20 March 2012

Gallant Galántay

His heart raced. And despite the cold, he was strangely warm. He felt it first, a low, intermittent rumble. He had stopped breathing. He was relieved when the long barrel of a tank finally came into view. Anything, he thought, but that fire-breathing monster that had stalked Városmajor two weeks earlier. Was it only two weeks ago? 
The fourteen year-old Hungarian reflexively touched the wound on his neck. It was better that his mother did not know. She had been horrified when he expressed interest in joining the fascist Arrow Cross Militia. She was hardly mollified when he signed on as a dispatch runner with the Vannay Alarm Battalion. He had witnessed so many terrible things during the siege of his city. Yes, it was better that his mother did not know.
It was then that he noticed the figures clinging to the back of the tank. The Maschinengewehr purred in his hands. It was hard to tell if he was hitting anything. He kept firing. The tank kept coming. A bundle tumbled off the side. Others melded with the engine deck. When the tank was almost upon him, the boy darted forward. He had learned much from listening to the veterans of the battalion. A tank without infantry escort was vulnerable. Even a single man could destroy a tank in such circumstances. Once you understood this, all you needed was the courage to make it happen. That, and a bit of luck, he thought. He never made it.
Big, bold, and mind-boggling
Ten years in the making, Bill Cirillo’s historical ASL module (HASL) is truly a mammoth undertaking. Each new HASL brings more to the ASL game table. Bill’s opus is an exception. 
Festung Budapest (FB) is an exception not because it delivers nothing new, but rather because so much of what it delivers is new. Just a list of the aspects unique to the module is impressive. Explaining each item on such a list would take far more text than some of you would care to read. So with this in mind, I have chosen to highlight some of the unique aspects of FB in the context of a single scenario: FB11 “Boy Soldier.” I must warn you, however, that my short list is actually quite long. 
Central Buda 1941
FB11 Boy Soldier
Pest, the eastern half of the Hungarian capital, had fallen on 18 January 1945. Operation Konrad III, the third attempt to relieve pressure on the city, began as Pest fell. Konrad ran out of steam (and fuel) nine days later. Although the Axis offensive drove the Soviets back to the Danube (Duna) River, the lead elements of IV SS Panzer Corps were still some 25 kilometres south of Buda on 26 January. By February the relief force had withdrawn under pressure from powerful Soviet counterattacks. Even the most optimistic defenders of Buda had to accept the fact that there would be no relief.
By 4 February, the defensive perimeter in Buda had shrunk considerably. Confined to an area of roughly three square kilometres, the defenders could hardly afford to give ground. It was doubly important for the Hungarians holding the area around Széll-Kálmán Square.1 The square lies less than 300 metres northwest of the Várhegy, or Castle Hill. The 1500-metre long plateau rises some 70 metres above the nearby Duna. The headquarters of the Hungarian and German defenders were located here, close to the Royal Palace. In February 1945, this mile-long strip of high ground was the final redoubt of the Axis defence in Hungary’s capital. 
Soviet attack on Széll Kálmán tér 4 February 1945

