Thursday, 26 October 2017

Storming the Citadel Scenario 3 'Panzer Marsch!'

After a few preliminary probes of the Russian defence in the first two scenarios we now move into the main course and the start of Operation Citadel itself. Scenario 3 'Panzer Marsch' sees the Germans begin their assault on the outskirts of the village of Butovo.


As a result of Scenario 1 'Eyes Down' the Russians have retained their observation post and so benefit from a pre-game barrage. The Germans were more successful in Scenario 2 'Clear the Way' and managed to clear a path through the minefields. That means my panzer grenadiers won't have to face any mines this scenario and gain a bonus move in the patrol phase.


The Germans advance to the village on a broad front across mostly open ground, there is no opportunity for a concealed approach. They will need to rely on their firepower to suppress any hostile fire as they close in on the village. Fortunately, that's one thing the panzer grenadiers have in abundance. In our experience the defender is often unwise to fall for the temptation of trying to hold a forward defence when faced with panzer grenadiers. There is a strong temptation to look at the open ground as a potential killing ground, but it can be flawed. Just how the Germans can tackle an advance across this sort of open ground was ably demonstrated by my opponent Dave when we played Von Luck Campaign Scenario 4 'Church on the Flank'. If the Germans can make full use of their considerable firepower it makes a toe-to-toe firefight a very risky proposition for the defender.

In my experience the best way to defeat the panzer grenadiers is to find a way to break up their attack so that they are unable to bring all that fire to bear. One of the ways to do that is to channel them through terrain that offers limited lines of sight. The hope is that by breaking up their cohesion you can attempt to build up fire superiority on single squads and defeat the platoon in detail. If you've followed our Kampfgruppe Von Luck campaign AARs you will know that whenever my paratroopers were able to break up the panzer grenadiers in this way I was successful. The exact opposite was true when the panzer grenadiers could concentrate and bring all their fire to bear.

We roll for supports and it's a six, so that gives the Russians 11 and the Germans 16 - maximum levels. So what am I expecting for this scenario? I don't think Dave will go for a forward defence, it's tempting, but it's an illusion and Dave is too experienced to fall for it. I suspect Dave will bring in an extra squad as he's down five men already for this platoon. He will want some entrenchments, because they will be the only source of hard cover on the table and will enable him to defend any area he chooses in the best cover. Finally, knowing I can have any number of tanks, he'll want the Zis-3 gun as his anti tank support as his other anti-tank choices lack the punch to be effective. He will make me come into the village to find him and I suspect that's how he plans to break up my cohesion.

With 16 support points I can't resist drawing on 10 of those for the Tiger I. I could go for two smaller tanks, but then there's always the issue of having enough command dice to activate all your units. Ideally I will be able to activate the Tiger often, it packs a solid HE punch of 7 and has good armour to face off against the Zis-3 (AP7 against the Tiger's armour of 9). I think a mortar barrage for another four points would be effective in isolating sections of the village, plus the combined effect of pinning units and reducing cover by one level will help deal with any entrenched units. Finally, as he has a pre-game barrage with the benefit of Wrath of the Gods I don't want him deploying too quickly if I'm having trouble deploying, or worse trying some sneaky ploy like capturing a JoP, so I've opted for my own pre-game barrage with my remaining two points.

We roll for Force Morale with Germans on 11 and the Russians on 9. The patrol phase starts with our markers quite close to each other. The Germans roll a 3 for their preliminary patrol phase moves, plus one additional move for winning scenario 2. In the patrol phase I push aggressively forward and given the proximity of markers to each other the phase is over quickly. While I think Dave will opt for a deep defence I'd be more comfortable knowing I can cross that open ground without taking too much fire. I have little say in where my JoPs will end up as there's only one patch of cover near my table edge. So JoPs end up like this:


From this it's clear that Dave won't be opting for a forward defence. I think it's the right choice, it could pay off, but it's a high risk strategy that relies too heavily on luck going your way (and we all know how those plans usually work out!).

