Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Longest Day           

Having watched the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings recently I was prompted to dig out my old collection of scratch-built cardboard landing craft to see what state they were in. Fifteen years and ten house moves since they last graced the wargames table and they were still in pretty good shape. What I needed now was a passable section of Normandy coastline to land them on.
IABSM III is my favoured set of WWII rules for company+-sized gaming and so this is what we used.

Queen Beach Red

The scenario needs no introduction other than to highlight the actual stretch of coastline and the forces involved. The target was Queen Beach Red; part of Sword Beach allocated the 3rd Infantry Division. The British were made up of a mixed assault group comprising A company 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment under Major CK King, a beach clearance party of two sections of RM Commandos, 2 DD Shermans from 13th/18th Hussars and a group from 254th Royal Engineer Workshop comprising Sherman Crab and Dozer tanks, a Churchill AVRE and another ‘straight’ Churchill VI.
Facing them were two thin platoons from the German 716th Infantry Division, machines guns, snipers and anti-tank guns and an open-mount 5.9” Naval gun in an emplacement. 

Shoreline view of the beach obstacles – no way through, surely?
 The beach defences appeared formidable. Hedgehog tank traps littered the shoreline, log anti-landing ‘knife-rests’ and heavy wooden poles were dotted through the water with teller mines and contact-fused anti-aircraft shells placed on top of the posts all designed to deter invasion craft. The defenders also had artillery batteries inland connected via fixed telephone lines to a forward observer on the sea front.
British artillery stonks hit the defenders.
The majority of this stretch of beach front was a sloped concrete sea wall with just one ramp allowing vehicle access to the road network across the the flat marshland behind.
Mike, the British commander, had access to a battery of 25pdrs from the 79th FA regiment sat on open barges a couple of miles out into the channel and he had a choice of either using them in direct support of his forces or allocating them to the British parachute troops who had dropped inland earlier in the morning and were currently going round and attempting to neutralize the German artillery batteries where they could find them. He chose to hand off the artillery to this task and it probably ended up being a good decision. The initial British stonks are targetted on the defence positions. In the background is the assembled armada – 1st Platoon in three LCs on the left opposite the Naval gun,  2nd Platoon in the LST in the centre and 3rd Platoon on the right.

View from the German right flank. A concrete bunker with a 75MM AT gun as well as
thickly laid hedgehogs and wire guard this gap in the sea wall.

All that beach clearance training pays off.
The  game started with German blinds going first. Most landing craft were spotted straight away and so lots of British cards went into the pack. The various landing craft began to move towards the beach although the dice rolling was on the low side. Better progress was made by the beach clearance teams as they swam to the posts from the front of each landing craft and began to remove the explosives.

Accurate gunfire from an inland 105mm battery
 German artillery support, zeroed in on the coastline caused some consternation, destroying one landing craft, killing two commandos and sinking a DD tank although the crew were able to climb out of the partially submerged turret top. 

Too close for comfort

The Naval gun crew emerged from their shelters, a little shaken up from the stonks (3 shock) and fired at one of the landing craft. The shell missed by one on the dice – the shock from the stonk enough to put off their aim.

Traffic jam forming.

More mine posts were cleared in the centre of the shoreline and some landing craft surged ahead, others moved very slowly (low rolling) and the LCT with the AVRE on board got fouled up by a partially submerged knife rest.The landing craft had to bob and weave through the obstacles and so the centre of the beach became quite congested.
1st Platoon's flank.

 1st platoon had a mixed day. One section charged ahead through the waves and up the beach. A second section had to dive off their sinking LC and started to accumulate hits and shock whilst weighed down in the cold water (I made a rule to roll for two hits per turn whilst swimming in full combat gear). The third section was marooned on the LST with the AVRE. 1st section exchanged fire with a German squad next to the Naval gun and lost their Big Man only to then kill the enemy’s Big Man in return with accurate rifle fire on the next card.

