Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Owlcon AAR: CH41 Test Of Nerves

Zeb Doyle

Owlcon AAR Part III; Saturday Morning:

British: Zeb Doyle
Germans: Ken Havlinek

I was pretty excited about the Saturday morning scenario since it was to be the prearranged duel on the drumlins with Nick Drinkwater. I’d actually had a beer mug commissioned especially for the occasion, with a picture of a lion on one side (his troops) and a donkey (Nick) on the other side for trash talking purposes. I figured that ‘lions led by donkeys’ jokes would be the only entertainment of the scenario as the troops under Nick’s hapless command would doubtlessly be butchered. It appears Nick felt the same way, and (as I have already written) he tearfully backed out of our match and I instead found myself playing Ken Havlienk in CH41 Test Of Nerves.

This scenario is based on the second day of the fight at Villers-Bocage during which Michael Wittman and accompanying Tigers tore up the British 7th Armored Division. Since the event is so famous, there are multiple ASL scenarios representing the action. At first glance, the CH version seems a little vanilla, with five turns of action on board 24 and a small German force of six 5-4-8s, three Tigers, and a Panzer IVH attacking four British squads, three Cromwells, a Firefly, and a 57L AT gun. The British get some 76mm Battalion OBA in support, and win at game end if they have a stopped AFV with functioning MA and LOS to a key crossroad. One minor oddity is that that the British (despite defending) set up second and move first. What really makes the scenario stand out from the other Viller-Bocage actions is that both sides get to set up their AFVs HIP. That simple SSR goes a long way towards making the scenario a true test of nerves.

The defending British armor is clearly outclassed, with only the Firefly able to deal with the Tigers through the frontal armor. The 57L ATG and the 95mm HEAT round from the Cromwell VI also have a chance, but require a bit of luck with their depletable ammo and TK rolls. Both sides have armor leaders, but again the Germans have the edge, with a 10-2 Wittman and a 9-1 wingman against an anonymous 9-1 and 8-1. The British infantry is also outmanned, with only four 4-5-8s squads and a single leader (who also has to handle radio duties) against six 5-4-8s, a 9-2, 8-1, and an MMG. The 76mm OBA helps out a lot here, but even better for the British cause is the fact that much of their set-up area has LOS to the VC crossroads; the onus is on the Germans to come forward and dig out all that HIP armor for the win.

Ken ended up with the Germans and set up for the attack. I then placed my plucky defending British. Set-up is always tricky, and I spent a lot of time fussing over where to station my lone leader and his radio. There’s no good spot that offers both good LOS and safety from the German firepower, and eventually I decided he’d end up in the rear of the infamous board 24 hillside multi-level building (V3). My Firefly (easily the most important British piece of equipment) was HIP in the X1 woods clump, with the 95mm Cromwell VII well back covering it. Only the Firefly actually had LOS to the crossroads, as I was trying to strike a balance between covering the VC area and forcing the Tigers to come and get me. The remaining two Cromwell VIs, the AT gun, and the infantry were scattered about, mainly ready to die in place to protect the Cromwell VII and Firefly.

The first player turn was pretty boring, as all my infantry were set up out of LOS to get concealment and only moved into their actual defensive positions during the APh. Thankfully, Ken is a very entertaining guy, with lots of (real) stories about strippers, chigger and red ant attacks, and all kinds of other crazy stuff. My main take-away was that if you return from Africa and come down with a cold that lasts more than three days, immediately go to the emergency room. It’s still a toss-up however as to whether tropical parasites are worse for your health than current girlfriends learning about ex-stripper girlfriends.. Learning all this valuable info actually made me forget to whine when my first roll for radio contact was a ten.

The first German player turn featured a lot more action. Although I again failed my radio contact roll, Ken’s dice were even worse. A 2-3-8/PSK died to a 6-2 K/, and left the vital LATW sitting in no-man’s land for the rest of the game. Even worse, a precious Tiger malfed its MA and based on an earlier shot, I knew it had an armor leader in it. Ouch. All this bad luck continued into turn two, when I pulled a red card for the OBA and broke my 95mm howitzer Cromwell trying to place smoke. Thankfully, the Cromwell later managed to repair the MA, our bad luck largely subsided, and we were able to focus in on the tactics and not the dice.

The next few turns saw Ken’s jackbooted troopers grinding me down in very efficient fashion. The two Tigers that still had functioning MAs blasted me up and his 9-2 kill stack also did a lot of damage. Ken also did a great job being patient with his armor and using his infantry to probe for my HIP traps. As such, my 57L was soon discovered and only managed to knock out the Pz IV with a desperate IF shot before going down. By the start of my turn four, my infantry was pretty much out of the running and although my HIP armor all remained undiscovered, Ken still had two movement phases left.

At this point, I made a moderate-sized blunder. I finally had a spotting round in place, but my leader had been forced to fall back into some woods to establish a rally point and couldn’t see anything useful. Here, I should have just accepted the reality that my infantry was gone, called in harassing fire on top of them, and at least cut way down on Ken’s maneuverability for the rest of game. Instead, I went soft, kept my SR uselessly dancing around, and futilely tried to rally my remaining DM rabble. I am a lucky guy, but for once, adapting a strategy of trying to roll threes and fours didn’t pay off for me and with the German turn four MPh rolled around with not much between Ken and my tanks…

Luckily for me, Ken didn’t quite take advantage of my miscue. He’d done a fantastic job over the first three turns of cautiously grinding me down, and now that I had nothing left to stop him, the shift to all-out blitzkrieg didn’t fully happen. He bagged my remaining infantry as prisoners, spread out a bit to guard against a final-turn rush by me to get LOS into the VC area, but didn’t quite push hard enough to actually find any of my armor. That wasn’t terrible, but he then parked both his Tigers with working MA on the crossroads right where my Firefly could see them both. This was really a piece of bad luck, especially after Ken had done so well avoiding that faux pas earlier.

With those two tasty targets in my sights, the Firefly opened up in DFPh on the lead Tiger.. Needing an 8 to hit, I rolled a 9, but revealed my 9-1 AL for the kill. The AFPh was equally tense. Ken’s last MA Tiger blasted back at me with a base 3TH. The dice bounced around and came up with a five. There was a moment of silence as Ken rechecked his notes and declared the shot a miss. I had to let out a big sigh of relief even as I felt for Ken at the same time…it had been the 10-2 Wittman AL that had malfed his MA, not the 9-1, and if things had gone the other way, my Firefly would likely have been burning and the game all but over.

After that big break, I managed to kill off Ken’s second Tiger in my turn five PFPh and reposition my armor such that one Cromwell had LOS to the VC area and all the others were covering the Firefly. That put way too much pressure on the German infantry, and although Ken did everything he could with the hand he was dealt, lots of CMG and point-blank MA fire ended the game with a British win.

It’s certainly an interesting scenario, and one I’d play again as either side. It’s obviously on the small end of tourney-sized and the OBA and armor make it a bit dicy, but I think both sides have just enough tools that losing one weapon system won’t completely doom you. The HIP tanks are also a lot of fun, and it is enjoyable watching the Tigers skulk around in fear of the Firefly. Well-played on Ken’s part; the loss of the PSK and the 10-2 Tiger (who never repaired his MA) made the hill just a bit too steep to climb, but he was still right in it all the way to the end, and a more aggressive infantry force on turn four might have made all the difference.

That’s it for now, thanks again as always for reading my drivel.


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