Fresh off my enjoyment at Duncan’s Crawley tornie, I decided to put my name down for Flames of Fez in the new year.
The original intent was to field my British armour again, albeit with a few more Grants to take advantage of the increase in points. Sadly Fez was somewhat over subscribed with British forces so he asked if I would switch to the Hun, which I did because I’m helpful like that.
This did leave me with a quandary; What to take?
I had both Desert and Eastern Front flavours of German, but I had done little with them in the v4 era. An initial stab at a Ghost Panzer Grenadier list felt too defensively focused (though it did have three Nashorns), as did an Afrika Korps variant. I needed something a bit more mobile. Sadly my desert Panzer force was not really optimal as the PzIII could not be in a PzIV formation, making for a brittle DAK force. But then I noticed that in Iron Cross PzIV formations could take a PzIII platoon as core and everything dropped into place.
My force was:
The PzIVF2 (long 7.5cm) gave me eight AT10 shots. Whilst insufficient to deal with a KV or a Churchill especially at range, it could deal a hard punch against Allied medium armour.
The PzIIIL (long 5cm, uparmoured) platoon gave a unit to get in the enemy’s face, using it’s FA6 to soak up AT9 or 10 from light AT guns and medium armour whilst having a useful AT shot itself.
The PzIVF (short 7.5cm) gave me a versatile unit that could act as artillery to deal with heavy AT guns, or deal with enemy infantry with direct fire, or even hunt light armour.
The force was then rounded out by an infantry platoon with a squeeze bore, plus a light recce patrol to Spearhead and harass objectives.
The intent of the force was to attack! Attack! Attack! There was little point doing otherwise.
A test game vs Dylan’s Mixed Tankovy gave promising results, though a second game was lost due to a silly set-up error. Still, the force felt good and, importantly, wasn’t just another Armoured Car/Marder force! The only real downer was that time had not been kind and the force was looking a bit “pre-loved”. Best painted would have to wait…
At Duncan’s tornie I had set myself the challenge to win at least once and surprised myself by doing so twice. This time I thought I should up my target to matching my last performance. That said, I knew the Bunshop Guys would be in attendance and prepared myself for a beating!
Bag packed, it was time for an early morning train journey and to put this all to the test.
Game 1 versus David – Churchill Company
David was a relative newcomer to Flames of war, normally playing Fate of a Nation with Fez. This was his first tournament with the system and he had rocked up with an army of Churchill’s.
Lots of Churchills. Eight in fact. A two tank HQ, two platoons of three, plus an infantry platoon. That was only two less tanks than my medium tank force!
We both chose an attack stance and promptly rolled up “Dust-Up”, an old favourite. Both sides with 40% off in delayed reserves, two objectives and the ability to use Spearhead to sneak into a better attacking position. What wasn’t to like?
Really, it’s a shame I lost the game at this point, without knowing it…
Choice of quarter came to me and I opted for the quarter shown below on the basis there was a good firing position for the artillery, cover for the infantry, routes of advance for the spearhead, decent alternate firing positions for the PzIVF2 which would inevitably be in reserve to take up to try and plink Churchill at range should my own objectives be under treat.
All good considerations but what I should have done was chose the quarter with the buildings in. Why? Because tanks can’t assault buildings so why let my opponent have such an easy to defend position?!
Still, that realisation didn’t come until much later. At the time my math was that there would be Brit infantry on one objective, tanks on the other. I just needed to supress the infantry with the F2, get the armoured cars into contesting range of the nearest objective, get the IIIL’s onto the arse to hopefully bail a few, then assault with the infantry to capture and drive off. Assaulting heavy tanks was a tricky proposition but numbers favoured me.
By turn two I had set-up all the conditions to execute the above. The PzIVF had supressed the infantry with artillery fire; the Armoured Cars had got to the objective; the infantry had moved with haste to get into assault range on the flanks of the tank; the PzIIIL had got onto the rear of the Churchill’s albeit needing to move so only having three shots. It was just down to the dice.
The PzIIIL missed.
Okay, not ideal, but I could still force the Churchill off, maybe even get lucky and get one to bog. The assault ran in, got under the fire and forced the Churchill to break off. Which they did, between my PzIIIL for perfect side shots in their turn…
The Churchill’s didn’t miss, and suddenly my PzIIIL were bailed or on fire. The Churchill’s then pushed back into the forest to throw the infantry back in disarray.
In the absence of any reserves, the Panzer III valiantly held on, desperately trying to put shots into the flanks. As the reserves arrived, the PzIII were overwhelmed by inaccurate 6 pdr fire with nothing to show for their own efforts.
The armoured cars on the objective ONJ2 proved annoying for David and tied up a trio of Churchill for a good few turns! However the HQ troop relieved them, allowing the three to head to the Motor infantry at Obj 1 to support, whilst the other troop harassed my infantry as they fell back on my own objective at OBJA.
