This post isn't going to be a review of the whole book but rather a combination of narrative batrep and a review of one particular scenario. There will be more of these, never fear, as we work our way through the book in a similar manner to our Market Garden campaign. Suffice to say that we; Danny, Richie, Laurence and I, are enthused with gaming in the cold, winter gripped Eastern Front, particularly in this last, great battleground of the war.
So, with the froth hot upon us (not as disgusting as you might imagine; we're just excited!!) we poured over the book and decided to play Scenario 8 Street Fighting In Pest as our first Fortress Budapest battle, mainly because we had enough units for the theatre selectors this scenario calls for(the scenarios with the Panzer Kampfgruppe Armoured platoon will have to wait till I paint my third Panzer IV and a couple of sdkfz 251Ds).
This scenario pitches an Allied force from either the Soviets or Romanians theatre selectors in the book against a force of Germans and/or Hungarians similarly chosen from the book in the smashed urban terrain of Pest on the eastern side of the Danube.
The battle is designed to be fought with equal forces. Each side must choose its forces from specific theatre selectors in the book (which are damned tasty looking, let me tell you).
Danny who was playing Soviets (Comrade Laurence couldn't make it so Comrade Danny had to fight for the glory of the Motherland all on his lonesome) gets to choose from the Soviet Urban Assault Group Reinforced Platoon which has at its core a platoon commander and two full strength Soviet Sub Machine Gun squads to which can be added only two HQ options; 0-1 Captain, 0-1 Medic. The infantry selection includes the 0-4 Infantry Squads; Sub Machine Gun Squad, Guards Squad and/or 0-1 Assault Pioneer squad (without body amour) beyond that it starts to get interesting, 0-3 Direct Fire Support units, either/or MMGs or light howitzer, 0-2 flame thrower teams, 0-1 sniper team and 0-3 anti tank team or anti tank rifle team. There are limited choices for late war artillery with the Urban Assault platoon; 0-1 ZIS-3 Divisional gun, 122mm Heavy Howitzer or Medium Howitzer. For their armoured support they can add 0-1 SU-76M assault gun, T34, T34/85, OT-34 or Lend Lease M4 76mm Sherman (though Danny, who doesn't possess the book yet, took an IS-2 as opposed to any of those choices and it didn't break the game or make the game any less fun: in fact the IS-2 looked brilliant on the table as you can see above).
The Soviet Urban Assault Group theatre selector special rule is Specialised Unit which cancels out the "Quantity has a quality all of it's own" national rule as the role of the Assault Group was a tough job and no place for inexperienced troops so the Soviets don't have access to the free Inexperienced squad. As well as that the Soviet player cannot take any Inexperienced infantry or artillery units for this force selector.
So what about the Axis forces in this scenario, well they have access to the Budapest Pocket Defenders Reinforced Platoon which can be a mixed force of Hungarian and German units or a purely Hungarian or German force with a dizzying assortment of units such as the Vannay Battalion Flying Squad, Arrow Cross Militia Section, University Assault Battalion and the Danube Flotilla Infantry Section (Bryan Cook, the author of this book, has created 12 new infantry units for the Hungarian Army, all of which are in this supplement) but as neither Richie or I have any Hungarian units we went with the Germans instead.
Unusually for Bolt Action this is fought on a 4'x4' table rather than the usual 6'x4'. The scenario call for particularly dense urban terrain to give the tabletop a suitable sense of claustrophobia. The table is divided into quarters; the two German/defenders quarters are each worth 4 victory points whilst the two Soviet/attackers deployment zones are worth two points each.
The City Siege Assets are broken down into three categories; Attackers Assets, Defenders Assets and Neutral Assets.
The Attackers Assets choices are;
1) Preliminary Bombardment which lands automatically,
2) Smoke Screen as per the Forward Observers entry in the Bolt Action rulebook though the aiming point doesn't require a line of sight from an observer.
3) Big Push which allows the attacker to take a free infantry squad identical to his cheapest infantry unit (Danny chose this).
4) Night Infiltration means two of his squads can deploy forward in the same way that snipers and observers do.
5) Prisoner Interrogation means D3 of the defenders force, as chosen by the attacker, lose their hidden status.
The Defenders Assets comprise;
1)Fortified Building in which the defender chooses a building and all infantry and artillery units inside add a further +1 to the extra protection the building already offers.
2) Street Barricades. The defender receives D3 6" linear hard cover obstacles that can be deployed anywhere outside the opponents deployment zone before any forces deploy.
3) Minefields either anti personnel or anti tank as per the rule book and can be chosen multiple times. These are also set up before deployment.
4)Tank Traps. D3 6" anti tank obstacles which are deployed in a similar fashion to the minefields.
