The Marder series of tank destroyers is one of the interesting Frankenstein-esque stories of the German war effort in WW2. The numerical advantage of Soviet armour on the eastern front became obvious early on in Operation Barbarossa. At the same time it became clear that several tank chassis were obsolete or rapidly becoming so in the face of the new Soviet tanks. Tanks based on these chassis could no longer hope to survive tank combat and were instead refitted with other weaponry, including the French Lorraine chassis, the German Pz. II and the Czech P.38(t). The latter one, when armed with either captured Soviet 76mm guns or 75mmPak 40s, would be fielded as tank destroyers under the name Marder III, one of the myriad of uses that the German forces found for the versatile Czech chassis,
I've been waiting with adding German tank destroyers to our motor pool, as I've found no kits in 1:48 for vehicles earlier than the Marder III, which hit the scene in 1942. But when I saw a post on the Chain of Command facebook group about 1:48 scale Marder III:s available for less than $10, you know I could not resist.
The model in question was a die-cast pre-painted toy, available to buy from various e-bay retailers in China. And indeed, both the Marder III Ausf. M and the Marder III Sd. Kfz. 139 were available, as well as the Pz 38(t). An unusual choice, but since all three vehicles are based on the Pz. 38(t) chassis, there's some sense to it. But really? "Nobody will want to buy unknown and uncool tank like the Pz. III or Pz. IV! The real money's in the Czech chassis, I tell you!"
Anyway, prices seemed to range between very expensive (if bought from the UK), or very cheap with free or cheap shipping from China. After some browsing I had two Marders on the way, for less than 10 bucks each including shipping. For that price I was pretty happy if I got anything better than a lump of molten iron.
Imagine my surprise when these two boxes arrived at my apartment, looking a lot better than expected. Here's a picture of the Marder III Sd. Kfz. 139 straight out of the box, untouched.
As you can see it's not perfect, but definitely good enough for me to put it on a tabletop to play right away (once unscrewed from the display base, that is). The only part that obviously stood out was the brown rubber threads, which had only a few random spots of thich metal paint on it. Other than that, it looked spiffy.
Above you can see the results after a quick paint job. I wanted to see how good it could look with a minimum of fuzz, given that it was supposed to be a budget Marder after all! The tracks were painted over completely, and then given a light drybrush. I went over the rivets and other detail with a dark wash, to make them stand out a bit more. I also took out some rust coloured pigments and brushed them around the rivets as well. Finally I took some sand and mud coloured pigments and mushed them around the roadwheels and tracks.
I bet you could get a nicer looking vehicle out of it if you went whole hog and repainted it from scratch, but this way I went from having no Marder III to have a pretty nice looking one for 10 bucks and maybe half an hour of hobby time in total, which is very hard to beat! I could definitely recommend this addition to your German force if you use 1:48 scale tanks, and if I didn't already have the Tamiya 1:48 Pz. 38(t), I'd be next on my shopping list.
This game was going to be a showdown between two infantry forces. In order to get more varied games, and to calm Axis worries about Soviet tanks such as the KV-1 and T-34, we decided to implement a new rule. The new "tank dice" rule allows for game restrictions on armored fighting vehicles.
After we place JOPs, but before Support is determined, we roll a D8, 1-2 means that no armoured vehicles are allowed, 2-4 means that you can field light armor (in this campaign defined as 3 or less in armour, and no vehicles with flame throwers), On a 5-8, any vehicle may hit the table.
Both forces was thus heavy loaded with MMGs, knowing that there was little armour operating in the area. This was about to be a game of infantry firepower (and, as we're about to learn, about butts and bayonets). I really like the use of this "armor-dice" to get some plain infantry games. The Soviets attacked as they won the last game, and they did pull of a very narrow victory in the centre of the table (with plain luck and skillful use of an CoC-Dice for interrupt), forcing the Germans to withdraw there.
German player (Jonas): the game started well, with one of my sections pining down the first Soviet sections and causing some respectable casualties and shock. Then disaster struck! My old nemesis, the Maxim section (a.k.a two maxim guns spewing 20 dice/round) revealed themselves, and absolutely ripped the unit to shreads. Despite cover, six men were killed in the first salvo. With a third of my platoon down for the count, and a sniper, two Maxims and two flamethrower teams with plenty of cover coming at me, this was now a fighting retreat.That's life as a tabletop gamer!
On the Soviet right flank a lone section tried to get around the Germans, who responded with moving out with double MGs! That forced this section to flee out in the bushes where they were attacked by the same germans in the back, in hand to hand combat! Against all odds, the Soviets beat back the German assault and secured victory.
