Sunday, 30 May 2021

Bloody Bucket Campaign Turn 8 scenario 3 Holzthum Village

We return to Holzthum Village (Map 3) for the second planned attack of Campaign Turn 8. The first attack the Germans made during this turn was at the outskirts of Consthum village (Map 4). They were successful and took advantage of the campaign's blitzkrieg rule to go on and immediately mount an attack on Consthum village itself (Map 5). That was repulsed and so now we return to the other attack which is another attempt to dislodge the Americans from Holzthum village. 


A number of defences are still in place following previous games, including two minefields and two areas of barbed wire. I think the one thing we have learned from those earlier games is that any German approach from Assembly Point B leaves their infantry very exposed to American fire from the houses in the village. It would appear that an attack along the road from Map 2 is the more viable option. With that in mind barbed wire had been placed prior to the last attack to try to channel the Germans into the centre of the village where I hope to be able to concentrate the defence.


The Americans have a strong force here. The initial platoon has lost one man permanently but they have been reinforced by the unexpected arrival of five riflemen who made their escape following the loss of Map 2. The platoon is supported by two 30cal MMG teams and each squad has been bolstered with an additional BAR. To this they can add a Sherman which arrived from Consthum (Map 4) earlier in the campaign. Having successfully held off two attacks they have strengthened their defence by adding two entrenchments to the one they had at the start of the campaign.



The Germans will attack with a fresh Volksgrenadier Sturm platoon backed up with eighteen support points. Once again I fully expect to face German armour - most likely in the form of a Panther.


With the Germans in control of Map 2 and with units at Assembly Point B they have chosen to make this scenario a Flanking Attack. While I don't expect to see much German activity from the direction of Assembly Point B I cannot ignore the presence of jump-off-points in that area and so I need to ensure I have options to cover that flank. 

The German jump-off-point near the rear of the village is something I will need to keep an eye on. That said, I'm not unduly concerned. The Volksgrenadiers can deploy only 4" from that point and would being doing so in open ground. That makes me fairly confident I won't see a major threat from that direction, but I can't be sure until I see how the attack develops.


We start with force morale at opposite extremes - the American are at eleven while the Germans are at eight. With that the game commences and a Panther commanded by a senior leader appears on the road from Map 2.


While I've planned to channel the Germans in this direction I must place all my hope in defeating that Panther with the platoon's bazooka team and the Sherman. Not the best odds.


The tank commander casts a watchful eye over the quiet village and puts the gunner and bow MG on overwatch.


Meanwhile one of the Sturm squads deploys behind the cover of the village church.



I see little point in revealing any of the Americans just yet and so the phase passes back to the Germans. An leIG18 infantry gun deploys alongside the road near the Panther.  


The Volksgrenadier platoon's LMG squad then deploys into the house next to the infantry gun and both MG42 teams are placed on overwatch. 


It is certainly looking like the Germans intend to concentrate their attack along the road into the village. While it has been my intention to channel the attack this way I now find myself facing a considerable build up of firepower from that direction. 


I intend to make the area around the walled village house the focal point for the defence, but it's looking like that area could come under a lot of fire. It's one thing to plan to channel the attack, it's another to then deal with the force that comes that way.


The Panther moves normally along the road.


Once again the Americans choose to remain concealed. As always there's a risk in doing this and the next German command roll of 66443 makes me wonder if I'll live to regret that decision. An Unterfeldwebel who has been called in to support the platoon joins the LMG squad and orders them to move further along the building to where they have a better arc of fire. 



The LMG teams can't quite target the house in the walled courtyard from that position, but they do cover a large part of the centre of the table.


The Panther commander orders the driver to move forward slowly while the gunner is placed on overwatch. 



The Volksgrenadier squad behind the church move towards the front of the building as the Germans carefully manoeuvre toward the centre of the village. Despite the opportunity of a double phase it's clear Dave is playing this carefully and not planning on any rash moves.



The following German command roll is 64311 and the steady build up continues. The platoon's second Sturm squad deploys from the jump-off-point at the barn near the Church and they are placed on overwatch. 


That puts the majority of their force astride the road and so the main direction of the German attack is now clear. 



