|In Kurland, baby....|
Hello again to the followers of Curt's Analogue Hobbies blog. Readers familiar with this space will have noted Curt's ongoing series of "Worst Case Scenarios". When I was fortunate enough to get to know Curt and the Fawcett Ave gaming crew (way back in DATE REDACTED AS PER IMPERIAL INQUISITION FILE 405.303.2201. SUSPECTED HERETIC) one thing that always impressed me was the depth of thought he would put into a scenario. From a grand Napoleonic engagement to a skirmish encounter between WW2 platoons, there was always a back story, and an inspiration for that back story, in the game-du-jour (or soiree) that he would share. I think you would agree those games where the players connect, even in a small way, with those story elements behind a scenario tend to be a lot of fun - much more fun than the current, rather sterile, standard of seizing table quarters or whatever. Reading Curt's "Worst Case Scenario" posts always take me back to those times and games.
Of course it is fun to just throw some stuff on to the table and start shooting it, and most of my scenarios I set up tend to be like that. But I like to aim for some depth now and then. I recently finished an interesting book about WW2 called "Panzer Warfare on the Eastern Front", a collection of anecdotes and abbreviated memoirs translated into English from a group of German veterans who served in Panzer divisions in that theater.
|I recommend this book! It is the source of this "Worst Case Scenario".|
I won't go into the details of the book here other than to say I highly recommend it. These kinds of books always inspire different gaming scenarios in my head, and Curt kindly allowed me to share one of these that really grabbed my imagination here on his blog. And so I present Worst Case Scenario #9 - "Sleepwalking in Kurland", inspired by an account from this book.
|A map of Soviet advances in the latter period of the war on the Eastern Front. The Kurland/Courland pocket is created up near the Baltic at the top of the map.|
It is December 1944 on the Eastern Front. The Soviets' successful summer offensive has obliterated Army Group Centre, and trapped Army Group North elements in the area of the Kurland/Courland peninsula. These trapped units rely heavily on the few Panzer divisions in their midst to hold back the tides of Soviet armour trying to sweep them into the Baltic.
NOTE - I would play this in 15mm, and I have included a few staged photos with models from my 15mm WW2 collection to give a rough idea of how it might look. In terms of rules you could try this with anything from Flames of War to Force on Force to Chain of Command, but I would probably opt for rules on the more involved, reaction-type rule sets where a nuanced and detailed game can occupy the players with a small number of models involved.
|A Panther command vehicle - battalion commander in this photo|
"I pressed the binoculars to my tired eyes and observed the foreground. In the approaching darkness, I recognized a group of houses off to the left of us, which were being approached by individual armoured vehicles. Exhausted as I was, I didn't think about it too long. "Crank it up...direction of march is the farmstead off to the left!
- Leutnant Hans Schaufler, regimental signals officer of Panzer Regiment 35, 4th Panzer division, December 1944 in the Kurland/Courland area of the Eastern Front.
The panzer division has been fighting continuously for four days and three nights. The Soviet penetrations are everywhere, and confusion reigns. The regimental commander has hopped out of his Panther, RN 1, to catch a ride in a half-track back to what he understand to be divisional command post, where a conference of the regimental commanders has been called to try and sort out what is happening.
|The Russians think they have parked for the night...|
His crew stays behind in RN 1, under the informal command of the regimental signals officer. This is a regimental command tank, crammed with extra radios and, more importantly, code books and other sensitive goodies which, under no circumstances, should fall into enemy hands. Exhausted from days of fighting, they try not to nod off in the tank. They fail, and are snapped awake by a whistling in the radio headphones. It is the regimental commander. "Meet to discuss operations at XYZ farmstead!"
|One of these things is not like the other....|
The crew of RN 1 is still tired, and it is dusk. The signals officer searches quickly and spots a farmstead where the silhouettes of large armoured vehicles are gathering. The signals officer directs the tank to this farmstead. They pull up, park the tank, and still tired, fall asleep, assuming the Oberst will be along at any moment to get them moving and brief them as to what is happening.
|"Scooby - it's a bunch of Josef Stalins, man!"|
The RN 1 crew naps for an hour, still inside the tank (when do you ever leave it at times like these?). The signals officer suddenly wakes up, and is worried that so much time has passed and there has been no word from the Regimental commander. The sun is setting now. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he hops out of RN 1 and wanders over to the next tank he can see. It is getting dark and he can only make out the silhouette of a very large tank. The signals officer hops on to the tank, feeling strange - there are no handles to grab where he is sure they should be...
|"So, what company is this?"|
"What company is this?" I yelled into the turret. A completely foreign face looked up at me. On top of that, the face was framed by a Russian tanker's cap. I felt a massive turret with coarsely welded seams under my groping hands. A gun as big as a tree jutted out of the turret.
