Friday, November 17, 2017

HEXBLITZ approximately - the Assault against Apresski.

The Soviet push to take Apresski began at dawn, with a general advance by 4th Guards Cavalry Corps, 316th Rifle Division and 5th Mechanised Corps.  At once the 5th Mech Corps artillery began its bombardment of the German line, which stretched between heights 605 and 609.  On the right covering the defile between Hill 605 and a stretch of woodland stood 189th Infantry Regiment.  Thirty-second StuG Abteilung covered the heights themselves. Between the hills, the towed PaK40s of 181st Panzerjager supported the 35th Infantry Regiment.  Height 609 was crowned by the Marders of 239th Panzerjager and 125th Infantry.  Close by the Div HQ, 181st Artillery Regiment were dug in their battery positions.

As the opening salvos of the heavy Russian guns thundered through the dawn, 17th Panzer Division lurched into motion, passing through and to the west of Apresski town on their way to the front.
17th Panzer Division moving up

There was nothing sophisticated about the Soviet assault: a broad frontal attack straight up the Apresski railway line.  A reconnaissance the night before had indicated that both flanks of the German line were open, or at least occupied by nothing more than patrols.  On the left flank, 139th Tank Brigade (T34) was to execute a left hook around the forest onto the German flank.  On the right, 6th Guards Cavalry Brigade were to carry out the other wing of the planned double envelopment.
The frontal attack begins early. At considerable cost.
 140th Tank Brigade punches through 35th Regiment:
141st (Heavy) Tank Brigade tries to widen the breach.
Before these flanking movements could have been fully developed, the main attacks struck the German line.  Helped by the supporting heavy artillery, 140th (Medium) Tank Brigade pierced the defences of 35th Infantry Regiment, and drove them back.  But in following up this success, the tanks came under deadly flanking fire from the Marders and towed AT guns.
'All in the Valley of Death rode the T34s...' The Quad AA
is there just to make the German Div HQ look more ...erm ...
HQ-ish.  I have ideas about that, though...

Unable to escape the deadly flanking Anti-tank and artillery fire, 140th Tank was reduced to a pile of smoking scrap metal.  The heavy tanks of 141st Tank broke themselves trying to overrun the dug-in PaK40s of 181st Panzerjager Abt,  The German line remained, more or less, intact.

The Russian Heavy Tank Brigade, reduced to remnants,
(SP=0), pulls out of the line.
A point here on the narrative.  At times I will refer to flanking fire, or flank attacks, but they have no significance on the combat mechanics.  I've chosen to assume defenders have an all-round defence posture.  Where flank attacks do become significant is in the possibility of a formation's flanking units being caught by multiple attacks.  So 125th and 189th German infantry Regiments were particularly vulnerable.
The CavCorps light Tank Brigade has also lost most of its
armour, and pulled back.
The attacks on Hill 609 were also stalled.  The light tanks of the Cavalry Corps were soon depleted, leaving 7th Guards Cavalry Brigade sustaining an unequal battle until 316th Infantry Division should come into action, and 6th Guards Cavalry developed their flank attack.
139th Tank Brigade attacks 189th Infantry Regiment from the
west,  17th Panzer are still distant.
The lack of mobility of their infantry rather hampered the coordination of the Soviet attacks, for which the Tank Brigades suffered severely.  Even 139th Tank's attack began before the 5th Mechanised Corps' 47th Rifle Division could come up.
125th Infantry under attack front and left rear.
Once fully engaged the battle flared up anew, with heavy losses on both sides.  Beset on front, right flank and left rear, 222nd Division anxiously awaited the intervention of 17th Panzer Division.
The pressure mounts against the German right....

Soviet 316 Rifle Division throws their weight against Hill 609.

47th Rifle division taking heavy casualties; 189th Infantry Rgt
hangs on grimly.

Even at their best speed, the panzers intervention was already too late for the infantry.  Both flanks were already crumbling by the time 17th Panzer got close enough to make a difference.  However their intervention was timely enough to permit the remnants of 189th Regiment to pull clear.

A second narrative aside, here.  Under the HEXBLITZ system a unit or formation reduced to 0 SP is not automatically destroyed.  If it can retreat, it must do so at once one grid area, its 'mode' being changed to 'S' if previously 'D'; 'M' if previously 'S'.  If it can not retreat it remains in situ, but if engaged again does get destroyed.  So far, 35th and 155th German Regiments has suffered that fate, though in the case of the former, it was the following up T34s that sealed their doom.  Vengeance against the 140th Tank Brigade was swift and equally thorough.  On the other hand, the light and heavy Tank Brigades, both also reduced to 0 SP, were able to break off their attacks and pull back.

