Yesterday, Neil and I played the late war Ostfront game I'd promised him. I'd specially bought and painted some SU-85 Tank Killers and SU- 122 House Killers for the game, so was looking forward to seeing how they did.
The Germans were defending a T-junction in the middle of a small town placed at one end of the table, with the body of the `T' extending down the middle of the table towards the Soviets. They had two full platoons of Wehrmacht infantry, plus `fausts; one small platoon of two sections of militia; a couple of MMG's, and three panzerschrecks. A little sauce was provided by an `88'; and on turn 3 they would get two Panthers and three Panzer IVG's as backup.
The Soviets had three full platoons of decent infantry with an SMG platoon as an extra spearhead. Although they had no mortars (why didn't I listen to you guys?), they did have four MMG's and two AT guns. They also had a platoon of five old T-34 M1941's; a platoon of three SU-85's; and a platoon of four SU-122's. Recon was provided by three FAI-M armoured cars. The SU-122's were straight off the factory floor and equipped with lovely radios, but all the other tanks would move on their individual cards.
The game started as the Soviets pushed on to the table. Being incredibly nervous of the 88 (they'd obviously spotted it in the area earlier!), they pushed up the table moving under Blinds from cover to cover (there were patches of bushes and trees, and the odd building) in an exceptionally cautious fashion. Only the armoured cars were in full view.
No Germans were spotted. Nothing was moving.
Desperate to tempt the enemy into revealing their positions as soon as possible, the Soviets uncloaked their T-34's, and rushed up the table in full view shouting "shoot at me, shoot at me!" in very bad accented German.
No Germans were spotted. Nothing was moving.
Carefully the Soviets approached the town, moving up and uncloaking infantry to cover the tanks. Still nothing was spotted, nothing was moving.
Wanting to keep his force together, the Soviet commander uncloaked his SU-85's and SU-122's, stacking the chip bag so they could start moving forward rather than being left behind for the single Soviet Blinds chip to be revealed.
The town was a row of houses, then the top of the T running across the board, then another row of houses. The Soviets were still using their T-34's for scouting purposes, and one drove up the right of the battlefield, right up to the hedge nearest the end house, so that it could "see" down the road forming the top of the T.
Ah ha! The enemy was spotted. In a cunning piece of deployment, Neil had dug his trenches along the road between the two rows of houses. The row of houses nearest the Soviets protected his men from long range SU-122 fire, and the positioning of the trenches meant that any Soviets entering them automatically came within 2" and so into close combat as the Krauts threw grenades from their trenches into the windows. The houses behind were packed with troops, so close- assaulting Soviets would get hammered from above as well. This was going to be a tough nut to crack.
Losing a T-34 to a panzerschrek, the Soviets decided to bring everything up and get fully ready before probing the town more aggressively. Then the 88 opened up. Dug-in on a hill at the base of the battlefield, it could see down the whole left hand side of the Soviet advance. Two more T-34's were blown to bits in seconds, and the SU-85's that had been advancing slowly forward scattered to the right! The SU-122's split into two lots of two vehicles: one section would howitzer the 88, the other would hide from the thing behind a building and blow the town to bits as a nice way of loosening up the Germans prior to an assault.
Unfortunately, because of the range and the fact it was dug-in, the SU-122's attacking the 88 just couldn't hit it, and one was blown to bits as the other fled into cover again! An SU-85 also left its snout out too far as well, and suffered death by 88. Why, oh why, hadn't I listened to the group and got mortars? They could have sat at the back of the table, zeroed in on the 88, and killed it bit by bit. Curses!
Encouraged by his success, Neil then revealed his two Panthers, both of which were on the opposite side of the table to the 88, and moved them up to a hedge towards which an SU-85 (number 73 for those interested) was advancing.
Two Panthers verses one SU-85, Neil was thinking, no problemo! What Neil hadn't remembered, however, was that my SU-85 had held over its dice. As the Panthers hove into view, the crew of #73 frantically snapped a shot off at them. After some haggling, we decided that I needed an 11+ with my first shot, and a 12 with my second, to hit the suddenly seen and hard to see Panther I was aiming at.
