Monday, February 15, 2016

Panzergrenadier Warp 9 AAR - Verkhne-Kumsky '42

It's been a couple of years now since our group began playing WWII Eastern Front battles with the Battlegroup Panzergrenadier series of rules. We started with the first day of Barbarossa and advanced each subsequent scenario forward in time. Last fall we moved to May 1942 and the 2nd battle of Kharkov in 1942 just before Operation Fredricus. This scenario moves us to December 1942 and Operation Winter storm.

We currently play with a customized set of rules based on about 60% Deluxe, 20% 2nd Edition, and 20% House Rules, that I have called Panzergrenadier Warp 9, not because it is faster playing, just "to boldly go where no man has gone before..." We are really enjoying our games using these rules and are constantly tweaking them.

For this game we played with three new "updates": A revised Close Assault Results Table, and new AFV Armour Factors and Anti-Tank Penetration Ratings that I derived from Battlefront's Combat Mission: Barbarossa To Berlin equipment tables by Chris Hare.

Verkhne-Kumsky December 15, 1942

Historical Overview 
Manstein has begun Operation Winter Storm, ordering Hoth's 4th Panzer Army to break through to Paulus' 6th army encircled at Stalingrad. 6th Panzer Division has made good progress crossing the Askay River and its 11th Panzer Regiment has just taken the small village of Verkhne-Kumsky. Yeremenko has sent General Volksii's 4th Mechanized Corps against this intrusion. German scouts report major Russian tank forces are massing just to the north of Verkhne-Kumsky and 11th Panzer Regiment has sent most of its tanks north to meet the threat, leaving a holding force in the village. While the main body of tanks are away 4th Mechanized launches a flanking attack against the village.

This imaginary scenario portrays a determined Russian attack on the village, lightly held by the Germans, but with strong support from heavy weapons.

CMBB Scenario Series “Bäke Battles: “Der Mensch” In The East” by Charlie Meconis and George McEwan.

Map And General Scenario Notes
For this scenario I decided to try out Deluxe's Fog of War rules where the attacker's forces are pre-assigned to card markers (we call them"blinds) that are moved until sighted. The German side's deployment was pre-set, while the Russian forces were assigned to four numbered specific blinds (with their numbers hidden) along with four dummy blinds. Chain of Command Patrol markers were used as blinds.

Using the Deluxe points system I added up the force strengths, Russian attacker 855 and German defender 730. This gave a Russian advantage of 115 points but a very low ratio of 1.2 for an attack scenario. However, about 285 of the German points arrive as reserves late in the game leaving only 445 German points to fight most of the game, at a ratio of 1.9, maybe too high! This made me wonder if it would be a Russian blowout and do the Germans need a bit more forces at the start. I decided to just go with it since so much depended on the Russian attack strategy and deployment.

PG Warp 9 is designed to play at 1:1 scale for guns and tanks, uses the 20mm ranges for firing and activation, and replaces Built Up Area terrain with individual buildings as "small terrain features." We played on a 5x4 table with an initial game length of 6 turns before a variable game ending roll begins.

The woods are Difficult Terrain. The stone walls, hedges, and fences are all of medium height, do not block LOS and offer a -1 LOS hindrance or -1 Cover for fire at infantry, guns, and AFVs (stone walls = -2 Hard Cover). The snow is treated as Open Ground with no effect on movement or cover. Some of the buildings are Russian rural wooden buildings offering -1 Cover and some of brick or stone with -2 Hard Cover. The hills and the ridge have gentle slopes. The upper level of buildings are the same elevation as the top of the ridge and hills so there is no visibility beyond the crest line of the ridge. Here is the game table with the German start-up forces deployed.

