Chris Harrod, Joe Harrison and I played the Seestrasse Sector part of Operation Crossfire. Chris was ISIS SUNRAY, commander of the attacking Allies/Soviets and host for the day. Joe was our guest from Peterborough and took the role of SONNE GUNTHER, commander of the Axis/German defenders. I was the UMPIRE and provided the kit. Steve Spence was OFFA and Michael Stringer was NORN, the Commander-in-Chiefs of the Allies and Axis respectively – of course they were only involved in our game via an erratic radio (email) link.
The event was fantastic. An exciting battle fought as part of an inspired one day campaign. Full marks to the Nikolas Lloyd (BIG CHEESE), who was the inspired genius behind the event and the Commander-in-Chief of the umpires on the day.
It all started on 2 Jan 2014 when Lloyd sent an email to the Crossfire forum entitled “Crossfire Day 2014?”. 10 months and 20 days later it actually happened.
It was easy to convince Chris, my normal gaming partner to join in, but finding a third was tricky. Eventually I resorted to recruiting on the Crossfire forum and Joe signed up. We’d actually met Joe at a show in Milton Keynes a year before so we weren’t strangers. But it was a slog for him as he had to drive 1.5 hours each way on the day.
I supplied all the kit. We had to fill a 8′ x 5′ table and although I knew what the initial forces were I wasn’t sure what Lloyd would send our way during the game. So there was quite a lot of it – figures, terrain of various sorts, lights, tripods, cameras, and computers. I started lugging gear from my place to Chris’s at 1030 hours on the day. Joe was still driving and Chris was the worse for wear from the night before so I lugged on my own. Although Chris only lives 100 metres away it was still 1120 hours before I had everything in his place.
Then Chris and I quickly laid out the table. It was a bit of a rush. Normally I’m careful about leaving covered lines of approach and blocking long lines of sight. But this time we were just glad to cover the table in time for the big game. However, as the game progressed I remembered we’d neglected to add crests and really there wasn’t enough cover for the Allied/Soviet force to enter. Ah well. Life it tough. Particularly for Ivan.
Despite the rush I think the table ended up quite nice. Not as beautiful as John Dillon’s table in the Bridge at Stockach but alright for modular terrain. Particularly in black and white.
Joe turned up at 1145 hours just as we finished the putting down the terrain. Joe immediately began plotting his deployment.
Deviations from Lloyd’s instructions
As Joe plotted his deployment Chris tried to figure out the Chess Clock. It wasn’t obvious and we abandoned it. Instead both players used a stop watch. This worked but I must admit the Chess clock would been more obvious and less prone to error.
We also ignored the instructions to count comms time against the clock. Sorry about that Lloyd. Every hour or so we’d declare a comms break, pause the clock, and let both players (and me) adjourn to their technology of choice and tap out a few missives. Then we’d unpause the game and proceed. Not as realistic as doing comms in real time, but pragmatic. From my perspective it facilitated more involvement in the wider game. But it did mean we didn’t use up as much game time in the four real hours as other folk.
I think we got a few of the deployment instructions wrong. But it didn’t make a difference to the game.
Normally I have printed maps to plot hidden deployment but for this game we had to rely on my Numbered Terrain Markers. They are terribly fiddly and in a big game like this it is easy to lose troops by allocating them to a number and losing track of where the numbered terrain is.
Anyway Joe decided to put his Green Conscripts near the Military Train Station and position the Fallschirmjaeger on the open eastern flank. The idea being that the Conscripts would delay the Soviets and enable the Fallschirmjaeger to launch a counter-attack against an exposed flank.
Chris intended to probe forward with his weak company as scouts to find the main German line of defence. Then launch his strong company either left or right depending on where the Germans were weak/strong.
What with the rush at the end of set up we actually started that game at 1207 hours.
The Soviet Attack
 OFFA to SUNRAY: Start your Engines. Stand-by. Out
 BIG CHEESE: CRY HAVOC and LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR!
 OFFA TO SUNRAY: Go, go, go!
I didn’t see much of the start of the game as I was terribly busy setting up tripods, lights and cameras.