... At this point it might have been as well to check up upon the wellbeing of the several formations.  I was using the Portable Wargames convention in which once the overall SP of one or other side had been reduced to 50% or less of the original army total, then that side was exhausted and incapable of further offensive action.  By this time, 222nd Division had been crushed, pretty much, though the anti-tank units were still in action.  But 5th Mechanised had been equally decimated. 

Upon reflection, I think this simple approach is best, as a problem will arise if testing formation by formation when we consider the 1-hex formations.  Unless, of course the test is reserved for multi-hex formations...?
The acutely observant reader will notice the sudden appearance on the table of numbered and lettered cards.  Until now,  the passive posture of 222nd Division and distance of 17th Panzer indicated that a good deal of time could be saved in this solo game simply by playing it IGoUGo.  The intervention of 17th Panzer forced the assumption of the numbered priority system.  This turned out rather well for the Germans I/39 Pz Bn drawing a '5' and II/39 Pz drawing the '1', whilst 139th Tank Bde drew a '19'. The '10' drawn by 40th Panzergrenadiers would have been useful but for the '25' drawn by the remnants of 189th Regiment.  That meant the latter could not in time clear the latter's front.
139th Tank Brigade might be in trouble...
Although the panzers did not quite succeed in destroying 139th Tank, their attacks allowed 189th Infantry to escape.
Hill 609 cleared, the cavalry follow up...

The Russians carry Height 605.  
On the other flank, 4th Guards Cav Corps had at last cleared Height 609, and swept on to catch up with the retreating Marders.  Caught up in a traffic jam of rear echelon and Headquarters troops only tardily lurching into rearward motion (very careless, this!) the Marders succumbed to the rampaging Soviet horsemen.

By now both sides had taken such losses that I bethought myself it were high time to check the remaining strength of both sides.   Out of 33 SP, the Germans had lost 17 - 15 from 222nd Infantry, 2 from 17th Panzer.  The Russians had lost 20 SP.  That ought to have meant both sides would abandon further attacks or aggressive moves; effectively bringing the action to a close.  Having miscounted the latter's overall strength at 41 SP (instead of 39) permitted the latter to carry on with their assault. 
The panzers broke off their counter-attack and immediately put some distance between themselves and the enemy.  The HQ and transports of 222nd Division weren't so fortunate, the Soviet cavalry catching up with them and destroying the transports and the supplies they carried, and overrunning the HQ as well.  In fighting back, the German HQ units did enough damage to their assailants that the latter also broke off.  Meanwhile, the retiring German artillery, finding the road congested with the towed panzerjager elements had to take to the railway line to continue their retreat (one of the interesting effects of the priority card system!).  Fortunately for them the Soviets had nothing in hand to mount an effective pursuit.
The Germans break off the counterattack and pull back.
By this time the day was done (I didn't actually count the moves, but I think there were 6, possibly 7 played, close to the full period of daylight for an early autumn day).  The Soviets had carried the 222nd Division's defence line all across the front, but at a very high cost.  222nd Division was destroyed, pretty much, as a military formation (in a campaign context, there wouldn't have been enough left to reconstitute much more than a brigade - if so much).  There wasn't much left of 5th Mechanised Corps, either, the whole formation taking a terrible battering.  Nor had the Cavalry Corps come off lightly.  But 316th Infantry, the decisive reserve that had helped finally to clear Height 609, had hardly any loss to deplore (finishing the day with the SP they began with).
Close of the action.  The Soviet front line has been pushed some
12 - 16 kilometres northward.  The Germans still hold the town.
For all that, the result was satisfactory to neither side.  The Soviets were still well short  - 6 or 8 kilometeres - of the town that had been their objective.  The Germans had lost their main defence line.  Still, the former still had 3 unengaged Rifle Divisions and the 8th tank Corps available for a second attempt.  17th Panzer Division hadn't taken too much damage, and 544th Infantry Division moved up overnight to take up positions in and around Apresski.  Neither side was done yet.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HEXBLITZ approximately.

Assault on Apresski, early morning.
Yesterday I finally got round to trying out a version of Bob Cordery's HEXBLITZ game, very slightly adapted, on my hex-grid game board. This purported to be an early autumn 1943 action, in which part of the Soviet 6th Shock Army were making a drive on an important road centre at Apresski.  Barring the road and railway line northwest stood the strong and well-equipped 222nd Infantry Division.  Concerned about his open flanks, General Klutzmann has been assured that 17th Panzer Division is on its way with help.
Assault on Apresski - dawn.
This rather thrown together action rather subconsciously turned out to be a version of C.S. Grant's 'On Table Reinforcement'.  The Soviet objective was the small town you see in the northwest corner of board, north being off to the right of the picture; the camera facing west.

I was rather taken with Bob Cordery's 66th Army, which seemed to stand either as the OPFOR Asiatic Myrmidons against which the gallant Teutons strive; or, perhaps more likely, the heroic band of brothers defending Little Mother Russia against the Horrible Hitlerite Horde...

