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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Kingly Debacle: Tom's Guns of August AAR

by Tom De Mayo
I took some pictures, but they turned out poorly, so you're stuck with this stock photo.  King Tiger.  Wikipedia.

A Foolish Choice

On Saturday August 24th, I attended the Guns of August Flames of War tournament.  This year, it was kindly run by Eric Lauterbach of I-95 Gamer fame.  The tournament was a 1500 point Late War tank themed battle: three rounds, only mech and armor companies, 0-1 artillery choice.

My most recent battle had been a last spanking from Steve before he left for New Zealand.  In that game, his CV US tanks from Blood, Guts and Glory totally destroyed my force of RT German Panzer IVs, StuGs and Panthers.  The Jumbos were particularly frustrating, able to soak up Panther hits with near-impunity.  It didn't help that we'd forgotten the Panthers could gun-tank the lighter hulls.

That experience definitely affected my choice of list for Guns of August.  I toyed around with several lists, but I really wanted German tanks that could easy-kill a Jumbo. So, remembering I had some King Tigers I'd painted but never played, I came up with the following list:

  Confident    Veteran  PanzerkompanieGerman Late-War
Tank Company
Panzerkompanie HQ p.21
2Panzer IV H190
Combat Platoons
Panzer Platoon p.21
3Panzer IV H285
Panzer Platoon p.21
3Panzer IV H285
Divisional Support
Heavy Tank Platoon p.48
2Königstiger (Porsche)680
Company Points:1440
www.EasyArmy.comSource document: Fortress Europe

This list followed my usual German design principles: 2-3 heavy hitters capable of killing almost anything and then as many mediums as I could cram into a force. I hadn't been to a tournament for a while, but I figured the list would do okay if I used the KTs to engage enemy armor frontally while the PzIVs protected their flanks and gunned down any infantry brave or crazy enough to attend a tank-fest.  It was, however, smaller than I would have liked.

Bad mistake.

The Games
Game One: Ed Leland

 My first game was against Ed Leland's British Shermans (out of Overlord, I think).  The scenario was a funky I-95 concoction called "Seize the Flank." In it, both players started side by side near one short edge, and raced to an objective near the other.  Mandatory reserves (half the force) came in on turn two. (Remember, this was a vehicle-heavy game, so there was no need to worry about slow infantry.)

Ed started with some Shermans and Stuarts, and I started with King Tigers covering the board center.  Around about turn two, I made a serious error, advancing my Tigers in such a way that Ed's oncoming reserve could fire into their flanks.  This was almost criminally stupid, since there was no reason for me to angle my tanks forward.  Anyway, his Sherman platoons, sporting some high AT guns on the Fireflies, vaporized one KT and bailed the other, who promptly fled.  He also killed a couple of PzIVs I'd brought on.  My Company broke in his next shooting phase, a 0-6 loss. Ouch! 

Game Two: Sean Sarah

My second game was also against British armor, in this case Sean Sarah's Desert Rats RV Cromwells. We played Dust Up, which is like Breakthrough, only both players must contend with enemy reserves arriving to their side/rear. Sean placed one objective in the relative open in the center: the others were somewhat back, and partially or completely in terrain.

This time, my King Tigers held back, using terrain to shield their sides, but Sean pulled my largest platoon of PzIVsinto the cauldron in the center by contesting the center objective with some Cromwells just barely in range behind terrain.  My tanks on the other hand, were fully exposed and took terrible casualties.  The Cromwells did what they should do, by racing rapidly to my flanks, but their attempts at killing the KTs with direct fire to the sides failed.  However, his small unit of 25pdrs performed awesomely -- freakishly awesomely --  by killing BOTH King Tigers in three rounds of indirect fire. I rolled ones; he rolled sixes.  Boom!  Boom!  Doom!

Anyway, even before they died, I had basically lost. Significant casualties among my PzIVs meant I could no longer protect both my objectives simultaneously. At least in this game, however, I was able to kill an enemy platoon, and so lost 1-5.

Sean has a blog over at Throck of War

Game Three: Matt Brewer

My third game was against Matt Brewer's CT US armor from Blood, Guts and Glory.  He had two mixed platoons with 76s, 75s, Easy-8s and the (much-dreaded) Jumbos, a third platoon of tank destroyers, and some 105s.  The mission was Free-For-All.  In this game, my list performed exactly as I had envisioned it.  I placed 5 PzIVs to one side, facing against a mixed Sherman platoon and the 105s.  On the other flank, the KTs and a smaller platoon of 3 PzIVs.  I had cover for everything in cornfields and tree rows.  Matt's TDs and Shermans advanced under full cover, but froze up in the face of my King Tigers and did not risk moving into the open.

