We hadn't used Nigel's Panthers much at all over the last few months so after the fun game we had last time in France with them, we decided to give them another outing, this time against the Soviet Red Army.
I had the idea of a technically superior, Veteran, German force holding off a Soviet force which had learnt a lot of lessons since 1941 regarding flexibility and approach of command and control.
IABSM as a rule set offers you a great chance to do this. Soviets really change in equipment and nature throughout WW2 accurately reflecting the improvements that the Red Army underwent.
Nigel's fearsome force was a very different kettle of fish from the German forces that had invaded during Barbarossa in June 1941. Gone were the Panzer III's with short 5cm guns. The German Panzerwaffe was now equipped with the fearsome 88mm Tiger, the PzKpfw V aka Panther, perhaps the best tank of WW2 armed with a high velocity, long barelled 75mm, and featured many variants of Panzerjagers; Marders, StuG's, Hetzers, 'Guderian's Duck's' to mention some. For this game we decided to use a pair of Jagdpanthers - truly awesome kit.
Qualitatively, there was little hope of success for the Soviets. Not even I own enough Soviet tanks to take on such a force. It would take an entire battalion of T-34's at least in a straight fight and in this action the Germans were defending!. Or to look at it historically, the German Panzerwaffe was outnumbered 7:1 by the Red armoured forces in 1944 and so I would need 105 tanks!
I decided to mix my T-34's between the newly arrived variant with the 85mm gun in a three-man turret, and the older 76mm variant with a two-man turret. I like to recreate run of the mill forces for my Soviets, no Josef Stalin tanks for me - yet! The SU-100 whilst fearsomely armed was, typically for the Soviets, also incredibly thinly armoured. I also decided to use a Company of T-70's a very useful light tank for recce but not really up to taking on SS big cats with an armour rating of 4.
As such I decided to move the goalposts continually throughout the scenario to keep Nigel on his back foot.
Firstly, I decided to hit the German's with Katyusha strikes as a prelude to the assault. I had tipped Nigel off that these had already occurred prior to the game, but hadn't told him to expect any stonks.
Evil, on my part, but a true reflection of the increased capability of Soviet artillery since 1941. Still lacking co-ordination and a decent observer system they were capable of incredible firepower. I wanted to make Nigel reel under the weight of 'Little Katy'
I also decided that although letting Nigel think he had arrived in time to block the assault he was in actuality too late as Soviet Engineers had built sunken bridges just below water level ready for the Red Hordes.
Too make it more unpredictable for myself and again to reflect the Soviets hit and miss approach to things I decided to dice for bridges and Katyushas - D4 in both cases.
Another nasty surprise was to be in the shape of OT-34 Flamethrower tanks. I'm a big fan of these and everyone here knows it. The sheer terror effect of these weapons on opposing players far outweighs their actual usefulness on table.
The 6' x 4' area fought over featured a long winding river, a small battered village with numerous copses to aid defence, but with large open areas too. A real nightmare for an attacker!
It is late summer 1944. Operation Bagration has been launched to smite the fascist vipers and destroy their nest in their so-called Third Reich.
You command a T34 Company and have been ordered to attack across a river. You must make all haste before the enemy try to reorganise themselves and attempt to block your assault.
Unbeknown to the enemy Soviet engineers have constructed D4 hidden bridges just below the waterline. Otherwise the river is fordable to vehicles but only at 1D6 progress.
You are supported by a D4 Katyusha strikes, which will fall on the enemy and stun him hopefully allowing your forces to cross unhindered, and limited air support.
You must deploy no further than 6" from the table edge.
You may leave forces off-table but these will be diced for randomly and only one blind per turn may arrive.
Infantry Platoon 1
- Three SMG Squads (8 men)
- Jnr Sgt Big Man 8 (D6)
Infantry Platoon 2
- Tank Killer team (4 men)
Infantry Platoon 3
- Tank Killer team (4 men)
- Three SU100
- Jnr Lieutenant Big Man 7 (D4)
- Two T34/85
- Two T34/42
- Captain Big Man 1 (D4)
- Two T34/85
- Jnr Lieutenant Big Man 2 (D4)
- Two T34/85
- Snr Sgt Big Man 3 (D4)
- Three OT34 Flamethrower Tanks
- Jnr Lieutenant Big Man 4 (D4)
- Four T70
- Snr Lieutenant Big Man 5 (D4)
- Three T70
- Jnr Sgt Big Man 6 (D4)
- D6 Fake Blinds
- D4 Katyusha Strikes
National Characteristic Cards
Air Support 1 & 2; Tank Killers; Heroic Leader; Recce Force; Dynamic Commander; Uhraieee Stalino; AFV Bonus Move x 3
It is late summer 1944. The Soviets have launched Operation Bagration, the major offensive against the Third Reich.
