Panthers in the snow
Last Sunday I put together another Flames of War game at the local Hobbytown. The setting for this game was the Bastogne perimeter during the Ardennes offensive in December 1944.
Mike and Zeke were able to make it out for the game and had US Parachute Infantry and US Tank Companies respectively. The American paras were dug in on the front lines covering the six objectives with the armor company in reserve. The Americans had a couple of minefields and access to heavy artillery support for their artillery (on a roll of 5+ any US artillery barrage could get +1 AT and +1 FP). The Germans had one Panther company (of ~1900 points) and one panzergrenadier company (1500 points) and could gain VP by exiting a recon platoon off the road to the west or by capturing objectives. The base terrain was snow (difficult) with very difficult woods and ridges. The game started in fog, providing concealment and limiting visibility to d6 x 4″.
The Paras deployed to cover the three objectives on the main east-west road and with their armor in the town to the rear ready to react as needed. The mines were used to block the road through the large wooded area in the center of the table and to block easy egress of the recon units to the west.
The Germans attacked with a Panther platoon and Panzergrenadier platoon on the left and the rest of the force on the right, except for a lone Tiger trundling up the center road.
The Germans advanced across the table as rapidly as the snowy terrain permitted. The wide tracks of the Panthers and Tiger were invaluable in keeping the tanks moving forward with minimal bogging. The first actions took place in the center as the Tiger wandered up toward the woods in the center. Tempted by this lone target, Mike’s paras got up from their holes and moved forward to attack the big cat. Fog concealed their approach and several teams worked close enough to launch assaults on the tank which weathered the storm and withdrew. Unable to reorganize far enough back into the woods, the paras found themselves under a hail of MG fire from the Tiger and some Panthers in the following German turn and took some casualties.
Action shifted to the German left where a Panther platoon was advancing up the road with support from a platoon of infantry. The panzers soon outpaced the foot sloggers, but I decided to press aggressively on toward the objective. The para commander again opted for an aggressive defensive, using the cover of the fog to launch an infantry assault on the unsupported Panther platoon. He added smoke to the fog, preventing defensive fire from one of the tanks. The Panthers had 12 dice needing 5+ and managed to get the 5 hits needed to throw back the assault, leaving the Paras exposed and out of their dug in positions again. The next German turn saw a hail of MG fire from the Panthers, gutting the exposed Paras. The remainder retreated to the house and the woods and dug in. The Panzergrenadiers moved up to dig them out only to lose 3 teams on 4 dice of shooting to defensive fire. Fortunately the platoon carried on and was able to take the building. The remainder of the platoon steadfastly refused to to rout and sat in the woods blocking access to the road through into the US rear. A couple of turns of shooting and assaults were required to finally destroy the platoon, which valiantly fought to the last man.
On the right the German advance was fairly well stymied. The minefield across the road forced the armored cars and schwimmwagens of the recce elements off-road and into the snow. A large open area (~20″) between the treeline on the Germans side and the paras occupying the wooded ridgeline opposite was a daunting task for the infantry as well. By the time the infantry reached that point, the game had reached the point where we were dicing for the fog to lift and I didn’t want to have my infantry caught in the open without concealment so decided to wait for some Panthers to come up. I did shuffle one platoon of infantry across to the center woods so that I could think about driving off the paras in there. The Americans did get a Time on Target attack in against the Panthers, but they survived (although a couple of nearby infantry teams got blasted). A Stuart platoon from the Tank Company zoomed up and fired on the armored cars, as did the platoon of Shermans supporting the paras. One armored car was lost and the lone visible Stuart was definitely mismatched when the fog lifted and the Panthers could suddenly seem him.
The game opened up for the Germans when the American paras once again decided to get froggy and try and kill the Tiger, which had left itself parked within 4″ of infantry in concealing terrain, allowing them to attack without suffering defensive fire. I would like to say this was some sort of brilliant trap I set, but the truth was I just wasn’t paying attention. Fortuntely the Tiger once again weathered the storm of assault rolls and withdrew from the combat. The paras consolidated back into the woods, but were once again unable to get far enough into the woods to keep me from shooting them. The Panther platoon (which had been shooting up the para’s supporting Shermans) and Tiger advanced with machine guns blazing and the panzergrenadier platoon sent into the woods came up from behind. The paras took multiple casualties and failed their platoon morale test, routing and taking the company CO with them. Combined with the destruction of the Shermans by the other Panther platoon, that put the Paras into a failed company morale situation and the last platoon took off, clearing the way for the Germans on the right. A couple more turns were played out, but the American armor didn’t get any of the lucky breaks needed to affect the outcome. The Jabos showed up – only to miss all three ranging attempts and fly off without bombing anything useful. A last ditch attack by the 76mm armed Shermans scored no hits and we decided to pack up. The Germans had secured three objectives and had no real opposition to keep the infantry from seizing the town. The scouts had cleared lanes through the mines, so were poised to move out down the road.
A fun time and a good game. I was helped greatly by my opponents aggressive tactics in attacking my tank platoons. I was not looking forward to trying to root out dug-in fearless platoons of veteran infantry deep in woods, especially with my limited amount of available infantry. I would have had to bring the tanks into the woods to even the odds – something I didn’t want to do, wide tracks or not. By jumping up to attack, he allowed me to use my superior mobility to bring lots of machine gun fire to bear. Zeke had a couple of new units in his force (mainly the 6-gun Priest battery), so was still learning the in and outs of their use and had probably had not playted a game with that amount of movement restricting terrain before. Those factors combined with some slightly delayed reserves kept the US Tank Company from weighing into the fight too heavily.