Saturday, 30 April 2016

Black Powder - Culp's Hill



This week at the Uni we used Black Powder rules to play out the third day of Gettysburg and the action around Lower Culp's Hill, or at least the third and final Confederate attack. However rather than repeat the futile and bloody slaughter of the first two attacks, our scenario as a 'what-if', presupposed that Johnson had exercised a little imagination. 

Rather than have the Stonewall Brigade once again attacking in parallel to the other brigades against the Union breastworks that had successfully repulsed the two earlier attacks, this time used the cover of the woodland to march them south to reinforce Steuart's and Daniel's Brigades.

Map and photo from the excellent Gettysburg Companion by Mark Adkin. Harry W Pfanz's Culps Hill and Cemetary Hill is also an invaluable reference for these actions.
It would be up to the Confederate team to decide whether they could immeadiately start the game in the woods behind Daniel's Bde, a short march from their initial, historical positions, or arrive in the second move behind Steuart's Brigade in Pardee Field, reinforcing an attack against the Union line in the open...



Its an interesting tactical conundrum - attacking across Pardee Field leaves the assaulting troops open to long range rifled musket fire, but the survivors get to fight blue-bellies in the open...



or attempt to close through the cover of the woods, which we gave a -1 command modifier for the more challenging C2, but end up having to assault troops behind breastworks? The Confederate generals deliberated...

The Confederate leadership: nearest the camera Bryan with Daniel's Bde, then Caesar with Steuart's Bde, and David, who arriving expecting to play DBA, was shanghaied into leading the Stonewall Brigade for the evening!


Above - Looking north across Pardee Field to the stone wall and trees. Nearer woods covered by the 10th Connecticut in skirmish order...


Looking South from the top of Lower Culp's Hill .541 with Pardee field over yonder...


Whichever decision the Gen'ruls took, some good ole boys were going to have to pay the price, but a little bit of banjo helped with morale...


The Gen'ruls announced that the Stonewall Brigade would not be starting the game on table, which implied they had marched all the way around to the back of Pardee Field - so the Rebels would be starting the game with just the two brigades, same as the Union. 'Cept their Brigades had 4 Regiments instead of our 3, and a stamina of 4 instead of our 3....


Then again they had an awful lot of ground to cover, most of which would be swept by Minie balls... In the opening Confederate move, Caesar boldly advanced Steuarts' Brigade forward and moved the skirmishing 10th Virginians forward on the flank to tie up our light troops...With command hampered by advancing through the woods, Daniel's brigade moved not a jot...

It was now I made my first mistake. Wanting to close the range on those Rebs that were advancing, in hope of hurting them before the other 2 Confederate Brigades got into the fight, I ordered my line forward into the field, thinking to get a few volley's off early then simply rejoining the line when things got warm - what could possibly go wrong?


Not having played Black Powder for a while, I'd forgotten that if my units became disordered, they would not be able to smartly retire as planned, but would be pinned out in the field facing hordes of angry Rebs on their lonesome...


And inevitably, so it proved! By now Bryan had managed to get Daniel's Brigade moving forward through the woods, so my esteemed Union colleague Alan, as yet unsure of what Bryan was up to, could not come to the aid of my beleaguered two Regiments....


The Stonewall Brigade had now arrived on table and indeed was well forward, so that my two regiments were losing the firefight - one breaking entirely...


Leaving the other, the 5th Ohio, to face a coordinated Confederate brigade attack...



entirely on its own...


Whereby it rose to the occasion magnificently and not only broke the chargers, but forced two of the three supporting regiments to flee the field also!



Their brave stand gave me the opportunity to attempt to shorten and reorder my line, whilst Alan, confident he could hold the breastworks with just 2 regiments, made the bold decision to support me, from the corner of the stone wall, with the 111th Pennsylvania, covering the gap to my stranded heroes with their fire.


Which was just as well, as the second Rebel assault was underway, this time from the Stonewall Brigade!


Once again this was a well coordinated attack in strength, against my now weakened Ohioans...


