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|
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.|
|Para sniper keeps the flank covered.|
|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|
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|
|Four German squads, MMG and Lorraine Schlepper......|
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|
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|
|German flank move closes in|
|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'