23 June 2024

Road Maps - Your Guides to Victory

Sixteen years ago I created a number of scenario aide memoires. The aim was to arrange on a single page all of the salient information needed to play a given scenario. At the time I was acutely aware of my spotty rules knowledge, having only recently returned to the ASL fold. Unsurprisingly the aides were rules centric. But I also wanted to include a modicum of planning guidance, something to assist me when weighing opposing capabilities and vulnerabilities. “National” capabilities were obvious essentials, as were any applicable ordnance and vehicle notes. More useful, I thought, would be something that tied this information together, something that demonstrated just how effective (or ineffective) a particular unit or weapon might be in the scenario. Tables immediately came to mind. Where space allowed, I organized the results of my number crunching into colour-coded rows and columns that could be readily consulted before and during play. While useful, my custom To Kill tables were overkill. But that wasn’t the only shortcoming.

BattleSchool Aide Memoire: AP12 Cream of the Crop

To save space I used abbreviations and acronyms wherever possible. I went so far as to create a few new ones such as NS for “Non-Stopped” (C.8). My rookie colour-coding efforts spared almost no crayon in the box. While colour can be useful in drawing attention to important information, too much colour is, well, too much. The aide to using the aide hinted as much! I had four colour schemes. One set of colours linked rule references to corresponding chapter colours. A second capitalized on counter-set colours to distinguish between sides. French-blue versus German blue-grey. Still another used phase-specific colours, such as red for the Close Combat Phase (CCPh). Finally, most tables used hunter-green, straw and maroon to indicate the chance of success—passing a Task Check, for example—at a glance.

I’ve done away with almost all of this in what I’ve tentatively called a Game Planner (GP). (I desperately want a snappier name. Any ideas?) I still use colour to highlight key values. Have a look at the Sniper Activation (SAN) and Experience Level Rating (ELR) values on the scenario card in my previous post to see what I’m driving at. The text and numerals are in large, heavy font prominently displayed directly below the national roundels in each order of battle (OB). But I’ve also changed the general layout. Where the aide was laid out vertically like a scenario card, the GP takes advantage of the landscape format, allowing me to organize material in three columns. The first of these columns contains what I believe players will want to consult first. 

Objective reasoning

At the top of the left column is the scenario Objective. Otherwise known as the victory conditions, the requirements for achieving the Objective are restated here, expanded upon or broken down into parts for ease of understanding. Where practical, the Objective(s) is marked on the game map below the Battlefield Conditions, with the latter presented as bullet points. The map, along with the Deployments table underneath it, are there to prevent missteps, especially during set up, that can ruin a game before it starts. (I recently played J245 Factory Fodder as the Germans and overlooked the fact that although the Americans set up first, they also move first!)

I’ve done my best to keep the graphics clean and simple. That said, I’m always keen to improve, to pare it down further. (Suggestions always welcome, if not always heeded.) In the process I’ve made some assumptions, always dangerous when dealing with ASL players. For instance, I haven’t bothered to explain whether the reddish “V” on the game map denotes a victory Location, hex, or area. The scenario objective already spells this out. The north symbol and dotted lines delineating set-up areas ought to be self-explanatory. A few grognards will grumble. An occupational hazard I’m willing to accept.

CC06 Game Planner Objective, Battlefield Conditions, etc.

Rules lawyers

The bulk of the GP is awash in snippets of various rule sections. Selection is admittedly arbitrary, based on what questions I think may arise during play. Still, some rules have been added at the request of reviewers and play testers. (Yet another area where your input is valued.) 

The more fastidious among you will note that the text is not verbatim. It’s abridged and edited. Done primarly to safe space, my editing is also an attempt to make rule citation as relevant as possible to the scenario. Anything not applicable (NA) to a given scenario is deleted. At the same time, any changes resulting from a rule being in effect due to an SSR may be set in bold for added emphasis, as in the example below. Note that the relevant SSR also appears in bold reddish type, which allows players to scan the planner quickly for other SSR-invoked rules.

CC06 Game Planner Rules Example - A19.131 Ammo Shortages (SSR 2)

Another chapter

Ordnance and vehicle notes are frequently treasure troves of game-changing tidbits. White Phosphorus! Since when? We’ve all been there. Forgetting to check the notes in Chapter H can you leave you on the back foot, outmanoeuvred by your failure to do your homework. 

