The Gran Bridgehead – AAR

Inspired by the artwork of David Pentland and 3 new Zvezda King Tigers I had recently finished we decided to base this game on the fighting in Hungary in early 1945. Specifically David’s black and white drawing of the Gran Bridgehead featuring the 503rd Heavy Tanks Battalion. In addition to David’s artwork I also flipped through The Combat History of German Tiger Tank Battalion 503 in World War II which contains a number of first person accounts of the fighting.

For the scenario we picked the strong point assault and the Germans would be on the attack. At the core of the force would be four Tiger II’s supported by two small platoons of infantry, the first a recon platoon mounted in 250s and the other infantry mounted in 251’s. I wanted this to reflect some of the difficulties the Germans faced during offensive activity in January through March, powerful tanks but limited infantry to hold objectives. In support of the operation I added a dedicated 120mm battery with an observer and a 20mm armed 234.

The Germans

The Russians were pretty bread and butter, again I wanted to capture the spurt of a basic Russian force. So I included one infantry platoon on the table with supporting assets, including a Zis-2, 75mm infantry gun and Maxim. In reserve was an entire company of T-34/85s and in support of the defenses 6, 2nd priority request.

The Germans broke their force into three element; the first was the company commanders Tiger II, a Tiger II, the 234 and a mix of infantry deployed along the road. The second group set up on their right with the remaining Tigers and some infantry. The third section, all infantry would be the flanking force.

Overall movements

The Soviets had 20 units and in keeping with the theme of the scenario we placed all of the T-34’s in reserve. Leaving the infantry and guns to occupy the bunkers and trenches along with the company commander and the forward observer.

We chatted briefly about how many orders to use and settled on 3d6 plus officers, which on average would give us between 9 and 12 orders. The Soviets were pleased because that would have been plenty for them but it was going to be a little tight for the Germans with all of the infantry and half-tracks.

Early Game: With the Germans stacked up and ready to go they said welcome to the battle with a preparatory bombardment which pinned both the forward observer and the company commander. The noise of the battle woke up a few Soviets who quickly went into ambush.  The Soviets had no eyes and ears out so the dubious honor of the first battle counter went to them.

Germans ready to move out.

With pregame procedures done the Germans started their turn by zipping the 234 down the road and the first objective went to the Germans. The rest of the Germans followed behind with the Tigers in the lead. The Soviets stayed low the first turn and used their orders to get everyone on ambush and took a chit to remove pins.  

The Soviet Lines

The second turn the German continued their advance and the second objective went to the Germans on the right as they advanced into a woods. Just after that one of the Tiger II’s ran out fuel and the crew abandoned it, leaving a 60 ton road block forcing the troops behind to begin their assault from much further out. This was a lucky break for the reds; with one Tiger out and the Germans forced to deploy much further from the Soviet lines. As the halftracks and supporting broke off road the soviet Zis-2 and 75mm fired their first shots from ambush.  The German commander was struggling to get all of his units coordinated, i.e. rolling very low for orders. With the right still not in a position and the road block the left group was in a bad place and taking heavy fire. Losses included the 250/9 and the 251.

The Tiger runs out of fuel and the crew runs off.

Middle Game: The fire fight continued and the Soviets were beginning to think division HQ had forgotten about them because no artillery had come in. On turn four the flanking forces arrived and the Soviets were ready. The infantry platoon and the Maxim were on ambush and poured fire into the Germans. The heavy fire drove them back, the German player exercised the right to fall back behind the 250s and 251s, taking the casualty and getting pinned down. The halftracks provided some cover but the Soviets small arms still found their mark and took a heavy toll on the small recon squads and Grenadiers.  The Soviets weren’t able to completely secure their right leaving the halftracks in a position to lay heavy covering fire.

Late Game: Things were beginning to look bad for the Russian infantry; on their left the second German battle group, positioned in the woods was in nearly in enfilade of the trenches. At the center the flanking forces 251s and the centers Tigers were pushing up with the remains of the infantry. Just at the right moment and F-190 swooped over dropping its payload of 9 bombs. The Soviets had dug their trenches well but with fire from three sides they were pinned down and casualties were mounting. With no artillery support forth coming and only one T-34 showing up it wasn’t long before the Soviet squads started to disappear. The German’s were rolling hot finally for orders and finally had orders to spare.

The German right is in position.

As we entered into the bottom of turn 8 the Soviets were in bad shape; the trench line was clear and the Company Commander out of action. The center Tiger II was moving to the final objective and only four T-34s had showed up in the last three turns and two were already out of action. The Soviet commander, realizing the futility of sending T-34’s into a action against the Tigers withdrew and ceded the battlefield to the Germans.

The cleared trenches.

These two list in this scenario really presented some challenges to both sides. On the surface, the Germans had their best late war equipment and like the Konrad attacks the Germans were heavy on tanks but they were light on infantry. The Soviets would have needed 11 and 12s to destroy a Tiger II and knowing that he couldn’t stop the tanks directly focused on the infantry and their transport. In another systems the game would have probably been a route; but Battlegroup has a few nuances to help balance or depending on your perspective unbalance the outcome of games. The first is the chit pull system which includes events to add a random changes to the game. In this game we pulled the ‘out of fuel’ and ‘air attack’; neither one were game changing but losing the Tiger early forced the Germans to commit in a less than ideal position giving the Soviets a little room. The other important rule is tracking ammunition; the German player reported that he conserved his shots because he knew the T-34s were off board.  

German chits

Another great game in, thanks to Alex and Scott for playing and I’m looking for a rematch. Until the next after action report.

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