Intensive fire is the main UK ASL tournament, held in Bournemouth over four days in October. Thursday is reserved for friendly games (and drinking), friday has a couple of mini-tournaments, while saturday and sunday are the tournament proper. Players are assigned to a fire team of three (randomly selected, but mixing high ratings with low), and get to play three rounds, with a choice of three scenarios a round.
I’d been to the Heroes tournament in March but only played friendly games, so this was my first tournament as a competitor. My Heroes record was not great – ‘The Citadel’ uncompleted, and losing ‘The Guards Counterattack’ and a three player ‘Tractor Works’. Nonetheless the ASL bug had bitten deep and I was looking forward to some quality counter pushing.
One of the first things as I saw was an 11 year old called Elliot playing S1 ‘Retaking Vierville’ from Starter Kit1. For some reason a line from the film ‘TAPS’ went through my mind ‘…The last stage of any mobilization – the seed corn…’ but that was probably just me. He didn’t play badly either and only lost on the last turn. One of the organisers Ian Pollard, was running boot camp for newbies like myself and found me an opponent, and was generally around for rules queries and intoducing people.
Game 1 Friday- Boot Camp mini tournament 'First Crisis at Army Group North'
I got to pick, and chose this as I had been meaning to play it with my usual FTF opponent, so the counters were already bagged and I'd scanned the vehicle notes. I took the Germans and fellow newbie Mark Furnell took the Russians. It's a medium to smallish, armour heavy clash in June 1941, a few days after the start of Barbarossa, when the Germans encounter KV-1's for the first time.
The vehicles are not too complicated: the Russians get eight squads and seven tanks, three KV-1's which are pretty much impenetrable to german guns (front and side armour is the same – 8, front turret is 11), two BT-7s and two T-26’s. The BT-7’s are nippy (21mp) artillery OP tanks with a 76mm gun, limited AP and paper thin armour (2/1). The T-26’s have a 45mm gun, cardboard armour (3/1), and no radios, so use platoon movement. Both the T-26’s and the BT-7’s have unreliable main guns (B11), and all the Russian tanks are mechanically unreliable. This means every time you expend a start mp, roll the dice, a 12 and you are immobilized, an 11 and you lose a dice worth of mps and try again.
The Germans get three Pz IIIG's which have 50mm guns, (basic kill number-11) and ROF2. You have a good chance of knocking out the crap Russian tanks but the KV-1’s are going to laugh at you unless you get APCR (1 in 6 chance) and you are still looking at 6 or less (most places), 3or less (turret front) for a kill. Your armour is 3 hull or 4 turret, front and side, and the Russian kill numbers are 9, 10 or 12 for the KV’s main gun. You also get a couple of half tracks, a 37mm AT gun that starts towed (kill number-8 but ROF3), and four squads with two leaders and two demo charges. As a turn one reinforcement you get a much needed 88 mm flak gun, which is about the only thing that can stop the KV’s.
The victory conditions are for the Russians to exit three tanks with functioning main armament off the german side of the map. This condition means you’ll think twice about firing the unreliable Russian guns, and the german player needs to take out at least one KV-1 to be certain of victory. At least as the Germans you get a 9-2 armour leader, and as its 1941 no riders are allowed, so the Russian infantry will struggle to keep up, and have only one leader for rallying…but eight turns is a long time to keep the hordes at bay….
The battlefield is deeper than wide, with boards 4 & 5 lengthways. Board 5 on the left is dominated by a large forest, with a couple of clearings, and a solitary track curving from east to west. The forest occupies most of the eastern (Russian) board half, and spills two or three hexes over into the German western half. A narrow finger of trees extends from the left hand forest edge, into a wooded gully that meanders across the extreme left of the battlefield. To the southwest of the main forest, a tributary woods occupies a big clump of the rear third of the battlefield. Another wooded gully runs from here to the german board edge. Between the two woods is a oblong bowl of clear ground with a few small wooden houses and hedges in the south of the bowl. The main forest offers cover from direct fire for at least part of the way to the victory edge, but is a very narrow approach for vehicles. The right (Board 4) is much more open, but there are large patches of grain offering hindrances, small clumps of woods, and isolated farmhouses and the fields of fire vary from good to bad.
