Tuesday, 3 December 2019

A Wollongong Wargamer's retrospective on 2019

In some ways 2019 got off to a slow start for some Wollongong Wargamers, but it soon revved up and put down some milestones!

In our first Sunday big game of the year in April we used Fate of A Nation rules to replay the Yom Kippur action around the Suez Canal and Chinese Farm.

Our Firestorm Kursk campaign got underway with a pair of weekend games in May at the Hall of Heroes, followed up with regular smaller Thursday evening games every month until the epic finale on Sunday 1st December at the uni with our Prokhorovka spectacular.

There was regular World War Two action throughout the year with some impressive Bolt Action games also set on the Eastern front and other theatres including Point du Hoc, Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.

In June our annual Team Yankee big game focussed on a Race to the Bridge scenario featuring massed tank action set on an impressive 1980’s German landscape. 

Later in the year we dabbled in an Oil Wars scenario, which also provided a gripping game.

In August El Alamein provided the focus for more WW2 action with a big Flames of War game featuring the action around Operation Supercharge, a particularly exciting game which went right down to the wire.

There was some intensive horse and musket action this year too, with a big alternative Waterloo game played using Blucher rules in October, and regular Thursday evening games trialling a bewildering series of new or revisited Napoleonic and ACW rules, 

at every level of command from skirmish to Corps. 

Also there were long running campaigns set from the SYW, through the AWI and currently  Napoleonic, often in conjunction with the Mittagong Garde du Corps, and at the other end of the scale, the small but intense skirmish games.

However they all shared a consistently high standard of presentation and painting, and it’s refreshing to see rules originating from France and Spain; outside the traditional Anglo-Saxon preserve; getting a fair shake of the sauce bottle.

Perhaps most productively for the wider gaming community, this year we assisted Sam Mustafa to playtest his forthcoming ‘Combined Fleet’ WW2 Naval rules, in which our exhaustive playtests centred on Guadalcanal for the surface actions, and Midway or the Coral Sea for the Carrier Air battles.

This short list skims over a good deal of smaller but no less commendable games pursued at the uni, Islandwala with Black Powder, and the old favourite HOTT, and, literally, big monster games...

DBM, dust racing, and board games.

Looking forward, an interlinked campaign using multiple rulesets and scales following the WW2 North West European campaign from D-Day to the Bulge has raised some interest for the latter half of 2020, possibly preceded by a Sicily/Italy campaign in the first half of the year. We can also confidently predict that the endless quest for the ultimate set of Horse and Musket rules will continue next year, probably interwoven with continued playtesting of Sam Mustafa’s Lasalle rewrite. We also undertake to deliver on a large Austerlitz game using Blucher rules.

The advent of an updated Team Yankee timeline promises to keep followers of that ruleset enthralled. I also predict that the release of the Perry’s plastic early and mid-war French Napoleonics will similarly boost interest in 28mm Napoleonic gaming, and similarly the release of Warlord Games 1:700 plastic men of war is bound to result in an increase in rum soaked naval activity…

Monday, 2 December 2019

Firestorm Kursk - Prokhorovka!

The culmination of our 6 month long Firestorm Kursk campaign, Sunday’s game by the Wollongong Wargamers was a fitting finale – it could have gone either way, and was characterised by daring manoeuver and devastating firepower, all on an epic scale! In campaign terms, the German team would have to capture all 3 of the objectives to win the overall campaign, as they start the final game 2 victory points behind the Russians.

The premise of our game was to focus on one aspect of the Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army’s attack on the II SS Panzer Korps, who were themselves readying to attack and seize Prokhorovka, the action around Hill 252, where elements of the LAH Panzer Division were preparing to move forward. 

Owing to the curved topography of the hill, they were surprised by the Soviet assault, and so the action was something of a meeting engagement and an epic engagement which continues to fascinate!

The Soviet 170th, 181st and 31st Tank Brigades are spearheading the counter attack of the 18th Tank Corps, supported by infantry from the 9th Guards Airborne. Despite an uncoordinated approach in both time and space, they surprise the German defences at Hill 252, which is only lightly held by 7 x Panzer IVs of the 1 SS Panzer Regt,

and an understrength Pz Grenadier infantry company of the 2 SS Panzer Grenadier Regt, supported by a handful of AT guns and assault guns. 

However the defensive position of this handful of LAH tankers and infantry is ideal, atop a large slope leading to Height 252, and defended by the remains of a large anti-tank ditch. 

Their desperate defence lasts long enough for the intervention of 4 x Tiger 1s, led by one Michael Wittman…

In order to replicate the contours of the ground, the centre tables were elevated and the flank tables canted, to create a convex slope along the length of the table. Only units on the centre third of the table, the crest line, would be able to see along the crest line, each of the two remaining thirds would be dead ground. 

