Polar Bear is a fantastic bi-annual event held in Iceland by the Burning Bridges gaming club. It may surprise some people to learn that while small in population, Iceland has a thriving FOW and Team Yankee community, based at their local gaming store. I have been trying to make this event for a number of years but have always been scuppered by deployments. However this year the opportunity arose and I signed up for Polar Bear V, consisting of five games of 81pt Mid War focusing on the Eastern Front and a Total War Desert Battle on the Saturday night. This year 16 players attended from nine nations, many of whom had been before and loved it so much they came back.
Unfortunately due to high winds my flight was delayed a day and I lost my chance for sight seeing with my host and local Historian, Jokull. However I did manage to visit the Commonwealth war graves and learn more about Iceland’s history in World War 2.
For the main games I opted for an Italian list of 81pts. This was a last minute choice, I was playing Soviets however the Allies and Axis needed balancing. Here is what I took, quite a lot for 81pt..
My theory is that it gave lots of mobile AT for the light vehicles I would encounter and some high AT to deal with KVs and Churchills. The infantry could then push onto objectives.
Game 1 vs Stephan’s Soviet Hero Rifle Battalion
My first game was against Stephan, and he was running a Hero Rifle Battalion supported by three KVs, Katyushas, 76mm guns, IL2s and seven T70s. I must admit his tank support really worried me. While I have the AT to deal with KVs it can be hard to get them set up for shots if the enemy stays out of LOS. Also T70s have FA4 which is problematic for my AT6 M14s!
Luckily for me we rolled up Contact with myself attacking. This meant he was in delayed scattered reserves and those KVs and T70s were in reserve with the 76mm guns in ambush. I left off my infantry and artillery focusing on tanks to get the job done quickly. Keeping the right flank occupied to stop them coming forward, I focused the majority of my force on the left. I needed to get on the objective before he started rolling for reserves. His 76mm guns caused some nasty damage but started to be picked part by the Lancias which were surprisingly effective versus them. I manged to get an assault off and the heros fell back. In his turn he had to move back in to contest however with so many tanks around couldn’t assault. Siz machine gunshots from each M14 cleared the remains of the platoon and the objective was taken.
To be honest I was lucky with the mission here. Delayed reserves are tough on the defender and only a single AT battery on table meant I could really rush the objective and bully the infantry.
Result – 8-1 Win
Game 2 vs Soren’s Soviet Hero Rifle Battalion
The second game was against the new Captain of the Iceland ETC team who I will be playing for this year. I had to impress him! He was running a really rather lovely painted Hero Motor Rifle formation with T34 Flame Tank support, 76mm arty and a BA10 formation.
We rolled up Free for All so were all on table. I won the dice for first turn. Now apologies but I hopelessly forgot to take photos. That’s how hard fought and taxing the game was. I made a massive mistake, having planned to smoke 76mm guns on the right flank and kill off his BA10s that turn. I forgot to fire smoke first! Doh, but I think we have all been there. This cost me and he really started to hurt my right flank despite me pressing with four M14s and infantry.
Luckily the left flank was less defended, with a single platoon of Motor Rifles and the five T34s behind a hill out of LOS of my Lancias and gun teams. As I neared him and applied pressure with my infantry and tanks they had to come into LOS.
Despite killing a few M14s their reckless rating caused their casualties to mount with many brewing up, however they hung on and refused to run.
Now my second mistake of the game was underestimating Motor Rifles. I thought they hit on 3s but no, its 2s and they had Molotovs! I also thought the Tenacity Command Card could only be used once all game. I was about to learn! I charged with four M14s and in reply took six hits at AT3, sheer fluke meant I saved them and I fell back. Now knowing how good they are I had a though choice with my infantry who were planning to assault. I decided to hold them off from the assault, but they got ripped apart to a man by the MG fire next turn.
Eventually I pressed enough and the tanks caused the infantry to break off allowing me to take the objective. It was a hugely tough fought game and it was only my initial aggressive use of my forces which allowed me to take the advantage. I made serious mistakes which should have cost me much dearly. Soren, I think, played better but fortune didn’t favour him this time.
Result – 6-3 Win
Game 3 vs Richard’s Soviet Armoured Battalion
The third game was against one of my more regular opponents and fellow Breakthrough Assault writer, Richard Hardy and his T70 & BA10 formation supported by KVs. Richard is an excellent player and we are pretty evenly matched. I was attacking in Counter Attack and he kept his KVs, three BA10s and BA10 HQ (meaning they couldn’t be broken) in reserve.
The table had loads of LOS blocking scenery and I was very worried about the KVs. Once they got into that I’d never get a shot with my high end AT and they could just sit on an objective with me helpless. I therefore planned two things.
Firstly I used spearhead to set a gun trap right by the area his reserves would arrive.
Secondly I pressed both objectives, meaning his KVs had to remain somewhere.
My infantry set to work getting onto the central rail yard assaulting the SU76s, which broke off. My tanks, weathering the SU76 ambush advanced with four of them heading off to the left flank (this would be vital later on). His KVs arrived and only one died to 6 AT12 shots and 4 AT14. It was actually AT12 vs FA10 (long range) that did it. My chance was gone; the next turn he got around a forest and that was them out of LOS. However I had manged to fix them with 4 x M14s staying near that objective.
