Friday, August 25, 2017

Combined Arms Assault: A 'Portable Wargames' Narrative.

Russians advancing on a broad front.  Sixth Rifle Coy
in the foreground.
In this scenario. the attacking Russians comprised:
-  6 rifle companies, numbered right to left 1 to 6, each represented by 4 stands;
-  4 tank companies, numbered right to left 1 to 4, each represent by 1 tank;
-  1 field company;
-  1 anti-tank company.

The Germans comprised:
- 2 infantry companies, Nrs 1 and 2 numbered from the right each represented by 4 stands.  Nr 1 Coy was dug in;. Nr 2 coy lurked in a wooded area beside a field work garrisoned by a machinegun (MG) company;
- 2 MG companies, numbered right to left 4 and 8, each represented by 2 stands;
- 1 Anti-tank company (one PaK40);
- 1 Infantry gun company (one 75mm infantry gun);
- 1 Panzer company (one tank).

Early attacks.  The PaK Coy and 4th MG Coy have already
taken losses from Russian shelling.

The Russians advanced on a broad front.  I had in mind a kind of split between right, centre and left. The right flank was made up of 1st Tank, and 1st and 2nd Rifle Coys. They were to advance up the river bank, through the wire entanglements and woods to their front, and envelop the German left flank.  Conscious of the relative openness of that flank, Oberst Fredrickson had placed his few panzers to protect it.

The main thrust was in the centre, where were assembled 3rd through 5th Rifle Coys, 2nd and 3rd Tank Coys, and the artillery.

The left flank comprised one company each of rifles (6th) and tanks (4th). 

Overall view of the early action.  The German right
about to be enveloped.
The units were activated by drawing Black or Red cards, the number appearing determining how many units could be moved.  I won't go into Bob Cordery's system in detail, but state here that the sizes of the forces being as they were, the Russians were likely to draw a Red 6, 7 or 8; the Germans a Black 3, 4 or 5.  In playing such a system the cards need to be well shuffled. I have almost zero skill in shuffling the cards. Guess what....

The Germans drew the first two, and, having nothing to do, did nothing. Then the Russians drew several reds in a row.  Unmolested they advanced to the minefields and wire entanglements. A few desultory shots from the artillery damaged the PaK battery.  As it soon became apparent as time went on that Col Strelnikov was intent upon driving home his assaulting troops, the guns fell silent. Sixth Rifle Coy, left behind to begin with, began a rapid advance up the extreme left flank.  

The first signs of German activity - a Black 3 after a string
of red cards.  Meanwhile, 5th Rifle Coy has been repulsed.

The first attacks were unsuccessful. Fourth Tank Coy, passing through a wood, came under fire from the PaK40 just beyond, took a damaging hit, and settled down for a gunnery duel. Having cleared away the wire to their front, 5th Rifle Coy surged on to storm the 4th MG Coy post. At about the same time, 6th Rifle Coy had fetched up on the flank of 1st Coy's field works.

Now, a couple of further points for this game. I did not use the pinning system proposed in the second Portable Wargame book. Readers may judge the effect this might have had on the action. The other had to do with the field works. Were they set up for all-round defence? For this action I decided not, BUT though the attackers got the benefit of the flanking attack, the defenders could still count the protection of their field works. This seemed to me a reasonable and plausible compromise.
Sixth Rifle Company strikes the flank of the German field
So long was the string of red cards drawn by the Russians, that 5th and 6th Rifle Coys were fairly assailing the enemy field works before the Germans could react. Fortunately for the latter, the close combats fell (after a time) in favour of the defenders. Fifth Rifle Coy fell back past what remained of the wire; 6th to the wood in its right rear.