The platoon's Unterfeldwebel deploys and directs the squad to move into the church. 


They don't move as fast as he would like and only make it as far as the doors.
 

The American command roll is 66642 and while that will mean a second phase I'm not sure I want to commit any of my units just yet, not least because most German units are on overwatch and would return a considerable volume of fire. I decide to do nothing. So the Turn ends and all the German overwatch is removed. Perhaps the next phase will give me a better opportunity to react? The following command roll is 64431. I think about what I might be able to achieve but decide I'm better off holding fire until the Germans commit themselves further.

With a command roll of 65222 the Germans have several options. The squad makes its way into the church where a few of the men are able to take up positions by the windows.


The Panther commander puts both the main gunner and the bow machine gunner back on overwatch.


The Americans enjoy another run of phases with a command roll of 66541. This time I decide to take action. The Sturm squad that deployed from the barn is in the open and makes for a very tempting target. This is where the Germans are at their most vulnerable. I may find it very difficult to deal with the Panther but catching their inexperienced infantry in the open is to strike at their achilles heel. I decide to deploy one of the 30 cal teams entrenched in front of the walled house. They are near the gate, which may provide a quick getaway should the German return fire prove too hot to handle. 


I should be able to fire on them for two phases and while I'll receive overwatch fire from the Panther I'm confident the hard cover will offer me a degree of protection. This is where the high force morale is an advantage because if this all goes wrong and the team is wiped out I'm more likely to be able to handle the loss.


The 30cal opens fire at the exposed Sturm squad. 


I was hoping to inflict a few casualties, but the squad suffers only three points of shock. 


As expected the Panther responds and the main gun fires a round of HE at the team, but fails to hit the target. That was lucky.


The MMG team are less fortunate when the Panther's bow machine gun opens fire killing two of the team. 


The following American command roll is 65432, which won't enable the MMG team to activate without the direction of a leader and so the platoon sergeant deploys into the cover of the walled garden. That puts him within command range, but safe from enemy fire (for now at least). 


He orders the MMG to continue firing. 


This time the 30 calibre rounds scythe down the Volksgrenadiers - killing three riflemen; wounding and stunning the Obergefreiter and inflicting a further three points of shock. German morale falls to seven and the squad are very close to pinning. In two rapid bursts of fire the 30cal has almost neutralised one squad. 


That's a good result and I feel I should capitalise on the success. I bring more fire to bear by deploying a rifle squad entrenched alongside the MMG team. 


The squad leader orders the BAR team to fire on the Volksgrenadiers while he commands the rifle team to engage the crew of the leIG18 infantry gun. 


The Volksgrenadiers lose another man and accumulate more shock, which is enough to see them pinned down. 


The rifle team's fire is less effective and fails to have any impact on the leIG18 crew who benefit from their gun shield. A second American squad deploys into the row of terrace houses that line the road and opens fire on the Germans at the church windows opposite. 


That fire is deadly. It kills two of the Volksgrenadiers and inflicts a point of shock on the squad. This opening burst of American fire has proven to be very effective.


The German command roll is 55321 which limits their range of options. The squad in the church fall back from the windows to regroup, while the Panther fires both its main gun and bow machine gun at the entrenched Americans. 


This time it manages to inflict only a single point of shock on the squad's BAR team. 


In the American phase the squad leader rallies the shock from the BAR team.


He then orders the rifle team to maintain their fire on the crew of the infantry gun.
 

This time the American fire is much more accurate and three of the gun crew are taken casualty. 


The platoon sergeant then commands the 30 cal and BAR teams to try to finish off the Volksgrenadier squad that is caught in the open.  



They have another man killed and suffer two points of shock, which is enough to break the squad. 


They turn and fall back 13” dragging their wounded leader with them. 


The sight of this is a major blow to German morale which drops two points to five.  


German retribution is swift and in the following phase the Panther opens fire with both guns again. This kills a third man in the MMG team and one in the BAR team. It also inflicts shock on the squad. 



The Volksgrenadier LMG squad opens fire from across the road targeting the entrenched rifle team, who are the only Americans they can see.



The team lose one man and suffer a further two points of shock. 


