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Old September 30th, 2014, 11:53 PM

jivemi jivemi is offline
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Default Persistence Rewarded

This is an AAR concerning Scenario #46, C.B. Blackard’s Totenkopf Attacks. Since this battle has been a personal focus of fascinated frustration over the years there may be some merit in discussing the experiences and thought processes that finally led to a favorable turn of fortune.

It may also be of value to less experienced players who could use some pointers on how to assault entrenched, multi-layered defenders on a hill behind a mine belt, supported by artillery, anti-tank guns and tank-busting air assets, with reinforcements near at hand and closing fast. So without further ado:

--SPOILER ALERT—

As the Germans you’ve got roughly a regimental sized force to accomplish your mission. Under the main HQ, Lt Col(?) Priess, this includes two tank companies (one of Tigers and another of MKIVs and IIIs), one regular SS infantry company, a Pioneer company, a mixed Pioneer/Engineer platoon, two batteries (4 sections each) of Nebelwerfers, one battery of mobile 8cm mortars, 6 Stukas, 3 mobile flak units and 5 APCs (in this case halftracks, or HTs). These units start well to the west of Russian trenches around Hill 213.

Additionally, to the north and under a separate HQ (Lt Col[?] Becker) is a mixed company of infantry and armor, including a sniper and MG, a StuG IIIG and Sdkfz 251/16 “flame tank”(?). This force is obliged to secure an objective in a presumably abandoned town. Otherwise all objectives are on or near Hill 213.

Russian defenses are formidable. The forward trenches are bristling with AT guns (45 and 76mm—the latter have sabot rounds that can punch through 16cm of armor at close range, which trumps the frontal 12cm of a Tiger), a few dug-in T-34s and MGs, plus plenty of infantry. A mine belt protects the hill in a near-semicircle facing west. Out in front of the belt there are even some dug-in snipers that the enemy has deviously placed to slow down advancing infantry (or bushwhack unsuspecting tanks ).

The time limit of 15 turns (representing about 45 minutes of real time) adds an element of urgency to the problem. Most infantry starts out on foot, so unless you’re willing to risk a suicide mission with your tanks the operation has to be carefully planned. The Pioneers (plus 2 engineer tanks) should be brought up to clear a path through the mines while smoke is laid down to hide them from view—although once the AI gets reports of mines being cleared it’ll bring down indirect fire ASAP. Unfortunately most of these guys don’t even show up until turn 3, a fact which does little to ease a commander’s anxiety.

At any rate the first problem is simply to advance safely to the minefields. There’s a broken line of trees that provides cover just in front of the mine belt; its northern section is closest to the “assembly area," making it a convenient intermediate objective, but some defenders on the hill can take potshots at your troops before they get close enough to the trees to take advantage of their LOS “shadow.” In fact, they have LOS to some tanks and infantry in their initial starting positions! (During my first attempts to solve this I didn’t realize that platoon leaders among the Tigers and later-arriving MK IVs had plenty of smoke rounds, so instead wasted some of the precious smoke dischargers on other tanks.)

A further complication was the verdammt snipers. As infantry began moving forward they’d come under fire from these pesky phantoms, and initially all I could do was plod forward remorselessly until they got close enough to see the SOBs and terminate them. Of course by that time some squads were down to half strength and a couple had routed. Needless to say they were a bit late arriving at the mine belt . It wasn’t until quite recently that I found the answer: Load the 2 platoons closest to the Tigers and leave the southernmost platoon to advance cautiously on foot, backed by reinforcing platoons of MK IIIs. It seems loaded infantry don’t get fired on (unlike another version of this game) so the Tigers can rumble right up to the northern sniper and brave an assault. In this try the sniper cringed in terror (he was pinned) and got wiped out immediately. (But on the previous attempt at this battle he assaulted and destroyed the tank, at which point I restarted the scenario from scratch.)

Meanwhile, up north with Oberst Becker, the assault on the separate town VH is taking place. At first I thought this force was too far away from the hill to be of much help and committed them all to the local objective. After some experimentation—and a strong hint from Don concerning their strategic importance—I eventually hit on the idea of using just one platoon (plus the sniper, MG, and Becker’s thin-skinned vehicle) to attack the town while the rest moved toward the hill’s northern flank. There’s a narrow gap in the mine belt, discovered by chance in an earlier episode (I try to avoid looking too closely at the defenses during post mortems so memory of the precise location was rather fuzzy), thus no need to hassle with mine-clearing. So on the first turn the StuG fires smoke to mask K platoon’s town assault before hurrying to catch up with the rest of the company, while Tigers block off LOS and load infantry in their sector.

