It was 1941 and the World War 2 had got beyond the awkward teething stage and was well into adolescence. In eastern Europe Hitler's allies Hungary and Romania geared for a brutal struggle to the death, with each other. Showing uncharacteristic restraint Hitler refrained from banging their heads together but informed them in no uncertain terms that a war with each other was off the agenda for the foreseeable future (the foreseeable future reaching only to 1944 apparently). However as a consolation he allowed both of them to join him in invading the Soviet Union.
Which goes some way to explaining why on December 20, 1942 the Romanians found themselves huddled on the icy winter steppe and watching with interest as approximately half a million well armed and motivated Soviet soldiers thundered towards them. The Soviets may have been well armed and motivated, the Romanians were neither. Most of them didn't have a particular issue with the Russians per se and their equipment was a lunatic grab bag from the United Nations second hand weapons bargain bin.
This then is ASL scenario AP45, Reaping Rewards. A large and (on paper) quite well equipped force of Romanians attempts to defend a village from the vengeful Russian hordes who are attacking from the north and south. I played this today at Bears with Ivan Kent. Play history favours the Romanians two to one so we gave the Russians the balance (tanks get radios) and diced for sides. I got the Russians and mooched off for a coffee while Ivan set up his defence.
To defend a straggling village of single story wooden buildings Ivan had thirteen first line squads (poor) and four conscript squads (really poor). Backing up this pile of arms and legs were a pair of mortars, four light machine guns, two medium machine guns and a heavy machine gun. In command he had a trio of officers, an 8-1, 8-0 & 7-0. Also there was the ordnance. The Romanians had really scraped around to put this lot together. A 76mm Russian ATG, captured by the Germans and gifted to their Romanian colleagues. A pair of old French 75mm cannon, an 81mm mortar and a 45mm ATG of dubious provenance. Some concealment counters helped spread the love and make Ivan look strong where he wasn't.
To reclaim this little patch of the Rodina from the fascist beast (or fascist puppy in this case) I had two separate forces of lusty Soviet heroes. Coming in from the north were eleven first line squads led led by a pair of officers (9-1 & 8-0) and toting some of the heaviest (and in the event most useless) support weapons known to man. Three mortars, two 50mm and one 82mm plus a pair of medium machine guns, some lmgs and an anti tank rifle for reasons I can't quite fathom. This was the anvil, arriving from the south was the hammer. Ten elite squads, another mortar, a medium machine gun, a pair of lmgs three officers (9-1,8-1 & 8-0), two T-34 tanks and a KV-8 tank armed with a 45mm gun and a turret mounted flamethrower.
With a stream meandering across much of the southern part of the board approach routes were reduced to four, Over one of the two bridges on elevated roads (affectionately known as shooting galleries) or around the edges of the stream at the eastern and western edges of the board. In the north cover was scanty and my attackers would have to rely on the short range and poor firepower of their Romanian opponents to allow them to close the gap.
The Russian objective is three multihex buildings in the middle of the village and as far away from both entry points as is humanely possible. Ivan had set up what looked like a spread out defence. Obviously some were dummies and others were low rate speed bumps designed to induce caution. They were partly successful in this. Ivan's main defence was in the village proper and centred around the three buildings. Delaying forces stretched to the north so that my guys there couldn't just waltz in. In the south he had less room to manouvre as my tanks would eat up territory fast.
I split my northern forces into three with a pair of squads in the east to try and flank his defence (they didn't) the big mortar in the middle to try and hit some of his defenders (it didn't) and the bulk of the force in the west where a tree lined road offered a slightly covered approach to the village. In the south I sent one T-34 with a pair of squads to circle round the east edge of the stream, boldly positioned a squad with the mortar to stroll straight down the elevated road and over the bridge (these guys survived the game without a scratch) and the other two tanks and the rest of the squads to skirt the western edge of the stream and hit the village from the southwest.
My plan, insofar as I had one, was essentially to hit him hard from two directions in the west while hopefully keeping him busy enough in the other areas to prevent him from reinforcing the main battle. It didn't quite work out like that. Ivan skilfully bluffed my northern forces with what turned out to be a collection of dummies and conscript half squads. I was cautious when I should have been reckless and it was turn three (of my meagre six) before I had pushed them out and started on my way to the village. Meanwhile in the southwest my attack had slammed straight into the toughest part of his defence.
