The last week of September 1939 saw a combined “Northern Front” Polish army join the attack towards Tomaszow Lubelski. Due to bad communications between the different Polish divisions, the result was a series of largely uncoordinated attacks by Polish unis arriving from the north-east, launched in the direction of the city only to be shattered wave-by-wave by the German defenders.
This scenario would represent one such attack: with Polish and German forces brawling for control of the centre of the table. Four objectives would be placed there, with each side entering the table and attempting to take and hold them. The game would end after ten appearances of the Turn Card, at which point victory would go to the side that held the most objectives. If, however, one side managed to hold at any point three of the four objectives, then the game would end immediately, with that side wining the battle. The picture above shows most of the table, with the four objectives: Red, Blue, Green Left and Green Right.
The Germans, under Bevan, had a small but powerful force. Core to their contingent was a Schutzen infantry company consisting of three platoons of two eight-man rifle squads and a light mortar team each. Each squad had two light machine guns, so would shoot with extra D6. Supporting the Schutzen was a truck-mounted machine gun platoon of four MMGs; and a platoon of tanks: two Panzer I and three Panzer II. The Germans also had plenty of Big Men, access to air support, and unlimited fire missions from four off-table medium mortars controlled by an on-table FOO.
The Poles, played by me, had a real mixture of troops. Their infantry consisted of two platoons of three rifle squads each: no extra LMGs, but each squad was ten strong: giving me sixty PBI versus the Germans’ forty-eight. One platoon had an anti-tank rifle team.
Supporting the infantry were five support platoons: a platoon of two medium mortars (on table), a platoon of two 75mm infantry guns (on table), a platoon of two taczanka MMGs on carts, a platoon of two cavalry squads, and a platoon of three Wz.34 armoured scout cars. I didn’t have quite so many Big Men as the Germans: so more troops and less command capacity.
The game began with the Germans advancing strongly onto the table. In fact, such was the way that the cards fell, it was several turns before a single Polish solider even set foot onto the battlefield. At one stage, I thought I would lose the game without even getting the chance to fir a shot!
On the German right, their MMG platoon and a platoon of infantry moved forward and took the Red objective marker. The MMG platoon then moved forward again and set up shop around the edge of the corn field, taking as much cover as they could. That was one objective marker captured.
On the German left, another platoon of infantry moved forward and took the Blue objective marker. That was two objectives taken and, seeing the opportunity presented by the still empty battlefield, Bevan sent a squad of infantry towards the church hoping to snatch a third objective marker (Green Right) and victory before the Poles even made an appearance.
The situation was critical for the Poles!
Fortunately, however, some of my units then arrived. On my left, the infantry guns made their way to the front of the light woods and started bombarding the German infantry squad around the Red objective marker. This proved quite successful: doing a bit of damage and setting fire to one of the wooden huts they were sheltering in. They would soon have to leave the hut, presumably then providing me with an even better target!
Unfortunately, the German machine-gunners were in no mood to let that happen. Three of the teams concentrated their fire on my infantry guns, soon killing the all the crew of one, and reducing the crew of the other down to just one man. He bravely dragged the gun back into the forest, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour!
But that’s a sideshow, I hear you cry, what happened in the middle of the table? Did the Germans snatch the third objective and victory?
Well, no. I managed to get my armoured cars onto the road near the church, and their bonus moves on the road and for being scout vehicles managed to get two of them at least up to the church on time to stop the Germans crossing the road and taking the objective.
At the same time, the third armoured car skirted the nearby corn field and took the Green Left objective marker, settling down to exchange fire with the German MMG team opposite.
So at the end of the opening moves of the battle, it was two objectives each, but with the Germans much more onto the table than the Poles.
