Saturday, January 26, 2008

AAR : DB38 Centauro on a Flank

Nick Drinkwater

Italian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 2, SAN 2]
Yugoslav: Walter Eardley [ELR 2, SAN 3]

Warm-up time for Owlcon and I'm on for an intense ASL-rich three weekends immersing in the full ASL experience. First up for me is a moderately-sized scenario from Dispatches from the bunker against one one of Houston's best, Mr. Owlcon himself, Walter Eardley. Great guy, excellent to play and very rules savvy so this will be a stretch.
We roll for sides and I pull the Italians - lucky me! The scenario is a seven turn "Take the Board 42 hamlet" special by a mixed force of Italian armour and infantry. At setup, a huddle of Italians has just crossed the Board 40 river and need to kick the Yugos out of nine of the twelve Board 42 dispersed buildings. They have an imposing two level wooded hill right in the middle of their approach route which they will need to cross or go around before they get into the teeth of the Yugo defenses. They have been given an apparently tough little force of 10 x 346, a couple of 447 engineers, a 9-1, 8-0, 7-0, MMG, DC, 2 x Lt Mtr and 3 x LMG. They also have three metal boxes with tracks (L3/35) and two M13/40s which of course are much nicer tanks to play with. This motley crew is pitted against a Yugoslav defense that apparently is very brittle at first glance, but actually has a core of steel. The Yugos receive 4 x 457, 4 x 437, 2 x 237, an 8-1, 7-0, HMG, MMG, and two killer 37L AT Guns with ROF of 3. Even though these two guns set up onboard concealed but with no HIP, this is actually a brutal force as the Yugos receive three ROF3 weapons and a ROF 2 MMG. In addition, their support weapons are all B12 (compared to the B11 of the Italians), they are equal in ELR to the Italians, but their broken-side morale is 1 higher than normal (again better than the Italians), and their basic firepower significantly is 4 as opposed to the 3 of 90% of the Italians. Thus they will be firing one column higher on the IFT on a squad vs squad basis and that is huge. Despite being slightly outnumbered, I personally rate these Yugo infantry overall as being at least 20% stronger than their Italian equivalents, especially as they are conducting a fall-back defense in wood buildings against 3FP, 6 moral, 2 ELR troops. Clearly, it is the armour which makes the big difference here, but again the Italians are hamstrung on this one too: the quality of the main guns of these tanks ranges from weak to pathetic, all the tanks are susceptible to even lowly MG fire and the 37L AT guns with their three ROF and basic To Kill of 9 will be like blowtorches on this thin plate. Finally, we are limited by the weakness of platoon movement to add to our woes so this will be a slow and cautious grind forward.
Looking at the board configuration, the Italian left side is going to be funnelled through some nasty choke points between ponds and woods. As its April, the apple blossom is flowering in-season but the ploughed fields will prove to be an absolute bugger for infantry to cross, and wide-open and extremely lethal. Eyeing Walter's defense, the big empty grain field on the left is clearly covered by a 3 ROF AT Gun that will punch holes through anything I have, so I am forced to plough over the hill and through the left-central orchard. While we inch over the top, I launch my other gambit which is to try and run the L3 platoon on a huge right-sided flanking manoeuvre around the back of Walter's defense with an infantry platoon in support, but the platoon movement is laborious and I have to detour the infantry through the stream to avoid a -3 bridge residual. Cresting the hill, I plough on into the defense and capture a couple of green squads but Walt's speedbumps work well, and he also manages to get a recall on a shot-up the backside of an L3 with MG fire. Eventually my flankers do get around the back of the defense and claim a couple of outlying buildings but that was my only real success of the day.
In the middle, the push through the orchard and in the central woods works for a couple of turns and Walt slowly retreats, but importantly, though he is forced to leave the HMG behind, Walt's 8-1 and (battle-hardened) 458 avoid damage from a crucial 20+2 shot and they continue to hold tight in one of the central houses. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot shift them, and this includes two sixes on recovery attempts on the HMG which I am not able to fire even once. This die-hard 8-1 and his mates are a thorn in my side for the entire scenario.
By Turn 4, I have also discovered Walt's second AT Gun dominating the crossroads in the middle of the village. In addition, due to a slight initial bad placement, he also manhandles the first grainfield covering one into a position where it can enfilade the entire lateral road through the middle of the village. This is really damaging to all my attack plans as Walter now has TWO glorified, pumped-up 4FP guns that can dominate everything I do. As a result, I decide to try and overrun the gun that has been pushed, as I have to get rid of this to leave me the freedom of movement to assault the last 5-6 buildings in the village. Initially I do really well to miss the first two defensive fire shots, but the in-hex overrun prevention shot quite literally cooks my goose. To add salt to the wound, the never-ending ROF guns make my other M13 swiss cheese - I really am in trouble now.
In Turn 5, I continue to push on, but the ROF guns from hell mince both of my engineers on multiple shots and Walter is even able to launch a counter-attack with a green half-squad (!) which re-takes one of my briefly conquered buildings. He is also in a position and to that force me to rout from another one too - well done glorious Yugos!. At this point I resign - I only have three unbroken squads left, the 9-1 and two L3s, but we count up and determine that with the terrain configurations and the need to rally Italians, (several of them), that I am just not going to be able to take and hold the sufficient nine desirable residences. One of the two L3s is labouring with a malfunctioned MG so it can't be used for freezing, and my troops are way to weak to do anything now. That was decidedly that.
I enjoyed the game and Walter is a great opponent, but we both felt that the Yugos were just too favoured in this one. Any sensible placement of the AT Guns to cover the core buildings of the village means that the tanks are bound to be heavily exposed at some point and they will just wither under the 3 ROF guns. In contrast, the Italian mortars were next to useless as they needed to be pulled over some tough terrain to get into favourable firing positions, the LMGs break down easily, the armour struggles to stay alive and be effective, and ultimately you are trying to rally 5 broken side morale troops against 7s. No real contest there. The printed balance here is to give an extra Italian turn and I think this would be a good way to amend the scenario, but I would also remove the HMG and swap it for an LMG. It is one extra 3 ROF weapon that the Yugos just don't need. On the other hand, low grade troops vs low grade troops is always a lot of fun and if balance is used, this definitely has the makings of a fun one.

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