Saturday, November 27, 2010

Into the Factories

Air superiority has its advantages.

Day One: Aftermath

This was the best opening-day attack that I have ever put together. Overall, the CVP tally looked pretty even: the Russians lost 42 CVP, the Germans lost 35 CVP. However, if one removes those CVP garnered from destroyed vehicles and guns, the totals were thus:

Russian: 33 CVP
German: 11 CVP

That's a 3:1 infantry casualty ratio in favor of the German. Conventional wisdom states that a 2:1 casualty ratio is necessary for the German to keep the Russian on his heels. If I can continue to limit my infantry losses and still get in my licks I should do well. I did lose four tanks, but that does not cause me much concern. Tanks are to be used, and are expected to be destroyed at an alarming rate. This is Stalingrad, after all.

The day started with mixed results. The 80mm Battalion Mortar dropped its Smoke exactly as drawn up. However, I drew a red chit for Battery Access for the Nebelwerfer right off the bat. I had planned for this contingency, so it wasn't a complete disaster, but it did bottle up the Sturm Company for a turn. Without knowing where the barrage would land, I could not risk moving into hexes that might get hit. Here is the situation at the beginning of German Turn Two:

The Rifle Company had managed to take up positions behind the railway berm with minimal casualties, and was preparing to push through the F6 building and toward the H8 building. The PzKpfw IIIL Platoon was required to abandon its plan to support the assault on the B12 building and instead joined the Rifle Company.

The Sturm Company crept forward and took up positions in the wooden buildings and rubble around B8. When the Nebelwerfer barrage landed, it drifted one hex to D12 - an optimal placement. The Sturm Company moved up to the edges of the blast radius and curled around the west side of the B12 building. The reinforcing Rifle Company and PzKpfw IIIH Platoon followed on behind, spreading out as best they could. At this point, my attack was at its most vulnerable - had the Russian been able to drop artillery on the bunched-up German infantry things would have gone to hell.

As it turned out, there was some large-caliber artillery aimed in my direction. That clever bastard Dade waited until I took building F6 to call in his own Rocket barrage, preregistered in hex G5. The barrage drifted one hex to H5, and thus I was able to rout away from it. However, had it drifted to the south or southwest the rocket would have landed on an entire Rifle Company and most of a PzKpfw IIIL Platoon. I was lucky to escape with a few broken units. The barrage did put a stop to my advance in the north.

In the south, the Nebelwerfer chewed up the Russian defenders, removed two Wire counters, rubbled a number of building locations and set a bunch of things on fire. I took building B12 and formed up to make a push for building B17. A dug-in KV1 M42 appeared in E15 and chased my riflemen out of the E hexrow. A 45LL ATG appeared in C17 and claimed a tank moving into A13 - but not until it had removed the Wire placed there. I figured that there would be anti-tank assets in that area of the map, and so I endeavored to use the 80mm OBA to drop Smoke. I had fortuitously preregistered the ATG's hex, but the module was not accurate and the Smoke drifted south. After a few attempts at repositioning it I gave up and decided to take a different tack.

Luckily, fate smiled on my efforts. German Stuka reinforcements showed up - three of them - and one was able to sight the KV1 M42 and hit it directly with a 150mm bomb. After the destruction of the dug-in tank, there were very few Russian units in place to stop my advance. If I could find a way to quickly destroy them before Dade could reposition other defenders, the way to the Power Station would be open. My Sturm Company was poised and ready, and I still had two tanks. Here is the situation (not all units are depicted, just those of prime importance):

I had a powerful stack (4-6-7 + HMG, 4-6-7 + MMG, 5-4-8 + MMG) led by a 9-2 in hex B13 (there was also a burning wreck in this hex, but I omitted it for clarity). Just ahead of this stack I had two PzKpfw IIIH conveniently parked in hexes blind to the ATG. A 5-4-8 was with the lead tank. The Russian had a concealed 4-4-7 in B17, a concealed 45LL ATG + crew in C17 and a concealed 9-0 + 4-4-7 in F17.

