Monday, October 10, 2011

It's the Gulags for me...

The recent games day at the West Tokyo Wargamers saw Brian and I try our hands at another  WW2 game using Blitzkrieg Commander II.  
Let the recriminations begin:  The NKVD were to have a busy day...
Brian has a British army for BKC II, but this time he wanted to try his hand at taking on the Soviets, and I was willing to oblige.  So for this game, he arranged to borrow Giovanni's Germans.   We decided that the scenario would see the Germans attacking a settlement defended by the Soviets, sometime in late 1943. Germans had 1750 pts, the Soviets just over  1500.  

We were joined for this game by Sawamoto-san,  a young university student here with an interest in WW2.  He had seen our blog and showed up to the club to see what we were all about.  He had never played a miniature wargame before (he had some experience with computer games), but he was very willing to give it a go.  For a first time player, he did very well, and clearly understood how to use his armoured infantry properly!

Giovanni was generous enough to bring much of his terrain and vehicles for us to use.  But he hadn't bought much in the way of infantry, so Brian had little choice but to devise an armour-heavy, elite force which would be tasked with trying to winkle the Popovs out of a defensive position.  

I wasn't unduly concerned at this, given the difficulties of nailing infantry in cover in BKC II.  The terrain was dense, and not really conducive to armour operations- it would be tough for him to take- and importantly to hold- the ground.  While it would be tough for me to deal with all that armour,  I felt it could be done with the force at my disposal, which had a good amount of artillery for its size. I was reasonably confident my Russkis would give a good account of themselves.

The table setup- view from the German side
Wrong!!!   Unfortunately, just about everything that could go wrong for the Soviets, did!  I made some fundamental deployment errors at the beginning, and to make matters worse my die rolling could not be more abysmal. A command blunder resulted in a large part of my force virtually committing suicide.  Let's say for now that will be no more room at the Gulag this week, and supplies of cigarettes and blindfolds for the officers involved are running low.

The settlement- lots of good cover for Ivan
The Soviet forces prior to deployment

Lots of infantry!
...supported by a couple of T-70m light tanks

As well as meatier stuff!  This is an OT-34 flamethrower tank I made years ago, with an SU-122 behind it.
The Soviets take their positions on the left
...while the Germans enter the field.  The Sturmtiger is proxying for a Brummbar.
Soviet armour heads down the road.  A decision the Soviet command would later regret...
On the right, the Popovs prepare A/T positions and orders are given.
I've always found the 120mm mortar an extremely useful asset, and this game was no exception.

Major Wretchedski assures the C/O that everything is under control..
Great cover, A/T weapons, mortar support- what could possibly go wrong?
Fascists in the woods!
"Something wicked this way comes..."
Gepanzert troops approach from the opposite flank, armed to the teeth with weaponry, brickwork and other construction materials.
"Maxim Sergeivitch, I really don't like the look of this!"
The halftracks dropped the infantry off in the woods
As a pincer attack is clearly taking shape
"Oh why...
..didn't I think... put the OT-34...
...behind some decent cover?!?"
Stug III's enter the fray

"Where are you, Little Popov?
Brian had clearly been learning the tricks of the BKC II trade since the last time I played with him. and has learned that when you have those 7.5 cm KwK 40 guns at your disposal, you don't need to get close- stand off and hit the enemy from a distance, with as many vehicles as you can bear on the target.  And I obliged by stupidly putting my tank in the open. 

But despite losing the OT-34 (and with it's 12 attack dice, I really could have kicked myself for not using it more effectively), my situation was by no means a desperate one.  The Germans infantry had infiltrated the woods on the left, but could not see the Russians behind cover, who were waiting for the Germans to make the first move so they could open up on them with everything they had.

But then, disaster struck with my first command blunder of the game.  And it was a doozy.

The Soviet commander on the left mistakenly ordered his men not just to break cover, but also to charge the nearest enemy to the front.  The Soviets were about to recreate the first day of the Somme.  
"URRAH!... urk!"
In the process they were pretty much wiped out, a few remaining (and mauled) stands retreating back into cover.  Think of that scene at the opening of Enemy at the Gates...

In fact, the next 15 minutes of the game was spent working out the firing for that 80% of the German army who could get a shot in.  And few missed!  The Fascists rolled fantastically well all game.  

As for me, I was rolling high when I wanted low, and vice-versa.  Not that it would have made any difference in this situation, and given the volume of firepower I was subject to.  Brian was almost embarrassed at the destruction he was doling out, but my agitation was really directed at the dice gods and at my own stupidity, not him!

...and then
...there were none. dakka-dakka-dakka...
An enraged NKVD colonel orders the arrest, interrogation (with extreme prejudice), and liquidation of Major Wretchedski for his failure.
The Germans are quick to capitalize on the Soviet blunder, and assault the remaining platoons in the settlement.  An A/T stand fights bravely for a brief time, but is overwhelmed by numbers.
At this point in the battle, discretion is the better part of valour...

The Soviets continue to monotonously fail their command rolls, while the Germans grow weary from the mental effort of having to decide which units to slay next.  In all my time playing BKC II, I have never seem myself so completely deserted by the Dice Gods.  Usually things balance out over time, but this time Fate was really putting her boot into Popov crotch.

The Devil's last fart in the direction of International Socialism came in the form of another command blunder, this time by the Soviet overall commander.  The whole Soviet force, clearly demoralized and disoriented by all the crap coming down their way, pulled back out of their defences exposing themselves again to a blizzard of Krupp steel.

