BoF16 Saluting a General
Series Replay: Andy Bagley (Russian) vs Jim Bishop (German) January 2021
Today’s post covers the final turns of this updated Friendly Fire offering. The first part of this after-action report (AAR) can be found here. After five turns of battle, both sides still have a lot of fight left in them.
|BoF16 GT6 End CCPh|
German Turn 6
Again, the dice toy with me. I managed to get my PzIII past his Stuart in 85C5. I know his ATR is a threat but I don’t have a choice. I continue around to take the rear shot. Of course, not only does Andy hit, he hits in the Hull (rear aspect and 3 Armor) and then rolls another 3 on the TK shot. I think we can now officially say my goose is cooked but I will play it out to see how it finishes out. Adding insult to injury, I move another PzIII to take on that Stuart in 85C5, again manage the hit, and again manage to fail on the TK shot. I think we can safely say that fortune has not favored me to this point in the armor game. I close on the Stuart in 85J3 but fail to kill him in AFPh. Then I get two squads and a 9-1 into the Location and fail to kill him in CC. Needed a 7 and a 5 to immob, and got neither.
|BoF16 GT6 PFPh|
Success! The ATR Immobilizes the Lee in 85I4, prompting its crew to Abandon the tank. And then they’re off. The panzers, that is. The long-gun panzer in 42EE3 heads north to 85C3 from where it can bring four of six woods hexes in the VC area under fire. Next is the panzer in 42FF0 which also heads north. It dodges mortar bombs and 37mm fire to get behind the Stuart in 85C5, only to be destroyed by the Russian ATR in 85F8.
|BoF16 GT6 MPh|
A lucky TH and TK to be sure. Andy rolled exactly what he needed to hit. And he rolled one less (1,2) than he needed to knock out the panzer. Jim could have avoided giving the ATR a rear aspect by driving through the Stuart’s hex in order to Bounding Fire from 85B5.
|BoF16 GT6 MPh|
A second panzer rushes the Stuart, but fails to hit it or Stun its CE crew. The other surviving long-gun panzer charges the second Stuart, entering in 85J3 on its 13th MP. Andy passes a Motion attempt allowing the Stuart to start and pivot its turret to face K4, the likely approach rout of the DC-toting 4-6-8. [Being in Motion adds a +2 DRM to the DC, while Placement through the front Target Facing will add an extra +1 DRM.] A good move on Andy’s part. Still, if the DC attack succeeds, Jim’s panzer is in a strong position from which to take on the remaining Lee, not least because Jim cleverly risked Excessive Speed Breakdown (ESB) to stop after the Stuart went into motion. [There are worse places to Immobilize than HD in LOS of the last Lee.]
|BoF16 GT6 MPh|
German Infantry follows up, making good progress in the face of substantial DFF. [Two Russian attacks Cower, one of which “boxes.”] To my surprise, what I believe is a 4-4-7/LMG in 85I5 doesn’t take the six-down-one shot at the 4-6-8/DC when it enters 85K4. Maybe Andy was waiting for the outcome of the PAATC that the 4-6-8 was required to take before Placing the DC (A23.3). No PAATC was taken however, and the DC was placed without any apparent opposition. [Andy: We missed the fact that a PAATC was required, but Jim still needed a 5 or less with the DC to affect my Stuart.]
The 9-1 stack moves adjacent to this Stuart and attempts to place Infantry Smoke in 85J2. It fails. But this doesn’t stop the last panzer from braving the gap covered by the Lee in 85G4. The Pz IIIG ends its move in 85K4 from where it can fire on the adjacent Stuart should the DC fail to destroy the Russian AFV. (A third fail-safe, or sorts, is the 9-1 stack, which could engage the Stuart in CC.)
|BoF16 GT6 DFPh|
The rearward Stuart savages the German 4-6-7 in 85F2 during Final Fire reducing it to a broken Second Line HS. [For good measure the Lee also busts up the German crew in 85H3 (which is later eliminated in the Rout Phase), before rotating its turret to acquire the panzer in 85J3. The Russian crew on board 42 will suffer a similar fate.] Meanwhile the squad in 85I5 drops concealment to fire without effect on the adjacent German HS. (This was arguably a mistake. Having passed up an opportunity to fire on the 4-6-8/DC in DFF, and an opportunity to fire on the HS in Final Fire, I would have preferred to see the Russian unit maintain concealment for Ambush purposes. [Andy: The ambush wouldn’t have guaranteed a win, and I figured I could get this squad back to the woods, so might as well fire.] Had the HS advanced in and the Russians gained Ambush, the German unit would have been eliminated on a DR of 8 or less, and the Russians would have retained concealment in +3 TEM! As it happened, the HS was subsequently eliminated in CC.
