Monday, August 20, 2018

Our Saturday Game - Le Franc Tireur's Scenario FT 222 Hetzer Butcher

For our Saturday Game (8/11 and 8/17) Dan Best and I reached into Le Franc Tireur's "From the Cellar Pack 8".  This is the latest of the "From the Cellar Packs" and is chock full of some really good scenarios. As it was my choice for scenario, I was intrigued by Hetzer Butcher. The ubiquitous Hetzer is one of those German vehicles that was cobbled together as the Third Reich's fortunes had begun to wane and the Germans desperately needed armor that could be quickly produced and that could hang with the Allied Armor that was increasingly better gunned and armored. 

The scenario covers the April 1945 actions around Koenigsbach, Germany as Free French forces headed towards Stuttgart. The Free French had occupied about half of the town, when the Germans launched a violent counter-attack supported by Hetzers. Historically the German attack would hit the French hard, but by later afternoon Allied counter-attacks would take back the town and Stuttgart would fall only days later.

The map choices for this scenario (designed by Lionel Colin) are excellent. Board 51 always looks easier to move around it...but don't be fooled,  it's narrow city streets are a nightmare to traverse. Both sides set up on the map, so concealment growth is limited to the concealment counters provided in the respective orders of battle. The scenario victory conditions are well constructed to give both sides the opportunity for an immediate win by amassing 28 CVP more than their opponent or the Germans can also win at game end if they control 18 or more 3 hex buildings. As I would discover, the victory conditions would be very difficult to achieve. ROAR has this scenario with 3 German wins and 0 Free French wins. The ASL Archive has it with 1 German win and 1 Free French win.

After rolling for sides, Dan Best would be the Free French and command elements of the 4th Compagnie, Bataillon de Choc with elements of the 3'eme Escadron, 11'eme Regiment de Chasseurs d'Afrique, elements of the Regiment de Marche de la Legion Etrangere and elements of the 1er Cuirassiers, 5'eme Division Blindee…(good grief that's a mouthful...). This force would consist of 2 x 6-4-8's, 5 x 4-5-8's 6 x 4-5-7's led by a 9-1, 2 x 8-1's, and an 8-0 with an HMG, 3 x MMG's, a 60 MTR, and 3 x Bazooka 45's. For support they would have a half-track, an M-10 and 2 x Sherman M4's. These fellas would be the defending force waiting on the arrival of Allied Reinforcements. The reinforcements would consist of 3 x 6-4-8's, 3 x 4-5-7's led by a 9-2, and 8-1 with 3 x Sherman M4's, an M-10, and 4 half-tracks led by a 9-1 Armor Leader. A very substantial force to say the least.

As the Scenario Attacker, I would command elements of Grenadier Regiment 447, 257 Volksgrenadier Division and an unknown SS Unit. My force would consist of 2 x SS 4-5-8's, 2 x SS 4-4-7's, 8 x 4-6-7's, and 8 x 4-4-7's led by 3 x 9-1's, an 8-1 and an 8-0 with an HMG, 2 x MMG's, 5 x LMG's and 2 x Panzerschrecks. I would also have one module of 80mm OBA, which would be instrumental as you shall see. My armor support would consist of 2 x 20L AA Half-tracks, and 5 x Hetzers with an 8-1 armor leader.

Now this scenario is a 7 turn scenario and Dan and I would need two sessions to complete it. We had completed 4 turns last Saturday night and decided that the battle was very much in doubt. So we agreed to complete it last evening. It would prove to be some of the most thrilling ASL, I've played in a while. Dan and I were locked deep in an urban - combined arms- slugfest...which is just what we love!!!

So now...let's turn it over to Walter as he completes his report on the battle for Koenigsbach...April 6th, 1945.

"Good is April 6th, 1945...a day that will be remembered for the courage and valor of Allied forces as they struggled to stop a powerful German counter-attack in the German city of Koenigsbach. Our previous reports were provided to us by the skilled combat reporter, Milton Bunnyman. Milton and his crew had moved to the northern outskirts of Koenigsbach to document the assault by Allied reinforcements.  Sadly, we lost contact with Milton and his crew shortly after the Allied attack began on Turn 5. At his time, Milton is listed as MIA. We hope to have an update on his status shortly. Tonight's reporting comes to us from Hank Storm who was in the thick of the fighting with Free French forces. Here now is the AAR from Hank."