Capitan Kolomiets was back into the fray after spending a short time at the first aid station getting a new, non-sooty uniform and attention from the companies combat medic Vera. Lightly burned from his encounter with a German flame-thrower in the station house, he was set for revenge. In the shadow of a stable he had an inquiry with Lieutenant Fadeevich, who just came back from fighting. Fadeevich´s platoon had driven back the Germans from the station with the help of the reckless Gorodniansky, commander of a BT tank. Gorodniansky had then pursued the Germans down the railroad tracks but swiftly retired when they came under fire from an anti-tank rifle, which fortunately had failed to do any harm.
Captain Kolomiets promptly set out to organize an attack to exploit Fadeevich´s success. He called up the infantry gun assigned to his command and two Maxim machine guns led by sergeants Parkhomenko and Kriuchenkin. The were called "The Volodyas" for the sake of simplicity, or Vovo and Volodya when referring to them one by one, as both were named Vladimir. Along with these heavy weapons he took with him Vera, as always, as he liked her company and needed someone to look after his burns if the battle would be a long one.
Jonas (German player) here. The patrol phase made it quite clear that my job as defender would be tricky. I expected the Soviets to take in several heavy weapon teams, as their low force rating gives them a lot of support. Maxim's and infantry guns have taken their toll on my German platoons before, and there was no doubt they'd be used again.
The houses and woods meant that there would be several safe places for them to operate in cover, and there was a definite possibility that there would be tanks coming in as well. So I settled on buying a Pak36 and hope that I could cause some damage before pulling out, with as few losses as possible. Fingers crossed!
Kolomiets set up all the heavy weapons and Vera in position in a big blue house inside no mans land south of the railroad warehouse. He then called up the infantry squad under Olegovich to lead the way deeper into Fascist occupied territory. That move should suffice to make the Germans retreat. To guard his left flank he had positioned Leytenat Yakovlevich with two squads in the wood that dominated the area between the railyard and the quarters at his right. He knew that the Red Cavalry should attack on his right hand and therefore left that flank practically unguarded. The patrols he sent out confirmed his suspicion that most German activity was happening on his left flank. They may call him at hot-spur, but he was an calculating hot-spur!
We have changed the attack/defense-scenario so that the attacker can either win on depleting the defender's morale, or by moving a JOP within 12" of the enemy baseline. This makes a "sudden death" possible and hopefully encourage the attacker to actually move his troops forward! This was my plan as I had a JOP very far forward on the right flank after the patrol phase.
Soon some Germans showed themselves and all the Soviet guns opened up. The Fritzes immediately withdrew in face of this impressive firepower! All went silent for a moment. Kolomiets, according to his plan, ordered Olegovich to outflank the enemy. Olegovich moved up behind the blue house and sent forward two scouts to find a secure position ahead of them.
After a short lull in the fighting he heard a lot of gunfire from the wood occupied by Yakovlevich. At first he felt secure: the two full squads in the woods would stop any attack for the time it should take to secure the forward position. After that it would be simple to push in Yezhov's platoon, and the Germans would be forced to withdraw - or face destruction!
But he did not get any word from Olegovich and the furious firefight in the woods continued. He could hear that the most of the gunfire came from MG-34s and he started to get a little worried. Shortly after this he saw Yakovlevichs men retreating over a road behind him. He repositioned his Maxim guns to cover their perilous withdrawal, but all he saw were wounded and falling men.
As expected, the Soviet position in the building was incredibly strong: infantry, even in cover, can't expect to have a chance in a prolonged firefight against two medium machine gun teams and an infantry gun, especially when it is backed up by infantrymen that can pile in fire as well as soak up hits! It was simply a battle that I would lose, and quickly. It was also an open road to the alternative victory condition of moving a JOP, which meant that I started turn 1 feeling like this game was a given loss already.
However, Shirty had left his flank quite open, as he quickly deployed two relatively small sections and angled the first one towards my table edge. Since I had a JOP in the house on that flank, I drew up a new plan: deploy two sections on that side, protected from line of sight from their heavy guns, and have everyone else run as fast as they can to support them. Ideally this would mean that none of my men could be mowed down by the Soviet heavy support, and I could make the victory cost them a lot!
It worked out well, and you can see that I got two sections into the woods Before Shirty could get more than one of his sections into a fire line, and my superior firepower could damage them heavily. Then, I could pile in on the other section afterwards. The only thing that halted my assault for a while was that I had to cross a road, which the heavy Soviet guns could cover with overwatch. In the end I spent a turn or two, agonizing about the casualties I would take while crossing, Before eventually doing it. In hindsight, I should have just kept charging in, as I might have been able to rout them completely!
