Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Long Road Ahead

September 1942: Soldiers of the German Sixth Army arrive at Stalingrad. Few will depart.

Day One: 17 October 1942

Once again, Dade Cariaga and I have decided to return to Red Barricades, our favorite ASL Historical Module. We have chosen to play Campaign Game I: Into The Factory, because in our opinion the other two campaign games are very unbalanced. Dade was given choice of sides and he chose to take the Russians, leaving the burden of attack with me. As we have done twice in the past, both of us will be chronicling the game by recording our thoughts before and after each Campaign Game Day (go here for Dade's musings).

As a preface to my discussions here, I refer readers to an earlier post in which I discuss some basic truisms relating to Red Barricades campaign games. Dade and I have learned much since November 2009, but the basic points of that post still apply.

The German players has three essential tasks in front of him on Day One:
  1. Secure a jumping-off platform for Day Two
  2. Destroy Russian forces
  3. Minimize losses
Achieving all three is not a simple proposition, with #3 being the most difficult. The German force on Day One is a coiled spring cocked and ready to blast through the Russian defenses. The German will probably be able to take whatever objective (within reason) that he targets. However, the butcher's bill will always be higher than the German would like.

CGI differs from CGIII in three significant ways:
  1. The campaign lasts only twelve days
  2. Fewer units are available for purchase over the course of the game
  3. The victory conditions only require control of locations within the factory complex
Because of these differences, I do not believe it is critical for the German to try and force the riverbank and take the Commissar's House. Given the longer time frame of CGIII and the need to control the entire map, a riverbank attack is almost necessary in that game. But for CGI it is more important to bust into the factories early and keep the pressure on. I cannot afford to spend my efforts fighting over terrain such as the Chemist's Shop (building X10) and the Commissar's House (building BB18) when doing so does not capture victory locations.

I plan to instead make a determined thrust toward the Power Plant (building J21), which is the key to the defense of the southern portion of the complex. It is possible to occupy the Power Plant with German troops on Day One; I've done it exactly once before with a daring halftrack thrust down Tramvanaya Street. I plan on using different methods, and hopefully I can achieve similar results, but my main goal will be to set myself up for a successful Day Two assault.

Order of Battle:

SAN: 3 ELR: 4
Sturm Coy [Full Strength] (9-2, 9-1, 8-0)
Rifle Coy [Full Strength] (9-1, 8-1, 8-0)
Pzkpw IIIL Ptn [Full Strength] (9-1 AL)
80mm Battalion Mortar OBA [Plentiful Ammo]
* Offboard Observer: A8
* Preregistered Hexes: F10, C17

Purchased Forces (15 CPP):

7 CPP - Rifle Coy [Full Strength] (8-1, 7-0)
3 CPP - Pzkpfw IIIH Ptn [Full Strength]
4 CPP - 150mm Rocket OBA [Plentiful Ammo]
* Offboard Observer: A7
* Pre-Registered Hex: E13
1 CPP - Stukas

Preparing to Fight:

Before setting up my forces, I must select which hexes my Offboard Observers will inhabit and which hexes will be Preregistered.

There will be at least a token holding force inside the B12 building, and I know from experience that the entire area around that building could be set up as an elaborate trap. There could be AP/AT minefields, barbed wire, fortified buildings and HIP 5-2-7 squads anywhere in the hexes immediately south of Skulpturnaya Street. It's equally likely that this area will be only lightly defended with one or two squads and some dummies. I'll have to wait and see.

I know that the bulk of the Russian defenses will be set up behind the railway in the F-hexrow buildings and rubble. As the Germans push onto the map, the Russian defenders will try to slide away southward toward the F16 factory, hoping to hold this building as a bulwark against a future attack toward the Power Station and the big K15 factory.

The B17 building may also contain some defenders, perhaps even a hidden machine gun nest on the first level. The upper levels of this building can be used to cover both a board-edge creep down hexrow A and movement down Tramvanaya Street or along the railway berms.

I selected my Pre-Registered hexes as shown in the illustration below.

Rocket artillery cannot be accurate, so I must count on the barrage drifting up to three hexes in any direction. By placing it in hex E13, I guarantee than any drift in direction 1 (north) or direction 4 (south) will be nigh guaranteed to hit something, since I expect hexrow F to be thick with Russian units. Any drift in direction 5 (southwest) or 6 (northwest) is guaranteed to hit the B12 building. Drift in direction 2 (northeast) and direction 3 (southeast) will be less effective, but is only likely to whiff completely if the barrage drifts the full three hexes.

I'm counting on the Rocket OBA to disrupt the Russian defense by breaking/destroying squads, removing fortifications and maybe most importantly by interdicting movement. If I can seal off a whole section of the Russian front and destroy it without allowing other defenders to slide into place it may be possible to blow the front wide open.

I plan to use the 80mm battery primarily for Smoke. I selected hex F10 in order to obscure fire from behind the railway berms and from a potential machine gun nest in the K10 building. I also selected hex C17 to shut down a potential machine gun overwatch in building B17 and also protect the approach for my tanks. The debris in E17 and E20 are excellent spots to hide an AT gun.

Now, to look at the Russian set up and see what I'm up against.