"Thank you Walter...the fighting at Koenigsbach has been some of the most difficult faced by the Allies as we have advanced into the heart of Germany. This battle is one of the very few reversals our forces have suffered in the drive to Berlin. 

Walter, as you mentioned, we lost contact with Milton Bunnyman and his crew at the bottom half of Turn 5 as the Allied reinforcements assaulted Koenigsbach from the north. Our last observation of Milton's crew was as they headed towards the northern outskirts of Koenigsbach. Shortly after we lost contact, we saw at least two German Hetzer tank destroyers pass through the area. So...we frankly fear the worst. 

Here now, Walter is the AAR for the fight code-named Hetzer Butcher..."

Let's start with Dan Best's Pre-Game Thoughts:

"The scenario looks like a good street fight. The Free French advantages are in that the Germans must attack in the city. The Free French infantry are pretty good and should be able to survive in the stone building to get into close combat. CC usually results in an exchange over time. I plan to use CC to street fight the Hetzers and eliminate German squads. This should stop the German attack and keep them from getting the number of victory buildings. This strategy should also keep the CVP at a fairly even pace. I will use some concealment markers to make dummy stacks to make it look like some buildings are defended but the Germans will hit an empty bag of dummys. This will give away some buildings but also delay the attack and possibly allow for the tanks to get ahead of the infantry and be unsupported." strategy right out of the gates was to go hard and fast for as many buildings as possible. I felt confident that with enough half-squads dashing about, I could quickly gobble up the required 18 buildings.

I intended for my armor to advance to support my infantry and blast any Free French they couldn't quickly overcome.

I really did not know how best to utilize my AA Half-tracks, but finally decided to have them move along the north edge and act in a defensive role.

My Hetzers would move as a group towards the center and south to support my drive into the center of town.

"I love me some Hetzers!"

I would quickly get my 80mm OBA into the action. It would be one of my best performing assets of the game.

My initial moves went remarkably smoothly. Dan had placed Dummy stacks in front of me and I did spend a turn dealing with them. But on the plus size, I was gaining valuable buildings and keeping my force intact.

In one of my better moves, I did manage to sneak a half-squad adjacent to the southernmost Sherman Tank. This would yield great results.

In Dan's movement phase he started his Sherman...I went for a Panzerfaust...found one...fired and smoked the first tank of the game with a thunderclap!

Then my 80mm OBA came down and rubbled an entire block as had a snake eyes rubble on hex and then falling debris rolls did the rest. Fun stuff!

I would however be a little over aggressive with my tanks. Moving into pointblank range sounds good...but it not...a good idea. Dan's boy would go to CC Reaction Fire and immobilize one of my Hetzers...and the one with my Armor leader...of course!!!

Dan is a master of urban fighting and I have to remember not to move my tanks adjacent to his infantry...must not forget this...

The first armor duel also occurred as Dan's M-10 fired down the boulevard at my lead Hetzer. Being a small target saved my bacon!

I loved my little Hetzers!!!

Always aggressive...Dan moved quickly in his part of Turn 1 to counter my advances. One of these included moving a half-track to the hills in the south to unload the 60mm Mortar...but fate had other ideas. My Sniper showed up...stunned the half-track crew and forced the half-track in Recall. It was a portent of the frustrations that Dan's armor units would face with some regularity in this scenario.

You just never know when the sniper is going to affect the outcome of the game...

Dan's Free French came at me hard on the flanks and towards the city center. Dan's infantry on the south edge would ultimately cause me some serious pain as the game progressed. His Sherman moving along the north would inflict some wounds on me, but I would have my revenge.

Dan's first counter-attack was overall...a success. He had a strong line in the center of town.

Dan's counter-attack forced me to disrupt my plans and react to his moves. On the plus side, my Hetzer in the south would get a hit on the M-10 and destroy it. The armor battle was definitely favoring the Germans.

Close Combat...I have a complicated relationship with Close Combat. Over the years, I have traditionally struggled to win Close Combats. But in this scenario, I would be unusually lucky and prevail more often than not. It would be one of the game-changers for my Germans.

As we moved into Turn 3 - I had made a good strong move into the center of Koenigsbach.

But in Dan's portion of Turn 3, I would lose my first Hetzer. While still celebrating its destruction of the M-10 the crew failed to see the Free French sneak around to the rear and destroy them with a critical bazooka hit. 

Amazingly, I would lose only this one Hezter during the game.

