Last Sunday we played the fourth scenario of the Vyazma or Bust campaign, the early WWII eastern theatre companion book to I Ain't Been Shot Mum. The game so far has seen different turns of fortune, with the Germans losing the initiative after failing in their first attack on Izdeshkovo and being defeated again in their retreat from Belyj, but stopping the Red Army advance in the defensive battle around the river crossing near Pochinok.
On Sunday, a German counterattack took place aiming to control a key crossroad at the city of Yelna, that would open the gate to reconquering Smolensk. The outcome of the battle was... well you can help to decide by casting your vote, leaving a comment at the end of this battle report.
The Yelna scenario was an urban combat battle and at least on paper promised to be as bloody as the epic Stalingrad struggle was, with armour shooting buildings at short range and the grenade and the spade being the favourite combat weapons of the rival enemies.
Forces and Initial Deployment
The Red Army forces comprised four weak infantry platoons supported by a generous supply of support weapons (MMGs, mortars and anti-tank rifles sections and AT guns) plus a couple of T-26s. The Russians deployed under Blinds within the city
The defending Russians faced the attack of two regular infantry and one motorised (Hanomag) veteran engineer platoons, one weapons platoon reinforced with a Sig33 motorised gun platoon and a Stug III platoon. The Germans entered the city east, also under Blinds.
The chart above shows the original scenario map. The gaming table had a somewhat different layout (see the photo... but who can trust Russian cartographers!!!) but I've tried to replicate the initial defensive positions of the Russians: infantry in first line, HMGs in the second line, tanks and AT guns located in the streets.
The victory conditions were similar for both sides: to have full control of the city (major victory) or to control the central square (minor victory), in other words, have your forces occupying the square and no enemy units with line of fire into it.
The battle plan was simple and (as expected) resulted in a blood bath in both sides. The German infantry entered the table through the houses at the edge and the AFVs though the streets (Sigs in the southern and Stugs in the northern street respectively).
In fact the attack bogged down from the very initial moment when the Germans occupied the first row of houses and engaged in a short range exchange of fire with the Russian units nearby...
... while the Sigs tried to move cautiously through the very narrow streets...
... only to be ambushed by a brave Russian antitank gun...
... with the expected result:
Now we had a German blown-out tank and the street closed and forbidden to any further motor traffic through it!!!
In the north side of the table, the hunters were the German Stugs catching a T-26 on the back...
... but ending up with a similar traffic problem when the poor T-26 clogged the street: no further advance possible for motor units!!!
And that was the game, really. Over the following turns German and Russian units kept on firing each other, the Germans attempted to dash forward moving from house to house towards the main square, progressing at snail pace and continued suffering casualties and accumulating shocks.
By 1.30PM the situation was as represented in the chart below:
Basically both sides were firmly holding their positions and both had the opportunity to occupy the square but with the enemy having a clear line of fire on any exposed unit in it. The battle had reached by then a deadlock and neither side was a clear winner... a tie then... or not?
The problem: the different scenarios are interlinked and take different paths depending on the side (German/Russian) winning each time; therefore a tie is not a solution.
Editor's Note: This is where Benito appealed to the members of the TFL Yahoo Group for their thoughts on who had won the battle. The overwhelming majority voted for the Russians, with some demanding that both sides retreated and then came together again for a re-fight.
And here is where some help will be appreciated. There two different readings to the outcome of the battle:
Russians winners: they were defending and by the end of the game they had enough forces on the field to claim control of a significant portion of the city. Furthermore, they could deny control of the central square to the Germans.
German winners: The German forces were superior in fire power. Because of the blocked streets they could not put in play their motorised units, But giving them enough time, they could regroup and attempt to come through a different flank and effectively erode the Red Army defending units.