Supported by the CO PzIV F2, the handful of infantry stands that had made it back held the forest and forces the Churchill to leave one behind as it bogged on the way in. Sadly, I did lose the CO tank in the process.
Around OBJ 1, the PzIVF2 pushed towards the vastly reduced and shell shocked Motor Rifle infantry who had been sitting under a repeat bombardment for the last three turns.
Just as they arrived, so did the first Churchill, who relieved the infantry as they fled the next turn! The PzIVF2 started a long duel versus the Churchills, losing a tank each turn, but eventually killing two Churchills and bailing another, but sadly not enough to force a break.
The last PzIVF2 fled, leaving only the PzIVF in good spririts and this breaking the army.
An 8-1 win to David!
So, what worked? What didn’t? The PzIVF’s did sterling work, firing at the maximum extent of their range to suppress the infantry. The other two tank types never seemed to land a penetrating hit.
I think I was right to go aggressive, but I executed the attack poorly, stalling the PzIIIL because they failed an unnecessary blitz on the first turn and sending the infantry into a fight they couldn’t win. What I should have done was play the PzIIIL and Armoured Cars as is, but have the infantry dash to the motor infantry to seize the building after a couple turns of repeat fire on the building. The Churchill would then be forced to leave the Armoured Cars on the other objective to chase my infantry, exposing their flanks to the PzIIIL. That may have led to a better outcome for me.
Game 2 versus Mike – Churchill Company
Interestingly, the only other time I have ever played Mike Klaka was versus his Tunisian Churchills in v3, back at “DAK! DAK! GO!” in the Mk.1 Dice Saloon. In many ways this felt like a rematch although my DAK were a lot more tank heavy in v4.
Mike surprised me in two ways:
- His force was rife with two-strong platoons. With the way morale works in v3 these seem to be a rarity but Mike’s army was sporting a single tank HQ, two two-tank Churchill platoons and two, two-gun 25pdr batteries. These were backed up by Universal carriers, a Rifle platoon (part of the tank formation), a motor platoon and a platoon of armoured cars (Humbers I think).
- He chose to defend. Again, not what I expected for a tank force.
As I was still stuck in attack mode, we rolled up No Retreat. On the plus side, I had my whole force and he had deep immediate reserves to contend with. On the negatives, mines, a narrow frontage and an ambush awaited. Mike’s choice of sides also put a river between us. Thankfully he didn’t mine the bridge! Instead the mines were placed to mostly screen the covered approaches to the near objectives.
Mike placed his two batteries of 25pdr overlooking each objective, his rifle company in and around the woods of the rearmost one, his armoured cars screening the approach to the closest one and one of his tank troops relatively central to react to whichever way I thrusted. His motor platoon went into reserve. Is suspected these would appear on the near objective, but I guess he also wanted them in hand to screen a run on the rearmost objective too if I went heavy on that direction.
I decided to send my infantry towards the near objective, supported by the armoured cars and PzIVF. They would have to deal with the armoured cars first, then suppress and assault whatever may be guarding the objective, preferably before the Churchill started to wander up. The PzIII and IVF2 would hook right, across the river. They would tie down the Churchill troop and rifle platoon, then any reserves that may appear. As a last ditch, they could also try and force a way onto the far objective but I suspected that would be a big ask given the terrain and the proximity to any arriving Churchill.
My opening turn saw all my tanks successfully ford the river, whilst the PzIVF and Sd KFZ 222 bailed the enemy recce screen.
These subsequently ran at the start of his turn. Sure enough, the motor infantry ambush emerged on the near objective. Mike also got a reserve on the first asking, bringing on another two-tank Churchill troop.
Over the next few turns, nothing much happened. My infantry took a beating but held on, I’d get a PzIVF bailed each turn, which would then get in next turn, whilst the PzIVF2 and Churchill engaged in ineffective long range fire. What was happening was that my PzIIIL were working their way around the flank… taking out one of the 25pdr battery in the process.
That let them blitz and score two penetrating hits on the CO Churchill. Mike used his charmed life card to stop one but I still passed the firepower test on the second hit.
The following turns saw the PzIII score a side shot on one of the two Churchill, the remainder running in his next turn. The PzIV tried to play “Tally Ho” tactics and cross the other Troop’s T, but failed miserably.
The PzIVF2 paid the price for their poor crusader impression, but the CO PzIVF2 and the the PzIIIL saw off another Churchill, leading to the survivor fleeing, breaking Mike’s force.
With the infantry having fled, plus the PzIVF2 troop all being on fire, I had lost two platoon giving me a 7:2 victory.