Your SS Panzer Company has been ordered to defend, and prevent the Soviets from successfully crossing the river in front of you. However, due to large Katyusha strikes you have been delayed in your progress.
You arrive just in time to realise that the Soviets have begun their attack. Your task is to prevent the Soviets from exiting your table edge.
You may deploy up to 24” from your table edge. You may leave forces off-table but these will be diced for randomly and only one blind per turn may arrive.
Your stocks of ammunition, spares and fuel are limited.
Infantry Platoon 1
- Three SS Rifle squads (8 men) with extra LMG Panzerschrecke (2 crew)
- Three SdKfz 251 Halftracks
- One SdKfz 251/10
- Untersturmfuhrer Ruppertsberg Big Man 4 (D4)
- Unterscharfuhrer Kendermann Big Man 5 (D6)
- Five PzKpfw VI (ELITE)
- Rottenfuhrer Bassermann Big Man 6 (D4)
- Untersturmfuhrer Kunsteler Big Man 7 (D4)
- Two PzKpfw V (VETERAN)
- Hauptsturmfuhrer Bereich (D4) Big Man 1
- Three PzKpfw V (VETERAN)
- Scharfuhrer Pfalz (D4) Big Man 2
- Three PzKpfw V (VETERAN)
- Oberscharfuhrer Ursiger (D4) Big Man 3
- Two PanzerJaeger Jagdpanther V (VETERAN)
- Sturmann Ockfener (D4) Big Man 8
- D6+1 Fake Blinds
National Characteristic Cards
Rally; Heroic Leader; Dynamic CO; Petrol Shortage; Vehicle Breakdown; Blitzkrieg Bonus; Rapid Deployment; Infantry Ammunition Shortage; AFV Ammunition Shortage
I rolled a D4 initially for my bridges and found that I had in fact had four built for me by Red Engineers. One was located on the bend of the river in the west and the other three behind woods and spread evenly across the rivers length.
Next I rolled for Katyushas but only rolled a one! I decided that due to its inaccuracy, which I actually increased to 5D6 deviation for this scenario, I must make sure that it would hit somewhere on table.
A central location would suffice as I expected tigers or Jagdpanthers in the wooded areas adjacent to the northern river bank. I decided just next to the central woods would do nicely, and marked it on my map.
I decided that I must play to my forces strengths - SPEED!
The T-70's were to advance rapidly on the left, ignoring spotting anything, but instead to recce by their presence, tripping enemy blinds into revealing their location within 9", or 6" within buildings. I realised I would be likely to lose virtually every light tank but reckoned that such a rash approach would throw the German's, and Nige into confusion. Also I needed to know where his forces were, before I committed myself to a run for the enemy table edge.
The downside of this was evident - the pack would be stacked against me. However, due to the fact that most Soviet tanks operate without radios, and therefore on individual chips, I would have plenty in the bag too. Late war Soviets also have a marked increase in Big Men over the early war chaps so I would be OK, I reckoned.
My SU-100's would deploy behind the central wood and advance to firing positions after the Katyusha had struck. Due to the SU-100 being an assault gun, and therefore lacking a turret, I decided that they would need to be kept back and engage targets directly to their front, hopefully Tigers and Jagdpanthers, rather than advancing rapidly and allowing the enemy to shoot up their flank armour. Especially true as their own armour was very thin - but then isn't everything vs an 88mm?
My T-34 Company, less one Platoon, would deploy behind the central woods giving the impression that they were not on table. The remaining Platoon would deploy on the southern river bank to the east along with the four fake blinds I had rolled. Hopefully they would distract the Germans and force them into a static defence across the table allowing me to penetrate accordingly using local superiority.
Finally my OT-34s would be left off-table to the east, along with infantry support from an SMG Platoon, to occupy the village. This was my powerful reserve which would hopefully sap the enemies morale when they appeared.
OK that was the plan, but as we all know plans only last for the first turn. After that its a case of retaining initiative. It was vital that Nige respond to my moves and not the other way around.
The game started after Nige's visible blinds were placed on table. Very few were visible and probably fakes I reasoned.