It was whilst glancing through my copy of John Erickson's Road to Berlin, I lit upon the creation of 5th Shock Army.  I might have passed it by, but then looked at its composition:
  • 7th Tank Corps
  • 4th Mechanised Corps
  • 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps
  • 87th, 258th, 300th and 315th Rifle Divisions.
When something ups and smacks one in the eye, one is apt to take notice.  I mean: it has everything!  Those Mechanised Corps are formidable formations, and all.  Further investigation suggested add-ons:
  • 274th, 331st Howitzer and 1162nd Gun Artillery Regiments (18 pieces each?)
  • 507th and 764th Tank Destroyer Regiments (SP or Towed anti-tank weapons?)
  • 21st Guards mortar Regiment
  • 1068th AA Artillery Regiment
  • 258th, 827th Engineer Battalions.

In the above action, the elements of 6th Shock Army comprised;

6th Shock Army (Elements)

5th Mechanised Corps
  • HQ:  GoC, staffs, sigs, vehicles etc SP=1
  • Supply Column (1 medium half-track truck LOG=3)
  • 2 Medium Tank Brigades (T34/76 plus integral infantry stand) each SP=4
  • 1 Heavy Tank Brigade (KV85 plus integral infantry stand) SP=5
  • Corps infantry (consolidated; 6 rifle stands) SP=6
  • Corps artillery (SP 152mm assault arty) SP=3
316th Rifle Division:
  • Consolidated 6 rifle stands, SP=5...
    The formidable 8th Mechanised Corps
4th Guards Cavalry Corps:
  • HQ: Mounted GoC, staff, sigs etc SP=1
  • Supply Column (3 pack horses) LOG=3
  • 2 Cavalry Brigades (3 Cavalry stands) each SP=3
  • 1 Light tank regiment (T26 tank only) SP=2
  • 1 Field artillery brigade (76L39 field artillery) SP=2...
    4th Guards Cavalry Corps.  Seems that 316th Rifle
    Division is still moving up, and not yet arrived.
Total units, including HQs and supply columns: 14.
Strength points: 39? (I miscounted this as 41, probably adding a 2SP element twice.  In the following account I supposed that the Russians had been given 41 strength points.  This did make a differemce)

Defence of Apresski

222nd Infantry Division

  • HQ: Generalmajor Heinrich Klutzmann SP=1
  • Supply Column (3.5ton Opel truck) LOG=3
  • 3 Rifle Regiments (3 stands) each SP=3
  • 1 StuG Battalion (StuGIIIG) SP=2
  • 1 Marder Battalion (Marder II) SP=2
  • 1 Anti-tank gun battalion (towed PaK40) SP=2
  • 1 Artillery Regiment (10,5cm howitzer) SP=2.
    222nd Infantry Division awaiting the onslaught.

17th Panzer Division 

  • HQ: Generalleutnant  von der Meden SP=1
  • Supply Column (Wespe ammo carrier) LOG=2
  • I/39th Panzer Battalion (PzIVG) SP=4
  • II/39th Panzer Battalion (PzIIIM) SP=3
  • 40th Panzergrenadier Regiment (consolidated 4 rifle stands, half track) SP=5
  • 27th Panzer Artillery Regiment (Wespe 10.5 cm SP howitzer) SP=2.
    17th Panzer Division about to move up.  Apologies for
    poor photo quality...
Total Units, including HQs and supply columns: 15
Strength Points: 32...
Early morning: the Soviets advance.

A number of comments on organisation:
  1. Most of the tank brigades (represented by 1 tank) have been given an integral infantry stand.  The infantry adds 1 to the strength point value.  They represent the whole infantry element of the tank brigade, not just the tank riders.  I don't add the infantry component to independent armoured regiments.  Apart from the SP thing, there is no real significance to this idea.
  2. Apart from the Soviet Tank and Mechanised brigades, and (probably, though I haven't thought it through yet) the armoured regiment/motor battalion combinations in British Armoured Formations, the infantry are consolidated by regiment, brigade or (Soviet) division into one grid area. Their 'real' frontage is represented by their 'zone of control' into adjacent grid areas.
  3. You will notice various elements associated with formation HQs, e.g the Quad AA in 222nd Division. I have some ideas about using the HQ element as a kind of catch-all for Divisional, Corps or Army troops (depending on Formation) that can not be otherwise represented in the scale we are looking at, and that can for some reason not be subsumed under the overall command level.  
  4. Apart from the Formation Commanders, who may move freely among and be stacked with any subordinate element, I did not permit stacking in this game.  HEXBLITZ permits it only insofar as the stands are all accommodated inside the grid area.  The reason for this is my allocating SPs to multi-stand groups, rather than to individual stands.
  5. I am considering adding a single figure command to the 1-grid-area Divisions, mainly, I think, to distinguish them from smaller Formations or units.  It will not add to their Strength points.
  6. I am also considering including among the 6 stands of a stand-alone 1-grid-area Rifle Division a mortar or infantry gun stand to represent its organic artillery firepower.  It will shoot at a rate of 1 SP out to a range of, say, 4 grid areas, if, and only if, the Division is in 'Defend' mode (see infra), and not itself under immediate attack from an adjacent grid area.  That stand will still be included in the Divisional SP when in combat with enemy in an adjacent grid area, in whatever mode the Division is in. However, I did not include this idea for this battle.
    General attack plan of the Soviets.
The rule set used was a rather loose application of HEXBLITZ, with the following 'interpretations':

