Saturday, February 25, 2023

Silly After Action Report - Acts of Defiance

 There is something delightful about a well crafted plan coming to fruition.  The moment of victory coming as a deserved reward for good tactics, insightful leadership and moral courage at the difficult moments.  In fact I can think of only one thing better; gaining an utterly undeserved victory after making a pigs breakfast of your set up, wandering your best leader out into the street in LOS of a .50cal and making the sort of tactical errors that would make a six year old blush.  With that as both intro and warning welcome to my latest AAR.

Continuing our trawl through ASL Annual 95 (Winter) Dave Wilson and I hit on Scenario A68; Acts of Defiance.  It is February 1945 and the writing is on the wall for Nazi Germany or at least the writing would be on the wall if the wall hadn't been blown to pieces by Allied bombing and Soviet artillery.  Still the writing was definitely on the rubble.  Absolutely refusing to take the hint were the defenders of Breslau who were possibly hoping to hold out until German reunification in 1990.  A Soviet attack having seized a toehold their defences it was up to the Germans (commanded by me) to remove the offending toe.

Victory for the Germans is gained if there are no good order Soviet MMC within the intial Soviet set up area.  Dave's Soviets start with ten squads (seven elite of various stripes and three first line 527s) equipped with a trio of lmgs and a radio.  They are led by three officers which is an unusually high leader to squad ratio for the Soviets.  Also present are three T-44 tanks.  On turn one another five elite squads led by an 8-1 arrive dragging a .50cal machine gun and supported by a pair of ISU-122 tank destroyers enter on the south board edge.  Two bridges separate them from their comrades.

To recapture approximately twenty square feet of Nazi Germany from the ravening Soviet hordes I have ten elite squads of paratroopers with six first line squads making up the numbers.  These forces have four light machine guns, a single medium and two panzerschrecks.  They are led by four officers including a doughty 9-2.  In the south lurk two 838 assault engineers and a pair of equally impressive half squads.  The half squads are herders for a pair of Goliath self propelled explosive devices.  The obvious intention is that these should be pointed at the bridges in the hopes of destroying them and preventing Dave's reinforcements getting too involved in the battle.  Armoured support comes on in the form of a JgPzIV tank destroyer and a Brummbar assault gun carrying a 150mm artillery piece on its chassis.  Finally, lurking in the sewers is a half squad of Hitler Youth with another panzerschreck waiting for the opportunity to sneak up to ground level and hopefully blow up a Soviet tank or two (you don't do that in the Boy Scouts).

Prior to the game starting Dave had to make a DR for each stairwell location on board 20.  On a roll of less that 10 that hex would be rubbled and falling rubble would apply.  As it happened Dave rubbled precisely nothing and Breslau presented an uncharacteristically intact appearance to my attacking troops.

Below is our set up.  Dave is ensconced in the stone buildings and challenging me to throw him out.  I have divided my troops into two forces, one to flank from the left and the other to barrel headfirst towards his defenders.  My armour on arrival would support the barrellers.  In the South I skillfully positioned my assault engineer halfsquads so that they were incapable of guiding the Goliaths to the bridges.  This would result in some desperate cursing and first turn readjustments.  Sadly by the time the Goliaths got rolling Dave's armoured support had arrived and he managed to blow up the little bomb trolleys without any sort of result.  The remaining assault engineers were to strike North hoping to get into the rear of his defenders on the right.

At start and I've already messed up

Well despite screwing up the Goliaths the game had to proceed so proceed it did.  While my southern halfsquads scrambled around trying to herd their charges in the direction of the bridges the main attack proceeded apace.  In deference to my screw up with the Goliaths I changed my plan slightly and sent a squad of assault engineers towards the left to cover the more distant bridge which I was pretty certain would not suffer from any Goliath induced demolition.  The other squad plunged north accompanied by an officer with a DC.  I did indeed reach the rear of his defences but all his defensive fire achieved was to create a hero to bolster my forces.  On the left of my main attack there was little fighting and much running as my troops took advantage of the rubble to make a largely painfree journey to snatch the building that would be the base for my attack on his left flank.  In the centre a couple of squads fired away at his defenders without result.  On the right I tried pushing forward with some troops (who promptly got broken) but for the most part lurked under concealment counters preparing for the attack to come.  I completely forgot about my HIP half squad in the sewers but Dave very kindly let me move it on the next turn.  My armour rolled on to support my right flank and the Jagdpanzer promptly broke its MA.  It would repair it next turn and then get destroyed before getting chance to use it.  So much for the Jagdpanzer.

Seeing my 9-2 present amongst the troops on the right excited Dave's radio operator and he dropped a spotting round down where he hoped carnage would ensue.  This would be the beginning of a brutal fight between Dave and his artillery support.  In the ensuing turns he would lose radio contact, break the radio, fail to repair the radio, repair the radio, fail to gain radio contact, break the radio again and then destroy it.  The spotting round would be the only shot fired by the Soviet artillery all day.  God of war my arse.

