"War is a drama, not a game of chess."
Gen Eisenhower

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Soldiers of the Rearguard or, The Social(ist) Network

Only three weeks after Karpov’s return to grace comes another opportunity to distinguish himself and the First Company.  This time, the men would have to be the rearguard, and hold a route through the city open so that a truck convoy could escape.  With the close quarters of urban combat, there would be plenty of opportunities for heroism.  The problem with that is, heroism comes with a price.  This would be a wild ride, full of random events that no one could have predicted.

Even by rearguard standards, this was a bit of a scratch force.  Other than the rifle company with 54 men and three officers, there was only an MMG, a 45mm ATG, and a couple of 50mm mortars.  There was also an engineer/SMG platoon with an officer attached to the force.  The rifle company had high morale though, so there was an Allied Rally card in the deck.  The layout was urban, and for once the map and the board didn’t quite match up.  According to the map as rolled up, the layout should be:

2 buildings
2 buildings
Key building
2 buildings
2 buildings

Well, everyone knows how inaccurate Soviet maps can be, so the area wound up looking like this instead:

Basically the same, but with a bit more construction; maybe the map was from the Tsarist period.  The large gray ruin closest to the camera is the key building, and it would indeed play a key role in the coming battle.
          Not knowing where the Germans would mass their forces, Karpov tried to defend a little bit of everything.    The next picture gives an idea of the general setup for the defenders:

          Expecting the German assault to come up the center most of 2nd Platoon and its Jr. Lt. was dug in on the hill, with the engineers and ATG protecting the left flank.  1st Platoon was in the rear as a reserve, as was one squad of 2nd Platoon under command of the new replacement commissar from Regimental HQ.  The mortars were safely back to provide support where needed, and the MMG was anchoring the right of the position with a squad of engineers in the building next to them.  Overall, not a bad plan, at least not until the Germans started their attack.
          The German force consisted of 5 A, 2 B and 1 C type blind.  The expected attack in the center didn’t materialize; instead most of the German forces wound up at the river’s edge, with 2 blinds coming up the center and the C blind coming in as reserves on the Red Army left.  While they hit the least defended part of the position, it did at least have the advantage of putting the bulk of the attack on the opposite side of town from the truck convoy’s entrance.
          When the German force entered, it started what could only be described as “The Great Footrace.”    Karpov took the first platoon, Commissar Bodmachin (another replacement from Regimental HQ) took his squad from second platoon, and both commanders headed for the key building.  Obviously, they were hoping to cobble together some sort of defense that would last long enough for the trucks to get away.  They made it, but were undoubtedly helped by the fact that the Germans seemed to be fascinated by the river.  They were so fascinated that, for two turns, they didn’t move at all.  The truck drivers in the convoy realized what a reprieve they had been given, so were going hell for leather to get out of town.  There was a brief traffic jam, but the infantry managed to stay away from the fleeing trucks.

The Commissar and his squad took up a position in the back of the key building, ready to hold off whatever might come their way.  About this same time, the officer in charge of the engineers on the left flank decided it was time to strike a blow at the enemy.  Since everyone seemed to be headed for the other side of town, he decided to join in the fun.  By pulling his men out of position, he insured that the left flank was covered only by the 45mm ATG.  Meanwhile, Jr. Lt. Chernikov with the second platoon had spotted the blinds in the center, and they turned out to be fakes.  He decided to stay where he was though, since orders were orders and all that.  The left flank is dangling, the right is threatened, and the shooting hasn’t even started yet.  What fun!

Then, German reinforcements arrived on the left.  It turned out to be a platoon of Panzer Grenadiers, advancing slowly and cautiously in their half-tracks.  The lead track wasn’t quite cautious enough, and the ATG punished him for that, knocking him out of action and killing the crew.  Back on the right, Commissar Bodmachin and his squad were ready for anything except what they were confronted with:

While not all the German platoon could get in on the close combat, there were enough of them to send Badmachin and the remnants of the squad fleeing the building, and the edge of the board.  Now it was time for Karpov to enter the building.

Unfortunately, there are no pictures of what happened next.  Karpov took one squad upstairs, while the other stayed in the front of the building.  The three German squads that assaulted the building consolidated their position.    One squad moved into the corridor in the center of the building while a second squad provided overwatch and the third squad got caught in the rubble, with almost no movement.  Then, Karpov and the squad on the second floor fired on the overwatch squad, distracting them into shooting back.  This gave the Russian squad on the first floor the chance to move into close combat with the German squad in the corridor.  After the combat, that German squad ran out of the back of the building and was useless for the rest of the game.

Now, the flare went up that signaled the trucks were away safely.  This switched the focus from being the rearguard to mere survival.  The second platoon under Chernikov left the trenches and headed towards the edge of town, with the engineers following them.  The ATG limbered up and left, just before the remaining German halftracks put on a burst of speed using their dead comrade as cover.  This carried them to the base of the hill, and they unloaded their troops behind the hill and prepared to storm the trenches.  Karpov and one squad got out of the building and onto the sidewalk, but one squad was trapped inside by German movements in the other rooms.  One squad of engineers in a building next to the key building was also cut off by the Germans, as they couldn’t move without being seen.  Having been under accurate close range rifle fire for some time, the MMG decided it was time to leave as well, and started heading downstairs.

Having contributed nothing to the proceedings up to now, Jr. Lt. Chernikov suddenly decided that the enemy was crumbling, and decided to launch 2nd platoon at the nearest German unit he could find.  It took about five Red Army KIA to convince him that he was wrong in his assessment, and he continued to retreat towards the edge of the board.  Karpov’s other squad managed to get out of the building, but the Germans inside raced to the windows and began to shoot them down like dogs, as they were moving in the open and at close range.  One of the German squads inside the building was close enough for Karpov and his squad to launch a close assault against them, trying to take some of the pressure off of their comrades in the street.  The close assault was a success, forcing the Germans back and costing only one Russian casualty.  Unfortunately, that casualty was Karpov himself.  His squad was still in good order though, so they picked up his body and began to retreat.  There was nothing else they could do to save the rest of First Platoon, and the other squad was killed to a man.

