Monday, September 24, 2018

Surprise Party - continued (1)

The narrative that follows will be more pictorial than textual, mainly because typing is such hard work at the moment!    The action opened with German battle-groups advancing in a species of pincer movement towards the Malinava town.

There was no initiative roll for the first turn; the Germans opened the ball. After the Russian reply, the initiative would be decided by die roll (evens = Soviets; odds = German).

Almost immediately, Kampfgruppe Carius encountered the T34s of 421 Tank Battalion, in the woods southeast of Malinava.
Northwest of the town, Gruppe Strecker had to be more cautious, as the Russian tanks had been kept well back in the wooded country that covered the whole front in that sector of the field.

The Soviets also ensured that the German attackers would be forced to enter difficult terrain to come at the defenders.  Captain B. B. Bogdanovitch remained with a SMG company in the middle of town, with a company of light armoured scout cars (BA64s) keeping watch over the western approaches.
Considering the Soviet defence was supposed to be disorganised, it proved a tough slog for the Germans.

The latter's objectives were the town centre, the two fortified positions in the north-east and south-east corners of the place, and the crossroads just to the east.

The first action was a brisk exchange of fire between the tanks of 4th Coy, 421st Tank Bn, and the Puma armoured car company, which at once swung off to the right to make way for the lead Tiger company (the 1st).  The Russian tanks soon pulled back, inviting the German heavy armour to enter into a close quarter duel under the trees.
Taking a more cautious approach, Lt Strecker directed 5th Panzergrenadier (5PzGr) Company to pass through ahead of the panzers and lead off the attack into the woods.  Sixth PzGr were to carry out, pretty much unaided, the direct attack on the town.

Rather than sit back in completely passive defence, one tank company (1st, 410th Tk Bn) moved forward to engage the Germans whilst they were still in the open.  The hope was to do some damage early and stall the attack, but this plan was unsuccessful.  the Russians soon found themselves under attack from swarms of German infantry with armoured support.
A comment here upon close combats.  The rule set I was using was Bob Cordery's Portable Wargames set for WW2.  In this, all successful hits caused the opponent to be pinned, whether or not the target also lost a Strength Point (SP).  Pinned units could not move, 'initiate' a close combat, nor break off a close combat.  Unable to move, further successful hits automatically caused a loss to SP.  Pinned units could still shoot, though at reduced effectiveness.  Finally, a pinned unit could spend a turn unpinning provided it were not in contact with the enemy.

This could get sticky, especially in thick terrain - especially urban fighting.  When opposing units took losses and were pinned, the questions arose: (a) could the two continue their close combats, and (b) how could any result be obtained when the penalties for cover and being pinned meant a hit was not possible?

These questions I resolved, for the purposes of this action in this way.
1. The locked pinned units could still fight a close combat.  Neither side is actually initiating it; it merely continues.
2.  The continuation of the close combat is not dependent
upon orders, but carries on in both sides' turns.
3.   A roll of '6' is required for a pinned unit to inflict a hit upon an enemy in close combat.  That is to say, modifications still apply, but a natural 6 is always a hit.

I'm not sure that last is a fully satisfactory solution. At some point I want to experiment with 4,5,6 being the standard requirement to hit an opponent in the open.  The modifications for pinned units in close combat would still require them to roll '6' to hit.  I have a feeling the 50-50 odds will make the action brisker.  My concern, though, is that the 4,5,6 system might already have been tried and found wanting.

At any rate, these modifications were to lead to some interesting effects as the action developed.

Meanwhile, the Tigers of Gruppe Carius swung off to the right down the NW rail line, making way for the lead panzergrenadier company to penetrate the woods up the road.  There the infantry got themselves shot up and driven back out into the open.  Pinned units I marked with  white counters.

