Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) - Play-test 5

The fifth play-test was a sequel to the fourth. Having repulsed the German attack, the Russians strengthened their defences knowing that a further German assault was inevitable.

With the exception of the tank unit – which was withdrawn to counter a German attack further along the River Bug – the Russian defenders remained as before. They had, however, strengthened their defences by laying barbed wire entanglements in front of their trenches to channel any attackers into a killing zone.

The German infantry formation that was following behind the Panzer Division knew that they had to eliminate the Russian position in order to secure the area. To this end the German commander allocated two infantry units, two engineer units (each equipped with a flamethrower) and two field artillery units to assault the Russian fortifications. All the German units were rated ‘above average’.

The German commander decided that the assault should be staged over two nights. During the first night the engineers would remove some of the minefields that had been identified whilst the field artillery bombarded the Russian trenches. It was hoped that this would both deplete the number of defenders and stop them from interfering with the engineers. During the second night the infantry and engineers would infiltrate the Russian defences so that they could begin their assault at first light.

During the first night the second turn of German field artillery fire destroyed the Russian anti-tank unit. Despite being in trenches, two Russian infantrymen – one of whom was armed with a light machine gun – were killed during the fourth turn of artillery fire.

Under cover of the artillery bombardment one of the German engineer units managed to clear a Russian minefield, but the operation took far longer than expected and the barbed wire remained uncut. Despite this, the German commander decided to order the assault to go in after the second night of artillery bombardment.

The second night of artillery fire caused further casualties to the Russian defenders. By the second turn a member of the light field artillery unit was dead, and the Russian commander has a narrow escape when an infantryman standing next to him was killed. His luck had, however, run out, and he was killed by the next artillery salvo along with another of the defenders. By the end of the night the Russian defenders had been reduce to almost 50% of their original strength.

During the second night one of the German engineer units managed to cut the barbed wire in front of the Russian trenches despite being fired at several times by the defenders, and at dawn they charged forward, followed by one of the infantry units.

The effect of the flamethrower, coupled with the use of an assault demolition charge and overwhelming firepower was decisive. By the end of the first daylight turn the German were in the Russian trenches, and by turn 3 they had killed off the remaining member of the Russian light field artillery unit – capturing its gun in the process – and another two of the defenders. The cost to the attackers was surprisingly low – one engineer was killed – and by turn 5 the entire left-hand side of the Russian defences was in German hands.

By this time the other German engineer and infantry units had moved forward, and by turn 7 the Russian defenders were under constant fire from the German-occupied trenches. A German artillery spotter was amongst the newly arrive troops, and during turn 8 the German field artillery units began to bombard the remaining Russian defences.

Not wishing to risk losing any more troops, the German commander opted to continue the bombardment until nightfall, when he intended to order the fresher of the two engineer units to mount a nighttime assault on the remaining Russian defenders. However, when they did attack, they found the defences deserted. The remaining Russian defenders had retreated.

Lessons learned:

The new rules worked very well, particularly those relating to the engineering tasks.

This was the first battle where a planned assault had been gamed through, and although it was an interesting intellectual exercise it would not have made a good face-to-face wargame – too much dice throwing (to determine the effect of the nighttime bombardment) and very little action until the actual assault took place. The rules are written for solo as well as face-to-face wargaming, and this proved to be an excellent example of the card activation system at work as it slowed down what the Germans were able to do.

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The rules are now at a stage where most of the major mechanisms have been play-tested and shown to work. All I need to do now is to paint a lot more figures and to begin fighting bigger battles!

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