All these heroics must have impressed the commander of the engineers, as he suddenly decided he could not leave the one isolated squad of his unit to their fate.  Ordering the rest of the platoon to retreat, he headed into the building where his squad was located, intending to rally them and then cut their way out of the trap they were in.  A noble sentiment, but ultimately futile; he had just enough time to rally them before he was killed.  They were then close assaulted by a German unit, and the survivors were captured.  A similar fate awaited the MMG crew.  Although they were able to destroy one squad of Panzer Grenadiers, the combined fire of the other squads killed the last of the valiant Soviet defenders.  By now, everyone else had retreated off the board and the game was over.

Another victory, but another heavy butcher’s bill as well.  First Platoon started with 24 men, and ended with 12 (12/0).  Second Platoon started with 30 men, and ended up with only 18 (5/10/3).  Karpov was lightly wounded, so will only miss one engagement.  Overall, the units under Karpov’s command took almost 40 percent casualties.  They did achieve their objectives though, so that is good for something.   However, it is beginning to look as if the unit may have to be withdrawn for reorganization.  Before the post-game events are considered, there are barely enough men left in the company to make up one full-strength platoon.

Post-game events prove to be very interesting as well.  First, Karpov is recognized by the Battalion CO, Major Goryunov (Cheap/Arts/Military).  This proves to be another negative encounter for Karpov, even with a shared military background.  Looking at some numbers though, it’s easy to see why Goryunov might not like his subordinate.  Given Goryunov’s background, he wants maximum results for minimum expense.  Karpov has won 4 out of 5 battles.  However, two of the wins and the loss incurred heavy casualties.  Karpov might be the battalion’s ‘go-to officer,’ but don’t expect any elegant results, even by Soviet standards.  This almost certainly offends Goryunov’s cheap and artistic nature.  While recuperating, Karpov met Captain Lesovaya (Pleasant/Hedonist/Ranker), the battalion mortar company commander.  For some reason, they hit it off together.  Lesovaya isn’t really a friend in a high place, as he is a company commander just like Karpov.  However, being on good terms with a man that controls six 82mm mortars could be handy at some point in the future, particularly on the defensive….

Since Commissar Vlasov will be back for the next engagement, that means that Commissar Bodmachin (Glum/Hedonist/Military) will be going back to Regimental HQ.  Oddly enough, he has taken a shine to Captain Karpov.  Perhaps it is their shared Military background, maybe it is because Karpov didn’t say anything about Bodmachin’s running away from combat, or maybe it is something else.  For whatever reason, Karpov now has a friend at Regimental HQ, and that will undoubtedly help offset the negativity that Karpov somehow creates for himself.  

A new crop of replacements came in, and Karpov’s lack of friends is finally starting to show.  Because Goryunov and Klimkinov don’t like him, Karpov’s company got the lowest number of replacements it has ever received: only 12 men this time.  Now, some hard decisions have to be made about company organization, as this will give a total of only 42 men on the books, not counting officers.  That is barely one pre-war platoon.  In short, the unit is almost burned out.  I suspect that they probably have one good fight left in them before they are withdrawn for refitting.  This would keep them out of action for about 3 months.  There is something to be said for even surviving the summer of 1941 if you are in the Red Army, though.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Captain Karpov Rides Again!

After taking a break over the summer (my game table is in the garage, and in Texas that means it is basically unusable during the summer months), it was time for the next installment in the adventures of Captain Karpov and the 1st Company of the 537th Rifle Regiment.
As you may remember, Captain Karpov had a regimental Commissar assigned to him, and was looking over his shoulder waiting for the NKVD squad to show up after he lost the last battle. This was not the case; in fact, Commissar Klimkinov thought that the two of them might actually hit it off together, since they both had a military background. Karpov, on the other hand, thought that he had to prove to this headquarters interloper that he was not a coward or traitor. It turns out that Karpov did prove something, just not what he set out to prove.

The company’s mission was to provide cover for a group of engineers doing some roadwork just off the table. The company is barely able to field two platoons right now, and so it was probably a good thing that the terrain turned out to be heavy. There was no artillery, no armor and no light support, so this would be a straight up infantry fight for the Red Army. The second platoon was looking for a fight though, and so would be rated as aggressive (pre-game event).