First, I moved the tanks along the A hexrow and into bypass to freeze the 4-4-7 and ATG crew:

Both tanks survived CC Reaction Fire, allowing the 5-4-8 and the 9-2 to move up:

The 9-2 was then able to use Spraying Fire in the next DFPh to hit both Russian units with a 30 FP attack. Both of them broke, and the tanks cleaned them up in CC. With nothing to stop them, the Germans pressed on toward the Power Station:

Only one of the tanks survived this sequence of events, but it was the turning point of the game. From this point onward, it was a footrace to the Power Station. I achieved, and exceeded, all of my objectives for the day. The game ended on Turn 7, and the Germans had managed to occupy all of the Power Station and had procured a toe-hold in the factories:

At the end of the day, the perimeter was thus:

The Russian perimeter is in red, the German perimeter is in blue and no man's land is in white. The setup line for Russian units in Reserve is in orange.

Day Two: October 18, 1942

In the Refit Phase, I battle hardened two 4-6-7 squads and one 7-0 leader. The German ELR remained at 4. I rolled [8-2=6] for CPP Replenishment and received 16 CPP to spend.

Retained Forces (SAN 2 ELR 4):

1 x 9-2
2 x 9-1

2 x 8-1

3 x 8-0

1 x 9-1 Armor Leader

3 x 4-6-8

10 x 5-4-8

1 x 2-3-8

17 x 4-6-7

1 x 4-4-7

2 x HMG

3 x MMG

5 x LMG

2 x ATR

2 x LtMTR

1 x DC

Pzkpfw IIIL

Pzkpfw IIIH


Rifle Coy [5-3=2 Full] (6: 9-1, 8-1, 8-0) - 7 CPP

HW Ptn [6-2=4 Full] - 6 CPP
Pzkpfw IIIH Ptn [12-2=10 Depleted] (4-1=3: 9-2 Armor Leader) - 3CPP

I looked at the situation from many angles, and considered a number of options including:
  • Purchasing 150mm Heavy Artillery and hammering the Russian front.
  • Purchasing 150mm Rocket Artillery and hammering the Russian front.
  • Purchasing two modules of smaller artillery in support of an attack into the L27 or L17 factories.
  • Purchasing a combination of artillery and AFV in support of an attack into the L27 factory.
  • Purchasing a pile of AFV and halftracks to push down Tranvanaya Street.
  • Purchasing a HW Platoon and AFV Platoon to support an attack into the L27 and G26 factories.
I opted for the last option above. The Russian starts Day Two with only 15 squads of infantry, which is enough to cover about one-quarter of the front. Dade will probably be purchasing at least two, probably three companies of infantry. Two of those will be Militia, which can set up on-map without additional CPP expenditure. A third will probably be of high quality, a Guards Rifle or Guards SMG Coy, and likely set up in Reserve. I decided not to buy artillery this day, because Russian units can too easily skulk away and leave me no targets. Also, because I am not selecting preregistered hexes I can choose to set up my attack anywhere along the front. Purchasing a Heavy Weapons Platoon provides some long-range firepower and also gives me two 81mm MTRs for Smoke capability. Another platoon of tanks, albeit depleted, with it's 9-2 armor leader should help deal with trouble spots. The Rifle Company can make a cautious attack from off-board. After I see the Russian setup I can devise a plan.

The Russian Setup

This is what the Germans face on Day Two:

I'm glad that I did not purchase an artillery module - there is a paucity of juicy targets to drop it on. Any squads that I could manage to hit would be able to easily advance or rout away. I'm much happier with having the 81mm mortars which can be placed to drop smoke where I absolutely need it and which will be retained for the next day.

It looks like Dade has purchased a Militia Company and set it up in a picket line through the L10 and L14 Foundry Halls. He also appears to have purchased two companies in Reserve. My guess is that he has a Rifle Company covering the river and a Guards SMG company covering the southern portion of the line. He has spent at least 2 CPP on fortifications, and 60 FPP are visible in the form of Wire. That means he has spent 20 FPP on other things, most likely Dummies and HIP units. There is an ambush lurking, somewhere. He has also purchased some dug-in tanks. My guess is that they are T-60 M42s rather than T-34s. Does that add up?

