Monday 26 February 2018

The Road to Bremen Scenario 4

My Heer platoon had put up a bold defence of the bridge on the previous map and their determined stand had dragged on across two scenarios - Scenario 3 (round one) and Scenario 3 (round two). Having finally dislodged them, the British push along the road to Bremen and so to Map 4, for what will be campaign turn 5.

From this turn onwards the Germans have an opportunity to roll for additional reinforcements. Their chances are greater the longer Map 5 stays out of British hands, so there's quite an incentive to keep defending the farms and small villages along the road. If the roll is successful, any reinforcement must be assigned immediately to one of the defended tables, where it must remain.

As my opponent Dave is reading these AARs, that roll will remain unrecorded in the blog. Once we conclude the campaign I intend to go back to each AAR and update it, that way there will be a complete record showing what was rolled and why I allocated any reinforcements the way I did.

At first glance I couldn't see that Map 4 offered that much for the defender, so my initial impression was that this would be a good spot for a Kriegsmarine supermine. However, the more I looked at the map, the more I realised the British would be attempting to assault over a large expanse of open ground. On the other hand the wooded area offered the defender terrain with plenty of cover from which to mount a defence. The hedgerow would serve to block line of sight from ground level, while the wooded area would allow units to deploy, or fall back, out of the sight of any British units in the upper level of the farmhouse. The wide open spaces would make it difficult for British armour to operate as any German anti-tank weapons firing from the wooded area would have clear lines of sight. As I thought about it, I slowly came around to the idea this might make for a good defensive position and one worthy of assigning the hardy Fallschirmjager to defend.

As if it wasn't already hard enough for the British to attack across the open ground, I intended to make it even more difficult by using a generous amount of the available fixed defences. I would use three lengths of barbed wire across the ploughed field and place three minefields in the field across the road. My plan was to put the wire at just under 18" from the hedgerow, so that any engineers trying to clear a path would be in close range to any defenders behind the hedgerow, yet any British units assigned to provide covering or suppressing fire for the engineers would most likely be further back, restricted to firing at effective range.

This was ideal terrain for a Pak 40, which could dominate the map and make it very difficult for British armour and so I selected this useful support option to reinforce the defence.

Having allocated this map to one of my better German infantry platoons, a Pak 40 plus half of my allocated fixed defences, there was one outstanding matter that I could not plan for - would the Fallschirmjager show their mettle and stand and fight? The odds were that they would, but a six on 1D6 would mean surrender.

That was settled with a roll of two prior to the game and so there would be battle. I was much relieved that my men were prepared to fight and the defences would be tested.

By the way, the observant among you may notice these Fallschirmjager bear an uncanny resemblance to a Waffen SS unit, there's clearly been some confusion over uniform supplies this late in the war.......

A roll of one for British force morale was not the best start, so they begin with eight. The German roll is unmodified for the Fallschirmjager (unlike the -1 for the Heer) and with a six, they start at eleven. They are not elite troops, but have the option to refuse any two force morale rolls, which could prove very useful.

This is an 'Attack and Defend' scenario, so the British receive 1D6 free patrol moves, but Dave only manages to roll enough for one. In this case, with so much open ground it probably doesn't make much difference as the Germans are likely to get the wooded area and the British will be in the farm buildings or at the table edge. With the patrol phase completed we placed our JoPs as shown below, then the wire and minefields were revealed. We were set to go.

Initial British deployment saw a section and the 2" mortar turn up in the farmyard. The Germans watched and waited.

The British deploy a section to the upper level of the farmhouse and place them on overwatch, while a Universal Carrier drives on and hides itself behind the farm.

The Germans sit and wait, but do manage to accumulate a CoC die very quickly. I can see no reason to deploy any Germans just yet, I want the British to come forward into the open ground. That said, I'm certain Dave will take this one slowly. He will want to build up a solid firebase before he moves forward and I've no doubt the 2" mortar will be firing a lot of smoke to cover the advance.

Things continue to unfold at a slow pace, Dave is wise to take his time, there's no hurry. The first bold movement forward occurs when the British send the Universal Carrier on a probing mission down the road. 

While things have developed relatively slowly both sides have managed to accumulate a fair few CoC points. These would open up plenty of options as the game unfolded. The carrier meanwhile continues to move down the road at some speed, it clearly looks like an attempt to threaten the German JoPs and flush out some defenders. Well, I have to say, that is one courageous crew.

