On Saturday, December 1, 2012 we played the second game in our Vyazma or Bust campaign. The first scenario appeared on VisLardica.com back on May 16, 2011. In that game, the Germans managed to eke out a victory, so this time the Germans would be attacking the hamlet of Urk, attempting to capture a bridge that would let them take the city of Sychevka. I expected this to be a swirling maneuver type game with the Germans trying to find the hidden ford that would allow them to outflank the possible Russian strongpoints. What we got instead was a brutal, attritional slugfest that not only characterized the war in the East, but almost seemed to have some flavors of World War I as well.
Chris, the Soviet player decided to set up his defense in a way that would cover both the main crossing and the ford as well. First platoon was spread out in the houses of the village, while second platoon was dug into the riverbank between the town and the ford. The house nearest the river also held the unit Commissar, along with the field telephone connection to the rear area.
The first indication that it might be a bad day for the Red Army came when David (the German player) decided to put both pre-game stonks onto the village. Almost every squad took 6 shock, and one squad actually had a KIA from the bombardment. I then had Chris roll to see if any of the houses in the village were destroyed. Since we presumed that the firing guns were 105’s, then he rolled two dice for each house, and on a 12 it was considered destroyed. Naturally, the only house to take a direct hit was the one with the Commissar and the field phone link to the rear!
The German advance was relatively slow and cautious at first, until finally one of the blinds rushed onto the bridge and revealed itself as the Panzer IIB. For its troubles, it found the platoon of dug-in infantry when the tea break card came up immediately afterwards.
Luckily for the panzer commander, his recon training kicked in (recon bonus card first out of the pack) and he rapidly backed out of trouble. Then, the 222 was sent forward and the two of them proceeded to pummel the entrenched Soviets, while the recon motorcycles got themselves dismounted by Soviet rifle fire.
The constant stream of 20mm shells took their tolls, and soon one of the rifle squads had lost their bottle and decided to leave. By now, the German recon CO had arrived, and ordered the Panzer across the bridge to outflank the entrenched Soviets while the 222 provided fire support. He also tried to get the motorcycle troops closer to the bridge on foot, but that didn’t work out too well.
The 222 also crossed the bridge, and things were starting to look pretty grim for the Soviets. The Luftwaffe even put in an appearance, but really didn’t have much of an effect, other than pinning a few Soviet troops at the opposite end of the trenches.
Things were starting to look pretty grim for the Soviets, but then their first set of reinforcements arrived. Four Soviet tanks came over the hill below the village, came off blinds, and began to issue some payback to the German forces. First, they destroyed the Panzer II, and then put a shell through the Captain’s kubelwagen just to show him what they thought of his fancy radios. The Captain was able to survive though, despite their best efforts. Finally, the Soviet player had something to smile about.
The smile was pretty short-lived though, and faded when he heard me tell Dave, “Now your main force gets to come on the board.” The first two blinds rapidly rolled on and uncloaked, with the result being three Pz-IVs and the support platoon in trucks. The result of this was a couple of cooked up T-34s and a dejected Soviet player (again).
If you look closely at the above photo, you can see the barrage marker for the 120mm mortars in the road, just behind the smoke of the kubelwagen. The first fire mission wasn’t very spectacular, but that would change too. Dave brought his halftracks in on a blind, and right after he did the 120s spoke again. Luckily enough for Chris, there was no deviation and the shells rained down on trucks, halftracks, and even one tank unlucky enough to be caught at the edge of the barrage. When it was over, one truck and two halftracks were dead along with that pesky recon Captain, and one of the Pz-IVs had gun damage from the mortars. Ouch!
That was about the last bright spot for the Soviet player. Dave had everything come up right for him next. The German support platoon was able to race onto the side street and dismount its MMGs behind the Soviet position, and the 222 pushed into the town and survived a close assault from a Soviet squad, albeit with some mobility damage. The first platoon troops in the village houses had been firing at the 222 continuously trying to drive it away, but had managed to do nothing more than ruin the paint job on the front of the vehicle.
Then, the German flamethrower from one of the wrecked halftracks showed up and hosed down the end of the trench closest to the bridge. He wound up being a one-shot weapon because of the “more 6s than 1s” rule, but a terribly effective one nonetheless. As the Soviet position in the trenches began to collapse from shock due to seeing their comrades burned alive and lack of leadership (the Sr. Lt. assigned to them was killed very early in the game) they fled right into the waiting German MMGs. The close combat odds were so bad that it would have been an automatic rout, but since they couldn’t flee across the river, I ruled that they would surrender instead. As the German forces began streaming across the bridge, Chris conceded the game, since nothing in his last batch of reinforcements would be able to stop the Panzer IVs. This was probably just as well, since Dave told us that he planned to use the panzers and just blow the village apart instead of trying to dig the Russian troops out house by house.
So, there you have it. The Germans believed their briefing, and didn’t try to see if the river was fordable anywhere. The Soviet player carried out his orders as best he could, and didn’t try anything fancy with his two action dice conscript troops. That meant it turned into a brutal slugfest, and German firepower and training became the deciding factors.