I have the first phase. Given the problems deploying (I only have a 1 in 3 chance of doing it successfully) I don't see any reason to use any of my four additional command dice just yet. While they would increase the chance of a triple six and ending the turn, that's a slim chance and could see me waste some useful dice. For my first three phases I fail to deploy a single unit, while Dave cautiously brings on a single squad. He's happy to bide his time and see where I deploy. I finally manage to deploy a squad into the broken ground on my right and place them on Overwatch. That will at least stop him thinking about sending out any Scouts to threaten my JoPs. It's not all bad, I do manage to acquire a fair few CoC points (the Germans have a characteristic in the campaign where any single six rolled in a command phase can be converted into a CoC point, so in addition to normal 5s the Germans will find CoC dice accumulate faster than normal).

Dave deploys two squads, one towards each flank. The squad immediately in front of my deployed squad is entrenched close to the JoP. A deep defence, as I suspected. My following phase I manage to get another squad on the table. Both are now on overwatch, but deploying under this barrage is tortuous.

First Russian squad appears

Second Russian squad appears (in shadow bottom left)

The Germans sit on overwatch and my next phase I bring on my FOO, but there is no line of sight between opposing units, so not a lot is happening at this stage.

FOO joins the two squads

Then, just when it looks like we could be off to a very slow start Dave rolls a triple six. Well that solved that, both barrages are gone and there's nothing to hinder deployment for either of us.

With that I decide now is the time to use one of those four additional command dice and it pays off with a double phase. With that I deploy my third squad; the Unterfeldwebel (SL), and the Tiger. I also take advantage of the momentary loss of Russian concentration to send a squad at the double towards the village.

Time to make a dash for the fence line

The Tiger makes an appearance

The Tiger has a line of sight over the fence and so can see the Russian squad behind the rear fence. A  round of 88mm HE is sent their way and immediately causes two casualties and inflicts some shock. Well, that's what it is there to do.



In my second phase I order my forward squad to slow down and work their way tactically to the fence line, but they are obviously spent from that dash across the open ground and only edge forward slowly. Meanwhile I send other units forward to join them, including the FOO and the Unterfeldwebel. The Tiger commander is momentarily distracted and doesn't take the opportunity to engage that Russian squad with another round of HE.

Well, so far things are going well enough. I have the platoon deployed and moving forward; the Tiger is in a good overwatch position to provide covering fire and once the FOO is up to the fence line I hope to be able to bring down the barrage. I'm keeping the FOO team in close proximity to a couple of squads to reduce the risk of them being a lone target - safety in numbers.

In the following Russian phase the squad targeted by the Tiger attempts to pull out of line of sight, but they've taken some shock and fail to move anywhere. However another squad deploys entrenched to cover his left flank from my approaching squads. I will now be facing three Russian squads, two of which are entrenched and so the Tiger and mortar barrage should be the ideal supports to deal with these.

One of my squads is caught in the open by a Russian squad away to my left, I thought the line of sight was blocked, but I was wrong. I'm lucky to get away with some shock and no casualties.

I thought this squad was out of harm's way....

....but not so. We get off lightly with some shock

The Russians can now see where the Germans are heading and in anticipation of them reaching the fence line they take up overwatch positions.


In my next phase the Tiger fires another round at the same target and they take a further casualty and more shock. This gives me a bit more protection and so my squads use tactical movement to edge up to the fence line.

Unterfeldwebel and squad reach the fence line, the FOO team are nearly there.

