The background for the battle is that this is the start of the campaign and the Soviets are attacking, trying to cut off the Germans in the pocket. If enough of the battles go the Soviet's way, they win, whereas if enough go the German way, they win the campaign.
The small brown rectangles represent the village of Burtki. Each building had the capacity to hold one vehicle, one large base, one medium base, or up to two small bases. It would provide concealment and bulletproof cover. As they were all one story buildings, units on the tall hill (dark green area) could see over them, as per the rule book.
The small, light green patches represent fields, which as they are turned, represent Difficult terrain.
Finally, the large green area is a three tier hill, which is very tall and easily hides any vehicles where the line of sight passes through the area for any depth.
The blue lines at the top of the drawing represent the Soviet deployment area. However, due to a miscommunication between the Soviet commanders and their inability to read the scrawling on a German map their found, they misinterpreted the Final Line of Departure and, rather than deploying 20" on from the Soviet baseline setup only 12" on. This put the Soviets on the wrong side of the stream and thus had (in the final analysis) a minor impact on the game.
The red lines at the bottom of the drawing represent the German deployment area, with the light green lines representing the area where the two objectives could be placed.
The Opposing Forces
The Germans (me) elected to run a Sperrverband company for this battle. I was very conflicted about what to take and had developed about five 1500 point lists before settling on the following:
- Company HQ
- 2 Panzerschreck Teams attached out to the Pioneers. (Note: I blew my deployment and forgot to put them on the board, so they never showed up.)
- Sperr Pioneer Platoon
- 3 Squads
- Command with Panzerfaust
- Pioneer Supply Vehicle
- Speer Mortar Platoon
- 2 Mortar Sections (4 8cm GW34 mortars)
- Veteran Tank Hunter Platoon
- 2 Hetzers
- Sporadic Air Support
- Stuka Ju87D (Bombs)
- Assault Gun Platoon
- 3 StuG G
- Sperr Platoon
- 2 Squads
- Command with Panzerfaust
- 2 HMG Teams
- Sperr Platoon (as above)
- Motorized Artillery Battery
- 3 10.5cm Howitzers
I don't have the specifics on the Soviet force, but they were 2,000 points, most of which got tied up by the stream. Of the units the Soviets had, only the following played any role in the battle:
- 1st Strelkovy Company
- 2nd Strelkovy Company
- Tankovy Company
- Maxim HMG Platoon
- Mortar Platoon (Large)
- Artillery Battery (Large)
The Germans set their objective deep in the backfield, across the river, to ensure that the Soviets could not get to it quickly or easily. Meanwhile, the Soviets set their object far forward and on the German left flank side of the village.
As the Germans only had three platoons they could put on the table, I placed the dug-in Sperr Pioneer platoon in front of the objective and the dug-in Sperr Mortar platoon behind the objective. The Veteran Tank Hunters were in ambush behind the crest line.
The Soviets deployed their infantry on the German left flank side, with their mortars all the way to the back, and the tanks, assault guns, anti-tank guns, and artillery on the German right flank side. Everything was behind the stream, rather than forward of it.
The Soviet plan of attack was rather straight-forward: one Strelkovy infantry company would move forward up their right flank and soak up hits, creating a fire line in the center through which their Maxsim HMG platoon could fire to tear up the dug-in Sperr Pioneers. Both the mortars and the artillery were to bombard the Pioneers for the sole purpose of pinning the troops, with the occasional casualty for good measure. The armor assault was to move up the Soviet left flank, sweep around the hill, and potentially take the rear objective, or failing that, hold off the German reserves.
The German defense plan was for the Sperr Pioneers to hold out until reinforcements, mostly in the form of the Sperr platoons with the high concentration of MG assets. The real problem was that there were just too many good assets in reserve.
Soviet Infiltration Move
The Soviets were allowed an infiltration move (a Reconnaissance Move, in Flames of War game terms) at the end of deployment. As the deployment zone should have been 20" from the baseline, and with an additional 6" to 12", the Soviets potentially could have started 4" (armor) to 10" (infantry) from the limits of the German deployment area, and as close as 12" to 18" from the forward objective. Given that fact and that the Soviets start with all of their force and the Germans less than 1/2, I am not really sure how the Germans were expected to have a chance at winning.
As it stood, however, with the Soviets starting back behind the stream, they started more than 32" away from the forward objective. The Soviet armor got about 4 tanks across the ford before it was clogged with bogged T34s.
The Soviet infantry double timed across the ground, getting everyone out of the river, save for the mortars who continued to support from the rear. The armor sloshed around a bit and approached the village tentatively, calling in artillery fire against a hapless Pioneer team stuck out on their flank. No casualties were incurred, but the Pioneers were pinned and did not recover in their turn.
The Germans cheered heartily as three Stukas swooped in and bombed the Maxsim HMG platoon, inflicting a few casualties and pinning the troops. The Hetzers popped up and fired four shots, killing a single T34. Things were looking somewhat good despite there being a lot of lead facing the Germans, who were not reinforced.
The Soviet infantry continue to move forward, taking a few pot shots at extreme range with no effect. Mortars and artillery continue to fire and pin the Pioneers while the lead elements of the Soviet armor fire upon their foxholes. A few unlucky rolls sees the Pioneers start to take casualties and crumble.
The Hetzers continue to pound away at the Soviet armor, but only one T34 is bailed. In two turns of fire, the rolls to hit are 1-1-1-6 and 1-1-2-6. Hopefully the fire will get better. Meanwhile the Sperr mortars hit a stand or two of charging infantry, pinning them, while three Stukas come in for a second pass, destroying more Maksim HMG gun teams. The Soviets simply shrug it all off. They don't seem to be worried.
Still no German reinforcements.