The carrier's probe is indeed enough to elicit a German response. I don't want to deploy just yet, but I can't risk a British double phase and the loss of a JoP so early. A German squad deploys near the road, but back far enough in the wooded area to be out of sight of the British section in the upper level of the farmhouse. Each German squad has two panzerfausts, so the carrier will need to be more cautious from now on.

The carrier slows down, but continues to probe forward. Then a bit of luck swings the British way with a double phase (just as well I deployed the squad, this was what I feared may happen). The carrier continues to edge forward slowly, with the Bren gunner on overwatch. Meanwhile, back in the farmyard the British platoon sergeant (SL) arrives and orders the 2" mortar up to the fence where it can have a more direct line of sight.

The subsequent British phase doesn't leave them a great deal of command options, nonetheless a wire cutting engineer team and its junior leader deploy into the ploughed field, clearly aiming to cut some of the wire. 

By this point the Germans have accumulated two CoC dice and this spurs me into action. At the start of my next phase, I decide to use one of the CoC die to ambush the Universal Carrier. The panzerschreck team emerge from behind the hedge and try to hit the carrier before it can slip away.

The carrier is small and so I need a six to hit, but alas I roll a five. I'm not used to my panzerschrecks missing. Most annoying.

In my excitement to ambush I hadn't really taken notice of how many British units were on overwatch and retribution is swift. A section back at the farm opens fire.

They manage five hits, killing one of the panzerschreck crew and inflicting a point of shock.

But that's not all. The 2” mortar, also on overwatch, fires off an HE round and the two hits are enough to kill the remaining member of the panzerschreck team. German morale takes a hit and drops to nine (I chose not to use one of my options to ignore a morale test, because at worst it would be -1 and I thought it best to save those for a more serious loss, like a support or leader).

Well, that wasn't what I had in mind for the ambush. For all that, I've used up a valuable CoC dice; failed to do any damage to the carrier; lost my panzerschreck team, and dropped my force morale. I can live with the poor shot from the panzerschreck team, but I kick myself for not accounting for all those British units on overwatch.

Still, I have my whole phase to play out, so all is not yet lost. Now that some of the British units are no longer on overwatch I decide to deploy a second squad to the spot where the panzerschreck crew perished and use one CI to fire a panzerfaust at the carrier. It's just not my day though, and it too misses.

That's one lucky carrier. I have another panzerfaust, but as I'd said I was only firing one, the carrier is able to respond immediately using its overwatch, inflicting four shock on my squad. The British section in the upper level of the farmhouse also comes off overwatch to fire. There are four hits resulting in one casualty.

My original hope was to use one CI for the panzerfaust, destroy the carrier and then use the other CI to have the squad fire at the British section behind the fence. That was not to be. I now decide to use the second CI to order another panzerfaust to be fired at the carrier, but there's something in the air today and that shot also misses. The carrier has a charmed life.

I refuse to be downhearted. The German sniper deploys behind the hedgerow and takes a shot at the wire cutting team, but misses. The Fallschirmjager Feldwebel (SL) joins the squads on the edge of the woods and rallies off some shock. After the flurry of missed shots and the returned overwatch fire the men are in need of a little confidence boost. As am I!

Things start to heat up in the British phase. The platoon sergeant (SL) at the farm starts barking out orders. The first thing he does is have the 2" mortar lay down smoke by the wire.

He then directs both sections at the farm to fire at the squad behind the hedge, the very one that has had such little luck firing its panzerfausts. The fire is effective, inflicting six points of shock. Things are not going well for the Germans at this stage. It only gets worse when the carrier reverses slowly firing its Bren as it goes and manages to kill one of the squad behind the hedge.

So far things are not going well for the Germans. I'm losing men, accumulating shock and seemingly at the mercy of the British. I decide the best thing is to fall back into the woods, rally the men and rethink how best to handle this defence. 

The feldwebel (SL) uses all his CIs to rally off shock and the squad pulls itself back from hedge, but they can't move fast enough and are still visible from the upper level of the farmhouse.

The British platoon sergeant senses the Germans could be in trouble and orders the section on the upper level to maintain its fire. They do so and it causes the Germans yet another casualty and more shock. He then calls on the 2" mortar to use some of its limited HE, but this time it misses the target. I feel my squads are being slowly whittled away under this hail of fire.

With the smoke down and the German withdrawal the engineer team are left unmolested to approach the wire and so set to work.

Well, so far, Dave seems to have got this right. He's laying down fire that is effective in suppressing my defenders, meanwhile his engineers, covered by smoke, can work at cutting the wire unthreatened by German fire. These are sound tactics.