|BoF16 GT6 MPh - CCPh|
In the end, the DC proved to be a non-issue, as Jim fails to position the charge successfully (C7.346). His other fail safe, the panzer in 85K4, also misses its target. And so does Jim’s CC fallback. Overall, a disappointing turn for the Germans, although Advancing Fire does convert the enemy squad in 85G3 into a broken Conscript HS when it “boxes” its Morale Check (MC).
|BoF16 RT6 End CCPH|
Russian Turn 6
|BoF16 RT6 PFPh|
To the relief of the Pz IIIJ in 85J3, Prep Fire begins with an ignominious “wall hit” by the Lee’s MA. However, the Lee’s SA does hit and break the 4-6-7 with the Russian HMG in 85J2. (Not sure why this stack didn’t remain in 85J1 from where it could have placed a Firelane to 85D10.) Farther east the Pz IIIG in 85D4 falls prey to the adjacent Stuart, leaving the Germans with three tanks.
|BoF16 RT6 PFPh|
During the MPh, declaring a Dash doesn’t spare a 4-4-7 that crosses paths with snake eyes. However, this does place the 4-6-8/ATR under Final Fire, freeing the 4-4-7/ATR to cross the road. After the 4-4-7/LMG falls back to 85G6, the Stuart in 85J3 makes a run for it.
|BoF16 RT6 MPh|
The Pz IIIG in 85K4 holds its fire until the Stuart turns in 85M4 to face the panzers. Rotating its turret through 120 degrees, the 50mm gun barks the moment the Stuart stops. Needing a seven or less to hit, the round strikes the hull of the Stuart but fails to penetrate. The Stuart returns fire and scores a turret hit, and due to the range, penetrates the panzer’s armour. Being CE didn’t save the panzer, and being BU didn’t prevent the Stuart from finding its mark. Andy’s tankers have been bucking the odds all game long.
|BoF16 RT6 MPh - DFPh|
The powerful 9-1 stack is unable to have any meaningful impact on the Russian units in 85F4. Nor is the Pz IIIJ able to destroy the Stuart in 85M4. Similarly, the 4-4-7 in 85E5 gets off with a warning from the panzer in 85C3. Defensive Fire is a disaster for the Germans. The Russian hold on the VC area is stronger than it was at the beginning of the turn. German prospects for success are nigh impossible with at least one Russian Infantry unit per VC hex.
|BoF16 GT7 PFPh|
German Turn 7
|BoF16 GT7 PFPh|
I also think that fortune was against me in this game. I don’t think it cost me the game, but as time went on, the lack of fortune just continued to stack the things I needed to do up until it simply wasn’t possible to get everything done. Andy rarely missed a TK shot. I rarely got a TK shot on my first attempt (even my 1,1 against his Lee in 42Y1 was a ROF shot). Every mistake I made (and I made plenty) got punished. When Andy made mistakes, punishment was hit or miss. Lastly, those !#@%!@#%$ Stuart’s are charmed devils. The number of shots I took at a Stuart and failed has to be close to ten. I don’t think Andy took ten shots all game and nearly all my tanks are dead. Such is war I guess.
The scenario itself, in my opinion, favors the Russians pretty heavily if the Russians set up forward, pushing the Germans as far away as possible. There simply isn’t enough time to get to the VC area. If the Russian is competent in fighting withdrawal, the Germans are just that much worse off. If the Russians set some guys up in the Woods at-start and begin digging Entrenchments it gets just that much harder. As it is on the card, I think this is at least 60:40 pro-Russian. The Germans can’t afford to be slowed, they can’t afford to have luck balanced against them, they can’t afford to fail when they get a chance to kill a Russian tank. In my case, all of these were stacked against me and Andy played his part very well.
Do I still think that the scenario requires an experienced player to pull this off as the Germans? Definitely. But not always. It’s possible that many of the Russian losses can be attributed to a Defender setting up too far back.
|The bottom photo is of a working Pz IIIJ in Oshawa, ON.|
A skirmish line placed well forward is arguably the “school solution” for the Infantry portion of the defence. Maintaining a mutually supporting armoured block around the VC area is the second key takeaway. Should the Attacker either fail to destroy the AFV line, or fail to get Infantry to the VC area in time, the Russians have won. In the other words, there is more than one way that the Germans can lose the scenario, which puts the pressure squarely on the Attacker. The more experienced the Attacker, the more likely the Germans can secure the objective.
