Monday, November 25, 2013

Band of Heroes - Carentan

From 10-14 June, 1944,  the US 101st Airborne Division fought against the German 6th Parachute Regiment in the small rural town of Carentan in Normandy, France.  For the Americans, winning the battle meant consolidating the Normandy landing beach heads.  On the other hand, the Germans needed the town to mount counterattacks on the nearby Allied landing force.

The battle is represented in Lock 'n Load Publishing's WW2 squad-based game, Band of Heroes.  Here's how my playthrough went.

The American objective is to head east into the town and take as many buildings as possible away from German control while the German objective is to stop them.  The scenario lasts 7 turns. The U.S. player gets 9 Fate Points that can be used to alter dice rolls in their favor.  It's a tough scenario for both sides with lots of tight close-in fighting through narrow streets and buildings cramped with the enemy.  I tend to lose a lot with the Americans when I play this scenario.  Usually, I'm not aggressive enough and the clock runs out.  This time, I'm determined to play things through a little differently after brushing up on WW2 infantry tactics.

New units come on for both sides over the course of the scenario's first three turns.  However, the scenario starts off with just a few forces on the map.  On the west side of the town, Major Tom and a platoon run in while Cpt. Weiss and his MG42 machine gun team in the center of the map await the Americans' approach.

The US player decides to hook his forces towards the large building opposite the German machine gun.

The MG42 fires at the lone American squad in F3 to no effect.  Turn 1 is over.

Turn 2

Major Tom moves with the rest of his platoon into the nearby building.  Sgt. Hill and his platoon enter the board and head for the south side of the town.  The Germans place their new forces in the south and spare a single squad to reinforce Capt. Weiss' machinegun.   They fire on Major Tom's platoon in the nearby building with tremendous firepower.  Using 3 fate points, the American player reduces the German roll and the US squad under fire remains unshaken.

End of Turn 2.

Turn 3

The US player has initiative and goes for broke.  Major Tom sends out one of his squads with a BAR rifleman to get into the building across the road.  The squad gets adjacent to the German 2-3-4 squad and the expenditure of 3 fate points leaves it unscathed from German close range fire.

The American squad jumps into melee with the Germans in J2 and they battle it out.  The US player splurges his 3 remaining fate points in the battle and takes out the German squad.

US 2-5-4 squad successfully melees Germans in J2.

Major Tom orders the two squads with him to pour fire on the German MG42 commanded by Capt. Weiss.  Weiss is shaken by the American fire.

Further south in the town, US forces keep moving.  Sgt. Hill sends up his 1-4-4 with a .30 cal MG to set up a base of fire in the building across the street from Lt. Frietag.  Lt. Michael enters the board and decides to get his platoon into a building close to the center of the board to help reinforce successful American assaults to the north and south.  A 1-4-4 squad with a satchel charge and a 2-2-6 US hero (named "Private Ash") are sent towards Major Tom to help keep the northern American flank pushing hard.

Lt. Praun gets to set up his forces and chooses to reinforce the crumbling German defense in the north of town.  One squad is placed with the shaken MG crew under Capt. Weiss while a 3-3-4 is put in J4 next to the machinegun crew.  If the Germans can grab initiative next turn and rally the machine gun, they can probably repel the US incursion in J2.

Turn 4

This turn was completely nuts.

With all the forces now on the board and bullets flying everywhere, it was time for craziness to happen.

Much to the Germans dismay, the Americans retained initiative.  The German machinegun with Capt. Weiss rally but they are immediately shaken again by Major Tom and his two squads firing from F3.  The Germans move up their 3-3-4 to attack the American squad before it can take out the shaken machinegun crew.  The rolls go badly for the Germans and the US 2-5-4 in I2 wins out in the ensuing melee.

In the south, things get harder for both sides.  Lt. Frietag sends up a squad from J6 to help keep the machinegunners to the north alive.  Despite copious opportunity fire aimed at it, the Germans make it to I3 safely.  The US player decides to make a push for the south side of town, which now has only Lt. Frietag and a squad with an MG34 in I6.  Sgt. Hill sends out a squad to H7, adjacent to Frietag.  The Germans hold their fire, however, which throws a wrench in the American plans.