  1. In any given turn, an artillery unit may fire more than once in support of ONE defended grid area.  In other words, artillery may add its SP to the defenders of one grid area against each attack in turn.
  2. In any given turn, artillery may shoot in support of each attack conducted against ONE grid area that is being carried out by units of the artillery's parent Formation.
  3. If using the M-S-D (Move-Stationary-Defend) order or 'mode' system, artillery may fire in support only when in 'Defend' mode.  If artillery are moving, they cannot shoot, because they are limbered up and moving.  If artillery are in 'Stationary' mode, they have stopped moving and are preparing battery positions, OR, they have completed their fire missions, and are about to move off.
  4. Although I have yet to bring in rules anent the logistics aspects, I do intend that each shoot depletes the ammo supply by 1 ammo supply unit (i.e. unit's SP value per 2-hour game turn).  I have in mind an immediately available daily supply sufficient to shoot (? a whole SP allowance) once per turn for 8 turns (that is to say, one period of summer daylight hours).  I have no idea at this stage whether that is under-generous, about right or over-generous an allocation.
  5. I rather forgot about command radius considerations.  A 6-grid area frontage might be a bit of a stretch for a single Division, even a strong one like the 222nd, here.  It is probably valid in 'Defence' mode, but if a unit was forced, or chose, to withdraw, it probably ought to be in the direction of the Division's HQ, rather than its own side's table edge.  Something to think about at least.
To be continued...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

More on ORBATS, scaling and such...

Wow!  A fair bit of feedback on my last previous posting. All good and fair points, although what they had to say served not so much as a corrective in terms of direction, as to impose some discipline to my thinking!

If I have a talent, it does not lie in the realm of originality. It seems to go more in the direction of running with the ideas of others, and taking them places the originator perhaps never thought of. That has quite often led me to some very interesting (to me) and thought-stimulating realms. In my view, that is a useful talent to have, but... it does have a downside. I was running with Bob Cordery's HEXBLITZ, along with Chris Kemp's NQM and and Tim Gow's Megablitz, and something else that has slipped my mind for the moment, into several parallel threads, all of different scales.  That 352 Div ORBAT in my view would make a fine war games formation - but not in the scale I ought to have been looking at for 'Jacko's' and my Operation Uranus project.  Thanks, guys, for pulling me up on that.

What that leads me to is this posting, which was planned for farther down the track.  Here I'll post my proposed ORBATS for the Uranus Project.  It is not cast in stone - some refinements may be required - though some refinements have already been made just for this posting.  I have left off the GoC, staffs and sigs and LOG/POL elements from the lists simply for the sake of brevity.
Proposed Soviet formations for our 'Operation Uranus' project.
The group of pack horses I have rated at 1 LOG per pack animal.
A bit generous maybe?

Operation Uranus: Attack on III Romanian Army

Soviet Union:

The following is the ORBAT in rather compressed form:

1st Guards Army (part only)
     266, 197, 278, 203 Rifle Divisions each 6 stands, SP=6
     1st Guards Army Tank command: 1 x T34 @ SP=3, 1 x KV1 @ SP=3
     Reserve Artillery 1 x 152mm artillery stand, SP=3

First proposal for Soviet Tank Corps.  Of the three Tank
Corps, only two will receive KVs.

5th Tank Army

     1, 26 Tank Corps (as pictured, though 26th Tk Corps will get 3xT34 @ SP=3)
     8 Cavalry Corps (as pictured)
     14, 47 Guards Rifle Divisions each 6 stands, each SP=6
     228, 119, 210, 159, 124, 346 Rifle Divisions, each SP=5
     Reserve Artillery 2 x 152 each SP=3

Proposed Cavalry Corps:  Light tank, mounted
troops in a single group, field arty support.

21st Army

     4 Tank Corps (as pictured)
     3 Guards Cavalry Corps (as pictured but with the mounted group SP=5)
     346, 96, 63, 333, 293, 78, 277 Rifle Divisions each 5 stands, SP=5
     Reserve Artillery 2 x 152 each SP=3
Soviet (Guards) Rifle Division.  Although the 6 stands
here include a mortar and a MMG, for our purposes
they all count the same.