Lastly it's the Neutral Assets as follows;
1) Sewer Infiltration. Infantry units may use the sewer movement rules, outflanking Infantry units in reserve can enter the table anywhere outside 6" from the nearest enemy with an Advance or Run order. This is done at a -2 penalty for the reserve roll rather than a -1. If a FUBAR is rolled the unit is lost in the sewers (I chose this asset, despite my characteristically naff dice rolling).
2) Sniper, a free sniper team! (Richie went with this option).
3) Molotov Cocktails: one of the players units is upgraded with Anti Tank Grenades. This can be chosen multiple times.
4) Ammunition dump. A chosen building contains an ammunition dump; When given an Fire or Advance order one infantry or artillery units in it or within 6" get to re-roll ones when resolving it's shooting attacks. A different unit may benefit from this roll each turn.
5) Frontline Aid Post. Chose a building on the table, all infantry and artillery units in or within 6" gain the same benefit of having a medic within 6".
We also employed the rules for Shooting In Rubble for this game.
The Allied side are taking control of the city block by block. They must seize and control as much area as they can. The Axis player must stop them.
Each of the two Axis quarters are worth 4 victory points each whilst the Allied ones are worth 2 victory points each.
|The suggested layout a la book|
|Our interpretation, mid battle, with the Germans deployed |
on the left and the Soviets on the right
|View of the German deployment zone|
|The Soviet's right hand quarter|
|The first to fall. Lt Pumpf's 2nd squad, wiped |
out to a man by a direct hit from the IS-2s main gun. Practically
the first shot of the game...bummer!
|The German's heavy support; a light howitzer, |
attempts to silence the Soviet sniper on the upper
levels of the building across the street. It
eventually took three shots to zero in and two rounds
to wipe them out
|Leutnant Pumpf redeploys his other veterans, 1st squad to|
cover the gap in his lines that has appeared after 2nd squad are
wiped out. Also manning the ruins in this sector are a squad of
|The IS-2 and its accompanying all female tank riders squad advance |
up the rubble strewn street. These girls were to prove themselves in
combat in a most deadly efficient manner.
Sergeant Maria Theodorovich landed roughly and stumbled against the wall of a ruined house. Picking up her PPsH machine gun from where it had fallen from her hands she quickly checked the weapon. It was undamaged by the fall, it's drum magazine still firmly in place. She crouched low and moved towards the rest of her squad. Most of them, like her, were getting to their feet, crouching low and keeping in cover from the hated Germans. Tracer bullets cracked over head, small clouds of dust and pieces of masonry from the wall marking where the bullets struck.
"Ha! The fascists are wasting their bullets!" she cried to her squad who, like her, were all women. "Lets go!" Theodoravich shouted "Over by the tank..move..move!"
The soldiers moved quickly and without hesitation into the lee of the giant tank, keeping it between them and the German infantry small arms fire. A sudden explosion above their heads sent a pile of masonry and what looked like a body tumbling from the building to their left. The masonry landed with a crash; the sound mingling with the crescendo of battle. Sgt Theodoravich loved this noise; it was the grand finale of the Fascists empire and they knew it. She had seen enough of their prisoners and the look of abject fear and disbelief as they were led away to the rear; their fates uncertain but the fate of their homeland all too obvious; they were losing the war and would pay the price for their attack on Mother Russia. Next to her the tank had stopped and she saw the turret slowly turn then stop, moment later the whole vehicle shook as it's main gun fired at an unseen enemy....
|The SS men make their way forward into the cover of |
the ruined St Stillain's Church. Behind them the 251/16
Flammpanzer grinds its way towards the enemy
|SS in the shadow of St Stillian's|
|Making the most of the cover afforded by the IS-2s bulk, the |
Soviet infantry work their way closer through the rubble to
the German lines.
|The Germans too, are taking an aggressive approach. Pumpf's 3rd|
squad advance in defiance (or was it ignorance) of the lumbering
tank to their right flank.
|Aware of the Russian tank on the other street, the German 250/9|
moves up in support of the SS men. Unfortunately, due to the
proximity of their own forces they were unable to engage with
the enemy for most of the battle.
|Urged on by their platoon commander, a Soviet rifle section |
advances, eager to get to grips with the fascist invaders
|....where they meet a deadly fusillade from the SS squad in the|
ruins of St Stillian
|The last of the Leutnant Pumpf's reserves arrive|
in the ruin on the German right flank. Another
squad of infantry who move to fill the gap in the
Germans thinly held defensive line
|Reaching the junction and spotting the German half track,|
the Russian tank gunner draws a bead and....misses!!
