I invited Rob Avery, Max Maxwell and Jez Davies over for a game at Wally HQ. I decided that I would umpire, my first time, allow Rob to use his excellent newly painted Battlefront Russians whilst letting Max and Jez use my German figures.
Firstly I feel the need to allow an insight into the sick mind of the umpire – ME!
In writing the scenario my intention was to tailor the German commands to the players characters. This is an important thing to try and do as players feel more comfortable.
Not knowing Rob’s playing style I thought some sort of defensive role for the Ivans, with an option to attack later in the game. Knowing Max somewhat I thought he may be better as overall German C-in-C. Jez is a VERY aggressive, some say impulsive, commander who loves tanks. With this in mind I gave him a Panzer Company to command, and warned Max!
I didn’t want the game to swamp Rob though as I wanted him to feel he could attack if he wanted to, and gave him a breakout option.
The players were given maps of the battlefield and orbats to use after Rob had let me know what he wanted to use, and what he owned.
It was important to try some sort of balancing act to. Rob, although in an ideal position had much inferior troops. Soviet poor squads have only two initiative dice and Rob only had three Big Men available at the outset to Max and Jez’s dozen! Also Soviet tanks operate on individual cards and were rated as green, plus the two man turret is a major disadvantage in tank Vs tank combat. To balance this I decided to really try and knacker up the Germans.
I decided that they should arrive piecemeal on table depending upon what was occurring off- table in my minds eye.
I really wanted to recreate the feel of 1941 though so gave the German’s air support and both sides limited artillery options too.
I e-mailed the players with daily updates on the situation going on off-table to give the game a wider setting.
Max was told that the air support had been required elsewhere initially and that Jez’s force was heavily engaged against Soviet armour off-table. Jez was told that his Panzer Company was really up against it and would be late in arriving, though his troops were confident in their assured victory. Rob was told that reinforcements were being sent by train and that a Company of ten BT7s were also on the way. Rob suggested as a joke that I may like to give him an armoured train. I laughed it off then ordered and bought one from Peter Pig without telling him. I had no intention whatsoever in letting Rob have any more tanks but wanted to foster the idea that he could attack the Germans to try and break out as reinforcements were on the way.
The table essentially featured a lot of seemingly open terrain with a goods yard occupied by the Soviets. Max was allowed his Company HQ and dismounted Schutzen Platoon from the game start plus D6+1 fakes and four stonks. I also allowed him to pre-register two locations for his off table 150mm howitzer battery.
Jez initially had his Panzer Company HQ, armoured Engineer Platoon and Panzer II Recce Platoon.
I decided that only his Pz IV Platoon would be available for the game. During the game when his Company HQ Big Man card was drawn I would give him info about the rest of his company. I told him that they had been defeated and had had to fall back.
I also told Rob late during the game that his BT7 Company had been destroyed too.
As a final report I told them that it had rained heavily and that there would be much boggy ground on table. Again this was to restrict movement for the German’s making offensive action difficult and encouraging them to think about standing off thereby allowing Rob a window to assault.
Anyhow so much for the plan, what about the action?
Rob had asked me if he could dig everything in. I agreed as it suited the scenario briefings I'd given the players. He also declared his intention of using both a fake minefield and a fake trench.
The players had already drawn up their deployment and plans. I told Max and Jez that Jez's Pz II's and Engineers were no longer able to deploy on the northern road but that they had arrived out of position on the western road.
Rob marked his three locations for his artillery; 1 - behind the hill in an area where he anticipated the enemy massing prior to assault, 2- in the middle of the open area near the boggy ground, 3 - on the crossroads.
Max marked his pre-registered artillery locations behind the wood and then on the goods yard
Max started the action with revealing that he had four stonks. These fell one behind the wood where I had briefed Max that armour was spotted moving by aerial recce. One on the goods yard, one on the railway platforms and one to the rear adjacent to the railway line. I told the players that the result of the stonks would be apparent when the blinds were spotted if they were in the 12" area. This way the defender is not necessarily aware of what casualties he suffers until he tries to do something with them. Nasty!
Max moved cautiously his HQ SdKfz 251/10 being spotted automatically at 'Tea Break' near the wooden hovel at the SW corner.
True to form Jez moved rapidly, blinds moved behind the hill and into position towards the north. Rob faced a mass of enemy blinds, not knowing that many were fakes. Clearly Jez was hell bent on assaulting the goods yard true to his objectives and briefing, believing he needed to secure the northern road to allow his Panzer company to arrive. At this point he didn't know I had decided they were not turning up!
When 'Soviet Blinds Move' came up Rob spotted the fakes and movement and Jez's blinds were revealed. Armoured engineer halftracks moving to the north exposing their rear to a Platoon of BT7s dug in in the dense wood. Two were hit and put out of action immediately by Rob's green tank crews, their passengers dismounting with heavy losses.
Rob then opened up with two Big Man led HMGs, also dug in, in the wood, on the luckless dismounted engineers causing pins and wounds. We assesses the HMGs as they were just in the stonk area. Minimal casualties.
Rob was not finished there though. A blind sneaking round the northern edge of the hill was spotted as the Panzer II Platoon. Rob revealed two KV1's hiding between the railway platforms.
He fired but missed.
