Sunday 17 September 2017

Storming the Citadel campaign Scenario 1 "Eyes Down"

Here we go back into another Chain of Command pint-sized campaign, this time on the Eastern Front. I'll be playing Dave once again, my opponent in the Kampfgruppe Von Luck campaign, so we decided to reverse roles for Storming the Citadel. I would attack with the Germans, wielding the firepower of the panzer grenadiers and Dave would try his hand at defending. I've been busy getting things ready for the campaign and you can see some of that here.

This first scenario is a patrol scenario, but with a difference. The outcome will determine who has a pre-game barrage in the third scenario. However it's not solely about achieving a straight scenario victory. The destruction or survival of a Russian observation post (OP) is a key factor. German scenario victory is rewarded with a pre-game barrage for the third scenario, regardless of what happens to the OP. A Russian victory will see them rewarded with the pre-game barrage instead, but only if they can prevent the destruction of their OP. The scenario requires the Russians to place three markers to represent possible locations for the OP and the Germans won't know which is real or which is dummy until a unit is within 6". That effectively limits the option for the Germans to sit at the back of the table and blast the OP into oblivion. This puts the Germans under pressure to be aggressive and search out the real OP.

The question for both sides in this scenario is, how much do you really want that barrage and what price are you prepared to pay? The barrage in the third scenario most benefits the Germans. As the attacker the threat of the Russians having the barrage is not as great, the only thing to be wary of is a Soviet attempt to capture a JoP, otherwise the Germans are not unduly pressured. I think the key for this scenario for the Russians is to deny the barrage to the Germans, but to do that without taking too many losses.

Supports are 1D3 for each side and I start by rolling a 1. I had ideas of bringing in an Sdkfz 251 if I had the full three supports. I reckon Dave wouldn't be expecting German armour and so wouldn't spend his support on an AT weapon and the half track might be quite a powerful unit, but that was not to be. I thought my best support option was the Adjutant. My plan was to try to strike quickly and the Adjutant would allow me to bring my Senior Leader on early. If I couldn't win the scenario I could at least try to destroy the OP and then withdraw.

We started with German FM at 10 and the Russians at 9. Rolling for entry saw us come from diagonally opposed corners of the table. The Russians entered in area 3 and the Germans in area 1.

I made good progress with the patrol phase and managed to get a jump-off-point almost in the centre of the table.

End of the patrol phase and JoPs are placed.

Our jump-off-points ended looking like this with the OP markers placed in obvious spots near them:

Looking at the setup it wasn't rocket science to guess that OP2 was most likely the real one. So my plan was fairly straightforward, to have two squads deploy from my forward JoP, ready to lay down fire on the Russians as they appeared and then most likely I'd look at bringing my third squad for a flanking move to the right and for the OP. Keep in mind that to identify the OP I need to get within 6" and until then I can't fire at it.

The three OP markers in place near the Russian JoPs

I had the first phase and elected to use one of my extra command dice. I think time is of the essence here, so why not hope for a double phase or start to accumulate CoC points. I don't get the double phase, but I do deploy my first two squads as planned. One goes into the rough ground and takes up an Overwatch position, the other deploys forward from the JoP into the open ground and goes Tactical.

The Russians roll their first command dice of the scenario and get a double phase. Dave deploys two squads opposite me. One LMG squad is entrenched and the rifle squad goes into the rough ground. He opens fire on my squad on Overwatch and inflicts some Shock and I return fire, inflicting a casualty and some shock.

The first Russian sections appear

In the subsequent Russian phase Dave deploys another LMG squad, also entrenched, alongside the one already deployed and his fourth squad comes on in another patch of rough ground. His Senior Leader deploys so that he has three squads (the two LMG squads and one rifle squad) all in command range.

The full Russian platoon turn up

He opens fire with everything - that's 55 dice after accounting for shock and casualties. The Germans take three casualties and one of those is the squad leader in the rough ground, who takes a serious wound and German FM drops to 9. If nothing else, my hunch on which OP is the real one is undoubtedly correct, but how am I going to get within 6" of it faced with this horde of Russians?

In my phase I bring on my third squad as I need to try to even out the firefight. I return fire, but given the numbers opposite me it's a bit disappointing and leaves a lot of firepower to come back my way.

The third German section appears

The next Russian command roll delivers yet another double phase. This is not looking good. I'm faced with a line of four Russian squads, two of which are entrenched, so not only am I outnumbered, they are in better terrain. I have no decent cover, no covered approaches and no opportunities to work around a flank. If I'm going to get to that OP I have to make a frontal assault against a numerically superior force, some of whom are entrenched. This looks more like 1915 than 1943!

This is a tough nut to crack.

