Monday, July 23, 2007

Sevastapol Skirmish - A Wargames Report

Saturday, July 21st we had another go at the Troops, Weapons and Tactics (TW&T) skirmish rules by Too Fat Lardies. I acted as referee, and chose a Russian Front battle as I had long wanted to use my 20mm Soviet Naval Infantry. I've had these for years, but never actually gamed with them. Soviet naval infantry were not Marines as the US and the UK know them, but were mostly guys taken off sunk or underused ships and given infantry weapons. Wargamers like them because they wore distinctive black sailors uniforms and stand out amid the drab Soviet hordes.

The scenario was as follows, and since I know very little I know about the battle of Sevastapol (1941-42) was mostly made up. A Red Army blocking force at Perikop has been overrun, and a German reconaissance platoon has been rushed south to seize a key ridge overlooking the northern suburbs of the port, where the Soviets are digging in. The German troops are good veterans. Their OC is Leutnant Holle, a young replacement officer (Big Man 2) with two good sergeants (Big Men 3). Because the Germans are stretched to the limit, their vehicles are prone to breakdown. German order of battle: 2 rifle sections each with light machine gun, one in an armoured Sdkfz 251/1 halftrack, the other in an Opel truck. Supporting them is a Panzer II light tank. A third section in a captured Russian truck has broken down and was left behind, in hopes that it would catch up soon. Holle's orders are to take the hill if possible, and at least contain the Russians and identify their composition and position until his division can catch up and launch a hasty attack before nightfall. James and Scott took the Germans.

The Russians are inexperienced green infantry who were doing basic training in the naval training school two weeks earlier, before being hastily formed into an infantry battalion. Their platoon commander, Leytenant Tatarin, had been teaching a torpedo course at the Fleet School before being assigned to this unit; fortunately he had commanded a patrol boat in the Finnish war, and has fought ashore in landing parties. He is a Class Three Big Man. He has two 11 man infantry sections, armed only with bolt-action rifles (sadly no LMGs available) and a few Molotov cocktails. His only heavy weapon is a three man Maxim heavy machine gun team. Tatarin's orders are to seize and hold the hill if possible; once he's on the hill he's to send a runner back to the start line, where a heavy KV2 tank has been tasked to secure the hill. Lorenzo and Patrick took the Russians.

Here are the Russian blinds (in TW&T blinds are either units that the enemy has not yet spotted or they can be dummy units to confuse the enemy) advancing northwards on a broad front.

The Germans in contrast pushed straight up the road.

The ridge had the effect of screening the two sides from one another, and made the opening moves quite simple. The Russians moved quickly, benefitting from good die rolls, and were able to push one section and their heavy machine gun onto the ridge.

Lt. Holle pushed his PzII tank forward aggressively, dismounting first section from its halftrack while the Panzer's autocannon and turrent-mounted machine gun raked the woods above and caused leaves and foliage to fly. Screams could be heard where the green sailors clumsily tried to take cover. However, answering rounds caught the German first section as they dismounted from their halftrack and caused some confusion before their sergeant got them shooting back uphill. Some brave sailors also lobbed Molotov cocktails, bottles of flaming spirits, towards the German tank and halftrack, persuading them to keep their distance.

On the hill, Lt. Tatarin crouched beneath a hail of German lead and falling branches as he tried to keep his young ratings motivated to stay in the fight. He looked around desperately for his runner to send for the promised armour support, but he could not get the attention of the boy hiding behind a stout trunk. Looking downhill Tatarin could see a second German section moving through an orchard to take up flanking positions. It was not looking good.

The German first section was reaching the hill when it received a nasty surprise. With a loud "Urrah", Yefreitor Federov led the second section section of naval infantry down the hill, bayonets glinting on the ends of their Moisin Nagants rifles. A bitter melee ensued, as the German NCO held his men firm to fight back with grenades and machine pistols. After a short and bitter fight, the sailors were pushed back and over the hill.

On top of this reverse for the Soviets, the weight of German fire soon became too much for the depleted first section of sailors, who were being mauled by the autocannon and MG of the PZII, as well as by fire from the German infantry in the orchard. After incurring six wounds (in TW&T wounds represent loss of cohesion rather than actual injuries), the green ratings broke and fled for the rear.

The Russian players still had some hope when a new Soviet blind appeared on the German table edge. I have given Barry, who had arrived after the start, a squad of Red Army soldiers who had survived the overrun battle of the last few days, and had been dicing for their arrival. They were good troops, but their section leader's job as he saw it was to get his men back to Sevastapol and maybe escape on a ship, so it wasn't a given that Barry would help the sailors. Still, the blind drew the attention of the small recon section led by Lt. Holle, who approached carefully on their motorbikes. Barry's men came off their blind and opened up, dropping the lead rider and persuading Holle to seek shelter in the orchard with his second section. The Germans were rolling for the return of their third infantry section, but without luck. Feeling pressured from behind by the Red infantry, James/Holle now gave the command for his troops to consolidate on the objective.

In the last stages of the fight, the German infantry advanced on the left only to run into the sailors who were regrouping from the first melee. Both sides went at it again, and a vicious battle raged for several minutes before the Germans were wiped out, with heavy loss to the Russians. The Panzer II driven by Scott (Panzer Boy) Cameron pushed forward all the way to the Maxim gun, which was now down to one crewman. An overrun threatened.

At this point one of our favourite cards, Heroic Commander, came up for the Russians, allowing the player to make an "insanely heroic action" with his CO, to be judged by the referee's discretion. Lorenzo did a splendid move, having Tatarin grab a Molotov cocktail and rush forward to smash it on the deck of the Panzer, which had no infantry support. Unfortunately the dice were not so heroic, and the cocktail fizzled out. Within seconds, the Panzer's autocannon and MG responded, annihilating Tatarin and the remaining Maxim gunner. A few sailors would trickle back to their lines, hoping they could stop the fascist beasts the next time.

A bit after 11pm we deciced to call it a German victory. With half a sqaud remaining, the Russians could not hold the hill or oppose the German armour, and Barry's Red Army section was not inclined to self-sacrificial heroism to help thje sailors. Lt. Holle would chastise his third section when they showed up after their long smoke break, but he could signal battalion that the objective was held and the German artillery observer could come forward.

I had learned that the Too Fat Lardies card-based approach requires the referee to manage the cards very carefully, lest some element's card is left out of play and so the player never gets to use that element. I'll be extra-organized next time. Ideally, one should parcel out the cards for each element to the players and make them responsible for giving the cards to the referee as their elements come into action. The players seemed to enjoy themselves. It was tough for both sides - the promise of reinforcements (the German third section on their captured truck, the Soviet KV2 tank skulking in the woods behind) seemed to put psychological pressure on the players, giving them the feeling that they had to do more with less, which is probably the best way to have to fight and win a wargame.

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