Sunday, 6 February 2011

Panzer Strike

On Saturday February 5 we played an Eastern Front scenario in the aftermath of the Kursk Battle. The game depicted a German strong armoured counterstrike against a lightly defended Soviet position, aiming to gain some time for the main German forces to pull back. The objective of the German players was to control the area to the East of the table above the second stream  (see map below) with at least two operative AFVs. As usually, the game was played with the TFL rule set Troops, Weapons and Tactics for platoon-sized engagements.

Terrain and Soviet deployment
The battle map shows a road crossing west to east across a wood and hilly area and intercepted by 2 water streams. The streams can be crossed by two wooden bridges but also two fords are present, although muddy, forcing any vehicle to throw dice for bogging down.

We arranged a 6" x 4" table in our local club. The view from the German entry side...

...and now from the Soviet side.

The Soviet player had two rifle squads, a flamethrower assault group, 3 x (flimsy) T 70s and a 45mm anti-tank gun (ATG). The scenario rules stated that after turn 3 a reinforcement would eventually arrive (controlled by the umpire) being either a 3 x T 34 section or a battle group made of a HMG plus  another 45 mm ATG.

I was the commander of the Soviet side and considering the title of the scenario ("panzer strike") and the relatively weak forces under my control, I had no illusions of facing at all an easy game: we would probably going to be outnumbered and outgunned. After consulting with my game mates, we decided to go for an in depth defense, getting as much cover as possible from the terrain features; the possibilty of a conceald deployment was probably our key advantage, aiming to strike by surprise to as many enemy units as possible.

We decided the following deployment:
  • A rifle squad and the flamethrower assault group hidden in the woody hill to the left of road;
  • The other rifle squad in the marshy area on the right of the road;
  • The 45mm ATG was deployed concealed in shell crater with an open sight to any enemy unit moving up the road;
  • The T 70s were our last line of defence; due to its weak fire power we dediced to keep them in reserve and use them only as a last resource in surprise attacks, should the German forces crosssed the second stream. Being extremely vulnerable, once on the table they were going to last hardly a tow or (at best) three  "tea-breaks".

Before the game started, we were informed by the umpire that our engineers were successful in destroyingp the bridge crossing the first stream,  forcing the Germans to use the ford and therefore moving straight into our first line of defence.

Battle development
The umpire informed that the game would either last 12 turns or  be finished by 8.00PM (we started at around 5.30PM), whatever first. On the positive side, this would put some speed to the German Playes, otherwise they would jeopardising their victory. But, on the negative, the turn countdown would only start after the first unit would fire (that put some pressure on the Soviets, that could not be under concelament forever).

The first German activation saw a large number of blinds entering the table (my worst fears of being clearly outnumbered becoming real) through the main road.

 A few successful spotting atempts gave us the full picture in a short time: a panzer column made of 3 Pz IV, 1 Pz III, 1 Stug IV and 2 Hanomags.

The first move took the main column straight into the blown bridge, while 2 Pz IVs were detached to the hill  overlooking it, probably with the idea of covering the crossing of the main force.

So reverse-gear and towards the ford. And from here things started to go wrong for the Germans. First, their most powerful tank  (the Stug IV with 7 saving rolls to its front) got bogged down while attempting to cross the river and was lost for the rest of the game.

Then, the Pz IV detachment over the hill, while moving towards the ford presented a nice flank side to our 45 mm ATG that did not hesitate to grab the opportunity...

 ...brewing up after the first shot. Not a bad start for the Soviets!! Two panzers out of action even before crossing the first river.

Yet, the remaining German force was still powerful enough to put us in trouble and the German commander decided to go full steam ahead with the remaining forces (plus another Hanomag of reinforcement entering the table  after the third turn).

But the situation started to really brighten for the Soviet player as we also received some unexpected help: a  3 x T 34 section reinforcement in turn 3. They were deployed in blinds in the woods at the edge of the table, next to the two T 70s under concealment.

From that moment the situation got our of control for the German commander. The Hanomag with the HQ sprearheading the attack was the first to fall to our T 34 guns, although the crew was saved (albeit with several shock points)...

... then the Pz III attempting to reach the second bridge...

...after that the turn was for another  Pz IV...

... and finally a second Hanomag was prey to the T 34. With practically all the vehicles destroyed or engaged in battle with the Soviet rifle squads...

... the German commander conceded defeat.

It was a GREAT (and to some extent, unexpected) victory to the Soviets. with no casualties, just a T 34 with a blown track and another tank with burned engine. In front of the Soviet line, the field was littered with the charred remains of the proud German panzers.

Nonetheless, I admitt that luck played a part in the victory: the powerful Stug IV that got bogged in the river;  the arrival of the T 34s; but above all  some very impressive dice results that I got each time my tanks were activated (the "Red Wittmann" I was called by my collegues after the game... funnily enough, in December I played Germans in a game, commanding 2 x Pz IV and destroyed half a dozen Shermans ...)

Very stressful for the Soviets I wonder what would have been the result if  the T 34 squad wouldn't arrive... I think the scenario merit to be repeated but probably with different players that have no intelligence of the forces on the table.


  1. Great battle report!, every time I see 20mm figures I'm tempted to open my cupboard in the garage which contains a few hundred models but haven't seen the light of day for a few years now.
    Fantastic board and layout as well.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Guido. Just for clarification,we play 28mm, not 20mm. I have thousnads of 20mm but since I started playing TFL rules, we have moved up-scale... and now it's going to be difficult to go down again.

  3. Good looking game. What I could see of the paint jobs on the AFVs was very tasty - a beautiful presentation.

    In hindsight, what could the German commander have done differently? Used smoke and done some recon, for example?

  4. To Mad Padre (BTW, is that you in the photo?)
    Thanks for the comments on the AFVs all merit to our master-painter Alfredo the "king of airbrushing" and dear umpire.

    On your question, I think one bad move was to offer the flank of the Pz IV and then it was truly bad luck to have the Stug IV bogged in the ford.

    Having said this, before committing my remaining AFVs in a race to the second stream, I would have dismounted the infantry from the Hanomags and sent them (both tracks and infantry) on a recon mission to discover the location of the ATG and to spot the T 34s at the edge of the table; the infantry in this scenario is less important than the AFVs in the light of the victory conditions. The Pz IVs have a more effective gunnery at long distance than the T 34 and the advantage was on their side.

    You're a professional and a dedicated wargamer from whta I saw in your blog, what do you think?

  5. Yes, that is me in the photo. It was taken during my Basic Officer Training. That was a fun day

    I'm a chaplain, not a combat arms officer, so I don't know how professional I am, but I think your thoughts about dismounting some infantry and scouting the second stream would have been helpful but it depends how much time you had to achieve your objectives. Time spent in reconaissance is seldom wasted and often saves lives. If you didn't have any dedicated recon elements, using a Hanomag as an armoured car might have been useful and worth the loss of the Hanomag if it drew fire.