Monday, February 27, 2006

AAR: OB12 - Bridgehead On The Berezina

Zeb Doyle

When I woke up to pouring rain Saturday morning, I realized it was perfect ASL weather, and luckily for me, Eric was of the same opinion. We settled in for a long day of gaming and decided on OB12 Bridgehead On The Berezina. This scenario is from Chas Smith's Onslaught To Orsha, and features a very interesting combined arms river crossing by the Soviet towards the beginning of Operation Bagration.

To simulate this operation, the Russians get 8.5 turns to cross the board 40 river, clear out all German units on or adjacent to the road from the bridge to the map edge, and exit 24 VPs off the far edge of the map. The attack occurs in several stages, with only eight 3-2-8s and amphibious jeeps starting on map for the Russians. They later get a Guards company of 4-5-8s on turn three, two fighter-bombers that show up randomly on or after turn three, and finally, four lend lease Shermans on turn 6. All in all, it's a very impressive force, albeit one that's lacking in heavy weapons (LMGS and DCs are all the Soviets have).

The German force, meanwhile, is quite the opposite of the Soviets. Instead of the Russian 8ML Guards, the German defense is composed of SS Police Group von Gottberg. This group is composed of five 4-4-7 SS squads, an HMG and some foxholes, and is later reinforced on turn two by a Stuka and on turn three by eight more SS 4-4-7s and two MMGs. The German squads are definitely inferior to the Russians, but they get the advantage of the bridge choke-point and with the three machine guns to cover that key terrain, the crossing is sure to be tough.

Overall then, the Russians have 16 total squads, the four tanks, and the two aircraft against the 13 German squads and the Stuka. However, the Russian force trickles in over the course of the game, most of them are forced to cross the bridge, and there is only a small numerical superiority over the Germans. Finally, the VC are demanding, requiring the Russians to completely clear a long stretch of road and exit a meaningful percentage of their force.

All these elements combine into a very interesting scenario. The Germans have lots of interesting options with their set up, as they can try to cover the river against the amphibious jeeps, set up on the Russian side of the river to contest the approach of the reinforcing Guards, or just sit back and cover the bridge. Meanwhile, the Russians have to decide just how aggressive to be with their initial eight 3-2-8s in the amphibious attack, and how hard to push with the reinforcements.

As is his wont, Eric chose to play the Germans, and set up a defense largely centered on covering the bridge, but with the HMG back on the board 40 level two hill. He took a while setting up, and I started to joke that it didn't matter what he did with his troops; it would all come down to the planes anyway. The Stuka shows up on turn two and gets to really dominate until the Russian fighter bombers show up some time between turn three and turn seven. If the fighter bombers show up late, the Stuka basically gets to harrass the Russians all game long, but if it does get shot out of the sky on turn three, the shoe will be on the other foot. Six turns of getting strafed by 12FP and no Stuka to compensate will make for a long day for the von Gottberg group.

Finally, Eric finished setting up, and I was able to commence my attack. I think the Russian needs to be very patient in this one, with the amphibious force in particular being held as a threat once across the river. The dangers of being defeated in detail are too large to risk doing anything aggressive as the Russians until more reinforcements arrive. With that game plan in mind, I started the river crossing. Eric had set up pretty much letting me cross unopposed on my right side of the map. That was where I wanted to cross anyway, as it would give me better access to the dominating board 40 hill later in the game, so I plunked my counters down and drove the jeeps into the swirling waters of the Berezina.

Amphibious crossings, rumors to the contrary, are pretty simple as far as ASL rules go, and so things proceeded smoothly rules-wise. Despite my attempts at a cautious approach, Eric's HMG did get a shot at one of the jeeps and promptly sank it with a roll of a 4. The turn ended with the jeeps still in the river, but in position to land and unload on my turn two. The German turn sped by with only some minor redeployment occurring.

My turn two saw the arrival of the Stuka, which waited for the amphib jeeps to land and unload before launching a strafing run. The run blew up a jeep, pinned three of my 3-2-8s, and rolled a 12 on the last attack to malf the machine guns. That was a huge break for me, especially considering all my pregame fears of how the planes would interact, and really took away a key part of Eric's defense. The Stuka would later drop its bomb, but missed entirely with that, and quietly left the game having done absolutely nothing.