End of German turn 1

In his own turn, apart from cursing his radio operator, Dave brought on his reinforcements.  The vehicles and some squads made their way towards the annoyingly unblown bridges while others, panting under the weight of the .50cal made their way to a building to set up a fire position.  Incidentally we messed up Dave's reinforcing vehicles initially thinking they were IS-2 tanks.  Fortunately the error was pointed out before it became critical.  Aside from that a conveniently placed T-44 destroyed my Jagdpanzer but the crew survived and provided me with a little more expendable infantry.  Vengeance was swiftly mine as a halfsquad with a panzerschreck managed to burn the offending tank at a three hex range no less.

End of Soviet turn 1.  As you can see one of Dave's reinforcing vehicles is patiently waiting for the Goliaths to present themselves.

Over on the left things seemed to go more or less to plan, something which always makes me nervous.  I started pushing into (and more importantly around) his defences.  On the right advance was more of an incremental thing, nervously assault moving into tiny bits of orchard while his defenders hammered away at me.  In my defence I didn't yet realise his artillery was a damp squib and feared high explosive death with every step. In the South I continued my fine tradition of incompetence by bumbling around with a squad which for some reason I managed to keep away from anywhere he could actually lay fire on the enemy.  On the other hand my Hitler Youth finally found a signpost in the sewer and popped up a convenient distance from another of Dave's tanks.

Mixed results attended the Soviet second turn.  My HJ halfsquad managed to blow up another tank and themselves at the same time (thank you backblast) while on the right each of us managed to inflict casualties on the other.  As the attacker it was appropriate that mine were higher although the death of a panzerschreck HS was a little annoying.  More concerning was the fact that his reinforcing armour was starting to get into place and his .50cal squad had finally dragged their hernia inducing charge to the top of a convenient building.  I would have to be careful about lines of sight from now on (spoiler alert; I was not careful about lines of sight).

Gains and losses on both sides

Turn three was when I made my move.  I was pushing through the rubble and buildings on the left gradually winkling him out of his positions.  On the right I simply pushed forward more targets than his remaining troops could shoot at.  Broken Germans fled in all directions but the survivors made it into the centre building that was his stronghold and started challenging for ownership.  I destroyed his final T-44 in street fighting which forced him to bring forward his tank destroyers to bolster his crumbling infantry.  For my part my Brummbar took its courage in its hands and started looping around to where it was obvious his last stand was going to take place (the rowhouse on the left).  Meanwhile in the south I futzed about some more and achieved very little.  I sent one halfsquad to recover the panzerschreck which had unaccountably survived when the backblast had laminated its previous owners over the walls of the building.  This was necessary with two hulking armoured beasts dominating the street but it did leave the way open for a Soviet squad in the South to charge across the bridge and start heading towards the victory locations.  I hoped that my assault engineer squad which had so far done nothing might be able to stop them.

The Soviets are starting to get squeezed

Things looked bleak for Dave on the surface but actually he was handling the situation well despite artillery induced disappointment.  The centre building was irretrievably gone but over on the left he was managing to trade not very much space for time and pull back to the rowhouse with a number of concealed squads.  I would have to shoot these out from under their question marks through stone walls to gain the win and I have to admit that I did not think this was likely in the time remaining despite the firepower I had arrayed.  Meanwhile his reinforcement squad on the right held out the threat that he could sneak them in for a win at the last.  I would not be able to focus all my attention on the rowhouse.

End of German turn 5.  Things aren't as bad as they look for Dave, underneath each of the broken units in the rowhouse is a fully intact concealed squad.

I managed to take out one of his ISUs with another schreck and the other retreated to where it could cover the street but then managed to break its MA.  I pushed my troops forward to try my best to take out his remaining forces.  With the absence of any other armour my Brummbar got very brave and rolled up to take a pointblank shot at a melee (I had the troops to spare and he didn't) which evaporated the contents.  It was a good thing I had the troops to spare as I decided to reinforce my troops with my 9-2 led mmg stack completely forgetting about the .50cal Dave had across the canal.  They'll bury those guys in a matchbox.

With the final turn upon me I gazed on concealed units in both the ground and first floor of the rowhouse.  I could only take my shots and pray.  I broke every single unit in the building.  Not with great rolls, just enough to generate normal morale checks which Dave's troops, despite their eight morale proved incapable of passing.  I gave a sigh of relief for just a second before reality intruded, the game wasn't over yet.  

In the Soviet turn six Dave had one hope.  His elite squad on the right had managed to edge up just a few hexes away from the victory locations.  If they could get across the road and advance into pretty much anywhere Dave would have the win. Boldly his squad sallied forth, my hero took a 1 flat shot at him through a hedge and scored a morale check.  Dave rolled snake eyes and his 628 was now fanatic.  Everything now depended on my 838 assault engineer squad who had literally done nothing all game.  I took an 8 down 1 shot and rolled a ten for a pin check.  Dave's morale was nine, he rolled a ten and pinned in the middle of the street one hex away from the promised land.

