Saturday, January 26, 2008

AAR: SP133 Old Hickory's Path

Nick Drinkwater

Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4, SAN 4]
German: John Hyler [ELR 2, SAN4]

The second instalment of my first weekend of ASL Heaven in 2008. From rural Yugoslavia and some really crap tanks, to the forested plains of western Germany with some really good ones. The task: clean every single German good-order squad from every single building on the board, and ensure that there are no more pesky manned artillery guns anywhere on the playing area. Easy huh? Well, maybe.
This is a four half-board combination involving the very scattered forest orchard and brush terrain of Boards 17, 32, 37 and 38 - the main "conurbation" (if you can call it that) is a scattered bunch of wooden buildings that straddle Boards 37 and 38. The approaches to this village are a series of narrow corridors between scattered woods that form natural choke points from which these late-war Germans can delay, harry and annoy the Americans - I have seven turns to turf John's die-hards out of their largely wooden dwellings, and I can easily see the last turn or so being a desperate bug-hunt to enforce breaks or some other non-good order status on to the last one or two squads in the back corner of the village.
John has actually got a fairly tasty force to defend this particular corner of the Reich: four elite squads (two 548s, two 468s), three first and three second line squads and a smattering of average leadership. They are enforced with a plethora of support weapons, and have all the late war tricks of the trade that you would expect from your typical, garden-variety 1945 Wehrmacht - I will be striving to keep my armour a healthy three hexes or more away from these guys. To beef this up, they have a hidden Pak 40, and four half-tracks that pack a huge punch: a 75L type (with Ammo Vehicle) and three of the triple 20L guns (12 FP, ROF 3). Finally they have two 105L ART guns which are a massive 20 FP on the IFT - tasty!
To counter this immovable object, I have a really impressive unstoppable late war force - it is mostly coming in on foot (9 x 667s, 5 x 666s, a 9-2 and other good leaders, a .50 cal and stuffed to the gills with mortars, machine guns and bazookas). The armour punch comes from two M10s and the five Chaffees, one of my favourite tanks with a ton of smoke tricks and a whopping 18MP - this is basically the late war, improved up-gunned version of the old Stuart, but like its predecessor, comes with scarily thin armour. The key with these babies is to keep them moving and pop smoke out whenever its necessary to get out of a tight situation.
Sigh, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that... John's task is to delay my initial thrusts as much as he can in an outer screen and then conduct a fast fallback defense of whatever's still alive to help in the defense of the last-stand village in Turns 5-7. He has covered all the main choke points quite heavily with some big looking stacks, and, apart from the concealed 5/8" counters, there is not much obvious in the way of troops protecting the village. A case of an upfront, "in your face" defense then, from which he's going to need to extricate his big units carefully and with some skill.
My waves of attackers pour on to west edge and I try a looping manoeuvre with two Chaffees and riders to the extreme south to thrust in on the right hand side: my riders get off relatively unscathed but one of my Chaffees goes up in Smoke from a single dead-eyed shot from the 75L half-track...ouch! The Chaffees AF of 6 is no help here. John has a 548/Psk combo in the key 17GG6 isolated hut that holds out really well and this puts a crimp on my right-flank attacking plans. In the right centre, John misses hurting my waves of infantry in the big woods complex and loses a 248 half-squad in return as he tries to pull back, lugging the HMG. The assault fire bonus of the Americans is a monster and just eats up tired defenders again and again in these scenarios.
My other main trick is to do a two Chaffee rider flank attack on the other, far northern side of the playing area. Again, riders disembark to start putting pressure on some of the other concealed defenders in the northern wooded glade. Trying to be clever and stir up all sorts of trouble, I next send a roving now rider-less Chaffee deep into Johns territory: good idea, bad execution, as John pulls out a 4 to hit from one of his artillery guns just when he needs it and my second paper-thin Chaffee goes up in smoke. The To Kill number of this gun is a healthy 14 and the Chaffee doesn't have the weight of armour to survive that kind of shot - these artillery guns need to be respected. Finally, I stupidly leave a CE M10 in direct LOS of one of the triple-guns and a resultant CR means he is under the BIG SHOCK red badge of shame...silly, unnecessary, and a lesson well-learnt for the future. I'm now down three tanks in two turns and by the skin of my teeth, have survived a couple of long shots on some of the others, and yet have not really scratched the Germans at all yet.
