Tuesday, August 09, 2005

AAR: SP109 Olboeter's Escape

Matt Shostak

Ever since a distastrous game against Carl, I wanted to give this scenario another try to see if I could do better as the Germans. Ever the good sport, Rick agreed to take the Free Polish defenders.

The scenario depicts a Falaise Pocket engagement between 12th SS elements supported by Fallschirmjaegers and the 1st Polish Armored Division. Understanding the terrain is critical to playing this scenario well, so let me set the stage. I'll try to give all my descriptions from the German perspective. Six half boards are abutted to create a rural landscape with a small village, dominated by a tall hill. The level 4 hill of board 50 is to the upper left. The familiar board 42 village is in the upper center, and the fields of board 17 are upper right. The lower half of the playing area features board 37 to the left, rife with woods, brush, grain, orchards, marsh, and small ponds, the wide open spaces of board 44 in the middle, and board 38 to the right consisting mostly of orchards, grain, woods, and open ground. The Germans can win immediately by scoring 95 points, which they can accumulate three ways: by causing Polish casualties, seizing buildings on board 42 at 3 points each (for a total possible of 36), and exiting their own units through 50P8-42P4, which is roughly left of center on the Polish side of the board. They have 6.5 turns to do so. The German force is powerful. They have a dozen SS squads, two Panthers, two Tigers, four Mark IVs, a Wirblewind, three light FlakPanzers, and a group of halftracks, including one with an 81mm mortar and another with a 37L gun. In addition, a flanking force of 5-4-8 paratroopers, 7 squads strong, can enter on either the German right or left, somewhat beyond the halfway point of the playing area. But the defensive force is strong too. The Poles get two Fireflies and five other Shermans with 75mm guns, 80mm OBA with plentiful ammunition, two 57L antitank guns, a few carriers, and a group of 14 elite 4-5-8 squads featuring a 9-2 leader, a .50cal machinegun, and a few PIATs. The Poles have a little more than half of the playing area to set up in, including hidden setup for two MMCs and one of the Shermans (plus the antitank guns of course). Their setup area includes the upper three boards, plus a few hexrows of the lower three. The SS group enters from the lower board edge.

In my first playing against Carl, I didn't fully appreciate how dominant the big hill could be. I thought I could hide in the many blind hexes created by all the terrain, and eventually get the upper hand. Therefore I attacked mainly up the German right side, trying to avoid getting tanks picked off at long range by the excellent guns of the Fireflies, while trying to attack the rest of the Polish troops. I eventually realized, however, that this approach was slow and mentally taxing. And there are fewer blind hexes than you might think at first glance from the level 4 hill. Morever, I eventually had to confront the Fireflies but was unable to do so with a large enough number of tanks, and they got picked off piecemeal. I got discouraged and threw in the towel (perhaps too early). I decided to try a different approach this time against Rick. I decided to confront the Fireflies at long range with as many tanks as possible, hoping by sheer numbers to kill them off while preserving a few tanks of my own. It would be better if I could duel just one Firefly at a time if possible.

Rick set up both Fireflies on the hill, one towards the front of the hill and one towards the rear. I couldn't be sure of it at the beginning of the game, but it's the obvious place to be. Fortunately for my plans, it looked like I could engage the front one with several tanks and avoid the rear one for the time being. I decided to have my flanking paratroopers attack on my left so they could help clear the big hill, while the bulk of my force would blitz its way down board 37 because this way had more cover, and was a more direct approach to the victory area. Meanwhile, both Panthers, a Tiger, and two Mark IVs would park at long range and try to eliminate the lead Firefly. I figured I had to have a supporting force work its way up the right side, so I had a Tiger, two Mark IVs, a FlakPanzer, and a platoon of infantry over there. Their job was to hide from the other Firefly while maintaining some sort of pressure in that area.

