Monday, 3 April 2017

My time at the Nor'Easter ASL Tournament

Well, I have just returned from the Nor'Easter, an Advanced Squad Leader tournament that was held in Boxborough, Massachusetts.  I had a wonderful time and I must at first credit the organizers for hosting a great tournament.
Nor'Easter at Nor'Easter
I arrived on Wednesday evening and settled in for some rest.  The next day, Thursday, was open gaming.  It was a chance for all players to warm up their dice and to get some games in.  Heeding some advice from an old ASL Annual article on how to win a tournament, I ensured that I wouldn't burn myself out, especially in the open gaming.
Pace yourself, lads
I first played my old friend John Wood in a game from Bounding Fire Productions.  "The Commissar's Folly" is a match set in Poland in 1939.  The army of the USSR invaded Poland a few weeks after the Germans did and this represents one of those battles.  For this match I drew the Poles.
Poles ready to Defend
I defended well against John and ended up winning the match.  For the weekend I started on a positive note!
Not this time, Commie rats!
Next in my schedule was for me to heed advice from the article.  I decided to eat well and then up to my room for a nap.  Playing is mentally taxing and I confirmed this once I got to the room: I was asleep within minutes!
Artist's Rendition: me napping between matches
I returned to the playing room later and John wanted a rematch!  This time it was "Among the Dead", a scenario from Journal 11.  This scenario represents a battle between German paratroopers and soldiers from New Zealand.  Set in Crete, the Germans are set to attack the defending New Zealanders, with some Greek troops in the village.  I was able to withstand attacks by German Stukas and in the end emerged with the win.  Not a bad start: 2 and 0 in open gaming and my dice were indeed warmed up!
Ready for the attack!
Next was the Main Tournament.  My plan was to lose in the first round and then enter the mini tournament on Saturday.  That was not to be!  I played Chuck Tewksbury in a match set in 1940 with the Germans attacking the French.  "Go Big or Go Home!" was the title, and in a tight match, I was able to hold off the Germans for the win, actually knocking out one of his attacking tanks and immobilizing the other!  So, 1-0 in the tournament and 3-0 overall!  I had completely shattered my expectations!
I went big and Chuck stayed home.  Ha!
Now I was on to round 2.  So, from 32 who started, I was in the "Sweet 16".  My opponent was Vic Rosso.  We both wanted to play the defending Americans, but he rolled for them, thus giving me the balance for the scenario.  The year for the scenario was 1944, and as the German, I had to flee past French Maquis and US forces.  Also, the bulk of my forces were in horse drawn wagons.  And to add a bit of color, the US had air support to help them in their efforts!
"I'll call you 'human shield'
I started out cautiously with my wagons following my meagre armored force.  With the armored cars racing for the exit, my wagons followed behind in their pathetic column.  Some French resistance fighters did engage, but with little effect.  In an effort to help them out, the US Army Air Force came in and strafed many of my men, sending them scattered into the ditches.  Alas, my armored cars raced off for a total of 15 out of my required 25 Victory Points.
The Escape underway
The US forces were soon on board in force and a duel of sorts rang out.  One of my Marders scored a lucky hit on a US Armored Car, destroying it.  I was now 5 points away from victory!  A failed critical hit by a bazooka later (the dreaded boxcars following the snake eyes!), I was able to force my way past his defenders with a Marder for the win.
The one that got away!
So, after the second round, I was 2-0 in the tournament and 4-0 over all!  I had now completely shattered my expectations.  Now was time for rest and to get ready for round 3.  I was in the final eight!

