Captain Dmitri Takhetov inspected his men's foxholes with approval. They had dug deep into the woods, in fact one or two of them seemed to have started tunneling back towards Moscow. He was about to move on when the smiling face of private Rokosocksov popped up from a beautifully crafted foxhole. Rokosocksov ripped off an impressive salute.
"Good morning Comrade Captain, and a beautiful day it is."
Takhetov nodded, Rokosocksov was so relentlessly cheerful and optimistic that Takhetov frequently wanted to bludgeon the man to death with an entrenching tool. Rokosocksov was a bit of a mystery, he had served since the very beginning, his chest was plastered with medals and yet, despite his obvious efficiency and positive outlook promotion had eluded him. Takhetov would cheerfully have given the man any rank he desired simply to get that smiling face posted somewhere else but the company commissar had taken him to one side and urgently advised against it.
"I know he's a pain," the commissar had explained, "but he's the only man here who knows how everything works. Do you honestly think that idiot of a colonel commands this regiment?"
A creaking mechanical noise accompanied by the bellow of a somewhat underpowered engine suddenly split the air.
"What the hell's that?" demanded Takhetov looking around wildly.
Rokosocksov cocked his head to one side, "A couple of late model StuGs, a panzer grenadier regiment and a pair of King Tiger tanks."
"That's amazing," said Takhetov, impressed despite himself, "how do you know that?"
Rokosocksov pointed to where a combined total of about 180 tons of armour plate were rolling towards their position.
"Where are our antitank guns?"
"The colonel dropped them in the river on the way across," replied Rokosocksov calmly. "Don't worry, I've got a mate in the 16th Heavy Tanks. I told him last night we might need help and he agreed to send us some back up."
"Last night?" Takhetov looked at the soldiers cheerful, thoroughly innocent expression and decided not to ask any more questions.
So Dave Wilson and I decided to play scenario OA22 - After the Disaster. This is set in Poland 1944 where a bunch of Germans decide that a minor counter attack on a Soviet bridgehead will swing the war in their favour.
I play the heroic Soviets nobly defending what they fully intend will soon become Soviet soil. I have fifteen first line squads, commanded by three officers including an impressive 9-2. These guys have a medium machine gun, two light machine guns and a 50mm mortar plus some concealments and five trench counters. Lurking in back play are a pair of 122mm artillery pieces. On turn three I am reinforced by four IS2 heavy tanks, also carrying a 122mm gun. All Soviet troops in eligible terrain can set up in foxholes.
On the wrong side of history Dave has an awesome force of elite Germans. Twelve elite squads with four machine guns and a panzerschrek, three officers, a pair of StuGIIIGs and two King Tiger tanks. Just in case that isn't enough to be going on with he gets reinforcements on turn four consisting of five more elite squads, two more officers, three Panther tanks and halftracks to haul the infantry around in plus one carrying a 37mm gun.
To win Dave has to capture a building in the centre of the board and also take out the two guns that are part of my at start OB without losing 40+ CVP.
I thought about a forward defence but decided that was a recipe for dying in place so I set up my troops in the woods with what I thought were cunning trench lines reaching back towards the victory building. The two guns I set up deep in the rear and set up a couple of dummy positions using the concealment counters which confused absolutely no one. David set up the bulk of his force to punch straight through the middle while flanking units came round the sides (as flanking units are wont to do).
|My set up and Dave's entry|
The first turn was light on shooting as Dave took advantage of rubble and some self generated smoke to roll forward without giving me too many opportunities. Not that I wanted to take them with monstrous tigers rolling around with impunity. I had a bit of good luck when one of his StuGs broke its MA firing for acquisition on some of my infantry (unfortunately he would soon repair it). In my turn I felt that discretion was the better part of valour for the most part and tried to keep out of his way, not entirely successfully and a couple of squads were broken.
So far so good, my line was holding but on the other hand Dave had only just started. My tank reinforcements came on from the east (right) and Dave had positioned a Stug and a tiger to wait for them. They passed the time by pounding away at my infantry on the right who shivered under their concealment counters and prayed, not entirely successfully it must be admitted. Even with concealment counters my men could not handle the weight of metal and fled down the trench but as it happened not far enough.