Like my reworded rule snippets, the GP includes modified forms of Chapter H notes. Each is comprised of a mix of acronyms, symbols and text that summarizes the capabilites of, and any restrictions on, a given piece. Players will be familiar with some acronyms, less so with others. For the most part, however, acronyms such as RST (Restricted Slow Traverse) are explained in the relevant rule section elsewhere on the GP. (If you don’t know what AP stands for by now, I recommend you take a refresher course. ;)  

CC06 Game Planner Chapter H Notes

Even homemade acronyms such as the trademark symbol (™), which I’ve used to symbolize truck movement (D1.15), are easily understood because the rule appears alphanumerically beforehand. Deciphering the ordnance and vehicles entries should be intuitive.

CC06 Game Planner D1.15 Truck Movement Rule Snippet 

Charting a new course

Tables are second nature to ASL players. Seasoned gamers may have memorized much of the Infantry Fire Table (IFT). Who among you, though, can recite the results of its right-hand-most column? Depending on the nature of a scenario, some tables will need to be consulted more than others. But it’s not the IFT that will take ten minutes to find. More likely you’ll need to locate something obscure like the ART—the Ammo Replenishment Table (E10.3) for those just joining us. 

The table you’re looking for may or may not be on a chapter divider in your voluminous ASL kit bag. The ART isn’t. The Molotov Check Table is. Only the latter isn’t, as you might expect, on the salmon-coloured divider for Chapter A. It is (or was) at the bottom of the National Capabilities Chart.1 

Because I want my scenarios to appeal to average players, I’ve taken pains to provide what I can in the way of resources to make the task of setting up and playing my designs a little less onerous.2 That puts the burden on me to provide tailor-made tables on the GP. The bespoke Molotov Cocktail (MOL) Table below is one such effort.

CC06 Game Planner A22.6 Molotov Cocktails (MOL) Table (SSR 2: vs AFV only)

Charts are technically graphs. They differ from tables in using graphics to represent data. The aforementioned National Capabilities Chart is more table than chart. Granted it contains graphic elements such as national roundels, images of counters, even a couple of symbols, but its data is presented almost exclusively in numerical and textual terms. 

Tables are excellent for communicating heaps of information concisely. Charts tend to be less granular. What they lack in detail, charts usually make up for in immediate impact. In a bar chart that graphs the penetration of High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds, for example, the difference between a Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT) and a Panzerfaust (PF) is visually striking. (Hint: a PF is twice as powerful.) The difference is even more striking when graphed against the Armor Factors (AF) of opposing tanks. And this is where charts really shine.

Not all scenarios require charts. Nor do all GP have room for them. But where need and space coincide, I have included a chart that showcases the contrasts between opposing assets. 

CC06 Game Planner C7. AFV To Kill Chart

I like to think of the GP as a value-added item that encourages players to do more than ogle the scenario card. It’s my hope that the GP will make the mechanics of play less burdemsome and the overall game more fun. If this approach appeals to you, grab a screen shot of the scenario card in my last post, along with the GP below, and get gunnin’! 

CC06 Game Planner Day of the Jackals v2.1

To catch up on all of the articles in this series, check out the list of links on my Close Combat page. And look for another post in late July. Better yet, subscribe to Sitrep for updates.

Notes

1. The fouth edition of Doomed Battalions, due out later this year, contains an updated Nationality Capabilites Chart. It expect it to include more than a dozen squad classes that weren’t on the chart released with the second edition rules in 2001. Look for Eritrean, Ethiopian, Finnish, Free/Vichy French, Polish, and Waffen-SS on the updated chart.

2. For the same reason most of the scenarios in my debut pack use only one board. And with the exception of a proposed Deluxe ASL (DASL) scenario, no scenarios have overlays.


31 May 2024

Day of the Jackals - June 1941


Mad dogs and Englishmen. Tin cans and pop guns. A Levantine dust-up under the midday sun. 

This is the fifth in a series of posts highlighting designs currently under development for my forthcoming scenario pack. In this pitched urban battle, British infantry must hold off a superior Vichy force equipped with a panoply of armour. The Royal Fusiliers have a few tricks up their sleeves, but face a fearsome opponent with hometown advantage.

