Friday, 28 July 2017

Von Luck campaign Scenario 5 'Delaying Action at the Chateau'


The last scenario Scenario 4 'Church on the Flank' ended up being a very close run thing that was finally decided by a crucial double phase for the Germans during a desperate fire fight in the churchyard (you can find links to all the Von Luck campaign AARs here).  It was beginning to feel like the panzer grenadier steam roller was unstoppable.  Yet if you pause to reflect, for this to be a viable and enjoyable campaign for both sides, the German player must have a reasonable chance of winning or at least getting down to the wire.  So I think it says much for Rich Clarke's design of the campaign that we've come this far.

The German weakness is the fact they receive no replacements.  Three platoons must do the job.  Had I managed to play the first and second scenarios a little better, it is quite likely Dave would be struggling to find a full platoon for the final scenario.  While all of his platoons are depleted, he is able to disband some to bring others up to strength.  This means he will be able to field a full platoon for this final scenario.  That said, this is not necessarily the deciding game of the campaign.  Should the Paras win (and that's a big 'should' given the track record) then the Germans have one more attempt at victory, as the campaign allows them eight games and this will be the seventh.

So, here at the Chateau I bring in a fresh Para platoon.  If we go to a second play of this scenario I will have to fight with whoever survives this game.  Whatever happens to this German platoon, Dave will probably have enough survivors from the other two platoons to field a full platoon if a final game is required.  Lots to play for then!


This is challenging terrain, particularly because the high wall that surrounds the chateau very neatly divides the table.  It makes it hard for a defender to cover all possible approaches, but at the same time it's a major obstacle for an attacker, particularly if there are enemy units waiting on the other side.  All that German firepower comes to no avail if it can't suppress the enemy first, so the wall is a mixed blessing.  My fear is that I end up squeezed into the woods behind the chateau and subject to the usual hail of panzer grenadier firepower.  Somehow I need to present him with few targets and try to pick off his units one by one and so break up his attack.  Dave is well aware of this and so far has shown that he will slowly work his units forward, each providing cover for the other.  Consequently, I won't be expecting him to be gifting me any targets or taking unnecessary risks.   There is a lot of open ground for him to cross, but at the same time it offers him plenty of opportunity to establish a powerful fire base to cover any advance.  A quick look at the AAR for Scenario 4 'Church on the Flank' demonstrates how he did this very effectively to cross a large amount of open ground.

So, what do I need for supports?  I only have 7 points (I'm down one for this scenario because the CO is not impressed with my performance to date).  Dave has brought in a mortar barrage for every scenario so far and I see no reason why he won't do this again. I can't afford to be caught out with sections bunched too close together and yet the only hard cover is in one or two buildings.  The alternative is to create my own hard cover and that's what I plan to do.  I have two 'free' entrenchments as a result of the campaign to date and so I plan to add to these.  I did consider the Vickers MMG, but I think a full section at only 4 support points is really what I need.  It's hard to beat boots on the ground and if nothing else these can absorb some of the casualties and hopefully keep my platoon intact if we go to a second game.  The 6 pounder is attractive.  I'm sure with 21 support points to use I will be seeing the Lorraine Schlepper (heaven forbid, maybe two!), but I think it's a luxury I can't afford, the PIAT will have to do the anti-tank work.  With that, I decide on a full section and three entrenchments.  I can only imagine what horrors Dave has in store.

Despite a -2 to my FM roll due to the men's opinion I roll a 6, but with the +2 for elite cancelling out the -2, I'm good to start with 11.  Dave has a -1 modifier and also rolls a 6, so that puts him on 10.  High FM for both of us.

In the Patrol Phase I push towards the Chateau and the flanks and Dave does something very similar from his side and so Jump off Points ended up like this:


Unfortunately the light was not great for taking pictures, so apologies if these are a bit mirky, but hopefully you can follow the action.  Also a quick word on the table - I didn't bother using any of my roads, some of the shapes were difficult to recreate and as they have no real effect on play for this game we have lived without them.  The perfectionist in me would have liked to see the roads there, but so be it.


