"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.