So I now take two phases of Russian fire. The first attack is from three squads targeting my squad in the open. It's an attack using 44 dice. That ends up 16 hits, yielding four casualties plus enough shock to pin the squad. One casualty is the senior leader who is lightly wounded and German FM drops to 8.

I don't have a CoC die and no one any longer on Overwatch, so I have to face another phase of Russian fire. One downside to rolling a double phase is the limited number of useful command dice, but Dave has his senior leader ideally placed so that on a single roll of 4 he can get three squads to fire. That means in this phase he is comfortably able to find enough command dice to activate the whole Russian platoon to fire. Now that my squad in the open is pinned, it shares the same cover as the adjacent squad, so any fire will be spread across all four teams. Over 50 dice make up this next attack. Mercifully there are only (only!) 16 hits and luckily only one casualty, but a lot of shock, enough to see the squad in the open break and fall back.

Things are not looking good.

Well, I can't see any way to turn this in my favour and it's clear the longer this goes on the worse my casualties will be. If there is any hope of squeezing out a victory it will come at too great a price. So far, I have taken four casualties and that's only because my leaders have absorbed two casualty results and fortunately for me only received wounds. The Russians have taken five casualties, so honours are fairly even in that sense, but otherwise I have to admit that I'm being driven from the field. Letting the Russians have the barrage in scenario 3 isn't a great outcome, but nor is it a disaster. Better I keep my casualties down and save my men for the more important struggle to come and so I make a voluntary withdrawal.

Dave played this perfectly. The OP was set up as far from me as possible and he capitalised on the two early double phases to halt me in my tracks by bringing all available fire to bear. Not only that, his two LMG squads were entrenched, making it a formidable position to assault. It left me with a mountain to climb. I'm not sure having the half track would make that much difference, as getting to within 6" of the OP would have have put it at serious risk of a grenade attack. Of course two consecutive double phases allowed the Russians to deploy maximum force and really lay down a huge amount of firepower. In many ways my casualties could have been considerably worse. Let's chalk this one up to German over-confidence!

I fear this scenario may prove a tough one for the Germans now that they have to get within 6" of an OP marker before it's revealed. Unusually for a patrol scenario the Russians can entrench and so they can protect the real OP from a strong position and the Germans must engage in an uneven firefight if they are to have any hope of reaching it. In our case the Russians had all the advantages - the hidden OP; more support (they rolled better than the Germans and so had level 2 support against the German's level 1); numerical superiority; the ability to be entrenched, and the pure good luck to get a couple of double phases so early in the game. The latter was just the fortune of war and I can live with that, but perhaps allowing the Russians entrenchments now gives them too much of an advantage?

The only counter balance is that the Germans can afford to take casualties at a higher rate than the Russians as they can rotate platoons, so there is an option for the Germans to be more aggressive, but you will need to decide what price you want to pay.

All up it's a minor set back and early days, so let's see if I can have better luck clearing the minefields in the next scenario.

You can read what happened next in Scenario 2 in this AAR.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Getting ready for Storming the Citadel

For a shift in theatre we have decided to play the Chain of Command pint-sized campaign Storming the Citadel, set during Operation Citadel (Kursk) on the eastern front in 1943. You can follow AARs for all of the scenarios in the campaign here.

The campaign is interesting, if nothing else because the battle at Kursk does not strike you as the subject for a platoon level skirmish game. That said, once I had downloaded the pdf from the Too Fat Lardies website and started to read through, it's clear this could give quite a good flavour for how that battle may have looked from the level of a platoon or company commander. Forget the big picture, this is about the infantryman's war, pushing through solid defences manned by resolute Russians. In that sense it seems perfect for Chain of Command.

Perusing the support lists and the scenarios, I could see I needed to add a few more units and vehicles, plus some additional terrain. But that's good, isn't it? We are wargamers after all, we like doing this stuff, in fact we can't help ourselves. It's a sickness, I tell you.

I have posted earlier about working on a few more Russian buildings. I wasn't totally happy with the Sarissa Church and it's rather strange dome, so I made a change.

Church with my effort at a dome.  
I found a suitable moulded shape in a hardware store - the finial for a curtain rail that looked about right (well, based on my very limited knowledge of Russian architecture).

With a bit of cutting to get it closer to the size and shape I wanted, I mounted it on the roof and added the cross that came with the original building.

When it came to painting I decided my attempt at a gold finish had failed and a quick surf of Google showed that blue was a more common colour. So blue it is.

That looks a lot better.

The terrain in the two early scenarios in the campaign include many patches of rough ground/scrub.  The painted teddy bear fur I had used for my Pacific Kunai grass would be an ideal solution so I set about creating about a dozen pieces of randomly cut rough ground. The key to all this is to use a comb to spread the paint through the fibres and so avoid clumping. It's so simple, yet very effective.

The rough ground as it looks on my gaming mat.

