It’s off to Poland, 1939, again, as Bevan, Dave and I play another action from my scenario book for IABSM: The September War.
This time, the game was from scenario #03: Charge at Krojanty. Based on an episode from the larger fighting around the Tuchole Forest that took place over the first couple of days of September 1939, the action would involve a large force of Polish cavalry surprising a German infantry platoon that had paused for a rest. Each side would then gradually be reinforced, developing into quite a large encounter.
The table was largely flat, covered by a significant number of clumps of trees, and with only a couple of farmhouses, one at each end and linked by forest tracks, to show the former presence of man.
The Germans, a single platoon of three ten-man squads supported by a couple of MMGs, had set up a field kitchen about midway between the two farmhouses, and were busy munching knockwurst and sauerkraut for their dinner. The Polish, initially two 16-man platoons of cavalry supported by a couple of tchanka-mounted MMGs, would enter the table from any combination of either the west or the north. Each time their Blinds card appeared, each side could roll for reinforcements, with the Poles having two more platoons of cavalry and then a platoon of armoured cars waiting in the wings; and the Germans having another platoon of infantry and then a very strong recon platoon of six SdKfz 231 heavy armoured cars at their disposal.
Game One: Robert (Poles) vs Bevan (Germans)
The Germans set up around the perimeter of their deployment area: their three squads quite spread out. The rules mechanic used to represent their unreadiness was for them to start the game Suppressed. Without the intervention of Big Men (their officers), they would therefore spend a turn unable to move or fire, and then another turn unable to move, as they grabbed for their boots and rifles.
The first two platoons of Polish cavalry arrived from the west, immediately within charge range, with the tchankas arriving from the north and heading towards a small hill overlooking the German positions.
Now at this point, for those of you who might play this scenario, I want to say a few words about the psychology of playing Polish cavalry in a WW2 setting: Polish cavalry in a WW2 setting look really impressive and, from the moment they hit the tabletop, will be screaming at you to charge the enemy who, being WW2 infantry, look really spread out and feeble, especially when they start the game Suppressed. The lancers, especially, will be screaming the loudest.
The trouble, of course, is that those “spread out and feeble” looking Germans all have modern bolt-action rifles, SMGs, and LMGs…and some of them even have MMGs. They might look feeble, but there are ten of them to a squad, only six less than a two squad Polish cavalry platoon. Not only that but, being German, they have loads of officers and NCOs to shout things like “Raus! Raus!” and “Achtung Uhlans!” so they don’t stay suppressed for long.
Back to the action.
So the Polish cavalry arrived on table within charge distance of one side of the spread out German perimeter. An immediate charge looked like just the thing to do, so as soon as I could, I sent both platoons forward: one (lancers!) charged a squad of enemy infantry, the other charged an MMG.
Unfortunately, the squad of infantry had had a chance to sort themselves out, and repelled my lancers without too much trouble.
The brave lancers ended up bounced back nine inches, Pinned, and with five (out of sixteen) empty saddles. And their Big Man was killed as well.
Now the dragoons thundered forward. They had much more success, a victory even, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Yes, they had wiped out the machine gun crew and then gone forward to hit the flank of the German infantry squad, sending them fleeing off the table, but of the sixteen dragoons that had gone forward, only eight remained, split between two weak squads.
Meanwhile, the other German squads and remaining MMG, had retreated into the nearby trees, and formed a firing line that it would have been suicidal to charge, as demonstrated when they easily wiped out my remaining dragoons. I desperately needed reinforcements, but the Polish Blinds card had only come out once, and I had failed to roll what I needed to get help.
Worse, my opponent had managed to get reinforcements: a second platoon of infantry that headed forward to engage my tchanka teams. This they did, wiping out the first team for the loss of only three men and a Big Man, and forcing the other to fall back looking for cover.
Although my Blinds card then came out twice in quick succession, again the dice were against me, and no reinforcements arrived. To put the final nail in the Polish coffin, Bevan then rolled the arrival of his six heavy armoured cars.
At that point I gave up the ghost and retreated from the table to lick my wounds!
Game 2: Robert (Poles) vs Dave (Germans)
Now with Captain Hindsight attached to my staff, I prepared to take on the German invaders for a second time, as Dave deployed his men in a much less spread out circle around the field kitchen. This time I was determined not to just charge in, so had my tchankas with me on the western flank.
As the game began, my cavalry held their positions, being quickly spotted and thus deployed, but the tchankas sped forward to the crest of a small hill, and set up so they could almost immediately fire down from cover onto the German campsite.