The next match pitted me up against Ron Duenskie.  For this one, I was set back in Poland in 1939. Not many realize this, but Poland was attacked by Slovakia in conjunction with the Germans.  This scenario, "The Winter City" represents a battle between these two belligerents.  I drew the Poles and by the end of the first turn I had no doubts as to the outcome: his 81mm mortar was on a rate tear and cut my force in half.  The blood bath was over soon and I fell.  This of course knocked me out of the tournament for top 3 (it's a single-elimination style tournament), but still, after starting 4-1, I was quite happy.
Those trenches didn't help...
Fate would see me battling John Wood again. This time we chose Panzer Spirit, a battle set on the Eastern Front in July 1943.  He would be the attacking Soviets and I the defending Waffen SS in a battle near Kursk.  His eight (8!) T 34s were up against my four meagre Marders.  My men were tough, but few in number. And my only AT Gun was a puny PAK 38. I didn't like my chances.
"I can't believe they called us 'puny'"
As the battle progressed, it turned out to be a see saw affair.  I started out hot by knocking out 2 of his tanks as they approached the town.  But then things got messy.  My men started falling and his got closer and closer to town.  The one high point for me was that his tanks avoided my hidden Anti Tank gun.  I unveiled it, knocking out an enemy tank at point blank range.  John made sure the crew paid for it with their lives, over running them, not once, but twice!
In the end, I needed to mount a counter attack to win the game, but that I did.  My men held out and with all but one of my Marders destroyed, I sent the Russians back from whence they came!  I improved to 3 and 1 for the tournament and 5-1 overall.
Victory Smoke
For the last day, I was up against Mike Allexenberg for Zon with the Wind.  I drew the defending Germans against the attacking Americans.  This scenario represented one of the many battles in Operation Market Garden.  The US Paratroopers are trying to take a bridge as the Germans defend it with some 88s.
Defending 88
In the end, I lost, but the key part was near the end when my 88 fired point blank on some US troops. They actually all passed their MC.  I fired again, needing an 11 to hit. Naturally I rolled 12 and that allowed his forces to swarm past me for the win.  I ended up 3 and 2 in the tournament and finished probably 6th or 7th (some of the other participants left early and didn't finish the fifth round).
That bridge is MINE
So, home I went.  I won more games than I lost.  I expected to win a game.  Maybe two.  But to come home with five, I was extremely happy.  Tired, but happy.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

ASL Replay: LASSH 12 Contact!

Today I got to play another game of Advanced Squad Leader.  This tactical war game is considered the gold standard of such games.  It is rather complex, but in its complexity one will find its genius. As I stated previously, it is by playing ASL that I have gained a better understanding of the events of the Second World War.  

So, today I set out to my friend Monty's place for a match that pitted members of the SS-Division (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler against defenders from the Soviet 51st Army. Crimea would be the setting for the battle as the elements of II. Battalion.  This was the ASL Scenario "Contact!" by Lone Canuck Publishing, part of a series of scenarios focused on this Waffen SS division.

The Scenario

As the Soviet, it was up to me to defend.  With my meagre force of ten first line squads, augmented by four machine guns, I was hoping to hold off a total of 11 elite SS squads augmented by a variety of support weapons, including eight machine guns. My leader to squad ratio was to be 1:5, while Monty had 1:2.4.  Quite an advantage!

I had a plan, fairly simple. I would develop a forward force that would conduct a delay to buy time and then fight the main defensive battle on the objective hills on the near side of my board.  I would face an initial force of 7 squads and then a reinforcing group of 4 squads with 4 (!) machine guns!

Monty's SS about to enter the playing area

So, we had our sides set and away we went.  As he moved up, I had a machine gun open up at long range with good effect.  I broke a squad and then another and the initial feeling was that I was going to be able to keep Monty's forces at arm's length for a few precious turns.  

Inevitably, however, Monty was able to get enough forces up in order to get the massed firepower to start to chip away at my troops.  With a paltry morale level of 7 with an ELR of only 2, it was inevitable that my troops would break.  And often.  As such, I had plenty of space for routing back; however, Monty played his SS troops quite aggressively and was able to close the gap quickly and by the end of the game had captured 3 of my ten squads.

Waffen SS gain the base of fire

As the game progressed into turn 2, I was soon to realize that I would be unable to stand toe to toe with the Waffen SS.  Their base morale of 8 proved to be just too tough to crack as the game went on.  My machine guns had the range, but failed to achieve any rate tears. The closest I came was in one turn when a forward-positioned MMG (with a rate of fire of 2) was able to get 4 shots in against the enemy in one phase. My HMG was sited with my 9-1 way at the back and was able to bring effective fire to bear; however, not once was it able to get its rate of fire (his rate is 3).  Conversely, Monty was able to fire back at long range into the machine gun nest and break the manning squad.  

Typical sight: my troops unable to withstand low IFT +2 TEM attacks

On turn 6, the bubble burst from my defense.  I had the HMG manned with fresh troops and my commissar was rallying the broken troops, hoping to hold back the Waffen SS troops for one more turn.  That was all I would need to keep the enemy at bay.  It was not to be. Monty's forces were just too much for me.  The final nail in the coffin was two-fold.  First he broke my HMG squad with long range fire (again) and then, to add insult to injury, an IFT 2 DRM +2 shot against a concealed squad ended up with a 1 MC and broke my lads.

With that, it was all over. I had one good order squad left, leaving Monty to rush me at double time speed and take the objectives unopposed.  Had I even had a chance to conduct a miracle rally, I would not have been able to even challenge his control of the hills.

"This way, lads.  For you, the war is over."

