Monday, December 14, 2009

The Cold Equations

"The Cold Equations" is a science fiction short story by Tom Godwin first published in Astounding Magazine in 1954. From the Wikipedia entry here:

A star ship is traveling amongst Earth's many colonies in space according to a schedule from which, owing to the limitation of physics and available fuel, it may not deviate. When reports of a fever outbreak on the frontier planet Woden reach the starship, it drops off an Emergency Dispatch Ship, a space vessel of limited range, with a pilot and the serum that will cure them. The pilot discovers a stowaway, an 18-year-old girl named Marilyn who wants to see her brother, a colonist on Woden. The girl believes that she will have to pay a fine, but the situation is far more serious. The ship only has enough fuel for the pilot and his cargo. Her additional mass will cause the ship to run out of fuel before it can land, dooming both the pilot and the sick colonists. The pilot tries frantically to come up with a solution, but there is no way around the "cold equations"; he does not have sufficient fuel. The best he can do is to alter the ship's course enough to give her a single hour's reprieve before she must be jettisoned. In that time, she writes letters to her parents and her brother, talks with the pilot about death and, in the last few minutes, is able to speak with her brother on the radio, allowing them to say their goodbyes. When the horizon of the planet breaks up the radio contact, the girl enters the airlock and is ejected into space.

Day Three started out ominously for the Russian. On his very first attempt, the artillery observer in AA25.2 disabled his Field Phone. So much for the 120mm artillery. Then, as the German drove his Pzkpfw IIIH platoon on-board, a critical hit from a Lt. MTR turned into a dud. Things quickly picked up, however, as the defenders of the F16 Warehouse managed to hold up the assault on the Power Station for almost two turns. This bought time for the 10-2 leader in X21.1 to bring his two HMGs to help shore up the defense. The 9-1 and his MMGs in J21.1 did some damage to the advancing Sturm Company, and then a company-strong Human Wave from the Foundry Hall completely disrupted the German attack. By the time he regrouped, the German had lost two of his three reinforcing tanks to mortar and ATR attacks and the 10-2 had set up shop in the second level of the Power Plant. His assaulting Sturm company had been shattered.

Over by the Commissar's House, the expected heavy assault did not occur. The German planned to use his StuG's to support two platoons of 4-6-8s as they set up a machine-gun nest in the GG21 building. As the StuG's moved forward from their initial setup hexes, they discovered the hidden dug-in T-34s. Both were destroyed. The MG nest in GG21 came under fire from the tanks and falling Rain prevented the German from laying Smoke with his artillery. The German was able to capture the Commissar's House, but not before it was set aflame by the Russian defenders. As the end game played out, the Russians were able to contest the GG21 building and push back the German perimeter a bit along the riverbank.

In the factories, a cat-and-mouse game ensued between the NKVD defenders and a reinforcing German rifle company. German battalion mortar was able to rough up the reserve units in the Deburring Hall, but very little of the factory complex was ceded. At days end, the CVP score was Russians 63, Germans 57. By any measure, a fabulous victory for the Russian.

My reward for this stunning victory was to have my ELR drop again, down to 1. That pretty much seals the campaign for the German. An ELR this low means that the majority of failed morale checks will result in replacement by a lower-quality unit. For non-Fanatic Conscripts, it means Disruption. In a strategic sense it means the Russians will be incapable of defending any terrain outside the factories. Elite units will rapidly degrade into Conscripts, and Conscripts will Disrupt. Disrupted units will not rout normally, and will be easily surrounded and destroyed. Conscripts cannot reliably man support weapons, as an weapons so manned have their B/X# lowered by two. All the German needs to do now is drive hard straight down Leninskii Prospekt to cut off the factory complex from reinforcements, then pound the isolated pockets in the factories until they are gone. Survive for a few days with ELR 1? Certainly. Survive NINE days? No chance.

The cold equations of ASL cannot be bargained away. I concede.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"I can't keep doing this on my own...with these...people."

KIRK: Khan, you bloodsucker. You're going to have to do your own dirty work now, do you hear me? Do you?

KHAN: Kirk. You're still alive, old friend.

KIRK: Still, "old friend." You've managed to kill everyone else but like a poor marksman you keep missing the target.

KHAN: Perhaps I no longer need to try, Admiral.

KIRK: Khan...Khan - you've got Genesis, but you don't have ME. You were going to kill me, Khan. You're gonna have to come down here. You're gonna have to come DOWN HERE.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

October 19, 1942

Retained Forces:

1 x 3-2-8
11 x 4-4-7
3 x 5-2-7
24 x 4-2-6

10-2, 10-0, 3 x 9-0, 8-0

2 x HMG
3 x MMG
3 x LMG
2 x ATR
3 x Lt Mtr
1 x 45LL ATG

Purchases: [16 CPP]

1 x Militia Coy (Full, On Map Setup) [4 CPP]
1 x Rifle Coy (Reserve) [4 CPP]
1 x T34 M41 Ptn (Dug In) [3 CPP]
1 x Med Artillery Module (Normal) [3 CPP]

1 x Pre-Registered Hex [1 CPP]
40 x FPP [1 CPP]

So far, the German has studiously avoided conflict in the factory complex in favor of an enveloping attack down the railway embankment in the west and the riverbank in the east. My opponent surmises, correctly, that by pressuring the Russian flanks he will force me to give up the northern factories without a fight. The first two days of fighting, barring a few minor incidents, have solidly favored the German and he is now in a position deliver a crippling blow.

Fortunately, it is unlikely that the German can continue to ignore the factories. They are teeming with conscripts which, as their little foray into the debris field on Day Two illustrated, cannot be wholly ignored. Day Three finds the German left flank overextended and in danger of isolation. Further advances on the left will come only with significant losses and, even in the event of a resounding success, will leave the vanguard exposed. On the German right, continuing to flank the factories achieves very little as the western board edge will open up to German reinforcements soon enough. The German must enter the factories on Day Three, and it is in the factories that the beleaguered Russian defenders are best able to bloody the German nose.