One thing about the PW rule set: stuff happens.  Attacks may be repulsed, but they can often be renewed, once the rebuffed unit reorganised itself (rallies/ unpins itself).   Some companies were to make at least four assaults before the action ended.
Such was the early experience of 6th PzGr Coy: twice penetrating the streets of Malinava, and twice being thrown out again.  The inspiring presence of their battalion commander made 2nd SMG Coy a tough proposition in the middle of town, though their fire was not deadly enough to cause serious losses to the Germans (the Russians were rolling 'retreat' outcomes, and it was not in the German interest in this particular fight to take the loss in order to remain in contact).
So, almost from the start, the German attempt to retake Malinava came to a grinding halt. 'Grinding' is an apt descriptor, as all along the line a close quarter fight developed.  Even at the south end, where the Tigers were pushing along the rail line, the 5th and 6th companies of 421st tank Brigade came out from the woods hard by Dvinsk city to meet them.  Fourth Tank Company had by this time taken some losses and retired up the road Malinava road to take up a position within its outskirts.
In the north, the gradual process of driving back the Soviet tanks was beginning, but was always going to be a slow process, despite the German advantages in weight of armour and firepower, not to mention the presence - actually the spearhead - of the infantry.

The Russian commander did consider sending in his 1st SMG Coy to help out the T34s, but opting to maintain the town and its German-built fortifications as the anchor for his whole position, decided to leave them where they were.
Besides, there was plenty to do for the units in action.
Whilst the panzergrenadier companies drew up to clear the woods south of the town, a brisk tank battle was developing between Lt Carius's Tiger companies aided by the Puma squadron, and two T34 coys of 421st Tank Battalion.  Given the disparity in firepower and armour, this was certainly a one-sided battle, but the Russian tanks did not die easily.  For one thing, the Tigers had to debouch from the defile between woodland tracts where ran the railroad.  The Pumas and 2nd Panzer Coy, leading the Tiger column, took almost as much damage as the Russian armour (2 SPs lost to 3) by the time the 1st Tiger company could get into action.       
As the I Panzergrenadier Battalion worked their way against stubborn resistance from 3rd SMG Coy, the 6th Company (of II PzGr Bn) was launching its second attack on the town.  This brought them into contact not only with Captain Bogdanovitch's gallant band, but with the rear of 4/421st Tanks as well.

And of course it brought us to the situation in which a moving unit comes into contact with more than one enemy.  I inferred from the rule set that as a defender contacted by more than one attacker is forced to combat them severally, such would be the case for an attacker coming into contact with more than one defended grid area.

So 6th PzGr Coy found itself attacking not only 2nd SMG Coy, but the rear of 4th Tank Company.  Not that the attacks availed them much at all. 

The next few pictures give an overall picture of the situation, just as the first of the Russian reinforcements began to arrive..   Gruppe Strecker was making slow progress forcing its way through the band of woodland extending north of the town.  Sixth PzGr Coy was locked in battle within the town's precincts against tanks and SMG men.

The panzergrenadiers of Carius's gruppe were driving in the 3rd SMG Coy through the woods into the town.

Clear of the woods to the south, the Tigers had at last eliminated 6th Tank Coy, and were concentrating their strength against what remained of the 5th.  The open spaces south of the town was becoming littered with burning tanks.

On watch, the Puma company eyed with trepidation the arrival of fresh Soviet reinforcements - tanks and tank riders of 129th Tank Brigade.  These were placed on the table before the initiative roll.  The Germans were lucky to 'win' the initiative, which gave them time to try to take out 5th Tank Coy, before turning against these newcomers.

By this time, event were developing rapidly - at least for the time being - on the south face of the town.  Supported by mortar fire, 2nd PzGr Coy and the MMGs of 4th PzGr Coy attacked the Soviet 4th Tank Coy frontally whilst the latter were being attacked in rear by 6th PzGr Coy.  Teller mines, grenade clusters and panzerfausts put paid to 4th Tank Coy.  Soon, nothing would remain of 421st tank Battalion.  First PzGr Coy had also reached the town and tried to break into the place under the noses of the Russian MMG company occupying the old fortified position.  This brusque reception forced 1st PzGr Coy to fall back to the woods on the far side of the road.

It seemed also that the 6th PzGr Coy attack on the town centre would also be crowned with success.  Already reduced to half strength, the latter was barely hanging on.  Though driven back twice already, the panzergrenadier losses had so far been unfelt (no SPs lost so far!).  The difference had been, of course, apart from the luck of the combat dice rolls, the Russian determination to stick to their positions, whilst the Germans were quite ready to give up an attack, 'reorganise' and return for another bout.  

In the north, the Soviet armour was by now just clinging to the eastern fringes of the woodland. But it was requiring considerable effort by the Germans to lever them out.  The Soviets had taken some loss, but were so far still able in this sector to sustain the battle.

