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. " 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Action at Authie '44

On Thursday at the uni we replayed a smaller version of our recent Buron BattleGroup Overlord game that I blogged in June: D-Day-70th-commemoration 'Bloody Buron'
As this was just an evening game with only 4 of us playing we confined the action to a 6 x 8 foot table, based just around the action between Cussy and Authie, the yellow rectangle below:

As can be seen in the later wartime aerial photo, the area was completely flat and devoid of serious cover, although we represented some of the crop fields to provide some covered approaches to Authie.

Looking WNW from the abbey on the left and Cussy on the right across to Authie
Once again the Germans were deployed around the Ardennes Abbey and forward into Cussy, which meant that they would get the opening shots into the Sherbrooke Fusiliers left flank, as vividly described in Maj. Gen Michael Reynold's Steel Inferno pp.65-67, and here he quotes Panzer Meyer's, Commander 12th SS Panzer Division 'HJ', reaction to viewing the scene from the Abbey tower:

"Enemy tanks are rolling towards Authie from Buron. My God! What an opportunity! The tanks are driving right across 2nd Battalion's front!....I give orders to all battalions, the artillery and the available tanks. 'Do not shoot! Open fire on my order only!....The enemy commander seems only to see the airfield, it is directly in front of him."

Looking ESE from Authie across to Cussy on the left and the abbey on the right - real billiard table terrain!
For the purposes of this smaller game, the German victory conditions were more limited than for our all day Buron game, all they had to do was cut the Buron - Carpiquet road by occupying the ESE half of Authie with at least 2 unpinned infantry squads. The German team, Caesar and John, divided into 2 separate BattleGroups. Alan took charge of the Sherman equipped Sherbrooke Fusiliers, and the Achilles armed 105 Battery Royal Canadian Artillery. Yours truly took the North Nova Scotia Highlanders under command, as I suspected, experienced from our previous game, that this would actually be more of an infantry fight, given the objective. Fortunately Alan's earlier order of march decision had wisely put my first platoon embarked in carriers in the van of the column:

Alan and I were of course placing great faith in the Typhoons of the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force to even up the qualitative imbalance, as I had, entirely ahistorically, replaced the second Panzer company of Mark IV's...

With Panthers...(which in reality were still detraining)

However once John and Caesar opened up and deployed aggressively that looked like a bit of a mistake!

As with their opening few volleys they systematically pinned my infantry and set about methodically knocking out Alan's Shermans...we were pulling chits for destroyed units and to unpin infantry hand over fist...

Pretty much the only recourse we had with our 75mm Shermans was to attempt to pin the Panzers with HE area fire, with a little success. We had no indirect artillery assets to employ as historically the Canadians hadn't surveyed or netted in their guns yet, expecting the action much further South. Whilst the Germans had the same problem, having detrained piecemeal ready for a deliberate attack planned later in the day, however the German team were also able to use their Hummels and Wespes in area fire, so that both sides were in the unusual position of having AFVs pinned in this way.

However the 12th Panzer Div had more and better armour to play with!

So what of the Brylcreem Boys, meant to rebalance the game and teach the Germans fresh from the Russian front that air power was more of a game changer in the West? A complete wash out - Rockets are inaccurate weapons, and need 6's for hits - despite firing off 6 pairs we had nary a hit!

Whereas the Sherbrookes were continuing to have a torrid time of it! In Norbert Szamveber's Waffen-SS Armour in Normandy, which is essentially written around the war diaries of the 12th SS, Panzer Regt. 12 records that in this action they destroyed 23 Shermans and 3 APCs, and our game was beginning to feel all too historical! (Szamveber, pp 40.)

However, I wouldn't want to give the impression that John and Caesar were the only ones throwing all the sixes, and Alan did have some successes with his Fireflies and Achilles...

Even managing to bag a mighty Panther!

The German team had not lost sight of their mission however, and were using the cover of the crops to sneak their infantry to within assault range of Authie... supported by their heavy weapons platoon, which was bringing my Highlanders in the village under effective fire...

Fortunately I had been diligently bringing up the rest of the rifle platoons up using Shank's pony, and my 2 inch mortars were setting up nicely...


When, just as a second airstrike was due, we pulled one chit too many and exceeded our Battle Group Rating - time to withdraw and concede the game to Caesar and John...
Whilst the game had played out historically this time, what is amazing to learn is how little of an impact it had on the 12th SS - its almost treated as a skirmish in their, admittedly rather laconic, war diary:

"1400 hours: appearance of enemy tanks at Franqueville and Authie. The 5. and 6. Kompanien instantly engaged the enemy and destroyed a number of Sherman tanks. The enemy retreated. Ammunition expenditure: 300 HE shells, 235 AP shells, 800 steel core" (Small arms ammo).(Svamveber, p. 40).

I have used a couple of Alan's photos in this blog, but you can see the rest, and his take on things, over on his excellent blog: Canadians in Caen

By the way, I'm on the look out for any Canadian sources on this battle, as I've been told 'Bloody Buron' isn't crash hot, and in any case is oop, so if you know of any books in print, please comment accordingly!