In the end, a great game. Once again I was able to see why the Germans were able to dominate the Soviets early in the war.  They had superior leadership at the company level and below, they had much better and more mobile support weapons and their troops were better trained.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

ASL Replay: ASL 126 Commando Schenke

Early in the German invasion of the USSR, German forces ran into some dogged Soviet resistance at Liepaja, Latvian SSR.  German Kriegsmarine assault troops, along with some elements of the German Heer launched a final assault on 28 June, a mere 6 days after the invasion began
Getting ready for some street fighting
This battle is represented in the Advanced Squad Leader scenario "Commando Schenke".  It first appeared in the ASL Annual '95 Winter.  It was updated and released with the 3rd version of the ASL module "Beyond Valor".  It was this updated version that I played recently against one of my first-ever ASL opponents, Andrew Luden.
Andrew and I first met on the ASL battlefield in Stalingrad.  My Germans held off his attacking Soviets in that early battle.  This time, however, it would be my attacking Germans against his defending Soviets.
Battling in the ruins
For those familiar with ASL, the following will make perfect sense.  Those who aren't, well, just try to follow along.
My forces were a mix of first line and elite Germans.  The Germans elite units are assault engineers, which means that I had plenty of smoke to mask my movement.  The first line units are great for rooting out the Russians and helping the engineers get to where they needed to be: the objective building.
Facing me were a number of Soviet first line units, some SMG equipped troops.  With only 3 machine guns, the Soviets would be hard pressed to put down plenty of defensive fire.  Also compounding this was his almost complete lack of leadership.  Not very good facing Germans equipped with demo charges and flamethrowers, all necessary to bust my way into his fortified building.
Russian Flambeau?  Coming up!
So, the forces were set.  In the words of Caesar, Alea Iacta Est!  Away we went.
His forces were set up concealed and my initial goal was to strip away his concealment as early as possible, and then to manoeuvre to his right (my left) flank.  From there I would have a base from which I could (hopefully) bust my way into the building, using my DCs to breach, if necessary and thereby gain entry into his fortified building
My initial plan worked. I found one of his 5-2-7 SMG squads and entered into close combat with him, in spite of him being concealed.  This gave him a great initial advantage, but I figured that my 3 squads would prevail.  They didn't.  I needed to augment this building (he did as well) and in the end I took out 2 of his squads for 3 of my own.  Not good.  But I pressed on!
That's not what I meant by "we need some smoke!"
I was able to use some infantry smoke to get around to his right flank with my assault engineers and soon I was in my position ready to assault his fortress.  Due to some fairly effective defensive fire, a sole 8-0 leader rushed into close combat in the fortress, finding his way in due to my pinning of his defenders. (Note: in ASL, if a building is fortified, one can only enter an enemy-occupied hex if that defender is pinned or otherwise not in good order).  I survived the first round of close combat, but Andrew was able to finish off my leader before I could reinforce.  My second attempt to enter was delayed somewhat by my assault engineers all failing to place smoke successfully (Note: in ASL, German Assault Engineers typically need 5 or less on 1 six-sided die.). 
Waiting for the signal to go!
Finally, I busted into the building on the second-to-last turn and starting reinforcing it.  I was able to push his forces into a far corner of the building, but to win, I needed to take all hexes from him.  Andrew cleverly (and treacherously!  Ha!) maneuvered his forces around such that I needed to break or at least pin all of his men prior to getting into close combat with him.  Doing so would give me the win, but it was a tall order.  It turned out that in spite of my using demo charges and flamethrowers, I was unable to get those last few hexes from him.  In the end, Soviet win.
As the initial notes on this scenario state, success depends on " adroit German player skilled in the use of assault fire, dash, smoke grenades and maneuver."  Try as I might, it came down to Andrew's skilled defense holding out just long enough to keep me from getting the win.
In the end, German losses were heavy, as were Soviet.  This result reflects what happened there back in 1941; the Germans needed 2 days and heavy artillery support to finally clear Liepaja. What was supposed to be a quick battle needed six days' effort by the Germans.  Setbacks such as this may very well have been key in ensuring an eventual Soviet victory on the Eastern Front.
In conclusion, though playing games such as ASL may seem rather silly to some, it has, for me, been a way to better understand the finer details of the Second World War, especially that which happened on the Eastern Front.  I have been able to gain a better understanding of why the Soviets were able to battle the Germans toe-to-toe in the cities, but crumbled against them in the open fighting of the Steppe.  Even large-scale Soviet victories, such as those in the summer of 1944, were at a terrible cost in human life lost.  In playing ASL, I often see how a Tiger tank, for example, can kill 10 enemy tanks in a single battle.  The problem  is, however, that there almost always is that 11th tank that is able to get the kill on that Tiger. 
So, onwards to my next battle!  Next time, I'm going to be taking the side of the defending Kiwis of the New Zealand Army as they defend against the German invasion of Crete in 1941.  Huzzah!
The Scene of the fighting

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

NATO or bust

According to this article, the government of Canada may no longer be looking to participate in a UN Peacekeeping mission in Africa.  Contrary to popular belief, Canada is currently engaged in several operations at the time of this posting (24 January 2017). Some are large and some are not. As it stands, Canada has committed to augmenting NATO forces in Eastern Europe in the guise of Operation REASSURANCE.   In addition, Canada is closer to leading a multinational battlegroup in Latvia.  In this blog post, not only do I applaud the government's apparent decision to forego a major UN Peacekeeping mission in Africa, but I also urge the government to strengthen its commitment to NATO on the Latvian Front.

Canada currently spends less than 1% of its GDP on defence.  The NATO standard, which most of the countries fail to achieve, is to spend 2% on defence.  An intelligent increase in spending on defence, not squandered on pay hikes or arbitrary and unnecessary infrastructure projects is not what I mean.  Instead, this could be very well spent on acquiring battle-ready weapons and equipment.  This means trucks, rifles, missiles and most importantly: ships.  I personally would immediately defund the CBC and shift that money over to the Department of National Defence, but that's not the point.

Canada's commitment to Latvia makes sense from a purely political point of view; however, it would not last long at all against a concerted Russian offensive, which would include attacks across all planes; moral and physical.  In order to act as a viable deterrent, any deployed force must be combat capable and lethal.  It may not be of the size of our brigade group of the latter half of the Cold War, nor even of the even more powerful brigade group of the first half.  But a combat battlegroup, ideally a tank regiment battlegroup equipped with powerful and plentiful tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, would prove to be a thorn in the side of any Russian attack into the Baltics, no matter how improbable that may be.

APFSDS-T can be hazardous to your tank

A battlegroup consisting of a single nation would not rely on several chains of command, languages and logistical requirements.  Although other NATO nations could plug into the battle group on an ad hoc basis, a permanent or semi-permanent presence demands that it be of one nation.
So, the big question: can Canada do it?  The short answer is yes.  After all, we are a G7 nation (G6 if Russia stops participating).  A force of some 2,000 all-ranks would require a hefty commitment from Canada's Army (augmented heavily by its reserve force), but it would not be all that different from our sustained effort in Afghanistan.  The difference would be that we would not be involved in continuous combat, nor would there be as many time zones between Canada and its deployed unit. 

Combat Proven
In conclusion, a Canadian battlegroup, infantry or tank, backed up by a strong logistical chain that goes back to Canada itself, would send a strong signal.  First to Russia, that we are serious about countering any potential Russian aggression in the Baltic states.  Second, to NATO, that we are serious about our commitment to the alliance.  Finally, to Canadians at home, that we are serious about their security, for it is ultimately Canadians we are defending, be it abroad or at home.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Life's a Breach

In my latest post, The First Blows, my fictional Canadians were rather successful against an advancing Russian Tank Battalion.  Nary a Canadian suffered so much as a hang nail en route to a complete shellacking of the dimwit Russians.

"Where the Heck did all the Canadians come from?"

Some of my peers have made comments as to our capabilities, but as I told them, the intent was to show the ideal.  A skillfully lead tank squadron combat team could in fact deal such a blow to an advancing force.

So, in the interest of fairness, I now turn my attention to A Squadron, which in my scenario was tasked to destroy an enemy battalion much further to the north along the E22.
Like B Squadron, A Squadron is a combat team.  It has its Squadron HQ along with 4 troops of tanks and a platoon of infantry.  The route it has to cover is a bit more open than that of its sister squadron, so the OC came up with a slightly different plan.

His plan was fairly straightforward. In the first part, or phase, he would gain contact with the enemy in the area of Rezekne near the junction of the E22 and the north/south running A 13.
A Squadron Area of Operations
He was counting on contact at night where his night sights would have an advantage over the advancing Russians. Once contact were made, he would conduct a delay, maintaining contact at maximum range until he had shaped the enemy into his killing zone.
A Squadron Commander's Overall Plan
Once they had the enemy into Battle Position 101 ("BP 101"), he would then engage them frontally with dug in infantry and a tank troop, fixing the enemy along the front.  The enemy would then be drawn into conducting an attack, at which point the counter attack force of two tank troops would strike at the enemy's vulnerable flank.
The Simple Plan
On paper, the plan was simple enough and cunning enough to work.  It relied on surprise and took advantage of knowledge of the Russian doctrine.