German Briefing and Force (Hauptmann Mueller and Hauptmann Von Chappe)
You are in charge of the infantry and heavy weapons that have been left in Verkhne-Kumsky while 11th Panzer's tanks have been sent to meet the Russian threat to the north. While attack is not expected, you have orders to hold the village so have deployed your thin force just in case. Suddenly your outposts report a large Russian force approaching from the east, hidden by a ridge. You quickly deploy what forces you have on a reverse slope defense behind the ridge and radio for help from the tank force to the north. They reply that help is on the way from Major Franz Bäke's tanks but they are low on ammo.

Mission: Maintain infantry control of either Building #1 or #2 at the end of the game to win, or cause a Russian Battlegroup Break Point (>50% casualties). Otherwise lose.

On Table at Start:
Infantry Elements of 11th Panzer Division (regular)
  Battlegroup Command (veteran)
  Company Command
  Rifle Platoon (Command, 3x Rifle/LMG squads)
  Anti-Tank Platoon (Command, 2x 50mm AT Guns)
  MMG Platoon (command, 2x MMG teams)
  Medium Mortar Platoon (command, 1x 81mm mortar)

Reserves: (11th Panzer Division - regular)
On Turn 3 (enters on north road)
  1st Heavy Panzer Platoon. (Command PzIVF2, 1x PzIVF2 - Low Ammo)

Russian Briefing and Force (Kapitan Poloknikov, Kapitan Lowelsky)
In command of elements of 4th Mechanized Corps, you have been ordered to capture Verkhne-Kumsky to cut off the German tank force to the north. You have a company of infantry with T-34 support and more tanks on the way. No artillery or air support is available.

Mission: Maintain infantry control of both Building #1 (double building) and #2 (church) at the end of the game to win, or cause a German Battlegroup Break Point (>50% casualties). Otherwise lose.

On Table at Start:
Elements of 4th Mechanized Army (Inexperienced)
  Battlegroup Command (regular)
  Company Command
  1st Rifle Platoon (Command, 4x Rifle Squads, 4x Molotov)
  2nd Rifle Platoon (Command, 4x Rifle Squads, 4x Molotov)
Tank Corps Support
  1st Armour Platoon (Command T-34, 1x T-34) *
  2nd Armour Platoon (Command T-34, 1x T-34) *

Reserves: (inexperienced)
On Turn 2 Exploit Phase or on Turn 3 Command Phase (enters at CoCmd or BGCmd)
  3rd Rifle Platoon (Command, 4x Rifle Squads, 4x Molotov)
On Turn 3 (enters on south-west road)
  3rd Armour Platoon (Command T-34, 1x T-34) *

* Classed as Inferior tanks.

Game Play

Turn 1
Kapitans Poloknikov & Lowelsky confer in private and deploy the Russian blinds east of the ridge, half of which are dummies. Hauptmann Mueller is away on a scouting foray, so Von Chappe is in sole command, having no idea where the main attack will be!

Russian initiative! They force the Germans to go first who pass (nothing to see). However, despite having the initiative, the Russians don't roll above 6 for any activations and need to use all their Impetus Points to move only 2 blinds! End of Turn 1.

Turn 2
Again Russian initiative! Again they force the German to go first who passes. The Russian blinds slowly move toward the ridge staying hidden, except for one that Poloknikov & Lowelsky orders to the crest of the ridge revealing two T-34s. The T-34 platoon commander recons the nearby woods showing no enemy hiding there. Satisfied the platoon commander and the other T-34 blast with Area Fire on the closest building causing one hidden unit there to take a Disengagement Test which it passes so it is not revealed. But the Russians now know that "something" is there. End of Turn 2.

Turn 3
German Initiative and they force the Russians to go first, leaving the squad hidden in the building for the T-34s to guess how formidable it is. The Russians receive a reinforcement infantry platoon which is placed under a new blind and located together with a blind which must contain either a Company Command or Battlegroup Command.

