Monday, November 27, 2017

Disaster at Apresski

6th Shock Army on its start line.  Day 2 of its assault on

17th Panzer Division waits...
I had such plans for this particular posting, and the thing has come out a complete frost.  Well... not completely complete, but a chill in the air, all the same.  Informative, but not sure what conclusions to draw.  In my previous posting I set up a follow-up action to the 6th Shock Army attack that proved so fatal to the German 222nd Infantry Division.  Bringing up 544th Grenadier Division, a weak formation of just 11 SP, the Germans were to attempt the defence of Apresski, a communications nexus that was the original objective of the Soviet attack.

544th Division rather thinly deployed around Apresski itself
The next few pictures show the set-up: 6th Shock Army massed in the southern corner of the board, 544th Grenadiers defending a line spanning the high ground either side of Apresski itself, whilst 17th Panzer Division hung about to their left with some notion of counter-attacking the flank of the Soviet thrust.
Dawn breaks over the Russian Front...  The little buildings
in the village at lower right are home made.  The orange roofed
one accidentally made from plastic card.  I thought that
cardboard was behaving oddly...

The relative strengths of the opposing forces were about two to one.

544 Div HQ, near the village of
Obshchinovo.  Buildings home made,
one from a downloaded file.

Overall it looked more a challenge to the defenders than to the attackers.  The 544th were spread over a distance of maybe 20 kilometres - a bit of a stretch for such a small Division.   Their task was to hold, whilst 17th Panzer struck the right flank of the Russian attack.
Using order chits and priority markers. The latter are
activated in increasing numerical order.
It proved in the first action beyond the strength of 544th to hold for any worthwhile time.  At the purported time of the year, the hours of daylight lasted 7 game turns.  Three of the four infantry Divisions and the Cavalry Corps were to attack the town itself and punch through the difficult looking country about Apresski town.  The Tank Corps (139th, 140th and 141st Tank Brigades and 47th Infantry Division) was to attack and drive back the enemy Panzer Division.
The Soviet advance begins.
It was supposed that the attacks would go in with the Army artillery (3 SP) laying down a barrage by the map into the town.  Lo and behold if the very first salvo didn't roll two sixes on the three dice.  At this point I am forced to admit to a misreading of the HEXBLITZ combat tariffs, by so doing taking that as two hits, and the garrison - 489th Grenadier Regiment - abandoned the town incapable of further action.  However, one hit would have been a serious matter enough.  This raises the first point that might deserve consideration: ought the defenders in a town (and formal defence works) be given some bonus.  Two possibilities: (1) the town is given an SP=1 ( a fairly substantial place, unlike the outlying villages to the north and east); (2) this is where doubles might kick in - this will be explained anon.
140th Tank Brigade was delayed by a traffic jam.  Should it lose its
turn, or 'reserve' its move?  Here it 'lost its turn' but I think
'reserving' its turn until it could move is a better option.
As the infantry plodded forward - it would take all morning to close upon the town - the Tank Corps swung off to the right.  The Germans weren't going to lie down to be hit.  Whilst the panzergrenadiers held a line in the woods, the panzer battalions were to carry out a pincer counter-attack in the open country on either flank.
A fierce battle rages against the panzergrenadiers.  Soviet attacks
 by 47th and 316 Rifle Divisions are made separately and defended in
turn by the Germans.  The Germans could call in support against both
from the Panzer Div Arty. Probably only 47th Rifle Div should have been given
 artillery support from 8th Tank Corps Artillery, as, unlike the 47th,
 the 316th is not part of the Tank Corps.
Even before the panzers' intervention, the Soviet infantry got the worse of the battle in the woods, the early exchanges halving their strength, whilst the German lost just the 1 SP out of 5.  With my Soviet hat on, I would have preferred right here to have had the Russians' 316th and 47th Rifle Divisions break off the attack, pull back a space and then prepare to dig in.  The rule set seemed to indicate this was not permitted, but it is not totally clear on this.  I might well be mistaken. I'll raise this point later.
Heavy losses among 47th and 316th Rifle Divisions.
The action in that sector of the front was to exhaust the two Rifle Divisions and one of the Tank Brigades as well, at considerable risk to the Army's flank.
489th Infantry Regiment forced to abandon Apresski
under the weight of 6th Shock Army artillery.