In August 1941, this was a full strength rifle company.
The terrain was heavy, as can be seen from the map below. While I thought that would be a good thing at first, it turned out not to be as helpful as I had envisioned.
Wooded Hill
Light Woods
Heavy Woods
Light Woods
As luck would have it, the company entered on area 7 (the open area at bottom left), and the German blinds entered between areas 1 and 2. The two forces advanced towards each other, but suddenly the Germans stopped in the woods at the edge of the hill and just waited. This was just fine for the Soviet force as the clock was still running, but Karpov was intent on showing that he wasn’t afraid of a fight. At this point, the Commissar was incapacitated for two turns on the random event card. The company pushed on without him, and as both platoon neared the base of the wooded hill, the Germans decided to move. This made them easier to spot, and the leading blind was quickly revealed to be the real force, consisting of 4 A blinds, 1 B blind and a C blind.
The B blind was spotted first, and turned out to be a tripod mounted MMG. Some amazing shooting from second platoon severely hurt the gunners, and first platoon wiped them out before they could respond. The other blinds turned out to be three squads of German infantry, and a 222 armored car. The German squads took up a firing line, and the fight was on. The German return fire caused only one casualty on second platoon, but unfortunately it was the brand new Jr. Sgt. Zinoviev who went down.
The flare went off saying that the engineers were finished, so now it was time to withdraw. This was not so easy though, as both platoons had taken enough shock to make moving difficult. One squad from second platoon had taken enough shock to lose its bottle and run off the board. The second squad retreated in good order carrying Zinoviev. First platoon was occupied with the German armored car that had moved down to the base of the hill and was trying to shoot them up with its 20mm cannon. Both squads from first platoon assaulted the A/C, with one of them getting two hits and knocking out the main gun. This was enough to convince the armored car that it needed to be away from the fighting, and rather quickly too.
The commissar had recovered by this point, and so he and Karpov were able to take enough shock off of the squads to let them move out of effective rifle range fairly quickly. The German infantry pursuit was half-hearted at best, and first platoon retreated off the board, ending the battle. By Soviet standards, the butcher’s bill was fairly light. First platoon took 6 casualties out of 22 engaged, and second platoon took 6 casualties out of 18, plus Jr. Sgt. Zinoviev. German casualties were estimated as 8, plus the damaged armored car.
Post-game events were almost as interesting as the battle. For the freeform event, first platoon attempted to go from poor troops to good troops and passed the roll! Finally, those months of being hammered on are paying off. Another roll determined that Jr. Sgt. Zinoviev was KIA, not just wounded. So much for being aggressive in your first command. For the first fixed event, the replacement commissar was transferred out of the unit. Apparently, Regimental HQ is convinced that Karpov is not a traitor. However, Commissar Klimkinov does NOT like Karpov; in fact, even with the modifiers for complimentary backgrounds the roll was a failure. Maybe Karpov made some sarcastic remark about Klimkinov “turning his ankle right before the battle started, and healing in time to leave.” Something like that would be consistent with Karpov’s character. At any rate, there is now one ‘enemy in high places’ for the company to deal with later on. The second permanent result was replacements, and enough were sent to bring one platoon up to 2 men over full strength. The die roll showed this to be second platoon, so that meant that 20 replacements joined the company. Now, that many replacements will get you an officer to shepherd them along so now Jr. Lt. Chernikov has joined the outfit. He is optimistic, with a religious motivation. He’s a Level II commander, so is either well trained or has some combat experience. He is of average background, and will be of Bold temperament for his first engagement.
Chernikov will take over the newly constituted second platoon. First platoon is down to 24 men (10/4/8), so second squad is broken up and the survivors divided between the other two squads. The two leftover new replacements are put into third squad, which gives first platoon two squads of 12 men each. At last, first company is finally starting to fill back out again. Who knows how long this will last though?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Captain's Courageous - or - The Light Company Gets a Bath

Upon the safe return of Lieutenant Swiven to the Division, Captain Beesley and the Light Company had two weeks of blessed rest. The East Southhamstershires were kept busy guarding the Divisional Headquarters and there was no urgent need for the Light Company's services. Such idleness did not go unpunished. The men of the Light Company were good men in a fight and quite capable foragers. Too clever by half for many of the provosts. Chickens, pigs and goats began disappearing for mile around after the return of the Light Company. While nothing could ever be proven, enough complaints were raised that once again, the Light Company drew official notice. Finding himself in the General's tent, Captain Beesley sweats lightly as he awaits his audience. His Colonel stands beside him casting disproving glances Beesley's way since neither knew why they were summoned. The General and his aide enter the room. The twinkle in the general's eye only partially calms Beesley's nerves. "Well Captain, you and your rogues have made quite a name for yourselves. It seems that idleness does not become your men. So I have found something to keep them active." With a large smirk upon his face he adds, "We shall keep them from running a fowl of the provosts, eh?" Dutifully, the aide laughs at his general's jest. The Colonel joins in and subtlety moves away from Beesley, instinctively sensing something amiss and not wanting to get splashed in any foul mess that Beesley may have jumped into. "In reading your record, Beesley, I see that you have worked with the Navy before. And therefore you are familiar with His Majesty's ship HMS Gout?" The General continues without pause assuming the answers, "The Captain of the Gout has been ordered to land a company of British infantry on the northern coast of Spain as an observation post. You will be landed in the dead of night and given a number of birds to send messages back here to keep us informed. The Gout will check in on you from time to time, keeping you supplied with powder, shot and necessities. As resourceful as your men are, I do not thing you shall be lacking in any comforts." Beesley presented a calm outward visage but internally he ranted, Damn and blast Smallwood. Whose chickens has the man been stealing for my mess anyway? Wellington's?!? Instead he responded, "Yes sir," with a crispness that would have done them proud back at horse-guards. "Now, in order to move your men, we have had to rather upset Captain Turnwall as his ship had to be configured 'en flute' or whatever that nautical nonsense means. He seemed quite upset so be on your watch on the voyage. He has also had to post his marines to shore duty to fit your full company on board. Once landed, you will be staying here." With that he jabbed a finger at the map on the desk. You spot an 'x' on his map that is very near the French border. "This is a ruined castle that dates back nearly to the reconquista. You can see the main coast road coming down from France and keep an eye out for French movements into Spain. This is vital work. You will be relieved in about a month. Any questions?" By this the General made it clear that there were to be no questions and he was expected to go away. Three Days Later - Off the coast of Northern Spain The storm crashed down upon the HMS Gout. They had been in harsh weather for over 42 hours straight. The men of the Light Company were dreadfully sea sick. The men of the Gout were fighting for their ship's very life. Though Beesley offered his assistance, he was rudely dismissed below by the Captain. The second officer and three hands had already been lost in this storm. Several more have been sent to the surgeon having ruptured themselves in the strenuous work of saving the ship. To the men of the Light Company, they nearly to a man believed that they were doomed. Fifty six hours into the storm, the wind slackened enough that the sailing master and the Captain decided on a desperate plan. They ran the ship towards the shore in an attempt to wait out the storm in a sheltered cove that the Sailing Master knew from his days as a smuggler in his misspent youth. Halfway into the mouth of the cove, the main top gallant mast snapped with a thunderous report. The whip crack of stays and lines was heard slashing from above as the broken mast plunged downward to the deck below. The mast struck the deck after first passing through the body of the captain, nearly cutting the man in half. The next two hours were a blur of motions as sailors and their surviving officers restored order and saved the ship. Once order has been restored, Captain Beesley found himself being summoned by the ship's Bosun to the Captain's cabin. Finding himself there with the First Lieutenant (now captain of the Gout), a Midshipman, the Sailing Master, the Bosun, the surgeon and the Master Gunner, he looked from man to man at the grim faces. Lieutenant Hardbrace spoke for the group, "Captain Beesley, we cannot complete the mission as ordered. The ship is leaking badly from the storm. We lack the cannon to defend ourselves in the event of an attack from sea. We need to repair the masts and other damage to the rigging. We are stranded here on this shore until we can make repairs. We need your help." The last sentence was delivered where Hardbrace had to visibly swallow his pride before hand. Beesley nods, "I understand, Captain. I have inquired with my Ensign, the pigeons have all perished in the storm. Even if you were to drop us off at our original destination, we have no means of communicating back with the division. Half my men are still ill from the voyage but I place my officers and those of my men that can work at your disposal." With relief the naval types all nod. Hardbrace describes their situation, "We are in a sheltered cove. It is doubtful that anyone has spotted our arrival and we are secluded enough here that unless someone comes down the hill from above, we should not be noticed. I would like your men to form a perimeter around the hill and serve as sentries while my men complete the repairs on the ship. If you have men to spare, we need additional hands at the pumps to keep us from sinking." Pointing to the Bosun, "I will send the bosun ashore with a party of reliable hands to gather what materials we can in order to expedite repairs. There is a small fishing smack that we have confiscated in the cove. We have this and one longboat left. The other ships boats were lost in the storm. We will begin ferrying your men ashore as soon as you are able." Another half hour of quick work sketched out what little was known of the cove and their approximate location. ======================================================================================== This will be the third outing of Captain Beesley and the Light Company. I have been looking for a way to utilize the Frigate model that I have been building. This seems to fit the bill. I hope to get this on a table to game out shortly.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Audet's Church: A D-Day Plus 3 Skirmish

