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Battlegroup AAR: Forlorn Hope at Sachsendorf

Battlegroup AAR: Forlorn Hope at Sachsendorf

With COVID-19 in full force, our new found fondness for Battlegroup was driven online for the ‘Fall of the Reich’ campaign battle ‘Forlorn Hope at Sachsendorf‘. You’ll find the after action report (AAR) for this battle in the following post(s).

TL>DR; AAR – Jump down to Turn 1 or Turn 2

From my limited (but growing) knowledge of later WW2 events, I believe this is part of the Seelow Heights campaign, with the Soviet army closing in on Berlin.

AndyP and myself decided to play the book suggested army lists, myself controlling the invading Russian force, while AndyP operates the dug-in German force.

Both sides made up of 1200 points, easily our biggest game by far.

We used Roll20 for the custom map, video/audio, unit management and dice rolling. We had used it briefly on a much smaller 200 point game and it worked surprisingly well.

Battle map of Sachsendorf, pre-deployment of troops. The virtual table is 6′ x 6′. Note the vast swathes of exposed flooded fields

The scenario describes Sachsendorf as a small village comprising of 7 buildings, a few outlying wooded areas and a German dug trench line to the North. The main road runs through the village, East to West, passing by two objectives positioned at either edge of the village. A 3rd objective is at the Northern tip of the German defence trench.

The Russian force would be assaulting from the Eastern edge, while the dug-in German army would be able to setup anywhere on the Western side of the board (50% table deployment zone!)

Scenario Special Rules

Flooded fields and thick mud was definitely not going to be our friend
(Source - historicalsocietyofgermanmilitaryhistory.com)
Flooded fields and thick mud was definitely not going to be our friend (Image source)

Quagmire. This scenario called for most of the map to be flooded fields. This meant that moving tracked vehicles was particularly problematic!

Rolling a 6 on the difficult terrain table meant the unit was bogged down and temporarily immobilised. Something that would definitely plague the Russians.

My little map for Roll20 shows multiple paths through the flood water, however this is purely artistic. The rules state anything off road is deeply flooded.

Movement off-road by wheeled was not allowed.

Artillery, Airstrikes & Defenses

Before deployment, we both noted down our pre-registered targets.

  • Germany got 1x Pre-Reg target point for Andy to plan.
  • I got 6 x Timed Barrages and 3 x Timed air strikes!

Andy selected an Eastern building within the village to be his designated fortified building. His minefield was placed just outside the village, blocking the main entry road.

German Deployment

Germany, as defenders, deployed first. Andy positioned several Volksgrenadier rifle squads, multiple MG34 squads, a Volksgrenadier command squad, PAK40 and a 20mm Flak gun along the Northern trench line. A rather daunting amount of men!

Andy had several StuG’s holding the middle of the map – 2 of which were positioned in the center woodland with an almost uninterrupted view of the approaching road.

The remaining Volksgrenadier platoons, 2 x 80mm mortars, a PAK40, 2 more StuG/H held the center of Sachsendorf. Both mortar teams were dug in too.

All German units started the game with Reaction Fire.

Russian Deployment

Although I had an impressive number of units off the virtual table ready to come on in future turns, deployment was pretty quick. A company of 10 x T-34s, 2 x scout rifle squads and 1 x PT-34 mine-clearer were all I got.

Knowing that movement through the fields would be pretty tough, half the T-34s started on the road and would run the gauntlet!

A pair of T-34s would slog through the fields to the North, while 3 would plow the Southern approach.

With more patches of trees to the South, the 2 x rifle squads deployed down there also, hoping to make some yardage dashing between cover.

The mine-clearer was tucked behind a column of 5 x T-34s on the Sachsendorf main road.

Below is how the battlefield looked before the first turn – produced using Battle Chronicler

Deployment of the advancing Russian force against the Sachsendorf dug-in German army (Click to view larger)

Russian Turn 1

After a length setup of several dozen virtual units, it was time for the attackers to make their move on the village of Sachsendorf. Well it would have been if the ground didn’t buckle under multiple 120mm barrages.

The ground shakes

Before the game I had decided to call in 3 of my Timed 120mm barrages before I’d make a move on T1. I went with the assumption that at this point I’d have the most accurate guess about Andy’s position.

I thought there’d be no obvious reason for him to not heavily utilise the trench line for his troops, or to avoid the cover provided in the village center.

Unfortunately triple barrages as the very first action meant a lot of head-scratching and rule searching as we both struggled to get out heads around timed barrages, their pre-registered targets and the artillery rules.

Luckily the very first barrage, aimed at the middle of the Northern trench, deviated perfectly down the trench. An MG34 squad took a direct hit and were immediately KIA – first blood! The remaining barrage shells killed 3 more Volksgrenadiers and resulted in 2 further squads being pinned.

The 2nd barrage scattered Westward away from the trench, but also wiped out a whole MG34 squad. A PAK40 beside the trenchline were pinned, while another Volksgrenadier was KIA.

The 3rd barrage, aimed at the T-junction in Sachsendorf, did surprisingly poorly for the number of targets in its area of effect. It did result in the 2nd PAK40 gun being pinned.

With the artillery resolved, it was time to issue some of my ~24 orders to my 13 units.

Advancing the main T-34 column

The column of T-34s charged down the main road, straight towards the village. Hoping their stronger frontal armour would provide at least some resistance to the incoming fire, while a small copse of trees might offer a slither of cover.

Both StuGs in the central woodland reacted on ambush fire and open fired onto the approaching armour. The very first AP shell fired from a StuGA scored a double-6, resulting in the lead T-34 exploding! Andy tasted blood!

A 2nd AP shell missed but a 3rd one pinned the next T-34.

The advancing column ground to a quick halt as a 4th round flew over the tank commanders heads.

The mine-clearer tucked in behind the now stalled armour column, desperate for a tiny bit of cover.

With the interruption of reaction orders and the loss of my first tank, I forgot that the Battlegroup move order is either a double move or is followed by a fire order. This meant the remaining vehicles in that column didn’t return fire! First of many amateurs mistakes by myself.

Mud & long shots to the South

4 x T-34s broke through a line of bushes and started heading through the southern flooded fields. Immediately the quagmire rule came into effect. The first tank moving through the field got bogged down! It’s tracks rendered useless in the deep mud.

The 2nd and 3rd T-34 had slightly better luck with their movement. The pair tried to return fire to the StuG’s in the woods, but their 76.2mm guns both failed to hit their targets.

Unimpeded by the mud however, the two rifle squads dashed through the fields. In fact they utilised the immobilised (bogged down) T-34 as cover. Cheeky.

Slow progress to the North

The pair of T-34s to the North didn’t fair much better. One was quickly bogged down in the flooded fields, it’s gun almost useless at this far corner of the map. A potential saving grace however, being that it was also a significant distance from those deadly StuGs.

The 2nd Northern deployed T-34 tried in vain to close in on the trench line – instead of moving 24″ off road (2×12) it only managed 13″.

It was at this point I knew I was implementing the difficult terrain wrong some how – it seemed broken. After the game I re-read the rules. Turns out you should be removing a D6 from your maximum distance and THEN moving… not moving your desired distance and being moved back D6. Subtle but significant difference. Amateurs mistakes #2

Turn 1 ended with a notable result only thanks to the 120mm barrages – apart from that a nasty wake-up call for the T-34s.

The Russian force came under fire from the StuGs, while two T-34s get bogged down in the mud (circled in yellow). The three large explosions on the Western side of the battlefield represent where the 120mm barrages drifted too. Click the map to view larger

Several days after Russian Turn 1, I realised I wasn’t playing the T-34 Mobility special rule either – allowing for re-rolls of difficult terrain dice. Eugh! So many lessons learnt. Amateurs mistake #3!

Germany Turn 1

Andy started his turned by ordering his officers a Tactical Coordinate. Drawing a BR token he attempted to muster an unpinning of a PAK40. The inexperienced gun-crew however preferred to keep their heads down – failure!

Not a great start for the Germans.

The Northern StuG III peeled off and raced down the road. Staying clear of the quagmire and muddy fields, he swung his fixed gun towards the approaching Russians.

He targeted a T-34 to the North, but lost him with a failed observation check.

Disappointing accuracy from the StuGs

Both StuGs in the central forest then fired off a combined salvo of 4 anti-tank shells. The dice were not looking favourable for Andy as all 4 shells missed the approaching T-34 convoy.

Hopefully some on-table artillery would have some better luck.

The Forward Observer Team, sandwiched between the firing StuGs, called up a harassing bombardment from an 80mm mortar in Sachsendorf. Continuing with his poor luck, the shells deviated wildly. Mercifully they hit both Russian rifle squads, however one made their save. 1x squad, hiding behind a bogged-down T-34 were pinned.

A Volksgrenadier Platoon command tried to call the 2nd 80mm mortar into action, but the failed their comms check, despite being only a matter of inches on the table apart.

Another Platoon Command squad attempted what the 1st failed to do – however Andy’s luck was still not with him – and that order failed also.

Maybe the StuH will have better aim!

The 4th piece of German armour, a StuH 42, moved through Sachsendorf and faced the approaching convoy front-on. They fired an AT shell to the tank beside the burning T-34, however this round also missed!

Several infantry units were ordered into Ambush Fire as Andy started the Rally phase. Thankfully this produced results and the following units were mustered for action next round: 2x Volksgrenadier squads and 2x PAK40s!

I counted up Andy’s orders while doing this write-up; he suffered from 5x missed AT shots, 2x failed observations, 2x failed communication tests, 1x failed Tactical Coordinate, 1x Wild Deviation.

With that luck, I’m sure he’s glad he didn’t attempt to drive through the quagmire!

Russian Turn 2

I thought the Russian had receive a bit of a blessing with the amount of failed or missed German AT shells raining down near them. Russian turn 2 was time to monopolise on that luck!

Before the game I had determined that my 3x IL-2 bombing runs would occur at the start of Russian Turn 2. Again, this actually meant we stopped and had to look up a bunch of rules, but slowly and surely we’re learning them (I hope!).

IL-2 bombs fall beside the German StuGs

The first IL-2 bombing run was to drop its 4x small bombs on the ‘S’ of Sachsendorf, just South-West of the towns T-junction. Now because I called this before deployment, I actually now wanted it to deviate somewhat. Irrespective of what I wanted, Andy’s Flakpanzer on the very Western part of the road managed to ‘pin’ the IL-2, forcing it back to base! Good work Andy.

The 2nd IL-2 managed to avoid the Northern Flakpanzer and drop its bombs ‘near’ the Southern tip of the trench line (pictured).

The bombs deviated quite significantly (3D6), especially without a air-observer on the table (whoops!), but they still hit their targets.

The payload managed to destroy a StuG and pin another! The loss of a StuG caused Andy to draw a BR5 counter – ouch!

On top of this, Andy took a BR3 counter for coming under air-craft fire.

Excellent results all round from that IL-2 crew.

The 3rd and finally IL-2 attempted to drop its payload back on the T-junction of Sachsendorf. With both Flakpanzers’ Ambush Fire orders used up, this IL-2 was free to approach!

A mild deviation saw the bombs fall somewhat of a distance away, missing the PAK40 and StuH, however they did throw down a few pins and killed a single Volksgrenadier.

Hardly game-winning, but it all adds up I guess.

I then rolled to see if either bogged down T-34s would be moving this turn – no they wouldn’t!

It was then time for the trio of SU-76M reinforcements to deploy.

3x Russian SU-76Ms deploy to the South

With the turkey-shoot happening on the main road into Sachsendorf, I deployed the SU-76Ms on the only other road I had access to – in the South. 2x quickly double moved into position behind a small forest, while a 3rd took aim and shot one of the StuG’s in the central forest.

The distance was within range by 1″, but the shot connected and pinned the StuG. Great shooting Tex! (What’s the Russian equivalent?)

Back on the main road two T-34s plowed forward, both seeking shelter in or behind tree lines. Thankfully neither bogged down, even if I did remember the T-34 Mobility rule this time.

The mine-clearer also reversed and found cover in a nearby shrubbery forest.

A pair of T-34s fired into the central forest, attempting to clear it of the Forward Observer Team or the pinned StuG. Neither succeeded.

To the North, the mobile T-34 succeeded in making huge gains toward the German trench line.

I ended my turn by attempting to Rally. I only had 2x pinned units but had barely drawn any BR tokens so far. For a BR4 counter, I unpinned my T-34 (on the main road) and my mortar-victim rifle squad in the South.

The Russians continue their advance, albeit slowly, onto the town of Sachsendorf

Germany Turn 2

With large swathes of the German force either out of range (all infantry etc) or pinned, Andy didn’t start turn 2 with too many options.

His first order was to fire his Southern PAK40, succeeding in scoring one hit against one of the T-34s down the road. Unfortunately for Andy, and following in his luck, the T-34 held its nerved and pulled off a ‘Beyond the call of duty’.

This allowed the T-34 to switch over the road and make a double-move dash towards the central forest.

Andy followed this up with his other PAK40, firing again on the T-34 that just performed the BTCOD. Both shots missed their target!

Quickly running out of usable AT guns, Andy turned back to the StuH in Sachsendorf. It stayed put and fired two further AT rounds down the road towards the wall of T-34s. Another 2 misses!

With no more usable AT guns left unpinned, he attempted a Tactical Coordination for his StuG in the forest. Drawing a BR5 token (ouch!) he promptly failed the TC experience roll. Double-ouch.

With no more AT guns – Andy entered the rally phase and drew a BR3 counter. At least next round the 2x pinned StuGs might get a chance to act.

Shot after shot, the Germans failed to hit their targets. Click to view larger

Continued in Part 2

Continue reading this after-action-report in the now published, Forlorn Hope at Sachsendorf Part 2 article.

3 thoughts on “Battlegroup AAR: Forlorn Hope at Sachsendorf

  1. Don’t forget to use the “T34 Mobility” Special Rule when going through tough terrain (roll two D6 and use the best option)

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Stuart. My understanding of that special rule was that you could re-roll a D6 if you want, not that you get to pick the best of two? I’ll have to check it out again!

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