Time to play some Big Chain of Command again! And to make it really silly, I went about it in 28mm.
Last year in late summer issue #121 of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine arrived at my doorstep. It features a scenario titled Crossing the Berezina, and for some reason this scenario fascinated me and I wanted to play it. I had planned to play 28mm Eastern Front things again anyway, and this was a good thing to work toward to.
The scenario is written by David Davies and is originally written with Bolt Action rules in mind, but the article features some suggestions to play it with Battlegroup or Chain of Command rules. I just wasn’t too sure on some details as to subject other people to it, so I planned to test the game solo first.
In terms of figures I had most I need in my collection already. All I needed was a handful more of Soviet scouts, another T34/76 and another German truck of some sort. Good thing is that buying more miniatures rarely is a problem.
Now terrain was a bit trickier. This scenario would require: Eastern Front buildings, a river and a bridge. The river I technically had at hand, but got some more segments nonetheless. A bridge I technically had as well, but ….well, it’s the 1/72nd Italeri stone bridge Warlord sell as being suited for 28mm. So I’m not all too happy with it in general, but also the bridge should be wooden and more or less improvised. So I built a bridge. The buildings were more tricky. I’ll do a separate write-up about these some other time, so right now I’ll leave it at: it took a LOT of consideration, a LOT of wooden sticks, and almost cost me a bit of my right little finger. But now I own a bunch of 28mm buildings suitable for the Eastern Front.
So that took a good few months to get done. But this weekend I finally was there (with a tiny little omission I didn’t realize until I set the table up).
The game it set in mid-1944, during Operation Bagration. Four Soviet fronts attacked the German army in Belarus which led to the breakdown of army group centre, the loss of 27 divisions and all sorts of other things which essentially sealed the deal on the Eastern Front.
This scenario is based around a few matters: First and foremost the German side have to get a convoy of vehicles across the table, over a bridge, and blow the bridge up. The Soviet army is hot on their heels, following down the road. On top of this, Soviet scouts are coming in from the wooded area to cut off the German retreat.
The table I use is 6.5ft. by 5ft. .
Bridge Defenders (Force Morale 8): Senior Leader + Medical Orderly, Infantry squad (Junior Leader, 3-men LMG team, 4 men rifle team), MG42 MMG (5 crew).
They deploy using the bridge as a Jump-Off Point, i.e. in the yellow areas to either side of the river. They are sitting in haphazardly improvised fortifications (light cover).
Blocking Detachment (Force Morale 10): Senior Leader (Hauptmann Stransky), 2 Infantry squads (Junior Leader, 3-men LMG team, 4 men rifle team), Pak40 (Junior Leader, 5 crew) towed by an SdKfz.251, 2 squads of stragglers (one team of 7 men each, Green Troops)
Convoy: 2 Trucks, 1 SdKfz.251, all filled to the brim with supplies and wounded.
Scouts Detachment (Force Morale 11): Senior Leader, 2 Scouts Squads (Junior Leader, 7 men with mixed weapons [SMG and rifles]. One of the squads has an LMG.), Sniper. This force will be able to deploy from phase#1 from the red dot.
Reinforcements (Force Morale 10): Senior Leader, 3 Infantry Squads (Junior Leader, 9 men with LMG), Forward Artillery Observer team, 2 T34/76. This force will start entering the game the same way as the German convoy and Blocking Detachment via the yellow arrow from the end of Turn#2.
Maskirovka: An agent dressed up as a German deserter, who will spread misinformation and dissent among German troops close to him. He starts the game in the village.
During the first phase the Soviet scouts hang back and just try to accumulate Chain of Command points to end turns and get their reinforcements on the table faster. Meanwhile the German platoon try their best to get a move on…
Good thing they got a senior leader with them. Hauptmann Stransky sends his troop forward. The men are all too eager to reach the bend and the woodline. As soon as they do so, they swarm to take positions/cover left and right to the road. The Pak40 crew unlimber the gun and push it off the road and into a nice position to cover the road (and not to block the road for the following convoy).