My cavalry were Pinned down and suffered a few casualties as the Germans got themselves sorted, but my two MMGs, this time with a clear, fairly close range, field of fire, did some serious damage to the nearest German infantry squad.
My cavalry, this time remembering that they all had rifles as well as swords and lances, also opened fire: and one German squad was effectively toast.
Even better, my rolling for reinforcements was actually working for a change, and I quickly had another platoon of cavalry at my disposal. This one took up a position near the tchankas, and now the Germans were surrounded by a semi-circle of guns, all pouring out fire.
The Germans had also received reinforcements, their second platoon, but they hadn’t arrived yet, and my cavalry were still screaming at me to send them in to dispatch the invaders at sword and lance point.
I resisted for a turn, then weakened: sending in my newly-arrived platoon to sweep through the German position, smashing the enemy aside.
Well, that was what was supposed to happen, and a German MMG team was indeed dispatched, but then my lovely new platoon took a round of fire from the others, and was reduced to half strength. When will I learn, especially as the second German platoon was coming up fast.
I got a grip, and had whoever ordered the last charge removed from command. My cavalry, now reinforced by my fourth platoon of cavalry (disguised as Cossacks as even I can’t field more than three platoons of Polish cavalry!) then retreated into cover (trees, crests of hills etc), dismounted, and began shooting the Germans for all they were worth. My tchanka had changed position, as well, and caught one German squad from the newly arrived platoon out in the open, effectively wiping it out.
As in the last game, the Germans also now retreated to a nearby treeline, and the game settled into one of attrition, as both sides settled down just to shoot at one another. Although positions were about even, numbers were in my favour: five Polish squads vs four German squads; two Polish MMGs to one German MMG. I also had a slight advantage because my squads were from four different platoons, each with a Big Man, whereas his were from only two units: so I got to shoot first more often than Dave did, so was generally shooting un-Pinned and before damage.
Although I was whittling down the Germans faster than he was whittling me down, both sides were now desperate for their final reinforcements: six German armoured cars with autocannon to three Polish armoured cars with MMGs. Polish luck held, and my armoured cars, three Wz.34s, arrived first.
These took up position on the end of my line, slightly flanking the German line, and prepared to hammer the nearest German squad. I was now quite happy, because as long as the German armoured cars stayed away, I was confident I would shoot his remaining force to death. No more charges for me!
Unfortunately, the Gods felt my smugness, and the German armoured cars arrived next turn!
[Note that although the forthcoming pics show three SdKfz 222s, two 6-rad SdKfz 231s, and one 8-rad SdKfz 231, the scenario gives the Germans three SdKfz 231s and three SdKfz 232s, which is what we played.]
I was seriously alarmed. With six of the beasties, he could send three to take out my armoured cars and, even more deadly, three to outflank my dismounted firing line and then roll me up. And all I had to take them out were the tchankas, the armoured cars and a couple of anti-tank rifles.
Fortunately for me, Dave had become as fixated on the armoured cars being the indestructible Holy Grail to his problems as I was the lancers charging. Rather than splitting them up and working at my vulnerable flank, he slammed them straight forward to a position in between the two sides’ firing lines.
This, of course, put them slap bang in the middle of where I could shoot at them with both MMGs, the armoured cars and both anti-tank rifles. That gave the Poles seven things able to shoot the armoured cars, with the armoured cars having six things they could shoot back with. Even on average die rolls, the Poles were going to have an advantage, and even more so as all the Polish troops were under cover or prone on the crest of hills and the armoured cars were slap bang in the middle of open ground.
Well the law of averages adjusted by cover played out, and soon I had forced the crews of two of the German AFVs to bail, knocked the main gun out on another, immobilized another…you get the picture. In return, I’d lost an armoured car shot to bits, another knocked about a bit, and a handful of cavalrymen who caught an accurate burst of autocannon fire.
We had to end the game at this point for time reasons, but Dave agreed that it would probably play out into a Polish victory. There was much post-match discussion into how fixated one can become when gaming: me with my cavalry charges, Dave with his Holy Grail armoured cars.
So, just like Chojnice (c.f.), another day with the same scenario played through twice in the same session, with a different result the second time as the losing side from the first game learns a lesson and wins the second game.
Here, the main lesson for me to learn (re-learn?) was to remember that no matter how strong they look lined up on the table, cavalry in modern warfare are a strategic as opposed to tactical advantage.
Historically, the Germans fell back before the initial Polish cavalry onslaught, but then recovered and used the arrival of their armoured cars as a base from which to move forward again and clear the enemy from the area.