Yesterday's game was a continuation of the Vyazma or Bust! campaign I have been running for Dave and John.
As John has scraped a victory last time (I called the game a tactical draw but a campaign victory for the Germans) we moved on to scenario 2A: the bridge at Urk. The battle is an interesting one, as it involves initial forces then two sets of reinforcements for each side.
The Soviets, under Dave, would defend. They started the game on table around the village of Urk with two platoons of green infantry, each four squads strong. They had an NKVD blocking detachment behind them, so weren't going anywhere no matter what the enemy threw at them!
The initial German approach was with a reconnaissance force: two squads of motorcycle troops, an SdKfz 222 armoured car, a Panzer II and an officer in a Kubelwagon.
Note that as the game takes place in autumn, the rasputitsa, is just starting to play a part: all off-road movement would count as heavy terrain.
The Germans advanced swiftly onto the table under Blinds, but were soon spotted by the Soviets. Undeterred by the forced deployment, they merrily thundered over the bridge and headed forward to scout out Urk itself.
The Soviets had deployed two squads of infantry on the hill under Dave's clipboard in the photo above, and opened fire on the motorcycle squads as they went by. Unfortunately, many of the Soviets troops had never fired their guns before, and so their opening volley had little effect except to reveal their positions. The Soviet sniper also began shooting, but it soon became apparent that what looked like his spotter was actually a guide dog as although his card came up on a regular basis, he couldn't have hit one of Urk's barn doors let alone the proverbial feld grau pachyderm in front of him.
The German armoured car and light panzer turned their 20mm cannon onto the Soviet trenches and immediately began badly punishing the Russian infantry. John seemed unable to roll badly (a recurrent theme for the day) and one Soviet squad was soon out of their trenches and running away, NKVD behind them or not.
The only bright spot for the Russians was that the lead German motorcycle squad got a bit too far out in front and got hammered in an ambush in the village.
Things looked bleak for the Soviets. Dave hadn't quite twigged that at this stage of the war the only thing to do against armoured vehicles is to get in close in and molotov them, so his men merely hunkered down and ate cannon shells until their bottle went.
Eventually a few extremely unsubtle hints got what remained of the Soviet infantry up and at 'em, and three rifle squads (i.e. half of what had started in the village) closed with the SdKfz 222 and Panzer and began hurling grenades, molotovs, bricks, flower pots and whatever else came to hand at them.
Unfortunately, it seemed it probably was bricks and flower pots, as John's extraordinary rolling meant that neither vehicle sustained anything worse than scratched paint work despite something like eight close in infantry assaults. For their part, the Germans just kept their fingers on their triggers: knocking down the assaulting Russian infantry like nine pins.
What was meant to be a quick clash between recon force and defenders had now stretched out into a game in its own right (proving how good IABSM is at dealing with just-about platoon-sized actions as well as larger encounters) and I was just bemoaning the fact that the Turn Card seemed to have gone on holiday when it came up almost twice in a row and I could announce the arrival of the first set of Soviet reinforcements.
Much to the Russians' delight, four tanks appeared on the road at their end of the village. Although two of them were BT-7 fast tanks, two were the fabled T-34s: at this stage of the war very much the kings of the battlefield.
Before the Germans had a chance to do more than shout "Achtung, Panzer!", both their armoured car and Panzer II were brewed up, with the remains of the armoured car also neatly blocking the bridge. This didn't stop the single squad of German motorcycles (that were all that was left of the recon force) managing to squeeze past the burning vehicle and beating a hasty retreat back onto the German side of the river.
Delighted with their success, the Soviet troops hurried forward for the bridge. Their elation was, however, short lived, as the Turn Card came up yet again, and the first wave of German reinforcements arrived: three Panzer IVs, a platoon of panzergrenadiers in half-tracks, and a support platoon of MMGs and medium mortars in trucks.
A short, sharp firefight broke out between the two tanks forces, but the up-armoured Panzers soon had every Russian tank ablaze. Particularly painful was the loss of one T-34 to the first shot from the panzers: something that really decided the clash in favour of the Germans almost before it had started.
The panzergrenadier platoon moved forward to capture the bridge, their objective. Defending it was the last remaining Russian infantry squad from the village. Three squads of 'grenadiers headed over the bridge and seemed initially to have won the combat that followed - just - but the threat of the NKVD behind them convinced the Soviets not to fall back and the melee continued. For once John's dice rolling skills deserted him and, incredibly, the panzergrenadiers were repulsed.
They fell back onto the T-junction and called up their accompanying mortars to put down some pain on the impudent Russian swine. Pain was indeed put down but, unfortunately, the dice were still punishing John for their early favouritism and the barrage missed the enemy behind the bridge entirely...and actually fell right on top of the panzergrenadiers themselves!
It was carnage!
The 'grenadiers were out in the open reforming in preparation for a second assault and took horrendous casualties, with all three squads effectively now out of the game! Worse, the remains of the motorcycle troops casually finished off the Russian infantry with a few well placed bursts of fire.
The Germans were still not in possession of the bridge, so their lead panzer decided to make sure of things itself. Nudging the burning armoured car aside, the Panzer IV headed up towards the village...just in time to meet the final wave of Russian reinforcements coming the other way.
Swarms of SMG-armed infantry surrounded the tank, desperately trying to take it out. A Soviet Big Man used the Heroic Commander card to try and destroy it himself, but this tank was made of stern stuff and shrugged off their attacks. It's machine gun was cutting swathes into the Soviets and the final panzergrenadier squad was now spraying the outside of the tank with fire as well: the Soviet infantry were once again falling like nine pins!
As the Soviet infantry began to fall back, we called the game. The Germans still had three operational tanks, and further reinforcements were on their way. The Soviets had...well, not much left really! Two MMGs to be exact. It had been a great game, with each wave of reinforcements effectively changing the fortune of the side they appeared for.
Both commanders were bemoaning their mistakes: Dave wished he'd called in his artillery earlier as it still hadn't arrived a the end of the game; John was finding a hammer with which to correct the eyesight of his mortar teams; Dave wished he'd sent his infantry in to assault the German recon vehicles earlier; John was still muttering about mortars whilst trying to sneak the dice he'd been using (my dice!) into his bag in order to treat them to a champagne dinner and a good polish! I could see that the discussions about the game would be going on for some time...and that, really, is what shows how good a game it was!
Now onto scenario 3B and Vyazma itself!