cold day in Varna and frost still clung to the bare trees. Few people remained in the city, having fled to the countryside in fear of the Slavic army. Those that chose to stay woke to the sight of the blue white and red flying from flagpoles all across the city.

Major General Ivetic leaned against the side of one of his light tanks. A cigarette darted in and out of his mouth as he chatted jovially with the tank's commander. He perked up when he learned that his comrade Nikolic was approaching from the north and set out in a truck to meet him.

Lieutenant General Broz Tito shook the rain off his cap and scanned through the list of orders he had received from Headquarters. It seemed that the First Armoured Corps was not going to go idle now they had completed their first mission.

Back at the United Slavic Headquarters in Belgrade, the capture of Varna was significant news. The rest of the fighting had been stalled out by the Balkan, Vitosha and Rhodope mountains and it looked like this war would not take the advertised three months. The King himself, in a royal address to his subjects, made clear the brave efforts of the men of the First Armoured Corps. He also mentioned their commander, the cool and confidant Ivetic.

But Ivetic would not learn of this for a while yet. For now he enjoyed a respite from advances, codes and orders; for Nikolic had procured a barrel of fine Bulgarian wine and was more than willing to share.

So ends part 1 of Tanks.

Well, I thought I'd try something a little different for my next AAR and write the story from the perspective of someone closer to the action. I hope you liked it.

I don't think I'll be able to get my episodes out for this as quickly as for my EU4 AAR; it takes much more research to write this since many details like terrain, tactics and equipment are abstracted to a degree by the game.

Next chapter:

Game: Hearts of Iron III

Tanks part 2: A Black Ice AAR. Lake Burgas

Images: 11, author: Yoper101, published: 2017-02-02, edited: 1970-01-01

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Game: Hearts of Iron III

Standing Resolute : Chapter 1, The Empire on Which the Sun Never Sets

Images: 57, author: Mattekillert, published: 2017-03-17, edited: 1970-01-01