For our Saturday game, Dan Best and I returned for the second Saturday in a row to the battles of July 1943. Once again, we would be in the northern fighting near Ponyri, Russia. And for a second time, I would be the defending Russians against Dan's attacking Germans...and yes...an Elefant would be on the battlefield yet again!!! Another glorious Saturday night of ASL action was on hand!!! Ahhh...but the outcome would be weee bit different.
Yep...this game would be a little harder on my ego than the past few. One of the things about ASL that I have always struggled with is creating a defense that actually works...
As I set up my defense for this game, I was convinced that it would be pretty stout. As I was to discover, it was less difficult to open than a box at Christmas time. But...I'm jumping ahead to the end...and we have a bit more blog to go before that.
Now ASL Scenario 132 - Hill 253.5 is rather old. My first playing of this venerable scenario was back in 1979. At that time is was an insert in an issue of Avalon Hill's, General Magazine. It was one of four new scenarios, which my St. Louis player group were all too excited to have available to play. I've mentioned this in previous blogs that we live in a Golden Age for ASL today. New content is all over the place. As an example I just ordered my copy of Corregidor from Bounding Fire Productions. Corregidor!?! Are you kidding me...something that esoteric was unthinkable back in 1979. We really did grow up in the Squad Leader days, playing so much more home made content, because there was so little published content to choose from.
For myself...I looked at my battered copy of the original insert and it's an artifact...this raggedy piece of Squad Leader history will be forty years old next year. Holy cow...am I really that old...(yep...I'm becoming a relic myself). Now name, another wargame that you played forty years ago and not only are still playing it...but more than ever before!! ASL is truly the king of World War II board games.
Now, after last week's post on basically the same battle, there's no need to delve deeper into the history of the fighting depicted in this scenario.
This scenario was designed by Bob McNamara. It's conversion to ASL left it largely unchanged. The airpower rules of course are quite different and Molotovs are part of the MOL capability and not individual counters as they were in Cross of Iron. But other than that, the scenario has survived very much as it was originally designed.
The ASL Archive shows this scenario with 5 German wins and 11 Russian wins. ROAR shows it with 8 German wins and 10 Russian wins. It's previous ASL version as T7, in ROAR shows 68 German wins to 87 Russian wins. So this scenario (when played competently) is pretty much Pro-Russian.
As the defending Russians, I would command elements of the 307th Rifle Division. My force would consist of 2 x 6-2-8's, 6 x 4-4-7's, 3 x 2-2-8's, led by a 9-1, 8-1 and 8-0 with an HMG, 2 x MMG's, 2 x LMG's, a flame-thrower, a DC and a Radio with 80mm Battalion Mortar OBA. For support I would have 2 x 76L Artys, a 45L AT Gun, 40 factors of mines and 6 x wire counters. On Turn 3, I could roll for random fighter support and on Turn 4, I would get 3 x 6-2-8's led by a 9-1 with 3 x LMG's, a truck and 2 x KV-I's.
The Soviet 307th Rifle Division would be one of the most successful and decorated divisions in the Red Army. They would deny the Germans the high ground of Hill 253.5 in fighting that would later be described as the "Stalingrad of the Kursk Salient". The division would remain in the fight all the way to the end in Germany and though not recognized as a "Guards Division" would have a title rivaling that of many Guards Divisions...307th Rifle, Novozybkov, Order of the Red Banner, Order of Suvorov, Order of Kutzov Division.
As the attacking Germans, Dan would command elements of the 18th Panzer Division and Panzerjaeger Battalion 653. You may recall from the last Saturday's game, that Dan commanded Panzerjaeger Battalion 654. These two Panzerjaeger Battalions would figure prominently at Kursk will their large compliments of Ferdinands/Elefants. Dan's force would consist of 4 x 8-3-8's, 8 x 4-6-7's, led by a 10-2, 9-2, 9-1, 8-0 and 7-0 with 4 x LMG's, 2 x Flamethrowers, 2 x DC's and a radio with 80mm Battalion Mortar OBA. For support he would field 1 x Ferdinand/Elefant, 2 x Panthers and 2 x 250 Halftracks.
The German advantage in this scenario are the three armored vehicles. Their front armor is immune to the AT guns and Soviet tanks. The German disadvantage is the red movement of the tanks. Making start up a dangerous proposition. The Infantry number a re about even and so the attacking Germans are short of good infantry assets.
Reading the AARs on this scenario (I have never played it before), the Q1 to V3 set up area allows the Germans to attack into the south flank of the Russian defense. The Russian AT mines will be the most difficult part of the defense and all AARs say once you are past the defense and in the Russian backfield the Germans really dominate the battle. My plan is to set up a strong schwerepunkt on the south flank and hit the Russians hard to try to get past the defense belt. Once in the backfield we will roll up the Russians and crush them against their own fortifications. Also I will sent the elephant to greet the reinforcements, possibly backed up by one of the panthers on the hill. The OBA spotter will be on level 2 and try to keep the Russians from moving around and shifting defense.
