The Benson boys (Dave, John, Bevan) and I got together yesterday to playtest the first scenario in my The September War scenario pack for I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum (due for release Wednesday 15th March 2017). The pack will contain thirty-three scenarios covering the 1939 Invasion of Poland, and is part one of two, with the second (another 36 scenarios) to be released in the autumn. Both packs are very much based on Anatoli’s FoW scenario pack, Poland in Flames, but with the games fully adapted for IABSM, and presented as I usually do my scenarios: full briefings, force lists, stats etc.
The battle for Chojnice involves the Poles defending a railway bridge for long enough for their engineers to place and then explode demolition charges. In game terms, the Poles have to make sure that after the fifth appearance of the Turn Card, there are no Germans within 4” of the bridge on their side of the river, and that they have men close enough to actually push the plunger. If both criteria are satisfied, then each time the Turn Card appears, the bridge is blown on a roll of 5 or 6 on a D6.
The rest of the terrain is fairly open, except for the right hand side of the battlefield (from the Polish point of view) where a road runs over the river via another bridge. Along the road are a series of buildings including, close to the bridge on the Polish side of the river, a church which, for our game, had obviously been built as an homage to Norman architecture! Opposite the church, on the other side of the river, is a large farm.
The Forces Involved
To defend their position, the Poles had a couple of two-squad infantry platoons supported by a couple of medium mortars and three taczankas carrying MMGs. They had a bit of a shortage of Big Men, only three, but did have an FOO with supposedly unlimited access to off-table artillery. In the event, the Polish artillery played no part in either of the two games we played: never arriving at all.
The Poles would begin the game in prepared positions under hidden Blinds, so would not be placed on the table at all to start off with. The Germans would therefore effectively have to spot them twice: once to establish the position of the Polish Blinds, and once more to spot what was actually underneath the Blind.
The German assault force consisted of a three-platoon company of dismounted kradschutzen infantry (they had left their motorbikes off-table…I really must get around to buying and painting some!) supported by an MMG platoon of four guns and an armoured car patrol of two SdKfz 221 and two SdKfz 222. They had a plethora of Big Men, and were very fast moving: benefiting from a Recon Bonus Move card as well as the usual German Rapid Deployment etc.
The First Game
The Poles, played by Bevan, set up with one platoon defending the bridge and the other defending the church. Two of their taczanka supported the troops at the bridge, one lurked next to the church, ready to help defend either bridge as required. Their mortars were at the back of the battlefield, but with a good line of sight to the railway bridge.
The Germans, with John commanding, planned to suppress the troops on the bridge with firepower from their MMGs and armoured cars, then charge across with their infantry. Nothing like the direct approach!
The Germans therefore hit the tabletop running, moving their Blinds towards the bridge with all possible speed. One platoon had managed to start the game in the farm just by the footbridge, and began spotting the Polish positions around the bridge and church so, following their plan, the Germans deployed their MMG platoon at the edge of a small wood just in front of the railway bridge and opposite where they could now see the Polish trenches were positioned. Their armoured cars were also moving up.
At this point it all started to go horribly wrong for the Germans.
Miscalculating where they needed to be to stop the Poles blowing the bridge, the Germans moved an infantry platoon forward right up to the start of the bridge on their side of the river. They didn’t have much cover, so when the Poles shot at them with a whole platoon supported by a couple of MMGs, they were unsurprisingly pinned down and could advance no further. Worse, they were blocking most of the fire from the German MMGs. Worse, the Polish mortars had found their range and were dropping bomb after bomb on the German MMG platoon, who were finding out that being in a wood under mortar fire is not a very pleasant experience: wood splinters flying everywhere.
Desperate to do something to distract the Poles from mullering their troops by the bridge, the Germans then advanced an infantry platoon across the footbridge to the Polish right. Unfortunately they chose to do this through a slow, squad-by-squad advance: easily stopped by the other Polish platoon defending the church.
