One of the best things about IABSM (in my opinion), is its ability to surprise everyone at the game table including, on occasion, the referee. That certainly happened in this battle. Since this scenario is a last-gasp defense of the Vyazma approaches, I suspected that the Soviets would be dug in and contesting every inch of ground, whereas the Germans would be using Blitzkrieg tactics to bypass any Soviet resistance and advance on the railroad yard that was their objective for winning both the game and the campaign as a whole.
Since this scenario occurs about two weeks after the previous one according to Vyazma or Bust, I thought this would be an excellent time to try out the patrol rules in the 2011 Christmas Special. As it turned out, the German commander wasn’t able to send his patrol info back to me due to Real Life Issues©, and so went into the attack blind. The Soviet commander had given his defense a good deal of thought, and came up with what looked like a pretty solid plan, as seen below:
The Germans stormed onto the board with the maximum of 4 blinds on the first turn. These were quickly spotted, and turned out to be his Panzer IVs, and the support platoon of 3 MMGs and 2 80mm mortars. (Yes the scenario calls for 3, but I only had 2 painted up and the German players didn’t bring a third one.)
The Soviet players waited, and the next turn brought the usual run of German armor cards (bonus move and unit card) which took the panzers right to the edge of the rail yard. One panzer shelled a nearby house with his last action, while another one peeled off to check another nearby house. Then the Soviet blinds card turned up, and the Red Army players made their presence known.
Now things began to happen quickly. The detached Panzer IV found itself facing a platoon of dug-in infantry, two squads of which were with in close assault range. After a flurry of assaults, and the third squad rushing the tank, it was permanently disabled. The upper anti-tank gun opened fire on the Pz IVs, giving one a couple of Shock points for its troubles. The lower anti-tank gun opened fire on the trucks of the support platoon, and managed to permanently disable one of those as well. Then, to complicate the German’s woes, the second platoon of Soviet armor unveiled itself in the rail yard.
First up was the T-34 which rolled out from behind the switch tower, knocked out a Pz IV with one shot through the front arc, and then rolled back behind the tower. Then, the T-35 came out from between the buildings and unloaded both the 45 and 76mm guns into the undamaged panzer. Unfortunately, both shots bounced. (I should note here that I mistakenly gave the Pz IVD 6 armor dice instead of 4. I don’t think it would have made a difference in this case, however.)
Meanwhile, on the Western board edge, the other two blinds turned out to be two platoons of leg infantry. The Soviet platoon in the woods got their attention, and one German platoon started a firefight with them while the other one headed for the rail yard. If the purpose of the Soviet platoon in the woods was to be a speed bump, then they served that purpose admirably. Unfortunately for them though, they lost their Big Man to one of the first German volleys directed at them. Still, they held on grimly as more tanks and armor appeared in front of them.
Now the tide of battle began to shift back and forth. The German panzer IV torched the T-35 with a single shot, leaving no survivors. This was balanced out by the Soviet tank killers coming out of their entrenchments and assaulting the panzer closest to the railroad line. The tank’s main gun was destroyed, and the shock that provided made it start moving away as quickly as possible. The other Pv IV’s crew had its morale wilt under the continuing close assaults, and they surrendered. Then, the Soviet 45mm guns opened up again, and while one missed the last Pz IV, the other destroyed one of the trucks carrying the German support platoon putting six kills on the occupants.
The mortar crew already on the ground didn’t care to see their comrades killed, and put their rounds directly into one of the Soviet gun pits on a bonus fire card. Dave then followed that up by rolling double sixes, which destroyed the gun! A motion was made to adjourn to the nearest casino, but was defeated. (As an aside, Dave was deadly with the deviation dice; his mortars directly hit their targets 7 times in a row during the game. We are considering a house rule that forbids him from rolling any deviation dice.) The Soviet infantry in the woods continued to take a pounding from both tanks and infantry, but only one squad lost its bottle and decided to retreat.
Then the Luftwaffe showed up, and was ordered to bomb the captured Pz IV, in an attempt to kill some of the infantry surrounding it. Although the Luftwaffe bombing its own vehicles is not unusual in our games, this is the first time in our memory that it was ordered by the German player! He managed to miss however, and the bomb hardly even scratched the infantry although it did pin everybody.
The Germans now seemed to become focused on the Soviet position in the woods, and the last undamaged Pz IV moved behind them in an attempt to help crush the position. At this point, the Allied Human Wave card came out, and the out of ammo platoon in the woods next to the rail yard decided to charge the tank and assault it. Amazingly enough, one of the three desperate assaults managed to knock out the tank’s main gun. Although the panzer did machine-gun the troops crawling over the front of him, it was only able to manage one kill and a pin for all of that.
The tank then attempted to back over the two squads behind it, but they were able to make their dodge rolls and carry out another attack each as he went by. They had no effect though. The German infantry on the road then opened up on the sailors milling about in the field, and were able to do what the tank could not. The survivors then fell back behind the far hedge in the photo. The Germans now decided that they had had enough of the die hards in the woods and turned everything they had against them, including their pioneers and flamethrowers.
While this took care of the Maxim gun, there were still a few survivors hanging on in the woods, and so the HQ squads of the infantry company were detailed to get them out while the armor began to flank them and move forward with the two infantry guns. The German armor commander (an additional Big Man for the scenario) used his radio net to remove the shock from the retreating Panzer IV, only to have it shot from behind and brewed up by the remaining 45mm ATG. The German mortars then concentrated on that gun, and although they didn’t destroy it they did get 4 kills on the crew, which made it combat ineffective. All of this happened off camera, so there are no shots of it.
As the Panzer III flanking movement mixed in with the infantry guns, the Soviets decided to put their other armor platoon on the board. The two KV-1s shot it out with the Pz IIIs, damaging one. The Luftwaffe put in another appearance, and managed to damage the gun sight on one of the KVs but left them blocking the road to the rail yard as the next picture shows:
At this point we had to call the game, as we had been playing for approximately seven hours straight, and the Germans had to leave. The turn card had only come out three times so there was still plenty of time available for them to seize the rail yard, and this was the point of some lively discussion after the game. Although they had plenty of time, I don’t think they had the manpower available, and this is based on the after game clean up. While picking everything up, I noticed that most of the German squads had only 2 or 3 action dice left to them. In fact, the only undamaged units were the two HQ squads and the two Pioneer squads and even the Pioneers had lost one of the flamethrowers due to running out of fuel. The Soviets had an untouched platoon of infantry in the rail yard along with two tanks, and had learned how to use both their Commissar and NKVD detachment to keep people in the fight by removing shock. Furthermore, there were still Soviet infantry platoons in the field that could have been used to reinforce the rail yard if necessary.
I suspect that what would have happened is that the Germans would have reached the rail yard, and then discovered that they didn’t have enough manpower to actually dislodge the defenders from their positions. So, it’s a TKO for the Soviets instead of an outright win. After being so badly beaten in the earlier battles though, I suspect that they are more than happy with a TKO; especially since they will be doing the attacking in the next game. That might be a couple of months though, as I now have to buy and paint a bunch of T-60s.
Here are all the images again with a couple more during- and post-battle shots, as a wrap-up. I don’t think there are any captions needed for these.