Sunday, February 5, 2017

Not another step back ...

It had been a hard week's campaigning for units of the BAOR. Repeatedly they were being caught out by sudden Soviet attacks that pushed deeper and deeper across the northern German plains. But this was not the Russian steppes, there was no room to trade space and time. The Soviet advance had to be stopped. Nothing less would do if the freedom of the western world was to be defended.

Our most recent game saw another Soviet attack against a British BAOR defence. Keith attacked with four Soviet battalions, while I defended with three BAOR battalions (two mech infantry and one armoured) with cross attachments across all three giving three combined arms battalion groups. I supported these manoeuvre units with Abbots, M107s for counter battery work, and M109s for more immediate heavy support. Keith supported his battalions with a range of artillery, and two flights of Mi24 Hind attack helicopters.

The battlefield seen form the British right flank

The British brigade commander opted to defend forward on his right flank, holding the left flank back behind a river line, occupying a key height on the flank.

His armoured regiment held high ground in the centre, occupying another key tactical feature.

The armoured regiment, with cross attached combat teams.

The right flank British battalion defending forward.

The Soviet attack began very quietly with a motorised regiment pushing forward on their right towards the British left.

Soviet divisional reconnaissance pushed forward in the centre, testing the defences.

The Soviet advance towards the British left

And that divisional reconnaissance
Orders rang out across the radio nets, and the armoured regiment pushed forward towards the still empty Soviet centre.

At tis stage the Soviet plan became clearer. A deep flank march arrived opposite the British left.

And the remaining regiments of the Soviet attack force advanced from reserve straight towards the centre.

The British armoured centre advances to its new positions on a significant ridge in the centre
 At this stage the thud of rotor blades echoed across the battlefield and British troopers looked up to see a flight of Mi24 Hind attack helicopters swoop along the road over the heads of the advancing Soviet troops.

The Soviet centre advance continued.

At tis stage the real actin began. British heavy artillery (M109s) called in by a forward observer struck the advancing Soviet battalion and inflicted heavy casualties. The Hind crews managed to inflict no casualties, and so Chieftain crews began to take a heavy toll of the Soviet T64 armoured supports.

The Hind was initially shielded from the British Blowpipe crews by the crest of the hill. However the Blowpipe teams promptly re-deployed and began to fire that the Hind flight.

In the game context, the Keith managed three die rolls of 1 (the first two against Chieftain platoons) and the third against the Blowpipe team which became its target priority. On its fourth and last turn on the table it finally destroyed the Blowpipe team. However the effect was clear, the team had protected the armour from the helicopter threat.

However the British left flank battalion was feeling the pressure, taking heavy casualties. A fierce artillery battle had developed, with Soviet 152mm howitzers beginning to inflict casualties on the British combat teams. However British M107s began the counter battery battle, suppressing howitzer batteries.

The British centre was exerting pressure on the flank of the Soviet advance. Supported by a FV438 platoon, it dominated the centre to the Soviet cost.

The Soviet extreme left flank...

The British brigade commander now ordered his own right flank battalion into action, and the battalion advanced against the Soviet left which was thinly held. The armoured support was provided by platoons of T62s which were struggling to hold their own against the British Chieftains.

The British left flank battalion was forced to check morale, and passed. It was unlikely they would stand for much longer against the 3:1 odds that they faced. However neither did it seem likely that the Soviet left withstand the attack that was developing against it.

However the Soviet advance had been blunted. There would be not a single step back from here. The game was a marginal victory to Keith as I'd taken an option A while he had not.. there was just the 1 VP in it.

This was a very different play style for me, and it worked very effectively. Previously I had tried to exert the power of the NATO air umbrella, but Keith had worked out his own tactical counter to this. So I was forced to rethink how I would fight the battle. Artillery was more effectively used in support of the fighting platoons (although I still managed to mishandle the Abbot battalion), and I operated a much more mobile defence which featured bolder counter attacks on the table.

I have submitted a piece to for the next SOTCW Journal in which I make some broader generalisations and observations that may be of interest.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Coming from be-Hind .. nasty beasts

A little pottering resulted in these two Hind Hi 24 helicopters joining the nascent Soviet force. I simply added the green camou to the paint jobs, gave them a brown wash, and added the acetate 'rotors' as the existing blades were broken.

Some very useful helicopter support, having been on the receiving end of two of these a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A post battle debrief of Modern Spearhead

A week ago I fought a Modern Spearhead against Keith. Our armies are old foes now... my BAOR and Keith's Soviets, the battles set in a cold war gone hot situation set in 1982. Often we will write up the battles, add a little fictional banter for colour and fun, and enjoy the spectacle.

Our battle of a week ago had  amore profound effect, and I decided to write this up in a different way to highlight what I believe is the great strength of this games system.