While this is proceeding it’s time to consider bombardment. As a noob I was so paranoid about hidden units on the hill that I diverted the Nebelwerfer fire missions from HE to smoke, losing a couple turns in the process. Later it became evident that the original scenario plots were essentially correct. Basically you want to blow the bejeezus out of the defenders with all the HE you can muster. When the second Nebelwerfer battery shows up, get them to pound the hill as well. Only when they run out of HE should they start firing smoke (by that time you’ll have a better idea of where it’s needed). The Stukas are also quite useful. Not only do they cause some infantry and ATG casualties, they provide valuable intel as well; and on at least one occasion (during an earlier attempt) they even knocked out a dug-in T-34! The pre-plotted mortar smoke missions are shifted slightly to maximize their effect.

(Incidentally about the Nelwerfers: You have a choice of turning off tubes to conserve ammo and keep them firing for most of the battle. I preferred to use max firepower in the hopes of causing serious damage, although other players might rather fire less for longer, at the cost of inflicting less immediate destruction and forfeiting some opportunities to fire smoke later on.)

After three turns the Tigers and two passenger platoons have reached the near side of the treeline by the wheatfield VH. An APC carrying the only Pioneer squad (E0) available from the first turn tags along, waiting like the Tigers for the now-dismounted infantry to enter the trees and see what’s on the other side. The other platoon advances slowly through nearby woods towards an objective in a gap between the upper and lower treelines, about 400 meters below the wheatfield VH. Once they stick their noses out of the woods they catch some ineffectual sniper fire, so they pop some smoke while waiting for the MK III platoons to arrive. The MK IV platoon has already loaded a Pioneer platoon and follows in the Tigers’ wake. Another Pioneer platoon shows up in halftracks and does likewise, as do the Raumpanzers and another latecoming Pioneer squad (the complement of E0). The remaining Pioneer platoon heads toward the treeline gap on foot.

Up north the town assault proceeds slowly but surely, assisted by an occasional flank shot from the company force heading south toward the hill. Air and artillery bombardment continues unabated as the mortars continue firing smoke to cover the Tigers’, MK IVs’ and Pioneers’ intended advance. Incredibly, Soviet tanks charge blindly into their own mine belt, blowing themselves up in a suicidal attempt to forestall the German initiative. Smoke from their annihilation provides additional cover for the advance.

By turn 6 Becker’s truncated northern force has nearly secured the town and will await counterattacks that are sure to follow. The rest of his company has just missed blundering into a mine field, but after a digital sigh of relief they find the gap, passing through safely on their way south. They spot an ad hoc platoon of T-34, KV-1 and 3 SU-152s coming in behind Hill 213 from the east.

Along the main line of advance northwest of the hill one infantry platoon has passed through the treeline, captured the VH and encountered the mine belt, thickly laid in their immediate vicinity. EO has also dismounted and begun clearing mines 100 meters to the east. The other recently dismounted platoon has moved south on the western side of the treeline before emerging from the trees to help subdue another troublesome sniper and capture the treeline gap objective. Most of the southern platoon has crossed the open area toward the gap, assisted by suppressive fire by the MK IIIs against the now-visible sniper.

The MK III platoons have also been engaged in long-range duels with a platoon of T-34s—and a single Churchill IV! Little damage is done to either side but one solitary MK III, attempting to get a better flank shot, has itself been targeted and immobilized. Another, huddling for cover along with its mates behind the west-central woods, has also been hit and immobilized, in this case by a Sturmovik swooping down from the clear sky. Both crews abandon their tanks and head for the rear.

The plan has now crystallized: Pioneers will advance to clear a path rapidly through the mine belt (they’ll look for a spot as far east, and perhaps through a thinner part of the belt, as possible), allowing the main force of Tigers, MK IVs, and HT-mounted Pioneers to proceed east and assault the trenches from the flank, eventually moving in parallel, and in between them. With any luck they’ll join forces with the northern force, which should arrive at about the same time to provide flank protection and assist in the advance.

(Previously assaults had been directed head-on, in the mistaken belief this was faster, but in actuality this slows the advance to a crawl. It usually takes 3 turns to cross a trench: one turn to move next to it, another to move in, and a third to move out. So it makes considerably more sense to avoid moving into them at all, except to secure objectives.)

The three regular infantry platoons will continue across the mine belt carefully, not worrying about clearing them, and close on the trenches directly. By the time they get across it’s expected there will have been so much damage to the defenders from bombardment, and so much smoke from HE and smoke rounds, there wouldn’t be that much resistance or interference. The MK IIIs and the third Pioneer platoon will take the southwest objective in front of the mine belt and look out for any counterattacks.

