5th July 1943, the start of one of the pivotal battles of the Second World War. After two turns of initial jockeying for position our campaign steps up a notch as the German panzers try to take the Soviet village of Butovo.
The Soviet platoon is the same one that’s fought in both previous games, and has taken a few casualties but is in reasonable spirits. Since they managed to prevent the German pioneers from breaching their minefields in the last game they’ve bought time for their own engineers to improve their own position with two free minefields.
With a strong possibility of German armour they supported their infantry with
- Zis-3 76mm AT gun
- Flamethrower team
- 2x Entrenchments
The swamp is a campaign-specific option, and I would use it along with the minefields to cut off the short route from the patch of scrub into the village
The German platoon is a completely fresh one, but the men are unhappy about losses in the other two platoons in their company, which hurts their force morale (rolling at -2) and reduces the platoon commander’s influence. On the plus side they get a free bombardment for their efforts in winning Game 1. And they get a truckload of support:
- Extra squad
- StuG III F
After yesterday’s preliminary moves, this is the first day of the big offensive and the course of the whole war hangs in the balance. Honours have been even so far in the campaign, with one win apiece, but the slightly unusual setup of this campaign has allowed the Germans to push on regardless of setbacks.
More open ground for the Germans to cross! The outskirts of the village of Butovo give little cover to an attacker, but likewise the wooden buildings and fences of the village don’t help a defender much either. German HE weapons firing into the village should be very effective, as will flamethrowers.
The Germans need to dig the defenders out and beat them into submission, and are well-supported in that endeavour.
The patrol phase was over very, very quickly. The Soviet markers started a good 18″ across the 4′ wide table, while the German markers started on their table edge. But the Germans rolled five free moves and quickly got markers up that locked two Soviet ones before they’d even moved. The Soviets got one move in which they used to lock another German marker that was in the open, and the Germans got one more move before the Soviets shut down the phase by locking their last marker in the left.
The Germans rolled 8 for force morale, and the Soviets 9.
As the Soviet player, it’s tempting to look at that open expanse of ground in front of the village and think “killing ground!”, but I think that’s a mistake.
The Germans have more small arms firepower and more heavy weapons. They can win a straight-up firefight, and even if the Soviets did well they’d be likely to take heavy casualties.
My plan was to let the Germans come, and when they did deploy units behind the houses firing across the table. This should shield them from some of the German units on overwatch and allow my guys to concentrate fire on the lead German units. If I could isolate a German squad and hit it with the Zis-3, flamethrower and small arms fire I should be able to break it, and hopefully all that would knock the stuffing out of the German force morale, as the scenario demands they maintain it above 3.
All seemed sleepy in the village of Butovo as the first Germans crept up to their jump-off point in the marshes. They set up on overwatch but for now there was no sign of movement from any defenders that might be present. Indeed, the Soviets were there, but they were lying low and declined to deploy anything too early.
The Germans moved up their second squad near the church. They were in the open, but the Soviet plan was to let them come forward into the lion’s jaws, so there was no response as the Germans made an Olympic-standard move roll and got their lads up to shelter behind the church. Making their way into the building they smashed out some of the windows and set up arcs of overwatch into the village and to their right flank.
Still no response from the Soviets, so the Germans brought up a third squad and had it double up to the left of the church and prepare to hop a fence on their left flank. This finally brought a reaction from the reds, from this angle the Soviets could deploy a unit on the German left flank that couldn’t be seen by either of the two German squads on overwatch and hit the squad behind the wooden fence. So the Zis-3 76mm gun deployed and banged an HE round into the surprised Germans. Despite the HE round completely ignoring their cover it only managed some shock.
The Germans fired back with their small arms and managed to got a lucky kill on the gun crew, and the gun and infantry traded fire for a couple of phases, with the Germans getting the better of the exchange. Despite the gun being dug into and emplacement and the Germans being counted as in the open, the Soviets just weren’t rolling any kills on them while the Germans kept getting those 6s.
The Germans knew their luck couldn’t last though and so called up their support: a Stug III F rumbled onto the table and biffed an HE round at the Soviet gun, killing another gunner. The gun crew was rapidly running out of men! But in true stoic Soviet style they turned their sights on the StuG and loaded an AP round, but rushed the shot and it hit the dirt short of the German machine.
This bought a reprieve for the German squad that the Zis-3 had been pounding and they took the opportunity to rally their shock and send back the one wounded they’d taken to the aid station. With the route up the left flank effectively blocked by the big Russian gun, they moved around the other side of the house they were hiding behind to where the gun couldn’t see them, but this only triggered the arrival of a dug in squad of Soviet infantry directly in front of them. Two DP-28s opened up and ripped through the Germans, but their gun teams got into position and immediately returned fire with their MG-42s. One of the German guns in the church joined in the fire, this was obviously the reds’ main line of resistance.
Meanwhile, the StuG was concentrating on the Zis-3, punching rounds into its emplacement and wounding more gunners. The Soviet gun was now down to just the JL, and the Soviet platoon commander had come forward and was rallying the shock off it and passing ammo to the serzhant as he kept his gun firing. The gun’s accuracy has been pretty shocking, missing their first couple of shots, but now they had found the mark and got a hit on the StuG, but it bounced off with little effect. The next one also hit, penetrated and managed to cause some transmission damage, but since the StuG was stationary that wasn’t a big deal. Return fire from the assault gun was still coming, and the Soviets were facing a real risk as the next kill on the gun was bound to wound or kill a leader.
