Sunday, August 7, 2022

Our Saturday Game - NTX01 Stalingrad-1 Depot


I have said this often and remains true even now...Stalingrad is the birthplace of ASL (outside of Ohio of course). Squad Leader first walked it's ruined streets in the '70's and ASL followed in those bloody footsteps in reimagining's of that classic scenarios. Stalingrad is that place where the oldest of the ASL Community first began their lifelong dance with this amazing game. In the early days, we played Stalingrad scenarios on the geo boards until Red Barricades entered our lives, followed by Valor of the Guards and most recently Red Factories. Gone are the abstractions, now replaced with perhaps the most accurate maps ever rendered for Stalingrad games. We are now able to fight in the city as near as possible without having to have been there. And thank goodness for that. The bloody Stalingrad ASL scenarios make it all too clear that any time spent in Stalingrad was borrowed and quickly given back to death...the true ruler of Stalingrad.

Of the various Stalingrad HASL's, Valor of the Guards has received the least attention in my game play. Tonight's game would be my second scenario using the VotG map. As for the scenario, it is from a third party publisher.

Dan and I have been keen to play through the North Texas, A Fistful of Scenarios pack over the past couple years. Dan only had one left to play from the pack and that would be NTX01 Stalingrad-1 Depot. Designed by Arlen Vanek, this scenario is set in September of 1942 as the Germans were still advancing into the city. In this scenario, the Germans of the 271st Regiments are tasked with eliminating an NKVD strongpoint in a railroad depot. 

The battle space is very compressed and lines of sights are difficult to obtain as debris, rubble and railroad cars on the tracks do a fair job of obstructing. This is a game where both sides will be fighting face to face for most of the scenario.

The ASL Archive recently updated their information regarding scenarios. If you have not seen it yet, it provides some very interesting data. NTX01 currently has 11 playings (recorded) with the balance at 90% German and a pack popularity of 32%. The ROAR stats are currently with 7 German and 1 Russian wins. The stats show that NTX01 is pretty pro-German. My AAR will also confirm that.

Another excellent third party publication utilizing the Stalingrad maps comes to us from HazMO. This new pack includes a 10 scenario linked mini-campaign. Dan and I have already discussed giving that a playing to see how that CG plays out.

It's great to see third party scenarios using the MMP Stalingrad maps, because some of MMP's bigger scenarios are not easy to play, especially with regard to the time available. So smaller scenarios allow us more opportunity to enjoy the fantastic MMP maps.

Above is the section of the VotG map used in this scenario. The G23 building is Stalingrad-1 Depot. This area did fall to the Germans on September 14th, 1942. Past that truth, the scenario card information is a bit deficient. Mark Pitcavage notes this as well in his review of this scenario pack. (link below)

The link above is for a fantastic site on YouTube that is currently detailing the battle of Stalingrad at a the ASL level. If you have not watched this...I cannot recommend it more highly. It is absolutely superb and makes the battle accessible in a way not seen before. 

As I worked on this AAR, I turned to TIK's videos to see the fighting for this area. As Mark Pitcavage notes in his review, the generic descriptions of the Russian and German elements engaged hints at a generic representation of the situation. The scenario card calls out the German 271st Regiment, which was not at Stalingrad. The "Aftermath" section ends with a reference to the 71st Infantry Regiment. So, there is probably a typo at work here. Listed below are screen captures from TIK's video covering the fighting of September 14th.

The first image shows the location of the Stalingrad-1 Depot (the white square). The Russian unit in the vicinity is clearly visible as are the German units, which appear to be Regiments and Battalions of the 71st Infantry Division. 

It would appear that elements of the 194th Infantry Regiment were the Germans actually engaged in the fighting here.

Our third image shows the Russians being pushed out of the Depot. In watching the video, this action is very fast as the German advance is nigh unstoppable.

In just seconds of the video, the Germans have pressed the Russians far back from the Depot and against the west bank of the Volga.

Now does this historical correction add anything to playing this scenario?  Yes and no. For playing and enjoying this scenario, it's not necessary that the units engaged are 100% accurate. But, for many ASL players, faithful attention to the actual history is a much-valued element of scenario design. This attention to the historical story is missing, but the scenario faithfully captures the bloody and desperate fighting which occurred on September 14th. And as was historical, the Depot falls very rapidly in this scenario to a well-directed and focused German assault. And the designer nails this very well.

Before we get into the action, I'd like to throw a quick shout out to George Hiotis. George's latest YouTube video on his excellent channel offered some kind words for the Grumble Jones Blog. Thank you George for your kind words and for spending time here at Grumble Jones!

George's channel offers some great videos on tactics and other aspects of our game. They are well worth your time and I hope you will take a moment to check them out and subscribe to his channel!

As the attacking Germans, Dan would command the men of the 194th Infantry Regiment, 71st Infantry Division (based on my corrections). This force would consist of 12 x 4-6-7's 3 x 5-4-8, and a 2-2-8 led by a 9-2, 9-1, 8-1, and 2 x 7-0's with an HMG, MMG, 2 x LMG's, an ATR, 50 MTR, 2 x DC's, a Flamethrower and STUG with 8-1 Armor Leader.

As the defending Russians, I would command elements of the 62nd Army (see screen captures for Russian units shown in the area). My force would consist of NKVD 6-2-8, Assault Engineer 6-2-8, a  5-2-7, 2 x 4-4-7's, and 4 x 4-2-6's led by a 9-0, 8-1, and 7-0 with an MMG, LMG, 2 x ATR's, a DC and 12 factors of AP Mines.