By turn 8 a path through the mines has been cleared and the first Pioneers in APCs go through. An ATG takes a potshot at an APC that has just captured the VH north of the hill, only 200 meters away from its dug-in position, but misses (perhaps the fact that the Soviet HQ was routed by incessant Nebelwerfer fire and air attacks had something to do with it ;-)). Advance units from the northern force spot it and suppress it with small arms, as the Pioneer passenger dismounts and pops smoke to protect the HT from harmful scrutiny. The main force prepares to advance in full flood next turn.

They do indeed start pouring through, but a Tiger gets immobilized in a mine field after trying to bypass the temporary logjam of units passing through the narrow gap. A MK IV gets brewed up by a dug-in T-34 that finds LOS through the swirling smoke; return fire from a Tiger exacts its revenge and the T-34 is no more. A platoon of Tigers is detached to deal with the eclectic armor platoon spotted by Becker’s flanking force. They set up an ambush and destroy them all with help from a Panzerjaeger, but not before one lucky SU-152 ducks a couple flank shots, then draws a bead on a Tiger at 100 meters, killing it on the second shot. Doggonit!

But that’s the worst it gets. By turn 11 the advanced APCs and Pioneers are adjacent to the first trench objective on the hill while MK IVs and more infantry follow in their wake (fire missions are shifted or cancelled altogether to avoid hitting friendlies in the vanguard.) Regular infantry in front of the hill has passed through the mine belt to expose and engage more ATGs, infantry, and MGs in the frontline trenches. Two platoons of Tigers, deemed too slow for the mad rush between trenches, begin their advance down the road that runs along the base of the hill, ready to support the infantry as it closes in. Shrugging off one or two hits without a scratch, they kill a couple more T-34s at long range that try to intervene. The MK IIIs and “leg” Pioneer platoon approach their objective (and an immobilized T-34). The surviving Tigers from the ambush battle take up positions to deal with a KV-8 that’s trying to support a half-hearted attack by 2 infantry platoons against the northern town

By turn 14 it’s almost over. The counterattack up north has been beaten back with ease, the KV-8 falling victim to a Tiger’s 88. A unit from Becker’s northern force has captured the rear trench VH, while others shoot up overstaying infantry and expose a battery of howitzers, which succumbs quickly to small-arms and tank fire from the versatile “ambush” Tigers. Pioneers dismounted from a Tiger advancing down the road—a movement concealed by smoke from Nebelwerfers out of HE—secure the southern objective there, frustrating an immobilized T-34 that fires at them with little effect before getting blinded by a smoke grenade from the Pioneers’ bag of tricks. Behind them more Tigers venture off the road to secure an elevated objective accessible through clear terrain. Fortunately they don’t blunder into a rifle squad that’s spotted at the last minute by a Pioneer unit across a trench. (One HT had earlier been assaulted and destroyed by another rifle squad in the trench, but that act of effrontery was soon avenged by one of the Tigers).

The southern objective forward of the mine belt is also taken, but not before an incredible act of stupidity gets one of the MK IIIs destroyed for no good reason. Growing impatient at the delay caused by a remaining sniper, the Godlike commander decides not to wait for the Pioneer squads, preferring instead to take out the immobilized T-34 with z-fire (blind area fire) and “subtle maneuver.” After blasting the area with several tanks, suppression to the T-34 was deemed sufficient, and—even though it still wasn’t retreating—it was approached gingerly from the front(!). Needless to say the T-34 was still awake, blowing up the unfortunate sacrificial lamb with a single shot . So in the end I had to wait for the Pioneers anyway, who dispatched the T-34 with a flamethrower (IIRC , unless it was a “sprengladung,” some sort of explosive charge) while the sniper was taken out by MG fire from a tank (FWIW it seems that MGs work better than main guns for this task).

The HTs have continued their movement south and in between the trenches, dropping off their passengers to secure objectives or wreak havoc on demoralized infantry with small arms, flamethrowers and hand grenades. Behind them MK IVs and the StuG search for any remaining targets. Even the “flame tank” gets in the act, torching a number of enemy squads and finishing with 2 kills to its credit. A Pioneer is dropped off next to the penultimate objective, which should be secured on the last turn, provided they aren’t whacked by bombardment, friendly or otherwise.

(This last consideration caused some anxious moments. A couple turns earlier I’d plotted some remaining Nebelwerfer HE to hit several turns later, just in case the last VHs couldn’t be reached in time and an additional turn or two were added to the scenario. When the bombardment screen was checked at the end of turn 14, it showed a strike plotted ADJACENT to the aforementioned Pioneer unit, and when I clicked on the HE icon none of the listed arty was highlighted. IOW the Nebelwerfer was out of contact and the fire mission couldn’t be cancelled! I’d neglected to place any armor or APCs next to the VH, so I was utterly dependent on that Pioneer to take it next turn. All I could do was pray to the God of Battles that the mission had been sufficiently delayed to avoid falling at the end of that turn. Edit: All Nebelwerfers, like the mortars, are on-map so by a process of elimination any out-of-contact battery could've been determined and its mission aborted. Actually the culprit was a Stuka, which being off-board cannot be changed if not in contact. Fortunately it didn't matter since it wasn't scheduled until the end of turn 15. Lucky me .)