Beachmaster bringing some order

As a last thought on the day of the game I had decided to allocate one Beachmaster to the British. He was in one of the faster-moving LCT’s right in the centre of things and just when it seemed that the LST (Landing Ship Tank) would have nowhere to land the Beachmaster’s card came up. Historically they had complete authority over anybody on the beach and the Big Man mechanic worked perfectly for this. A level IV Big Man, the Beachmaster activated himself (and his arm-waving minder) to disembark. He then activated his LCT which reversed back into the sea. Next he activated the big LST to come in to land in the gap that had just been created and finally he activated Armour Platoon 1 which began to (slowly again) disembark.
View from seaward.

The centre of the British forces was still very congested. Normally this would have been an ideal target for the German forward observer. Unfortunately for him the British support card routinely appeared in the first few cards of any turn and the cumulative damage rolled (abstractly) on this card was more than enough to destroy the German 105mm battery inland. The German FO got his card one more time to connect to another artillery support position but fire from there never arrived.

2nd Platoon disembarks
Next turn 2nd Platoon's card came up and they rolled very well for a change, streaming down the gang planks from the LST and heading up the beach towards the exit. Further over two sections from 3rd Platoon made their way slowly through the obstacles, the left-most landing craft, though, dislodged a mine which forunately didn’t explode but then the craft got itself jammed on a submerged hedgehog and the section inside opted to stay to see of the coxswain could clear the obstacle rather than risk diving in..

Deadly fire from a sniper
 A German sniper on the left had some rare good rolling for the defenders. He targetted the nearest 1st Platoon section, killed one man and added two shock to the rest. His luck ended there though because his card didn't come up again. 

The Sherman Dozer tank finally made a high movement roll to clear a path through the hedgehogs in front of the exit ramp but that ran him right though a minefield on the road opposite the exit and he lost a track. 

Friend to the rescue
  In other circumstances this might have blocked the exit but the second Dozer was on hand to shift the stricken vehicle and the advance. continued. A flail tank (not on picture) was summoned from the LST to clear the minefield  but there was still some resistance to deal with.

Clear 'em out, lads.
   The British got a heroic leader card and Mike judged that 2nd Platoon was bunched up and presenting an inviting target for the Naval gun so he opted for the platoon Big Man to act on this card. He lead a section up over the sea wall using scaling ladders and straight into close combat with the German gun crew. The Germans had been intermittently subjected to autocannon fire from the LST Oilerkon cannon and having already accumulated six shock and a pin they got abysmally low numbers of dice. The result was a bloody victory for the British, killing five Germans for the loss of two of their own and sending the remaining crew running. 

Job done. Next stop Caen.
Over on the far right of the German position the 75mm AT gun in the concrete bunker finally got its card drawn and opened fire on the remaining DD Sherman causing it to explode.  However there were no other armour targets in view. The Funnies were up by the beach exit and so out of the AT gun's scope so it didn’t have a great day. The Flail tank was primed to go up the exit ramp and the bunker with the Naval gun was in British hands when we ran out of time. The British had gained the exit and had sufficient combat power to easily clear the both bunker and trench complexes so we agreed that they won the day. 
I probably could have had some more machine gun positions overlooking the beach or another AT gun but overall things went reasonably close to historically so I was happy with the scenario.
IABSM again came up trumps with the cards and a little quick thinking helping to build a convincing narrative as the battle unfolded. Excellent fun was had by the participants.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stalingrad No2 Railway Station

 Battle for Stalingrad No2 Railway Station

Following the failed Soviet Counterattack in the second battle the German forces quickly went back onto the offensive. The 21st Panzergrenadier Regiment had reached the Stalingrad No2 Railway Station and had gotten into close contact with the enemy.

Stalingrad No2 Railway Station with ruined Central Railway Hotel behind
 During a long night the 21st Regiment soldiers were stealthily relieved in place but other elements of the 6th Army force. Specifically a Pioneer platoon from the attached 399th Engineer battalion and a platoon of riflemen from the 72nd Infantry Division. Hauptman Von Rotgers, the German commander, put in a request for recon assets and was granted a detachment from the Regimental Recon Platoon (3 dummy blinds costing resource 1 point). The battlefield was laid out as below.