65th Army (part only)
     27 Guards Rifle Division, 6 stands, SP=6
     252, 258 Rifle Divisions, 5 stands SP=5
     65th Army Tank Command (1xT34 SP=3)
     Reserve Artillery 1x 122mm @ SP=2

Army Reserve Artillery : 1x122mm, 1x152mm.  Represents
Army level equipments: heavy stuff.  Both this pieces are
semi-scratch built.

That will still be quite a lot of stuff to field in the table, and I really don't have enough SP marker holders, so a lot of the information will have to be carried by the stands... probably.

The four formations...

The Romanian Army (for which I can not supply pictures) I can list a little more formally, though still omitting Command, HQ and logistics elements:

The Operation Uranus Project map.  I have had to make a couple of corrections
since a couple of postings back: removing the duplicate 293rd Rifle Division
and redrawing the 21st/65th Army boundary lines.

III Romanian Army:

I Corps:
7th, 11th Infantry Divisions, each 6 stands, SP=6
Reserve Artillery: 1 field gun 7.5cm or light howitzer 10.5cm SP=2

II Corps:
9th, 14th Infantry Divisions, each 6 stands, SP=6
Reserve Artillery:  SP=2
V Corps:
5th, 6th Infantry Divisions, each 6 stands, SP=6
Reserve Artillery: SP=2

IV Corps:
13th Infantry Division, 6 stands SP=6
1st Cavalry Division, 6 stands SP=6
Reserve Artillery: SP=2

Under III Army Command:
15th Infantry Division, 6 stands, SP=6
7th Cavalry Division, 6 stands, SP=6

1st Panzer Division,
          2 AFVs (Pz38(t) or PzIIIH) each SP=3
          Infantry: 2 infantry stands, SP=2 

Reserve Artillery: SP=2

XLVIII Panzer Corps (German)
    (22 Panzer Division)
         Pz Rgt 204: 2 AFVs (Pz38(t) or PzIIIH) @ SP=3
         Pz Gr Rgt 129: 2 infantry stands, SP=2
         Pz Artillery Rgt 140: 1x 10.5cm @ SP=1

Kampfgruppe Simons (German):
         1 Marder or towed PaK 38 or PaK40 @ SP=2
         2 Infantry stands, SP=2

As has been pointed out to me, this is quite a lot of kit to shovel onto one table - not a very big table, and all. With the German attachments the Romanians will be fielding 22 units (allowing for splitting the armoured units).  At that, they will be considerably outnumbered by the Russian hordes (Aaargh! 49 units!!)   Well apart from a slight reorganisation of Soviet tank corps to the following picture - and that will bring the units down to a mere 46 - we will have to bring in the 'board game' argument.  As the type of game we are looking at bears rather more similarity to board war games, I hope maybe we can 'get away' with these kind of numbers.

In these last pictures, I have formed the 'teeth' arms of a Tank Corps into constituent Tank brigades, each comprising one tank and one infantry stand.  Each brigade forms a single unit, that may not be separated, nor be stacked with anything else (there simply ain't the room). The infantry stand simply adds one to the SP value, and, I think, adds to the aesthetics of a tank brigade. These strike me as a good - possibly preferable - alternative to the earlier organisation shown.  The tanks of 1st Guards and 65th Armies will not be so augmented, however.  They simply represent the tank holdings of those armies, which don't appear to have been organised into Tank Corps as such. At that the 2 AFVs of 1st Guards Army represents just 2/3 of their actual inventory of over 160 tanks.

To change the subject a little to these last two pictures themselves, the hexagon shapes upon which the vehicles stand are intended as profiles for minor built-up areas for my hex-board. Such doodads aren't strictly necessary, but they go towards the look of the thing. The buildings forming the background of these pictures will do nicely as well. I began making these a zillion years ago at a time when I was vaguely considering (shudder) Volley & Bayonet*. Until recently I ignored them, but never quite threw them away.  The extra grey-walled buildings and the crazy paving I added a few days ago, and the pair have a nice little BUA effect.  They are permanent fixtures on their base, though. The profiles allow more temporary arrangements.

*  I don't really mean to disparage V&B.  That rule set is very popular among a certain set of local war gamers, and that argues considerable merit.  But for some reason, I simply could not get my head around its mechanics and conventions.  Strange.

Friday, November 10, 2017

German 352 Infantry Division, Normandy

352 German Infantry Division - suggested ORBAT for

A reader indicated he would like to see what the 352nd Infantry Division, whose ORBAT I suggested in my last posting, would look like. The above picture shows what I had in mind.  

The blue dice show the strength points by units. Each base line strength point represents 2 infantry or pionier companies, 30 AFVs, or 24 pieces of ordnance. These have been modified by unit for their 'regular' status (+1), and in some cases for small numbers (-1). The grenadier regiments are organised as single entities, rather than 2-stand battalions @ SP=2. I have beefed up the Fusilier battalion to SP=3, even though it has only 2 stands, on account of its 'veteran' status (the rest are 'regular').  I admit that is something of a guess, but I gather the Fusilier battalions were a little ... extra.

