My regular opponent, Neil, and I recently played the fourth game in our Bashnya or Bust! campaign, based on the IABSM scenario pack of the same name covering the Kaunas Offensive of late summer 1944.
The last battle, Zima, had ended in a game-victory for the Soviets but a campaign victory for the Germans i.e. although the Soviets had won the battle, they had failed to win it quickly enough to achieve their campaign requirements. This therefore gave the Germans a chance to counter-attack, which they promptly did, aiming to loop around to the south and strike at the soft underbelly behind the Soviet spearhead. In order to do this, they need to capture the ford at the small hamlet of Sorok.
The game would also see the first use of my new gaming mat from Mat-of-War via Antenocitis Workshop: an upgrade from the furry green blanket I've been using for years. The mat looked jolly good, too...except for the fact I should have put some contours under the mat rather than using a few on-top hills: must be the first Lithuanian village that can be used as a bowling green! Also bought specially for the game were three doormats from Robert Dyas (total cost £21) which worked very well as wheat fields. The wooden houses are from Foreground.
The Germans had a very simple objective: clear the village side of the river of all opposition. To do this, they had a company of Panzergrenadiers in their half-tracks supported by six Panthers and a Schwerer gruppe of two mortar-carriers, two gun carriers and two MMG-carriers. The Soviet objective was equally simple: technically to prevent the Germans taking the ford but actually to prevent the Germans fulfilling their victory conditions. To do this the Russians had two Zis-3 guns, two 45mm anti-tank guns, two small infantry guns, two small platoons of infantry and a squad of scouts. They had a few MMGs and, on the other side of the ford, a platoon of three 82mm mortars. They were also well dug in.
Although it might seem that the Germans have an overwhelming advantage in terms of numbers, it must be remembered that their victory conditions are particularly onerous: not just to take the ford, but to clear the village side of the river of all opposition, and to do so within the normal duration of a game.
The battle began with the Germans sending on a couple of Panthers and a platoon of Panzergrenadiers. The grenadiers were dismounted: leaving just a driver and a two-man gun crew in the vehicles as the rest of each squad advanced forward behind the 251s. They paused at the edge of the first wheat field: their scouts having spotted the first line of Soviet trenches.
At the same time, the first ranging shots from the Soviet mortars began to land, so the German schwerer group deployed, with their mortars quickly bracketing the less-efficient Russian tubes and, really, keeping them from having much of an influence on the game.
With the first line of Soviet defences now revealed, the Germans pinned the infantry manning them with MG and HE fire, and sent one Panther off to the flank. Cresting a small rise, the Panther found itself beautifully lined up to fire down into the Soviet trench.
A quick burst of fire did enough damage to force some of the Soviet infantry back to the only stone house in the village, leaving their comrades unable to move and slowly being whittled down from their flank.
This move forced the Soviet commander to unmask his main gun position in the centre of the village: a well dug-in brace of Zis-3 infantry/anti-tank guns. Both guns targeted the Panther on the hill, but despite multiple hits, all the big cat suffered were a few scratches on the paint work. Unless the German tankers were careless enough to expose their weaker flanks or rear, there wasn't going to be much the Soviet gunners could do to them. Excellent news to me, the German commander and, given what I needed to achieve, the signal that I should stop shilly-shallying around firing at well dug-in guns from a distance, and just get stuck right in!
Quickly bringing on my remaining Blinds, I decided on a two-pronged assault. A couple of Panthers and a Panzergrenadier platoon would head up the right flank, with the Panthers turning in to directly drive over the gun pit holding the Zis-3s whilst the infantry protected their flank. Meanwhile, another two Panthers and another platoon of grenadiers would head up the left flank, rolling over anything they found there.
The Right Flank
The grenadier platoon duly moved forward, all but the drivers dismounted, covering the flank of the Panthers. These headed straight for the gun pit at top speed, with the two MMG carrying half-tracks from the schwerer gruppe backing them up in case of sudden infantry assault.
The Panthers crashed across an empty set of trenches and into the gun pit, taking ineffective point blank fire from the Zis-3s as they did so. Despite giving the Soviet guns lots of extra penetration dice for having their gun barrel practically kissing dunkelgelb, it seemed that nothing could stop the German tanks. After some very messy grinding, the Soviet guns in the battery ceased to exist.
What was worse for the Soviets was that the German advance also uncovered the two Russian 45mm anti-tank guns, lurking behind the main gun pit in the ruined church, hoping to get a flank shot at the half-tracks advancing down the left side. In went the German MG-carrying half-tracks and some of the panzergrenadiers, and one anti-tank gun crew was killed to a man, with the other rapidly limbering up and retreating.
The Left Flank
The German weren't having it all their own way, however. A couple of 251s had been destroyed by the Zis-3s before their untimely demise, and one of the two initial Panthers had actually been immobilised and abandoned.
This still left two Panthers and an infantry platoon to sweep down the left flank. This they did, quickly uncovering another line of Soviet trenches near the hut by the river bank. This set of works sheltered the two Russian infantry guns, seemingly unsupported by foot. Well, as the initiative was mine, this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so the entire panzergrenadier platoon charged forward at the guns.
Neil then revealed a nearby MG team which he wanted to bring into the combat but, and here I do slightly hang my head in shame, I pointed out that I was easily able to close combat both enemy guns without actually coming into the four inch range that would bring the MG team in as well. Gamey? Perhaps a little...but it's not often you get to charge the guns in WW2!
Despite having to use lots of dice to get there, the grenadiers took both guns for the loss of only three men, sending their crews stumbling into the river in an attempt to get away. Unfortunately a Tea Break card then allowed Neil to shoot his MG into the victorious grenadiers, who suffered quite bad casualties. Even I couldn't deny it wasn't a Great shot! Worse, he even had some scouts in another nearby trench, who threatened to charge in next turn.
Time for more drastic action! All I had ready to use (the grenadiers were still shaken or certainly pinned at this point) was the company commander's Panther, with Level IV Big Man aboard. He zoomed his tank forward onto the Soviet MG team, squishing them to death before they could fire again.
The Panther was then close assaulted by the scouts and, to add insult to injury, there was an anti-tank rifle team just behind the hut which emerged to send a round or two up the Panther's backside!
All to no avail however: the Panther shrugged off both assaults and prepared to do battle.
The battle was now definitely won, and it was just a question of the German mopping up the last Soviet resistance. The problem, of course, was that we had been playing for three hours or so, a normal game, and Neil had to go. So a reversal of the last game's result: a game-win for the Germans, but a campaign win for the Soviets.
How very annoying!
Still, it was a great game with plenty of moments of drama and tension despite the fact that the Germans had force-superiority over their enemy. There was a definite sense that the Russians were desperately hanging on, determined not to let the Germans through to the ford. Now onto the final battle in the campaign: the initiative swings again to the Soviets so it's 5C: Ploschad up next..
A couple of shots of the table at the end of the game: