Monday, 8 September 2014

Borodino 202nd - The Grand Redoubt and Fleches

Yesterday was the 202nd anniversary of the climactic Battle of Borodino, fought on the 7th September 1812. Whilst in no way attempting to replicate the scale and intensity of our 200th refight in 2012, I had been hoping to lay on a fairly large game to mark the anniversary, and the planning was started to take shape – until it gradually dawned on everyone that I had blundered!

My fellow Napoleonic stalwarts - L-R Terry, Shannon and Vic.

Whilst ‘Father’s Day’ is viewed in the UK as little more than a cynical marketing ploy, nowhere near on a par with the genuinely non-commercial origins of Mothering Sunday, or ‘Mother’s Day’, I now know that here in Australia it is still regarded as a huge deal! Accordingly the roll of participants steadily declined as the date approached, and I had to cut my cloth accordingly, left with just 4 Napoleonic diehards!

The Fleches in the right foreground, Grand Redoubt top right.

We thus decided to halve the size of the playing area, and quarter the battle order, concentrating the action around the Grand (Raevsky) Redoubt and Fleches.

The Grand Redoubt on the left, the Fleches over on the right.

Terry and Shannon were defending as the doughty Russians, taking charge of the Redoubt and Fleches respectively, each with a Brigade of Infantry, a Brigade of Horse, and 3-5 batteries of guns.

Today, not such a 'Grande' Armee - 4 Bdes of Inf, 3 of Cav...

Vic and myself had to wrest said defences from them, each with two brigades of Infantry, and the roughly the same number of Horse and Guns as the Russians.

The French Command Values were 9 for our 3 Divisional commanders, and 8 for our Brigadiers, whilst the Russians were lower at 8 and 7.

The Grand, or Raevsky, Redoubt.

We stipulated that the hastily constructed Fleches would have a defence value of 1, and the slightly more impressive Grand Redoubt a defence value of 2. We also agreed that any assaults of the defences would count as disordered in the subsequent combat, until such time as they won a round of combat and so had ‘broken in’.
The terrain was cut up - in the foreground the Kolocha river, and beyond the Semenovskaya stream
Each of the streams that criss-crossed the terrain would count as one complete move to cross, and would disorder any charge that involved crossing during that turn. 
The Russians opened the game, to represent the long range artillery fire they would have had as we closed up to our table edges. Whilst the effectiveness of their massed artillery gave me pause for thought, given his later actions, my comrade in arms Vic wasn’t in the least phased by the Russian guns…

He moved his infantry and cavalry up boldly. A bit too bloody boldly for my liking, at this rate he'd either be grabbing all the glory for himself, or leaving me with an open flank! 

Vic the master of all-arms coordination...

However, I needn't have worried, he was careful to  seal off against the Russian reserves and coordinated his orders masterfully, managing to have his infantry to assault the front of the Fleches just as the cavalry struck the flanks.

Vic's leftmost infantry Bde and a Regt of Dragoons cover the Russian centre, whilst his other Dragoons and inf Bde arrive on the objective at the same time! Good - but not good enough to evict the sons of Holy Russia!
Assaulting Russians in defences is not an easy task! As well as the attackers fighting ‘disordered’ as mentioned above, we classified Russian Infantry as ‘stubborn’ troops, something of an understatement for these dogged and tough peasant soldiers.

In Black Powder terms it means they get to reroll a failed save. And as mentioned, the defences of the fleches gave them a +1 to their save. Since Shannon wisely kept them in column that meant that they were saving on ‘2’s even before any reroll!  

Perhaps inevitably therefore, Vic’s aggressive and well planned assault failed to make any headway….so how was I doing against the Redoubt….

Saxon Zastrow Cuirassiers supported by the Lifeguards - a major asset!

My ability to get my infantry to grips with the Redoubt was hampered by the crossing over the stream being covered by 2 Russian horse batteries and an entire Dragoon division.