When first contact was made, the first blows were delivered by the tanks of 1 troop.  At maximum range, they engaged the initial reconnaissance forces.  The affair was one-sided and the Russians didn't have a chance.  Unlike their brethren in B Squadron, A Squadron was intent on blinding the enemy's recce forces.  This was part of the overall plan to give the Russians the illusion of success in the south.  Unknown to the Canadians, that's just what the Russians surmised, and soon their primary route diverted from the North to the South.  In the first echelon, nothing was noticed, but the real difference came in the second, follow-on echelon, where the Mobile Obstacle Detachment moved behind the battalion that was even now assuming the lead over the Division and Brigade reconnaissance elements.  The division commander rightly assumed that the Canadians would fight for time in the north, and he wasn't going to risk his more lightly armoured forces against the tanks to his front.

After 1 troop fell back behind 3 troop, it wasn't long before the wrath of the Russians was felt.  Unknown to A Squadron, a flight of UAVs was even now scanning the intended route of the tank battalion to its front.  1 Troop was spotted as they withdrew to the West, and soon a flurry of 152mm shells fell among the tanks.  There was no significant damage to the tanks, but it did cause 3 troop to remain under cover.
The King of Battle firing on the Canadians
Soon their patience was rewarded with the sight of the advancing Combat Reconnaissance Patrol (CRP).  At maximum range, the Leopards opened on the first two T 90s they spotted.  The T 90s appeared to be hit, but one of them reversed quickly as the other started to burn as its interior ammunition caught fire.  The crew was able to escape with minimal injuries, but the tank was hors de combat for now.

The Leopards popped their smoke grenades and fell back, and just in a nick of time.  They were spotted just as they opened up and soon the 152mm shells were falling among their now-vacated position.

Further back, the OC decided that it was time to make a clean break.  The terrain just didn't really allow for his forces to risk being shot up in the open.  He wasn't quite sure how the Russians were able to bring down artillery so quickly on his positions, nor so accurately, but he did (rightly) assume that there were UAVs about.  With no AD Radar assets in the BG, his forces were virtually blind when it came to enemy air assets.  Thus far, his forces were fortunate in that Russian helicopter and fixed-wing assets were apparently busy elsewhere in the Baltics.

A quick issue of orders on the radio net later, his forces were set.  1 and 3 troop were set as the counter moves forces.  2 Troop and 4 platoon, H Company, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment were set at their positions in BP 101.  They were well dug in and camouflaged and ready for the advancing Russians.  They wouldn't have long to wait.
Tank Attack!
Just as their doctrine dictated, the CRP led the advance with the main body not far behind.  It was back far enough to be out of harm's way, but close enough to be able to assist the CRP within minutes.  Soon that CRP would need its help!
Unlike the previous engagements, the aim of the position was to engage the CRP in close in order to entice them to draw in a battalion attack.  So, at about 2,000 yards, the first shots to land on the advancing tanks were by the Canadian Artillery some 20 km to the West.  The rounds did very little damage to the tanks, but it did cause them to take pause.  They dispersed and scanned the area to the front, where the route entered the woods, and they rightly determined that the position was held.  Although they could see no individual positions, some wire and markings of the limits of an Anti Tank minefield were noted.  This information was passed to the BG HQ and soon the orders were being generated for a battalion hasty attack.

The first step in the attack was the artillery.  The Brigade Artillery Group supported by the Divisional Artillery Group quickly formulated a fire plan and soon let loose an intense barrage across the suspected enemy position.  The initial barrage was more general in nature, as UAVs continued to scan and look for the positions.  As well, further UAV missions went west in search of the Canadian Artillery.
Unknown and undetected by the Canadians, the Russians decided to conduct a frontal feignt in order to draw in the Canadian counter attack as they even now deployed their mobile obstacle detachment (MOD) to block the enemy attack into their flank.  This involved a series of hastily laid mines across a frontage of some 2 km as anti tank formations set up to fire across the obstacles.

Russian Plan.  As they attack into the Canadians (Red Arrow), the Canadian Counter Attack would strike from the north (Blue Arrow).  They would hit the surprise obstacle (green rectangle) and right then, the Anti Tank forces would strike into their flanks.
The plan was simple but it adhered to the principles of simplicity and surprise.  And it was easily understood by all.
At H Hour, the time of the attack, the Canadian position, still not quite properly discerned, was struck with an intense  barrage of High Explosives and Smoke.  The two assaulting companies struck out from their attack position and raced towards the Canadian obstacle belt.  They were still not under effective fire as they began their breaching operation.  Soon, however, Canadian fire reached out and started to inflict casualties, even as the Canadian artillery fell among the Russian sappers and engineering vehicles.  There were some casualties, but the troops remained rather composed under  this enemy fire, intense as it was.
Suddenly, from the north, a dull rumble added to the sounds of the battle.  The ten tanks of the counter moves force were even now just starting to move into their firing positions off to the Russian Flank.  It was going very well even though the casualties from the Russian artillery were starting to mount among the Canadian infantry.
Suddenly a bright flash caught the Squadron Commander by surprise.  He looked to his left and saw a Leopard has just come to a screeching halt, smoke billowing from its near track.  It was quite immobile and even now the crew was seen to be bailing out.  Mines!  Just then, another flash and another tank stopped dead in its tracks.  They were still 500 metres from the firing position, and their presence was sorely needed to augment the fire into the kill zone!  Where did the mines come from?  Worse yet, he had no assets with which to breach the anti tank ditch that was even now being reported.
The squadron commander's heart sunk.  He has run into the Russian MOD's hasty belt.  He knew that it was only seconds before the enemy would....

It was right then that the anti tank missiles started to strike into his flank.  "MISSILE, MISSILE, MISSILE!" was called out over the net.  Two tanks were struck as the survivors began to launch smoke and seek cover.  But it was all but over for the counterattack.  2 tanks were immobilized and 2 more were destroyed.  The surviving six were able to escape the initial barrage but were even now straining to find the firing positions.  It was too late.  The enemy barrage had shifted and now fell among the fleeing Leopards.  One more was immobilized and the Squadron Commander realized that his plan had failed.  Smoke was called for and once his position was well-screened, his surviving tanks raced back to the battle position.  He ordered the remainder of the squadron to make its way back after breaking contact.  It was almost too late for the main force, but by skillful use of maintained track plans, the bulk of the main defending force made its way back.  But the plan now was in ruins and it was up to the relatively unused 4 troop (the squadron reserve) to take over the battle.
A Squadron fell back in some disorder and much the wiser as it made its way to the Battle Group rally point at Jekabpils some 60 km distant.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The First Blows

In a previous post, I talked about how a Canadian Battlegroup could make its mark felt in Europe once again.
In order to show how it could possibly make its mark felt by the Russians, I present here a fictional account of a battle.  After all, let's face it: you do not deploy troops unless you are fully intended to use them in combat.  This is how the very first blows of combat could happen, and in spite of the outcome presented here, it could very well turn out differently.


The 1st of August was the day that the Russians decided to end all diplomacy with NATO and resort to military operations.   Of course, it would take time to launch their divisions, but not so long that they would lose all advantages over the meagre NATO force in the Baltics.
Their aim was simple: overwhelm the forces in place and split the Baltic states from Poland.  Then, once in a position of strength, they could then revert to negotiations and end the sanctions against her that were really starting to take hold.
Up in Latvia, the Canadian Battlegroup, for this rotation it was The Royal Canadian Dragoons with an attached company from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, a squadron of Engineers and all supported with direct support from a battery of towed M 777 howitzers from 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, who were augmented by two troops of Air Defence.  The Air Defence wasn’t much, it was all hand-held missiles as back in Canada the government was frantically trying to find some SHORAD and VSHORAD Air Defence.  Alas, it was too late.  The Battlegroup was already in country and soon moved to its battle positions along the border with Belarus and Russia. 

The battle group had a very simple order: it was to destroy the first echelon of a Russian Tank Brigade that was assessed to be in the area of Polatsk, Belarus.  NATO intelligence assessed that this Tank Brigade was to drive to Riga in order to split the Baltics as well as to deny NATO its main port south of Talinn.  This Brigade was assessed to probably use two main routes: the A 6 to the south and the E 22 to the north.  These two routes joined at Jekabpils.  As such, this was the Battlegroup’s Vital Ground.  In other words, if the Russians gained control of this place, then the Canadian defence would be untenable. 
The battle group commander’s plan was relatively straightforward.  The deployment would see two squadrons forward with one in depth at Jekabpils.  The forward squadrons were to each destroy a tank battalion each before moving back through Jekabpils to further operations near Riga.  A Squadron was left, or North, and B Squadron was right, or south.  Each of the squadrons was attached a platoon of infantry.
B Squadron Combat Team 

The Squadron was responsible for the A6 in the area of Daugavpils.  Assessing the ground, the Squadron Commander came up with a simple plan.  He would put two troops forward that would engage the enemy formations, shaping them into a killing zone just north of the A6.  The plan was to make it look like the obvious routes were blocked, and leaving a secondary route relatively unguarded.  It was in there that the squadron would make its mark felt on the T 90s of the advancing tank battalion.