I think the PzIIIL were the star of the show, bagging two Churchill’s and some 25pdr. The PzIVF didn’t achieve much, struggling to land its punches, as did the PzIVF.
All in all, the game went to plan, leading to a tough but fun game.
Game 3 versus Paul – British Motor Infantry and American Friends
The last game was against Paul, another of the Bunshop. Pauls’ force was a Tunisia era Anglo-American force; a British Motor Company with US Tank Destroyer support. That presented a lot of M10 and 6pdrs to worry about! This was then compounded by being on an open desert table, rapidly followed up by the mission being free-for-all so both of us would have all our forces on.
Things were not looking good.
Winning the attacker roll, I chose the side of the table with the compound on it, reasoning that the walls would give some cover to advance on a flank objective and that there was little terrain for Paul to use on his side. With AT12 long ranged shots whizzing around, an extra +1 to hit would be welcome! I used the armoured cars to push a feint up the centre, not that it seemed to draw much from Paul, set the Panzer IVF on the left flank to guard it, the infantry on the right flank to guard the covered route that the motor infantry may exploit, then the armour set up to reinforce the idea of a central feint but ready to switch to the right flank. Paul set his bofors, 6pdr and infantry around the right objective, the stuarts and 25pdr to cover the left, then the M10 arrayed along the centre.
On the right flank, I moved the PzIIIL up towards the Bofors, putting fire down on them ineffectively. The PzIVF2 put fire on the 6pdr but also failed to make much of a dent.
Paul pushed his infantry up through the compounds, aiming to be in position to assault any bailed tanks his M10 and 6pdr left, but not quite getting enough hits to pull taht off. We did get into an assault between my armoured cars and his infantry that left the armoured cars beat up and the infantry down a few stands.
The 6pdr and M10 for took it out of the my PzIIIL and the assaults versus the Bofors saw the tanks pushed back by bailing hits. Eventually the last PzIIIL tried a last ditch attempt but got bagged by that fire.
On the left flank, my PzIVF skirted up the flank, staying out of the 25pdr range and shooting at the Stuarts, the broken ground ahead provided the light tanks some cover, but I bailed one tank – who stayed bailed for the rest of the game! The M10 shot back and killed two of the PzIVF whilst the Stuarts raced forwards, cue a desperate last stand around the objective with the remaining PzIVF stuck around and bailed a few Stuarts but was eventually overwhelmed.
So, it went much like much I thought it would – advance, catch fire, die. But, a week later, its clear that I could have done some things differently that may have improved my odds.
Switching the PzIVF and F2 may have worked out better. The PzIVF2 were wasting their AT capability by shooting AT gun teams and the PzIVF were trying to stretch their AT7 to its max on the left flank. Flipped over, the PzIVF2 could have been wiping out Stuarts whilst the short 7.5cm of the PzIVF could have been putting smoke rounds down on the 6pdr.
Put it all down to the last game and feeling morose about the table, but I may have got a better losing score!
So, its fair to say I didn’t meet my target, with only one win!
Ultimately, part of the blame has to sit with the list; I bought medium tanks to a Heavy tank fight and was too reliant on marginal chances of penetrating.
The stand-out disappointment was the PzIVF2. Its long 7.5cm never felt like it earned its points, and the lower front armour proved a liability in stand up fights versus 6pdr wielding Churchills .
On the other hand, both the PzIIIL and PzIVF felt like they armed their keep. The PzIII’s armour allowed it to get in the face of the Churchills and the like, although AT9 still proved too low to threaten the sides consistently. The PzIVF proved a versatile unit and not using it correctly may have been one of the costly factors in game 3.
I think that last point also leads into the major issue, I didn’t really know my own force well enough, nor the capabilities of my foe. The last game versus Paul saw my caught out by the range of the 3” gun and the towed 6pdr, whilst I overplayed the strength of my AT10 long 7.5cm. This was then compounded by stupid errors like granting my opponent a quarter with a building in in a predominantly tank force! The game versus Mike was probably the one game where I played my strengths and had a solid plan and it showed, albeit in a slugging match!
With the bruises still smarting, its time to rethink the force. I still want it to feel like an El Alamein era DAK force so I want to stay with the tanks I have, albeit in different quantities. The Panzer IVF2 will go back on the shelf and the force will be bolstered by a platoon of Marders to provide a high end AT capability versus Churchills and the like. The PzIIIL will do the majority of the heavy lifting but a platoon of PzIVF will remain to provide some fire support versus dug in infantry.
Still, I got lucky in the post tornie raffle and picked up two prices, Red Banner and a token set. Whilst a rougher experience than the Crawley event, the tournament wasn’t without its enjoyable moments and was certainly a learning experience. Thanks again to David, Mike and Paul for the games, Fez for organising it and Battlefront for the terrain and prize support!