While Mitch was galavanting around at Leviathan, Sean and I decided to have a quick game.
I’d recently read the excellent ‘Pocket Battles’ article published in March this year, and had given somewhat serious consideration to attending New Zealand’s Rallypoint later this year (Rallypoint is an escalation tournament with three point sizes, 1015, 1325 & 1655).
Wanting to try something a bit different (As Sean had previously said… 1750 was a bit old hat), we decided to mix the two concepts together – a series of escalating pocket battles. The logic was – the initial battle would involve just a portion of the front, with the attacker looking for weak spots in the enemy defences. As the attackers rushed to close the pocket, more and more defending forces would be caught in the ‘trap‘, thus allowing for a bigger force to be fielded. Or so the theory went.
But who would be closing the pocket & who would be fighting for survival? To find out, we fought our first game, with the winner being deemed for the rest of the series as the attacker. To continue with the ‘different’ theme we would be randomly selecting our front, our forces and even individual units (well, Sean would be at any rate). I’d brought a list for both east & west Germans, and a Devils Charge American fortified company – I was rather hoping to play my west Germans as I’m keen to test out the cheap Panzer IV Js en masse.
As it was, Sean rolled the Eastern Front – my Desperate Measures tanks would take the field! Since I had already elected to use a DM list (and a quite fun one if I do say so myself), Sean decided to randomly select his company, it’s units, whether it was a hero list, etc. With his faith placed firmly in the sides of a chance cube, Sean ‘generated’ this: Tankovy Batalon (Guards) – which ended up not being the list he used. Some slight changes saw a platoon of 85’s added and the dropping of a Maxim mg.
Wanting to play around with my recent obsession with breakthrough guns, I’d cobbled together a list of favourites – some panthers, hetzers and brums! Pocket Germans of Doom!
German forces for this evening
With the board set up, Sean declared we’d play free for all unless he rolled a 6. Naturally he obliged and we started setting up for Cauldron. What a perfect scenario to start our pocket battles. I won the roll off and would be attacking. With five platoons to choose from, Sean kept his AAA, Recce & a T34 platoon in reserve – I had an easier task of choosing what was on, and so I kept the brums and infantry in reserve and rolled the panthers on the right flank and the hetzers to the left.
Right flank deployment
Sean had, of course, kept his T34-85s in immediate ambush – and so they popped, right in front of the hetzers. A chronically stupid deployment decision by me saw my 2IC left in the open next to the hetzers… oh boy…
With the first turn being the defender’s it was up to Sean to kick us off.
Ambush – Soviet Style
Which he did by popping his immediate ambush and moving the T34-85’s out to engage my idiotically placed 2IC (and his heztin buddies) and careful to ensure they’d be out of Panther-range. The 85s waste little time and fire on the Hetzers, forcing the 2IC to attach – blowing his tank up but failing to kill him via the warrior save. One Hetzer gets bailed in the process.
The Germans were frantic in their pursuit of the Russians… I got reserves turn 1 – must be a personal record!
With only infantry sitting on the objectives, I bring the Brums up, conscious not to double them – else inevitably breaking them down. The Panthers cruise into town – out of range from the infantry, but remarkably now contesting the objective (turn one you say?!). The Hetzer remounts and along with the 2IC they move out to engage the Soviet tanks. 3 hits, 1 kill and 2 bails – not a bad response from the little Hezter!(s)
My forces move to the objective
Turn 2 and Sean (of course) re-mounts the 85s… all that hard work wasted!
Standing still and not suffering range, hen and chicks or any other penalty the T34 85’s return fire, scoring 3 hits, killing one and bailing the others. One Hetzer enjoys the war, but the other decides it’s past his bedtime and takes off for the rear. Unluckily the Hetzer platoon commander happened to die in the combat – leaving me one Hetzer in the platoon, behind the burning wreck of the 2IC’s former tank!
I start my second turn and its back to normal – no reserves. The Panthers are now in ‘Panther-range’ and punish the T34s, killing one. The lone Hetzer scores a kill in revenge of his buddies – but the 2IC lets the side down and fails an easy side shot.
Hetzer Revenge! (Hetzed?)
I fail the (somewhat) critical stormtrooper roll on the 2IC – my company commander brings the Brums up closer to the action however. I’m now well and truly in position to FSU (whether it’s mine or Sean’s… remains to be seen)
Sean’s third turn – no Soviet’s come to the rescue – I was acutely aware of the potential for another platoon of T34’s to show up and chew a hole in the side of my Panthers. The 85 platoon pass their morale check – curse you fearless Stalin! The T34-85s move to hide from the Panthers and pop the 2IC.
Left flank – no Germans! (Bar one-immobile or rotate-able Hetzer
I get my last reserves (infantry) at the start of my third turn – unbelievable timing. Stupidly, instead of moving them up via the corn-field (albeit with no at the double movement) – I drop them near the village and double up to the outskirts – I’ll pay dearly for this in a turn or two…
Grenadiers at the double!