The Americans have dished out a fair amount of punishment in this firefight but the return German fire is starting to take its toll.


The Americans have another moment of good fortune with a command roll of 66654. It won't allow for many activations but it will enable the platoon sergeant to act. 


Seizing an opportunity to eliminate the crew of the infantry gun he orders the MMG team and the squad to all direct their fire at the leIG18. 



A huge volume of American fire sweeps away the remaining members of the gun crew and wounds the gun commander, who is now the sole survivor. German morale drops yet again and is now down to four.  


German morale takes a further blow when the turn ends and the broken squad rout from the table taking their Obergefreiter with them. That sees it drop another couple of points to two. 



In the subsequent American phase the squad leader rallies the rifle team. 



Once again the platoon sergeant orders the BAR and MMG teams to focus their attention on the leIG18 infantry gun. For as long as the wounded gun commander remains at his post that weapon remains a serious threat.



The gun commander is made of stern stuff and survives unscathed. 


The Germans are reduced to three command dice and their next roll of 653 limits their options. It does mean they now have one full CoC die, which may prove useful. The wounded gun commander demonstrates the threat the gun still possess by firing off a round of HE at the MMG team. 


The machine gunners are unharmed but the BAR team loses another man, reducing that team to the lone BAR gunner. 


The following American command roll is 53321, which in turn gives them their first full CoC die. Once again the platoon sergeant orders the BAR and MMG team to target the infantry gun commander.  



This time he is not so fortunate. He suffers a second wound which is enough to kill him. With German force morale perilously low Dave opts to use his CoC die to avoid the roll for the loss of a junior leader. 


With that threat eliminated the platoon sergeant orders the rifle team to fire at the LMG squad in the house opposite. 


There are eight hits and despite the hard cover four of those are kills. Fortunately for the Germans it is not a leader but it's enough to see one of the MG42 teams wiped out. This time German morale holds steady, but clearly they are not having a good day. 


The following German command roll is 221, which allows the Panther commander to activate. Both the main gun and bow machine gun fire on the entrenched Americans targeting the MMG team. 


This time the fire is enough to kill the two remaining members of the 30cal team, which sees that team wiped out. American morale drops to ten.  


The Americans may have inflicted a number of powerful blows to German morale but for as long as the Panther remains active they are by no means certain of victory. The tank alone could cause considerable damage and there's no certainty the bazooka team or Sherman can neutralise it.

The surviving MG42 team from the LMG squad fire out at the entrenched rifle team. 



The hard cover provided by the entrenchment serves its purpose well and they suffer a single point of shock.


Luck swings the way of the Americans once again with a command roll of 66443. The platoon sergeant orders the rifle team to return fire at the German machine gun team in the house opposite. 




The LMG crew lose one man and suffer two points of shock. 


I've driven German morale very low but aside from the LMG squad there are few other targets that would allow me to drive it to zero. In the meantime the Panther is dominating the centre of the village and could take its time to slowly pick off one American unit after another. 

With a double phase and a CoC die I decide to take a gamble and tackle the Panther. If I can have the Sherman and the bazooka team fire in the next two phases I'm hoping between the four shots I can disable the tank. Failing that there is the chance that with only three command dice the Germans may not be able to activate the Panther in their next phase. With that decision made the Sherman deploys into the village and fires.   


It's not a good start. The gunner's aim is off and the AP round misses the target. 


Next I use the CoC die to mount an ambush with the bazooka team. They deploy into the entrenched position formerly occupied by the 30 cal team and fire at the Panther. 


The bazooka rocket hits the target and makes an AP strike of four. That's not a bad hit, but the Panther's armour is very good and makes five saves. Hmmmm, things are not going quite to plan.


The subsequent command roll is 55421 and that will be enough to have the Sherman and bazooka fire again. First the platoon sergeant commands the entrenched rifle team to fire at the MG42 team in the house. 


Despite the hard cover of the building the team suffers two casualties which is enough to wipe them out. Fortunately for the Germans their morale holds steady. 


The sergeant then orders the bazooka team to engage the Panther again. 


The bazooka fires with deadly accuracy and makes a critical hit.


