Tuesday, February 06, 2007

AAR: Stonne 4 - Trial by Strength

Nick Drinkwater

German, [ELR3, SAN 2]: Nick Drinkwater

French, [ELR3, SAN 4]: Tom ("I roll 4s") Gillis

A full free day for gaming, so we wanted to try a monster game to play. This one is eight action-packed turns of early war mayhem on the excellent Stonne map, which is fabulous - one of Critical Hit's earlier efforts that probably is a bit underplayed. There are some gems among their early modules and I think this one looks particularly good - probably one of the best, alongside "Ruweisat Ridge" and "Those Rugged Bloody Heroes" and produced before CH got lost in the game-playing dead-ends of serious counter variantism (such as Pointe de Hoc) or really ugly maps (Carnage at Cassino). The whole map area is in play but the main focus of the scenario is centered on the plateau and village of Stonne itself. Stonne village is a mix of small ground-level stone cottages with some narrow- street terrain and rowhouses, but the village nestles snugly above a very steep wooded escarpment with numerous double-crest hexes to really put a crimp in all attempts by the Germans to swiftly reinforce the melee.

Access to the village from the south is by a long straight road, parallel to the base of the escarpment that, through a nasty hairpin, enters the main plateau playing area by the notorious sunken road "bottle neck". This is the only way the German armour can get in to the village at all as we could find no errata that would allow me to create vehicular trailbreaks through the rear escarpment-hugging woods anywhere. I understand that in the Campaign Game the French can boresight, block, mine and generally make this outlet hex impossible for the Germans to move through which seriously hampers them and makes it much more difficult / close to impossible for the Germans to win - I'm not sure if CH have amended this or not, but allowing Trail Breaks would certainly provide a much bigger degree of tactical flexibility for the Germans.

Of the 27 buildings onboard, the winner has to control the majority at Game End - three of these stone huts are isolated to the north and are effectively "gimmes" for the French who can set up in / adjacent to them. Four more buildings are just connected to the main Stonne village, but are on a small Level 7 plateau with the 1-hex water tower, which acts like a factory - the village itself is just to the southwest on Level 6, and has a small church with steeple, but this struggles to see over the many in-season orchards. Despite the apparent plethora of open ground on the approaches to the village, ground assaults will actually be more covered than is first discernable. One good thing to assist the defense are the numerous barbed wire fences that cross everywhere - these are difficult to traverse with infantry and require all tanks to make a simple non- modified bog check (bog on a 12). These should impact the assault.

Overall, the scenario represents the first big French counter-attack after the Germans have just taken the town for the first time (it is probably equivalent to the classic old SL scenario, "Counterstroke at Stonne"!). Though attacking, the French setup first with 6 x 457, 9-1, HMG and MMG plus foxholes adjacent to the three 'gimme' houses and also separately next to the water tower - they are starting to ready themselves for the impending MASSIVE assault by a mixed French armour and infantry force from the east: the attacking force consists of 15 (FIFTEEN!!) tanks - six of the behemoth Char B1-bis, six H39(L)s and three FCM 36s. These all have good to awesome armour for this time of the war, and though they are all 1MT and need to operate with (french) modified platoon movement, they are good gun platforms, and the B1-bis are really nasty with 3 potential attacks per fire phase. In addition, to represent early war tank fright, any infantry that moves or is moved adjacent to a tank has to take a PTC - more pain for the outnumber germans! To escort this tank company is a massive Turn 2 infantry attack force of 23 x 457s, 9-2, 9-1, 2 x 8-1, 7-0, and a plethora of machine guns. Ouch. Count em folks - thats 29 squads in total - not often we get to play with that many troops.

