With the launch of the second half of The September War, my scenario pack for Poland 1939, I thought it was time to do some last minute play-testing. The scenario chosen was #58: Jablon.
It's late September 1939. The surprise Soviet invasion has shattered the Polish border troops left in the east of the country. All looks lost, so any remaining Polish formations have been ordered to break for the nearest border with a neutral country so the fight can continue at a later date. Soviet columns drive deep into Poland hunting out the fleeing Poles. Isolated Polish units engage and block these Soviet columns wherever they can, trying to hold them off for long enough for the bulk of their comrades to escape.
One such encounter took place on 28th September, with a contingent of mixed Polish troops (border troops, dismounted cavalry, naval infantry) trying to hold the advancing Soviets at bay in and near the village of Jablon.
The game premise was simple: the Poles would start the game by placing an objective marker anywhere in or around the big farmhouse opposite the church. If the Soviets managed to capture and hold the objective marker on any appearance of the Tea Break card, then they win the battle. The Poles, however, are trying to slip away under cover of darkness, which would fall sometime after the sixth appearance of the Tea Break card. If the Poles still hold the objective on any appearance of the Tea Break card after darkness has fallen, then they win the game.
The Soviets would start the game advancing towards Jablon. Looking at the picture, above, Soviet Blinds would start the game as far onto the table as the far side of the Polikarpov's flight stand base. The Soviets had a company of infantry and a company of T-26 light tanks (well, nine) at their disposal. The Soviet platoons were three squads of ten men each, with a Level I Big Man in charge. They had only a couple of MMGs and three light mortars as support: the column had outstripped its other assets. There was also a small chance the Polikarpov would intervene.
For their part, the Poles began the game with their support weapons and a platoon of infantry on table under Blinds, with a further two platoons of infantry arriving when the Blinds card and dice allowed! The Polish platoons were all fairly battered two-squad platoons. Their support consisted of four somewhat ancient 75mm guns and a couple of tchankas.
Not knowing exactly where the Poles were, the Soviets decided on a double-pronged attack. One platoon of tanks and an infantry platoon would go up each side of the battlefield, aiming to swing round and hit the large farmhouse from the side. The third infantry platoon would augment the right hand thrust (Blinds #3, #5 and #6 in the picture above). Finally, the MMGs and Company HQ mortars would lay down fire from a central position.
Not phased by the sea of red thundering towards him, Dave, playing the Poles, began to spot from his hidden Blinds. As he was spotting into open ground, before long he had a very good idea of what he was facing. Amusingly, this also meant that the chips were stacked very much against him...and, yes, I was using my blue French poker chips for the Poles.
As the Russians got closer, the Polish guns and machine guns opened fire from their concealed positions. The big farmhouse held a tchanka and a field gun. The hedge line in front (i.e. towards the Soviets) held the other tchanka and another gun. Finally there were two more guns dug-in towards the rear of the table, but still able to direct fire into the oncoming Red Army horde.
The Soviet light tanks opened up as well, and this exchange of fire between the T-26s and Polish support weapons would take up the next phase of the game: the Russians edging their infantry forward whenever they could. As the climax of the game approached, honours stood fairly even: one T-26 each side had bailed, and the Polish tchanka crew and gun crew by the church had been so battered that any survivors had abandoned their weapons and fled.
The Soviet approach phase actually took longer than the simple paragraph, above, implies: about 45 minutes of playing time and around four appearances of the Tea Break card. It was getting late and the Poles still looked pretty comfortable. Then came the very rapid climax of the game.
Up came the Soviet Human Wave chip, formerly known as the Uraaaaaaaaagh! chip. This was too good an opportunity to miss, and Bevan, playing the Soviet infantry, hurled a platoon at the Polish positions in the farmhouse. The extra charge bonus that the chip gave him meant that the whole platoon went in okay, but another squad from the other Soviet infantry platoon came up short, giving rise to the first of quite a few "if only's".
A huge Close Combat broke out between the charging Soviets and the troops in that section of the farmhouse. If you look closely at the above picture, you can just see the barrel of the Polish artillery pieces in the middle window: it couldn't fire, but its crew grabbed their weapons and piled in, giving the Poles about 15 men with which to fend off the 29 Soviets, many of whom were puffing and panting after their long run in.
In the event, this first round of melee was a draw: with each side losing five men. This could have been disastrous for the Poles, but they had a second squad on the other side of the building, and the tchanka crew from upstairs along with a couple of Big Men including the company commander,who joined in for the re-match.
Desperate to hold on to the objective marker, the Poles fought like lions: this time sending the Soviet platoon, or what was left of it, fleeing backwards, completely mullered. It would take no further part in the game.
This victory was at a high cost, however. Both Polish Big Men were killed, and an anti-tank rifle team that had been doing sterling work against the enemy T-26s. In all, the Poles were left with one squad of infantry, the tchanka (four crew left), and the artillery piece (four crew left)...all of whom were carrying quite a bit of Shock.
The Soviets, however, had plenty of men left, and moved their next infantry platoon, still at full strength, up into position to charge into the farmhouse on their next activation. With them they had their Big Man, and Commissar Dushkin to make sure they understood the, er, seriousness of the situation!
All the Soviets needed was the opportunity to go in, and the objective was surely theirs.
Unfortunately, and here's another "if only", the Gods of the chip bag had other plans. Despite the huge number of Soviet chips in the bag, the first three out of the bag were:
The three remaining Polish guns fired into the Russian infantry platoon as it lined up to start its charge, effectively annihilating one squad. Dave began to relax slightly.
The next chip out of the bag was the Soviet Heroic Commander chip: and in went the infantry again!
Unfortunately, the dice were with the Poles, and only the front Soviet squad made it into Close Combat, so despite the heroic efforts of Commissar Dushkin (with the flag) and the Big Man (both of whom survived), the Soviets were pushed back again.
At that point, dusk fell, meaning that the next appearance of the Tea Break chip would end the game, with victory going to whoever held the objective marker in the farmhouse. The Poles still had two platoons under Blinds, but the surviving Soviet platoon was just as big as those two combined, and there were still seven T-26s in action.
But it was not to be.
I picked up the full chip bag, plunged my hand inside, and drew out...the Tea Break chip.
Night had fallen and, under cover of its all enveloping darkness, the remaining and victorious Poles slipped away.
Well that was a game and a half!
For those who say that IABSM is a slow game, we completed the above in about 2½ hours, and even if night hadn't fallen with such a thump, would probably have fought out the remaining action in a maximum of another hour or so.
I had thought that the Soviets would walk all over the Poles, but all that open ground and the lack of support weapons with which to suppress their opponents really made a difference.
On the Polish side, they effectively fought the battle with only two thirds of their force, so although they didn't have much left in the farmhouse, they could have reinforced the troops in their with ease.
A great game, and one that is definitely passed as ready for inclusion in The September War, Part II.