It’s late on 5th July 1943, the second day of the Battle of Kursk. The first Soviet lines have been beaten and are retreating, but the Germans still have to push on and clear their final objective: the village of Cherkasskoye.Here the Soviets have fresh troops and have even been promised armoured support if they can hold on long enough.
The Germans enjoyed plenty of support (12pts) and opted to go for a classic selection of infantry support weapons:
- le.IG18 75mm infantry gun
- MG34 SFMG
- Flamethrower team
The Soviets had much less support (5pts) and the way the campaign works means that if they want any fixed defences to defend this village they have to buy them now. I had really, really wanted a minefield with which to shut down the German access through the farm buildings along the table edge, but just didn’t have enough points available after picking a Maxim and two entrenchments to form a solid defensive position.
- Maxim SFMG
- 2x entrenchment
The village of Cherkasskoye is the main German objective for this campaign, with German forces entering from the relatively open scrubby land outside the village. With little cover to conceal their approach both sides would be looking at the strip of houses with wooden fences along the table edge to provide cover for an attacking force.
The Germans rolled two free patrol marker moves, and as expected made a push for the houses immediately. The Soviets bounced a marker up quickly to lock them down and then both sides swung out into the open ground and finished locking each other.
The Germans ended up with two JOPs in the scrub patches, and one at the edge of the built up area. The Soviets put one on the ridge overlooking the village, one in the houses and another deep behind their line, with the extra one for the scenario in the main objective, which was the church building in the centre.
Exactly what firepower the Germans would bring was a bit of an unknown quantity. I had originally planned on closing down the route through the houses with 1-2 minefields, but to do so I would have had to skimp on entrenchments or fire support, and I didn’t fancy that. So instead I decided to let the Germans come on through the houses and then hit them hard when they did. I would have like a DShK, but settled for a dug-in Maxim with infantry support.
The German plan relied on their superior firepower. With plenty of belt-fed LMGs, plus an SFMG, infantry gun and a flamethrower they clearly felt they could dominate any firefight and push their way into the village through sheer firepower. That’s not a bad plan, it had worked for them before in this campaign.
The Germans rolled well for their first phase, with three pips on their chain of command dice, but not having the right dice to deploy anything. They handed play over to the Soviets, who also decline to deploy and when the Germans rolled again they got three more pips, giving them a full CoC dice before the game even got going!
Once play started properly the Germans sent in a squad, carefully infiltrating into the farm buildings. The Soviets stayed hidden though, and allowed the Germans to get closer. After a few phases of creeping around a second squad had followed up behind the lead squad and went onto overwatch covering the church and the centre of the Soviet line. No Soviets deployed to make themselves a target though, which was making the Germans nervous.
The Reds couldn’t wait forever though, if the Germans got too close to the Soviet JOP in the houses all it would take would be a double phase and they could rush it. So as the Germans snuck tactically up to the far side of the pig pen the first Soviets revealed themselves: a Maxim machine gun team dug into a concealed gun pit opened up on them and hit three men with the first burst! One of these was the squad leader, who must have taken a nasty wound as it knocked him our cold and cost the Germans two points of force morale.
The Germans set up their LMG and fired back, hitting one Maxim crewman, and their other LMG team moved up and started firing, though to no effect yet. The machine guns traded fire back and forth, but the well dug-in Soviets were getting the better of the firefight, and after some good shooting they managed to wipe out one of the two German LMG teams. The Germans badly needed to keep the momentum up and not just let this MG chew up their boys, so a cunning plan was hatched!
By now the Germans had managed to put two CoC dice into the bank, so they spent them both. Using the first one they moved their JOP up behind their hard-pressed point squad, and then from that JOP they launched a flamethrower ambush. The flamethrower team doused the Soviet MG nest in fire, killing one of the crew and putting four shock on the survivors. This meant the Maxim was now pinned, so its firepower would be chopped in half. Probably not the devastating blow they hope for, but not a bad start.
