Vyazma or Bust with Battlegroup: Barbarossa
“You can take a picture of it [the dead KV-2] if you put it on your blog. You haven’t put anything there in years”
The picture was snapped and so the challenge accepted. After a 3-ish year hiatus, I am back with some accounts of our latest game.
Last year at Historicon I got a chance to try out the Battlegroup series of WWII rules from Ironfist Publishing. I enjoyed the games a lot and so brought the rules home for the group to try, where they have also been a hit. I’ll let others provide a review, but we have really enjoyed these as they move fast, have enough command uncertainty, and create historically reasonable outcomes.
For our latest venture we have been playing the Vyazma or Bust campaign written for IABSM and converting the scenarios to use with the Battlegroup: Barbarossa rules. This campaign is set during the fall of 1941 as a part of the Barbarossa campaign.
In the first game, the Germans were attacking the Soviets in a hastily prepared defensive position and suffered a rather thorough defeat as the Soviets cut up the attacking Germans, who struggled to pin down the enemy while trying to move forward.
In the second game the Germans were very successful as a the two sides were both advancing and the Meeting engagement favored the more flexible Germans. The Soviets also had apparently angered the Fates, as their atrocious die rolling was only bested by their truly atrocious luck with the battle rating chit draws. Their tanks broke down right and left, the Luftwaffe showed up, and the Soviet morale rapidly crumbled, allowing the Germans to easily escort their artillery HQ to safety.
Which led to game three of the campaign. The Soviets are falling back in disarray and have been tasked with holding a crucial bridge to allow various retreating units to escape to safety. The Germans orders were to seize that bridge and a nearby mill building.
The Soviet defenders had a couple of reserve rifle platoons supplemented by a couple of Maxims, a couple of turns of fire from some 76.2mm field guns, and a KV-2. They deployed on blinds (we have adapted the IABSM blinds to play with the Battlegroup rules because they a) provide an easy way to add some Fog of War, which we like, and b) are probably important to the scenario balance of the original scenarios) in the village covering the long open fields on the German right and in and around the mill. The KV-2 started on the road near the edge of the village.
The Germans moved onto the table on blinds, sending the tanks and halftrack-mounted pioneers up the right flank while racing ahead with trucks up the road to seize positions in the woods at the fork in the road. The Soviets soon spotted the units represented by the blinds and started revealing their own troops to fire away. With most of their troops still operating on blinds, the Germans had plenty of orders to get their first set of trucks to the rear and bring up a second set to disgorge their infantry along the hedges facing the village. The Soviets responded by deploying forward a bit and bringing that infantry on the hedge line under enfilading fire from their left, catching them in the open. They could not shift to another hedge to gain cover from the flank until the infantry in the village to the front was pinned down. Caught in a classic crossfire, the first wave of German infantry was shredded.
While the infantry was being cut down, the tanks were working their way forward under fire from the KV-2. Every time the giant gun fired, German tankers cringed. The first three shots all missed, using up the beasts ready ammo, but the Soviets had a supply truck on hand and were able to resupply it. As the Panzers began to get the range and pin the infantry in the village, the KV-2 connected and the giant HE shell tore one Panzer III apart. That was to be the highwater mark for the Soviet armor though as the KV-2 soon suffered a breakdown that left it immobile and when one of the Panzer IIIs rang a shot off the rear armor, the crew decided they had had enough and abandoned the tank (which I insisted on marking with a burning tank marker anyway, leading to the comment at the top of the post).
While the duel with the KV-2 unfolded, the German assault pioneers moved up in their halftracks and dismounted to clear the village. The first team out unloaded on the church with rifles and their flamethrower, destroying an entire 10-man squad in one attack. Their accompanying MG-34 team fired on the Soviet company command staff in the church’s nave, only to have them pass the rolls for Beyond the Call of Valor, giving them a free activation. They unloaded on the pioneers in the open destroying the MG-34 team. As the second pioneer squad unloaded, a Soviet platoon command unit that had gone unnoticed interrupted the pioneer activation using it’s ambush order and pinned down the rifle team (with the flame thrower) in the open in front of their objective. The MG-34 team from the second squad tried to get their revenge, but the platoon command squad also got a Beyond the Call of Duty activation and finished off the first pioneer squad and the second MG-34 team. Fire from across the road eventually destroyed the remnants of the pioneers. The tanks eventually blasted the last of the Soviets from the village, but it was a very Pyrrhic victory.
Back in the woods at the intersection, the German infantry formed a firing line and began to put heavy fire on the Soviets in the mill yard, eventually destroying one squad. When the village defenses started to waver, those Soviets began falling back toward the village hoping to establish a second line in front of the bridge, but the German tanks got there first. The Soviets settled down to delay and slow the Germans as much as posiible while waiting for reinforcements, but each time the Soviet commander rolled his die for reinforcements, there was much grumbling, but no new Soviet troops.
With game time winding down, we declared the day a German win, albeit a very, very costly one. The Soviets were about 6-7 points from breaking and had essentially no on-table combat power remaining. The Germans were 12-13 points from breaking and while they were very shot on infantry (about 2 squads left from the 8 that started the attack), they did still have 3 real tanks, 2 halftracks, and a Panzerbefehlswagen I. The Soviets would be getting their reinforcing tanks within the next couple of turns (2 BT-5 and 2 T-26), but they would have to attack to eliminate the three stationary defending Panzers without taking sufficient losses to exceed their own BR (and there were still a few remnants of the original Soviet defenders that could be hunted down to force chit draws).
In keeping with the spirit of the original published scenario, I had set up a deck of cards to govern the arrival of the Soviet reinforcements. There were somewhere between 7 and 11 cards before the first reinforcement. The Soviet commander rolled a d3 at the end of his turn and flipped that many cards. We had played about 8 turns and no reinforcements had arrived, which tells you all you need to know about how those die rolls went.
A fun game a close run affair. Had the Soviet reserves arrived earlier it probably would have been a Soviet win, as they arrived from the NE and the axis of the German attack was NW to S and would have driven right into the rear and flank of the German attack on the mill. Both sides seemed to really enjoy the game.
Next game the attack shifts to the heart of the city of Yelnya, which must be captured to open the final assault on Vyazma. The Germans are guaranteed a campaign win at this point, the question at hand is how thorough the victory will be.
Maybe next time I’ll remember to take a few more pictures, maybe even move around the table and get some from different points of view, or even get out the camera instead of being lazy and just using my phone…