Monday, July 30, 2018

AAR: Into the Grinding Mill [J147]

Zeb Doyle

Chinese: Zeb Doyle
Japanese: Matt Schwoebel

This is a medium-to-large scenario set in 1937, with a company of first-line Chinese 3-3-7s protecting the board 12 village, which even a rusty old relic as myself knows is tricky to defend. The job is made easier by the clever use of a few overlays, an SSR that huts are NA, and a bunch of pillboxes, trenches, wire, and minefields. To round out the OB, there is the usual Chinese rag-tag assortment of all the cast-off gear of the rest of the world’s armies, including WWI-vintage dug-in Renault tanks and 75mm Krupp mountain guns. To further bolster the defense, a platoon of elite 4-4-7s and a pair of Vickers 6-Ton tanks enter on turn three.
Against this motley array, the Japanese have plenty of force to try and dig out the opposition, with 19 total squads, ranging from elite through 2nd-line, a 10-2, a .50-cal, a FT, some DCs, and six Chi-Ro tanks with a respectable 57*mm MA. They also get two pre-game Bombardments by SSR, each of which is resolved KGP-style, with a Pre-Registered hex and an FFE:1 that hits everything within two hexes of where it ends up.
These Bombardments are one of the main dilemmas in the scenario for the Chinese. Normally, it would be straightforward to heavily fortify the village, with the pillboxes converted to Bunkers and covered by wire and minefields. That sort of concentrated defense certainly can ride out a Bombardment (with the wire and mines needing to roll a 9 or less to survive, and the pillboxes a 10), but the thought of all those important fortifications being wiped out pre-game by a few bad rolls isn’t very palatable.
On the other side of the map, the biggest challenge for the Japanese is time. The scenario is only 6.5 turns long, and they must go ~12-15 hexes to clear the VC area of all non-Broken Chinese MMC. This includes crossing a stream (deep by SSR), navigating the rural environs of board 13, and then digging the defense out of all those pillboxes and trenches on board 12. It can be done, especially with three knee mortars providing smoke, but the timeline is tight and provides no margin for error..
Given this intriguing situation, Schwoebel wanted the attackers, but also the balance (I think it was 13:5 in favor of the Chinese on ROAR prior to our playing). This was not insubstantial, adding a hero and a FT to the Japanese cause, but set up a running gag for me throughout the game where I could mock Matt, so it was worth it. I really felt the Japanese already had enough in their OB to do the job, that time would be the biggest concern, and so adding even more troops would just be gilding the lily.
            As the defending Chinese, I got a little spooked by the potential destruction from the Bombardments and went with a dispersed set-up. This divided the battlefield into three areas: the board 12 church/graveyard area, which offered the best terrain for skulking and where I hoped to make my final stand; the center village, with the bulk of the buildings; and the right flank, which was fairly open but needed to be covered to prevent any Japanese thoughts of a coup de main.
            I put one pillbox/75mm gun combo in each of the three areas, with the bulk of the trenches and machine guns by the church, most of my troops in the middle, and a 3-3-7/Mtr covering a dug-in Renault on my right. The wire and mines were sprinkled around the map, mainly to deny rally points. Finally, the deep stream on board 13 does have three bridges, and I tried to cover those as best I could to force the Japanese to get their boots wet. However, given the set-up limitations and hindrances, I couldn’t find a way to mass much firepower on them.
            With that done, Matt resolved his Bombardments, which both hit the center village area and destroyed my pillbox/gun combo there, really weakening that sector.. With that done, the Japanese commenced the attack with a strong thrust up the middle, and a credible push on both flanks. Matt had noticed the mass of trenches in the church area and committed all his tanks and the 10-2/.50-cal on that side. Early action saw me boxcar out an LMG trying to place a FL on the one bridge I could credibly threaten, and then rolling snakes and cowering off the IFT on a 1-2 shot at the 10-2/.50-cal stack. That and the destroyed pillbox made a great welcome back into ASL!
            As the game progressed through the early turns, Matt was able to take advantage of my weakened center and make very good progress there. My only solace was that he found all my minefields and rolled lots of boxcars on what felt like half of his morale checks, which eroded his manpower advantage even faster than you’d expect for the Japanese.
Out in the boonies on my right flank, my Renault was a super-star, Intensive Firing at everything it could see and somehow doing lots of damage with its 37* peashooter. A 4-4-8 was so struck by its sleek lines and Parisian-styling that they failed to destroy the Immobile, no MG tank in Melee, and Matt then boxcarred another MC, forcing them to Withdraw. The Renault finally went down to a Placed DC, but not before one last IF shot took out a Chi-Ro.
            Meanwhile, in the church sector, things settled into a bit of a stalemate, with Matt’s 10-2/.50 cal dominating the area, but not being able to push forward across the open against my MMG and HMG.. Here, I made a mistake by deviating from my pre-game plan. My pillbox/75mm gun in this area was meant to counter any possible appearance of the .50-cal since it and the 10-2 are such a powerful combo (I ended up with a 1+5+7 pillbox behind a kunai hindrance six hexes away from the Japanese in jungle. After acquisition, I could roll an 8 to get a 12+0 attack, while the return fire would have been a 12+4. That’s about the best set-up the Chinese can expect against the 10-2, I think). At any rate, I got seduced by the Chi-Ro tanks and concentrated on them instead. With no AP, I had a net 5TK to do anything, and as we all know, those B11 guns only have a finite amount of shots in them. I malfunctioned it without accomplishing anything. Stupid.