I then revealed that there was a Katyusha strike! Nige was not a happy bunny, claiming that I had deliberately misled him, which I had, about Katyusha strikes. You should know Nige not to trust me! I have already stated my reasons for moving the goalposts and he was very lucky I only had one strike. I had to give the Soviets some chance of success.
Knowing that my dice roll unusually well for me, be it high or low I decided to let Nige roll for it. Nige rolled the dice for the strike and it hit - dead on target! The woods erupted in a wall of flame as the screaming rockets and their 24" blast radius did their deadly work! Or, at least I had hoped so. We would both find out when any troops were revealed.
Nige's 'Blinds Move' came up quickly and he successfully spotted the mass of my T-70's on the left. However, he rolled some really bum scores to spot elsewhere and failed miserably to determine if the woods adjacent to the river were already occupied. They were not, but it meant that Nige was forced to waste initiative dice in subsequent turns.
When my 'Rapid Deployment' came up I raced my Platoon of four T-70's up table. Though spotted as they had started the turn on a blind, they were permitted to move on the chip. Bypassing the village I ran a gauntlet through the gap between it an the central woods. Several blinds were spotted by my presence. One appeared in the village and another in the woods, with a third located in the copse in the centre on Nige's baseline.
My 'Blinds Move' came up as the next chip, these again spotted the blind in the village as a dismounted armoured SS Platoon, complete with Halftracks and a Panzerschrecke! The blind in the central wood was spotted as a Platoon of five Tiger tanks. As these had been right in the blast radius of the Katyusha strike, exactly as I had hoped, we diced for its effect. One Tiger was temporarily immobilised and required mending, another was severely concussed requiring three turns of its chip to restore its ability to move. Also its ability to fire was impaired for the game due to the concussion.
My second Platoon of T-70's advanced rapidly too following in the wake of the leading Platoon.
I also advanced the blind containing my SU-100s into the wood adjacent to the Tigers, and crossed the river with my fakes, on the right, occupying the small copses. I also at this point placed three bridges on the table, much to Nigel's chagrin as he realised I had stitched him up again. Once more though I felt entirely vindicated as I had no more than a 2:1 superiority when attacking.
Nige looked decidedly uncomfortable as it became apparent that I, as usual, was being ultra-aggressive. I had reckoned that my T-70's would stand a better chance if they got in amongst the enemy rather than hanging back. As my recce force they needed to reveal the enemy positions accordingly.
At 'Tea Break' I lost a couple of T-70's, one to a Tiger and another to a Panzerfaust as they were permitted to fire at short range, their chip not coming up, at 12" and 9" respectively. Amazingly Nige chose to throw some incredibly bad scores to hit for his other Tigers and missed everything else.
Several of Nige's units were spotted automatically, and he chose to reveal some using the 'Skelton Gambit' to make sure that the pack wasn't stacked in my favour.
The next turn saw my T-70 Platoon Commanders chips come up, and as I had ensured that the component vehicles of their commands were within 6", I could activate all vehicles.
I used the MGs on the second Platoon of T-70's to cause heavy casualties to the SS infantry before once again bypassing their position. The leading T-70's split up. Two of the light tanks took up position to the rear of the village the remaining brace headed east along the road to trigger more of Nige's blinds into revealing their locations with the 9" proximity rule.
Nige's SS Panzergrendiers responded with some wild firing of panzerfausts which missed their targets.
His Tigers were more successful dispatching another T-70 and then spotting my SU-100's one of which was sent skywards!
I lost yet another T-70 when it blundered into a platoon of three Panthers located behind the isolated building in the centre. Ka-boom, another letter to a Soviet widow!
Things were looking a little disparaging for my Soviets as I had lost four T-70's in quick succession.
When my 'Blinds Move' came up I moved a Platoon of three T34's from behind the central woods, to their left and revealed a fourth bridge. Nige had held the initiative dice of a Tiger and this chose to fire at this point knocking out a T34/76.
I made a conscious decision to not let my flamethrower tanks and infantry platoon enter the table yet as I reckoned that with three Tigers still operating they would be cat food. This was to have severe repercussions.
Things improved though when at 'Tea Break' my SU-100's hit and fried a couple of Tigers, complete with both their big men. Close range (+2), gun 13 = 15 = two dead Tigers.
Spotted automatically at 'Tea Break' was my nightmare - two Jagdpanthers lying in ambush, behind the woods on my right!
The game was proving compelling, somewhat balanced and incredibly bloody - just as I had hoped.