The last objective is guarded by an ATG, but it’s blinded by smoke from one of the off-road Tigers, permitting HTs to advance against a rip tide of Soviet rifle squads routing east. Nothing to do but hit the end-turn button and…

…a few die-hards hold out around the last VH, one firing defiantly at the vanguard HT. It has practically no effect. No artillery falls, so on turn 15 the Pioneer squad takes the last trench objective without incident. The die-hards are dispatched with ease, allowing a couple HTs to claim the last objective and credit for a decisive win. Turn 15 ends without resistance, leading immediately to the battle results screen.

Final score was 2768 to 334 (including 60 points awarded to the Germans for Russian arty overload), so ALL objectives had to be taken to counter the effect of German losses. The butcher’s bill included 118 men for the Germans and 465 for the Russians; one German APC was destroyed; and they lost 5 AFV’s against 17 for the Russians. On a personal level it was most satisfying, seeing as how previously I’d never gotten better than a marginal win, with most outcomes being draws. More than that, it was something of an epiphany to realize how quickly (and relatively cheaply) a mobile combined-arms force using proper tactics, strategy and co-ordination can overcome even the most formidable defenses.

That’s about it. Some saves are attached for illustration. Thanks for reading and happy gaming!
Attached Files
File Type: rar Totenkopf T6.rar (88.4 KB, 104 views)
File Type: rar Totenkopf T8.rar (95.2 KB, 76 views)
File Type: rar Totenkopf T11.rar (74.4 KB, 76 views)
File Type: rar Totenkopf T14.rar (88.2 KB, 79 views)
File Type: rar Totenkopf T15.rar (82.3 KB, 93 views)

Last edited by jivemi; May 22nd, 2016 at 11:15 PM..
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  #2  
Old October 1st, 2014, 12:13 AM

jivemi jivemi is offline
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Default Re: Persistence Rewarded

Edit: Change "The three regular infantry squads will continue across the mine belt carefully, not worrying about clearing them, and close on the trenches directly," to "The three regular infantry PLATOONS..." Sorry but the Edit button doesn't seem to work.
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  #3  
Old October 4th, 2014, 12:28 AM

jivemi jivemi is offline
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Default Re: Persistence Rewarded

Edit 2: The treeline "gap" objective is 400 meters, NOT 800 meters, from the wheatfield VH.
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Old October 9th, 2014, 01:16 AM

KAreil KAreil is offline
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Default Re: Persistence Rewarded

Great write-up!

What was your result on your very first try?


Attacking in scenarios mostly feels too much like a puzzle for me...if you don't do it a certain way, there's no chance for victory.

Without all the knowledge from your other playthroughs I guess the result would have been a lot different.
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Old October 9th, 2014, 10:16 AM

jivemi jivemi is offline
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Default Re: Persistence Rewarded

Thanks for the compliment. Appreciate it.

My first try was an ignominious loss. Had barely the slightest idea what to do except lay smoke and advance on several fronts toward the objectives. Didn't seem to be enough time for anything too fancy. So I got slaughtered. As DRG (Don) mentioned, this scenario wasn't meant to be easy (his hint concerning the northern force provided a key that helped cut this Gordian Knot: http://forum.shrapnelgames.com/showthread.php?t=48886.)

Assaults are usually more difficult; maybe that's why most players prefer meeting engagements :-). The basic idea is to lay smoke to cover your advance, bring up engineers/sappers/pioneers to clear or find a path through mines and obstructions, bombard the intended sector of breakthrough, then pour through.

But of course the devil is in the details. (In the gameplay section of the SPMBT manual there's a section which gives pointers on neutralizing defenders which may be helpful: "Strategy for taking out big AT guns [and other nasty things like that...])". And I'm pretty sure the exact strategy and tactics used to solve this scenario wouldn't work for all scenarios, or even this one on another try--luck has more than a little to do with it!

Yes, experience made a huge difference; after getting beaten up eight or ten times you're gonna be looking in all directions, considering more angles, and so on. It helps that you can start all over again, like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow.

And without that tip about the northern force--one of whose units took the easternmost trench objective--a decisive win would have been considerably more difficult. Perhaps that's the "certain way" you mentioned, although maybe the main force could've done it on their own. With a little luck...
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