German Assault on Bunkerwald
It's 1630 on 5 July 1943 in western Russia, where the I Battalion, Panzer Grenadier Regiment 101, 292nd Infanterie Division is carrying out an assault on Soviet defensive positions in the "Bunkerwald," held by elements of the 1st Battalion, 676th Rifle Regiment, 15th Rifle Division. This is part of the German offensive to eliminate the Kursk salient, specifically on the northern shoulder of the bulge, as German forces push towards Ponyri.
I am playing this game because I have the good fortune of being buddies with Steve of the "Sound Officer's Call" blog (https://soundofficerscall.blogspot.com/2019/10/firestorm-ponyri-station-campaign-first.html), and he is running a "Firestorm Ponyri" campaign. He is playing some games with his local buddies, but was unable to play all of the games himself; rather than simply 'dice off' for results of campaign fights they were unable to play on the table top, Steve asked if anyone in the blogosphere wanted to help, so here I am.
It's been a little bit of an issue that I literally just sold off a bunch of German late war gear, so I'm a bit understrength, but Steve is working with me to make sure the fights I get match up with the forces I have. This is the first fight I've played, and I hope it wasn't too much a pain for him, I certainly want to keep going! First, I love to play games; second, it's been way too long since I've played any Eastern Front games (maybe eight years or so?); and lastly, I'm a solo gamer that still craves some comradery, so whenever I can help another wargamer out, I'm always quick to jump at it.
The orders of battle:
1st Company (three rifle platoons of three rifle squads)
2nd Company (three rifle platoons of three rifle squads)
3rd Company (three rifle platoons of three rifle squads)
Schwere Company (MG platoon of four MG-42s, mortar platoon of four 8.0cm tubes, infantry gun platoon of two 7.5cm guns, and an anti-tank platoon of two PaK-38 5.0cm guns)
Assault Gun Platoon (reduced, only two vehicles)
Battery of 10.5cm Artillery (off table)
Battery of Nebelwerfers (off table)
Rifle Company (three rifle platoons of three rifle squads)
Anti-Tank Rifle Platoon (3 x PTRS-41s)
Anti-Tank Platoon (3 x 45mm ATGs)
Infantry Gun Platoon (2 x 76mm guns)
MG Platoon (3 x Maxim .30-cal MGs)
Mortar Platoon (3 x 82mm mortars)
Combat Engineer Platoon (three flamethrower squads)
Assault Gun Platoon (3 x Su-76s)
I'm playing in 10mm (figures, vehicles, and gear a mix of Pendraken and Minifigs UK) based at one stand=one squad, weapon, or vehicle. I'm playing this game using Too Fat Lardies' "I Ain't Been Shot Mum" rules, simplified a bit in terms of combat, morale, and movement.
Scheme of maneuver:
German - The Germans have infiltrated the bulk of their Schwere Company into the Scwartzwald (patch of woods at top center), where they have emplaced their machine gun, mortar, and Infantry Gun (IG) Platoons. Because of the pace of operations they have not had the opportunity to conduct a thorough reconnaissance, so they are proceeding with a generic 'double envelopment' assault. To that end, 1st Company is crossing the line of departure in the northeast (top right), with a lot of open ground to cover, while 2nd Company is using a shallow gully in the north-northwest (top center left) that runs north to south to infiltrate as close to the objective as possible. The Germans are aware of enemy forces in Bunkerwald and in a stand of trees in the southeast (bottom right), so supporting fires will be used to reduce/suppress those positions. The Germans are holding 3rd Company and their ATG Platoon in reserve (off table).
Soviet - The Soviets are manning static defenses with a mobile reserve to counterattack any German breakthroughs. To that end, the Soviets are manning three fortified and (semi-) mutually supporting positions: Strongpoint Irina (in woods at far left), Strongpoint Anna (Bunkerwald), and Strongpoint Ilsa (in the southeast/bottom right). To that end, the Soviet commander has task organized his rifle company, MG platoon, ATR platoon, and ATG platoon into combined arms forces at each defensive 'hedgehog.' So each strongpoint consists of three rifle squads, one .30-cal MG, one ATR, and one 45mm ATG. The infantry gun platoon is emplaced in the southwest (bottom left), while the mortar platoon is emplaced behind the State Farm, with its platoon commander acting as forward observer on the second floor of the State Farm building. The Soviets have their assault gun and combat engineer platoons in reserve (off table, with the engineers planning to ride into battle on the Su-76s).
*I suppose here I will make a comment on the rules and my setup: I'm not sure why, but I really sold the Germans short during this fight by only giving them Platoon Commanders (PCs), but not Company Commanders (of which they could have had three for the rifle companies). When I was setting up I just kinda blew it off as, 'well, they've got plenty of troops, plenty of supporting weapons, plenty of leaders, they don't need'em.' Well, in the attack, across open ground in particular, you can never have enough leaders...