             During the mid-game, I got my desperately-needed reinforcements. The two Vickers tanks went to my right flank to replace the destroyed Renault, where their 6FP CMGs could cover the open terrain. I still had a squad and gun-crew here that were just outside the victory area, and I wanted to keep them intact and threatening a late-turn dash into the village. The action here turned into an amusing game of cat-and-mouse, with Matt’s balance-given hero and FT trying to work their way through a gully to take out the tanks. This went back and forth for a few turns, but the hero ended up in a jungle hex, got hit by my 50mm MTR, and after yet another boxcarred MC, both he and FT exited without doing anything. So much for the balance!
             In the center, things weren’t looking so rosy. Matt brought his Chi-Ro tanks over to bolster his already-successful attack, and several Chinese squads died for FTR. I had hoped to send my entire platoon of elite reinforcements to the church but ended up having to commit two 4-4-7s to the main village instead. At this point, I got lucky. Matt (rightfully) didn’t want to waste any time, and so entered multiple CCs to clear out the remaining resistance. Most of these were 1:1 attacks, with the Japanese of course favored on the Ambush, but my troops were able to beat the odds by outright winning several of the combats. This huge stroke of luck didn’t come close to turning the tide in the village, but it, along with Matt's numerous boxcar MCs, really accelerated the typical Japanese manpower attrition.
             Over by the church, the 10-2/.50-cal dominated, going on several ROF tears and chewing up my troops. Even with the entry of my last two reinforcing 4-4-7s here, I had to have my gun-crew abandon the attempts at repair and move over to man the HMG instead. Going into the last few turns, it wasn’t looking good for the Chinese, but the clock was ticking loudly. Matt was still facing a timeline that was manageable but had no margin for error.
             The end-game played out with Matt preparing to stamp out the flickering resistance in all three sectors. On my right, I had high hopes that my gun-crew could get back into the VC area, but despite my two Vickers tanks, Matt was able to get troops onto the pillbox. Overcoming the wire and lack of HtH, he had his only good CC roll of the game (needed a 4) to kill my 2-2-7 in CC and eliminate the threat. I still had another squad in this area, but it would have to move into the VC area and face down at least two Japanese squads, so I wasn’t optimistic at all.
             In the center, Matt’s sour CC luck quickly returned. With his (OB-given) FT and the tanks, he was finally able to clear the village, but my Chinese managed to make it a bloody process by holding their own and giving as good as they got in every CC. That, the previous losses, and the threat from my last surviving squad on the right flank meant that there just weren’t that many Japanese left to charge the church.
            Here, Matt’s 10-2/.50-cal had really worn my troops down over the course of the game, despite my trying to maintain concealment and skulk as much as possible. This powerful combo was all set to move into my trench compound and really make things tough for me when some insignificant DR on the far side of the map triggered my sniper which took out the 10-2. Obviously, that was huge, and swung things back in my favor.
Matt sorted through the resulting chaos well, but it set him back enough that on the last turn, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I had a stack of a 9-1, concealed 8-1, 3-3-7/HMG, 2-2-7 tucked away in the far corner of the church, where they were in the VC area but out of LOS of almost all the Japanese. Thanks to the bloody CCs of the center village, Matt had only a 9-1/2-2-8/4-4-7 that could reach me.
As the Japanese stack entered the church next to my troops, they were greeted with a 20+0 attack. Sadly, I pulled a page out of Matt’s book and rolled boxcars, resulting in no effect. Elation for the Japanese, despair for the Chinese. Taking the Subsequent First Fire shot was a better roll, causing an NMC. The leader and crew passed, but the squad rolled snakes and went Berserk, losing the ability to Advance and cancelling the Japanese celebration.
Still, you never know how CC will go, especially when its HtH, and my blood pressure spiked when the 9-1 and 2-2-8 advanced in and Ambushed my troops, despite the presence of my concealed 8-1. The resulting attack was a 1:4, -2 for Ambush and being Japanese, meaning Matt need a six or less to win the game. His string of poor rolls continued however, and the Chinese managed to hang on for victory.
Thanks very much to Matt for the game. He shook off some bad dice and was tolerant of my rusty play, allowing me to treat A.2 as an optional rule. I thought the scenario itself was a ton of fun, although I’m not sure how good my set-up was. The more I think about it, the more I think I was too scared of the Bombardments. If so, it’s probably better setting up a denser and more integrated defense that allows for the pillboxes to mutually support each other. Even if the Bombardments do more damage, the Chinese are probably better served playing with most of their fortifications in great spots, rather than all their fortifications in decent spots. Again though, I’m far too rusty to draw any good conclusions.

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