Wednesday, June 14, 2006

AAR: J80 - Egypt's Last Hope

Nick Drinkwater

German Player [ELR 3, SAN 2]: Nick Drinkwater

British Player [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Stephane Graciet

Round 2 of the Line in the Sand mini-CG. Going into this on the back of my loss in Rommel's Remedy and comments from the Houston Crew of "if you thought that was hard for the Germans, just wait for the next one..." ringing in my ears, I set up with a due case of caution and dread. In this one, I actually probably randomly selected the best combination going of an extra Long-barrelled MkIV, 2 x MkIIIHs and a 8-1 AL, an additional half-track mounted force of 3 x 458 and a 8-0 and an extra 100mm OBA with aerial observer. This is pretty powerful and is great in combination with two more OB Long Barreled MkIV F2s (with another 8-1 AL), two MkIIIJs with 50L, two MkIIIHs, an AA HT, and a couple of HT mounted squads. Already on-board half-way across Board 26 are a ground-force of a 9-1, 8-0, HMG, 2 x LMG, 5 x 468 and 3 x 548. My one big choice was whether to go for a 75L Marder (with B11) or a MkIV F1 with a third 8-1 AL. I chose the latter for its suppression abilities with a good HE capability and good Smoke-churning potential. Finally, I get onboard-set up of two 81* Mtrs, with their awesome 3ROF and S8.

So what have these bad boys got to do to get this job done? They need to cross two desert boards under long range fire, climb up the face of the Board 25 gullied precipice (representing the western end of the Alam Halfa ridge, which in reality was a low rocky ridge and not the Tunisian Djebel which the Board 25 massif represents) and be in control of two of the three marked peaks on Level 4 at Game end - all that in 6.5 Turns. Again, the rigours of broken terrain are to play a major part in this game, and there are patches of cactus patch and hedges to really impede progress on the lower slopes of the hill. The broken terrain fields are more prevalent on the eastern 2/3rds of the two desert boards while the western third is much more open - however, there is only one of the three victory locations on this side of the play area, so the bigger of the two Level 4 hills is almost inevitably going to be the focus of the attack, and I am going to have to brave at least one or two BT hexes whether I like it or not. The ground force have really got their work cut out as it is extremely open terrain in the run-up to the base of the hills. One thing that could be useful is that I can park a vehicle on a victory hex to control it - the presence of a trench or sangar does not create a separate location to deny this, so Stephane will have to get an unbroken infantry unit in there to deny me control - something to keep in mind for game end.

Stephane has a small but very potent force to stop me in my tracks. He has been given one of the dreaded 3ROF 6lber AT Guns, and three more Grants. He has 8 x 457s, a 9-2, 8-1 and 8-0, MMG, plus 88mm OBA and Radio. Stephane's Operational Reinforcements are actually fairly average (compared to the awesome force he pulled in Round 1) and he gets three Valentines with 2lber guns and poor HE capability (really BAD tanks for July 1942), Random Air Support (2 FB with bombs - of course!) and two 25lb ART guns - again all good stuff for Infantry suppression as they try to inch across the open ground, especially the strafing FB which are will be there until the end of the game. Also he has a couple of light mortars and an ATR or two, but overall this is not as strong as the force he had in Rommel's Remedy, although the natural terrain more than makes up for this.

In light of everyone's comments, Stephane graciously agreed to give me the balance and subtracted his 76* Mtr from his OB, a big loss of a very nasty 3ROF weapon. Even so, if he gets his OBA going and my smoke weapons and OBA fail to do much, then I am really going to struggle in this one.

So we're off and straightaway, one of my two Mortars instantly loses Smoke. Hmmmm. Looking at the terrain, I forego the obvious path of using the western-most Level 0 wadi complex to approach the hill, as based on Stephane's Game 1 policy, it is sure to be heavily mined - also, it only gets me to the more isolated of the two peaks and there is a belt of wire in the way to block access out of the wadi. As a result I am going to try trekking across the broken terrain fields on the eastern side to tackle the double peak fortified complex. Stephane has foregone the option of setting up anywhere on Board 26 and has gone for a stand and die defense on the dominating Level 4 peaks of Board 25 with entrenchments and sangars. His Hull-down attempts for the three Grants largely fail, and he is very unlucky in T1 when I hit and break the crews of both 88* ARTs in their hilltop eeries and the crews fail to rally. Things get better when I successfully smoke in his 6lber AT Gun plus his 9-2 MMG combo - finally, my overwatch MkIV F2 takes out one of the Grants at Long Range which was cool. I even destroy two of his squads with long-range MG fire which is a serious chunk of his defense off the board.