However two of the Tank brigades maintained a northerly push on the right flank of 88th Rifle Division with a view to carrying the high ground to the east of Apresski, then held by 200th Grenadier Regiment.  The town itself was to be the objective of 88th Rifle Division.

Massed Soviet infantry about to swamp 490th infantry
and its anti-tank support.
Eventually, so weakened were the grenadiers along their entire front that the Rifle Divisions, together with the cavalry on their left, simply swept through the town, and the wood and the hills west of the place.
End of the action.  Apresski has been cleared of the
Hitlerite forces...
Seventeenth Panzer Division's victory over 8th Tank Corps was also dearly bought. Reduced to an exhausted state they had to pull out; the remains of the rest of the division taking to the road north, away from the action.  Apresski was taken, and, shortly afterwards, night also fell.
Battered but unbowed, 17th Panzer Division takes to the road.
The Panzergrenadiers' SP reduced to 0, it remains a force in being

The assault on Apresski (Alternative Universe). 
This one used the 5-5/6-6 results option.
So far, so apparently satisfactory.  Sixth Shock Army had taken its objective and forced the Germans to abandon this part of the line.  But the costs to 8th Tank Corps (and the day before to 5th Mechanized Corps)  had been prohibitive.

Then I noticed a 'continuity glitch' on the table: wood that wasn't there that ought to have been. This I might have let go, but then, re-reading the rule set, a suddenly realised my interpretation of one of the results was quite mistaken.  This had to do with hits being scored on rolling 'double 5 and 6'.  Now, my interpretation of 6 and double-5 was correct in logic, but wrong in context.  Faced with ambiguity I always do this.  Of course, what was meant was 'double-5 and double-6'.

This I couldn't let go.  So a couple of days ago I refought the action.

The missing woods were replaced, and the action was fought using the 5-5, 6-6 requirement to knock off one SP from a unit in 'defence'.  This did not go at all well for the Soviets.  It was a complete and utter disaster, as the following sequence of pictures will show.  After 5 game turns, the Germans had lost 6 SP; the Russians 27 - enough to exhaust the whole Army if I were using such a rule.  The next turn was sufficient to carry the 544th Division line, but by then to inflict 3 SP, the Soviets had paid another 7!  For its part, though battered after two days of action, 17th Panzer remained still in fighting condition.
Of the two results, it seemed to me the former was the more 'realistic'  The Germans were beaten out of their position in a two-day battle, but it cost the Red Army the bulk if its two best and strongest formations.
So what did I learn or conclude from this?

A general advance - no sophistication, here.
I'll begin by saying that HEXBLITZ is one of the most accessible WW2 rule sets I have even encountered.  For mine, it is just the type of game I want to play.  I could probably add Megablitz to this, since the former is an adaptation of the latter, open table rule set,  to a hex-grid set up.  Some further adaptations seemed to me desirable to 'fit' my collection of stuff, and it was going to be easier to do this with the orders of battle and possibly the rule set than to my armies.  We'll see.
Panzergrenadiers position astride a hex-side.  I adopted this
idea for this game.

Before continuing, a word on what I consider to be the core of HEXBLITZ.  Units have three possible stances, postures, or (as I tend to term them) modes: 'M' - Moving/Mobile, 'S' - Stationary, 'D' - In Defence/Dug in.  That's it. What makes the thing most elegant is that 'S' is entirely a transitory stance: on the way from ceasing movement to take up a defensive posture, or about to abandon a defensive posture and move off.  In combat, the fighting capability of units is affected by their posture, 'Defence' being the strongest.