Another general view.  4th MG has been forced out of
its field works; the PaK coy destroyed.  But 5th and
6th Rifles has been driven off.
At last a black card made its appearance: a '3'. Whoop-di-do; what to do? During the course of 5th Coy's attack, 4th Rifle Coy had crossed the centre minefield (taking a hit to its SP in the process). Having thrown off their attackers, 4th MG Coy turned its attention towards the 4th, as did the infantry gun. Now, all day, the shooting and fighting on both sides was pretty abysmal, but on two occasions its results were very effective. This was the first of them. Fourth Rifles disappeared so rapidly that no one was sure afterward what happened to them (This narrative is my best guess!).
Russian assault, delayed by wire,
wood and minefields, still developing on the right.
As it transpired, the Germans now  received the benefit of a brief run of black cards, and was therefore in a position to hand out more damage. The Panzer Coy got the better of its gunnery duel with 1st Tank Coy, but was gradually being driven back, even so. The Germans were inflicting damaging hits, the Russians not, the Germans electing to retire a square on the rare occasions the Russians did achieve something. For all that, this duel was prolonged and frustratingly indecisive.

Second Tank Company took a hit crossing the minefield (which hit was later forgotten, as the perspicuous reader will discover from the later pictures). Then it closed in upon the fieldworks of 8 MG Coy. At the same time, 2nd Rifle Coy moved through the forest to their right.  First Tanks and 1st Rifles continued to march up river bank. Their aim: to place themselves squarely athwart the German line.

1st Infantry Coy now isolated an under attack from three sides.
The German initiatives (string of black cards) was short lived, however effective in throwing back the Red Army's first attacks. Back came the Russians, better coordinated and in much greater strength. Following  their earlier fight with the Russian infantry, tank and artillery gunfire had forced 4th MG Coy out of their field works, and had also pummelled the PaK Coy into the ground.  Then the Soviets resumed their close assaults with all the force immediately to hand.  On their left, 3rd Tank Coy quickly overran 4th MG Coy, taking the unlucky Oberst Fredrickson with it, then turned upon 1st Infantry Coy, then being attacked front and flank by 4th Tank Coy and 6th Rifles.

A point cropped up here that I'm nor clear about. The German commander having met his demise, does that reduce the German strength points by 6, or is that value purely nominal to get the numbers/balances right between forces? I can certainly understand if some such notion has been informed by play-test experience. Bearing in mind that the command element is not in itself a fighting element, merely augmenting the power of whatever element he is with, it seemed to me that the commander's loss would sufficiently felt by the absence of that extra 'oomph' where wanted, but rather too much by the loss of 6SP.  I chose to disregard it on this occasion pending further thought.
Indecisive early result of the attack upon 8th MG.
On the other flank, 2nd Tank Company closed up to 8th MG Coy's position, with the result shown in the picture. The kind of shooting displayed here was far more typical of the overall action than otherwise - a frustrating feature, especially for the poor Germans. Isolated as they were, 1st Company could scarcely even call upon the infantry guns for support, so busy were they trying to hold off the enemy.

Attacked by 3 units, I did wonder whether the single German company fought all three in turn - pairs of dice thrown for the 3 combats, left, right and centre, or whether all units involved rolled one die (D6), and the defender (or outnumbered side) chose to which enemy unit should the result (if any) be applied. I adopted the latter course, although it did occur to me maybe it ought to apply to the unit directly in front.

The engagement has become general right across the front.
German line threatened with envelopment on both flanks.

Bad news for 1st Coy: losing a strength point, AND
its position with no loss to the enemy.
Actually, the point was moot for some time, as, apart from the Germans losing 1SP at some point no one seemed capable of inflicting any damage or forcing retreats during the course of a prolonged assault.
8th MG still hanging on, but unable to throw back
the attacking Russians.
On the other flank, the tank duel also continued as ineffectually as  ever.  Second Tank Coy's attack upon 8th MG was now being assisted by 2nd Rifle Company. Even so, the machine-gunners clung on to their strong-point, though unable to throw back their assailants.

Indecisive fighting still on 8th MG's front.
Under such pressure, however, it could not be so very long that something had to give. Third Tank Company finally broke into the 1st Infantry Coy's position, whereat the Germans promptly evacuated the place.  Though not apparent in the pictures, the Germans also forced one of the assailant units to fall back.  

1st Coy forced to abandon their position...
The Russians found the situation rather more complicated on their right, as, at last, the hitherto inert German 2nd Coy burst from the woods to attack the flank of the 2nd Tank Coy. Losses were heavy on both sides in the chaos that followed (all four units involved in this little battle scored hits). Second Coy forced the enemy tanks to retreat - straight back over the minefield, where they took another damaging hit - but not before the latter had inflicted losses on 8th MG. The MGs in turn knocked a SP of the Russian infantry, but at last succumbed to the combined attack by infantry and guns. The German armour, forced back to the edge of the battlefield, were unable effectively to redress the balance. 
Decisive results at last!  The MG coy is destroyed, but
the Russians take heavy losses themselves.