View facing north. German blinds coming from the west.

The front line had a short no man's land along the railway tracks in the center but at either end the enemy forces were in very close proximity. The Russian player was allowed to place a unit in either the tall building on their left flank or the signal control offices west of the rail tracks on their right. In the end they chose to position their ex-conscript platoon from the previous battle (now rated as poor regulars having been 'blooded') in three floors of the tall building on the Russian left side. This unit I had given the nickname of Heroes Regiment troops. They were to experience some misfortune. The Germans were allowed to place units in both those advanced positions as well as anywhere on their side of no man's land. The German player placed an entire platoon of veteran pioneers in the tall building. He also put one of his recon blinds showing on there.

As a special rule for this battle I said that to mirror some reports of enemy combatants occupying different rooms and floors in the same building I allowed a situation where both sides had blinds within 4" of each other not to fight until one moved forward. The Germans got the first blinds card of the game and promptly moved forward their recon elements. In the tall building they immediately bumped the Heroes Regiment platoon which was forced to deploy on the table. Elsewhere the other two recon blinds moved forward into the railway station and uncovered two veteran squads from the 33rd Rifle Division.

German recon team spots soviet infantry defending No2 Railway Station
Then the Russian blinds moved. The Heroes Regiment was given the order to move forward and occupy the west side of their building. This of course brought them immediately into contact with the pioneers. A brutal, mostly one-sided series of close combats followed after which a single Russian rifleman staggered from the building leaving behind 24 dead comrades including the platoon big man.
The Heroes Regiment troops come to a sticky end.

The sacrifice was great but they did succeed in killing 4 men in one pioneer squad including one of the two flamethrower teams, plus a man in each of the other two squads and they added bits of shock here and there. The flamethrowers also set fire to the building and the reduced pioneer squad spent the next several turns trying to fight the fire, with little success.

The two strongest pioneer squads vacate the burning building.
Comrade Neilov in the red defence bunker ordered one of his veteran infantry platoons in the railway station to swing round and attempt to block the path of the engineers. He also put all other blinds on reserved dice. When the German blinds card came up the two squads of engineers advanced out of the building. The first squad to try to cross the gap into the next building was hit by the reserved fire from a veteran MMG team in the Central Railway Hotel building and also fire from the third veteran 33rd Division rifle squad. The Germans took many casualties and were suppressed with just three men left. This did allow the last engineer squad with the big man and flamethrower to rush over into the cover of the small building but in their haste they didn't notice a booby trap that exploded and caused one dead and a shock. This small building was in the 2nd objective band and so the Germans claimed the resource points for that.

Soviet MMGs set up crossfire. The 1st pioneer squad is suppressed, the 2nd sets off a booby trap in a building.

Flamethrower torches MMG team.
The Russians activated a second veteran MMG team in the building in the third objective band behind. This caused 3 casualties but left the flamethrower team still operational. They then promptly incinerated the MMG team, killing all five members in a blizzard of fire. 

Veteran Soviet platoon fails to prevent pioneers from capturing third line objective.

 As luck would have it the assault troops from the 399th battalion kept the initiative in the next turn by getting the first card and they used this to occupy the smoldering ruins that they had just flamed and as this was in the third objective line the German commander was content to limit his advances to this point. The Russian player asked whether he could get back the objective by throwing out the Germans but up until now we hadn't been playing it this way and so, with neither side wishing to risk any more troops, the game was called.

Pioneers retreat past burning building as German commander digs in on the railway line.
The follow-on battle was particularly one sided as the Russians had spent up a lot of their resource points on the MMGs, the Heroes Regt platoon, the 33rd Rifles and a selection of boobytraps as well as a Die Hard squad that was holding an objective building on the north of the map but never got on the table. The Germans only deployed their engineers and the recon assets and so got full points for everything else and had about 15 follow-on dice to the Russians' 9. The outcome was a breakthrough victory which meant that the Germans have reached the Volga and are lapping around one of the Red Oktober Metallurgical Factory halls for the final battle.