The area around Széll-Kálmán Square had proven to be a strong defensive position. However, as the ranks of the defenders thinned, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the Soviets from establishing a foothold. The western perimeter bordered the Városmajor, a large parkland in the city centre. 
Horváths holdouts
Forward elements of Lieutenant Horváth's 1st Company clung to the fringes of the park—their backs to Olasz Avenue, Krisztina Boulevard, and Csaba Street. Horváth was concerned about his right flank. Kunfalvi's 3rd Company was supposed to hold the far side of Olasz Avenue. With the losses suffered by the Vannay Battalion in the past few weeks, it was anyone's guess how much longer the battalion could keep the Soviets at bay. As a precaution, Horváth had placed his reserve platoon near the junction of Olasz Avenue and Retek Street. This left his frontline positions weak. 
FB13.8 Vannay Units
An attached forward observer gave Horváth some assurance that medium mortars were standing by to provide indirect fire support. Remnants of a howitzer battery from the Hungarian 12th Reserve Infantry Division, emplaced in the square behind him, provided some additional reassurance.2 However, the fact remained that his men were short of ammunition. When had Major Vannay said that the next resupply gliders were due to arrive? 
Для площади!
The Soviet commander was confident that his men could take the square. The 297th Rifle Division had learned much during the fighting in Pest. It showed. Since arriving in Buda, the division had driven the enemy from the city’s central park, repelled counterattacks, and steadily gained ground. Had not two other divisions tried and failed to take Városmajor grange in the past month? Had not the 297th secured the grange in less than a week? 
Hungarians set up anywhere but in the shaded areas
What the commander avoided mentioning was the fact that the 297th had some help. His men were also facing a much weakened foe. And to be completely honest, the enemy still held a tiny corner of the grange. 
“Let them have their park,” the commander had told his officers. He assured them that once they controlled the majority of the buildings adjacent to the square the rabble in the park would be in an untenable position and forced to flee. The commander had concluded his orders group by pointing once again to his map. “Remember now,” he stressed, “Get your men into the ground levels of these buildings outlined in red. Do not try to clear the upper floors. Save your ammunition for the inevitable counterattack. We will deal with any vermin trapped upstairs after we are resupplied tomorrow morning.” 
FB14. Buda Volunteer Regiment
On the morning of the 4th, the commander had four medium tanks from the 21st Guards Tank Brigade (5th Guards Tank Corps) at his disposal. He also had the support of a platoon of experienced assault engineers—from the 14th Assault Engineer Brigade, if he remembered correctly. In addition to his own men, he had an understrength company of Hungarians under command. Although he would never admit it, he was glad to have the extra bodies. To be fair, a few of these Hungarian patriots had fought alongside his men in Pest, and acquitted themselves well. Why more Hungarians had not abandoned the fascist cause and joined the ranks of the liberators, he would never understand.
5th Guards Tank Corps
With a nod to the nearby tanker, the commander turned to his men and cried, “To the square!” One of the attached engineers rolled his eyes and muttered, “after you comrade.” 
No walk in the park
Getting to the square would not be easy. The Soviet commander had three main options. He could try a right hook in order to approach Széll-Kálmán Square from the south. An attack by his division five days earlier had some initial success along this avenue of advance. Unfortunately, the assault elements were unable to hold onto the their gains at the base of Castle Hill. Given that the area was too congested for tanks, the commander quickly ruled out this option. A direct approach through the Városmajor Park was likewise impractical for armour. The most promising option was a concentrated thrust along Olasz Avenue, or “Italian Alley,” as the officer in charge of the Hungarian volunteers had referred to it. Getting the armour forward would be a problem if both sides of the avenue were not cleared of anti-tank threats beforehand. Consequently, he had little choice but to advance along both sides of the thoroughfare. Intelligence reports claimed that the Hungarians had abandoned the Cartographic Institute on Ezredes Street. If true, this would help his force on north side of the avenue keep pace with the main effort as it edged its way along the northern fringe of the park. As for the rest of the park, well, he could not ignore it completely.
FB5. Orchards and FB7.5 Open Air Theatre
The excitable fellow in command of the engineers had a point, several actually. The reconnaissance photographs were almost 48 hours old. In spite of the newly fallen snow, the commander knew the locations of the enemy‘s makeshift roadblocks. “Recce” patrols likewise had confirmed the position of a few scattered barbed-wire entanglements. The Intelligence Officer had also seen no evidence that the enemy was planning to defend from the rooftops.3 
However, aerial reconnaissance was of little use in determining the location of enemy booby traps. But then he had agreed with the engineer officer. Warning the men would only make them overly cautious. It was much the same for any enemy lurking in cellars, or sewers.4 The commander simply did not have the resources, let alone the time, needed to clear every rat nest. That damn tower was another story. 
FB7.3 Városmajor Church and Bell Tower
The commander had agreed to send a small force toward the bell tower at the corner of Csaba and Maros streets. Not that he planned to push through the middle of the park. But even the area bordering Olasz Avenue could be seen from the tower, which had an enviable view of the battlefield. He did not like to split his force. However, as the engineer had pointed out, a platoon of Hungarian volunteers would probably be enough to keep anyone in the tower preoccupied. Hedging his bets, he had sent a few men from his headquarters section along with them. If nothing else, it would be a better use of these defectors than what a veteran sergeant had suggested. Launching a “wave” of Hungarians at the enemy was so Stalingrad.5
Lines in the snow
Lieutenant Horváth recognized the importance of the bell tower. Unfortunately, he could not afford to defend it in strength. After weeks of fighting, the tower was practically on the front line. This stark reality had forced Horváth to move his headquarters out the Sacred Heart Church and back toward the square. The outpost left behind was to provide advance warning of a Russian attack before retiring to the rowhouses lining the west side of Krisztina Boulevard, his company’s first real line of defence. Even this line was only meant to delay the enemy. The main line of resistance lay on the far side of the tram lines. 
FB6.3 Tram Lines and Széll Kálmán tér
The experienced subaltern had relocated his headquarters to the office block adjacent to the Postal Palace. His men had fortified a portion of the block fronting on Krisztina Boulevard and the square. Horváth had no plans to withdraw farther. He was confident that his men would hold. Even if the enemy succeeded in crossing the boulevard, they would be exhausted from trudging uphill through the fresh snow. Hand-to-hand combat was not new to his men. The Reds would pay dearly if they tried to wrest control of this new stronghold from Horváth’s 1st Company. The Vannay Machinegun Platoon, holed up in the Postal Palace next door, was in an even better defensive position.
FB7.2 Postal Palace (Posta Palota) Budapest
The Postal Palace6 towered over Széll-Kálmán Square and the surrounding area. It was the linchpin of the Hungarian defence. The Palace would have to be leveled before Horváth’s left flank would falter. From the upper floors Sergeant Pandura’s heavy machine-gun platoon had a commanding view of the battlefield. The men (and boys) of Graszl’s woefully understrength 5th Company held the floors at street level with a grim fanaticism. Short of ammunition, the machine gunners above them had orders to hold their fire until the Reds stepped into the open. 
FB16. Axis Ammunition Shortage
The one area of concern on the left was the “tunnel” that gave onto the square. Horváth had wanted to stuff the opening with debris from the square, but had been overruled by the garrison commander.7 The tramway was supposed to be kept clear in the event of a breakout. At this rate, Horváth thought, there would be no one left to attempt a breakout. 
But orders, were orders, and there was nothing in them that said that Horváth could not put a makeshift barricade across the entrance to the tunnel. The likelihood of the enemy infiltrating along the tram-line defile was admittedly remote. If the enemy did, the barrier (and the outpost positioned behind it) would check the enemy long enough for Graszl’s company to shift and hit the “Bolshies” in the flank.  
FB2. FB Debris and FB3. FB Rubble
No, what really had Horváth worried was the prospect of a full-on armoured assault. The open-topped self-propelled guns that the Soviets had thrown at them on New Years day were easy prey, especially for an anti-tank gun. But the battalion had no anti-tank guns. The pair seconded to them was lost during the fighting in the Városmajor. More ominously, the day before, enemy tanks had broken through the Waffen SS positions to the west. The Soviets had penetrated as far east as Németvölgyi Road, barely a kilometre from Déli Station.  
The howitzers in the square were ill-suited to deal with a tank. Little of their remaining ammunition was capable of penetrating the thick hide of a T-34. The Germans had given his men a handful of magnetic charges. What did that young Ervin call them again, Haftholladungen? These worked well enough, but they were really a last defence. Now where did that kid put the one by the door?
FB11. Railroad Underpass Széll Kálmán tér
Panzerfausts were a better option. Not much better, mind you. An operator had to wait until a tank was almost upon him before firing. Then there was that awful blast effect. More than a few of Horváth’s men had suffered burns and other injuries because of these dangerous contraptions. In order to reduce the number of potential injuries from backblast, Horváth had positioned some of his tank-hunter teams among the debris of the square. The better positions were among the tram cars.8 
Horváth’s best anti-tank weapon was a solitary hand-held rocket launcher. He was lucky to have it. Most Páncélrém had been abandoned in Pest. Horváth’s sigh changed to a smile as he reflected on when he had first seen one of these launchers. Like everyone else, he had assumed that it was a German weapon. He was both surprised and proud to learn that the launcher was manufactured in Budapest. Moreover, it was not a straight copy of the German Panzerschreck, but a Hungarian design. Horváth was no expert in these matters. But from what he had heard, the Páncélrém would knock out anything that the Soviets dared drive into its sights.9
FB13.6 Panzerfausts and FB13.7 ATMM
Á Hazáért!
The telephone rang in the command post. Horváth grabbed it before the second ring. “I think they are coming, Sir,” the voice at the other end whispered. “Listen!” It was faint, but the Lieutenant thought he could just make out cries of “For the Motherland!” over the land line. “Shit,” he muttered, “Hungarian Reds.” “Thank you sergeant, you can pull your outposts in now.” 
“Warn the other platoons,” he said turning to the orderly. “And where is my damn runner!” The orderly started to speak but was cut off when firing erupted outside. It intensified. “What is that idiot firing at like that,” Horváth asked of no one in particular. He was going to wear out the barrel, if he did not run out of ammunition first. Someone was firing an MG42 like a madman. Some madman was going to get a boot in his ass when Horváth tracked him down. 
The boy was running as hard as his wretched body would allow. Yet, the tank remained just out of reach. He could not shake the sensation that he was wading though the shallows of Balaton. Der Plattensee, the old man at the academy used to say, ist wunderbar im Sommer! Yes, the water was so wonderfully warm in the summer. Why were his legs so cold?
Ervin Ivan Galántay
By day’s end, the Soviets had gained a toehold along the north edge of Széll-Kálmán Square. Even with the aid of tank cannon, the Soviets were unable to dislodge the Hungarians from the post office block. 
The following day, two German gliders alighted on the Vérmező—The Field of Blood. One hundred and fifty years earlier, the field is said to have run red with the blood of executed Jacobin leaders. Since January 1945, more Hungarian (and German) blood had been added. The Soviets would soon add their own.
Three more gliders crashed at the southern end of the Vérmező. A sixth glider plummeted into the ruins of a restaurant. The last met its end in the attic of 31 Attila Road. In spite of these losses, some 97 tons of ammunition, 10 tens of fuel, and 28 tons of food fell into Axis hands—the best air resupply to date. It would be the last.

Design elements
Bill Cirillo did not fully appreciate the length of time required to bring his dream to fruition. Indeed, there were moments when he “was (almost) convinced it wouldn’t happen at all.” Festung Budapest is a labour of love. “If it wasn’t, it would never have gotten done,” he confessed. You will find his labour and love throughout the module. However, as Bill is quick to point out, a great many people had a hand in the development of what to date is the largest HASL published by either Avalon Hill (AH), or Multi-Man Publishing (MMP).10 
Bill Cirillo during a FB play test in December 2009
Considering the scope and the size of the project, a complete list of those involved during the past decade would be enormous. Nevertheless, I think it is instructive to mention some of the prominent people involved.
The historians
For more than half a century, historical literature of the siege, particularly in English, was extremely limited. Little was written during the Cold War, at least, nothing that might be described as an objective and scholarly treatment. The inspiration for FB therefore came from an article published in a popular American history magazine in 1999.11
Dr. Krisztián Ungváry
German edition

Only a year earlier, a Hungarian historian had published Budapest ostroma, based on his doctoral thesis. The book, initially in Hungarian, was released the following year in German (Die Schlacht um Budapest), and subsequently in English (The Siege of Budapest). Krisztián Ungváry‘s work remains the most widely cited reference text of the siege.12 
Budapest ostroma appears to have ignited a growing interest in the siege. Norbert Számvéber is six years younger than Ungváry, but no less enthusiastic. Norbert Számvéber’s doctoral thesis focussed on Konrad 3, the third Axis attempt to “relieve” Budapest in January 1945. Dr. Számvéber has been the Chief of Hungarian Military Archives since 2005. He is an authority on armoured warfare and the Waffen-SS. And he is the authority on armoured operations in Hungary during the Second World War.13 
Dr. Norbert Számvéber lectures to fellow Magyar StuGophiles
Considering what the foregoing pair of Hungarians brings to the table, it may surprise you to learn that the third leading historian of the siege is Bulgarian. Kamen Nevenkin’s first publication was a reference text detailing the dispositions and operations of Germany’s panzer divisions during the latter half of the war. Fire Brigades established Mr. Nevenkin as a fastidious researcher and chronicler of the period. No doubt Mr. Nevenkin’s forthcoming Take Budapest: the Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944 will provide a fresh and welcome perspective on the siege.14 

