Friday, October 23, 2015

Chain of Command game: SOWCHOS (Collective Farm) 79

We made the trek down to Goulburn last weekend to have a Chain of Command game with the lads at the Goulburn Soldiers.  Huuuge club, decent lunch too.  The boys set up a really cool looking table with terrain representing a Soviet Collective farm (No. 79) on the steppe about 25 miles or so south of Stalingrad on 8th December 1942.  The scenario was the action to stabilize the left flank of the German relief effort with General Balck's 11th Panzer Div (the famous 'Ghost' Division) detouring to attack Sowchos 79 held by elements of the Soviet 1st Tank Corps. Andrew and Jason played Russians, Luke and myself the Germans.  It was my first CoC game since last year but it soon came back to me and I remembered just how good (as in realistic) and fast moving they are.  Far superior to Bolt Action in my opinion, and quite a different beast to play.

Sowchos 79 with the Russians occupying the village on one side of the crossroad.  Nice and wintery although a sudden local warm-snap had inexplicably melted the snow off several trees.
You have to start making decisions before the first dice are rolled i.e. what combination of units do you want off the lists provided (the Russian list was intimidating too - knowing what you could be facing). Then roll three dice and see if you can afford 'em!  The choice of armour was reasonably straight-forward, wanting to get on and into the town as fast as possible but not risk getting demolished by the first Soviet shell!  Tanks then.  A Panzer III and a STuG accompanied by two & a half infantry squads and a light mortar for support. With my patrol phase completed and my jump-off markers close enough to gain the hard cover of the walls lining the road, I nervously rolled my Panzer III on to see what I could see.

My Panzer III belting down the road towards town when he notices something very large and mechanical coming round the bend at the other end of town...  oh crap - its a KV!
The Russians got off to a good start with Andrew's men occupying the town and bringing their slow armour on.  Now you don't usually associate 'slow' and 'armour' with Soviet tanks unless they are steel monster KVs with 10"armour.  The Russians had two of 'em and only my last-minute decision to have  'Pre-game barrage' from the list (instead of the delightfully-named 'Panzerknacker' Team) saved me from facing both KVs and the hordes of Soviet infantry.  In fact the barrage successfully prevented Andrew and Jason from bringing on overwhelming forces early on which probably saved the German's bacon.

I rushed one section up to the other side of the road and let the Russians have it!  Note jump-off marker - it was as close as I could get to the village before Andrew locked it off with one of his in the nearest house (just behind the tree). 
Two choices facing a KV - run away immediately or just shoot and keep shooting!  My plucky Panzer scored some lucky initial hits, getting three shells into him taking out the hull MG (puff of white smoke above) and giving the KV two pins.
The Russian response was predictably brutal with the KV putting several holes in the Panzer and killing the gunner.  Also got two pin markers but remarkably nothing blew up in the tank - just a bit more ventilation - just what you need in winter!
Faced with a KV at the other end of the road I felt I had no choice but to duke it out as any attempt to veer off the road to take cover would have exposed my weaker side armour - in other words there was initially no way to avoid being shot at so my Panzer went for it. Closing the distance and blazing away with his 51mm high velocity gun (not even a 75 [whimper] - and facing 10" of Soviet steel!!) he amazingly got three AP shells into it. But Andrew's KV was having none of it from that Fascist wurst-wagon opposite and got three back one of which spread the gunner around the turret, taking out my main armament.

One frustrated KV commander - managed to shake the hit markers off but now the target has disappeared! The figure with all the pin markers to the immediate left is the lone survivor of the 1st Russian section legging it past the Maxim concealed in the objective house (and Russian jump-off point with the Soviet marker on it)
Two things saved me in the end.  When Andrew needed to roll high on the hit chart he failed time and again and having my gun knocked out of action meant I had to order my radio operator to clean the mess out of the gunner's seat and take over shooting duties. To do this I needed to buy some time (two turns to be precise) - and here's where C of C's SENSIBLE rule regarding mortars comes in.  I had the choice of one support weapon off the list for my initial force. I deliberately chose the 5cm mortar team and had my senior NCO order them to drop smoke in front of the Panzer while emergency 'repairs' were made to get the gun operational again. At short range requiring a 5 or 6 I managed to get the smoke right where it was needed, masking the Panzer from the KV while the frantic crew struggled to get the gun working.