It's a moment of good fortune that results in an AP strike of six. The Panther's thick armour makes five saves but that's not enough to prevent one net hit, which rattles the tank crew, inflicting two points of shock and sending the tank into reverse. 


The Sherman commander then directs the gunner to fire another round of AP down the road. 


This time the gunner has found his aim and the round hits the frontal armour of the Panther causing four AP strikes. This time the Panther can make only three saves. The one net hit results in a further point of shock and sees the driver incapacitated for the next German phase. 


I've come very close to forcing the crew to abandon the tank, but it hasn't been quite enough. Everything now hangs on the next command roll. This is where the low German morale will prove a major handicap and to Dave's disappointment the three command dice produce a roll of 651. The only team the Germans can activate are the platoon's rifle grenadiers but with all the senior leaders in action that team fails to deploy.

This gives the Americans another chance to try to drive off the Panther and they are fortunate to roll 
66551 with their command dice. While that restricts the number of possible activations it does allow the bazooka team to fire their last round and raises the possibility of the Sherman firing in the next. The bazooka team fire their third rocket at the Panther.


Once again they hit their target but this time the three AP strikes are insufficient. An armour save of four is enough to protect the tank from further damage. 


The next American command roll is 44433. The platoon sergeant calls the bazooka team back to the jump-off-point in search of more ammunition. 


They move back quickly and are able to replenish their ammo supply. 


American hopes now hang on the gunner of the Sherman, who is told by the commander to let fly another round of AP at the Panther. 



The gunner is now zeroed in on his target and the Panther takes another hit. The round from the Sherman makes an AP strike of only three, which doesn't look like it will be sufficient to deal with the thick armour of the Panther. However it must have hit a vital piece of equipment because it results in one net hit which is enough to rattle the crew and convince them it's time to abandon the tank.


The loss of the Panther pushes German morale down to zero and once again they find themselves repulsed from Holzthum village. 

I think this was one of those games where fortune smiled on the Americans. Dave conducted a careful approach into the village, supported with considerable firepower. Initially his attacking force looked daunting but as we've found so often in this campaign, once the Americans can concentrate against the Volksgrenadiers they are unable to withstand the weight of fire. That was only helped with timely double phases and a number of awful casualty rolls.

The key, as has so often been the case in this campaign, has been for the Americans to delay deployment until a time when they can bring maximum fire to bear on multiple enemy units. By simply refusing to make themselves targets the Americans can force the Germans to put themselves in exposed positions and at greater risk. While a Panther can prove tough to take out, it's by no means impossible and without the support of that armour the Volksgrenadiers have had trouble moving into close range and bringing their own firepower to bear.

That brings us to Campaign Turn 9 with the Germans in possession of only three of the maps. In order to win a narrow campaign victory during the next turn they would need to successfully capture two maps and use a blitzkrieg move to capture a third map. Given what's happened so far that now looks very unlikely, which leaves the more realistic target of a draw in campaign turn 10 as their last remaining hope. 

Having won this scenario the Americans gain the initiative and can mount a counterattack on Map 2. With the German platoon down to about twelve men there's a very good chance the Americans could recapture the table and in the process delay the Germans even further. That makes the prospect of a draw very unlikely and so the campaign appears to be heading towards an American victory.

That's led us to question whether we've reached a culmination point where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The games are falling into a familiar pattern and the lack of variety makes us wonder if we will end up playing out several more scenarios that will look and feel much like those that have preceded them. I feel the campaign has done a great job of showing the determined stand of a handful of isolated American units, but it may have run its course. We've built that narrative well over the previous games and I wonder if going forward it would just a case of rinse and repeat? For that reason we've decided to end the campaign at this point with an American victory.

It's been an intriguing campaign and spanning ten games across eight campaign turns has been the longest one we have played. Dave has struggled to find a way for the Germans to attack successfully, while I've been able to devise a workable American strategy. Time to move on to new challenges. What will that be? We will return to the early war in the Low Countries and play the Many Rivers to Cross campaign that featured in the 2018 Lard Magazine. Dave has painted a Dutch platoon and that complements his early war German platoon and so the setting will be Holland 1940. All we need now is suitable terrain and with that in mind I better get to work on this windmill.