The Russian Setup:

Dade emailed his setup to me. Here it is:

Two things in this setup strike me as odd: the apparent scarcity of fortifications and the number of units committed to the F6 building. Over near the riverbank, Dade has either thinly defended the front (unlikely) or has taken a page from my book (see my last setup from CGIII) and opted to conceal the strength of his line. The arrangement of wire suggests a hidden dug-in tank in W3. Placing what appears to be a kill stack upstairs in the Chemist's Shop strikes me as a deliberate ruse; he's got to know that if I come this way the Chemist's Shop will either be pummeled with heavy artillery or smoked in with battalion mortar. I suspect that he is wanting me to expend my artillery strike on a worthless stack. I also suspect that he may have an artillery observer covering this approach. No matter; I have no plans on attacking in this sector today.

In the middle, he has put forth a standard array of defenders manning the line of buildings/rubble running from the O6 factory to the F6 building. F6 is a troublesome spot to defend. It's easily surrounded and reduced, so I am surprised that there are 3 or 4 squads here. Perhaps some or all are dummies? In the O6 factory he has set up a stack of three squads with SW and a leader. This is clearly a reserve intended to reinforce whatever hot spot flares up. If I go toward the Chemist's Shop they can shift eastward; if I go up the gut they can shift westward.

Over on the west edge, he has committed nearly half of his forces. At first glance, my Pre-Registered hexes appear to be perfectly situated. The Rocket should hit something, and the 80mm Smoke concentration should be able to shut down a significant amount of defensive fire from the units around F10. He appears to be ready to defend B12, which means that a fortuitous drift of the Rocket barrage might undo a planned ambush. I will have to be careful and search for HIP units and minefields as I assault B12. I'm confused by the units in D16, which seem to be sitting out in the open - generally a bad idea anywhere in Stalingrad, but particularly bad when at the point of the German schwerpunkt. Perhaps there is a hidden pillbox there, and Dade chose not to HIP its contents? I'm scratching my head.

Exactly how I approach this attack will depend on where the Rocket lands. The Rifle Coy will push toward the F6 and F8 buildings in any case, with orders to proceed steadily and carefully. Ideally they will be able to capture "The Point" (the F6 building and surrounding rubble) and the rubble field around G10.

However, the Sturm Coy and its supporting Pzkpfw IIIL platoon must tailor their attack to what the Rocket OBA accomplishes. If the Rocket drifts close to the entry hexes, the Sturm Coy must be patient and wait to rush into the barrage area after it lifts. If the Rocket drifts north or south, the Sturm Coy will have to take care of the B12 defenders by themselves and prepare to push beyond. If the Rocket drifts too far east, then it's almost out of play. The idea is to have the Rocket smash as much as it can, then prevent the Russians from reforming the defense. Where ever it lands, it will have a huge impact on movement and rout paths. I suspect an AT gun somewhere in the debris fields near E16 or E19, so the tanks must take care once past B12. The reinforcing Rifle Coy and Pzkpfw IIIH Platoon will follow the Sturm Coy and consolidate what it captures. If the Russian defenses completely cave in (not likely, but possible) I will try and take the Power Plant.

Here is a visual depiction of my plan:

There is nothing left to do now but wait.

Oberfeldwebel Krankauer watched as the men shoveled red clay, broken concrete and pulverized brick over Holz's corpse. At first, in the thick of it, his wounds had not seemed that bad. Holz had used the butt of his rifle to bust out a window pane, hoping to get a better look at the approaches to the trucking depot. There was a bang and a flash, and the tinkle of broken glass settling to the floor, and Holz staggering back from the casement with his hands on his face. Holz was screaming, but there wasn't that much blood. They dragged him back to the aid station and the medics had been optimistic. But Holz stopped breathing sometime during the night, and that was that.

They had come a long way together. Krankauer and Holz had been childhood friends, growing up in the small farming village of Cottenbach just north of Bayreuth. Times had been tough, and both boys had been put to work at an early age tending the fields and bringing in the barley harvest. Despite the long hours and strenuous labor the two had managed to find ample opportunity for adventure, as boys are wont to do. That "misunderstanding" at Fasching and the incident with the motorcar were the stuff of legend to the gymnasium students of Cottenbach. The Party came recruiting in '36 but neither boy had any political inclinations and both were needed on the farm. When war came in '39, well, that was different and the two had joined up together. Another grand adventure.

Krankauer snorted, then hocked an oily gray glob of grit and phlegm onto the ground. "Das wurde alles fur Scheisse!" The haggard sergeant grabbed his submachinegun and turned back toward the bivouac. He pulled out the last of his cigarettes and lit it, smoking as he picked his way through the rubble. The cigarette was dry and sparse, like all Russian cigarettes, but he was grateful for it nonetheless. Dawn was only a few hours away, and he was expected to lead the first wave into the factories. He thought back to September when his company had de-trained at Gumrak, full of bluster and bravado, joking and singing. Nobody was singing now. Something had changed, and the skittish Russians they had chased a thousand miles across the Ukraine had suddenly turned mean when cornered. Nobody wanted to go into that complex, least of all Krankauer, but "want" had nothing to do with it. They would go, and they would fight, and they would win. Win, or join Holz.

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