The 3 Soviet Tank Brigades each had infantry attachments from the 9th Guards Airborne desantniki, and collectively pooled supporting artillery, SP guns, AT guns, and a variety of mortars, for a total of 500 points, arriving in 3 successive waves, depending on reinforcement rolls. The LAH were defending their 3 objectives with 380 points, with the Tigers being rolled for from move 4.

On the eastern flank the Soviet 31st Tank Brigade opened by attacking Oktjasriskij from the outset, tenaciously defended by a platoon of 2 SS Regt Panzer Grenadiers supported by an assortment of half-track mounted guns and mortars. 

However the Soviet storm of steel unleashed by the supporting battery of 8 x 120mm mortars, catching the landsers before they had a chance to dive into their buildings and foxholes, set their defence back right from the start. However it was not until Soviet reinforcements in the form of a second Tank Brigade of Churchill tanks arrived with tank riders that the village, and its objective, eventually fell.

This attack had been supported by the majority of Russian support units, who had advanced their towed artillery and AT guns steadily towards the crest to take the 7 Panzer IVs under fire – with mixed results…after taking heavy casualties from the Panzers and from Panzer Grenadier SFMGs in the anti-tank ditch, they managed to discomfort the Panzer IV’s sufficiently to make them retreat back over the ditch. 

The platoon of SU-85s had remained aloof from this scrap, however, moving to the western flank to secure that flank against any heavy armour that might appear…

This western flank saw the successive arrival of 2 more Soviet tank brigades in moves 2 and 3. The first brigade, of T-34s, moved rapidly around the flank of the anti tank ditch to menace the western most German objective in they had placed near the middle of their table edge.

The third Soviet Tank Brigade, aware that Wittman’s Tigers were soon due in the vicinity, sent only their faster KV-1S’s across in support of the lead T-34s, leaving the heavier armoured KV-1s on the flank to counter the Tigers when they appeared…

The soviet attack from the western flank against the middle objective…

was soon met with heavy fire from Marder AT guns and 105 howitzers in direct fire mode, who extracted a heavy toll of T-34s from the lead Soviet Brigade.

At this stage, the LAH were facing unrelenting pressure on both flanks; down the railway line from T-70s and submachine gunners to the East... 

and along by the AT ditch to the West from T34’s and KVs, and massed T-34s and Churchill’s to the front! And no sign of Wittmann!

With the first Soviet Tank brigade attacking from the West all used up, the KV1S’s had their chance and with their heavier armour began to take its toll of the Marders and 105s, 

so that the surviving Panzer IVs and some of the StuGs desperately defending the middle approach had to be redeployed.

But Wittman’s arrival in move 5 put heart into the German team, as he set about methodically destroying the SU-85 platoon and KV-1s meant to contain him! 

They took cheer too from the merciless shelling and werfering of two Russian infantry platoons foolishly moving, and then pinned, in the open.

However, back on the Eastern Flank, the first wave of T-34s from the 31st Tank Brigade had rushed the anti-tank ditch. Whilst a couple failed a skill check and got caught out and written off, the remainder were finding a way across. 

The Panzergrenadiers sprung their ambush of 5cm AT guns but the Eastern objective, also threatened by the Churchill brigade, was now in jeopardy.

With the Western objective being assaulted by the KV-1s, the Germans decided to call Wittman’s Tigers back across to the centre, but before he was even halfway across the ridge a second KV-1 assault took that objective, littered with Russian tank wrecks. His platoon was sandwiched between two Soviet tank forces, so his Tigers would be taking rear shots come what may – not that any of them had been more than bailed so far despite unrelenting hits from SU-85s, KVs and a couple of Shturmovik air raids!

With 2 of 3 objectives lost, and with no prospect of gaining enough VPs to win the campaign, despite having inflicted staggering losses on the Russians, the German team finally conceded the hard fought game.

An epic end to a great campaign – a firestorm indeed!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Blucher Waterloo: The Lasne Defile

On Sunday the Wollongong Wargamers played our annual Waterloo game using Blucher rules - nothing unusual in that...

But this time there was a twist - an alternative history type twist...

Overnight Napoleon has fallen prey to nagging doubts about the Prussians. Supposing they weren’t completely beaten at Ligny. What if Grouchy mucks up their pursuit? At breakfast, listening to Count Drouot’s account of his battlefield recce, and the remarkably defensive ground to be found east at the Lasne defile, Napoleon decides to insure his right flank: Lobau will defend much further to the east to block any Prussians coming west like a cork in a bottle…Who knows, if Grouchy understands his intention and falls on the Prussian rear, the Prussians could be surrounded and crushed once and for all. If that happens Wellington would scuttle away to Brussels and beyond without even having to be seriously engaged…
This scenario assumes that Grouchy obeyed his orders rather than understanding Napoleon’s intent and is thus far away at Wavre.

