Monday, August 08, 2005

AAR: SP98 - Pesky Pachyderms

Matt Shostak


At the August 6th 2005 game day, Brian Roundhill and I duked it out in this nifty scenario from Schwerpunkt. Brian wanted to attack, so he took the Germans, and I had my Russian setup waiting for him when he arrived. First let me describe the terrain layout. Boards 44 and 43 are put together along with a few overlays to create a battlefield with a lot of open space. It is a mostly flat landscape, with the exceptions being a small level-2 hill in the lower right corner (from the Russian defenders' perspective), and in the lower left quadrant, a larger level-1 hill with a sunken railroad cutting through it. A ground level railroad cuts straight down the playing area one quarter of the way in from the left. On the Russian side, board 43 has a large grain field just left of center, then a small walled compound of buildings just to the right of center, and close to the join with board 44, then another large grain field to the right of that, a long hedge, and a large brushy area. Just a few hexes in front of the compound, on board 44, is a pair of buildings and a wall (I'll call them the outbuildings). Far on the Russian right flank, near the board seam on board 44, is another pair of buildings behind a wall (I'll call it the annex), with a hedge and a couple of small grain fields in front of it. The rest of 44 is pretty open. To win, the Germans have to control 13 building/rubble hexes at the end of any player turn. By my count, there are 18 such hexes in total at start, 7 of which are in the board 43 compound. Therefore at least a couple of the building hexes in the compound must be taken for the Germans to win. Others are widely scattered. A couple are very close to the German entry edge and essentially uncontested. One small building is just a stone's throw in front of the tall hill in the lower right corner. Two other small buildings are right near the Russian board edge.

This scenario takes place during the battle of Kursk, and both sides get formidable orders of battle to engage in a slug-fest. To defend the terrain, the Russians get several trenches, some mines, a little bit of wire, a couple of T-34s, a pair of antitank guns (57LL and 45LL), and a couple of mortars, one 82mm, the other 120mm. They also get 14 squads of assorted quality, whose best leader is a 9-2. Their best support weapons are a heavy machine-gun and a flamethrower. The Germans attack with 18 squads, 3 of which are 8-3-8 assault engineers. The others are nearly evenly split between first line and elite rifle squads. Their best leader is also a 9-2, and they have several machine guns too. For armor, the Germans bring 4 Elephants, 2 Brummbaers, and three PzIIINs.

For my defense I decided to use several of the trenches near the annex on my right flank, to try to make it more difficult for vehicles to move through there quickly without risking bog. I put two conscript squads, and an elite squad with an LMG, in those buildings, with an 8-0 nearby to rally them. I was hoping that this group could delay the Germans because I knew they couldn't stop them, and also provide a bit of support for a nearby antitank gun. In the other group of outbuildings near the center of board 44 I had a lone conscript squad just to keep the Germans honest and act as a speed bump. The rest of the Russian infantry was packed into the last stand position in the walled village. Due to its long minimum range, the 120mm mortar went in the logical spot, atop the tall hill in the lower right corner. The other mortar went in the woods on the left side hill near the railroad tracks, sited across the grain field and the large open stretch in front of the victory building group of board 43. The 57LL antitank gun went to the left front in the brush, hoping to get a flank shot at some German armor as they closed in on the outbuildings in the center. The 45LL went on the right flank, in the grain field in front of the annex out there, right next to the hedge, but facing back toward the center. Each antitank gun had some mines next to them to try to protect them from discovery by probing German infantry.

Brian's attack was sort of a /student body left./ He entered the bulk of his force on the Russian right flank, aimed at the annex. A smaller force moved up the center to take those outbuildings and pressure the main village from there. Far to the German right, a couple of half-squads probed aggressively. His vehicles didn't move far at first, fearing a flank shot from an undiscovered gun. Instead most of them either drew a bead on the big mortar, or acquired other targets such as the buildings of the annex. But much of his infantry moved forward boldly. In the first turn defensive fire, the big mortar managed to break a squad trying to tote the HMG toward the center outbuildings, then it changed targets to some infantry in woods to the Russian right flank, and eliminated a full squad in the ensuing prep. Soon this mortar was enshrouded in smoke, and Brian kept it smoked in for nearly the entire game. In the center, I saw an opportunity to try something bold/clever/stupid, and I couldn't resist. I had been thinking that if I got any chances to take on his PzIIINs with my T-34s without exposing my tanks to fire from his bigger tanks, I would do so. I figured it was better than sitting around waiting for the Germans to execute their game plan and box my tanks in. Since it was the only tank match up in my favor, I decided to go for it. So in the center area, he had one Elephant and two PzIIINs. I saw that I could drive a T-34 up behind the wall of the outbuildings and try to get into a duel with one of his PzIIINs. The other two tanks would be out of line of sight, and his armor on my right flank was in no position to contest this move. I thought I might get lucky and nab one of his lighter tanks, but I also had another motive: I was hoping that I could bait his Elephant forward far enough to bring him into the sights of the nearby 57LL for a side shot. Since his PzIIIN was hull down behind a wall, I didn't expect much with advancing fire, but when you roll low, good things happen. The hit resulted in a shocked German tank (it never recovered). This must have gotten the Elephant's dander up, because in the next turn he lumbered forward to engage the T-34, walking right into my desired side shot. The antitank gun revealed itself but didn't have any APCR. It did, however, have a critical hit round loaded. Scratch one Elephant. A few German squads pushed forward in the area as well, hoping to get at the Russian tank. The antitank gun managed to break a squad with some other fire, but the T-34 malfunctioned its gun on its next shot! It was a good exchange for the Russians ... so far. Both the tank and the gun were in danger now.