As planned Chris pushed his weak company forward to find the Germans. The Soviet scout platoon was quite spread out for normal Allied command and control so the PC had to move around quite a lot; for “British” command and control the PC has to have visibility of the moving squad when they start the move action (but not necessarily during the move action or at the end). Two squads found themselves in minefields. Nice mine placement by Joe.
Chris also uncovered a couple of sections of wire. Although the mines were well placed, the wire was less so. Chris could just ignore the wire – he wasn’t going anywhere near the mines anyway so putting wire in the hedge behind didn’t make a difference. But it looked alright.
A couple of the Conscript squads were initially dedicated to loading tanks onto a freight train but that quickly changed as the German commander-in-chief didn’t see the value and Joe couldn’t really spare them anyway.
 NORN to SONNE GUNTHER: Don’t understand value of loading tanks onto train. better to get fuel to them? Regards and thanks, NORN
I should have mentioned that a fair number of German troops were visible from the start of the game. The scenario demands 50% of the stands are visible. Joe opted to reveal his conscripts clustered near the Military Station in the south of Seestrasse.
At first Chris ignored the town and turned his attention to the farmstead on the south-eastern road. But a German machine gun caught the lead squad as it crossed the road.
To my surprise Joe started revealing his counter-attack force and bringing them forward. A Fallschirmjaeger HMG appeared first then a couple of Panzer IVs (“Axis Medium Tanks”). I normally try to hold back revealing anything until it can get a good shot.
Personally I think Joe played his hand too early. As soon as the Panzers appeared Chris sent his attack force left/west, both tanks and his strong infantry company.
As the Soviets pushed west Joe revealed more troops – Fallschirmjaeger – in the east.
Every now and then Lloyd would send through a general broadcast. Usually about the weather. And the weather was getting worse.
 BIG CHEESE: The weather is now drizzle. no game effect.
The long straight roads offered excellent fields of fire. Very early on a Panzer IV positioned itself to shoot down the main road, exactly where the Soviets were trying to advance. Chris countered with a T34/76.
Actually Chris wasn’t interested in Seestrasse. He was headed for the train line and the Stockach road.
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: Message understood, will endeavour to refuel them, will you supply me fuel – Joe
 OFFA to ISIS SUNRAY: Identify enemy armour, please Out
 BIG CHEESE: Weather worsens. The weather is now: rain, with heavy cloud. RAF spotting is badly hampered (-3 on the number of things that can be spotted, and -1 on the d6 rolls to spot)
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: Do I have permission to use artillery please? – Joe
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: Can I expect that you will supply fuel to move my tanks? – Joe
 NORN to SONNE GUNTHER:
you have permission to use artillery. I am in process of organising fuel. But I have significant doubts. I expect that the tanks will prove useless. Recommend use your best judgement. Please use your battle area name in subject. Regards, NORN
In most Crossfire games troops end up in situations that you wouldn’t plan for. One example in this game was the moment when both sides had a company commander (CC) in the front line without escorts. You wouldn’t plan for this as it brought unnecessary risk, but there they were, in the front line.
With the German counter-attack underway Joe picked on the Soviets at the Farmstead.
 OFFA to ISIS SUNRAY: Have you identified the enemy armour? You have an air liaison attached. If you don’t need him, release him, please. Out
The Joe revealed even more Fallschirmjaeger and launched them towards Chris.
First stop the Farmstead.
In the photo above you might have noticed an armoured car next to the farm house. This was the Airforce Liaison Officer’s vehicle. As the Fallschirmjaeger approached he calmly called in air support. Not on the grunts trudging towards him, but on the Panzer further up the road. In flew the Sturmovik ground attack aircraft and the tank brewed up.
Meanwhile, on the western flank, a platoon of German Conscripts was all that lay between the massed Soviets – both infantry and armour – and the train line.
Back in the east the Fallschirmjaeger attacked the farm.
They took casualties but took the farm.
Just at that moment the Airforce liaison officer, positioned right next to the farm house, was ordered away.
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: Thank you -Joe
 OFFA to Air Liaison 2: Detach from ops at Isis and make your way to Love 9. Find jubilee c-in-c and put yourself under his command. Out
And off he drove.
Ordering the Airforce Liaison Officer off table was the Allied Commander’s prerogative. However, Lloyd also occasionally dropped in a “Umpire Ploy”. Like civilians. Lots of them. And getting in the way of military operations.
 BIG CHEESE: Crowds at Seestrasse. A large civilian mob has built up around the northern station. They want to leave, and leave NOW!
 NORN to SONNE GUNTHER: please release 2 squads to control crowd, along with 2 squad of gestapo. Danke, NORN
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: Request that crowd control is left to the gestapo and my troops are allowed to fight the battle! – Joe
 NORN to SONNE GUNTHER: Request granted. NORN
In this case it was the Gestapo who would deal with the situation – as only they could.
In the west the Soviets close assaulted the conscripts.
That got them close enough to the train line to see the train in the Military Station. I’d only found out on the morning of the game I needed a train. So a quick google gave me a top view of a steam train. Good enough for a game.
I don’t know how Joe was feeling at that moment but the situation was looking grim for his conscripts. Chris had stacked up quite a few troops to head up the western table edge.
 SUNRAY ISIS to OFFA: Acknowledged. Close to achieving tank objective to sector Humber. Out.
The trouble was the conscripts fought quite well, inflicting casualties and slowing the advance.
 UMPIRE: Air liaison in scout car has moved off southern board edge of Seestrasse Sector
 ISIS SUNRAY to OFFA: Air Liason detached and dispatched to Jubilee as requested. There is a train at southern train station in Seestrasse. Out.
 BIG CHEESE: The weather is now: torrential downpour. Visibility is now so bad that troops must be at the edge of terrain features that cover area (e.g. woods, rough ground) to see or be seen. Terrain such as rough ground and walls, that does not normally block sight, now blocks sight. RAF spotting is impossible
Joe made a couple of attempts to oust the Soviets from Seestrasse. The first was with a mixed force of Fallschirmjaeger and Conscripts. They secured the town south of the railway line.
In the east a single Soviet platoon was facing a veteran Fallschirmjaeger company. Like the German Conscripts, they did surprisingly well – in fact they held that front until the end of the game!
The fighting on this flank settled down into a desultory firefight. If a German squad attempted to move there was always a Soviet squad to pin them down.
North of the train line the advancing Soviets got a shock when they spotted a Tiger near the Military Station. What they didn’t know is vehicle had no crew and no fuel but was one of six being loaded onto the train at the station.
To aid their advance the Soviets dropped smoke on the road. This cut the line of fire of the Panzer IV further into the town.
Chris kept pushing more troops between the road and train line. He had overwhelming local superiority. Particularly since he was facing Conscripts.
It wasn’t all one sided and Joe managed to surprise the Soviets by driving his Panzer IV through the smoke.
An armour piercing round brewed up a T34/76.
Joe then pointed the Panzer IV’s turret north towards the nearby Soviet infantry. Tanks in my house rules have quite a lot of fire power when shooting at infantry. In this case 4d6 for the main gun and 4d6 for machine guns, which can group fire. And they have infinite shots, like infantry. So it could have been bad for the Soviets north of the road.
However, Chris calmly reversed a T34/76 back into the road and knocked out the Panzer IV. The Panzer couldn’t get off a reactive shot because the turret was the wrong way. Such is war.
 ISIS SUNRAY to OFFA: Major fallshimjager assault east of Seestrasse in to my position. Tiger tank west of Seestrasse. Two Pz iv H knocked out for the loss of one of my medium tanks. Send assistance if available. Advancing.
 BIG CHEESE: The rain is now easing off. Visibility in now 3-feet again. FOOs on major hills may only see onto their own tables. RAF may now spot, but not at full ability (-2 on first die, -1 to second)
Joe decided to secure the centre of Seestrasse with infantry. I guess he wanted long lines of fire so he put a Conscript platoon in the junction of town. The puzzling thing, for me anyway, is that they didn’t Ground Hug. And that meant they were vulnerable.
To the south-east Joe tried to attack with a Fallschimjaeger platoon. This close assaulted the Company Commander (CC) of Chris’s second company. Joe had +1 for Veteran, +1 for extra squad and +1 for the PC (Joe also had a CC there but we didn’t count him). Chris has +1 for the CC. A net +2 for Joe. A 6-1 and Joe lost his platoon. Ouch. On the other hand the Soviet officer was immediately nominated for Hero of the Soviet Union.
Unhappy with that result Joe sent in his remaining Panzer IV to close assault the Soviet CC. He hadn’t done the maths. In woods the tank lost it’s Close Combat modifier so the Soviet was a net +1. Scratch one Panzer.
Back in the north the surviving T34/76s rolled forward. Ultimately they were aiming for the Stockach road and their Objective 2. .
One of the things I love about Crossfire is that it is intense. Players, even when not phasing, have to watch closely. And in this game both players did a lot of watching. Looking incessantly for that chance of a reactive fire.
 BIG CHEESE: It has stopped raining. The weather is now: patchy low cloud. RAF attacks will start again soon, but not at full ability (-2 to first, second as normal)
 UMPIRE: Allied CC of 2nd company single handedly killed Fallschirmjager platoon and tank in close combat
 BIG CHEESE: The fuel arrived at the north outskirts of town, but could not get through the crowds. The angry mob has climbed into the trucks. and demand to leave now. The drivers are young and some are unarmed, and none want to shoot civilians. One lorry has set off….
As they advance the Soviets discover more Tigers parked up near the Military Station.
And the three empty Tigers were all that was between the Soviets and the Stockach road. So Chris drove off his surviving T34/76s and achieve his Objective 2, even before his time had run out on Objective 1.
With the crowds causing a problem at the Civilian Station Joe got the Gestapo onto crowd control.
With the Soviet tanks heading west to aid another Allied commander, the Soviet infantry in the west turned back and penetrated the town and secured the Military Station.
At this point my lovely wife turned up with lunch. Sandwiches, crisps and drinks were consumed rapidly. We might have missed a few things in the interests of filling our tummies.
 BIG CHEESE: The weather is now clearing. Patchy low cloud again. Some airstrikes should be possible (-1 to first roll)
 UMPIRE: regarding ISIS sunray objective 2 – two allied medium tanks have moved off the stockach road with 27 minutes to spare in objective 1 i.e. way ahead of time. allies have also captured one of the empty tanks waiting to load on the train.
 UMPIRE: Allies have captured the train at the military station
 UMPIRE: allies have captured all six tanks (3 heavy; 3 medium) parked at the military station
Those damn civilians stopped the German fuel trucks getting through. By this time we realised we had to represent the crowds some how and I used my X shaped tile spacers for this. The cross shape was pretty apt as the Gestapo, to allow the Fuel trucks through, dispersed the crowd by force. A few civilian casualties for the Fatherland.
Having secured the western part of Seestrasse Chris brought indirect fire to bear on the Conscripts at the junction. Did I mention they were standing up? Anyway, 4d6 resulted in four hits, a killed stand and a suppressed squad. Ouch.
 BIG CHEESE: The sky has cleared. The RAF can see clearly now.
 ISIS SUNRAY to OFFA:
With 23 minutes on the clock (of original 90 minutes) two of the three medium tanks despatched off board to Humber.
West side of Seestrasse in friendly hands. Southern (military) train station captured. A train captured. Three tiger tanks and three Pz III captured. They appear to be out of fuel.
Civilian unrest in Northern train station. Gestapo present.
Fallshirmjaeger assault blunted to east of town – a single company commander wiped out a para platoon, and a Pz iv tank single handed!
Sorry for delay in communicating. Problems with this unreliable radio.
Mopping up town now. High tiffin has been served here.
More orders please?
 UMPIRE: Gestapo have cleared crowd using force.
With a bit of prompting from me Joe remembered he had some more troops. Three platoons of them! One Fallschirmjaeger platoon that he’d not deployed and two platoons of Strategic Mobile Reserve. That gave Joe the capability to launch a counter-attack. Actually it was his second; the first being the thrust by the Fallschirmjaeger and Panzers early in the game – which stalled.
The Strategic Mobile Reserve swung north around Seestrasse and came in from the west behind the Soviets.
 NORN to SONNE GUNTHER: Sit rep please. NORN
 OFFA to ISIS SUNRAY: Good work, Isis. You can have 1 full company of infantry from reserve (same config as your +0cc company) available at King 7. Take northern station if possible. Attempt to identify nature of civilians. If it looks like they’re being loaded into cattle trucks, try to free them
So Chris also got reinforcements. A weak company arrived from the south.
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: Tanks still unfuelled , forces pinned around the station. Soviet reinforcemnts arriving from the north1 – Joe
(1) Actually the south. I’ve no idea what NORN made of that.
Despite the Soviet reinforcements the initiative was definitely with Joe. His Mobile Reserve closed in on the Military Station.
 BIG CHEESE: Roads to SW and to NW now choked with refugees.
 NORN TO SONNE GUNTHER: fuel dump at WOTAN destroyed. Am hoping that fuel train arrives. Regards, NORN
Ah, yes, that would be because of the Gestapo. It might have impacted other games but the refugees didn’t inconvenience either Joe or Chris.
In fact Joe was better off because the Fuel trucks made it to the tanks at the Military Station. The Fallschirmjaeger faced off with the Soviets in the station to enable the tanks to be fuelled.
 UMPIRE: Axis have recaptured tanks at station. fuel trucks have reached tanks at station (of course no crew). Combat across the train still parked at military station.
 UMPIRE: Axis time limit on objective 1 just expired.
The Germans began to squeeze the Soviet garrison at the Military Station.
But those Conscripts at the junction continued to offer Chris easy pickings.
Another odd moment was when Joe moved an HMG stand out into the open so it could fire on the soviet HMG in the building at the end of town. It didn’t achieve much effect and exposed the German HMG to attack. Personally I would have sent in a Fallschirmjaeger assault team.
 BIG CHEESE: If time out and no success, down-grade two platoons by one morale class.
 UMPIRE: I have downgraded morale of two platoons for incomplete achievement of objectives within time.
With the seconds ticking down the Fallschirmjaeger go in for the kill.
They quickly recapture half the Military Station then attack through the building.
Finally they took out the Soviet HMG in the building on the end. Seestrasse was recaptured.
 BIG CHEESE: Four hours are up!
 SONNE GUNTHER to NORN: sector secured! Fuel trucks, train and tanks to transport all in tact. – Joe
 SUNRAY ISIS to OFFA:
German counter attack drove us out of the town.
We have no troops north of the civilians fleeing to the SW.
Germans seem largely out of puff.
When last seen, the Tigers and Pz iii tanks were refueling, but we have killed the crews.
I still have time on my clock.
Position stable in Isis sector.
Umpires Game Summary
The last few photos are of the table at the end of the game.
This is what I sent Lloyd as a summary on the day:
We had a great time.
On balance it was draw.
== Most Memorable moment ==
Allied CC of 2nd company single handedly killed entire Fallschirmjager platoon and then a tank in close combat
== SONNE GUNTHER ==
Objective = Defend Seestraẞe, with its two railways stations. Defend the transport lines radiating from it until told to destroy them. Load the tanks! Time allotted: 70 mins.
He did not achieve objectives within time. However by 20 minutes over time.
- He had secured town including two stations.
- He had not loaded tanks but under orders from NORN had changed to trying to fuel them:
- Three medium tanks fuelled
- Three heavy tanks still unfuelled.
- 1st Platoon
- PC and 1 squad from 2nd Platoon
- 1st Platoon
- Mobile Reserve
- 2 squads from 2nd Platoon
- 3 Medium tanks
== ISIS SUNRAY ==
Regulars: Take Seestraẞe, secure both railway termini and establish a defensive perimeter so that the enemy is denied the northern terminus in particular: Time allotted = 90 minutes.
He did not achieve this although still had a couple of minutes on the clock. Axis holds town and both stations.
Regulars: Detach armour and send down small track at Jig-5, North-West, to support the attack on Stockach: 15 minutes.
He achieved this and sent two tanks off table. This happened within the time limit for objective 1
- 1st and 2nd Platoon Second Company
- 2nd Platoon Second company
- One squad from 1st Platoon Second Company
- 2 x HMG
- One squad from 3rd company (reinforcements)
- One medium tank
- (Aircraft liaison and two tanks moved off table)
Operation Crossfire was brilliantly conceived and executed. Lloyd did a fantastic job.