This post is an attempt to remember a solitaire game I played several months back was a busy summer, using the characters generated with the help of Platoon Forward as described in previous posts. The scenario I rolled up with PF was Scenario Card F, a Platoon Attack, and the randomly generated objective as a Key Building. Of course, in a Mad Padre wargame, the key building has to be a church. In keeping with Lt. Audet's abrasive and glory-seeking nature, there would be no way that he would pass up another chance to gain attention. A further assumption of mine was that in the first few days after D-Day, given the historical role of the Chaudieres as rear security, any German opposition would likely be scattered and disorganized. You may feel from this AAR that Audet got off lightly. Perhaps. One gets attracted to the imaginary troops that PF gives you. No doubt in future, Audet's challenges will increase.

07:45, 8 June, 1944 Normandy - within the lines of La Regiment de la Chaudiere,

"Things are going well for us. The Division is ashore, we've linked up with the British, and we're taking ground. Just as importantly", Major Charpentier paused to look around at his platoon commanders, "D Company succeeded in our first tasking yesterday. We took some casualties, but the CO is pleased that we pushed out and straightened our sector. Well done all."

Lt. Denis Audet was hoping to hear the Major praise 18 Platoon for their role in the company attack yesterday, but was disappointed as the OC continued. "Today is maintenance and routine patrolling, but we do have one special job. Our recce platoon heard some motors and noted some vehicle activity here, at Eglise St. Michel. They also report that the church is suitable for an OP that could overlook our battalion lines. I need a platoon to have a look at it and if possible take the church. You were all in action yesterday so I'm asking for volun ..."

Charpentier stopped as a hand shot up. Audet saw Capt. Cournoyer roll his eyes but he didn't care. "My boys can do it, sir."

"Good. Go get the recce brief from Lt. Aubin and report back in an hour with your plan and your support requirements."

Here's the table I rolled up using Platoon Forward's terrain generator.
Canadian side, left to right: Forest, Building, Hill
Center, left to right: Forest, Significant Building, Open
German side, left to right: Open, Open, Swamp

Since it was Normandy I interpreted the open areas to be hedged, and since there is a significant building in the centre, that seemed to require roads and perhaps suggest a road junction. Here's the result.

18 Platoon was sitting near the foxholes they had slept in the night before, eating a breakfast of compo rations: tinned fruit, biscuits, and coffee. Adjutant (French for Warrant Officer) Beaulieu was telling the new corporal, Legros, about his adventures with Legros' pere in a barfight in the last war when Lt. Audet came strolling over with a worrisome purpose. "Have the platoon ready to move in thirty minutes, Adjutant. Light fighting order. We have a patrol."

Beaulieu climbed to his feet, feeling every one of his forty three years in his bones. "Us again, sir?"

Audet grinned and slapped the older man's shoulder. "Us again. Natural choice. We showed them we're the best, eh?"

As Audet walked away, Beaulieu took a long drag on his Players and threw it to the ground. He looked at his corporals. "You heard Clark Gable. We're the best." He shook his head. "Idiot."

By 09:00 18 platoon has been briefed and guided into position by two scouts from recce platoon. Audet had surveyed the ground through binos with in company with recce's Lt. Aubin. He was reasonably happy with his supports. He had been hoping for a tank, but a vehicle from the Carrier Platoon would give him some recce capability and another Bren gun, while the same Vickers HMG team that had worked with him in their last fight had been reassigned. Major Charpentier had approved his plan and now it was time to go.

Lt. Audet briefs Major Charpentier on his plan while the men of two section crouch ready in the hedges on the start line. Command group are plastic figures by Valiant.

This small image looks bigger when you click on it. The blue text and arrows show Audet's plan as follows. Vickers HMG and 1 section under WO Beaulieu will move onto the hill and establish a firebase to cover platoon's advance. With that covering fire, Audet will lead 2 section towards the church at the right moment, while three section with the Bren carrier will probe up the road into the village and look for possibilities to outflank the church posititon.

The black shows the force that PF generated for the Germans. In addition to dummy blinds, the Germans had an infantry section with a Big Man in the church, a heavy AT gun behind the church, two tanks, an MMG section at the crossroads, and a Forward Observer in contact with a four gun 81mm mortar section. Since German resistance would still be firming up just three days after the invasion, my premise is that the infantry and the FOO belong to 716th Div and have orders to hold the church and the village, the other elements belong to separate formations, most likely 21 Panzer Div, and are not attached or supporting. So the two tanks, Pz IIIs, and the AT gun, a towed 88mm, are passing through and have orders to exit the board.

