Tuesday, January 23, 2007

AAR: SP12 - Piano Lupo

Nick Drinkwater

German / Italian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4/2, SAN 3]

American: Ken Havlinek [ELR 5 SAN 2]

The underused Board 11 with the two low flat hills makes a nice change for this 4.5 turn, single-session playing scenario from Schwerpunkt. The Americans have to eject a small and brittle 5 x 346 strong Italian platoon from out of a large fortified, 2 level stone farmhouse (introduced on an overlay) and one of two 157 pillboxes. These Italians are stuffed to the gills with automatic weopons (HMG, 2 x MMG and a LMG) and have been stiffened by a single German 468 squad and an 8-1 out of the Hermann Goering Division with another Italian MMG - this all sounds impressive but the US are a mighty impressive force themselves with 4 x 747 para squads, 3 x 337, 2 x (dm) MMG, a Bazooka and 2 x (dm) 60mm MTR. The Americans have very tasty leadership for such a small section with a 9-2 and a couple of 8 Morale leaders, and this compares favourably with the 8-0 and the 7-0 of the Italians.

Setup restrictions mean that the Italians have to start a MMC in each pillbox and they need to be within 5 hexes of the Q4 overlay farmhouse - I place them separately, one on each of the two hills to the north of the farm, with LOS over the farm complex (south) and the approach over the hills to the east. I strengthen these more by placing trenches adjacent to the pillboxes to create bunkers, which offer to act as much more defendable fortresses than is possible by just using an isolated pillbox alone. The important thing with any pillbox is to make sure the pillbox hex location and blind spot approaches are covered by other forces and the bunker tactic helps this a lot - any Italians stuck in a pillbox will clearly be doomed in CC when these Americans get motoring, so its important to try and prevent / delay such access by the US Paras before they get there as much as possible.

Due to time limitations, I was rushed on the setup and struggled to place the two pillboxes optimally with covering fields of fire - probably the best way is to connect the farm back up to mutually covering pillboxes on the hills just to the north through use of the trenches so that when the time comes to give way, a fallback retreat could be conducted. With my defense however, I had separated the two pillboxes from each other and the farm - this was good as it would mean that Ken's force would probably have to split into two and hence weaken it's overall thrust, but it also meant that the defenders of the farm would have to hang tough for almost the entire game as there would be no place to retreat, and with one or two bad rolls I ran the risk of being defeated sequentially and quickly - perhaps asking a bit too much of this small defending force. Anyway, I stuck the Germans on Level 2 of the farm together with a 346 and an MMG, put a 346 squad in the outlying southern shed of the farm to cover any quick dash by the Americans from the southern woods, and then put a 126 half squad in each pillbox together with a squad, MG and a leader in each trench element of the bunkers.

The US has the option of coming on from the east - a longer trek in, probably taking at least 2 turns just to get to the place to start attacking (and no margin for error in this approach) - or come in from woods on the south side of the board either side of the Q road. This meant that is was only 2-3 hexes distance for the paras to be onboard and assaulting the farm, but also some less pleasant open ground to negotiate. Ken opted for this direct approach, putting half squads with each mortars on both flanks and then driving the bulk of the force up the left hand side of the road. A single halfsquad swung west to try and sneak onto the back of my westernmost pillbox, but I quickly shoved my entrenched squad into wall advantage to slow their advance to a crawl - Italians theymaybe, but even Italians can wreak damage on targets moving in open ground.

The main attack in the middle was just plagued by misfortune for Ken - immediately I thought I was in for some big trouble as one of Ken's Para squads shrugged off a 2 check from the Italian HMG which then X'ed on its next rate shot. This was swiftly followed by more X's by the German MMG and a LMG and it was all looking a bit grim. However, Ken then just tweaked the nose of misfortune when he rolled the first of five "sixes" for smoke grenade placement out of nine attempts in the game (and these Para bad boys have "3" smoke exponents). In a short 4.5 turn game, the loss of this much manuever capability is a really tough thing to recover from, and even more so when you're in a Schwerpunckt scenario where the emphasis is usually on the attacker to move and keep going.

Even when he did get going, my Germans made short work of a Para squad with a nice 16-1 "eyes" and Ken really struggled to put together any big fire groups as I successfully kept the odd crucial squad pinned, broken and most importantly DM. This ensured that many of Ken's attacks were 6+4 and 8+4 instead of 16+2 (the 9-2 and two squads all pinned on one really crucial moment on a lowly 6+2 shot). I also got very lucky when Ken's Bazooka Xed on its first shot (8FP HE equivalent attacks are nasty!) and I managed to survive unscathed a crucial 2 check myself from one of Ken's big attacks. Even when the Germans did eventually break, their superior morale meant they were able to rally straight back on a 6, despite being DM (rally terrain with the 8-1).

Eventually Ken did sneak 2 x 337 hs onto my western most pillbox and they were confidently expecting to crush the 7-0 and the 136 inside (which had been broken by the only effective sniper the turn before), but the 7-0 refused to bow and managed to CR one of the 337s on his own 1-4 CC attack roll of a 3 - posthumous medal for him! The other 337, unable to advance into the pillbox was then caught with its pants down in the open by the K/2 roll from an adjacent 346 in the trench in German Turn 4 and that was effectively it. It was now Turn 4.5 and Ken had still not quite taken the farmhouse and I was conducting a "fill the stairs with bodies" defense there and there was no way he was going to be able to even get near to taking either of the pillboxes now. We did play it out, and even though my German 468 did break, a hardy 346 hung tough on Level 1 and kept control of the crucial farm.

A fun but quick scenario which is actually much tougher on the US than it first looks - the +4 fortified farmhouse is a really tough nut to crack and bunkers are hard things to successfully get into without having some time to suppress the defenders first. Ken tried every trick he had in the book with lots of great use of firegrouped advancing fire by the Paras and multiple hits (but no crits from the mortars), but the loss of the squad to the "eyes" and the failures to move when looking for smoke cost him the match. Missing a couple of critical MCs hurt the Americans a lot as it took Ken until the last turn to get in a 20+4 Point Blank attack from the Paras (my Germans melted under that one), but by then it was too late. Overall, this is a great scenario to have a nice short refresher on the mechanics of placement and mechanics of pillboxes and bunkers, and hell, when isn't it fun taking on the challenge of the Italians?


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