Monday, June 8, 2015

Back to the Future


After a bit of a hiatus due to work pressures, John and I dug out some of my Cold War forces to play some 'war-that-never-was' action. I started my gaming in the 80s, so this period is really 'back to the future' for me.

I have collected a large Soviet force in 3mm, as well as a couple of US Brigades, a German Panzer Grenadier Brigade and a UK Armoured Brigade. So I thought I'd get some of them on the table.

Like a lot of Cold War gamers, I like to set my scenarios in the mid-80s. The reason is that this was a transition period. It allows the use of both 'new' generation equipment (NATO armies were re-equipping with M1, Leopard II, Challenger I, Bradley, Marder and Warrior), but it also allows the previous generation of equipment to be fielded (M48s, M60s, Leopard I, Chieftans, M113s, FV-432s, etc.). So it's a good mix of both old and new equipment. And the Soviet Union was still considered to be a plausible threat.

We decided the forces for this battle would be UK (BAOR) against Soviets (from a Cat I GSFG Motor Rifle Division). The year would be 1986.

The scenario would be "Pursuit" from the Fistful of TOWs rulebook, with the Soviets attacking with 6000pts and the UK defending with 3000pts. The Pursuit scenario requires the defender to set up anywhere on the table, then the attacker to enter from one of the short table edges of his choice (flank marches are allowed also). The attacker gets VPs for destroying enemy troops (1 VP for each 25% of his units), and the defender gets VPs for exiting troops off the attacker's table edge (1 VP for each 25% of his units). (note: as explained at the end of this report, we actually got this wrong - the defender should have been trying to exit from the opposite table edge to the attacker's. But we mistakenly played it as described here, so no real harm done...).

From the UK Armoured Brigade, John opted for an Infantry battalion in FV-432s, supported by a Squadron of Challenger I MBTs.  His battalion was supported by a Regiment of SP 155mm guns. All 'Good' quality.

My Soviets opted for a force comprising a MR Regiment (BTR-70s, with T-62s in the tank Battalion, all 'Marginal' quality) and a Tank Regiment (T-64Bs, with Infantry Battalion in BMP-1, all 'Fair' quality). Both regiments had their Regimental support companies (AT, AA, Recon etc), and were each supported by their Battalions of 2S1 122mm SP guns. Additionally, I had a Battalion each of 152mm SP (2S3s) and BM-21 MRLs from the Divisional Artillery.

The battlefield is shown below. I had set up the battlefield several weeks ago, before we decided on the scenario. As such, it ended up presenting a tough challenge for both sides due to the combination of close terrain, a major river bisecting it, and a tributary river running off to the N from the main river. The river was crossed by three bridges in the E half of the battlefield, and the tributary by two bridges. Wind direction was from the NE.

The battlefield
The UK battlegroup split its deployment, with a tank Squadron and Infantry Company to the S of the river, and two Infantry companies N of the River. The Soviets chose to enter from the N (top).

Initial deployment areas -
The UK defenders deployed N & S of the river
The Soviets chose to enter from the N.

Challenger I MBTs deploy in overwatch, facing S

Challenger Is (cutting edge in 1986)

Infantry company in FV-432s, with a Troop of Challengers,
deploy to exit quickly in the S
shot of the same company from above

one of the UK infantry companies, deployed in the town N of the large river

along with a couple of Milan platoons

another Infantry company was on the N bank of the tributary river

Turn 1 - the Soviet T-64B Regiment
 streams across the E bridge in a flanking manoeuver.
Due to the bridge and terrain, they were forced to advance in column.
It took three turns to get across the river in column!

view from the S of the river -
Tanks cross the river in the E, whilst Infantry move on from the N (top of photo)

Infantry enter from the N, on a wide frontage.
The centre battalion is dismounted

dismounted Soviet infantry -
in front can be seen the Battalion AT Platoon,
SPG-9 RCL (right) and AT-5 ATGM (left) teams.

The UK Infantry N of the tributary
move back to join their mates in the larger town.
Scimitar Recce tanks and a Milan Platoon remain E of the tributary.
Soviets put in screening smoke whilst they move.

Soviet MR battalion advancing down the W flank,
bottom left of picture is the Regt AT Company
(2 stands of AT-5 BRDM-2s) ready to support 

Early turns overview of the N end of the battlefield -
MR Regiment advances from N on both sides of the tributary, and
top of screen the T-64B Regiment continues to cross the river.

The third UK infantry company have marched N across the river and
taken up depth positions in the town, with the rest of their battalion.

Soviet infantry dismount and move through the fields
A Challenger I Troop re-deploys from the S

The Challenger I Squadron re-deploys oriented NE,
hull-down on a wooded ridgeline. A good fire position!
The Soviets put in some smoke screens to cover the advance of their Tank Regiment.

The T-64s start to deploy into an attack formation

lead battalion of the T-64 regiment 

nice picture of T-64s - very nice models, thanks O8!

The Challengers lurk in the tree-line ...

the river-town becomes a fortress!!

The three Infantry companies of the UK battalion is in the town.
The soviets are unable to spot anything to unleash their artillery on,
and opt to instead fire smoke to cover their advance.
Across the tributary in the tree-line (to the E)
is two platoons of Recce Scimitars and a Milan Platoon.