Gefreiter Lothar Schreiber sat on board bench in the little church steeple and listened to the conversation in the street below. Janke, his sergeant was in the street, sharing a smoke with a Luftwaffe leutnant commanding the 88 and crew tucked in alongside the church. Schreiber was impressed at the careful placement of camo netting and twigs to conceal the gun and its heavy mover. He could appreciate the need for it. A few minutes ago a flight of jabos had passed low over head, hunting for targets further inland. For the last three days all he had seen were Tommy aircraft, and he wondered when one would get bored and strafe his steeple just for sport.

Limbered 88mm gun and heavy mover, carefully tucked behind the church. I've had this model for years and never used it until this game. ESCI, I think.

"He's been gone too long." The Luftwaffe leutnant was peering up the street, hoping to see the military policeman return on his motorbike. The chaindog was route control for this sector, and had held the gunners in place while he went to check that the route further inland was safe for transit.

"Be nice if you could stay, sir. We could use your support. Same with the Panzer boys." Janke pointed to the orchard across the road from the church, where two Pz IIIs, also heavily netted and concealed, were parked, their crews lounging about.

"Sorry. Got to get back to my unit, wherever they are. Been wandering for three days now, ever since the Tommies arrived. And as for the Panzers, while, they don't talk to the likes of us air force types."

Schreiber was about to chuckle at the joke when Moller, number two on the MG42, elbowed him and pointed out the belfry to the south. "Actung! Tommies on that hill."

1 section and the attached HMG move onto the hill and come off their blinds.

Beaulieu heard the first rounds of MG tearing the air above him. They were shooting high. He had expected the Germans to have opened fire earlier, but perhaps some sentry had been snoozing. "Get to the crest and let 'em have it. All fire on that church." Now rifle fire was coming at them as well, and gouts of earth were kicking up closer to them. Cpl. Legros and his Bren team had already flopped down and seconds later started chugging out rounds at the church. The riflemen of One Section joined them and Enfields began cracking. Two of the Vickers team arrived a moment later, toiling under their burdens, and began setting up their weapon. Their third man lay crumpled twenty feet back. Beaulieu raced over to him, retreived the heavy ammo boxes, and staggered back to the machine gunners. "Spray that f'n church good."

The sound of fire to his right was Cpl. Matthieu's signal to start 3 section moving on the road to the left of the church. With the Bren carrier leading the way in a cloud of exhaust, he and his men cautiously went forward, some hugging the walls of a ruined brick cottage, others crouching behind the carrier. Within minutes they realized that they had walked into the firelane of a machine gun, and three section was pinned.

Inside the church it wasn`t much better. Schreiber and his LMG crew huddled for dear life behind thick stone, keeping well away from the open spaces in the belfry. The fire from the hill had picked up and wasn`t stopping. Through the din he was aware of a young landser calling from the stairway. `Sgt. Janke is dead, corporal!`
Verdamnt! `Well, keep shooting!` he yelled back, then cringed as another burst of 303 lashed the steeple.

The Germans took an unlucky break early on when their Big Man in the church, Janke, was killed. Presumably he looked out a window at the wrong time. The character of Schreiber would be the replacement if the dice favoured it. Meanwhile, as 1 and 2 sections and the HMG under Audet and Beaulieu remained active, peppering the church, Matthieu would not have his card come up for many turns, effectively taking him and three section out of the game.

The German 88 had its card come up several times and did the sensible thing, pulling away from the church and towards the German rear, where it safely exited despite a few shots from the Bren. The two Pz IIIs followed. Without an effective infantry leader in the church to coordinate with them, they did the sensible thing and retreated off the board edge, since this was an assembly point on a road move and not a staging area for combat. One tank did take a shot at the Bren carrier which was visible down the road, and while the shot was a near miss, it convinced the driver that escape and survival was his best bet. His exit only seemed to convince Matthieu and 3 section to remain invisible and under cover.

Gefreiter Schreiber watches from the steeple in dismay as the second PZ III pulls out of its leaguer and heads away from the fighting.

PZ III covers the withdrawal of the towed 88 and fires a shot at the Bren carrier.

Which promptly flees back down the road and off the table.

Leutnant Gunther Horst and his radio operator had been driving cautiously towards Eglise St. Michel, following instructions from the day before to identify an OP to direct the fire a section of 81mm mortars. His major had said something about stabilizing the front line but as Horst heard small arms fire he had doubts that there was any front line. Signalling his driver to halt, they left the kubelwagen amidst some trees and crept forward until he had a line of site on the village.

The FOO Lt. Horst sets up in the woods with a line of sight to No 3 section.

Mortar shells begin to fall on No 3 section (background) while Audet starts 2 Section towards the church.

Matthieu and his section flattened themselves against walls and buildings as mortar shells began to fall nearby. The corporal could see from the postures of his men and the expressions of a few nearby that they were thoroughly pinned. He wasn't going anywhere, but he lifted his head briefly as he heard a new sound, tank tracks. The reassuring shape of a Sherman appeared in the roadway (a random event generated an Allied reinforcement).

Through his binoculars, Audent could see fragments of stone flying from the walls of the church as the Vickers gun continued to lash it. The rate of return fire from within the church had fallen off considerably. Now was the time. "Follow me, les boys!" Once again his men were sprinting behind him. There was a brief burst of Spandau fire from the steeple, and a man staggered and fell behind him, but they were through to the wall now. "Grenades, ready and ... now!" A flurry of grenades were tossed through the windows, with bangs and screams. A soldier kicked the door down and Audet stepped forward, Sten gun spraying. There was no return fire, the nave of the church was littered with six field gray forms, sone still, some moaning. "Kamerad", a voice called from the steeple stairs. Gefreiter Schreiber and his surviving No 2 had had enough. Minutes later, WO Beaulieu on the hill twatched his lieutenant wave jauntily from the steeple. "F*** me, he did it again!"