47th Rifle Division broken, without inflicting the slightest hurt
upon their enemy.  Not a good augury for Soviet fortunes.
My first thought that this was really too simple - and was thinking more along the lines of the 'SMART' Megablitz system.  But I really want to give the 'DMS' system a good shakedown first. For one thing it was not always clear what an artillery unit's stance should be when supporting an attack, say.  After one game I figured that, unless under direct, close range assault, artillery should shoot only whilst in 'Defence' posture.  It seemed to me a good thing also that Corps and Army artillery could change targets only after a 1 turn delay, and what better method suggested itself than for them to switch from 'D' to 'S', then back to 'D'?  Divisional artillery being nearer the sharp end I figured would be less subject to delay, and could switch at once if a fire programme called for it, or a spotter were available to guide the mission.
490th Division proved almost as obdurate.
The rule set allowed defenders to call upon the support of friendly artillery for each attack against them in a single game-turn. A single artillery unit so engaged could support just the one unit or hex-location. But what about the attacker?  Could he call down supports for each attack, provided the target were the same each time?  Seems reasonable to me, and in fact, trials seem to indicate this is quite a good use of artillery in attack.  Each shoot would go to depleting ammunition supplies, so that one would need to have stockpiled a reasonable quantity in aid of a set piece attack, say.
Armoured clash east of Apresski.  As both were under
'M' orders, it was unclear after the first clash where to
go from there.  The Soviets got the better of the first contact
that much was clear!

Let's look at a number of other points that occurred to me. These I mentioned in an email to Bob Cordery (author of HEXBLITZ).  I've copied that part of the email here, hence the change of font. These are really questions of (a) clarification, and (b) making a decision one way or another as seems reasonable.  

1. Can an attack be broken off by the attacker before it is completely worn down?It seems to me reasonable that this be allowed, since attacks are made in 'M' posture, with the proviso that any such move does not enter the 'zone of control' of (hex adjacent to) of an enemy unit, nor carries it into a friendly unit (for the moment I don't allow stacking, though HEXBLITZ itself permits it (conditionally)).

2. Can an attacker change posture to 'S' and or 'D' whist still in combat, and does the combat continue?  Of course, if it does this, then breaking off becomes more problematic.On the whole, I think not.  But it's an idea!

3. Can a combat be broken off by the defender?  This I grant would be difficult, as I am still imagining it as going from 'D' to 'S' to bugging out, if it can, on 'M'.This should be allowed, to my mind, because it won't be easy to pull off.  But it might be a way of extricating a battered unit before it can be destroyed.  Might be fatal against a faster moving enemy!

4. What happens when two moving units collide?  (This is a typical case of something I discovered when I was a computer programmer - a zillion years ago, now - 90% of effort goes to 10% of cases.  Such combats won't happen often, but they will happen, especially when tank units are involved.) 
II/39 Pz Bn overrunning Russian infantry...

Attacking the 544 Division's line.  Losses among the Russians
were enormous.

As both are in 'M' mode, then the one moving gets in the first hits as attacker, and has the advantage accordingly. But as units are moved according to priority numbers drawn at the beginning of the turn (You want player interaction? You get it with this system!), a number of permutations present themselves. 
For instance, the German I/39th Panzer Regiment and the Soviet 141st Tank Brigade are both given an 'M' order.  The panzer draw a number 10, the Soviets a 17. The panzers take the opportunity of striking the enemy tanks.  Let's say both have 4 Strength Points. Both roll 4 dice. The 'attacking' panzers will knock off a Soviet SP for each 5 or 6 rolled; the 'defending' Soviets require a 6.

Now, when the Soviets' priority number comes around, do they attack, with the score requirements reversed?  Should they be considered to have made their move (after all it was just chance that allowed the panzers to move first)?  Should their stance be automatically changed from 'M' to 'S'?  All of these seem reasonable, yet they are mutually exclusive.  I probably prefer to allow the Soviets to play out their counter-attack or break-off(?) as their priority number comes around.  That will reflect the swirling, to-and-fro, and destructive nature of tank battles fairly well, I imagine.

This brings me to a more general application of priority rules.

5. When orders are being carried out that involve a change of status, are they dependent upon priority? An example cropped up when a 'M' unit was changing to 'S'.  That unit drew a highish priority number.  Not far off an enemy unit, still with 'M' orders, but with a lower priority number, took its opportunity to thunder in and make contact before our friend could use his number.  Now, does the defender count as 'S' or 'M'?  This is particularly critical when a unit changes from 'S' to 'D'.  The simplest method is to state that the order is in effect the moment it is issued - i.e. from the start of the turn.  That seems to be implied when priority counters are not assigned to 'D' units.  If we want priority to signify in these instances, maybe D->S S->M M->S and S->D order chits might be indicated (mainly as an aide memoire, really).
47th Rifle Division about to be overrun.

