Before Bagration: Gruppe Bäke

Wargaming historical formations

Today we have a guest article from Jonathan Thomson on a historically themed Bagration German force.

For many of us, a fascination with history has drawn us into the hobby of wargaming, especially the Second World War with its plethora of books, documentaries, film and testimonies from veterans. Sure, there is the gaming aspect of selecting and managing the optimal army list but taking historical formations and gaming them out is also a great way to enjoy this eclectic hobby of ours.

So, when I read Prit Buttar’s magnificent and engrossing work “The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944”, (You can listen to an interview with the author on “The WW2 Podcast” Episode 136, highly recommended!) particularly the actions of Kampfgruppe Bäke, I was inspired to think about how to recreate the actions of this unit on the wargames table.

The following excerpt gave me most of the details needed to construct my army list:

“During Manstein’s brief absence, the situation in Galacia continued to deteriorate. SS-Das Reich found itself briefly cut off and had to fight its way back to safety on 21 March. After its recent battles, Gruppe Bäke was reduced to just two Tigers, two Panthers, four assault guns, four Pz.IVs and ten halftracks. With constant Soviet pressure on his northern flank, Bäke had to turn his attention to the north rather than continue trying to reach LSSAH [Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler], which in any event came under heavy attack and was driven back.”

The context of this action is the German effort to blunt the Soviet offensive of the 1st Ukrainian Front in March 1944 in Galacia, the former Austro-Hungarian province covering the northern border of the Carpathian Mountains. Along with the 6th Panzer, SS-Das Reich & LSSAH divisions, Gruppe Bäke fought desperately in appalling conditions against the Soviet onslaught.

Gruppe Bäke was led by the “Panzer Ace” Oberstleutnant Franz Bäke, who had fought to rescue German forces from the Cherkasy-Korsun encirclement only a month before. The kampfgruppe was made up of units from 1st Panzer Division Panther Tank Battalion, Tiger tanks of the Schwere Panzer Abteilung 509, along with a few tanks from 6th Panzer.

Obertsleutnant Franz Bäke, voted “most likely to lead successful kampfgruppe on the Eastern Front” by his classmates.

So, onto the army list. Buttar gives enough detail to construct this, although I have made a few assumptions including the type of assault guns and half-tracks that made up his force, here it is:

Gruppe Bäke Army List:

Formation Units:

  • HQ of two Tiger tanks
  • 1st platoon of two Panthers
  • 2nd platoon of four PzIVs
  • 3rd platoon of four StuGs

Support Units:

  • Armoured Panzergrenadier Platoon
    (7xMG42 teams with 4 x Sd Kfz 251 halftracks)
  • Armoured Panzergrenadier Platoon
    (5xMG42 teams with 3 x Sd Kfz 251 halftracks)
  • Sd Kfz 250 Scout Troop 

Cards:

• Lucky

Total: 120 points

Historical photo of Gruppe Bäke in idyllic Galacian setting.
Missing a few vehicles, assumed to be in reserve.

So, the above list gives an even number of points (119 is an intolerable number for an obsessive-compulsive!) and contains all the vehicles mention by Buttar, with a little interpretation regarding the type of assault guns, half-tracks and infantry support. It also lets you take a token two Panthers at 22 points; wouldn’t that option be great to have in the Bagration book?!

Another idea could be to drop the support units and command card for a platoon of seven Recon 250 teams with panzerfausts at 16 points, along with a 251 platoon with three half-tracks & panzerfausts at 13 points. This would keep the number of half-tracks at ten vehicles and the points cost at a nice even 120!

My suggested scenario would be “Breakthrough” with Gruppe Bäke as the attacker and the Soviets as the defender. With the “Flanking Delayed Reserves” rule, the axis forces will only need to keep one unit in reserve, allowing it to deploy most of its force to oppose the Russians.

So, there it is, a force that should be fun to play on the tabletop that is historical and will bring to life one of the desperate actions on the Eastern Front. Let me know what you think in the comments below, I would love to read your feedback.

Jonathan is a father of three and an Emergency Physician living in Queensland, Australia, transplanted from my homeland in New
Zealand since 2007. I have got back into wargaming in the last six
months or so after having been away for about 10 years due to being too busy with medical training and family life.

Category: Eastern FrontFlames of WarGermansLate WarList DiscussionRamblingV4

5 comments

  1. Always great to see historical-based lists, and what a beautiful list. I’m working on 653 schwere panzerjäger (there are some beautiful 3d models for 2cm flak T34 beutepanzer).

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Article by: Duncan Gosling