The Soviets are penned into a tiny pocket up against the banks of the Volga.

A resounding victory for the Wehrmacht but not without losses. The precious veteran pioneer platoon, perhaps the most powerful unit in the German core force roster, took nearly 70% casualties with only 10 men making it back to German lines. The Russians mourned the destruction of their Heroes Regiment troops but I wonder whether the loss of one of their two core veteran MMG teams won't be more problematic. All these troops may be badly missed for one reason or another by both sides in the climactic battle.

We had some discussions after the game and came to the conclusion that I had generated an unsatisfactory set of objectives for the Germans that were a bit too close to their front line. And the German player had played within this stricture and the campaign rules and done the minimum necessary to get his objectives. My fault, not the player's, and we have come up with a better solution.

An attacker will still have three objective 'bands' that he needs to take a building in each of. He will now get half the points for the band when he first takes control of a building in any band BUT he will only get the other half of the points if he is still in possession of a building in a particular band at game end. That way a defender has an incentive to organise localised, in-game counter-attacks against a penetration by an attacker and the attacker has an incentive to commit extra troops to reinforce any gains made. All this I think encourages realistic tactics and behaviour and I was very pleased that we reached this rule change. Neither player has played with uncaring abandon. They have attacked when needed but both have also husbanded their forces when they had the opportunity. And all three of use are thoroughly enjoying ourselves.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Soviet counter-attack

Having exceeded their own objectives in the first battle the German HQ paused for a few brief hours to resupply and allow their flanking units to close up. That was the chance the Soviets needed. Comrade Neilov requested the opportunity to launch a counter-attack from Lieutenant General Lopatin and was quickly granted permission (rolled 3+ on a d6).

Wall-to-wall Russians!
 The Germans had placed picket units to their front and so were not totally surprised by this bold manoeuvre. What they were not expecting was a wall of infantry coming storming towards their positions.

I didn't bring all of my soviet blinds so there are several white blinds in this picture but this is the sight that greeted the German defenders. Indeed a single advance squad of Germans has just been slaughtered in close assault by 2nd platoon (deployed to the left) in the ruined house.

1st Platoon (Conscripts) now deployed in the foreground. Company HQ leading from the front.
 The Soviets pushed on quickly all across the table. One blind in particular rolled very high for movement and popped out into the main crossroads at the table centre. Unfortunately when it was spotted the blind trned out to be the Soviet Company HQ. The German commander sent out a snatch squad from the department store building and a furious close combat ensued in which was won by the big man with him killing two of attackers and driving off the rest. However he then succumbed to wounds.

The Soviet commander fights off a German squad but is killed in the process.

 This heroic effort seemed to spur the Soviets on. Next card the centre platoon launched an assault on the department store and a vicious close-range firefight took place over two rounds. The Germans, more of the veteran 21st PanzerGrenadiers, had two squads plus a MMG team in the building and should have made short work of the attack but their 46 dice managed to kill 5 Soviets whilst the Russians' ~22 dice killed the same number of Germans and a second round of close combat was fought. This was eventually won by the defenders and the remains of the Soviet platoon retreated back into cover and would play no further part in the battle.

German survivors hold the department store after the mega-close combat (Soviet platoon pinned in building to left)

On the right flank the fourth Soviet platoon worked it's way through a ruined three story row of town houses but were stopped in it's tracks by a second German MMG and another squad of PzrGrenadiers placed to have great fields of fire into the central crossroads.