Are the technical challenges of handling German armour assets well the main reason the scenario appears to favour the Russians? Perhaps not. But I think it’s fair to say that the new card raises the question as to what the Germans are lacking. An extra Pz IIIG wasn’t enough to turn the tide in the Tuomo tussle. Nor was it enough when pitted against a less experienced defender. Perhaps, as Jim notes, an extra turn would do more to balance things out than providing the attacker with extra stuff would. I don’t know.
What I do know is that the original card favours the Russians 2-1 based on 37 recorded plays. If we include the results of this match and the one that prompted it, the MMP card currently favours the Russians 6-1! I’ll take those CC odds any day of the week. Seriously, what I believe these preliminary numbers really reflect is a broader point, namely that German players face a steep learning curve. Despite having more assets with which to overwhelm the Defender, early results suggest that it still takes time for the Attacker to master the scenario. I therefore anticipate a more even win-loss distribution over time. I doubt that it will ever reach parity. But having more to work with ought to nudge the German success rate much closer to 40 percent, or about eight points higher than the record for the original card.
It’s a little harsh at this early stage to conclude that “Saluting a General” is a best-of dud. However, I do think it’s fair to characterize both versions of the scenario as decidedly unfriendly to the Attacker.
Gerry Proudfoot raised an important point on the GameSquad thread that led to this Series Replay when he suggested that “a pair of IIIGs be upgraded to more date-accurate IIIH.” That got me thinking. A dive into Chapter H revealed that the Pz IIIG was “discontinued” at the end of 1941. It was effectively replaced by the more common Pz IIIH, which first entered service in January 1941. This explains why there is no APCR exponent on the back of the Pz IIIG counter for 1942, and possibly why MMP added a Scenario Special Rule (SSR) granting this tank A5 in BoF16.
This had me wondering if the Pz IIIG were design-for-effect. Scenario designers often use an SSR to achieve a certain game affect. Were the “ahistorical” Pz IIIG included as a balance mechanism? I could only speculate. So I asked Mattias Rönnblom about it.
It’s been more than twelve years since Mattias designed “Saluting a General.” However, he was unequivocal with regard to the composition of the panzer force. It was not designed for effect. The Pz IIIG were included because Mattias reasoned that they were part of the division’s order of battle at the time. In other words, the Pz IIIG were not included as way to artificially weaken the panzer force. Moreover, German sources didn’t distinguish between models in this way. Panzers were recorded by MA calibre and barrel length.
I would have expected that any surviving Pz IIIG would have been up-armoured in field workshops by September 1942, effectively making them Pz IIIH for game purposes. Mattias wasn’t convinced, and in any case saw no documentary evidence to support these upgrades.
From what I was able to dig up, the division had 20 short-barrelled (kurz) 50s on strength in June 1942. The Pz IIIJ (lang) arrived in September. By November, 2. Panzer-Division reported having 8 kurz and 12 lang 50s on strength.
Mattias told me that there is nothing in the division’s history that would indicate that any Pz IIIG on strength were withdrawn from service. Moreover, he finds it very unlikely that any would have been withdrawn. On reflection, I tend to agree. The majority of the division’s panzers were light tanks: 11 Pz II and 33 Pz 38t! (The division also had 5 short-barrelled Pz IV in June 1942.) Of course, it’s plausible that all 20 of the Pz III on strength in June 1942 were Pz IIIH/IIIJ kurz. Chapter H treats the latter as Pz IIIH too. But given the antiquated state of the division’s panzer arm in general, probably not.
Mattias reflected that the original FrF56 card was unbalanced. And although he had some input with BoF16 version, he couldn’t recall specifics other than to say that MMP changed the panzer force mix. Indeed they did, which brings me to my final point about the MMP card.
When MMP swapped the Stuart III (M3A1) for the earlier model, the Russian light tanks became harder to hit. (Given how small these light tanks were, it’s hard to understand why both don’t qualify as small targets.) I get it. The core counter mix contains no M3 light tanks in Russian livery. But was MMP aware of the consequence of the swap?
|Okay, it's a relatively smaller relative. But really?|
|What's your take on this?|
To CE or not CE
That is was a discussion we had during editing, specifically about the merits of the Russian tanks being CE. Andy pushed back, as noted above and below.
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.
For those interested in such things, the Pz IIIJ pictured in the “Then and now” slide is a working, reproduction vehicle that can be viewed (and occasionally ridden) at The Ontario Regiment Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Museum in Oshawa, Ontario (a 26-minute train ride from downtown Toronto). The museum also has an M3 Stuart. Be sure to check out the Aquino Tank Weekend if you plan to be in the area this September!