Meanwhile the Soviet scouts deploy in the forest and sneak towards the German bridgehead unseen.
They deploy both squads plus the Senior Leader. The sniper deploys a bit off to the flank, but has no chance of a line of sight to anybody, so he’ll have to wait for a Chain of Command die to have him move.
End of turn, Random Event: Fire!
Just as the convoy unnervingly slowly passes the last building in the village it catches fire! Perhaps an accident, perhaps some nasty deed of the retreating German army.
Now that the Soviet Reinforcements may be well on their way of entering the game, the scouts think better than to attack the German bridgehead. Instead they move up to the back of the position of the German Blocking Detachment, ready to spring a pincer attack once the Soviet reinforcements arrive.
The Germans are aware of the going-ons in their back and Stransky orders one of the green squads to have an eye towards the woods. Meanwhile the convoy rumbles aound the corner into the woods (the anti-tank gun’s towing vehicle parked to the side of the road).
The smoke from the burning building fills the road entirely, effectively covering the Germans’ retreat!
The German bridgehead crew deploy their infantry squad, now that they feel safe after the Soviet scouts headed the other way.
In the woods, things come to a bizarre stand-off, with each side sitting on Overwatch, just out of line of sight of the enemy. Knowing that the enemy is close, they start lobbing hand grenades at each other.
Deeming the stand-off situation as the clock is ticking down for Soviet Reinforcements to arrive too unnerving, the German bridge head defenders send their infantry down the road to help out.
There’s more unnerving news though – here they come.
Heralded by the typical metallic sounds of its tracks, the silhouette of a T34 appears from the smoke and opens fire at the anti-tank gun. Junior Leader Obergefreiter Zeman is lightly wounded and the crew take 3 points of shock. They return fire, but miss the vehicle!
As a Soviet infantry squad scrambles for the gardens, another one deploys behind the building to advance out of sight.
Now that the Soviet reinforcements appeared, the small matter of the platoon of Soviet Scouts in the woods is something to take care of. Especially as they not only throw grenades at the German infantry, but also a petrol bomb at the leading vehicle of the convoy!
Lucky for the passengers, the bomb bounces off the tarpaulin and doesn’t do any damage to the vehicle. Still, Stransky orders another infantry squad to help the green troops keep the Soviet scouts in check. They start by adding to the hail of grenades. Gefreiter Locke has a very unlucky accident though. He fumbles, the grenade lands at his feet and he blows himself up!
Dissatisfied with the events Stransky turns his attantion to the Anti-tank gun. He rallies some shock and orders the crew to take another shot at the tank.
This time things work as planned, the T34 goes up in flames.
True to form, another one shows up right away.
In the woods, things get in motion, but not like the Germans planned. The Soviet scouts roll a double-phase and since the stand-off with the German troops won’t get them anywhere, they turn around. Making use of the “Urrraaaah!” National characteristic the senior leader leads them into close combat with the squad who moved up from the bridge head to help out in the woods.
Only then I realize the nastiness of massed SMGs. The scouts wipe out the German infantry. Immediately they proceed to open fire at the convoy which happens to pass by that moment.
The Maultier is taken out…
…while the leading vehicle, the Opel Blitz, takes a point of shock, panicks and steps on it.
Note how the German bridge defenders deployed the rest of their force – the Senior Leader and an MMG, who now have the Soviet scouts in full view. They don’t hit a thing though. Seems like light cover is all you need when faced with an MG42. The German Leutnant (with medical orderly in tow) crosses the road to direct the fire himself. Double-phase, things are iffy for the scouts.
…especially since Stransky ordered a squad of stragglers (green troops) and a regular infantry squad after them. All that shooting at the convoy can’t go on.
At this point I learn about the scariness of massed SMG fire at short range. Hence the shrunken-down squads above and all the shock on them. The regular squad barely holds together.
Elsewhere, fate strikes again. Random Event!
