Kristenfaag, Norway 1940 by Mal Wright
I have been running a PBEM campaign covering the early battles of WW2. The actual players are from all over the world, but when battles have to be fought out, these are determined on the tabletop using some of the players from my own city.
Having advanced to Kristenfaag during the morning and probed the defences, the German command ordered an assault on the village for the afternoon move.
German forces comprised a Battleground built around the 139th (Carinithian) Mountain Regiment. They were reinforced by a company of five tanks. They were supported by 105mm artillery. They were also able to call in support from the Luftwaffe. The only German 'Super weapon' present was a ricketty Panzer NbFz 'A' multi turret tank. This had lots of firepower, but pitiful armour. The rest were Panzer 1 and II tanks. The Mountain Regiment had its own support weapons as well.
They were opposed by French troops of the 12th Battalion of the Chasseurs Alpins. This unit had three companies, plus a heavy weapons company. They were backed by a mountain gun battery with 65mm guns, and could call on support from the 1st Colonial Battery with 75mm guns. In Kristenfaag itself was a single element of the 14th Anti Tank company. A Norwegian unit had been at Kristenfaag earlier in the day, but had left by the time the Germans attacked.
The mountain road was very restricted which prevented the tanks from leaving the road. The road and village were in a deep valley with high mountains either side, which prevented the position being easily bypassed. From a defensive viewpoint, the area was quite restricted. The French Commander Colonel Le BeeT (our own Big Trevor Ford ) was of the opinion that the area was too big for an effective defence, but I thought it was not too bad as German vehicles and tanks could not leave the road and woods provided plenty of cover for the defender. There were woods and obstacles breaking the snow covered ground. The Village buildings were made of wood and provided no secure cover, but did break up the line of sight. This along with the rest of the terrain made it hard for the Germans to get a long distance view of everything and ensured that the battle would be fought out at close range. The general effect was to cause an attacker to be channelled into certain approach lines.
Some of the French were dug in on their left in heavy woods. This was an excellent position because the approach to it was across an open patch of snow covered field. It was difficult to approach without being exposed and the French could engage any attackers before they could reach any sort of cover.
The centre was more confused with light trees leading right through to the village and these provided some cover. However a building on the outskirts of the village had a stout stone wall, and this was turned into a machinegun position that could cover the open field to the left, as well as some of the road. The area was also covered by the mortar and mountain guns as well as the Artillery Observer being well placed to watch it. None the less it was by far the weakest point of the French line.
The French right was on a wooded hill with a small ravine splitting it in half. The French dug in among the wooded front slope, with the ravine behind them. I thought this was a potential disaster waiting to happen, but events showed the use of the cover outweighed this risk.
The German attack jumped off well under the command of our own Richard Von Baldric. His command post was set up facing the French left flank and he kept the regimental support elements with him. The second battalion of the 139th advanced through some light woods, but on coming out into the open had to cross a snow covered field before reaching the woods defended by the French left. Here they were met by fairly heavy fire and although casualties were not severe the attack stalled. The elements of this battalion near the centre of the table were not in contact however, and continued on.
German 105mm artillery shelled the village, wrecking buildings and starting fires, but expecting this Le BeeT had left them unoccupied, so the bombardment was ineffective.
However on the French right, the Germans had less distance to travel and after some initial firing, were quickly into melee range. This was why I had been dubious about the French defending in front of the Ravine as the attackers were able to achieve a three to one advantage. Colonel le Trev was expressing grave reservations about being able to hold and I was inclined to agree with him.
While all this was going on Von Baldric decided to make the only really bold move of the battle when he threw his tanks forward along the road and advanced halfway across the table, right up to the outskirts of Kristenfaag. This looked to be a disaster for the French. The tanks passed through their defensive lines and if they continued on would split the Chasseurs in two. However at this point the single 25mm of the 14th anti tank unit, came into play. It engaged the Panzer NbFz 'A'. I was a little surprised that it failed to knock this very soft skinned vehicle out altogether. However the effect of the fire was that Von Baldric halted and fired back. The chance to Blitz the French had been lost.
