Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tabletop Game Report #3 - A Trench Too Far

After last week's session as a spectator, I was very excited to be offered a playing part in these week's Scarborough Games Society Bolt Action game. My host - Craig - really pulled out all the stops with his scenario and terrain design by putting together a very impressive looking trench system...

Apparently, Craig had only just finished painting this modular trench system on
the very afternoon of our game. Kudos to him for some terrific modelling!
Overview of the game table - Brits attacking for the bottom...Oh-er, Matron!

The scenario - The Germans Dig In
Tonight's mission was for the Germans to defend their HQ, which was protected by a very intimidating trench system. But, the challenge didn't end there, as on top of this the attackers would have to negotiate a line of tank traps AND two secret minefields!

The German lines, at the back of which you can just make out the primary
objective - the Jerry HQ.
To balance out this -frankly - formidable set of defences, the British contingent was a very experienced and highly trained and motivated veteran Airborne force.

The Opening Assault - "Utrinque Paratus"
Without knowing the exact composition of the attacking force I - playing the German defenders - had supposed that the British force would include some sort of armoured support in order to break through the entrenched defences. A Centaur IV CS (Close Support) or Churchill Mk V CS - armed with a 95mm Howitzer - seemed the logical tools to crack my entrenchments...

The MK. IV Close Support version of the Churchill tank, specifically designed
to break down fortifications and allow infantry to advance. Source: Wikipedia.
But, the motto of the Parachute Regiment is 'Ready for Anything' ('Utrinque Paratus') and while I had arranged my defensive forces in anticipation of an armoured assault on my left flank - thus avoiding the centrally placed tank traps - I was in for a very big surprise...

'CHARGE!' - The Para's 'Welbike' scooters zip through my tank traps!
'[The Welbike]...has the distinction of being the smallest motorcycle ever used by
the British Armed Forces...some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne
Divisions and some were used at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden.'
Source: Wikipedia
The Paras played their ace in the hole, and made a direct assault on my foremost trench right through my tank traps with a squadron of scooters! The Welbike riders rushed my positions, dismounting and getting stuck into my forward infantry positions, gambling that their veteran status would overwhelm my troops...

However, luck was not with the Brits (and neither were the dice gods) and after reeling from the initial shock of the Para's audacity, the Germans recovered and came off best in the desperate close quarter's action. I was helped along with a string of 6's, thus incurring the 'exceptional damage' rule, which allowed me to dispose of the Para's LMG team. After that, it was curtains for the sneaky Red Devils...

Round One to the Germans.

ROUND TWO - A change of strategy
With the Brits opening gambit in tatters (phew, it so nearly paid off) The Paras changed tack slightly. They had already set up some support in the woods to their right, with a medium mortar and a sniper team...

The Paras support teams hiding in the woods harassing my lines on the left.
But now, they decided to switch this presence from a harassing force to something a bit more aggressive by adding their Recce Jeep unit and the withering fire of its twin Vickers 'K' guns...

But the Germans were in luck, partly due to ineffectual incoming mortar fire (in truth, the effectiveness of the artillery of both sides turned out to be abysmal all night) and the failure of their sniper team to make a hit on my MMG team. But the biggest piece of luck for the Germans was that the Paras Jeep ran straight into the first of the 'secret' minefields!

This was hugely significant, from the German point of view, as blocking a potential breakthrough at this point effectively closed off a route straight down to the main objective. Had the Paras managed to negotiate my forward-left trench there was a clear run for them to pour in additional units and rush towards the German HQ. But the mines put paid to this avenue of attack!

The Willys jeep was referred to in documents of the 6th British Airborne Division
as the "Blitz Buggy". Armed with a bevvy of Vickers .303 'K' gun, which had a
high rate of fire, these were powerful, highly mobile, jeeps packed a real punch!
With the rug pulled out from under them, the Recce Jeep had no other choice but to pick its way - quickly - back out of the minefield. Which, much to the German's annoyance, they managed to do unscathed! But, still, during this melee the Germans managed to score a direct hit with their MMG on the British snipers in the woods (I figured that this was an important unit to take out, as snipers have the ability to target specific individuals and so could have taken out my MMG post with - in theory - with a single lucky dice roll).

ROUND THREE - Back to Plan 'A'

Their cheeky flanking attack rebuffed, the Brits switched back - again - to tackling the German centre trench. It was a case of 'if at first, you don't succeed...' as my opponent unleashed a second wave at my front lines!