Dan's recalled Half-track would exit the game while his boys in the south took out my Hetzer and showed the weakness in that portion of my defense. In the north, Dan's last remaining Sherman would destroy one of my AA Half-tracks and then move after my second one.

On my Turn 4, I would go after Dan's last Sherman and destroy it. My Hetzers were truly ruling the battlefield.

The fight for control of Koenigsbach had been a tough one. Both Dan and I had destroyed armor scattered around town and broken squads were in evidence throughout. 

Dan and I would continue to engage in close combat throughout the town and again the results would benefit the Germans.

The state of affairs after 4 turns. I had 15 of the 18 buildings needed for a game win...but I was still facing a lot of Free French in the town center. Turn 5 would bring on the Allied reinforcements and I was feeling that the battle was slipping out of my control.

Dan and I had adjourned for the night at the completion of Turn 4. This would leave the battle setup for a week...and each night after work, I would study the map. Suddenly, it became clear to me that the battle for more buildings would not give me the victory. I may well have seized the 18 buildings, but I could never hope to hold them. I led Dan with 28 CVP to his 23. I surveyed the battlefield and realized that by capturing Dan's brokies, I could potentially gain between 12 and 16 more CVP...added to my existing lead...I could make a run for winning the game immediately by amassing 28 more CVP than Dan. I gave the order and let my boys know the objective had changed. Kill or capture the Free French...the buildings no longer matter...

New plan boys! Turn 5 opened, I moved my boys with the intention to capture as many of the Free French as I could.

Next, I set about setting up a screen along the north edge to prepare for Dan's reinforcements. I tried to stretch my line with half-squads and placed them in locations from which to fire panzerfausts.

My plans to gobble up the Free French brokies hit a snag when Dan's 9-1 managed to rally....but it would only delay his eventual capture.

Dan's reinforcements arrive and the projected attack paths.

Dan's half-tracks would come in along with the west board edge. I would take two shots...but had very little chance to hit the small, moving half-tracks. So Dan quickly reinforced his fight for control of the town. His armor hit me hard on the east side of the map.

My defensive screen would fail to provide any results. Dan quickly broke them and they would soon be on the run.

In the city, I had captured one group of Free French and was making progress towards grabbing some more.

Our final major close combat of the game would be very interesting. Dan would send two squads and an officer against two of my squads. Dan would then fire into the melee, breaking one of his squads and both of mine. But incredibly, both my squads would successfully withdraw from the melee. An 11 rolled by Dan secured their freedom.

Dan's armor attack on the east side would be initially successful...but then the sound of incoming 80mm OBA would change things in a hurry!

In the blink of an eye...a 3-3-8 half-squad would be KIA'd and two Shermans would be immobilized...simply unbelievable...

My 8-0 had done an outstanding job throughout the battle in bringing the OBA where it was needed.

My final moves were to reposition my Hetzer on the west flank and then send my other two Hetzers against Dan's last Sherman tank, which they would destroy in Advancing Fire.  And with that, my CVP point total was 32 more than Dan's. And as my part of Turn 6 would be with a German victory.

A final look at our respective positions.  I would hang on to 12 buildings, but my decision to switch to gaining the CVP was indeed the right decision. Capturing prisoners made it possible and the luck I had against Dan's armor would complete the effort. It had been a very tight scenario. Dan and I both enjoyed this one and it is very well-layered scenario with a variety of ways for both sides to attack and defend. Great game!

Here now are Dan's Post-Game Comments:
"The scenario did not play out like I thought. Mostly because I did not do well in close combat. Buat also because the Hetzers are hard to kill. The plan to have the German hit an empty bag worked but the delay was not worth the building exchange. The Germans went all in to the street fight but in the end were not going to take the required buildings. So the Germans went for casualties. Due to the good shooting of the Hetzers and the Germans wisely taking prisoners for the extra CVP. The Germans got a victory in Turn 6. "

My Thanks to Dan for another great game! 

Dan and I will be taking a break until September 8th. As I type this...I'm in a hotel room in Portland, Maine...where I will be for the next two weeks as I work with one of key supplier for work. Ahh..the life of a Supply Chain professional...

So, I'll be missing the next two Saturdays for ASL...bummer...but on September 8th, Dan and I will be back in action with a playing of Counterattack on the Vistula...King Tigers...need I say more...!?!

Good luck to Dan as he heads to the Sioux City Tournament at the end of them month. And here's wishing all of my readers a great Labor Day Weekend!

See you again soon!