Tuesday 29 December 2015

The Race to Berlin

Happy Christmas!

Yes, I know it's a bit late, but I've been somewhat busy of late, and have had neither the time nor the motivation to paint or blog for most of December. However, with the big day out of the way (not a massive haul of goodies this year, just a couple of DZC blisters, a Penguin crew for BMG and an expansion for Blood Bowl Team manager), it was time for our annual Christmas Fun Day, and for a second year in a row we opted to go for a massive game of Bolt Action.

This year, I'd be wheeling my Soviets out alongside Wes and his Americans, against the combined German forces of Pete and Matt. We decided to play with 1500 points each, on and 8x4 table, with The Germans defending the centre against an attack on two fronts down the length of the table.

With the requirement to field 1500 points, and the city of Berlin, I needed to break out the brushes to finish off two armour vehicles that I'd previously undercoated, and two of Sarissa Precision's excellent industrial buildings.

The first vehicle is a resin SU-76 self-propelled gun. Packing a light howitzer, this open-topped little vehicle was bought mainly to allow me to use the optional rule which permits me to take an inexperienced SU-76 instead of my usual free rifle squad. Annoyingly, I've managed to misplace to crew somewhere, so it's currently without anybody to man the gun...which might explain its performance in the game today... 

The second vehicle is a proper tank, a T-34/85, technically the same tank as I already own, just with a bigger gun. In recent months, both Pete and Matt have up-armoured their Germans, and so a little bit more penetration was required. However, I mainly bought this as Pete and I were goading each other to spend money a the Derby Wargames show and buying the T-34 was required to make him buy a Cromwell for his British.

Happily, I now have enough armoured vehicles to play a Tank War game in 28mm. Unfortunately, my eagerness for such an encounter might be somewhat tempered by events that happened today.

So the forces lined up:

  • My Soviets - Berlin Army Selector: featuring 2 T-34's, an SU-76, Tank Riders, Tough Fighters, Regulars and Inexperienced cannon-fodder.
  • Wes's Americans - Operation Cobra Army Selector: featuring Veteran Infantry riding in Half-Tracks, a Sherman tank and Air Support (in theory).
  • Matt's Germans - Last Levy Army Selector: featuring Inexperienced Volkssturm, Veteran Grenadiers, a Puma and a Veteran Panther!
  • Pete's Germans - Battle of the Bulge Army Selector: featuring the SS, Regular Grenadiers, a Panzer II Luchs and a Tiger!

Yes, you read that correctly. Our medium tanks would be facing off against both a Tiger and a Panther with only one heavy gun between them...

Here's table, as seen from the end I would be attacking. My goal would be to reach the road crossing the middle of the table before the end of turn six. Yes, I know it doesn't look exactly like Berlin in 1945, but we were quite proud of it.

Here's the end that Wes would be advancing up...at least that was the plan...

Abd here's the German deployment. That's an awful lot of armour in there, and there's infantry in pretty much every building in the shot, including an MMG in the bunker.

I just want to draw your attention this apparently insignificant unit of 8 inexperienced Volkssturm manning a makeshift barricade of chairs and tables. It doesn't look much...

The game began under cover of night, with a preparatory bombardment of the German positions, which threw pins all over the place. Pete being Pete decided that the best form of defence was attack and threw a half-track full of SS down towards my deployment, providing my T-34/85 with its first kill, forcing the SS to dismount and get shot up over two turns and them assaulted by my Tough Fighting Veterans. Pete's opinion is that this held me up, but I suspect that this speed bump might have been more effective further up the road.

An yes, we're in a building. The road didn't reach the edge of the table, so we decided to use this warehouse as a covered bridge of sorts.

My infantry made headway towards the central barricades under cover of darkness.

Over on my right, another assault force massed behind the T-34/76 and Tank Riders.

My Scouts in forward positions took fire from the Puma which was to be a thorn in my side. The Scouts dug in behind the cart, and although the NCO would survive the game, they were never able to shake enough pins to get moving forwards.

Meanwhile, the German forces spent most of the first turn trying to rally themselves and remove pins. You can just about see that Volkssturm squad behind the barricade.

Over on the Western Front the U.S. Half-Tracks rolled forwards and disgorged their passengers into the alleyways around the houses, whilst the Sherman moved up in support.