At that point time the sands of time were running out, so the Soviet commander accepted the inevitable and ordered a general retreat.  Somewhat academic, as everyone and his pack mule was high-tailing it back to the safety of the Ural mountains anyway.  

It will be a dreadful day of reckoning back in Moscow. 

It's all over for the Soviet defenders
To the victors, the spoils...

I'd like to say it was fun, and it had it's moments, but in truth I found myself frustrated on numerous occasions. It was quite possibly the very worst defeat I have ever experienced in a wargame.   It is easy to blame poor dice rolling (and I will, to an extent!), but there were other factors as well.  

One was that I did not use my armour as effectively as I could.  Not only the OT-34, but with hindsight I should have placed my A/T gun and/ or the light tanks in the woods where the halftracks infiltrated.  I could have hit them coming in, and pulled them back quickly before the inevitable retribution would start heading my way.

Another error was not playing the Soviets to their strengths.  The Germans have far more flexibility with their higher CV's, command range of 25cm rather than my 15cm, and in this game at least greater mobility.  I would have been better to have concentrated my forces in one half of the settlement where the odds of passing the command rolls would have been higher.

Finally, not that it really mattered the way this game played out, we really need to play with army break points.  The Soviets can take a lot of punishment while the Germans really do not like taking too many casualties.  In most games this could mean the Germans being more cautious with their assets.  Mind you, Brian was being pretty cautious as it was!  

But Brian and Sawamoto-san played a very good game, making no mistakes and making sensible use of terrain and of the resources they had.  While they were heavy in armour, their force was weak in infantry, and it was infantry that would be needed to assault and turf me out of the settlements.  But through my command blunders and my throwing away my armour support, I basically served them the victory; on a platter, with a side order of borscht and washed down with a bottle of strong vodka.   

Clearly I lacked sufficient revolutionary zeal, and I would surely be paying the price in days to come.

Oh well, there will be other games, and I'll be having some more friends to help me, too...

Finally, music to listen to while drowning my sorrows in vodka: "Song of the Desantniki"

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reinforcements from the Capitalist West!

Pride of place to the T-35.  Looks impressive, and being made of white metal, it is one heavy model!
I can't believe it has been so long since I posted here, as it's not as if WW2 gaming has been ignored my end.  Our group here in Tokyo (The West Tokyo Wargamers) has been involved in many different periods- and recently for me it has been Napoleonics- but WW2 has been a steady favourite, as you can see here.

But as my Soviet collection is more complete than my Napoleonic one, I have been spending more time on building French, Russians and now Prussians rather than churning out T-34's and the like.

However, in July I was back in Vancouver for a spot 'o home leave, where I took the opportunity to pack up and ship my old collection of Soviets that I played with there.  These were all built in the eighties and early nineties.  I came to Japan originally with the intention of staying for three years.  Nineteen years later, and having access to a well-established gaming club, it was time for them to be recommissioned, and to make the voyage westward.

And these are seasoned troops!  I played loads and loads of WW2 games in Vancouver back then using a variety of rules.
I was a little concerned if they would survive the journey across the Pacific, as given the cost of postage from Kanuckistan these days, I opted to have them sent by sea mail.  Fortunately, damage was very minimal, and nothing that cannot be repaired.  

Unfortunately, these do not represent any particular organization.   In those days, the German player was spoiled for choice in a a number of ranges of readily-available kits in plastic, resin, and metal.  Not so the collector of Soviet vehicles, who really had to hunt around.  Getting  any Soviet equipment in any quantity then, apart from T-34/85's and KV's. was a real headache (and expensive!). 

In the picture, you can see some T-26 variants from the now long-defunct Akheton Models.  These were uniformly dreadful, as was my choice of green paint!  But in those pre-UM days, beggars couldn't be choosers.

I also built a ISU-152 and IS-2, from a resin producer in California whose name I long forget.  The current Fujimi IS-2m is a much, much better kit, as is Pegasus Hobbies' offering for both the IS-2m and the ISU-152.  But hey, a bird in the hand...

Now as I mentioned these kits were built a long, long time ago, so I need to cut myself some slack for any inaccuracies.  One thing I do regret having done back then is going overboard with the foliage and decals on all the models.  I may give some of these kits a new paint job, or at least remove the vegetation!  Those T-26's for a start.

The most useful models for my present force are the softskins and transports, not to mention some rather nice artillery pieces, including this pair of 160mm mortars!

One of my favourites was this scratch-built Stalinetz S2 High-Speed Tractor.  It looks very reminiscent of a German Raupenschlepper Ost, although I believe the Soviet vehicle was on the scene first.  
I took an old Roco 1/87th scale Pz-III. Cut the tracks in the middle and removed a section to shorten them, and cobbled together a cab and flatbed from plastic card and Milliput.  The canvas tilt was from, IIRC, a White scout car kit.  

I've always been very proud of this one! It's accuracy is suspect, as I was going by a couple of grainy old photos.  But it looks okay for the tabletop, and at least it's unique.  This will be towing a 76.2mm gun as part of my motorcycle battalion.

I'm also happy with my NKVD staff car, which is a repainted toy car from about 1989 or so (from the Dick Tracy movie, maybe?)
Aside from these painted kits, I also brought back with me some old kits I had lying around- the makings of a pretty good airforce, some more softskins, and even a box of metal figures including a cavalry regiment!

I look forward to these all seeing action in the none-too-distant future!