Losses have already proved prohibitive.

Look what's happened to the Soviet infantry, by Jupiter!
139th Tank Brigade, 88th and 259th Rifle Divisions
all decimated, as are the Cavalry Brigades.  Only the 301st
Rifle Division is still in action, rolling up what's left of
544th Grenadier division.
Although I like the idea of the previous order remaining in effect until the unit's priority number comes around, it does seem a deal more complicated to administer.  On reflection, if transitional order chits were being used, there would be no need for straight 'S' chits. For mine the jury is still out on this one. It would certainly simpler to give the order chits immediate effect.

6. Having artillery fire in support only in 'D' mode seems to work quite well I think.  I also like the idea of allowing an artillery stand to shoot in support of more than one attack (by units of the same formation or next echelon up) against the same hex/hex-side/hex-point.  I also quite liked the method of switching targets at corps level or higher by D->S->D. 

7. Units placed astride hexsides and upon hex-points seem like a really neat idea, but it's not that easy working out ranges.  I have some ideas about that, but they require a diagram to explain.  I'm also thinking that a unit placed on a hex-point is automatically in 'all-round defence' posture: no flanks or rear.  

The following diagrams suggest firing ranges out to 2 hexes, dependent upon facing.  The numbers in parenthesis apply to defence against attacks in flanks or rear.  Here I also suggest that a unit or formation occupying a hex-point ought to be (allowed) all-round defence.  There is no especial reason that this has to be mandated, but it seems to me an idea worth entertaining, at least.  It is possible that the ranges suggested here are too generous, and that 1 should be added to the corners of the triangles. 

I've also assumed that a unit or formation occupying 2 hexes at once stands astride a hex-side.
But what about along a hex-side?  The thought has certain attractions.  The unit will be covering a very wide front, with zones of control to match.  But it can also be subjected to a greater number and variety of attacks in any given game-turn.
Well past exhaustion, 6th Shock Army carry the town, but
their chances of holding the place against even a weak
counter-attack are remote.
Finally, a point that I have just been reminded of.  What happens when a unit's SP reaches zero.  It is not destroyed, and, if it can retreat, it survives in being.  If attacked again, then it is eliminated.  I assume that it must retreat one grid-area the moment its SP hits zero, though its status becomes 'M' only if it was already at 'S' or 'M'; and become 'S' if at 'D' when it lost its last SP.  What happens if it can't retreat?  I infer from the rule set it is still not destroyed, but will be when (or if) attacked during the same or subsequent turns.   
I'll leave it here with these questions remaining to a large extent open.  What is intriguing about them, is that I can come up with several disparate answers for most of them and they all make some kind of sense.  That is what makes the decisions so hard.


  1. First, your new hex board looks fab. Second, this post looks very interesting and requires a more thorough re-read when I have more time. Good parallel play and analysis. Much of interest herein.

    First rate stuff!

    1. Thanks, Jonathan! I have to admit to feeling a little deflated after that second action, so some positive feedback is all the more welcome right now!

      added to which, I can't find my new Russian chappies....

  2. On a cursory read it appears to me that you are looking for clarification in a way that reminds me of the posts on Megablitz on Stephen's Balagan blog. I'd suggest having a look at his posts to see how he looked at it.
    I'd bear in mind Megablitz (from which Hexblitz is extracted Eve-like from the rib of Megablitz) is often described as a "toolkit" for umpires. That's a posh way of saying " making it up as you go along". Personally if a fudge produces the result you want, go with it. But then I like fudge.......;-)

    1. Fair comment, Neil. For the time being we are certainly in 'fudgerigar' country, but, for my own purposes I'm looking to clarify the system in my own mind. The 'tool kit' idea was certainly apparent in Chris Kemp's 'Not Quite Mechanised', and, until HEXBLITZ hove over the horizon, I was working on formalising that system for my own purposes. Probably still will. Eventually.

