Kursk! The greatest battle of the Second World War, where the invincible German war machine would go head-to-head with the immense Soviet juggernaut. Well, our Chain of Command table isn’t quite that epic in scale, but it is the first game of a new campaign, and the fate of the world (or at least toy soldier game bragging rights) hangs in the balance.

The Forces

Both sides have a fresh platoon, and minimal support.

The Soviet force is fairly large, 37 men all up organised into four squads with 6 LMGs between them. The German platoons are 31 men in three squads with 6 LMGs. The Germans do have a qualitative edge though, as they’ve got better machine guns, special rules for morale, command dice and they pick up CoC dice more quickly.

The Germans had 2pts of support and opted for a spare senior leader, while the Soviets spent their single point on digging in one of their squads.

Campaign Progress

This’ll all change quickly enough, with the first two games on 4th July only played once regardless of the outcome.

The Ground

The map shows a contour line running across the table, but the area is essentially plain and featureless, and only slopes up gently towards the Soviet side.

Dotted around the slope are some patches of scrub that give light cover, but the open ground between would be a killing ground for anyone daring to move.

Deployment

Dicing for their entry points, both sides squared off opposite each other, with the Germans entering from #1 and the Soviets from the opposite #1. The Germans opted for four markers, while the Soviets were keen to get a quick lockdown and opted for three.

The Plan

This is a slightly odd scenario in that it doesn’t really matter much who wins. For the Soviets the objective is just to give the Germans a bloody nose, while trying to minimise their own casualties. Since the scenario is only played once there’s no ground to be held, even if the Germans lose they still get to move on to the next scenario.

My plan was pretty straightforward, let the Germans move into the open ground and then hit them with a ton of firepower and shred them. If I achieved the criteria for a “Losing Draw” (enemy casualties 50% greater than my own) I’d then withdraw and be pretty happy.

The German plan was to park a couple of squads on overwatch to dominate the area with their superior firepower, then when a double phase came up try to dash the third squad into the nearest patch of scrub.

The Game

Apologies for the extremely blurry photos in this post. I didn’t realise they were so bad until after I’d got home.

With their JOPs on the high ground and a nice killing ground to their front the Soviets opted to wait and not deploy anything even when first one and then a second German squad deployed into the scrub opposite. If the Germans wanted to advance they’d have to brave the open ground. That would be the time for the defenders to show themselves, not before.

So the Germans sat there watching keenly for the communists, and seeing nothing. Many command dice were rolled, pips were racked up on CoC dice, some tumbleweed blew across the table. But still no Russians.

Accepting the ugly fact that they were going to have to leg it across the open ground the Germans threw in their third and last squad when they rolled a double phase. They pelted it across the open ground, making for the nearest patch of scrub towards the Soviet side. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite make it and two Soviet squads emerged from their foxholes, hammering lead at the charging Germans. Men dropped, cut down mid stride and an unlucky shot took the squad leader right through the head, costing the Germans two points of morale straight away. The four German LMGs on overwatch replied, spitting tracers back across the fields towards the Soviet trenches, managing to wound a couple of men.

Both sides had a healthy stock of CoC dice banked up during the earlier dice-rolling bonanza, so multiple interrupts were played by both sides over the next few phases. Some serious firepower was traded back and forth across the field, but the German squad in the open was always going to be in big trouble. They soon became pinned with a mountain of shock on the surviving landsers. The Germans rolled a triple six on their command dice, meaning the turn would end at the end of the next phase, and so the Soviets decided to chance it and throw in another interrupt to get another shot at them. The reds were lucky and scored another kill on the pinned squad, which was enough to tip them over into “broken”, meaning the German luck at rolling a double phase would come with the major bummer of a further two point morale loss and having the squad rout.

German morale was now at 5, with the Soviets still on 10. One third of their force had gone home and they’d taken precisely no ground at all.

However, things weren’t all bad for them. Throughout all this carnage the two German squads on their start line had been providing savage and unrelenting fire over the heads of the boys stuck in the open. Raking the Soviet trench lines they’d managed to consistently score kills on the dug in defenders, despite their good cover. The squad on the Soviet right was in particularly bad shape. Sixes had come up almost every time they took fire, slowly whittling them down and keeping the casualty exchange always just on the wrong side of what the Soviets needed to claim a “winning draw” and disengage.

The right hand Soviet squad had started to look so shaky in fact that the Soviet platoon commander went forward to join them and massage some of the shock off, and while doing so he managed to catch a bullet somewhere painful but non-lethal and cost the Soviets their first drop in force morale, down one point to nine. Not a major problem, but the other squad then lost their squad leader knocked out, dropping them to eight.

The volume of German fire was starting to wear down the effectiveness of the Soviet fire, but what the communists did have they concentrated into the German squad on the left. The Germans only had light cover, but they were helped out by having their own platoon commander on the spot. The Soviets were hoping to hit either him or the German squad leader, they only needed to knock the Germans down three more points of morale and they’d be unable to win the scenario. A reasonable plan, but the dice weren’t playing and the kills just weren’t coming up enough, and when they did it was never a hit on a leader.

With only three men left on the right-hand squad, the Soviet platoon commander brought up one of his two reserve squads and they took up position in the scrub just above and behind the line of foxholes. Since these men were in different cover from the dug-in troops just in front of them the Germans would still be able to concentrate their fire on just one squad, and this they certainly did. All it took was a good round of shooting and the dug-in squad finally legged it, the survivors taking a whopping four points of morale with them (“squad breaks” and “JL routs” each cost 2 points) and all of a sudden Soviet morale was on four and for the first time in the game they had dropped below the Germans.

The fresh Soviet squad joined in the storm of fire concentrated on the German squad opposite them, and they were starting to wear them down. The German officer and NCOs had managed to keep the shock down to manageable levels but were losing too many men, and had to start transferring men back and forth between the LMGs to keep them firing, costing them vital CIs. Finally it got too much and one of the two MG42 teams was wiped out, but a lucky roll on the “Bad Things Happen” table meant there was no drop in German morale. The German force was taking a pasting, but staying in the fight and giving as good as they got.

Over on the Soviet side of the table, things were looking equally battered and bruised. The Soviet commander had brought up fresh troops to plug the hole in his line, but his left squad was now looking pretty shot up and had become pinned, only putting out sporadic and ineffective fire. On the plus side it improved their cover from light to hard, but it was the squad in hard cover that the Germans had already broken, so perhaps this wasn’t as much protection as you might think.

Everything now hinged on whose morale would crash first, and in a long-range shootout like this that’s largely down to who gets the hits on leaders. Luck was not on the Soviet side as they suffered another JL wounded on the left squad and the Germans kept the pressure on and managed to force it to break too, all of which chopped the Soviet morale down to zero and force them off the table. The squad the Soviets had targeted was down to one two-man gun team, the squad leader and the platoon commander, but despite being pinned and losing one gun team they’d held on and hadn’t cost the German side any force morale points, while on the Soviet side of the table a steady trickle of leader hits and breaking squads had whittled them from ten all the way down to zero.

Deciding that this particular gently sloping field in Russia wasn’t worth getting obliterated over, the Soviet troops started falling back to their RV and despite all the incoming fire managed to do so in an orderly fashion, losing no further men.

The Butcher’s Bill

The Germans may have won the game, but it cost them. They lost 14 men including a JL, while the defenders lost ten. On the plus side they ended the game with a five point morale advantage, which goes a long way to reducing the effect. The final tally was four privates and one NCO dead, two men wounded. This campaign is a little harsher than most about losses, and those two wounded men aren’t available again until campaign turn three.

The Soviets may have taken fewer figures off the table, but they’d be suffering higher losses in campaign terms. Five men dead and three in hospital means this platoon has taken a beating already. This is a bit of a disaster for the Soviets, as they’ve only got one platoon to last the first five scenarios, and no reinforcements. Worse, the Germans outnumber them three to one, so if they keep losing men at that rate this could be a short campaign.

Campaign Post-Match

The German CO was pleased with early progress, and lifted his opinion by two, but the rank and file did not share his optimistic view of the battle. High casualties and the loss of an NCO saw the men’s opinion drop two points. Similar grumpy faces on the Soviet side also saw a two-point drop due to the butcher’s bill, but the CO’s opinion also dropped by a point as wasn’t happy about having his artillery OP pushed in.

Next game the Germans can use one of their fresh platoons, but the Soviets will have to re-use this one, which is now down to 29 men, but not yet carrying any other penalties.

Lessons Learned

  • The Soviets should have set a cut-off point for casualties, as they ended up taking far too many and it’s made for a really bad start to the campaign for them. I felt like I was on the verge of winning or getting a winning draw throughout most of the game, so while I always had an eye on withdrawing I instead opted to “stay and play” for far too long, and it’s cost me a lot of men. I don’t have lots of men while the Germans have bucketloads of them, so I’ve really played into the enemy’s hands here.
  • The Soviets had four squads, but weren’t able to deploy them all because there was nowhere to put them. They effectively only had the equivalent of two full squads on table at any one time, so it was difficult to achieve fire superiority. Which just goes to show sometimes the terrain really does limit how you can use your platoon.