Nige's Panthers now started to run things for a while as they manoeuvred into firing positions. Another T-70 was destroyed by close range fire and when his 'Blinds Move' came up
I managed though amazingly to cause major damage to a Tiger, permanently immobilising it, with a flank shot from a T-70. Gun 4, close range add +2 Vs Armour 10, +1 for all round good Tiger armour. Talk about luck.
My luck continued as the SS took more casualties and I managed to cause engine damage to a Panther which resulted in its Big Man led crew bailing next turn.
I then chose to finally exit the table with my two surviving T-70s on a 'Recce Force' bonus chip.
I decided to send help via the extreme left hand bridge and so sent a T34/85 onto the wooden bridge.
Nige now produced the shot of the game with his Company CO's Panther advancing 14" to a firing position and destroying it with a hard shot, into its flank, through the smoke of a Soviet hulk. 12 required for a Veteran, Big Man-led tank, 12 scored, scrub one T34/85.
My, by now sole surviving SU-100 withdrew and manoeuvred to the right as my T34 Platoon with tank riding tank killer squad roared into action on an 'Armoured Bonus' chip. Crossing the river on the bridge they made a run for the woods on the right. These contained an enemy blind but I figured it would have already fired if it was something useful, and that it must be a fake.
I had used the 'Skelton Gambit' myself to place my final four T34's on table from behind the wood. Being within 6" these manoeuvred on their Company Commander's Tank chip but were fired at by Nige's Panthers. Nige missed yet again.
A noticeable trend of the game was Nige's really high or really low die scores, resulting in him missing easy shots and hitting shots he had no right in making!
Nige's Jadpanthers knocked out a T34/76 with another cracking shot as it advanced rapidly into a copse.
The game was beginning to turn in my favour though as two Panthers were brewed up by T34/85's and then my Tank killers managed to cause a bit of panic to a Jagdpanther moving on their chip and making an unsuccessful attack on its flank. The same Jagdpanther was really freaked though when a T34 crashed through the copse, ignoring the enemy blind and ending up 3" from its rear.
The second Jagdpanther decided to head off toward the centre in an attempt to singlehandedly stem the tide with a close range lone attack.
My second unit of tank killers, accompanying the central T34 Platoon now climbed down form their mount, ran to the isolated building for cover and attacked the Jagdpanther from the rear, from 4" counting as gun 6 rear armour and managed to permanently immobilise it.
As it was getting late we decided to call it a night.
Nige revealed that he had another three Panthers on the table edge in reserve which would've been telling.
He had lost three Tigers, three Panthers and a Jagdpanther permanently immobilised. His SS infantry were down to half strength but were still a force to be reckoned with.
I had been waiting for my OT-34's and SMG Platoon to arrive on their 'Blinds Move' chip for the last hour of the game with no luck - no chip appeared.
I had lost five T-70's, with two exiting the table, two T34/76, two T34/85 and two SU-100's.
Roughly 2:1 losses with a only 2:1 superiority. I had reckoned to have done well but with only two exiting vehicles truly a stalemate, but very bloody.
I think I was vindicated with my Katyusha and bridges as they could've worked both for and against me due to their randomly diced for nature, although in the end made very little difference. Without some sort of equaliser I would've been cat food.
I wanted to recreate the German superiority in equipment though badly in need of supply. At no point during the game did the shortages have any effect. I also wanted to make Nige feel like he was really up against it , as indeed German commanders were on the Ost Front in 1944, by continually misinforming him and not telling him everything. The scenario worked well from this point of view, and in my book a stalemate shows my ideas for balancing the game worked.
I should've got my infantry and OT-34's into the game earlier before the pack became really big though! Things could've really been interesting with Flamethrowers.
A very exciting fast paced game. Noticeable for my good rolling and Nigel's inconsistent, typically piss poor rolling, as per usual. Why do people change dice? It seldom makes any difference over an entire game. Better sticking with the same ones and allowing the law of averages to even them out.
The Soviet forces of 1944 are SO different from 1941. they have learnt much, but still tend to throw things in wholesale using quantity rather than tactics. The T-34/85 is a marked improvement on the T-34/76 and the T-70 is a good little tank, surprisingly well armed, and can play a key role if used in a recce situation properly. It is important to find the enemy and get in amongst them to use their initiative dice up whilst you bring up the big boys.
The SU-100 is a real tank killer but suffers from poor armour.
Soviet tank killers, gun 6, are very, very nasty!
Overall speed is the key as the entire force is fast and can really prove nasty to fight if you can't stop them moving.
All in all very interesting.