At this point the German commander gave up in disgust. His MMGs were neutralised, he had a platoon pinned down and taking heavy casualties by the railway bridge, his armoured cars were shooting, but also being shot at by some very nasty anti-tank rifles, and his other platoons were also getting nowhere fast. The Germans retreated to lick their wounds.
The Second Game
In the second game, played immediately afterwards, I took command of the Germans against Dave, playing the Poles.
With Captain von Hindsight telling me that the direct approach would probably have as little success as in the first game, I decided to throw caution to the wind and throw everything I had at the bridge on the left. My aim was to get over the bridge then roll up the Polish line, their right to their left. That way I could hit their trenches from the flank or rear.
Dave had set his infantry up in the same way as had worked for Bevan in the first game: one platoon at the bridge, one platoon defending the church. Suspecting I might try something different to John, however, he kept his taczankas back behind the front line, but made the crucial mistake of not putting a Big Man with them: in IABSM, support weapons only move if in company with a Big Man.
The game therefore opened with a long line of German Blinds throwing themselves forward at the riverline. Unknown to Dave, the entire right side of my line was Dummy Blinds, with the real things on the left.
The cards fell well for me, and my troops quickly got up to the bridge on the left, and here’s where I got a bit overexcited and made a crucial mistake. Well, I think it was actually a combination of the quite large amounts of red wine and strong coffee I’d drunk between games, which just goes to show that you should never wargame fuelled by Malbec!
Getting the opportunity to move forward again, rather than soften up the Polish troops defending the church, I decided just to hurl a whole platoon forward in a surprise assault on the troops in trenches in front of the church.
Well, the Poles were certainly surprised, but not surprised enough not to resist. My entire platoon was wiped out: very credible really when you consider I was assaulting twenty-four men in trenches with twenty-four men running across open ground! Blame the Malbec!
The game now looked like being a disaster for the Germans, so there was nothing for it but to pretend that this was all part of some great masterplan, and carry on throwing stuff forward.
Untruthfully claiming that the initial unsuccessful assault had been just the cover I needed to get into position, I moved my MMG platoon and the armoured cars up into a position from which I could bring the somewhat battered Polish troops defending the trenches in front of the church under fire.
Four MMGs at Close range, plus the armoured cars, inflicted more damage on the Poles, and Pinned them in position, so I then sent a second platoon forward to charge the trenches. This time the assault was successful, with the defending Poles being largely wiped out as my troops took possession of their trenches.
This is where Dave needed to bring up his taczankas and pin my troops down but, as mentioned above, the taczankas weren’t moving without a Big Man...and one Polish Big Man was dead, one was defending the trenches, and the third was nowhere near the taczankas.
Dave desperately tried to sort out his defences: his free Big Man rushed for the taczankas, and the infantry platoon by the bridge redeployed to face the threat from their flank. This, of course, meant that some of them had to leave their trenches, which made them sitting ducks for my third infantry platoon, and the armoured cars/MMGs who, using their Big Men, had now moved into positions from which they could bring the Polish works under fire.
At the same time, the German infantry platoon across the river moved into the church itself, and brought the Poles under fire as well, with the shots coming down from the church tower proving especially effective.
Time, and the timers on the Polish explosives, was ticking on however, and at any moment the Turn Card could appear and give the Poles the opportunity to blow the bridge. Unfortunately, the Turn card seemed to have gone on holiday, and the Polish troops were driven back away from the bridge by the sheer weight of firepower heading their way. With seconds to spare before the bridge was blown, the Germans managed to get men across the bridge, and the explosives were defused.
A cracking game which could so easily have proved a complete and utter disaster for the Germans. Fortunately, Dave’s deployment of the taczankas gave me enough leeway to soak up the loss of the first infantry platoon (just!) and to eventually take the Poles in the flank as planned. A very high butcher’s bill for the Germans, however, with their commander definitely at risk of fragging in the future!
Overall, it was a very successful playtest, with the scenario proving finely balanced and very much dependent on the tactics employed. Scenario #01 now approved for publication!