14 February 2021

Armchair Generals - BoF16 Part 4

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

(Jim) Well, it has to happen this turn or it isn’t going to happen. I get a break and DI the Lee in 85I4 and the crew bails out on the MC. [Chris: This highlights the full nature of the threat posed by the ATR. Andy was okay with a Lee being Immobilized, but overlooked the fact that things can go sideways if its crew fails an Immobilization Task Check (TC). The crew of an Immobilized AFV also takes a TC each subsequent time its vehicle is hit. Conditions apply. (D5.5)] 

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. 

(Andy) The Germans continued to move forward but at this point I decided to hold my ground; I’m likely to lose more tanks but it’s worth it to prevent his infantry getting to the woods. I missed the fact that a PzIII could enter my hex with the Stuart light tank; fortunately I could put it in Motion and his various shots missed. (Jim also discovered how hard it is to place a demo charge in front of a moving tank!) A key turning point occurred when my ATR, having made it all the way back from the frontline on board 5, got a rear shot on a moving PzIII which hit and destroyed it. Meanwhile, Jim is unlucky with the dice and keeps missing my Stuarts.

(Chris) Jim has a lot to do this turn. In fact, a lot has to go his way this turn if the Germans are going to be in position to clear the VC area on Turn 7. The game could well be over by the end of his MPh.

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

(Andy) In my turn, it’s simply a question getting all my remaining units infantry back into or near the woods. One squad dies trying to dash across the road to the north, but this allows the squad with the ATR to make it safely, and even my conscript HS gets close.

(Jim) In the Russian turn 6, my goose was officially removed from the oven and carved for serving. Andy kills my PzIII in 85D4. The 85J3 Stuart starts, l shoot at him, hit, and roll yet another failed TK DR. Andy then promptly B1F’s and kills me. Failure in the German Army is punished harshly. To add insult to injury, my PzIII in 85J3 fails to secure a hit. So I am in a very unenviable position with that AFV. It needs to move but has to survive the shot in the rear from the Stuart.

(Chris) The Russians have four Good Order units in the VC zone, two of which are concealed. Two more squads are within reach of the area, although they will have to brave fire from the 4-6-8/ATR in 85K5 to get there. Andy’s ability to “skulk” is limited. I think he needs to keep his Stuart in 85J3 in order to deny the 9-1 stack an opportunity to engage Russian Infantry in the tree line. This would also prevent the Pz IIIJ from firing on the last Lee, effectively keeping this key Russian asset in play on the final German turn. On the other side of the equation, German Defensive Fire must break as many Russian units as possible in the VC area, if the Germans are to have any chance of gaining Control of six hexes in one turn!

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

(Jim) I am going through the motions here. I know this game is over but I have to see for myself. I got one HS back in the rally phase. Too bad I can’t rally any of my tanks. In Prep Fire Phase, I try to DI the last Lee and fail. I fire an 8 +1 and manage to PIN the crew. [MTR crew?] I then fire on the Stuart again intending to Intensive Fire against the Lee to open the door. I hit but as usual, I failed on the TK DR. I then IF at the Stuart, get the 1,1 and follow that with a 6,6. With that, I resign. I have a gauntlet of firepower I must push through and survive. If everything goes my way (as it has all game LOL), I still can’t get something into 85F5/85E6. That’s it. Turn the lights out.

(Andy) We played part of German turn 7, but it quickly became apparent that the Germans were not going to make it, so Jim resigned.

(Chris) In the RPh, the Russian crew in 85F5 has the cheek to rally. The Germans don’t have a single unit in a VC hex. German Prep Fire is therefore more a case of seeing how much punishment can be doled out on the last turn than a last-ditch attempt to win. The 4-6-8 with the ATR misses its DI shot against the last Lee, but receives a consolation prize in the form of a broken and Disrupted Conscript HS in 85F6. (In retrospect, one could make a case for stacking the 9-1 with the ATR squad from the get go. After all, the Lees are the biggest threat to German success.) The Pz IIIJ in 85J3 fairs better, dispatching the Stuart in 85M4. This success is followed up with an Intensive Fire shot at the Lee in 85G4. Jim had a roughly 27 percent probability of hitting. His gunner nailed it, and scored a CH. Alas the round was a Dud! 

BoF16 GT7 PFPh

Post-game comments

(Jim) Earlier, I promised I would have something to say about the missed LOS that led to my tank dying. I used to play a lot of chess and read about it all the time. Using eye-tracking software, it was noticed that Grand Masters tend to look at their opponents pieces 3 - 4 times more than they look at their own. When I made that move, I realized I got caught tunnel-visioning on my own pieces. I did it earlier with the 8-0 and two squads and missed the lesson then. So not only was I being dumb, I was being dumb twice. 

