Bridge on the River Don

There are some dates or events in the wargames calendar which mark special or memorable day; Crisis in Antwerp is always the first date on the wall planner in the Lard Island Office, the Lardy Games days across the UK are always next.  But sometimes a day comes along which is unique and deserves celebrating in a suitable grandiose manner.  One such day was Super Sidney Saturday last weekend.
“Super Sidney” I hear you cry, “who he?”.  Well, for lovers of truly top-drawer wargaming blogs, Sidney Roundwood will need no introduction.  His Roundwood’s World Blog is packed with wargaming content which is both well considered and beautifully executed.  If Sidney were an artist, but then again no…
Anyway, as well as being a spiffing blogger, Sidney is a true gentleman and, as a result, the butt of some of the worst pranks and practical jokes we lesser mortals can devise which, of course, for anyone who understands the reverse psychology of us Brits, means that he is a great chum.   So, when we hard that Sid was celebrating his fiftieth birthday we decided to put on a special game to celebrate and what better than Big Chain of Command.
The game set-up needs some explanation before we move on to the action.  We decided on a 22′ long table which would represent the Germans driving to capture an intact bridge across the River Don in August 1942.  Now, it isn’t easy to photograph a 22′ table, but here it is.

Now, as you’ll note, this one is packed with gurning loons, so to make things easier, here’s one which focusses on the terrain.

At the start of the game, the Soviets were holding the Collective Farm with one platoon of infantry.  The Germans were attacking with two platoons of infantry, one platoon of Assault Pioneers, two platoons of tanks, one platoon of Assault Guns and one Reconnaissance Platoon.  On top of that they had lots of other support options such as a couple of MG34 on tripods, an lIG18 infantry gun, a Pak 36 a Pak 38 and possibly a few other bits I have forgotten.  The Soviet platoon had a single anti-tank weapon which they had spent all night in the collective farm workshop fashioning from some piping, lead bolts and weed killer.  Think a 1941 Communist version of the A-Team.  Only a fool would mess with them.  Well, actually, only a fool would fire the bloody thing as it was decidedly unstable and there was a risk it would explode when used.
Sounds like an unequal fight, yes?  Well, this was the conundrum that Comrade Commissar Sidney faced when he arrived at the bridge.  Over the week before the game Sidney was fed information which would affect his defence of the bridge across the Don and was allowed to put in some requests from his chain-smoking boss, General Chestikoff.
As it turned out, a platoon of T34-76 tanks were on the forest near the old church where they were waiting for resupply of fuel.  With them was a platoon of tank riding SMG armed troops.  Equally, Sidney was allowed to “phone a friend” and put a call in to some sailors from the Black Sea Fleet to ask for their assistance.  All of those years hanging around naval bases had paid off at last!
What was more, Sidney discovered that three Soviet AT guns were present near the bridge but lacked prime-movers and a supply of mines which could be laid if they could be transported up the table.  Fortunately Sidney had a small car which could tow the 45mm and 57mm guns, so he was going to be busy shoring up the defences wherever he could.  All in all, an impromptu defence in the face of a powerful German thrust.  On the day the Soviet commanders formed a huddle and Sidney laid out his plans:

Now, we did add some special rules as this was a ludicrously large game.  We began with a Patrol Phase on the far end of the table with the Germans advancing from the road and the Soviets defending the farm.  Here’s a look at that.

As you can see, the Germans have a tough ask in the open terrain, but hey, they have a potential superiority of about 20:1, so tough luck.

Ade Deacon (evil Nazi) and Sidney (evil Commie) work their patrol phase magic.  Then the game could begin.However, this was the only patrol phase of the game.  The Germans had two options for their future deployment onto the table; they could advance their Jump-Off Points using Chain of Command dice or they could advance them up the table, transported by the recce platoon or by softskins.  The risk was that if these vehicles were knocked out, that would be the jump-off point.  So choices would have to be made.  If they were to rush up the table, as they would need to do, they would need to take risks with pushing these forwards.
Additionally, both sides were able to pull a platoon out of the action at any point as long as its force morale had not dropped to zero.  They then had to spend 90 minutes real time out of the game.  At the end of that time they rolled 6D6 and for every result of 4 to6 their force morale would go back up by one.  It meant that troops could be recycled in an out of the action as they suffered casualties.  In that way the Germans could keep committing fresh troops to the action in order to maintain the momentum of their attack.
As it was, the Germans took the surprising (to me, anyway) choice of committing both of their infantry platoons to the start of the action.  One was supported by a tripod mounted MG34 and a 75mm light infantry gun, the other by the two StuG III of the Assault Gun platoon.  Fortunately for the Soviets, Sidney had been able to transport enough mines up in the night for one minefield which they placed on the road.

The action began with one German platoon making good headway against the farm, its MG34s providing covering fire as the rifle teams worked their way forwards tactically.  On the right the lack of cover saw significant losses on the other platoon.
However, the arrival of the StuGs saw the deadlock broken.

