This is the battle report of the second scenario of Vyazma or Bust, an Eastern Front campaign played with I Ain't Been Shot, Mum! from the TooFatLardies. The first scenario saw a defeat of the German forces in the attempt to break the lock in the Smolensk area which would have opened the door to a blitz into Moscow.
The reaction of the Red Army to this unexpected victory was a hasty counterattack with all the available infantry and armoured forces that have left isolated important pockets of German troops. This second game, around the small village of Belyj, is a classic encounter between a Soviet column moving north to contact and destroy the enemy and a German kampfgruppe trying to break the encirclement and returning to its own lines.
Forces, Objectives and Initial Deployment
The German forces comprised a couple of rifle platoons on foot, supported by a motorised HQ platoon with heavy weapons together with a collection of different armoured units ( 2 x Pz IVs, 1 x Pz II, 1 x Sdkfz 222 and 1 x Panzerjaeger) left behind in the hasty retreat and short of fuel. These forces are escorting the divisional artillery HQ. All German forces are veteran and good moral.
The Germans deploy in a collective farm (the site of the artillery HQ) located in the north of the table and must cross and exit the table by the southern edge to win the game.
The Soviets enter the table in two columns from the southern edge of the table: an infantry on foot column on the left, comprising 2 rifle platoons with a weapons platoon (MMGs and mortars), all poor regulars; and an armoured column with five old T-26s on the right. The columns include a scout platoon.
The Soviet objective is to contact and engage in combat the German forces, preventing the enemy from achieving their victory conditions (unknown to the Soviets); and a secondary objective, to occupy the farm in the north with at least one army Commissar.
The German deployed in blinds around the farm and made a quick dash south along the road, with the two infantry platoons covering the flanks and the armoured column in the centre...
... while the Soviets, entering from the south through the roads, broke their left column in two groups, the first bypassing the main combat area and heading north towards the farm.
Following the first opening moves, the battle slowed down substantially when the opposing forces clashed in the road fork across the river, developing in a series of frontal attacks between the armoured units and a few attempts by both sides to bypass the enemy by the flanks.
The Soviet armoured column quickly broke ranks and scattered around when they realised the superiority of the German panzers ahead...
...losing two vehicles at short notice by a combination of AP fire and infantry grenades.
However, the attempt of the German panzers to move forward was cut short by a counterattack of the remaining T-26 and the Red Army infantry, losing one Pz IV and the other retiring by accumulation of Shock.
In the meantime, the German infantry covering the right flank (and ordered to support the panzer attacks), was caught in the rearguard by a human wave of Soviet infantry, running thorugh the woods in state of frenzy (probably helped by a generous dose of Vodka!).
Despite better moral and training, the Germans were overwhelmed by the sheer superiority in numbers of the Soviets, being overrun and put hors de combat the whole platoon.
On the German left flank, a lonely T-26 was trying to outflank the main road and the second infantry platoon was sent to cover the gap, engaging in a series of close assaults but playing no other role in the game (personally I think this was a waste of resources, that could have been employed more effectively in trying to gain a foothold in the village).
The final move in the battle came when the a column of lorries (the infantry and the artillery HQs respectively) left the farm heading south...
...creating a massive traffic congestion in the bridge at the entrance of the village, still under firm Soviet control. The Soviet recon units in the farm at the north and escorting the Commissar, now moved south and started harrassing the truck column, forcing the German infantry units to debuss and to take cover in the hedgerows nearby.
With the time now close to 2.00PM (lunch time!) and after more than 3 hours playing, we decided to conclude the game. After some discussion, the Soviets were proclaimed winners by a short margin. The argument went that the Germans had still superiority in armour (1 x Pz IV, 1 x Pz II, 1 x Jadgpanzer 1 x Sdkfz 222 vs 2 x T 26), but on the other hand, strong infantry forces were holding the village and rendering it impossible for the artillery HQ column to cross it safely south.
The Germans would have had to concentrate their scattered forces and made a strong dash into the village with the remaining infantry and supported by the AFVs; this would have had taken a lot of time and the outcome was far from clear. Considering that the farm (a second objective for the Soviets) was also taken, it was finally agreed to award a marginal Soviet victory in the game.
Follow Up Impressions
After two games players are comfortable with the rule mechanics and are more focused on tactics. The lessons (for the Germans) of the first game were also useful and the game was much more balanced.
As expected, IABSM showed to be a flexible tool to play games and not a tome of laws and regulations a la Squad Leader for example, well adapted to simulate prevailing conditions in the WWII battlefields. A remarkable feature of the game experience is the almost total lack of "legalistic discussions" among players with an increasing focus on the tactical options.