Saturday, 13 July 2019

Firestorm Kursk: Game 4 - Panthers at the Pena!

For our Firestorm Kursk Day 2 Game 4 I developed and briefed a scenario loosely based on the GrossDeutschland Panthers operating around the Pena River on the 7th July 1943:

Ghost Panzers objective marker!
Situation             Major Meinrad von Lauchert’s Panzer Regiment 39, consisting of 2 battalions of Panther tanks, famously had a poor introduction to the Battle of Kursk on 5th July, seemingly to gravitate time and again to quagmires or minefields. However after a few days, on drier more open ground, they began to justify the faith showed in them. Incredibly, however, on the 7th July they were then asked to move to another waterlogged bog replete with minefields, to spearhead the assault on the Pena river to firm up II SS Panzer Korp’s western flank …

They would form part of Oberst Strachwitz’s Kampfgruppe, consisting of 30 Pz IIIs and IVs, and the remaining 43 Panthers, as well as Panzer Grenadier support. They would be opposed by AT guns, mines and T-34s of General-major Andrei Getman’s 6th Tank Corps, part of Lt-Gen Mikhail Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.

The Pena river was shallow and only 10 metres wide (Cross check), but its banks were lined with bogs and marshes… A 6” strip each side of the river constitutes terrain and also causes bog checks to all vehicles and guns.

Strachwitz, applying the lessons of the disastrous Panther debut, opted to lead the assault crossing with the Panzer Grenadiers, the long-armed Panther’s supporting with direct fire from the German side of the river.

Mission – No Retreat (Except Soviets get 3 minefields)

Forces – 120* points each side, ideally 2 or more formations. Germans are encouraged to use some Panthers*, as well as Pz Grenadiers and other medium tanks. Soviets are encouraged to concentrate on AT guns and T-34s, with a minimum of infantry… No Air, No AA. (Actually on the day Colin and Peter deployed 178 points between them, Bryan and I had 120 + 3 minefields)

* If Germans field a Panther Tank Coy at least 2 Panther platoons of 3 Panthers each, they may spend an additional 60 points on that formation, so up to 180 in total. 

German objectives must be placed north of the Pena River.

This was now the fourth game in our Firestorm Kursk campaign, and the Germans had yet to make a firm lodgement in the Russian lines, so I had skewed the points slightly to both nudge them towards a historical scenario, and boost their morale and interest. However I still wanted a challenging scenario, but, given the disparity in Soviet armour where Panthers are concerned, the terrain and minefields would have to do a lot of the heavy lifting!

With the Soviet having to put half their platoons into immediate deep reserves, Bryan wisely kept all his Red tanks off table, which meant I, as the Red infantry commander, was able to deploy all my platoons except for one Mortar battery. 

With two Hero Rifle infantry platoons, my plan was to set one up around our objective, but to deploy the other well forward with the intention of rushing them forward into the German sector, using the cover of the large woods to harass the German light armour from the rear with their PTRDs. 

Perhaps a rash decision, as the German team had the first move, but all infantry start the No Retreat scenario dug in and gone to ground, so they should survive the limited German artillery which was bound to come their way? Viewed with some scepticism by some, at least at this stage of the war, I retain some affection for PTRDs, at least the way that FOW treats it as with a high rate of fire concentrated on a large base, and I hoped this aggressive forward deployment would distract at least some of the German light armour and infantry from the objectives deep in our end of the table. Our 76.2mm ZIS-3 AT battery was kept in ambush, and the 45mm AT battery deployed in woods to cover the German objective which was out in the open.

The Germans deployed with Peter’s Panthers on their left and centre, and Colin’s light armour and panzer grenadiers on the right, stretching across the table. Deliberately or not, given the ambush deployment rules with minimum 16” from enemy when in the open, this scotched our hopes of being able to spring a ZIS-3 ambush on the weaker Panther side armour – and front shots would simple bounce! As expected, a barrage fell on the forward rifle platoon but, dug in and gone to ground, all bar one team survived.

