Sunday, March 30, 2014

Somewhere on the Eastern Front, 1945

This was another non-historical scenario I put together as a Battlefront WWII learning scenario for a new player, introducing him to combined tank and infantry tactics along with employing minefields, barbed wire and AT guns in a more or less static defence.

The scenario represents a Russian armoured attack on a prepared German position, with well dug in troops protected by barbed wire and minefields backed by a heavy Pak screen. The objective is simply to inflict the most damage, with the Germans requiring a two to one ratio in victory points (i.e. inflicting twice as much damage as their opponent).

The game was played in 20mm using the Battlefront WWII rule set, and was really an excuse to trot out my newly painted HaT Russian tank riders, mounted in small groups of two and three per stand so that they can mount and dismount from the vehicles.

The Attackers
The Russians are attacking with a medium (T34) and heavy tank (KV1) company, with close support from a self-propelled battery of ISU 152's. An SMG company of tank riders provides infantry support, while an attached FOO in a well-concealed observation post, on the board at the beginning of the game, provides a link to the off board supporting battery of 120mm mortars.

The Defenders
The German defence consists of a reduced company of infantry with three Pak 40's attached. A heavy flak battery of 3 88's and a 20mm Flak AA back them up, along with a battery of 120 mm mortars as off board fire support. A Panzerjaeger platoon of two Jagdpanzer IV's waits  in the wings, slated to arrive as a counterattack force somewhere within the last four turns of the 10 turn game.

The Battlefield
The battlefield as seen from the Russian end of the board. Woods, hills, fields of tall crops and a road bordered by a hedgerow break up the terrain and provide loads of cover (and obstacles for advancing armour).

View from the chateau
A river with a single bridge spans the right corner of the board with a chateau on a hill (three levels) giving the German commander a good view of most of the battlefield. 

Farm complex
A walled farm complex next to a woods with dense underbrush dominates the centre of the battlefield.

FOO on a hill
At the Russian end of the board a FOO in a hidden observation point on a low hill (one level) observes the fall of the preliminary barrage and  calls in fire throughout the battle for the off board mortars. The Russians are given a pregame barrage consisting of the guns of two heavy artillery battalions as well as the heavy mortar battery continuing throughout in direct support.
The tabletop composite below shows the location of the two rounds of concentrations on suspected enemy positions as well as the final round of smoke. The German wire and minefield defences, (minefield location unknown to the attacker), are also indicated.
As it turned out the barrage, planned before seeing any German hidden position markers, touched virtually none of the German positions. It fell almost entirely behind their lines (which were well forward) other than a couple of lucky mortar strikes next to the farmhouse which knocked out an 88 and the 20mm Flak.

The attack goes in
The Russian armour roars in behind a heavy smoke screen, the KV1's braving the road while the T34's with their tank riders move to an adjacent field to dismount their tank riders. The two ISU's position to provide supporting fire on the near edge of the central woods as enemy positions reveal themselves.
A platoon of T34's also advances to the left, not visible in this photo.

Tank riders
On reaching the field the T34 tank riders dismount into the tall crops under German heavy mortar fire, but escape with only a few disorders and suppressions.

First encounter
Under cover of smoke the KV1's forge down the road, turning to exit by breaching the hedgerow next to a farmhouse. A Panzerfaust fires on them, and suppresses the nearest tank.

Knocked out!
An 88 reveals itself at the bend in the road, along with a Pak 40 that opens fire from the edge of the woods. One of the KV1's is knocked out and their riders forced to bail out onto the road disordered.

88 in action
View from the 88's position behind a hedgerow, as German infantry sprint up the road towards the Pak 40.

T34's on left flank
A platoon of T34's advance up the left side of the battlefield in what was thought to be a protected line of advance, with plans to join up with the KV1's. However they did not factor in that they would be observed while traversing the hill by the German commander spotting for the off board mortars in the chateau. A devastating concentration comes down on the tanks, suppressing one but more importantly stripping them of their tank riders, knocking out three of the four stands.

Pak 40 knocked out
More successfully, the centre attack goes in on the woods under cover of more smoke laid on by the Russian off board mortars. The Pak 40 (one of two dug in on the near edge of the woods) is quickly swept aside by close assault by Russian infantry.

Into the woods
Russian infantry, supported by armour, move into the woods.

A second 88 opens up
A second 88 opens up on the right flank, near the river, engaging in a long distance duel with the two Russian self propelled howitzers.

