After our first patrol action game the Soviets now had the opportunity to probe against the German outpost line. Their objective for this game was not to destroy the enemy, but simply to find a route past them. How difficult could that be?
We began the game with the Soviets rolling for support and getting to choose from List 3. However, as they were at a -2 for their patrol rating against the Germans, they could bring that up to List 5. I selected the Maxim MMG to provide a decent base of fire from List 3 and a flamethrower team from List 2. The Germans were defending so could only select from List 1 and elected to grad a pile of additional Panzerfausts as they were clearly worried that I’d be pushing up with armour support. At this point neither Nick nor I knew our opponent’s choice of supports.
German Force morale was high, 10 despite their loss in the last game, whereas mine was at 9. The Germans had four men dead and two in hospital, so they fielded Ulrich Goltz’s squad as a single four man LMG team whilst Brecht and Plotz were both at full strength. The table was set up to reflect the rather ramshackle rural estates of East Prussia, with plenty of open ground and heavy forests.
The game began with the Patrol Phase in which I elected to use just three Patrol Markers in the hope of getting a speedy advance to a decent position from which to jump-off the attack. I haven’t get my Soviet Patrol Markers done yet, so used my green Allied ones. I’ve marked the final positions of the Soviet ones in red and the Germans’ four markers in blue. That all ended up thus:
This resulted in German jump-off points here, marked in blue:
And Soviet ones here marked in red:
My objective here was, as mentioned to try to get as far forward as possible. My SMG teams need to be able to get up close and personal and I was hoping for a sneaky rush for the German line. I hadn’t got anywhere near the farm but was pleased with my jump-off point on the flank which was at least half way down the table. A minor victory. Or so it seemed.
Now, I speak much about working through phases, about putting together a coherent structured attack, with a base of fire established in a good position in order to shoot in the attack. I am endlessly smart-arsed about how this should be a process that cannot be rushed – you need to put one brick on top of another and all that stuff. So, throwing all this out of the window, I attempted to bounce my opponent out of his position with a highly risky bit of kidology.
With the first phase mine I rolled 53322 and deployed the Maxim gun team in the open covering the Germans positions on the ridge. I put my platoon leader, Stanislav Azarov, with them and he put them on Overwatch. I then put Evgeny Olenev’s squad on tactical by the orchard wall. All I needed was for Nick to keep his men, or at least some of his men, hidden for enough time to work my way forward and assault in with SMGs firing. Or maybe get a crap roll on his command dice…
Which, of course, he didn’t do. With a roll of 43333 he deployed his entire force and opened fire from the ridge with two of them. The MG team was riddled with bullets, four men falling and Azarov taking a light wound for the Motherland. Bollocks! All of a sudden my cunning plan looked like a disaster.
Seizing the moment, Azarov yelled to the last remaining man on the Maxim”Keep firing Comrade, destroy the fascists!” before slipping away to do something important he’d rather forgotten about.
(N.B. Only one man was on the Maxim at this time, but there are two blokes on the base, so the photo is not a realistic representation of events. However, it did allow for a nice musical interlude)
Meanwhile Olenev pushed up into the orchard and Varushkin and Gribanov arrived with their squads. The arrival of those two was fortunate as with Azarov forward they may well not have come forward as required, but they did. What is noteworthy here is that with all of Fatty’s men deployed I now knew where they were, and, just as importantly, were not. So I was looking to shift the axis of my attack to the left and down the main road. Not ideal as it was a bit open, but it would at least allow me to make more choices when I got to the farm.
Predictably the Germans finished off the Maxim team in their next phase with Feldwebel Feldtmann rallying off the weedy amount of shock the misplaced machine gun had caused. Plotz’s squad begin firing into the orchard causing shock on Olenev’s men but no dead.
Joy of joys, I get a double six in the next phase and Olenev’s men gun down Goltz’s LMG team killing some and routing the others, Goltz rolling so enthusiastically he literally ran off the table as he broke. German force morale drops to 8, the same as Soviet morale after the Maxim was chewed to bits. Hurrah for the workers and peasants of the Red Army!
Meanwhile Varsuhkin rushed his men forward down the road.
My joy was somewhat short-lived as with the Maxim gone the Germans focussed their fire onto the squad in the orchard who, predictably, decided that things were too hot and fell back with an unpleasant amount of Shock.
The Germans now focussed on dominating the terrain from the ridge, putting their units on overwatch and generally rallying off all of their shock. Meanwhile I loafed about looking for a chink in their Teutonic armour. I should point out that the Germans on the ridge are in fact in the wood, but some useless fat sod has moved the trees so his sausage-like fingers can move the toys about. One really cannot get the staff!
Squad 3 under Gribanov moves up to support and behind them the flamethrower team is moving up.