The invasion of Syria was not going well. Far from capitulating during the first days of Operation Exporter—as the Free French had assured their allies—Vichy forces had fought stubborn delaying actions. Now, only a week into Exporter, the defenders had begun a series of skillful counterattacks. One powerful thrust had as its goal the market centre of El Kuneitra. The town lay astride a key road junction that linked the central and eastern Allied columns. After brushing aside screening forces at Sassa and blocking all routes into town, a battle group of some 50 armoured vehicles and 1500-2000 infantrymen was poised to assault Kuneitra in the early hours of 16 June. Facing them was a understrength British infantry battalion and a pair of cheeky “Monkey-Harrys.”

Situation in Syria 15 June 1941


Battlefield

Kuneitra is located about 60 kilometres southwest of Damascus. In 1985-1986 I was stationed within walking distance of Quneitra. By that time it had been a ghost town for more than a decade following the Yom Kippur War. However, the terrain around the town remains much as it has always been, flat like most of the rocky plateau it is built upon. (A few kilometres west of the town are two large hills, rising some 200 metres above the plateau. But these played no role significant in the battle.) Fertile volcanic soil combined with hot, dry summers makes the area ideal for the cultivation of stone fruit and grapes. Apart from a sizeable Orthodox church and the minarets of mosques, Kuneitra’s otherwise flat-topped buildings seldom had more than one upper storey. Natural vegetation was, and remains, sparse. 

El Kuneitra 1929

Some accounts of the action speak of a low anti-tank “wall” almost a metre thick at the north end of town, either side of a roadblock on the main road leading to Damascus. At the opposite end of Kuneitra, a semi-circular anti-tank ditch was likewise intended to impede French armour. However, because the portion of the battle I chose to focus on took place closer to the town centre, I ignored these perimeter fortifications.  

You may have noticed that I’m a fan of Fort’s “fat-boards,” boards that Gary Fortenberry first popularized in his A Decade of War [2010], or ASL Action Pack 6. It may nonetheless surprise you to learn that I chose a board from Gary’s first “Burma” pack to represent Kuneitra.1 Hear me out.

ASL Action Pack 9’s board 8a looks something like a Burmese town carved out of a jungle hillside, right down to the pagoda-like structure on one summit. A provincial town, perhaps, replete with shabby dwellings and sturdier administrative and religious structures. Congested in some areas, open in others. A lusher, hilly version of Kuneitra, if only...

Kuneitra on board 8a - ASL Action Pack 9 -rooftops in play

Remove hills. Sub brush for woods. And invoke rooftops (B23.8). I could go a step further and transform brush into vineyards (B12.7). 

There may well be a good historical case for this last change, especially on the outskirts of Kuneitra. However, ASL vineyards would create swaths of Bog (D8.2) terrain on each side of town. If I had wanted a proxy for the previously mentioned anti-tank wall, vineyards might have been an acceptable substitute. That said, the attacker’s options would have been more limited and replay value may have suffered as a result. Vineyards are also Inherent Terrain (B.6). Unlike a brush hex, the entire vineyard hex, inclusive of hexsides, is a Line of Sight (LOS) Hindrance. This change would remove many clear LOS and arguably benefit attacking Infantry more than the defender. And in light of the generally low Firepower values available to each side, these added Hindrances would make it difficult to have any effect on a target without first closing to Point Blank (A7.21) range.

Brush is not without merit though. In contrast to woods, it cannot be Bypassed. Unless entered along a road, it costs a minimum of 2 Movement Points (MP) to enter, 6 for vehicles that are bound by truck movement (D1.15). Considering that the fastest tank in the French order of battle (OB) has an MP allotment of 8, brush is a satisfactory impediment to movement. 

Rooftops were a late addition to the card. They offer the defender another way to capitalize on an often underrated Support Weapon (SW). Time to see what the British bring to the party.

On Orr’s Orders?

The Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Lieutenant-Colonel A. D. G. Orr, had three rifle companies and a Battalion Headquarters Company with him in Kuneitra. (Orr’s “C” Company was in Kiswe with the rest of the 5th Indian Brigade.) The Fusiliers shared the town with two Marmon-Herrington armoured cars of 1st The Royal Dragoons. According to a British officer’s account some 35 years later, Orr had directed that these cars be “dug in” overlooking the roadblock at the north end of the town, sacrificing mobility in the process. Closer to this barrier Orr positioned his unit’s best anti-tank asset, an Italian anti-aircraft gun captured in Eritrea a year earlier. I have yet to find another source that confirms these deployments. 

