This is the third time I’ve played my 3rd Battle of Kharkov scenario but the first time I’ve had a digital camera handy. I must, however, apologise in advance for far too many blurry shots.
My opponent on this occasion was Chris Harrod.
Chris played the attacking Germans. He had a combat weakened battalion of veteran panzer grenadiers, complete with intrinsic half tracks, and supported by a platoon of Pz IVs.
My initial defending force was two rifle companies with only two platoons each, a 45mm ATG company (3 guns), a 76mm ATG, and two tanks (T-34 and KV-1). My infantry were regulars. Luckily I could deploy hidden, as Chris had massive superiority in numbers and quality. If he found me I was in for trouble. I did, however, have two additional rifle platoons and a T-34 off-table as reinforcements. These would be crucial.
The table corresponded pretty closely to the map. There was lots of terrain. Masses of building sectors, rough ground between to represent ruins, gardens, etc, hedges to impede line of sight and the occasional wood and hill. The roads offered longer lines of sight and easy movement for the armour.
To win the Germans have to push down from the north and capture 2 or 3 of the 4 objectives.
The Russians started rolling for reinforcements as soon as the Germans had line of sight to any of the objectives.
My Russians deployed hidden. I had a weakened company on each side of the main road, with a tank in support of each, and some 45mm ATG scattered around. My 76mm ATG was planted with line-of-sight down the main road in the centre of the table. It is a big table, and with few troops it is hard to be strong everywhere.
You’ll notice the white crosses. These were useful for laying out the table so it corresponded to the map. We made the mistake of leaving them on table for the game. They added nothing to the game, but do show up clearly on the photos.
Chris deployed his Germans across the entire table, but kept his half-tracks, with mounted panzer grenadiers, in reserve.
Chris also deployed his Pak40 in the building at the end of the main road. This meant it started in line of sight of the first terrain objective. I pointed out that this would mean I would start rolling for reinforcements immediately, but he was adamant that this was ok.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Chris had a cunning plan. These two deployments were key to what happened, but I didn’t see it coming.
German Probing Attack
The game started at 0600 hours.
Chris used recon by fire to discover my front line positions, then followed this up with tank fire to clear out Russian points of resistance.
We play a house rule where direct fire HE ignores the cover bonus of buildings, and we also allow both main gun and machine guns to fire as a fire group. This means tanks are lethal against infantry in buildings.
I had forgotten how lethal. I lost several stands including a 45mm ATG which, not surprisingly, couldn’t stand up to the fire of the Panzers.
Following the tank barrage, the German infantry advanced under cover of smoke. I tried to halt them with fire from a concealed T-34, but this missed, went NO FIRE, then got knocked out by a Pz IV.
You might notice the piles of counters. This was an experiment where each counter was a FM for an FO. I kept mine off table, but Chris wanted to have his next to the corresponding FO.
Chris was unlucky that on only my second initiative my off-table reinforcements arrived.
I pushed a platoon up both flanks. The T-34 went to the left flank where the Germans seemed to be massing.
Meanwhile Chris kept probing forward.
To catch his infantry in the open, I had to expose my own, which were then fair game for the panzers.
For me this was not a sustainable exchange.
Once my front line positions were looking tattered, Chris started to bring up his armoured reserve in the centre.
On the Russian left, the Germans pressed forward with their infantry. They wiped out the Russian first line. The second line was pretty weak, but I did have reserves behind.
The “worried PC” in the field – who had lost his platoon in the houses to the front – actually managed to survive the entire battle!
With the German infantry continuing to advance I had to reveal my other hidden tank – a KV-1 in the centre left.
By this time I had lost a T-34 and a 45mm ATG, and my two other tanks were visible on-table.
Chris saw his chance.
German Coup de Main
To my enormous surprise Chris tried a Coup de Main down the main road with his half-track mounted Panzer Grenadiers.
I wasn’t too worried, revealed my 76mm ATG, fired … but missed. Chris then brought up a Pz IV. He now had four armoured vehicles and a rifle platoon behind my front lines and literally ensconced on one of the terrain objectives, and next to a second. I thought I was done for.
With my gun NO FIRE there was nothing to stop the German armour … except the rules:
- House Rule: We use limited speed rules for armour. Most vehicles can only take 2 move actions per initiative, although some are faster/slower. Chris’s vehicles were all Speed = 2.
- House Rule: We don’t allow vehicles to initiate close combat.
- It takes an initiative to dismount the infantry from the half tracks.
So I had some breathing space, but what to do?
I decided to bring elements of my right hand reserve back to counter-attack the half tracks. I selected a PC and an anti-tank rifleman (we play that only one squad can close assault vehicles, but they get a +1 if they have an infantry anti-tank weapon).
My guys attacked from the flank, outside arc of fire of the half-tracks, but I’d forgotten about the Pak 40 down the road. These, apparently, have a good HE round and 4d6 in the open eliminated my ATR squad. C’est la guerre.
It was still looking pretty grim for me on the objectives.
Chris, in his initiative, tried to push forward his Pz IV.
This time my 76mm scored a bulls eye. Scratch one panzer.
This gave me the opportunity to bring my left hand reserve back to counter the threat in the centre. I had to denude the left, which would cause me worries in the future, but for the moment the major threat was obvious.
I redeployed a rifle platoon and the T-34.
In his initiative Chris pushed forward his half tracks. Both my 76mm and T-34 missed and went NO FIRE.
But as it happened Chris was still no better off, as it would still take an initiative to dismount the infantry.
Now I attempted a repeat of the anti-tank rifleman “tank killer” trick. But this time I blocked the German lines of fire with smoke first.
A PC and ATR squad took on the first enemy half-track. I had PC (+1) and ATR (+1) to his extra squad for the passenger (+1). He didn’t get the +1 for APC as he was in woods.