Each of these historians assisted Bill with his research. Krisztián Ungváry, for example, graciously shared portions of his first draft of the English edition of Budapest ostroma, a year before it was available to the general public. Krisztián’s act of faith gave Bill a head start on his historical research and scenario design. 
In Hungarian
During the past 18 months or so, Bill corresponded regularly with Norbert Számvéber. Hungary’s chief archivist was able to verify and/or clarify a number of historical points. However, Dr. Számvéber’s most important contribution to FB was the provision of a map that identified the “block” codes used by the Budapest Assault Group, the Soviet force tasked with taking the city. The map and block identification codes proved invaluable for deciphering the positions of Axis and Soviet units identified in Norbert Számvéber’s Erőd a Duna mentén (Fortress on the Danube). 
Bill began collaborating with Kamen Nevenkin about a year ago. Due to Kamen’s extensive research in the Russian archives, Bill finally obtained specific information regarding the dispositions of Soviet divisions and regiments throughout the siege. To give you a sense of Kamen’s goodwill, he devoted approximately 15 hours of his time in order to provide real-time translation of Russian-language documents over Skype!15
Development team
Key to the design and development of FB was the preparation of a map that accurately reflected the historical setting. Before play testing could begin, much work had to be done to prepare the playing area. Bruce Kirkaldy—now a member of the Bounding Fire Productions team—prepared the original play-test versions of the historical maps. When Bruce left the project around 2006, Dean McGuinley and Jim Sexton stepped in and helped rework some portions of the maps. 
Charlie Kibler the reenactor