When I play the German side, my guiding wisdom is "Neberwerfer - Use 'Em If You've Got 'Em." At a cost of 3 CPP, a Pre-Registered Nebelwerfer barrage packs a wallop and leaves enough CPP for necessary infantry purchases. Thankfully, in CGI the German has only two modules of Rocket OBA and he has already used one of them. I expect the second will be used on Day Three, with the pre-registered hex somewhere in the vicinity of N14. Throw it into the factories, and it WILL hit something. Attack an edge of the barrage with as many 5-4-8s as can be mustered. The only option available to the Russian is to sit there and take it. Again, from the Russian perspective it's not about holding ground, but extracting as high a price as possible as the German is taking it. I plan on rallying whatever squads that survive the barrage and killing as many 5-4-8s as possible.

Two other areas of significance are the Commissar's House (building BB18) and the Assistant Power Plant and Oil Heating facility (building K22). Both of these buildings are key for the German to take, because they provide commanding overwatch positions from which to direct large MG kill stacks. I expect a push toward both buildings.

In the east, the Commissar's House is as good as lost. Were I to fortify it and load it up with defenders, there is still a chance (too large, in my opinion) that the German will reprise his Day One artillery orgy and hit it with pre-registered 150mm concentrations. Alternatively a Battalion Mortar module could smoke it in, allowing a horde of Sturmtruppen to swarm over it. At best, I can hope to set it aflame before being overwhelmed. If by some wild miracle the German doesn't take the Commissar's House I will count the day as a staggering success.

In the west, the Power Plant is not yet directly threatened and I should be able to hold onto it long enough to burn it down.

Far Right Flank

My defense in this area will center on building BB24, and I will hold it at all costs. Like the Commissar's House, this building provides a commanding view of the battlefield. Unlike the Commissar's House, it is not likely to be exposed on three sides to German attack. The larger part of the Reserve Rifle Company, the Dug-In T34s and the 10-2 with his HMGs will be tasked with protecting this building. The dug-in tanks will set up Hidden, and will hopefully stiffen the defensive line. The 10-2 will also be Hidden and in position to punish any attackers moving on the Commissar's House along hexrow BB. The artillery will be pre-registered on hex Y14 and will try to crush any German force approaching the Deburring Hall (see below) or Commissar's House.

X21.1 [HIP] 10-2, 4-4-7 + HMG, 4-4-7 + HMG
X21 Dummy Cloaking Counter
Z21 [Cloaked] 4-4-7 + ATR, 4-4-7 + Lt Mtr; [HIP] Dug In T34 > AA20
Z22 Dummy Cloaking Counter
AA22 Dummy Cloaking Counter
AA25.2 [HIP] 7-0 + Field Phone directing 120mm Artillery Module
BB19 8-0, 4-4-7 + LMG, 4-4-7 + LMG
BB21 2 x ?
CC19.C 4-4-7 + LMG
CC22 2 x ?; [HIP] Dug In T34 > DD20
CC23 [Cloaked] 7-0, 4-4-7 + LMG
CC24 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
CC25 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
CC26 Dummy Cloaking Counter
EE25 [HIP] Dug In T34 > FF23
EE26 Dummy Cloaking Counter

The Deburring Hall

Factory S17 is the Gun Tube Thermal Processing and Deburring Hall, and it must not fall this day. I can stand to lose all three of the L10, L14 and O10 factories but must under no circumstances lose the Deburring Hall, as it must become a bastion of the Russian line. Were this CGIII I would be less concerned, but the victory conditions of CGI demand that the Russian stand and fight for as much of the factory complex as manageable.

The remainder of the Reserve Rifle Squad must keep the German at bay here. The artillery observer is in a position to support a strong attack on the Deburring Hall. If a strong attack materializes, the artillery will be sorely needed. In addition, if the attack comes through the O10 factory the forces set up there can fall back to an end-line defense of the Hall.

X17 2 x ?
X18 [Cloaked] 4-4-7 + LMG
X19 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
W18 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
V17 [Cloaked] 4-4-7 + LMG, 4-4-7 + LMG
U17 [Cloaked] 9-1, 4-4-7 + HMG, 4-4-7 + MMG
T17 4-2-6

The Factories

The L10 factory, like the Commissar's House, is as good as gone. The Germans are in a position to attack eastward from the area around J14 and cut off any Russians set up in hexes numbered less than that. The Foundry Hall (factory L14), on the other hand, must be bitterly contested as it stands between the German and the Power Plant. Over in the O10 factory, the picture is not so clear. The German may pummel it with rocket OBA, or not. He may bust in with a Sturm Company, or not. Most likely he will creep forward gingerly, taking what I give him. I will try to entice the German into an aggressive attack here, then punish him with the artillery if possible. Otherwise, the standing order is to fall back to the Power Plant.

J18 2 x 4-2-6
K17 2 x 4-2-6
K18 2 x 4-2-6
L13 4-2-6
L15 2 x 4-2-6
L16 2 x 4-2-6
M15 2 x 4-2-6
M19 9-0, 4-2-6 + Lt Mtr, 4-4-7
O14 4-2-6
O15 4-2-6
P12 4-2-6
P13 4-2-6
Q10 [HIP] 8 AP Mines
R9 [HIP] 8 AP Mines
R11 3 x 4-2-6
R12 2 x 4-2-6
R14 10-0, 4-2-6 + ATR, 4-4-7
S12 2 x ?

The Power Plant

Building K22 is the Assistant Power Plant and Oil Heating facility. My opponent believes this to be one of the most important buildings for the Germans to take. At the end of Day Two, the German vanguard advanced just within striking distance of the Power Plant. My strategy for it's defense relies on two factories in front of it: the narrow F16 factory and the Foundry Hall (factory L14). To protect the Plant itself I have hidden a 9-1 and both MMG on the first level, to bring fire on any Germans who get close. I've also put those new Militia units that are packing SW (an LMG and MMG) along with Rifle squads inside the Plant to provide additional fire support. The ATG is close by in I22. Along the board edge I've set up all three available Lt Mtrs on the rooftop of building B23. Since building B17 burned to the ground, these mortars should have excellent fields-of-fire and may be able to harass German units moving down hexrow A or Tramvanaya Street.

B23.R 5-2-7 + Lt Mtr
C23.1 5-2-7 + ATR
C23.R 5-2-7 + Lt Mtr + Lt Mtr
F16 2 x 4-2-6
F17 2 x 4-2-6
F18 2 x 4-2-6
F19 9-0 + ATR, 2 x 4-2-6
I22 [HIP] 3-2-8 + 45LL ATG > H20
J21.1 [HIP] 9-1, 4-4-7 + MMG, 4-4-7 + MMG
J22 4-2-6 + LMG, 4-4-7
K22 9-0, 4-2-6 + MMG, 4-4-7

The Russians are in a tight spot. I must savage the German on this campaign game day to have a chance of winning.

Ludinov watched Golovkin through field glasses as the political officer drew his pistol, pointed it toward the soldier at his feet and pulled the trigger. The Major heard the distant pop seconds later. The soldier had given in to his fear, and Golovkin reacted in the only way that he could. Stark, gut-wrenching terror was as commonplace in Stalingrad as dirt and soot and smoke. Fear was a fact of existence here. Cowardice, however, was a contagion, a malignancy to be cut from the body. Golovkin had no fear of the German, or of death, or even of Comrade Stalin himself. It was cowardice that terrified Golovkin.

From his perch in the Red House Ludinov could see the German lines, now only a few hundred meters distant. He imagined that this would be his last visit to this vantage point, though he had declined to share that thought with the Commissar. If the German commander stayed true to form, he would saturate the building with artillery fire before taking it's smoldering remains. However it might play out, the Germans would be coming in strength. Behind him a platoon of T-34s had dug into positions staked out by Ludinov. Perhaps they would make the difference.

The divisional commander had secured artillery support for the coming day's action. Ludinov allowed himself a smile at the thought of turning the tables on the Germans for once.
Let them watch their comrades be blasted apart. The smile was short lived. Everything was in place. In a few short hours hundreds of brave young men - his men - would die. There was nothing left to do but to watch, and to wait. As he turned away from the window Ludinov heard another pop. Still afraid, Comrade Commissar?


After Dade shared this VASL map and we discussed the situation, I thought a little analysis would be in order.

The German Setup for Day Three appears to be manageable. Clearly he intends on taking the Power Station, as it appears he has set up the bulk of his assault force to blast through the F16 Warehouse. He does not appear poised to push into the Foundry Hall, but if he does I have a reinforced company of Militia waiting for him - that is, if they survive the Neberwerfer barrage that just might land on their heads.

In the middle, he appears to have left the L10 factory wide open, and is practically begging me to attack into the Manufacturing Hall. This lends a bit more credence to the idea that a Nebelwerfer barrage is on its way.

On my right, he appears to be laying back. Wow. I was expecting at least a token effort to threaten the Commissar's House. In our discussions, Dade stated that he believed that I had purchased two Rifle Companys in Reserve. If so, then he may think I am much stronger in this sector than I am. Both retained StuG's are lurking by the riverbank, ready to drop Smoke on troublesome stacks. I expect him to take the GG21 building with a kill stack of MGs, then start hammering away at my squads.

What intrigues me most is the setup of troops in and forward of the Chemist's Shop, in particular the stack in GG10. There does not seem to be enough here to threaten me, nor to defend against a serious push. Again, this is probably a response to my Reserve units since they are no threat to advance. I would not at all be surprised if Dade purchased a Sturm Company and a few platoons of halftracks. The halftracks could drive right down Pribayatinskaya Street or Leninskii Prospect and deposit an assault force right at my doorstep.

My response will depend entirely on where Dade commits his reinforcements.

If he rushes up the east side of the map, either with halftracks or not, then I bide my time and hit him with my artillery. Ludinov (10-2) and his HMGs will get their licks in when they can and if necessary will relocate to support whichever section of the line is in trouble. The 8-0 in the Commissar's House will keep trying to Kindle until successful, then look to get out of harm's way. The German setup is consistent with a forthcoming artillery pounding, so the Commissar's House might get set aflame by German shells. I have to be cagey with my dug-in T-34s. I am in a position to lure both StuG's into the tanks' kill zones, and I'd really like to bag them. If he sets up a kill stack in the upper levels of GG21 or GG22, all three dug-in tanks can zero in on it. With a little luck I can cause some havoc in this sector.

If he follows on behind his schwerpunkt toward the Power Plant, things will be very different. First of all, if the German is content to creep forward with the pittance he's allotted to the East then I will simply hold off on the artillery and Retain it (and it's Preregistered hex). Ludinov will high-tail it toward the Power Plant; at the end of Turn 1 he will be in U22 and at the end of Turn 2 he will be in P21 protecting the Plant's right flank. Golovkin (10-0) will backstop the defenses in the O10 factory and the 9-0 will be responsible for the Foundry Hall. The fighting over in this sector will get ugly, and I fully expect to lose at least a company of Militia. The Anti Tank Gun in I22 doesn't have any targets with the StuG's over by the river, so the 3-2-8 manning it might just try and push it out of harm's way (perhaps back to J24). The hidden 9-1 with his MMGs will have to play it cool, biding his time and waiting until the German makes a mistake. Again, it is entirely possible that 150mm artillery will just crush the Power Plant into dust, but I don't think so - the German posture indicates he wants to take the building and hold it. Heavy artillery has too large a chance of knocking it down or setting it on fire. If possible, the 9-1 will kindle the building if the Germans appear to be close to taking it.

As for the F16 Warehouse: stand and die. The 9-0 may slip out the back at the last minute, but really - what are his chances of surving? He'll get the Order of Lenin posthumously.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

These Germans have proved...troublesome.

Wendell: "It's a mess, ain't it, Sheriff?"

Ed Tom Bell: "If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here."

-- No Country For Old Men (2007)


Once again, as they are wont to do, the Sixth Army took a big chunk out of Uncle Joe's boys. Early on, things were looking up. Rather than drop his Nebelwerfer barrage on the factories, he opted to blast my left flank and follow up behind with a Sturm company. The barrage pretty much obliterated my picket in the F11 and F13 buildings but left intact the conscripts lurking in the factory beyond. Over on the right flank, the trap was sprung: he moved an MG kill stack out into the shellholes, and my hidden 10-2 laid on with his two HMG and eradicated a 9-1 and two 4-6-8s. I'm sure they made their pretty wives proud. My SMG platoon swept into the remains of the Chemist's Shop and, for a while, it was completely in Russian hands.

Then the StuG's showed up.

