"Well," said one, "we really screwed that up."
"Oh come on," said another. "How were we to know that Hitler was a demented lunatic and his nation apparently has a deathwish?"
"We could have just watched the news," suggested a third.
"Ssh, they're coming," hissed the first.
A group of German officers strode into the coffee house and found seats by the simple expedient of shooting some of the occupants.
"Heil Hitler," barked one.
"Er, yeah right. Heil and all that," replied the most senior of the Hungarians. "Tell me, is there even the slightest chance that our country isn't going to be crushed underneath a Soviet juggernaut?"
The German officers consulted briefly among themselves.
"None whatsoever," replied the one designated as unreliable ally liaison. "But we have good news!"
"Really? Has Stalin had a sudden heart attack?" asked one of the Hungarians.
"Has Hitler?" muttered another under his breath.
"No and no," replied a German officer with sharp hearing. "But, get this, the Romanians have betrayed the Axis and are now fighting alongside the Soviets. They're helping to invade Hungary."
"The Romanians? Those bastards! We'll kill every son of a bitch! Don't worry General von Whatever, we're with you to the end. As long as we get the chance to beat up the Romanians."
"Absolutely," replied the German whose name was actually General von und zu Etcetera. "But first we need you to help defend Debrecen."
"Are the Romanians attacking it?"
"Actually no, its the Russians I'm afraid."
"But we'll get to fight the Romanians afterwards?"
"Ahh, yeah, sure, whatever."
"You can rely on us Herr General"
"I wish that were true."
So this is how I wound up playing ASL Scenario AP117, Second City. Here Hungarians are defending the town in Hungary that isn't Budapest from rampaging Soviet forces. Thinking better of relying completely on their Hungarian ally the Germans sent the contents of a tank repair workshop to assist them. Richard Cornwall has taken on the joint Axis forces while I command the noble Soviets en route to the lair of the fascist beast. And when I say "noble" Soviets I mean of course thoroughly egalitarian worker and peasant type Soviets without a hint of class prejudice or aristocratic breeding.
To defend Debrecen Richard has eight squads of elite Hungarians backed up by a 20mm AA gun and a pair of home grown armoured vehicles, a Turan tank (lousy gun but awesome machine guns) and a Zrinyi SPG (awesome gun and no machine guns at all). A couple of light machine guns, one medium, a pair of not particularly great officers and some concealment counters round out Richard's at start OB. On turn three his German allies come steaming to the rescue with five elite squads of various calibres with a full complement of flamethrowers, demo charges, panzerschreks and a couple of somewhat shopsoiled panther tanks.
And what do I as the absolutely not noble, my parents weren't even muzhiks, Soviets have to attack with? I have six elite squads, four smg toting first line squads and six other run of the mill first liners for fourteen squads in all. I also have three light machine guns, a single medium and a couple of demo charges. Four officers are there to urge the troops on and I have a charmingly eclectic group of armoured vehicles in support. Two Sherman tanks bring the promise of multiple machine guns and smoke rounds to the fray, an SU-76 provides a large 76mm gun on a small chassis and finally an M17 halftrack mounting a quad .50cal "meatchopper". Apparently a lend lease ship simply dumped a bunch of stuff on this unit and then left.
The city Richard is defending has been chopped up into eight "blocks" ringed by roads. If I can capture five of them I win. Richard surprised me by setting up a forward defence, essentially defending in front of the target area. Of course it meant I slammed into his entire force pretty much immediately but if I slammed hard enough it offered the opportunity for a breakthrough.
Spotting his less capable Turan anchoring the (my) left flank I decided to set up the bulk of my forces on the left and centre while sending lesser forces against the right (anchored by the formidable Zrinyi). Soviet troops can't deploy which means that you have to do your drawing fire with full squads. I was in a hurry and I fully expected to lose troops as I sent my first liners out to draw his fire. A couple of squads went down but I was quite successful in stripping concealment on my left and centre and sufficient troops survived to menace his forward positions. One Sherman I had detailed with dropping smoke in front of some defenders (it didn't) the other (along with the SU-76) supported a left board edge drive to flank his front line defenders and hopefully take out the Turan. Over on the right I hastened slowly, not taking too many casualties but not getting far either. The half track I sent over to support the right or I would have only it bogged trying to get over a hedge and froze into surly immobility. For his part Richard belched smoke from both his vehicles providing some cover for his defenders but also my attackers. His 20mm had made an appearance just behind the front and attempted without success to kill one of my squads.
|End of my turn 1. I'm coming from the top and trying to drive down.|
In the second turn I really got moving. I managed to persuade the halftrack to get moving and aided by that awesome 24FP plus Richard's smoke I managed to drive in his right forward position and pushed towards the nearest objective block. Things went well in the centre as well, I actually won a close combat (sorry Richard, just your bad luck that the one in a hundred event happened while you were playing me) but the right wasn't going too well. I was easing forward, helped by his smoke but I wasn't really outflanking anyone. I decided on forward tactics and pushed my Sherman out into the road near his 20mm while the more vulnerable SU-76 slunk up behind keeping to the shadows and looking out for an enemy with its back turned.
|End of my Turn 2, pushing unexpectedly through the centre|
On his second turn his damn 20mm immobilised one of my Shermans. I cursed of course but the crew stayed staunch and it wasn't in a bad position to inflict harm on the enemy. It was when the thing broke, then malfed its cmg and then turned out to have no smoke shells that I really started cursing. Despite the tank failure I felt I was making headway. I managed to wipe out his 20mm crew and he had taken some significant losses which I added to when the .50cal halftrack took out another squad and I pushed into the first block. Then I did something which in retrospect was unwise although the odds seemed worthwhile at the time. I rolled my surviving Sherman behind his Turan and accompanying squad. If I could take them out he simply wouldn't have a flank. I knew Hungarians could get panzerfausts but I thought the odds were worth taking. This opinion was only increased when his squad pinned attempting to find a faust. The opinion rapidly changed when he made a second faust attempt, found one and then fired on the Sherman. What with moving, pinned, avoiding backblast etc he needed a three to get a hit. He got a three and my last Sherman exploded into flames.
Suddenly tankless (and with a certain amount of swearing) I was in a bind. Despite mauling his troops I hadn't achieved a breakthrough and on turn three his German reinforcements arrived. Richard managed to pull back what was left of his force to create another defensive line. I bulled forward into the first block, capturing it while Richard pulled back what was left of his force (apart from the Turan and that damned squad) towards the rear.
|It looks like the way is open but just out of shot a swarm of Germans are arriving to bolster their ally|
I conceded at the end of Richard's turn 3. Half his at start force plus both AFV had survived and were setting up rear positions but more importantly his German reinforcements including a pair of panthers had rolled up to stabilise the line. With both Shermans out of the picture I had no more smoke capacity and my somewhat battered force was left with the job of winkling elite Germans out of stone buildings in the four remaining turns. I couldn't see myself doing it. Possibly I could take another block or two but Richard need take no chances, he could even concede me a couple of blocks and simply hold the remainder for dear life.
Thanks to Richard for the game and for putting up with my whining and swearing. Despite appearances I actually thought this was a fun scenario with some interesting tweaks but I do think its a little tough on the Soviets. I think they need to effectively win the game in the first couple of turns or they're going to find it very hard going indeed.