      But if any of the ideas/interpretations I have in mind is as good as any other, then it's simply a matter of 'suck it and see' to determine which I prefer.

      Meanwhile, I have found those missing Russians. They were hard to find because they were in a box clearly labelled Russian NQM battalions. ...Right.


    2. Ion,
      No criticism intended. Some people need a more formal framework. Unfortunately, I think this is often a precursor to more and more detail and definitions. Compare DBA version 1 to 3...
      I toyed with an Operational set of rules where to get around the problem of not having rules to cover every eventuality that players can invent, I unashamedly stole the RPG mechanism of the "task roll" from one of Frank Chadwick's sets. A task could be deemed easy or hard which increased or reduced the basic task roll value (D10 with value based on training skill level) IIRC values were something like 5-9. 1 was always a fail, 10 always a success. I also had states of "fresh", "worn" and "spent" determined by number of "hits" / SP lost which reduced chance of success after fresh. As a unit suffered casualties, it became harder to do things basically, representing loss of cohesion. SPs were cohesion points. This allowed the modelling of brittle or stubborn units. It was possible to put say 3 hits in fresh, so it took 3 losses to move it to worn or with 1 hit in fresh, it quickly moved to worn, but might take another 3 hits to move to spent.
      I was happy with some aspects but not others and was always tempted to introduce more detail in things like combat or morale, so have not worked on it for a long while.
      The aim was to have a framework where unexpected events could be dealt with easily by simply assigning a difficulty rating to a task roll. While an umpire would be preferred, I thought it would also be possible for players to reach a compromise in the absence of one.

    3. Hi Neil -
      I didn't actually infer criticism on your part. Just useful advice. I think that by looking into the complications ought to lead to the road to simplicity. 'Think complicated; do simple' was an aphorism I coined for myself during computer systems analyst days.

      Today, I was looking at a set piece attack (training the chelovyek) against a prepared fortified position. Was I going to use minefields, barbed wire and anti-tank obstacles? What is the effect of flank attacks against such?

      Answers at present; Yes to the obstacles, but merely for visual effect. The only complication is that the defenders ignore the first SP lost. That is serious enough! As most defences are linear (more or less) then the penalties for being attacked in flank or rear still apply. In the real even, Army boundaries might preclude flank attacks anyhow - at least until the fortified line is broken through.

      I like the fresh/worn/spent notion, but the attrition rate is so rapid using this rule set, that it's not really practical (works well for the Fury and Fury types of rule sets) a unit is 'spent' when its SP reaches zero. The SP reduction signifies its loss in personnel, morale and cohesion, all three.

      Again, to offset the attrition rate, I am considering partial restoration of SP overnight. A 6SP unit reduced to 0SP might expect to get 3 back overnight, provided it wasn't overrun, forced to surrender or otherwise erased from one's OOB. Those SP will be lost.

      At any rate, this weekend's big game (The Russians are attacking with 22 Rifle Divisions, 3 tank Corps, 2 Cavalry Corps, plus additional tank units, heavy artillery, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all...

      I'm all agog...

  3. Due to restrictions on the size of comments, I am going to have to split mine into several parts.

    Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, but I have been very busy over the past few days and have not had time to sit down and write a proper reply to your recent comments.

    Firstly, thanks very much for the compliments you have paid to my HEXBLITZ rules. The battles you are fighting are exactly the sort of corps/divisional-level battles that the rules were designed for. They were a development of Tim Gow’s MEGABLITZ but did incorporate some of my own ideas as well.

    I decided to use the DMS rather than SMART order chit/posture chits because it seemed to fit the sort of situations I found on the Eastern Front better. I did consider adding A = Attack to make it DAMS but never quite got around to it.

    My thoughts on the use of artillery are based on my understanding of the way that the Royal Artillery functioned during the latter stages of the Second World War and reading translations of some of the Russian manuals. By 1945 the British had an incredibly flexible system for controlling artillery, and a single observer/spotter could direct the fire of not only the divisional artillery but also corps and army group assets if necessary. On the other hand, the Russians tended to be more inflexible, with central control making fire plans for massed artillery the norm before a staged attack. Because of this they were unable to switch targets easily. In the rules I tried to make divisional and corps artillery flexible as far as it could be but to encourage players to use it for massed planned artillery attacks.