Epilogue: The Canadian close assault on the church was an amazingly lucky run of sixes, and wiped out the defending rifle section. With two of the three LMG crew surviving in the steeple, there seemed to be little point in further resistance. THe advent of the Sherman was enough to scare off Lt. Horst and the MMG team at tbe crossroads. Lt. Audet had his church and his casualties had been amazingly light. One killed from the supporting Vickers crew, and two riflemen lightly wounded from 2 section during their assault on the church. A very small bill for a decisive victory. In the next post, we'll see how Audet fares in his quest for recognition and promotion. Thanks for reading, and blessings on your die rolls. MP+

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Return of Captain Beesley and the East Southhamstershires

Following their initial action, the East Southhamstershires fell back to friendly lines. Captain Beesley of the Light Company was called into the Colonel's tent.

"AH! Beesley, there you are. I think we have something for you." The Colonel lazily points to a splendidly decked out officer of the Engineer service who is standing rather stiffly around the Colonel and Major.
"Lieutenant Swiven?" He glances back at the lieutenant to ensure he said the name correctly and presses on, "Swiven here is to conduct a survey mission of an area to our front. He is looking to find any suitable paths that the army can use and to ensure that the French do not have a route that we do not know about yet. You sir, are to be his escort. Take the young gentleman where he wishes to go and ensure that no harm comes to him."

Being dismissed as if these could not possibly be any questions that he could have with such clear and decisive orders, Beesley gathered his company together to move out.

The light company marched out on a lovely morning with Lieutenant Swiven and his survey party. They arrived at a small village near a river crossing. The survey party began their work. Beesley established a sentry post near some ruined walls just to the north of the town. The river is north of the sentry post.

Next, Beesley set a picket along a strong stone fence at the north end of the village. Here Sergeant Smallwood and eight men waited for sign of the enemy.

The light company enjoyed some rest for a few days while the survey was being done. On the third day, the sentry spotted an advancing french unit crossing the bridge. A small unit of carabiniers quickly chased the sentry away and occupied his position.

The warning of the sentry brought out Lieutenant Harthwaite with 8 men and Sergeant Langtree with twelve men from the houses and formed a line between Sergeant Smallwood's position and the northern most house.

The carabiniers and Lt Harthwaite's commands exchanged fire with little coming of it. The French moved across the bridge without any serious opposition. One blind headed to the top of the hill on their left while another ran towards the stand of crops on their right. Two more proceeded down the center of the road.

Captain Beesley and 8 men moved to support Sgt Smallwood along the stone wall. One french blind continued forward until it was spotted only 12" from the front of the British lines. Once spotted, it revealed itself to be a fast moving french column of 4 groups of nine men each. The British opened fire across their line against the column massing a significant amount of shock and some casualties. The blind following the french column stalled near the bridge.

In the fight that began against the column, the French commander, Lt Gerard managed to remove shock and charge the column into Sgt Langtree's line. In the resulting fisticuffs, both Langtree and Gerard were killed. Two rounds of fisticuffs saw Langtree's command break and fall back.

The luck of Gerard's column died with him as Lt Harthwaite, Sgt Smallwood and Captain Beesley's groups opened fire on the column at nearly point blank range. The fire shattered the column that was never able to recover and it routed off the board back where it came from.

At this point, Lt Harthwaite spotted the other blind. This was a french half company commanded by Captain Amaury and Lieutenant Ernest. Captain Amaury believed that his men could carry the day. Rushing his men in two separate formations of two groups of nine each they moved quickly up either side of the road. This time, the British were able to bring the advance to a halt 12" from their lines. The French were never able to overcome the mounting casualties and shock and were forced to withdraw. They lost another big man - Sergeant Laurent.

Once the smoke of the battle cleared, the British had suffered eleven casualties including Sergeant Langtree. Sgt Langtree managed to nearly stop the French column through his weight of fire but died galantly leading his men against the French charge. The French lost 29 men in casualties including two big men: Lt Gerard and Sgt Laurent.


The use of a column to charge the British line nearly worked. Had the French had access to a reasonable bonus card, they may have pulled it off. Instead they had drawn Water and Stand Fast. The British started with two Stand Fast cards. They then drew all of the French cards (Hop to It and Pas De Charge). The British used their two Stand fast cards well and received grasp the nettle cards as needed. The french always seemed to have their big men arrive before their GTN cards.

This was a fun solo game and I was able to play with using columns. Reading Cornwall's Sharp books it seemed that the French loved to advance in column. The tactic must of worked somewhere for them to continue to try it. Here it nearly worked and the column was able to reach the British line and did break it. They just lacked the power to stay in the fight after the initial clash.

Sorry for the lack of pictures as the camera (my cell phone) was absconded by my son so he could play angry birds.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interlude and Paranoia

Suffering over 50% casualties in one battle is enough to take the stuffing out of any unit. So, it was not surprising when the dice told me that it would be about 3 weeks before the next engagement. That should be enough time to get the replacements in, and at least teach them which end of a rifle to point at the enemy. Once again, it was consolidation time within the company. As each platoon is now down to basically one squad each, it only made sense to group the survivors together into the new 1 Platoon, and send the replacements into 2 Platoon. That gives 1 Platoon almost a full strength TO&E, with 2 squads of 10 and one of 8. 2 Platoon now has a squad of 10 men and a squad of 7, all of which are replacements. While going through the casualty figures, I discovered that the 50mm mortars had not been completely wiped out. There was 1 soldier left alive out of the two crews, so he went into 2 Platoon. That gave the second squad 8 men. 3 Platoon has ceased to exist. Oddly enough, this might benefit the company, as the attentions of the (too few) leaders will not be as divided among the company subgroups.