The Feldwebel continues to busy himself rallying off shock and the squad finally manages to fall back and out of the line of fire from the farmhouse. They are covered by the other squad who are ordered onto overwatch, ready in case the carrier decides to take advantage of the withdrawal. My plan to defend the hedge line and make it tough for the British to cross that open ground is starting to look like it is fast unravelling.

With all the Germans now out of sight the British units take up overwatch positions to cover the engineers who set about tackling the barbed wire. It proves a tougher job than they thought and they won't clear it in this phase.

That said, the wire is only effective if it's defended and I can't just stand by and let it be cleared. So after rallying off some shock the Feldwebel orders the squad to use tactical movement to return to the hedgerow. The British are vigilant and they are having none of it, the section on overwatch in the upper level of the farmhouse fires and inflicts more shock. Things are not working out so well for my Fallschirmjager at the moment.

The British are focussing on clearing the wire and covering the engineers. The 2" mortar lays down more covering smoke, it drifts off target but is still effective at shielding the engineers who finally manage to clear a section of the wire. I sense my first line of defence has been breached and the British have yet to take any casualties.

The platoon sergeant orders the sections at the farm to maintain a stream of fire into the woods to try to drive back the German squad at the hedgerow. Yet again, effective British fire results in more shock and another casualty. The British are slowly chipping away at my units and I don't seem to be able to stand my ground. To make matters worse British armour arrives in the shape of a Sherman Firefly. After the chastening experience from the last scenarios Dave is playing it very careful with this tank. The Firefly sits at the rear of the table on overwatch, clearly he's not hurrying into action with this one.

The Germans obtain some relief by way of a double phase. The Feldwebel is trying his best to keep the squads steady and he and the Obergefreiter (JL) spend the phase reducing shock. The command roll for the next phase is 55542 and gives me a second CoC dice. The Feldwebel uses all of his activations rallying off the shock and the squad decides to pull back from the hedgerow yet again. I'm slowly getting whittled down by the long range fire and I feel I have little to gain from a prolonged firefight. What to do?

Things are then compounded with another British double phase. This opportunity is seized on by the platoon sergeant who spots a chance to get the attack moving. He orders the section on the upper level of the farmhouse onto overwatch and then has the mortar drop more smoke.

He orders the other section over the fence and out into the ploughed field. Here they come. Meanwhile the engineers move behind the smoke towards the next stretch of wire.

The German command roll is a mixed blessing with 65555. CoC dice are always handy, but sometimes you also need those activations.

The British have yet another double phase and their forward move continues. The section in the field moves up behind the wire while the engineers make an unsuccessful attempt to clear their way through more of the wire. The critical thing is that the wire is breached and the British are on the move while my squads are cowering back in the woods trying to rally.

In the next phase the mortar fires smoke once again, but it drifts to the right. In anticipation of the upcoming German phase the section in the ploughed field move cautiously, going tactical.

The Germans decide to sit back from the hedgerow for now, it only seems to court danger. However the sniper team has a clear line of sight through the plumes of smoke to the platoon sergeant who, standing all alone, is an inviting target. The sniper hits but the resulting shock has no effect. If nothing else it's given the sergeant something to think about and he is now distracted.

The lone Sergeant behind the fence is spotted by the sniper

The next British command phase is almost a repeat of the German with 65551. Again the CoC points are always handy, but with a 1 as the only activation it's stalled his forward movement. The 2" mortar fires off more smoke, but it only lands where there is already a plume.

I need to act more aggressively and so in my phase I have an LMG team place covering fire on the upper windows of the farm. This is something I should have done earlier because while under covering fire that British section will only be hitting on 6s at effective range. I use the other LMG team to target the section itself and that causes some shock. With the British under covering fire I try my luck again at moving my other squad towards the hedge, being cautious and using tactical movement.

The British command roll contains a lot of 5s and again limits their activations, giving the Germans a chance to reflect on what needs to be done. It's also worth noting at this stage that we both have a lot of CoC dice - the British have three and the Germans have two, with a third needing only one more point.

This comes in handy for the platoon sergeant when in the following German phase the sniper prepares to have another shot at him. Dave uses a CoC die to interrupt and move the sergeant to cover, he survived the last shot but there's no point taking unnecessary risks. One of my squads fires into the upper level of the farmhouse, hitting the corporal and wounding him. British morale remains unchanged, but I'm finally causing them some problems. About time.