A random mortar barrage hits a 24″x24″ area of the table. Just one unit is affected (the Soviet infantry squad behind the fence) and more more, the village is in peril. On one side of the road it’s on fire, on the other side of the road it’s getting bombarded. In the background you can see that the second T34 was lit up by the Pak40. At this point the infantry squad and the Pak40 are duelling, but right now the infantry is somewhat occupied with trying to dig into the ground.
Seeing as how there is probably no major attack to fend off on the right flank and how their comrades are probably close to blowing up the bridge, Feldwebel Steiner leads his men back towards the road. The green squad next to them is unwilling to follow suit.
The Scouts (centre) are caught between the German infantry and the MMG at the bridge (and accumulate shock). On the other hand they deal a lot of short-range damage to the German infantry. The second truck in the convoy is taken out, the first one is getting just over the bridge. The third vehicle in the convoy, a SdKfz.251 (the one without the cover on top. the covered one is the towing vehicle for the Pak40), is still sitting in the corner of the winding road.
Suddenly, Soviet infantry pop up behind Hauptmann Stransky as he is busy sending soldiers into the woods!
Them, with another infantry squad in tow as well, have been sneaking up on the woods from the village, keeping out of sight the whole time. The woods erupt in a big old round of close combat. Rules-wise, it was an interesting situation, but some common sense and a 50/50 dice roll to see what happens helped.
In the end the German infantry is killed or taken prisoner, except for two survivors who flee as fast as they can (and leave about 10 points of shock behind, because they’re leaders). Stransky and an Obergefreiter barely slip away.
The loss of three full infantry squads – Bridge Defenders squad, Blocking Detachment squad, stragglers squad – hits German force morale hard (I ruled that the loss of convoy vehicles doesn’t bother force morale).
At this point Force Morale looks as follows:
German Bridge Defenders: 5
German Blocking Detachment: 4
Soviet Scouts: 10
Soviet Reinforcements: 7
Keeping the objective in mind the Soviet scouts ignore the MMG hammering at them and start firing everything they got at the third convoy vehicle. Other than the trucks, this one’s armoured though and the scouts are all out of hand grenades. However, the relentless fire makes the driver try to move the vehicle back out of the squad LMG’s fire and the vehicle takes one point of shock.
The newly arrived infantry squad isn’t ouf of grenades though. Comrade Petrov lobs one of them right in the back of the vehicle, which prompts the two-men crew to abandon the vehicle and surrender.
The leading truck got away, but two out of three ain’t bad.
Meanwhile Stransky arrives at friendly lines, screaming about the enemy being all over the place and that the bridge has to be blown up NOW.
Luckily the random mortar barrage was short, and once it ceases the rest of the Soviet reinforcements show up – the Soviet Leytenant and forward artillery observers.
The forward observers get to work and call in a barrage on the german positions in the woods. The ranging shot lands on point and causes one point of shock.
After a while a lot more projectiles are coming in, catching all of the remaining German blocking detachment in the barrage.
Zeman’s Pak40 crew is wiped out, the green squad at the woodline get away with just a point of shock, but Feldwebel Steiner is wounded, as well as the one remainder of the other blocking detachment squad, the Obergefreiter. The blocking detachment’s force morale falls below 0; they’re out of the game. This drags the bridge defenders’ force morale down to 2.
Meanwhile, unmolested by the barrage, more Soviet infantry follow up into the woods to make their way towards the bridge.
…where a squad of Pioneers is working on getting the explosive charges ready for detonation. No further convoy vehicles are to be expected, and even the MMG crew and the senior leaders prepare to take off across the bridge.
Problem is that blowing the bridge requires a chain of command dice, and while the game so far has been heavy on turns (at this point I’m at something insane like turn#5 or so) and even random events, but so far not a single chain of command dice was accumulated over the course of the game.
Until now. The Soviet scouts get their 6th chain of command point and immediately use the dice to move the sniper (remember him?) in position to fire at the Pioniers. He causes two point of shock, but misses on further shots. The race is on.