However, the Germans were waiting...

On turn two, the sun came up and all hell broke loose. My T-34/76 opened fire of the Puma and missed, but was immobilised in return, rendering it little more than a machine gun turret for the rest of the game.

My infantry and gun teams got into position to blaze away down the street at the barricades, and that measly unit of Volkssturm behind them.

My T-34/85 advanced into the teeth of the Tiger and the Panther. It failed to hit the Panther, but managed to machine-gun some infantry. Inexplicably, the Russian tank managed to survive out in the open as the Panther failed it's orders test (for the second time) and the Tiger missed!

I've included this picture, purely to prove that the SU-76 was on the table, as it did absolutely nothing worthy of note all game. In inexperienced direct fire artillery piece is really neither use nor ornament. (I know that the dice on top of the building says three, but these pictures were taken at the end of turn two.)

Having realised that I was making faster progress than predicted, the German Infantrys began to move to oppose my advance.

Over on the other front, the Germans began to pour fire on the hapless Americans, who couldn't seem to hit a barn door with their shooting. The Panzer II knocked out the rear Half-Track forcing it's passengers into the street, where they were pinned down and shot to pieces by the SS.

By the end of Turn three, casualties had begun to mount, and I was poised, ready for a big push against my right flank, helped by the fact that the immobile T-34 provided enough of a threat to make Matt not push his luck and move the Puma to a less exposed position.

The centre had already been the scene of carnage, with assault and counter assault inside the warehouse, but the plucky Volkssturn were still in postions, despite numerous attempts to dislodge them with everything from rifle fire to mortar bombardment.

Recognising the fragility of the unit, the Germans brought up reserve units to bolster the barricades.

On the right, the T-34/85's luck ran out and the Tiger found it's mark. However, the Panther once again failed to do anything.

Meanwhile, in a run of atrocious luck, Wes was unable to call in air support, was still unable to cause any real damage, and took withering fire from the dug in Germans.

On turn four, the assaults began. The Tank Riders took out a Volkssturm unit before falling back into cover, and were supported by the advancing Rifle Squad.

The on LMG squad in the centre assaulted out of the warehouse to destroy a German mortar, then consolidated into one of the central houses, only to be assaulted themselves and cut down to a man. Meanwhile, the other LMG squad edged up shooting at the Volkssturm on the barricade to little effect.

On the left, the Tough Fighters used the Truck as cover from the finally mobile Panther, but needn't have worried as the Truck proved impervious to the Panther's fire.

The Panzer II was able to get inbetween the U.S. forces, and even survived a couple of assaults. The Americans continued to wither under fire. I think Wes was officially beginning to not enjoy the game at this point.

The Puma and Sherman had sparred ineffectually over the previous few turns, but the Sherman had the last laugh and destroyed the Puma as it advanced on the centre.

By the end of turn five, there had been more assaults, further bombardment and even some friendly fire, but when the smoke cleared, the Volkssturm were somehow still holding their flimsy barricade.

On the right, I'd driven the Germans away from the fence, but at a heavy cost in lives. Very Soviet.

With the exception of the Sherman, the American assault pretty much petered out, and the big cats were on the hunt. With no Americans to worry about, the Germans were beginning to move reinforcements to face my shattered command.

In all honesty, the Germans had probably won. Wes's  command was gone and mine was ragged or ineffectual (SU-76, I'm looking at you). There had been quite a high attrition rate in the German forces, but not enough to break them. It had looked ropey at times, and a bit more luck with my artillery would probably have made the difference. At my end of the table it was pretty much a stalemate, however, the atrocious luck the Wes suffered meant that there were still a couple of fairly fresh German units to throw into the fray.

I'm still not convinced that the scenarios in Bolt Action where one side has to attack across the table are all that balanced, as I don't think I've ever seen the attacker win. I knew this game would be hard, but more importantly, it was fun, and it felt 'right' for what we were trying to achieve. The Germans had stopped us today, but with the casualties they'd taken, tomorrow would be a different story - and that, I suppose, is the bit that wargames miss.

All in all, it was a cracking 5 hour game, and a great way to end the year.

I'll be back over the next few days to review my blogging year and look forward to the next one. If I don't post before Thursday, Happy New Year!