Just when I'm thinking things might not be looking so bad, the British roll yet another double phase. The roll is 66111, so it limits their options and the 1s are used to activate various teams. The engineers try to clear the wire but don't have any success. The Bren team upstairs in the farm fires, but I play a CoC die to interrupt and open fire first with one of my squads, which kills one of the crew and inflicts some shock. When the British team does fire it's ineffective. The 2" mortar fires smoke at the squad that's been targeting the farmhouse, but it drifts off target only to smother the adjacent German squad that is slowly creeping back to the hedgerow.

The next command roll gives the British yet another phase and this time a 4 and a 2 are more useful. I'm sensing the luck is just not going my way with this game. The sergeant orders the section in the farm to fire again and so once again the Germans interrupt. This time around both the German and British fire proves ineffective. What really matters though is the activation of the section in the ploughed field, who move normally but very quickly, a full 12". This now becomes a real threat. If they can make headway in the following phase and if they are backed up with support this could be the critical moment for a British breakthrough.

The British breakthrough, a sudden 12" move across the field

The next phase the section makes it up to the hedgerow, where they make contact with the sniper team who melt away into the wooded area and off the table. No team wiped out, but one less German unit on the table to hurt the British.

The sniper team knows it's time to slip away

If that's not enough the section has now come within 4" of one of my JoPs. This is developing into a key moment in the game and I'm going to have to find a way to grab the initiative and try to turn the tables.

While it looks like the British have a breakthrough, it is only one section and they are not well supported. I've been holding the Pak 40 back to deal with armour, but while the Firefly waits cautiously behind the farm, I think it might be more useful to bring it out and either fire HE at the farm or try to take out the carrier. Well frankly, the carrier has a strange air of invulnerability, so why waste the shot? Instead I target the section upstairs in the farmhouse.

Dave decides that he doesn't really want to face those 75mm HE rounds and so uses up a CoC dice to interrupt and bring the section down to safety. That section has been really bothersome, so as far as I'm concerned that's a good result, just to have them out of the way.

Feeling like finally I have the British dancing to my tune I now need to deal with the most serious threat and for this I have a plan. This is the sort of moment when keeping a unit off the table and in reserve can really reap a reward. I play a CoC die to move my threatened JoP. It is not captured until the British make contact, so while I cannot deploy from it I can still move it. So that's what I do, moving it back into the woods about 12". 

Next, I deploy my third squad from that JoP, in range of the British section at the hedge line, and activate them to fire. At this point Dave plays yet another CoC die to interrupt (since playing this I've noticed that pg 23 of the rule book says 'only one interruption is allowed in any singe phase', not only that you cannot interrupt before it fires when deploying, but no matter, in the heat of the moment that was easily forgotten). His section fires, and inflicts five points of shock.  

The fallschirmjager return fire, causing two casualties and two shock. One of the casualties is the corporal, who is wounded and stunned, bringing British morale down to seven. With the corporal down and no senior leaders within command range, the section is immediately less effective. My reserve squad have made an instant impact.

The German squad in the smoke drops its tactical status and moves on a single dice to fire into the section at half effect, adding another point of shock, while the other squad manoeuvres into position to target them as well. I've been able to bring nearly three full squads rapidly to bear against this single British section.

My aim to wrestle back some of the initiative has worked. The next British phase sees a series of activations designed to respond to my actions. First up, the 2" mortar fires smoke at the Pak 40 which lands right on top of it and blinds it. 

Meanwhile the section at the hedge, realising the danger they are in, fall back, but only manage to move 3", helping their stunned corporal as they go.

In my next phase the Feldwebel gives the Handgranaten order to the newly deployed squad. A roll of six means they get the maximum three grenades and the result is devastating killing all three of the bren team. With the team wiped out British morale drops to six. Unfortunately, neither that Falschirmjager squad or the other squads can move fast enough to close on the British for close combat, but I'm not complaining, with their leader wounded and bren team wiped out they are much less of a threat.

Wounded leader, Bren team wiped out and Germans closing fast....

The British section is now isolated and with their corporal stunned, they are effectively leaderless. There is little Dave can do with them right now and so he moves his other sections into action. The platoon sergeant rallies shock off the section in the farm and orders them forward out of the building.  

Then, in what to me is a totally unexpected move, he deploys a section in the field behind the mines.

Finally, after watching many British double phases the Germans get one of their own at what can only be a very timely moment. The Feldwebel gives the Handgranaten order again and while this will see the squad use up all its grenades, I'm hoping it will also finish off the British section. Once again they throw three grenades, but this time only inflict two shock, however they now have little problem moving into close combat. Rolling fourteen dice to seven, the Germans kill all the remaining men of the British section, while losing three casualties themselves, none of which is a leader. That's a decisive result that sees that British breakthrough totally repulsed.