With our opening move my lead rifle platoon scurried forward into as much cover as they could manage, and my lovely 120mm mortars laid down smoke to increase their protection from the armoured cars that were hunting them. However they still suffered further light casualties. Bryan succeeded in bring some armour on; he opted to play safe and keep them concealed behind the woods.

Whilst the Panthers kept pushing straight on for the river bank, affording no opportunity for a flank ambush, the Panzergrenadiers had definitely taken the bait and were deploying serious firepower against my forward infantry platoon. Concluded their lifespan was going to be short anyway, and since they had served their function, I launched an assault on the flanks of the armoured cars – a forlorn hope which was duly cut down in a lethal spray of unsuppressed, multiple, 20mm automatic fire – it wasn’t pretty…

By this time the Panthers had been milling around their side of the river bank/swamp and Peter was getting bored them just with plinking at hidden and gone to ground AT guns, since Bryan was wisely refusing to present worthwhile armoured targets. Peter therefore took the plunge, and unfortunately for the cause of socialist fraternity and free beer for everyone, by dint of Cross Here movement orders the Panthers traversed the multiple hazards of both swampy river banks and the river crossings seemingly without pause! Not even a gearbox fire! Still no chance for a side shot ambush either, and space to deploy the AT guns was running out…

By this time the German light armour and pzgrenadiers were crossing the river, and it was very satisfying to whittle them down and pin them with the 120mm death dealing mortars! However as they recovered and started to close on the German objective, it was time to repurpose the ZIS-3s and 45s in the anti-personnel role - German smoke screens permitting!

Meanwhile Bryan had continued moving his armour from reserve to the concealed forming up point and was ready to engage the Panthers...

A labour in vain for the T34s, even the 57mm Special Tank Company 100...

Our main hope rested on the 2 SU-85s – succeeding in a blitz move their initial salvo would be at full ROF despite emerging from the woods…

They succeeded in bailing one Panther – no mean feat for the Soviets in 1943! But retribution was not long in coming...

However, by move seven the Germans were in unopposed possession of their objective and it was game over – the Germans had finally broken through the first line of Soviet Defences!

So the campaign remains uncannily historical in its pattern. Our next game returns to the Northern Front, and Peter is working up a scenario based on the 11th Pz Div on the Belgorod- Kursk road: 

"Having successfully broken through the second line of Soviet defences to the west of Syrtsevo the 11. Panzerdivision advanced up the Belgorad-Kursk road towards Oboyan."

Suggested Terrain: Rolling hills with the road winding through a valley, perhaps a few farms and fields. 

Can't wait!

Monday, 8 July 2019

Black Powder: Liebertwolkwitz 1813 and a Farewell to Minifigs

The reason behind the odd title is that the main rationale behind this game was to farewell and celebrate the last of my old Minifigs. 

Storage space is needed and these are no longer really compatible in size nor quality with my 28mm collection. My childish painting attempts have been touched up from time to time, but there’s no getting away from their diminutive, true, 25mm dimensions. 

Still, they have all given years of stalwart service and hard use over the years, and they will be continuing to provide service donated to a younger wargamer who will be glad to have them. I will be retaining most of my Minifigs artillery however, since these have particular sentimental value.

But what better battle for the last hurrah of my Minifigs cavaliers than the epic cavalry battle of Liebertwolkwitz, prelude to Leipzig, in 1813? This battle has been characterised as the largest cavalry battle of the Napoleonic wars, and the open terrain leading up to the Galgenburg certainly provided space for massed charges and counter charges.

Murat was initially charged with leading the rearguard, but Napoleon allowed him to defend the ridge so long as he did not become too heavily engaged, and Palen believed he was pursuing a retreat, so the battle was something of a meeting engagement between the respective cavalry arms of France and Saxony, and the coalition allies of Russia, Prussia and Austria.

The ground was dominated by the Galgenburg, crowned by a French Grand Battery, with Liebertwolkwitz itself just off to the East.

Stats were taken from the 1812 supplement Clash of Eagles, with the French heavy cavalry stats watered down a little to reflect the parlous state of French horseflesh in 1813. Since the Guard were not present at this action, but I wanted my Minifigs Horse Grenadiers and Empress Dragoons to have their last hurrah, these were treated as Cuirassiers and Dragoons respectively. Command levels were 7 for the Russians and Austrians, and 8 for the Prussians, with Pahlen himself as CinC on 8. 