The Germans are going to have a tough job holding on until their reinforcements arrive. On board they start with 6 x 468 and a 9-1 in the water tower hamlet and 12 x 467s, 1 x HMG, 1 x MMG and 4 x LMG in the village proper together with a 9-2, 8-1, 8-0 and 3 x ATR. This is all stiffened by three 37L AT Guns in the water tower hamlet, and three more in the main village, together with two 75mm Inf Gun and two recently captured French pop guns (25LL). An apparently powerful blocking force, but against the B1-bis, it is going to be Deliberate Immobilizations only for all of these guns, and only moderate to low chances to kill the other French arnmour (TK numbers of 9 versus Armour of 4 / 6). Also important is that MGs are only going to DI the FCM 36s, and the ATRs are only going to DI the H39s and FMR35 - the Char B1s were effectively imvulnerable to all these LATW. Not good for the Germans, not good at all.

To respond to this massive thrust, the Germans get to dash on a MG company with 8 x 468 squads, four MMG and a 9-1 leader which enters on the south side on Turn 1. To try and counter all that French armour,the Germans also need to rush on six early war Stugs via the sunken road bottle neck, starting on Turn 3. Note that the earliest that any impact will be felt by these Stugs is Turn 5 as it will be at least two turns to get the Stugs up that long slow climb and into the fighting proper. Finally, on Turn 4, the Germans get a 7-0, a Kubelwagen and a Radio for 150mm OBA with scarce ammo. Again, getting it into any position to be able to affect the outcome of the game is unlikely to happen until Turn 6 at the earliest as driving in to the village will take 2 Turns (assuming no interference from the French). The alternative of dismounting and then hiking in will probably take longer as those are steep wooded slopes which that leader has to climb - as my MG platoon was about to find out the hard way.

Early blows were traded with Tom's initial assault on the water tower hamlet being rebuffed and me even managing to Immobilize a Char 1 in a position where it was unable to fire on any of the village. I shrugged off a couple of early MCs and sent the first few French squads packing, but attrition started to bite as four of my 468s and two of the three Gun crews got waxed in CC for a net return of one and a half squads - as was remarked at the time, my CC luck (or lack thereof) is legendary amongst our local crew and I continued my usual trend by missing a bunch of ambushes or attacks vs withdrawing broken units by 1 or more. Recognizing the threat from the Chars, I jumped into CC with one with a 468 and a 9-1 instead of reinforcing a melee - this leviathan was stopped and should have been toast, but I then rolled a 12 to CR myself from Crew small arms!! A long-odds in-hex shot from Tom then broke the survivors and that one hurt a lot too. To follow the loss of both these strong points, Tom, with an Improbable Critical Hit from a 47mm Char Turret Gun, took out the third of my outlying 37L AT Guns - the three outlying AT Guns scored a total of 1 Immobilized Char B1- bis from six or seven hit attempts - not a viable exchange rate.

Tom sent a big right hook HMG platoon around to the west to reinforce two of the at-start HIP squads in the outlier hamlet - my only quality sniper attack of the day took the 9-1 through the heart and this discouraged the others from doing a lot. Despite this setback, Tom sent a platoon of surprisingly nippy tank platoon to test the western defenses - I of course missed all the shots including several CCs vs bypassing tanks, and got hurt by tank MG CC attacks in return - it was ugly.

In Turn 3, I did manage to DI two of the FCMs by HMG and ATR fire, and in my only good anti-attack of the day I gained a crit on an H39 which knocked it out. I also managed to snag another bypassing H39 on the third CC attempt and I also DIed a second Char from a 75 Inf gun which had failed to find its HEAT on the first try (of course). By this point it was too little, too late, as my central town defenders went down in a never ending whirlwhind of Char B1 and H39 shots and they just melted away under relentless acquisition and an eternal run of 4s by Tom (if my SAN had been four, Tom would have lost this game). By this time, I was losing 1-2 squads a fire phase and despite continuing to attrite his troops, including a great long sharp LOS kill of a hero with a squad and a half from my HMG, it was never enough.

While Tom continued to envelop the eastern side of the defense in masses of troops and very large tanks, he also sent a flanking platoon to the south and east to try and interdict the entry areas of all my reinforcements. To get my Observer on to a viable vantage point in his small van as fast as possible, I had to nullify this threat quickly which meant leaving a Stug to deal with the problem...this he did, but this meant he was going to be at least one if not two turns late getting into the battle area behind his comrades. My MG company legged it on as fast as possible but with barbed wire fences and wooded double-crest slopes, they still weren't all even at the southern village edge by the end of Turn 4. Similarly, my first Stug was yet to appear out of the road by the end of Turn 4 due to the slow rate of climb - it is a tough row that the Germans have to hoe in this one.