Whilst I had hoped to reserve my excellent Saxon heavy cavalry for its historical role of taking the Redoubt in a glorious charge around its flanks, clearly, as my only cavalry asset, it would have to first clear the road for my infantry.

Fortunately, my Cuirassiers heavily outclassed the Dragoons, getting 9 combat dice to their 8, and, crucially, saving hits on 3+ instead of 4+.

The Saxon Lifeguard have broken through, leaving the 6eme and Zastrows to finish off the remnants....
Whilst Terry manoeuvred his division very craftily, inevitably my beloved Zastrow Cuirassiers and Saxon Garde de Corps saw off the entire Dragoon division, albeit with the invaluable help of the 6eme Cuirassiers, recently painted for me by my mate Fons of the wonderful Mabuhay Miniature Painting Service.

The initial cavalry breakthrough did not last long, due to some dastardly and thoroughly unsporting Russian close range canister fire - scoundrels and no respecters of fine horseflesh!

All the while my heavy Grand Battery had been engaged in long range counter battery work against the guns in the Redoubt, requiring 6d6 to hit, a laborious process…

However, it did mean that when, eventually, with a clear road to the redoubt open for the infantry, they were able to assault, they did so against a Russian battery disordered by artillery fire!

No disrespect to the stalwart Russian gunners, but we had not extended the ‘Stubborn’ attribute to them, so, even though my troops were also disordered by attacking over the defences, and the gunners were getting a +2 to their saves from the defences, my Infantry managed to break in. Once in of course, the defender’s advantages disappear.

That said, Terry had kept plenty of infantry columns in Reserve, so we decided, with one objective held by the Russians, and one still in the balance, to call it a draw. Honours even, and when fighting Russians in fixed defences, I call that a result!

Next year I will pick a date more wisely, and hope to have a bigger game! As always, thanks to Michelle, Matt and Kym of the Hall of Heroes for their support and hospitality!


Monday, 18 August 2014

Antietam Dawn II

The less than imaginative title of this post results from the fact that,
a. this was a recreation of the opening Federal attacks that occured from 6.00am at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, and b. that it was the exact same scenario that we played about a year ago. We were going to try something new, but our volunteer scenario designer had more important priorities! Now normally I would agree with you that there are few things more important than wargaming unless you have a young family, but doing your best on an Army career course is one of them. So we cheerfully let our ACW expert off the hook and rolled out last year's scenario. Maybe next year, when all being well he will have 3 stripes and even less time on his hands!

Whilst we were using Black Powder rules, the scenario's map was taken from the excellent one in Guns at Gettysburg, David Brown's ACW variant of his popular General de Brigade rules, which shares the 1:20 figure scale of BP. After we had established who would be playing and what model troops we had available, we allocated Brigades, each to be of 4 Regiments of infantry and one battery. Skirmish units would be of entire regiments, found from within the Brigade, so that a line unit would have to be removed for every skirmish formation present.
Brigades (East to West)
Models from
Initial Position
(Facing table on your armies side)
7 Bdes
7 Batteries

from Bryan
Right hand side
From Ralph
Right hand side

Right to Centre
Left hand side
6 Bdes
6 Batteries
Left hand side
Left hand side
Right hand side
Right hand side

As it happened, a couple of players called in sick at the last minute, so we scratched one Brigade from each side, still giving the attacking Union one Brigade up. To reflect the relative command and control competencies of the two armies in 1862, the Confederate Commander had a Command Value of 9 and his Brigadiers 8, whereas the Union Commander was on 8 and his Brigadiers a paltry 7. I knew this would present a challenge for the Union team, but if it was easy anyone could do it, right?

The Union force was effectively separated in two by East woods, with 3 Brigades coming on the Confederate's right flank, and a further 3 attacking straight across the Cornfield. Our extra Brigade was kept in reserve on the back edge of East woods so that it could come into play on whichever flank looked most promising. Yes our battle plan was that detailed!
Looking down throug East Woods to the Dunker Church in the background, with the Kennedy Farm on the left.
The Kennedy Farm, soon to be occupied by Rebs!
My view of the table...
The Dunker Church.