The squad crewing my Anti Tank gun was broken by a sniper, so there was no real threat in place to oppose the German vehicles. My opponent played them very aggressively, driving them right up to the 9-2 and his cadre of riflemen. Because the IIIBs lack any MG armament, they are especially vulnerable to close combat. However, the squad in place to make the attempt failed to pass his PAATC. I did manage to get an ATR in place to take shots at one StuG's rear target facing, but I couldn't make it count. I had seven shots at the rear facings of vehicles in this game and none of them generated an effect. The StuGs, on the other hand, dominated the eastern flank and allowed the German to capture the entire riverbank. I kept the Commissar's House, however.

This campaign game is turning into an object lesson in exactly why the Russian must prevent a breakthrough along the riverbank.

Over in the factories, the conscripts did okay. Seeing that the German was laying back behind the Manufacturing Hall, I decided to counterattack out of the big O10 factory in an effort to retake some of the Manufacturing Hall and to tie up troops that might otherwise interfere with my assault on the Chemist's Shop. At first, things went swimmingly well, with the 10-2 knocking down German squads in the debris field. However, conscripts cannot really sustain a push, and soon enough they were scampering back to their holes. I did retake all but the northernmost two hexes of the Manufacturing Hall, so I call the effort a success.

The worst outcome of the day actually occurred in the Refit Phase, when the Russian ELR dropped to 2. If any one thing costs me the campaign game it will be this. From now on, my troops are going to melt away into conscripts at an accelerated rate. If my ELR drops to 1, it will be all over.

At the end of the day, there were two very different situations on the West and East sides of the map. In the West, the Germans were right where you would expect them to be at the end of Day One - with a toehold in the Manufacturing Hall and knocking on the door of the L10 factory. In the East, however, they were threatening the Commissar's House, which is The Thing That Must Not Happen. Shaping a defense for Day Three will be a challenge.

Golovkin wiped the blood from his brow. A sniper's bullet had shattered the window through which he had observed the German advance, and the broken glass had peppered his face. The pain was nothing, but the blood was becoming bothersome. A half-dozen grim faced soldiers huddled beside Golovkin in the shell crater, the survivors of the assault on the Chemist's Shop. Some had made it out, after all.

That fact gave Golovkin no comfort. German self-propelled artillery had pushed down the riverbank and threatened the Red House. All thoughts of consolidating the line were dismissed once that happened. Ludinov, fortuitously, had relocated to this most important of buildings in the nick of time.
We still hold it, thought Golovkin, but for how long?

"Comrade Commissar, are you injured?"

Golovkin noticed he was staring, blankly, at his bloody hands. Looking up he spied the nervous young submachinegunner he had spooked before the battle. "No," replied Golovkin, "it is nothing." He could see that the submachinegunner had lost the first two fingers of his right hand.

The submachinegunner was broken. "Comrade, I must go back. My hand..."

"No." Golovkin fixed his gaze on the young soldier. "You forget your duty! You will stay, and you will fight!"

"But Comrade Commissar, I cannot shoot."

Golovkin leaned close. "I can."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day shall come again!

"Last of all Hurin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and wielded an axe two-handed; and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered, and each time that he slew Húrin cried 'Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!'"

- The Silmarillion, p. 195.

October 18, 1942

Retained Forces:

2 x 6-2-8
8 x 5-2-7
11 x 4-4-7
4 x 4-2-6
1 x 2-2-6

9-2, 9-1, 9-0, 9-0

45LL AT Gun

Purchased Forces (18 CPP):

Militia Coy [Full] (Cost = 4 CPP)
Militia Coy [Full] (Cost = 4 CPP)
Rifle Coy [Full; On-Map Setup] (Cost = 8 CPP)
80 FPP (Cost = 2 CPP)

Behold the resilience of the Russian in Red Barricades: on the day following a thorough shellacking by the German, I'm fielding 60+ squads up on line. In addition, my leadership rolls were smoking hot: 2 for the Rifle Coy, 5 for one Militia Coy and 8 for the other. I was able to add a 10-2 (Major Ludinov), 10-0 (Commissar Rodmitsev) and two 7-0s to my stable of leaders.

When setting up, I must keep in mind these concerns:
  • My AT Gun will not be properly crewed, and will not set up HIP unless I man it with my lone Conscript half-squad (not really an option).
  • The German may very well repeat his artillery saturation on Day Two. If I were the German, I would throw a Nebelwerfer barrage into the factories and push my attack so as to have the barrage shield a flank.
  • The German may make a determined push for either the Commissar's House, the factories or the Power Station. There is a small chance he might try to run half-tracks down the riverbank. The potential for the strongest push lies in the west - reinforcing Sturm Coy have the shortest distance to move before engaging the defenses
The bottom line is that whatever the German chooses to do, the Russian has to steel his nerves and just take it. My defense will comprise three sectors: West, Central and East. The West sector includes all forces set up west of hexrow H; the Central includes all forces set up between hexrows H and T; the East includes all forces set up east of hexrow U.

West Sector:

I have three goals in this sector:
  1. Harass any forces creeping southward along the board edge.
  2. Keep the Germans out of building B12 for as long as possible.
  3. Hold the F16-F17-F18-F19 factory.
Each of these goals is in line with keeping the German out of the main factory complex for as long as possible, and making the butcher's bill for getting there as high as possible. My fortifications from Day One are still intact, and the German is aware of neither the 6 AP Minefield nor the Fortified Building hexes.

The harassing force is set up in hexrows A-C:

A11 2 AT Minefield [Known]
A12 6 AP Minefield [HIP]
B11 8 AP Minefield [Known]
B12 (Fortified Buildin)] 5-2-7 [HIP]
B15 (1S Foxhole) 4-4-7
B17 7-0 + ATR
B17.1 4-4-7
C10 2 AT Minefield [Known]
C13 (Fortified Building) 5-2-7 [HIP]
C16 (1S Foxhole) 4-4-7

The defense of the factory is concentrated on hexrow F:

F11 5-2-7
F12 5-2-7
F13 5-2-7
F14 9-1, 5-2-7
F16 2 x 4-2-6
F17 2 x 4-2-6
F18 4-2-6 + LMG, 4-4-7
F19 9-0, 4-2-6 + MMG, 4-4-7

The bulk of the factory defense rests with half of a newly-purchased Militia Coy. However, giving conscripts support weapons is unwise (they tend to break them). As soon as possible, the conscripts possessing the machine guns will transfer them to the rifle squads set up in their hexes.