Stukas appeared overhead but after rolling a one, one peeled off and dive-bombed the engineer Platoon. knocking out a halftrack.
The game progressed swiftly with Jez manouevring his Pz II's into positions to they could poor fire upon the KV1's hoping by volume of fire to upset the Soviet gunners aim. It was not to be. Rob accounted for a Pz II immediately as his card turned up.
I now brought on two Quad HMGs mounted on trucks on Rob's baseline, near the eastern road. Their fire was directed to the hill upon the German infantry cutting down swathes even at long-ish range.
Rob's artillery arrived right on target behind the hill pinning everything and causing further wounds on the hapless engineers.
Jez now decided to engage the BT7's with his Company HQ Pz IIIF and Pz IIIG. Jez's crew missed their targets but he destroyed a quad MG. The other was quickly despatched when Max's off table artillery landed right behind the wood, the blast zone accounting for the surviving Quad.
However, Max did a bit of shoot and scoot with his SdKfz/251 10s. Two dug in BT7's were hit easily as the Veteran halftrack crew led by their Company Commander Big Man, with quickly achieved fire support. Then retreated an hid behind the hovel.
Rob revealed another ace up his sleeve though. Dug in to the north of the dense wood were also three T26s! One had been seriously damaged by a stonk however and would have to wait several moves for its concussed crew to operate.
Jez's Company commander was instantly killed when his Pz IIIG blew up as a 45mm round hit him smack on target. and penetrated. The remaining Pz IIIF also took hits and was immobilised.
Za Rodinu! Good shooting Ivan. Rob was massacring the fascist vipers!
Jez now decided to hide his last two Panzer IIs behind the building and the wood fenced yard in the centre. He had failed to spot the fact that it contained valiant AT rifle defenders hidden here by Rob specifically for that purpose. As German infantry manouevered into position with another SdKfz 25/10 in support they were pinned by Rob's dug in Maxims near the rail shed. However, Max's stonk had accounted for two of the four Rob had positioned there.
Rob also revealed two dug-in 45mm AT guns in the ballast yard. Again Max's stonk had knocked out one! The remaining 45mm hit Max Company HQ Sdkfz 251/10 immobilising it behind the hovel. Max dismounted the Big Man and joined a rifle squad he had deployed in the hovel.
Rob now fired his AT rifles and hit a Panzer II twice in the flank, jamming its turret and knocking out its main gun also.
Jez assaulted the building with engineers forcing out the heroic forlorn hope - but only just.
At this point I allowed Max to bring on his 75mm infantry guns and another infantry Platoon near the hovel and Jez's Panzer IV Platoon arrived on the western road.
Jez decided revenge was in order and crushed the remaining 45mm gun as its crew legged it, with his damaged Panzer II.
Max hit the Soviet HMGs in the dense wood and accounted for a BT7. Crews of the other BT7s now bailed out when their cards were drawn.
The next move saw Jez try to crush the dug in HMGs near the railway shed. The Soviets passed their guts test and evaded the oncoming Panzer which then got stuck!
Jez then suffered unbelievable bad luck. Empty trenches were spotted near the railway line infront of the ballast yard. Jez engineers ran from the building to the trenches only to find them to be fake. Rob's Maxim poured fire on them pinning them and the next turn Rob's artillery zeroed in on the crossroads fell right amongst the exposed engineers massacring them.
Jez's Panzer IVs fired on the T26's causing no hits.
Max then manouevred his Infantry into a flank attack upon the wood only to discover that Rob had also dug in a Platoon of infantry in support of the BT7's and HMGs.
On a 'Heroic Leader' card Rob's Big Man climbed into an immobilised and abandoned BT7 and fired its MG into the invaders of the motherland.
Suddenly Motorcycle troops arrived near the dense wood and dismounted in the dense wood. A crowd of Russian civilians were herded towards the minefield by their Einsatzgruppen guards, only to discover that it was a fake minefield. A contentious thing to put in the game but not being a squeamish type I thought it added some flavour. StuGs arrived on Max's baseline as Jez discovered to his horror that no reinforcement would be forthcoming. His remaining Panzers had been hotly engaged with a Soviet tank Company to the north and had almost been wiped out.
To make matters worse Jez's Pz IV tanks were low on ammo and could only engage now at short range! Two were also knocked out by T26's. They had marched to the sound of the guns without adequate ammunition supplies.
Max assaulted with his Motorcycle troops in the dense wood in a very confused and tight melee, but took the trenches.
In the centre Jez assaulted a Soviet HMG to find it supported by a Platoon of infantry dug-in behind the railway line. Jez's troops were wiped out and the survivors captured by Rob's depleted troops.
Smoke on the horizon revealed Soviet reinforcements arriving by rail. To the German's horror and Rob's glee, an armoured Soviet train arrived with two 76mm guns, four HMGs, a 37mm AA gun and an NKVD Squad on board. The howitzers raked the German positions and the light AA gun fired at anything moving...not that it was needed as the Soviets had already won the day.
As the rugby was due soon we ended the game as a massive and glorious victory for the Soviets an excellent game which Rob had planned and executed precisely.
Max and Jez had fought bravely but Rob still had two dug in Platoons which had been undiscovered. Jez in particular had fallen foul of the cards and his own impulsive nature. Max was left shaking his head and wondering what could've been....A breakout was on the cards! Za Rodinu!