Suffering from the usual Union C2 issues of over confidence backed up by crap command rolls, Duryee's Brigade marched smartly down the road in East Woods unsupported by the Brigades on its left flank...

At the opening stages of a battle, on the attacking side this might not normally be an issue. However my opposite number across the table was Bryan...

Who promptly ordered one of his Brigades forward to take on my columns, still in road march formation. With Black Powder, not a good position to find yourself in!

My lead Regiment promptly failed its 'Rebel Yell' break test on being charged by screaming Rebs coming out of the woods!

However the follow on Regiments were able to deploy on initiative (even I can't fail a command throw when one is not required) and stabilised the situation. I was even able, by dint of 'follow me' orders, which only require the test to be passed to allow 3 moves, to get a bit of sweet retaliation in by bringing up my guns:

Over by the cornfield where Cameron was in charge, a more careful, measured, and professional command appreciation was conducted...

 Before deciding to just pile straight in!

The action was now general all along the line, with artillery fire causing serious casualties on both sides before the infantry lines got even close.

But by dint of some scrambling, and some of Terrys' supernatural saving dice throws, the Confederate line was holding...

For this game, to mollify those that feel that Black Powder encourages charges and hand-to-hand at the expense of  the firefights which characterised much of the Civil War, we trialled our 'Pour it On' local rule, whereby formed infantry firing at targets in the open at close range get an extra D6 to roll for shooting. It made it a bloody game...but young Cameron's troops kept fighting on through the corpse strewn cornfield, which by move 3 had lost all protective cover...

 And his perseverance paid of as he ripped a whole in the Confederate line...

But in doing so reached our army's breakpoint, so we had to concede the game to our gallant opponents. It was actually quite interesting to replay this same scenario again, trialling our Pour it On rule, which seemed to work quite well. But next year Bryan has promised to look at a scenario whereby we will revisit another part of the Antietam/Sharpsburg field of honour. Looking forward to it already!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Battle Group Kursk - the Psel Bridgehead

This Thursday at the Uni we played another game of Battle Group Kursk, this time with the aim of getting a better understanding of indirect artillery fire and air raids. The scenario was loosely based around the struggles in the river Psel Bridgehead on the 12th July 1943 between a Totenkopf battlegroup and elements of the 52nd Guards Rifles. The scenario I prepared quotes liberally, but in bowdlerised format, from Dennis Showalter's excellent 'Armour and Blood', which for me is the seminal overall account of Kursk.


Rising ground stretches North from the the Psel River around Bogoroditskoe to Hill 226.6, behind which lies the key Karteschevka-Prokhorovka road. (Kart-Prok Road).
The area is dotted with woods, folds in the ground and small villages. The outskirts of the village of Mikhailovka is on the Eastern edge of the table.
The yellow rectangle represents the 12 x 6 foot table.
Totenkopf’s forward edge of the battle area is delineated by the Blue map trace, just South of the railway embankment.
Soviet elements of 52nd Guards Rifle Division are located North of the Red trace.
" II SS Panzer Corp commander Paul Hausser’s orders for July 12 were straightforward. No more fooling around. This time apply the panzers' mantra: Klotzen, nicht kleckern ("Stomp, don't tickle" is an approximate rendering of the German colloquialism). That, however, did not mean a massed frontal attack, three divisions abreast, into the teeth of Russian guns. Hausser intended a sequential operation. Totenkopf's armored battle group would cross the Psel and push north, then turn east on reaching the Karteschevka-Prokhorovka road, which on the map offered a clear route into the rear of the main Russian position.