French commanders were 8. Although logistically Murat probably bore most responsibility for the wastage of French horses, his experience and brilliance once on the battlefield justify at least a 9 as the French CinC.

Since it was an encounter, the French and Coalition diced off for the first turn, with the Coalition winning.

Well aware of the firepower represented by the French Grand Battery, the Coalition were intent on closely engaging as soon as possible. 

On the flanks, the Prussians with their superior staff ratings had no difficulty in charging home, 

and similarly the Austrians arriving from Crobern lost no time in clashing steel. 

But the centre, consisting of a Russian Cuirassier brigade and a division of Dragoons, moved more ponderously, 

and so became the target of harassing long range bombardment.

The Prussian Dragoon brigade was itself counter charged by the elite Saxon Heavy Brigade, the famous Zastrow Kuirassiere and Lifeguard regiments, and, no doubt overawed, the Prussian heavies recoiled. 

Meanwhile the Prussian Uhlan brigade had more luck against the French Chasseurs and Hussars, sending the 5th Hussars packing. The Saxon heavies, somewhat weakened by their endeavours, now rallied and realigned themselves to face the triumphant Uhlans….

Pahlen, having retained the Russian Pavlovski Hussars and a Pulk of Cossacks in reserve, spotted the open flank presented by the Saxon realignment, and sent in the Pavlovs right across the battlefield with a ‘follow me’ order. At this point a real life ‘blue on blue’ confusion occurred as, getting my historical timeline blurred, I wondered why Russians would charge their Saxon allies! Chronology is so important when it comes to friends or foe!

Confusion overcome, the Saxon Lifeguards, shaken, found themselves caught at the halt by Prussian Uhlans to their front and Russian hussars on their flank. Somehow, they survived that first onslaught and then overcame both sets of charges.

On the otherside of the table to the East, the redoubtable Austrian horse was managing to coordinate all their charges, for once, and so creating real pressure on the French heavies. Their initial screen of Hussars and Chevaux-Legers managed to disorder the French Dragoons before being forced back themselves, allowing the Austrian Kuirassiere every advantage in pressing home on the French flank.

In the centre ground, the Russian Dragoon division had surrendered the initiative to the French Cuirassiers and Dragoons and their first line of regiments were being forced back in disorder…

However their second line was able to charge successfully and regain some ground. The centre was holding, and both flanks were pressing back the French and Saxons. 

Above all, the Coalition’s aggressive assaults had provided the Grand Battery with few easy targets, and it was having very little impact on the battle.

Indeed, the game was settling into a very historical refight, with most clashes ending in one side or other retiring, only to rally and return for another inconclusive clash. However, despite the lack of a clear result, it was a spectacular game and a great way to farewell my old Minifigs cavaliers!

Monday, 24 June 2019

Team Yankee - Race for the Bridge

On Sunday the Wollongong Wargamers got together for a big Team Yankee game, running Colin’s 'Race for the Bridge' scenario. The idea was based on the Race for the Rhine in WW2 and inspired partially from the Bridge at Remagen and a scene from Kelly's Heroes

The setting is the early part of the war so the Warsaw Pact are attacking. The NATO defenders were predominantly BAOR, heavily supported by Aussie units. 

Each player had 100 points for his 1 or 2 formations, without our usual limits to air or aviation or AA units. The Warsaw Pact each also had 2 small platoons of ‘free’ motor rifle troops who were inserted by helo prior to the game into the sector opposite the final objective.

Bryan and Colin were defending, Colin with BAOR, Bryan with the Aussie Leopard 1 force. Peter was attacking with East Germans, and I was attacking with Soviets.

We set up a 12 x 6 foot table set up as per the map. We specified two types of woods/forest – Coniferous as per the rules, deciduous same except no bogging roll due to the regular spacing and regular underbrush management of the West German forestry commission. 