Russians push in and around forest
In this midgame overview you can see the Russian armour and infantry pushing into the forest. Another Pak 40, dug in next to where the ISU 152's are in the upper right, is knocked out by close assault after exchanging shots with the ISU 152's. A hastily formed German blocking line of infantry has panicked at the sight of the Russian armour pushing into the woods and breaks and flees, coming up short against its own line of barbed wire that runs between the farm complex and the woods, cutting off its retreat. This allows pursuing Russian infantry to close and close assault, knocking out all three stands of German infantry. With the central woods more or less secured, the bulk of the T34 company along with the ISU 152's changes direction and rolls around the right flank of the woods, braving the fire of the 88 to breach the line of barbed wire that spans this flank.
The decision to push the tanks noses into the woods proved to be double edged. They provided a target for the German mortars, and as a result the Russians lost two more stands of infantry in collateral damage to mortar fire, but their presence pushed the defenders into their panicked retreat.
In the foreground (bottom of picture) Russian infantry clear out the house and a German 8cm mortar that have been giving them trouble, moving towards the woods on the left side of the road  supported by the platoon of T34's and the remaining KV1 (not visible).

Curiosity kills the cat
The Russians get a bit cocky as a T34 on the left flank rolls over to the edge of the woods to investigate a suspected German position and is brewed up by a Panzerfaust.

Right flank advances
As the Russian mortars and ISU 152's keep the German 88 on this flank disordered the tanks move in, breaching the German wire. 

Oh, look, a machinegun nest!
Before the tanks can close a direct hit by the Russian mortars knocks out the 88. In the foreground one of the T34's encounters a disordered German heavy machinegun. Previously this machinegun had called down a devastating strike on the Russian infantry as they emerged from the woods heading towards the farm complex, knocking out two more stands and bringing the total Russian infantry stands destroyed by mortar fire to seven. 
Seeing that the machinegun was disordered the tank moves to close assault, knowing that the only die roll that would cause its destruction was a 1 for the Russian and 10 for the German.

Beat by the long odds
So one more tank knocked out. The machinegun panics and sprints for the river, but fails to make cover before being gunned down by the better part of a company of T34's.

Waiting for the big cats
With almost the entire German infantry company now destroyed, along with all but one of its guns for a loss of three Russian tanks and half its infantry, the T34's take up positions along the road in preparation for the expected German armoured counterattack. Bizarrely, no minefields have yet been encountered despite having penetrated deep into the German defences.

Closing in on the last gun
Meanwhile, on the left flank Russian infantry begin to close in on the remaining 88, both from the woods and the farm complex. One Russian stand is knocked out as it ventures too close to the wood edge as the rest prepare for a final assault on the remaining German position.

Overview of left flank
The two remaining Russian tanks attempt to go hull down behind the woods, as they wait for the arrival of the German armour. Russian infantry move in on the 88.

Jagdpanthers enter
The two Jagdpanthers enter from the German side of the board on Turn 8, and are suppressed and disordered by Russian tank fire. The Russians lay down a smoke screen as they prepare to move in and close assault the two tank destroyers, while the infantry form up to close assault the 88.

Oh, so that's where the minefields are!
The final Russian assault never materializes. The infantry, now reduced to below half their original number, fail their morale roll and panic in the face of the arrival of the German armour. The KV1 and T34 on the left flank roll forward and are blown up on the until now elusive minefields while another T34, moving forward to close assault, is also blown up on a minefield blocking the entrance to the lane (three consecutive rolls of 3 or less, 4 if you count the failed morale roll for the infantry!) 

Game end
With their way now blocked by minefields, the other Russian tanks fall back to regroup as the Jagdpanthers advance on the far flank. 
At this point the game has run its allotted course of 10 turns, and despite the German minefields' toll on the last round, the Russians can claim victory, having inflicted roughly equal damage to the Germans, who thus failed achieving their two to one ratio necessary in order to win.
As stated earlier, this was a learning scenario for a new player who was playing the defence. Afterwards he freely admitted that he had not understood the effectiveness of the minefields and barbed wire, which is why he placed so much of his defence forward of these obstacles, which allowed the Russians to use their armour and infantry superiority to great advantage. Not a mistake he is likely to repeat!!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Somewhere in the Pacific, 1943

I've been wanting to work my 75mm M3's into a scenario for a while, coupled with an urge to build an island scenario board. So last Monday my old gaming buddy Tim Stapleton and I got our teeth into a generic Pacific island scenario, set sometime in 1943. The rules used were, as always, Battlefront WWII and the game was played with 20mm figures on a 6' X 4' board.

The Marines' objective was to execute a successful amphibious landing and fight their way inland to seize a Japanese airstrip. We allowed 12 turns for this, a bit short as it turned out, so the game was extended to 16 before it was felt that it had run its course.