Dave elects to use a CoC dice to avoid the force morale roll for the loss of the leader, but nonetheless his force morale drops another one point down to five due to the loss of the rifle team.

The close combat elicits a fierce flurry of fire from the British units on overwatch. The crew of the Firefly fire a round of HE, but their 17 pounder ammunition is best kept for hitting armour and it has no effect. The carrier fires its bren gun which is more effective and when the newly arrived British third section engage in some fire at effective range, it's enough to wipe out one of the German LMG teams. German morale drops to nine.

The Germans now receive another double phase and it's a good moment to refocus the defence to deal with the newly arrived British section. The squad on my left moves over to the edge of the wooded area to face the British section, ready to fire in the next phase. The squad with only one LMG team pulls back into the wooded area and out of harm's way, there's no point losing this team unnecessarily.

The command roll for the next German phase is a mixed blessing - 66654.  Another phase, end of the turn, another CoC point, but not a lot of activation choices. Still, I can't complain.

I deploy the Fallschirmjager leutnant (SL) and he orders the squad to fire on the British behind the minefields. They take another two shock and lose a member of the bren team.

 The turn ends and the British smoke is removed which frees up the Pak 40.

The next German command roll ia 55533. Not brilliant, but enough options. The squad on the edge of the woods maintains its fire on the British section in the open, killing a man from the rifle team and wounding the Corporal who is out of action for the remainder of the turn, but British morale holds steady. The Pak 40 targets the Universal carrier that has been so annoying, but its charmed life continues and the shot misses (in hindsight we realised that activating on a 3, I should have used both of the gun commander's CI to target the gun and that would then have been enough for a hit).

At this point we could really sense the tables turning against the British. They have lost an entire section and the section on their right flank is looking like it's in trouble.

In the British phase they return fire across the field, but only inflict a single point of shock. The section in the farm fire at the Pak 40 crew, but that has no effect. Finally the 2" mortar fires smoke and this gets a result, blanketing the Pak 40 once again. The Universal carrier decides to move out of harm's way and heads off behind the minefields.

The following German phase sees both senior leaders activated and they are busy rallying shock and having the squad at the edge of the wood continue firing at the newly arrived section in the open field. They manage to kill the surviving member of the bren team. Despite this British FM holds steady, although I can sense Dave is already thinking ahead to the replay.

Things are never quite as bleak as they seem and the British roll another double phase. This is quite literally Dave's last throw of the dice to see if he can swing things around. He deploys the platoon lieutenant (SL) into the open field behind the mines.

The platoon lieutenant arrives to try and save the day

Before he can order the remains of the section to fire the Germans interrupt and fire first. There are six hits resulting in another two casualties and a point of shock. Luckily neither the lieutenant or corporal are hit. The lieutenant orders 'five rounds rapid' but with the dwindling number of men and increasing levels of shock only three dice are rolled and the result is ineffectual. The 2" mortar is about to fire some HE until the crew realise they have used up their allotment and so hastily move towards the nearest JoP to replenish.

With another phase to come Dave contemplates what he needs to do and I think it's clear, it is time to call it a day and withdraw.

There was a time there when things seemed to be going so well for the British. With an effective smoke screen and suppressing fire, the engineers had cleared a stretch of wire and in a rapid move a British section had broken through to reach the hedgerow and compromise the main line of German resistance.

It also felt as though most of the luck was going to go the British way. They enjoyed several double phases, but nothing seemed to match the charmed life of the Universal Carrier. Despite being the target of a panzerschreck, two panzerfausts and a Pak 40, it remained in one piece until the very end. A charmed life indeed.

Yet in a few short phases the odds turned swiftly. The British at the hedgerow were rebuffed, giving the Germans an opportunity to regroup and put up a fierce resistance. And fierce it was, the British #3 platoon suffered seventeen casualties. While the Germans took a steady stream of casualties, losing eleven men, it was less than the British. However, with a German victory and the balance of FM sitting at German FM9 against British FM5, four of those wounded Fallschirmjager would return immediately.

Just as importantly the Germans have stalled the British for another campaign turn. They will need to return to these open fields, this time with the additional support from the main column and try to find a way through. The Germans will have to fight on with what they have, but as the British engineers were restricted to clearing a single stretch of wire, this remains a tough position for the British to crack open. So we will be returning to Map 4 for the next game, which will be campaign turn six.

To find out what happens when the British return for a second attempt to capture Map 4, the AAR for Road to Bremen Scenario 4 (round two) is here.

You can follow all the campaign AARs here.