By August 2022, the main parameters of “Day of the Jackals” had been laid out. Within six months, however, Le Franc Tireur (LFT) had released the fifteenth issue of its eponymous house magazine. Inside is a scenario entitled FT284 “Vichy Strikes Back.” Lionel Colin’s design approaches the fighting at Kuneitra on a grand scale, from the time the French approach Kuneitra in the early morning to the town’s fall that evening. My scenario takes place much later in the day, when the remnants of the rifle companies have fallen back and coalesced around Orr’s headquarters. The different time periods involved partly explain the divergent designs. Board layouts differ too, radically so. Lionel takes advantage of three innovative “arid” boards included with LFT No. 15 to represent the entire town and its outskirts. The composition of each OB, while similar, differs enough to matter. In some cases differences can be attributed to how source material is interpreted. 

For instance, the British in FT284 have a couple of Universal Carriers (British Vehicle Note 64) at their disposal. Although carriers were almost certainly present, I excluded them. Several carriers had been forward with a company of Fusiliers and two armoured cars at a screening position about six kilometres south of Sassa until forced to withdraw about 0230 the previous morning, under pressure from Lecoulteaux’s advance guard. However, with ammunition in short supply, I would expect most if not all carriers to have been stripped of their weapons and ammunition well before the actions portrayed by my scenario took place. 

Lionel also includes, as I initially did, a Marmon-Herrington variant with a 20mm Italian Breda mounted in the turret (British Vehicle Note 48).

Marmon-Herrington II Middle East variant with 20mm Breda

I believe this is an error, albeit one repeated in several sources. The Dragoons did not serve in Eritrea whereas the Fusiliers did. Nor were 1st Dragoons deployed to the Western Desert until December 1941, which calls into question when they had contact with Italian forces and how they came to have a Breda. Indeed, unless I’m mistaken, Op Exporter was the first time the Dragoons saw action in World War II. Further research led me to conclude that the fanciful Marmon-Herrington IIv had to go, to be replaced with a fiddly Cannone-mitragliera da 20/65 (Italian Ordnance Note 17). 

Cannone-mitragliera da 20/65

On balance it’s a fair trade. What the Breda loses in mobility, it gains in camouflage, in its ability to set up hidden and ambush its prey. I have also taken the liberty of liberating the aforementioned “dug-in” cars, allowing them the freedom to do what armoured cavalry does best: harrass the enemy. So where FT284 has two carriers and a Breda-armed car, “Jackals” has two Marmon-Herrington cars—the “Monkey Harry’s” alluded to earlier—and a Breda.

Marmon-Herrington II ME in Aleppo 27 July 1941

There are several Second Line squads in my British OB. These represent rear-echelon elements of the Fusilier battalion: signallers, supply, maintenance, and so forth. The British OB on Lionel’s card has a French medium machine gun (MMG) in British tan. (I don’t recall seeing an “official” counter for this, but there is one in VASL.) The MMG is in recognition of a French Hotchkiss acquired by the Fusiliers earlier in the campaign. Trigger Warning: my scenario has an entire Scenario Special Rule (SSR) devoted to this MMG and its courageous operator, Corporal Henry Cotton, DCM. 

Captured Hotchkiss Mle 1914 machine gun in Cyrenica

Apart from the presence on my card of some squads that are subject to cowering (A7.9), the British Infantry are roughly in line with those on Lionel’s. Similarly, a modest collection of light machine guns (LMG), anti-tank rifles (ATR), and light mortars (MTR) grace both cards. In a departure from Lionel’s design, the two 51mm MTR in mine may set up on rooftops, where they can avoid the need to use Spotted Fire (C9.31). The advantage this affords the defender becomes clear when one examines the eclectic armour the Vichy bring to this soirée.