The Russians have their own plans and the Zis-3 deploys in the centre of the table to fire at the Tiger.I use a CoC die to interrupt and the Tiger fires a round of HE at the gun. Two of the crew are casualties and they receive some shock. They fire back and hit. We are playing the Advanced Rules for armour, with a frontal hit scored on a 4, 5 or 6. The Russians roll for effect with AP 7 and manage five hits.The Tiger has armour 9, but I only roll two saves - disaster! With a subsequent roll of 6 on the 'three net hits' table the Tiger explodes in a ball of flame. German FM drops to 9 and I'm aghast, I needed the Tiger to do a lot more work than this. Probably unwise of me to have left it sitting in the open like that, but it was just a lucky shot that could have happened anywhere. Having said that, in the heat of the moment I neglected to check if I rolled three 6s when I fired HE at the gun, because that would have been enough to disable it.


Kaboom!

The Russians on my far left take another shot at the German squad in the open, but I use a second CoC dice to interrupt and move them closer to the fence line and out of harm's way. With the Tiger down I really need the mortar barrage to do its work.

Russian fire on the Germans

Now that the opposing units behind the two fence lines have line of sight to each other a firefight commences. My squad in the centre is interrupted before it can fire at the squad opposite, but only suffers a few points of shock. German return fire is much more effective, causing three casualties, one of which is the Serzhant (JL), who dies. Russian FM drops. The Russians are beginning to take some casualties and while I've lost the Tiger, I have only lost one man so far. If I can win this firefight across the fences and bring in my mortar barrage then the Russians may yet be in trouble.

Squad, FOO and Unterfeldwebel at the fence line

The Russians return fire and the Germans take two casualties and one of these is a leader. I have the Unterfeldwebel and the FOO team attached, as well as the squad's Obergerfreiter (JL). The random selection means the FOO is the casualty and he promptly dies. After the loss of the Tiger this is pretty grim, as that's all my supports killed or destroyed. Worst of all I didn't even get to call down a barrage. While I'm not taking a lot of casualties to the platoon, I've now lost the supports I need to deal with the Russian squads I face. I decide I will shoot it out for a bit longer as I can still lay down quite a bit of fire.

Front line, minus the FOO team
German firefight at the fence line

My left most squad eventually accumulates enough shock to pin.


With that much shock the Unterfeldwebel (SL) decides there are more important things to do and he gets the two squads on my right to pour fire into the entrenched squad. This is one of the Russian supports, but it has taken three casualties and now accumulates enough shock to pin. If I can find a way to work my way around this flank there might still be a chance to push the Russians out, all of their squads are now below full strength and my firepower is still strong.

Things however are not looking so good for that squad on my left, in a subsequent phase the Russians manage to inflict one casualty, which wounds the squad's Obergerfreiter and causes enough shock to break the squad.


Time to fall back....

With that it's clear I'm not going to make much more progress. With three men lost from the platoon German casualties have been relatively light. The Russians have four casualties from their core platoon plus five casualties from their supports, so this has hurt them more. I think the best thing is for me to pull back and take another shot at the scenario once I'm able to reinforce with more support. So with that I use my final CoC dice to move my JoP up to my most advanced units to ensure they can withdraw without any problems.

With a safe way back, it's time to withdraw

Well, that was the first of the real fighting and while the Germans didn't make as much progress as I'd hoped it was the loss of the Tiger and FO that really hurt, rather than casualties from the infantry platoon. The Russians on the other hand have now lost seven permanent casualties and have a wounded man who won't return until 6 July, so in effect they are down 8 men, almost the equivalent of one whole squad, 25% of their platoon. With the death of a Serzhant they will need to promote someone from the ranks to fill that spot and that man's lack of experience will limit the command options.

On reflection, I don't think I played this one particularly well and was perhaps a little too hasty. The FO probably didn't need to go so far forward so early and I should have limited the opportunity for the Russians to get a shot at the Tiger by considering its deployment more carefully. I had the (false) assumption that it could withstand most that the Russians could throw at it and paid for that arrogance with a flaming wreck!

The German CO's opinion has dropped to -1, but the Men's opinion, reflecting the low level of casualties is now up to +3. However the Platoon commander's outlook is Sad. The Germans are down two dead from #1 platoon and #2 platoon has one dead and two wounded men who will return on 6 July. #3 platoon remains unused and at full strength.

