Monday, 8 February 2016

Winter War 2016

For the second year in a row, I organized the Flames of War tournament for our club's main event of the year: "Winter War 2016". The event had 130+ gamers playing tournaments from 6 game systems. In Flames of War, we had 19 gamers playing 5 games over two days. It was a blast!

As the name suggests, the tournament was winter themed with 2/5 games being played with "winter rules" (deep snow and either dawn or dusk). It was fought with 1750 point Late War armies. The tournament, including set-up and dismantling went really smoothly. The schedule held, the atmosphere was great and the games were played in a very friendly and relaxed manner.

It was nice to see quite a few new armies at the tournament, which had clearly generated some hype amongst the generals. In particular, the visiting gamers from Lahti had created wonderful armies, which were both beautiful and intensely thematic. Below is a pic stolen from their collective blog. For more awesomeness, please visit their blog AchtungPainter!

Panthers painted by Immo, courtesy of

Ok... now onto my version of how things went down.

Game 1: No Retreat

For the first game, my Soviet Forward Detachment was paired against a German Tank Company. I was tasked with defending a heavily built up crossroads against the onslaught of roughly 10 Panzer IV's, two mechanized platoons plus supporting platoons. I dug in a large platoon of infantry at the crossroads and placed a platoon of 5 KV-85's on my left flank. Two looted tanks were in ambush on my right while the rest of my force were in reserve.

The game went pretty much as I envisioned. The Germans amassed all their strength on their left flank. My ambushing tanks (a captured Tiger and a Panzer IV) plus my reserves (5 T-34/85s and 3 SU-122's) countered this move and knocked out a few enemy tanks. The Germans effortlessly redirected their attack onto the other flank and seized the buildings with their infantry. My KV-85's, on the left flank, gave some ground so as not to be outflanked or assaulted by panzerfaust-wielding Germans. The German's launched an assault with their infantry in the centre, which I brutally put down with machine gun fire. The Germans were running out of steam. On my left, the German tanks were knocked out one by one by the superior Soviet tanks. After a while, the Germans had to throw in the towel and concede the game. A clear 6-1 victory for me.

Deployment - The panzers amass heavily on the left

KV-85's ready to repel the Fascists!

Germans pounce on the seemingly undefended left flank

KV-85's advance and open fire on the panzers advancing on the opposite flank

Looted panzers appear from ambush whilst T-34/85s race forward from reserve

A number of Panzers are knocked out

The Germans effortlessly swift their "schwerpunkt" to the right

Soviet tanks start taking casualties, pull back and manage to destroy both the attacking infantry and the German panzers

Game 2: Counterattack

The second scenario was fought using "winter rules" (everything is slow going and the attacker can choose whether to use dawn or dusk rules). I was once again forced to defend - this time against a German infantry company led by Major Kästner (a special character that makes the infantry an "always attacks" list - reflecting a historical break out attack from the Korsun pocket). From a narrative point of view this seemed legit, but put me in the worst possible situation. With "mobile reserves" in play, I could only place the weakest half of my force on the table (my large infantry company, small Radzevski platoon without their transports and the two captured German tanks) whilst the rest would arrive very far away, from reserve and with the snow limiting their mobility.

The starting position was sufficiently desperate that the best I hoped to achieve was a 3-4 loss. To this end, I placed by infantry in a staggered formation that would delay them as much as possible (forward pushed teams would prevent the Germans making reconnaissance moves and limit losses from their assaults). This went pretty much as I planned, with my men steadily giving ground to the Germans, slowing down their attack at the cost of a steady loss of men on my side.

Most of the Germans advanced in one mass towards my objective, but a few platoons fanned left to counter my reserves, which began arriving from the opposite corner. These Germans occupied good positions in the small village to their left, which my tanks began pummelling. I couldn't just bypass the village and with a platoon of German StuG's and several PaK-40's deploying on the reverse slope of a crest overlooking the village, casualties began to mount on both sides.

In the end, my tanks managed to kill all of the German infantry defending the village and give the German anti-tank assets on the hill a bloody nose as well. However, this was too little and too late, as I simply didn't have the time to push on with my tanks onto the objectives, which the Germans had by now captured and entrenched around. That said, I managed to achieve my objective and lost "only" by a margin of 4-3.

Germans mill about in their corner, ready to launch a dawn attack at the "thin red line" (aka outnumbered Russian infantry)

Russian infantry gives ground as the Fascist hordes push forward

KV-85's arrive from reserve and engage German infantry holding the village

The looted panzers are knocked out in a very lucky round of shooting by panzerschrecks

German AT-assets engage the KV-85's. The advance gets bogged down.

The Russians give more ground

Outflanking Russian tanks push the Germans back and advance towards the objective...