Although this was 3 units vs 3 units - 9 Russian SPs vs 10 German - the disparity in 'quality' - 2 'elite' and 1 'average' vs 3 'poor' - ought, one feels, to have led to a fairly rapid German success.  The Russians were helped by the thick terrain. of course, but even so, this was very slow progress, at close range, where the Soviet could battle at something approaching level terms.
Having erased 421st tank Battalion from the Soviet Order of Battle, the Tigers were forced to turn their attention to the newly arrived elements of 129th Tank Brigade.  Just in time, as fighting T34 tanks was not the sort of task for which the Puma armoured car was designed.  For a time, the armoured cars were forced to take refuge behind a wood, where the enemy tanks were reluctant to follow.  Meanwhile the armoured cars' 50mm guns had accounted for at least some of one T34 company.
By now three panzergrenadier rifle companies, and one MMG company, together with the support of the mortars from both battalions, were mounting serious concerted assaults upon the town.  Already reduced to half strength, 3rd SMG company during the course of its long retreat from the woods along the southwest road, and the equally reduced 2nd SMG in defence of the CBD, the Russian nevertheless rose magnificently to the occasion.

For the third time, 6th PzGr was flung back from the town into the wood fringing the Schtchu'd mere, and the remaining assailants also found themselves forced to draw off and regroup.

In the north, however, Gruppe Strecker were gradually levering loose the Soviet hold of a narrow strip of woodland, and edging the Soviet tanks into the open.  Once the Soviet tanks were forced out from the woods, the Tigers could then engage them at range.  But the Russians were proving most reluctant to shift.
A couple of timely damaging hits stalled the German advance.

The only Germans able to retain a foothold in the Malinava town were the machine-gunners of 4th PzGr Coy, and that only barely. They had joined in the close quarter attacks by 6th and 2nd Coys, were driven back, but were able to fall back to a sector of the town that was not in contact with enemy. All the same, a valuable foot hold it was, as not only had 6th Coy been thrown back, but 1st and 2nd Coys as well, and with considerable loss (1 SP each).  
After a brief pause to regather their nerve, the panzergrenadiers again threw themselves into the attack - and once more, the outcome was the same.  This was getting frustrating for the Germans, who needed to make much better time, to forestall or meet the inevitable Russian counter-offensive.

The contest for the town as yet in favour of the Russians' stubborn resistance, events were developing more the Germany's way elsewhere.  The counter-attack by 129th Tank Bde by this time had left both companies reduced to one-third strength.  But 1st Tiger Company was in no better shape.  The less damaged 2nd Tiger company found itself in the worse danger, though, assailed by the fresh 4th SMG whilst fighting off the 7th Tank Company.
On the extreme northern flank, 3rd Tiger Company at last finished off the last of 1st tank Coy, just as 3rd Tank Coy launched a counter-attack.  It seemed the moment the Germans appeared to be on the brink of a significant success, the Russians would find the means once more to bring them up short.
So German frustrations continued: slow progress north, and repeated attacks on the town being thrown back each time as losses mounted, especially among 1st PzGr Coy, which was finding the Russian MMGs difficult to winkle out from their fortifications.

For a time almost all the units on both sides were pinned down by enemy fire.  This tended to hurt the Germans more though the actual losses were heavier among the Russians. Recovering, 2nd, 4th MMG and 6th PzGr Coys tried yet another storm of the town.

This time, they enjoyed a considerable measure of success.  3rd SMG Company was totally destroyed, but 6th PzGr Coy losses began to be felt (1 SP lost).  All the same, the attempt to oust the Russian MMG company was, once more, beaten back.  

By now, further Russian reinforcements could be descried in the distance, two tank and an SMG company from 132nd Tank Brigade.  Yet the Germans seemed still a long way off capturing its objectives, or forcing the Russians back across the north-south rail line.

True, by now, the Germans had cleared the Russian tanks out of the woods north of the town, but then had to face the prospect of  carrying the fortified position manned by the hitherto unengaged 1st SMG Coy.
At that, almost half the Russian armour of 410th tank Bde were still in action (4Sp out of 9).  6th PzGr Coy was pinned down in the town, reduced to three-quarter strength.
South of the town, the plain was littered with the wrecks of all of four Soviet tank companies.  The 4th SMG Company was also forced back with loss.  Kampfgruppe Carius was at last in a position to close the southern pincer.