However, the final versions are strictly the work of Charlie Kibler, an old hand from the AH days. Charlie revisited period maps and captured German aerial reconnaissance photographs. He then compared these with current imagery of Budapest. The published map sheets are an amalgam of these sources, some unavoidable abstractions, and perhaps a bit of artistic licence. I love the result. So does Bill. “Charlie is a great guy and really fascinating to work with,” Bill told me. Moreover, he “did an awesome job creating the feel of 1945 Budapest.”
As with all graphics, click to enlarge
Head of the Klas
Another aspect that was central to the development of the module was the creation of a rule set to govern the peculiarities of the siege. Bill was aided partly in this by Tom Morin, the designer of Valor of the Guards (VotG). Tom was in turn indebted to Charlie Kibler, and Red Barricades —the granddaddy of the HASL module. Wherever possible, Bill drew upon established rule sections and modified them according to his needs. Thus, in many respects, FB was built upon the foundations laid in the “Stalingrad” modules. However, Budapest is not Stalingrad, and the Hungarian capital presented numerous challenges for a first-time designer. Bill was in good hands, however. Guided by Perry “Sez” Cocke of MMP, and rules guru Klas Malmström, Bill kept the FB rule set manageable. Indeed, the experience left Bill with “nothing but profound admiration for the depth of rules knowledge that both Perry and Klas have, without which FB would have been a mess.” 
Bill also learned much from working closely with Chas Argent of MMP during the layout process. “The level of ignorance I had about even some of the most basic elements of what is on a scenario card and how it gets there was staggering,” he confessed. “And I’ve been looking at them for twenty years,” he added.
Perhaps the most understated factor in the development of FB was perseverance. It is no mean feat to stay the course for more than a decade. It is also tough to go it alone. But Bill was never really alone. He had a friend to lean on, a friend who stayed the course with him.
Bill's right-hand man Sean Deller
Bill first met Sean Deller at a local Tidewater ASL Gamers gathering in 2000.16 They have been friends ever since. Sean is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, and holds a PhD in System Analysis. He has helped Bill with the design process for the past 11 years. They make a good team. Bill and Sean share interests in gaming and in how they approach and resolve problems. Both are competitive, and both enjoy a friendly game of ASL, so much so that the majority of Bill’s play-test sessions for FB have been with Sean. Consequently, there is some truth in Bill’s assertion that “without his [Sean’s] help FB probably would never have happened.” I am inclined to disagree. Bill’s dream would have come true eventually. Bill was committed to seeing the project through to completion. Fortunately for us, the dream came true much earlier than it would have. Without Sean’s unflagging support, we would not be playing FB in 2012.
Before I forget, I would like to thank everyone who play tested, proofread, and otherwise aided the design and development of FB. It has been a long haul. The finished product speaks for itself.
The dynamic duo: Sean Deller and Bill Cirillo compare notes
The big grey box
I hope that my fanciful depiction of “Boy Soldier” has piqued your interest. I would have purchased Festung Budapest simply for its bountiful counters.17 Truth is, I absolutely love the map. The subject matter is fresh and engaging; the orders of battle are equally varied and intriguing. Although chronologically a late-war chapter of ASL, the module has a mid-war feel that I find compelling. For me, FB also has a distinctly human quality. To be sure, there are heroes in the story. But it is ordinary men (and boys) who take centre stage in this epic clash of ideologies.
There is a lot to discover in Bill’s big, grey box. I encourage you to have a look inside. You will find a lot to like.
1. The square—tér, in Hungarian—was named after Kálmán Széll (1843-1915), a former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Hungary. (Hungarians traditionally use the so-called Eastern name order, wherein the family name precedes the given name.) In 1951, the Communist government renamed the square Moszkva tér. Today, part of the square is once again named after Mr. Széll.
2. The 12th Reserve Infantry Division had been called up shortly before the Battle of Debrecen, in October 1944. Badly mauled on the Hungarian plain, the division proved unreliable during the defence of Pest in November and December. Before 1945, desertions and casualties had reduced the effective strength of each infantry battalion to little more than a platoon.
3. There are 22 generic FB Scenario Special Rules (SSR). Unless otherwise noted, these SSR apply to all FB scenarios and Campaign Games (CG). For instance, in FB11 “Boy Soldier,” the following FB SSR are in play:
FB3 Narrow Street (B31.1) rules in FB are less restrictive than usual. This is a design compromise. Many streets do not appear on the map, while others appear as “Narrow Streets.” Rendering the city accurately within the confines of a 40-metre ASL hex was simply not possible. Moreover, few streets were as narrow as those modelled by the B31. rule section. The FB-specific rules are an understandable abstraction of reality.
FB5 Hand-to-Hand CC (J2.31) may be declared by both sides, and in some cases, also by the DEFENDER, or “non-phasing” player.
FB6 Interior-Building Locations are eligible Sniper target (A14.2) Locations. I suspect that this is another concession to the nature of Budapest. There are few such locations on the map. Moreover, some of the larger building blocks actually had streets running “through” them.  
FB7 No Quarter (A20.3) is in effect for both sides.
FB8 Human Wave (A25.23) is not allowed (NA).
FB9 Sewer Movement (B8.4) is permitted. Most Axis units may enter the sewers of Buda provided they are accompanied by a leader who has passed a 2 Task Check (TC). Russians are saddled with a 3TC. Vannay units, however, can drop down a manhole with comparative ease (1TC). Additionally, any unit stacked with a Hungarian leader receives a –1 Sewer Emergence die-roll modifier (drm) (B8.42). To be clear, BVR units are not Hungarians for the purposes of this drm.
FB10 Rooftops (B23.8) are in play.
FB11 Kindling (B25.11), and Bore Sighting (C6.4) are NA.
FB12 Wire and roadblocks may not set up using Hidden Initial Placement due to effective Soviet aerial reconnaissance.
FB15 All FB scenarios in the module feature Level C Booby Traps (B28.9) for the Axis. A Russian Task Check (TC) of 12 will trigger an attack.
FB17 Russian [Exception: BVR units] are considered Elite for the purposes of C8.2. While this bumps the APCR Depletion Number (A8.9) of the T-34/85s up to 7, it will have little, if any, impact during the play of “Boy Soldier.”  Despite the fact that the Hungarian order of battle is (partly) composed of Elite Vannay units, Axis units—including SS—never qualify for the C8.2 bump. It gets worse. Ammunition Shortage Levels (FB16.1) in FB also have an adverse effect on the Depletion Numbers of Special Ammunition such as HEAT (C8.3) and SMOKE (C8.5). Therefore, the artillery pieces in “Boy Soldier” effectively have Depletion Numbers of H5 and s7 (FB16.62).
FB19 A crew may not voluntarily abandon (D5.4) a non-immobilized vehicle. Nor may a crew abandon a vehicle that was immobilized due to throwing a track (D2.5).
FB21 Russian 6-2-8/3-2-8 are Assault Engineers (H1.22) and Sappers (B28.8).
