Bill's a canny opponent; far more experienced with Flames of War than I am. He was all smiles but I knew that secretly he was thirsting for revenge for what I did to his Matilda swarm a couple of months ago.
We rolled for initiative and, as is now traditional, I lost, meaning that the Germans would be attacking. Given that Bill had to attack with unsupported Panzers, that meant that he would add three Reluctant Trained Panthers, whilst I would be joined by an additional Rifle Platoon and a battery of 155mm Howitzers. Given that he'd also be attacking my Armoured Company with his Infantry, the addition of heavy artillery to a narrow board made Bill physically sag. Our armies were as follows:
HEER GRENADIERS (V3 Forces Book) - Confident Veteran
HQ + Panzershrek Team
Grenadier Platoon + Panzerfaust
Grenadier Platoon + Panzerfaust
Machine Gun Platoon (4 HMG)
Mortar Platoon (4 8cm Mortars)
Infantry Gun Platoon (2 Guns)
Assault Gun Platoon (3 Stug G)
Panther Platoon (3 RT Panthers) - Firestorm Troops
7th ARMOURED DIVISION - Confident Trained
HQ (2 M4A1 Shermans with Improvised Armour)
Tank Platoon (5 M4A1 Shermans)
Tank Platoon (3 M4A1 Shermans)
Light Tank Platoon (4 M5A1 Stuarts)
Combat Engineer Platoon (Bazooka, 2 HMG, Supply Truck)
Rifle Platoon (CV with Bazooka) - Firestorm Troops
Field Artillery Battery (4 CV 155mm Howitzers) - Firestorm Troops
You might notice that my additional Rifles and Howitzers look a bit, well, German. That's because I was having to proxy those units.
The scenario we rolled was Pincer so I immediately had to split my army in two and put half of it in delayed reserve. I chose to begin with the Combat Engineers dug in around the destroyed Sherman in the field, using the building to stiffen their resolve and a minefield in front of their position. Meanwhile the artillery was hidden in a cornfield at the rear of my position. I elected not to put the Shermans in ambush as I was worried about finding myself unable to spring the ambush on such a small table, so my tanks clustered behind the hill in the centre, keeping watch on the German Checkpoint (???) in the woods.
Able to deploy his whole army, Bill split his force into two wings. The Panthers and the Infantry Guns took to the cornfields, I suspect that he (rightly) thought, that they had enough fire-power to tackle the Shermans. Meanwhile, the Stugs and all of his Infantry clustered around the ruined church with their collective beady eyes fixed on the Engineers in the cornfield.
Hailing, as they do, from the land of the free and home of the brave, the Shermans, faced with Panthers, backed off to hide in the woods. Meanwhile, the artillery began what was to be a disturbing trend and failed to range in and did no damage.
Despite the display of American timidity and ineptitude, the German Infantry only cautiously moved forward and poured fire at the Engineers, doing no damage, but successfully pinning the platoon.
Meanwhile, the Panthers rolled forwards, took aim and managed to bag their first Sherman of the day. With no immediate opportunity to get around their flank, I prayed that the Field Artillery could inflict some hurt on the big cats or more Shermans would be burning before long.
In the face of the German advance, a bit of a Sherman-shuffle allowed them to fore at tanks they could actually hurt, however, the Stug's armour proved to be too tough. Another bombardment was called, and with the Panther's hidden from the observer's view, the Engineer platoon command failed to direct the guns to properly damage the Germans on the hill.
The Panther's rolled forwards again but couldn't quite find more targets yet. The Stugs however, not only rolled up to the edge of the minefield, but also managed to take out the American command tank lurking behind the Engineer occupied building. German ranged superiority was beginning to tell.
The reserves they'd called for were now due and the Americans looked nervously over their collective shoulders, but no help was forthcoming. What's more, even though the Observer managed to pick out the a Panther at the edge of a field, and the Artillery successfully ranged in, somehow the big tank's top armour manage to withstand the bombardment.
Realising that their numerical advantage could disappear at any time, the German Infantry began to pick up speed and they moved quickly over the hill towards their objective. Meanwhile, the Panthers, with nothing better to shoot at, went after the Observer who posed such a threat to them. Embarrassingly, they failed to destroy the two man team who broke off to hide in the woods. The Panthers redeployed to avoid his deadly gaze.