All the forces in the Factory are Fanatic, meaning they will not Cower and have their printed morale factor increased by 1. On top of that, any squads stacked with the Commissar will also have their morale factor increased by 1 and will ignore Desperation penalties when Rallying. This particular factory is key to the defense of the Power Station (building J21), which provides a nasty potential overwatch position for German machine guns. I know my opponent places a great deal of value on this building, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him strike hard for it on Day Two.

Central Sector:

These are the factories proper, and controlling them is what this campaign game is all about. I see two likely vectors of attack:
  1. From the H8-I8-I9 building cluster.
  2. From the Manufacturing Hall (building O6)
As I mentioned in a previous post, the German has only 6 Sturm squads (5-4-8) with which to stage an assault. The rest of his on-board force are Rifle squads (4-6-7) which do not hit nearly as hard. I expect the German to lay back and used Preparatory Fire to soften up my defenses, then creep forward with his Rifle squads toward the factories. If he does commit his Sturm troops here, I am confident I can make them pay.

J13 4-2-6
K10 4-4-7
K11 4-4-7
K13 4-2-6
K14 4-2-6
L9 4-4-7
L10 4-2-6
L11 4-2-6
L12 4-2-6
L13 4-2-6 + Lt MTR
M10 4-2-6
M11 4-2-6
M12 4-2-6
M13 9-0, 4-2-6 + Lt MTR
O9.R 2-2-6
O10 4-2-6
O11 4-2-6
O12 4-2-6
P9 4-2-6
P10 4-2-6
P11 4-2-6
Q10 8 AP Minefield [HIP]
Q11 4-2-6
R9 8 AP Minefield [HIP]
R10 4-2-6 + LMG, 4-4-7
R11 9-0, 4-2-6 + MMG, 4-4-7
S11 4-2-6

I don't expect that any conscript squad will ever fire the SW it possesses at game start. They will either transfer the weapon to a Rifle squad at first opportunity or just drop it.

East Sector:

This area presents the greatest challenge, because the terrain is so much softer than elsewhere on the front and there are no factories in which to take refuge. The rest of my MMG and HMG are setting up HIP in this sector, with a -2 leader to direct each stack. The objective is to pummel any German who ventures south of the ravine, which creates a natural choke-point on which I can concentrate my fire. The MG nests are setting up hidden so that the German won't know precisely where to drop his Smoke, and won't be able to pre-emptively hose them down with his own MG.

I have three goals in this sector:
  1. Protect the east flank of factory O10.
  2. Retake the isolated German pocket south of the ravine.
  3. Prevent a half-track blitz down the riverbank.
U11 4-4-7 + LMG
U12 4-2-6 + ATR, 4-4-7
V12 4-4-7
X11 2 x 6-2-8
X12 10-0, 5-2-7
X15.1 10-2, 4-4-7 + HMG, 4-4-7 + HMG [HIP]
Y13 (Trench) 4-4-7 + Lt MTR
Y14 4-4-7 + 45LL ATG > Z12
AA13 4-4-7
BB11 5-2-7
DD8 4-4-7 [HIP]
FF10 7-0, 4-4-7 + ATR, 4-4-7 + ATR
FF12.1 9-2, 4-4-7 + MMG, 4-4-7 + MMG [HIP]

If a push down the riverbank does not materialize, the 9-2 and his MGs will relocate to the buildings around BB9 where they can interdict movement toward the Chemist's Shop. The three squads and 7-0 leader on the riverbank will attempt to reclaim the DD0 board edge hex and, if wildly lucky, the Day One headquarters building at Z2. I would be aghast if the German allowed this to happen, but having the threat in place is worth the effort. We might have to break out the Climbing rules...

Golovkin peeked out from his hiding place in the charred ruins. Just ahead, looming against the predawn glow, was the Chemist's Shop. The greater part of the structure had collapsed into a jumbled pile of brick and broken casement, but the southernmost wing still stood. Golovkin could feel the searching eyes of the German sniper that must be out there, somewhere. Soon it would start. Strangely, he felt no exhilaration or dread, just a sense of purpose. Golovkin's hand strayed reflexively to the pistol on his hip. Nearby a submachinegunner eyed him nervously. Golovkin smirked. It was better they feared him more than the German. Behind him, Major Ludinov had prepared an overwatch position upstairs in an office building. Once Ludinov had suppressed the Germans in the Chemist's Shop, the submachinegunners would storm it. Some might even survive.

From far away came the muffled whumps of mortars launching their payloads. "Steady, boys," Golovkin commanded. "Remember your duty to the Motherland, and to Comrade Stalin." If you should forget, he mused, I will be right here to gently remind you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doom, despair, and agony on me!

Golovkin put down his lukewarm tea, returning his attention to cleaning the Nagant revolver on the desktop before him. His colleagues carried the semi-automatic Tokharev, but this pistol had special meaning to Golovkin. It was the pistol he had picked up from the downed policeman in the streets of Moscow when it had all started in 1917. One could say it had made him the man he was today. Before the Revolution Golovkin had been a surgeon, wielding a scalpel. Now he wielded a small pistol with the same deft precision. A different tool for a similar task.

The reports from the Barrikady were not favorable. German artillery concentrations had blown a hole in the hastily fortified line. At present the Germans had a clear path to the Red House. Once they realized that fact they would attack again, in force. The Red House was the key to the Barrikady, and neither must fall. Hearing the creak of hinges, Golovkin looked up to see Major Ludinov looming in the doorway. Golovkin was not surprised; he had intercepted the Major's orders and altered them to suit his own needs.

"Comrade Commissar. May I come in?"

Ludinov was a huge man, a mill worker by trade. His family had owned a lumber production facility in Vitebsk, before the Revolution. Despite his bourgeois upbringing Ludinov had proven himself useful. Where so many others had cracked and broken in the defense of Stalin's City, Ludinov had been tempered. Time and again he had thrown himself and his men against the invaders, destroying them without mercy. Ludinov's men would follow him into hell itself.

"Please sit down, Piotr Sergeyevich. Would you care for some tea?"

Ludinov shook his head, tersely.