In the first move, most of the German infantry pushed as far forward on my left as they dared. The many blind hexes helped a lot, but I was still concerned that a hidden gun might reveal itself and brew up a bunch of halftracks. My flanking troops didn't go wide, but instead made a more conservative move to avoid fire in the open. They worked their way under cover into the first few hexes of board 50 and the big woods of board 37, to help clear it of any potential traps. Naturally Rick's Firefly was hull down on the hill, but it was facing to my right, so in defensive fire it had to change its turret to shoot. His first shot was a turret hit on one of my Panthers, naturally the one with the 9-2 armor leader, which he promptly destroyed while maintaining rate of fire. Egads. He now had four other tanks lined up as targets, and there was a good chance he could nail three of them before I could knock him out. You never know when you'll be able to hit a hull down target. However, his first shot was a three, my SAN. Luckily the sniper was active and the Firefly was crew exposed. The result was a stun/recall, which really saved my bacon. In the ensuing advancing fire phase, one of the Mark IVs rolled snakes for a critical hit to burn the Firefly. My attack was back on track! I was feeling pretty good about this exchange, but there was a spotting round nearby, and I had to bunch my tanks up pretty close together to get that volume of fire against the target. In the next Polish prep fire, the artillery came down accurately, with 3 tanks in its blast zone: a PzIV, a Tiger, and a Panther. Now, if you had to pick only one to damage, which would it be? Why, the Panther of course. It was immobilized, the crew bailed out, and promptly were killed. Ouch. Now the exchange wasn't looking so great again, but two Panthers for a Firefly might be okay. Meanwhile the German infantry cleared most of the big woods clump on board 37 close to board 50, dispatching a hidden half squad with PIAT in the process. My tanks moved out of the artillery blast zone with no further damage.

Rick countered by adjusting the artillery to the area where board 50 and board 37 meet. This area was target rich for him, and a key choke point. It slowed down the attack considerably. His 9-2 directed the .50cal from the hill also, although they weren't at level 4 so sometimes they could be avoided. Still, it was very tense here, and meanwhile Polish troops were redeploying to meet the main thrust. There's a small, orchard-covered, walled hill at the lower left of board 42 (the upper middle board, remember), and there was a Sherman up there, hull down behind the wall, with some infantry support. I drove the Tiger out to confront him but could only do so from close range (4 hexes), and he deliberately immobilized the Tiger. Fortunately for me the crew did not abandon it, but hung tough. The Tiger was behind an orchard and hence blind from the big hill. There was infantry support close by, but they were a bit reluctant to cross the open ground in front of the Sherman, because it too had infantry support. Most of the remaining German armor had worked its way into the beginning of board 50, but was boxed in there. The terrain clogged things up, and this was made worse by the Polish units on the big hill, including the other dreaded Firefly and the .50cal, and also by the harassing fire of the Polish 80mm artillery, which covered a wide area and made movement difficult for the German infantry. Facing off against the hull down Sherman on the orchard hill, I had the Tiger, a half squad nearby with a panzerschreck, and a PzIV in the OBA on board 50. But they kept hitting the wall, unable to score a turret hit, so the Sherman remained, blocking that route into the village. Sometime during this early part of the game, the German sniper struck again, achieving another stun/recall on the remaining Firefly. This was big. I promptly drove some tanks into position to fire on it, to score the victory points before it could get away, and it was killed by this tank fire.

This was a huge coup, as it allowed much greater freedom of movement for my remaining tanks, especially the three tanks on my right. There were still two antitank guns hidden, and a hidden Sherman, all of which could destroy my remaining tanks, but I was still glad to have no more Fireflies to worry about.

