Wednesday, February 06, 2008

AAR: ITR4 Clash at Ponyri

Matt Shostak

Germans: Matt Shostak
Russians: Bill Dorre

Fortunately Zeb's copy of Into the Rubble arrived in time for him to bring it to Nick's for the game day, and since his first game was something else entirely, I was eager to give it a try. I went to Nick's with no ASL gear aside from my rulebooks, and no idea whom I would be playing. It turns out I was matched up with the ebullient Bill Dorre, and, since we both had all day long, I managed to talk him into trying this monster.

In retrospect, it might not have been the best choice for a game day like this. The scenario is a large urban slugfest in a railyard, with a lot of combined arms action and a healthy number of fortifications for the defenders. Such a scenario might best be attempted when both players have a little time to mull it over beforehand, so the defender can arrive with his setup ready. Moreover, it might be better to try this kind of action over the course of a couple of Saturdays one-on-one, so that each player can be free of the usual game day distractions and retain focus on the task at hand, but also with plenty of time to not feel rushed.

Disclaimer: This was far from an ideal playing, partly due to the reasons I've just mentioned. We both made some mistakes in the proper application of the rules and game play, not to mention our various tactical mistakes and blunders. I will leave out the rules errors in the interest of getting to the meat of this report, but they were rather significant when taken altogether, which could affect how the game played out.

Clash at Ponyri is manly ASL. It depicts a German attack aimed at securing the water tower and other key real estate in the railroad complex at Ponyri in the battle of Kursk. Both sides are powerful. Neither side will get out of this scrap without getting their hair mussed. The Russians defend with about 17.5 squads, several machine guns, and 4 guns of various types. They have 70mm artillery on call, and have hunkered down behind some wire, trenches, foxholes, and mines to await the German attack. Those Germans will be coming at them with 23 squads (6 of them elite, including 3 assault engineer / sapper 8-3-8 squads), an arsenal of machine guns, a couple of flamethrowers, and several demo charges. They also have artillery on call of the 80mm variety (that's 10 louder than the Reds'), and 11 tanks of various types, 10 of which come equipped with smoke ammunition (at least according to the factory specs). To win, the Germans have to gain control of the water tower (the only level 2 location on the map), and 5 of 7 of the larger buildings, some of them factories, and they start with one of them in their pocket already. All buildings are ground level wooden by SSR.

I started the game off with all that possible smoke ammo, including three PzIIINs with s9. Not wanting to start them off CE and be sniper bait, I stayed buttoned up. I wanted to put some smoke on the board early to cover my infantry assault. With a base to hit of 7, up 2 for smoke to 9, with a +1 DRM to the roll for BU, I needed an 8. Twice I rolled a 9, the second worst result possible - last smoke round, and a miss to boot. My tanks also rarely got any smoke dispensers to work, though they tried quite a bit.

The only tank to move on the first turn discovered a 45L in a very unusual spot, and needing a 4 to kill, Bill naturally rolled it. This is pretty much how the entire game went.

My artillery managed to draw a red card on the first draw. Then I forgot to roll for it for a player turn, and when I eventually got it ready I was so eager to get it down that I brought a smoke barrage down on the railroad. In the end it was probably worthless, or more helpful to the Russians than my own troops. This one's on me, my own darned fault for poorly planning how to use my artillery.

Bill goofed on defending his 57LL on my left flank, in a somewhat forward position, and they were caught with their pants down and killed in CC.

The main attack in the middle actually went pretty well once the Jerries got troops in there, and my superior numbers and firepower took a big toll. Ultimately I wound up exiting the board with about 3.5 squad equivalents of prisoners, most of whom were escorted by the vehicle crew from that first knocked out tank. This may have been the first scenario where I exited prisoners off my friendly board edge. Woohoo! I like doing new stuff in ASL.

An assault engineer squad managed to move along the gully around back of the armored cupola, and placed a demo charge on it, after it had already fired on something else, to successfully knock it out. Style points.