Then my daughter came back from her swimming lesson. Given the choice of doing the chip bag or rolling my dice, she chose to roll my dice. Okay, my love, we're shooting at that big, nasty tank over there. You need to roll very high.
A six and a five followed by double six!
#73's two shells slammed into the Panther! Now these tank killers are nasty: gun 13 verses armour 9. Again Annabelle picked up the dice, and some good rolls saw both shots penetrate the Panther's armour and blow it to bits!
The remaining Panther then shot at my SU-85. Three shells slammed towards it: two hit, and it was armour 5 verses gun 11! Roll well, oh fruit of my loins, roll well!
Unbelievably, both shells ricocheted off the Soviet assault gun's front armour and, ears ringing, its crew prepared to return fire!
Whose chip would come up first next turn? Into the bag went Neil's hand…yes: #73 would fire first. This time its crew knew what they were shooting at: three shells, two hits from Annabelle's devilish dice rolling…and "boom", up went the second Panther.
At this point I had to remind Neil that there were children in the room (besides us, I mean) and that I didn't want my daughter picking up that sort of language!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, the German Panzer IV's had moved up and were further blocking the Soviet advance. It was obvious that the only way forward was up the right hand side of the field, so every remaining Soviet infantryman and vehicle headed that way.
The Soviets were also desperate to clear the enemy infantry from the trenches in the road between the houses, so a T-34 (expendable!) pushed over a hedge and drove onto the trench. Being dug-in, they couldn't kill the enemy infantry, but by golly they could make them vulnerable to infantry assault! The German infantry that could scrambled into the back row of houses: the Russians had taken the trenches! Not only that, but the T-34 now had a clear flank shot at the three panzers!
The panzers were pretty cool customers, however. Leaving cover of the right flank to the 88, they coolly swivelled their turrets and blew the T-34 into pieces before reversing and backing up their left flank: preventing the Soviets bringing their assault guns into positions to fire easy shots into the houses. It was stalemate again, and the Soviet commander was running out of time.
The German infantry in the back row of houses was now split into two: one platoon on the German right, and another and the weak platoon on their left effectively facing three platoons of Soviet infantry. As Russian commander, however, I just couldn't see a way of getting at them without losing a vast amount of men before I'd even made contact: I had to get through houses and across trenches whilst at risk of being shot by the squads in the top floors of the German-held houses, and then take the ground floors against defending a position troops, and then take the top floors ditto.
The chips were not running my way either: the Germans were continually able to hold over their dice before all of mine that I needed for a mass assault came up. I would have to grind the defenders down with a long slow process of house bashing with the remaining SU-85's and SU-122's, but we were almost out of time.
Then up came the heroic commander chip. Neil, also keen to resolve the situation agreed that my one remaining Big Man could lead every infantryman I had facing it into an assault on the right hand house. They would take some ghastly fire as they came in: but if I didn't try this, the game was lost anyway.
Silently moving my lips in a prayer to Saint's Kev and Jez, the dynamic duo of Soviet close assaulting, I agreed, and the climax of the battle was upon us.
I had two line platoons and the SMG platoon in my assault. Casualties from the top floor squads and a Panzer IV was high, and the defenders on the ground floor were well dug-in. The only thing that didn't make this a foregone conclusion was that I had actually managed to hit the house with a couple of shells from the SU-122's, and so the Germans were somewhat damaged: in particular an MMG had been destroyed.
We calculated the dice: Neil would throw 48, I would throw 36. At this point I began to regret throwing the game away!
I rolled first: a pretty incredible ten 6's! Then Neil rolled: only four 6's from the whole of his 48 dice! I had won: and by enough to massacre the Nazi scum as we both decided that taking prisoners was not on either side's ROE's!
The assault continued to the top floor, but here the luck was different: I lost, but only by one, my men being hurled back downstairs.
At this point we really were out of time and, satisfied that we had fought a great game, we declared a draw!
From now on, when the group says "take some mortars", I promise I will!