Meanwhile, back up on Lower Culp's Hill, Alan seemed to be holding his own, but having had to shorten his line to save my butt, was in danger of becoming outflanked...


Now back to the brave lads of the 5th Ohio - Somehow, despite their weakened condition, they held off the first assault, losing but passing the break test to remain in the fight...


However, isolated as they were, David mercilessly exploited their exposed flank, and inevitably even this regiment had to hurry their Colours to the rear... Leaving the entire Union position exposed on our right flank!


The Confederates lost no time in taking advantage!


And when things just couldn't get any worse, Bryan managed to lap the 32nd North Carolina around Alan's left flank - a double envelopment!


The Rebel team remained true Southern gentlemen however - there was no unseemly gloating...


They just got on with the business of moving in for the kill! The survivor's of my brigade - Candy's - were assaulted by overwhelming odds...



And duly wiped out...


But Alan's Brigade - Kane's - although themselves outflanked from north and south...


Now themselves rose to the occasion and fought like demons for not one, but two, rounds of desperate combat...


Before going down under welter of vengeful Rebels...



Despite losing this challenging scenario, I was very pleased with the way the scenario and game had played out. In particular the combats had provided a good deal of excitement and some real david and goliath moments, and had provided a satisfying outcome to our 'what-if' poser.


Photo courtesy of Kaptain Kobold, semi-professional photographer.


As to the question of whether its best to attack through woods against breastworks or in the open against troops in the open, well, since both succeeded, we shall just have to revisit the scenario!

My gallant Union comrade's account to Congress may be seen here.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Flames of War - Barbarossa - Always Attack!



The opening armour engagements of Op BARBAROSSA have long captured my imagination. The somnolent heat haze, the huge stretches of  dark pine forest, the interminable steppe land stretching to far horizons, ominous clouds of black smoke on the far horizons, then suddenly the solitude is ripped apart by the clash of armoured giants - KV2s, KV1s, T34s and diminutive T-26s...




I have read many engrossing accounts of the pernicious Soviet doctrine of attack at all costs, at all times, no matter how hopeless the circumstances. Uncoordinated and poorly planned attacks of untrained tank crews in mechanically unserviceable tanks were hurled at the German panzer spearheads in doomed attempts to stem the Barbarossa onslaught. I highly recommend Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front: Vol1 1941-42 Schwerpunkt by Robert Forczyk for a detailed operational account of these actions. 



This week we played out a scenario featuring my recently painted KV platoon. In order to give an impression of the vastness of White Russia we played on a 8 x 6 table, stretching no-mans land accordingly.


I put my recently acquired Team Yankee terrain to good use simulating a Soviet State farm collective, which I imagine would feature a soulless office block and grain storage silos, as well as large patches of slurry where unwanted fertilizer was dumped.
The idea of the scenario was to capture that tipping point in a particular locale where the exhaustion and inexorable laws of logistics and mechanical wear have resulted in the tip of the armoured advance balancing the local Soviet forces.


This ideally suits the FOW Surrounded (Defensive Battle):
After a successful attack trapped the defenders in a pocket, only one slender corridor remains linking them to the outside world. Recognising the importance of this lifeline, both sides throw everything they have into the battle.


Mission Special Rules
Surrounded uses the Immediate Ambush (page 265) and Prepared Positions (page 264) special rules.Your Orders
The Attacker

You have the enemy on the ropes. One more strong blow will crush them. Cut the corridor and the surrounded enemy pocket will fall. You must seize one of the objectives, breaking the enemy’s lifeline.

The Defender
You are the only thing standing between your army and disaster. While you hold the corridor open, the pocket will hold out, and a counterattack can be launched to relieve it. If you fail, the whole pocket will be captured. You must prevent the enemy from attaining their objectives.




As well as his panzers, pzgrenadiers and their half tracks, and of course the dread 88's, Bryan’s list also paid the points for a Stuka schwerpunkt, where you get to reroll the number of a/c in the strike. Along with the 88s, probably the only effective weapons against the thick skinned KVs...or so you might think! Bryan split his panzers and infantry between the 2 objectives, and naturally kept the 88s as his ambush platoon.