    All-in-all it seems to me that you have been using the rules as I intended them to be used.

    All the best,


  4. Part 2

    Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    In answer to your specific questions …

    1. Can an attack be broken off by the attacker before it is completely worn down?

    Yes, if it is possible for it to move out of contact.

    2. Can an attacker change posture to 'S' and or 'D' whist still in combat, and does the combat continue?
    It would be very difficult for an attacker to do that, I would say no unless the circumstances were particularly special.

    3. Can a combat be broken off by the defender?

    If a defender is under attack and they wish to break off, then they are risking a rout, and it would certainly be very, very dangerous. I’ve never tried it to see what would happen.

    4. What happens when two moving units collide?

    In real life, when two enemy units collide it is the one that gets its retaliation in first that often wins. I would definitely keep to the priority numbering to reflect this. In the example you give I would expect the Germans to attack first in the hope of destroying or driving the Russians away.

    (When this happens I am always reminded of the opening moves of the Battle of Gettysburg. If Buford’s cavalry had not seized the initiative and occupied the high ground, then Heth’s Confederate infantry would have done so. Despite being outnumbered Buford’s division was able to stop the Confederate advance and enable the rest of the Union army to come up.)

    5. When orders are being carried out that involve a change of status, are they dependent upon priority?

    The intention was that order chits should be placed BEFORE the priority cards are allocated; therefore a unit is deemed to have changed posture at the beginning of the turn not during it. In the example you use the unit changing from M to S is assumed to have done so before the attack goes in.

    6. Having artillery fire in support only in 'D' mode seems to work quite well I think. I also like the idea of allowing an artillery stand to shoot in support of more than one attack (by units of the same formation or next echelon up) against the same hex/hex-side/hex-point. I also quite liked the method of switching targets at corps level or higher by D->S->D.

    Sounds good to me.

    7. Units placed astride hexsides and upon hex-points seem like a really neat idea, but it's not that easy working out ranges. I have some ideas about that, but they require a diagram to explain. I'm also thinking that a unit placed on a hex-point is automatically in 'all-round defence' posture: no flanks or rear.

    This is an idea that I ‘nicked’ from the British Army 1956 War Game. I think that your diagram explains it very well indeed, and if I ever get around to re-writing these rules you can be assured that I will probably copy it!

    But what about along a hex-side? The thought has certain attractions. The unit will be covering a very wide front, with zones of control to match. But it can also be subjected to a greater number and variety of attacks in any given game-turn.

    This is something that I need to think about as it opens up a whole range of possibilities.

    Finally, a point that I have just been reminded of. What happens when a unit's SP reaches zero?

    If it is not possible for the unit to fall back out of combat, it will eventually be destroyed … but will hold up the enemy for another turn in order for this to happen.

    I hope that these answers clarify my thinking. You have certainly given me something to think about and made me wonder if I ought to re-visit these rules again in the near future.

    All the best,


  5. Thanks, Bob, for your comprehensive responses. They have gone to confirming my impressions. On the move order thing, I had decided at least for now to assume orders have immediate effect. The alternate idea did have certain attractions, though! But not so simple.

    I agree that trying to break off combat in D mode would be difficult (D->S->M), but it might in desperate situations get a unit of 'in being'. I'd have to test that, of course.

    The situation if a units SP is reduced to 0 I infer as this:
    1. Unit retreats at once if it can.
    2. Having done so its stance change S->M, D->S.
    3. An attacker that hasn't yet got in his attack can follow up and then attack, destoying the unit.
    4. If the defender can't retreat (e.g people behind him), he stays where he is, but its status is still changed, as before, to M or S as appropriate.
    5. Any subnsequent attack, in the same or subsequent move will also destroy it.

    In these and a 'set piece' play test I found the attrition rate very high, especially for the attackers. In our Operation Uranus game (later today) the thing will go for several 4-move days. I'm thinking of restoring 50% SP losses overnight each day, except that destroyed units will be considered a total loss.