Tuesday, June 06, 2006

AAR: J79 - Rommel's Remedy

Nick Drinkwater

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

New Zealand player [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Stephane Graciet

Stephane and myself are both partner-free for a couple of weeks so we are using the opportunity to get in some serious ASL, starting with the Line in the Sand mini-CG. Rommel's Remedy was round one in this three-part classic, and ended with a solid New Zealand win in German Turn 5 when yet another of my AFVs went down to another long odds shot from Stephane. Anyway, for those who want to read my AAR, please read on...

There's a little bit of choosing to do in the set-up as the Germans get to select between either an 88L AA Gun or a 81mm MTR + 20mm AA Gun. In addition, as this was round 1 of the CG, we both drew randomly from the three operational reinforcement groups: I selected 4 x MkIII H (50 normal gun barrel) with a 9-1 AL, a 3 x 468 HT Reinforcement group and 2 Stukas with Bombs. Stephane received 2 FB with bombs, 1 x 6-Lber AT Gun and a 76* Mtr and 3 Grants with a 9-2 AL.

These random reinforcements augment a very mixed at-start line-up of six 347 Italian sappers with a 9-1 leader and (chosen) HMG and a 8-0 with 70mm OBA and 3 x M13/41s. The at-start German forces include 2 Psw 222(L)s, 2 MkIIIJs with the 50L Gun and a couple of MG half-tracks. To win, the Germans (and let's be honest, it really will be the Germans and not the Italians doing the hard miles here) must exit 45 DVP off the east edge of Boards 31/30 (game area includes these plus half of boards 26 and 27), having started set-up on the board 27 half-board. All the German random reinforcements arrive from off-board on Turn 1 to really provide the impetus to the attack as the Italians are far too weak to achieve this on their own. The northern half of the Allied play area is dominated by two large hillocks arranged lengthwise, both with Level 1 summits. In addition the attack is funnelled by three lengthwise wadis that are located at the edges of the play area to create a central flat 'kill-area'.

The big thing about all these scenarios for the CG is the fact that Broken Terrain (BT) is in play and this has an absolutely MASSIVE effect on the way the scenarios pan out. The big part of BT is that hammada hexes resolve as half-level obstacles which seriously reduces the LOS opportunities to small open "courtyards" between "walls". In addition, all hexes around the hammada become bog terrain and this can seriously break-up and spread out coordinated attacking forces as I was about to find out. There is a lot of broken terrain in this play area and at some point the Germans are going to have to cross some of it in force, with a fair number of their vehicles surviving if they are to win. And that is in the teeth of a British linear defense that as well as the things listed above has 10 458s, a 9-2, an 8-1, an 8-0, some sangars, a few trenches and wire to impede movement and 60 mine factors: up to 45 of these could be replaced by AT mines and all, some or none could be hidden. Moderate dust is in effect so every shot is at least +1 minimum. Finally there is a track that traverses through the southern third of the play area and frees up all the movement for the attacking Germans, but means running through the teeth of the central 'kill-area'. Oh yes, did I mention that the Kiwis also have sticky gammon bombs to slap on to the immobilized or slow-moving German vehicles picking their way through the Broken Terrain? I didn't? Well, they do, and they really hurt.

I was a bit ring-rusty on ASL having just got back from a big trip to Europe, so I certainly wasn't at my best, but I think to win this, the Germans have to bring their absolute top game with them plus a bit of luck, as the terrain alone both funnels and then really breaks up the coherency of their attack. On top of that, they are facing a New Zealand defense that merely has to hang tough for a while while they maneuver the Grants through the broken terrain fields to hinder, delay and damage the slow-crawling German strike force. In addition, the Kiwis rolled really well in this for their support groups and picked up the dreaded 3 ROF 57L AT Gun, that can just destroy anything the Germans throw at them. The three Grants are really effective as well as they have 6 tubes firing all of which can damage any of the German armour, and their 11 turret AF means that all the German guns are more likely to bounce off rather than penetrate. Despite all this, Stephane, in his own words, presented one of his weaker setups and set up the AT Gun in the centre in front of some crags which effectively blocked his LOS to the northern half of the area and all of his backfield. Also, he'd been less than optimal with his all-hidden mine deployment and I fortuitously found the extreme northern flank wide-open at the extreme board edge. In contrast, the Italians went nowhere at all slowly and were soon running backwards in their customary "Nick is playing them" fashion.