"Thank you, Comrade Commissar, but I would prefer to stand. My time is short, as I must prepare to leave at once. I have been ordered to the Barrikady. The ferry departs in ten minutes. It is my obligation to inform you of this."

Golovkin replaced his pistol in its holster. He pushed back his chair from the rickety desk and stood to face the Major.

"I am fully aware of your orders, Major. I will be accompanying you to the front. The men there need...resolve. I should think that, between you and I, we should give it to them."


October 17th was a menagerie of horrors for the Russian defenders.

Eschewing the western approach, the German opted to purchase one Rifle Company and a module of Preregistered 150mm Heavy Artillery directed by an off-board observer. The German attack plan was straightforward: smash the fortifications in The Corner with heavy artillery, follow-up with the Sturm Company and creep forward with the remaining troops hex-by-hex toward the Manufacturing Hall. The smashing was relentless. Of the reinforced company defending The Corner, a half-dozen dazed and terrified teenagers were all that stumbled back to the line. The rest had simply ceased to exist.

By the end of the day, the German had pushed forward to the ravine at Z8-AA8-BB8-CC8 and even managed to create an isolated pocket of German-controlled territory in the buildings immediately south, including the Chemist's Shop. Over half of the Manufacturing Hall, and all of the locations in The Point, fell to German control. Building B12 remained in Russian hands and, fortuitously, the fortifications supporting it remained intact. All in all, a solid Day One success for the German.


At first glance, the Russian position looks to be frighteningly weak. One AT Gun was destroyed outright, and the remaining Gun has no crew. The majority of the Russian support weapons were captured or destroyed. There are only 4 Russian leaders remaining to support the entire front. An entire company of infantry was lost. The German has a foothold in the factories and occupies the Chemist's Shop. Yikes!

Yes, all of that is true and losses were grave. However, I've played this game enough to know that Russian losses are always grave on Day One. It's part of the experience. Looking ahead, not all of the news is terrible.

Lost Opportunity

Preregistered Heavy Artillery with an Off-board Observer costs 8 CPP - more than half of the initial German total. It packs a mighty punch, but there is a steep price to pay for that punch beyond mere CPP. Most German purchases on Day One include a Sturm Company, giving the German two-dozen 5-4-8 squads with which to attack. Typically, anywhere from 15-20 of these survive the day's action and are available for on-map set-up on Day Two. This allows the German to follow up on his Day One success by immediately pressing the attack on Day Two.

Purchasing Heavy Artillery precludes acquiring a second Sturm Company - there are only enough points left over for a Rifle Company. What this means is that my opponent has only eight 5-4-8 squads on board to begin Day Two - and two of those are in an Isolated pocket. The remainder of his forces comprise 4-6-7 squads, which are not at all cut out for assaulting the factories. The German will most definitely buy a Sturm Company - maybe two, if he rolled well for CPP - but these will have to enter from off-board and will spend at least one or two turns moving into position before attacking. That gives the Russian defenders ample time to reposition to meet them.

No Stukas

Because Weather is Overcast on October 18, the German may not purchase Stukas. This is a huge relief, because Stukas overhead severely restrict the Russian's ability to move outside the factories. If the German weights his assault to one side or another I will at least be able to move reinforcements to where they are needed.

The Chemist's Shop is Isolated

The pocket formed by the Chemist's Shop and the Z10, BB9, BB10 and CC10 buildings contains a 7-0 leader with a 5-4-8 squad and two 2-3-8 half-squads. The German must move forces into this pocket in order to hold it. The pocket is a salient, and will be hard for the German to consolidate without committing significant assets. My opponent only starts with 31 squads on board, so if he lines up to take this pocket he will be very weak elsewhere.

The Russians Can Reinforce

Russian troops are inexpensive, and losses can be replaced relatively easily. I will discuss this in more detail with my next post, in which I reveal my plans for the defense on Day Two.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And thus, Moebius-like, it begins anew...

Once again, Dade Cariaga and I are slated to play a Red Barricades campaign game. Red Barricades is a historical simulation of the assault on the factory complexes in North Stalingrad by the German Sixth Army during October and November 1942. The game itself is a supplement, or "historical module", for the Advanced Squad Leader game system developed by the Avalon Hill Game Company in the 1980s. This post is directed toward ASL grognards, like myself and Dade, who are well-versed in the nuances of the game. For those not so well-versed, I will apologize in advance for what may prove to be baffling references to rules minutiae and incomprehensible jargon. Dade is providing an analysis of his own at, and readers are encouraged to read his musings as a supplement to mine (and vice-versa).

Dade and I must have played RB Campaign Game III: The Barrikady at least a dozen times, both head-to-head and two-on-two. I'm confident that, between the two of us, we have achieved an understanding of Red Barricades that rivals any who play the game. After so many playings, we have reached the conclusion that the victory condition for RB CG III - controlling all but 5 stone locations on the entire map by November 11- is simply too stringent for the Germans to meet. In so many of our playings, the Germans smash their way merrily through the Russian defenses until about October 30 or 31 - then they hit a wall. The Russian is able to slowly build a numerical advantage that becomes insurmountable by the end of October. However, the victory condition for RB Campaign Game I: Into The Factory seems much more attainable for the German: essentially, control the factory complex by October 29. Since in our previous playings the German has usually done this (or come very close) by the end of October, we decided to give RB CG I a try. Having played the Russian side in our last game, Dade agreed to take the Germans while I will mastermind the Russian defense.

Before I proceed with a discussion of my defense strategy, it is necessary to point out some truisms that have become apparent to Dade and I through our many playings:

#1: As the German, attack the Russian where he is strong

This runs counter to conventional ASL wisdom. In most ASL scenarios the attacker will analyze the defense to find its weakest point, then exploit that weakness to achieve the victory condition (often to exit forces off an opposite map edge or capture key terrain features). In Red Barricades, capturing terrain is only important to the degree that it helps you surround and destroy Russian forces. We estimate that the German, to grind out a win, must destroy twice as many Russian forces as the German loses. Letting Russian squads slip away to form up a defensive line the following day is a recipe for failure. Find the Russian strongpoint, engage it, and prevent the defenders from escaping. In so doing the German will capture the ground he needs to win that day's scenario.