On the other flank, the 2nd platoon of mixed Shermans engaged my PzIVs. Here the PzIVs did superbly, picking off all the lighter Shermans through weight of fire and use of Gun Tank.  Eventually, only the poor Jumbo remained, before I swarmed his flanks and shot him to bits.  The 105s tried to kill Panzers with indirect fire, but failed to account for any.  My PzIVs then advanced on them and destroyed them.  (AT 9 RoF 1 just doesn't cut in in a tank fight.)

On the main flank, my three PzIVs exposed themselves to the TD recon teams, and Matt duly ambushed them.  He killed one or two, but I then had targets for my King Tigers and killed the Tank Destroyers.  While this was going on, his 2nd mixed Sherman platoon tried to reposition itself to his collapsing flank, but his Company broke before they could arrive.  Result, a 6-0 victory.

Whew!  For once, the KTs did not let me down, but even so, it was closer a result than might appear in the victory points.  If I had lost my 5 PzIVs, I would have had nothing to prevent Matt from taking an objective: the KTs are too slow to ever redeploy.  Furthermore, I think the scenario and terrain killed his tanks as much as I did -- he had to advance, and he could not effectively flank my heavy armor.


My King Tigers list was simply too small for my taste, too fragile, and too vulnerable to any error. 

I found that the King Tigers themselves have several glaring deficiencies:

1) They simply do not put out enough shots to be worthwhile. In every game I played, my opponent was able to avoid them almost completely or reduce them to hitting on 5s or 6s with RoF 1.  680 points for two shots is simply not worth it, regardless of the AT value of that shot.

2) Their Side Armor of 8 just isn't very impressive any more.  There are so many Allied tanks with AT 12, AT 13 or AT 14 that the KTs are extremely vulnerable to being flanked. 

3) They are surprisingly unweildly.  The Overloaded rule gives them a 33% Bog Check and thus effectively precludes them from entering terrain.  I found this a greater hindrance than I expected.  Even a tank that carries around its own invulnerable front armor needs to move across obstacles, get from one terrain box to another, or move up to support or engage targets in some trees. The King Tiger can't do any of those things without seriously risking its own doom.

On the other hand, I was favorably impressed by my Panzer IVs.  When deployed in terrain and in sufficient numbers, they effectively engaged all types of Allied armor.  I was particularly impressed with their performance against the feared BGG Sherman platoons.  With lots of tanks and a high RoF, they could still kill the lighter Shermans and (thus) neutralize the higher armored variants.  AT 11 remains respectable against FA 7, and higher values seem rare.  (I saw only one Churchill army and a few Churchill AVREs.)  The PzIV FA of 6 is still crap, and largely useless against heavier allied guns, but between Veteran and Stormtrooper, they remain pretty survivable.


So, want some random theory-hammer from a proven loser?  Here goes.

I think of German armor as having four potential axes of advantage in Flames of War:

1) Heavy Armor: such as on the Tiger, King Tiger, and Panther.
2) Big Guns: AT 11 on the mediums.  AT 13 and up and sometimes a range of 40" on the big cats.
3) Veterancy: hit me on a 6!
4) Storm Trooper: Now you can't see me. Nyaa! Nyaa!

Depending on the tank, the era, and the environment (available campaign books), some of these advantages may be more prominent, and others may be less important or altogether absent. In MW, on the western front, for example, the Tiger I has huge advantages in 1 and 2 against pretty much every Allied tank. For a long time, the Tiger and the Panther had similar advantages in LW western front, but while I was under a rock, not paying attention, they have lost them.

Plentiful AT 13 and 14 now effectively counter FA 9 and 10 and any remaining German gun dominance. Maximizing advantage 1, as I did, seems cost prohibitive.

If I'm going to seek any German advantage, then, I think it should now be in 3 and 4.  A higher Allied AT doesn't mean squat if they can't hit my tanks hiding in bushes or ninja-ing away out of line of sight.  Larger numbers of lighter tanks means individual casualties will be less hurtful overall.

So next time: more Panzer IVs?  Some Marders?

Or perhaps give it up and dig out my US and British models.

Tom de Mayo is the author of and an associate professor of history at J Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA. Since the foundation of WWPD, his crotch has loomed over innumerable battles and brought terror and war to the fair fields of 15mm France.

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