The end came surprisingly fast - a two-squad detachment went down to a 8+1 shot from Tom's 9-2 and then forced to surrender and that was the last real resistance - I fired back with my 9-2 and HMG stack, but Tom passed the subsequent three 2 MC and the subsequent three (rate) NMCs with a single pin only. In the next turn, his 9-2 guys scored a 1MC on my killer stack in return and I rolled 10, 10 and 10. No point in going on from there and I conceded. When the 9-2 stack collapsed at the end, I had only 1.5 unbroken squads of my original 18 squads left, the majority being prisoner, and four of the six 37L AT Guns were crewless or destroyed. The two captured 25LL Guns were still hidden as was one of the two 75* Inf Guns, but these were not going to materially change anything. Tom still had four now invulnerable Char1s left as well as one FCM and four of the H39s...my now broken 9-2 was about to do surrender from FTR, and all my other at-start leaders were dead.

Even though the MG company and Stugs were close, they were still at least one more turn from being in the village in any force as they continued to struggle up the steep wooded slopes. Even once up, I was only then going to be holding five of the twenty seven buildings at that point - these eight squads were never going to be enough to recapture another nine buildings in only three turns, from a French force that still had nineteen of its original twenty-nine squads left. Also, it was difficult to see how my Observer was going to find a safe place to sit and observe, let alone have enough time to actual bring in a Fire Mission, espcially with scarce ammo, as he was still struggling to even get on to the board. It was going to be Turn 6 or later until at least three of the Stugs were going to get to the village as they still had to negotiate a double crest as well as the hairpin and that was just going to eat up movement points.

Despite the mauling and the dicing Tom admitted he gave me, this was actually fun - in such a huge scenario, the odd dice normally even out, but I did take the worst of it. We had two French heroes, Crew Small Arms, Berserk, a German heroic leader(and then quick death) and one Improbable Critical and one Normal Hit (both French). I had my MMG and a Lt Mtr malfunction whilst Tom had only two CMG malfunction and he did not bog a single tank at all (and there was a LOT of barbed wire fences for him to cross) - his ability to roll 4s was amazing. I really shouldn't bother with Ambush or CC in any game of ASL - it just hands VP to my opponent in nicely wrapped-up parcels labelled "To X, Free VP courtesy of my CC dice, Best regards, Nick". In this one, I killed precisely one tank in Bypass and killed 1.5 squads over at least ten CC attempts - pathetic. My AT Guns could barely dent the French Armour and I just couldn't stop the French horde in any way shape or form. To counter his numerous 4s, Tom also rolled a lot of 11s - sadly, he wasn't playing the Italians or Allied Minors so this didn't really impact him! Despite my whining, Tom played this one really well and relentlessly everything in his path, and when the opportunities came as my infantry melted away, he poured through the breach. Well played Tom!

We both thought this one favoured the French just too much - they can rapidly and easily overwhelm the initial German forces which are partially spread out and can't quickly disengage and retreat due to the at-start HIP force. The French have numerous tubes, especially the Char B1s which are essentially almost invulnerable to everything the German's have. The worst issue for the Germans though is the timing of the reinforcements - with the current schedule, it is an absolute bugger for them to get anything forceful up into the village before Turn 5 and by then the French will most likely have overrun most of the at-start village force and from then they will be very difficult to eject. To remedy this, I would suggest that the German armour come on one turn earlier and the Observer be allowed on in Turn 1 and not Turn 4 - with the scarce ammo, he's going to struggle to get more than one or two FFEs down during the game anyway, so why handicap him further with the unobtainable schedule he currently has?

Good luck to all of you at Owlcon next week - to paraphrase English soccer striker Gary Linker, "ASL is a game where a bunch of blokes roll lots of dice for three days, and then Zeb wins?!!!"

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