I simply could not take just the one picture...
The 'Regimental' infantry guns and PaK have been grouped together as single 'units'. Both units 'should' be under command of the regiments, but at this scale, the numbers would be too small to be represented. Rather than lose them altogether, I have consolidated them under Divisional Command. After all 6x15cm sIG plus 14x10.5cm leIG aren't to be omitted lightly. The Division had only 9 PaK40, 3 per regiment. Even 9 would have been subsumed, given the stand, vehicle and artillery scales I mention above.

At that I perceive that I might have short-changed the Division's artillery strength points.  22 'regular' infantry guns ought to have SP = 2 (22 guns, regular crews). Artillery Regiment 12x15cm howitzer plus 36x10.5cm howitzer, with regular crews indicate an SP=3.  Finally the PaK company is correct with 1 SP (0 [baseline] + 1 [regular] -1 [small numbers - 9 only].  However, if we supposed the artillery crews were merely 'trained', then we'd have the SPs as pictured.
Could I?  The red die signified the LOG
capacity of the 'supply column'.

The AT/AA Abteilung has been treated in similar fashion to the consolidated PaK 'company'. For a fully tracked self-propelled AA vehicle, a 37mm half-tracked vehicle has been substituted. I simply don't have any of these...
single 20mm AA cannon mounted on Pz38(t) chassis

As the AT Abt has 3 such disparate companies, the best I could come up with was to depict each with SP =1 (0 [baseline, small numbers] +1 [regular]).

I have given 352 Division 'regular' status, as it does seem to have been the best organised and equipped infantry formation defending the beaches at Normandy. The remaining Divisions varied in quality, the static formations and 'Ost' battalions probably not even warranting 'Trained' status. Others, somewhat more mobile/ manoeuvrable/ militarily functional we might consider 'Trained'.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Some Reflections on 'Upping the Scales'

The previous posting but one describes a table-top battle fought a week ago between 'Jacko' and myself on my kitchen table. Actually, the playing surface was a blanket draped over the board that I have since marked up with a hex-grid (see previous posting). That board rested on the kitchen table.

I have been working on adapting Chris Kemp's Not Quite Mechanised© (NQM) game system into the sort of scale that its author has been running for his East Front campaign. In this endeavour Bob Cordery has given a great deal of assistance by sending me his Operational Art© concepts and his very straightforward Hexblitz© rule set to be downloaded. There is a whole heap of material and ideas and mechanics for me to get my head around.

The Hexblitz rule set gave us the basis for a quick game, intended primarily to try out the movement and combat mechanics. Having already worked out the orders of battle and strength points, I left them as is.  According to Bob's system, they would have represented fairly poor quality troops, but as it was a first time game, that was not apparent. On the whole that game was a lot of fun, though not very well balanced, with an outcome satisfactory to both sides.  At least before my repulse I had taken one village and broken into the eastern end of the main town.

Here are some thoughts on the game, and where to go from here..

1. Activation system.  

Although in principle the playing card system is fine, those standard sized cards of my Samba (3-deck Canasta) pack tended to dominate the table, as this picture shows.  

Of course, a mini-pack (as recommended) would have been an improvement.  An alternative idea is a pile of numbered counters - one uniquely numbered counter to as many units there are on the table - which would diminish the clutter immensely. I believe John Sandars favoured this method for his Sandskrieg battles. 

A third idea, which sounds very attractive, is to create a deck of cards each labelled uniquely with a unit or formation ID. As each card is drawn, the identified units in turn get to do something. The drawback to this is that for each game one would be required to make up a deck of activation cards for that particular occasion. The units themselves would have to be labelled, as well. 

H'mmm. Effort. Not my long suit.

Instead of activating units, is there anything to be said for activating an action, the players choosing which unit to take it? I'm thinking something akin to Memoir '44 or the Italieri Overlord game system. In each given game-turn, players toke turns drawing an action card - from a pile or from a hand - with one unit acting on it. Such a system can be great for player interaction. Would it be compatible with the Hexblitz M-S-D system, or Megablitz's SMART approach? You might want something that allowed a default action, if, towards the end of a turn actions kept turning up that were not suited to the as yet unmoved units; or if one side had a heap more troops than the other. Whole formations might be allowed to act in some concerted manner.

2. Strength point (SP) system.

That used for last week's game was ad hoc, decided ahead of time, just to get a game rolling. This is where I may be forced to depart from the Hexblitz system of assigning SPs to each element, and assign them to units and formations instead, as in NQM.

