5th July 1943, south of Kursk. Smoke rises over the Russian town of Butovo. Tired Soviet infantrymen fall back, anxiously watching for their grey-clad enemy. German troops have pushed their way into the town, and the defence has been reduced to a running battle, trying to buy time and slow the attackers. Can the Red troops stop the advance and hold the line?

Forces

The Germans had at their disposal a platoon with two full squads and one half-strength squad with a replacement junior leader. Bolstering this with 10 support points they picked:

  • An le-IG-18 75mm infantry gun
  • A flamethrower
  • Extra senior leader
  • Adjutant

The Soviets had just two full-strength squads, and five support points:

  • Sniper
  • Flamethrower
  • 1x Entrenchment

Campaign Progress

The Germans haven’t been stopping for anything so far. They’ve won games 1 and 3, and their loss in game 2 didn’t slow them down at all due to the peculiar rules for this campaign. They’re now 3 rungs away from victory, and have five campaign turns to grab them in so are well on track.

The Ground

The Germans took the outskirts of the town of Butovo last game, and are now driving the defenders out. Multiple small wooden buildings and wooden fences dominate this battlefield, with a couple of small orchards and scrub patches. For once, both sides will have plenty of cover.

Deployment

The Germans advanced astride the road, spreading out their patrols as they went. The Soviets were using only three markers and made it a priority to get up the table quickly and get the first lock down, pinning the German markers as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately the exact positions of the markers left the Soviets with only one real valid spot to position a JOP. It was hardly ideal, but would have to do. Their second went on their baseline along the road, and their objective JOP was the house near their baseline.

The Germans rolled a force morale of 9, and the Soviets 8. Both of these were affected badly by the very negative mood of the troops on both sides.

The Plan

“Delay” was the name of the game for the Soviets. They had too few men to stop the Germans cold, so their support choices were designed to pop up, hit the Germans and then fall back. A mobile squad could use the forward JOP and then pull back, while a tougher dug in one could block the road. Taking no AT assets was a gamble when the Germans had 10 support points, but they could afford to lay and let the heavy armour pass through.

The Game

Apologies for the terrible quality of photography in this report, I messed up my camera setup and didn’t realise how badly blurred they were.

The Germans kicked off by sending forward a full-strength squad on their right, with their half squad watching from the corner of a house along the road. The Germans sat on overwatch but the Soviets didn’t bite, and when they rolled a double phase the temptation was too much and the squad on overwatch broke cover and started across the open ground in front of them.

This time they did get some Soviet attention, as a sniper pair hiding in a hay cart drew a bead on them. A shot rang out, and the German squad leader fell mid-stride. A leader kill with the first shot of the game! Perhaps the dice gods were smiling on the Russians tonight…

German morale took its first dip, slipping one point to eight. Meanwhile, the other full-strength German squad had deployed on the German left and started to hop over the fences, working their way towards the spot where the Soviet sniper was hidden.

The first German squad’s movement had left them out in the open though, and the target was too tempting for the Soviet’s forward pickets. Two DP-28s fired on the Germans at close range, but despite a decent amount of hits could only manage one point of shock (we ruled that firing through the small orchard granted the Germans light cover even though they were in the open themselves).

The German reply was swift though, with the squad in the open halting and opening up on the Soviets to their front. The MG by the house joined the party, and the crew of an le-IG18 infantry gun wheeled their cannon up onto the road and punched a shot into the Soviet squad. Only one casualty resulted but four points of shock from the first phase of firing; these Soviets were going to have a tough time, obviously.

To manage the shock (and due to some dodgy command dice) the Soviet platoon commander went forward to control the squad himself, and they managed to keep up a good volume of fire on the Germans caught in the open, and the sniper joined in, shooting another man down. The German platoon commander had also come up to take over command of that squad when their obergefreiter got sniped, and the other senior leader took up a position near the infantry gun and LMG near the road. The right flank German squad kept advancing on the snipers, but some low rolls and the fences slowed them down.

The German squad in the open was looking in big trouble though, and now they had a senior leader with them. This was too tempting a target to ignore and the Soviets brought up their trump card, a flamethrower which hurled a murderous jet of burning fuel at the unlucky landsers.

In reply though the concentrated fire of three LMGs and infantry gun managed to roll some lucky hit dice and the flamethrower team took three kills and was wiped out in the next phase. If it had got a second or third shot off the Germans in the open would have been at serious risk of breaking, so that bought the Germans some breathing space and cost the Soviets two points of morale they couldn’t afford to lose. They were now on six with the Germans still on eight.

