Monday, May 08, 2006

AAR: ASL 115 - Huns Of Steel

Zeb Doyle

After my narrow escape from Schwoebel in With Tigers On Their Tails, I headed over to Casa Gerstenberg for some more ASL. Determined to make up for lost time wasted on work, I challenged him to do battle in ASL 115 Huns Of Steel. Eric Gerstenberg has a win streak going against me that's longer than I care to admit, so he was eager for another chance to slap me around.

Huns Of Steel is an interesting looking little scenario that takes advantage of the new AoO river overlay, and features a mixed group of 20 Hungarian squads on horses and motorcycles trying to snuff out a Russian bridgehead in 1942. The Hungarian infantry is assisted by three PzIVF2s, three LT 38s, and three Toldis, and get another two PzIVF2s, three PzIVF1s, and two Nimrods on turn three. All in all, it's a very nice armored force, but the Russians are a tough nut to crack, with 18 4-4-7s, 4x 4-2-6, and a 76L, which are later reinforced by some Lendlease Valentines and Stuarts on turn two and some T-34s on turn five.

As can be seen, the infantry forces are fairly even, which puts the pressure on the Hungarian tanks to carry the attack. The assault has nine turns to cross board 44, clear out the board 48 village, and then drive any Russians away from two bridges that cross the river overlay on board 43. The terrain is an interesting mix of woods and grain, with no real dominating features aside from the farm compound on board 43, which abuts one of the bridges and is sure to be the scene of heavy fighting.

Eric wanted to be the Russians and put together a defense with a small screening force in the forward board 48 village, a group of six or so squads covering a bridge on my right flank, and the remainder of the force packed into the farm compound, challenging me to come and dig him out. As I looked things over, I thought it might be a bit challenging for the Hungarians. The infantry forces are numerically so even it would be hard to take any real risks on the attack. Looking at the tank matchups, it seemed like a similar situation to With Tigers On Their Tail: the 75L tanks were the only weapons that could deal with the T-34s and had to be preserved at all costs for that task. The PzIVF1s and LT 38s are great anti-infantry weapons, but are outclassed to one degree or another by the Soviet armor and are absolutely dominated by the T-34s.

With all that in mind, I started my attack in splendid fashion and sent a wave of Hungarian cavalry galloping towards the enemy. The galloping units were careful to keep large amounts of grain between themselves and the Russians, however, and no meaningful fire was exchanged during the turn. During the next turn, I used a combination of Toldi VBM freeze and dismounted cavalry to clear the board 48 village, revealing a lot of dummies and a few conscripts who were promptly captured. During all this, the PzIVF2s were kept well to the rear, and all the Hungarian armor was moved with an eye towards denying the Russian 76L multiple targets. That didn't work so well, and the 'crash-boom' gun claimed two of the LT 38s, but at least I knew where it was and could avoid it.

As we started turn three, I felt like I was in pretty good shape. My 75L Panzers were all still intact, and I used them to lay down a pretty good smoke screen for my infantry to advance behind. The Mild Breeze really helped here, sending smoke drifting everywhere, and I pushed my troops forwards towards the farm compound without taking any real damage. Things changed in a hurry during the Russian turn three, when Eric rolled up some Gusts to erase the smoke screen I was so proud of and left my infantry caught in the open without cover. This was mildly annoying as it would really complicate my attack during my next turn.

I stopped worrying about my attack real fast after the Russian turn three PFPh though, and starting thinking about how best to retreat. Eric took advantage of my lack of smoke to really punish my infantry, with the first three rolls from his HMG being 2, 2, 3. The 76L joined the fun as well with a massive ROF tear, firing at a squad behind two grain hindrances and a wreck, double breaking him to death, and then smashing another squad that had thought he was safe in a wooden building behind two grain with a 24-2 4KIA CH. A 50mm MTR also rolled up a snake eye attack, and scored a K/1 on a squad, while the rest of the Soviet infantry also managed to land some telling blows. In DFPh, I managed some amoeba fire groups and tossed a few 24+3s at Eric, but couldn't break anybody. Under this withering fire, my attack faltered and fell back in a bloody shambles.

That really hurt, but as Eric helpfully pointed out, the Hungarians don't really need all that much infantry to win. If the Soviet armor can be taken out, the PzIVF1s and Nimrods can really dominate and push the Soviets away from the VC areas. I took this advice to heart, and decided to use my tanks to clear out the bridgehead on my right flank while my infantry rallied for another push on the farm compound. Things looked promising on the right, as six Russian squads were sitting in the open there, covered only by two Valentines. Eric had neglected to dig his troops foxholes, and they looked like overrun meat to me. Even better, my turn three reinforcements were moving up and would soon be able to join the fun.