Renault renaissance

“The squat little monsters were slow, incapable of more than twelve miles an hour at the maximum..” wrote a former British subaltern. “Colonel Lecoulteaux was using his tanks like a battering ram.” The rams in question were Renaults, R35 medium tanks that were all but impenetrable to British fire. About 45 of these armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) formed the backbone of Lecoulteaux’s 7e Régiment de chasseurs d’Afrique (7th RCA), and the scenario reflects this. The current design allots the French seven. Used well, these AFV can make the task of defending Kuneitra seem almost hopeless. Did I forget to mention that the British have Molotov Cocktails (A22.6) to play with?

Renault R35 of 63e BCC in Syria circa 1940

The French OB also features Great-War era Renault. Fifty-four FT-17 were in the Levant, with as many as twelve spotted in Kuneitra on 16 June. This latter group was likely from Damascus, where one of four independent tank companies (compagnie autonome des chars du Levant, or CACL) were based. 

Renault FT-17 in Damascus

Each CACL was authorized six FT-17C, three FT-17M, and one FT-17BS. Armed with a repurposed fortress gun, one Renault in each company was a de facto assault gun. The Main Armament (MA) of the FT-17 75BS (French Vehicle Note 1) is a short-barrelled 75mm Blockhaus Schneider howitzer. It is the most powerful weapon in this contest!

Renault FT-17 75BS in the Levant

Armoured cars provided fire support for the Renault tanks. A recent account of the battle claims that “Panhard 35 TOE” accompanied the R-35. This is confusing. As far as I know, the AMD 35, or Panhard 178 (French Vehicle Note 18), was confined to Metropolitan France. That said, the designation “TOE” (Territoire d’Opérations Extérieures) specifically refers to vehicles designed for use in France’s colonies and territories. So I reasoned that the author was actually referring to the Automitrailleuse de Découverte (AMD) 20 cv TOE  (French Vehicle Note 16), better known as the Panhard 165/175 TOE. According to the vehicle note, a squadron’s worth, perhaps as many as 15 Panhards, were issued to the 6e Régiment de chasseurs d’Afrique (6th RCA) in the Lebanon. I’ve since removed the AMD 20, because I’ve found no trace of it in contemporary accounts of combat in Syria. If you know of a reliable account, do let me know.

On the other hand, it’s possible that the 7th RCA had a handful of Laffly S15 TOE on strength. Based on the Laffly S15T 6x6 prime mover (French Vehicle Note 33), this curious “scout car” was armed with a 7.5mm Riebel machine gun in a small domed turret. Although the majority of the 27 cars produced by Laffly were shipped to France’s North African colonies, period photographs suggest that some served with the Armée du Levant. The Laffly S15 TOE had better off-road capability than a truck and could transport the equivalent of a half-squad (HS) along with its inherent crew. Regrettably, ASL doesn’t have a counter for this armoured oddity.

Laffly S15 TOE undergoing field trials in France

In the 1930s, Laffly rebuilt 98 long-range reconnaisance cars. They were designated Automitrailleuse de Découverte (AMD) 50 (French Vehicle Note 17). Laffly replaced the chassis of the White armoured car, but retained the body of this Great-War era vehicle. The bulk of these conversions ended up in French North Africa, as did all subsequent White-Laffly AMD 80 rebuilds. In May 1940, about a dozen White-Laffly AMD 50 were operational in the Lebanon. However, the most numerous armoured cars in the Levant—perhaps as many as 57—were unmodified AMD White TBC. (The latter acronym was used to distinguish between a “TAB” chassis, built in the USA, and the “TBC” chassis built under licence by Renault.) The AMD White were divided among four squadrons, split evenly between the 6th and 7th RCA.

The Chapter H note for the Laffly AMD 50 recommends using an AMD 50 counter, with a (printed) MP allotment of 16 (instead of 20) to represent the obsolete White. I’d probably go a step further and treat the MP of the older vehicle as red in order to emphasis its obsolescence, and hence, its unreliability. Not keen to add more SSR verbiage to the card, I haven’t distinguished between old and new. Nor did Lionel. Players will have their hands full trying to get the most mileage out of the vehicle’s weapons, one of which always seems to face the wrong way!

