4th July 1944 as the Germans continue their offensive at Kursk, here a strong combined arms force has to batter it's way through a well defended and dug in Russian force. Set away from more than a handful of buildings this is open country, lots of room to manoeuvre where smoke and lots of machine guns are needed to keep the Russians in the bottom of their trenches whilst Stuka's hunt out juicy targets.
I continue my journey through the Crucible of Steel pack by Bounding Fire Products with one of the larger beasts. It even warrants two sides of a scenario card, yep it's not suitable for an evening play. It's the type of scenario I like to reserve for a bank holiday game with James but this was PMEM with Rob. Me as the defending Russians and Rob as the toy rich Germans.
I don't think anyone do big scenarios as well as BFP and Crucible of Steel has plenty of them. Now some folk don't like third party providers whilst others just assume no one can better MMP so why look at them. Boy are you mistaken, the golden boys of not official ASL can supply as good as MMP can. I love the games I am playing from AP9 To The Bridge and Festung Budapest is fantastic but the last two packs by BFP are as good/better and LFT's historical packs also can stand side by side with pride. It does not stop there, plenty of other TPP also are producing excellent scenario packs and no one does historical mini modules better than Lone Canuck. So if you have never tried any of these I suggest you take time to tread the various AAR's I have of these providers and check out other reviews and AAR's as your missing out on so much ASL goodness.Back to the plot, the Germans get 30 squads some set up on board whilst the rest arrive through the first four turns on the 8.5 turn game. Three HMG's two MMGs and two 81 MTR are part of the on board troops so from turn one they can lay down a fair bit of fire, especially as they also have a 9-2 leader. The Russians though are not without teeth of their own with 27 squads at start, a pair of HMG's and four MMG's. Add to this a dug in T-60, two 76L ART one each of 45L and 45LL ATG's and a 76* INF and what turned out to be an excellent 37L(8) AA and I had a formidable defence. Two 1+3+5 bunkers, nine trenches and as many foxholes as I could die in all wrapped up with eight wire 12 AT mine and 48 AP mine factors and I could plan a nice defensive hedgehog.
The Double Wide boards that come with Crucible of Steel are excellent semi open country, this scenario uses two of these and two other normal CoS boards and this really gives a great feel of attacking/defending in this type of terrain, something that has been difficult to reproduce on previous Geo boards.
Scenarios of this size and choices need a good deal of planning so you need to put a lot of thought into your defence. Given the shear firepower of the Germans I knew I needed defence in depth but I also knew I needed a few turns of grace to allow me to force the Germans to take risks towards the end of the game. No way can you or should you plan to hold out in your at start positions, that is playing to the German FP strength.
The German's have four reinforcement groups, one of three StuG's, another with three Marders then six engineers squads with flame throwers, demos and trucks to get them up front with a AA halftrack for protection from my turn five FB. Lastly another twelve squads in yet more trucks and AA halftrack support.
Rob started off as it was to go through the first few turns with some heavy fire generating slightly below average results. His best moment was when one of his three Stuka's saw and killed my dug it T-60 but I paid him pack downing another Stuka with my AA gun. My front line was mostly covered with a cloud of smoke, added to through the first three turns as Rob choose the AFV's for the first two groups laying heavy smoke on the left hand hills but a steady loss of smoke ability eventually freed my units from the smoke and this is when they started to take a beating from the SPG's as Rob sent all six against this hill, however I just cycled new units back into the forward trenches and rallied the broken squads. This was also the tale on the right hand hill though in most cases it was cycling back in half squads and ELR'ed at that as the three HMG stack with the 9-2 leader was really taking it's toll.
However whilst I was losing units at a steady pace I was also picking off his squads and my flanking 45L was working through the Marders. Indeed casualty wise the German's had the best of it through the first 2 turns but the next tow were swinging in my favour.
Rob's decision to lead with the AFV's started to have a negative effect at this point, his smoke was about used up, his firepower was starting to drop off but he had hardly moved forward from his start positions whilst I was still for the most part defending my forward posts, and longer than expected.
This was the point of the first major push as he used the two at start half tracks and the StuG's to freeze my most vulnerable squads and moved infantry up for some point blank fire. In all cases at worst I was pinned and Rob then joined me in melee. These for the most part dragged on and whilst in the end he was to kill all the defenders I was able to kill a number of squads and both halftracks either from close combat or firing into the hexes. By turn five Rob had to move with the threat of my Fighter bomber that picked on his moving trucks causing a number of casualties including one engineer squad and flame thrower. Rob continued to be aggressive with his StuG's forcing broken units to remain under DM and even running foul of my own mines giving up their locations. However this was to cost him all the StuG's one to a rear shot from an adjacent ATR rear shot as it desperately turned to face the 75L ART on the adjacent hill. This StuG was to be the cause of the large fire in the grain and whilst it forced my troops out of the trenches was to prove a great help in forcing the German's to take a wider route.
A AT mine took out a truck and squad as they approached the first line of buildings on the far right, buildings I had been forced to retreat from by massed fire but still protected by the AT mines as I had expected some of the tanks to take this route which they did not do. I unhipped the second ART when the HMG kill stack moved through the open just a couple of hexes away but whilst I broke a squad failed to do the damage I had hoped to do. It did however loose Rob another turn as his troops had to stop and deal with the gun.
More successful was the 75INF taking out the last StuG with a rear hit as it stopped adjacent to the gun. The first shot was a critical hit as it span round and fired. It then saw off several infantry attacks as Rob tried to force his way round the flan, the gun protected by a wall of fire.
Rob never got infantry onto the smaller hill, the AG's that made the heights were taken out by the ART and AA gun whilst the infantry were mowed down as they closed to the hill. I came close but never quite ran out of infantry to push into the forward trench. He was more successful with the larger hill but the AA gun on the small hill was able to break most of the infantry moving in the open with it's flanking fire.
As time ran down Rob through all he could onto the large hill and towards the small one but all this was in the open and good rolls meant almost all were to break on the way in with yet more troops being KIA'ed adding up a lot of negative VP for him.
In the end Rob called it at the end of his turn eight movement, too few squads left and as far away from the victory locations as he had been at the start of the turn.
The end positions, the AA gun is next to the malfed ART, yes it never rolled high enough to loose concealment! I think Rob could have done with at least one of the truck mounted infantry (the 12 squads) earlier, especially as he was keeping the right side defenders under a hail of effective fire. The small hill did end up being a dream position allowing quite a bit of interdiction of the Germans as they tried to take the large hill. The HMG on the top of the large hill went through so many changes of Russian troops that I visualised a pile of bodies filling the trench around it. Apart from some early good shots it's main contribution was fixing a large number of German units in place firing at and breaking it's troops but keeping the German force in place.
A great scenario with lots of reply, but due to size and so much HIP (fortifications are not revealed) I think it will get less play than it deserves, such is the lot of large scenarios though VASL was made for games like this.