|Do you know the piano's on my foot? You hum it, son, I'll play it.|
We had another Monday bash at WW2 winter warfare on Monday as the Russians in early 1942 attempt to oust the Germans from their winter quarters in Kholm. But before we could begin I had to drive back over to Moreton to help Mark and Ian manhandle a piano into the back of Mark's van (hence the PG Tips Chimps reference!). This included much grunting and straining and a bit where the piano did land on my foot! But we got it in in the end.
As a consequence we were late starting and the inevitable gabbing during the day meant that we didn't get a conclusion but we all enjoyed the day and it led to a few additional tweaks to our rule amendments.
A couple of German battalions are deeply entrenched in their winter quarters in Feb 1942. With no armoured support and no aerial cover, they have fortified much of their position to fend off another attack by Russian forces. No air supply this time but they have sufficient supplies to last another battle.
The Germans are entrenched in the town, on the hill to the north of the town and in a redoubt (a fortified position including wrecked vehicles to provide extra cover. The Russians will attack from both north and south but where will the main strength of the Russian attack fall?
The Festung Kholm forces comprise two strong infantry battalions (composite infantry and composite mountain infantry with MG's and mortars, an infantry gun and Pak38 in the town and some 105's and a 150 artillery support 'off table). Germans are mainly dug in giving them +2 when shot against and a whopping +3 in the redoubt (basically impossible to shoot!).
The Russians have the 75th Naval Brigade and the 943rd Rifle Regiment with a couple of Quad AA's on trucks, some infantry guns, ATG's and heavy mortars. The infantry battalions are relatively small (6-7 units of infantry with MG's and mortars) but they do have tank support (a mix of British abnd Soviet tanks) and air support from a Tupolev SB2 with three bombing missions.
|The battlefield. The Germans can only deploy on the middle board. Arrows show Russian attack routes.|
Ian (as the German commander) laid out his troops to try and counter an attack from both sides. The Pak 38 faced south (which proved a good choice). One of his FOO's was on the hill to the north but the other was parked in town meaning he could spot virtually nothing and he was in charge of the 105's.
Weather started as OK and the initial Russian moves reflected this - all moved full whack towards their objectives. From the north came the 257th Ski Bttn. And from the south came pretty much all the artillery. and the 75th Naval Brigade's battalions.
Food for thought was whether the Germans could have pre-planned an artilley barrage on the road. If they had done so it would have been devastating as all the Russian artillery was bunched up. The sole German attack was from a mortar stuck out in the snow (with MG support) which missed. In turn the Tupolev bombed a town sector to little effect.
|Germans dug in. The Redoubt (circled). A tough objective! You can also see the Pak 38 dug in on the road pointing south.|
An adverse weather front comes in. The Russians choose not to risk their bomber and instead deploy their artillery by the side of the road (as trucks can only run on the road). The ski troops also move to the edge of the woods approaching the town from the north. The Germans stay hunkered down and again only the mortar in the snow gets involved - suppressing an infantry gun.
|Russian artillery deploys as the 1/75th reach the wood edge. The Quad AA sits back so as to not to be spotted.|
As the weather takes a turn for the better, the Russians move up and both 1/75 and 2/75 to the edge of the woods and the 257th Ski appear from the woods to attack. The German mortar again suppresses the infantry gun. The FOO in town cannot see anything to call the 105's in on but the FOO on the hill sees the ski troops and tries to call in the 150mm - and fails. The mortar to the north of town is not registered either and the infantry gun also fails to be called in so its left to the MG42 on the hill to open up and suppress a ski platoon. As per the rules of Spearhead, Mark rolls for the quality of the troops and gets Green for the ski troops. Which is bad.
|Ski troops of the 257th rush their objective with no indirect fire to stop them. Only the MG on the hill makes an impression.|
The weather closes in again and the 75th troops seem unwilling to leave the cover of the trees (variable movement can affect the Russians as well!). They end up just clear of the trees. On the other hand, not believing their luck at not being bombarded by artillery, the 257th ski as fast as they can to engage the Germans dug in on the hill. The FOO on the hill realises that his radio is malfunctioning and the 150mm remains silent. The mortar does register however and suppresses another ski unit. The accompanying infantry and MG fire causes suppression markers to bloom in the snow around the ski troops.
To the south, the MG supporting the mortar in the snow suppresses a unit of 1/75 as they emerge from the trees. Encouraged by this the infantry in the nearest town sector to the Russians opens up with infantry fire - and miss. Ian starts blaming the cursed blue dice that appears to not have a 5 or 6 on it and Mark suggests borrowing Frank's 'begging bowl' (a wooden beastie he rolls his dice into to stop them spraying across the table.
