Martin brings us an AAR from the Eastern Front.
To closeout my hobby activities of 2020 I organised a game using the full 150 points of my Soviet Guards 5th Tank army that I had collected during the Hobby League. So a suitably large game to end the year!
This game would feature the operations of the 5th Tanks in capturing some of the vital river crossings during late 1943 and early 1944 before they refitted in preparation for the great summer offensive that will be Bagration. My opponent’s force consisted of a panzer grenadier force who had been tasked with holding the bridges blocking the Soviet advance these had been bolstered by none other than Tiger Ace Kurt Knispel and a company of 7 Tiger heavy tanks.
We used the Contact scenario for the game with the Soviets as the attacker. The Battlefield was set up with the Germans holding the two river crossings and a small village whilst the Soviets attack would come along the roads and through the wooded terrain towards the villages and more open terrain. To make the game more challenging the river could only be crossed by non-amphibious vehicles using a bridge.
With the scenario the Germans placed the bulk of the Tiger Tank Company with one Panzer Grenadier unit in delayed reserve and a unit of Wespe artillery was held in ambush to act as makeshift tank hunters due to the lack of soft soviet targets to bombard.
My entire Soviet Hero T-34 Battalion (HQ with 85, 2 mixed platoons (2x 76, 2x 85) and T-34/76 platoon with SMG Tank Riders) formed the Soviet immediate reserves, ready to rush forward exploiting any breakthrough the heavy tanks could force.
The game started with the Soviet heavy tanks dashing forward, electing speed over firing on the move and trusting that the Soviet artillery would pin down the defenders and the Red Airforce would eliminate the most immediate threats.
The Artillery did little damage, mainly redeploying its ranged in markers, but the Red Airforce delivered a stunning strike against the defenders of the upper crossing, knocking out an ’88 and killing two heavy MG teams covering the second bridge. This decision of where to strike meant the Churchills at the lower crossing would face three Tigers and a pair of Pak 40’s but this was a sacrifice I chose to make to allow the KV-1s to penetrate into the village and put maximum pressure on the German defences.
The German first turn saw the Tigers, led by Kurt Knispel, respond and several Churchill tanks were lost on the bridge approach. The Nebelwerfers killed two Su-76’s
Turn 2 saw the Hero T-34/85 HQ arrive and the commander looked at the options of where to bring up the Soviet reserves. Again, the Red Air Force sought to strike a decisive blow this time targeting the Tiger HQ in the centre of the table, this would only expose my Churchill’s to fire from one direction. Meanwhile, the artillery set about decimating the Panzer Grenadiers supporting the Tiger and Nebelwerfers which were ranged in on my SU-76 battery. The KV-1’s positioned to fire on the remnants of the infantry in the buildings holding the village objective.
The KV-1s reduced the Panzer Grenadier HQ to a single stand but were unable to assault into the buildings whilst the Churchills pushed forward engaging the Panzer Grenadiers who fell back into the building by the objective. The Red Airforce targetted the Command Tiger a bomb hit the target and, despite the lucky card, flames burst up through the engine deck and the threat was no more. The German centre was collapsing.
With things not going well and no reserves until next turn, the Germans were really up against it and elected to ambush the Wespes against the KV-1’s in the village partly to boost the number of platoons defending this objective. The Panzer Grenadiers regrouped around the house but the Nebelwerfer battery remained pinned down. With the position of the house between the Tigers and the Churchills, the Tigers began to advance toward the objective now being contested. The ambush failed to do any damage but the Tigers and Pak40’s killed another two Churchills.
Soviet Turn 3 saw me manage to roll on three reserve units with a mixed T-34 unit sent to reinforce the KV-1’s and a unit of T-34/76’s with my SMG tank riders aboard dashing a huge 28″ down the road to support the Churchills.
The Wespes which had failed to hurt my KV-1’s paid the price as the heavy tanks picked them off with ease, but this did prevent me killing off the Panzer Grenadier HQ so there would be a couple more turns yet. In the centre I re-positioned my Churchill’s to reduce the incoming fire whilst the artillery dispatched the Nebelwerfer battery and a Pak 40.
German Turn 3 and everything would hinge on the reserves roll, after a nervous few moments as the remaining Pak40 routed my opponent rolled, a 5! Two more Tigers rolled on to the battlefield unluckily from the German left flank thanks to the scattered reserves rule. The Tigers advanced on mass to threaten the Churchills contesting the objective and despite their superior optics and penetration power, no kills were scored.
Soviet Turn 4 would be decisive with my KV-1s now supported by the T-34’s they could concentrate on eliminating the remaining Panzer Grenadier HQ team holding on to the village objective. The T-34/76’s moved forward ready for my tank riders to assault against the last of the infantry in the house.
The tanks pin the infantry down and the SMG’s assault of the tanks but despite being pinned the three teams are enough to halt the Soviet attack. To add insult to injury the KV-1s fail to kill the HQ team! Had the tide turned for the defenders?
German Turn 4 was fairly uneventful, no reserves arrived and with just a single Churchill being eliminated due to some poor rolls to hit and some lucky saves, the Tigers had had to move to defend the objective which really helped me as it reduced them to just 4 shots this turn. The surrounded Panzer Grenadiers poured more fire into the Soviet infantry reducing it to just three stands. I had lost five stands in just two rounds of shooting from a trio of pinned teams!
Surely now victory would be secured! The only movement saw the T-34/76 platoon get out of the way of the remaining Churchill tanks allowing them to fire back against the advancing Tigers and the last of the Hero T-34 Tank Battalion arrive moving up to flank the Tigers. The SU-122’s moved forward to add their direct firepower against the trapped infantry. The Red Airforce again failed to appear, though there wasn’t anything they could really do this turn.
The SU-122’s killed a single team reducing the unit to just two teams, the T-34’s open fire with MG’s and manage to kill the remaining two teams. It was one of those moments when I seemed to roll nothing but sixes and my opponent nothing but 1’s. The Churchills open fire on the Tigers managing to bail 1 as well. Now my two advancing T-34/85’s from reserve open fire on Kurt Knipsel’s unit bailing out both tanks.
The end was now nigh as the KV-1s and mixed T-34 unit pour fire into the one defended house in the village, this was too much for the lone HQ team and a Soviet victory and crossing point was secured.
The game was great fun to play. It was nice to use larger forces than normal in a thematic game. The German army was far from an optimal build rather like many of the forces cobbled together in this period of the war on the Eastern Front but, it still proved to be a serious nut to crack just as in the real war. With a little more luck it could have inflicted much more damage than it did on the Soviets or even stopped them altogether.