In the centre patience was the order of the day as Dave's infantry incremented through the rubble while smoke rounds robbed me of an opportunity to fire back effectively. Not that I'm sure I would want to with seventy tons of fire belching monster sitting nearby. Meanwhile his flankers on the left moved through the trees and closer to my position.
|End of German turn 2. My left and centre are intact but my right is a mess|
On the right Dave had effectively shattered my defences and his infantry were moving up to take advantage. Such of my force as had survived, and I use that term in its loosest sense, were cringing in the last woods hexes they could find while a decent part of the German army beat the trees and bushes as if on a grouse shoot (no I've never been on a grouse shoot, all my information comes from watching a single episode of Poirot). He started to push infantry around the right of the woods but stopped when I unveiled one of my 122mm guns and gained an acquisition on a squad. After that he decided moving through the trees was the wisest course of action. In the centre things got better and worse simultaneously as another defender was broken but Dave also broke the 88mm gun on his other tiger (the second of three gun malfunctions he would suffer in this scenario) sadly this one too would be swiftly repaired.
If I was disappointed by my flank guards on the right Dave was entitled to be disappointed by the flanking force he sent round my left. These heroes proved that I'm not the only one who can gack morale checks with eight morale troops.
|End Soviet turn 2, clinging on|
After two turns out of seven I wasn't entirely disappointed. My centre was battered but holding, my right was a mess but four IS2s would be turning up shortly. In the right hands they could repair the situation. All I had to do was hang on for another turn, oh and find the right hands.
Well I did cling on. My troops on the right died as his forces pushed through the forest and with the woods on the right now secured Dave rolled one of his StuGs forward to provide firepower to assist his forces in crossing the open ground to the victory building. In the centre the time had come to abandon my positions and such of my troops as survived moved back through the trees to the trench line I had prepared earlier. Dave now had an arc of troops spread across the centre and right while I had (a much smaller) arc curving around from the left. On the left flank one of his squads stepped out into the open and was sent yelping back into the forest, the other two were a little more circumspect.
On my turn three my Iosef Stalin tanks arrived to secure victory or die trying. I leave it to your imagination as to which is the most likely. My entry was constrained by the fact that I didn't want to run under the 88mm gun of the Tiger he had parked waiting for me. Eventually I sent two far to the north (where they buggered about bypassing various things for a couple of turns) and brought one up directly opposite the StuG he had brought forward. The final one I crept on near his Tiger and parked behind a convenient clump of trees. The Tiger couldn't see it but maybe if the Tiger moved I could kill it. At least this is the line of thinking I'm producing in retrospect. Along the way it managed to vaporise a schreck toting half squad that thought it was safe in the forest.
|My tanks have arrived and one StuG is not long for this world|
Things now paused in the centre. Dave was readying himself for an assault on the victory building which was manned by three squads including one upstairs holding a medium machine gun and led by my awesome 9-2. These guys greatest achievement was breaking their own weapon while my 9-2 managed to get himself wounded by a sniper and became a rather slow moving 8-1. It has to be said that this wasn't a good day for Russian officers. An 8-0 who had been commanding the defenders in the left centre ended his life as a wounded 6+1 while the third was caught up in the carnage of the right and is buried in an unmarked grave.
Despite the tribulations of their leadership team the surviving Soviet troops proved to be of sterner stuff. A pair of squads in the trenches on the left covered the open ground with a light machine gun and managed to incrementally kill a squad and induced a certain amount of caution in Dave's attackers. Over on the left for a second time Dave thought that eight morale troops should be able to withstand a normal morale check and for the second time was proved wrong. But that ceased to matter for now Dave's reinforcements were coming. Three panthers, sleek and strong plus squads and halftracks to burn.
|Dave's reinforcements have arrived|
My defence on the far left fell apart as one squad was broken and the other went berserk to die the next turn in a hail of bullets. His panthers rolled forward to take the victory building under fire from the rear and, eventually seal its fate. A force of squads and halftracks slunk along the bottom edge of the board aiming for my guns. My doom was approaching as it rapidly became obvious that the forces I had left in this area were nowhere near enough to stop them.