End of the game.  In deference to Dave's sensibilities I didn't place the pin counter on his 628 but it is pinned nonetheless
If Dave had passed either of his two morale checks on the left or the PTC on the right he would have won the game.  As it was the dice handed me the most undeserved of victories.  I was gracious to Dave but away from my PC I did a little victory dance while giggling hysterically to myself.  If you can't be good, be lucky.  So to recap lucky dice and a total absence of Soviet artillery served up victory on a silver platter.  If it had been anybody else they would probably have had it won on turn four, as it was it went right down to the wire.  Thanks to Dave for the game and his good humour as the dicebot eviscerated his hopes and dreams.


Thursday, February 2, 2023

Birthday Greetings #85

 There haven't been too many of these lately, a fact which was pointed out by a fellow gamer at CanCon this year (which I haven't written about as I weep every time I try).  After I got over the surprise at someone actually reading my blog I decided to rectify this at the first opportunity in a pathetic and transparent attempt to preserve my readership base.

So, happy birthday to Justin I, Byzantine emperor.  Justin followed quite a traditional leadership path in the Byzantine empire, he started off as a pig farming peasant.  As a teenager he fled a barbarian invasion (I'm not sure which but there were plenty going around at the time) and wound up in Constantinople where he decided that a military career was preferable to having anything more to do with pigs.

But what about the giddy ascent that led from muddy sty to the imperial purple?  According to one tale the story went like this.  Justin's predecessor as emperor, one Anastasius by name, now in his ninth decade could feel the bony hand of death on his shoulder and was filled with curiosity as to who would rule the empire after him.  He had no sons but he had three grown nephews so he invited them to a private dinner.  A couch was provided for each of them, on one couch a secret mark was made, whoever sat on that couch would inherit the throne (beats pulling a sword out of a rock doesn't it).  Unfortunately two of the nephews seemed to have an affection slightly at odds with the prevailing social mores and decided to share a couch and the marked couch was left unused.  

Anastasius realised that the throne would not be inherited by a family member but he was still keen to know who the lucky person would be.  He prayed for insight and that night God (who apparently had nothing better to do) dropped in on a dream to inform him that the new emperor would be the first person to enter the imperial bed chamber the next morning.  This made sense to Anastasius, normally the first person in was the Grand Chamberlain with the latest political reports.  High born and a senior member of the hierarchy possibly the only real surprise is that he was waiting until the incumbent died before grabbing the purple.  On this particular day however the first person in was the thuggish, illiterate commander of the Imperial Guard our boy Justin (who was pushing seventy by this time).  Anastasius accepted that the ways God moved in were not just mysterious but downright weird and died at peace.

If you believe the above story I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.  All it really does is serve notice on the quality of investigative journalism in fifth century Byzantium.  As far as we can tell from a distance of some seventeen hundred years what actually happened was that Anastasius' brother made a bid for the throne.  The grand chamberlain had his eye on another candidate and to buy military support gave Justin a large sum of money to bribe the relevant people.  This Justin did, he bribed them so well that they elevated him as emperor instead.  Justin then executed his predecessor's brother and the other candidate for the throne and a few other people who looked like they might look good in purple.  Then he settled down to rule.

So, how did a seventy year old, semi literate pig farmer do as emperor?  Better than you might think.  Justin was smart enough to know what he didn't know and dialled in skilled advisors to assist him in areas where his knowledge was lacking.  Foreign policy consisted of building up Christian buffer states between the empire and its distinctly non-Christian neighbours like the Sassanians (essentially Persia).  This worked for a while although war broke out under Justin's successor.  The main thing Justin concerned himself with was religion.

This might not seem particularly important now but in those days it was everything.  There was a split in the Christian church (because there always is) between those who believed in the dual nature of Christ (Chalcedonians) and those who believed the son of God had a single, divine nature (Miaphysites).  Anastasius had been a Miaphysite which had led to a certain amount of tension (riots, revolts and an attempt to remove him from the throne) by the largely Chalcedonian population of Constantinople.  It had also led to a schism with the Pope in Rome.  Justin an avowed Chalcedonian mended bridges with the Pope and reunited Christianity or rather reunited some bits of Christianity.  The Miaphysites and Monophysites (like Miaphysites only more so) were persecuted which caused some issues as at that time Italy was being ruled by the Goths who were Arians (a type of Monophysite).  The Goths got very annoyed and wound up tossing the Pope in gaol.

The displeasure of the Goths was significant because technically they ruled Italy in the emperor's name.  They had defeated the last emperor of the West some years previously and had taken over.  Claiming that they did so at the behest of the emperor in the East saved that emperor some face and gave a little respectability to a Gothic invasion force.  Now however relations between the two were on a downward slide.  Justin's nephew was to blame for a good deal of this and would ultimately wind up having the Gothic kingdom destroyed.

So, Justin's nephew; one of the talented advisors Justin called on was his own nephew of equally low origins but considerably more talent.  His name was Justinian (not originally of course but after Justin adopted him it was).  Cold, intelligent and utterly ruthless he was Justin's right hand man (a lot of the success of Justin's coup can be traced back to his activities) and as the emperor slid into senility he took on more and more of the imperial duties.  He was crowned co-emperor and when Justin finally died took the throne as sole emperor.  One of the top items on his to do list was destroying the Gothic kingdom of Italy.