- Leutnant Hans Schaufler.
The signals officer is horrified to see he has parked RN 1 right in the middle of a company of Josef Stalin tanks! He dives head first into the darkness, off the Russian turret, already yelling to his crew "Crank it up!" Will the command tank escape? Or will the crew and code books fall into Russian hands? A confused dusk engagement beckons, with a group of grizzled panzer veterans trying to save themselves and their Panther from the claws of a Soviet heavy tank regiment!
|"Crank it up!" the Panther crew reverses like he!! to get out of that terrible parking spot...|
In Schauffler's memoir, RN 1 is a command tank with a dummy main gun. There are ultimately 20 or so tanks involved from the Soviet side, while an unknown number of Panthers from Regiment 35 arrive to help. Trying something with that many tanks would make this more of a Flames-of-War type game designed to roll a lot of armour in one game (and to be clear, I love games with lots of tanks), but for this I would prefer to keep it smaller and focused on the fate of the crew in RN 1, as opposed to two armoured forces blowing each other away.
|The game would start like this - the German player would select on IS-2, and replace it with Panther RN 1|
In the game, the German forces would be comprised of RN 1, and a platoon of three late-model Panthers which can arrive as a rescue/reserve force. RN 1 would be armed with a real gun, but only have a small load of ammo (because of all the radios on board) and this would be even further depleted because the tank has been fighting for days. The crew quality of the Germans would be high, with the crew in the RN 1 being total rock stars. The adrenaline of the situation wipes out their fatigue for the timeframe of the game.
The German objective is for RN 1 to escape. The crew and code books absolutely cannot fall into enemy hands!
|The crew of RN 1|
The Soviets would have a company of IS-2s - five models would do it. The crew quality is mixed - they are gung-ho, ready to stomp the German vipers, but still raw compared to the German Panzer vets. It is dusk, they are confused and surprised and this will hinder their effectiveness. They have one objective - knock out the fascist interloper!
|A Panther platoon would arrive in reserve to try and help the Regimental command tank|
The table would be large, even with a small number of tanks. The ground would be rough - lots of bog checks - should be a lot rougher than it looks in these photos (I need to improve my terrain collection). The game would start with the IS-2s clustered in one corner around a farmstead. The German player would then "switch" out one of the models, replacing it with Panther RN 1, and the race would be on!
|This table is nine feet long and five feet wide - comfy for 15mm armoured fighting. RN 1 would have to cover about six feet of table to escape.|
The Panther platoon would come on a later turn as a reserve. Night fighting rules of some sort would be in effect, and both sides would have the chance to use parachute flares, or fires, to silhouette targets. Inspired by some great suggestions from Curt, I am working on some rules bodges where RN 1 and the German players would have to keep track of their ammo load - it would be somewhat random, to better reflect the role of tank commander (the gunner fires until the target is gone - might take one round, might take four...).
It would be even cooler to try a version of this game where the players each take a role within RN 1, and the Russians and supporting German elements are run game master style. How far can you drive? In the dark? In the mud? In reverse? Will you stop to fire? How many rounds will you use up? Can you see the target? Can the Russians see you? Did you raise the battalion on the radio? I would love to run a game where the players have to connect with those sorts of critical issues facing tank crews that rules must often gloss over or abstract in order to preserve the flow of the game. This is more possible in a smaller, more detailed game.
And of course, to be truly loyal to the memoir in question, this should all be in winter terrain and painting. It's December near the Baltic sea - the ground is a mix of snow, of mud, of clay - it sucks, no matter any "wide tracks" rules...but I don't want to give anything away on, shall we say, "a related project" Curt and I are working on. Let's just say "stay tuned".
So that's my "Worst Case Scenario". I hope you enjoy it - I'm looking forward to trying this game on the table very soon!