Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gertsovka - Or How I learned to Hate Bunkers

In between working on my daughter's broken computer, plumbing issues, and a snow storm that turned out not to be much of a storm, I've been giving the new John Tiller Panzer Battles game, Battles of Kursk: Southern Flank a spin this weekend. The Panzer Battles games are at a grand tactical scale, larger than Squad Battles but smaller than Panzer Campaigns. Aside from this being a great scale for gaming specific battles and engagements, Panzer Battles has revamped the map, UI, and counter graphics of the Tiller engine. The result is a fast, fun-to-play game packed with scenarios and great supporting material.

Taken together, the game is an impression collection of material for the price. There's a lot of gaming hours in here, in one of the most interesting and challenging WWII settings.

Sector of the I.394 and the village of Gertsovka

The objective of PzG Regiment 394 is to clear the village of Gertsovka to facilitate the advance of Division Grosdeutchland. From the scenario description:

Major Werner Rode's I Battalion, Panzer Grenadier Regiment 394 was given the task of clearing Gertsovka. Gertsovka was the cornerstone of the Soviet defences in this sector. It controlled the crossing of the Ivinka River as well as providing flanking fire across the line of advance of Großdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division to the east. The southernmost defences of the 2nd Battalion, 210th Guards Rifle Regiment were dug in both at Gertsovka station and along the raised railway embankment just south of the town. The Panzer Grenadiers would have to clear these positions first. This scenario covers Rode's assault on the embankment and into the town and the Guards desperate defence to hold it.

The battle of Kursk happens at about the same time that Patton and Montgomery are invading Sicily. I find it fascinating to realize that this titanic battle was going on thousands of miles from the Mediterranean while the Americans and British were launching their attack on Italy.

There are bunkers and minefields aplenty ahead of me. My plan is to lead with my Pioneers to clear the minefields and use the three maneuver companies and their weapons sections to surround, isolate, and assault the Station. I'll then move up the main road into the village, taking strong points as I go.

I have ten turns to accomplish the mission. In Panzer Battles, each turn is 30 minutes and each hex is 250 meters.

A airstrike is targeted on the train station. I don't see any enemy there yet, but I'm pretty sure they're going to be a problem.
My infantry takes to their trucks and moves into position. I'm also working on establishing a base of fire using my Weapons company.

Soviet defenders protected by mines holding the railroad embankment and station
On turn two I move onto the rail embankment, my Pioneers clearing mines for the trailing Panzergrenadiers. Recon markers indicate possible Russian units (red ?s), so I've dropped some smoke from my mortars to mask the advance.

I'm already in to turn three, here. What I haven't realized yet is that I'm already behind. I should have been much more aggressive in moving my units forward in their vehicles.

It takes me until Turn 5 to take the Station. The Station isn't even worth victory points; I just need it cleared to facilitate my advance. Leaving troops there will result in my units becoming isolated as they move into the village. Isolated units have supply issues and don't fight as well.

Only smoke stands between my landsers and that big stack of Soviet guns

Despite concentrated artillery, airstrikes, and small arms fire, I'm finding it impossible to disrupt the defenders in their bunkers. The only successful strategy I've found is to move so as to isolate the defenders, and then successively assault each bunker with the Panzergrenadier companies until the defenders are destroyed. This is proving costly both in terms of men and time.

The center of the village is cleared. Strong Soviet units still hold the outskirts
My assaults eventually win me the center of the village. Unfortunately my casualties are too high and I haven't grabbed enough victory locations.

A major defeat! Still, this was good fun and a great learning experience. I'm sure I'm missing something in my tactics that would make this an easier fight. I'm looking forward to finding that out!