As the Germans tried to wedge their way into the Polish positions between the hill and the village, a couple of halftracks saw an opportunity and sped down the road toward the exit. They couldn't quite get there in one move, and were pursued by a carrier. One made it off before Rick revealed his 57L ATG adjacent to the road exit hex, destroying the second one. A light FlakPanzer 38t rumbled down the road hoping to kill the carrier and generally cause a stir. It did, and was soon swarmed by Polish troops toting PIATs, and didn't live long. In the meanwhile I had finally figured out where his artillery observer was high atop the big hill in some crags, and had moved a few units into position to take him on. The 81mm mortar halftrack was far away in my backfield, and was starting to walk shots in on him. One of my PzIVs on my right was drawing a bead from long distance. A missed contact roll gave a brief respite, as the artillery lifted for a short time. The immobilized Tiger finally drilled his Sherman target, and then the way into the village was opened up a lot more by a rampaging FlakPanzer 38t. It moved up onto the walled hill to try to tie up the Polish squad that was holding fast by the wrecked Sherman. It stopped adjacent, and gave it a bounding fire shot of 6+1. One snake eyes later, there was only a broken Polish half squad there. It then moved over a little bit to get behind the broken half squad to eliminate it for failure to rout, as German infantry rushed the small hill. Meanwhile a short distance away to the right, the small German force pressuring there made its way into the first victory building in the village. Advancing fire broke another Polish squad, and the position of the aforementioned 38t forced it too to die for failure to rout. So that one 38t accounted for two Polish squads that turn. German pressure on the village began to mount. Another Sherman that was hull down behind the wall near but not on the little hill, managed to escape, as the Tiger missed him, and so did a PzIV and a half squad with a PSK. The mortar halftrack, however, failed to nail the artillery observer, insteading malfunctioning its weapon. So the Germans were subjected to more harassing fire as they tried to force their way into the village from the lower left side. When the other 57L antitank gun revealed itself as the crew started pushing it from its position on the upper right side of the playing area, there was even more freedom of movement for the German armor. The Sherman that had escaped earlier was now right at the crossroads in the middle of the village, with infantry backing him up. The Tiger moved out to duke it out with him, and lined up a pretty good bounding fire shot, but jammed its gun! Three other Mark IV tanks moved out to swarm him, but all missed their shots as well! A couple of half squads with PSKs managed to move up to three hex range, with -1 leaders, as insurance, and sure enough, the last shot got him. As the endgame wound down, the points were piling up. Germans took several buildings, and basically bum rushed the exit. This forced the last hidden Sherman to reveal itself to kill a tank, but he used up all his shots. A FlakPanzer was toasted by a PIAT, but that cleared the way for other exit. A total of two halftracks, a FlakPanzer 38t, and a Mark IV got off for 21 exit points. Six buildings for 18 points, and 59 points of Polish casualties gave the Germans the victory.

This was a hard-fought game. I think it was especially tough for me, because I tend to be a more cautious player, but this scenario calls for some bold action on the German side. Even having played it before, I still made many mistakes. I should have tried to get the mortar halftrack firing at the observer from the beginning of the game, but wasted a couple of turns with it, for instance. I probably should have been bolder with the flanking group, pushing deeper down board 50 to try to more aggressively clear the big hill rather than get caught up in the clogged mess at the foot of the hill near board 37. I should have found a better way to use the Wirblewind. It doesn't feature in the highlights because it spent nearly the entire game trying not to get killed, and eventually was done in by the harassing fire anyway when it did sally forth near the end of the game. With 20-20 hindsight, I think Rick might say that he wouldn't keep his Fireflies crew exposed. Without my two lucky sniper hits, I don't know how I would have gotten past these guys. Perhaps the other 57L was out of position. Aside from those minor quibbles, Rick played an outstanding game, particularly with his artillery.

AAR: SP109 Olboeter's Escape

Polish Perspective

Rick Reinesch

Matt has very eloquently detailed the course of the scenario, so I won’t rehash that part. But what I would like to lay out is the Polish perspective in preparing for the German attack.