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.

(Andy): After the game we both felt that against a competent Russian defence the Germans have a tough task here. I like to think my defence was competent here—not always the case for me! The Russian strategy of delaying German Infantry early on before falling back to the defence of the woods, combined with keeping tanks together around the same area seems to be the best one. Jim tried to counter this by surrounding the woods with his tanks, but would have needed to win the tank battle in order to do this, and unfortunately failed to do so. We wondered afterwards if armoured assault would help the German Infantry move quicker, but they can’t start this until Turn 3 and it would be difficult to coordinate. Still a very exciting game which we both enjoyed. [Jim: Anything that stops to Armored Assault is not getting forward to engage the Russians as they try to fall back. I think this option cuts against what the Germans need to get done here.]

(Chris) Kudos to Jim for playing this out to the bitter end. Andy’s play wasn’t particularly inspiring, but it was solid enough to frustrate the Germans at almost every turn. In spite of repeated setbacks, I think the Germans remained in the game long after many less experienced players would have thrown in the towel. Had the last Lee gone down to the IF shot, it’s possible that the Germans could have pulled this off. But absolutely everything would have had to have gone their way for the rest of the turn. Perhaps if the last Pz IIIG had been able to dispense Smoke in the Stuart’s hex, and break the ATR squad in 85E6, it may have set the stage for a final rush by remaining German Infantry. Even then, the Germans would need to survive Defensive Fire, and either break the remaining Russian Infantry with Advancing Fire or eliminate them in CC. Those were extremely long odds. In the end Soviet gunnery carried the day. 

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.

Designer Feedback

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?
It was only when I revisited the FrF56 card that I noticed the difference. Granted it’s not as big a swing as a fourth Stuart I—the Russian balance provision on the original card—it’s not nothing. The nature of the scenario necessitates a lot of BFF on the part of the panzers, because they must move to engage enemy armour. Any panzers that do survive DFF will invariably have a tougher time hitting a Stuart, whether in the MPh or the AFPh. This also calls into question the net impact of an extra Pz IIIG and APCR on scenario balance. Given that the original card favours the Russians almost 70 percent of the time, were the additions to the German OB in BoF16 enough?

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.

(Andy) We may have to agree to disagree on the question of my tanks being CE. Jim of course drove one of his CE tanks through an 8 +2 shot (and others through 4 +2 resid if I recall correctly) with no problem. On the other hand it was an 8 +2 shot that broke my squad with the HMG.

(Jim) It’s all about risk vs reward. Your calculation is different. That doesn’t make it wrong and it clearly worked for you. It’s the differences in these value judgements that make for good games.

(Chris) My feeling re CE status is that it should be used whenever possible. Only when the risk is high would I BU. IMO, the risk for the Russians was minimal because the German Sniper was not a threat during most of the game. (Had Jim moved his Sniper near the Lees, BU would make eminent sense.) The German tanks have to come to the Russian tanks. When they do, the Russians will have first shot more often than not. And one less + DRM matters in the TH contest. The main exception to this general principle would be a threat from German Infantry, especially a stack directed by a -1 leader. For much of the game, German FP didn’t threaten Russian AFV crews. A second possible exception, is an isolated Russian AFV threatened with being swarmed by German tanks. In that case, it depends on what the goal of the Russian AFV was. If it was to tie down and damage/destroy enemy tanks, then why not stay CE in order to land a shot, and maybe an IF shot too. Frankly, the Germans are okay with trading a Pz IIIG for a Russian tank. So it’s not a tactic I would advise the Russians to adopt. But as Jim says, being BU worked for the Russians.

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! 


Jim Bishop said...

Thanks for all your work on this series. It looks far better than anything I could have ever done. Thanks for providing an outlet to publish this replay. I appreciate it. -- jim

Chris Doary said...

My pleasure Jim.

You and Andy have provided the framework for something that will provide future readers with much insight into this scenario, and more generally, into what's involved in playing ASL.

Thanks for your assistance and encouragement in getting this to press. And do try to roll a little lower in your next game. ;)


Mike Rodgers said...

Thank you for the considerable effort to make this illustrated replay.

Chris Doary said...

Thanks for reading through it Michael.

It's certainly a lot of work. But it'd be a waste if no one like you bothered to read it.

Hope you enjoyed it.