Meanwhile, back at the annex, the Germans had managed to break and casualty reduce the elite defending squad, leaving only a couple of conscript squads and the leader to try to hold the position. Brian decided to push his Brummbaers forward aggressively. The first one moved up and went into bypass of the larger building of the annex, to freeze fire from the defending squad, which pinned on a failed PAATC. His other Brummbaer moved up in support, but turned to face the big mortar on the tall hill. His other 3 Elephants and a PzIIIN either held their places, or moved up only slightly. His infantry pushed forward hard, and was now close to the annex, and in the woods just to the right of it, backed up by larger fire groups. I decided that I had to reveal the other antitank gun to try to do what damage it could before it was stampeded. However, it was facing completely the wrong way. It had to turn all the way around, to get both Brummbaers in its covered arc, but it was only 2 hexes from the bypassing behemoth. Naturally the first shot missed. I think the 45LL had to use intensive fire to destroy the closer Brummbaer with a side shot. Brian couldn't bring enough fire to bear on the gun crew, so it survived into the following prep fire phase, where it lined up another side shot against the remaining Brummbaer. I think it needed another intensive fire shot to get it, but it did the job. Shortly thereafter the Germans broke the gun crew and quickly eliminated them for failure to rout, but that exchange was in the Russians' favor I think.

Things got wild and woolly in the mid game. I can't remember the exact turn numbers, but the T-34 with the malfunctioned gun went on quite an escapade. Seeing some enemy infantry in the open nearby in front of the 57LL, I thought the best use of the T-34 would be to run them down while it had the chance, and thereby protect the gun for a while. And overrun a German elite squad it did, but it failed to harm them. I decided to keep the tank right on top of them so they couldn't fire at the gun. The tank survived the close combat, but so did the German infantry. One of the flanking half-squads managed to get up close and personal on the gun crew (just missing the mined location) and break them, and subsequently invoked no quarter on them. It advanced in and captured the gun. In the following turn, the T-34 overran a couple other German squads in the open, and broke a line squad with the HMG. But by now an Elephant from the right side was in position to shoot at the T-34, so I chanced excessive speed breakdown to get an extra point of movement to hide behind some trees. The Germans had taken a couple of shots at the T-34 rear with the captured antitank gun, but missed and eventually broke the gun. In the meantime, my reinforcing pair of SU-152s braced the defense, one moving to the back/right of the walled village, the other moving out to the left of it, to line up a shot on a stack of Germans with two MMGs that, led by the 9-2, had begun breaking Russians and causing some casualties in the big cluster of buildings. The ill-advised advancing fire shot to acquire them, however, only resulted in a low ammo counter on the Russian tank. By now the Germans had pretty much crushed organized resistance at the annex, and were working some guys forward into the central outbuildings (where my conscript squad hadn't stayed in good order very long, and spent the rest of the game broken – however, it did manage to escape back to the main village, via a succession of low crawls).

In the next rally phase, with one of my tanks roving behind his lines (the other T-34 had bogged on a trench in the center of the village), I decided to gamble on fixing its gun. It succeeded! Now I had a very dangerous tank behind his lines. Brian decided to push a PzIIIN across the SU-152's sights, perhaps to draw its fire to allow the Elephant to move on the T-34 without being hit. The SU-152 took the shot and brewed up the PzIIIN. Brian then moved an Elephant out to chase down the rampaging T-34. This Elephant had another PzIIIN nearby to cover him, while the other two Elephants had pushed through the annex area and were now threatening the right flank of the walled village, where they engaged the other SU-152 and quickly turned it into a burning wreck.

I decided I liked how the counterattack was going, so I sent my remaining SU-152 to try to rescue the joyriding T-34. The SU-152 had to survive a shot from the covering PzIIIN, which turned its turret, and fired a HEAT round. Brian rolled a 9, which was high enough to miss, and just high enough to have HEAT but deplete it. Perfect. He declined to turn his Elephant around, and took his chances with my bounding fire, hoping instead to drill my T-34, but the SU-152's aim was true, and the Elephant went up in flames. Now free, the T-34 counterattacked the remaining PzIIIN and eventually got it in my next defensive fire phase. This little sideshow induced Brian to turn his other two Elephants around and drive back to the hedge near the annex to deal with my roving armor. One Elephant malfunctioned its gun, while the other missed both of his shots on the T-34. The T-34 also caused some other damage, when a German squad went berserk and charged it shortly after it had killed the PzIIIN. Finally a triple point blank 6 down 1 shot from the BMG (the only shot the tank had left) and a high morale check roll by Brian casualty reduced the squad. The half-squad proceeded to eliminate themselves in close combat with a timely boxcars.

By the end of the game, the smoke on the big mortar finally cleared. It had jammed earlier, but the crew managed to repair it, and it had been firing for most of the battle, but was largely ineffective due to the smoke. Now with an elite German squad closing in, it rained down a lot of shots on Germans in the woods as they attacked the Russian bastion. In combination with the wire, and flamethrower and rifle fire from that position, the Germans were thrown back and Brian resigned. He had taken 9 of the required 13 building hexes, but the last turn or two were quite ugly for him, with the dice swinging my way significantly. Brian played a really good, fun game as usual.

I played this once before against Zeb, and the two games were definitely different. In my previous game, the big mortar was eliminated quickly due to long range volley fire from the Elephants, but the 82mm mortar was the MVP, pounding the Germans in the outbuildings. In this playing, the big mortar was in play the whole time, doing some damage early and some damage late. Moreover, the armor battle was more freewheeling than I remember from my match with Zeb. This is why I enjoy playing a good scenario more than once, to see the different permutations of results.

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