This time the weight and sheer persistence of the Paras attack paid off as they closed in on my trenches. With the German defenses spread so thinly over a wide front they couldn't bring all their firepower to bear on a focused assault, and so - finally - the Paras breached my lines!

In and at 'em - The Paras break through!

ROUND FOUR - A Second Front
Things were starting to look a bit shaky for the Germans as the Paras breached their forward lines. But the trenches were still loaded with enough defenders to make it a very hard fight for the Brits, and so my opponent took advantage of some favourable order dice draws to push his more positive position and open a second front...

The most disappointing German unit, from my point of view, was my mortar team.
They failed to make a single critical hit all evening. The British mortar team didn't
fair that much better but did manage to - finally - decimate my left front line
With a parcel of Paras keeping my front line defenders busy, the British Commander (Craig) diverted some of the units - including his Command Jeep - to a possible weak point in my Right flank. With the Germans having to move troops to try and plug the hole in its centre - with the loss of its forward defenders - they had to leave the right side of their trenches virtually unguarded!

Luckily, it was time to bring up some reinforcements, as the Germans had been assigned a small mobile reserve for just such a breakthrough...

The Germans had - initially - an MMG-armed Kubelwagen, which was rushed into the fray on the right. But this was in real danger of being brushed aside as the Paras countered with a PIAT anti-tank team, which was pushed into the advance...

The Kubelwagon's intervention was timely, and its MMG blunted the Paras push and - crucially - held them at bay until further, more potent reinforcements could be brought to bear. The Germans dodged a bullet - literally - as a PIAT round whizzed past the Kubelwagon ineffectually, and then took revenge with a hail of MG-42 fire which dispatched the British AT team.

Help arrived in the form of a Sd.Kfz. 251 Halftrack, with its dual MG-42 machineguns. In one last desperate effort to nip around the German's outer defences, the Paras managed to get their damaged Command Jeep back into service, destroyed the German jeep and attempted to run their last remaining vehicle past the half-track into the German rear!

Sprayed full of MG-42 fire, the Para's Command Jeep is destroyed.

Meanwhile, back in the trenches...
Simultaneously, while the British flanking attack was going on, there was a desperate struggle going on in the trenches as the Paras aggressiveness had threatened to see them actually break through all the way to my mortar pit...

Pulled over from the right flank, German infantry
eject the Paras from the trenches...
The Paras slowly whittled the German defenders
down, and could still break through to the HQ!

Conclusion...Nothing left to give...
It was so near and yet so far for the Paras. The arrival of German reinforcements - the half-track on the right and a fresh squad of infantry to the centre - put paid to any hopes of a breakthrough to the main objective.

The main objective - the German HQ.
And so, despite a very brave effort on the part of the British, they had nothing left with which to press what small advantages they had. Ironically, despite their mobile flanking moves seeming to represent the Brits most likely means to circumvent the German lines, in the end, it was vicious close quarters infantry action in the centre that got them closest to a breakthrough.

With no more reserves to call upon, however, the British advance was doomed (I had one more unit of regular infantry still in reserve, just in case). So, at this point, my opponent graciously conceded defeat...

Kudos to Craig for such a valiant effort.

The Debrief
Once again, I must congratulate Craig of the Scarborough Games Society for putting on such a terrific game for me. The scenario was exciting and a real tactical puzzle as I had no idea from which direction the British would commit their forces, which forced me to spread my defenders equally across all my front.

I really have to commiserate with my opponent, though, as - despite the ingenious introduction of the Welbike squadrons (which took me completely by surprise and very nearly broke my lines) - the British were foiled, in the end, by some very uncharacteristically lucky dice rolls on my part!

Furthermore, with the absence of any armoured close support, the Paras were very reliant on artillery to help make the breakthrough which just didn't materialise for them. In fact, effective artillery support was conspicuously absent on both sides throughout the game, as either side's off-board artillery and on-table mortar support couldn't seem to hit a barn door!

Just not enough supporting fire, or rather, not enough
effective supporting fire on the night!
I feel that the next time this scenario is played the Paras could use either additional artillery support - perhaps in the form of an airmobile 75mm Howitzer - or some additional armed jeeps to make or capitalise on a breakthrough.

1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery fire their 75mm Howitzer.
Source: Wikipedia
It was a very enjoyable evening, though I feel - as the beginner - I was given the easier job to do. Even so, I was pleased I pulled off an effective defence and pleasantly surprised that I actually managed to roll some crucial 6s at the right time. But, the highlight of the evening must have been Craig's ingenious Welbike attack, which caught me completely by surprise and nearly turned the course of the game, but in the end, it was a trench too far...

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