Lt. Michael decides to give Frietag a target he can't refuse, however, and his entire platoon is sent to melee the Germans.  The Germans MG34 cuts down the approaching Lt. Michael and his platoon, shaking one squad and reducing two.  The men lay in the middle of the street with bullets splashing all around the blood-stained cobblestones.

Sgt. Hill then tries for a final assault on Frietag's position.  With only a squad at his disposal, he will be at a disadvantage in the ensuing melee.

But before Sgt Hill and his squad enter I6 to get at Frietag...

a sniper starts firing at them from a nearby building!

Luckily for Hill and his crew, this is the worst sniper in the world and the enemy shots go wild.  The entire squad does an about face and melees the sniper in K7, instantly eliminating him.

With Frietag occupied down south, the Americans in the north of the town can easily move their reinforcements east.  The US hero, Pvt. Ash, jumps into melee with the good order 3-3-4 German squad stacked with the shaken Capt. Weiss and his machinegun crew.

Ash clambers in the window and starts throwing grenades left and right into every nook and cranny of the building.  He eliminates the Germans in the squad in a blaze of glory but is killed in the process.

End of Turn 4
A lot of stuff happened this turn and it was hard to keep track of it all.

Turn 5

With all the excitement of the last turn, I was losing track of objectives.  This had become a bitter slugfest and it was far from over.  The Germans were definitely hurting more than the Americans but I had the feeling they weren't out of the game yet.

On the first activation of the turn, the Americans spent the first round of their initiative shooting fruitlessly at Lt. Frietag and his squad from nearby hexes.

Lt. Frietag responded by moving into the adjacent Lt. Michael's hex and eliminating his entire platoon in H6.  In one fell swoop, the Americans had lost a third of their entire attacking force.

Lt. Frietag eliminates Lt. Michael in melee after US fire failed to shake the Germans earlier in the turn.

On the north side of town, the US 2-5-4 squad with the BAR rifleman dash out of the building hex in J2 in an attempt to melee Lt. Praun and his MG42 machinegun.  

The German machinegun fire shakes the squad but a US hero is created.  The hero heads east to take the buildings and start achieving American victory conditions.

Major Tom decides to take out Lt. Praun and his machinegun crew in J1.  He sends a 1-4-4 squad with a satchel charge along with two 2-5-4 squads into the building for a melee.  The satchel charge takes out the Germans but the building collapses down on everyone in the process.  Both the Americans and the Germans are eliminated.

A picture of the dearly departed from the melee - three US squads, a German leader, squad and MG42.
Turn 5 ends.

Turn 6

Sitting in the middle of the street after the melee with the Americans, Lt. Frietag rested with the rest of his squad.  The Americans streamed from all around them as fire raked their position relentlessly.  No prisoners were taken as Sgt. Hill moved in and eliminated the German paratroopers.

With one turn left and no Germans on the board, the US wins a major victory in Carentan despite some very high casualties.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Red Army by Ralph Peters - a short review

Have some pity for Ralph Peters, whose lovely novel about World War III in Central Europe was published in 1989 by Atria Books, just in time to see the end of the Cold War and the radical political transformation of Europe.  Red Army is a work of fiction that focuses on the men behind the Soviet military machine and the ordeals and triumphs they would encounter in an invasion of West Germany.  In a sort of mirror-image of Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising, the novel is told from the perspective of Soviet army troops all the way from a terrified infantryman to the charismatic General Malinsky, commander in charge of the First Western Front, as they push their way across West Germany in the ultimate showdown of modern arms.

To his credit, Peters meticulously avoids providing details about weapons systems, hardware, or fighting vehicles.  This lets him keep away from getting bogged down in arguments about the range of a specific missile or the capabilities of a certain tank, another major difference from Clancy's near technophilia in certain sections of Red Storm Rising.  The emphasis here is directly on the human being.  Characters are given some background story without side-tracking the novel too much.  We recognize these characters as average human beings trying to function and survive in unthinkable circumstances.  Some of them are cowards, others are bullies, while some are good men whose strong sense of morality is severely tested over and over again throughout the book.

Looking back at Peters' predictions from the vantage point of 25 years later, there is much that he seems to get right.  He comes back again and again to the lightning-fast speed of modern warfare that takes both sides by surprise.  Furthermore, this unanticipated speed has a "ripple effect" that creates further problems in terms of communications, logistics, and support seems to be on the mark as well.  The speed of advance during the Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq War in 2003 seem to bear this out as a solid prediction.   The rapid advance of the Red Army over the course of three days pushes men and computers up to, and sometimes beyond, their decision-making capacities.