The Sixty-ninth Army had taken a predictable initiative by ordering its counterintelligence department-a uniformed branch of SMERSH (the Russian acronym for "Death to Spies")-to prevent further abandonment of the battlefield. By 4:00 P.M. on July 13, the responsible senior officer reported 2,842 officers and men "detained" and the mass retreat stopped.
Otherwise, the front commander was playing with an empty pocket. Every available formation of any useful size was committed to the defense or the counterattack. The commander of the 81st Guards Rifle Division ordered his regimental commanders to "introduce the strictest discipline" and "implement Order No. 227." Order No. 227, mentioned earlier in the text, was Stalin's "not a step back" directive of July 28, 1942, forbidding any commander to retreat without orders and allowing the summary execution of "panic-mongers and cowards" by specially organized "blocking detachments." That aspect of the order had been unofficially dropped a few months later. But on July 12, the Sixty-ninth Army's SMERSH detachment improvised seven of them. But if the Soviet defenses were shaken, the front never cracked.

For their part, the Germans were showing the effects of wear, tear, and grit in the machinery. Here, as elsewhere in Manstein's sector, it was not just a matter of too few tanks at the sharp end. Too many veteran crewmen, too many experienced company officers, were gone. At dawn, Totenkopf's advancing panzer group discovered that the Russian infantry to its front had been relieved by the Fifth Guards Army's fresh 3rd Guards Rifle Corps: three divisions reinforced by extra guns, rocket launchers, and antitank guns.

Totenkopf's panzer grenadiers were sufficiently hard pressed that tanks repeatedly had to be brought forward in support. Heavy Soviet artillery fire forced SS riflemen to seek protection under their own tanks-a last resort for an experienced infantryman. Then the Shturmoviks joined in-unopposed.

The initial objectives of Totenkopf's armor, however, remained: two hills high enough to command the surrounding terrain.
Occupying that ground were two Guards rifle divisions. The 52nd, moving into its own assault positions, was taken by surprise when the SS appeared to the front. But the Guardsmen were a match and more for Totenkopf's panzer grenadiers in both courage and tactical skill. According to a political commissar, their political spirit was also high. "


German Commander’s Intent – Seize Hill 226.6 to dominate the Kart – Prok Road.

Totenkopf Battle Group ‘Kaiser’ is to clear the wooded area South of the Kart – Prok Road of enemy infantry and guns.


The Soviet player will deploy first anywhere N of the Red map trace, including positions in Mikhailovka if desired. Any positions in the wooded area, or Mikhailovka village, may be dug in prior to game start. All other positions are hasty and have no protective value.
The German player will then deploy on the start line, anywhere up to the Blue Map trace. All units to be on table.

The Soviet player will then start with one Sturmovik air raid, 2 A/C each carrying one large bomb, and 1 artillery bombardment of both 122mm batteries.

The German player will then start the first ‘free’ move…The game will end when either BG reaches its BG rating or the German Player has cleared the objective. 
Air strikes. Preliminary Soviet strike as above, Stuka strike as below, then if drawn, armament as specified.
Local rules.  As detailed below, Totenkopf AFVs made a point of crushing Soviet slit trenches. Any unpinned German tank which spends half its movement on a Soviet position destroys that gun or section.
Battle Group ‘Kaiser
3 x Tiger 1E
3 X Pz IV
6 x Pz III
2 x Panzer Grenadier Platoons with 251 APC
1 x Panzer Grenadier Weapons platoon with 251 APC (3 x 81mm Mortar, 2 X MFC, 2 x SFMG)
2 x Wespe and support group, FAO (netted and surveyed prior to game start)
1 X Stuka Strike (2 x Medium Bomb) Order move before.
Battle Group Rating 37 (Exhausted troops) Elite Orders 3D6+2 (Exhausted troops)

52nd Guards Rifle Division ‘Mikhailovka PakFront
1 x 76.2mm DP AT gun battery (4)
1 x 57mm AT Gun battery (4)
2 x 122mm Howitzer batteries (4 each)
1 x AT platoon (2 x 45mm AT gun)
1 x MG Platoon (4 x Maxim)
1 x Rifle Platoon (4 x Infantry Squads)
Battle Group Rating 25 Inexperienced Orders 2D6+1

