It had been a long time since I'd run a game from my Vyazma or Bust! scenario pack for IABSM, so when it came to running a campaign for John and Dave (the Benson boys!) it seemed like a jolly good idea to reach for the early war Eastern Front figures and plan the first game.
The campaign begins with a German attack on Soviet positions near Izdeshkovo. The invaders have a couple of platoons of infantry (one mounted in trucks, the other in half-tracks) supported by four Panzer IIIs and a powerful support platoon of three MMGs and two medium mortars. Air support from the Luftwaffe was also promised but, in the event, never turned up. The German troops are good quality regulars, with plenty of Big Men to keep things moving.
The Soviets start the game on table, aware that the Germans are about to attack, but unaware from which direction the enemy will come.
They have a single platoon of infantry supporting four anti-tank guns, along with one MMG and one medium mortar. They also have three T-26 light tanks and, their ace in the hole, a single KV-1 'monster' tank. Their troops are also good quality, even if they are not quite as good as the Germans, but they only have three Big Men and a Commissar in command. They were also supposed to have some off-table heavy mortars helping out, but poor communications meant that, like the German Luftwaffe, the off-table artillery never arrived.
The battle takes place along the road towards Izdeshkovo. The road snakes over largely open ground, apart from where it goes through a large patch of light woods, down to a bridge over a narrow stream. Although you can't see the contours very clearly in the photo, right, the woods sit on two hills, one either side of the road. There is a lone farm towards the southern edge of the table, and three peasant huts near the bridge. The German objective was to clear the road of any opposition and capture the area of the bridge and huts.
Needing to cover all approaches, the Soviets split their force over those areas of the battlefield in which they were allowed to deploy. Two anti-tank guns, each with a supporting infantry squad, were in the southern-most wood (i.e. the wood nearest the farm); one was in the northern-most wood just the other sdie of the road junction, also with a squad of infantry; with the final gun being under cover in the single hut just north of the road. Also amongst the huts were the support weapons and KV-1, with the three T-26s being assigned one to each wood, but on the opposite edge to where the AT guns were placed.
The Germans decided to split their force and carry out a broad-front advance.
The Panzers (1) and Company HQ squad (2), with a Dummy Blind (3) leading the way, would head straight for their objective over the open ground.
The truck-mounted troops (4) would drive for the road and use the extra speed it gave them to whip down towards the bridge as fast as possible.
The half-track mounted troops (5) would advance on their left, heading over the hill west of the road.
Finally, the support platoon (6) would bring up the rear, looking for the best place to set up.
This didn't seem very much like the mailed fist of blitzkrieg, but I was sure that John knew what he was doing!
The German infantry ran into trouble almost as soon as the game began. The nearest Soviet anti-tank gun opened fire and blew the lead truck to pieces, with not all of the squad it carried managing to bail out before the flames consumed them. To add insult to injury, the Soviet infantry squad supporting the gun then shot at them, leaving only five men pinned down and suffering from nine shock. Scratch one German squad!
The other two German squads immediately de-bused, not wanting to share the same fate as their comrades, but were caught out in the open by more fire from the Soviet infantry squad.
Next card out was the Uraaaaaagh! charge bonus card for the Soviets and Dave, acting in a way that would have surely had Uncle Joe's absolute approval, charged the infantry squad forward into the mass of German infantry in front of them.
Unfortunately, the time it took the Soviet infantrymen to get into contact with the 'fascist swine' gave the aforementioned swine time to get ready to receive them, and the Russians were bounced backwards into the woods. The German zug, however, originally twenty-six strong (counting the ATR team), was now down to just fourteen men: almost 50% casualties.
Meanwhile, the half-track mounted German zug had managed to get onto the hill, come off their blind, and poured fire into the Soviet anti-tank gun, eventually shooting all the crew down. They then managed to shoot into the rear of the retreating Soviet infantry squad, effectively removing that from any further part in the battle.
Note, by the way, the German Big Man commanding the truck-mounted panzergrenadiers. He's the chap standing on the red ring in the right-hand picture. Let's call him Big Man #4. That's close combat number one for him.
Time for a quick "meanwhile"!
Whilst all the above was taking place, the German panzers and support weapons had deployed and were edging forward looking for targets to engage. The Soviets opposite them, however, were keeping their heads down, waiting to see what happened on their right flank.
