Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ukraine, 1943

Leutnant Schmidt peered through his binoculars to survey the area. A burned-out building next to a wooded area looked like a perfect place for Soviet infantry.  The building appeared to be an old farmhouse before the war; now it was just cover for the enemy. The ground between the platoon leader's position and the opposite woods was wide open; it would be tricky to advance if the Soviets decided to launch an attack. Under orders to sieze the wooded area opposite his current position in order to set up a staging area for another push onto Kharkov, Otto Schmidt had an imposing force under his command. Along with the three squads of his infantry platoon, Leutnant had a 50mm mortar team and a Marder II tank at his disposal. 

Schmidt resolved to be patient and use the Marder II to cover the advance of his infantry over the open terrain. The woods on the right flank offered an opportunity to use some cover and move forward towards the objective. Looking around at his veteran Wehrmacht troops, Schmidt knew that many of them had seen almost constant action. So many faces were no longer there. The Leutnant knew that he had to capture the objective, but he would not squander his men to do it. Steeling himself to carry out the plan, Schmidt began barking orders for his men to begin is yet another fight. 

Leytenant Andrei Sokolov was tasked with holding the woods as long as possible. His job was to make the vermin pay in blood for the ground. Sokolov had risen rapidly through the ranks; the junior officers in his company were all dead and now it was his turn to command. At least the bosses tasked him to delay any enemy advance to the point of breaking, and then to melt into the woods. A good sign. A year ago, the bosses demanded that all patriot Soviet soldiers die to the last man. Sokolov was willing to sacrifice all for the motherland, and he was determined to make the enemy bleed. Having a T-34 tank to anchor his right flank and a seasoned sniper, Vasily, loaned from his sister unit, the Leytenant was confident that his men would stand. Gripping his pistol in one hand and binoculars in the other, Sokolov sensed a movement and a flash of metal in the distance. "For Mother Russia....let them come."

The Scenario

It was time for a pick-up game of Chain of Command, the scenario selected from the main rules book: A Delaying Action. Set in March of 1943, during the German counteroffensive towards Kharkov, a German Wehrmacht platoon is tasked with seizing an objective in wooded terrain. To win a victory, the Germans must either occupy and hold the objective or cause the Soviet Force Morale to drop to zero before the end of Turn 3. The Soviets win by denying the Germans their victory conditions. Initial Force Morale was 9 for both sides.

The terrain is detailed in the map below. All woods are light cover with visibility limited to 4". The burned-out structure is considered heavy cover. There are multiple hilly areas that can block Line of Sight. After the patrol phase was conducted, the jump-off points were placed and are designated on the map. The German objective and entry points for both sides' AFV's are portrayed as well.

Orders of Battle:

Wehrmacht infantry platoon

Leutnant Schmidt, Senior Leader armed with machine pistol
Panzerschreck team, 2 members

Squads 1-3:
Obergefreiter, armed with machine pistol, panzerfaust 60

LMG team: MG34 with 2 crew, 1 rifleman armed with bolt action rifle
Rifle team:  6 riflemen, armed with bolt action rifles


Marder II tank
50mm mortar team with 2 crew

Soviet infantry platoon

Leytenant Andrei Sokolov, Senior Leader armed with pistol

Squads 1-2:
Serzhant, armed with SMG
LMG with 2 crew
7 riflemen, armed with bolt action rifles

SMG Squad:
Serzhant, armed with SMG
7 infantry, armed with SMG's

T-34 tank
Sniper team

The Game

Turn One

The Germans, as the attackers, moved first. They elected to bring on the Marder II at its entry point, as well as the 50mm mortar team at the center jump-off point in a covered position behind a hill. The Soviets countered by moving the T-34 tank onto the table and throwing an infantry squad into the burned-out structure. The SMG squad rounded out the Soviet deployment by arriving at the southern-most jump-off point in the woods (which happens to be the German objective).