But of course this is ASL and things always swing back! Stephane instantly gets his accurate (despite the light dust) OBA going followed by air support (rolls a 1 on Turn 2!), and even though his bombs only immobilise one of my MkIV Specials, a 25 hex "red" to hit number shot from a Grant Gun takes him out. He then follows this up with a lucky crit on my smokeless Mtr, still a major loss. Finally my aerial observer, after twiddling uselessly with his frequency dials for 1.5 turns, goes and blows a transistor on his radio - second game in a row where my OBA has done squat. This and the Mortar-crit are huge losses as crossing the open ground with the infantry to climb the hill with no smoke is going to be a very painful drawn-out suicide attempt.

To compound this, I realise I've made a bad tactical error - based on my horror-story attempts to get vehicles across BT in game one, I choose to pick the least BT-ridden path I can to get my huge armoured convoy to the front. This means sending the whole lot down a big right-central wadi, but this just costs far too much time, and I realise that I am going to be seriously behind the required pace by the time I've picked my way out of there. Obviously, the design of the scenario was for the convoy to risk the one hex of BT in the southern-most board and then suck up a couple of bogs, but my dice-rolling on braving BT bog attempts in game one had been pitiful and scared me off this. In the meantime, my ground-based forces are inching along the open plain under the pressure of an accurate correcting 88mm OBA Barrage. Grim progress here.

Despite all this, I press on grimly into the face of adversity. My Aerial Observer manages to find a spare transistor under the co-pilot's seat and fixes his radio, and I send the half track convoy around to the east where they carve a way through the BT fields with only a couple of bogs. The armour column pops up out of their cover in the gully and swiftly dispatches a Grant and a Valentine with consecutive crits (sorry Stephane!), followed by the last Grant by another long shot. My smokin' Mtr continues to keep the 6lber and the 9-2 shrouded in gray misty stuff, and my only OBA fire mission (before I pull the inevitable second red card) is good enough to break the two squads with the 9-2, and the AT Gun crew. Stephane can barely buy a break and receives virtually no ROF from any of his weapons, including the two now-rallied 88* ARTs. I continue to get great ROF from my HMG and my surviving Mtr, but this is rarely effective as Stephane continues his usual trend of always being able to find that necessary seat-of-the-pants die-roll just when he needs to.

By the end of T4, all the Grants are smokin pyres, the British OBA has gone away after the observer broke, one of the FBs has been recalled with jammed guns on a 12, the 9-2 has been forced to rout, the three crappy Valentines are still struggling to climb the north side of the precipice to join the fight, and the 6lb AT Gun has not fired a shot. With heavy smoke cover, my surviving infantry start legging it up the hill, but Board 25 is a total bitch to assault either on foot or on tracks and I am probably already 2 turns behind schedule at this point. By the end of Turn 6, I have just managed to get a couple of squads onto the eastern most of the three Level 4 victory hexes, but the armour is lost in the maze of wadis and unable to help. I even get adjacent to the middle peak victory hex with a Mk III but it just clean runs out of time and MP to climb out the double-crest wadi it was in for an Overrun and possible victory - meanwhile, the British have been pretty much cleaned off the front face of the hill and the few surviving units adopt a reverse slope defense.

Realising in T6 that 95% of my force is going to be locked up on the main massif but due to the terrain are ultimately doomed to fail in their attempt to claim the last peak and seal victory, I send a HT and 8-1 + 468 on a hail mary to take the westernmost isolated peak - this HT immobilizes halfway up the hill on an ESB and even survives a hit (dud) from the entrenched 88* ART which is the sole British unit actually on this victory hex. With this sole HT-borne squad, I actually have a shot at snatching the unlikeliest of victories from the gory, dripping jaws of an ugly defeat, but I need to survive all the DF against them in my last phase and then advance in for the win.