The first scenario in the campaign is a fight over some high ground containing a Russian observation post. If the Germans can win the scenario by driving the Russians off the table they secure the heights and benefit from a pre-game barrage in scenario 3. If the Russians win they get the barrage, but only as long as their OP is not destroyed. The Germans don't know the exact location of the OP.  The Russians have three markers to represent three possible spots and these must be placed in areas of rough ground. The Germans won't know which is the real one until they get within 6". I couldn't think of what to use for the markers, but thought why not make some small OPs, I'm sure I'll find future uses for them. Using a 40x40mm base I made a simple frame from toothpicks; sculpted some sand bags from milliput and then made a camouflage net out of gauze bandage. I did put some figures into one, but they can be removed and I think they will make good dug-in positions for my Pacific games, so time has not been wasted on these. The figures were random from the spares box - a Zvezda Russian scout with binoculars and the radio operator is actually a Japanese figure from Waterloo. I marked each OP with a number underneath so that the Russian player can record which is the 'real' OP and once that is discovered we will use the OP with the figures as the 'real' OP and remove the dummies from play.

Scenario two has the Germans trying to clear minefields. The Russians have eight of these, two of which will be dummies and the German objective is to clear four minefields. If they fail the Russians will get two free minefields in Scenario 3. Chain of Command normally allows a maximum of two minefields as supports and for that reason I only have two minefield terrain pieces. I saw that John Bond has some clever ideas for making minefields on his excellent John Bond's Wargaming Stuff blog. I haven't followed John's method using old sprues, but I've copied the general idea which will allow minefield terrain pieces to be placed over existing terrain. Simple, but very practical.

One of my existing minefields

Some more generic minefield markers I've used for other games

The 'Bond Method' of minefield.  Simple. Effective.

I create platoon boards for each force, it makes set up easy and helps with deploying. You can see how I make them by clicking Making Platoon boards. I have one for the Panzergrenadiers that recently saw good use in the Von Luck campaign.

So I made one up for the Soviet Guards Platoon.

And here's the base platoon with a range of supports - snipers, flamethrower team, L46 47mm AT gun, Maxim MMG, PTRD anti tank rifle, 50mm mortar and a commissar.

Not sure how useful the commissar is to the Russians as he is in list three for supports which puts him at the equivalent of the Maxim or the 47mm AT gun, which may prove more attractive choices. Anyhow here he is in all his glory, barking out commands to remind any waverers the right direction to the fascist hordes:

The sniper team are from Zvezda and I enjoyed painting these two up in their amoeba suits. Talking of which I have just bought some of the new AB Russian scouts figures and they are now in the paint queue, as they are a support option that may turn up later in the campaign.

As always there are some artillery pieces and AFVs to add. I've had several of these for a while, just waiting to be built and painted, so now is the perfect opportunity. It's also one reason why I like gaming in 20mm, the choice (and affordability) of 1/72  scale kits is excellent. It's not that I don't have a Panzer IV, you understand, it's just that I don't have a Panzer IV Ausf F in tri-colour camouflage. Like I said, it's a sickness. The same applies with the Tiger. I have two from Armourfast, but I don't really like them. This is the Revell Tiger, considered by many in the modelling community as the best 1/72 Tiger out there. I wouldn't totally agree, as this is an Ausf E and I would expect to see zimmerit, that aside it's a fine looking model. The Panzer II is from S-Models and it's a lovely kit, a quick build but with a brass barrel. You get two in the box, so this one will be in tri-colour but the other will be in early war grey (unbelievably Grossdeutschland still had a couple of these in the tank pool in 1943). The SU-122 is from UM and the two guns - the Russian 76.2mm infantry gun and a German 20mm flak gun are both from Zvezda.

For some reason I've found it hard to get my hands on a 20mm Russian 12.7mm heavy machine gun, it seems not many people make them. Fortunately I found one at MMS (just in time it turned out as they closed down for good a few weeks later). The MMS crew were on the rather small size for 20mm and so I've used a crew from a Plastic Soldier Company set. The gun is 1/76 and the MMS crew were on the small size of 1/76, while the PSC Russians are on the large size of 1/72. They were not going to mix, so PSC get the gig on this gun.

This lot will join my existing German and Russian arsenal, some of which are pictured below. All possible supports units for the campaign.

All PSC kits

All PSC except for the Sdkfz with the AA gun (which is from Caesar)

SU76 from UM; GAZ from S-Model and ZIS 76mm from PSC

sIG33 15cm infantry gun from S-Model with a crew from AB.

IeIG18 from Zveda with a PSC crew

Airfix Pak40 with a PSC crew

You can see more terrain and modelling work for this campaign in this post.

