I took advantage of the long weekend to host a game of I Ain't Been Shot, Mum! for the chaps from Benson: regulars John and Dave, and two new converts to the world of Lard, Bevan and Joe.
We've been playing through my Vyazma or Bust! Operation Barbarossa scenario pack, and had reached scenario #3B: The Outskirts of Vyazma. This is one of the climatic, end-of-campaign battles in the pack, so features large amounts of material on the table. The plot is that the Soviets are on the retreat, forced back to the aforementioned outskirts of Vyazma, and must defend a railway yard for a set number of turns. The Germans must, of course, take the railway yard area before the game ends. The slight twist is that the Soviets don't actually know that it's the railway yard that is their enemy's objective: they just know they have to hold on as long as possible.
This is quite a big game. The Soviets start the game on table under concealed Blinds. They have four 30-man platoons of infantry, all Green troops, and with one platoon having no ammunition for their guns! As compensation, one squad in two platoons are tank killers. The infantry are backed up by four MMGs, two ATGs, a sniper and an armoured contingent: one platoon of two KV-1s; one platoon of a T-34 and two T-35s. As I said, the Soviets are in a bit of a desperate situation!
The Germans have a Company HQ and two platoons of infantry giving eight veteran infantry squads, with another two squads of Pioneers in half-tracks. They have support in the form of three MMGs, three medium mortars, and two 75mm infantry guns. Their armour is also a bit tasty: an HQ platoon of a Panzer IV F2 with a Befelswagon to tell it where to go, a platoon of four Panzer III Hs, and a platoon of Panzer IV Ds.
With the Germans dispatched to the kitchen to plan their assault, Dave and Joe, the Soviets, deployed their troops on the map. Although they didn't know the Germans were specifically after the railway yard, it looked very defensible, so was where they placed their armour, the anti-tank guns and a full platoon of infantry with an MMG. Another platoon was placed around the huts and in the bushes just in front. The third platoon with ammunition for their guns supported by the other three MMGs and the two KV-1s would hold the two fields opposite the church.
That left what to do with the platoon of infantry without any ammo. Dave thought that perhaps they should form a reserve, but Joe's plan for the Railway Workers Collective as they became known, was for them to form a forlorn hope: one squad was deployed in each of the two huts to the left of the crossroads, and another in one of the huts near the church. They would hopefully blunt the German attack, allowing the Soviets time to react and move troops to the German axis of attack.
Rather than aim everything directly at the railway yard, the Germans elected to attack across a broad front. As one of their infantry platoons was tasked with taking the huts around the crossroads, they almost immediately ran into the Soviet Railway Workers Collective. Much hilarity ensued as the Germans braced themselves to receive a nasty close range volley of fire and then realised that the worst thing the Russians could throw at them were copies of the party Procedures and Processes manual.
A short and sharp close combat resulted in both squads of railway workers being bounced back into open ground where, shortly afterwards, they were largely obliterated by rifle fire. The Germans had suffered a few casualties, however: significant as losing even one man in a squad was enough to take their available Actions (i.e. ability to spot, move and fire) down from four to three. It also used up time.
Whilst their infantry was dealing with the Collective, the zug of German Panzer IIIs moved straight past them and headed towards the railway yard.
Out from behind the hill in front of them popped half the Soviet armour: two incredibly huge and impressive-looking T-35 landships and a T-34.
The German players were indeed suitably impressed by this display of strength, particularly when the combined fire of all three tanks forced one Panzer III crew to abandon their vehicle after its tracks were shot right off.
Those of you familiar with Soviet early war tanks will know how rubbish these T-35s actually are, particularly on the armour-front, and will thus be amazed to hear that for the rest of the game, the Russian tanks duelled with the Panzers and, incredibly, actually managed to knock-out all four German tanks, effectively holding that flank secure for the duration.
Whilst all the above was going on, the Germans had also advanced strongly in the centre and on their right. Around the church, the four Panzer IVs were spotted and engaged by the two Soviet KV-1s lurking behind the fields. Although their other tanks had been very successful, the KV-1s were having a bad day: both lost their main guns pretty early on having really only managed to chip their enemy's paint! Well, they might have taken out one Panzer IV: I was in full-on, running-the-game mode by then
Those of you with sharp eyesight will have noticed another squad of the Railway Collective lurking near the Panzer IVs in the picture above.
They dropped their empty rifles and rushed forward, spanners and wrenches and other railway-worker tools (!) in their hands, and tried to reverse engineer the nearest German tank.
It did not, unfortunately, go particularly well for them. Their attack on the rear deck of one of the panzers chipped some more paint, but they were soon shot down by the combined fire of the other three and the accompanying platoon of infantry.
Again, however, they had slowed the German attack down, giving the infantry in the fields behind them time to deploy and get ready for action. On this flank, the rest of the game would see the Russian and German infantry exchange fire at long range, with the deadlock only really starting to be broken as German mortars got the range of the Soviet position and start to hammer down fire.
At this point it's worth giving a quick mention to the Soviet sniper. He was in the watchtower by the railway yard and did sterling work throughout the game. Although no German Big Men fell victim, he did kill four or five German infantrymen and severely disrupted several of their squads.
So, as you might already be guessing, the battle was actually decided in the centre: where the German Pioneers (nasty, hard buggers equipped with flamethrowers and with MMGs on their half-tracks) charged forward and ran straight into the Soviet infantry platoon in the bushes in front of the railway yard.
An immediate and very bloody close combat occurred, the results of which are probably best illustrated in pictures. Bear in mind that the Germans started off with twenty-two Pioneers, and the Soviets with thirty infantrymen; with the action rapidly spreading to include another Soviet infantry platoon, also of thirty men; their MMG; and the German infantry platoon of about twenty-four men that had already seen action against the Railway Collective squads:
The fortunes of war swept this way and that, but the Germans had a couple of on-table 75mm infantry guns and four 81mm mortars and were pounding the railway yard building full of Russians. This, combined with the sheer hardness of their Pioneers (including a particularly nasty use of a flamethrower that used up all the petrol in the flamethrower's tank but wiped out at least two Soviet squads), eventually gave the Germans victory in this area of the battlefield and allowed them to move into the remains of the main railway yard building itself.
At this point I called the game. The Germans had taken the railway yard and the Soviets just didn't have the troops to re-capture it. They had already lost three entire platoons of infantry (including the Collective) and their last platoon was pinned down by a German platoon on the other side of the battlefield and receiving horrible amounts of artillery fire. Yes, there were still two operational Russian tanks (a T-35 and a T-34) but the Germans still had a Panzer IV F2 operational (with its evil 75mm-long gun) and two Panzer IVs.
It had been a bloody and hard-fought game, but the Germans had fulfilled their objective and taken the railway yard. Of course, there wasn't that much of it left after being hit with multiple rounds of artillery and mortar fire, a flamethrower, and at least two close assaults, but I'm sure High Command wouldn't worry too much about that. After all, you could still park a train there...just!
Here are some more pictures of the game: