Monday, February 27, 2017

Stubborn Defense on the Outskirts of Stalingrad

On Sunday, I and a relative newcomer to the hobby went over to a friend's house to help an old freind of mine, Mike Pierce, playtest a new 28mm scale Battlegroup WW-II scenario he is preparing to run at Cold Wars.

It's set during the initial drive of the German panzers towards Stalingrad and specifically, the line of advance by the German 24th Panzer from the south, and the scratch Soviet forces put in their way to buy time to reinforce the city.

I, my newcomer friend, and George Buzby (who was to later redeem the entire Soviet defense with his very capable use of our mortars) ended up on the Russian side, whereas our host, and most of the other gamers wound up on the German side.

We had to hold a railway station for 10 turns, and of course, not run out of BR, but we had some issues:

A view of the Battlefield from the Russian Side. The railstation is in the lower left of the picture
1. Over half of our initial force was little more than militia. No ability to close assault, Inexperienced morale, and 5 man squads with no automatic weapons. In short, speed bumps, they had some heavy weapons at the platoon level (an ATR and a Maxim).

2. The Regulars were also Inexperienced, and while they had some means to fight back against the German force coming right at us, with Molotovs, a 45mm ATG, an ATR, and a 76mm Infantry Gun, as well as some off table mortars, we had to hold on for six turns or cede control of an objective to get our reinforcements, which consisted of more Inexperienced armor (2 T-34 and 1 KV -1) and NKVD infantry. We did have a sniper team as well, who did remarkably well for a few turns.

3. The major problem, the initial BR for the Soviets was 20. Thus the usual Soviet defense of "hold your positions and make them bleed" was not doable under the circumstances. We somehow had to hold off the Germans for 10 turns and prevent them from taking the rail station.

The hapless Soviet defenders, before the storm breaks

So, how to fight a mobile battle with no vehicles and green as grass infantry against Hitler's veteran panzers?

A horde of Hitlerites!
Well...we almost managed it.

What helped us at first was some lucky rounds from the mortars being called in and destroying one of the German armored cars. This plus some bad German die rolls for the entry of their units helped a lot. It slowed them down quite a bit, our sniper managed to kill the German FO team, and give the rest of the Germans a scare. (The sniper team soon fell from HE and MG fire from one of the MK IVs). The mortars managed to pin the German flank for a turn (a remarkable six units no less) and one German recon squad was shot to pieces after it walked into a building ringed with Soviet positions. At that point, it was all for the loss of an ATR on the Soviet side.

First Blood to the Glorious People's Mortars!
But that was the extent of the Soviet luck. After that, the Soviets could not seem to roll to save their lives. German "6s" seemed to appear at will, and the Soviet defense began to crumble as two Stuka missions (one timed, and one random chit draw) appeared to pummel the Soviets. The militia had to abandon their positions on our right because well, we could not afford to take the casualties as early in the game. (It also did not help we drew two "5s" in a row).

Just as things looked bleak, the Soviet reinforcements appeared, and the Soviet BR got a bit of a bump. Then, the Germans played a breakdown counter, and immobilized the KV-1. We were well positioned to shoot up the leading MK-IV and immobilize him, failing to kill him at all (this came down to our hero mortars, who really were the saving grace for the Soviets, again, well done George!).

Another Glorious blow by the People's Mortars!
But the BR began to pile up as unit after unit simply folded up under the heavy German fire, and it wasn't long before the game was called..on Turn 9. One more turn, and it would have been a Soviet victory. But alas, this was not to be,

But, as much as 90% of our predicament was the Soviet side's abysmal dice luck, there were some suggestions I made:

1. Give the militia Molotovs, don't let them seek out close combat with German armor, but at the very least? Let them defend against it and force the Germans to dig them out.

2. Make the initial Regulars Regular morale, there's just too many green Soviet troops against just a horde of German veterans.

Mike thought both were good ideas, and he increased the size of the militia squads to 8. It makes a lot of sense as there were lots of militia units forming in Stalingrad. They were untrained hordes, but they were hordes nonetheless.

Well, hopefully with the changes, and a slightly less compressed map (that did prove to be a slight issue), the game will play a bit tighter, as it was, even with our hapless Soviets, we almost won.

Friday, February 17, 2017

An introduction to FestungPlatz

FestungPlatz is the new page for all of my 20mm WWII-related projects, of which, confessedly, there are many. It is as much my fault I suppose as anything. I do suffer from that wargaming disease known as "megalomania". It always has to be bigger, better and just more of it, right?

And as the new fast build kits from companies like Plastic Soldier Company, Pegasus HobbiesArmorfast, First to Fight, and S-Model have become more prevalent, the vehicle parks are just getting larger out there. Yeah, it's ginormous for me..but I am finding I like both the skirmish and operational level stuff, it allows me to have all levels of fun.

So, I have been gaming WW-II in one form or another since I was 9 years old. (My first wargame was Tactics II when I was 8, so that doesn't quite count, as that was more 50's "pentatomic" warfare without the lingering horror.)

WW-II is in many ways, my other wargaming touchstone. I grew up in a way, surrounded by the war. My grandfather's constant stories of his time with F Company (Light Tanks), 25th Cavalry Recon Squadron, 4th Armored Division. From Omaha Beach on D +35 to the end in Czechoslovakia, I heard the stories, and I internalized them. It has been a part of my gaming ever since (and I love recon forces on the table. I hate gamers who just "throw them away").

To me, World War II, whatever shades of grey there might have been, was a death struggle for the future of the planet, a titanic struggle the likes of which we will probably never see again. Whole nations threw themselves into the conflict on truly gargantuan scales, and there were death tolls to match, sadly.

There is also the issue of being a Jewish wargamer. Lots of ethical questions there. Do I purchase SS?  Yes, I have some. Do I glorify them. No. They have some cool toys, but if you look at them on balance? They didn't have a lot of them, and the gas and ammo to run them was in short supply by 1944-45.

I want to make this blog my view of wargaming "the war". We all have our view, you cannot be in this hobby for long and not have a point of view on how you approach your subject matter.

Not to mention? I want a place to show off books I read, games I play, and stuff I assemble and paint. I am first and foremost, a writer. My painting is average, and my model building skills? Well, let's say I think there are 10 year olds that do better than me. But I can write, I can communicate and I want to use this medium to do it.

As for the name? FestungPlatz? Most of my gaming, as of right now, takes place in the bitter fighting of the last months of the war in the East. It has drama, pathos, and dozens of actions great and small looking to be gamed out. I think it ironic, the grandson of a veteran of the Western Front, find his gaming pathos in the East.

As for the rules of my choice?

To me, Battlegroup is the #1 rules set out there for WWII right now. As it covers my favorite periods of the war (with the sad exception of Early Pacific, hint, hint, Piers and Warwick!), I am simply floored as to the elegant simplicity of the rules for the most part, though, I think the artillery system is a bit clunky, but I like it, and no rules set can be perfect.

Are the supplements pricey? Yes, but they are comprehensive. They have literal mounds of research put into each volume and with a little bit of reading on your chosen end of the war, you can literally accomplish anything you like with these rules.

So, enough about me..let's get on to other things. I cannot promise this blog will be updated as often as "500 Miles..." will be, but I promise this, there will be enough here to keep your interest.