It turns out that 1/75 are also Green and Mark fails to unsuppress any units. Which is very bad.
|1. 1/75 attack (and are shot at) from the nearest town sector while 2. the 2/75 have the trickier redoubt to take on|
As the weather appears to have settled the Russians bring in the Tupolev. As the Germans have no AA it has a clear bombing run nut rather than attacking the troops on the hill (who are dug in in the open) Mark chose to bomb the troops in the nearest sector to 1/75 (dug in in the town). He therefore needed 6's on the dice and basically failed to hit anything.
The 257th decide discretion is the better part of valour and do a break-off before they are shot to pieces. They run back into the woods to hide and stay there for the rest of the battle.
To the south, 1/75 stop in the open to fire into the town sector as 2/75 move up to shoot into the reboubt (which proves pretty worthless given the defensive qualities of the redoubt).
The mortar fails to kill the 1/75 suppressed platoon and as if to celebrate this, the massed Russian artillery kills the supporting German MG! In turn, the German infantry suppress another 1/75 platoon but the reboubt's infantry miss when they open up on 2/75. They turn out to be Green as well! Mark was not happy. His only consolation is that the infantry manage to suppress a german platoon in the town.
|1. The German MG in the snow is killed, leaving the mortar vulnerable and alone. 2. the 2/75 get within shooting range of the redoubt.|
A whopping snow shower prevents any aircraft sorties and also affects movement and spotting. Which proves beneficial to the Russians. 2/75 get closer to the redoubt and 1/75 get the Quad AA up to add its firepower to the attack on the town sector - safe in the knowledge that - for now - the FOO and the Pak38 can't see it!
The German mortar crew care not if they are left alone in the snow and kill a platoon of 1/75. Its the only effective firing this turn as either poor dice by the Germans (that bloody blue dice!) or the effect of cover on Russian fire means no-one gets hit. This probably saves the leftmost platoon of 2/75 who otherwise would get shot from around 4 town sectors! The snow saves their asses.
|1. 1/75 get closer to try a direct assault on the town sector to their front while 2. 2/75 take advantage of the sudden snowfall to assault the redoubt! Brave lads.|
The weather improves and this allows the FOO for the 105's to call them in and they kill a platoon of Russians. In return, the Russian artillery is poor. 2/75 close assault the redoubt and are undeterred by desultory German infantry fire (Ian blames the blue dice again and tries to palm it off onto Mark who's having none of it and clasps his trusty red dice close to his heart). It proves a good move as the green Russians prise the German defenders out and take the redoubt for themselves!
Meanwhile another 1/75 platoon is suppressed by fire. The German mortar is close assaulted and....survives! The 1/75 lose another platoon as a result and are close to a morale roll as a result.
|The redoubt is taken!|
The bad weather comes in again and again spotting and movement on the ground is affected. The Tupolev is kept grounded. Another Russian platoon is saved from certain death by the weather as he can no longer be spotted by the majority of German units in the town. And again the Quad AA (who had scarpered as the weather cleared last turn) tries his luck again and moves up under the cover of snowfall.
The Russian tanks make their appearance (led by a Matilda with its hefty frontal armour) but slowly as the Matilda only moves 6". The Germans find out how badly snow can affect movement as one platoon tried to move from one side of the river to the other and found themselves in the open on the bridge; Luckily for them no Russians were close enough to take action. The mortar (having survived the close assault) suppressed another 1/75 platoon while the Russian artillery suppressed a unit of infantry in the town.
Mark and Ian started fighting over who was not going to use the blue dice (despite it rolling three 6's in succession for shooting at Russians in the redoubt) when Ian tried some cheeky German firing.
Amazingly the mortar survived another close assault by 1/75 (some Iron Cross winners here come the dawn).
|German platoon stuck in the open - luckily for them no Russians can see them!|
The topsy turvy weather improves again and the tanks have to move up to shield the Quad AA (which proves its a beast at direct fire at infantry) has to move back or be Pak38'd. 1/75 are one platoon away from a morale check and they fall back into the woods. 2/75 decide to stay put (the attack on the redoubt cost them too much to give up) but it means units are stuck in the open and 2/75 is not far off a morale check either. Mark brings on 943rd Rifles to have a go instead (planning a joint assault with the tanks). The Russian 122mm howitzer is finally called in and immediately suppresses the Pak38. In response the blue dice dictates that the German 105's are not called in. Much muttering and gnashing of teeth in Berlin.
