This was a scenario adapted from "Near Vchena" in the Bashnya or Bust campaign booklet. It delivered another cracking engagement, with the momentum swinging back and forth throughout. Excellent company and a game well played.
August 1944 and Operation Bagration is underway. We joined a desperate campaign along the fertile Bashnya and Chera valley in Lithuania. The full backstory is in the main booklet. This scenario featured a rapid counter-attack by German forces of the 30th Panzer and Panzergrenadier Regiments which aimed to capture a strategic road junction at Lardiarz (which would lead to them cutting the supply-lines back to Vcheva.) The Soviets had rushed up a combined-arms force to plug the gap and contest the T-junction. Both had the same objective: victory to the side that ended the game with infantry on or nearest the junction.
The paunchy village of Lardiarz consisted of a group of shabby dwellings and a somewhat dilapidated church. It was surrounded by dense woods that were impassible to wheeled vehicles and even slowed Blinds.
The Russians began with their scout infantry and armoured cars on the table (optionally on Blinds) and the Germans began with a solitary Puma on the table on Blinds. The OOBs were broadly comparable, with a random selection of reserves available, but the Germans could rely on better quality tanks and NCOs on the whole.
We diced off for sides, with John landing the canny German forces and the plucky Soviets being led by Charley and Mike.
Hmmm. Where oh where to deploy the Scouts and those outdated Armoured Cars? The Soviets plumped for the limited cover and spotting advantages of the rather tasteless orange-walled Church (it's my paint-job so I can be critical ...)
German Blinds zip across the table. An assault-rifle zug seized the village but was spotted. The Puma, commanded by a Big Man called Spatz, pootled towards the crossroads and spotted the advanced vzvod of Russian T34-85s (below).
Leytenant Peykachu in the Armoured Scout Cars spotted the Panthers (mid-left) and the Sturm zug in the village. Handy. But this was worrying for the Soviets whose Blinds chip didn't show for several turns. We added a House rule involving command chips - a bit like SP2 - which allowed limited deployment, bonus turns etc.
This photo features the obligatory "wargamer's lower midriff and crotch shot"
Where's Spatz (in the Puma)? He'd reversed down the road and was hiding under a Blind. Meanwhile, Tiger I's fly into battle. Well, John rolled mainly 1s and 2s so crawled. Historically accurate, I'd say.
A ding-dong erupts between the T34s and Panthers. Panthers have the upper hand (boy they can hit hard and have good frontal armour.) Note the exceptional distance that the Tigers moved this turn. They redefined the word "slow". But the Soviets rolled well for reinforcements and 3x IS-2s appeared on Blinds and fairly rocketed down the road.
Nyet! Uh-oh, Panthers deploy in a wood off Blinds. 2 IS-2s are put out of action. As you can see, the Soviet armour is taking a pounding but some remarkably low hit rolls by the Germans saved the day. I've never seen so many "1s" rolled in succession like that before ... Meanwhile one scout infantry group is decimated in the church. Hey-ho, plenty more to replace them.
It looked a bit bleak for the Soviets at this point but the chips came out en masse for them and swung the momentum back their way.
Surprise! Turns out that BA-64Bs can churn out quite a bit of damage on infantry in wooden buildings. No-one quite expected that. Several Russian units are now skulking in the graveyard.
An apt situation to be in.
German Sturm Zug in the village is close to breaking. They quickly check their tactical doctrines and drill manuals, opting to hide under Hanomags. And the Dynamic Big Man dives under several Hanomags each turn to rally off shock. Top-left, 3x SU-85s swing around on Blinds to get a flank shot on the Panthers. The IS-2 explodes a Panther. Russian Blinds start to arrive in greater numbers. Will they be in time? Are they infantry?
The Puma completes its first full circuit of the wood to the top left and bags a T-34 en route.
Other side of the table. SU-85s deployed. Spatz in his Puma looks worried. His chip came out next and he promptly skipped off around the wood again for a second time. Consensus was that he would have continued to do this all night if given the chance.
Ominous. The Russian steamroller finally arrives (back of table.) In a classic Lardy moment, what will come out first? The chip for the Panther HQ in the woods or the freshly-arrived SU-85s? The smoke streaming from an SU-85 gives you a clue. Another of the SU-85s is immobilised.
Hard to see, but in the top-left the SU-85s get revenge and pick off a Panther. The second Panther (bottom left) goes up in smoke thanks to the lonely IS-2 on the road. A Schwerer Hanomag zug appears (centre of picture) and unleashes HE and MG fire into the church. Note the Tigers have bravely nosed forward an inch or two as well.
Sound the trumpets! Dushkin's Tank Rota finally arrives beside the church. These T34-85s blow up a couple of Schwerer halftracks and "persuade" the others to zip backwards. The lone IS-2 is sitting amidst the burning wreckage of lots of Soviet tanks. It has an unfeasible amount of Tiger shells bouncing off it. One of the plucky Soviet Armoured Cars bites the dust (but not before unleashing another nasty round of MG fire into the German infantry in the village.)
Sound the trumpets, play the balalaikas! The Russian infantry arrive in trucks off Blinds.
Predictably, they charge the Panther HQ in the woods. What?
The Tigers find their accelerators and, having seen off the final IS-2, obliterate the newly-arrived T34s. Alas poor Dushkin. His comrades are distracted by bits of T-34 thudding off their tanks. Ouch.
The Tigers take up a dominating position near the crossroads.
The Soviets didn't have much left that could hurt them.
Meanwhile (above) the SU-85s dispatch the newly-arrived Panther zug. Bottom-left you can see Russian infantry trucks hurtling towards the Panthers. Top left, Spatz begins his second or third circuit of the woods (he stopped and reversed at one point, so it gets confusing.)
His success is positively dizzying.
Heroic leader! After the remaining Panther shot up two of the trucks, the Soviet commander shouts "Uraiiiiiiiii" and leads his men on an assault into the Panther. Cue rummaging around the rules to find out what happens. It was very cinematic, totally unexpected, worryingly Eastern Front but in the end came to nought. The plan was to seize the woods and shoot up the Germans from behind which might just have worked.
The afternoon had flown by and it was rapidly approaching the witching-hour so we called it as a German victory and shook hands at that point. The Soviets had too little left to win the scenario or deal with the surviving German armour. The scout SMGs could have charged across the open fields from the church and sat on the junction for a technical win but that wasn't in the spirit of the game and seemed a bit unrealistic given that the Tigers were guarding the junction.
The game was played in excellent spirit and I really could not tell which side would win. For the Soviets, Peykachu's Armoured Cars deserve a commendation. The sole undamaged IS-2 was effective. My man of the match goes to Spatz and his perambulating Puma. He spotted pretty much the whole Russian force and bagged a tank. The Panthers were very effective and the Tigers were very strong in the centre.
For the record, the Soviets lost 2 vzvods of T-34s, an HQ T-34, 3 IS-2s, a Maxim detachment and most of the SMG scout infantry, plus a few odds and ends. The German assault infantry zug was pretty much wiped out. They also lost 5 out of 6 Panthers and a couple of Schwerer half-tracks. They'll be lacking a bit of mobility and firepower as they push on with the attack but the Soviets would have conceded the ground. Then again, what's that coming over the hill? Is it a steamroller?
Mat and scenery supplied by John, who is also a superb host.
Buildings = Timecast and minis by Heroics and Ros.