[The Russian reinforcements makes me suddenly realize that it is Turn 3 already and my scenario balance is severely compromised since the reinforcements were designed to arrive about halfway through the battle, after most of the blinds were revealed. With 2 turns already gone out of 6, only one Russian force has made it to the ridge and been revealed, with most blinds still struggling to even reach the ridge. There is no way that the Russians can win with only four turns left. So I have to make a moderator "adjustment" and decide to extend the game to 9 turns, with the last Russian reinforcement on Turn 6 and German reinforcement on Turn 7.]

Kapitans Poloknikov & Lowelsky order the blinds forward, some blinds again fail activation and the rest continue to move toward the ridge line staying hidden. No more blinds reveal themselves.

Both T-34s Area Fire again on the building to no effect (no photo). That squad is keeping them guessing! End of Russian phase. Von Chappe passes for the German phase. End of Turn 3.

Turn 4
Russian Initiative. The Germans are required to go first and pass. The Russian T-34s again Area Fire at the building and finally cause the squad there to rout on a Disengage Test. First blood to the Russians!

The remaining Russian blinds finally manage to move up to the ridge line with the most blinds concentrated toward the north. End Turn 4.

Turn 5
German Initiative. Von Chappe makes the Russians go first. Kapitans Poloknikov & Lowelsky reveal a blind, the new one with the reinforcement infantry platoon. The platoon emerges over the ridge revealing a German 50mm AT Gun and 81mm mortar in sight near the church. Then an MMG hidden in the woods opens up and the Russian platoon on the ridge crest is instantly met with heavy and accurate MMG fire, causing 1 squad to disengage and suppressing another. The remaining 2 squads, yelling "Urrahhh!" continue on to Close Assault the house. Sudden Defensive Fire from a newly revealed German squad inside the house suppresses one squad and the last Russian squad Close Assaults alone. The German squad rolls high dispersing the Russian squad while remaining unaffected by the Russian assault. A nasty blow to the Russian platoon!

Seeing the 50mm AT gun in the open, Kap. Poloknikov reveals the blind on the road to be two T-34s and orders them to Rapid Advance and Overrun the pesky AT Gun and commander. As they descend from the ridge the 50mm AT gun at the church hits one and causes it to Disengage and retreat back to the other side of the ridge. On the way down, the remaining T-34 takes fire from another 50mm AT Gun just revealed to be down the road to the south, which misses.

The T-34 Close Assaults and destroys the AT Gun and also disperses the platoon commander. However, the valiant gun crew and commander manage to suppress the tank during the melee, ending the tank's movement.

To the south Kapitans Poloknikov & Lowelsky order the two T-34's to move down the road from the ridge crest. The platoon commander recons the suspicious burned out building finding nothing. Not convinced it is vacant, he orders both tanks to fire at the east end of the building with Area Fire. One misses but the other causes two hidden German units there to take Morale tests. One passes a suppression test and is not revealed, the other is a squad that is required to Disengage so is revealed and moves back to the west end of the building, damaged and suppressed.

Also down south a blind moves up and is spotted by "something" in the woods atop the south hill, revealing the blind to be a dummy. The Russians try to activate another blind but roll Command Confusion which reduces their Impetus Points to zero! They fail their remaining activation attempts for the rest of the blinds. End Russian phase. We ended our first session of this game at this point to resume in a week, with the table looking like this (Russian units with red dot, German with blue).


German Phase 5
Von Chappe orders the AT gun down the road from the church to fire at the T-34 but it misses. Hauptmann Mueller is back from his reconnaissance mission and orders the 81mm mortar to fire at the Russian infantry on the hill and the FFE comes in on target causing 1 Russian squad to disengage and suppressing their commander. The MMG fires at the remaining suppressed squad on the hill with no effect.

Using Hidden Movement, Von Chappe orders the German lone platoon leader on the south hill to withdraw into a house below the crest line to the west, out of LOS of the T-34s (no photo). The squad in the burned out building attempts to rally with a Rally order but fails. End German Phase.

Turn 5 Rally Phase. The T-34 by the church becomes Battle Hardened! The Russian squad and commander on the hill both rally. The T-34 at the crossroads and squads nearby both fail to rally. The German squad in the burned out building fails to rally.

