Tuesday, May 27, 2014

(Not) Being Heinz Guderian

This weekend I tried my first full scenario of John Tiller's Campaign Series beyond the tutorials. To give my operational foray of Fall Weiss a bit of tactical spice, I selected a scenario representing an attack by the 5th Panzer Regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division against the Polish defenders of the village of Gross-Klonia. The action takes place early in the operation, on September 2nd, 1939.

The only Tiller game that I prefer the 3D map to 2D. The boxy truck in the woods to the lower left is the recon battalion HQ. These are fragile but must be kept within a certain range of your units to provide supply.
Turn 2 and my recon company has discovered, at the cost of an armored car, Polish improved positions around the village of Waldowo. I have a company of armor up, support from an infantry gun, and some dismounted motorcycle infantry.  From the horses I suspect the village is held by cavalry. I decide to put in a hasty attack with the assets in hand to clear the way for the remainder of the regiment.

A zoomed-out view showing more of the battlefield. Regimental HQ under Colonel Keinitz along with support troops and 1st Company of the Infantry battalion are back in Wlosciborz.
At this point I'm still feeling out how this game plays. I'm really enjoying the scale. I think Grand Tactical is really my sweet spot. I like the platoon scale of the Campaign Series even more than I enjoy Command Ops, which tends to be one step larger than this. You can simulate small unit actions larger than is practical with Combat Mission but at a more detailed level than you can with Command Ops. Plus there are something like a billion scenarios. Well, maybe not that many, but definitely a couple of hundred, and across all theaters throughout WWII and into Korea.

A look at Major Nicklemann, commanding I Battalion of the 5th Panzer Regiment. I Battalion is the panzer battalion.

This scenario is hell on the recon guys. Another armored car goes up in flames.
 The cavalry doesn't stick around in the face of a company of tanks supported by a company of infantry.

My recon units push forward, revealing the feeling cavalry. The first objective in the outskirts of Gross-Klonia is just visible. I'm concerned about that rough terrain. Not concerned enough that I end up avoiding it, mind you...

By turn 4 Waldowo is taken. We end up capturing a Polish officer, who I think is the cavalry battalion commander. He's worth a good few VPs!

A 2D overview of the entire battlefield. I find this to be the best way to use 2D, rather than to play. The icons are just too small for my old man eyes.

Here you can see that I've pushed some recon units forward to try and make contact with the enemy. One panzer company waits on the east side of Waldowo while another, recently arrived, moves up the road from Wlosciborz.

I'm making only clumsy use of my recon assets. Rather than practicing good Auftragstaktik and recon pull I've formulated most of a plan before I have a good idea of where the enemy is or what his forces are composed of. I've decided that I can probably bludgeon my way more or less up the highway into the center of Goss-Klonia with a Kampfgruppe composed of I Battalion with a company of attached infantry in support. Meanwhile, elements of III Battalion will carry out an infantry attack supported by the Weapons Company from Waldowko in the south up through Wilkowo and on into the southern outskirts of Gross-Klonia.

III Battalion assembling at Waldowko

Overview showing my forces in their assembly areas, and just how poor a picture of the enemy positions I have. The Poles keep shooting at my armored cars with AT guns, so I've backed them off to preserve them rather than using them to build a more complete picture of enemy deployments.

III Battalion is now deployed around Waldowko and the 81mm mortars are set up and preparing a fire mission against the area around Wilkowo. For scale, it's about two kilometers between Waldowko and Wilkowo, so the area pictured is about the size of a fairly large Combat Mission map.

The armored attack of two panzer companies moves east to the rough ground and uncovers a Polish strongpoint. In my eagerness to get the attack rolling I've allowed the tanks and infantry to separate. My armored cars are also separated from my recon infantry.

In the south, an infantry company supported by a machine gun platoon advances on Wilkowo. Several improved positions are evident, but there's no fire coming from them.

Short of a single cavalry platoon, there is not much resistance in Wilkowo. There are Polish units dug in at the farm to the east and these guys, along with units in the rough terrain and entrenched AT guns on the west edge of Gross-Klonia catch the advancing panzers in a murderous crossfire, killing several tanks. At this point I decide to shift the attack of two panzer companies south to support III Battalion, while moving the remaining panzer company around to the north in support of elements of the Recon Battalion.

Unfortunately my tanks are caught up in the rough terrain where they are engaged with Polish cavalry. They prove difficult to extract quickly, and the game is at turn 10.

A tank company and motorcycle infantry company assemble to try and clear the fortified machine gun position that's held me up for several turns. Panzer I's and IIs are more armored cars than real tanks, and distressingly vulnerable to small arms and machine gun fire.

I finally have a company of infantry up to support the main thrust of the panzers. So much for Combined Arms!

Three turns later. The farm has fallen to an infantry assault and a company of panzers  has pushed almost to the southern objective. A second panzer company, in the center, has taken significant losses trying to force the rough terrain and highway in the face of Polish infantry and AT guns. The third panzer company, on the left has overrun the MG position with the assistance of an infantry company and is poised to drive on the northern objective. Farthest to the north, the remains of my recon troops are having trouble dislodging some dug in defenders protecting the northern outskirts of Gross-Klonia.

Attempts to make a last-ditch push on the objectives cost me a number of tanks. I have taken the northern objective and am in striking distance of the southern objective. My push in the center did break through and I have some light tanks inside Gross-Klonia.

In the end I took two objectives and scored 100 objective points, but the cost in destroyed armor almost completely offset the VP gain from the objectives. As you can tell from the wrecks on the battlefield, my attacks rendered I Battalion and the Recon Battalion pretty close to combat ineffective.

It was a huge mistake to try and push through the middle. I knew this; I even knew from the scenario briefing that the Poles had plenty of AT guns (and even some tanks). I knew that I had more Panzer I and II tanks than IIIs and IVs, and so needed to treat my armor more like light cavalry than an armored juggernaut.

I did it anyway, because I had Panzers! And this is Poland! The Poles just melt away, right? Right?!

Yeah, not so much. Honestly, I'm surprised I scored a draw with the armor losses I took. I'd have been much smarter to have scouted more effectively, and then launched a combined infantry and armor attack along the south using the route elements of III Battalion took. I spread my forces too thinly and attacked in the wrong places.

And you know what? I had a blast. Despite being a game engine that first saw life around the time my soon-to-be a college sophomore son was born, this game is really fun to play. I really felt like I was planning an conducting a regiment sized hasty attack on a prepared position. Leaders and HQs are easy to use but critical to success. Even the 3D graphics are starting to grow on me - Combat Mission or Graviteam Tactics they are not, but they do give a sense of a playing a tabletop miniatures game, which I think is the intent.

I can see why this game is a classic. Now that I have a better sense of how to command my units, I'm looking  forward to playing a lot more of this. I can't wait to tear into the editor and see if I can replicate some of the situations described in DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY PAMPHLET NO. 20-269. Many of them are simply too large and long for Combat Mission but are perfect for JTCS.