Right about the time the Germans had overrun the center of the map, the Russians brought their 70mm mortars to bear on the position, and caused much consternation. Additionally, a 9-1 leader, squad, and HMG came out of hiding and whacked a bunch of landsers in the relatively open terrain between the center and the wall in front of the water tower. That's when I started bringing my tanks up. The infantry was getting shredded by machine gun fire and artillery. My best leader, the 10-2, had brought forward his platoon of rifle squads toting 3 MMGs, and they got in the lumber yard to face off against the Russian 9-1, but the Russian mortar battery corrected fire right on top of them, and broke a squad.

I could feel momentum beginning to slip. Although the Germans had smashed a lot of Soviet infantry in the center, the attack felt a bit aimless because only two of the needed victory buildings were in this area, and the other four were scattered about. It swung back the German way when the Russian 9-1 and HMG squad decided to make a break for the Russian right flank, but were cut down by a vengeful Cpt. Muench, my 10-2, on a barely-clear line of sight 12 down 1 attack. The German tanks pressed forward hard and got right up in the face of the remaining Russian infantry as the battle progressed to the stone wall in front of the water tower. The other 4 victory buildings included a factory on my left flank, actually quite close to my jump off positions, but I put only a token force in this area and they were just keeping the Soviets honest. The water tower was now easily in reach directly to my front. Behind it was another victory building, a 4-hex factory. To my right was another victory building occupied by the Russian 9-2, HMG, and a couple of squads. As Russian reinforcements trickled in, they moved into these factories and the other victory building, a factory way in the Russian rear, farthest away from the German starting position.

The German tanks were able to leverage the assault forward, and a lot of Wehrmacht foot soldiers got to the wall and started threatening the two factories within reach of the water tower, and of course the water tower itself. It was actually looking pretty good for the Germans at this point. They had 3 buildings in the bag, with their other needed objectives well within reach. The Red 9-2 and his HMG group looked tough (and were in a fortified position to boot), but the backside of his factory was vulnerable and there were a lot of Germans closing in on the area between those two factories. Moreover, there were about a platoon or so of Germans on the far right flank, fresh from smashing the cupola, ready to come at them from another angle. The Russian artillery observer, under the water tower, now had a panzer in his location that he had to worry about. One highlight in this sequence was a German tank driving around behind his SU-152 (which had taken up station behind the wall next to the water tower) and popping off a 75* HEAT round in its rear, which - wonder of wonders - managed to kill the monster. The German attack was now back on schedule and ready to grab the win.

Then came the turn from hell. There was still one Russian gun left, the 76L artillery piece, in the factory behind the water tower. In prep fire it wrecked a StuG that had gotten a little too up close and personal with some Russian infantry nearby. Then it turned, and shot at a PzIVF2 behind the wall near the SU-152 hulk. The shot was +6 for the click, +2 more for hindrances, and at a hull down target. Of course it was a miss, but it retained rate of fire, and proceeded to send shell after shell at the panzer, shocking it and hitting it once or twice more. But that was just the warm up. The 9-2 on the other side directed his machine gunners to fire across the street at a German squad, and concealed leader and squad. Here Bill just kept rolling 3s and 4s it seemed, endlessly. In reality he probably only retained rate about 8 times. It seemed like a million. The first 4 or 5 shots were plenty to turn that small platoon into a dead leader, and two broken half squads, who would never recover to take further part in this battle. He even changed targets at some other poor brokies in another victory building for a while. But that's not all. I wasn't very concerned about his last reinforcing armor, two Stuarts and two SU-76s. They weren't really a match for the German armor at this point. The other SU-152 had already died in close combat with the infantry that the Red 9-2 had shredded (the same ones that had knocked out the cupola). The Stuarts drove on, and took up positions between the two factories the Germans were assaulting, and one fired canister with a bounding fire shot. Another 3 from Bill on the 6+2 shot, and something like 5 German squads broke in two different hexes. I think a German leader died or was wounded, or something, it's all a blur. In the space of one turn, the Russians had gone from a losing position to a likely win. It still looked like the factory with the 76L could be taken, but the 9-2's bastionnow looked secure.