Here comes a few great photos of the counterattack. The Gebirgsjägers really used the mobility that JOPs and 3D6 moves may give you (they had a JOP in the warehouse, as we "traded" flanks in the patrol phase) to mount a very serious attack on my left flank. I thought I would have no problem delaying him and moving my JOP, thus ending the game in my favor. However, I ended up having problems with that...
Damn! Kolomiets ordered Olegovich back to help shore up the situation. As the deadly struggle continued down the road (behind him!) a light AT-gun began shelling the house.
The infantry gun could not see this new adversary so he, Vera and the Volodyas had to endure (he was very content to have Vera there, as always, if he should be hit by a splinter or two). Several of the machine-gunners were wounded. At that critical moment Gena, one of Olegovichs scouts, showed up (the other scout was Cheburashk, now left alone in the most forward position of the attack). Gena spoke without permission "The advance is secure, no enemies in front". Kolomiets looked down the road. The Maxims were playing, but so were the German guns, and in this deadly crossfire, Yakovlevich's decimated platoon got the worst of it. With Yakovlevich's platoon almost routed he had no other choice but to evacuate his heavy weapons instead of inserting Yezhov into the breach. In a flood of curses they got to work.
The withdrawal of the heavy weapons went surprisingly smooth. Afterwards, they discovered that the Germans had withdrew themselves, probably out of fear of being cut of… damn! Kolomiets swore and cursed until his voice disappeared. Then Vera gave him at bottle of water and a "shut up and do something instead of this not-so constructive swearing"-glance. Kolomiets wheezed "Yezhov, take your platoon, the second machine gun squad and the sub-machine gunners, and go secure the area before the Germans do. Move now". The battle of the Stalino Station was about to continue, but Kapitan Kolomiets needed a short rest, more because of his hurt pride than he would ever confess.
The last phases were a terrible nail-biter, as the Soviet moral pummeled down due to what turned out as a small massacre in the central wood. At the same time I only needed a few 5s on my command dice to get the CoC-dice that would move a JOP and win the game for me. I lost another morale... gained another 5´... phase after phase! At the end I got my last 5 and then lost a JOP. So I "won" the game and lost my last morale in the same phase! We decided that it was a draw, anyhow it was an incredible tight game! Jonas put up an really nice counter-attack through the woods that defied our gaming groups consensus about what can be done in CoC! Thats very fun to see!
This was a great game, and it was one of my most tense CoC games ever. I think I have a reputation at the club of being a bit of a cautious player, and one of my weak sides is definitely that I often play a static defence and don't do so much movements. That might have been a reason why Shirty didn't expect me to just pile in my troops on the flank, run across the field, and fighting in spitting distance within the woods! You never know what to expect.
And even though Shirty got his JOP across the table, I managed to get his morale to 0 on the last turn while losing almost none myself, I consider this a bit of a moral victory for the battered Gebirgsjägers.
Blood and Mud (or, A long waiting game dressed up as a thrilling adventure)
The Brothers-in-arms soaré last night had been a grievious disappointment. The food was not suitable for humans, and the beverage that was supposed to be wine....words failed to describe it. Could it have been a Hungarian "wine"?
The German officers' idea of after-dinner entertainment included numerous bird imitations, a seemingly endless poetry recital and grown men dressed as females singing songs that were, supposedly, meant to be bawdy. Those stiff northern brutes would not know true bawdyness and frivolity if it bit them in their posteriors. The same was of course true regarding these horrific people who seemed to make a living of sorts here on the Ukrainian steppe.
Tenente Gattuso pushed the dark thoughts aside and made an attempt to focus on the task at hand . Gattuso's second platoon had been slogging along behind the first platoon in the van, led by Tenente Aquafresca. From time to time, reports of brief skirmishes with the Russians came and it seemed that the enemy was in full retreat. Well and good, let the Germans carry the heavy burden of fighting in the central parts of Stalino; it was their war after all. Up to the present moment this had been the natural order of things. But times were changing... Aquafresca and his men had retreated through the ranks of the second platoon last night, shouting as they ran, that the enemy had brought up hitherto unseen armoured cars with heavy armement.
Unprepared defensive positions, heavily armed enemies coming up soon, a neigh-total lack of heavy support and decent red wine with correct temperature. Mud. Mud everywhere. Things could have been worse, but the Tenente could not see how.
