Battle of Hasselburg, 12 September
Background – I’ve seen people playing games with cardboard and notecards to make the game portable or replace missing units and others using microarmor. It occurred to me that I had a way to do much the same thing, and more importantly, a way to do it by e-mail.
I have a couple guys I correspond with occasionally by e-mail. BH is one with a passing interest in this period and happened to have the same tool kit I did.
Assault is a series of games from 1983-87 that were produced by GDW (a long defunct company) and the board game itself was an advanced form of Panzerblitz/Panzerleader/Arab Israeli Wars produced in the ‘70s by Avalon Hill (another long defunct company). The beauty of these games for TY/FOW is that the counters are mostly vehicles with tank silhouettes and secondly, they have (mostly) geomorphic maps (usually) with grid coordinate systems. For people on the go, these games easily fit into a suitcase.
So all you need is a flat space to play on – even a bed will work, and a partner, who in this day and age can be half a continent away. Using Email or Skype you can get a game done quickly. You either trust your opponent’s dice, use prearranged random number lists or arrange screen shots of your preferred method and you’re in business.
Also very easy to make work on the lunch room table.
The only problem I’ve found is that the infantry counters are pretty much vanilla flavored, a problem solved by using two different infantry organizations (i.e. 1st company counters are infantry teams, 2nd company are missile teams).
So, folks, get out there on EBAY and ghost through Half-Price Books and see if you can scare a copy up. Then you can see how things were done in days of yore when men were men and tanks were cardboard….and maybe squeeze in a game over lunch.
Unlike my previous Hasselburg is a completely fictitious town. The Assault series game with maps representative of terrain in different parts of Germany, and this particular map looked very much like terrain of the Upper Ruhr, northeast of Dortmund. It is Assault Map B for those who care, is 32 hexes by 21, so we used a game transition scale of 1 hex = 2 inches. Not quite 48x72 but close enough. We ruled buildings and trees the same height as one contour interval, and all streams and woods were a cross check. Line of sight possible through hexes with scattered buildings, and stops in the first hex of grey town.
Just to help you remember that this fight is substituting counters for models...
Ruhr Valley near Hasselburg, 0900 hours
Polkovnik Bayan Khan Ursilov was sipping what tasted like muddy water. Contrary to regulations, he had cut the water with vodka for reasons of health. That ruined the flavor of the vodka but kept the soldier’s disease at bay.
Bayan Khan commanded the 5th Guards Tank Brigade by virtue of an accident. A Tajik by descent on his mother’s side, he was grudgingly promoted by the White Russians who ran the Soviet Union despite their pledges of fraternal equality because he won. He won exercises, and during a brief tour in Afghanistan he had won skirmishes and the occasional standup fight, although nothing bigger than a company size action. His 115th Independent Tank Regiment had given a good account of itself screening the border on the first day of the war. Bayan had screened the border and 2nd Guards Tank Army by ripping through the deploying elements of 3rd Panzer and 6th Panzer Grenadier. He claimed that his troops were the first into Hamburg, but official credit had gone to elements of the 34th Air Assault Brigade. Perhaps it was even true. What was true was the 16th Tank Division’s Forward Detachment had barely had to deploy the first day.
What also was true was that he had seized the bridges on the south side of Hamburg that permitted the 4th East German Motorisierte to plunge deep into Hannover and almost capture the city itself. The British had belatedly become aware of the danger, and managed to stop the Fourth. That sector had stalemated until Western TVD disengaged 3rd Shock Army and replaced it with the Polish-Soviet Pomeranian Combined Arms Army. Then the combined weight of 3rd Shock and 20th Guards had ripped through a thinly held flank of the UK I Corps and smashed a Belgian Division that was relieving the line.
As the 5th Guards was the North German Front strategic reserve, there was nothing going on that afternoon as it waited on the breakthrough for possible orders. At that point the Commandant of 5th Guards had decided to drag a German peasant woman into a cluster of trees for ‘interrogation.’ God must have a perverse sense of humor for he had punished the Commandant by dropping an entire Harrier on him. Not the bomblets, not the cannon but an entire aircraft. The woman had saved herself by biting the Commandant and running, and the pilot had safely ejected and the plane had crashed less than a minute after the Commandant started screaming in pain. Front Headquarters knew that Bayan’s unit was refitting, and he was on scene three hours later, just in time to prevent summary execution of the woman and the pilot. He had roared with laughter at the irony of the situation, dismissed the firing squad, and turned the pilot over to Frontal Aviation Liaison for debriefing.
