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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Encirclement and breakout

Guest AAR From Anatoli's Game Room
September 16th, 1939(Page 39, the September campaign, last scenario in "Arm Wrestling the giant" operation)


Background:
The Polish counteroffensive started on September 9th  had come to a halt and the tide had turned as the Germans rapidly reinforced the weak spots in their lines. Following the success in the battle of Lowicz the Polish was faced with a strong German counterattack which broke any hopes of turning the tide of the situation in the west.  The battered armies of Poznan and Pomorze under Polish general Kutrzeba engaged in a fighting withdrawal towards Warsaw, hoping to somehow escape the tightening noose of German armies descending upon them from all directions.
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The fighting retreat led through the Kampinos forest west of Warsaw.  At this point the German armies closed the trap and the Polish army begins their breakout attempts, trying to make it through the German lines to join up with the Polish forces at Modlin fortress and the already besieged city of Warsaw. The Polish are battered and cannot expect to hold out much longer. In the end the bitter fighting in the Kampinos forest allowed for Generals Kutrzeba, Knoll-Kowacki and Tokarzewski, two cavalry brigades (Wielkopolska and Podolska) of General Abraham, and the 15th and 25th Infantry Divisions to break out of the German encirclement. German armies would pursue them and end up completely encircling both Modlin fortress and Warsaw with their bolstered and concentrated numbers.
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The scenario and special conditions:
This is a pretty cool but also rough scenario for the Polish. They have to escape with 20% of their platoons off the opposite short table edge. This means fighting their way  through a long corridor with German reinforcements appearing randomly from all sides to represent the complete encirclement. The Germans also have units in ambush adding to the danger and preventing pretty much all “on the double” movement the Polish might want to make out of self preservation.

The terrain represents the Kampinos forest, so dirt roads and a table dominated by forest patches.

As we had already played the previous scenario in this operation “Polish push towards Lowicz) (also documented in a battle report), we had the Polish victory outcome from that scenario to affect the conditions of the Polish army in this very scenario. A Polish victory in the previous scenario meant that the Polish had fought off the Germans well and long enough to allow for more troops to withdraw towards the Kampinos area. Thus the forces were matched evenly. If the Polish had lost the previous battle they would only have 75% of what the German army was playing in points!
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Polish battle plan:
I had so many units in this battle that it was hard to deploy them in a reasonable fashion. However, I did have a few things in mind as I was deploying. First of all, my 75mm artillery battery was supposed to cover med with smoke where needed so I deployed them in the center of my deployment. I also flanked this battery with one 37mm AT platoon and a HMG platoon on each flank as I figured there would be Germans appearing from behind me if I was unlucky and I really needed that smoke. I also had no desire to haul those AT guns or HMG teams across the table so all those platoons were pretty much intended as a rearguard. 

The breakthrough attempt was going to be handled by 3 infantry platoons, 1 7TP tank platoon, 1 platoon of cavalry and 1 platoon of scouts. I deployed the scouts on my right flank to at least be able to push along one table edge in relative safety. MY opponent announced that he would keep 1 HMG platoon and 1 AT gun platoon in ambush so that pretty much made me play safe with my only tank platoon, keeping them at my center and never spearheading anything but rather be there to help out where needed.
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The battle:
The Polish had first turn, moving their “assault” platoons forward, the artillery and HMG platoons failed to dig in save one single 37mm platoon.  From the distance the sound of approaching tank engines could be heard. As fate would have it the Germans Pz38(t) tanks appeared from the rear (sector 5), realizing the worst case scenario. Luckily this was so far the only German platoon, though they immediately went on the offensive catching Polish 1st platoon in the back quickly reducing them in number. The Polish platoon barely escaped away from the tanks losing nearly half of their strength.

The Polish assault forces continue to move forwards, again most of the troops ordered to “dig in” fail to do so – but luckily the HMG platoon on the Pz38(t) flank manage to complete their foxholes. While the infantry and cavalry move deeper into the forest the 7TP tanks make a turn and position themselves to face the Pz38(t) tanks. Then the Polish 2iC orders the two mortars to cover the enemy tanks in smoke, to force the enemy tanks to move before they can fire at anything else – and the 7TP tanks in particular.

Meanwhile on the opposite flank more German troops arrive from behind. One platoon of Schützen and one platoon of PzII tanks arrive in sector 4, while a German mortar platoon arrive in sector 1. Now the Polish had 2 tank platoons in the rear and a mortar platoon ahead of them. The PzII platoon wreaked havoc firing at infantry but casualties among the retreating Polish 2nd platoon were low.  The Schützen platoon took up position across the road facing the Polish HMG team which came under fire but didn’t take any losses at all. On the opposite flank the Pz38(t) tanks moved out of the smokescreen guns blazing and crashed into the forest to annihilate the Polish dug in HMG platoon.

Polish anti tank guns and the 7TP tank platoon immediately start shelling the Pz38(t) as they appear near the forest edge, destroying 3 tanks and making the remaining 2 flee, clearing the threat on at least one rear flank. Infantry and cavalry push onwards into the forest,  while HMG teams and AT guns on the right flank provide covering fire. The effects are poor as none of the German targets, tank nor infantry, become neutralized. The German schützen platoon moves out and with a streak of luck destroys the polish HMG platoon in one salvo, while the PzII platoon turns around to attack the nearest 37mm AT gun platoon, Polish defensive fire from the AT guns only manage to knock out a single PzII before the guns are overrun, as the Panzer II’s push onward they are finally caught in a crossfire from the 75mm artillery and the 7TP tanks which ends up another 2 PzII tanks and bail the remaining 2, clearing the Panzer threat from the rear.
By this time the Polish assault force had roughly covered half the distance to the other side of the forest, but the Germans had yet to pop their platoons in ambush and there were still German recon vehicles and more infantry waiting to descend upon them.

German mortars start harassing the approaching Polish forces, mostly concentrating on the Polish right flank spearheaded by the scouts and the Polish 2nd platoon. The cavalry moved out from one forest patch heading for the next when they became hit by mortar fire and a revealed German HMG ambush. Most of the Polish cavalry was cut down, but the platoon commander and one team pushed on regardless and reached their position. The Polish artillery immediately laid down a smoke bombardment preventing the enemy HMG to do much more against the approaching Polish forces.

The rearmost Schützen platoon moved up within range and started firing at the Polish 75mm artillery battery to prevent more smoke being launched, successfully destroying 2 artillery teams before coming under fire from the remaining Polish light AT platoon which reduced their numbers by half.

The remainder of the German reinforcements appeared in the best possible sectors. 1 platoon of German recon vehicles in sector 1 and 6 each and last German schützen platoon in sector 2. They were later to be joined by the German CO arriving in sector 2 and the German 2iC arriving in sector 3.  German mortars and recon vehicles kept hammering the Polish infantry, 1st platoon takes severe casualties in its already weakened state and scatters.  What remained of the Polish cavalry decided to make a mad dash and charge the smoked German HMG platoon with predictable result, leaving it up to the Polish 7TP tanks roll up and annihilate the German HMG positions. The German losses were replaced by a Pak36 platoon springing its ambush instantly firing at the Polish tanks, forcing 3 of them to bail. The Polish 3rd Platoon led by the Commanding Officer and supported by the Scouts led the assault on the Pak36 position.

The entire center and northernmost left flank was a mayhem of tanks and recon vehicles moving about and assaulting infantry, smoke bombardments, infantry small arms fire and assaults.  As both armies dropped below the breaking point each counterattack could be decisive.  In the end, the badly battered Polish 3rd platoon and scouts supported by the remnants of 2nd platoon took over the forest and destroyed the Pak36 position, survived the onslaught of assaulting recon vehicles and managed to push the German. Caught from the right flank by the second German Schützen platoon and motorcycle MG’s they took even more casualties to the point where the scouts had 4 stands left, 2nd platoon 1 stand and the attached Commanding officer and the 3rd platoon was down to 3 stands.

Polish 7TP tanks cleared the enemy mortar platoon and destroyed one more recon vehicle, which in the end made the German remnants break and open up the escape route for what remained of  the Polish army, ending the battle a Polish victory – and having both the Polish commander and 2iC survive the battle.
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Thoughts about the battle:
It is almost ridiculous how all battles played from the campaign have had historical outcome. The battle in the Kampinos forest was in real life a bloody affair with high casualties on both sides but part of the Polish force that had become surrounded managed to break through, including the Polish commander who would join up in the defense of Warsaw.

It was also really thematic to have the German troops appear in the sectors where they actually did. Having the German armor chase the army from behind and enemy troops appearing from the north and on the left flank was really cool and indeed gave a feeling of being surrounded. The threat of enemy units in ambush also slowed me down, as running on the double with any infantry platoon only to have HMG’s appear would be a massacre. Though underperforming the part of my army left as a rearguard ended up doing what they were supposed to and eliminated the threat of the German panzers. This was also the first battle where smoke bombardment from the Polish side made an impact as I got to use both my command mortars and 75mm artillery for what they were intended to do.

All in all a great and very intense game! Towards the end both the Polish and German army was rolling for company morale, which only tells half the story as most of the Polish units rolled for platoon morale every time they lost a team as they were so battered!

Both of us also suffered from insane poor die rolls more than once. The German Pak36 platoon failed to kill the 7TP platoon as they score 1 single hit out of 6 shots fired, the Polish counterattack was likewise embarrasing with just a handful of hits even though 3-4 units combined their shooting...
I know I need new dice, the one's I play with are old GW crap dice I bought some 10 years ago and they are always performing well below average with more 1's and 2's than anything else...

I hope you guys enjoy the higher picture resolution. I ended up reducing the size to 1200x900 instead of my usual 800x600, because a lot of the pictures I took were from a distance which made most troops hard to tell apart.

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