From the pre-battle maps and scenario documents, I was expecting my USMC 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade to be pitted against either or both Soviet paratroops and Naval infantry around Bjerkvik on the middle table. During the pre-game briefing, that quickly changed and I found my marines being tasked with retaking Bodo from what appeared to be a paratrooper and a naval brigade, including at least 10 batteries of salvo rocket launchers. A follow-up force on Sunday included motor rifle and tank battalions. Fortunately, the British armoured regiment and a Dutch mechanised battlegroup were also assigned to the table, coming on from the eastern end and pushing west for Bodo. My marines would be able to land amphibiously anywhere along the southern table edge. The key terrain feature in the mid-part of the table was a bridge on the main road, close to the coast, which crossed a north south flowing river that cut the table in two.
The first couple of turns saw my marines floating offshore waiting for something to happen. Having air superiority on turn 2 and some nice marine corps air assets available, I tried to bring on a Bronco FAC spotter, only to see him brought down by SA-7s firing out of the Bodo Lidl store. The Brits made enough progress in the first 2 turns to see their advance group of armour and mechanised infantry advance onto the bridge half way across the table, but their advance was slowed by a skirmish line of Spetsnaz infantry, backed up by salvo rocket barrages. This was the time, I thought, to bring on the USMC to help take some of the heat off the Brits at the bridge and help them and the Dutch break through towards the eastern end of Bodo, thus allowing the marines to occupy Bodo airport and mop up the Soviet rear areas.
Alas, it was not to be. My marines landed on turn 3 in relatively good order on the beaches between the lighthouse and the old WW2 German fortifications. The scouts moved inland, one revealing a hidden minefield which split the bridgehead into two parts. Two infantry battalions landed in LVTP-7s and one on foot, with a reinforced M60 company in support. Unfortunately, there was no artillery support available - the Dutch were throwing their lighter artillery at the Spetsnaz around the bridge and the heavy stuff was shelling the Soviet paras around Bjerkvik. My marine air wing had already been added to the general NATO air pool, so there was no integral air support, except the Sea Cobras, and NATO air assets were giving support in the Tromso area, rather than further south. Net result, no smoke, no bombardments, no air support. The marines ran into a whole bunch of trouble. Initial op fire from BMD mounted Spigots and infantry was bad enough, but at least that provided some targets, with the M60s taking care of several BMDs and three Sea Cobras, reduced to two after one was forced to abort, taking out or suppressing some other paratroop infantry.
Unfortunately, in the Soviet turn 3, an air strike delivered a persistent nerve agent/irritant chemical attack, which effectively neutralised the bulk of the M60 company and a whole bunch of infantry on foot and in LVTPs. Then came the salvo rocket artillery - 10 batteries worth on my tightly concentrated USMC beachhead. Although deviation was quite large, the larger beaten area, coupled with the sheer number of tubes, was devastating. By the end of turn 3 (all the turns we managed to cram in on Saturday), the marines had reached breakpoint.
Saturday evening saw a worn out bunch of wargamers eating excellent pies (steak and oyster in my case) and drinking good Yorkshire Ales.
The next day, I struck lucky in returning infantry from the front line aid stations (30% infantry) and armour from the repair shops (50% armour including two of the gassed M60s). My elation was short lived. The infantry managed to get off some shots at the infantry either side of the beachhead, but most of the armour was still supressed. Any chance of artillery support disappeared when the Dutch artillery blundered off the rear edge of the table with no opportunity to return for 2 turns. Then, in the Soviet turn, in came the salvo rocket artillery, plus a whole bunch of other artillery - not to metioned the advance of at least one battalion of improved T55s. Attrition on the USMC forces was horrendous. By the end of turn 4, my forces were reduced to a breakpoint modifier so low that it was impossible for the surviving CV9 HQ to pass a break test and my battle group broke. I like to think those at the beach made it out on LVTPs and LCACs, but suspect a lot had to surrender - hopefully, their sacrifice earned them some decent treatment from the Soviets.
So, what was the experience like. I suspect I know how a WW1 general must have felt. I had spent the previous 8 months buying, painting and basing the USMC force, the last 4 months including various practice games with Ian and solo, trying to hone my skills as the battlegroup commander. I then found myself throwing them at some pretty impressive soviet assets, including regular and paratrooper infantry, armour and massive amounts of artillery backed up by anti-air artillery. They did well to last 2 turns! So, 8 months in the making, 90 minutes in the breaking - an experience more like the Somme or Paschendaele.
Setting that aside, it was great to play a part in such a large game. Our games so often take place in isolation as a single club evening game, so it was really good to see how the performance of each battle group effected the final outcome on each table. The tables themselves looked excellent - I felt really privileged to play on such high quality terrain, and against forces that had been so meticulously researched and painted up to such a high standard. It was also a great opportunity to meet and chat with wargames gliterati from all over the U.K. over a few beers.
My suggestions for improving the experience would probably echo others;
- better pre-game planning - detailed maps and pre-allocation of forces to allow pre-planned artillery fire programmes and air attacks.
- team briefings carried out before the event so players know the situation on the table and what is expected of them
- as early a start as possible, with a 10-15 minute briefing ahead of kicking off the first turn.
- breaking larger tables into smaller sectors or fronts managed by a single player on each side - at times dring the game I was playing for considerable amounts of time against two soviet players, while two other NATO players were waiting to get on at their end of the table.
- next time they go in to action, my Marine Air Wing will need to be prised from my cold dead hands
- next time they go into action, my marines will have full naval fire support, including at least one Iowa class battleship firing preplanned barrages on map targets
- next time they go into action, if the Dutch (no offence to any real citizens of the Netherlands living or dead) swan around touring the countryside, they'll find themselves the targets of the air wing, if not a couple of tac nukes.
- next time I'll have the full M60 battalion with me.
- large scale D-day type landings are a thing of the past, especially if contested. Marines are best off seizing objectives by coup de main and then holding them.
Looking forward to Ian's Stalingrad game at Gauntlet. Also interested in looking at any follow up games for Arctic Strike and for a 6mm megagame in Chester in 2014 (name and period still to be confirmed), plus the possibility of a 20mm modern game, Crisis Point 3, at Dungworth next year. Just need to know what forces I'm doing and start the next arms race.
Bodo table looking west