The Soviet infantry gets in close enough and makes their first assault, which successfully wipes out a number of Pioneers. On the opposite flank the Soviet tanks assault the isolated Pioneers, easily running them over. They survive their platoon morale check.
The Hetzers pound away again at the Soviet tanks and score 1-1-3-6 on their rolls to hit. Again, all it produces is a bailed T34.
Although the Germans did not see the return of their beloved Stukas, an Assault Gun Platoon showed up and charged to the stream, firing at the Strelkovy, who are starting to penetrate the German defensive perimeter around the forward objective. Their fire causes a casualty, but their Stormtrooper move into the stream causes one assault gun to bog.
The Soviets continue to assault forward, clearing out almost all of the Pioneers, and starting to work on the Sperr Mortar platoon. Only the heroic efforts of the Company Second-in-Command beats off the attack. Meanwhile Soviet artillery and massed T34 fire forces both Hetzer crews to bail out.
On the German turn I roll for air support and get none. I roll for reserves and get one unit (my choices are artillery or infantry). I am unable to unpin the mortars or the pioneers, and the Hetzer crews refuse to go back into their tanks. I concede the game as the Soviets are on the objective and I am contesting it with only two mortar stands and two command teams.
There seemed to be no way to overcome the huge advantage in points the Soviets had. It was stupid to give the Soviets a 4:3 points advantage when I was faced with having to keep forces in Reserve. That made the advantage closer to 8:3, which is simply too much.
The massive numbers of bog attempts made the game somewhat interesting, at least for a short while, but I could see where if you had to do it enough, it would get tedious fast. (See Rules Mistakes below.)
The biggest rules mistake was concerning the campaign itself. I did not realize that there was a campaign system at the back of the rule book called Axis of Attack. Those rules help clarify the material given in the Korsun Pocket document tremendously. Without it, I am not sure you can really play the campaign; certainly not correctly.
So, what were the mistakes? The board should apparently have been covered in snow, which would have made the entire board Difficult terrain (even the streams would have been downgraded from Very Difficult to Difficult). This meant that all armor and guns would have had to bog check every turn they attempted to move. Also, the infantry would not have been able to double time when they did.
I did not realize that the list taken was going to be used throughout the entire campaign. So that means that I need to stick with the reluctant Sperrverband throughout, which could be a pain to deal with. Reluctant Veterans may be cheap, but they are horrible in static defense because they are unlikely to unpin.
A big mistake on my part was to fire long-range shots at the approaching Strelkovy. I got a few hits, one or two of which might even have resulted in a casualty, but by losing Gone to Ground the Soviets could hit me on a '5' rather than a '6', effectively doubling the casualties against me and making it easier to range artillery in against me. That hurt! The trade-off just wasn't worth it.
Several times I forgot the Hetzer's Stormtrooper move and thus exposed myself unnecessarily to shots from the Soviet armor. Of course, the turn in which I was hammered by the artillery and tanks I actually remembered to make the roll, but failed. "Anything but a '1'..."
I think the greatest mistake of all was what I started deployment with. The Sperr platoon, with their four MG teams and two HMG teams, would have fared much better in defensive fire than the Pioneers with their Rifle/MG teams (24 dice instead of 12 dice, or 8 dice versus 6 dice if pinned). The Pioneers tank assault never came into play as they were knocked out before they got a chance to counter-attack. Also, Flamethrowers cannot fire in defensive fire, so they were a complete waste. (Point to remember for the future.)
Also, it was questionable whether the Sperr Mortars were the second choice to take. I needed a template weapon and I felt like I needed the availability of a smoke bombardment. Both the mortars and the howitzers gave that capability. I chose the mortars because they would have had to walk on the board, but would not take bog checks crossing the ford or the stream. The artillery would have to take those bog checks, but they would have at least moved further each turn. Even though it probably would have had little effect, the artillery would have been able to direct fire in defensive fire though. So probably should have had the artillery on and had the mortars move and Stormtrooper onto the board.
The final question is whether the Veteran Tank Hunters, which numbered only two Hetzers, were better in ambush than three StuGs. I would have gotten 50% more shots to fire with the latter, but they would have had to withstand the fire of the Soviets every turn, while on most turns the Hetzers could Stormtrooper out of sight after shooting and then move back in with full rate of fire to hit the T34s. It just looked like too good of a set of special rules to ignore. Of course, I could have had the mortars come in with ambush, and left both armored units to come on in reserves, but with no long-ranged anti-tank weaponry on the board at the start I would not have felt comfortable about my survivability.
This is always the hardest part: what did I learn from the game. As I had never played against Soviets, this gave me a good taste of just how big the problem is (pun intended). With units of 24 stands and needing 13 infantry kills, trying to break platoons doesn't seem likely. The 3+ infantry save is what makes it so hard, so you basically have to avoid that, and that means assaulting that mess.
My original list was a StuG Battery with Begleit Riders. I need to do a simple paper-and-pencil exercise and see what happens when you have a single platoon of StuGs and Begleits and take it against a Strelkovy company, given both one template weapon in support. Personally I think you would just get overwhelmed, but until you try it out you just don't know.
As it stands, the tactic of the day is to stay gone to ground until the Strelkovy actually assault, him hoping you are pinned when the assault goes in and you hoping you are not. Your defensive fire hopefully produces enough hits to pin the attackers, forcing them to back off.
With the Sperr platoon, assuming you are at full strength and not pinned, you would be throwing 24 dice. Hitting 67% of the time should produce about 16 hits, allowing you to pin them. (Five of those hits should convert to casualties.) The Pioneer platoon, however, would be throwing 12 dice, getting 8 hits, and 2-3 casualties; not enough to pin.
Given the lack of HMGs in the Sperrverband company, perhaps purchasing the light anti-aircraft weapons would have been worthwhile. Food for thought.