The Mad Padre
On Saturday last I played in 15mm WW2 game using the Too Fat Lardies’ I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum! rules. James kindly gave me the choice of games since it would be my last chance before the coming move to hang out with the Stratford gang at Rabbit HQ. It seemed a natural choice to play with my new Soviet horde. For the occasion I bought the TFL campaign book, Vyzama or Bust, written by Robert Avery. VoB is a laddered campaign game, with about a dozen scenarios that vary depending on who wins or loses.
We started at the very beginning, “Germans Thrust Toward Izdeshkovo”, which is set at the opening of Operation Typhoon, in September of 1941, as the Germans try one last push on Moscow before the winter comes. The Soviets get a scratch force to try and hold a vital road on the road leading east from Smolensk, which is already in German hands. You can read my thrilling account below, or read James’ highly biased and inaccurate report underneath.
The Major’s voice cut through their murmuring as the young conscripts shuffled into the farmhouse. “Allright, boys, remember your defensive drills. I want this farm to be a proper fighting position when I get back.” Private Evgenny Gradov finished smashing the farmhouse window with his rifle butt and gazed outside anxiously. He watched Major Sveshnikov trot across the street and enter the house where the Maxim team was located. Gradov liked the Major and hoped he would return soon. He always felt safer when the Major was nearby. Sveshnikov reminded Evgenny of his father. The major’s age and competence helped the young riflemen to feel brave even as the army seemed to be coming apart around them. Evgenny liked how the Major called them “boys” whereas Commissar Petrov called them “comrades”. “Boys” was a warm word. They did not fear the Major, but they respected him and wanted to please him. The Commissar, well, they just feared him.
“Evgenny Alexeiovitch, help me move this table over.” Startled from his thoughts, Evgenny helped his friend Sasha place the heavy farmhouse table on its side against the wall. It might help stop a bullet. They could hope. Evgenny didn’t like being trapped in the log farmhouse, especially with the damned Stukas that always seemed to hover over head. However, it was dry here, and he was glad he wasn’t with the other half of his platoon, in the dripping wet woods down the road.
Russian dispositions. Scott C and I defended the Motherland. We had a force of 4 45mm AT guns with ZIS trucks to tow them. Our force could deploy anywhere north (left in the picture below) of the two hills. We had to hold the village right beside the bridge as well as interdict the road running through our positions. It seemed clever to put two of the AT guns in the woods on the far side of the creek. The other two were set up blocking the road in case Fritz tried to run up it with his motorized elements. We had an 82mm mortar and Maxim medium machine gun from the support company. We placed the MMG and a Lvl 3 BM in the village, closest to the hills, with two of the rifle squads (including young Evgenny), our Company HQ, and the Commisar, in the rest of the village, to support the MMG position. The other half of our rifle squads was in the woods in the centre, along with a sniper and a level 2 Big Man. Our armour reserve was in the centre, ready to reinforce either way. Our goal was to make it a tough fight for the village, but to leave enough forces along the road that we had a decent chance of still interdicting it at game’s end.
“Here they come!” His corporal’s voice startled Evgenny. He chambered a round in his Mosin Nagant and peered through the broken window. On the hills across the road, he saw grey shapes appear and his mouth went dry as the dreaded German tanks appeared. Three halftracks climbed down the hill, their tracks churning and finding it hard going on the muddy slopes. Field grey forms jumped from the halftracks and went prone around them. Evgenny had never seen Fritz so close before. In all the long and chaotic month since he’d been called up he had seen his regiment dwindle, as companies were detached, sent off on missions, and never heard from again during the long retreat. In fact, he’d never fired a shot in anger. Now here they were.
Behind him he could hear Commissar Petrov shouting into his field telephone. “I don’t care if you’re not in position. If I don’t get fire support now, I’ll shoot you myself!"
The Soviet ace in the sleeve was three fire missions from four 120mm mortar tubes. However, in IABSM, off board artillery can be a bit of a chancy thing, so Scott and I weren't counting too much on it. Here the first German blinds come into the open and are automatically spotted. They know we have blinds in the village, but don’t spot them. James and Patrick have the infantry platoon debus and go to ground while the Panzer IIIs take up hull down positions on the hill in overwatch.
“Why don’t they fire?” Sasha sounded frightened. Evgenny shushed him. It wouldn’t be wise to appear nervous with the Commissar right behind them, but he was also nervous. His heart lifted as he heard the Maxim gun’s rattle, and then loud sounds as the antitank gunners opened up from the woods. Immediately two of the three halftracks erupted in flame and began burning, black smoke pouring out of the them. The farmhouse erupted in cheers, and it took a moment for their corporal to get them back to their loopholes and fire positions. “Make ready!”
When Evgenny looked out the window again, he was horrified to see field grey forms swarming towards the farmhouse across the road. Some lay still in the field, but he was awed by their speed and the skill with which they moved, some falling and firing while others dashed forward, then alternating. His rifle company had never learned to move like that. The Maxim’s rattle continued, but suddenly there was a flurry of explosions as stick grenades were tossed into the log house sheltering the machine gunners. Evgenny watched a lace curtain billowing out from the window from the force of the grenades. It looked incongruously delicate. A few shouts, and then the Maxim was silent. “Hold your fire!” Commissar Petrov came over and peered through Evgenny’s window, making the young private nervous. “Wait for my command and a good target!” Suddenly Evgenny realized that Major Sveshnikov was probably dead, and would never again be there to make him feel brave.