4. Cellars (FB 9.) in FB work very much like those found in Red Barricades (RB). Because the Hungarian capital was never fortified to the same extent as Stalingrad, a Cellar Location is not automatically fortified (B23.9). The Terrain Effects Modifier (TEM) of a Cellar is therefore equivalent to that of the building TEM, unless fortified. Another departure from RB is that the normal stacking limit (A5.1) of a FB Cellar Location is two squad-equivalents and four Single Man Counters (SMC). Overstacking make occur, but only as a result of unarmed or broken units entering the Location. The FB cellar rules also include clarifications with regard to connecting trenches and SMOKE. For instance, SMOKE at ground level in a FB Cellar hex does not add a +1 Hindrance DRM for fire emanating (A24.8) from the Cellar Location. Nor does this SMOKE have any effect on fire traced to an ADJACENT Cellar Location. Additionally, Infantry SMOKE grenades may be placed from a Cellar into an adjacent non-Cellar hex in the same manner as placing SMOKE into a higher elevation (A24.1).
5. Sorry to break it to you, but if you had thoughts of using BVR units as Human Wave (A25.23) fodder, forget them. Human Wave is strictly verboten.
6. The building was recently sold to a developer. There has been some talk of converting it into a hotel (and shopping complex). The “Palace” would be an interesting place to spend a night in Buda.
7. Technically, there is nothing in either FB2.5 or FB11.11 that would prevent a player from placing a SSR-given Debris Counter in the Level 1 Railroad Underpass Location. However, given the nature of the scenario, it is unlikely that a player would opt to place any fortifications/Debris in this Location. I only raised the possibility in order to highlight the fact that such placement is permitted under the rules as written.
8. Keep in mind that tram car hexes (FB6.21) have a +2 TEM. These afford good protection for your Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck teams—with no attendant risk of backblast (C13.8).
9. Bill became aware of these Hungarian-made rocket launchers late in the development of the module. In game terms, the Hungarian weapon is similar to the German Panzerschreck. For simplicity, a Hungarian “Panzerschreck” was not added to the counter mix.
10. I do not claim to be familiar with every HASL module published by third-party publishers (TPP), but I would hazard a guess that to date no TPP has released a module bigger than FB. Speaking of TPP, Bill explained that while he derives a great deal of pleasure from third-party publications, “working with MMP was the only option I ever considered.” From the beginning, “I wanted FB to be an official product,” he stressed. Given the nature of the subject, I am glad that he did. Bill was able to tap into the collective expertise of MMP’s stable of developers, artists, and subject-matter experts. Working with MMP may also have provided him with some extra influence when making requests for information and assistance. 
11. Peter B. Zwack, “The Siege of Budapest,” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, 11 (Winter 1999): 20-35. At the time of publication, Colonel Zwack was a serving officer in the US Army. I believe he is of Hungarian ancestry. General Zwack added the following comments on 28 April 2012:
I just stumbled on this site and did not know about Festung Budapest. Wow! I am indeed the Zwack cited in paras 11 and 12 of your biblio and am still in the US Army. I knew Ervin Galantay very well and considered him an honorary "Uncle." I was involved in no less than five battle "staff rides" with him, from US Army battalion to Division level, where we tromped about the complex Buda-Varosmajor battleground studying urban combat seemingly so well laid out in your simulation. I last saw him in Budapest in March 2011. Sadly on October 31st, he took his own life. A warrior to the end he entered a closed church in Switzerland, lay down and shot himself with his service pistol. At 81 he was still quite active but slowing down and wanted to die on his own terms. He was a good friend...RIP
12. Krisztián Ungváry, Budapest ostroma, Budapest: Corvina Publishing House, 1998. Dr. Ungváry was born in 1969. His father was a senior official at the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. I suspect that this relationship gave Ungváry unprecedented access to personal papers, government documents, etc. Ungváry also acknowledges the assistant of Péter Zwack Jr. in providing access to his private collection of material related to the siege. I am speculating, but I think that Zwack Jr. and Peter B. Zwack (in note 11 above) are the same person. Krisztián Ungváry is married and a part-time vintner—the lucky man owns a vineyard.
13. Born in Budapest in 1975, Norbert Számvéber completed his graduate studies at the University of National Defence “Zrinyi Miklos” in the Hungarian capital. He has been employed with the Hungarian Ministry of Defence Institute of Military History and Museum since 1997. He lives with his wife in Budapest. 
Dr. Számvéber has written several books and articles, and coauthored many more. I have listed some of his work at the end of this post. However, the forthcoming Days of Battle: Armoured Operations North of the River Danube, Hungary 1944-45 may be of special interest to students of Hungarian military operations. The book studies clashes between German-Hungarian armoured forces and Soviet armour in Upper Hungary. The first account describes the first action of the élite Hungarian Division “Szent László” in December 1944. The second account is of a tank battle that occurred in January 1945 near Komárom—which today lies on the border of Hungary and Slovakia. The third account examines at Operation “Südwind” in February 1945. And the fourth account studies Soviet offensive actions en route to Bratislava the following month.
14. Kamen Nevenkin is based in his hometown of Sofia. He has been fascinated with the Second World War for as long as he can remember. In 2000, Mr. Nevenkin harnessed his fascination and set off on a journey of discovery. He wanted to examine the war from the perspective of each belligerent. The best way to accomplish this goal, he reasoned, was to delve into the archives of each belligerent—a tall order. But Mr. Nevenkin was up to the task. After more than a decade of research, he has acquired a working knowledge of English, German, Russian, and several East European languages. The payoff is considerable. This year he intends to publish not one, but two new studies of warfare on the Eastern Front. While Take Budapest recounts Soviet operations duration the siege of Budapest, Into the Enemy’s Den: The Battle for East Prussia January-April 1945 examines the third and final Soviet attempt to capture East Prussia. As with all of his work, Mr. Nevenkin utilizes archival documents, including declassified Soviet General Staff studies. Update (21 March 2012): the Budapest work is no longer to be published as Entrapment. The new (short) title is Take Budapest, due out this summer from The History Press.
17. One of the attractions of FB is that the ASL module Armies of Oblivion (Axis Minors) is not a strict prerequisite. Festung Budapest contains enough Hungarian counters to play the 17 scenarios in the box. The HASL also introduces a few Hungarian counters not found in the Axis Minor module (EX: Sniper and Fighter Bomber). I believe that there are also enough Zrinyi for you to play “Extracurricular Activity,” published in ASL Journal 7. The module also includes the entire infantry order of battle for the Waffen SS. You not only get SS 4-6-8 and 4-4-7 squads, but also 5-4-8 and 8-3-8 MMC. The extra 6-5-8 squads are also handy for playing the CGs. But that's not all. Festung Budapest includes what is arguably the best MMC in the system: the SS 8-3-8 assault engineer squad. You get a dozen of them!
Further reading
My personal library includes only a handful of the books below. Each history has its strengths and weaknesses. Together they provide a fairly comprehensive history of the siege to date. I have also listed several books that have nothing to do with the siege. They are included simply to familiarize you with some of the other work undertaken by these authors. 