Since this is September 1941, there is a definite shortage of Junior and Senior Lieutenants out there to assign to the company. So, it is time for Captain Karpov to reach into the ranks for another big man. He does just that, and comes up with Junior Sergeant Zinoviev. Zinoviev is a scholarly type, whose motivation is religion. Maybe his family wanted him to go into the priesthood, or maybe he comes from a background like Jr. Lt. Lobachevsky did. Either way, it’s not something that is going to help him go far in the Red Army. As a squad leader, he is only a Level I leader, but has a D4 ability, which is better than both of the officers he is replacing. Apparently that scholarly personality, combined with some practical experience, has taught him a little bit about handling troops. He has an even temperament, and comes from an average background, so it seems obvious that Capt. Karpov has chosen him for his ability. Surely this is a relief instead of having to deal with what he was given, as was the case with Bartov and Lobachevsky. Since he is a Junior Sergeant, Zinoviev can only influence one squad within the platoon; however, that is all you can do once the shooting starts anyway so it shouldn’t be that much of a negative.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the 1941 RKKA without the paranoia mentioned in the title. Captain Karpov might not be in disgrace, but he is surely under a cloud. It doesn’t matter that he was outnumbered, undermanned and in a bad position. What matters is that he did not carry out the combat task assigned to him. While there is no evidence (yet) that he is a traitor to the Motherland, it seems clear to the upper echelons that the reason he lost this last engagement is that there was not a Commissar to provide the men with the proper fighting spirit. So, regimental HQ has sent one of their political officers down to ‘assist the Company Commander until Comrade Vlasov returns to duty.’ Enter Regimental Commissar Klimkinov. He is a generous type, just like Vlasov. However, he is motivated by the Government, so this political officer is one of the ‘true believers.’ He is a better leader than Vlasov, being a Level II officer but that is probably expected since he is higher up the political chain of command. He has an even temperament, and comes from a military background just like Karpov does. Klimkinov probably thinks this will help him get along with Karpov, since they have something in common there. I don’t think that is the case, though.

Let’s look at things from Karpov’s view. He lost half his command in the last battle, and lost the battle. He got reinforcements, but instead of more leaders he got a commissar from regimental to ‘assist’ him. For Karpov, there is no way this could be good. The flip side of this is that if Karpov can get past his paranoia, he might realize that having a contact on the regimental staff could be a good thing, even if it is on the political end. Since Klimkinov’s assignment with the unit is a short one, it will be interesting to see if Karpov comes to this conclusion, or continues to look for the NKVD squad to show up.

The next mission will be a screening of friendly engineers while they do some roadwork. Karpov will probably see this as a slight against his unit as well. After all, a regimental commissar looking over his shoulder AND a ‘milk run’ type of mission for the company’s return to combat can only add up to one thing. The obvious conclusion is that regimental HQ doesn’t trust him or his men. Given that he is an aggressive, revenge motivated type, there is no doubt that he will drive his troops hard in the next engagement. That way, he will get his revenge against the Germans, and prove to the new commissar that he is not a traitor. October 1, 1941 (the date of the next action) should be an interesting day for all concerned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

…but Defeat is an Orphan

After two winning scenarios, I was feeling pretty good about my rifle company. With a loss rate for the unit running at about 32 percent, I was bumping up against my self-imposed ceiling of high casualty rates. If this were an American or British rifle company, those kinds of losses would be barbarous. Indeed, 25 percent losses over such a short period might be considered high for them. By 1941 Red Army standards however, the unit has two victories AND they have roughly a 1:1 loss ratio with the Germans that they have faced. It might sound harsh, but in the summer of 1941 a 1:1 loss ratio is a win for the Red Army. Clearly, the 537th Rifle Regiment is part of the broom that will sweep the Soviet Motherland clean of the Fascist invader:

The problem with a winning streak is that eventually it will end. The next mission that I rolled up was Scenario M, “A Hasty Defense.” The dice told me that I had only hours to prepare. Obviously, this would be the German counterattack to try and retake the village. Although I had rolled up 15 replacements after the attack, I decided that they probably would not have arrived in time so I would do without. Consequently, the map is the same as before, except that this time I was the one defending.




Light Woods

Village (with road)

Light Woods

Light Woods



Since Sr. Lt. Bartov got himself killed in the assault, and Politruk Vlasov was wounded, that left only Jr. Lt. Lobachevsky on the field. I decided that it was now time to bring in Captain Karpov, as he was the only other Big Man available to the company at this point. Interestingly enough, the pre-game event roll gave me High Morale, so maybe the Captain is not as unpopular as I thought he might be. Or, maybe the men were just a little more confident with a more experienced officer than Lobachevsky at the helm? With the reinforcements rolled up, my force was:

Platoons 1, 2, 3 (only 2 squads each due to losses)

Captain Karpov, Jr. Lt. Lobachevsky

2x 50mm mortars

3x MMG

2x 45mm ATG

3x T-26 (these would come in later, as reinforcements)

Since I knew the general direction the Germans would be coming from, I placed an ATG in the woods on either flank, and put the MMGs and men throughout the village and woods. My hope was that there wouldn’t be too many German vehicles, and that we could hold the attack at bay until my armor arrived. As it turned out, a defense plan with the word ‘hopefully’ is about as good as a financial plan that starts out, ‘When I win the lottery….’

The game started with two German stonks that killed some infantrymen and both of the limbers for my ATGs. Then, I watched in horror as a wave of German blinds rolled onto the board. One of my ATGs spotted tanks, and drew first blood, but it was mostly downhill after that. As the spotting rolls revealed the German force, it was very clear that they wanted this village back. I was facing:

3x infantry platoons (all at full strength)

2x HQ infantry squads

3x 50mm mortars

6x Leaders

1x MMG

1x ATR

4x Pz III

3x Pz IV

2x SiG 150mm Bison/Pz I SPGs

It was a large force, and a true combined arms assault. The tanks took on the ATGs, the light mortars smoked in the village huts so that the German infantry could advance, and the 2 SPGs fired on whatever the mortars couldn’t cover. While there were some small successes in the woods on the left, within minutes the Germans were in the village and a series of close combats broke out in the huts. Lobachevsky went down, and since his squad lost the assault, they didn’t stop to see if he was dead or wounded. Captain Karpov fought off one assault, but then was isolated, with Germans on his left and right. At this point, he decided to pull what was left of his command out of the village. At this point, things were so crazy that he and his squad were close assaulted in the street by another German squad. After he fought them off, the survivors streamed out of the village closely followed by the Germans. Things were so bad that the squad Karpov was attached to was machine-gunned, leaving him as the only survivor. At this point the T-26s arrived, only to be shot down by the Panzerwaffe. Two tanks were destroyed, and the other was abandoned due to damage. The game ended with the survivors running off the board, and the Germans re-establishing themselves in the village.