With the Panzer temporarily out of it, the firefight between the infantry on either side of the crossroad got very intense.  My squad closest the tank to the left got hammered from the Russian squad diagonally opposite and the Maxim MG in the house.  On the other side after some poor initial shooting my section started to whittle down the opposition with the help of the Panzer's hull MG. My sure-shot mortar boys dropped more on the other Soviet section near the bridge, helping reduce the odds on that side.
Surprise! I'm baaa-ack! The Panzer III charges through the smoke with its 50 blazing at the startled KV. Note the startled expression on face of the Russian tank commander. Note too the German section has managed to shoot the Russian one opposite off the wall and now have just the Maxim in the house to contend with (and that's bad enough).
Once the new gunner was in place I ordered the Panzer forward to attack the KV. Actually I don't think I had a choice as there was literally no place to go but straight up the guts with guns and smoke! Anyway my gamble payed off as in two rounds of shooting I managed to pump another four shells into the KV, putting one into the engine immobilizing it and killing or wounding the gunner and/or tank commander. Remarkable to survive that many hits without brewing up but KVs are extremely tough and difficult to kill.  In the end the surviving crew abandoned the tank when Soviet morale finally broke.

The worst German losses were suffered by the section containing the second and third squads.  Fire from the Soviets over the road supported by the Maxim MG on the other side of the crossroads (before the smoke ruined their aim!) saw three schutzen  and an NCO killed but their morale held until rescued by one of Luke's squads sent as a reinforcement.
One of Luke's squads arrives in the nick of time.  They helped my guys to cut down the remaining Soviets before the next Russian rifle squad arrived. Their firepower added to mine and supported by the mortar cut down half of the fresh Soviet squad. Once this happened the Russians on Andrew's side of the table failed their morale and broke, leading to a general Russian retreat.
The other side of the table showing Luke's men about to make the much more hazardous advance in the open.  I can't remember if the STuG is his or mine but I don't think it got more than one or two shots off before the game ended.
Luke's men rush across the flat open steppe towards yonder Russian-infested forest. Game or what?
Waiting in the woods were Jason's  Soviets on Overwatch.  How Luke's men weren't all cut down or even the STuG made it past the AT rifle hidden in the woods on their flank, I don't know.  Similar to Andrew, with the off table barrage in effect, he had great trouble in actually getting his units onto the table.
Jason's Russian AT rifle in the woods - they got some shots in but I don't know if they stopped anything.
Jason's commander - clearly a revisionist shirker who spent most of his time shouting orders at no-one in particular from behind the safety of a hill.
"If you go into the woods today..." Russians hoped to provide a big surprise for the Germans rushing at them but Andrew never managed to get enough of them on the table and I don't know what happened to his KV.
In contrast, without an off-table barrage to contend with, Luke's Germans had no such difficulties: a squad shelters in the woods and contemplates the hazardous dash across the open ground in front of them.
Russians bug out: the survivors of Andrew's second(?) squad on the left of the crossroads have had enough - the five of them are carrying at least ten hit markers. At least the Gaz truck came in handy - if they can get it started before the STuG gets a bead on it!
The end of the game came quickly. After driving off/destroying the second Russian squad opposite, my squad on the far right poured fire into the house - MG nest/Russian jump-off point/objective. After several rounds of intense firing including (once more) an accurate mortar round, there was one man left of the five-man crew. Once the MG was captured/destroyed Soviet morale in the village (Sowchos 79) collapsed and the remaining Russians ran for it, leaving the village and a smoldering colander-like KV in German hands.

On his side of the table Jason had not suffered much loss but it didn't matter as everything on the other side of the frozen river was gone before he could get most of his units engaged. I tallied Russian losses on my side of the table at around 40 men - three and a half squads, a Maxim HMG & 5 man crew and two? KV crew for the loss of one Panzer crewman, one NCO and four Schutzen (and two or more holes in my Panzer III). Quite a result but I will admit I got lucky - the Maxim could have easily annihilated my squad  jumping the wall on the road to assault the house - had not a lucky mortar round (I think it was) took out another of the MG crew.  Equally any of the three or four hits the KV got on my Panzer III could have destroyed it - then it could have been a very different story.  Anyway, now they've cleared out Sowchos 79 the Germans can get on and rescue the 6th Army in Stalingrad right?

I enjoy Bolt Action but I do find Chain of Command far more satisfying.  Just the difficulty of getting orders out to get your units to do what they must accurately reflects what it must have been like in the chaos of combat.

Got to thank Matt and the boys for inviting us to Goulburn and for Andrew, Jason and Luke for a great day's gaming.

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