One last effort was required in the town.  6th PzGr Coy and 4th MMGs attacked the 2nd SMG Coy from two directions.

This time!  At last 2nd SMG succumbed to the pressure that company had endured all day. Having survived at least two near-misses already, Captain Bogdanovitch ran out of luck and expired with his men.  At last the town had been conquered.

The loss of their commander tipped the Russians over the edge into exhaustion, before the IS2s of 43rd Heavy Tank Battalion could intervene.  No aggressive move was permitted of them. having lost some 28 SPs - well over the third of even the whole of the 72 SPs for the entire Russian force.
But it was all too much for the Germans.  Though losses still fell short of the exhaustion point, just one more SP would bring the offensive to an end.  Obserstleutnant Degnon called it off, right there.  The 'butchers' bill of 16SP lost against 28, and the Russians driven from all their positions bar the sandbagged entrenchments occupied by the MMG company and 1st SMG Company, might have indicated a
considerable German success.  But really it was a failure.  Just one of the four objective points was taken.  In the original PC game, they went towards victory conditions.  If I were to award 10 'points' for each objective, the scores would be;
German: 28 + 10 = 38
Russian: 16 + 30 = 46.
Furthest limits of German advance by the end of the action.

I think we can call this a hard fought tactical success for the Russians.

NOTE:  This is likely to be my last posting for a bit of a while - until I can properly see again. Even with the font size at 150% this screen is getting hard to read. This also implies I won't be often visiting my favorite blogs, neither, much to my regret.  I feel very sorry about that.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Surprise Party

June, 1944.  Operation Bagration had begun, stormed though German lines and surged deep into Belorussia and the Baltic States,  At Latvian Dvinsk (Dunaburg, Daugavpils) the town and its outlying suburb villages were overrun, though not without a fight.  The Germans hastily abandoned the village of Malinava, northwest of Dvinsk.

Oberstleutnant Degnon, with an elite force of heavy tanks and panzergrenadiers was tasked with seizing, taking or carrying the village of Malinava as a counter to the bridgehead the Russians were establishing on the south bank of the Dvina River (just off the bottom edge of the map).  Dividing his small battlegroup into two columns, he ordered the column commanders, Hauptmann Carius and Oberleutnant Strecker to pinch out the village position, retake the place, and prepare for the enemy counter-attacks that would inevitably follow.  The Germans soon found that Malinava was already held in some strength, though the enemy had yet to consolidate his defences.

For his part, the local Russian Commander, Colonel Bogdan Bogdanitch Bogdanov, had been apprehending just such a quickly mounted attack by the Hitlerites.  He had his tanks and tank-riding infantry, but where in all of Holy Mother Russia were his heavy weapons supports?  The mad rush of the advance had left them far behind.  All he could do was wait.  'Hold on,' said his commanding General, 'We have tanks and infantry coming up.  Some heavies, too.  They should arrive about midday.  Can you hold until then?'

'We'll hold,' said Colonel Bogdanov. He was by no means as sure of that as he tried to sound...

German Kampfgruppe Degnon:

HQ:  Lt-Col Drgnon, car, SP=6

Column Carius:

Haupt. Carius, Kubelwagen  SP=1
1st Panzer Company:  Tiger I, heavy rank, elite, SP=3
2nd Pz Coy: Tiger I, heavy tank, elite, SP=3
1st Panzergrenadier Coy: 4 infantry stands, SdKfz251 average SP=4
2nd PzGr Coy: 4 infantry stands, SdKfz251, average,  SP=4
4th PzGr (Weapons) Coy:
      MGs: 2 MMG stands, SdKfz251,average,  SP=2
      Mortars: 1 8cm mortar, SdKfz251, average, SP=2
Heacy Armoured Car Compamy:
      1 SdKfz234/2 Puma, elite, SP=3

Column Strecker:

Oblt. Strecker, kubelwagen, SP=1
3rd Pz Coy: Tiger I, heavy tank, elite, SP=3
4th Pz Coy: Tiger I, heavy tank, elite, SP=3
5th PzGr Coy: 4 infantry stands, truck, average, SP=4
6th {zGr Coy: 4 infantry stands, truck, average, SP=4
8th PzGr (Weapons) Coy:
     MG: 2 MMG stands, truck average, SP=2
     Mortar: 1 8cm mortar, truck, average, SP=2
Recon Support Armoured Car:
     1 SdKfz 234/3 with 75L24 gun, average, SP=3


Units: 17 (including commands, see Note 1
Median: 9
Strength Points: 50
Exhaustion Point: 17 SP lost

Russian, Elements of 4th Shock Army

Garrison, Malinava village and environs.