The redoubt is peppered with shots but the Russians inside survive.
|1. The Russians in the redoubt are subjected to sustained infantry fire from the town while 2. the rest of 2/75 hide in the snow as the tanks arrive.|
The weather turns bad again! The 943rd move up with the tanks to have a go at the town sector. Because of the snow the tanks move in undetected. Russian artillery fire is again ineffective.
We're faced with the sight of neither Russian or German infantry at the nearest town sector wanting to fire in case they get spotted through the snowfall!
Ian cursed the blue dice for the 100th time as it rolled off a 5 (hit) onto a 4 (miss).
|1. Combined arms attack on the town sector while 2. the 943rd infantry shield the troops of 2/75 to prevent a morale check. Meanwhile 3. troops of 1/75 stay hidden in the woods.|
The weather clears but the Russians decide to save the Tupolev (which may have been a mistake as the Germans now had a lot of no-longer dug in troops in some of the town sectors. The 943rd attacked the town sector which had seen off the 1/75 in the company of the Matilda and a T60. previous firing had left a suppressed German platoon in the town which despite this handicap saw off one of the attacking platoons. The tanks and infantry killed off the other two German units and left one suppressed German platoon facing two tanks and two infantry platoons. 1 dice against 4 - and the Germans won! The remaining platoon and the tanks retired all the way back up the road.
No more cursing of the blue dice and it appears Steiner was leading the defence. They clearly followed the example of the mortar just to the side of them that had also seen off impossible odds.
|The heroic defenders of the outlying town sector. The mortar which had seen off all comers (circled) and in the back of the town sector, Steiner's suppressed infantry platoon which would see off 2 tanks and 3 infantry platoons|
The weather was still not good. The Germans pulled Steiner back into the next town sector to create a second line of defence. The 943rd started moving forward again after licking their wounds but the clock ran out on us.
The Russians held the redoubt and could walk into the first town sector unopposed. The German composite infantry (holding the redoubt and south town sectors) had lost a few units but the mountain infantry were unscathed. The Russians still had another battalion of infantry to move up and the tanks and artillery were fine but had two battalions of infantry not far off morale checks and the ski troops were unlikely to do anything.
We'll call it an honourable draw.
A great test of the winter rules and its clear to see they have a big effect on a battle. German shooting was less effective but they are still formidable. The Russians have some advantages but are still hampered to a great degree (such as calling in and order changes).
We then got onto a discussion about amendments for a winter operational battle (Russians attacking) and the options available to both sides. This included the need to be in supply (i.e. trace a line of supply back to a base line OR be supplied by air. Being out of supply means units fighting at a disadvantage (-1 on shooting). So non-Russian troops get a -1 in winter and an additional -1 for being out of supply making them very vulnerable. It might encourage commanders to save up supplies to ensure greater effectiveness in shooting for longer.
So the emphasis may change to cutting opponents' line of supply, using bombers as supply carriers (such as the He-111 during the Stalingrad battle) and also using fighters to target supply aircraft over bombers and other fighters (and so reducing the fighting effectiveness of the ground forces).
We thought that 1 aircraft being able to carry 4 units of supply - enough for 1 battalion to shoot for 4 turns) - was about right.
Off-table artillery is considered to be always 'in-supply' but can only fire indirect and may not reach tables further back. On table artillery may be kept on the back tables to keep them in supply and so not take supply from other battalions. C in C's may face tough decisions as to where to allocate scarce supplies!
In addition we could see the tactical challenges facing both sides. Weather can play a massive part - grounding aircraft when attacks or supplies are desperately needed and planes on the ground providing tempting targets for surprise attacks, planned bombardments etc.
Given the state of Russian 'roads' at the time, its suggested that only a few tables would have a defined road on it - making the defence of roads vital for supply purposes and also for mobility. As we've seen, variable movement can be a pain should you want to get somewhere quick or combine an attack. Frozen rivers become less of a barrier than a free flowing one. Plans and tactics have to be meticulous and the Germans may be tempted to take Allied troops like Hungarians or Romanians to provide garrisons while the German troops roam around doing the fighting (but with a spectre of supply always at the back of the mind).
For the Russian operational game we also need to develop more lakes and frozen swamps to provide different tactical challenges.
The Ardennes battle would be very different - many more roads but the Americans at a materiel disadvantage. Crossroads will be vital points both for supply and movement. Airdrops for both sides become crucial.
Amazing how just a change of scenery from summer to winter can completely change a period. WW2 is fun again!