1. The Battlefield 

Two possible landing areas are identified, code named Red and Blue beaches. Surveillance has determined that both beaches are ringed with barbed wire at the high water mark and that there are significant fortifications covering the landing areas. A spit of bare land divides the two beaches with a stream inlet exiting at the juncture. On the left flank of Red Beach the land curves around to create a bay with an inaccessible shore line, believed to also be fortified. (All pillboxes and trenches were identified with hidden unit markers only prior to the attack.)
In the distance can be seen the airfield, accessed by a jungle trail that leads up from the right end of Blue Beach. A broken ridge of rocky ground spans the battlefield, and it is here and along the shoreline that the Japanese defenders have established their two primary lines of defence.

2. The Attackers

For this scenario the attacking player has been allocated a full battalion of Marines. The battalion medium machine guns have been split up between the three companies while the two attached assault engineer sections are attached to the first wave companies along with the naval fire control party which will be available to call in the off shore guns of a destroyer after the initial fire plan concludes.
The American player opts to reserve his battalion command stands, 81 mm mortars and 75mm M3's for the follow up wave. This wave could either have its arrival on board designated ahead of time or be called in at a later time, with it arriving on board edge one to two turns following the call. The American player chooses the second option.

3. The Defenders

The IJA have stationed two companies in defence of this island. These are bolstered by a regimental infantry gun company (with 81mm mortars replacing the traditional 75mm gun), and a Type 88 Dual Purpose 75mm gun in an AA role by the airfield. A battalion antitank company (represented by two 37mm AT gun models) are attached to the company defending the landing areas. The battalion's 70mm battalion gun and heavy machine guns are also attached to this company.
The second IJA company occupies a string of dug outs inland from the beach along the rocky spine that spans the board.
Some Japanese armour also bolsters the island defences, with a self-propelled 75mm howitzer lurking behind the barricade blocking the exit from the beach and a Type 97 Chi-Ha tank in reserve further inland.

4. Red Beach

This is the beach on the American's left flank. The American player opts not to land anything on this beach, rightfully concerned of the possible enfilade from the suspected Japanese positions on the land jutting out to the left. This does, however, have the effect of leaving these units untouched for a later counterattack. Log bunkers house the two 37 mm AT guns, with the one to the right also having a line down to Blue Beach.

5. Blue Beach

The focus of the American landings, this beach is exited by a jungle trail that leads back to the airfield. The central bunker houses the battalion gun while the SP howitzer was positioned at the road's exit onto the beach just off picture to the right. A Japanese heavy machine-gun is also positioned here.

6. The Objective

A pig wanders in the middle of the now abandoned airfield while a Japanese AA crew scan the skies for enemy aircraft.

7. First wave approaches

While naval artillery fire brasses up the Japanese defences in a series of concentrations, the first wave, consisting of A and B Companies, approach in their Amtraks. ( As each model represents two to three actuals I doubled the carrying capacity for each to eight stands of infantry.)

8. Hitting the beach

Under cover of smoke which blankets the entire landing area laid down by the destroyers, the first wave makes the final run in unscathed by the defenders fire. The barbed wire stops the Amtraks from immediately clambering up onto the beach.

9. Japanese SP howitzer opens fire

This allows the Japanese SP to get in a second shot, knocking out the first Amtrak and forcing its occupants to bail out into the shallow water, suffering their first casualties. As they bail out the heavy machine gun opens up on set lines of fire down the beach.

10. Marines move off beach

A second Amtrak is brewed up as it crosses the wire and its occupants are also forced to dismount under fire. A Company's Amtraks are still in good order, although one is suppressed from fire by the 37 mm gun on Red Beach. As it has already breached the wire its Marines opt to dismount and engage the Japanese dug in at the jungle's edge.

11. Breaching the wire

Marines forced to dismount in the water make the water's edge and move across the wire, all the while under fire from the machine gun at the right end of the beach. But some of the company makes it off the beach and takes the fight to the enemy.

12. Pillbox knocked out

The pillbox housing the 70mm battalion gun is knocked out in close combat.

13. Clearing out the defenders

The beach head is widened as B Company moves down along the jungle's edge, clearing the defenders out of their trenches. Despite repeated calls for fire the Japanese mortar shells fail to arrive and their defence on Blue Beach starts to crumble.

14. Japanese pull back

With the centre of Blue Beach's defences breached the Japanese howitzer and some of the remaining infantry from Blue Beach start to pull back towards the second line of defence deep in the jungle.

15. Second defensive line encountered

While the remaining Japanese defences on Blue Beach are mopped up, elements of the two companies push into the jungle towards the airstrip. A second line of defence is encountered and the Marines immediately move into close assault, hoping to break through quickly before reinforcements arrive. But the line holds and they are sent reeling back as more Japanese defenders are pulled out from nearby positions to bolster the line.