Turn 6
German Initiative and they go first. The AT gun fires again and once more misses the pesky T-34 by the church. Haupt. Mueller orders the the MMG to fire and it hits the last squad on the hill which routs on its morale check. Then the 81mm mortar fires at the crest line there, hoping to pin the commander and some units in the nearby blind, but the shell drifts to the south and misses both.

Von Chappe issues a Rally order to the squad in the building which again fails to rally. End German Phase.

Russian Phase. In the south Kapitans Poloknikov & Lowelsky decide that the last 50mm AT Gun has to be dealt with and order the two T-34s by the burned out building to Rapid Advance to the AT Gun. The gun pivots for a Defensive Fire shot but misses so both tanks enter Overrun Close Assault, crunching the gun. Amazingly one T-34 is suppressed! The other tank continues moving and circles around to cover the rear of the burned out building.

Poloknikov orders the Battle Hardened T-34 by the church to fire on the mortar crew in the open causing it to disengage back into the church and suppress the platoon leader. Then the tank overruns the platoon leader dispersing it after which it continues moving out onto the road.

Down south Kapitan Lowelsky orders the flanking blind to move but not into any German LOS so it was not revealed. The Russian armour reinforcements come on at the south-west road edge, two more T-34s right into the right flank of the German defense! They move up the road and one tank Area Fires at a nearby suspicious building to no effect. The other tank Area Fires at the objective building and with a deadly accurate shot causes the German BG Commander inside to disperse! Yikes! The German Company Commander is advised of the loss and immediately takes over causing the German break point to drop by one. A serious blow for the German since one objective building is now not German held and they are a double step closer to break point! End Russian Phase.

Rally Phase: The German mortar crew in the church and the squad in the burned out building both rally. No Russians rally. The Germans are past their 25% breakpoint but roll OK to continue on unaffected. End of Turn 6.

Turn 7
Germans roll a 3 and get +1 for German bonus, but have a -1 for loss of the original BG Commander so net 3 Impetus Points. A Company Commander was not promoted from the ranks since this would reduce the 50% breakpoint by an additional unit and, unbeknownst to the Russians, the German force is dangerously close to elimination! The Russians roll 4 so Russian initiative and they choose to go first.

Russian phase. Kapitan Lowelsky orders the two T-34s on the south road to advance up the road and has both tanks Area Fire on the west end of the burned out building. One fire has no effect and the other causes hits, revealing the squad and platoon command there, but they both pass their morale tests.

Kapitan Poloknikov orders the Battle Hardened T-34 by the church to fire on the German squad in the nearby building, causing it to disengage toward the MMG.

Then Kapitans Poloknikov and Lowelsky order the Russian blind in the centre woods at the ridge line to move into the open toward the church, revealing it to be a Russian platoon. However, a German MMG hidden in the burned out building top floor ambushes them with a hail of bullets, surprising the platoon in the open, and with deadly accurate fire severely shreds the platoon! Three squads are dispersed and the fourth squad forced to disengage and retreat back into the woods! This is a severe blow for the Russian's attempt to capture and occupy the church with infantry.

Finally, the Russians issue a Rally order for the T-34 and squad at the east crossroads. The T-34 rallies but the nearby squad routs. End Russian phase.

German Phase. Rescue! Two PzIVF2s with Low Ammo appear on the north road, and Hauptmann Mueller orders them to move up the road and target the flank of the T-34 at the crossroads. The PzIVF2s easily smoke the T-34 which doesn't even see them coming.

The German squad by the church on the road rallies with a Rally order. Meanwhile, the troops in the burned out building (the squad, platoon command, and the MMG) decide that, despite being in Hard Cover, seeing the three T-34s focusing their fire on them they will make a run for it out the back door to the south and circle around west to get behind the T-34s. But one lucky Defensive Fire shot by a T-34 catches the platoon in the open and disperses the squad, suppresses the MMG, and causes the platoon commander to retreat back into the burned out building's east end wall! This is a nasty turn for the Germans, putting them right at their 50% break point. One more eliminated unit and they lose the game! End German phase.

