By the end of the first week of September 1939, the German 4th Panzer Division had advanced as far as Warsaw. Thinking the Poles would be knocked off balance by the speed of their advance, German commanders issued orders for the city to be stormed via the Ochota district on the western flak of Warsaw.
The Poles, however, had heavily reinforced the area, with units from the 40th “Children of Lwow” Regiment barricading streets and manning gun emplacements along all the approaches.
The Poles let the Germans drive into the city, and then opened fire with everything they had. Worse, many streets had been covered in turpentine, which was then lit on fire, destroying several German tanks and catching German infantry in the inferno that followed.
This then was the background for scenario #47 (Taking Ochota by Storm) of the second September war scenario pack. The game would begin as the Poles (played by Dave) open their attack on the advancing Germans (played by John). The Germans’ objective was just to get as many of their units as possible back off the table; the Poles’ objective was to destroy as many German units as possible.
Two thirds of the table was taken up by the outskirts of Warsaw: a loose grid of streets with a goodly number of houses and factories. The other third was fairly empty rough ground.
A main road ran down the centre of the long axis. The Germans would start the game along this road spread out from the half way point deep into Ochota: the open ground behind them at the other end of the table being their way out.
The Poles would start the game in a loose horseshoe shape surrounding the hapless Germans, initially separated by a bit of a gap. Their troops were dug in and, because of the seating arrangements in my wargaming room, mostly concentrated on one side of where the Germans were: Dave showing a marked reluctance to stand up and lean over the table!
The Germans had a strong, well-balanced force: a slightly reduced company of Schutzen infantry supported by a couple of platoons of tanks.
Force commander was Hauptmann Siggi Schnitzel on a motorcycle combination. Directly under him were three platoons of Schutzen motorised infantry, each with a Big Man and two squads of eight men each. Each squad had lost their transport, but did have two LMGs, meaning that they would fire with an extra dice. In support was a platoon of four MMG teams in Kfz70 trucks.
Attached were Hauptmann Kurt Kirschwasser’s tanks: a company HQ of a Panzer Befelswagon and a Panzer II; then two platoons each of a Big Man, two Panzer IIs and a Panzer I.
The Ploes were commanded by Kapitan Bazyli Barszcz: a man with far too many zeds in his name!
Their infantry contingent consisted of three line infantry platoons each of two 12-man squads. The 1st and 2nd Platoons also had an anti-tank rifle team, using the excellent wz.25 anti-tank rifle. In support were three MMG-carrying taczankas (to use the Polish spelling).
Also in support was Big Man Porucznik Burt Bigos with two 75mm field guns that would operate as an improvised anti-tank gun platoon i.e. each weapon would fire on a separate Anti-Tank card.
Finally, Porucznik Kori Kurczaka commanded a platoon of five 7TP jw (1939) tanks: the best armour the Polish army had available.
The Battle Begins
Both sides deployed under Blinds, with each side putting down one Blind at a time. As per the scenario, the Germans were clustered around the main road; the Poles had a blocking force on the road out of Warsaw, but were otherwise mostly to the south of the main road.
Both sides spent their first Activations in Spotting. The Poles spotted the German Panzers on the main road; the Germans spotted the Polish blocking force. The Poles also decided to deploy their tank platoon in order to get them into the action as soon as possible.
Things happened very quickly after that. The German Panzers scattered off the road, seeking to avoid the attentions of Burt Bigos’ guns. The tanks headed north, but left the Befelswagon behind: it was hit by several shots of 75mm HE and would spend the rest of the game trying to get moving again.
Without the German tanks to shoot at, the Polish field guns then turned their attentions to a German infantry platoon sheltering in a house near the road. The German infantry had already begun a firefight with the Polish taczanka platoon, and were somewhat perturbed when the house they were in was not only hit by the Polish guns but also set on fire: the Schutzen would have to vacate the premises on their next action.
Another Schutzen platoon, from its start point in the house opposite the burning building, also headed north, looking to carry out a combined attack on the single Polish unit north of the road: an infantry platoon that had just started to pepper the advancing Panzers with anti-tank rifle fire.
Unfortunately, the German infantry ran straight into the single Polish turpentine trap and were engulfed in an exploding fireball: the equivalent of being hit by a flamethrower. The German infantry platoon effectively ceased to exist, with only flame markers remaining in its place.
This was a bitter blow to the Germans and, I think it fair to say, sapped their morale. All the remaining Panzers now decided just to individually sprint for safety: all semblance of a coordinated plan not out of the window.
This left the two remaining German infantry platoons somewhat in the lurch: especially the platoon at the deepest-into-Warsaw end of the road. This attempted to make its way north of the road in order to loop around and away from the main Polish force, and would spend the rest of the battle dodging from house to house in an attempt to follow the Panzers, all the while gradually losing men to Polish fire.
The Death of Barszcz
Meanwhile the German platoon that had been forced to abandon the house set alight by Polish artillery had moved west, hoping to make a quick dash off the table.
Their progress, however, was stymied by the Polish tanks: the AFVs were moving north looking to get into firing positions on the flank of the fleeing Panzers. Kapitan Barszcz had, on his snow white charger, moved forward from the original Polish artillery blocking position, and was currently sat under the leas of a badly shelled house.
Unfortunately, that house was now occupied by the German platoon, above, members of which leaned out of the window and dropped grenades and improvised petrol bombs onto both the Kapitan and the nearest Polish tank.
Suffice to say that the tank survived but Barszcz did not!
Ed.’s Note: no horses were harmed in the making of this AAR. Please assume that Ogier dodged the petrol that so afflicted his master and was last seen cantering happily off into the distance.
Barszcz’s death was really the last German success of the battle, and John conceded shortly after.
One or maybe two Panzers might have got off the table, but no more than that. It had been a crushing defeat for the Germans, a glorious (and historically accurate) victory for the Poles.
Post-match analysis revealed that John, the German commander, had gone into the game without a specific plan. His aim had been to spend a bit of time working out where the Poles were, then make something up “on the hoof”. No thoughts of dividing his troops into those aiming to flee and those aiming to hold off the attackers whilst they did so; no attempt to force a Kesselschlacht that would draw the Poles into a fight in one place whilst most of his troops punched through with a Schwerepunkt elsewhere.
IABSM, like most uncertain-activation games, requires a plan as the basis for what you are doing. You might not get the cards you need in the right order you need them, but a plan allows you to make the best of what you do get: okay, so I can’t do this bit of the plan now, which is annoying, but the card that’s appeared means that I can do this bit of the plan instead etc
Dave, the Polish commander, was happy. He acknowledged that things would have gone even better had he initially spread his units out a bit more, but German Unschlüssigkeit had meant that he could actually use his deployment to powerfully sweep across the table…and he hadn’t had to stand up much either!
For those interested, the game lasted about 2½ hours.