#2: Whatever the German wants, the German will get

Early in the campaign, the German forces are a "coiled spring" (to use the words of my opponent) that launches with violent force into the waiting Russian defenders. The German simply has too many tools at his disposal, and the quality of German forces is so high, that (barring disaster) whatever the German sets out to capture he will capture. The Russian can only hope to slow him down and exact as high a price as possible. The moment in the campaign when this becomes no longer true is usually quite palpable, and signals the end for the German.

#3: For the Russian: Fight in the factories!

Russian troop quality is, on the whole, inferior to that of the German. This is assuaged by the fact that the Russian has many more squads at his disposal and units are much cheaper to purchase. Nevertheless, facing down the German outside the factories is a losing proposition - German firepower will decimate the Russian defenders. Inside the factories, however, Russian forces are Fanatic - a condition which increases their morale and prevents them from Cowering. This ameliorates many of the shortcomings of Conscript troops (of which the Russian will always have plenty) and, coupled with the Stealth afforded to 1st Line and Elite Russian troops, can even out the quality discrepancy.

#4: For the Russian: Don't let the German attack down the river bank

Most AARs of Red Barricades games depict a strong German thrust southward past the factory complex toward the (mis-named) Chemist's Shop (hexes W9-X9-X10) and the Commissar's House (hexes BB18-BB19-CC19-CC20). To allow this as the Russian is, to Dade and I, madness. It is a common outcome, because the Russian front in that sector is the softest, comprising mostly wooden buildings, wooden rubble and a large debris field. The softness of the defensive terrain naturally invites an attack. The solution to this is to make "the corner" - that section of the initial Russian line that faces the easternmost German entry point at hex U1 - as hard as possible. Wire, mines, pillboxes and trenches, backed up by a module of 80mm Battalion Mortar, can make a day-one German thrust to the Chemist's Shop a nightmarish endeavor. Many Red Barricades afficionadoes turn up their noses at the thought of spending precious CPP on Fortifications. I consider such purchases absolutely necessary.

#5: ...but the hammer will fall

Eventually the German will need to bust through the ever-growing Russian bunker complex (see #2 above). The hammer often takes the form of Heavy Artillery to smash away the fortifications followed by a company of Pionieren to crush any remaining defenders. The key for the Russian is to make sure that the German spends as much as possible to crack the defenses. The Russian has plentiful replacements to throw into the line, but the German has limited assault troops to bust through it. Any troops spent pushing through the bunker complex won't be available later on when they are needed to dig the Russian out of the Commissar's House.

#6: Don't let the German take the high ground

As the campaign game progresses, the German accumulates an inordinate number of support weapons. The most dangerous are the Heavy and Medium Machine Guns which, when massed and directed by one of the plethora of high-quality German leaders, can wreak havoc on Russian defenses. When these "kill stacks" are placed in Level 2 stone building locations they are afforded a commanding overwatch of the battefield and can train their fire on any Russian hard point in their view. Fortunately for the Russian many of the multi-story buildings on the map will burn down or be rubbled during play. It behooves the Russian to burn them down just before the German captures them. If the German manages to take one intact, then pre-registered 120mm artillery fire or a Katyusha rocket barrage is a reasonable response the following campaign day.

Disclaimer: the preceding truisms do NOT comprise a complete treatment of the intricacies of the Red Barricades game, just some key points that deserve mentioning.

My Initial Defense: October 17, 1942

OB-Given Forces:

Rifle Coy [Full]
Rifle Coy [Full]
SMG Coy [Full]
2 x 45LL Anti-Tank Guns
50 FPP
5 Fortified Building Locations

Purchases (8 CPP):
+160 FPP (cost: 4 CPP)
SMG Coy [Full; in Reserve] (cost: 3 CPP)
80mm Battalion Mortar OBA Module [Normal Ammo] (cost: 1 CPP)

I have divided my defense into three strongpoints: the area around the intersection of Skulpturnaya and Tramvanaya Streets at hex D10 ("The Intersection"), the factory at O6 ("The Manufacturing Hall") and the wooden buildings/rubble fronting Pribayatinskaya Street near the German entry point at U1 ("The Corner"). There are two transition areas between these strongpoints - "The Point" comprising the stone building at F5 and adjacent rubble hexes, and "The Debris Field" between the Manufacturing Hall and Pribayatinskaya Street.

"The Corner"

I believe this to be the lynchpin of the Russian defense. In past games I have devoted all 210 FPP to beefing up this area with wire, mines, pillboxes and trenches. To make it even stickier, I typically add two dug-in KV-1 tanks. For this playing I opted to purchase a reserve SMG Coy (to be deployed elsewhere) instead of the tanks, and decided to attempt a bit of deception by splitting off a fair bit of the FPP to make a nasty surprise at The Intersection.

The headquarters for this sector is building Z1. I have Fortified both ground-level locations and have set up Wire in the three hexes (Y1, Y2, Y3) of Leninskii Prospekt directly in front of the building. Upstairs, in Z1, is a 9-1 leader directing a rifle squad and HMG. Downstairs are two rifle squads with LMGs, one each in Z1 and Z2. A third rifle squad occupies Z0. I plan to hold this building at all costs.

In front of the headquarters are four squads in W1, X1, X2 and W3, protected somewhat by Wire in V2 and W2. If a German attack comes this way, these poor bastards will probably be killed. Hopefully one or two can make it back the the HQ. Hex W2 is a prime spot for placement of a hidden Pillbox, and I'm hoping that the Wire placement will lead my opponent into thinking so.

Guarding the approach to the Chemist's Shop are a rifle squad in W4, a 10-0 Commissar directing a rifle squad and MMG in W5, and a rifle squad with 50mm MTR in a Trench in V5. The Trench position is fronted with Wire in U5 and V4. Again, hex V5 is a prime location for a possible hidden Pillbox, and I'm hoping my opponent expects one there. I've placed a 1S Foxhole in Y6; this serves as a fallback position for the MMG from which to interdict Leninskii Prospekt and to protect the adjacent AT Gun (see below).

Both AT Guns have been assigned to prevent an armored breakthrough in this sector. One is emplaced in U9 facing V7, with the task of destroying any tanks that come down Pribayatinskaya Street toward the Chemist's Shop. This Gun can also swing around to cover The Debris Field if necessary. The other Gun is emplaced in Z5 facing Y4, with the task of destroying any tanks that cross Leninskii Prospekt to threaten the HQ.