How it played
Its fair to say the initial Soviet airstrike lived up to its historical role, knocking out the handful of Tigers still remaining to Totenkopf. Glum faces on the German team! To add insult to injury the preliminary Soviet 122mm Howitzer bombardment then pinned half the remaining panzers... Well, if you will send an entire armoured division into the rear zone where all the guns are, across a single river crossing... 
Did I mention the Soviets has lots of guns? To many for our command dice rolls, anyhow, as it left very few order activations for our infantry and anti-tank guns by the time we'd fired off two whole batteries of howitzers!
Nonetheless with admirable fortitude the German team pressed on - it was beginning to look as if their plan was to clear out the village of Mikahilovka which presented a threat to their right flank from the battery of 57mm ZIS 2s we had in there...
I was too hard pressed trying to coordinate the Soviet defence with consistently low orders rolls to take any photos, but John's infantry and panzers worked together with faultess all-arms cooperation to systematically clear the village - but not without cost and slowing up the main advance as the German panzers hesitated to present their flanks until the village was cleared...
However it was our artillery which was holding the Totenkopf advance up, consistently pinning sufficient of their AFVs and infantry trying to advance up the centre of the table. 
So that it was actually the German panzer grenadiers that were making the running, forcing our forward observers to pull back from their forward positions on the edge of Hill 226.6. I think that the subsequent disruption to the previously continuous hail of effective artillery fire gave the German team the clue as to what they needed to do if they were to reach the objective - target our artillery with their pre-booked airstrike!

With devastating results! Most of our guns destroyed, those remaining pinned! This reduced our Battlegroup rating to a dangerously low level! The panzers forged ahead past the village with renewed confidence...Only to lose a few more Panzer IIIs to flanking shots from our remaining anti tank guns.
However as the German Panzer grenadiers eventually assaulted and destroyed the Russian infantry in the village, as feared our Battle Group rating tilted past break point - only to be told the Germans had also just reached theirs - with the objective, the woods, still untaken and full of fresh Russian infantry. We decided to call it a draw!
Most of the feedback from the players was positive about the scenario, although as always some players are more comfortable with absolute adherence to the rules and balanced point systems, whereas I prefer to think of the rules and points values as an aid to recreating a historical scenario. Given the historical outcome of the day's fighting, once again given in much abbreviated format below from Showalter, I think the scenario and game was a success. It was certainly in balance down to the wire!
What actually happened:

"Positions changed hands so often that the exact course of events remains vague. The SS, with Stuka support as welcome as it was belated, made enough initial progress to generate hope for the long-delayed linkup with Leibstandarte.
German accounts describe spectacular explosions, huge fireballs-and enough losses of their own to instill caution by the time Hill 226.6 was firmly in German hands. The tanks and panzer grenadiers encountered a series of defensive positions, some prepared and others improvised, all bristling with antitank guns.
Totenkopf's tankers made a point of crushing trenches and foxholes, burying defenders alive under their treads. But not until 3:00 P.M. did the Germans begin breaking Soviet defenses beyond immediate restoration.
Not all the comrades were valiant. Some of the 52nd's regiment and battalion commanders reported sick, straggled to the rear, or just ran away. When the panzers reached Hill 236.7, elements of the 95th Guards Rifle Division also broke and scattered. But around 4:00 P.M., 33rd Corps ordered maximum protective fire: every gun and rocket launcher that could come to bear was to target Totenkopf's tanks, even if they were in Russian positions. The barrage removed the impetus from an SS attack already eroded by a defense stubborn enough in some positions to be suicidal.
Small-scale advances nonetheless continued. As of 10:45 P.M., Totenkopf was comfortable reporting that its panzer group had reached the Karteschevka-Prokhorovka road-a day late and a large number of men and tanks short. On the map, only a few miles separated Totenkopf from the road leading into Voronezh Front's rear zone.

By now, Totenkopf's panzer grenadier companies were down to fifty men or fewer, so tired after days of close combat that the standard stimulants were having an opposite effect. The panzer regiment had lost almost half its tanks fighting its way out of the Psel bridgehead. Forty-five had been destroyed or damaged, including all the Tigers. "