Soviet casualties were almost as bad as the combat results. 1 Platoon started with 19 men, and ended with 10. 2 Platoon started with 20 and ended with 7, although 5 of the 13 casualties were actually captured. 3 Platoon started with 20 men and ended with 11. Jr. Lt. Lobachevsky is MIA, presumed dead. That makes a total of 32 casualties out of 61 men in the company, and we haven’t even discussed the supporting units yet. Both of the ATGs were wiped out, as was one of the MMGs and both of the 50mm mortars. All 3 of the T-26s were lost, although only two were destroyed. German infantry casualties were light, only about 20-25 men. They did lose two Pz-IIIs and two Pz-IVs, and both of the SPGs were damaged, but there is no way this could be considered a Soviet victory, even a minor one.

The after game events were almost as bad as the battle. For the free-form event, I tried to get the survivors to improve to Good quality, but that was a spectacular failure. Obviously, the survivors knew they had been whipped. For fixed events, I got Manpower and Player Choice. The manpower result took away one of the MMG teams. For the player’s choice I took replacements. The die roll let me bring one platoon up to six men below book strength, and another die roll indicated that would be 2 Platoon. So, 17 replacements joined the company. That will boost the company roster from 28 men to 45. Of course, the company is so badly cut up right now that even if the designated platoon had been 1 or 3, the number of replacements would have been 14 and 13, respectively.

Right now, the campaign is on hold while I follow up some other projects. I am looking forward to getting back to Captain Karpov and his men. After all, it’s only early September 1941 in this campaign so there is still lots to do. Joe Legan has also said that he will be developing the “Middle of Nowhere” asymmetrical warfare expansion sometime in the future. That will be good, as I have some US miniatures eager for a campaign against Victor Charlie!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Opening Battles

Stalin is supposed to have said that it takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army. After the first three scenarios of my campaign, I would say that it takes an even braver man to be an officer in the Red Army. After three battles, my company is down to about platoon size, and only one of the original officers is left in action. Although I didn’t have my camera available for these actions, I’ll try and describe them.

The first action was a little one, to welcome Lobachevsky, the new Jr. Lt. It was a Raid scenario, which the dice decided would be a POW Snatch/Listening Post raid. The terrain was mostly open, with fields on the Soviet entry edge, and a ruined factory in the middle of the board to serve as a main objective. To make it even more interesting, I decided that this would be a night scenario. After all, even a brand new Lt. knows that you don’t try to snatch a prisoner in broad daylight. In practical terms, this meant that I never really knew what forces the Germans had arrayed against me, as I never spotted all of the German blinds. There were, however, 4 A type blinds and 2 B type blinds. The good Lieutenant had a force of two platoons, 2xMMGs for light support, and 2x82 mm mortars off board. The Soviets won the scenario by bringing back a prisoner, and inflicted 21 casualties on the Germans. However, 1st platoon took 18 casualties and 2nd platoon took three casualties, for a 1:1 exchange rate. After battle events gave me 2 replacement rolls, for a total of 16 men. Given their light losses, 2nd platoon did not get any replacements. I arbitrarily decided that the start date for this campaign would be August 1941, so the date of the first engagement was August 17. Using the time progression method from TFL’s Charlie Don’t Surf campaign rules, it would be about two weeks until my next battle.

The second action took place on September 3, 1941 and was a full-scale company attack on a German held village. This time, the terrain was moderately heavy and the board looked like this:




Light Woods

Village (with road)

Light Woods

Light Woods



The village only comprised about 6-7 huts, but higher command must have wanted it badly. I say this because every support roll for the Russian forces came up positive. The attacking force was:

Platoons 1,2,3 (1&2 have a 50mm mortar)

Commissar Vlasov, Sr. Lt. Bartov, Jr. Lt. Lobachevsky

4x82mm mortars for off board support

3x T-28 tanks for armor support

3xMMG for light support

1x Engineer platoon consisting of 3xSMG squads with an officer

2x 45mm ATG.

These went up against a defending German force composed of:

2x Infantry platoons,

3x leaders

3x MMG

Off-Board Artillery and an FO team


1x Pz III

The battle plan was tried and true 1941 RKKA. Engineers on the left in the woods, infantry and tanks spread out and making an assault across open ground to get into the village. It was truly a battle of extremes. Commissar Vlasov went down in the very first exchange of fire, and Lobachevsky led at least four successful close assaults with 3 Platoon to bring the right wing of the attack into the village itself. Bartov got his platoon to move into the village later in the attack, and the company pushed the Germans out of the village and won the scenario. In the last shot of the game however, the retreating Pz III fired into one of the buildings, got one kill, and that was Sr. Lt. Bartov. While losses among the officers were bad, the losses among the men were as severe. 1 Platoon had 11 casualties, 2 Platoon had 6, and 3 Platoon had 9 men down. The support units were hit heavily as well, with 2 T-28s and 1 MMG lost. We counted 31 German bodies, and 1 StG III killed.

Die roll results for after the battle proved to be interesting as well. One of the officers improved his skills, and a die roll determined that would be Commissar Vlasov, who was not dead but only wounded. One of the officers won notice from the Company CO, and once again the die roll determined that the lucky man would be Vlasov. Captain Karpov put him in for the Combat Service Medal, but that was turned down by battalion HQ. The company was scheduled to get 15 replacements, but events would negate that result, as I will explain later. Nevertheless, after two hard battles there were two victories, even with my poor quality troops. Clearly, On to Berlin! was our rallying cry. Unfortunately, reality was about to visit the 537th Rifle Regiment via our third battle, which I will describe in the next post.