I would not be surprised if the German makes a full-strength push to the Chemist's Shop on day one - he knows full well that the fortifications now are as weak as they will ever be. However, he lacks the CPP to purchase both Heavy Artillery and quality troops to exploit a breakthrough. Most campaigns start with a schwerpunkt attack by the German at The Intersection. It will be interesting to see if Dade tries something different. I have placed the Field Phone so as to be able to provide support of the defense of The Corner (see the Manufacturing Hall below).

"The Debris Field"

Since there are no Strategic Locations (other than the one stone rubble hex in U6) in this sector, its defense is light - one rifle squad each in R5 and T5 claiming Wall Advantage. If the German comes hard in this direction, those squads will get out of the way and hopefully enfilading fire from the Manufacturing Hall can slow down the German long enough to form a defense of the large factory in R10. Artillery fire directed by the Field Phone will also help, at least in the initial stages of the attack.

"The Manufacturing Hall"

In my experience, this is the easiest to set up yet the hardest to defend against a determined German push. Experienced ASL players know the value of Smoke, and my opponent is nothing if not experienced. The German always has one module, and usually two modules, of 80mm Battalion Mortar OBA to play with on day one. These are perfect for laying Smoke screens, and the best-positioned MGs are worth absolutely zero when their manning infantry can't see out of their own hex because of Smoke. If the German drops Smoke on the L5 building or the Manufacturing Hall it will be very hard to keep him out of them.

The setup is simple: string a half-dozen or so squads along the buildings stretching west from the Manufacturing Hall and keep the best hardware close to or in the Hall. I put rifle squads in J5 and in the upper levels of L5, M5 and N5. Downstairs in N5 I put a 9-0 Commissar directing a rifle squad and MMG with an eye toward laying a fire lane toward W1 to interdict a German attack on The Corner. I Fortified hex O5 of the Hall, and put a rifle squad and HMG there. Why not put the HMG with the Commissar in N5? I've learned the hard way that HMG in precarious positions end up unpossessed and ultimately lost to the enemy. Even though the lines of sight are not outstanding, I'm happy to keep my precious HMG as safe as possible in a Fortified Factory location. Directly above, hidden on the Rooftop of O5, is a 7-0 manning the Field Phone. He is in a position to direct artillery fire in defense of either The Corner or The Intersection. This is a bit of an exposed position, and I hope the German doesn't drop his own artillery on the 7-0's unprotected head. Behind the wall in P5 is a rifle squad with an ATR to try and stave off any attempt by German AFV to pull the VBM freeze maneuver on the HMG next door. On the Rooftop in P6 is a rifle squad with a 50mm MTR. The level 2.5 factory Rooftop affords both the artillery observer and the MTR squad very nice lines of sight.

I'm most worried about a strong thrust directly at The Manufacturing Hall. If that happens, all that I can hope for is to bloody the German nose as well as possible and fight a fallback defense. I don't think Dade favors this attack vector, but he might surprise me.

"The Point"

Defending The Point is a fool's errand. It is a natural salient created by the orthogonal orientation of the factory complex itself, vulnerable on three sides and stuck right out in front. In my experience, building F5 is a charnel house and I'm happy to cede it to the German. However, it's not wise to let him progress past it without a fight.

I don't think Dade will attack in force through The Point because of truism #1: "As the German, attack the Russian where he is strong." I put four Reserve Cloaking counters in the buildings just beyond The Point: an SMG squad and 9-1 in H8, and SMG squad in H9, an SMG squad in I8 and a Dummy in I9.

Behind them I placed a stack of six Dummy Concealment counters on the first level of K10. To an attacker, this looks very much like two squads with two MGs and a directing leader ready to provide supporting fire either to protect the western flank of the L5 building or to bloody the nose of an attack across The Intersection. This ruse will not last past turn one, but I'm hoping it will affect the German's setup and first movement phase.

"The Intersection"

This is the most complicated section of my setup. I will simply describe the placement of forces, then discuss them.

First off, the remainder of the Reserve SMG Coy are backing up this section of the line. A15, B15, D13, E13, F12 and F13 each contain a Reserve Cloaking counter holding an SMG Squad. The Cloaking counter in F12 also holds the Russian's best leader: a 9-2. I'm certain that these forces will be activated by about turn two or three.

The remainder of the defense is designed to hold up a German schwerpunkt attack just long enough for the artillery observer to bring down an FFE Concentration on the Germans while they are still bunched up. I've used this tactic once before to great effect. The key to the defense is bulding B12. I've Fortified the ground levels of B12 and C13, and set up an SMG squad in each hex. In addition, I have set up hidden SMG squads upstairs on the first level of hexes B12 and C13 and a hidden 9-0 Commissar lurks in the ground level of B13 to help stiffen the defense. A rifle squad and ATR is set up behind the wall in A13, hoping to keep any German AFV from driving into the building. In front of building B12 I have placed 6 AP mines in A12 and 8 AP mines in B11 to harass German infantry assaulting the building. To slow down German AFV, 2 AT mines have been placed in each of A11 and C10.

The first wave of the German assault will be met by mostly SMG squads. Two of them are hidden in B10 and D8 simply to slow down the German thrust as much as possible and to lay residual FP. SMG squads in C11 and D10 will hopefully take some shots and make it back to either the B12 buiding or join up with the 9-2 in F12. Rifle squads with Wall Advantage in E10 and E11 have the same goal. One last rifle squad upstairs in level one of F11 is there to take pot shots at approaching infantry.

It's likely that these forces will be mauled. This is CG I, though, and not CG III and it's a bit more important for the Russian to deny the German easy access to the factories. By standing firm on day one, and hopefully landing my artillery blow, I can perhaps exact a higher toll than the German expects to pay.

Final Thoughts

The potential for staggering success or disaster exists for both sides on day one, as both sides' positions are precarious. The Russian defense is reasonably predictable, and the German gets to tee off on relatively weak and poorly-equipped troops. On the flip side, the German has to fight across relatively exposed terrain to engage the Russian and is more vulnerable to fire than he will be in the days to come. One lucky barrage or terrible ROF string from an MG nest can push either side to the breaking point.