Wednesday 23 March 2016

Battlegroup Blitzkrieg - Polish Counter-Attack, 1939

I was lucky recently to come across a Battlegroup Barbarossa scenario in issue 73 of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy. I had only kept the magazine because it was a SYW-themed edition, and somehow I had missed the Battlegroup article the first time around. It was immediately obvious that this was a setup that could easily be adapted from 1941 to 1939, and which could have the added bonus of the Poles attacking for once. And it was by Battlegroup author Piers Brand, so it was likely to be well thought out.

The map from the magazine article is shown below. I have added the two dotted lines to show what I take to be the 'centre third' of the table, as this is important for deployment. The Germans mostly deploy left of the fence line in front of Werba, and the Russians (or Poles) deploy right of the stream, so I had to define the area I thought was appropriate. The recommended table size was 7' x 5' - I used a 6' x 5' table with 15mm figures, which I hoped would make the Polish task slightly easier and get the fighting started more quickly. The 'angling' of the stream and fenceline (and thus the opposing start lines) is worth noting, and adds to the interest of the setup.

The stream is classed impassable to all vehicles due to its steep banks, but may be crossed by infantry without penalty. The marsh counts as difficult ground for tracked vehicles, is impassable to wheeled vehicles, but is no impediment to infantry. The hill is gentle and no problem to any movement.
© Karwansaray BV. Many thanks to Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine
for permission to use the copyright map.
The original scenario covers an historical action from a Soviet counter-attack in June 1941. I kept the Germans as defenders, but substituted the Poles as attackers. Obviously the forces had to be tweaked, quite extensively on the Polish side, to fit a fictional September 1939 action. The scenario conditions I kept as per the original article.

German forces deploy west of the fence line, except the following:
  • recce units must deploy in the centre third of the table
  • 1D6 other units must deploy in the centre third of the table (they may have defences)
  • 1D6 units may start on ambush fire

The minefield may be placed in the centre third or German third of the table. The Panzer II platoon is in reserve and will deploy via the road from the west table edge on turn 4.

Polish forces deploy east of the stream, except the following:

  • 1D6 units may deploy within 10" of the bridge, on the western side of the river.

Preparatory Bombardment
Before the game starts, roll 1D6 per German unit on the table. On a roll of 6, the unit begins the game pinned.

Objectives and Victory
The German player places 3 objective markers. One must be placed at the small farm complex beside the road, one must be placed in the central third of the table, and one must be placed in Werba. The Germans don't count as in possession of any of the objectives for the purposes of taking Battle Counters, unless they recapture one from the Soviets.

The Soviets win by taking all three objectives or breaking the Battle Rating of the Germans. The Germans win by breaking the Soviet Battle Rating.

Forces for 1939 (BR in brackets, special rules in italics)

Germans (all regular)

Forward HQ (3) senior officer, artillery spotter
Comms relay team (0) communications

Infantry Platoon + supports (15) officer
MMG team, ATR team, 50mm mortar team, towed 37mm ATG with loader team, towed 75mm IG.

Pz II platoon, 3 tanks, arrive turn 4 (6) officer
Pz IVC (3)

Forward observer team (1) officer, artillery spotter+
2 x 1st target priority off-table artillery support requests (up to division only)
Pre-registered target point (0)
Timed 105mm barrage (0)

Infantry foot patrol  (2) scout x2
Motorised panzerjager (2) scout

Specialist support
SP 20mm flak (1)
Timed Ju-87 strike

Infantry units are dug-in (reinforced cover)
ATGs are poorly dug-in (hard cover)
1 minefield

BR=33, 4 officers, 3 scouts

Around 675 points

Poles (all regular)

Forward HQ (3) senior officer, mortar spotter

2 infantry platoons (24) officerx2
Each has MMG team, ATR team, Light Mortar team

7tp platoon, 3x37mm, 1xmg (8)
7tp platoon, 3x37mm, 1xmg (8)
Tankette platoon,1x20mm, 2xmg (3)