My Pz III’s were set up in an inverted ‘V’: the armour leader in the oblong between the two woods, where he had a sneaky narrow LOS onto the open ground in board four, but was close to the main forest track exit if the Russians pushed there. To his south, another PzIII was hull down behind a wall, on the right hand side of board 4, supported by a couple of squads and a demo charge. The 37mm and halftrack were a couple of hexes behind him. The third PzIII at the point of the ‘v’ was also hull down behind the only other wall, well back, with poor fields of fire, but also capable of switching to the forest axis. The remaining two squads of infantry with a demo charge were in the main forest, just adjacent to the track.
My basic plan was not to contest the entry spaces, but to let the Russians advance a ways and engage as the infantry and armour became separated, and their tank formations became more ragged - as inevitably happens. To this end most of my stuff was hidden from direct view, with only the two foremost Pz III’s likely to engage in the first couple of turns. The temptation for the Russians is to pile forward without stopping, after all everytime you stop, a 12 loses you a tank, and you have to reach the other board edge to win….but if you don’t stop you won’t hit anything with your guns, and you’ll lose touch with your infantry….probably a better idea to keep somebody on overwatch and advance in bounds.
Turn one saw the three KV’s advancing to the Russian side of the main forest on my left, with the smaller stuff and the infantry on the right. One of the BT-7’s followed a road where a narrow stretch between woods and a hedge was covered by the 50mm of my right hand Pz III. The BT-7 gunned its engine and dashed across, the Pz III fired and missed (+2 motion,+2 1mp in firers LOS, +2 grain)…schiesse. The BT-7 carried on where it crossed a one hex gap covered by the other PzIII with the armour leader, but this time, a hit and a kill…foolish untersmenschen! In my turn the 88mm came on and stopped where it could cover the main forest exit, but couldn’t do much else.
The 88mm and the KV’s engaged in a bit of a dance for the next two turns, Mark moved the KV’s away from the forest, so the 88mm moved south, then he moved two KV’s back to the forest, so the 88mm moved north again….meanwhile the other Russian tanks congregated behind a small woods right in front of my main resistance nest – two squads, a halftrack and a PzIII. Nothing had LOS except a T-26 and a halftrack- this is generally considered bad for halftracks, but the T-26 missed first shot. I had a 8-1 leader with a sore throat (looking for an iron cross) and he ran forward adjacent to the remaining, stationary BT-7, with a demo charge and successfully placed it, surviving the Russian defensive fire (only a couple of tank machine guns).Bang!...no more BT-7…demo charges have a kill number of 16 and I started wondering if I should have saved it for the KV’s…
My armour leader was getting twitchy at the thought of all these heroics going on without him, so in a fit of national socialist fervour advanced to take the T-26’s in the flank. He took a bounding fire shot and missed, and a T-26 returned the fire and missed. The other T-26 fired at the halftrack and made it burn- oops, mental note to self – even crap tanks are better than halftracks.
A KV-1 appeared, my armour leader turned his turret to fire and hit him about three times with the rounds pinging off…(I figured if you fired enough times, you’d get a critical hit…and you will…or break your gun…or die). The KV stomped forward, and I had to take a shot from one of the stopped T-26’s with a -2 acquisition. This had a reasonable chance of killing my PzIII but Marks luck had deserted him and he rolled an 11 malfunctioning the gun. I swung the PzIII round and fired at the KV from point blank and behind (+1 rear facing +1 range on the kill dice making it 5 or less) and got through the engine deck with a 3 with a three. .
In the forest, the two other KV’s trundled forward, surviving a thrown DC attack and a close combat to exit the forest (didn’t even bother spending the points to overrun – cheek). The nearest PzIII was the armour leader (again) and after a bit of dueling he got a deliberate immobilization that knocked the track off one KV and the crew bailed out. The other one risked a bog check to go through some woods, but this took it into the LOS of the 88mm and died. At this points with five tanks knocked out and the two remaining with malfunctioned main guns Mark conceded…the first crisis was over.
It was only Marks second game with armour – he’d played ‘the Puma prowls’ the day before and had mainly starter kit experience upto this point, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire for him. I had to ask a few questions of the older and wiser heads about, having never used DC’s against vehicles before, but that’s the great thing about the tournament – where else are you going to get 40 or so people who know the rules backwards. The important thing was we’d both got a good run through of the armour rules before the serious stuff on the morrow…
It’s a fun scenario but we both made basic errors: Marks advance was piecemeal, and I think his infantry had about one shot all game when it should have been protecting his tanks from demo charges. One of my PzIII’s and the 37mm didn’t fire a shot, which was hardly good use of resources. I’ll get this combined arms thing right eventually…
Man….how did this AAR get so long and I haven’t even got to the tournament proper yet…
More reports please!