I deployed my T-26s on the road network, aiming to use them to sweep the area between the two objectives to trigger the 88 ambush, or at least reduce their deployment envelope. At this point I had a rather negative view of their capabilities, although this was to change…



Initially I viewed the objective protected by the larger German force as the primary objective, since it looked to have easier approaches, including a wood conveniently close by from which to stage an infantry assault.



Although I had 2 large platoons of Strelkovy, they had to be deployed as a single company.  They were supported by the small T-34 platoon, which included my Company commander.




I kept the KV platoon well to the rear, initially, respecting the long reach of the 88s and waiting to see where these long range death dealers would deploy before committing.



As it happened, Bryan deployed his ambush very early, recognizing that the T-34s, including my Company Commander, represented my main effort.









Unfortunately for me, the combination of the 88s and the larger panzergrenadier platoon, supported by half tracks, made short work of the T-34s and badly chewed up my conscript infantry who were advancing in the open. With my commander gone my whole force was vulnerable if I lost too many more platoons...


This forced a rethink, the secondary objective now looked to be much more attractive, and the KV platoon accordingly changed into higher gear. Unfortunately this attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe, 


and I felt this first air strike was going to hurt, given my foolishly cramped deployment of the massive beasts meant that all 3 fell under the template…


However, whilst a few hits were scored, some lucky armour saves prevented any lasting damage and the platoon continued to lumber forward, and around, to the objective, now closer, but over on their right…


Where the slightly faster, and much, much lighter armed and armoured T-26s...


were attempting to regain the initiative by harassing the dug-in German panzerschutzen.


Bryan called up a second Stuka strike to interdict the KV platoon...


But, lesson learnt, this time they were nicely spaced, and suffered no damage. 


Nothing daunted, Bryan pondered how best to redeploy to my changed plans... 


Clearly he needed more than just air cover to support his panzer and pz grenadier platoon on the second objective - as well as a couple of schutzen squads they had already also lost a panzer to a T-26!


With my T34s in flames and my Stelovky having fled the field after taking more than 50% casualties, he decided it was safe to leave his immobile 88s to hold the first objective...


so mounted up his Panzergrenadiers...


and revved up his armour to run interference on my new thrust – but would they get there in time to support the beleaguered second kampfgruppe, now losing yet more schutzen to the 152mm howitzer sported by the KV2?


These KVs were slowly lumbering up on the objective, escaping yet another air strike, this time a single a/c, with as much ease as one brushes off the buzzing insects that frequent this part of the world...


The only immediate relief Bryan could provide was in the form of yet another airstrike, this time in strength, and now targeting the T-26s in the hopes of forcing yet another platoon off table and so forcing a company morale check...


However his unlucky die rolling meant that the T-26s escaped those bombs, only to lose tanks to side shots from the Pz 38(t)s!


It was now a 3-way race: would my command crumble if I lost another platoon, or would I be able to seize the objective first? Would Bryan's redeployed first kampfgruppe arrive on-task in time to keep the objective secure - or would my screen of 45mm anti tank guns be able to halt this redeployment?


Or would they be outflanked themselves enroute? Well as it happened Bryan's panzergrenadiers assaulted their flank, whilst he sent the panzers on ahead. Fortunately I lost left than half the guns, as yet another lost platoon would have forced a company morale check!


Back on the objective, the Schutzen platoon holding onto it for the Germans was looking weak after all that hard pounding from the KV's. But the second panzer platoon was now approaching the scene...


And the paper-thin armour of my T-26s was particularly thin at the rear!


With my anti tank gun platoon wiped out by a double envelopment, and my T-26 platoon gradually getting shredded, the loss of either would require me to pass a Company morale check. Could I get my KV platoon, invulnerable to Pz38(t) fire, within assaulting range of the objective before my supporting platoons dissolved?


Well, alas for the brave defenders of the Soviet motherland, on this day it was not to be. As the last T-26 went up in flames, a failed company morale check meant that the redoubtable KVs had to slink back into the forests - but be assured they shall emerge to fight another day!