You can find all the AARs for the campaign in this post.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Chain of Command Pacific Scenario

With my Australian and Japanese platoons complete and after some finishing touches to terrain it was time to get all of these on the table and see how the Pacific plays out in Chain of Command.  Dave, my regular opponent and I were keen to see how the Japanese would play.  They have a very large platoon of 53 men and some national characteristics that look set to make them difficult opponents.  We decided we'd run the game at the regular club meeting and we were joined by Daniel who was keen to give the rules a try.  We put together a scenario set in December 1942 at KB Mission near Milne Bay in New Guinea.  It would be a probe scenario with the Japanese as the attacker.

The Japanese brought two Ha Go tanks to Milne Bay and so we included these in the support lists (we also created a house rule for them - if a second one was chosen it came with a senior leader and he could control the two tanks as if they had radios, except they had to be within line of sight and 18", however by doing so, both commanders were considered exposed and therefore eligible sniper targets).  Historically the Australians had left their 2 pounder AT guns back at the airfield.  They brought sticky bombs as anti tank weapons, so aside from the platoon's inherent anti tank rifle, their only support option for dealing with any tanks were the sticky bombs.  The ground was very wet from recent rain and that, combined with a shortage of tools, meant they were unable to entrench and so we didn't allow those in the supports.  The same applied with the 3" mortar support which wasn't available.  The Aussies were going to have to find a way to deal with tough opponents armed only with bullets, bayonets and guts.

Using Rich Clarke's guide to creating maps using Powerpoint (from one of the Lardie specials), I put together a map and I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the result.

Dave would take Daniel under his wing and play the Japanese and I took the Australians.  I won't write a full AAR but will reflect a bit on how things played out.

The end of the patrol phase

The Japanese are able to move 14" in the patrol phase and then deploy 9" from their JoPs.  That makes quite a difference and sees the Japanese turn up quite a way down the table.  I think this is something scenario designers need to take into account when planning terrain.  If you are not careful you can find the Japanese may be able to deploy beyond terrain that you had intended them to have to fight over, or at least manoeuvre through.  I had envisaged the creek as a barrier for the Japanese but we found that it was possible for them to deploy directly over the creek from one JoP.  While this was not enough to break the scenario, it changed its nature.

Japanese JoPs in the kunai

Japanese section advances through the kunai

Len Tracey, who designed the Malaya campaign that appeared in the TFL 2015 Xmas Special, has given the Japanese in 1941-42 a national characteristic called Neo-Bushido.  This allows them to ignore the first two points of shock when calculating its effect (in other words a unit will pin when shock exceeds the number of men by 3 points and a unit will break when shock is equal to double the number of men plus 2).   With sections of 13 men that means it can take a lot to get one pinned or to break.  There was one stage where a Japanese section was carrying 12 points of shock and still wouldn't pin.  Admittedly that amount of shock means even when you discount the first two points, their movement is very limited and their firing much less effective.  I found myself in a prolonged firefight with that one Japanese section, but once it was supported by another section and an MMG I found myself in a bit of bother and was eventually driven back.

Aussie firing line

The 2" mortar blinds a Japanese MMG with smoke

It's clear that the best way to deal with the Japanese is the application of a lot of firepower, which is certainly historical, and so for this scenario the Australians really missed the support of a barrage or some other form of HE (later in the campaign 25 pounders were sometimes brought forward for direct support).  In a similar manner the Australians needed to dish out this fire from a strong defensive position and so in this case the entrenchments were also sorely missed.

The Boys anti tank rifle is certainly not much of a threat, even to a Ha Go (and we even played with the optional rule allowing frontal hits on a 4, 5 and 6).  Needless to say the Boys crew didn't last long as their ineffective shots were returned with a blaze of far more potent machine gun fire from the tanks.

A section activates on a 2 to fire across the creek

The game ended with a Japanese victory. The Australians had not managed to inflict enough loss on the Japanese, whose large numbers meant they could continue to produce enough fire to make a prolonged firefight a bad proposition.  There was also a moment of appalling luck when I deployed a section straight into close combat by bringing them on within 4" of the rear of a hut containing a Japanese MMG crew.  The combat roll would give the Australians 15 dice to the Japanese 4 (one die short of an automatic rout), good enough odds to be certain the MMG crew would come out on the wrong end, but that was not to be.  Needing 5s or 6s to get a kill, I managed to roll one 6 from 15 dice (that's right, just one, the rest were low numbers of 4 or less) and the Japanese rolled three 6s from 4 dice (with the remaining die a lowly 2).  On an average roll I should have expected 5 kills (enough to wipe out the entire MMG crew), so much for my tough Aussies, who were sent scampering back licking their wounds.

Despite the loss I enjoyed the game and was happy with the way the terrain worked.  There are some definite nuances to playing with and against the Japanese, but there's no doubt they make for a challenging game.