Today Martin takes a look at the Bagration: River Assault Mission Terrain pack and building a Soviet force for it.
Much of the fighting on the Eastern front as part of Stalin’s “10 strategic blows” that form Soviet offensive operations in 1944 was kicked off with the Red Army needing to cross a major river, whether that be in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland or Romania, and these make for some challenging gaming opportunities.
So what’s in the pack?
The pack contains a 12” x 48″ (30cm x 120cm) River Mat, five cardboard punch-out sheets that include: two double-sided bridges, a river ford, twelve assault boats, sixteen defences, as well as four defence Unit Cards plus the Mission and Rules booklet (full details are here). You handily get minefield and barbed wire tokens as well.
Like the D-Day Mission Terrain Pack, this is another high-quality card-based product from Battlefront, that requires no assembly and can be stored in an A4 envelope, I keep mine in a clear plastic wallet.
The booklet contains two mini five-game campaigns using a mix of existing and new scenarios in this booklet; all using the provided terrain and unit items. The first mini-campaign covers fighting over the festungplatz – the fortified cities at the heart of the German defensive strategy and such a feature of the Eastern Front fighting (from Bagration – Germans) and the second is based around the river assault crossings scenarios (from Bagration – Soviets).
Like the D-Day Mission Terrain Pack, there are all the rules you need to play the included scenario,s or to incorporate a large river crossing into your own scenario.
The River Assault Mission
The mission at first seems very similar to the D-Day beach landing mission; one side is the attacker, who is equipped with Assault Boats (think landing craft), whilst the defender simply has to defend the fixed river crossings and protect the objectives and that’s where the similarities stop.
Unlike the beach landing, the defender does not get fortifications but has a free hand to choose any units (“Nest” Command Cards could be a good idea). The attacker must move forward from their starting position into the assault boats for infantry to cross the river, or capture a bridge for any armour or guns to utilise. This also presents an opportunity to use those amphibious vehicles you may have in your collection (Schwimmwagens, Ford GPA Jeeps, Buffalos, Ducks, Weasels, etc). So, unlike in the beach landing, you need to consider a few extra things in the makeup of your force.
Alongside the usual things, like have I got enough artillery or AT assets, you need to be able to answer these four questions as well.
- Have I got enough assault boats for the infantry?
- How long will it take vehicles to cross via bridges/fords and then deploy into a combat formation? Can I use dash movement rates?
- How do I protect my force whilst preparing to and crossing?
- Is there enough space on the far bank for my crossing units to deploy into?
Being a Soviet player I’m focussing on them in this article (who knows I may look at other forces in the future). The Stavka partly introduced the Combat Engineering Brigades for this very purpose and so it seemed only fitting to buildout a Sapper-Engineer force to accomplish this critical task (you can see my progress on modelling these on our Facebook feed).
My list has gone through several iterations since I wrote my initial article on the Sapper-Engineers when they first came out last August and is now very much focussed on its ability to complete this mission and answering my four questions for a successful river crossing.
My Sapper-Engineer based force for making a River Assault is below and it should be able to cope with the other scenarios in the mini-campaign as well, it might not last up too well for general gaming.
A few notes on this list. Both the larger units have a pair of Flamethrower teams included to help deal with any nests whilst my small eight-team platoon will have a pair of Maxim HMG and two 82mm mortar teams included (I wish you could mark this in forces). This third unit will act as a close support platoon for my two main assault units, providing some longer-ranged support suppressing fire as my assault platoons advance once over the river.
I don’t have much heavy AT presence in the list as I don’t expect the defenders to have that many/any heavy tanks and I have enough to cope with a single unit coming in from reserve with the ISU-122’s and captured panzerfausts in my infantry.
So let’s look at the four questions I posed earlier
Have I got enough assault boats?
You get four assault boats per 25 points so, in a 100 point game, you get 16 craft which is enough to transport 48 teams (three per boat); in theory, I could move all my infantry platoons and HQ across the river in a single turn. I would have to cover a very wide frontage to do so and there is the possibility some may not remain on the table but I certainly have enough carrying capacity. My opponent’s force makeup and deployment will determine exactly how I launch my crossing but I have planned for it to be in two waves with the HQ and biggest platoon in wave 1 to clear any enemy near the landing site (I need a minimum of 10 boats for these) whilst my second assault platoon and support platoon follow on in the following turn.
How long will it take my vehicles (and other support assets) to cross?
My ISU-122 unit has a tactical movement rate of 10″ so will require two turns to fully cross via a bridge unless they can road dash. This means I am unlikely to be able to use them in a direct assault during the game so my strategy for them is to make use of their indirect fire capability initially, before moving forward to the river bank where their direct fire range will be sufficient to support my infantry attacking the objectives.
One option I could try is to use some infantry to create a bubble (similar to a pregame spearhead) around a far bridge end so I could road dash across in a single turn, but this would be a quite situational opportunity.
My Katyusha’s are easy; they will stay well away from the river until the crossing is achieved and they are solely there to keep the enemy pinned down.
My Zis-3’s are unlikely to need to move across during the assault phase of the operation so I don’t need to worry about them too much but I do need to get them up to the river bank, preferably early on in the game, so they can provide some additional support for my infantry against half-tracks and armoured cars.
Can I Protect the Force whilst crossing?
This is pretty easy to see what I will do here; the Under Cover of Smoke card allows me to create a two-turn 16″ (40cm) smokescreen to move up and load my troops into the assault craft. I’ll be looking to put my smoke bombardment blocking the enemy line of sight to where I plan to embark from and the Sappers can use their own smoke pots to recreate this cover on the turn they land if needed.
One feature of this card is that, as the smoke is already in play, there seems to be nothing stopping the firing unit moving in turn 1. This provides an opportunity to dash my Zis-3 battery forward, closer to the riverbank, and prepare for when the smoke lifts.
My other card is Masrikova, to confuse the enemy artillery about my point of attack. With careful placement, the enemy will be unable to see a good new ranging in point to use to try and pin down my assault troops, thanks to my smoke screens.
Is there room to land?
The Sapper-Engineer mortar teams, Katyushas and ISU-122’s will be used to keep the enemy pinned down and generally away from the river bank. I will set up my ranged in markers so the templates are positioned to create a 6″ (15cm) to 10″ (25cm) zone along the far river bank; no one wants to sit under a repeat bombardments even from two gun batteries.
The Salvo template is particularly handy for keeping the enemy out of your target landing zone; you will get as many as two turns of repeat bombardment against anything under the initial template placement so are likely to seriously weaken any defensive units deployed even near the river bank. Once I launch the infantry across the river I will be retargeting the Katyushas toward the enemy rear and reserve entry points to try and force my opponent’s reserves to arrive away from my the key areas of the table or face taking significant casualties whilst they move forward.
So overall you can see how the list fits with my stated objectives for the scenario and how I would attempt to deal with all the facets of executing a River Assault.
If you don’t have Engineer-Sappers then a very similar style of force can be built out of the Shock Rifle and Motor Rifle Formations. You won’t have quite as much smoke available but could afford to include a large T-34 unit to rush across the bridges and fords with the points you save on the infantry units. One interesting option would be to try using a Penal Battalion as a Formation Support choice to force the crossing.