Nearby the Soviet ambush of the lead German units wasn’t doing too well either. Several German MGs were working over the dug in squad and were scoring kills and shock. Germans were taking hits too, but it looked like they were winning the firefight. Soviet spirits were somewhat buoyed though when the Zis-3 took another shot at the StuG and managed to get another penetration that knocked the assault gun out. The crew managed to bail safely before the vehicle brewed up, but it did cost the Germans two points of force morale. The Zis-3’s celebrations were short-lived though, as German small arms fire soon hit the NCO manning the gun and killed him, costing the Soviets 3 points off their own morale.
So both sides had lost their heavy weapons, it would be down to the ground-pounders to grind their way forwards with their own weapons. The Soviets did have a flame thrower still up their sleeve, but the Germans in front of them were just slightly out of range to deploy it normally, and they still hadn’t rolled enough 5s on their command dice to get a full CoC dice and use it in an ambush.
With the firefight in the centre seeming like the key to defending the village the Soviets brought up another squad into a house on their left flank from where it could fire across the table at the Germans without taking too much fire from other German units. The German squad behind the wooden fence were the main target, and casualties and shock were starting to mount on it, but the Soviets in the trenches were also looking pretty shaky. They soon became pinned under the weight of fire, and their JL was knocked out, dropping Soviet morale another two points down to four and costing them a command dice. The Soviet platoon commander scurried up to their position and dropped into a foxhole to take over command personally.
With their reinforcements adding to the defensive fire they finally managed to get the German squad behind the fence pinned, but they really needed to break them and their flamethrower still wasn’t going to be in range. With no good places to deploy them and command dice getting a bit scarce deploying another Soviet squad into the firefight wasn’t really an option, and the two deployed already were only just holding on under intense fire from the attacking Grossdeutschland troops.
After a few more casualties on the Russians in the trenches they took another hit on their squad leader and this time he was killed, and the boys decided enough was enough. Bailing out of their pits and legging it to the rear their platoon commander was swept along with them, and the loss of their NCO and the squad breaking cut a further two points off Soviet morale, which put them on a very shaky two points. This meant they’d be rolling only three command dice and they lost their right-hand JOP.
The writing was on the wall for the defence now, but they did manage to score a lucky hit on the German behind the fence that wiped out one of their LMGs teams, but this still only cut German morale to 5. To defeat the German attack the Soviets had to knock them down another three points. Their best weapon left in the bag was their flame thrower, but it was still not in a position where it could hit the depleted German squad or their comrades in the church, who were down to six men so slightly vulnerable.
The only German unit they could hit was the one over by the swamp who had been providing supporting fire throughout the battle. The shot was extreme range for the flamethrower but did manage to hit, although it didn’t roll well and only caused one kill and a couple of points of shock. Luckily though the return fire from the Germans was equally ineffective and the flamethrower somehow managed to not be cut to ribbons.
However, in the centre German fire managed to tag another Soviet leader (the fourth of the game) and the wound cost another point of Soviet morale, this put them down on two command dice and with no real options left the Soviet commander signalled the withdrawal. The Germans had won with a four point advantage in morale, and hanging on to the bitter end would only give the Germans more men back and cost the Soviets more in the rout.
Having said that, the Soviet withdrawal was none too orderly, and the Germans picked up three POWs, one of whom was the Soviet officer. Oh dear. One more rifleman got separated and would be missing for the next game.
The Butcher’s Bill
The Germans ended with a four point morale buffer, and a third of their losses were from the support squad from the other platoon. So I gave the core platoon two men back and the rent-a-squad one, and then diced for the fourth one and it went back to the rent-a-squad. This all worked out as 2 dead one wounded on the core platoon, and one wounded on the other platoon. That’s a pretty fair trade for gaining a rung on the campaign ladder for the Germans.
It was much worse news on the Soviet side. Their casualties were 6 dead (including a squad leader) and four wounded. With two men and the platoon commander captured by the Germans during the withdrawal, this reduces the Soviet platoon to just 19 men, effectively they’re down to two squads to face three platoons of Germans. They have two fully fledged and one newbie junior leader, but with only enough men to form two squads I’ll probably just be using the spare JL just as a rifleman.
No reinforcements are available for the Soviets, so I can’t see this platoon being able to fight through until scenario 6 when a fresh platoon is available. This might mean we skip some scenarios so I’m going to call it now and say that barring a major miracle we’re heading for a comfortable German victory in this campaign. I’ve just allowed the Soviets to take too many casualties too quickly in the early games, which is just dumb play really.
Soviet CO’s opinion dropped one point to zero, but the men were not happy. Heavy casualties, light German losses and the dead NCO cost four points which drops them to -5 and will give them a -1 on force morale rolls.
German CO’s opinion goes up to 2 thanks to continuing progress towards their objectives, while light casualties on their side allowed the men’s opinion to rise one point to -5. This may still sound quite bad, but they were rolling for morale at -2 and now that goes up to -1, so a good change.
- Well, I’d like to say I’d learned a lesson about pulling out in time to save your men, but I honestly thought I had a chance to stop the Germans in this scenario and held on too long again. The Soviets are in a difficult position in this campaign: they can’t really afford to give ground too easily, but they can’t afford to fight too hard either. I still haven’t found the right balance this campaign requires.
- What really did me in in this game was the constant stream of leader hits, and losing the Zis-3 quickly didn’t help either. Conversely I only wounded one German leader, and there was no morale effect while I lost five points of morale from leader hits. That’s just plain luck, but some days that’s how it goes.