Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Owlcon AAR: FrF2 Maczek Fire Brigade

Nick Drinkwater

Polish Player [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Tom Gillis
German Player [ELR 4, SAN 2]: Nick Drinkwater

Poland 1939 for the final Owlcon game and my good friend Mr. Gillis as my worthy opponent with the doomed but doughty Poles. Tom and myself have been developing a finely tuned friendly rivalry where we seem to have taken it in turns to beat the other over the last few months. He slaughtered me hard back in November in some RBF4 Axis Minor fun, so obviously it was my turn to return the favour? Right?

This is a fun scenario from the very first Friendly Fire Pack which pitches two good sized OOBs against each other in a classic "take-the-village" scenario. The action is set on Boards 50 (the new hilly wooded one) and 17 (one of the great fields-heavy ones we received in Yanks). The layout is augmented by a couple of building overlays in order to beef up the German victory requirements to taking 12 out of approximately 21 possible victory buildings over 6 turns. The majority of the buildings are centred around the loose village crossroads on Board 17 but there are also two additional buildings perched high on the rearmost hill of Board 50 which could prove vital, assuming the Germans can sneak someone up there. The Germans arrive from offboard and are attacking to the north along the long axis of the boards, whilst the Poles need to defend a two board frontage from hexrow L backwards. The western half of the German entry area is dominated by the monster level four hill of Board 50, whilst the eastern half of the approach to the village has a nice juicy orchard and grainfield to act as great cover to help assist the Germans getting into place for the main village assault.

On the defense, the Poles have a nice company of 457s to play with, assisted by a HMG, MMG, ATR and stacks of dummies. Stiffening this defense is a juicy 9-1 and an 8-0, but they receive Turn 1 armoured support in the form of two Vickers tanks armed with CMG and the Challenger 2 of its day, a Vickers with a 47mm gun on it. For 1939, that is an awesome tank as almost all the German armour has an AF of one or less - used wisely and this monster could break the back of any German armoured probe. The CMG tanks also have those odd offset turret arrangements which sadly preclude combination into a juicy 12 FP MG attack, (thank heavens for me). As well as this, the Poles also receive Turn 2 armour support from three TKS tankettes, one with a fragile BMG and two with quite tasty 20L Guns - again, pretty good for punching holes in to thin-walled German armour.

Tom set up in a relatively even line across the entire front - in the board 17 eastern woods mass were some nice "?" stacks, the axial road near the board seam was stiffened with three more "?" stacks and there were some more on the crest lines of the southernmost board 50 hill. Finally, on Level one of one of the board 17 village buildings were a couple more "?" stacks with a view over the hedge and grain field into the front hex of the big in-season orchard. The unknown question for me was whether Tom was faking me with dummies in the woods and hills and had gone heavy in the centre or had he spread the defenders width-wise across the board? Time would tell.

In response to this clear act of naked aggression by the Poles, my gentle peace-loving German souls were primed and ready to rumble and return more of greater Germany back to the Fatherland. I had been provided with ten 468s, a 9-1, 8-1, 7-0, 5 motorcycles and some trucks with a MMG, a couple of LMGs and an ATR. As this is Poland and its 1939, we of course had to have some armoured element of the mighty Blitzkrieg, and so for this task I had received two MkIs, three MkIIs and a couple of those brilliant "leedel tanks", the PSW222 armoured car. In itself with its armour of 1 and its assortment of 20L guns which breakdown on an 11, this armoured forced is not something that you would ever normally lose sleep over. However, any force containing armoured cars with 33MP is a brilliant thing and even over open ground, the ACs can do 11 hexes a turn. In addition, with the IFE and MG, most of these tanks were packing 4FP every advancing fire phase which is nothing to sneeze at. And best of all, every one of these has a radio and comes with those three amazing symbols, "SD6".

Looking at Tom's valiant green line and with the nagging doubt that I had a lot of ground to cover and buildings to tag in a short space of time, I thought the best thing to do was to overwhelm him with force from the get-go in true blitzkrieg fashion and focus pretty much the entire schwerpunkt in a direct drive straight through the orchards and grain and directly into the guts of the village. I detached a single MkI and a single squad and 8-1 on a motorbike to go up the Board 50 axial road to offer flank protection near the little walled compound on the lower slopes of Board 50, but their main job was to suppress, delay and foil any kind of lateral attack from Tom's hilltop defenders. Turn 1 moves saw a wall of SD smoke get dropped off in the open ground between grainfield and orchards to cover the fleet of blond-haired Hells Angels (Aryan Chapter, 1939 vintage) from the first few defensive shots from the eastern woods and the Board 50 hill. Tom rolled high on most of his attacks and we continued to march onwards, but even from these opening parleys, it was clear that Tom's eastern woods stacks had some real defenders in there.

By the end of Turn 2, it was even more clear what the lay of the land was - Tom had packed the eastern woods with 3.5 squads, 1.5 more in the middle buildings with the 9-1 and HMG to dominate the approach to the village, and the ATR and MMG on the Board 50 hill to fire from the other flank. My little flank detachment was able to quickly suppress all fire from the hilltop defenders and made them run away off the hilltop leaving their MMG behind, but I also started to chalk up some early hits against the woods squads too, and, by the end of Turn 2, much of my infantry component was at the hedge line in force, smothered in yet more of that beautiful SD6 smoke. In contrast to my amazing smoke-rolling prowess (I made about 70% of my SD attempts in this game), Tom was just having one of those days dice-wise where nothing seemed to go right for him and even though he had multiple To Hit attempts on my thin-skinned armour with the HMG, he had no luck at all on the kills.