And now for Dan's Pre-Game Comments:

"The Germans are attacking a 5 hex fanatic strongpoint.  The plan is for the 9-2 to set up a fire base in the south east with the 50mm MTR.  While the 9-1 leads the 5-4-8 FT and 5-4-8 LMG and DC teams in from the west.  The 8-1 will lead the last 5-4-8 with LMG and DC around the flank to attack from the north east.  The StuG will get close in hopes to lure out the defenders.  Hopefully the Russians break and the Germans can get into the fortified building."

My Russians must set up inside or adjacent to the building. Be sure to read up on the NKVD Strongpoint rules (V12.4 CG 11.1c).  I would set up everyone in the building with 6 mines outside G22 and G24. My 9-0 NKVD Commissar would be in G23 to keep the morale of the units inside the fortified building. My LMG was on Level 1 of G22 with the 7-0 and my MMG was on Level 1 of G24 with the 8-1. Both machine guns had decent lines of sight to deal with the anticipated flanking movements. My two 6-2-8's were upfront on ground level with a 4-2-6 with an ATR above both. 

Turn 1 German - Dan sweeps forward and gets right up in my grill. I have said it many times...Dan is an aggressive player. This is a 7 Turn game in a very small battle space. So, the German player can take his time and assault move/advance into position. This tactic will definitely limit casualties. Dan did not choose that option and came right at me. I put down a wall of resid and managed to stagger this initial assault with many broken Germans. The key break was on the German Flamethrower squad.

Playing against Dan is never dull. His attack, while taking some losses, allowed his 9-2 Kill Stack to move relatively unopposed in the south. A combination of factors would make this possible. 

The biggest factor would be the German sniper, who would first kill my 8-1 with a head shot and then pin the MMG squad in as many seconds. As a result, I would have 4 up 1 shot as his 9-2 moved into position and a roll of 10 wasn't going to do anything.

Yet again, my defense would be undone by the enemy sniper against which I had really no protection.

After a successful Defensive Fire Phase, my first Prep Fire would largely be a waste of good ammunition.

My sniper would kill the German 7-0 and wound the German 8-1 and keep the northern group of brokies broken. He would then depart the battlefield to safety extricate himself back to 62nd Army HQ.

After a full turn, the blood was freely flowing with a couple dead German half-squads and more than a few broken units on both sides.

But the Germans were undaunted and quickly regrouped for Turn 2.

Turn 2 German - the STUG successfully smokes my F23 location while Dan again pushes in from the North and center. The German 9-2 kept my MMG out of action. The German Flamethrower squad is again broken going into the 12 Resid in H24. 

I didn't have an answer for the STUG. Dan wisely kept a squad or two with it throughout the game.

Turn 2 continued as the Germans successfully place a DC to break the smoked F23 location.  It was at this point, that I realized that my mines were better placed in the F22 and F23 hexes. Maybe next time...

Dan's machine guns with the 9-2 were hitting me hard and keeping rate of fire with the HMG.

The DC would successfully break the fortified F23 location. The end of the game had arrived.

Turn 3 German - Dan's flamethrower enters the building and begins burning me out. Meanwhile the surrounding German landers pour heavy fire into my positions. My Commissar keeps men rallied, but I was definitely losing the fight. Dice rolls were not helping me any and especially in the breach close combat where Dan would win ambush and annihilate my 6-2-8 and I wouldn't even get to hit back. Yeah that sucked.

I hate close combat.

Turn 4 - Dan had me on the ropes. I was pushed back to row G and the Germans were surrounding me.

On my part of Turn 4, I tried to hang in there and keep fighting, but my rolls were not doing anything.

Following Dan's Defensive Fire Phase I would throw in the towel and concede. I was down to a single unbroken squad and my 9-0 and 7-0. The game was over. My congrats to Dan on an overwhelming victory. Once he shook off the Turn 1 setbacks, the German juggernaut was simply unstoppable. 

This scenario definitely captures what I imagine went down historically. The Germans passed through this area with little difficulty and did so in the scenario as well. The Russians are really hard pressed in this scenario to find a way to hold on for 7 turns. And I would argue that seven turns is too much and allows the Germans to take fewer risks. It is the risks that would provide the Russians with the best opportunity to inflict damage. Turn 1 certainly verified that. But once Dan's force was successfully on my doorstep, there was no way to evict him. Throughout this game, Dan was forcing me to take +3 and +4 Morale Checks. I must have taken five of these in total.And even Fanatic and in an NKVD stronghold won't help you. And neither did my +4 fortified building TEM. I was slapped around by Dan's Germans almost to the point of humiliation. Once a game crosses that threshold, it becomes a very unfun experience for the player on the losing end. In all honestly, I was ready to concede on Turn 3. I played through Turn 4, just hoping my boys wouldn't break apart. I had lost the capability to inflict damage on Dan's surviving was I all had....and I couldn't even do that as 24 and 32 factor shots along with the flamethrower decimated me. All in all, a lot of things have to go in favor of the Russians and against the Germans in order for the Russians to win this one.  The likelihood of that is of course a bit slim. I believe this scenario would be a good Stalingrad primer for a less experienced player to play the side of the Germans to gain urban fighting experience and the confidence in executing a successful assault against a stiff Russian position. For the Russian Player, your goal is to try and concede as late in the game as possible  😂!!

Sometimes you drive the scenario and sometimes it drives you!!!

And now for Dan's Post Game Comments:

"The plan worked.  Mainly due to a rate tear by the StuG of four shots including one critical hit.  Also good shooting by the sniper.  This scenario favors the Germans.  So the Russians need to pull out all the tricks to get a win.  Might be nice to try this one as the Russians.  My thanks to Grumble Jones for a great game!"

Dan and I will return next week for more blazing ASL action!

We will see you then!

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