On the other hand, the author probably gave too much credit to the Soviets at certain times.  It seems clear that Peters based his book on NATO estimates of Soviet military capabilities that were shown to be false after the collapse of the USSR.  By the time of Peters' writing, the Soviet army was thoroughly demoralized from its loss in Afghanistan and the economic reforms of the Gorbachev era coupled with the stagnant Soviet economy had left the Warsaw Pact in very rough shape.  It is doubtful that the Soviets could have successfully fielded the forces necessary to fight a war against NATO as described in the book.  The scale of deterioration among the Soviet military by the time of the USSR's collapse surprised everyone, so this does not seem to be a result of a disingenuous author but rather a reflection of the scant information available at the time of the writing.

Fans of "Cold War turned Hot War"type of games and movies would almost certainly enjoy Peters' book.  As a work of military fiction, it works well on its own terms.  The characters are believable as people and the problems they attempt to solve are credible and interesting.  It makes for a great counterpart to other military fiction written at the time that was primarily written from the western perspective.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

2nd Fleet - Scenario 2: Sink the Boomers!

"Sink the Boomers!"  is one of the introductory scenarios from Victory Games' second release in the Fleet series games, 2nd Fleet.  While the first release, 6th Fleet, focused on naval warfare in the Mediterranean, this time around the action takes place in the North Atlantic near the GIUK (Greenland, Iceland, UK) gap where, presumably, NATO would duke it out with the Soviets in any Cold-War-Turned-Hot conflict that brewed up in Central Europe.

In "Sink The Boomers", the unthinkable has happened at some point in the 1980s and the Warsaw Pact is pouring tanks and men across the border into West Germany.  Reagan has threatened a limited nuclear strike on the Russians and to show them he's serious, has ordered the destruction of Soviet ballistic nuclear submarines ("boomers") operating in the Barents Sea.  Unfortunately, the Americans have only two SN attack submarines on hand, the La Jolla (LAJLA) and the Newport News (NPNWS) for this task. The Soviets have three boomers, the Ukraina (UKRNA), Donskaya (DNSKY), and the Karelskaya (KRLSK) that they intend to send towards the ice packed sea areas around the Spitsbergen archipelago.

Being under the ice pack will make these subs virtually undetectable to NATO so it is essential that the two American subs stop them before they reach the ice.  To complicate matters further for NATO, the Soviets have three attack submarines, the Anatoly Blagonravov (ABLGN), Pyotr Pospelov (PPSLV), and Magnitogorskiy (MGNIT) on station in the Barents Sea to provide cover for their ballistic subs as they make a run for it.

Both sides have limited air assets.  NATO gets a squadron of Norweigan P3 Orions based at Andoya in Norway while the Russians get T-95 recon aircraft at Kilpyavr and I38s at Pechenga.

The game length for this scenario is 9 turns (3 days).

At setup, we have the following situation.  The Newport News is sitting south east of Edgoya, a Norweigan island that forms part of the Spitsbergen Archipelago.  The La Jolla is to the southwest of the Newport News.

The Americans have set their subs further back to avoid a first turn rush from Soviet attack subs and to give them lots of room to manoeuvre and hit at the oncoming Boomers.

Day 1

Strategic air assets are deployed by both sides. The Soviet T-95s and I38s find both American submarines while the Norweigan P3s fail to locate any of the Soviet submarines.  Not a good start for NATO.

NATO activates its submarines first.  Since the subs are already strategically detected by the Russians, it makes no sense to move slowly.  They run at full speed, giving them an extra movement point. The La Jolla up north and the Newport News south, trying to bracket the approaching Soviet subs.  Hopefully, they can come in behind the screening Soviet attack boats.

The Soviets send one attack sub each to attack the Americans.  The ABLGN fires at Newport News and misses while the PPSLV attempts ASW attacks against La Jolla and also miss.

Newport News to the south and La Jolla to the north.  Soviet boomers rushing through the middle, west towards the ice pack.