From the British point of view

From the German point of view
Just before I rolled the first command dice my Paras could hear the evil whine of a Werfer barrage screaming overhead.  Dave was planning on making this difficult for me right from the start.  What followed was almost a repeat of the last game with several successive double phases rolled.  Very frustrating for me, as I didn't want to deploy just yet and even more annoying I wasn't rolling any 5s to compensate.

Dave began his initial deployment with a Senior Leader who placed an MMG on Overwatch in the upper level of the gatehouse.  Meanwhile on his left flank the first German section made an appearance.

A SL and MMG deploy to the upper level

A slightly fuzzy German squad make an appearance.
The German squad leader on his left orders a man to go ahead as a scout.  While a scout team can be a very useful way to flush out defenders, a single man team is very vulnerable.  The scout climbs over the hedge and into the open ground.
Para sniper keeps the flank covered.
I order one of my snipers to find a good spot in the ploughed fields and keep an eye on the scout.  The sniper is made of sterling stuff, ignores the Werfer barrage and takes up his position.  He takes a shot at the scout, misses but inflicts two shock which is enough to break the scout and send him running to the rear, the sight of which unnerves his comrades and German force morale drops by one.  Note to self: never form a one man scout team.

That's one less German to worry about.....

Meanwhile in the German centre another squad deploys in front of the gatehouse and a Lorraine Schlepper rumbles onto the table.  Never mind the scout teams, this is what I've really got to worry about. Things are not all bad, as I then throw a triple 6.  That's the Werfer barrage about to go and the Overwatch coming off the MMG team when the turn ends.  I take the opportunity to try to bring on my Sergeant and the 2" mortar team behind the chateau, which I do successfully.  As I have the next phase I plan to bring on a section to the ground level of the Chateau and to fire at the MMG, I'll follow that with some smoke from the mortar so that hopefully I've caused him some pain and then blocked his line of sight for the following phases.


End of the turn sees the Overwatch come off the MMG
I roll the next phase and get a double 6.  This is great, but a bit too early in the game, I don't have enough deployed yet or enough targets, but I'm not complaining, I can use it.  A Para section is deployed to the ground level of the Chateau and fires at the MMG.  A crew member is a casualty and they take some shock.  In the following phase I repeat the fire and the crew takes another casualty and some shock (a German SL is there, but he manages to dodge the bullets).  As the MMG is the only weapon that can return fire I decide not to drop smoke just yet.  I have elite troops in hard cover at effective range to the MMG, which is carrying some shock, and I'd like to see if I can either cause more casualties or make them move to the lower level.

The next German phase sees another section deploy to my left and the MMG returns fire at the Para section causing one casualty.

Germans appear and the Lorraine Schlepper can target the upper level of the Chateau
I'm beginning to get a handle on Dave's support choices - so far I've seen a Werfer Barrage, a MMG and a Lorraine Schlepper.  I know, it's a bit gamey to do the maths, but that's 15 support points.  A Forward Observer could still appear, so I want to remain cautious about how I deploy.  I continue to shoot it out with the MMG, which takes another casualty and more shock, enough to Pin the team which is now reduced to two men and an attached SL.  However the German pressure is building.  Dave has added an additional section as a support and they now appear opposite the gate into the chateau grounds.

Four German squads, MMG and Lorraine Schlepper......
With all those Germans in the open it's tempting to consider deploying to the first level of the chateau, except the Lorraine Schlepper has a line of sight to that level and it's not worth the risk.



With the MMG temporarily silenced, I use my next phase to have the Section Leader use Concentrated Fire from the bren team to target one of the LMG teams opposite the gate.  We inflict two casualties and a shock.  The German Section Leader is one of those hit and the wound is fatal. German Force Morale takes a drop at the sight of a leader dying.