The Russian CO's opinion is +1 but the Men's opinion is at -1 given the higher casualties. The Platoon commander's outlook is Short tempered. The platoon has lost seven dead and there is a wounded man who won't return until 6 July.

So next up we will return to familiar ground for a second attempt to break into Butovo. However, that ground is now scarred with the smouldering remains of a once mighty Tiger - a sober reminder that this will be no push-over.

To find out what happened in the following scenario you can read the AAR in this post.

To read the earlier AARs and other related posts:

Getting Ready for Storming the Citadel
Carts, tanks and terrain for Storming the Citadel
Storming the Citadel Scenario 1 'Eyes Down'
Storming the Citadel Scenario 2 'Clear Way'

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Storming the Citadel - carts, tanks and terrain

Nothing like a campaign or forthcoming game to spur you on to complete those outstanding terrain and modelling projects. So as we immerse ourselves in Storming the Citadel (Scenario 1 AAR) I've been getting around to all the additional support and terrain pieces I think we might need. This is stage two and you can see what else I've been up to in an earlier post here. You can follow the full campaign and read all the AARs here.

First up is something of an extravagance. Assuming the Germans are making progress in the campaign, by Scenario 5 there will be a situation where the Russians will be attempting to get three carts of wounded men off the table. Should they succeed in getting two off, then they will have some additional men available for Scenario 6. I scratched my head about how to represent the carts, do I just use some sort of marker? No, that would look very average on the table, after all, the carts are the focus of the scenario. Looking around online for what might be available I came across the HaT WWI German Field Wagon set, which very conveniently includes three carts with horses. While they are not exactly Russian Panje wagons, they are not too far off. With the addition of a few HaT Russian tank riders that were left over from another project I think I have a very passable set of Russian wagons to grace the table come Scenario 5.




Admittedly the carts are a bit of an indulgence, but I have a feeling I will be able to find other uses for them in the future and they really didn't take that long to paint.

I've also spent time painting and completing some of the vehicles and guns that were in my earlier post Getting Ready for Storming the Citadel. So here is the Tiger (Revell), Panzer IV F2 and the Panzer III Flammpanzer (both from Plastic Soldier Company).





The Russian M1927 76.2mm infantry gun from Zvezda with a PSC crew:


The village featured in the campaign includes a lot of wooden fences. These are the tall type with reasonably close boards like these:



I wanted to create something that would serve as a base for a village house, but I wanted some flexibility on how I could use them. So I started with a base for a single house surrounded by a fence.


I wanted flexibility on how the actual buildings were placed and so didn't permanently attach one to the base. This allows a house to be placed in a number of ways, or not at all.



At the same time, as you can see from one of the contemporary pictures, these houses were often adjoining and so the fences form a continuous line.  With that in mind I made another two bases of the same size, but this time I left one side open.


This allows me to join them together without doubling on on the fence lines, like so:


The base with all four sides fenced can then butt up against the open end to make a row of three houses. I also made a fence that could close off one of the open sides should I want a different configuration.



This gives me scope to line three up together.


And then with houses:



Having the open end on two of the bases allows me to use my other freestanding fences to make for larger areas or different shapes:



Next up I thought it would be useful to have replacement fences for those that have been breached by vehicles, so I made a couple of those in different sizes.





Lastly I also wanted some destroyed wooden houses and based these on a couple of earlier ones I had made using cork floor tiles to scratch build the chimneys. There is nowhere near enough debris around them, but I wanted them to be functional for figure placement, so I'm happy enough with the way they've turned out.



And so for the effect of some HE, or a drive through by a heavy vehicle here's a 'before and after' shot.



So this now gives me nearly all the terrain I need for the rest of the campaign and for future Eastern Front games. My vehicle park for both German and Russian vehicles continues to grow, but why is it, that no matter how many models I manage to complete there are always more that need doing?

To see how they were used in the Storming the Citadel campaign you can read all the AARs on this Page.