The Victory conditions for this scenario require the Germans to seize and maintain control of four or more level 3 Hexes on Hill 621. My defense was oriented on stopping the German grenadiers from moving up the middle. I had put all my wire and mines upfront to force the Germans to around either side. And Dan would oblige me by putting a massive Schwerpunkt on my left flank.
Dan's Prep Fire would devastate me. My MMG group would be wiped out and my up front LMG team would be broken. Meanwhile, my 8-0 Arty observer would be broken and never get to use the radio to contact my mortar battery. And just like that Dan had opened up my left flank. I had one surprise waiting for him, which was one of my 76L Arty's sitting in the woods in O1. I waited until his 9-2 stack was adjacent and fired...I would hit...but then roll an 11. I would intensive fire as they moved out of my covered arc and miss. I will admit that I was distraught over this. ASL is a tough game sometimes. My gun was perfectly positioned...I had waited for just he right moment to fire...and my opponent was strolling by me in the open. And the dice determined the outcome would be...nothing... Oh man, did that hurt. My entire left flank was destroyed on the very first turn of the game.
With nothing to stop him, Dan moved his force deep into the backfield to drive up Hill 253.5 from the rear.
My 76L Arty crew would end up in Close Combat, they would win ambush and eliminate some Germans before going down.
Turn 2 would end with me facing a strong German force in my backfield and literally pushing me back into my own mined wire fortifications.
A look at the power of German Advancing Fire...believe it or not, I would emerge relatively unscathed. Close Combat...would be another story.
In any game, don't let Dan get adjacent to you...because he will pounce on you in Close Combat!!!
Ah ha...take that Dan!!! MELEE...woohoo...I can still fight!!
Turn 3... Dan's radio operator would fry the radio.
Dan would say goodbye to his OBA when he rolled a 6 on the next attempt to fix the radio. Just like that OBA would not be a part of tonight's game.
Dan's Schwerpunkt kept on rolling around the flank, while he sent his Elefant to prepare a reception committee for my reinforcments. A hull down Elefant...yikes...
Back on the hill my boys were just fighting for time. I needed my reinforcements badly, but the Germans were taking control of the hill so completely that my reinforcements might simply be too late to affect the outcome.
Dan managed to keep my boys DM'd, but I did get a lucky streak against his half-tracks. My last remaining 76L Arty took down one of them and my boys managed to STUN the remaining half-track and force it to Recall. So, I did manage a few blows against Dan here and there.
Dan finally reduced me to just three pockets as we finished up Turn 3. My boys were in big trouble.
Turn 4...and the skies were abuzz with the sound of German Stukas...three of 'em…
Dan's Germans hit me hard on Turn 4 and pushed to take the hill once and for all. I fought back as best I could and my LMG Team on the far right did manage to mow down two 2-4-7's as they ran along the ridge. But weight of German firepower was too much.
Dan's 10-2 rushed forward to complete the encirclement of my boys on the hill.
Close combats on all of my remaining positions told the story that Hill 253.5 was soon to be in the sole possession of the Wehrmacht.
As the Stukas circled overhead, my reinforcements went to the start line. They knew the hill had fallen to the Germans. They knew that they couldn't change the course of this day's fighting, but they would make a go at destroying the Elefant.
My two KV-1's with riders charged ahead...and both would be destroyed...
"Ja, Es war sehr gut fuer Uns!!!"
Well...my 9-1 and the last remaining 6-2-8 decided that they could still take out the Elefant in close combat...so they rushed onto the board...apparently they didn't see the three Stukas lining up to shoot them up.
Well...the first Stuka failed its sighting task check and pulled away...but the second Stuka came in and drilled my boys.
"Ja, I see them!!!"
So...that was all she wrote. My day was done and Dan's Germans had won a decisive victory in just four turns. Once Dan was in my backfield, I was really powerless to stop his juggernaut.
It's always tough to lose a game, but it's doubly so, when you are playing the side favored to win the game. Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, but I would definitely change my defense if I ever play this one again. I really hadn't planned to defend against the kind of attack that Dan launched. With my force divided on either side of the hill and with all of my mines and wire up front...I just couldn't slow Dan down once he made it into my backfield.
Neither of us got to use our OBA and so there's no way to know how that may or may not have affected the outcome. I would opt for AT-mines if I play this again.
My dice were not kind to me in this game and kept me from taking advantage of my best opportunities to inflict damage on Dan. But that's ASL...you gotta take the rolls as they come even when they punch you in the gut.
Dan's Schwerpunkt was a thing of beauty and once it got rolling, it was unstoppable.
Dan's boys had won the day!!
And now for Dan's Post-Game Comments:
The plan worked better than I thought. The attack found a gap in the fortifications and moved through. The halftracks led the way to find mines...there were none to be found. The attack progressed well through the backfield and eliminated the Russian defense position by position. The reinforcements were destroyed in the entry area and the stukas were unopposed. It is very hard to counterattack against three stukas. It was a good game. My thanks to Scott for being a good sport and playing until the final units were lost.
My thanks to Dan for another great Saturday of ASL. 2018 has been a fantastic year and my Saturday games with Dan have been one of the highlights!
Dan and I will be back next Saturday for a playing of ASL Scenario 221 Mountain Hunters. See you then!