... but it's too late as the Germans push the remaining Russians from the objective

Game 3: Encounter

The third game looked equally desperate from the start. I would be playing against a German tank company fielding heavy Jagdpanther tank destroyers, some FlaK-88's, a few platoons of infantry and the greatly feared tank ace Otto Carius in a Jagdtiger. The table had very little in the way of cover and I couldn't hurt the enemy tanks from the front, whilst they could easily destroy me from any range. If my list were "scissors", my opponent was "rock". The table and scenario (mobile battle) didn't help, although I can only blame myself as I had chosen the scenarios, made the terrain for this board and set up the table. :P

I considered my options. I could hide my force behind some terrain in my deployment zone and hope for the enemy to attack me or go for the offensive myself. Option 1 seemed to promise only a slow, gruelling loss whilst option 2 seemed like more fun. To this end, I placed my KV-85s on my extreme right flank whilst my infantry and looted tanks held the centre. The German infantry faced my centre and left, the 88's dominated my left flank and the "large cats" were directly against my tanks on my centre and right.

The German's opened the game by knocking out one of my "heavy" KV-85's at exreme range (beyond the range of my guns). I proceeded to advance on the enemy, taking shelter with my KV-85's behind a large hill and trying to advance down the centre with my captured tanks hugging all the terrain they could find. I was hoping to enfilade the German tanks by attacking from two directions. This hope was quickly dashed as Carius moved forward and destroyed both of my captured tanks.

Deployment - Russians to the right (infantry in the centre, KV-85's behind the hill in the distance)

Fearsome German "big cats" - Jagdpanther and Otto Carius in a Jagdtiger

Looted panzers and Russian infantry advance

Carius moves forward confidently...

... and the looted panzers are no more

One of the KV-85s is knocked out at extreme range. The rest hunker down behind the hill waiting for reinforcements.

My T-34/85s arrived from the reserve and quickly sped down my right flank to a hull-down position behind a small wood. In tandem with my KV-85's, relocated to my centre, I moved forward and hoped to "swarm" the Germans. The plan failed miserably, as the Germans received their reinforcements in a timely manner and proceeded to knock out both tank squads before I had managed to fire a single shot at the German tanks' flanks.

My only consolation was that one of the German infantry units had plucked up the courage to launch a counter-assault onto my central objective. The Germans easily despatched my infantry, but then came under fire from my Razvedki and SU-122's, arriving from reserve. I managed to knock out the impudent German infantry but little more could be achieved. A 5-2 loss.

T-34/85s move flat out to take shelter behind the small wood on the German left. KV-85s get into position to advance up the centre.

German infantry launches a mounted assault which, together with MG fire, annihilates the large Soviet infantry unit
The T-34/85s are knocked out effortlessly
With the T-34/85s knocked out, the Soviet 2iC launches a desperate assault (which fails miserably)

SU-122s annihilate the German infantry that moved up on the objective (before being knocked out in turn by Jagdpanthers)

Radzevski race to the rescue

In the centre, the KV-85s are knocked out easily. The Radzevski attempt a desperate assault but are killed to the last by German MG fire.

Game 4: Surrounded

The first game of Sunday was against an all-armoured US tank company led by General Patton himself. I would be defending yet again against the "always attack" Americans. Winter rules were in play yet again and my opponent elected to attack at dusk (darkness falling on turn 3 or later). I placed my infantry entrenched on both objectives. The KV-85's were in immediate ambush, whilst the rest of my tanks adopted a "hedgehog" defence covering most likely avenues of approach and with some teams pushed forward to block enemy "reconnaissance" and "spearhead" moves. The Americans amassed almost their entire force in one corner facing the more exposed of the two objectives. After this, I deployed my KV-85's around the exposed objective, where their heavy armour would be put to the test.

Familiar defensive positions - this time it's the US 7th armoured assaulting (from the corner on the right)

Radzevski and KV-85s take up positions around the more exposed objective

T-34/85s lurking

The "other" objective

You have to admire the subtlety of the US tactics...

The Americans started the game by advancing very cautiously. Virtually my entire line was covered by a smoke bombardment, but otherwise the Americans achieved little. I redeployed my scattered forces to the enemy's point of attack. The KV-85's under the smoke bombardment advanced a little so that they could fire and the two looted panzers, which had been pushed quite forward on my "left" flank, began outflanking the Americans.

In the initial exchange of fire, the Soviets came out on top with two American tanks set blazing with some lucky shooting from the outflanking panzers. The exchange of fire continued over the following few turns and losses began to mount on both sides. Slowly the Americans started to gain the upper hand.

The Russian infantry, not content to sit idly by, had got up from their foxholes and began to advance upon the American tanks (who were kept busy by the fury of the fire fight with the Soviet tanks). The infantry launched a brave assault, headed by a trusty flamethrower team, on a small cluster of enemy tanks. Several rounds of brutal close-range fighting followed but in the end, without anti-tank equipment and with the morale of the Americans holding, the assault failed. I failed a couple of (fearless) platoon morale tests and with that, I had lost. 6-1 for the Americans (who had lost a large number of tanks but no complete platoons).