AMD White knocked out on the road to Damascus, June 1941

Another candidate for the armoured cars present at Kuneitra was a local field modification of roughly thirty 4x2 Dodge trucks. The vehicles sported 12mm armour plates that protected a 37mm mle 16 TR (French Ordnance Note 8) gun and its crew, while an armoured visor provided a modicum of protection for the driver. Designated “Automitrailleuse or AM Dodge” (French Vehicle Note 15) this partially-armoured truck remained vulnerable to small arms fire. The design proved effective enough, however, that captured vehicles were later put to use by Free French units in North Africa. While in the Levant, they apparently operated in platoons of five primarily, though not necessarily exclusively, with the 6th RCA. I thought this oddball too good to pass up and added it to the card. So did Lionel. Players will need to do their homework; the vehicle notes for this one are not as straightforward as the rest.

AM Dodge variants in the Levant

Following the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), more than half a million Muslim Circassians were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Some of these exiles settled in the Golan Heights. A Caucasian warrior people, Circassians were famed for their blood-curdling battle cry that some likened to the cries of jackals, hence the title of the scenario. 

When Lecoulteaux approached Kuneitra, he used his armour to blast an opening in the British lines either side of the main road. Dismounted Circassians followed the R-35, as their brethren on the flanks, aided by their familiarity with the town, deftly infiltrated Fusilier positions. 

The Circassians were a mix of horse-mounted and motorized cavalry. I created an elaborate SSR for them and whittled it down after successive tests. From the start, Circassians were represented by Second Line Free French units. This, I contend, is a reflection of their auxiliary status and an independent streak. What they lose in range—a lack of (fire) discipline, if you will—they gain in having a higher broken Morale Level. An Experience Level Rating (ELR) of 5 underlines their steadfastness under fire and minimizes the chances of Replacement (A19.13). I know, I know. I could have kept the underscored Morale Factor part of the SSR. But during play test this inevitably led to a “rules dive” whenever a unit exceeded its ELR—then 3. Lastly, in recognition of their familiarity with Kuneitra, plus their lengendary esprit de corps, Circassians are Stealthy (A11.17). Those three characteristics: better Rally capability, high ELR, and Stealth make these cavalrymen spéciale.

Motorized Circassian cavalry

Town crier

That’s just as well. Vichy success relies on the Circassians wresting control of every stone building in six turns. Squat metal monsters may well be unstoppable much of the time. But they cannot take Kuneitra on their own. Besides, even R35 can fall prey to British mortars, not to mention molotov cocktails. Close combat will often decide the outcome and tanks are at a marked disadvantage in such situations. Hear that cry? The boys are back in town!

Will the British adopt a strict “Alamo” defence? Or will they spread out and make the French fight for multiple strongpoints? Will the French mass their forces in a powerful frontal thrust? Or will they squeeze the defenders from three sides? If so, how will the French divide their forces? And just how aggressive will they be with their armour? Will the tanks tempt fate and risk an early defeat in order to win? Find out when the pack is released. Or sign up to playtest today! 

Can’t wait? 

Print the freeplay card below and get crackin’ now! 

Stay tuned for another freebie in June!

For other posts in this series, check out the Close Combat page here!

Notes

1. As of June 2024, ASL Action Pack 9 remains available in KitShop.

FREEPLAY CC06 Day of the Jackals - Syria - June 1941






28 April 2024

Electronauts - July 1941

 

Engaging, engrossing, dare I say electrifying! Multi-man-portable flamethrowers too! There’s bound to be something here for you. 

This is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting scenarios currently under development for my debut pack. “Electronauts” is a minority card. It’s not what you might think though. No Allied or Axis Minors here. Only in a literal sense could one of the belligerents be deemed a bit of both. The real departure is that the scenario recreates a deliberate attack on a prepared defence, without the aid of any vehicles whatsoever. While the pace of the attack (and defence) is dictated by the ordinary footsoldier, the scenario remains one of fire and manoeuvre, for both parties.

The Finnish reconquest of Eastern Karelia officially commenced on 10 July 1941. Bloodied in the frontier battles of 12 July, the weakened 37th Infantry Regiment (JR37) had been seconded to the 7th Infantry Division. Having bypassed the strongest enemy outposts, the 7th was now poised to assault the heavily fortified Matkaselkä-Ruskeala Line from two directions. Detachment Korvenheimo, based on the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment (III/JR9), would pressure Ruskeala from the north while JR37 struck from the east. At 0525 on 20 July, forward elements of I/JR37 made contact with a fortified enemy position a few kilometres east of Ruskeala.

