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!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Overlord 2016, Abingdon

Following a couple of very pleasant visits to the Abingdon Wargames Club recently, there was a very kind offer to make a table available for an Honours of War display at the forthcoming club show, Overlord 2016. So it was my privilege and pleasure to turn up last Sunday at the venue in Abingdon (a local senior school) to put on a quickly devised demonstration/participation game.

Having made the commitment, I suddenly realised I faced a lonely vigil at my wargames table, having failed to arrange any sort of team. Luckily, my old wargames buddy Paul was free, and a couple of guys from the Oxford Wargames Society promised to pitch up and lend a hand when they could. Thanks Bruce and Peter.

This was my first time at Overlord, and I was pleasantly surprised to find this a well-attended and friendly medium-sized show, with about 30 traders in attendance. Local intelligence sources told me that generally around 300 punters turn up (excluding traders, participating gamers and helpers), and the Abingdon club are to be congratulated on this fine contribution to the wargames show circuit, all made possible by the hard work of club members. I should mention in particular the Overlord of the Overlord show, Simon Davies, whose suggestion led to my attendance.

The Photos

As you can see, this was a very basic presentation. The scenario was one I had developed a few years back, designed to pack a good number of units on a standard 6' x 4' table. Austrians vs. Prussians in 28mm, of course.
The Austrians were faced with a weaker Prussian force, which they intended to attack. However, Prussian reserves in the form of a grenadier brigade were on their way.
That's Bruce and Paul. The Prussian cavalry threw themselves into a reckless charge to buy time,
 as you can just see in the centre of the photo.
Our presentation came equal second in the "Most Junk Food Consumed' category.
My Twix and cup cake were sadly eaten too rapidly to make it into the photo.
This was the first time the recently modelled Count von Lenzbourg had seen active service in a wargame.
Here he berates his dithering cavalry commander for lurking in a cowardly manner near the Austrian baseline.
There is nothing like burger and chips to cheer up a wargamer.
My own quickly knocked up display was surrounded by games which had been the result of rather more hard work, and were consequently a bit more impressive. This was an ancients game using the 'To The Strongest' rules.
Right next to us was this impressively modelled naval game.
It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to find my old friend Craig was at the show running a participation game of Skirmish Sangin. As usual, his great-looking terrain and professional display kept him busy with interested gamers all day. 
Another great looking game across the way from us was this Rapid Fire desert game in 20mm.
It is good to see how these rules have lasted and still have plenty of adherents.

The Austrians lost (again) in a re-run of the result from 3 years ago. Perhaps the scenario needs a bit of tweaking. If you check out the old post, you will see the Austrian right wing is composed of cavalry and light troops. If the Prussian grenadiers get across the bridges, there is not much that can be done to stop them. And the frontal assault by the Austrian main body against the Prussians on the ridge needs to be very well managed in order to succeed. The impetuous tactics of myself and Peter failed with high casualties.

During our adjournment for lunch I was able to get around the traders and the excellent Bring and Buy. There was plenty on offer, but my only purchase was a pot of black acrylic paint for £2. This was not really evidence of good self control - rather it resulted from all my recent wants having been satisfied by online purchases.

To conclude, we had a very enjoyable day. I chatted to a number of people interested in the rules, some who had already tried a few games and some who were intending to get started. There was more than one tale of an old collection due to be revitalised as a result of Honours of War - this was very rewarding to hear. I tried my best to engage anyone who came up to the table in conversation, rather than just ignore them and get on with the game. This was, of course, the point of the day, but it is easy to have a one track mind when gaming pleasurably with friends. I only managed to get one gentleman to actually join in with us for a few turns - I wish I had managed more. But I reckon many gamers who attend a show are rather like me - they like to stroll round, soak up the demo games, check out the traders and chat to friends in a relaxed manner. They have perhaps decided to leave active wargaming aside for the day. And sometimes, joining in a game with a bunch of people you don't know isn't a particularly relaxing or inviting prospect. All this is very understandable.

'Til the next time!