Timed 105mm barrage (0)
Pre-registered target point (0)
Counter-battery fire mission (0)
Towed 75mm gun with loader team (2)
Forward observer team (1)
Off-table mortar battery (0)

Cavalry patrol (1) scout, brawura

Supply truck (1) resupply

BR=51, 3 officers, 1 scout

Around 800 points

It is worth mentioning that in the original scenario, the Battle Ratings for each force were about equal (Germans 45, Soviets 44). I reckoned this made the game a very hard one to win for the Soviets, which accorded with historical reality (they were stopped at the edge of Werba and fell back, 'lacking enough strength' as it says in the magazine). For our game I made the Poles a bit stronger and the Germans a bit weaker, which seemed to work out; apart from the three cock-ups described below, the balance seemed right.

Playing The Game
I was pleased with the table I produced, and deployment was straightforward - we marked our registered aiming points on our own printed-out maps, noted the moves for the timed barrages and airstrikes, then deployed the Germans first followed by the Poles.

The table viewed from the south prior to deployment.
Early in the game - the Ju-87 strike hits the bridge area.
The leading 7tps come under pressure - one destroyed and 2 pinned.

We gamed for three hours, and managed five moves, at which point things were getting interesting but it was still all to play for. Both sides were around half way to their break point. We had enjoyed ourselves and seen enough to be sure this was a really good scenario, but I had made three cock-ups which had spoiled things a bit.

Cock-Up One - Terrain
All vehicles need to cross at the bridge, so the attacking infantry inevitably make use of crossing the stream on foot, which brings them to the woods and marshes. Like a total fool I forgot that in Battlegroup infantry don't deduct for difficult ground, and the attack bogged down as I took off D6 inches each move through the woods and marshes. I think I was in Honours of War mode, where of course infantry always moves slower through woods and such. Anyway, by the time we twigged after three moves it was a bit too late. On reflection, I think I actually would deduct 1D3" (rather than nothing or 1D6") on moves through the marshes only, as the article does say that the marshes 'partly protected' the German left flank. Having the stream, woods and marshes on table without any effect at all on infantry movement doesn't quite make sense to me.

Cock-Up Two - Points
I mis-calculated the points and missed the fact that the Polish force is company level (the total of about 800 points quoted above is the correct number). Thus they missed out on one extra order dice per move which also slowed them down. Calculating points was a bit rough and ready anyway - I decided to make both sides regular (see Cock-Up Three), and how much to increase points and battle rating for this requires a bit of guess work. Unfortunately the rules are rather opaque on how the points system is calculated.

Cock Up Three - Experience Levels
Out of respect for how well the troops on both sides (especially the Poles) actually performed in real life, I have been inclined to make most troops regular in 1939, rather than inexperienced as described in the army lists. On reflection, I think this is a mistake, apart perhaps from the Polish cavalry and motorised brigades which were definitely the cream of the Polish army. The German Panzer troops later in the campaign might also be counted regular, but on the whole inexperienced is a good rating for this campaign. It is worth noting that under the Battlegroup rules, there is not a major difference between the two ratings, but the most important difference is that the battle rating is higher with regular units, making your force more resilient.
So making both sides inexperienced would have been better. As I calculated it, this would have reduced the Polish battle rating by 4, and the German battle rating by 2. This would have tended to bring the game to a quicker conclusion. 

With the three cock-ups corrected, this scenario will play very well, and the chances of finishing the game in an evening seem good. We are looking forward to having another go.

Best wishes 'til next time!


Steve J. said...

Nice to see your '39 forces on the table once again. I agree that there should be some form of movement penalty for infantry the marsh at least, as otherwise why have this sort of terrain on the table as you say. As with all games there will be cock-up moments, but at least you've learnt from them.

Pete. said...

Always good to see a Polish 1939 game. With those tweaks made it should run well.