What Happened Next
At this point I was becoming seriously worried. I had almost lost the battle once already, only just managing to block a final German advance to the church. I could also see more German Blinds coming in along the road from my right: Blinds that revealed themselves as the Panzers. How on earth was I supposed to stop them? My infantry guns were just about taken out, and I didn’t fancy taking on the 20mm autocannon in the Panzer IIs with my armoured cars (one Wz.34 had already fallen victim to long range autocannon fire). Worse, another German Blind was now heading for the church and, if I were Bevan, that would be my final infantry platoon: more than enough men to ignore the armoured cars and push forward into the building and take the objective, so winning the game.
Now there occurred one of those sequences of play that can’t really be explained. By rights, the German Panzers should have suppressed everything in front of them, leaving the third German infantry platoon to take the third and winning objective. But that’s not what happened. Somehow, everything suddenly started to fall my way.
Firstly, a rapid advance on my far left enabled me to deploy a platoon of infantry on the flanks of the Panzers. This platoon had its own leader, plus our one anti-tank rifle, and the commander-in-chief as well.
A combination of hand grenades, fire from the anti-tank rifle, and a charge out of the woods with one squad of infantry forced both German Panzer I crews to bail out. Okay, the Panzer IIs were still active, but the Panzer Is had been covering my line of approach to the back of the church.
Without their baleful presence, I could then deploy my taczankas in a position to fire at the German infantry platoon that had managed to reach as far as the walled graveyard right outside the church. The taczankas opened fire with devastating close range effect. This stopped the German infantry in their tracks, which in turn allowed me to get an infantry platoon of my own into the church. They moved to the windows overlooking the graveyard and…well, it wasn’t pretty and the German infantry platoon effectively ceased to exist.
It was now two objectives each but, although rescued from immediate defeat for the second time, the situation was still not secure for the Poles. The armoured car holding Green Left had been battered by the German machine guns, and now came under fire from the three Panzer IIs as well. They had advanced past the church behind the buildings in front of it, with two of them moving right up to the poor Wz.34, soon turning it into a colander, forcing its crew to bail!
If the Germans could get infantry to the objective (we’d agreed that you could only hold an objective with infantry), that would be the three needed to win the game. Quickly a German infantry squad headed across the fields, victory in sight!
The picture above shows the position at the centre of the battlefield. You can see that one move with the squad accompanied by Big Man 2, right in the middle, will win the game for the Germans.
But look again, more closely, at what is going on elsewhere.
At the top of the picture is the Blue objective. Holding it is a light mortar team of two men: their platoon having moved forward into the barns to the right. What you can’t see is my final Blind: now lurking just outside the front of the church. That Blind concealed the cavalry and, brilliantly and tactically amazingly seizing the opportunity (or “in a desperate attempt not to lose the game”: you choose which is more applicable) I ordered them to charge forward and take the Blue objective.
This involved hitting both the light mortar team and the reduced (five-man) infantry squad in the end barn, but the Polish cavalry swept all before them…so that when the German infantry arrived at and took the Green Left objective, I was already in possession of the Blue objective: still two objectives held by each side.
Another close escape for the Poles!
But then Bevan and I both realised something.
Although the Germans had come close to winning the game three times (we’re talking three match points here!) the situation was actually now very different. Not only were the Germans rapidly running out of troops, but the Poles were curling forward around their left flank, and were actually now perfectly positioned to defeat them.
Counting up what was left, the Germans had four MMG teams, only two infantry squads and two Panzer IIs left. The Poles could still dispose six infantry squads, two cavalry squads, the two taczankas and one armoured car. In fact, the Germans were so short of troops that they had had to bring the infantry holding the Red objective marker forward, leaving it unguarded. So they actually held only one objective (Green Left) to the Poles’ two.
Well that was a bit of a surprise!
We played until the next Tea Break card, but could both see the writing on the wall. Gnashing his teeth at how he had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the German commander ordered a withdrawal. Victory for the Poles!
Not quite sure how that happened. To give you an idea at how desperate things got, at one stage I was actually thinking of charging his Panzers with my cavalry! The Germans were inside the Poles’ decision loop all the way through the game: all I felt I was doing throughout was reacting to crisis after crisis…it’s just that those reactions proved very successful and somehow wove together into a win.
A great game.