Dave now brings on a second Senior leader on his left flank.  He can take over command of the section that just lost its leader and get more happening on that flank.  The real threat though is the Lorraine Schlepper which rumbles down the road and immediately sends a round of 150mm HE into the Chateau.  The Para section takes a casualty and some shock, but they won't be able to stand too much of this.

Here comes trouble

I respond by dropping a smoke round into the road, but I need to think about getting those Paras out of the building.

Smoke gives the Paras temporary respite
One of the German sections on my left moves up to the hedge and can now target the chateau.  My section really need to get out of that building, but this also gives me an opportunity.  I deploy the Para bren section, entrenched and in a good blind spot where they can hit the hedgerow, but they are not exposed to fire from any other German sections.  Both Para sections fire and inflict four casualties on the German section and one shock.  That was a good start.



I've caught the Germans a bit off balance here.  The Lorraine Schlepper and one section are blinded by smoke; the MMG doesn't have a line of sight to the entrenched Para team; the section on the German left flank is still behind the wall and the other section on the German right flank has its line of sight blocked by the hedge.  Dave needs to spend much of his next phase getting himself organised.  I need to capitalise on this and try to take out the squad behind the hedge.

I deploy my support squad entrenched to the left of the chateau, it fires to little effect, but this now enables me to bring the fire of three sections to bear.

Dug in Paras wait for the Germans


But then, just when I'm feeling like I've got things under control, my next command roll sees the turn end and off comes my smoke.  On the up side, the broken German scout team routs off the table and that's another hit to German FM, plus I have another phase.  I need to try to get that smoke in front of the Lorraine Schlepper again, but I really want to see what damage I can do to the German section behind the hedge.  The result is a mixed blessing.  The smoke drifts to the left, but it does block the MMG's line of sight.  My sections all pour fire into the hedgerow and one LMG team is wiped out and the remainder of the section pinned.  German FM drops again.



German retribution is on hand however.  The Lorraine Schlepper plants a shot into the chateau and makes the building unstable, while putting further shock on the section. Now they really are in trouble.  Meanwhile, the squad opposite the gates fires ineffectually into the chateau, but nonetheless the other German sections are on the move and edging forward.  I feel as though I have the upper hand, but only just and it could so easily slip away.

My support squad is exposed to more German units than any other and make the most appealing target.  Dave hits them with the fire of two sections and the MMG and manages to get 22 hits!  This is where the entrenchments prove their value, the hard cover means I get away with two casualties and some shock.  The section leader is wounded and the Paras FM takes a drop, but overall I'm lucky to survive that many hits, even if I am in hard cover.


Of course the Lorraine Schlepper is no respecter of hard cover and with the Chateau now clearly targeted and in danger of collapse it really is time to pull out.  Meanwhile the other German sections edge cautiously forward.


German fire continues to take its toll on the support squad but they stand firm.  It's the inevitable building collapse that I'm getting concerned about.

The burning smoke marker signifies the unstable building, so we don't forget

Sensing the moment may be close when the Para defence will unravel, Dave shifts his emphasis to his left flank. The section that was opposite the gate and another section move around the Paras right flank.  To Dave's frustration a roll of 3 proves elusive for the Lorraine Schlepper and so I'm spared another 150mm HE round.  I use my next phase to try to exit the building, but to my horror I roll a 3 and with all the shock the section goes nowhere.


The German SL behind the wall shifts the emphasis around the flank

However Dave has other plans and selects this point to use his CoC dice to end the turn and cause the chateau to collapse.  I roll for the occupants and I'm fortunate to have only one man killed, but naturally Dave chooses the evacuees to exit the front door and present themselves as targets.

Collapsed building and pinned survivors.....

I feel we have reached a critical point in the game.  The flank move is threatening, but the German FM has dropped to 5 and I decide to concentrate on hitting him where I can inflict the most damage.  I try to place smoke on the Lorraine Schlepper again, but once again it drifts to the left and blocks the MMG.  I feel I now have to take a risk. I deploy the PIAT team in the open to take on the Lorraine Schlepper.  He has a pinned German LMG team nearby, but I think it's worth the risk.