The next few phases saw an exchange of fire between both sides. The sniper kept getting good hits, dropping several men and inflicting some shock, while the twin LMGs of the Russian squad whittled the Germans in the open down. But the return German fire was hitting plenty of Soviets, too, with the infantry gun getting some solid hits. The German SL with the squad managed to keep shock managed, until he was hit and knocked out. This cost the Germans only one point of morale (lucky German morale rolls were to be a feature of the game).

The Germans were losing plenty of men though, and soon the squad in the open had lost one of its two LMG teams and the other soon become pinned. Rolling well again this didn’t cost any force morale points. The Soviets facing them were also running out of men though, with both LMGs only just still manned, and a lucky shot wounded their squad leader. This only cost him one CI, but it must have looked bad because it cost the platoon -2 force morale, which dropped them to four and cost them a command dice.

Meanwhile the German squad on the left had finally advanced up to the hay cart, but probing it with bayonets they found it empty, with only some spent brass to show the Soviet snipers had ever been there. The sniper team was dispersed, but this isn’t a force morale roll when it happens.

With their first squad pretty chewed up and their snipers bugged out the Soviet commander decided it was time to fall back, but a poor roll for their movement saw the squad slow to disengage. To cover their comrades withdrawal the second Soviet squad blocking the road (and dug in) deployed and opened fire on the infantry gun a couple of hundred metres in front of them. A stray round hit the gun’s commander and knocked him out, which dropped German morale down to six.

Still not out of danger the Soviet infantry squad at the sharp end took more incoming fire and the Germans poured salt on the wound by launching a flamethrower ambush that cut down all the remaining machine gunners and wounded the Soviet platoon leader slightly. Normally a small wound like that isn’t a big deal, but in this case the -1 morale penalty took the Red Army force down to three and cost them another command dice. They would now be rolling three dice to the German five.

This is the point at which the campaign rules really come into focus in your mind. German morale was six, and Soviet was three. This would mean the Germans got to discount three of the nine casualties they’d taken so far. If the Soviets fought on they’d be highly unlikely to chop that six points of German morale down enough to win, so it was about damage control. They had a JL and SL both in danger close to the Germans, and hits on them would likely cost more morale and simply make things better for the Germans.

With all his men currently unpinned and within 12″ of JOPs the Soviet commander took the option to pull out in an orderly fashion before it turned into a rout.

The Butcher’s Bill

The Soviets has lost their flamethrower team and a whole squad. In campaign money this becomes four dead and two in hospital. This leaves the Soviets with a fighting strength of only 15 men, but they’ve only got one more scenario to fight, and it’s not a very important one to the outcome of the campaign (although it is an interesting scenario and I’m looking forward to it).

Taking their 3-point morale advantage the Germans escaped with two dead and two wounded, plus the dead squad leader. Not too bad, considering they had a squad pretty badly shredded. One of the men was promoted to squad leader but would have to prove his worth, while the rookie JL who had commanded the small gun team in action had obviously earned the trust of the men (and why not, his team had suffered no casualties). This does all leave this platoon as the weakest of the three German units, at 20 men (the others being 22 and 28). All up that gives the Germans a greater than 4:1 manpower advantage, until Soviet reinforcements arrive for the sixth and final scenario.

Campaign Post-Match

The Soviets executed an orderly withdrawal, but the CO wasn’t best pleased and his opinion drops one point to -1. The men also drop one point of opinion, and crucially this now puts them at -6, where they now roll for force moral at -2 and the platoon commander’s command range drops to 6″. The poor bloke is also called in front of the CO and the commissar for an “interview without coffee”. He emerges with his hair freshly blown back and slips two spots on the mood table from “guarded” to “remorseful” in the heavy drinking column, which is going to whack force morale rolls for an extra -1. Oh dear.

The German CO though is pleased that they’ve captured their objective at Butovo and his opinion goes up to +3, which will grant an extra support point from now on. The men were happy to have taken light casualties and dished out more than they took, but were sad to have lost one of their NCOs. Overall their opinion went up one point to -5, which still means rolling for morale at -1.

The Germans are now moving into the end phase of the campaign, and are in reasonably good shape. One of their platoons is bit battered, but the other two are in good shape to take the last two objectives, and morale will probably hold out too.

Lessons Learned

  • The overall Soviet plan was sound, but the execution wasn’t perfect by any stretch. They were unlucky to lose their flamethrower after only one shot, and with hindsight I was slightly too slow to give the order to fall back. I got fixated on the target again, and tried to pull them out with a shoot-and-scoot order that predictably resulted in 1″ of movement!
  • The sniper did a great job. They’re a very niche unit in CoC. The other main time I’ve used one to good effect was this game, where it was doing a similar job of acting as a speed-bump during delaying op. They’ll never stop the enemy,but they allow you to deploy really early and get harassing shots in on an advancing enemy. You can send them in early as they are hard to target.