Finnish VII Corps Offensive, East Karelia 20-27 July 1941

Battlefield

Finnish infantry regiments routinely kept War Diaries (WD) at the company level. However, I was unable to locate what promised to be more detailed accounts of the battle that developed around Kokkomäki. Moreover, this nondescript community doesn’t appear on modern maps of what is today Russian territory. Based on an older map of the Ruskeala area published in 1931 and a German version published in 1942, I have a reasonable idea of what the terrain looked like in 1941. 

In addition to low hills, the area was a patchwork of coniferous and deciduous trees interspersed with farmland and dotted here and there with farmhouses and outbuildings. Because the Soviets went to some length to fortify the area, I wanted to grant the defender the ability to open up fields of fire, to create what in game terms are called Prepared Fire Zones (B36.1), PFZ for short. Introduced in the Finnish module Hakkaa Päälle! a decade ago, PFZ allow for the conversion of certain types of terrain into either Open Ground or “Vineyards.” The latter should not be taken literally to mean that the Russians have abandoned vodka for wine. A “vineyard” PFZ is a proxy for Inherent Terrain (B.6) that is similar to brush and which is also capable of bogging vehicles. Imagine a patch of forest where the trees have been cut down and removed, but where large branches and other debris from these trees remain. 

Kokkomäki 1931 and 1942

Normally, an order of battle (OB) will be assigned a certain number of PFZ factors. In “Electronauts” the defender has the option of purchasing a cart-load of PFZ factors instead. Of course, points spent on PFZ cannot be spent elsewhere. Therefore, the Russians need to balance their desire for improved fields of fire with a competing demand for fortifications to plug gaps in their defence. 

It costs one PFZ factor to convert a woods hex to a PFZ vineyard, and another PFZ factor to convert the hex into a PFZ Open Ground. Lumberjacks don’t come cheap. Converting an orchard, brush or grain hex to Open Ground, on the other hand, only costs one PFZ factor. Board 52, the only mapboard included in the Finnish module, is a massive forest with a single road slicing through it. It would require heaps of PFZ factors to clear even narrow corridors of fire. Fortunately the countryside around Kokkomäki had little in common with board 52.

According to contemporary maps, agricultural development in Kokkomäki was modest. By the 1930s some land was dedicated to farming and pasture. More predominate were signs of an active lumber industry. Stands of mature conifers areas could be seen next to areas of new growth where pioneer species such as aspen and birch had taken hold. And then there were the hills, with summits approaching 100 metres above sea level.

In my mind, the upper portion of board 10a comes closest to matching this terrain. Board 10a is also amenable to a defender on a limited PFZ budget. Released in Winter Offensive Bonus Pack 10 (2019), the portion I was drawn to has a pair of hills with patches of orchard, brush and grain and very little in the way of woods (or buildings for that matter). The orchard hexes are nevertheless numerous enough to block or hinder view, and therefore invite the purchase and use of PFZ.

Board 10a WOBP10 and Board 71 AP11

However, board 10a was just half of the topographical battle. Due to a peculiar Soviet fortification that I’ll get to later, I also needed a board with a significant number of hedges. At the same time, I wanted to avoid creating a hedgerow hell, which disqualified hedge-heavy maps like boards 54 and 55 from ASL Action Pack 4 (2008). Even without the hill, board 84, from ASL Action Pack 14 (2019), was too “hedgey.” Cue board 71 from the now out-of-print ASL Action Pack 11 (2015).1 

To complete the transformation, I converted a handful of walls (on board 10a) to hedges, swapped paved roads (on board 71) for dirt ones, and downgraded all stone buildings to wood, removing upper building levels with a final stroke of the pen. Presto! A beguiling hamlet in Eastern Karelia.

Electrical engineers

Historically, the Russian defence comprised a rifle company reinforced with a platoon each of machine guns and mortars. Testing confirmed that more than one heavy machine gun (HMG) or medium mortar (MTR) could, and repeatedly did, leave the Finns in tatters, just steps from their start line. Compromises had to be made.