Each Hexblitz element represents a body of troops from company to battalion sized, with SPs assigned per company, 15 AFVs or 12 artillery, mortars, anti-tank guns etc. These strength points are further modified for the element according to troop training/quality, weapons, transport availability, say. So the Romanian 6-element Division  made up of, say 6 battalions, would have had a baseline SP of 4SP per battalion, or 24SP in total. Lack of motorised transport would bring the SP total down to 18, and supposing in mid-1944 Romanian equipment continued sub-standard, SPs would come down to 12 - 2 per battalion element.This is to omit Divisional assets such as artillery, anti-tank guns, pioneers and recon units.

In our game, Divisional support weapons - the 'Divisional slice' - were subsumed as Army Corps assets.

On balance, I would prefer to retain where possible the SPs at formation (Div or Corps), rather than unit, level.  The reason is to reduce accounting clutter, but it also is due (a) to the scale we have in mind, and (2) to what I am now about to talk about.

3.  Element based war games.

My immediate preference is to keep the SPs at formation level, but then we have to consider this:
The 2nd Panzer Division  at 6 June 1944 had, as part of its establishment, Panzer Regiment 3.  This comprised two panzer battalions, one (I/3)  of 78 (establishment) PzV Panther, the other (II/3) of 98 (establishment) PzIVH (Generaloberst Guderian had obviously done his best to repair the damage done to his panzer divisions when Hitler in 1941 split their tank establishments in two to create more panzer Divisions!).  

I infer from this that I Battalion comprised 4 x 17 Panther companies, 1 recon platoon of 5 Panthers, and an HQ group of the remaining 5.  The other battalion would have been similarly organised, but with 22 panzers in each company.

Our 2 PzDiv would then have one model panther whose base-line SP is (78/15) = 5, upped to 6 as a tank unit, then 7 for 'superior equipment', then to 8 for being 'regular' (or 9 for being veteran!); and one model PzIV whose baseline SP is also 8 or 9 (98/15, truncated to account for wastage or tanks in repair shops) = 6, +1 for 'regular' or +2 for 'veteran'), +1 for tanks. Well, I dare say I can live with a single vehicle being given a strength point value of 8 or 9!

The remainder of the Division would have to be commensurate, and, going by the picture above, it looks pretty handy! This organisation would fit the Megablitz game very well, methinks. Each element represents a battalion or battalion sized abteilung.  The artillery could be beefed up by a further light artillery (10.5cm) element. The radio half-track in the distance is meant to represent the pionier abteilung (because I haven't build my bridge carrying vehicle yet). Possibly a Marder 38(t) should replace the towed PaK40 as well.  The reconnaissance unit is represented by the light half track and kubelwagen.

This I laid out just for the look of the thing, with the idea of seeing the results of upscaling. The 'first pass' (below) is rather gradual, and consists mainly of cutting back on the tank and infantry arms. I tend to think of SP2 being something of a floor rating, though SP=1 for the AA and AT elements would probably be appropriate enough.

The image on the right reduces the infantry to a
single unit, though they still represent two regiments. Probably the armour ought to be reduced to a single model with SP=6, in this case. The following picture is a different view of the same organisation.  
The final picture in this sequence is the sort of thing I'm looking for in terms of scale to play out our Operation Uranus against III Romanian Army. This organisation is still 1944, but the whole Division has been reduced to armour, infantry and guns (self-propelled, but most Panzer Division artillery was still towed). The support weapons could be subsumed into Corps troops, perhaps.

You will observe in all this that after the Megablitz type of organisation, I reserved the SP markers to one only for each arm, plus the Div HQ. For the purposes of the games we play and the scale they represent, I would be disinclined to allow the regiments to be split into their constituent battalions, any more than the battalions to be split into constituent companies.  We'll have lots of Divisions, after all!

Stacking limitations, especially in respect of armour, may imply that a unit must be distributed among more than one hex grid area. It's an idea I'll have to test for practicability, but it seems to me that one might attach the SP marker to one element (representing the unit/formation commander's presence), and limit the separation to adjacent grid areas only.  Hits on the unit in either grid area are still to be accumulated upon the single SP marker stand. This will have consequences for assigning SPs to combat, though. Each element would be allowed the appropriate fraction of the unit SP, the 'commander's' being rounded up, the others rounded down. More of this in another posting, maybe. (You can tell, if you have got this far, I'm thinking up this stuff as I go, eh?)

Will the organisations for infantry Divisions  require expansion from the mere 5-6 rifle stands they currently have been in Jacko's and my thinking? In the our 'test' game, the 'Divisional slice' was represented by the Corps troops - artillery, anti-tank, mounted recon units and such. Will that be sufficient? A little more research called for, methinks.

And that brings me to ...

4. Scaling.

Up until now I have been working to these scales: ground: 1:25,000; time 1 move to 2 hours. But that tended to leave our infantry Divisions occupying a rather smaller 'footprint', or length of front, than looked right. Change the organisation?  A fair bit of effort has been put into it so far.  How about the scale, then?