Still no reserves and the Shermans lurked impotently behind the hill and in the woods. They had no hope of taking on the Panthers frontally, and they could not move to help the Engineers without exposing themselves to the deadly predators.
Despite their cautious movements, the Stugs managed to spot and destroy another Sherman (the death toll was steadily rising) whilst the Infantry swarmed forwards. Mortars pinned the Engineers who were unable to hold back the advancing tide and were driven from their positions and the objective fell to the enemy.
The Germans were swarming down my left flank and had not only captured the objective on my right, but the Engineers failed to unpin and so could not even contest the objective, let alone recapture it.
Fortunately, the cavalry had arrived...the light cavalry. Needing to contest the captured objective I needed to bring on the Stuarts as only they had the speed to get far enough from the back of the board.
We'll take a break here to address the question that's probably running through your minds; "Don't reserves come on from the sides in Pincer missions?" Yes. Yes they do. I however, made a big mistake. Bill even asked me to check whether I was right, and I, being the numpty that I am, checked the wrong mission map. Sorry Matt.
Anyway, the Stuarts raced on (from the back!), poured MG fire into the Grenadiers on the objective, assaulted them and drove them back, contesting the objective for the cost of a single bailed tank. Meanwhile, in the prevailing spirit of desperation, the Sherman platoon commander spotted a chance to get around the side of the Panthers and raced around firing stabilised shots to destroy one of the big beasts (I was aiming for two as forcing a morale check would surely see off the last of the Reluctant tanks).
Having only partially achieved my goals of freeing up the objective and destroying the Panthers, I braced for the oncoming storm. The Panthers, predictably, finished off the Sherman commander and forced the remains of the battered platoon to retire. On the other flank, the Stugs opened up on the Stuarts destroying them completely. Things were looking grim.
All seemed lost, when suddenly, the rest of my army arrived. The Rifles came in on the left (from the rear again, my mistake wouldn't dawn on me for a couple of days yet) to protect the apparently unguarded objective. Meanwhile, the Engineers were able to unpin and advance to contest the objective again, freeing up the newly arrived Shermans to fire at the Stugs.
Combined with a (finally effective) bombardment, the Shermans took out the Stug platoon whilst the Artillery mauled several infantry platoons. Could the Americans hold?
With an influx of new enemies and the battle swinging against them, the Germans focused fire on the Shermans, destroying one and bailing another. Meanwhile, faced with the Rifles, the German infantry on the right backed off from their advance towards the objective and massed in the woods.
With my company morale hanging by a thread, I had to destroy enemy platoons. The 2iC sped round the flank of the Panthers and...nothing! Once again, Bill's unerring ability to roll sixes for his armour kept the Panthers in the game. What's more, the Artillery failed to range in and the combined fire of the Engineer HMG's and the last Sherman failed to take out the single stand I needed to force a morale check on the Grenadiers near the objective.
With the abject failure of the American attack, the Germans acted with clinical efficiency. The U.S. 2iC took a Panzershrek up the pipe; the Panthers finished off the remaining Sherman and the Americans broke.
I lost. Badly. Taking out the Stugs meant that it was 5-2, but it still meant that the Germans had advanced for the first time in the campaign. The small table really hindered the mobility of an Armoured Company and Shermans were always going to struggle fighting frontally against Stugs and Panthers. I wasn't helped by the slow reserves or adamantium Panthers, but moaning about dice isn't really my style. I should have done something different with deployment as I knew the Shermans would be useless. I wasted my best unit.
However, forgetting where my reserves should come in was my real cock up. Had I remembered, I'd have brought the Rifles in on the right to reinforce the objective and then later unleashed my tanks on the unprotected flanks of the Panthers.
However, playing Bill was, as always, a pleasure. He adapted to the difficulties of attacking with infantry well and effectively prevented me from doing anything useful for at least half the game. His entrance into the campaign has had a significant effect and the hard pressed Germans have now crossed the Moselle and are now pushing towards the American supply lines.