The woman he kept. He wondered if she was a holy woman – nuns the Christians called them. Then he decided he didn’t care. Clearly she had spirit, and just as clearly the Baraka was with her. He got his intelligence officer, who spoke German, to tell her that she was his prisoner, she would not be harmed as long as she harmed no one, and when there was a pause in the fighting, he would let her exfiltrate to NATO lines. Then he told the Senior Sergeant that anyone so much as looking at her crosseyed would be severely punished; molest her and die. The Senior Sergeant looked at Bayan as if he had lost his mind, and then he told the Sergeant about his suspicions about the Baraka. Word was spread around the CP in minutes. The unit included mostly Tajik and Uzbek tank crewmen, although the rifle battalion was White Russians and most of the artillery Ukrainian. The Tajik and Uzbeks knew well what the Baraka meant and the closet Christians in the European units bought the idea the woman was a nun without question.
The woman’s connection with God was proven in moments. They had orders. The breakthrough was faltering. The 5th Guards, after thirty days of vacation, was finally to fill its role as Frontal OMG, and burst through the thickening resistance.
More detail on the Soviet starting positions, thanks to the ridge, well out of sight from the Amis. Conveniently, the command tanks in the game are printed with white combat factors.
We played Free-for-All. At this stage I wanted to keep the game about mechanics rather than the complexity of reserves, aircraft, objectives on neutral ground, spearhead, etc. All tank forces were the best for this, and in the case of a Soviet OMG Tank Brigade, actually their preferred approach. The Frontal Tank Brigades had 3 battalions of 51 tanks each, a standard motor rifle battalion, antitank battery, artillery regiment using 2S3 howitzers, small engineer and AA units, and a small support echelon.
BH quickly found that his downside in meeting engagements was running out of units before I did. This forced him to deploy symmetrically with 6 tanks from two platoons on one side, protecting Hasselburg and the company HQ and the last platoon protecting Rottburg on the west end of the map.
The hill mass meant that unlike most TY games, we weren’t going to line up and shoot each other across the board.
I deployed conventionally with one battalion of tanks opposite each of his objectives, and protecting mine.
Turn 1 – BH drew the short straw. We had already played a demo game so he got the mechanics down and to ensure we sorted out the terrain issues, BH knew that sitting still and waiting was not necessarily the best choice. So he attempted to move the eastern Abrams into firing positions on high ground, expecting me to charge across the low ground to stay out of sight. His intent was then to slide forward into firing positions. Unfortunately I countered by occupying the opposing ridgeline from hull down and opened fire. 8 tanks had shots I scored three hits and BH bounced one. Two Abrams burning.
In the center of the map I sent the ‘2nd Battalion’ commander with one company up the middle, threatening to dash to either objective and make him do the same to come back to them. The rest of ‘2nd Battalion’ played cat and mouse with the opposing Abrams, deliberately seeking positions where they couldn’t be shot after a 14”(7 hex) move. This is a lot easier to do on a regulated map.
Turn 2 - BH had lost almost 20 percent of his total combat power and decided to shoot it out, trusting to his better accuracy. Unfortunately the range was 18” (9 hexes) and I managed to roll only one ‘1’ resulting in a dead tank and two ‘2’s resulting in bailed tanks. On the west end of the map, BH was faced with a force that could easily side slip into his eastern objective in Hasselburg, and so he split the command team off from the 1st Platoon. The Company CO promptly bogged leaving the XO to try and block the road alone.
The double picture shows the action on both ends of the map, and of course the , so the orientation is right
I countered by advancing three tanks into the valley, carefully positioning them where they had cover in a small village and at the same time had a nice level slope to shoot at one of his tanks. The other tanks remained on the ridge, including two bailed ones who refused to remount. Where’s a commissar when you need one?
In the center I paused to shoot his XO tank with four tanks. The rest of second battalion closed in on the roadblock formed by 1st Platoon. This turn I took 16 shots and hit 4 times, slightly below average, but he saved none of them and four Abrams, including the XO, burned. This left him two 1-tank platoons on the eastern flank by Hasselburg. One failed morale.
End of game - in the above left picture, BH moved two Abrams out to get his best chance to kill a unit for a point and I bounced the shots. Then, of course, 6 tanks shooting 2 targets in the open ended about as you would expect. On the right picture, the reverse occurred - neither of us did any damage.
Turn 3 - we had a brief discussion about points, and BH decided to stick it out rather than concede. He made what he described as a ‘Hail Mary’ to see if he could get two points to make it four-three. Unfortunately for him, his two shots at the lone functional tank in one of my western companies missed completely. On the eastern side he managed three hits on a three-tank unit, but I bounced two and rolled a 3 for the third, so one bailed only.