Much to the Germans relief
|The Germans attempt to clear out the central ruin on the Soviet|
side of the square
|Sgt Theodoravich's squad charge the SS men|
|..and wipe them out. Theodoravich's squad then assaulted the |
veteran grenadiers in the ruin and did the same there
|With the SS Squad by the fountain and the panzer grenadier|
squad by the ruin cut down the commander of the 250/09
moves to a fire position in the main square and attempts to
inflict enough casualties on the enemy infantry but to little
|...other than to draw fire from the IS-2. As the huge tank |
gun turns towards the recce half track, the German driver
slams it into reverse gear and drives it into cover
|Emerging from the sewer Gefreiter Winkler and his squad |
assault the heavy mortar position...
|...too late to save the light howitzer crew|
|On the Soviet left flank, the troops pour forward..|
|...whilst the panzer grenadier squad on the German right flank |
are unable to react as they are pinned.....by one pin....
for two turns....two pretty crucial turns
|Meanwhile, Sgt Theodoravich and what remains of her squad, |
having cleared the Germans out of the ground floor of the ruin,
remain untroubled by the attentions of Leutnant Pumpf and his runner
|...and the SS light howitzer and medium machine gun. All three of |
which missed their target! Theordoravich's squad were definately
the (wo)men of the match
The scenario is excellent. Initially I had my doubts about the equal points for the attacker and defender as usually an attacker needs to have a greater ratio of men and units to stand a chance of getting across the table and into grips with the defenders. So I had suggested the Soviets take an extra City Siege Asset but in the rush to get playing, both sides only took two assets each which still panned out fair. So in the end I needn't have feared as the terrain helped balance it out.
Playing 1500 points per side on a 4'x4' table was always going to be different, especially one with such dense terrain, narrow arcs of fire, lots of cover especially when you factor in the Shooting In Rubble rule (Winkler's squad were practically on top of the heavy mortar team when they fired but since the mortar team hadn't activated then they were at a -3 to hit hence the reason they managed to get their last, fatal mortar round off that did for the doughty light howitzer crew before Winkler's crew assaulted them) and the victory conditions. This scenario calls for a lot of close quarter battle with SMGs and Assault Rifles, flame throwers, HE and men (and women!!). There were certainly more units lost to assaults and flame throwers than firing. HE also accounted for three units too.
To my mind, it's the City Siege Assets that make this scenario though. Personally I think the most useful one being the Sewer Infiltration rule (and I intend making a model of Paulus and Artur. I have a couple of figures in mind that will fit the bill nicely). The other rules certainly have their worth but for me that one tops all though it comes with it's risks. However that can be offset by taking either the Vannay Battalion Flying Squad if you are the Axis player as the Vannay Battalion in reality drew many of it's members, like Paulus, from the city municipal workers who were well acquainted with the sewer system. If they use the Sewer Infiltration rule then they are only at a -1 rather than a -2 on their outflank roll.
The attacker does have access to the Night Infiltration rule which allows two of the players infantry units to forward deploy like snipers and observers. Pop an ambush order on them and they will be at -3 to hit whilst in the rubble and they are an obvious threat to the defender from the start. So lots on offer from the City Siege Assets if chosen wisely.
With the victory conditions stating that a quarter is considered taken if one side has an artillery or infantry unit with the majority of it's models inside the quarter and the enemy has no artillery or infantry units with the majority of their models within the quarter we quickly totted up the results. We played 6 turns and all quarters were contested so that was an honourable if bloody draw.
However if we had played one more turn it was possible, just possible that the Germans would have came out on top, though at a price. In the German right hand quarter there was only Lt Pumpf and his runner who were within assault range of Theodoravich's squad. The remaining grenadier squad was pinned in the ruins and at the mercy of the IS-2 and another squad of approaching Soviet riflemen.In the facing Soviet quarter, there was an MMG team to contest the quarter against Winkler's squad. So the Soviets would have gained 4 points for the German quarter.
On the other side, the SS still held their quarter with a medium mortar, an MMG and a medium howitzer whilst they were within a whisker of wiping out the remaining Soviets in their quarter. So, with honours even and the rosy glow of satisfaction from a battle well fought we packed up, having enjoyed the Street Fighting In Pest scenario a lot. We fully intend to revisit it and also relocate it; already I can see this working great for a Stalingrad scenario and I have just the German assault pioneer platoon to fight it with...as the attackers of course.
And hat's off to Bryan Cook for writing such a really good (first?) Bolt Action supplement.
Postscript. Damn that rosy glow of satisfaction; that mingled with the process of writing this blog post's excerpts from the Soviet side has caused me to do something I had always that I would never do; I've bought a Soviet Army....well, a Soviet Army starter set to be precise. I really want to recreate one (or two, who knows) of the Soviet theatre selectors from this book so watch this space as I juggle yet another project.