Not too bad for a rush job, right?
It's time to fight!
And the PC leads one of his squads a bit further up, where they open fire on one of Strongpoint Ilsa's bunkers, keeping the Soviet MG team there pinned (he was already pinned, got another pinned result).
*I swear I shuffled these cards well, but that's three times we got the platoon and their PC back to back.
The German Stug PC moves up on the left, next to 2nd Platoon's (1st Company) lead element, and opens fire, knocking out the Soviet MG team with a 75mm HE round!
But on the German right, Strongpoint Irina continues to be a thorn in their side, taking the German 2nd Company under fire, knocking out a 3rd Platoon rifle squad and a 2nd Platoon rifle squad, and suppressing the PzSchreck team and 2nd Platoon PC!
*I assume the 'PC' is more than just one man, more like three or four, including a Platoon Sergeant, and a couple runners, something like that.
*Because I know what the Soviet plan is (I'm a solo gamer, after all), I roll to see which side he rolls to. Wrong side...
On the German left, despite the 2nd Platoon's lead elements being chewed up, the Stugs push ahead, their PC all the way up to the enemy wire guarding Strongpoint Ilsa, where they continue pumping 75mm HE rounds into the enemy positions. They pin the last Soviet rifle squad and suppress the PC manning the anti-tank gun.
Once there they fire on Ilsa's ATG position, but they can't knock them out or push them back.
*I'm playing IABSM, but using some 5Core elements, so Kill and Shock Dice, with 5Core morale. When a leader wants to self rally I let him use 2D6 and select the better result, but if he fails both dice he's KO!
*Probably sealed his fate there...
*After the Nebelwerfer's initial stonk, they need a card to come out to reload, then can fire the next time their card comes out. So, from that standpoint, the 'regular' arty is much better as it gets to fire every time its card comes out.
Strongpoint Irina is now unoccupied, joining Anna in that status, and Ilsa is only hanging on by its dashing young Lieutenant!
*Yes, I know how limited the Stug's main gun field of fire will be.
The Germans call up their reserves (3rd Company and the PaK platoon), and designate Alexei's House as the TRP for all supporting fires. The Germans are pretty beat up, but still looking pretty grim for the Soviets; no one is occupying the objective. If the Soviet CO's card will come up, I'm going to have him fall back and turn his mortar platoon into an ad-hoc rifle platoon in order to go occupy Strongpoint Anna. If they can get in there, and get the Engineer Platoon in there as well, holding the objective, with their Su-76s prowling around, it may very well be that the Germans don't have the firepower and bodies necessary to dig them out again.
*He failed his rally roll with both dice, so KO.
*To be clear, this isn't some sort of 'race to the objective' to win the game, just figuring that whichever infantry is able to get into the bunkers will be pretty hard to dig out.
The German 1st Company's 1st Platoon PC (bottom right) has had enough; he looks over at his tired rifle squad and informs them it is well past time to put an end to that @#$%ing Communist Lieutenant!
Though he was pinned, reduced, and a small team, vs a rifle squad with PC in support, I gave them an even-up roll in close combat, not even close, 6-1. Guess his luck really had finally run out. In any case, the Germans now finally own Strongpoint Ilsa.
*So, despite a few casualties within each squad, all three Engineer Squads survived.
IABSM is always a treat, the friction it throws in the game can have you going mad, but I certainly enjoy it, especially for solo games, it makes the fight completely unpredictable. I'm sure it's not everyone's cup of tea; it can be so deliciously frustrating to have (for example) a PC and a squad sitting there, mere inches from a whole string of 'man down' and suppressed enemy forces, knowing that if you could just get them activated you'd surely charge, then knock out a whole string of troops. IF you could just get them to activate ;)
Regarding deployment, being omnipotent, I'm certain neither the plan of attack nor the plan for defense was the best, but I felt like they both gave the best opportunity for a great solo game. The 'hedgehog' approach to defense made a lot more sense than anything else I could come up with; it's historically relevant, and there was no way I was going to load everything up into Strongpoint Anna, knowing the German off-table arty assets in the fight. Conversely, knowing the Soviets were going with three strongpoints and didn't have any off-table arty, I could have just loaded up in the center and pushed the grunts forward, ignoring the flanks and daring the Reds to come out of their trenches and bunkers, but that hardly seemed sporting. Overall, I'm very happy with how the fight was planned and carried out, I thought the plans worked very well.
Man, what a fight! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. It's been a long time since I had that many troops on the table, felt good, though I can't say it want to do it all the time, so I'm looking at scaling at least some of my future fights in this campaign back to company-level. I can't wait to play some more next weekend. Awaiting my orders!