Fortunately the victory factory on my far left that I had largely ignored fell into German hands around this time. With only a few half squads and a couple of squads attacking (two of which drew fire to help a flamethrower forward and never came back), the Germans got into the factory and killed an ATR-toting Soviet 7-0 leader in CC. The flamethrower broke a Russian squad there also. When the remaining Russian concealed squad jumped the German 8-0 and 2-4-7 in close combat, they took a big risk. They got locked in melee, opening up the factory to the remaining few Germans in the area, who quickly seized the opportunity to dive in there and reinforce the melee, winning control of the factory when they dispatched the last Soviet defenders.

The last couple turns were a flurry of frantic fighting. A Soviet 7-0 and squad went berserk earlier, and charged the tank that was trying to suppress their forward observer under the water tower, killing it in close combat. They then moved back to defend the 76L, the 7-0 getting wounded on the way. Another panzer tried to grind them to dust, but was quickly brewed up, although I can't remember whether the 76L was the perpetrator or the Red infantry. The Germans still had an assault engineer squad in the area with a clever plan to dispatch the gun. They would move into the factory and place the DC against the interior wall, and then move through the hole they created to kill the crew in close combat if necessary. It was a cunning scheme, but it was derailed by another canister shot from that same Stuart, again rolling a 3, this time on a 12+4, which of course broke the engineers, who shortly thereafter were forced to rout closer to the Russian lines and surrendered to a Soviet conscript squad. A lone German 8-1 was in the factory, directly behind the gun, when the engineers dropped their DC in order to surrender. But for some reason he failed to pick it up to throw on the gun next turn. But the gun had to be suppressed, so he jumped the crew in close combat. His entrenching tool was apparently no match for them, however, as they easily finished him off on the 2:1 attack.

It now looked pretty close to hopeless for the Germans, but because of the left flank factory falling into their laps, they still had a chance if they could take the factory with the 76L. The final turn had the remaining German tanks driving into factory locations (but unable to see the gun due to interior walls), while another bypassed the gun crew to suppress their firing options. It drove up, stopped, fired MGs and generated a 2MC which the crew passed, then went into bypass. Later the 10-2 hustled up with two squads and MMGs, and got another check of some kind against the crew. All told, the crew survived at least one 3MC and two 2MCs in the final couple of turns, plus some other checks I'm sure, but only pinned on this one. Finally the 10-2 and his henchmen had to finish the crew off at close quarters. The Russians counterattacked, the highlight of which was yet another canister roll of 3 from that same Stuart, against the 10-2 group, resulting in a 1MC that they had to pass or else they would never control the factory. They did pass. It all came down to a 16+2 from an adjacent squad and MMG to break the last Russian squad, which had a faceful of StuG at the moment, in another location of that factory, to give control to the Germans when it had to rout away. How fitting that the 10-2 would be the one to take the final factory. How often do you see that happen? Iron Cross.

There were many other exciting moments and sideshow events, but I hope this report has given you the overall gist of what happened. The game was filled with mayhem, glory, and gut-wrenching angst. In the end I think the Germans only had about 5 squad equivalents in good order, and another approximately half dozen squad equivalents broken, left on the board. They still had several of their tanks. The Russians may actually have had more men on board (but not by much), one Stuart.

I highly recommend this scenario, if you have the machismo required to take it on. I'm not sure we had the requisite ruggedness, but we had fun trying it out. But to repeat myself, I recommend that you give yourself plenty of time so you can do it right. I hope someone in the club will want to give it a whirl with me, despite the fact that I've played it already. It's the kind of challenge that I really like, and probably bears repeated play.



No comments: