After a short sharp exchange of fire at the Soviets’ outer picket line the German attackers are about to hit the first of the endless belts of defences they’d have to fight through in the Kursk campaign. Can the German pioneers force a breach through the minefields?

Forces

The Germans still have two fresh platoons, and added 2 support points. They opted for:

  • Additional senior leader

They also have two free mine clearance teams, which will be absolutely vital.

The Soviets have to use the same platoon as the last game, which is down to 29 men. They spent their 3 points on:

  • Sniper team
  • Entrenchment

Crucially, they also get eight free minefields, enough to span the whole 4ft table. Granted, two of those are dummies, but the Germans will have to be lucky to find them.

Campaign Progress

This is the second game representing the initial German moves on 4 July

The Ground

We’re still in very open country, with patches of scrub and some low hills overlooking the belt of minefields that bisect the table. The mission is “Probe”, so the Germans need to get units off the Soviet end of the table.

The Germans must get troops off the far end of the table, so need to breach the minefields. So their priority is going to be getting those pioneers up to the minefield intact to let them do their thing. The low hills give them some decent places to position their base of fire, and they’ll need to use the scrubby patches to cover their approach.

Deployment

The Germans roll four free moves for the markers, and quickly moved off their baseline. But the Soviets had started 12″ in, so were able to quickly bounce up the table and get the first lockdown on a German marker at around the start of the red box marked on the map above. Playing up the table meant the German markers had little wiggle room on the flanks and the Soviets managed to lock down all four German markers with two of theirs.

Choices for Jump Off Points were pretty much limited to the patches of scrub and hills, the Germans predictably got their as far up the table as they could. The Soviets picked a line slightly deeper, with two JOPs up and one back on the far table edge (always a good backstop for the Probe scenario).

So right before kickoff the Soviets got to place their 4ft of minefields, and simply plonked them right across the table at a point where there was no cover on the German side for engineers to sneak through. We marked the forward edge of the belt of minefields with some concertina wire, but it counts as just a minefield in game terms. Two 6″ stretches of minefield had to be designated as dummies, I chose the two by the table edge that was by the Soviet-held hill. This had the least cover and the most defenders, so I gambled the Germans wouldn’t probe there.

Both sides rolled nine for their force morale.

The Plan

This scenario is only played once and doesn’t have a major effect on the outcome. The Soviet objective is to inflict some casualties and minimise their own, as they’ll need the troops for later games and they’re extremely short on manpower.

Obviously the gigantic belt of minefields is the Soviets’ best asset, if they can kill off the German mine clearing parties it’ll make the Germans’ task of getting off their baseline a lot harder. The Germans could still force the Soviets to withdraw by shooting up everything on the far side, but I planned to make that harder for them by initially engaging their engineers with a sniper, which is hard for them to shoot back at. Having learned my lesson from the last game I was mindful not to get drawn into an escalating fight and exposing more men to danger.

The German plan was pretty simple: deploy the whole platoon on overwatch, then send up the engineers. When the defenders popped up to take out the engineers, lay down covering fire to cut the effect of Soviet fire in half. Hopefully the engineers would last long enough to find or create a gap.

The Game

The Germans went first and immediately rolled enough 3’s to bring on all three squads and an engineering team, clearly the Teutonic war machine had all its ducks in a row today. All the Germans went on overwatch, so six LMGs were ready to open fire. The Soviets laid low in their own phase, waiting for the critical pioneer teams to do something rash like run out into the open and start trying to clear the mines.

The Germans then rolled a double phase, so far their command dice had been excellent! All their infantry were still on “watch and shoot” orders, so the platoon commander came forward himself and activated the pioneers to move up to the wire. The pioneer team made it to the obstacle on the second activation, but weren’t able to start work clearing mines yet.

As they set to work probing and marking a lane one of the crack pioneers suddenly fell wounded, followed by the crack of a sniper rifle from the Soviet side of the barrier. His two comrades ignored him and kept working. Every German eye scanned the ground in front for the hiding place of the red sniper, and one of the MG teams managed to spot them on the first roll. Opening fire at the concealed Russian sniper pair, they managed three hits, but could not convert those to a kill. The sniper had drawn first blood, but the stream of tracers pointing out their position meant they were now on very borrowed time.

Clearly it was time to step the defence up a notch, and a dug-in Soviet squad revealed itself in the same spot as the lady snipers. The squad opened fire with two DP-28s and their rifles, and in an accurate display of firepower from the men of 67th Guards Rifles they cut down the other two German pioneers. The German infantry were not happy about seeing their assault pioneers wiped out and morale dropped by one point.

The German reply was predictable though, and they concentrated several MG-34s on the Soviet squad. Being dug in they made a difficult target, but there was an insane amount of fire coming their way and a couple of men were hit. The sniper team managed to shrug off several hits, but eventually their luck ran out and they were removed, which cost the Soviets one point of morale too.

Undeterred, the German SNCO called up his second engineer team. I’m guessing they weren’t exactly thrilled at being given their chance for death or glory. Meanwhile, German LMGs hammered fire at the Soviet position on the hill, and the Soviet guns replied by hitting the German squad on the hill opposite. One round caught the German platoon commander, knocking him out cold and dropping German morale two points to six.

Sucking up their courage, the German pioneers dashed towards the breach that their comrades had started to create, but they were walking into a wall of Soviet lead. A second Soviet squad deployed into a patch of scrub and they joined their comrades fire directed at the pioneers. The torrent of fire scythed through the unlucky mine clearing team, and they were quickly wiped out, robbing the Germans of another two points of morale. This now put them on four, but they were able to use their pool of extra dice to make up for the one they’d now lost.

With their engineers cut down, there was no chance of forcing a breach, but if they could force the Soviets to withdraw they could still win the day. The German guns raked the Soviet lines and were starting to rack up hits, including wounding both Soviet squad leaders. Soviet morale only dropped one point from this, and they managed to retaliate by hitting the German platoon commander again, lopping another two points off German morale and leaving them on a very shaky two points. The Soviets were concentrating all their fire onto the squad that the zugfuhrer had been with, and it was now down to only five men (although the presence of the JL and SL had kept the shock under control).

It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, as a good shot from a German managed to kill one of the Russian squad leaders who had earlier been wounded, dropping Soviet morale to six. However, morale on the other side of the minefield was circling the drain, and when the landsers saw their unlucky platoon commander catch his third bullet of the game they decided it was time to go home. With only two points left in the morale kitty Phil had rolled a -3 for the effect of “Senior leader killed” and that was that. The supermen of the Grossdeutschland put their heads down and ran for it back to safety. Someone else would have to breach this minefield!

The Butcher’s Bill

The Soviets ended the game with a six point advantage in morale, so their casualties are reduced to one man who misses the next day of fighting, and the one JL killed. That puts them on 31 men, enough for three full squads and a 3-man leftovers team. That’s a little bit of a worry, this platoon has a lot of fighting still to do and they’re effectively down a squad already.

The Germans took a heavier hit, losing all their pioneers and most of a squad. As well as the loss of their platoon commander, they suffered three dead and two wounded.  They lost a further 4 men in their withdrawal, two are missing for the next campaign turn but will be back before the unit fights next and the other two were captured, presumably by Soviet patrols sent out to the other side of the minefield immediately after the battle. Battalion sent over a new SNCO to replace the one killed, so in terms of leaders the Germans are well sorted, but they lost a lot of men from this failed attempt to breach the minefields.

Campaign Post-Match

The German CO was understandably not pleased, and his opinion drops one point to +1. The men were even less impressed with the combination of taking high casualties and losing their Unterfeldwebel costing them four points and plummeting them from -2 to -6. Normally that would be an “interview without coffee” for the boss, but he’s avoided that by the clever ruse of “being dead”. It will negatively impact German force morale next game though, and going forward they’ll need to be a bit more wary of heavy casualties.

Happier news in the Soviet camp though. After the grumpy faces brought on by Game 1, everybody was pleased with this result. CO’s opinion goes from -1 to +1, and the men’s opinion from -2 to -1, their loss of a squad leader being the only real blip for them.

If this seems like gloomy news for the Germans, it’s not all bad. The way this campaign runs means they don’t have to repeat this scenario and go straight to the “Panzers Marsch!” attack on the village of Butovo. The Soviets get some free minefields because they won this game, but the Germans get a free arty stonk because they won the previous one. The Soviets have to use the same platoon again, while the Germans still have a fresh one. Plus they get tanks!

Lessons Learned

  • Isolated engineering teams are very vulnerable. The Germans had planned to protect them with covering fire, but never managed to put any down, and the pioneers were quickly cut down. Protecting them by attaching them to infantry squads might have meant they lasted longer, but it would have been at the expense of more riflemen. Bottom line is that trying to clear minefields in open ground is gonna hurt.
  • Lucky hits on leaders really can swing the momentum in a fight. Once the Germans started losing command dice they didn’t have enough to keep activating their superior number of guns, and Soviet firepower started to dominate.