2nd German MMG in crossfire position

The Soviets were not quite done. A shout of Hurrah! and 2nd platoon attempted to storm the department store again on an Allied Human Wave card. Unfortunately the heavily rubbled terrain prevented most of the squads from reaching the combat and the Germans held on although they were almost spent as a fighting force in the centre as a result of shock and casualtied after this. At this point though the attackers were hit with more crossfire from flank MMG and an uncommon success for the German snipers present had them actually kill a Russian from 2nd squad and the Soviet player began to despair.

2nd platoon recoil back to the trenches in a flattened row of houses.

  On the right the 4th platoon inch their way through the town houses but they are repeatedly hammered by MMG fire and can make no headway.

4th Platoon are stopped dead.

 The last hope for the Soviets lay with the conscripts over on the left. The Germans in the department store are too few to bring much fire to bear and the MMG team in there had just retreated from their position so the way lay open. Unfortunately the conscripts, despite not taking any casualties so far, still only roll two dice for movement and the best any of their squads got in the densely-rubbled cityscape was four inches.

The game concripts cannot overcome the rubble

 With this event the time ran out on the game. The Soviets had spent all of their initial 12 resource points on the infantry and two snipers (who were rubbish again). They gained two points from occupying a row 1 building early on but that was all. They did manage to have 67 men still on the table and these (divided by 12 and rounded down) gave them 7 dice total in the post-game follow-on phase. The Germans spent 7 points on troops leaving them with 5 remaining. They earned 4.4 points for controlling streets 2 and 3 for all the game rounded down to 4. They had only 23 men remaining on the table (divided by 12 rounded down to 1!) which meant that they had 10 dice for the post-game phase.

The Soviets were three dice down. If all went badly then, even though they were the attackers in this battle, there was a chance that they would lose more campaign sectors. As it turned out the Soviets rolled well the the Germans less so. The Germans won the phase by one clear dice but this wasn't enough to allow them to advance on the campaign map. The Soviets didn't advance either and they did use up some of their strategic reserve with this assault so they will be weaker in the next two battles but what they did do, with odds and sods troops scraped together into an assault group, was kill another 18 of the Panzer Grenadiers who are now down to 50 men in their company from a starting total of 82. They are beginning to feel the strain of this urban warfare, a type of combat for which they are not thoroughly trained.

The position after battle 2

Monday, March 4, 2013

September 1942 Stalingrad - Von Paulus' powerful Sixth Army has reached Stalingrad and wishes to capture this important city in the heart of the Russian Motherland.
Doing so would cut a major supply route from the oil fields around the Caspian Sea to Moscow and the north. Secondly, and politically more significant to Hitler, the capture of the city bearing Stalin's name would, it is believed, strike a decisive blow to Soviet morale all across the continent.

Defending the city is the recently formed Soviet 62nd Rifle army headed, at this time, by Lieutenant General A. I. Lopatin.

This campaign plots the progress of the 21st Panzer Grenadier Regiment, part of the 24th Panzer Division, as it assaults the outskirts to the south of the city and tries to push on through to the Volga where, it is hoped, artillery observers can throttle the supply routes of the Soviet defenders by interdicting the ferry crossings over the river.

Opposing the Germans initially are elements of the 33rd Rifle Division although in these heightened times anything and everything will be used to keep the invaders from their goals.

 The campaign is designed to be pretty linear. The 21st Regiment has been assigned a narrow battle frontage and their 'slice' of Stalingrad is 5 segments deep. Success will be measured by whether they can reach the banks of the Volga (the 5th segment) and how long they can stay there.

I am trying out a new campaign movement system which I hope will provide the opposing commanders with plenty of challenging decisions that will affect the outcome of each tabletop encounter and subsequent progress after the battle . 

I'm using IABSM v3 and whilst I know the general disdain that Rich has for points systems I am actually trying out a type of 'resource points' system for the campaign.

Each commander has a number of resource points he can spend to purchase units before and during a battle.The Germans will usually be given more resource points the further they progress on the table top - to simulate German HQs tendencies for reinforcing success. The Soviets will gain points for how long they can hold on to effectively 'streets' on the tabletop. Providing an overarching command decision for the commanders is the fact that after the battle is finished a follow-on assault is played out. And both sides roll dice for any unused resource points. This is designed to prevent any one side piling masses of troops onto the table - sure they are going to win that battle but they will have exhausted their reserve - and the opposition will be able to utilise their unused reserve to decide how far along the campaign map the action moves.