4 CPP: Militia Coy
4 CPP: Rifle Coy in Reserve
6 CPP: Guards SMG Coy in Reserve
2 CPP: 80 FPP
2 CPP: T-60 M42 Ptn Dug In

18 CPP Total

Yes, it's possible.

Day Two: The German Plan

Overall, I intend to straighten out my line and protect the Power Station. Right now, it lies in a precarious salient flanked by the large factory to the north. I intend to clear the L10 and L14 factories with my main attack and consolidate its flanks.

The Main Attack

My remaining Sturm Company, along with the battle-hardened 4-6-8s and augmented with the Heavy Weapons Platoon, will push inexorably into the factories from the west. The 9-2 leads a 36 FP stack whose job is to hose down any Russian that dares come within sight. The stacks led by 9-1 leaders muster 27 FP and 24 FP. I intend to carefully move forward, avoiding close combat (and sewer entrances!) and use my overwhelming firepower to break and rout the units in the factories. The tanks will provide support in the north, where there is less debris. They can freeze defenders without offering Streetfighting opportunities and can also Breach interior walls. They will, of course, not survive the day.

The North Flank

I have set up 8 of my retained rifle squads in and around the H8 buildings. Their job is to hold off any probing Russian infantry and, if possible, inch forward and take what the Russian gives me. I will be happy to let them sit in place if the main attack goes well.

The South Flank

The remainder of the retained rifle squads, the 81mm mortars and a portion of the HW Platoon will set up in/around the Power Station, G22 building and C24 building. The reinforcing Rifle Coy and Pzkpfw IIIH Platoon will enter along Yanvarya Street. The objective in the south is to reinforce the Power Station, take what the Russian gives me around the G26 factory and consolidate the line. If things go well, I may make a very cautious advance toward the B34 and G33 building clusters. The mortars are placed to be able to put Smoke in strategic hexes - M21 to hinder fire from the dug-in tanks, and D27 to cover the entrance of my reinforcements.

We plan on playing this out on December 11th. I am confident, but foresee difficulty inflicting enough Russian casualties to keep on pace.

The power station was empty when Krankauer and his men captured it. The massive generator turbines were silent in their concrete stalls. The smell of grease and diesel was overpowering. A number of window panes, haphazardly located, were broken allowing shafts of late afternoon sun to pierce the gloom. Inexplicably, the station was empty and somehow that emptiness was intimidating. Where were the defenders? First and Third Squads had pushed on, but Krankauer called them back. There was precious little daylight left, and he had no idea what lay beyond the station. Better to hunker down and wait for orders.

The night passed quietly, for Stalingrad. Richter had taken a sniper's bullet in the foot and was evacuated, but aside from that there was no action. From his vantage point on the rooftop Krankauer had searched in vain for some sign of the enemy. Nothing stirred in the unnatural silence. A runner arrived with orders for the coming day: take the Foundry Hall. Krankauer felt nothing when he read them, but he had desperately wished for a cigarette afterward. Take the Foundry. Looking at it then, at night, from across the street, it seemed huge and malevolent. He had no desire to inspect it from the inside. They had been lucky on the previous day with their pell-mell advance through minimal resistance. They could not expect the same in the morning.

Krankauer had tried to get some sleep but failed. There had been too much to work over in his mind. Now he crouched with his men in the shadow of the looming factory, motionless amidst the jumbled remnants of smashed machinery and twisted sheets of corrugated metal. There could be a hundred Russians within a stone's throw, lurking in the shadows, waiting for Krankauer to make a mistake. Or none at all; he would see soon enough. Again, he wished for that cigarette. The darkness was suffocating. Abruptly the terror came, a familiar deathly fear, of the sudden eruption of an angry swarm of tracers, of diving to the ground amidst the whumps of enemy grenades and the screams of wounded men. Of Holz, staring up from the shallow grave. Krankauer faltered, then, just for a moment as panic overwhelmed him. A second later his training took hold and he forced himself forward. Good. No one had noticed. The faintest hint of dawn was showing in the east. It was time to move.

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.