Saturday, November 28, 2015

Panzergrenadier Warp 9 - Near Nepokrytaya '42

Winter is back! Snow, ice and -15 C. Time to dust off the "little tin soldiers" again! Last spring our gaming group finished up playing a few Barbarossa scenarios using a "lashed up" rules set based mainly on Panzergrenadier Deluxe (aka. Battlegroup Panzergrenadier Deluxe) mixed in with a healthy dose of Battlegroup Panzergrenadier 2nd Edition rules and a rather substantial "pile" of custom house rules.

What to do next?

A few years ago, after researching and playing through a a couple of dozen old and new rules sets, some too simple, many too detailed, I discovered Battlegroup Panzergrenadier 2nd Edition and it immediately hit my "sweet spot". For the last couple of years our group has played with this set of rules, adding a number of custom house rules and lately migrating to the new Deluxe version. The basic Battlegroup Panzergrenadier game system still remains as our "go to" set of core rules for 15mm reinforced company and battalion level actions. So there didn't seem to be any point in looking for a better set of core rules. But what to do about the "lash-up" set we finished up with last spring? They provided enjoyable games but were hard to moderate, needing reference to three sources to answer questions, and still contained a few opportunities for further tweaks.

I've always wanted to make my own set of rules, but in the past each time I sat down to start I drew a blank. It became obvious that I am a better optimizer and should lever off of an existing set of rules. So this summer I decided to take our "lash-up" rules and use them to build a unique set of compiled rules. First I digitized both Battlegroup Panzergrenadier 2nd Edition and Panzergrenadier Deluxe into editable Word files. I chose Deluxe as the base to work from and edited in (and out) all the changes plus the additions we liked from 2nd Edition and our custom house rules. [Dave - not to worry! This is only for our use. The Deluxe and 2nd Edition digital files and the compiled rules set digital file will not be made available to the public without your permission!] This was a great learning experience since changing one rule is like shaking a spider web, it affects everything else. Hats off to all game authors! It took all summer and October to get a first draft printed. Nonetheless, it is now all compiled into one handy reference, easy to add in more house tweaks from our group as we see fit. It's still about 80% Battlegroup Panzergrenadier which makes it fall into the category of a "variant" version. I'm still not sure what to call it but right now it has the working title of Panzergrenadier Warp 9. Not because it is faster playing, just "to boldly go where no man has gone before..."

We tested out our new Panzergrenadier Warp 9 rules in this scenario "Near Nepokrytaya" based on the 2nd battle of Kharkov in 1942.

Near Nepokrytaya - May 14, 1942

Historical Overview 
Von Bock's Army Group South assembled reserve reinforcements in May 1942, planning to eliminate the Barvenko salient with Operation Fredricus. Paulus' 6th Army near Kharkov was to be the main northern pincer and Gruppe Mackensen the southern pincer. Until then, the German 294th Division was stretched into a thin defensive front line with artillery batteries well forward and scant reserves. Unaware of the German plan, Timoshenko simultaneously planned a major offensive to encircle eliminate the defending German troops and push on to Kharkov. He launched the Soviet attack on May 12th. Due to the handy German reserves by May 17th the offensive had been essentially stopped with only small local Soviet successes remaining. The ensuing German counterattack and Operation Fredricus was a complete disaster for the Soviets.

This imaginary scenario is heavily based on the historical battles east of Kharkov near Nepokrytaya on May 14th. Elements of Gorbatov's 226th Infantry Division (38th Army - Moskalenko) are supported by 22nd Tank Corps in a local attack through a crossroad defended by an infantry platoon with anti-tank support along with a forward German 294th Infantry Division artillery battery and anti-aircraft Flak caught without tow vehicles.

Kharkov 1942 The Wehrmacht Strikes Back - Robert Forczyk
Tank Warfare On The Eastern Front 1941-1942 - Robert Forczyk

Map And General Scenario Notes
This scenario was designed to test out the new PG Warp 9 rules so I pre-set the on-table forces with German defense and Russian attack positions. All forces were visible except the reserves, which were all armour and unknown to the opponents. Using the Deluxe points system I added up the force strengths, Russian attacker 1240 and German defender 1030. A Russian advantage of 210 points but a quite low ratio for an attack scenario at 1.2. However, about a 250 point advantage is recommended by Deluxe for small battles, so not too far off. Additionally, the Germans are not dug-in.

PG Warp 9 is designed to play at 1:1 scale for guns and tanks, use the 20mm ranges for firing and activation, and replace Built Up Area terrain with individual buildings as "small terrain features." We played on a 5x4 table with a game length of 6 turns before a variable ending roll begins.

The woods are Difficult Terrain. The stone walls, hedges, and fences are all of medium height, do not block LOS and offer a -1 LOS hindrance or -1 Cover to fire at infantry, guns, and AFVs (stone walls = -2 Hard Cover). The crops are stubble, providing no LOS hindrance or Cover. The buildings are Russian rural village wooden buildings offering Cover. Here is the game table with the start-up forces deployed.

Russian Briefing and Force (Kapitan Millerevski, Kapitan Lowelov)
In command of your loyal 226th Infantry, you have been ordered to eliminate that pesky artillery battery at the crossroads near Nepokrytaya and open the road to the west.  Division artillery has just bombarded the enemy position before you moved up to attack. 22nd Tank Corps has provided you with a platoon of T-60s with heavier T-34 tank forces on their way to push further west toward Kharkov after your local breakthrough.  No air support or further artillery support is available.

Mission: Eliminate both guns of the German artillery battery for an immediate win, or cause a German Battlegroup Break Point (50% casualties). Otherwise lose.

On Table at Start:
Elements of 38th Army, 226th Infantry (Inexperienced)
  Battlegroup Command
  Company Command
  1st Rifle Platoon (Command, 4x Rifle Squads, 4x Molotov)
  2nd Rifle Platoon (Command, 4x Rifle Squads, 4x Molotov)
22nd Tank Corps Support
  1st Armour Platoon.* (Command T-60, 4x T-60) * Classed as Inferior

Reserves: (22nd Tank Corps - Inexperienced)
On Turn 2 (enters on North road)
  2nd Armour Platoon.* (Command T-34, 2x T-34) * Classed as Inferior
On Turn 3 (enters on East road)
  3rd Armour Platoon.* (Command T-34, 3x T-34) * Classed as Inferior

German Briefing and Force (Hauptmann Von Pollocksen & Hauptmann Chappsteiner)
As commander of the 294th Infantry's forward artillery battery and defense line force at a crossroads near Nepokrytaya, you have been caught in the path of a Soviet advance without your tow vehicles (they were sent back for ammo re-supply).   You know an attack is imminent since you have just been shelled and you can hear tank engines.  You have radioed for support and Division has indicated that 3rd Panzer Division has a platoon of their latest PzIVs already on their way.  No artillery or air support is available.

Mission: Protect the artillery battery (at least 1 remaining gun) at game end, or cause a Russian Battlegroup Break Point (50% casualties). Both guns eliminated = immediately lose.

On Table at Start:
Elements of 294th Infantry Division (Regular)
  Battlegroup Command
  Company Command
  105mm Artillery Battery (Command, 2x 105mm Field Guns*, 1x 20mm Flak)
  Rifle Platoon (Command, 3x Rifle/LMG squads)
  Anti-Tank Platoon (Command, 2x 50mm AT Guns)

Reserves: (3rd Panzer Division - Regular)
On Turn 2 (enters on South road)
  1st Heavy Panzer Platoon.* (Command PzIVF2, 3x PzIVF2)

*No Indirect Fire allowed. Minimum range of 105mm Gun is far greater than table size.

Game Play

Turn  1
The Germans win initiative. The Soviet pre-bombardment requires all German units to take a suppression test at game start. Hpt. Von Pollocksen receives reports from his commanders that the shelling has made some troops angry and more determined (two units become Battle Hardened) but a number of others are still seeking cover and are wary (suppressed).

One 105mm gun & the Battlegroup Command are suppressed (yellow bead), but the Company Command is Battle Hardened (green bead)!

One German squad and the 20mm Flak suppresses but the squad in the building is Battle Hardened.

The Germans go first so Hpt. Von Pollocksen issues Rally orders and a number of the suppressed units rally before ending their turn. On the Russian turn Kapitan Millerevski orders the T-60 platoon to charge right up the road and exchange fire with the 20mm Flak, both ineffectual. Millerevski then orders the Russian north infantry platoon to race forward through the woods declaring a Close Assault when the German squad appears. The lone German suppressed squad manages to Fall Back avoiding the Close Assault. Meanwhile Kapitan Lowelov orders the south Russian platoon to advance through the woods and stop short to prepare for a later assault on the building. End Russian turn. In the Rally phase the German squad on the road Routs! End Turn 1.

Turn 2
German initiative. To Kap. Millerevski's & Kap. Lowelov's surprise 3rd Panzer Division's platoon of PzIVF2s arrive on the south road, but they cannot advance far and have nothing to shoot at.

Sensing Russians in the centre woods, Von Pollocksen orders the south 50mm AT gun to be manhandled out into the ploughed field for a better HE shot at any Russian troops in case they advance on the building (no photo).  Meanwhile the 20mm Flak misses on a shot at a T-60 (they're rattled!). End German Turn. On the Russian turn a reserve platoon of three T-34s arrive on the north road, raising Von Pollocksen's eyebrows.  They move up behind the stone fence and exchange fire with the 50mm AT Gun which suppresses the T-34 command tank.  [Markers: PG Warp 9 has rules for acquired targets]

Kapitan Lowelov orders the Russian south platoon to Close Assault the German squad in the house eliminating it, but not before the German Battle Hardened squad and the 50mm AT Gun in the ploughed field suppress one Russian squad and cause another to disperse (no photo). The north platoon stays in the woods, fearful of the PzIVF2's HE firepower. Some of the T-60s fire at the 20mm Flak and suppress it. End Russian Turn and end of Turn 2. 

Turn 3
German initiative. A bad run of low activation rolls for the German side, one roll was Command Confusion to take down the Command Impetus Points enough to later prevent the PzIVF2 platoon's activation. End German turn. The Russian T-60s open up on the 20mm Flak, damaging it (red bead) but some T-60s roll Low Ammo (blue bead). The south platoon Close Assaults the German squad and platoon command in the ruins causing them to retreat back onto the road.

In the north, the T-34s and 50mm AT Gun exchange fire to no effect. In the south another reserve platoon of four T-34s arrives on the east road and surprise the 50mm AT Gun in the open ploughed field, eliminating it! Von Pollocksen begins to wonder if 3rd Panzer Division should have sent more!

The Russian north platoon, seeing the suppressed German squad and platoon commander on the road, would love to Close Assault it but are staring down the HE firepower of four PzIVF2s. However, Kap. Millerevski still activates the platoon and declares a Close Assault, but only sends one squad first to see what will happen. Hpt. Chappsteiner activates the PzIVF2s to Defensive Fire, but only fires with one, holding the remaining three to fire at the rest of the Russian platoon. The PzIVF2 fire misses and the Russian squad Close Assaults! However, the Close Assault is a draw with no effect so the Russian attacker wins. The German squad and platoon commander retreat into the woods (a bonus!). The exposed Russian squad rolls high for repositioning after the melee and manages to scramble back into the woods. The remaining Russian squads just move back into the woods rather than continue the attack since the target is now out of range and the PzIVF2s may Area Fire at them near the woods edge.

End Russian turn. In the Rally phase, the suppressed units for both sides all rally! Here is the map at the end of Turn 3.

Turn 4
German Initiative. Hpt. Von Pollocksen orders the 20mm Flak to shape up and they do, smoking one T-60.

Next the north 50mm AT gun hits the T-34 command tank forcing it to Disengage.

Hpt. Von Pollocksen orders the PzIVF2s to move, taking up defensive positions to cover any approach by the east T-34s and the T-60s. One tank grinds through the woods without bogging down. Two PzIVF2s fire HE at the Russian squad in the building, causing it to beat it back into the woods. This ends the German turn. On the Russian Turn, Kap. Lowelov rapid moves the east T-34 platoon up into the ploughed field, out of LOS of the German armour.

Kap. Millerevski neutralizes the north 50mm AT gun by first having the T-34s fire to suppress it and then the north infantry platoon Close Assault it. The 20mm Flak Defensive Fires at the assaulting platoon and causes one of the squads to retreat. The remaining squads assault and easily wipe out the 50mm AT Gun, then reposition in the north woods. The German left flank is now vulnerable!

The T-60s move up a bit for a better shot at the 20mm Flak, but they and the south infantry squad in the ruins all have ineffective fire. End Russian turn and end of Turn 4. 