In an effort to change this, Tom's first armour reserves arrived and settled into a nice hulldown position behind the wall in the middle of the Board 17 village, threatening three of my tanks and directly supporting the 9-1 and HMG in the level one building. His moves were good and they looked like they were going to pay off as I failed all three of my responding consecutive motion attempts with three sixes in a row (and they needed 5 or less!). So, forced by this setback to stay and fight in Defensive Fire, I took my chances and shot back - two hits with rate from my first MkII, but only scratches on the 47*mm Vickers paintwork to show for it. My other MkII however followed this initial failure up and with his second rate shot, punched holes throughout the turret armour of the big Vickers...much Germanic blond-haired frothy beer drinking rejoicing ensued!

This was huge as the biggest threat to my armour was now looking like vesicular basalt (look it up) and I knew that if I played my armour well (always a bit of uncertainty in that statement when it comes to me and tank handling), I could thrash the rest of the Polish Armour with their Platoon Movement restrictions. At the board seam, having forced Tom's hilltop guys backwards, I took a punt and saddled up my 8-1 and a 468 onto their BMW dream machines and then drove hell for leather along the Board 50 hillside road, passing through (but not overrunning) a broken squad of Tom's on the woods road and then enforcing their surrender. Next turn, these biker guys ended up on the crest of the northernmost Board 50 hill, way into Tom's backfield and ready to clean up the two Board 50 buildings. "Brilliant move", thought I, until the next movement turn when Tom lined up his three TKS tankettes about six hexes away on their entry hexes..."Not so brilliant now". Tom proceeded to arrange his three tanks to take point blank shots at them but miraculously my guys on bikes survived through some untimely high-rolling by Tom. Very lucky - I'd just completely forgotten about his reinforcements and where they were allowed to enter, and by all rights, my guys should have been red jam under those baby tankette treads.

Anyway, surviving this and manning up to their pathfinder responsibilities, my doughty isolated biker heroes leapt off their Suzukis and then jumped into CC with the Polish BMG tankette which they quickly knocked off with a nice little three on the CC roll. To compound this, Tom's dice then really took a turn for the worse as the next tankette with a 20L broke its gun and the second one rolled cars on its mechanical reliability roll. A brutal 1-2-3 combination and the second armour platoon was suddenly completely out of the game.

In the meantime, in the middle I continued with the big drive straight into middle of the village. I managed to swarm the remaining two Vickers tanks, the first of which was shot from behind and immobilised and the crew forced to abandon, whilst the second also failed a mechanical reliability roll - more brutal die-rolling for Gillis. At the same time, I had managed to break 2.5 of Tom's woods squads on the extreme east of the play area. Needing to roll these up quickly, I sent one of the brilliant PSW222 armoured cars racing through the village, under the impotent barrels of the 9-1 and the immobilised but still firing Vickers CMG tank, to come in from behind the broken defenders to try and enforce some good DMs and subsequent FTRs. At the same time, more squads mounted up their bikes and zipped on through to the back of the village to start snagging buildings while Tom's diminishing defenders powerlessly waved their fists at them. I love playing motorbikes and sidecars as the mobility and options to exploit a gap that they give you are awesome. Nice.

From here on, the end was very swift - first, the Level 1 HMG broke down and then X'ed out completely and then Tom's encircled 9-1 rolled a cars on a NMC which was the end of him. At that point it was time to concede as I had all my tanks and ACs in place apart from one with a broken MA, and I had not lost any troops of note. Tom was now down to an isolated and encircled squad and a half in the heart of the village and 2.5 more squads about to surrender. At this point, the writing wasn't so much on the wall, as currently being printed in the late edition of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" and being distributed with typical Teutonic efficiency all over Lower Westphalia - it was all over.

A fun game against an always fun opponent. I played this one well for me, and it was probably the most efficient combined arms attack I've played to date so that was really cool, and its always very, very nice when your plans come off flawlessly. Good try by Tom but ultimately he was a little too far out of position and he seriously diced himself at the same time - two failed mechanical reliability tests, a broken MA, the boxcars on the leader and the boxcars and subsequent six on the HMG were way too much for anyone to deal with and ultimately left the Poles fairly well stuffed in this one. At the point of conceding, Tom had a single squad pinned by my sniper deep into my entry area - these crafty buggers were trying to sneak onto one of my abandoned Motorbikes to attempt some heroic Steve MacQueen-esque escape frolics and score mundo style points but it wasn't to be. Maybe next time when its Tom's turn to win!

Good scenario this - some really fun toys and good quality troops. The extra morale pip of my guys saved my ass on several occasions and that was big, but the Germans do need it as they have to hustle very hard in this one. They have a lot to achieve in very short order and they need every trick in their book to achieve it, but it is definitely do-able. Much fun all around and who can resist the lure of multi-turreted crappy tanks?

More AARs to follow as time allows, where I answer Mr. Z.Doyle's scandalous, libellous accusations that I was 'lucky' and whined my way through my awesome crushing victory over his poltroon-like communist hordes in "Into the Vienna Woods". Watch this space.

No comments: