Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Red Sabres and Land Battleships

I've been remiss with postings over the last several weeks, so I'm working backwards now to cover our last few Bolt Action games, starting with Saturday's game in this post (because it's fresh in my memory) and going back to July in subsequent posts (for which I'll just make up stuff because I have no recollection now of how the games went).

The genesis for Saturday's game was when I bought a 1:56 scale T-35 from Company B Miniatures at Enfilade! in May. It was a long time getting done, but I finally completed it in September and was eager to get it into a game. I've completed T-35s in three scales now: the C-in-C model in 1:285th, the now out-of-production Battlefront (Flames of War) model in 15mm, and now this great hulking beast.

Land battleship Potemkin
The T-35 fascinates me. The whole idea of the land battleship, of which the T-35 was the epitome, was so wrong-headed—but compelling. All those turrets firing an all-around arc of mayhem has such an irresistible appeal.

Action off the port bow!
The great tragedy of the T-35, of course, is that it never got into serious action and, despite its formidable appearance and bristling gun turrets, it was a truly crappy tank. It was much underpowered, which lead to its remarkable frequency of mechanical breakdown (a fate that befell 90% of the T-35s deployed in 1941). Also, its multiplicity of turrets made it impossible for the tank commander to direct the action of the vehicle's 11 crew because there was no internal communication system.

But this was the occasion to get it on the table as well as to give Bill Stewart's Soviets and Germans a furlough from their storage boxes.

The game was a 1941 scenario with veteran German infantry holding against a Soviet counterattack lead by the T-35 and a couple squadrons of cavalry. We have no 1941 German tanks in suitable camouflage (as a later post of an earlier game will show, they all wound up in Libya), so we had to trust to the Bolt Action rules about the T-35's unreliability, namely that any pin result from fire takes an automatic +1 pin as well. This is a significant drawback because the tank can be reduced to an ineffectual state after just a few hits. However, perhaps as compensation, the Bolt Action rules make its armor a 9+, which is generous considering that the thickest armor on the tank was only 30mm.

The Russians were Jerry Tyer, Dick Larsen, and I. The Germans were Bill Stewart (who painted all the figures except the "beast") and Phil "clear cut" Bardsley.

I was in the center with my "beast" and two infantry squads. Jerry was on the right with an infantry squad, cavalry squadron, Maxim MMG, and an infantry command group. Dick was on the left with a mortar,  infantry squad, cavalry squadron, and mounted command group.

Facing us were Phil on the German right with probably two infantry squads and an MMG, but it was hard to tell because all the trees were in Phil's way. As the game progressed, there were fewer and fewer trees in Phil's position.

Phil's infantry holds the line amidst sylvan splendor 
Bill, on the left, had two squads, an MMG, and two 81mm mortars. Because the Germans had no tanks or AT weapons to counter the "beast," we allowed an integral AT rifle to each squad—which, it turned out, they didn't need...

Steadfast defenders of the pea-patch
I started out advancing a squad down to the river to cross a bridge, which I expected to draw Phil's infantry out of hiding. Once Phil broke cover to shoot my infantry, I unleashed the "beast" and gave Phil three turrets' worth of attention resulting in many hits and a few casualties.

Across the stream
The eruption of all that firepower from the T-35 got the attention of Bill's mortar battalion. The first few salvos missed, but it would only be a matter of time before they zeroed in. Phil's infantry got a hit against the "beast" with its AT rifle, which resulted in two pins using the special rule for the T-35. I was able to get it firing again and put more hurt on Phil's infantry, but time was running out for the land battleship.

On the Soviet left, Dick began his patented move-down-the-table-edge maneuver. His cavalry advanced, but then bolted back in response to a fusillade of 7.92mm bullets from Phil's MG-34.

Defending "Festung Teichschaum"
On the Soviet right. Jerry moved forward with his cavalry against Bill's advanced position "Festung Teichschaum" (fortress pond-scum). Faced with a bit of boggy ground that impeded rapid movement, Jerry withdrew his cavalry after the mausers opened up on him. At this point, both cavalry squadrons had pulled back in response to German fire, but couldn't get far enough back to escape getting hit.

Red Sabres forward!
Jerry advanced his Maxim gun to a position that took both of Bill's positions under fire, although Bill's reserve position, "Festung Erbsenfeld" (fortress pea-patch) was at long range. The Maxim took a few hits early on and was reduced to one heroic machine-gunner keeping up a desultory fire. The minuses for long range, target in cover, and reduced crew (-3 net) made it tough for Jerry to make any impression on "Festung Erbsenfeld" and Bill's Landser remained relatively untouched throughout the game.

Meanwhile, my infantry and the "beast" were whittling away at Phil's right-hand infantry squad and eventually eliminated it with the help of a few 82mm rounds from Dick's mortar.

However, Bill's mortars had finally zeroed in on the T-35 and it was soon hopelessly pinned. I was able to rally once and roll off all the pins, but I was still stationary under a barrage of mortar fire and by next turn, I could no longer do anything because I couldn't pass an order test.

Pinned and useless
Jerry moved his command group to the "beast" to provide some moral persuasion, but a commissar with a pistol has little effect on motivating a tank to return to a state of socialist ardor sufficient to perform as desired. Despite numerous fresh .38 caliber splash marks on the T-35's paint job, the "beast" would do nothing for the rest of the game and eventually withdrew when the number of pins became too great to ever roll off. Even if I had managed to carry out an action, a -4 or more penalty for pins would render any fire insignificant.

I was able to get my two infantry squads to advance. One went towards Phil's position on the hill and the other moved to flank "Festung Teichschaum." Faced with two Soviet squads closing in, Bill abandoned his position and got himself embogged in the swamp to his rear.

Attacking Phil's hill
Flank attack on "Festung Teichschaum" 
Jerry took advantage of Bill's withdrawal to move his infantry into Bill's former position, where he took out the FO for Bill's mortars, and to move his cavalry around to charge in and sabre the retreating Hun. Stormed at with shot and shell and reduced to 40% of its original numbers, there was no stopping the horsemen once they had a target in range.

Sabres in the bog
But in the next turn, "Festung Erbsenfeld" opened up and eliminated Jerry's few remaining bolshies on horsies. It's a glorious—but brief—career in the Red Cavalry.

Dick had been slowly working away at Phil's MMG with his infantry squad while Phil moved his other infantry squad to counter the advance of my infantry (and replace his eliminated squad). This gave Dick the opportunity to move his cavalry unopposed down the table edge to ultimately break through the German line.

Skulking to victory!
Dick ultimately took out Phil's MMG with an assault, which left the road open to another breakthrough (although he didn't make it off the table by game's end).

My infantry was now effectively out of action due to repeated hits that pinned me to the point of uselessness. I routinely failed order check after order check.

By turn six, Phil had one mostly intact squad left, Bill was still holding "Festung Erbsenfeld" with one squad and an MMG, with his two mortars still untouched.

Holding "Festung Erbsensfeld"
My "beast" had departed and I had two very reduced, very pinned squads. Jerry had a shot-up Maxim and a shot-up squad. There was no chance we were going to get these troops off the board past Bill's positions, but Dick's cavalry was galloping around the German rear area like J.E.B. Stuart and his infantry were close behind.

We called it a minor tactical win for Stalin's minions.

No set plans for the next game, but I will run a small Pacific War game at the upcoming NHMGS game day at the Paine Field Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, WA.


  1. Amazing looking figures and terrain, David. I've not played any games for sometime, and your report makes up for this. Best, Dean

  2. Very nice! I played a game with a T-35 once. It was fine until an AT gun hit me and set the casino and lido deck on fire.

  3. Thanks, Dean. Except for the T-35, the figures were all painted by Bill Stewart.

  4. Excellent battle write up, and kudos to Bill Stewart for his excellently painted troops, especially the cavalry!

    Quick question; who manufactured the trees you used?