After their defeat near Osen in the first battle of the campaign, the remains of 2nd Kompanie, 30th Panzer have retreated to the small village of Zima, deep in the heart of pine woods to the north of Bashnya. There they will be attacked by a battalion of Soviet infantry backed up by three Guards' tanks and a handful of flamethrower-armed engineers, whose objective will be to take the sawmill that the Germans are using as a temporary HQ.
Zima sits within the forest within a large cleared area surrounded by pine woods. One road leads into the village, passing through two rows of huts before hitting the sawmill and a final row of huts.
The Germans, having had time to organise their defence if not to actually dig in, had used some of the trucks that would usually carry their attached panzergrenadiers to form a road block at each of the first two rows of huts, with the remaining three trucks forming a redoubt on the line of the sawmill to protect its open right flank.
One of their two assault rifle-armed infantry platoons was under cover at the first row of huts, supported by a Panzer IV. Two Tiger IIs and two MMG teams in half-tracks were lurking behind the second row of huts; and the other infantry platoon, another Panzer IV and a Wirbelwind self-propelled AA vehicle formed a back stop on the line of the sawmill. Two mortar carriers were hidden behind the sawmill, with an FO placed on the top floor of the sawmill itself, able to direct their fire and try and call in limited off-table artillery. A dummy Blind was positioned in each of the woods on either side of the road: scouts looking out for any Soviets crazy enough to try and move through the dense pine.
The first line of German defence (the pictures get less blurry later on!)
The idea was that the Soviets would come straight down the road, take casualties from the first line of defence, which would then immediately retreat to the second line of defence. The Soviets would chase after them and be hit by the King Tigers. If that line looked like being overwhelmed, it could retreat to the third and final line of defence around the sawmill.
The Soviets, however, had other ideas. Their force consisted of three infantry companies (each an HQ with two MMGs, then two platoons of two 8-man squads each…so twelve 16-man infantry platoons in total), three IS-II tanks and four two-man flamethrower teams. Their plan was for all the infantry to move through the pine woods on the northern side of the road leading into Zima, only bringing on their tanks near the road once any enemy anti-tank capability had been spotted.
The battle opened with the lead Soviet Blinds bumping into the German dummy Blind in the northern wood. This came as a bit of a shock to the Germans, as they hadn't anticipated having the entire Red Army emerge behind and on the flank of their first roadblock position!
Blinds, thousands of 'em (still blurry)
Once the Soviets had been spotted, however, they made a dense and therefore ideal target for artillery, especially as being in pine woods meant that damage was increased because of flying wood splinters and the like. The mortars on the two SdKfz 251/2s, both of which had luckily survived a Soviet superstonk centred on the sawmill, opened up, and would spend the next few turns happily annihilating four enemy MMG teams that had revealed themselves on the edge of the woods. The German off-table artillery was unfortunately asleep, and wouldn't contribute anything for the entire game.
The Soviets still hadn't spotted any Germans at this stage but, confident that there weren't any German panzerfaust teams in the northern woods (well, there wasn't any room for them now anyway, as the woods were too stuffed with Soviet infantry!) brought on their IS-IIs near the road. This had the effect of unmasking the Panzer IV hiding behind the roadblock along with one supporting infantry squad.
The German tank opened fire, hitting one IS-II three times and doing no more than mildly shaking up its crew. The Soviet return fire was not so ineffective: the Panzer took two hits from the massive Soviet 122mm guns and blew up!
Meanwhile one Soviet Blind had emerged from the western end of the woods and headed for one of the huts that formed the second line of German defence. With an extraordinary burst of speed, the Blind rounded the corner of the hut to find iself facing a King Tiger only some 4 inches away! This was bad for the German tank, as it didn't really want to fight infantry, but, I thought, I should be able to survive this initial assault and then retreat out of close assault range.
Unfortunately the Soviet Blind revealed itself as the engineers. The flamethrower carrying engineers. Gulp!
Luckily, only the lead flamethrower team could fire (the rest being still round the corner) and did: covering the King Tiger in a sheet of flame. When the smoke cleared, however, the tank was unscathed, although its crew would definitely need clean trousers! A quick burst from the Tiger's machine guns took care of the flamethrower team, and the tank reversed backwards, well out of flamethrower range, and prepared to fire HE.
Tiger II (forgive the proxy) survives a flamethrower strike
Unfortunately, the next card out of the pack was Soviet Heroic Leader. With a mad cry of 'For the Motherland', Engineer Sergeant Alexeyev grabbed a flamethrower from one of his men, and charged forward towards the King Tiger. Out shot another sheet of flame, and this time the Tiger didn't survive, going up in a huge fireball.
The remains of the Tiger
Just to finish off the engineer's story, on subsequent turns Alexeyev led them towards the sawmill but, unfortunately for the Soviets this time, I had had a chance to move my Wirbelwind into position to protect that flank. Quad 20mm cannons lashed out, and the rest of the flamethrower teams were cut down in a hail of fire. Alexeyev survived, and would survive the battle, but no other Soviet foot dared come down the corridor now protected by the AA vehicle!
Another proxy: the Wirbelwind dominates the corridor to the north of the sawmill
Aware that time was ticking on, and that staying where they were in the wood would just result in more casualties from enemy mortars and artillery, the Soviets now used their Human Wave bonus card to sweep eight platoons of infantry out from the treeline and across the first two lines of huts.
At the first line of huts, the Russians discovered how nasty it is to close assault panzergrenadiers armed with assault rifles. Superior numbers prevailed, however, and both German squads were eventually swept away. This left quite a lot of Soviet infantry out in the open, however, and they were punished by fire from the third squad of grenadiers from their positions in the second line of huts.
Third squad punishes the Soviet Human Wave
Also in the second line of huts were two SdKfz 251/1s, each with an MMG team. Although these were close assaulted and destroyed, they did manage to account for another squad and a half of Russians. This left the Soviets in control of the first line of huts, and half in control of the second. Many of their infantry squads had taken casualties, however, and the cards had not been kind to their tanks, who had only now reached the middle of the table.
The aftermath of the Human Wave
At this point, unfortunately, the game had to end. The Germans still had an entire platoon of assault rifle armed infantry positioned around the sawmill final line of defence, along with another Tiger II and a Panzer IV…but could these have beaten off the three IS-IIs and what was still a powerful Soviet infantry force…I doubt it. We declared the battle a draw in terms of the game itself, but a campaign win for the Germans as the Russians hadn't actually managed to take the sawmill.
The German positions around the sawmill at the end of the game
All in all it was a great game. Neil played a blinder strategically in going through the woods rather than up the road, although he did suffer horrible casualties from incessant mortar fire, but the German three-line defence did still cause problems even when assaulted from the flank. His three IS-II tanks never really got into the battle, at least not by when we had to finish, although I suspect that they would have dominated the end game. The flamethrower versus Tiger II battle was also tactically inspired, robbing the Germans of half of the main pillars of their defence.
Soviet IS-IIs moving towards the final line of German defence
Two views of the final positions: from the German side (left) and the Soviet side (right)
In the end we only played for about three hours, and wished we'd had longer. What was good was how well IABSM coped with such a huge Russian infantry force. This was made easier by clearly numbering the Big Men (the Russians had twelve of them!) and by using different troops for each company: standard Soviets, dismounted Cossacks, and early-war Russian sailors. Now it's on to scenario #4B!
Lots of different Soviets
PS if you're wondering why I had to use proxies for the Tiger IIs and the Wirbelwind: well...blame Battlefront. Their unique policy of not supplying retailers with any models to sell continues to baffle me!