16. Another Amtrak knocked out

Meanwhile a third Amtrak is knocked out as it ventures up the trail to the airstrip in support of the advancing Marines. Engaged by a Japanese tank, enemy infantry then close in to close assault. A Type 99 AT mine squad (bomb on a stick) are knocked out by the Amtrak's 50 cal before it in turn is taken out by the remaining infantry.

17. Japanese celebrate victory prematurely

With casualties mounting, A Company's will to fight breaks and they scramble back to the beach while the remaining elements of B Company are whittled down by artillery and small arms fire. Waving their rifles in the air Japanese celebrate an easy victory as they send most of A company packing, hurried on by the arrival of Japanese armour.

18. Second wave arrives

The celebration is premature because the American second wave is just hitting a beach littered with burning Amtraks.

19. A Company retreats to beach

A Company arrives back at the beach in full retreat to welcome C Company and battalion HQ as they make their landing.

20. B Company wiped out

Meanwhile the last of B Company inland is wiped out as Japanese released from Red Beach join in, falling on them from the rear. With the last of the American forces committed to Blue Beach, those defenders on Red Beach have been freed up to now pull back and bolster the second line of defence.

21. Defensive fire from Japanese bunker

The 37mm gun emplaced in the bunker on Red Beach does a stellar job, knocking out both of C Company's Amtraks in successive shots from the flank. Meanwhile the Marines make their way towards this last gun still firing from the beach, winkling out intervening defenders as they go and bagging the useless Japanese mortar FO in the process.

22. 75mm M3's exit the beach

The 75mm M3's disembark, one forging straight ahead into the jungle while the second turns to travel the longer but ultimately more negotiable route up the trail.

23. Bunker overrun

The pesky 37mm housed in the log bunker on Red Beach is finally overrun, taken out in close assault by a machine-gun section, but only after claiming both of C Company's Amtraks.

24. Marine battalion commander comes ashore

The Marine battalion commander comes ashore with his headquarter troops and the 81mm mortar platoon. Rallying the demoralized A Company, he directs his two remaining companies in attack back into the jungle.

25. Second wave moves off the beach

Amidst a mass of burning Amtraks, C and the regrouped remainder of A Company move off the beach.

26. Marines advance cautiously

The second wave encounters the Japanese just as they dispatch the last of B Company. Spotting the Japanese armour they stay out of sight, holding up until more reinforcements can arrive.

27. 75mm M3 moves up trail

The American SP 75mm travels up the jungle trail as some Japanese defenders, unspotted, move past them nearby through the jungle, heading towards the beach.

28. Ambush!

The M3 maneuvers into enfilade behind the ridge, potting the Chi-Ha in ambush as it pulls back from the ridge into the jungle.

29. Both sides consolidate

With the Japanese line firmed up and reinforced the Americans marshal their troops for the final push. The second halftrack has become hopelessly bogged down in the jungle, but the Marine commander moves up on the right flank, hoping to get some bearings on the enemy in order to call down mortar fire. A couple of sections are sent forward to draw fire while the remaining American troops lie in overwatch.
(This is the point where the game officially ended at 12 turns and besides, Tim had to go, but as it seemed so anticlimactic (and more importantly, the 75mm M3's had just entered the action) I played on solo for another four turns.)

30. End of a long haul

Meanwhile, back at the airfield, an epic trek comes to an end as the second Japanese 37mm gun crew stumble out of the jungle. They have hand-hauled their weapon through the jungle from Red Beach to augment the airfield's defences.

31. American mortars go into action

Now emplaced on Blue Beach, the American 81 mm mortars finally go into action, albeit briefly, as the Marine commander calls in fire on the spotted Japanese SP howitzer.

32. Marines charge under cover of smoke

As the Marines form up for the assault, the Japanese commander orders his troops to withdraw slowly towards the airstrip. The American commander sees the enemy melting back into the jungle and realizes that this is a cat and mouse game he isn't going to win. He orders his troops in to attack under cover of smoke. The two half tracks also advance simultaneously to within spotting distance of the Japanese SP howitzer. One half track is promptly knocked out but the second survives to engage the enemy armour.

33. Japanese counterattack

The American attack fizzles out, and a failed morale roll sends half of their units in panicked retreat to the beach. All companies on both sides are below 50% now (with some at 75%) so command and control begins to break down. On their turn some of the Japanese also panic, committing a disordered Banzai charge that breaks against the American defensive fire.
The game ends with the remainder of the Americans falling back towards the beach and a handful of Japanese still in tenuous control of the airfield, making it a somewhat dubious Japanese victory.