German artillery fire on the village continued to be spectacular but ineffective as they didn't know there were no French there to hit.
To the right of the now stopped Panzer Column the French centre position comprised a machinegun position that was holding up the German infantry advance. Although adjacent to the Panzers, they could not actually see it, so Von Baldric called for air support. This duly arrived but was somewhat off line. Some of the French defenders were taken out by the screaming Stuka s, but the overshoots fell among the Panzer column. Both leading Panzer II tanks were destroyed which also blocked the road quite effectively. The lumbering NbFz 'A' was barely missed.
But on the French right, German Left, the melee had eventually gone the way of the attackers, forcing the defenders back into the ravine. Things were not only looking desperate for Le BeeT's men, but *were* desperate.
However at this time, as if influenced by the air attack fiasco, things started to swing the French way. On the left they were able to put down a withering fire that continued to stall the German attack, while causing the attackers casualties to soar. To add to their problems the French succeeded in calling down Artillery which was not only absolutely on target, but fell with deadly effect. Probably one of the most effective artillery barrages I have seen in a wargame for a very long time up to that time. The attackers crumbled away and the attack went from stalled, to completely stopped.
Heartened by the success the right flank infantry counter attacked out of the ravine but this was repulsed and the French were forced to fall back. It looked as if this flank was finally beaten and to their rear the concealed anti tank gun was finally overpowered in its duel with the three remaining German tanks and forced to withdraw.
But the effect of this was that the Germans having gained the top of the hill, were also a safe enough distance away from the retreating defenders for artillery to be called in by the FAO. Once again the request was met and once again the bombardment was devastating, much to the chagrin of Von Baldric. The hits scored were even better than the previous success. The entire Battalion was stopped in its tracks and the level of casualties ruined any hope they could continue the attack. Unfortunately for them the remaining French elements were caught in the same zone and being out of their dug positions and were badly hit. Had the German casualties not been so severe, any chance of the French rallying to continue the defence would have been gone anyway.
However the permitted casualties for the German side now reached critical and they were forced to make a group check, which they failed. Von Baldric could only order a general withdrawal of his badly battered force. This was not too difficult as the French were completely unable to stop them anyway and they had run out of artillery fire. The French infantry were only too happy to see the Germans withdraw and Le BeeT was hardly able to believe his luck.
The BlitzkriegCommander rules work extremely well. There are many aspects about them than can appear dubious to the casual observer. Especially some of the die rolls. Yet during the game these all come together very smoothly. The game flows very well and the die rolls make a lot of sense because they are part of that flow. The math work, and although there are occasions when one has to roll a lot of die, these are not as frequent as one might expect from a casual reading of the rules. The number rolled are usually within normal game expectations.
Aspects such as Bad Command rolls and Good Command rolls add further elements to the normal ups and downs of the command roll system itself. My group have come to admire the way this makes for a very interesting game and throws a lot of responsibility onto the decisions of the players. Some rules will give players too much advantage one way or another. These allow advantages for those with good communications and command systems, but once these have effected the die roll, it is entirely up to the skill of the player to turn this to an advantage or not.
Vehicle and troop stats vary, but tend to even out unless a player really uses them to advantage, superior vehicles etc. do not convey a great advantage. In other words, the ability of a player to *command* and make the right *command decisions* decides the game. Yes, there is a certain element of luck in what opportunities present themselves. But it is still a matter of how the player uses those opportunities that will decide the battle. A player could have all the luck in the world during a game, but bad decisions and poor judgement will overwhelm that.
In our Kristenfaag battle, as with others we have played using these rules, player decisions still controlled the game. The amount of luck could extend the game, but ultimately skill decided it. During the Kristenfaag battle it could be argued that 'luck' really only helped the French twice and even then it became a matter of how the commander used it that decided the result. Big Trev used both opportunities well, and the balance of reasonable probabilities followed along with him and produced a reward. Conversely, there were several opportunities for the German side, but the decisions taken proved not to be the right ones and as a result were not rewarded. This is not to say the German player made lots of bad decisions. On the contrary he made some good ones as well as bad ones but the situations of the good were not as rewarding as the bad.