Play swung back to the Soviets, the question was: to reinforce the Maxim, or write it off as lost? Deciding that the gun could be saved the Soviet platoon commander ordered up one of his squads and went forward himself to organise the defence. Armed with two DP-28 LMGs and with the Maxim team still keeping up their fire as well as they could they poured fire into the remaining German squad and managed to put enough shock on them to break, and also wound the squad leader for a second time. Breaking and dragging the wounded NCO with them, the German squad took three points of force morale with them, knocking the German force down to four morale and costing them a command dice.
The Germans weren’t giving up though, and deployed a fresh squad into the position the previous one had just vacated. With two fresh MG34s and plenty of bodies they hoped to swing the firefight back their way, and immediately made an impression by hitting a Soviet rifleman. Luck wasn’t with them though, as the Soviets rolled up a double phase and finally managed to get enough pips on their Chain of Command dice to fill it up. Spending it immediately the Soviet officer by the Maxim managed to rally enough shock off it and then end the turn, unpinning the crucial machine gun right at the critical time. With the belt-fed gun back at full effectiveness and now backed up by two LMGs the Soviets threw a wall of lead at the Germans, whose light cover offered very limited protection. This whole firefight had been conducted at short range, and the Soviets had consistently rolled well for the effect on their targets and indeed it wasn’t long before the kills and shock started to mount on this fresh German squad.
The Germans did have an MG34 SFMG and an infantry gun in support, but were suffering from some terrible command dice which hadn’t allowed them to deploy them to support the squad in contact. The men would have to bully their way right through the Soviet position with their own LMGs head-on. Alas, this was not to happen as the Soviets started to dominate the firefight, and with several casualties and mounting shock the second German squad broke and fell back in disarray. German force morale dropped another two points to 2, at which point the German commander decided carrying on was futile and signalled the withdrawal.
A crushing defeat for the Germans today then! Two of their three squads were broken with heavy casualties in the brutal frontal assault of the Soviet MG nest with almost no effect on the Reds at all. This was a very short, sharp game indeed, with play lasting maybe an hour before the wheels fell off the German attack completely.
But they’ll be back, you can count on that!
The Butcher’s Bill
Ending the game with a force morale advantage of a whopping six points, all the Soviet casualties are negated. Not so lucky for the Germans though. They took four dead, three wounded, and one man was captured during their withdrawal, with another 3 going missing. The platoon has 20 men left though, even after all that so is still an effective unit.
We’ll do the bad news first. The German CO continues to be unimpressed, but is still on +1 overall, so he’s not applying any penalties after two losses on the trot. The men however, are really not feeling the love. Their opinion slumps a further two points to -7, mostly due to the fact they took heavier casualties than the Russians. Force morale rolls are now at -2 and this earns the platoon commander an “interview without coffee” although he doesn’t seem that bothered by the bollocking and remains “happy” in his outlook.
On the Soviet side the CO improves his morale to +2, and the men boost their joy by the same amount. That puts them on -2 overall and wipes out the force morale penalty they’ve been carrying for a while. Clearly giving the hun a bloody nose has been a bit of a shot in the arm for the Reds.
This leaves the Soviets with one big platoon plus a couple of extra squads and reasonably good morale, while the Germans now have three smallish platoons and bad morale. But what the Germans do have is plenty of time. They’ve still got another game in which to grab a major victory, and another after that to claim a minor victory. The Soviets need to win the next two games in a row to salvage an unlikely victory of their own, which, despite this game’s result seems like a tough job.
- The Germans did suffer some bad luck (being unable to deploy their supports, Soviets rolling well for kills and double turns) but they also didn’t execute a Plan B. They doubled down on Plan A and it didn’t work.
- The German use of CoC dice was good, and nearly cracked the Soviet position. Bouncing their JOP up and ambushing with the flamethrower was aggressive and certainly had me worried. If they’d rolled better for the flamethrower it could have seen off the Maxim and forced the Soviets to change tactics.
- The terrain dominated the thinking of the attacker here. The Germans were reluctant to even try attacking across the relatively open ground and instead went in for close action in the houses. This meant their other units weren’t able to support the lead squad when they got into trouble.