UK Tracked Rapiers cover the British positions in case of air attack

The British tanks wait patiently...

... then unleash through the smoke, destroying a company of T-64s (2 platoons).
T-64s lack TI sights, so cannot see to return fire through the smoke,
or even to call artillery to suppress their tormentors! 

view from behind the UK MBTs -
the Soviet tank regiment continues to advance behind their smoke-screen

The Soviet W flank MR battalion continues to advance under cover.
The flanking company takes up an overwatch position on the ridgeline, overlooking the town.

overview from the W

The Challengers fire again - another company and a half  of T-64s destroyed.
Having lost 5/6 of its stands, the lead tank battalion tests morale, and the last platoon keeps going!!

The UK MBTs call in artillery support.
A 155mm ICM strike adds to the woes of the Soviet tank regiment.

view from the E

and from the N, a good view of the Soviet tanks getting
cut to pieces by the UK MBTs (top of picture).
The two lead battalions had to take 'two-thirds losses' Quality Checks (and failed).
The third battalion had to check since the Regiment was also down to only one-third of its strength.
It saw sense and withdrew from the field... (regiment destroyed!)

overview of the centre of the Soviet attack.

MR Infantry advance on foot

close up of the Challengers

E Challenger Troops in the tree-line

T-64s still advancing...

BTR-70s in attack formation.

Soviet MR Regimental HQ.

UK FV-432s

UK Battalion Mortars (FV-432s w/ 81mm Mortars)

Soviet Infantry Advancing

close up of a MR Infantry company

MR Battalion AT Platoon: SPG-9 and AT-5 teams.

Challenger Is in the trees

More gratuitous Challenger photos

Soviet infantry advance up to the town on the NE side of the tributary

more MR Infantry

AT-5 BRDMs of the Regimental AT Company 

MR Regiment AA (left - ZSU-23/4 and SA-8s) and HQ (right)

Close up of a MR Infantry platoon

Final overview -
The T-64 regiment is in flames in the E,
The Soviet Infantry is in position for a bloody assault on the town.
We called the game in turn 5 (of 8). Whilst the MR Regiment had taken no losses, it was not really in a great position to attack. I only had one battalion on the W side of the tributary river to attack from that direction (the main defensive orientation of the UK infantry. They would have suffered horrendously trying to assault into the town at 1:1 odds. I couldn't even support my attack with artillery as I still couldn't spot the defenders to call in fire (they had wisely held their fire and remained in cover).
The other two MR battalions were stranded across the other side of the tributary. They would have had to attack into the (defended) town in column across the single bridge. Again, not a great option.
My Tank Regiment was destroyed in the NE, effectively leaving a clear route for the UK Challenger Squadron to exit the N table edge. We also agreed the UK Infantry battalion could probably have mounted up and withdrawn from the town, back across the river, and via road marches, follow the British MBTs of the table before my MR Regiment could mount up and redeploy to defend the NE exit corridor.
So I conceded a win to John's UK Battle-group (the result would probably have been at least a 2-0 VP win to the Brits).
Lessons learned:
  • We actually misread the scenario. Instead of exiting from my (the attacker's) table edge, John was meant to exit his troops from his own (ie. the opposite) table edge. This also explains the importance of being allowed to flank march for the attackers... Doh! We'll have to play it again sometime, doing it the proper way next time!
  • Once again, as I regularly seem to do in my games, I forgot some of my troops! (I suppose it's part of the problem when you have so many?!) This time, I forgot my T-62 battalion for the MR Regiment, which should have been deployed with a company accompanying each Infantry battalion. This could have stiffened my infantry's resolve to attack the UK infantry mounted and advance more quickly. I also forgot my BMP battalion within the Tank Regiment. In hindsight, they also would have provided useful support. At worst they could have made it difficult for the UK troops to counter attack through the destroyed tank battalions and off the table.
  • I probably chose exactly the wrong table edge to enter from. The N end of the battlefield was just too cramped and segmented by the rivers for me to effectively deploy my masses of troops. Deploying from the S would have allowed me to deploy more easily to attack en-masse (not piecemeal and in column).
  • My advance up the flank with the Tank Regiment was probably a bit impetuous and too aggressive. In hindsight, I would have been better off flank marching with these and moving to static blocking positions. The impetus was on John to try and exit his troops and I should have forced him to try and attack though my static troops to achieve his victory conditions.
  • I should have made better use of scouting and screening troops to spot targets for my artillery. I had a 4:1 advantage in artillery, and only managed to use it for laying smoke, due to lack of spotted targets.
  • Because of the difficult, channelling terrain, a company or two of infantry in helicopters would have been useful to insert to key cut-off positions. In the close terrain, with MAWs and LAWs, they could have been difficult to shift once in place.
  • In 1986, Challenger Is clearly overmatch the Soviet tanks. TI, longer range, better armour, the complete package...
Overall, the game was good fun, and a good challenge. We'll be playing some more Cold War games soon. Also, we're preparing some forces for some 1973 Yom Kippur War action...