Russian positions are covered by a smoke screen

Looted panzers outflank the Americans...

... and knock out the 2iC Jumbo and another Sherman

Russian tanks start taking hits and eventually the remaining T-34/85s leg it

The Americans take their share of pounding also... but there are too many of the mass-produced Capitalists tanks! 

SU-122s open up a volley fire - knocking out one Sherman

With the Soviets bound to lose the tank duel, their infantry advances upon the foe

The Radzevski's flamethrowers bails out one Sherman and paves the way for the upcoming assault...

... which eventually fails, as the Russians run out of men

Game 5: Breakthrough

The final game pitted my Soviets against a Finnish Sturmi (StuG) company supported by a platoon of jägers, two BA-10 armoured cars, a battery of heavy artillery and air support from Detachment Kuhlmey. I was quite happy to be attacking. Despite fielding an Always Attacks list, I had ended up defending in 3/4 of the previous games as it seemed that everyone else had Always Attacks lists also (and the one mission where I wasn't attacking was Encounter, which was far from ideal for my army). Finally I got to play in my army's intended role! As you can see from the photos, I exchanged my "winter infantry" for duplicate "summer infantry" I had brought along to the tournament just in case I would need to play on a summer table. Unfortunately I didn't have duplicates of all the tanks.

Starting positions. Russians in the top-left corner, Finns in the top-right. Objectives bottom-right.

Finnish jägers make a reconnaissance move towards the objectives

The game started with my tightly packed infantry and looted panzers making a pre-game 16" infiltration towards the objective. This was followed by my first turn, during which I consolidated my position on the objective by getting the infantry into the buildings controlling the objective and moving the looted panzers forward to prevent the enemy from coming within striking distance. My T-34/85s moved "double time" to secure my right flank from the expected arrival of enemy Sturmis. The KV-85's advanced confidently and opened fire on the few Sturmis lurking in the distance.

The Finns moved their jägers into the large forest next to the objectives and dug in. The few Sturmis on-board moved forward very cautiously and, supported by the Finnish artillery and Stukas, opened fire on my tanks. In the exchange of fire, one T-34/85 and one Sturmi were knocked out.

Russian tanks and infantry infiltrate onto the objectives...

... and consolidate their hold of the objective by the end of turn 1

The Finnish reserves entered the game quite quickly, with a platoon of Sturmis arriving on both my left and right flanks. The Sturmis moved forward in an attempt to enfilade my KV-85s. My tanks were well-placed to counter this threat, with my T-34/85s tackling one platoon head-on whilst the KV-85s began duelling with two platoons of Sturmis moving up on both their flanks. In the end, the Soviets prevailed and 7 Sturmis were either knocked out or routed.

While this firefight was raging, my infantry advanced on the jägers and a few Sturmis sheltering behind the large forest guarding the objectives. My Radzevski had used the road to speed into good positions to launch an assault on the enemy. This was perhaps unnecessary given that I already had a strong hold on one of the objectives, but my blood was up and I had the enemy on the run! 

The jägers took a beating and gave ground, but regrouped the survivors just outside of the forest. Supported by the few remaining Sturmis (including the company commander), the jägers launched a counter-attack. A few more Sturmis were knocked out and the Radzevski platoon was routed. However, the assault was too little and too late to wrest Soviet control of one of the objectives. The game ended on turn 6 with a 5-2 victory for the Soviets.

T-34/85s are ready to meet the Sturmis arriving from reserve on the Russian right, eventually winning the firefight and knocking the assault guns out.

Situation heats up. KV-85s are fighting Sturmis on all sides whilst the Soviet infantry advances.

Facing in all directions, the KV-85s manage to knock out the outflanking Sturmis

Final assault

The Results

My meagre efforts were sufficient to land me at 11th place. The top four positions in the tournament were extremely close and included the same top 3 (pretty much in the same order) as last year. As usual, Jussi's Russian horde reigned supreme and won the Winter War. Besides lavish prizes (and bragging rights) for the top three, we awarded a prize for best painted army and the most sportive general. This last prize, perhaps the most coveted of all, was an autographed copy of Osprey's brand new "Finland at War: The Winter War 1939-1940" (one of the authors also participated in the tournament).

I am very happy with the weekend's gaming. For the father of two toddler-aged kids, playing a two-day tournament is a rare luxury. The games were awesome fun and really sparked the heat to play more Flames of War games and paint new armies (based on my recent mail orders I seem to have 3 new armies in the making... oh my :P). This enthusiasm seems to have caught on, with a number of gamers ecstatic about new Flames of War projects.

The tournament was a bit of a hassle to organize, with time spent in making new terrain, purchasing equipment, setting things up and planning. However, in the end, this was well worth the effort. Same time next year!

Left to right: 11th place, 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, most sportive general

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