Turn 5
Russian Initiative! Kap. Lowelov starts to move the four T-34s into the woods. One bogs down but the rest carry on and stop just short of contact with the startled 50mm AT Gun commander, not declaring a Close Assault. The lone PzIVF2 in the woods doesn't see the T-34s and is destroyed by their fire into his thinner side armour.

The T-60s fail to activate but the north T-34 commander finally rallies with a Rally order. Meanwhile, the south infantry platoon fire in the ruins suppresses the 20mm Flak. Seeing the undefended 105mm battery in plain sight, Kap. Millerevski decides to go for broke and boldly has the north infantry platoon rapid advance toward the battery! Unfortunately, a battery gun crew sees the threat and pivots their 105mm gun and fires over open sights at the oncoming Russians with a very accurate shot! One squad disperses and the rest are disengaged and suppressed! A nasty blow to the attempted assault on the artillery battery. The last squad in the Russian platoon, previously suppressed in the woods, moves across from to rejoin his comrades. End of Russian Turn.

On the German turn the 105mm gun fire against the nearby suppressed Russians is a miss. Down south the PzIVF2s move to reposition into better defensive positions to counter the east T-34s and provide some armour support to the 105mm battery.

The German AT Gun commander in the south woods bravely decides to perform a suicidal (?) Close Assault on the T-34 platoon but weak Defensive Fire allows him to live and just causes him to Disengage to the other side of the woods.

End of Turn 5. 

Turn 6
German Initiative. The 105mm gun hammers the Russian platoon again, dispersing another squad and causing the platoon commander to retreat to the woods. The only remaining German squad moves to the edge of the centre woods and suppresses another Russian squad. End German turn.

On the Russian turn Kap. Millerevski orders the T-60s to hit the 20mm Flak again, finally knocking it out! Then the infantry platoon in the ruins Close Assaults the Battlegroup Commander and Artillery Battery commander in the centre woods near the artillery! Considering the Russian assault strength the German commanders were lucky to escape, just forced to retreat behind the 105mm guns.

Lastly the T-34s in the south woods decide to try their luck in a combined close assault on the nearby suppressed 50mm AT Gun commander. One T-34 bogs down but the remaining three charge through the trees and corner the commander, but with the heavy negative modifiers for unsupported tanks in close combat in the woods, the result only causes the commander to retreat.

End Turn 6. The German now have 6 units eliminated and need to take a 25% Breakpoint Test. Von Pollocksen rolls a 5 so all suppressed German units need to fall back 12". Since there are no suppressed German units, there is no effect! This scenario has a variable ending, with the first test at the end of Turn 6. On a dice roll of 9 or better the game will end. We roll an 8 so the game continues to Turn 7. However, it is late in the evening so we decide to end the game due to time.

Here is the game map after Turn 6 when the game was ended.

Tallying Up The Score
The Russian side lost 4 units out of 24 (17%) and the German side lost 6 units out of 17 (35%). 

Comments On The Scenario
A Russian win is inevitable if the game continues indefinitely. The two platoons for T-34 are still intact and able to get the three remaining PzIVF2s in a crossfire. And the T-60s are now free to circle around and overrun the artillery battery, plus the two Russian infantry squads are still a major threat despite losses. However, it would take at least another game turn for the Russian armour to move up. Would the the roll for game ending after Turn 7 allow that? After Turn 7 the game would end on a roll of 8 or more, on Turn 8 a roll of 7 or more, etc. On the other hand, if the Germans lose just 4 more units the Russians automatically win due to the Germans exceeding their 50% Breakpoint for losses. Certainly possible! Regardless it was a fun little scenario which we all enjoyed.

Comments on Panzergrenadier Warp 9 (or whatever we end up calling it!)
A lot easier to moderate with unified rules! The game plays better for us and smoother using the best parts of the 2nd Edition and Deluxe rules plus incorporating our own custom rules. The Warp 9 rules are more focused around our preference point for playing games, a little more toward skirmish level. So Warp 9 appears to be a success so far. The game flow and enjoyment level sure feel pretty good! And some more new ideas came out of playing this scenario for us to check out. It's all good!

Thanks for reading this AAR! Hope you enjoyed it. Now on to the next scenario. What shall it be? Hmmm... Tune in again late January.

See you then! - Gary

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