I also wanted to model the way in which Stalingrad chewed up some of the best troops in the Wermacht and so I am limiting the number of good troops that the German commander has access to. I hope to do this by giving each side a small number of core units - an IABSM company of veteran Panzergrenadiers and  a veteran Pioneer platoon from the 21st Regiment plus a few other bits and pieces. I will take note of their casualties in each battle and their reduced numbers may begin to tell later on in the campaign. The Germans will be able to call on as many regular infantry platoons as they want but they will cost the same as the core troops, they will only have 1 lmg and they won't be veterans.

In a similar way the Soviets will have a small number of core troops that the will be able to call on - elements from the 13th Guards Division have been landing in recent days and there are other units that will make a showing.

So onto the first battle.

The Soviets started the game with 10 resource points. They chose two regular infantry platoons at three points each (they didn't have access to core troops in the first encounter) plus two snipers at 0.5 point each. They deployed in a forward defence with one platoon on the hill on their left and the other covering the outskirts of the city and the rachel (deep natural ditch) going into the centre.

The Germans had 12 resource points to start with. They selected two Panzergrenadier platoons at 3 points each plus two MMG teams. They had an initial three stonks which usefully hit the hill, the first Soviet squad in the forward position in the rachel and the building on which the snipers were placed.

Fortunately the effects of the stonks were minimal - indeed the snipers weren't affected at all.

The Germans sent two blinds up the Rachel (the two MMG teams). The MMGs spotted the leading Soviet squad in the rachel and generally gave it a bad time inflicting lots of shock although not may kills. (no pictures here)

 Two blinds  went up the centre of the table, avoiding the trenchworks on the hill. The front one was the result of a very eager 22" on 4d6 and ended up with the 1st platoon almost reaching the built up area. The blind at the rear was a dummy and Russian spotting attempts meant that the Germans got quite far forward in the centre and on their left flank with the other platoon

 The 2nd German platoon reached the edge of the city and charged the single Soviet squad there which took some casualties and shock and ran back  into the built up area.

2nd platoon routs the Russians

 The German 1st platoon is finally spotted and begins to trade fire with the Soviets on the hill and the last infantry squad in on their left flank. The two Russian snipers have a dreadful day rolling either double 1 or double two three times in five shots - their only saving grace a pin from one shot. Maybe that stonk affected their sniper sights?

1st Platoon starts to take casualties and shock.

 The next two pictures are of the penetration of the city by the German left flank. the Russian commander called up a platoon of infantry and a single infantry squad as reserves. When their cards arrived the platoon where put in the centre of the town to try and block the German 1st Platoon and the single Soviet squad fortunately arrived and was assigned to the extreme right flank (green blind) where their appearance prevented the Germans from capturing a third row building.

Germans take a second row building and claim more resource points
We ran out of time at that point and added up the resource points used and gained. You get back some 'dice' for the troops you have on the board who are not dead - but not as many as they cost to field. The Soviets started on 10 points, earned about an extra 4 point but spent 11 points which gave them three dice in the follow-on assault. They had 67 troops left alive which converted to another 6 dice So 9 dice in all.

The Germans started with 12 points and spent 8 and they earned two points for occupying any position in the first row (the hill or the rachel) and three points for capturing that house on their left flank so 7 dice. they had around 48 men left so another 4 dice.

The dice were rolled and the Germans ended up with a breakthrough which on the campaign map meant they reached and took section three leaving the next battle to be over section 4.

The follow-on assault is a good idea I hope but needs some work on the actually dice rolling and outcome. I may have been generous with allocating one dice for every 10 men as well. As it was both commanders have said they liked the game and are looking forward to the next instalment.