Turn 7 Rally phase. The German MMG in the open by the burned out building fails to rally! One Russian squad in the centre woods rallies. Both sides are now past their 25% break point. The Germans pass their test but the Russian roll causes all suppressed units to retreat 12" so the T-34 that overran the last AT Gun retreats east down the road. End Turn 7.

Turn 8
Russians win initiative! This is bad news for the Germans since the Russians move first! Kapitan Lowelsky orders the reserve T-34s on the southwest road to rev up their engines and Rapid Advance to overrun the MMG team in the open. One T-34 bogs down, cutting its speed to half so it can't make it into the Close Assault. The other T-34 overruns and crunches the MMG with no effect on the tank. This last unit loss pushes the German side past its 50% break point, immediately ending the game with a Russian victory!

Here is the game map at game end (blue dots are German units, red dots are Russian units).

Tallying Up The Score:
The Russian side lost 8 units out of 23 (35%) and the German side lost 8 units out of 16 (50%).

Historical Aftermath
The relief force of Major Franz Bäke's tanks arrived with some tanks having no main gun ammo left, so the tanks with some remaining main gun ammo led the counterattack and crashed back into the village just in time to save what was left of the battered village defenders. After a bitter fight the Russians were forced out of the village. However, as nightfall arrived the Germans, with no ammunition left and with many casualties including the village commander, had no choice but to abandon Verkhne-Kumsky and retreat to Salivsky.

Comments on The Scenario:
Since a Russian win is inevitable if the game continues indefinitely, the choice of game end turn actually defines the scenario balance. In hindsight I think revising the end point in mid game to be Turn 9 was fine, but the German PzIVF2s should have come on sooner, maybe in Turn 6 at the same time as the Russian T-34s. The T-34s sure did their work, roaming around the village at will and blasting the German infantry out of the buildings! If the PzIVF2s had been able to get into the north end of the village near the church it would have been quite interesting. Although with their poor armour they possibly may have contributed to the break point! Perhaps the 1.9 attacker to defender points ratio for the first 6 turns before reinforcements was too high, and highlights the difficulty of using points to balance a scenario when staged reserves are used. As an aside, one rule the German AT gunners forgot to use was Intensive Fire!

It is interesting to note that the Russians won Initiative on 5 of the 8 game turns! Despite that the Russians seemed to have horrible luck at times activating, particularly the blinds. We will try our next game with automatic activation for blinds to speed up game play. Our group liked the use of blinds for the attacker, since there is no way for the defender to know whether there will be one main thrust from right, centre, or left, or two pincer thrusts from the flanks, etc. This "pins" the defender's forces, preventing reinforcement by abandoning a threat-free flank. A further idea was suggested for the use of attackers under blinds. As scenario creator, I could list three possible objectives for only the attacker to know. Then at game start the attacker secretly rolls a die to see which one is their "real" game objective.

Regardless of all the "what ifs", everyone agreed this scenario was great fun to play.

Comments on Panzergrenadier Warp 9 Rules
The new Close Assault Results Table was a success with the comment that it "felt better". The revised AFV Armour Factors and Anti-Tank Penetration Ratings just plain worked without any extra hassle. Only one question came up, "Why is the T-34's rear hull armour factor one grade better than the hull side armour factor?" The answer was "Because it's average slope is greater."

So far PG Warp 9 appears to be a success and meeting our needs. The game flow and enjoyment level continue to deliver. And we have the advantage of being able to tweak it to our heart's content. It's all good!

Since you got this far, thanks for reading along with this AAR! Hope you liked it. Hmmm... What to do next? Stalingrad looms but I don't have the terrain for it. Rats!

See you next time! - Gary

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