Having recognised the need to kill some of the hordes of Kiwi infantry, I had opted for the 81mm MTR instead of the 88L AT Gun as I really wanted its 3 ROF to keep the heads of the Kiwis down, but this was noticeably ineffective as it missed virtually every shot, didn't keep rate and was put out of the game twice by sniper shots. The sniper also whacked my 8-0 Observer right between the eyes, so the OBA did precisely nothing after just half a fire mission. Two key pieces, both rendered ineffectual in no time. Ugly indeed. In the middle, my HT swarm of elite Germans were held up after running into the misplaced AT Gun. After one lost HT, they quickly swerved left to the north to drive and join up with MkIII swarm which had just successfully turned Stephane's flank for the loss of one tank on an AT mine. By now, the Italian tanks were all Immobilized on BT, or burning from one of the Grants, so it was up to the Germans to finish it off.

On the MkIII dominated northern flank I had been progressing pretty well. To Stephane's frustration, I had managed to race off one of my two Psw 222(L) for 7 DVP exit points, but then the first of numerous failed bog checks meant the other become burny, crispy toast for one of the swiftly transferring Grants. I managed to catch a 458 in the open, but true to form, Stephane rolled just perfectly when needed and it survived 2 nasty OVRs and then of course blew a hole in one of my nice shiny MkIIIs. I continued to fail Bog checks at the critical moments and was soon seriously over-stacked in one key Broken Terrain edge hex. Further maneuver with what was left of the Panzer force killed off three 458s for FTR and I overran the 76* MTR in its sangar to remove that threat. At this point we were looking good for the win, as Stephane lost a Grant to a Stuka, another one to a BFF critical hit (always sweet), and then I managed to break the 57L AT Gun crew with the other as they tried to rapidly manhandle the Gun over the rocky fields to get a LOS to my tanks. (These guys '12'ed themselves out of the game during a rally).

All I needed to do was get off 3-4 of the tanks and some of the stuffed-to-the-gills half-tracks. Stephane sent his big 8-1 AL Grant on a charge to halt me but missed everything and then broke both guns on IF shots - in addition both his FB missed with their bombs by one (phew) and their strafing attacks were ineffective. To counter this, I lost an all important half-track to a rear LMG shot through dust which was a nightmare, and then another motion tank went down as Stephane charged his 9-2 and a couple of squads through a storm of defensive fire as they all shrugged off countless -1 and -2 shots unscratched. Typical. Now it was down to a really fine margin as I had to get everything mobile off unscathed and de-bog my only remaining bogged tank.

We entered German T5 and I started the great Kentucky Derby dash. One half-track got off and 2 of the 3 tanks were on their way when my final HT went down to a 3 TH roll and then an immobilizing 4 TK from the only effective attack the FBs did all night - grrrrrhhh. I tried to run the surviving squad and leader off the board but went down to a lousy 2 FP long-range shot - the leader broke but the squad went berserk and were shot down in a hail of bullets on the empty desert floor (one of the few bits of the play area without BT!) as they charged back towards the Kiwi defense line!

That was pretty much it as I couldn't get enough off to win - we rolled to see if I debogged the stranded MkIII but that mired - of course it did.

This is quite a delicate scenario and needs some more finesse as the German than I was able to provide. In the cold light of the day after, I still think it is a bit pro-Allied, and this was compounded by Stephane pulling out the most lethal of his possible random reinforcement groups while I pulled merely average. This combination, allied to the extreme effects of BT on LOS and maneuver as well as the need for the Germans to cross at least 1-2 BT hexes means the Germans have to work hard for every advantage and everything needs to function at least in an average way to help this task. If Stephane had played his A1 defense and placed the mines and AT Gun in much stronger positions, I don't think I'd have even got close. Of my choices, I would still stick with the 81* Mtr as if it functions normally, it is an outstanding support weapon - I was unlucky to have Stephane pull the Grants, and the 88L AA Gun would have helped a bit, but not enough to offset the advantage that the Mtr offers. Finally, I definitely need to brush up some more on my Combined Arms play as I missed one or two opportunities and too many of the German infantry spent the game as passengers rather than fighting. The biggest thing of all though is the BT - this is a bugger to get through and seriously reduces the two big advantages for the Germans in this game - maneuver and speed.

Anyway, well played Stephane to pull yourself out of the hole you'd partially dug yourself into. We're moving onto Egypt's Last Hope next where I have to win. More to follow.

Nick Drinkwater

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