The way in which the battalion would be destroyed was rather novel.  The advancing Combat Recce Patrol, consisting of a Tank Platoon, some NBC and Engineer Recce elements, would be allowed to pass un touched.  The next portion, the Forward Security Element of a tank company, an infantry platoon, an artillery battery of 2S1s and a Movement Support Detachment of Engineers would then be destroyed simultaneously across the length of the advance.  At least that’s what the plan was At 0400 hours of D Day, the day of the Russian Invasion, the battlegroup stood to due to the overwhelming evidence that the Russians were on the move.  And by 0415 hours, the forward elements of the reconnaissance screen reported mass formations of helicopters and jets flying west.  These were en route to objectives in the rear of the battle group and were the concern of other NATO formations. 
At 0428, the battlegroup net crackled to life.
“Zero, this is six.  Contact, wait, out.” 
Every troop leader followed the battle along on their maps as the contacts were updated with information every few moments.  It soon became apparent that a Russian tank battalion was indeed using the A6.  Up front were elements of a recce detachment, and these were allowed to pass unmolested.  The BRDMs and BMP (recce) vehicles covered each other’s moves as they pressed Westward, pausing for about 5 minutes near the airfield at Lociki before moving along the A6.   They seemed to rely on speed as security when they moved along the densely forested highway en route to Riga. 
“C Squadron will deal with them,” thought the squadron commander as he noted that they were passing.  He did some mental math and realized that the next elements, the Brigade Reconnaissance patrols would be along in due course.  Sure enough, they were.  They were noted to spend more time at the airfield, poking around and even dismounting some troops for closer investigation.  Given that the sun would be up soon, the Squadron Commander surmised that follow on helicopter troops would be using this airfield for a staging area or even as a logistics hub. 
Soon even the brigade recce elements were moving along the path that the higher patrols had taken.  This means that the next elements would be from the tank battalion, the one with which he was tasked to destroy.  (As a note, this did not mean that he had to physically destroy each and every vehicle in that battalion, but rather just had to render that battalion non-effective.  As such, he estimated that he would have to knock out about 4 out of 9 platoons.  This would leave only about 15 or so tanks to do the job of 30 or more.  In short, that battalion would have to stop and wait for reinforcements before it could move on with its job.
As the recce elements passed, the squadron’s two front troops deployed.  1 Troop took up its positions near Stropi, blocking the A 6 itself, while 3 troop was further north, near Malinova, obstensibly blocking any flanking moves to the North.  The Leopards all moved out, 2 at a time, the other two in the troop covering the movers.  In short order, the troops were ready.  They were to engage the advancing combat recce patrol, forcing them to divert from the A6. 
“Two Niner, Two-one.  Contact, three T 90s, four APCs moving east to west along the MSR.  Am engaging, out!”

This short burst transmission alerted the squadron commander to the fact that 1 troop had spotted the Combat Recce Patrol, or “CRP” as it was known, and that they were going to start shooting.  According to plan, the enemy was at maximum range, and at most, one tank would be hit.  The idea wasn’t to trigger an enemy hasty attack, but rather to divert its advance.
After the pre dawn sky was lit up by the massive cannons of the Leopards tanks, followed by the streak of the hyper velocity shot, it was apparent that a T 90 had been hit; however, its active armour system had defeated the round and already the tanks were making smoke and moving north.  In short, the ruse had worked and soon the enemy CRP was out of sight.  This was reported on the radio net and the squadron commander nervously awaited word from 3 Troop.  2 and 4 troop, along with 6 platoon of H Company, 2 RCR, were given the code word “saddles” and were all mounted in their vehicles, ready to take up their battle positions.
In the Russian Camp, the CRP commander was shocked by the sudden gunfire from off to his left.  “Dammit!” he thought.  “They’ve blocked the A6!  We’ll have to swing north!”  He paused in some low ground as the artillery OP vehicle called for a quick mission to suppress the enemy tanks.  They were unsure if they were Latvian or Canadian, but it didn’t matter.  Their job was to get to Jekabpils by noon!
He got on his radio net after a quick look at his map.  He ordered the formation to head north and then turn West near Sparite.  Unknowingly, his path was taking the exact one his enemy was going to try to make him take.
“Two niner, this is two three.  Contact, enemy CRP advancing north.  They are heading into the gap along route CLUB.  I say again, they are heading into the gap along route CLUB.  Out.”  With this, the squadron commander realized that his plan was coming to fruition.  He ordered 3 troop to remain in place and report on the follow on formations, even as 1 Troop was falling back in an attempt to avoid the very heavy artillery that was falling amongst their tanks.  Though they were very heavily armoured, the shock of the blasts was having an effect on the troopers and it was best to leave now to avoid any damage at all to the tanks.

