Saturday, October 9, 2010

World War II, The Early Years

Yes, it’s been quite awhile since I last blogged. I’ve been busy with other projects, one of which will be the subject of my next blog, and I just haven’t had the time or the proper frame of mind to blog.

Mark has been over for two game sessions recently. Both times we played the Axis & Allies Collectible Miniatures Game, which has been featured in previous blog posts. This time we were going even earlier in WWII than the Western Desert. This time the battles would be fought in France, with the German’s blitzkrieging their way into Western Europe. It was a very interesting, and frequently terrifying, period in warfare. There was a doctrinal clash between the Allies and the Germans. The Allies were prepared to fight a static positional war, like the one they had fought in WWI. The German’s were using a relatively new set of tactics, the above mentioned Blitzkrieg, or lightning war. German tactics relied on movement with infantry and armoured units working in concert, the infantry being transported in trucks and half-tracks so they could keep up with the armour. Enemy forces could be encircled and cut off, often being forced to surrender or be mopped by slower moving follow on forces. They also employed their air forces tactically in support of their ground forces. In the Battle for France, the Germans were forced to use pretty much everything they had, even older tanks like the Panzer I which had been relegated to training duty and were only equipped with machine guns. It was an era of war.

It was an era of warfare where tanks were not the juggernauts seen later in the war. Their armour protection was relatively thin, the cannon they mounted were quite weak, and there were often questionable choices made in their design. The Briitish employed two kinds of tanks, the fast moving but lightly armed and armoured Cruiser tanks and the slower, better armoured Infantry tanks. As can be seen from the name, the Infantry tanks were designed to support infantry, and were designed to move at speeds not much faster than walking infantry and armed with guns for taking on infantry targets with High Explosive rounds. The cruiser tanks were supposed to dash around the battle field taking on enemy armour, using their speed for safety, much like the lightly armoured fast battlecruisers of WWI. Perhaps Allied tank designers should have paid attention to things like the seabourne Battle of Jutland to see how well that tactical doctrine worked. Most tanks had thin armour relative to later tanks, and were vulnerable in some cases even to machine gun fire. Anti-tank weapons were also relatively weak, but then again they were facing the aforementioned weak armour and even anti-tank rifles could be effective.

Mark and I played four games of A&A over two sessions. In each session we got to play both the German and Allied side. The scenario was a German assault on a village held by British and French forces. No Allied forces were in the village at the start of the game, but they had a screen of forces across the approach to it. The objective of the Germans was to occupy the village buildings by the end of the game. The board was arranged so that there was a single road leading down the right side of the map to the village, passing through a gap in some wooded hills that were part of the Allied deployment zone. I can’t remember the exact composition of the forces but the Germans had a several trucks carrying infantry including machine gun and mortar squads, a couple of early StuG’s, some Panzer I, Panzer II and Panzer III, two SIG assault guns and some recon armoured cars. The Allies had a least sixl early cruiser tanks, three French light tanks, some Panhard armoured cars, some Universal Carriers, several 6 pounder anti-tank guns, and a whack of infantry including mortars and Vickers machine guns.

I can’t really give a blow by blow of the games as I simply left writing this blog too long and I don’t remember much beyond some of the highlights and interesting tactical situations that arose. I didn’t do particularly well in any of the games, but the fourth game, with me as the Allies was still in the balance when we had to call it. We will hopefully be able to resume it at a later date.

In the first game I was playing the Germans. I spread out my forces across the board, with a lot of my heavier armour near the road, the trucks safely in some woods, and my left flank covered by the lighter armoured forces. I lead with my scout armoured cars, as they would be able to spot the hidden anti-tank guns Mark had deployed and give something for the long range firepower of the SIG assault guns to target. The game went fairly well initially and I was able to destroy several AT guns, but I bogged down trying to dig forces out of the wooded hills that formed the backbone of Mark's defence and I lost sufficient forces to make it impossible for me to take the village. When we switched sides, Mark tried something a little different. When I played the Germans, I held my infantry back in some woods, hoping to rush them forward when sufficient Allied forces had been destroyed to make it relatively safe for them to move up to the village. This didn’t work but they did survive the game. Mark tried an infantry assault, rapidly moving the truck mounted infantry forward. Unfortunately, the dismounted infantry got caught out in the open and were largely destroyed. My mortar team was awarded the Military Medal as, despite the puny nature of their weapon, they managed to do serious damage to the exposed infantry. He still had some infantry remaining and his StuG’s were closing on the village and there was not a lot I could do about them.

The second session, which was a couple of weeks later, saw the same scenario with roughly the same forces. We had both given the scenario some thought in the intervening days and planned some new tactics. Again, I was playing the Germans and placed the bulk of my forces for a mass attack down the road and through the gap. I was spearheading the attack with the StuG’s and Panzer III and hoping the lighter armour could cover my flanks as I charged down the road. Much to my chagrin, Mark countered by blitzkrieging me, charging his Cruiser tanks forward in order to try and take out the SIG assault guns that had been the bane of his AT guns during the previous session. He managed to take them out and heavily disrupt my forward movement. He also managed to pick off some of trucks that were vital for moving the infantry up to take the village. Most of his armour died in the attempt, but it took a lot of mine with it and I was left with a much reduced force facing his line of entrenched AT guns and infantry. My infantry, which had survived the destruction of their transport intact, would have to try and foot slog it to the village and they simply wouldn’t be able to get there in time. I tried a similar tactic when I played the Allies and lost much of my armour without getting the SIG’s. One tank was still holding out, despite being damaged, not going down despite multiple shots at it. I think he gets a VC. My death ride did slow him down a bit and forced the SIG’s out of position. My armoured cars were racing forward for a shot of them, and had a chance of keeping them tied down. He would still have to get through my AT guns and infantry to get at the village. How this one would end, well, we’ll hopefully get a chance to finish it some day.

As always, they were fun games. Mark’s use of the counter-blitzkrieg was especially memorable and very effective. I always look forward to when Mark comes over for a game as he puts a lot of thought into each scenario and brings everything required to play. I’m looking forward to our future battles, regardless of genre.

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