91st Tank Brigade: Colonel B.B. Bogdanov, SP=6
410th Tank Battalion:
     1st Tank Company: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     2nd Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     3rd Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
421st Tank Battalion:
     4th Tank Company:  1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     5th Tank Company:  1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     6th Tank Company:  1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
155th Tank desantski SMG battalion:
     1st SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, average, SP=4
     2nd SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, Average, SP=4
     3rd SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, average, SP=4
     MMG Coy: 2 MMG stands, average, SP=2
Light Armoured Car Coy:
     1 BA64, MG only, elite, SP=3

Reinforcements, arriving during the day:

At Point C:     Elements 129th Tank Brigade:
     7th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor,SP=3
     8th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     4th SMG tank desantski Coy: 4 SMG stands, average, SP=4
At Point B:   Elements 132nd Tank Brigade:
     9th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor. SP=3
     10th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     5th SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, SP=4
At Point A:  Elements, 43rd Heavy Tank Battalion
     Captain S.S. Stepanski, jeep, SP=1 (See Note 1)
     1st Heavy Tank Coy: 1 IS2, average, SP=3
     2nd Heavy Tank Coy: 1 IS2, average, SP=3
     6th SMG  Coy: 4 SMG stands, SP=4


Units: 12, rising to 15, 18, 22
Median: 6, rising to 8, 9, 11
Strength Points: 41, rising to 51, 61, 72
Exhaustion Points: 14, rising to 17, 21, 24 SP lost


1 Commands counted as separate units for the purposes of counting medians.
2. Command stands with another stand may act with it without using an extra movement point.
3. Command units moving independently cost a movement point.
4.  I made the German tanks elite and the Russian 'poor' really to differentiate as much as possible their disparate strengths without differencing their SP values.
5. Recon units I decided were 'elite' to add to their value for recon purposes.  It didn't make much difference in this particular game, although the Puma did end up footing it with at least one T34.
4. On the Russian side, the Exhaustion Point is adjusted upwards, as reinforcements arrive.
5. Reinforcements are placed on the table entry points, or 1 edge grid area adjacent to it, at the beginning of their arrival turn before initiative is determined.
6.  Arrival times are
    C: Move 11
    B: Move 14
    A: Move 17
(These could have been randomised to add to uncertainty)
Before leaving here, I ought to say something about the rule set I was using.
1.  The rule set was Bob Cordery's Portable War Game.  However there were a few small tweaks to make what was a sizeable game play smoothly.
2.  The subcommanders added to the number of units, but could move with other units at no extra cost to the movement allowance.
3.  Turns were in pairs, comprising one side making its moves and attacks, then the other.  At the beginning of each pair, I rolled two dice.  One went ODD (German initiative) or EVEN (Russian initiative),  The other roll went 1,2 - activate median-1 units; 3,4 - activate median units; 5,6 activate median +1 units, for whichever unit 'won' the initiative.
4.  At the end of that side's moves, combats and rallies. then the other side rolled to activate its units.
5.  Commanders did not have a fighting capacity of their own, but helped (per rule set) with the fighting and or morale of units they were with.
6.  Pinning.  To move things along, I decided that pinned units in contact with the enemy could still battle in close combat.  The modifications still stood, but a 'natural' six rolled always counted as a hit on the enemy.  The effect of this was to help the action along a bit, especially when two opposing units were both pinned!  We'll see how that worked out next time.
7. Transports.  The Panzergrenadier trucks and half-tracks were integral to the unit.  If the infantry dismounted and left their vehicle, only the vehicle OR the infantry could move or shoot for the movement point allocated to the unit.   Motor transport in this action did not count as separate units.

Finally: this scenario owed a great deal to the 'Surprise Party' scenario from the Computer game Europe In Flames: East Front.  It seemed to me a fine scenario to adapt to this system

To be continued.