The Germans occupied the collective farm as the Soviet platoon, its force morale reduced to 2, pulled off the table for (at least) 90 minutes out of the line.

The Germans now unleashed their armoured cars, but thus far they had failed to clear the minefield on the road and the wheeled vehicles were obliged to slog their way through the fields, a painful delay in what should have been a blitzkrieg.

Meanwhile, at the Lenmakluski stream, road traffic indicated the arrival of Sidney’s chums the Black Sea Sailors.  In the background the fuel bowser can be seen moving up to refuel the tanks.

It was now that Sidney had to wield his pistol in anger, when the tank commander refused to release his SMG armed tank riders to defend the forest.  

Sidney took the executive decision to neck shoot the recalcitrant platoon commander and the SMG troops went forwards.

What Sidney did not know was that by detaching the tank riders from their tanks, the morale of the tank crews fell from 3 to 2, a significant drop.
However, as the Soviets bickered, the Germans pressed on through the maize fields which provided the pig food.

As the T34s rolled forward, refuelled at last, the Germans brought up their Pak 38 and challenged the lead tank as it advanced up the narrow forest road.

The anti-tank gun kept up a steady fire against the lead tank, and the drop in the Soviet tankers’ morale played its part, with the crew bailing out on 3 Shock.

Shocked by the loss of their lead tank the remaining Soviet tanks reversed away, allowing the Germans to sweep across towards the forest.  However, the delay in clearing the critical minefield had bought the Soviets time to reinforce.  The Black Sea Sailors moves up…

…charging the lead German infantry elements who, with both platoons deployed from the outset, had been obliged to slog their way up 11′ for table.  In the photo below the remnants of the lead German platoon can be seen falling back before the sailors’ charge.

And for better or worse, that was the high water-mark of the German attack.  The Soviets not only retained control of the Don bridge but the Lenmakluski stream as well.  The fascist invaders would have to try to cross the great river elsewhere.
A couple of thoughts on the game.  
Mea Culpa time.  It’s funny when you plan a game like this you expect people to do what you think is obvious.  I thought it was obvious that the Germans should deploy just one platoon on infantry with some obstacle clearing potential from the Pioneers along with a LOT of firepower support to blast the Soviets out of the farm, thereby clearing the way for the armoured cars to rush up the road and plant fresh jump-off points in the forest.  The the second platoon would crash through there to seize the bridge and open the way for the tanks.  They didn’t do that.  By deploying both infantry platoons and by not clearing the road they lost critical time and the Soviet sailors and SMG troops were the perfect men to defend in the close quarters of the forest.
For me, part of the fun of a big game like this is the chance to involve the players in a pre-game planning stage in the week before the game.  I do not want to tell players how they should deploy as I want them to be able to make choices.  Indeed, this game was all about that.  So in the end what should have resulted in a tough fight through Korbinskaya village saw the Germans stopped dead well before that.  So, the moral of the story is that when planning such a game you should expect the unexpected.
Anyway we all had a super fun time.  Most importantly Sidney was run off his little feet all day trying to pistol whip his defenders into line and it is fitting that the birthday boy won.
Even more important was a smashing evening in some of Lard Islands greatest pubs with some of our best mates.  And, if we are honest, that’s what our hobby is all about.  Having a great time with great friends.

Don’t forget, the BIG Chan of Command game notes are free to download and allow you to play much larger games with multiple players.    You can find them here:  BIGCoC


6 thoughts on “Bridge on the River Don”

  1. Truscott Trotter

    Just goes to show that Blitzkrieg is not about equipment or numbers but about skill and daring command choices – bit like sitting that closer to the band in a pub 🙂

  2. Richard said ” So, the moral of the story is that when planning such a game you should expect the unexpected.”
    I have a saying that I keep in the front of my mind when designing a scenario: “No scenario survives first contact with a wargamer”! Dick Bryant

  3. Rich; I’m a BIG fan of BIG CoC! I can pretty much field what you mentioned in the story from my own collection. So in a possible plan to recreate your game, what was the break out of each platoon and support you used? I like that mechanism of have a beaten up platoon to leave the field for at least 90 minutes. So a question about that deal; does the platoon have to fall back and extract to off-table through a JOP? And when they come back, do they come back through the same JOP as they left on? Oh, one last thing…how wide was your table? Looked like 4-5 feet wide.
    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Greg
      The table was 5′ but the playing area was just 4′.
      With a huge game like this we allowed both sides to say “That’s it, I am withdrawing this platoon” and then simply take it off the table. Making people extricate a force would have taken too long in a game which was all about speed. It worked well because at one point the Soviet front line defenders had their force morale fall to 2 and they were taken off. Suddenly the Germans had open ground in front of them.
      German platoons were standard 1942 infantry and Pioneers. Soviets were standard 1942 infantry with a small two squad platoon of sailors and an SMG platoon with the tanks. Happy to give you lots more if you email me.

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