Out of print and dear on second-hand market
To be published by The History Press summer 2012
Due out in 2012
Hard, but not impossible to find a used copy
Russian version (русский перевод) of this article may be found here.

05 March 2012


Helen had an idea. She had watched me play the first round of my VASLeague match.1 For those who have yet to experience the pleasures of Virtual ASL (VASL), you are shortchanging yourselves.
Rodney Kinney’s ASL interface is a fantastic way to get a game in with a friend from out of town, or ‘round the other side of the planet, for that matter. VASL also takes a lot of the fiddliness out of a game. For instance, it takes little effort to customize the playing area with virtual overlays. I cannot speak for you, but it is sometimes a mission for me just to find a particular overlay amongst my kit. Clean up is also a snap; no counters to put away (or tip over). The program will even roll dice at the click of a button. And here is where Helen came in.
“Hey, that’s cool,” she said. “Why don’t we use that dice thingee for the next raffle?”
So that's why they call them tumblers
Now, she never did say that. Even a “newbie” knows where to draw the line. But for those of you who have yet to experience the displeasures of the VASL “dicebot,” you lucky ß@§‡∆®₫$! The truth is there are a lot of people who are skeptical about the randomness of the VASL 'bot. Not to worry, the best minds are developing a workaround as I write.
In the meantime, we will continue to roll bones the old school way. But boy, oh boy, what a lot of rolling. About 170 Squad Leaders were entered in our February raffle. My thinking was that we could reduce the number of potential ties by using seven dice for the contest. Do not try this at home! Getting your mitts around seven cubes, even the half-inch variety, is a challenge. Keeping the little devils in the tray after they tumbled down the tower was another worry. Happily, it all worked out in the end. 
A matter of perspective
With seven dice the highest possible roll is forty-two. Only one contestant came close. From his perspective in Wellington, New Zealand, he rolled extremely well: a pair of deuces and five aces. But as unfair as it may seem, we were only concerned with the pips that were facing up, and there were forty of them! The roll was nevertheless remarkable, the “equivalent” of rolling a nine with seven dice. Considering that no one had a roll below eleven, we felt that forty-two was worthy of a little recognition. 
Coincidentally, each of the biographical  sketches that follow have a Canadian connection. Most are obvious. Such is the case with Dale Drake. In 1995, Dale was a trooper with Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles, light cavalry with a partial infantry role. His high school days were still fresh in his mind, but his surroundings were completely foreign. Dale was in Bosnia, attached to a rifle company of the 2/1 New Zealand Infantry Regiment. However, one of Dale's fondest memories is of an exchange with the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment in Visoko and Ilijaš, or as he put it: “a hostage from CanBatt 2.”
Dale has had no success finding local opponents in Wellington. This is troubling as Wellington used to have a thriving ASL community. Dale is getting desperate. He is threatening to draft his sons, if he cannot find a local opponent. Is there anyone out there? 
Dale joined Sitrep shortly before Xmas. He may be shortchanged with respect to local “oppos.” However, he is not entirely out of luck. Dale wins a Heretical Rate of Fire die for rolling an “upside-down” nine.  
Stay calm and carry on
The second lowest sum was twelve. Two contestants shared this result. Andy Beaton was one of them. 
I first met Andy online through the VASLeague in May 2010. He lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). We played “Failure to Communicate” from the first Winter Offensive Bonus Pack. His French 10-2 leader gave my Germans a tough time. However, it was a plucky 8-0 with a demolition charge that won him the game when he took out one of my remaining tin cans and nudged me over the casualty cap. 
Andy has long been an enthusiastic supporter of our hobby. He can be seen at left coaching a first timer through a Starter Kit scenario at a game convention in the GTA. Last October, he made the pilgrimage to Cleveland. Although it was his first ASL Oktoberfest (ASLOK), he played well, making it to the finals of the desert mini-tournament. He and Doug Sheppard played the classic “Khamsin” from West of Alamein. Doug is a top player and past Desert Mini champ. It is a testament to Andy's dogged perseverance that the game came down to the very end. Doug commented afterward that it was the most memorable desert scenario that he had played in years. 

My match with Andy that same week was entirely forgettable. I was too aggressive. Lesson learned (again). Never ever underestimate Andy's ability to wrest the initiative from you with a low-odds countermove. Truth is, I did not put the same effort into the game as Andy did. To get the most of a game, I recommend that you follow Andy's lead. Put your heart into the game, keep your focus, and do not give up.
Andy wins a copy of the latest Friendly Fire scenario pack, and a Heretical Rate of Fire die.
Band of Odders 
When Sitrep launched last July, most of our readers hailed from the United States and Canada. To my surprise, the third largest contingent was from Spain. Even today, Spain ranks in the top ten, slightly below Germany, but still slightly ahead of Australia. Needless to say, I was pleased to see that one of our Iberian Squad Leaders had been shortlisted in our February raffle. Moreover, he did so in style. 
Martí Cabré can hardly claim to have been shortchanged. The average sum was 24. Martí scored a dozen twice!
Martí's love of ASL is eclipsed only by his love for his native Catalonia, and perhaps his belle. Martí lives in Terrassa (Tarrasa, in Spanish), less than 30 kilometres from Barcelona. Those who frequent BoardGameGeek and the ASL Forums on GameSquad may recognize his avatar. However, like me, you may have wondered what it was. Turns out it is the coat of arms of Pere II el Catòlic, King of Aragón (1196-1213), and the former Count of Barcelona (Pere I). Who knew? The Catalan flag that Martí keeps in his sitting room sports the same red stripes on gold field emblazoned on the shield of Peter the Catholic.3 Mystery solved. 

Martí is Catalonia's ambassador of ASL. He has a wide circle of gaming friends, many of whom play other board games, or with miniatures. Tapping into this network, Martí has been able to coax a few gamers along the path to ASL Starter Kit. Some like Jordi in the picture above, are progressing quite nicely. But Martí's recruiting drives are more ambitious. 
Since 2007, Martí has been posting about boardgames on his blog Band of Odders. His inaugural post was followed by a write up of S11 “A Long Way to Go.” But what makes his blog special is that it is written in Catalan. This is an important development for our hobby. While there is a Catalan Wargamers Resource website, it does not appear to have any ASL content. There are some nine million Catalan speakers in the world. Most reside in Spain. However, Catalan speakers also can be found in Andorra, France and Sardinia (Italy). Learning a new language is tough enough. Learning English and the ASL Rule Book is something else altogether. I therefore applaud Martí's efforts to acquaint more people with ASL. 
Last November, a small but enthusiastic group of ASL players gathered in Barcelona for the 13th Fanatic Tournament. In the thick of it was our Catalan ambassador Martí Cabré. Due to the theme of the tournament, players had a chance to play a unique scenario starring a few Canadians. I say unique, because to my knowledge there are only two scenarios where Canadians face the Imperial Japanese Army. They are: MLR1 “Hana-Saku,” and FE130 “Desperate Straights.” I have yet to play either scenario. It is high time that I did. 
For spreading the good word in Catalan, and for rolling low, Martí wins a copy of the lastest Winter Offensive Bonus Pack, a Heretical Rate of Fire die, and a $10.00 gift certificate for our KitShop. Felicitats Martí!
House call
The winner of our February raffle is a mild-mannered fellow from Berlin. He has attended the last two Canadian ASL Open (CASLO) tournaments in Ottawa. Yet, I have not had the pleasure of playing him. It turns out that we have a mutual ASL friend, a Circassian who moved to Canada some time ago. I only learned of this in 2010, and then only when I made a point of asking him who the cross-border player was. 