Now the battleplan depended on the Russians adhering to their own schedule.  The Squadron Commander’s plan was to hit the CRP and the Vanguard Company simultaneously.  2 troop at the end of the gap through which the CRP was advancing would hit them with massed fires just as 4 troop and 6 platoon would ambush the remainder as they entered the gap near Sparite. 
Following the battle on the radio, the squadron commander was pleased to see that the Russians were indeed following their schedule.  3 Troop reported the company of tanks advancing into the gap, albeit a bit further north, obstensibly to avoid 1 troop, which was at that very time passing through 2 troop and heading for some replenishment before occupying the squadron’s next battle position. 
Satisfied that the CRP was past the ambush position for 4 troop and 6 platoon, he ordered his squadron into position.  3 Troop would simply avoid the battle and swing round the north to the next position before heading to the next bound.  The battle was now in the hands of the troop leaders and platoon commander on the ground.  All the rehearsals would now either pay off or prove to be not good enough.
The success of the plan of attack was best illustrated by the radio traffic on the Russian net.  The Tank Battalion Commander was just passing Slutiski, about 5 kilometres away from the vanguard company when he was shocked to see the sky in front of him light up in a series of flashes.  Just then, on the radio came a number of confusing messages.  He tried to sort out if the CRP or the Vanguard was in contact.  Soon he was shocked to realize that they both were under contact, and it wasn’t clear where they were or where the enemy was.  All he knew was this: about 10 tanks, 6 APCs and 6 2S1s were up there and they were quite obviously in a close fight. 
As the intensity of the flashes waned, so too did his radio net. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but all control had been lost up front as his forces were hit from the front and both sides all at once.  They were now in survival mode, and they were only able to shoot back blindly and without even knowing if they were effective or not.
Unknown to him, what happened was this.  As the CRP exited the gap in the trees, they were hit by a volley of tank fire that targeted the T 90s.  Although the active and reactive armour saved two tanks in the initial volley, the subsequent volley finished the survivors.  The accompanying APCs simply sought cover and attempted to report, in vain, what was happening. 
Meanwhile, in the woods, the rest of the tank company along with its accompanying infantry were hit by a combination of tank, APC, rifle, machine gun and recoilless rifle fire.  The tanks suffered the most in the first volley, but as the subsequent volleys poured in, it soon became apparent that the enemy was too well hidden to shoot back to any effect.  The only meaningful fire that was returned was from the 2S1s, their 122mm shells falling amongst the Leopards.  Had they been able to see the Canadian infantry, they would have had some effect; the Leopards were just too robust.

Satisfied that the enemy company was no longer functional, the squadron commander ordered the clean break.  Supported by 155mm shells falling among the Russian survivors, the Canadians mounted upon their APCs and with the tanks covering, moved back to the relative safety further west. 
The initial battle was over and the Canadians didn’t suffer a scratch.  In 20 minutes, the enemy advance was stuttering already, and soon the first rays of sunshine would allow anyone to see the carnage that had been left behind.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Letting the Cat out of the Bag

In a previous blog, I wrote about the possibility of Canada providing an infantry Battle Group to a NATO deterrence effort in the Baltic States.  I've heard many comments from my peers about the difficulties of raising such a force, so I decided to think outside the box and propose an alternate ORBAT:  A Tank Regiment Battlegroup.  It would look something like this:

Regimental Headquarters

3 x Tank Squadrons

1 x Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron

1 x Mechanized Infantry Company

1 x Armoured Engineer Squadron

That's it, that's all.  It would be a lean force equipped primarily with the Leopard 2 a combat-proven tank that is arguably the best tank in the world.

So, how would this force fight?  Essentially, it would rely on its mobility and secure lines of communications to counter any Russian thrust into the Baltic state of Latvia.  Alternately, it could form the nucleus of a counter-moves force for an ad-hoc NATO brigade in the area.  The Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron would be the eyes and ears of the NATO force in the east in general and as such would not be part of the fighting force for the Tank Regiment.  The Armoured Engineers would provide the much-needed mobility and counter mobility required by the Regiment to conduct operations.  The Infantry would be to retain terrain (when needed) as well as to provide close-country protection to the tanks, again, as needed.  Alternately, they could be used in the rear to provide the much-needed protection to the vital logistical links back to Riga.

If it came to blows, this force of some 59 tanks would most likely conduct a delay or mobile defence in order to attrit and/or destroy the lead Russian formations as they closed in on vital areas in the NATO rear.  For fire support, this regiment would have to rely upon other nations to provide that given that Canada doesn't have any mobile medium artillery.  Unless we were to purchase some M 109s, we would have to ask Germany or even the Netherlands to provide a battery of Panzerhaubitze 2000s.

Yes we could.  It would require a massive recruitment campaign in order to get trained crews for a second rotation as well as a massive effort to retrain our crewmen back in our regular force regiments.  It would not be an easy task, but it could be done.  This would project some serious combat power overseas and would arguably be the most powerful NATO unit in theatre.  As such, it would therefore demonstrate our resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO partners overseas.