So turn four started with an armored blitz against the rightmost bridgehead. This did not go as planned, with a Toldi immobilizing on startup, another Toldi malfing an MA during an overrun, and then an LT 38 malfing an MA and a CMG during another overrun. During all this, the Russians refused to break. Heaving a sigh, I brought my three precious 75L Panzers to duel Eric's two Valentines. I felt this was an acceptable risk; I outnumbered him 50% and had a net 11 TK against his net 4 TK. The first flurry of fire ended with a dead PzIV, two malfed PzIV MAs, and two intact Valentines.

This prompted a slight delay in my attack along with a flurry of redeployments. The PzIVF1s were dispatched to smother the farm compound in smoke to prevent the HMG from further tearing up my broken troops, the Nimrods were sent to face the Russian infantry by the rightmost bridgehead, and my last two 75L PzIVs went to deal with the pesky Valentines. This time things went a little better, and I was able to kill every Soviet man and vehicle in the area at the cost of a Nimrod, which boxcarred a startup roll, and a PzIV MA going from malfed to disabled.

Eric had been sitting watching all this, wisely refraining from doing anything too aggressive, and he continued this policy through turn five. As the T-34s entered, he brought them up behind some woods on the far side of the river, where they could cover the approaches to the compound but couldn't be seen by my 75Ls. A single Stuart maneuvered to cover their flank, and the rest of the Russians hunkered down to await the resumption of my attack. It wasn't long in coming.

At this point, the battered remnants of my infantry were finally back in good order and were ready to renew the assault. The bad news was that the Soviet troops now outnumbered me, were still in +3 TEM, and I had to cross open ground to get at them. It was vital that my PzIVF1s pave the way for them into the compound, but the T-34s were going to make that almost impossible. My only remaining hope lay in my two PzIVF2s with the 75L. With no time to waste, I maneuvered them out of LOS of the T-34s but towards the Stuart, hoping to kill him with BFF and at least distract the T-34s during their turn. This was a similar situation to my initial attack on the Valentines, since I had a 2:1 advantage and a net 13 TK against a net 5 TK. The outcome was all too similar as well, with one PzIV slain by a CH and the second malfing its MA...

That made things a little tougher, as I now had no working weapons that could do more than scratch the paint on the T-34s, but we decided to keep playing just to see what happened. During the Russian turn, my PzIVF1s made their presence felt, finally breaking the upper level HMG squad that had caused me so much grief, and really taking the pressure off my infantry. That was nice, but until the T-34s were dealt with, it would be impossible for the panzers to move up and be decisive. Eric's commissar gleefully slaughtered the broken HMG squad during my next rally phase, but that was fairly meaningless to me; my attention was fully focused on the repair rolls for my two remaining broken 75Ls.

I was lucky enough to find out my fate quickly: one became disabled and one managed to repair itself. Feeling like the game had slipped almost beyond my grasp, I sent the last functioning 75L on a quixotic charge towards the Stuart of Doom. Again, the plan was to kill the Stuart with BFF and prepare to harrass the out of LOS T-34s on the next turn, and again the result was not to my liking. As the PzIV pulled up six hexes away from the Stuart, Eric calmly fired and blew the tank into scrap. That smashed even the faintest hope of victory for me, and, unable to touch the T-34s, I threw in the towel.

I can't say that I got a very good feel for the scenario, considering how early I had to concede, but I think my approach was the correct one. Armies Of Oblivion has several meaty combined arms battles, and in every one of them the side that wins the tank battle will have a huge edge. That really seems to be especially true in Huns Of Steel, however, since the Hungarian PzIVs are such great anti-infantry tanks, and so much of the map is grain with no real cover. I think the key matchup is the PzIVF2s against the T-34s, but Eric did a great job early of making my tanks come to him and decisively won the armor battle. That really took any chance of victory away from me, for which he deserves congratulations. I don't even want to think about his win streak now!

For myself, I was left to return home and sulk. A few stats that came to mind on the drive back to my house: One weekend, two scenarios, and nine tanks that mattered. Of those nine, one died to a net 4 TK, two to a net 5 TK, and six malfunctioned their guns. Ugh!

Thanks for listening to my whining,


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