On the right Dave decided to deal with the IS2 I had parked by sending in an officer and a halfsquad toting a DC. The half squad missed twice with panzerfausts and the officer was broken and wound up dying for failure to rout (another CVP, thank you) but eventually luck ran out and a faust sent my tank up in flames. With the destruction of my tank in progress Dave decided to start up his Tiger and promptly immobilised it.
In the north I had finally squeezed another tank through various improbable bypass locations and parked where I couldn't be seen by either Tiger but had a clear line of sight to his remaining StuG. It is a measure of my increasing desperation that I actually went CE to improve my chances of a hit. Dave promptly dropped a smoke round onto the hex thus decreasing my chances of a hit by a depressing margin.
|Things are falling apart in the south|
There was some good news in the south where Dave had parked a Panther where he was pretty sure I couldn't see it. I thought he was wrong and just for once I was correct and my right hand 122mm gun mangled it. The crew survived sadly but I managed to kill it later. That was it for good news in the south though. Dave swiftly overwhelmed my left hand gun crew with a combination of halftrack sleaze and CC and then pushed forward to do the same thing to the other. Meanwhile his two remaining Panthers were pounding the victory building.
My other northern tank I had pulled out to support its doomed colleague in the centre. This was a death run which attracted the attention of both his Tigers and simply resulted in a second tank kill for Dave but at least it drew attention away from my smoke shrouded tank in the north which finally managed to fire out of the smoke and kill his second StuG.
Turn six was my final turn (Dave had one more) and things looked grim. Both guns had been lost and Dave had finally managed to get the forces necessary to swarm the victory building. Close combats were not kind and by turn six my sole force in the building was a single conscript squad locked in melee. It was obviously not going to survive. I had lost unless, unless... I had accumulated nine CVP worth of infantry kills in addition I had taken out both StuGs and a Panther. If I could kill another couple of tanks surely that would bring me close to, if not past, the forty CVP cap placed on the Germans.
In the south my tank rolled forward and placed itself behind a wall a couple of hexes away from one of Dave's surviving Panthers. Being hull down helped and I survived the defensive fire. In the north I roared out of the smoke and circled round behind another wall and (not coincidentally) one of his Tigers. Realising what I was up to Dave sent one of his Panthers north on a seek and destroy mission but my doughty IS2 survived all fire.
Dave's turn seven rolled around. Stuff happened but the only thing of importance was my two defensive fire shots. In the south, guided by my armour leader my tank smashed his Panther. Which only left the north. Dave had slewed his tank round so I was facing the Tiger's frontal armour. The hull was too tough, I had to hit the vulnerable turret. I hit the vulnerable turret. I needed to roll less than seven to get the kill. I rolled seven exactly. A UK result on the Tiger but no CVP points for Neil.
|The end. I have come up somewhat short|
So victory to Dave at the last. We both had a blast playing this game and for once I don't think I made too many egregious errors. Thanks to Dave for the game, now I have to come up with a scenario.
Captain Takhetov stumbled away from the battlefield, his uniform stained with smoke and blood, some of it his own. To his horror a pair of NKVD troopers appeared in front of him fingering their weapons (those NKVD guys are real perverts).
"Well looky here," said the first NKVD man, "a deserter. You know how we deal with them."
Takhetov prepared himself for death when a familiar cheerful voice interrupted him.
"Leave him alone guys, he's with me."
Smiles creased the faces of the NKVD men, they didn't look like they belonged there.
"Rockosoksov, good to see you man. How's you're great patriotic war going?"
Takhetov stared in bewilderment as Rockosoksov somehow managed to negotiate a meal, a lift to headquarters and a bottle of vodka from men for whom the term "mass grave" was more than just an abstract concept. It is possible this did more damage to his psyche than the entire war so far.