Keith's scenario generation system generated a meeting engagement, with each of us using defend lists.  My own list composition is important to the discussion. I had taken an armoured regiment, and two mechanised infantry battalions, the armour and infantry cross attached to create three combined arms battalions. The force had two regiments of larger heavy artillery for counter battery fire, and a battalion of Abbots in support, There was also an air presence with a Harrier flight and FAC, and a Lynx flight. (the Lynx flight the result of me taking an Option A as an addition to my list, producing a 1 point VP penalty. Th defend lists mean that troop densities are much lower for both sides.

The first photo shows the battlefield, BAOR advancing from the left, Soviets from the right.

I decided to advance two battalions into two of the objectives behind the river, and then to adopt a defensive poster in the hope that I could score additional VPs by inflicting morale checks on Soviet battalions. My third manoeuvre battalion was held in reserve, its entry point to be on my right flank. I was expecting the Soviets to attempt to take the right objective s(my right flank, that is) and then attempt to sweep onto my flank. I wanted to catch them in their own flank as they swept around.

The BAOR advance on the left and central objectives
 My usual 'modus operandi' is to use radar location to locate opposing AA assets, use my long range artillery to neutralise the enemy air umbrella, and then call in my own air strikes to attack opposing ground assets. Alternatively (or additionally) I use my heavy artillery to target enemy artillery assets.

Keith seemed to have taken the bait, advancing against the unoccupied objectives. He admitted that he expected the main battle to occur there, and was surprised that I hadn't attempted to take those objectives myself.

The Soviet advance against the BAOR right flank

Keith 'wrong footed' me on several levels. First he took long range SAM 2 for AA cover (in addition to on table non radar controlled AA), and so my M107 and M109 heavy artillery was outranged. I was unable to neutralise his AA umbrella.

Secondly he deployed two flights of HIND 24 attack helicopters. This exploits what in my opinion is the biggest weakness of BAOR forces, lack of adequate AA cover of their own. I had off table Rapier, and on table blowpipe. Keith located my Rapier battery and neutralised it with his own heavy howitzers. The Blowpipe were ineffective against his helicopters.

He then pushed a motorised infantry battalion across the river and attacked my own right flank.

The Hinds successfully took out the Chieftain tank support of my right flank battalion.

The BAOR right flank under direct attack from the Hind
 My own Lynx flight appeared on table the turn after the Hinds (we had each used waypoints to bring on our helicopter support.

The diminishing strength of the BAOR right flank can be seen in this succession of photos

In the absence of targets my Lynx was allowed to move off its waypoint to attack further Soviet armour, bringing it into range of the Hinds. We hadn't realised until this game that in this case the enemy helicopters became a target priority for the Hinds, so shifting my Lynx across to attack additional enemy armour actually protected the ground battalion from additional air attacks.

The Lynx flight hovering above the ground troops
 I committed my reserve battalion, but it was too late.

My right flank failed its morale check and withdrew from the field.

Reflections (I sent these thought to Keith after the battle):

Keith's most profound success  (amongst many BTW) was to take away from me what I'd thought was the underlying 'grand tactical' approach of playing a combined arms game. Essentially his approach deprived me of the ability to play the divisional/corps level (of table) game (ECW/CB etc). He refused to 'come out and play'. Brilliant!!!

My biggest failing (amongst many) was to become so focussed on that aspect of game play with the Brits that I had actually ceased to play a combined arms game at all. Keith on the other hand did, and the outcome was arguably never in doubt.

It continues to be true that in order to win with the BAOR you have to use ALL components of the forces available, and this I failed to do. That said, I also failed to create a convincing plan at the tactical level either (another significant failing).

So, where does that leave the Brits? NOT on a hiding to nothing. The challenges are:

  1. Get back to basics, recognise that ECW action in order to deploy air support is important but not to become fixated on it.
  2. Use the variety of options available in ECW more effectively, integrating them into the bigger plan (something else I failed to do last night - in hindsight I think there WAS no plan)
  3. Engage ALL arms more effectively. I failed to make use of the artillery which had, if you count in the Abbots as well, cost me a lot of points
  4. Become less predictable in both my list selection and deployment/tactics etc - Keith is now easily able to predict how I might play out the action as my deployment etc unfolds
None of that answers the British AA vulnerability but that said, that cannot be used as an excuse. You have to play your own game.

This is really exciting - NO other games system has me thinking in this way.

4 Brigade will advance ...

While not well read on the campaign I have for quite a while had plans to fight battles from the France 1940 campaign in both 6mm and 20mm. A while ago I received one of several very generous gifts from Gerard Davey, one of which included British infantry (Welsh Guards as it turns out) in 20mm specifically for this period. They have languished in their box awaiting the Spearhead treatment - basing and labelling.

There were sufficient figures to give me an almost complete infantry brigade of the strength that I'd field in a typical infantry division list for Keith's Scenario Generation System (just a few FAOs short). Finally, the finished product - four infantry battalions with some of their heavy support.

The Brigade

Brigade command stand

Battalion in kilts

Add caption
I can game this campaign in both 6mm and 20mm. Now... all I have to do is get some game time in.