Oh, look, there they are at the back! Rather stupidly I had been rushing them up with three dice of movement which rather disorganised them, not ideal without a leader to rally the shock off!
Meanwhile, somewhere in Corporal Varushkin’s small brain a plan was crystalising. He was trapped on the road with nowhere to go. If he could slip into the ruined farmhouse and get his LMG going, he could allow the flamethrower to come up and then it would be frying tonight! He slipped through the farm gate and led his men forward with an evil Soviet chuckle.
But with an equally evil NSDAP smirk Gefreiter Richard Brecht led forward his squad from the heights and began firing into the small farmyard, taking down one of Varushkin’s men as he moved forward.
But what this evil Nazi had failed to appreciate was that Sergeant Azarov had not been washing his socks while all of this had been going on. With stirring speeches and several patriotic renditions of popular songs about turnip production on the Dniepr he had inspired Olenev’s men back into action. Long live the valiant turnips of the Belarus region!
A desperate firefight was occurring across by the farm as Varushkin attempted to exhort his men to great deeds. For his trouble a bullet to the head ended his war. But on the ridge Plotz’s squad was under pressure. As casualties mounted his men went to ground, pinned. Only the intervention of Feldtmann stopped a rout but, like the brave Varushkin, Feldtmann paid with his life, dying in a hail of bullets as he reorganised the squad to form a single LMG team with the survivors.
Caught in a crossfire, no escape from reality, Varushkin’s men routed from the farm, just as Gribanov’s men were being cut up by Brecht’s machine gun team with fire across the farmyard. With Azarov advancing on his flank Brecht was holding on until the last moment before retiring, a risky business, but these were desperate times.
By now German force morale was down to 5 and the Soviets were at 2, but still they kept trying to come on. One final advance could defeat the Germans and very well wipe them out. The flamethrower was advancing with the utmost caution (try throwing a 1 when you need it!), but Azarov was coming forward back into the orchard.
And then, from nowhere, came a barrage of 8cm mortar rounds. Nick had rolled four 6’s, ended the turn and got a random event. And naturally it landed smack bang on Azarov’s advancing squad. I didn’t take any photos, I was too busy crying. Azarov was blown to smithereens by the first round and Soviet morale collapsed to zero and the remnants of my platoon streamed back to their starting position.
It had been a bloodbath. Despite my complete balls up and stupidly optimistic (arrogant) deployment, the Germans has still lost nine men and their platoon leader. I had lost 16 men including Sergeant Azarov and Corporal Varushkin. But the Germans held the ground and were able to rescue some of their men who had just been knocked out or simply gone to ground, leaving their losses at just one man actually dead and two in hospital. For me, my wounded were rounded up and despatched by the victors. My final total was eight men actually dead and four in hospital for the next game.
What had been interesting was that Nick had on at least four occasions considered withdrawing in order to save his force, as it was he stuck it out and claimed a big win. Fat bastard.
But what of the campaign? Well, My CO’s opinion has dropped to +1 whilst my mens’ opinion is back to zero. Nothing terrible here. The CO has decided that neither of my remaining NCOs is up to commanding the platoon, and he has assigned a very junior twenty year old Lieutenant, Boris Timorenko from Vladivostok, to take charge as his first assignment at the front. Sergei Gostravnikov, a 26 year old Siberian mechanic has been promoted to lead Varushkin’s squad. I shall miss Varushkin. He was an intelligent and brave leader and at 39 was the old man of the platoon. How many more friends will die before this campaign is over?
As for the Germans, Their CO is neutral about their performance an improvement on before, but the men are increasingly unhappy, taking the loss of Feldtmann badly. They stand at -2. Their CO has also transferred an NCO in from another company, Feldwebel Thomas Mann from Hannover. At 25 years old he brings up the average age of the platoon. Meanwhile Constantine Ostermann, a 21 year old from Bonn has taken over Goltz’s squad. “Unlucky” Goltz always felt like a bit of a Jonah and nobody wept or sang “Ich hatt einen Kameraden” as they slung his body into a lime pit. There were no time for tear in East Prussia.
But in a workers apartment on the Rhein-allee in Mainz, and on a small farm just outside Flensburg in Schleswig Holstein two mothers wept.
A totally absorbing and hideously violent game which both of us felt was on a knife edge throughout. I really paid the price for my daft deployment, but at the same time Nick said that he was under the cosh throughout. At this point I handed him the initiative for the next campaign turn – I wanted time to get what few wounded I had back in the line – while he was happy to then sit and strengthen his defences. So, the next game will see me try again to get past the German outpost line.
If a wargame has ever truly entered the history books then it has to be the 1974 Operation Sea Lion game at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where a glittering array of top brass from both the German and British military assembled under the watchful eye of umpire Paddy Griffith to test the German