The Marder II tank and mortar team arrive on the table

The T-34 lumbers toward the German position

Soviet infantry take cover in the burned-out farmhouse

The SMG squad deploys on the Soviet left flank

The Germans move the Marder II up to the top of the hill for a firing position, while the 2nd squad deploys near the tank in the woods. The 1st German squad deploys on the right flank and immediately takes fire from the Soviets in the structure, absorbing a bit of shock.  The Soviet commander realizes that the southern-most woods are a path for the Germans to reach his position under cover and gives the order for the SMG squad to begin moving in that direction to blunt any German advance. 

The Marder II moves up as German infantry deploy to its flank

The German 1st squad takes fire from the building across the field

More Russian infantry deploys in the woods next to the T-34, which halts its advance, seemingly to secure the Soviet left flank. 

The Soviet right flank is secure as the T-34 and supporting infantry settle in their positions

In Phase three, the Germans rolled double 6s on their command dice, which allows them to move twice in a row. The 50mm mortar team swings into action, beginning to shower shells onto the structure in indirect fire. The Marder II also takes the initiative to fire at the T-34, hitting but having no effect in this phase. The hull-mounted machine gun in the Marder II did do some damage on the infantry deployed near the enemy tank.  In Phase four, the Germans move again. This time the Marder II hits the T-34 and damages the gun sights, affecting any future shooting by the Soviet tank. By now, the mortar team and fire from the 1st squad were beginning to have an effect on the Soviet infantry in the building, taking shock and their first casualty. The Soviets deployed the Senior leader to the structure, who promptly rallied off shock. The SMG squad moves further through the woods toward the German 1st squad position. The hapless T-34, with its damaged gun optics fired at the Marder II, but had no effect. 

The German and Soviet infantry continued to exchange fire, with the Soviets getting the worst of it. The infantry in the structure was beginning to take serious losses, as the Soviet Leytenant rallies off shock, but seeing the writing on the wall. The Soviet Senior commander gave the order to throw a smoke grenade and give the tiny garrison time to recover. Seeing the smoke grenade block the LOS to them, the German 1st squad took their chance and raced to the southern woods in order to approach the Soviet left flank from cover. Little did they know that they were on a collision course with the SMG squad moving their way. 

The SMG squad moves into the woods closer to the German position

Smoke is deployed by the Russians, as the German 1st squad takes their opportunity to move out

A smoke grenade is deployed by the Soviets inside the structure

German and Soviet infantry approach each other in the woods

The Soviet SMG squad decided to engage the German 1st squad in close combat. Being armed with SMG's, the Soviets felt that they had a distinct advantage even thought they were slightly outnumbered. The opposing squads clashed in the woods, with the Soviets rolling 23 hit dice to the Germans' 21 dice. It was a brutal fight, but the Germans beat the odds and barely came out on top, with 7 casualties inflicted on the Soviets and 6 killed on the German side. The SMG squad, with the exception of their wounded Serzhant, was eliminated. The Germans had 3 riflemen left, their Obergefreiter lay dead and were pinned due to shock. Force Morale rolls were made and both sides dropped from 9 to 7. 

The Germans and Soviets clash in close combat

After rallying shock away inside the structure, the Soviet commander used a "Chain of Command" die and ended Turn One. 

The Duel

The two opposing tanks locked themselves in a duel to the death as the infantry around them maneuvered and engaged each other. The Marder II, with the double 6's thrown by the German commander in the command dice phase, had a huge advantage by firing twice in a row at the T-34, damaging the Soviet tank's gun sights. The two tanks would battle it out for the rest of the game, with the Marder II hitting consistently and adding shock to the Soviet tank. Panicking the gunner at one point, the Soviet was unable to return fire in a phase, which added to its woes. The Marder II continued to hit, immobilizing the enemy tank, and adding more shock, which the T-34 commander was unable to rally off while continuing to fire. Once the German tank got in a few points of shock, the Soviet tank resumed an entirely defensive stance. It was only a matter of time before the Soviet commander panicked and the entire crew bailed out of the T-34, leaving it on the field.  As the Soviet tank was eliminated as a threat, the Marder II continued to support the German infantry in the last phases of the game. 

