Tuesday, November 07, 2006

AAR: SP34 Frankforce

At yesterday's game day Doyle Motes and I matched up in this scenario from Schwerpunkt. I wish I had brought my camera to take photos of the game in progress, but I forgot. So we'll just have to make do with description. The scenario is played out over the relatively open countryside boards 4 and 43. The British must exit 26 points through the German defenses. But they are not allowed to exit across the entire board edge, but rather through a range of hexes that are roughly in the middle of the board edge (hexes M through Y if memory serves). To do so they have 11 first line squads, 6 Matildas (marks I and II), and a MkVIC tankette. The tankette is very fast but also very lightly armored, whereas the Matildas are slow and reasonably heavily armored. They are further slowed by the lack of radios in the Matilda Is. Opposing them the Germans get 7 first line squads led by a 9-2, a 37L gun, and two 88L AA guns.

Since the British can enter along the entire north side of the map (board 4), the Germans must deploy their forces in such a way as to be ready for any angle of approach. However, the speed (or lack thereof) of the tanks means that the British cannot dawdle. In fact, the tanks probably have to remain in motion for most of the game to have a reasonable hope of exiting. It would be very unlikely for the British to get the needed 26 exit points without the majority of them coming from the tanks, so clearly the 88s are the centerpieces for the German defense. An SSR even allows the German to ignore one non-intensive-fire malfunction by one of the big guns, further underscoring their importance to the game.

From the German perspective, the map has the board 43 walled compound or village just to the right of center. The rest of their backfield is dominated by grain. I set up the 88s in a manner such that each covered one of the extreme ends of the exit area, but so that they also could cover the middle together, and lend some support to each other as well. The 37L I put on the extreme left flank looking back across the middle, hoping to surprise some tanks with a rear shot if Doyle came that way. Most of the infantry went into the village, with a couple of half squads as close to the exit area as they were legally allowed, with the aim of moving to the exit hexes immediately and digging in.

Doyle sent his British troops in a massed attack on my right flank, oriented toward and around the board 43 village. The very early game was fairly uneventful as my Germans tried to harass his infantry as they moved forward through the grain. Small results were achieved here and there, but no big deal. On the second turn I managed to get the 9-2 and MMG into position in the village to lay a nice fire lane across the British avenue of advance. I thought this would probably do a good job in slowing the British attack. However, one of his first few units to move outside the fire lane went berserk due to another shot, and started charging the MMG position. As soon as they entered the fire lane the MMG malfunctioned. This opened the floodgates and Doyle sent his troops pelting forward hard. As they got closer to the village to prepare an assault, most of the British tanks continued their slow platoon movement around the edge. The exception was the speedy MkVIC, which Doyle used to scout. He had a pretty good idea where my guns were and sent the tankette searching for them. Given the axis of the British attack, one of my 88s was in a key spot and the other was somewhat (but not entirely) out of position. My key 88 was in a brush field in front of a stone building guarding the right and center of the exit area. As it became obvious that Doyle was going to discover this gun and probably overrun it, I had to reveal the gun and spin it to take a shot at the tankette before it was too late. I decided to take the shot with the tankette two hexes away, so that there would be the opportunity for an intensive fire shot if I missed. The shot was true, however, and the pesky vehicle was set ablaze. Doyle seemed pretty content with this result, because the blaze would provide a bit of smoke cover. But really the more insidious effect was that the blaze could spread to the brush and eventually cook the German gun! And the blaze did spread very rapidly indeed. It spread, well, like wildfire.

Fortunately the showdown at the village took a turn in my favor as the German 9-2 leader directed an attack that broke several British and limited their fire opportunities. This looked like it would stall the attack quite well, except that Doyle countered with a critical hit from his light mortar, and effective machine gun fire from one of his tanks to break the 9-2 and a couple of squads. It took them a couple of turns to rally. In the meantime back at the gun position, nearby German half squads moved in to try to hinder the spread of the flames to keep them away from the gun, which had destroyed one of the Matildas that it could see to the right of the village. They could slow it down but they could not stave off the flames forever. Would the blaze cook the gun in time for the British to make good their escape? The fire was already providing some smoke cover. Ultimately they bought enough time for the 9-2 to rally and bring over a couple of squads to the gun position to keep the flames away just long enough. Toward the end Doyle kept wishing for a wind change to kick up more smoke to cover his exit, and dang it if he didn't get it, almost calling his shot on the wind change dice roll. Wow. Fortunately for me the direction of the wind was away from the gun, which made it a little harder on the fire to spread to the gun, and also rolled the smoke back toward the British tanks rather than on top of the gun. In a little bit of irony, the smoke cover Doyle wished for actually helped the German cause by making movement for the very slow tanks even more expensive, costing several of them their chance to exit in time. Some British infantry had pushed hard all the way down the flank to support the tanks, but on the last turn the Germans shifted some infantry over to occupy the exit hexes to prevent and British infantry from exiting. The other 88 actually ended the scenario with an unlikely hit on one of the last Matildas with a chance to exit.

Overall this scenario was a pretty fun experience with a few key events. The berserker helped the British forward somewhat, and the loss of the tankette burning in the brush had a huge impact. I don't think I've ever played a scenario where I've made so many attempts to hamper flames. And then of course calling for, and getting, a wind change was rather amazing. If I were the British player I think one thing that would bother me would be the need to keep the tanks moving nearly all the time, rather than fighting. As the German, I think there isn't a lot of mystery about where the big guns should go, and I don't often like feeling that constrained in my setup, although it certainly makes setup relatively easy and quick. It appears quite balanced on ROAR (23:22 Brit), and plays rather fast, so it's probably pretty good tourney fare.

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