Germans: Matt Zajac
Russians: Tom Gillis
On Sunday, Tom Gillis and I faced off in Tigers to the Rescue from Critical Hit's new release Panther Line (which is a revision of their Tigers to the Front pack). Set in June 44, this pack focuses on the desperate fighting by Army Group North along the Panther (Gustav) Line just prior to the collapse to their south of Army Group Center during Operation Bagration. This 6 turn scenario requires Tom to simply have more CVP at game end than I do, but I have an option of retreating off an edge for double CVP - but there's a lot of open ground to cross and I don't see this as a likely game winning strategy. ROAR shows it at 6-6 so clearly achievable by either side.
What really made me want to try something from this pack is the map. Beautifully done, it depicts a high hill (level 5 max) in the center with several small villages surrounding it. Historically accurate defensive trenches and wire obstacles are printed on the map, with multiple trench lines running along the third, fourth and fifth levels.
After dicing for sides, Tom pulled the attacking Russians with a decent force mix of 6-2-8s and 4-4-7s, a 76L ART gun, and a T34/43 with reinforcements of 4 AFVs coming in on Turn 2. There are two groups available and decided by dr, and Tom pulled the 2 ea T34/85s, a KV-1S, and an ISU152 - some heavy firepower. The Russians can set up >=3 hexes from any Level 4 or 5 hex giving Tom lots of options for his onslaught and the potential to start with the hill encircled. He masses on the east side of the hill with a supporting force on the south edge of the hill.
Facing him I had 8 ea 4-6-7s with two leaders - and 8-1 and an 7-0. In Turn 1 I had three Tigers arriving from off board, one early version with red MPs and two late war Tigers, with both a 10-2 and a 9-1 armor leader. All my initial forces must set up on either level 4 or 5 hexes on the hill. It's a lot of ground to cover and not much manpower to do so, but if I can delay his advance uphill then go into a reverse slope defense on level 5, and get the Tigers up quickly, I think I can stem the Russian tide.
Well, Turn 1 sees Tom get his infantry and supporting tank into position, with his 76L ART firing up one side of the hill. Fortunately my concealed units in their trenches held their own and the first turn passed without much loss to either side. However, Tom's gutsy decision to reposition his 9-1 leader across open ground was too good a shot to pass up - or so I thought. Of course the resulting morale check turns up snakes, and Tom both Battle Hardens and turns his leader Heroic - so now I've got a heroic 9-2 to deal with. To neither of our advantage, the WX roll starts rain, hindering some longer shots but not really affecting our already close-in fight.
Turn 2 sees Tom advance further up the lower levels of the hill - but the sides are steep (many double crest lines) and its a slow advance. I'm able to break a few squads and move around within the trenchline to avoid repeated acquisitions, but my perimeter is already compressing due to a couple key positions being compromised. Added on, Toms ISU152 takes up position to hammer the opposite end of the hill from the 76L ART while his tanks join the push up the center. In the German half, the WX turns to heavy rain - a mixed blessing for both of us as even point blank shots are affected by a +1 LV hindrance. I manage to get the two late war Tigers into position - one on level three where it can fire across the advancing infantry's front and one on level five in a reverse slope position. As for the early war Tiger, it goes into hunting mode to take out Toms 76L ART, but quicly malfs both its coax MG and MA. At this point I'm sure Tom has the advantage as the flank with the 76L ART is now wide open. As for casualties, it's been light with only a single Russian squad eliminated to a German half squad.
Tom's very aggressive on Turn 3 and his combined tank / infantry attack in the center punches a hole but due to the difficult slopes I manage to avoid having to surrender or eliminate units for failure to rout. Tom sends a T34/76 to finish off my MA-malf'd Tiger on the flank and then up the back side of the hill where it will not only have a great firing position but will deny route paths. The T34 moves adjacent to my Tiger, stops and BANG - boxcars! So now we have a T34 facing a Tiger, both with MA malf'd. Tom barely holds it together ;-) He's in good position though with his infantry across level three, mostly in one long line inside the first trenchline, with a couple units up on level 4. I doesn't look good for the Germans with another halfsquad lost bringing us even in CVP, about a third of the remaining Germans broken, and still three turns to go.
Well, this game shows that however bleak the outlook, things can change fast. On the German half of Turn 3, the WX changes back to rain, and I manage to pull my infantry back behind the crest line on level 5 except for a couple sacrificial units who hopefully with the steep movement costs, burn up another two Russian movement turns and bring us into Turn 5 before the Russians can mass their firepower again. However, I decide on one risky move with the Tiger on level 3 - it moves directly behind the now-Russian controlled level 3 trenchline to overrun a squad in the open. My audacity comes at considerable risk though as Tom throws a DC at the Tiger, but while it hits it fails to damage the Tiger. Sadly though the throwing 6-2-8 squad suffers a MC, rolls HOB, then rolls a 12 and promptly surrenders to an adjacent German squad. After breaking another squad in it's overrun and surviving DF shots from the ISU152 and a T34/85, the Tiger is positioned to take flank/rear shots o n Tom's armor advancing up the hill. At this point the CVP have swung into the German's favor, and the next turn looks ugly for the Russian armor with a Tiger behind it. Being as it is getting later in the day and Tom has to work tomorrow, we decide to call it with a German win. I still think it could have gone either way, with the Germans likely losing most of their remaining infantry but the Russian's hard-pressed to overcome CVP losses from destroyed vehicles.
All-in-all a tense game with bizarrely changing weather - 3 changes in 6 opportunities, dismal sniper performances (11 attempts, only one PIN result), and MA malfs for both of us at critical times.
I highly recommend this scenario as it's a great example of of a deliberate combined arms attack on a well-prepared position. Besides, it has 3 big cats to play with too!