I had several advantages in setting up my defense: the level 4 hill, the chokepoints near the front of the village and the road hexes out of the tree masses on either side of the village, the open ground in front of good defensive positions, and a restricted set of exit hexes that I could cover with crossing lines of fire. One of the keys to the scenario is to keep the Germans out of the village as long as possible. If the Germans can get past any of the chokepoints in strength, it expands their ability to come up with the combination of CVP, exit points, and control hexes that get them the 95 victory points they need. You certainly need all of the advantages you can get. Because though my merry band of Poles were no slouches (all Elite), the German force attacking them was truly powerful. My aim was to attrite enough of the German armor (specifically the Panthers and Tigers) before they could make contact with my infantry and Shermans. Shermans and PIATs just aren’t going to cut it if Tigers and Panthers get up close and personal in a combined arms attack on you.

The Germans would be crazy to push up the open ground in the center of their entry area, so that left me to cover the entry hexes on either end. That made placement of the Fireflies and observer on top of the Level 4 hill a no-brainer. I placed the Fireflies hull down near the front and center of the level 4 hill hexes . I placed the observer in the crags at the back of the Level 4 hill hexes. While it was not concealment terrain, which resulted in me having to set up concealed instead of HIP, it gave my observer good lines of sight across most of the German entry hexes or to areas the Germans would need to cross without appearing to be an obvious observer location, as Matt discovered. He spent the better part of the first 3 turns looking for him, much to his frustration.

The other big decision was where to set up the two HIP MMCs, 57L AT guns, and the Sherman. I had contemplated a forward defense with them, but that is really more of an all or nothing gamble. So I decided that defending the exit ‘funnel’ and playing for the end game situation where the Germans may need to rush the exit hexes for VP as a better option. I placed one 57L in the Level 2 hex adjacent to the road exit hex with its CA facing the exit hex. I should have placed the CA toward down the hex row, but as far as hex placement goes, this was a great location for this gun. It covers the road exit hex with the chance for multiple side shots due to the MPs any vehicle would need to expend to go up the hill on the road; and since it is at level 2, I could also get side shots on any vehicle attempting to leave through the exit hex row on board 42. I messed up in placing the other 57L on board 17 near the leftmost chokepoint. I was trying to cover this area hoping for a side shot on any tank that attempted to move through that location. This gun would have been much better placed on the other side of the trees on board 42 in concealment terrain in the village. I placed the Sherman in brush along the road leading out of the back of the village facing toward the exit hexes, again to try for any tempting side/rear shots. This Sherman was covered by a HIP 458 with an LMG in an adjacent building. I set up the other HIP MMC (a 248 with a PIAT) adjacent to the road hex exiting the tree mass to the right of the village in the hopes that Matt would not have the opportunity to spend much time searching that area and I could get off a cheap shot at a halftrack or two.

The majority of the remaining Polish forces were arrayed around the village on board 42, covering the chokepoints mentioned earlier and set to shift to wherever the main German thrust should present itself. I did place the HMG and 9-2 in Level 3 terrain at the front of the hill mass using the long range capability of the HMG to keep the German infantry hugging the trees and about a third of the Polish infantry with SWs along the Level 2 trees at the front of the hill. This was to provide good fire grouping and cover the open ground going up the hill of the expected German reinforcements entering board 50. While the Germans have the option of entering on board 17, it would take these German reinforcements a long time to get engaged in the battle if they entered that way. Keeping the Germans from sweeping the top of the hill was critical to maintaining the advantage the high ground provided.

One area that turned out to be a very good defensible position was the Level 1 orchard-covered hill and walls located in the center of the playing area and in front of the village. The height advantage and hull down position afforded by the wall proved very effective at slowing down the German advance and I think came very close to stopping the Germans cold if I’d succeeded in taking out the Tiger that parked at the edge of board 37.

And yeah, in hindsight, keeping the Fireflies buttoned up would have certainly been the smart thing to do. I most likely would have lost the forward Firefly anyway, but the one further back was set back far enough that it could have bottled up the entire opposite half of the board for most of the game.

I am eventually going to win one against Matt. The more I play him, the harder I seem to be pushing him to elevate his game to compensate (at least if the clock is any indicator). At some point I hope to be able to surpass him. Matt is a great student of the game and I have greatly enjoyed our matches, and have learned a tremendous amount every time we play.

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