What happened next was a massacre. Six T64s gunned down the last two tanks in his First Platoon on the west end of the table. But it was compensated when five T64s missed completely on the east end, leaving the Amis two functional tanks. BH would have tried for another Hail Mary, but his morale dice said no.
Hot Wash –
First we proved the principle that the Assault counters and map are workable solution to no space, no time, no opponent for your TY play. Of course you have to find copies of the game.
The Assault maps, based as they are on real pieces of Germany in the 1980s, provide interesting food for thought about making different terrain than our usual open space in the middle. The maps alone can enhance your tables by giving your imagination a boost.
The game itself surprised me. I had no idea that the +1 armor made such a difference facing the L7 gun. My first experience with T64 had been with Leo II and that had been comparatively painful even though the Leos got gunned down by other systems. If posting this kind of game doesn’t cause an uproar, next week we’ll probably play a German force against the T64s.
The 5th Guards had encountered several American units in the past couple hours. Some were from the 2nd Armored Division, known to have started the war with a brigade in Garlstadt in the Bremen sector, and only occasionally in contact since. The contacts with 2nd Armored were always pure tank forces, occasionally with that new American vehicle, the Bradley, in support. The Bradley had actually proved more dangerous than the Abrams thanks to improvements in their TOW missile, but their rate of expenditure was very low, almost a tease. GRU had several theories, but Bayan had only one – they were running out of missiles, and thus were shielding their infantry units, perhaps withdrawing them until they could resupply, or perhaps even rearm with their once ubiquitous 106mm recoilless rifle. His T64s had mostly shrugged off the missile hits, and several smoking piles of junk marked the graves of brave American Bradley crewmen.
The new unit, 3rd Armored, had obviously come north out its original station in Frankfurt. Here it was less obvious why the infantry was not in evidence, as the major munitions dumps were across the Rhine in the Frankfurt sector. The intelligence section suggested that the tanks had come with just their reconnaissance vehicles because they were much faster than the standard American infantry transport. Or because the infantry was still fighting in the heavily urbanized eastern half of the Rhine Valley. There had been small, easily destroyed infantry elements with the American forces. Caught on the march they had been blown from their vehicles and then machinegunned.
The GRU Liaison stalked over trailed by the KGB functionary that no one dared call commissar to his face. “I have just told your Senior Sergeant not to burn that tank, Tovarische Polkovnik. Seriously, you can’t know just how much invaluable intelligence you have cost Rodina! Twelve abandoned American tanks, mostly with blown tracks! We must have this vehicle for intelligence exploitation!”
Bayan fixed the intelligence officer with his hard, grey eyes. “Tovarische, unless you and Tovarische Vassilchikov are prepared to carry it out of here on your backs, it is a dangerous nuisance, and nothing more. An American maintenance contact team can have that back in operation in 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on whether or not they have to replace the driving gears and axle. Meanwhile, using battery power, it can radio coordinates for artillery fire, report our movements, and shoot up our support echelon when it passes by. And that is why my ancestors had a Maxim, which was taught to my White Russian colleagues at the Frunze – never leave a live enemy behind you. The crew for that vehicle could be hiding in those woods over there, waiting for us to leave, and I don’t have enough infantry to waste time searching or to secure this vehicle indefinitely.” He paused to see if the message was getting through – first you win the battle, then you exploit captured vehicles. “Senior Sergeant, you will do me the courtesy of carrying out my orders immediately. And you Tovarisches need to get back to picking my next target.”
If the Ami 3rd Armored, whose vehicle was now burning merrily behind him – the Sergeant hadn’t stopped working, just hadn’t set the fuze – was north of the Ruhr and the Mittelland Kanal, NATO couldn’t afford to burn the Ruhr bridges. He had Tovarische in the 34th Air Assault, battle brothers if not friends who were doubtless looking for employment. One, called ‘Dos’ because every time he bayoneted a Muj, he said ‘Dospidania’, was very aggressive. They had worked well together in the first years, before the White Russians called the Tajik and Uzbeck soldiers home because of some theory about reliability – like Moslem hadn’t been killing Moslem for centuries over blood feuds, religious sectarianism, tribalism or just because they didn’t like each other’s smell.
A desanti operation to bounce 5th Guards across the Ruhr. He liked it. He could be like that famous Ami cavalryman, JEB Grierson, and ride around their armies, leading the 5th Guards to link up with the 1st Guards Tank Army and 28th CAA coming north. His distant ancestor, Bayan son of Urangitai son of Subotai would approve. “Get me Front HQ.” It was time to tell the Front Commandant how to run the war.