The PIAT gets off a shot, but only scores two hits and the net result is one hit. The subsequent roll of 4 means 1 shock and restricted movement.  Not quite what I wanted.



Next German phase and Dave doesn't have a 3 for the Lorraine Schlepper and can't bring any effective fire to bear on the PIAT team.  He seems resigned to losing the AFV and so focuses on moving around both my flanks.  My next phase the PIAT team take better aim and this time the Lorraine Schlepper is knocked out.  German FM goes down again.

No more 150mm rounds from that gun.....

While that threat is eliminated things are not looking so good on my right flank, Dave has a German senior leader and two sections working their way around my flank and casually flinging grenades over the wall as they do.  I throw a few back and a Junior Leader is wounded.  German FM drops down to 4 and I begin to feel if I keep on pushing I can force him off the table.


I can't ignore the flank however and so deploy my last section to keep an eye on the JoP.


Dave is not about to give up.  My support section is weak and on the verge of breaking and so he moves towards them using single dice and half firepower and if it wasn't for the Sergeant within 4" they would have broken.  If I can bring fire to bear on that section in the open I could do some damage, but unfortunately the PIAT team and the survivors from the collapsing chateau are in the way of the bren section.



While all this is going on the Germans continue to move around my right flank.  If I can just deliver a few more blows to German FM then this move will come to nothing.  If I can't, then the outcome of the flank move will be the decisive moment.  I order what remains of the support squad and the chateau survivors to fire on the section in the open, it's not much but we're at close range now and they are in the open so they take another two casualties and more shock.  The bren section focuses on the pinned LMG team behind the hedge and inflicts two casualties and that's enough for the team to break.  German FM goes down to three.

Broken remnants of the German section fall back in disarray
Despite having less command dice Dave is fortunate to have some useful rolls that allow him to continue driving on both flanks.  My support section finally takes enough shock to break and they fall back.  The German move on my right flank continues to drive forward and now becomes the German's' only hope of winning the game.

German flank move closes in
At this point the Para Sergeant takes control around the chateau, he moves forward into the rubble and orders the PIAT team to move on the double and out of the way of the brens and they high tail it towards the wall.  With that done he orders the bren team to edge out of their entrenchments so they can target the squad in the open.  This they do and in their next phase their fire is very effective.  The German Junior Leader is wounded and there's enough shock to break the squad and that brings German FM down to 0.

Last straw for German force morale

The threatening German flanking move will come to nought and the Paras can claim a hard won victory.  Phew, well, that was tense and extremely enjoyable.  I was lucky to roll the turn end early on and remove the threat of the Werfer barrage, that allowed me to deploy effectively, but overall the luck was fairly evenly distributed.  If there's one thing I've learnt in all my time gaming, it is that luck tends to average itself out.  Every once in a while there are wild swings, but generally things balance out.

There's an old military maxim that can be summarised as something like 'things are never as bad as they seem, and things are never as good as they seem'.  If you are in an intense firefight and taking casualties it's easy to think that things are going badly for you, but chances are, if you are taking a lot of casualties then you are probably dishing them out too and so things are also going badly for the other guy.  The same applies when things are going well. Another maxim I like is, 'if you report you are moving ahead rapidly with little opposition, it generally means you are about to get ambushed'.  I think playing a campaign allows for luck to average itself out and at the end of the day it is not about how lucky you are, but how you play your luck (the good and the bad).  Backgammon is a game driven solely by the luck of the dice, but a player who is good at Backgammon isn't so because he or she is lucky, but rather because they know how best to play the luck the dice present.

The Paras ended with FM at 6 which means the casualties the core platoon suffered will all be returned, that will be really important for the next and final scenario.  Dave has enough remnants of his two other platoons to form a full platoon, so we will come back at this with full strength platoons. The Germans will have four less support points to use and the Paras an extra two, but wait, that's not all - with the differential between this being the 8th game and the 5th scenario, the Paras will benefit from an additional three team entrenchments.