Turn Two

To begin Turn Two, the Soviets moved first (rolling double 6's again the previous phase) and began to put fire onto the now-deployed 3rd squad, which had taken the place on the German right flank as the 1st squad moved out to clash with the Soviets in the woods. In the German phase, the Senior commander, Leutnant Schmidt moved out to rally the pinned 1st squad. Surviving sniper and infantry fire from the building, Schmidt made it to cover and promptly rallied the remnants of the squad and pushed them to advance toward the Russian position. Meeting the wounded Serzhant in the woods, and losing a rifleman to the bold leader, the tiny German force finally put the junior leader out of his misery. The ensuing Soviet Force Morale is now 6. 

The Soviets then threw triple 6's in their command phase, ending Turn Two, but not before Vasily, the sniper, wounded the German 3rd squad's commander. 

Turn Three

The Germans opened Turn Three in devastating fashion. Mortar and infantry fire inflict more casualties on the Soviet infantry in the building, pinning the rest of the squad, killing the Serzhant and wounding the intrepid Leytenant Sokolov. The Soviet Force Morale is now 3, with the added result of losing 2 command dice. The Marder II finally dispatches the T-34 and the crew panics off of the table. 

Leutnant Schmidt sees the opportunity and moves the remainder of 1st squad through the woods and to the objective. The Marder II begins to approach the building, with the 2nd squad emerging from the woods, using the tank as cover. Soviet sniper fire wounds the 2nd squad's Obergefreiter and a last gasp from the LMG inside the building inflicts a kill on the 2nd squad. The 2nd squad is forced to assume a tactical stance. 

The German 2nd squad moves out behind the tank

The Soviet fire was for nothing; devastating fire from 3rd squad eliminated the remaining members of Soviet troops inside the structure. The only one that remained was a severely wounded Leytenant Sokolov, who was determined to fight to his death. Soviet Force Morale was now at 2.

As the German forces began to converge on the Soviet position, the Russian infantry on the right flank realized that the objective was in clear danger of being captured. The soldiers began to move out through the woods.

Soviet infantry, pinned and exhausted, were to be eliminated by German firepower shortly

Before the Soviets could reach the objective, Leutnant Schmidt and his rag-tag 1st squad rolled well and were able to occupy the objective. Immediately after this move, the German player used an accumulated "Chain of Command" die and ended the turn. 

The game was over. The Germans were patient and quite willing to use their superior firepower against their opponents and wear them down. The Marder II luckily "got the jump" on the T-34, from which the Soviet tank never recovered. It was a well-deserved, but close, victory for Leutnant Schmidt's force. Soviet losses included 18 infantry, 2 Serzhants killed, and one Leytenant wounded. The damaged T-34 was left unoccupied on the field. The Germans lost 8 infantry, 1 Obergefreiter killed and 1 wounded. 

The T-34 tank lay smoking and ruined 

This game of Chain of Command was highly entertaining and close until the end. In my humble opinion, it is the finest simulation of World War Two combat. I can't wait until the next game !

Leutnant Schmidt was satisfied with the victory and the meager losses versus a determined foe. "We survived another day, but tomorrow will bring more horror and challenge." He dropped behind a tree, exhausted from the action. Closing his eyes for a second, he was interrupted by a call on the radio from his superiors with yet another task. 

Postscript:  Leutnant Schmidt would win the Iron Cross for his bravery on this day. Only a month later, he would lie dead as so many other German soldiers in the rubble of Kharkov. 

Leytenant Sokolov was bleeding out. He knew that his time had come, as he lay on the floor of the ruined farmhouse, seeing his men motionless and bloodied around him. Hearing a German voice coming closer to the entrance, the brave patriot Sokolov closed his eyes for the last time, as a last flash of violence engulfed him. 

Vasily moved, seemingly effortlessly, through the thick woods toward the Soviet lines. "What a shit storm," he grumbled. 

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