Early June means its time for the annual Operation Market Larden games day in Evesham. This year, 2016, I had volunteered to run a couple of games of I Ain't Been Shot, Mum! and had decided to run a couple of games from my Bashnya or Bust! late war, eastern front scenario pack.
As Bashnya or Bust is a five-level pyramid campaign, I decided to make life easy for myself by using the same setting for both games, but to use two of the different scenarios set there. The morning game would therefore use scenario 3D (q.v.), the afternoon game would use scenario 4F.
Scenario 4F: Zhena
Zhena is a small village that lies to the north of Devyat. The main feature of the village is the junction of the three roads leading to Zima, Devyat and Vcheva. The villagers are very proud of the 'avenue' of seven trees leading south from the junction: their neighbours considering it very French, very cosmopolitan!
Otherwise, Zhena is a collection of wooden huts and a burnt out church, surrounded by waist-high crop fields. Outside of that, the terrain is open grassland studded with clusters of trees. There is a large hill just to the north of the village.
For this version of the game, the Soviets would start with a small force on table. A large German force would then appear and launch an attack. After 2-3 appearances of the Turn Card (determined randomly), a hefty force of Soviet reinforcements would join the fray. Each side's objective was to take and hold the road junction in the centre of the village.
The initial Soviet force that would begin the game on-table consisted of a single BA-64B armoured car and a couple of squads of infantry.
The Russian reinforcements consisted of a two-company battalion of infantry, with each company consisting of two two-squad infantry platoons. The infantry was backed up by the battalion anti-tank guns and mortars, and a platoon of JS-II heavy tanks (with tank riders) from division. The Soviets also had access to air support (a Sturmovik armed with cannon).
The German attacking force consisted of a reduced tank company of five Panzer IV Js backed up by Schwerer Zug of a couple of Tiger IIs. In addition, the Germans fielded an infantry company of three platoons of assault-rifle-armed infantry, supported by a couple of Wespe self-propelled 105mm guns.
What would be interesting about this game was the contrast in the forces. The Soviets were very infantry heavy, and the deciding factor was likely to be the result of the battle between the Rusian JS-IIs and German Tiger IIs.
The attacking Germans poured rapidly onto the table. Throwing caution to the wind, their lead Blind, advancing along the road, was revealed to be the platoon of Tiger IIs. These quickly neutralised the Russian infantry on the edge of the village, and it looked as if the Germans would quickly achieve a dominant position.
Soviet reinforcements, however, were quickly on their way. Equally boldly, their lead Blind was revealed as the JS-IIs, with this Blind dropping off single heavy tanks as it advanced towards the village.
As the heavy tanks battled it out at long range, the rest of each side's troops arrived. The Soviets sent one force around the back of the big hill to the north of the village and another straight towards the village, but kept all their units on Blinds. The Germans kept to the southern arc of the village, de-cloaking most of their units and so managing to 'stack the pack' as far as activation cards (or chips in this case) went. Their Wespes managed to get to the top of the hill to the south, setting up and looking for targets.
Meanwhile, the battle of the heavy tanks had firmly been decided in the Germans' favour: with all three JS-IIs being knocked out in exchange for one Tiger II being disabled on the main road. This left the Soviets with nothing but infantry and a couple of 45mm ATGs to face the mass panzers and, worse, all their units were on Blinds and so would only activate if that single chip appeared.
The Germans took full advantage of this dominance, and swept their tanks forward into the village. Their tanks, yes...but not their infantry: they lagged behind. This proved to have unfortunate consequences for the Germans when, after a long wait, the Soviet Binds card finally appeared.
Now desperate, the Soviets hurled their infantry forward and effectively swamped the unaccompanied German tanks. Panzer IVs were being taken out by infantry sticky bombs right, left and centre and, worse for the Germans, the second Tiger II had by now broken down in the middle of the village. The Russian infantry couldn't get into it, but neither could it do them a lot of damage either!
Meanwhile, the Wespes and Soviet anti-tank guns had started a long range duel that would carry on until the end of the game; and the Soviet Sturmovik had taken out the last Panzer IV with its cannon.
Finally the Germans managed to get one of their infantry platoons up into the centre of the village, and a series of horrific hand-to-hand combats caused rapidly mounting casualties to both sides, with control of the junction changing hands every five minutes or so.
The battle was now a horrible meat-grinder of a game: no tactics anymore, just who could feed infantry into the centre of the village the fastest. Unfortunately, time was just about up (we only had three hours for what was an enormous battle) so after one more turn of carnage I called the game as a draw...although both sides agreed that had things continued the Germans would have eventually gained and held control of the junction, the Russians having used too many of their infantry up in their desperate killing of the German Panzer IVs.
Was this a good game of IABSM? Well, it was certainly a meat grinder, with enormous casualties on both sides!
There was a significant lull for the Soviet players, Bob & Noddy, when the deck was stacked against them, but then one could say that their approach then played dividends when they could suddenly slam all their Blinds into action almost at the same time.
Dave was playing the Germans on his own. Perhaps he wouldn't have rushed his armour forward unaccompanied if he had known he had more time to bring up his infantry or hadn't felt the pressure of having two opponents glaring unhappily at a stack of chips largely coloured black!
On reflection, the game was probably too big to be played out successfully in only three hours: there were, after all, more than a company of troops on either side. We got through it, but another hour, perhaps even half an hour, would have given a much more clear cut result, probably in favour of the Germans.
In summary, then, I'm going to say that this was a meat-grinder of a game that probably epitomised at least some of the contemporaneous actions on the eastern front. My thanks to Dave, Bob and Noddy for dealing with it so well.