Saturday, 16 January 2016

Flames of War: Winter manoeuvres

After almost a month's hiatus in wargaming (holidays, work, etc.) I finally managed to kick off the new wargaming year with two games of Flames of War. The refresher was more than welcome, since I'm organizing a big FOW tournament in a few weeks despite the fact that I haven't played the game in a while!

The list I'm running is a 1750 point (Late War) Russian Forward Detachment. It's a motley selection of new and old Russian tanks, looted German equipment and depleted infantry formations. The force is heavily themed to reflect a very mobile, worn down detachment trying to survive in harsh winter conditions. The force consists of a platoon of old model heavy tanks (4 KV-85s), old model assault guns (4 SU-122s), 5 new T-34/85s, two captured German tanks (Tiger and Panzer IV), a mechanized infantry platoon (using German hanomags), a depleted Tank-Rider company and two Katyusha rocket mortar trucks.

Game 1

The first practice game was an "Encounter" scenario against a Finnish infantry company. My opponent had loads of infantry and close-range anti-tank power (panzerfausts, panzerschrecks and pioneers) and artillery but only a few anti-tank guns and no tanks. He deployed most of his infantry on the table and heavy artillery in the centre, while the rest were in reserve. I deployed my tank rider infantry on the right, the KV-85s in the centre and the two captured German tanks on my left.

The battlefield viewed from the Russian left (objectives on or near the four roads) 

Captured German tanks in Russian service

KV-85 heavy tanks - pretty good all-round

Finnish infantry guarding the objective

I started the game by aggressively advancing on my right. Not waiting for reinforcements, the KV-85s and infantry raced to overwhelm the Finnish defenders. The captured German tanks advanced more cautiously and began trading shots with the Finnish heavy artillery. It was not long before the Finnish artillery had managed to knock out one of my KV-85s and the captured Panzer IV, but in return I took out two of the heavy guns.

KV-85's lead the way on the Russian right

Finnish artillery starts to take losses from the Russian tanks

On turn 3, I received my SU-122's from reserve. I would have liked them to arrive on my right, where they could have started to soften the Finnish defenders before my assault would hit them. Unfortunately, the "scattered reserves" resulted in them arriving on my left. It was not long before they were making their presence felt by knocking out dug in Finnish infantry at a steady rate.

SU-122's arrive on the Russian left and begin knocking out Finnish infantry

I was a bit too eager on the right, and advanced my KV-85's and infantry to within striking distance of the dug in Finnish infantry. Faced with punishing machine gun fire and with the enemy reserves not yet on the table, I felt compelled to assault. 

The assault was a disaster! Two of my heavy tanks were destroyed by the Finnish pioneers while the last tank was bailed out and then captured by the Finns. I had forgotten that the Finn's had the "Bitter Enemies" rule against Russians, which made them unlikely to flee from my tanks. The heavy armour and rearward facing machine guns (forcing the enemy to re-roll attacks) made no difference as my opponent rolled quite well. I made the situation even worse by assaulting with my infantry at the same pioneers, who were left in a bad position after the assault. Some unbelievably lucky defensive fire by my opponent (five rolls of 4+ on 7 dice) meant that the assault failed, after which the timely arrival of my opponents reserves managed to annihilate the rest of the tank rider company in a flurry of SMG fire.

Russians approach dug-in Finnish pioneers on the Russian right...

... assault ...

... and get killed to the last man or tank

The final nail in the coffin was the untimely demise of my captured Tiger. After several rounds of of trading shots, the lone 150mm howitzer facing the Tiger finally managed to score a hit and destroy the tank. This unfortunately meant that I had lost 3 out of 4 units on the table plus my battalion commander, which meant that the morale of my army broke. I still had 3 / 7 units in reserve, but unfortunately I had wasted my men too fast in a poorly coordinated and unlucky assault.