The bridge defenders are on 5 chain of command points, but they only have three command dice left. Soviet soldiers hurry through the woods to get into firing position across the river.
Just as they get there and open fire at the Pioniers the Germans manage to set off the charges and blow the bridge.
For the moment the Soviets are forced to a stand-still, but it takes only a day to rebuild the bridge and keep on driving the Wehrmacht before them.
Final Force Morales:
German Bridge Defenders: 2
German Blocking Detachment: 0
Soviet Scouts: 10
Soviet Reinforcements: 7
Victory points as per the scenario:
Soviets: 14 (not counting the fact that the blocking detachment’s remaining 2 units are essentially destroyed/taken prisoner due to their force morale being 0 and them being stuck in a mortar barrage and with their only escape route blown)
This was quite a marathon, but good fun, even for a solo game. Based on the scenario description I had no idea where the German blocking detachment is supposed to be deployed, but I think the way I played it is pretty much as intended. During set-up I had a bit of a moment of panic when I realized that the Pak40 came with a towing vehicle. Glad I painted another SdKfz.251 back in the day (one Warlord, one Rubicon), but of course I don’t own a 28mm Pak40 in towed position, because why would anybody. But okay, glad I got to deploy it quickly.
Anyway, the scenario is very interesting. I could see this playing out rather differently each game you play this with Chain of Command rules, because there are several moving parts. Several times it looked like a clear-cut thing, but then the whole situation was turned on its head. This gives the whole thing a nice replay factor though. I’ll try to play this again.
For the woods I ruled the distance to seeing enemy units within or from outside to be 4″, maybe I would change that to 6″ as for lighter woods. It was the first time I got to use units which are mainly armed with SMGs, and in this sort of terrain, these guys are deadly. That first stand-off in the woods where neither the scouts nor the German infantry dared to get into viewing distance, both on overwatch, may not have happened if I had been aware of the amount of dice the SMGs roll at close range.
Also, the Pak40 is just a monster. In cover, possibly with a senior leader at hand, it will probably take care of any armoured problems which should arise. It’s a lovely, lovely gun, this. At the other end of the spectrum, the situation in which the Soviet scouts with their hand grenades depleted tried their dearest to crack an APC was interesting to say the least. But in the end they managed to do it.
If I would change anything for a second game maybe I would try to reduce the number of leaders on the table. Compared to full book strength platoons the single forces here range from regular-sized (Soviet reinforcements) to small (Soviet scouts, with just 18 figures, including leaders and sniper). It also gives a nice flow though, with lots of stuff to do. Only shame was that the Soviet reinforcements refused to roll 1s, so they weren’t able to deploy their forward observers for a long time. This means that they weren’t able to deploy the senior leader for a long time either.
Playing Big Chain of Command again (after 7 years!) was pretty cool. Okay, planning to play Big CoC on a 6.5′ by 5′ table with 28mm figures sounds a bit insane, but the vast amount of woodland blocking line of sight really helps with that. Also, the relatively small forces. I wonder how well this would work as a demo game. There is a lot of variety, that’s for sure. On the other hand, there isn’t a lot to do for the bridge defender, and the Soviet Reinforcements which in CoC rules terms might never even show up. I mean in this game I played it worked beautifully, but I know the magic of the Lard, and I know that everything that can get weird will in a lardies demo game. So maybe instead of having the Soviet Reinforcements show up at the end of turn#2 maybe a good old counter system as employed by Cpt.Shandy in many of his games does the trick. Something like “roll a d6 each time the convoy moves. As soon as the results added up total say 28 the Soviet Reinforcements show up on the next Soviet phase”.
It was really interesting to see the relatively high number of random events (2), turn ends and double phases as well as the incredibly low number of Chain of Command points. I also had to deal with rules I never used so far, like limbering/unlimbering guns from a towing vehicle or small arms fire at a soft-skin vehicle. Or petrol bombs, not that they did anything.