We are all set up for the all important final battle.  Von Luck's men have come so close, will one final push give them victory, or will the Paras gather around the grounds of the collapsed chateau for a final, determined stand?

You can follow the previous games here:

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 1 'Patrol on the Ring Contour'


Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 3 'Corridor of Death' (round one)

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 3 'Corridor of Death' (round two)

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 4 'Church on the Flank'


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

WWII era small arms at the Cambodian War Museum

Having worked in museums I'm extremely familiar with the protocols for handling exhibits.  You don't.  So a visit to the Cambodian War Museum in Siem Reap was a pleasant surprise, because it offered unfettered, unsupervised and unlimited handling of a host of small arms.  All are left over from the conflicts that blighted that unfortunate country between 1965 and 1991 and the vast majority were of Soviet origin, including many of WWII era design (if not manufacture).

A few variations on the MP43/AK47 theme....

You wanna pick one up? Sure, just help yourself



While most stuff was of Soviet origin there were some US weapons on display


This lot caught my eye, in particular the PPSh-41

I was immediately drawn to the three above because of their WWII vintage.  I was really surprised at the weight of the BAR, it was much heavier than I expected and felt like quite a cumbersome weapon to carry.

Most of the war museums I've visited have been well represented with weapons from the Western allies and the Germans, but much less so with Soviet equipment (or Japanese for that matter).  One reason the PPSh caught my eye was because of a discussion on The Guild forum a few months back regarding sculpts of 20mm figures using the weapon.  The question being, what is the correct way to hold one?  I have no idea what it says in the training manual, but picking one up gave some good indication of what might work.



Keeping in mind the drum magazine is empty, the hold I'm using above seemed the most comfortable, but I suspect with a full drum the balance would shift a bit. However, more significant, is the position of the firer's left hand fingers and their proximity to the cocking handle.  I cocked it manually and pulled the trigger and that is not a piece of metal you want your fingers close to if it's moving backwards and forwards repeatedly. 


This grip seemed more comfortable and balanced and appeared to offer better control of the direction of fire, but I have no idea how hot the barrel can become, so not sure if this is an option.


I've heard it said that this is the correct method, but to be honest it feels awkward.  This was exactly what my wife said before she took the pictures.  Again, there is no ammunition in the drum magazine, so this may make a difference.  Anyhow, I'm no small arms expert, but it was interesting to pick the gun up and try the different options.

There were other bits and pieces that I couldn't resist picking up:


A picture from my forthcoming book on responsible parenting......

The Museum also features some vehicles and guns, all exhibited outside and subject to the elements, so certainly not museum best-practice.  All of the tanks were wrecks, although in a few cases, despite having a good look I couldn't work out what the cause of damage had been.  Most had been burning at some stage, but I could find little evidence of armour penetration.  Mines? Air or artillery strikes perhaps?

1938 vintage Soviet 122mm
If you can pick up the guns, surely you can climb on the tanks?


Katyusha anyone?


All very interesting.  We followed this with an unplanned side trip to one of the sites of the killing fields.  That was a sobering reminder of the consequences of these wars and put things in a bit of perspective.  And, just in case you think I spend all my free time visiting war museums, here's a few holiday snaps from Ankgor.

Angkor Wat temple at sunrise

Ankor Tom city gate, like a scene from Tomb Raider

The temples and the city walls of the ancient capital Angkor Tom have a number of extensive wall reliefs depicting warfare of the period.  They remain the most extensive documentation of the military history of the Angkor kingdom (circa 1100AD).  The kingdom seemed to have two main enemies - the Cham Kingdom, out of what is today central Vietnam and the Siam Kingdom.  Siem Reap the town closest to the site of Angkor actually means 'Siam Defeated' in the Khmer language.  

Chinese mercenaries fighting for the Khmer and war elephants


Khmer soliders and war chariots.