Successful combined arms is something I know I still need to work hard at as I continue to be a bit too aggressive with my tanks and this is showing up well here. The good news is that apart from one ELR reduction, the core of my infantry force is still intact and pushing hard up through the right central woods and also through the left central wooded glade. John's luck then really starts to run dry at this critical point in the game as he malfunctions one of the big 105L Art guns in the Board 38 part of the village (a really crucial loss) and then immediately follows this up by malfunctioning one of the triple gun half-tracks. In addition, I am really starting to hurt his core defenders for the end game as his withdrawing troops are repeatedly going down in light terrain as they try to flee backwards from multiple long shots from my numerous infantry. On three occasions John is forced to dally to pick up his HMG as its owner is either pinned or broken. I am attriting him with a half-squad here and a half-squad there and this is being subtracted from some of his quality infantry (his 468s and 467s). On top of this attrition, my surviving Chaffees are able to score some hurt on John's half-tracks through some long and thready line of sights through the multiple orchards. One of the triple guns goes down on a long shot and after four misses, I eventually nail the 75L half-track on a 13 hex long double-acquired shot - a big win indeed as John had just missed me on the reciprocal shot with the same gun!
Finally, I nail the malfunctioned triple gun with a long-bazooka shot, which leaves John with just one working 105ART, the hidden Pak 40 and one triple gun half-track. This just escapes my trap in the northern wooded glade when I realize the bazooka stack of riders I had carefully manoeuvred into place actually only has a MMG! Don't you just hate it when that happens? To effect the escape of this half-track and a couple of other squads, John sacrifices his other 548 / Shrek, which break from withering 667 fire. Of course, these guys become a huge distraction as broken units: I am about to enforce a surrender on them when my adjacent 8-1 leader, having survived a 12+1 by pinning, gets broken and wounded with a boxcars from a measly 4+1 shot from the village defenders. Ugly, and I have to expend further resources to go chasing him through the northern forests as John cleverly starts routing him back towards my side of the board towards the one sole building over there - a great lesson on the creative art of routing to cause me all sorts of problems!
By turn 4, the pressure on the German line is proving intolerable - the 17GG6 548 eventually goes down from a ring of five squads, but he has done his job well and I now need to push hard into the southern central part of the village. John reveals his Pak 40 emplaced nicely in the core of the village, but after I use some WP to shield my tanks, this gun gets X'ed on a 12 from an Intensive Fire shot. In addition, John's malfunctioned 105ART rolls the inevitable repair six, so he is now down to two principal anti-tank assets allied to a shaky defense of mainly first and second line infantry, and the writing is really on the wall. In one of his few effective rolls, my 9-2 gets the .50 Cal turning and breaks the crew of the last ART gun and I push hard into the core of the village with a ton of infantry. I quickly shove a Chaffee right into the face of this broken crew to get them moving backwards, braving the only PF shot that John is able to get off all night. In the final act of the game, I am able to encircle the main schwerpunkt of the village with an encircling Chaffee that has snuck in to position from the sunken road at the back of the board. When the owners of the encircled HMG break, John resigns.
Due to time pressures, he needs to go, but he was encircled in this key building and double enveloped in the entire village. In terms of assets, he was down to rougly a 9-1, one triple gun half-track and approximately three squads (mainly 447s and a 467): I was essentially still at about 10-11 active infantry squads and four tanks and my mortars, HMGs and bazookas with their WP were all warming up nicely. John, after some early hot-rolls, was plagued by some horrendous luck at a crucial point in the game (Turn 3) when his big ART broke then Xed, one of his triple guns broke, and the intensive fired Pak 40 went down on the intensive fire shot. He also had a big dud from his other 105ART gun and his repair and recovery rolls were cool (in the bad sense). In return, I failed to find Smoke from SM, mortars or shells for most of the game, but I only malfunctioned a single MMG all game. In the first few turns John's aggressive upfront defense caused me all sorts of problems and three tanks dead in two turns was an inauspicious start. Ultimately however, this strong frontal defense approach actually helped me: I was forced husband my resources and to use my armour much more cautiously (I only exposed the armour to one PF shot opportunity all game). More importantly, this early tough defense critically weakened John's later game efforts as he was struggling to re-establish his secondary defense lines with lesser quality troops and keep his big ROF weapons firing. There wasn't much left in the well by Turn 5 and though we didn't play out to the end, the result itself was not in doubt: the defense was being systematically taken apart chunk by chunk and there was no place to go.
Fun game, fun opponent and a harder tactical challenge for the Germans than the Americans, but definitely recommended - possibly a tad pro-American but the Germans can do this one.

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