The rest of the force pushed for the more central objective in the railyard, now defended by the gun line of T70s and BA10s. He had two tanks just in range of the objective which had rushed to defend it, surprised by my infantry’s speed of advance. I flanked with my M14s (passing its blitz for a lovely 14 inch tactical move). My plan was to kill/bail both the contesting tanks and win that turn. Alas I manged one, however mistaken target saved the other. Knowing that next turn he would move up more tanks, I went for broke and charged the remaining tank, drawing 12 shots of defensive fire. Richard was very unlucky and only scored four hit killing a single team. My valiant fire team then caused the T70s to break off, claiming the day.
Again it just goes to show that luck is needed. I think I had played it well with the flanking maneuver and fixing the KVs. However had I not won then, he would have ground my tanks down. FA 4 T70s are too tough for me.
Result 8-1 Win
Game 4 vs Tim’s Soviet Recon Company
This time I faced Tim Bos and his Recon Compay supported by four Churchills and SU76s. Again we played Free for All and again I got first turn. My plan was to push the left flank which was lighted defended by 3 x BA10s and a platoon of mounted inf hiding behind cover nearby, ready to support. In order to do that I needed to fix his Churchills on the other objective with enough forces to force them to commit to their destruction. Also the right flank objective was exposed in a crop field so provided fields of fire to my Lancias. I sensed he wanted to push my right flank objective so they were protected by my AT guns and big inf platoon.
The plan pretty much worked however while he couldnt seem to kill Lancia I also could barely hit a Churchill. All game I fired 22 shots on 5s and killed one. Surprisingly my right flank attack was about to bear fruit of its own. Tim had to dismount some inf to cover the objective and thanks to a smoke screen and the cover of the field, he hadn’t manged to kill any of my five tanks.
With a Chuchill bailed and blocking the others fire, I assaulted the infantry with 2 x M14s. He had 11 50cal shots on 5s, AT4 vs SA2 and FP5+. With two hits, I rolled snake eyes. Well that was it for those guys.
Next turn more got bailed and the single remaining tank, my Formation Commander went three rounds before being bailed himself, resulting in everyone being captured.
However on the right flank the plan had worked and covered in MG shots and after assaults by the tanks, my Legion of Rome infantry charged in, pushing the remaining team away from the objective to win the game.
Tim is a ETC umpire and really knows his stuff, he was also a great sportsman and reminded me a couple of times to unpin my guns.
Result: 7:2 Win
Game 5 vs Dave’s Panzergrenadiers
The final game of the event saw the top two Axis and Allied players face each other. Therefore I came up against Dave Madigan, another fantastic player and Captain of Team New Zealand. We had faced each other many times and this time would be fighting Bridgehead around the Stalingrad Grain Elevator with me attacking.
Dave was using a Armoured Panzergren list, with Stummels, Marders, Pak38s and mortars. He had the Marders, a platoon of inf and mortars in reserve. He wisely blocked off a a flank with his minefields and I spearheaded down my flank ready to press his objective hard.
I started the game knowing I needed three points to win the event, but also I wanted to fight hard for the objective as well. Things started poorly, with his recce stubbornly refusing to flee after a death and a bail. His Stummels were vicious and blew apart my scout tanks while his two armoured cars managed to casually wipe out three assault mortar teams in bullet proof cover, in a single turn.
His reserves started arrived turn one and the other two on his second turn. My lucky break was that his mortars come on at the corner I had attacked from. I dispatched my infantry who assaulted and killed them taking a core platoon and a point (with the recce now dead). Unfortunately his infantry had got into the ruins on the objective and with seven MG stands they become a nightmare to shift. My infantry tried but were forced back. Instead I focused on his Stummels, blowing them apart over a couple of turns, leaving him Marders at long range and concealment and his Pak38s to threaten my tanks. With his Pak38s, fired and not gone to ground I managed to focus fire kill them with Lancia, M14s and my AT guns. I went for the assault with my tanks, passing my terrain test and forced him to break off. Alas he still held the objective and that was the end of the game. It was three-all with the loss of my assault mortars, scout tanks and an infantry platoon.
Boy, German infantry can be hard to shift when in terrain! Those seven stands held my whole force up for about four turns.
Result, a 3 -3 draw
I have deliberately left out the Total War game on Saturday night. Richard Hardy will be writing that up separately, but it provided a great social event, which is at a the heart of the event. Before the game we also had a bit of a social evening with some traditional Icelandic foods, I even managed to sample lamb testicles, whale, dried shark and sheep head. Richard even bought some great whisky and haggis to allow everyone to have a mini Burns Night.
The event was certainly up there with my most memorable and I’d like to thank all the guys who contributed to the weekend from the Burning Bridges Club as well as Jokull, my host, for taking great care of me and teaching me so much about Icelandic History. In fact I’d highly recommend his book ‘Iceland in World War II: A Blessed War’ if you fancy learning about an area of the war rarely spoken about.
Polar Bear VI should be in 2022, however with its growing popularity it might be 2021. We will have to wait and see to find out dates and time period, hopefully I can make it again.