|Soviet partisans interdict a German troop train.|
Curt and Sarah kindly hosted us in Regina over the weekend, and gaming centrepiece of the visit was a 'Chain of Command' game designed by Curt set in the early winter of 1944 on the Eastern Front. The Red Army is relentlessly hammering at the German lines. The German offer stiff resistance at select strong points, followed by a scrambled withdrawal to avoid being caught in a Soviet "cauldron".
Curt's scenario was based around one of those withdrawals...with the unique addition of a train! What we have is a hard-bitten, veteran German battalion commander, who has held out as long as he sensibly could, having packed the remnants of his Kampfgruppe, essentially a reinforced platoon, on to a small troop train to pull back toward the next defensive position. The Russian forward elements are almost literally on top of them...and then partisans strike! The railway is blocked, the Russian spearhead spots the smoke of the stalled locomotive and approaches to pounce! Grimly the Germans dismount to cover the train while the train's crew furiously tries to repair the rails in the hope of making it out in time...
While Curt administered the game, I commanded the Germans whereas Regina Conscripts Stacy and Jeremy commanded the Partisans and Red Army. The Germans had three squads of veteran infantry, a group of panzerknackers, a sniper and a pair of panzerschrek teams. They also had the services of an old Panzer IIIN, an obsolete tank kept with the train for just these situations (apparently a common tactic with troop trains). They also had the support of a nearby Marder III, which had rolled toward the stalled train to try and help cover it. Finally, we had hope of support from off-table in the form of a StuG IIIG accompanied by a squad of hard-bitten infantry.
The "starting" forces for the Russians included a platoon of infantry (three nine-man squads) and a three T-34/76s. I say "starting", because for this scenario the forces for the Russians would be endless - Stacy and Jeremy would have the option of simply lifting a shot-up vehicle or squad off the table and having them start over (although this would wear away at their morale level - which was near euphoric at the onset).
|Table layout with scenario starting positions marked.|
The game was very, very fun - very engaging, with ups and downs for both sides. I will take a break from the "usual" AAR approach and tell you very early that the game concluded as the train pulled away with a smattering of German survivors - more than I had hoped - on board. To fill you in on what happened, I thought it might be more interesting (and more cheesy) to imagine it as recalled by one of these surviving foot-sloggers, being debriefed - maybe even interrogated - by some rear-area administrative wanker after the train makes it to the German lines...
Rear Echelon Wanker: "The radio indicated the train had been caught by partisans, that Russians were attacking, tanks and infantry. Yet here you are."
"How is this possible?"
"The Oberst? Why the Oberst? Maybe you are here because you shirked your duty, instead of fighting? Maybe you were never on this train?"
"I am still here because of the Oberst."
"Alright, you must give me your report."
"The train stopped suddenly. There had been an explosion ahead, on the rails. We knew what that meant - partisans. The Oberst ordered us off the train, to prepare for action. As we dismounted we heard the sound of the Russian tanks. We were nervous, but-"
"Nervous? Of what? Partisans? Ridiculous."
"Of the tanks. The Russians had caught up to the train."
"How were the Russians working with these partisans?"
"I do not know. The Oberst deployed our platoon. One squad engaged the partisan band. The rest of us were sent to different positions in different blocks of woods near the train as the Russians approached. An old Panzer III came off the rear of the train. Before we took cover, I saw a Marder off on the far flank. We were told to hold off the Russians until the engineers repaired the track."
"The partisans attacked the locomotive?"
"They tried, but did not last against us. They were destroyed."
"And the Russians, then? What happened against their troops?"
"My squad was in the lead position. The Russians came in waves, at least a company. We cut them to pieces with our MGs, at least twenty of them, but the tanks arrived and we were pinned down. The fire was heavy. The unteroffizer was killed outright when a shell hit a tree. The Russian infantry charged again, overrunning one of our panzerschrek teams - I saw them take five men with them before they disappeared under Russian bayonets. We were next."
"Yet you here you are. What happened?"
"It was all very fast. The Oberst. He was suddenly in the woods with us. The bullets, the shells from the tanks - nothing seemed to affect him. As the Russians charged our position he loaded his assault rifle and ordered us up, and we repelled the assault - another ten Russians killed. The whole time he was telling us he had seen worse at Stalingrad, that this was nothing to really worry about, even though half our squad was wounded and the unteroffizer was dead, and we were facing two T-34s and at least another company of Russian troops."
"What happened to the Marder?"
"I heard a couple of shots from the gun, but we also heard a large explosion and I saw a large smoke column on the right. I'm pretty sure a T-34 got it. I saw a T-34 charging hard on the right of our position, toward our other squad, but a sudden attack from a Panzershcrek knocked it out. I also saw a StuG come across the tracks and provide some covering fire."
|Ill-fated Marder hit by an advancing T34.|
|A hidden Panzerschrek team avenges the Marder.|
|StuG and its infantry riders arriving as much-needed reinforcements.|
"What did the Russians do?"
"They kept coming, in waves, and the tanks drove straight at us. We heard a whistle from the locomotive - the signal the tracks had been repaired, and the train would move on. The fire on us was so heavy we could not move, and I thought we would be abandoned."
|A German marksman trying to lend long-range support to his companions|
|A small portion of the Soviet assault.|
"But here you are."
"It was the Oberst. He just kept reloading his assault rifle and shrugging everything off. Somehow he got the Panzer III to come forward and mask our position. It was soon knocked out - but we were able to withdraw. The Oberst led us back to the train, just ahead of two Russian tanks and another pack of Russian troops."
|PzIII taken out while attempting to cover the infantry from the T34s.|
"You were able to board a moving train in front of these Russians?"
"The men on our right, together with the StuG, provided covering fire. A Panzershreck team damaged one of the Russian tanks, and stood right the face of another before falling to Russian gunfire. The Oberst shoved us on to the train - there were two squads, our marksman, and the panzerknackers. The others had no way to make it to the train as it pulled away."
"So where is the Oberst then? Why did he not board the train?"
"Last I saw, he was reloading his assault rifle and heading over towards the StuG and the other men. He waved as the train pulled away. I don't know what happened after that..."
|The German survivors begin their own breakout march...|
So it was a very, very close game! And very 'Eastern Front', in that nobody really "wins". The Soviets paid a high price, and the surviving Germans would simply be plugged into another hopeless spot on the front line in order to face another Red Army avalanche...
Stacy and Jeremy played the Russians very well, charging ahead heedless of their casualties. Their morale level was down to about three (after starting at eleven) when mine finally went to zero. The insane, iron-cross wearing, fire-eating German senior officer was still on the table, together with a StuG (which had been damaged) and two relatively OK squads of infantry as the train pulled away. The Marder and Panzer III were both wrecks, while one T-34 burned and another had it's main gun knocked out. I would estimate Russian infantry casualties at about 30 to 40, but then I was playing the German side and am probably over-estimating. I just know they paid very dearly to drive us from that one wooded area.
I think our next game could focus around the German survivors. Seeing the train pull away, they begin to despair, but suddenly the Oberst strides towards them, through the snow drifts, calmly loading his Stg 44 while saying "alright fellows, time for a little walk..."
Chain of Command's game mechanics really allow for interesting story-type situations like this crazy German officer (who had to step in because nearly all the other officers on my side were killed and wounded - I had terrible luck with the casualty checks). Overall a very memorable and fun game, and Curt's figures and table-top looked amazing. Stacy and Jeremy were great, and I can't wait to try Chain of Command again!
Thanks again to Curt and Sarah for their tremendous hospitality this past weekend!