Mind you I slammed pretty hard. A T-34 and the KV-8 (each with a squad of troops clinging to the hull) roared up to the outskirts of the village, dismounted the troops by the simple expedient of rotating the turret and charged for his defences. Being faster the T-34 was first on the scene and slid into bypass on a defended building hoping to clear a path for the infantry panting behind. Imagine my surprise when Ivan revealed his 76mm atg in the next hex and proceed to take a shot at me. Fortunately it bounced off my frontal armour (at point blank range no less), gaining rate Ivan fired again and missed completely. Recovering from his shock at seeing an atg approximately six feet away my tank driver stamped on the accelerator and overran the gun sending the terrified crew yelping for cover. Next turn the KV-8 added to the fun by incinerating a stack of defenders and breaking open the south west part of his defences. My troops were coming up and a little more judicious sleazing had them in good position to advance towards the first of the victory buildings.
Ivan had had a shocking couple of turns, his defence in the southwest was shattered and I honestly thought that I was on the road to victory my shilly shallying in the north notwithstanding. To add insult to injury the other T-34 approached the village from the south east and put the crew of a 75mm to flight after they broke their gun trying to kill it. Little did I know that unread message in my mail box was from Nemesis.
As I readied for the final charge that would sweep all before it Ivan revealed his 45mm gun. It was facing the wrong way so he had to swing it around to take a shot. It promptly got a critical hit on one infantry stack and followed this up by breaking all the members of another. Suddenly I had one squad dead and three broken from the eight that had attacked the southwest and the remainder being a little behind weren't well positioned to replace them. To add injury to injury a surviving Romanian squad killed one of the T-34s with a molotov cocktail (although a second squad, attempting the same thing promptly set itself on fire).
I threw everything at that damned 45. Mortar fire, machine guns, small arms, it shrugged off the lot and crushed anything that attempted to move. The path was open but I couldn't take it. With my southern attack floundering I paid more attention to the north (possibly I should have coordinated these, what do you think?) and realising I needed bodies on the ground in a hurry I started taking the risks I should have taken a turn ago. It cost me a couple of casualties as I had to eschew finesse with time running out but I swept aside his blocking force and moved towards the village. Sadly I was now desperately short on time. The only good news was my surviving tank, operating pretty much alone as its supporting infantry was struggling through some of Ivan's speed bumps, managed to smash up the defenders of two of the victory buildings depriving Ivan of the services of a medium and a heavy machine gun in the process. Ivan swiftly remanned the heavy machine gun but had to place his troops under the eye of the T-34 in order to do so. An attempt to destroy the thing in close combat having failed Ivan couldn't reinforce his two abandoned buildings without getting his troops slaughtered so he concentrated on holding the one he still occupied.
With the last turn upon me I was desperate, finally some well placed prep fire had broken the crew of the 45 but it was too late for most of my troops to get to where they needed to go. I looked at the positioning of my squads and his defences and formulated a final attack. If all went well I would win.
All didn't go well.
Things started promisingly with my surviving T-34 once again mincing the hmg squad and removing at least one formidable threat to my assault. Some desperate running, weaving in and out of buildings allowed me to occupy the two abandoned buildings but there was a single squad still lurking in the third and it was covered by a pair of squads in the building next door. Dialling up my faithful KV-8 which had done stirling service on the barbecue front I sent it against the support troops, sadly at the last the flamethrower failed achieving nothing more than a pin result on one squad. Then attempting to start the thing up again for a little VBM sleaze of course it broke down and sat stubbornly in the street looking helpless. I tried, I got troops up next to the building, I got a squad into the building but I couldn't evict that last squad before time ran out. Ivan's Romanians hung on by their eyelids for a well deserved win.
Kudos to Ivan for maintaining his good temper and personal morale when things looked bad for him in the first couple of turns. Extra kudos for putting up with my hysterical swearing and threats of suicide when things looked bad for me in the next couple. At the end despite some wild swings of fortune it came down to the last roll of the last turn and Ivan toughed it out for a victory. I am now going home to ceremonially burn a certain 45L atg counter.