Captured panzers are knocked out by Finnish artillery

Game 2

The second game was "Breakthrough" against a German infantry company led by Major Kästner. The Kästner list is quite interesting. Historically, Kästner acted as the commander of the 105. Grenadier regiment (72nd Division) in its breakout from the Korsun pocket in the winter of 1944. This was a somewhat historical scenario, as my Forward Detachment had obviously raced ahead to close the line of retreat of Kästner's men. Faced with a double envelopment and certain destruction (strategically - not in this game), Kästner would have to lead his men in a night time effort to break out.

The deployment for this scenario can be seen below. The Germans had a whopping 7 infantry platoons (including pioneer and close-range anti-tank teams), which they deployed along the length of the table. The Germans also had a platoon of Stug assault guns and two 7.5cm Pak 97/38 anti-tank guns, deployed on their right and left flanks respectively.

I placed my Tank Rider company in foxholes to guard the vital crossroads (objective closest to the enemy) and my KV-85 tanks immediately behind them for support. My captured panzers were held in ambush and the rest of my force were held in reserve. The other objective was on a hill far to my rear and relatively safe from the enemy. The fight would be won or lost at the crossroads.

Battlefield viewed from behind the Russian right (this game is played along the length of the board)

German infantry desperate to break out of the Korsun pocket

Strong Russian positions at the objective: dug-in infantry supported by heavy tanks

The dawn attack begun with Kästner and a large platoon of pioneers plus a smaller reconnaissance platoon infiltrating forward on their centre and left. The rest of the army followed and soon the Germans were within striking distance of the front of the Russian positions. At this point, the Germans fully realized the strength of the Russian defensive position facing them. A frontal assault was doomed to fail as long as the KV-85s were in position. Kästner hurried his right wing forward so that they could envelop the weaker flank of the Russian position. As this manoeuvre was under way, Kästner's centre waited idly for the flank attack to begin. The KV-85's opened fire on the advancing Germans, knocking out one of the Stugs and destroying a small German machine gun platoon that had advanced carelessly.

Germans begin creeping forward

The battle begun in earnest on turn 3. It was only at this point that the German flanking forces had got into positions. On the German right, two platoons were in position to assault the weaker Russian left and the Stugs had almost enveloped the KV-85's as well. On the German left, the German reconnaissance platoon had outflanked the Russians and was about to assault the captured Panzers, which had arrived from ambush on this flank.

Just when these assaults were about to start, dawn broke and two units of Russian reserves arrived! The T-34/85s arrived on the German right, where they easily knocked out the two outflanking Stugs that were no longer concealed by night and had their weak flanks exposed. On the German left, the mechanized Russian infantry platoon raced forward with machine guns blazing. This drove the German reconnaissance platoon to seek shelter in a forest to their rear.

Russian mechanized infantry (in captured German hanomags!) race forward to protect the threatened Russian right flank

A well-timed entrance by Russian T-34/85's leave the Stugs burning

Positions before the Germans launch their assaults on both flanks and in the centre

With daylight upon them and Russian reserves racing forward, the German situation had taken a decisive turn for the worse. However, there was little point in delaying further. Both German platoons on the right assaulted the Russian left and both were repulsed after bloody combat. The Russians took some losses, but this was little compared to the Germans, whose one platoon was routed and the other platoon soon after destroyed by machine gun fire by the advancing T-34/85 tanks on this flank.

Germans assaulting on the right

In the centre, a brutal firefight erupted. The Russians moved forward to fire with SMGs and machine guns at the Germans caught in the open. This caused devastating losses on the Germans, who retaliated. German flamethrowers and SMGs eliminated the remnants of the Russian tank rider company. A successful German assault on their left managed to destroy the captured Tiger and drive the Panzer IV back.

However, there was little the Germans could do to prevent the inevitable. The Russian mechanized infantry platoon dismounted and moved to counter the Germans together with the SU-122 assault guns (which had arrived from reserve on the German left), the KV-85's (in the centre) and the T-34/85's (on the German right). Most of the remaining Germans were mowed down in several rounds of shooting (particularly the SU-122's proved lethal with their re-rolls to hit and breakthrough gun rules). Kästner led a final assault with the remnants, who routed after a short sharp fight with the Russians.

Brutal firefight in the centre

The German right flank is destroyed, but they succeed in launching an assault on their left (which is repulsed with a counter-attack)

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