The loss of the Stuka let me enter my turn three Guards reinforcements a bit more aggressively than I had expected, although that pesky German HMG KIA'd a squad with a sneaky LOS and a 6-1 shot. I was still in good shape though going into the German half of turn three. Here, the reinforcing units of the von Gottberg force stormed onto the map, many reinforcing the units covering the bridge, and the rest climbing the hill to contest my 3-2-8 amphib force, which was working its way up the far side.

As we worked through turn four, the scenario was just as much fun as it looked on the card. The Russian Guards had worked their way down to the bridge, but the German heavy and medium machine guns made it death to try and cross. Meanwhile, a tense cat and mouse game reigned on the hill, with my 3-2-8s and a recombined 6-2-8 generally giving better than they got against Eric's 4-4-7s. At this point, it was all a battle for position while I waited for my planes and tanks to arrive.

The Russian fighter-bombers finally appeared on turn five, and the complexion of the game took an immediate change. In my half of the turn, I got lucky on the hill, firing into a Melee and breaking the German squad but not my 3-2-8, and managed to push Eric almost entirely off the hill. In his turn, the Russian fighter bombers came roaring in and ripped up a large part of the German force. The terrain on board 40 is fairly open for the most part, and my strafing attacks led to 12+1 and 12+2 attacks on six or so of Eric's squads. This left only a single MMG covering the bridge and a large stack of broken Germans cowering in the rear.

As turn six started, my four Shermans rolled onto the board, and the pressure really intensified for both sides. The Germans were really hurting and the tanks had the smoke and cover so vital for bridge crossing, but my amphib force had really accomplished all it could do by itself, and my main force had only four turns left to cross the bridge, clear out all the Germans, and exit. Despite Eric's vile luck with the Stuka, it was still anyone's game.

At this point, though, Lady Luck reared up and threw the Germans a devastating sucker punch. In the Rally Phase, a lowly German sergeant was trying to rally a DM stack of three squads and an 8-1. The 8-1 rolled snakes on his rally attempt, creating much excitement for Eric, but then went berserk. Turning to the whimpering platoon of policemen behind him, he imbued them with his steely resolve as well, and the entire stack of 8-1, 8-0, 3x 4-4-7 all ended up with a 10 ML. The increased broken ML of the SS actually ended up hurting Eric here, as he kept rolling just low enough to send his troopers over the edge. Worst of all, the Germans were now down to a single non-berserk leader, and he was over fighting the amphib force, well away from the main action.

My turn passed quickly, with the tanks getting into position, my Guards preparing to rush the bridge, and my 3-2-8s pushing the Germans completely off the hill. During Eric's turn six, his berserk war criminals stormed out of their stone building, singing the Horst Wessel song at the top of their voices. They were promptly met by a 12-2 point attack from a fighter bomber which resulted in a 2KIA which killed all five units on a brutal Random Selection roll...

That really took the heart out of the German defense, and left lots of broken SS with no leaders to rally them. In my turn seven, Eric rolled a 6 with a HS trying to recover the key HMG, which could have laid a fire-lane across the bridge. It was another huge piece of luck for me and my Russians were able to cross the bridge without a shot being fired. Once the 4-5-8s and tanks were loose among the battered and broken 4-4-7s, it was all over, and Eric had to concede on turn eight with no good order units left.

Overall, it was a very cool scenario despite the luck being so one-sided. Both sides get some fun toy and (more importantly) lots of options on how to use them. I'd recommend the scenario to anyone as a very unique bridge crossing situation. The amphibious jeeps really make things interesting while adding only a minimal amount of additional complexity. The swing factor with the random arrival of the Russian fighter bombers is pretty large as far as balance is concerned, but doesn't detract from the fun factor at all. Congratulations to Chas Smith for creating a very neat scenario that also does a great job of recreating the feel of the Soviet doctrine of the period. Thanks also to Eric for hanging in there and taking me to turn eight despite facing not one, but several crippling blows of fate.

Thanks for reading,


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