On turn 2, the Soviet attack subs pour it on, attempting attacks on both the Newport News and the La Jolla, all failing to score a hit.  The Newport News and La Jolla decide to chase after the SSBNs rushing through the middle and by the next turn, manage to catch up to them.  The La Jolla manages a hit on the DNSKY and damage the sub badly.  The Newport News doesn't have the same luck and misses on an attack run attempting to finish it off.

The Russian attack subs race to catch up with the American subs and the boomers wriggle out of their predicament with the Newport News and La Jolla, heading steadily for the ice pack.  To catch up with their brothers in arms, the DNSKY must run at full speed.  It is strategically detected by the end of the day.

The damaged DNSKY flees west with the other boomers while the American subs sit on either side of the pack.

Day 2

NATO sends up its Orions again fail to detect one of the boomers while the Soviet I38s pinpoint the La Jolla.  The T-95D is put on tactical coordination missions to assist the Soviet attack subs in their attempts to kill off the American submarines.

On the first turn, the La Jolla races west to catch up with the Soviet boomers while the Newport News fails to kill off the damaged DNSKY.

The Soviet boomers are getting close to the ice pack and the accompanying attack submarines are thirsting for revenge on behalf of the damaged DNSKY.

They soon get their vengeance.  The PPSLV damages the Newport News and then the ABLGN follows up with another successful attack, sinking it.  The Americans are down to one submarine.

The lone American sub (La Jolla) chases down the Soviet boomers as they make their way west.

Near the end of the second day, the LAJLA is desperately attempting an attack on the UKRNA.  Sinking this sub would be a big plus for NATO as it is worth more victory points than the other two boomers.  The attack damages the UKRNA so the Americans are not out of the game yet.  Sinking one of the Russian boomers would be a big help for them.  On the other hand, the Soviets get some major victory points if their subs manage to reach the ice pack, even if they are damaged.

End of Day 2 - The La Jolla sits in front of the boomers as they are achingly close to reaching the ice pack.

Day 3

Strategic air allocation for both sides is all about tactical coordination today.  Each side is looking to score some damage on this last day of the scenario.

The PPSLV attack submarine attempts an attack on the La Jolla and damages it with the help of tactical coordination with the T-95s and I38s.  All the Russians need to do now is finish off this last American submarine and they can sail their way to a major victory.  The ABLGN follows up PPSLV's attack on the La Jolla but misses.

The PPSLV damages the LAJLA and heads south before the ALBGN follows up with an attempted coup de grace and misses.

On NATO's turn, the La Jolla activates.  Going for the UKRNA is risky.  It is harder to damage but it is also worth more victory points than the DNSKY.  The commander of the damaged La Jolla decides to play it safe and try for an attack run on the DNSKY with a bonus for using tactical coordination with the P3 Orions.  The NATO player rolls a 9 (a 10 with tac coord) and scores a major hit on the DNSKY, destroying it.  If NATO can activate first in turn 8, there's a chance it might also be able to destroy the UKRNA.

The damaged La Jolla after sinking the DNSKY.

Luck falls to the other side, however, and the Russian boomers run at full speed and hide under the security of the ice pack.  The remaining Russian attack subs chase after the La Jolla but it escapes to the south undetected.  The scenario ends.

Soviet player victory point total:

KRLSK reaches ice pack: 4 points
UKRNA reaches ice pack: 5 points
US SN sunk (Newport News): 1 point
Total: 10 victory points
Result:  Marginal Soviet victory

Conclusion:  This was an extremely tense scenario.  Near the end, it had the air of a Tom Clancy thriller with the Americans desperately trying to score a success - any success - against the Soviets.  The Americans tried their best to throw the Soviet attack boats off guard by trying to take indirect approaches to the Soviet boomers.  Splitting up the Newport News and the La Jolla made it harder to score successes against the Soviets but it may have ended up ensuring the survival of at least one American submarine.  One thing I've learned with subs is that if they're strategically detected by air at the start of the day, you might as well use their full speed capabilities.  This allows you to really make effective hit and run attacks on your targets.

For the Soviets, attacking 688-class American submarines with inferior Russian subs means that you'll probably need either some good luck or some good tactical coordination.  If you're in a position where enemy submarines will be locally detected due to their close proximity to your ships at the start of the day, you would be well served to place your recon planes on tactical coordination missions rather than searching for enemies.