Circassians originated in the northern Caucasus, but many later settled in the Levant (present day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria) during the Circassian diaspora in the 19th century. To paraphrase Dennis Hopper from the film True Romance, this stuff fascinates me.4 I studied the history of the Near East (Middle East) a fair bit in university. I also did a tour in the Golan Heights in 1985-86. As an interesting aside, during the 1930s, Circassians living in al-Quneitra approached officials of the then French Mandate. They lobbied for an independent Circassian state on the Golan Heights. They based their case on the fact that they constituted the majority in al-Quneitra, the largest settlement on the Golan. I spent six months in Camp Ziouani, just outside the ruined town of al-Quneitra. It would be another ten years before I learned that there were Circassians living in the Middle East. So where am I going with this? To Brockville, naturally, as that is where our mutual friend lives.  
Brockville is less than an hour drive from my place. I have played three or four face-to-face games with Dana over the years, but not of late. So imagine my surprise when the winner of this month's raffle winner told me that in 2010 he had made a house call in Brockville. He was on his way to the CASLO, and had arranged to hook up with his old ASL buddy. But what surprised me the most was that Dana was responsible for getting "Doc" Evans into the hobby. 

Mark Evans is an acupuncturist in Berlin, New Hampshire. He is also a pretty decent player. He placed third at the CASLO last year.5 To be clear, this had nothing to do with his standing offer of complimentary therapy for all the CASLO attendees. No, he won fair and square. He also won our February raffle outright with an 11, and a 13! 
Mark wins a copy of Le Franc Tireur's latest scenario pack From the Cellar 6, a Sniper! Effects die, and a $20.00 gift certificate for our KitShop. Congratulations Mark!
Make your own luck
It is never too late to become a Squad Leader. Jonathan K. joined on 31 December. His lowest sum was 13. And Fred Ingram, who joined the same month, had two rolls of 16! Suffice it to say that one roll of the dice is one more than none. Make your own luck and join Sitrep as a Squad Leader (follower) today!

To claim a prize, simply leave a comment at the end of this post, and send us an email: battleschool @ rogers dot com

Acknowledgements and Notes
The cellar rat appears courtesy of Le Franc Tireur, publishers of stunning, full-colour ASL scenario packs, magazines, and historical modules. 
1. The VASLeague turned six this year. Enrico Catanzaro of Palermo, Sicily is the Tournament Director and chief whip. There are several Minor Leagues (Europe, Australasia, Eastern North/South America, and Central/Western North/South America), and one Major League. Players are promoted to the majors each year. This new blood is used to replace low-ranking individuals in the majors, as well as those who decline to continue for another year. The minors are grouped roughly according to time zones thereby allowing players to play in real time on VASL. Play-by-email (PBEM) is also permitted, but the default method is live VASL. For more information, see Enrico's post on BoardGameGeek.
2. Initially, the New Zealand company was attached to a British infantry battalion—Royal Highland Fusiliers—for administrative purposes. Dale's reference to being a “hostage” is not accidental. During 1995, 55 members of ‘A’ Squadron, Royal Canadian Dragoons—part of Canadian Battalion 2—were taken hostage by Serb forces. According to some reports, the hostages were treated well by the Serbs, while their comrades back in Visoko were mortared and rocketed. However, Dale received nothing less than the royal treatment from his Canadian hosts. Keen to see what a “treadhead” was made of, “Rocky,” the RCR section commander, assigned Dale a C9 Light-machinegun. Dale also insists that some visiting Canadians helped him and his mates drink the Kiwi canteen dry later in the tour. That's odd. Most of the guys who I served with in the army were strict teetotalers. <wink>
3. According to legend, the arms of Aragón were originally plain gold, or “Or plain.” The changed purportedly occurred following the death in battle of Geoffroy le Velu, King of Aragón. Geoffroy had been fighting alongside Charles le Chauve against the Normans. In a dramatic show of gratitude for Geoffroy's bravery, Charles dipped his fingers in his blood and smeared them onto the shield. The four red fingers, or in heraldic terms, the “four pallets gules,” thereafter adorned the “Or plain.”
Pere/Pedro/Peter II (1174-1213) gained prestige and lasting fame for his role in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (16 July 1212). The battle took place some 250 kilometres south of Madrid. Known in Arab history as the Battle of Al-Uqab, the defeat of the Moors at Las Navas de Tolosa was a major turning point in the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula. Ironically, Peter died only a year later at the battle of Muret, while fighting fellow Crusaders.
4. If you love flicks with brilliant dialogue, you need to watch this one. To my knowledge, it is the first screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino. The cast is top notch. Gary Oldman is a superb slimeball. This is also where the seed for The Soprano's was sown.
5. Rather than spoil the CASLO After-Action Report due to be published after the Festung Budapest post, I will save the details of Mark's accomplishments at the CASLO until then.