At this point, I called the battle, though it could in fact have gone on, give or take the status of the Strength Points of the lost commander. But the result was already clear: the Russians had successfully stormed the German line. The whole front was in Russian hands. Yet the victory had not been without considerable cost to the latter. Curious, I totted up the casualties:

German losses:

Panzer Coy: nil
1st Infantry Coy:  -1SP
2nd Infantry Coy: -1SP
4th MG Coy: -2SP (destroyed)
8th MG Coy: -2SP (destroyed)
PaK Coy: -2SP (destroyed)
IG Coy: nil
Colonel Fredrickson KIA
Total: 8SP lost - one short of the exhaustion point, unless we factor in the commander's 6SP.
A rather blurry final picture, with the Germans having fallen
back all along the line.

Russian losses:

1st Tank Coy: -2SP
2nd Tank Coy: -2SP
3rd Tank Coy: nil
4th Tank Coy: -1SP
1st Rifle Coy: nil
2nd rifle Coy: -1SP
3rd Rifle Coy: -1SP
4th Rifle Coy: -4SP (destroyed)
5th Rifle Coy: -1SP
6th Rifle Coy: nil
Artillery: nil
Anti-Tank: nil
Total: 12 SP lost - still a considerable distance short of the exhaustion point.

It would have been interesting to factor in these losses had this action been part of a campaign, say, Ukraine, early autumn, 1943.


  1. Archduke Piccolo,

    It was very interesting to read your battle report and to see how the action unfolded differently from the way it does in the book.

    When I wrote the rules it was my intention that the death of a commander would count towards their Exhaustion Point. The loss of Oberst Frederickson should have pushed the Germans towards - if not over - their Exhaustion Point. This would have meant that they could no longer take offensive action but could have continued defending their position in the hope that they could blunt the Russian advance.

    Hopefully I will be mentioning this blog entry on my blog tomorrow as it is such a great narrative description of a PORTABLE WARGAME battle.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks Bob. Will take that on board. During the game I rather felt that counting the loss of 6SP towards the EP (which certainly would have taken them over the edge, counting the loss of the PaK and the MG coy) seemed too punitive - especially so early in the action. It certainly would have ruled out the counter-attack by 2nd Coy later on.

      I plan in the next few days to write a 'Brief Debrief' of this action, mainly to compare the hex and square grid maps. I'll bring up the matter of the loss of the commander (Col Strelnikov was never in the slightest danger, keeping well out of the action!

      I rather think, too, that using the 'pinning' option might have made the Soviet task a little harder...

  2. Excellent battle! I haven't tried the card driven activation rules but will definitely do so in a future game. The image of a tank going over the tank-traps is great.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Maudlin. One point I can not over-emphasize concerning card-driven activation: make sure the cards are thoroughly shuffled! I don't recall how long the first string of red cards was - at least four, and I think five or six.

  3. An attractive little game. I like the lmg team!

    My understanding on the 3:1 is that it is resolved as three separate combats in serial fashion which is to say one at a time should the active player wish to make all of the attacks and assuming that the defender is not destroyed or recoiled first.

    1. This might be one of situations to think about. How multiple attacks on one defender is resolved isn't stated explicitly, but might well be interpreted as you have inferred, and of course it crossed my mind.

      Allowing the defender to 'contest' each attack doesn't confer too much of an advantage, bearing in mind it will of necessity be subject to the penalty of being attacked in flank or rear at the time - and the bonus awarded the attacker. On reflection, that makes a lot of sense.

  4. Looks fun. I like your choice of a square grid. Hexagons are such a pain to draw.

    1. I'm coming round to the square grid system myself! But some months ago I discovered an easy method of drawing a hex field. I wrote it up in my blogspot here:
      I made up a field of hexes using this method fairly quickly for naval games, and am thinking of making up a small field for my 15mm Dark Ages/Mediaeval Armies.