My tank killer squad left his PC behind and pushed on to take on the second half-track. This time he was supported by the company commander who was next to the 76mm.
Another score. Two down.
0800 to 0830 Hours
My hyped up tank killer squad finished off its successful run by retaking one of the objectives.
A companion in one of the buildings to the left popped out and retook the other, then prudently retreated back into cover.
Then there was a lull in the action and an hour passed on the moving clock.
German Contingency Plan
With his Coup de Main countered, Chris looked else where for the breakthrough.
He had two panzers on the Russian right and pushed these forward supported by infantry.
My front line forces were looking pretty weak, with negligible anti-tank capability, so there was a good chance he’d grind his way through.
On the Russian left I’d managed to get some of my reserves back from where they’d dealt with the Coup de Main into the front line.
As a result Chris’s infantry attack was struggling against the reinforced Russian line.
My next step was to bring up my KV-1. Admittedly it took a couple of initiatives (Speed = 1), but once the beast was faced off against a Pz IV the odds were in my favour. It is pretty hard to penetrate ARM = 6.
The second Pz IV burned.
By 0900 hours my counter-attack was in full swing.
I pushed my surviving T34 right forward to deal with the Pak40 (successfully).
Of course, I then lost the T-34 to Chris’s Battalion commander, but it was worth the sacrifice to clear the main road of enemy fire.
My KV-1 took out the remaining Pz IV as it tried to rush across the main road from the Russian right to left.
That was enough for Chris and he conceded.
At the end of the battle the table was quite impressive with most of the vehicles being flaming wrecks.
It was a fantastic game. This is the third time I’ve played this scenario, but Crossfire and enemy players still allow for surprises.
Chris’s Coup de Main was brilliant. It is fascinating how we, as commanders, blinker ourselves into only considering what we would do as the enemy. Although I had covered the main road with my best ATG, this was my only defence, and, as it turn out, it was pretty ineffective against massed armour. Ultimately I did manage to counter his attack, but it was touch and go, and relied on not particularly favourable close combat rolls – and close combat is a fickle thing in Crossfire.
Chris, perhaps, made one decision that ultimately made the difference in the outcome. As he placed the Pak 40 with line of sight of an objective, I got to roll for my reinforcements from the start, and they arrived on my second initiative. His panzers had smashed my front line troops – destroying two of my four platoons, so the off-table reinforcements were the only thing that saved me. As a purely mechanistic strategy, he could have denied himself the line of sight until the moment he launched the Coup de Main. If he’d done this, I would have had only two intact platoons on table, with some bits and bobs, which would have been insufficient to both hold the front line and counter his thrust.
Chris, in turn, was surprised that when my reinforcements arrived I didn’t put any of them on the objectives. He was probably right to be surprised. All I can say is that his attacks on my front line blinded me to the real risk and I sent the reinforcements where I thought they were most needed.
I believe Crossfire itself came out looking a very good game system. I’ve never seen a wargame in which one side has managed to punch quickly through the enemy’s front and get into the rear. Crossfire, aided by the terrain set up, allowed this.
On balance our House Rules seemed positive additions to Crossfire. The only one I now question is the limitations on vehicles initiating close combat.
We give vehicles multiple, but limited, movement actions (Speed). The Speed rules made Chris’s Coup de Main possible. Even with only Speed = 2 he could went around the corner and up the road, and there was little I could do to stop him. With a Speed of 2, it did mean I had a chance to counter his attack, but this “felt” right (at least to me).
Our tanks are much, much more potent than in standard Crossfire. They have
- multiple fire actions
- separate main gun and machine guns which can group fire.
- direct fire HE, which ignores protective cover from buildings
This made the tanks really nasty, but appropriately nasty.
The first time I played this scenario we were using fairly standard Crossfire vehicle rules and the German player left his armour on his base line, so they wouldn’t be hurt. With the house rules as they are now, there is a real benefit from bringing the tanks up, and Chris used them to good effect.
Buildings as cover
The rule that direct fire HE ignores protective cover from buildings made a huge difference to the game. Most of my troops deployed in buildings, but actually that left them rather exposed to the panzers. Although I hadn’t foreseen this, and suffered severely as a result, it did seem to ring true. My reading of historical accounts indicated that usually troops dug in outside houses for exactly this reason. Of course strong points, a la Stalingrad, might be a different matter.
Vehicles initiating close combat
We don’t allow vehicles to initiate close combat. This was as a result of seeing half-tracks carrying a platoon of infantry, waltzing over the table killing everything in their way. +3 for passengers, +1 for PC, +1 for APC, i.e. +5, making them unbeatable (APC Terminator hell). Even a tank with its +3 close combat bonus is potent enough to achieve Terminator status.
More recently, however, I’ve been reading accounts where tanks did use their tracks as weapons, so I’m inclined to soften this restriction. The question is, when can vehicles initiate close combat, which vehicles, and how do passengers contribute? Certainly tanks versus entrenched infantry should be allowed. And tanks versus guns should be allowed. I’m less sure about other options. Needs more thinking.
Chris’s Coup de Main would have been more effective if he’d been able to crush my 76mm under his tracks.
We also limit the number of squads that can attack vehicles. We allow only one squad and a commander, but give a squad with an infantry anti-tank weapon a +1 in these situations.
Twice during the game I formed these kinds of Tank Killer squads (anti-tank rifle squad and PC). One got gunned down but the other had spectacular success. Seems reasonable.
Plastic counters for FM
The counters made the accounting easier, although I prefer a system where they’re off table.
The scenario itself continues to offer challenges but seems balanced. I’ve played it three times. Once against Rich Wilcox and Paul Ward, once against John Mclennan, and now against Chris. The results were two Russian victories and one German.