As the Prussians do turn up in force, and pressure Lobau, D’Erlons I Corps inevitably gets drawn east in support. However Wellington spots this and is relieved to see a chance to link up with the Prussians early, despatching increasing number of his forces to either intercept D’Erlon or support the Prussians directly…

Ground and Daylight. 
The LASNE river is a Minor obstacle. The BOIS DE PARIS is Impassable. 
All heights have a Crest line 2 inches from their edge, and thereafter are flat plateaus. The area around from the edge to the ridge is Difficult Terrain.

Allies start the Game on Move 8. Game ends at move 30 with nightfall.

Victory Conditions and Army Morale.
There are 2 objectives, the LASNE road crossing and the crossroads outside PLANCENOIT. Winner will hold both at game end; or win through attrition:

French Army Morale Break Point is 8; Anglo Allied is 6; Prussian is 8
Prussians IV Corps: Gary and Alan
Anglo-Allied Western Flank: Peter and David
French VI Corps, Young Guard: Caesar
French Cav Corps I and IV;  Guard Cavalry, I Corps: Sparker

Alan, Caesar, Gary, Sparker, David, Peter
What happened:

The French deployed first – Lobau’s VI Corps within the Lasne Defile to the east, the French Cavalry over on the left within 4 BWs of the French table edge.

The Allies then deployed, the Prussians with their complete orbat within 3 BWs of their table edge, the Anglo-Allies just their initial wave of cavalry and horse artillery.

The French then got to make a free Reserve move to react to the advancing allies, which allowed me to move a Heavy Cavalry Corps halfway across the table to confound a Prussian attempt to blitz across south of the Lasne Defile, and thus circumvent Caesar’s strong defences.

The Anglo Allies then got their first move – No. 8.

Both the Prussians and Anglos can on fast and aggressively, and over on my flank opposite Frasnes there were a good deal of cavalry jockeying and charges, with honours just about even.

The Prussians were finding the heights commanding the Lasne river daunting – the initial slope was difficult terrain so they were unable to charge straight across it, but instead would have to face one move of volleying before coming to grips with the defending French infantry brigades on the Plateau.

The horse battery I had sent across with the Heavy Cavalry also found the range very quickly and steadily attrited the Prussian infantry on the left of their line.

On the Western end of the table, the arrival of the Guard Cavalry with 3 very powerful units soon forced the Allied lighter cavalry to fall back with prejudice. 

I probably should have been happy with that but instead took the decision to follow these units up...

 in the hope they would be force to retire off their table edge.

With hindsight, this confined these fine units to a minor role and steady combat degradation in a succession of cavalry engagements with reinforcing units – some of them equally heavy…

Indeed the battle on this side of the table was characterised by successive waves of reinforcements affecting the ebb and flow of the battle. 

When the Young Guard corps arrived, Caesar’s position was looking distinctly shaky, 

with a Prussian Landwehr unit having forced, wait for it...

 a French line unit off the objective – how embarrassment! And this was to become something of a...

Recurring theme...

The Young Guard were duly despatched eastwards, but they would have a lot of ground to cover before they made an impact! 

At this stage we realised the scenario would have been improved by some sort of scenario specific March Order – units outside of 4 BW of the enemy may activate to once again become unrevealed and so can make a Reserve move in the following turn.

At this point D’Erlon’s I Corps had arrived as reinforcements, but their deployment was fouled by a lingering Guard Horse artillery battery which had not been able to be activated off the edge of the table. Nevertheless a heavy battery and horse battery were able to be deployed with clear lines of fire to the Allied cavalry and squares, and the gunners set to their grim task in this target rich environment - no ridge to hide behind over on this flank!

 Over to the east the Prussians had fixed Lobau's Corps...

 and were well set up to push forward...

and their deliberate approach, whilst incurring artillery and musketry casualties...

seemed to be paying off as they steadily pushed back or broke brigade after brigade...

Over on the western flank Wellington was sending Brigade after Brigade down of his ridge...

to match D'Erlon unit for unit...

So that the engagement had become general, and bloody...

Right across the table...

With the inevitable impact upon each Army's morale factor... Finally, the brittle morale of the Armee du Nord fell from 1 to 0 - Caesar and I had one remaining move to crack the Allies morale by breaking just 2 Prussian or 4 Allied units....
But the Black Flags and the Thin Red Line held out! 

Napoleon loses Waterloo! Who'd ha' thunk it!