Back to the action!
Now that it looked as if their way was clear, the German half-track mounted infantry started down the hill. Six men of each squad walked besides their half-tracks, with driver and gunner remaining on board.
Unfortunately, of course, there was another Soviet anti-tank gun and two infantry squads concealed in the treeline of the woods in front of them and, as the Germans came within automatic spotting distance, these opened fire. Worse, the T-26 in the west woods emerged and opened fire on the flank of the German zug.
It was carnage! Two of the three half-tracks were immediately brewed up, and a third of the infantry shot down.
Again the Uraaaaaagh! charge bonus card for the Soviets appeared, and again Dave didn't hesitate: the Soviet infantry left their scrapes and charged up the hill determined to drive the fascists from the Motherland.
The Germans in front of them, all of them, just evaporated, and although seven of the twenty charging Russians had been killed, one entire German zug, half the German infantry force, had been wiped out.
Now, however, it was the turn of the Germans to charge in what was rapidly becoming something more like an Ancients game than WW2!
The two remaining squads of the truck-mounted platoon charged forward and overran the remaining crew of the first Russian anti-tank gun...and that's close combat number two for German Big Man #4.
There was now no stopping these Germans. Into the woods they went and close assaulted the rear of a T-26 that had been lurking there waiting for the German panzers to crest the hill. It took two rounds of close combat to cripple the tank, which limped out of the woods just far enough for its crew to abandon ship in open ground. Oh, and that's close combats three and four for German Big Man #4.
The Germans then turned back towards the half-tracks and opened fire on the rear of the Soviet infantry there, taking them down to eight men. Then, however, they themselves came under fire as the ambushing T-26 raked their flank with MG fire.
That left Big Man #4 with ten Germans, half of them pinned, staring up the hill at an eight-man Soviet infantry squad.
You can guess what happened next: up came the Uraaaaaagh! charge bonus card for the Soviets, and down the hill their infantry ran, determined to wipe out the fascist invaders once and for all. Things looked bad for the Germans, but the picture on the right, below, shows you what John rolled...
The two surviving Soviet infantrymen fled, leaving German Big Man #4 (after his fifth close combat) with only two men.
The T-26 that had harassed them had gone after the German support weapons (and would later find itself colander-ed by the German machine guns at close range) so that left only a Soviet anti-tank gun in sight. "Zat vill do!" shouted German Big Man #4, and he led his two men into close combat with the gun crew. The first round of close combat left his men dead and he himself bounced back four inches, but the Soviets were down to two men.
Up came his card again, so in he charged, on his own, and managed to take out the two remaining gun crew. That was close combat six and seven for German Big Man #4, who was now the only person left alive on that side of the battlefield. Literally everyone else was dead. Everyone! Out of nine squads of infantry and two anti-tank gun crews, one man remained, and he had survived seven rounds of close combat!
After the above, describing what happened on the other side of the battlefield, near the bridge, seems like an anti-climax, but it was actually quite exciting as well.
The German panzers moved forward slowly, setting the hut containing the Soviet MMG team alight with HE and then shooting down the crew when they fled the building.
The Soviet sniper then opened fire, and in two turns managed to devastate the German HQ squad: killing something like three men and giving it so much shock that it would effectively play no part in the action and occupy the time of the German CinC sorting the shock out.
Then the KV-1, which had been stuck under a blind, revealed itself and began dueling with the panzers.
The German tanks fired shot after shot at the Russian behemoth to no avail, and it wasn't until the panzer commander, in his up-gunned and up-armoured Panzer III shot forward and managed to flank the beast that any damage started to get done. You can just see the front of his tank in the picture above.
Even then it was a matter of slowly chipping away at the Soviet beast and, by the time I called the game, it had two damages on its main gun and two damages on its tracks, and that's after taking about twenty hits!
The game was called at that point because the rugby was about to start, but it was a good time to end the battle. Although the German panzers would probably have eventually taken out the KV-1, they had no infantry left with which to hold their objective. Well, they had Big Man #4, but he was probably having a little lie down after his beserk!
I called the game a draw but, for the purposes of the campaign, awarded victory to the Soviets. They had come closest to achieving their objectives.
What a game! Both players agreed that they felt pretty stunned by the relentless action and were ready for lie-downs of their own. Vyazma or Bust! had proved a winner again!