The HT survives the attention of the last FB, and the subsequent CX-ing squad and leader survive 6 enfilading attacks from a lonely British HS and a Valentine. The leader finally pins from the now pinned, adjacent Gun's Defensive Fire, but in true Stephane fashion, after having rolled really horribly all night, finds the one shot he REALLY needs from left field and ends the game with an Intensive Fire Critical Hit!! My guys go down in a hail of high-explosive shrapnel and that was that. What was worse was that this lone British crew had survived two hits from my Mortar and two hits from my HMG, but of course he merely pins when I absolutely have to have him break.

To say I was gutted was an understatement - to get SO close on a scenario that I was forewarned was really tough on the Germans was actually good, but for once, JUST once, I wish that single critical game-winning die-roll would just go MY way for once. It gets a bit disappointing and tough to keep coming back for more of this after a while.

It's rare for me to criticise a scenario in these AARs, but I think this one is far too pro-British: the Germans need the best selections from the force pool, no weapons to break (2 of my 3 MkIV F2s had malfunctioned guns, and my MkIV F1 was recalled with a Disabled main gun), inexhaustible smoke, a non-failing radio and every other slice of luck going and even then they will lose. I can only imagine those few British losses on ROAR were due to loss of the OBA and the AT Gun very quickly, coupled with some Grant breakdowns. I diced Stephane pretty horribly in places in this scenario and was above average on most of my die-rolls - he had five good die-roll combinations in the entire scenario and that was it (the last shot, a low odds hit by a strafing FB, a very low odds shot to take out one of my half-tracks, and the long-range kills on my Mtr and first MkIV F2). His OBA was actually pretty ineffective (mine was no better with its single Fire Mission), his 88 Guns didn't much until that last shot, his FB killed only one half-track and one squad over over 6 turns, his mines played no part in this and he'd already taken his other big weapon, the 76* Mortar, off the board as part of the balance. I kept his 57L AT gun smoked in and unfired all game, the Grants killed one tank only before all being destroyed, my other Mtr and HMG went on several ROF streaks and kept smoke and I played this whole thing pretty well. And yet I still lost and wasn't realistically that close at winning if truth be told, reduced to trying the big lateral hail mary with the Half-track. It was taking so long to pick through the terrain that some of the Mk IIIs and several of the HTs and passengers never fired a shot in anger, spending most of their time just picking their way through the terrain just trying to get to the Level 4 hexes on Board 25, let alone actually fighting for them.

One lesson learnt - the Germans absolutely have to go through the more open west central route, as there is nowhere near enough time to get there and actually do anything by going to the east - the eastern summit of Board 25 is essentially sealed off from the others by a horrible wadi complex and you are doomed to fail if you try that route. Of course in the west, the infantry are then inching across a lot of -1 open ground and not +1 BT so they will chopped to pieces, and you will be running into a funnel where the Brits can pour fire on you from 2 sides, but you may just at least have the time necessary to achieve the VC if nothing else. Having tried to avoid the worst of the pitfalls of the BT by using the eastern wadi in the interest of force preservation, I needed at least one more turn, and my impact was again dissipated by the forced dispersion of my units imposed by the BT and the problems of all the crags, cliffs and wadis on Board 25, which meant they arrived there piecemeal, if they actually arrived there at all.

So that was that. Ultimately a very disappointing scenario as all Stephane had to do was play average, sit there and take his licks and he was still going to win, and yet there were very little tactical options open to him. All I could do was try and think of a plan which minimised the effects of the terrain (which I failed) and then really hope for the best as I rode into that particular valley of death. Overall, I had lost the mini CG on the slightly pro-British Rommel's Remedy and the very pro-British Egypt's Last Hope. One final thought - in this scenario, I had probably the best option going here in terms of my choices of Operational support, and Stephane's were pretty average. I absolutely shudder to think what the result would have been like if the Brits had been able to choose their operational support teams and had had their Game 1 choices here of 3 more Grants (with six-more barrels) instead of 3 Valentines, and they had had ANOTHER 57AL 3ROF AT Gun. There is no way the Germans could win that - I have to wonder how the Germans managed to pull a win out under that combination during playtesting?

Ugly indeed.

Nick Drinkwater

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