Last but not least it was a pretty cool project to build towards. I was planning to do some more terrain for Eastern Europe anyway, and I’ll take any excuse to buy more 28mm WW2 stuff (because I got so much in 15mm already 😛 ). Finally getting to play this scenario which I have been reading over and over and over, planning purchases, getting models and figures and preparing them and so on is kind of satisfying. And I’m very glad that it played very well too. Could have been a disaster. So all went well in the end.
+++Update+++: I played the scenario again; this time being less cautious, because I was more familiar with the scenario, the terrain and all of that. I applied the following rules changes:
.) The Soviet Reinforcements roll Command Dice even before entering the game. They can’t deploy, but they may use 5s rolled to add chain of command points and 6s for a double phase and/or for ending the turn. They also may use 1s to activate the Maskirovka. Just so the reinforcements have a better chance of actually showing up at the end of turn#2. This one thing, the point in time at which the Soviet reinforcements arrive, is a cool mechanism, but in CoC terms it may mean that if the dice fall weirdly (and to a degree they always do), the Soviet Reinforcements never show up throughout the game.
So this time I instantly sent 3 squads from the German Blocking Detachment (1 regular and the two green ones) after the Soviet scouts, as well as the regular infantry squad from the bridge defenders. The scouts had their Jump-Off Point on the opposite table edge than they did the last time, by the way. I rolled for that prior to either game. A pretty nasty close-range firefight ensued in the woods on the right side of the river (view from the bridge), but the Germans eventually got the upper hand and destroyed the Soviet Scouts. Meanwhile there was no sign of the Soviet reinforcements and the convoy moved across the bridge and into safety unharmed. I’m just really glad that it went way better when I first played the scenario. 😀
So after this experience I tried applying Cpt.Shandy’s counter system and added this little rule:
.) The Soviet Reinforcements roll Command Dice even before entering the game. They can’t deploy, but they may use 5s rolled to add chain of command points and 6s for a double phase and/or for ending the turn. Each time they roll command dice, they roll a d6 (no additional rolls for double-phases though. Pretty much the way the German convoy moves according to the scenario rules, so it’s a bit that isn’t hard to remember or feels out of place in this case) and take a note of the result. If the total number rolled by the d6s adds up to 20 or more the Soviet Reinforcements may deploy this phase.
I’m not sure if it’s necessary to combine it with command dice rolls really, but that seems to give the reinforcements a slightly more predictable chance of showing up. I wouldn’t want to make the whole convoy movement/reinforcements showing up dynamic even more predictable, because predictability is boring and would feel like it’s against some basic designs of CoC and this scenario.
Here are two more ideas I’ve had for possible changes, after I recently got the 1940 Handbook:
.) Change the Senior Leaders on the Bridge Defenders and the Soviet Scouts to Inferior Senior Leaders. Them being ‘proper’ senior leaders feels a bit big for the very small forces they command. Alternatively, replace the junior leaders from these two forces with regular soldiers.
.) The 1940 Handbook has these fancy rules for force morale loss to a certain point triggering certain events. So I propose this, if you find the scenario being too easy on the Germans: If Force Morale on the German Blocking Detachment falls to 5 or below, either one of the two Green straggler sections (player’s choice) flees across the bridge, if the bridge is blown they surrender to the enemy. In both cases they are removed from play (if they surrender the Soviets have to remove 2 guards from the closest infantry section, as per the rules). This does not cause another “Bad Things Happen” roll.
This 1940 handbook has some pretty interesting ideas. I think that the scenarios in there would also work very well for Operation Bagration especially.
.) I was considering keeping the Bridge Defenders in place and not allowing them to move away from their positions, but I think it would be needlessly restrictive, especially if you played it as a multi-player game.
So yeah, just a few ideas. Feel free to tinker with them. You can find the full scenario in Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine issue #121 (the one about The “true” Arthur).
I hope that you enjoyed this battle report and the photos! Hope to show you some Chain of Command again soon, because this game is just such fun, especially if fuelled by a good scenario.