That was what that final picture is about. Suppose we upped the scale to 1:50,000 and the time scale to 1 turn to 3 hours?  Then, 1 SP represents (is the baseline strength for) 2 rifle coys or cavalry squadrons; 30 AFVs. or 24 artillery pieces.  In certain circumstances, we might build in elements that comprise between 10 and 20 AFVs, but with a negative modifier to signify a small unit.

An example might be the AT/AA Abteilung of the type of Division of 352nd Infantry at Omaha Beach.  That little unit comprised:
1 company of 10 StuGIIIG
1 company of 14 Marder 38(t)
1 company of 9 self propelled AA guns (mounted on Pz38(t) chassis)
At our monster scale, how would you represent this?  Possibly one might allow a single vehicle to represent the whole thing, with SP= 2 (baseline) + 1 (Regular unit) = 3SP.  I'm more inclined to let all 3 vehicles be represented by with SP=1 for each of them.

Here is a tentative ORBAT for 352nd Division; Normandy; 5 June, 1944:
HQ: Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss SP=1
HQ staffs and signals: kubelwagen and motorcycle or battalion command vehicle.
Truck or ammo vehicle LOG=3
(Optional)(Note 1) Regimental infantry gun companies: 1 x 10.5cm leIG or 15cm sIG SP=2 (1 {baseline: 6 x 15cm pkus 14 x 10.5cm} =1 {regular}) 1 light tractor or kettenkrad tow
(Optional)(1) Regimental anti-tank platoons: 1 x 7.5cm PaK SP=1 (0 {baseline 9 PaK guns, 3 per regiment}, +1 {regular}) 1 medium tractor (SdKfz11)
914, 915, 916  Grenadier Regiments each SP=4 (4SP {baseline 8 coys} +1SP {regular} -1SP{non-motorised)(2,3)}
352 AT/SP Abteilung(4): 1 StuG SP=1 (0 {baseline 10 vehicles only} +1 {regular}; 1 Marder 38(t) SP=1 (0 {baseline 14 vehicles only} + 1 {regular});  1 SPAA SP=1 (ditto);
352 Fusilier Battalion: 3SP = (2 {baseline 4 coys} + 2 {veteran} -1 {non-motorised})
352 Artillery Regiment: 3SP (2 {baseline 4 battalions} + 1 {regular}),
352 Pionier Abteilung:  SP=2 (2 {20 flamethrowers plus 6 mortars} +1 {regular} -1 {non-motorised})(5).
A possible opening set-up for a one-table Operation Uranus
against III Romanian Army .  Stacking limitations will mean
that Soviet tank and cavalry Corps will occupy more than one
hex grid area.
I've put it here just... because.
1.  These were small companies in each regiment with infantry gins and anti-tank guns in small numbers.  I am suggesting grouping them together under Div HQ, or else omit them altogether.

2.  I have assumed the infantry units were not motorised, but the only one I'm sure about is 1 Kp 352 Fusilier Battalion, who were mounted on bicycles.  I also have an idea that it was this battalion, by the way, that would have been called on for Division reconnaissance duties.

3.   In the following I have assigned SPs but omitted stands.  For infantry I am inclined to assign 1 stand per baseline SP, but one could reduce the ratio to 1:2, 1:3 or 1:4 depending on the game scale.  Oooo - I do like flexibility, as the bishop said to the actress....

4.   As the baseline is zero, this unit would vanish altogether if the troops were not up to 'Regular' quality.  Then I really would substitute a single vehicle, with  SP=2. The lesser quality Divisions at Normandy didn't include such a unit though.

5.  One might add an 'Ersatz' battalion, but that had a mix of trivial numbers of all sorts of things.  I have omitted it.

5.Stand sizes and stacking.

Last week's game was played on an open, rather than gridded table.What I wanted to know was the effect of substituting 10cm hexes with simply measuring ranges and movement in 10cm increments.  On the whole the think seemed to work, but the jury is still out.

Operational Art called for standardised bases 40cm square, which limits to three stands the number a 10cm hexagon can accommodate (a 10cm square could hold four).  When I see design parameters like this, I tend to assume they mean something, and therefore set them aside very reluctantly. But as this would require a wholesale rebasing of my armies, set this one aside I must.  

The effect is to allow the stacking of more than three infantry elements onto one grid area.  In our recent action, though it was 'open board', the effect was in fact to accommodate 6 infantry elements in the one 10cm frontage - the rough equivalent of a single grid area.  It seemed to work.

As this posting is quite long enough, covers a lot of ground in much the same way as a drunk might in crossing the street, I'll end it here.  In my next posting I'll see if I can't refine - and organise! - my thinking into practical game design features. I might have something more to say about that Operation Uranus map, too.