As this was a river valley there were no significant hills but it was assumed that both riverbanks would providing low terrain hull down cover.

As we had assumed this would be a major amphibious operation we specified Riverine environmentals thus:

The river is too deep to ford so amphibious vehicles only can cross it.
River flow will be determined prior to game start: roll d6 on an 1-3 river flows east to west, on an 4-6 the river flows west to east. And if a 1 or 6 is rolled river is fast flowing. 
When an amphibious vehicle enters roll a d6 that's how far down the river it flows whilst crossing, unless it is a fast river, in which case roll 2d6 and that's the distance it travels due to flow.

There were 3 objectives spaced down the length of the table, as shewn on the map, the first objective in the City had to be captured or contested within 3 turns, the second objective at the bridge within 6 turns, and the final objective deep in the NATO rear within 9 turns.

The mission objectives were for the Attacker – Warsaw Pact – to stop the defending forces from retreating over the bridge and capture the time sensitive objectives, including the bridge itself of course. The defender’s mission was to contest the objectives and withdraw 60% by points of the forces back across the bridge.

Victory Conditions:


With scenario design there are always a few tensions that have to be estimated and balanced: resolving relative force strengths; and forcing players to ‘get a move on’ so something actually happens! Real battles are seldom fought between equal forces as determined by well thought out points values! On the other hand we know that stalemate and standoffs are the main part of any campaign, if seldom chronicled: War as 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror!

No trained staff officer would plan an assault on a prepared defensive position without 3:1 superiority in forces. A rifle section is used to attack a lone sniper, a platoon is used to attack a section, and so on – 3:1 every time! Yet no wargamer wants to play a force doomed to failure - I do quite regularly, but only because I have to play the side that no-one else will, since wargames for me are about the history and visual impact rather than pitting my – rapidly diminishing – wits against an opponent in an equal game; that’s what chess is for! 

But otherwise on the wargames table, to make a game of it, attacking forces should generally have 2:1 or 1.5:1 superiority. Or, as per the well-crafted Flames of War and Team Yankee scenarios, the use of delayed reserves can give the attacker a temporary superiority, encouraging him to attack early to force the pace of the game, neatly solving both tensions.

However this scenario Colin designed clearly gave a lot of thought to these issues. We agreed that each side would have 200 points, but given the victory conditions, it was assumed that NATO would have to progressively pull the majority of these forces back across the bridge by turn 6. And the ‘get a move on’ motive for the Warsaw Pact players was addressed by the limited ‘sell by’ times of the objectives.

So all seemed set fair for an intriguing scenario – challenging for the attacking forces of Fraternal socialism, but by no means ‘mission impossible”!

In our pre game planning, Peter and I decided that our main effort, initially with my tank heavy force, would be right flanking, using the cover of the large 'Diamond' wood seen below on the left mid ground - remember that this would not require cross checks to traverse at terrain dash or tactical speed.

Peter's Motor Schutzen would enter the city, not with any real hope of clearing it, but at least with the idea of distracting the numerous ATGW teams we were certain would be infesting its edges...

However, as it turned out they had ignored the West German doctrine of 'Forward Defence' and deployed well back, with the city defenders holding a few central citadels around the objective, and the bulk of their forces lining the river banks or actually behind the river, ganging up on our two small platoons of air landing troops. Given such overwhelming odds, these airlanders did not last long, despite some token air support to salve our consciences!

They were even subject to cluster bomb attacks!

This should have meant that our intial advance to the river should have been fairly easy, but it doesn't take many Chieftains to make a mess of even the largest horde of BMPs!

Given that NATO was not actually required to pull any forces off the table, our attack, despite making much use of smoke and the convienient forests, soon petered out once it came time to emerge into the open in front of a squadron of Chieftains, supported by Swingfire batteries...I should record however that Peter's perseverence in fighting through the city to contest that objective by turn 3 won us a VP - and doesn't he looked pleased about it!

So an intriguing and challenging scenario, which just needs a bit of tweaking to address the force ratios, and perhaps discourage the use of horde armies, to become a favourite. But I am looking forward to returning to Bavaria for our regular Lariat Advance! series of games...