Scott and I were fortunate that our AT guns across the stream weren’t anticipated, so we got some good side shots and took advantage of them, using the Tea Break card to open fire at close range. We weren’t so lucky with the MMG as the Germans had gone to ground and were poor targets. James and Patrick were aggressive on their next card and rushed the MMG position with their Panzer Grenadier platoon, which also had a level three Big Man. They used their surviving halftrack and tank fire to Pin the MMG team, which was an advantage in the close combat that followed. While the Germans lost some men, they eliminated the MMG. However, both the Soviet and German Level Three Big Men died in the assault.
Since we now saw what we thought was the main German attack, we rolled our armour forwards. The KV1 engaged the Panzers while the T26 tanks engaged the Germans in the farmhouse with MG fire. Note in the shot below that I have some wrong models on the table. My early war Soviet tank recognition skills need work. The PzIIIIs proved hard targets because they were hull down, while the KV1s armour saved it time and again. Soon the damage began piling up on both sides.
“Look, comrades! Stalin’s dragons roll forward! Look at that big monster! What a beauty!” Evgenny didn’t understand how a tank could be a dragon, especially as his grandmother had showed him her icon of St. George and explained that the dragon was evil, but he was glad to see the tanks. He wanted to watch the duel unfolding, but the corporal was ordering them to fire. For the first few shots the Moisin hurt his shoulder. None of them had much practice with firing, but Evgenny did his best, pointing his rifle at the house, firing, and working the bolt carefully to avoid jams. He could hear the rest of his section shooting from the barn across the farmyard and heard the loud rattles as the smaller tanks added their machine guns. Chips flew off the house where the Germans sheltered. Not many bullets were coming back at them. Evgenny was glad to be doing something.
Stuka! James and Patrick did very well in obtaining their air support. The JU-87s made several appearances over the battlefield, aiming primarily at our tanks, which were conveniently bunched together. We were lucky as a direct hit would have been fatal, but the near misses began to accumulate damage and shock. One of the nice things about IABSM is that even big tanks can be degraded by incremental damage and shock, so that the crew will eventually bail out if they’ve had too much. We were coming close to that with out KV-1, which had accrued damage to its gunsight and engine. On the other hand, we had immobilized one PzIII and knocked out the gun of another. Our T26 tanks were horribly vulnerable, but their 45mm guns were shooting to good effect.
Unfortunately at this point, the low ammunition card for the Soviets came up, reflecting the supply shortages of the period. Our tanks and the 45mm AT guns across the stream could now only engage targets at close range (less than 18 inches), which was annoying. The only good thing going for us at this point was that the Panzer Grenadier platoons had been badly shredded and was practically out of the fight.
James had put a lot of woods onto the table, and most of them weren’t really used. He and Patrick did push a second infantry platoon into the centre of the woods, and I felt it best to pull my section back, harassing the Germans as our Sniper card came up. In retrospect I realized I had misread the rules and could have put another two squads of ten men each on the table. However, since Soviet troops are rated as Poor Regulars in this scenario, it wouldn’t have done much. By game’s end this German section was in a position to threaten the village, and could see the 45mm AT gun that I had pulled over from my right flank. We never got the 120mm support but we managed without it. By 11:30pm James and Patrick hadn’t made enough headway to claim a reasonable chance of victory. They were hamstrung by the fact that a third of their OOB, including their support platoon, never entered the fight because of the vagaries of the cards. They did make a final Stuka strike on the farmhouse where brave Evgenny and his section were holding out, but with minimal success. If we were to play the next linked scenario, and I hope we will at some point, it will be a Soviet counterattack.
A second before the bomb hit the farmyard, Evgenny thought he heard the scream of the Stuka’s siren. The next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his back, covered with dust and fragments of wood and glass. Faintly he could hear shouting, and then, through blurred eyes, saw a hand reaching out to him. He gripped it and was hauled to his feet. Evgenny was surprised to see that it was Commissar Petrov who had helped him up. “They’re pulling back! We won! We won!” The Commissar kept saying this, his voice sounding surprised that they should still be alive. Evgenny felt that way too, but he wouldn’t admit it.
James Mantos: Another Saturday Night on the Road to Moscow
Last night I had my last game for a long time with the Mad Padre. Since he's getting posted to CFB Borden next month it was a bit of farewell game (Mrs. Rabbitman made sure we had chips and dip to go with the beer) and Mike got to choose what we played.
He opted to break out some of the 15mm Soviets he'd recently bought and play Scenario 1 from the Vyazma or Bust campaign supplement.
The game requires a German force with 2 platoons of infantry, a platoon of Panzer IIIs and a weapons platoon to clear a stretch of highway weaving through some woods to a bridge. I used every tree I own and fleshed things out with my box of lichen but things still looked sparse. Ironically we ended up dong all of our fighting in one half of the table!
Patrick and I opted to throw the Panzers and Panzer Grenadiers straight at the bridge while the truck born infantry and support platoon cleared the woods in the middle.
This threw us right into the bulk of the Russian defenders, which included a KV1 and a pair of 45mm AT guns in enfilade across the river.
The Panzer Grenadiers stormed a house taking out a Maxim gun, but then got shredded. The Panzer IIIs were getting badly hurt trying to take on the KV. Stukas arrived with a gratifying frequency but didn't have much effect.
If you look at the pictures, notice how few Panzer Grenadiers there are and they had a lot of shock on them and had lost their platoon commander. By this time one of our Panzers had had it's gun knocked out and shock was piling up on a couple of others. We just couldn't put enough damage on the big KV fast enough and the 45mm gun on the T26 isn't to be sneezed at when you're in an early model PzIII! So it was time to withdraw.
Fun times though and I avoided a hangover this morning. But with the Padre moving away my gaming is probably going to get very quiet for the rest of the summer. But we have hopes that once he's settled we can visit each other for overnight gaming events (assuming that is I manage to get a job with weekends off).