My Brums and Panthers are now in a good position – but I decide to wait a turn before moving in for the kill.
Sean’s fourth turn – no reserves again, but the infantry finally dig in (having moved from their prepared positions in the first turn to contest both objectives). The T34-85s move around the orchard to go Hetzer hunting…
My Brums open the German fourth by using their breakthrough guns in style – crushing 1 stand of Soviet infantry (Needing 5’s… not bad!) It was about now that the tantalising easy-win thought came to mind – an assault would push Sean off the objective, and if needed, a second assault from my Panthers would force the Soviet’s so far off that they’d not be able to contest – a 5 turn victory! (Or so I hoped).
With my Napoleonic logic firmly in place – I sent the Brums (yep… those amazing infantry assault vehicles) in. No bogs on the way in – crushing a stand in the process. Sean breaks off and I chose to move back.. of course I did. Needing anything but a 1 or a 2 to bog down…
I bog both Brummbärs. Frustrated with my severe stupidity and desperate to avoid the Brums being captured, I send the Panthers in, and cop a Panzerfaust in the side, bailing one. This round of the assault goes as per a train wreck – the Panthers – fail to hit a thing, I pass a tonne of saves on the Panthers and we spend a few rounds of missing each other until… I fail saves on both Panthers (having not killed a single stand) – Rubber Lance Syndrome as it was called in WFB days… my spectacular failure had cost me four tanks – and another to Enjoy The War! I was left with 1 Hetzer on the lef, 1 Brummbär & my commander Hetzer on the right, plus some riflemen!
To make matters worse…
Soviet reserves – surprise!
The Soviets smell blood in the air and fancy their chances to trap the Germans in their village of doom. T34s arrive and move to engage my infantry. The 85s swing round and pop the last Hetzer – Sean’s now 2-0 on platoons and I don’t look like killing anything soon.. The lone Brum cops a round from Sean’s commander, but he shrugs it off nicely. The newly arrived T34s, clearly on a quota to burn as much ammunition as Mother Russia can provide, pepper the grenadiers – slamming 14 hits into the platoon and kill four. I pass all three Enjoy The War saves!
Unbelievably on my 5th turn I can still snatch victory from the Jaws of (heavy) defeat. With the 85s out of position and the newly arrived T34s unable to engage my remaining armour for a turn or too, I take inspiration from the book title and go into Desperate Measures mode. The Heroic Brummbär misses a sitter to smash some Soviets with its huge siege gun. The Commanding Hetzer however, fires up the MG – getting a sweet return – 2 kills, including the lethal (and traitor) Panzerfaust and Platoon Command! No moving to contest objectives for you boys!
I did move my infantry into somewhat cover… somewhat. They pretended to hide behind the building. I was aware they’d probably die… but I also probably still needed them.
With another ‘one last roll of the dice’ moment, I send the Brummbär in for an assault (clearly having ignored the lesson from last time…). He misses, but the Soviets can’t counter and break off! I, naturally, bog on the way out – I imagine this a moment where James May would say something like this. I should complain about the 1 or 2 issue… but to be fair I rolled three 1s for bogging checks, meaning the Brummbär’s obvious disadvantage wasn’t so evident. Still… a pretty stupid thing to do (again!).
Turn 6 for Sean – no more reserves to his aid (does he really need them?). Sean is, however, in a bit of a predicament – with no platoon commander, the Soviet infantry can’t move to engage my tattered force and contest the objective. Unbelievably, its now on Sean to save the game – would this be a victory for stupidity? I held my breath, awaiting Sean’s move(s).
A quick flick through the rulebook and the Soviet CO attaches to the infantry, sending them onwards. Sean very sneakily deploys them to avoid defensive fire, not that it would stop and assault, but it could do enough to force a platoon check later on. The T34s track the grenadiers and open up on them..
Troops in the open, sighted!
… and wipes out the platoon. 3-0, looking grim!
With his infantry in place it’s time for the do or die assault. Everything else is dead, bar one bogged Brum..
Final fight for the objective
Sean surges in but fails to hit – I bring the Hetzer into the fight to ‘save the game’ (yeah… this game was very much save-able :P). We spend a couple of rounds (again) of failing to hit, until I finally kill a stand – the Soviet’s however’ are not to be frightened off – they counter and hit the Hetzer…
Naturally, I oblige and fail the save. The Soviet’s fail their platoon morale, but that’s now irrelevant. It’s game, set, match to the Soviets!!
1015pts, 12 tanks, 7 stands of infantry – what a mad game that was! It took just over an hour and a half too. Lessons to be learned? Plenty. Never assault with Brummbärs. Ever. Deployment issues aside, it was a great game – not only did I snatch defeat from the clawing jaws of victory, I nearly managed to do the opposite, twice.
So – the front has collapsed – the Soviet’s are encircling – I need to break free or the Kessel like noose will tighten around my demoralised – but not yet defeated Germans.