The battlefield was made up of a cluster of houses with gardens, flanked by (muddy) roads and on the extreme flanks, open fields with some hedges. Gattuso figured he would do well to hold the centre; any advance of the Russians on the flanks would be compromised by the open terrain. He barked a series of commands, and the men started to take up position in the gardens and orchards. The first Squadra under Sergente Pirlo and Caporale Inzaghi would take the lead, while second Squadra would follow, ready to flank the enemy or defend against encirclement.
""Tenente! The right flank! There is a problem!"
It was Sergente Maldini of the second Squadra, and he was preparing to point out some flaw in the Tenente's plan, it seemed. Without even waiting for a reply, the Sergente continued:
"Caporale Materazzi reports that the enemy is preparing to attack the flank in strength, Tenente. I'll send him over the road to stop it."
Tenente Gennaro Gattuso was furious. The insolence!
"You will NOT, Sergente. We need to keep our forces in close order, otherwise control will be lost and we will be destroyed in detail. Besides, Materazzi haven't got the firepower to stop a mob of angry babushkas in his group."
The Sergente smiled. "I have already arranged my group to provide cover, Tenente. Marco is crossing the road now."
Caporale Marco Materazzi was running like a man possessed. The knowledge that the fate of the entire platoon rested on his shoulders made him ignore the taste of blood in his mouth, and the sharp cracks of the sniper firing on his group. Damn! One of the men, Allessandro, went down as his right knee exploded in blood and splintered bone. But they were closing in on the barn where he had seen the Russian scouts. They had been nailing those red pieces of cloth on the wall, an unmistakable sign that this was the intended rout of an advance. If he could reach the position first, it might discourage the Soviet forces from attacking altogether.
.Meanwhile, the Tenente was angrily trying to keep up a semblance of orderly resistance. The enemy was indeed trying to advance into the gardens, but so far only infantry had been visible. Firing from Sergente Pirlo's Squadra had made the Soviets hesitate, and when Gattuso ordered the flamethrower team to join Pirlo, it seemed that the aggressiveness went out of the enemy completely. Gattuso tried to get the men into a wider firing line, if the enemy should resume their advance, but he simply did not have the men to do it. If the push would come now, they would fold. And Tenente Gattuso knew who would be to blame: That bastardi Sergente Maldini, who was still covering the doomed advance of Caporale Materazzi.
"All right men, we have them now. Keep firing!"
Caporale Materazzi had pushed his men into position behind a hedge. That damn sniper was silent at the moment, and he could only hope that Sergente Pirlo would be able to spot him. The rifle group had other problems. Enemy machineguns fired from the house with the rather nice sunflower border, and while his men handled their Carcano rifles well enough and gave more than they got, this position could quickly become untenable should more of the enemy engage. He had to keep his men's morale up and sow doubts in the enemy's minds... "Guiseppe! Advance on the ammo dump! We'll cover you!"
And on he went. Guiseppe Santagostino ran across the field, toward the second Russian position, where they had dumped a pile of supplies for the intended advance. He might even reach it, thought Maldini, looking on from a distance. He understood what Materazzi was trying to do, making the Red Army commander think that his planned flanking move had been met by a resolute counterattack. But would it do the trick? It was true after all; the Caporale did not have the firepower to stop anything serious, and Maldini could not help against the Russians firing from the centre on Materazzi (and poor Guiseppe). Hell, he couldn't even seem to locate the damn sniper. That thrice-damned Tenente Gattuso would have his arse on a plate with a glass of Piedmonte on the side (his friends in the batallion staff would supply that for sure) if he lost Materazzi's men - AND the flank.
And there was victory. Through the mud and blood, Soldato Guiseppe Santagostino came running back, carrying a crate of captured ammunition under his arm, a broad grin on his face, and a certainty in his mind that this would earn him a medal of bravery. Mother would be so proud. He had been shot in the left side, but did not seem to feel it and waved away his comrades when they tried to help him:
"The enemy, Caporale! They are falling back!"
And true enough, from his position, Caporale Materazzi could see in the distance that the Red Army's finest were retreating. He signaled to the Sergente, and could see the wide grin on Maldini's face all the way across the field. This would be another nail in the coffin of the Tenente's authority. Precisely why the Sergente and the Tenente were locked in a vendetta Materazzi did not know, but he knew who's side he was on. And this victory would bring them the support they needed to drive the Russians even further back.
Tenente Gennaro Gattuso was, needless to say, furious.
WW2 Campaign Blog
This blog follows the second Chain of Command club campaign, set in the intense fighting over Stalino in October 1941.