The game in Seestrasse Sector was great fun. Very intense, very long and exhausting for all concerned but hugely enjoyable. Even as only a partial participant – the umpire – I had a good time and would certainly be up for another go.
The scenario on our table was very good. The asymmetric objectives of the two sides meant it was not just a straight up attack-defence. I liked the fact I could use both my train stations (thanks Lloyd) and that most of the fighting revolved around one of the stations – all very historical. Actually this was the first big outing of my more recent Stalingrad style buildings. I thought they looked rather good.
In hindsight the forces did seem weighted in favour of the Axis/Germans – they got more platoons and half were hidden (which I normally give a 50% points bonus for). Plus the potential for a lot of tanks. However, more by luck than management, Chris chose the Allied/Soviet side and his greater experience compensated for his material lack. Overall it was very balanced – which the final “Draw” result proved.
Given his relative inexperience I think Joe did very well. He played his final counter-attack well and if it had gone in earlier, before his clock ran out, the game would have had a very different result.
Thanks to Lloyd for giving me an excuse to get my Fallschirmjaeger on table. I have always used my mid-war German/Spanish and usually versus Soviet Rifles. The Fallschirmjaeger are part of my project for the Italian Campaign but I don’t have the Kiwis painted yet so I’ve never used them. Lloyd, of course, wasn’t aware of this constraint and got me to field them.
Having both the Fallschirmjaeger and my normal WW2 kit on table meant it was the first time I’ve had Crossfire troops with two styles of Unit Identification and Stand Labels – Scheme 1: Back Edge Scratchings and Scheme 4: White on Black. The Fallschirmjaeger have the White on Black labels and they were much, much clearer than the Back Edge Scratchings.
Lately we’ve been using Fun Buttons Track Fire Missions (FM). I must say it isn’t really working for us. I’m not sure why. Maybe they are too big. Maybe because we have to remember which gun/tube is which colour. Whatever the reason they just don’t seem to work for us. We will probably go back to a Tally system.
The hastily thrown together terrain didn’t give Chris great options in terms of covered approaches. However he did alright despite the challenges. It does explain the stalemate on the eastern flank. Long fields of fire meant Soviet and Fallschirmjaeger advances were quickly stalled.
Although Numbered Terrain Markers are quick and simple they are not as good as a map. Joe lost track of troops a few times during the game. Which isn’t actually a problem with Joe himself, as I’d seen the same in previous games with other players. The troops are too well hidden. That is why I normally use a map.
We broke Lloyd’s rules about communications with the Commander-in-Chiefs. This was meant to be from each player’s game clock but we didn’t do it that way. We had email breaks instead. I think this was a good idea as it took the pressure off the players and ensured they actually did make time for communications. On the down side it meant the game clocks took longer to run out – almost to the end of the overall 4 hour time limit.
The code names were cute but it probably would have been easier to refer to “Seestrasse Axis” and “Seestrasse Allied” rather than “SONNE GUNTHER” AND “ISIS SUNRAY”. Mind you the person who might have got really confused was Lloyd and he didn’t complain.
Finally I’m really grateful to Joe for coming all the way from Peterborough to wargame with a couple of virtual strangers. We’re already planning another bash around Xmas. And thanks to Chris for hosting and my wife for providing essential supplies.
Lessons for next time
A few quick notes about the next time:
- Set up the day before: so there is more time to pay attention to the terrain and lines of fire and so I can print a map for hidden deployment i.e. take a photo of the table and print it.
- Practice with the Chess Clock before the game. Actually practice with it at all, and then then practice again just before the game.
- Synchronise watches: the clock on any devices used for email and any cameras all have to have the same time
- Have shorter email breaks. The idea of email breaks worked nicely but we need to cap them.
- All the players had code names and I think Lloyd needed a code name on the day. I’ve called him BIG CHEESE above but on the day he was just “Lloyd”. Actually we needed an accepted code for the various umpires too. I would have been content with “Seestrasse Umpire”.