82mm BM obr. 37

The defenders were also supported by an industrious group of sappers whose signature contribution proved eccentric, to say nothing of the impression it left on the Finns. So extensive was their preparatory work that I have permitted the Russian player to tailor his defence with the purchase of fortifications and PFZ. This provision increases “fog of war” and replay value. The sole exception to the foregoing is the inclusion of a set number of special fortifications in the Russian OB. As hinted at earlier, these fortifications may only set up along a hedge hexside. And at the risk of you heading for the (other) hills, I’ll concede that you’ll have a reason to dig out your Panji counters (G9.1). While you’re at it, have a look for your Dummy (B28.47) and Known Minefield (B28.45) counters too! Seldom seen outside a desert scenario, these counters offer a generous combination of bluff and subterfuge. 

Prepared Fire Zones or PFZ (B36.)

Unimpressed? How about a token NKVD squad, pour encourager les autres? Yet another reason to purchase Twilight of the Reich, if you haven’t already done so. 

Assault engineers

The Russians can engineer the shit outta Kokkomäki. It seems only fair that the Finns have engineers equipped to beat the crap out of their tormentors. Demolition charges (DC), flamethrowers, (FT) and unlimited Smoke. Unlimited Smoke? Yep. 

Sorry to get your hopes up. Finnish Assault Engineer squads (H1.22) have an unimpressive Smoke Exponent of “2.” The good news is that Finnish OB includes two 81mm Savunheitin M/42. These “light-weight” beauties have an infinite amount of Smoke ammo, or in ASL terms, Smoke that isn’t subject to Depletion (C8.9). Pity they only fire Smoke.

81mm Savunheitin M/41 and M/42

So far, so good. However, most of the leg work will have to be done by a collection of First and Second Line squads, armed in the main with ex-Soviet support weapons (SW). Translation: heavy and not-so heavy SW that malfunction as readily as a Conscript with an ELR of “0.” That’s a joke. The fact that most of the SW in the Finnish OB malfunction on a Dice Roll (DR) ≥ 11 (or worse) is no joke. One bright spot is the improvements the Finns made to their stock of captured HMG. Not only are these reconditioned Russian weapons more robust than other MG, but they may be dismantled too, a boon to the attacking Finns. Along for the ride is a home-grown LMG, the Lahti-Saloranta M/26, which constituted about a third of the LMG used by Finland, the remainder being the less accurate but more rugged Soviet Degtyaryov DP-27.

Lahti-Saloranta M/26

All in all, the Finnish player has a mixed bag to work with. And time to get the job done.

Pick yer hill to die on!

The Finns win if they Control the hilltops, by breaking through to the Ruskeala road, or a combination of both. But the assault force has a lot of open area to cross before it reaches the hills. Smoke throwers therefore play an important role at the beginning of the scenario. Later, the Finns will have to rely more on Smoke grenades to cover their final approach. Once they close with the enemy, their FT may be needed to overcome the last position, so they can’t afford to squander these assets early in the game. Their DC, on the other hand, can prove handy for punching holes in enemy lines, especially where troublesome fortifications are holding up the initial advance.

In order to get the most out of their high rate-of-fire weapons, the Russians will need to clear fields of fire, place obstacles that impede movement, and channel the enemy into cunningly laid deathtraps. If you enjoy preparing a fortified defence, one where you get to terraform the ground to your liking, then this card may well have your name on it. The defence is not entirely static though. A good defender will shift assets accordingly, fallback when pressed, and launch a localized counterattack should an opportunity present itself.

For those who like to play defence, the biggest appeal of “Electronaut” is not the mix of weapons and fortifications in the order of battle (OB). They are impressive. It is what you do with them that will make all the difference. The attacker can glean important information about his opponent’s dispositions before setting up a single unit. Deception and bluff therefore have a major role to play, for both sides. Once play commences, however, the attacker will have to roll with the punches. The Finns are in for a lot of pain before they can return it in kind. 

Lieutenant Leonid “Leo” Karjalainen

Will the Finns commit to a particular game plan at the outset and drive hard for the hills or the goal line? Or will they probe cautiously and adjust their plan on the fly? Will the Russians set up forward and make the attackers pay dearly for every step they advance? Or will the defenders adopt a more subtle approach, a mix of targeted kill zones, reverse-slope positions, and hidden units that will catch the Finns off guard? Find out when the pack is released. Or sign up to playtest “Electronauts” today and let the sparks fly! ;)

Notes

1. As of May 2024, ASL Action Pack 11 remains available in KitShop. http://asl-battleschool.blogspot.com/p/kitshop-store.html