We started up the campaign in the centre of our map, starring the train station with a paint that was barely dry: I had just got the basic coat done that very morning! As we were playing a Big Chain of Command, we'd see two Soviet platoons entering from the side with the blue house, sort of "north, north-east" on the real map of Stalino. We would field one Italian rifle platoon and one German Mountain Infantry (Gebirgsjäger) platoon, and enter from the south corner, with the large loading dock warehouse. Once we were done with the terrain, the Soviet side dropped a proverbial bomb: they would field a tank platoon against us! Clearly this called for an Axis time-out and some coffee.
Big Chain of Command is a ruleset for playing with more than one platoon in Chain of Command. If you field a tank platoon you have to warn your opponents, before you do the patrol phase and select your support, so that they have a reasonable chance to defend against your onslaught of several metal beasts.
The patrol phase that decides where your units will enter play in CoC went pretty well for us. A tank platoon doesn't scout, it just enters the table edge from any available road. This meant that the Italian force was able to infiltrate far up the left side, with a Jump Off Point pretty much where the hands are in the picture above. My Jump Off Points were bunched up around the warehouse with the two huge doors. They were more concentrated than I'd want, but it would have to do.
Since we knew that we'd be fighting tanks, we focused our support on anti-tank stuff. A high roll for support points meant that I'd be fielding a set of two PAK 36 anti-tank guns, a team of engineers with a flame thrower, and a couple of satchel charges (literally handheld mines or bundles of grenades used by infantrymen against tanks!) The Italians would field, amongst other things, a tankette and an Elephantino anti-tank gun.
Here's a house rule for our campaign: gun sections. Heavy machine guns, anti-tank guns and infantry guns often operated in groups, and we feel that these teams are already pretty weak in comparison to vehicles in CoC. So in an attempt to beef them up so that they will be fielded, we decreased their cost in general, and introduced the option to buy two identical gun teams as a section. In practical terms it means that they will be easier to activate simultaneously, as you don't have to activate each team separately, though you have to deploy them at the same place.
After a customary burek break we got started, and our forces started to deploy. The Italians set up their anti-tank gun on the flank, looking over the two roads in the middle of the board, where tanks were likely to advance. My Germans deployed around the warehouse and train tracks, ready to contain any Soviet advance into the train station. Then, disaster struck. The Soviet players dug out something that they had built and painted in secret for the campaign: a KV-1 tank!
We had prepared for a T-34 platoon as a worst case scenario, so this caught us completely flatfooted. However, this being the first game, we didn't want to withdraw without making an attempt at it, and a damaged KV-1 in the first battle would make a great trophy! So full steam ahead, and damn the torpedos. We went all in.
My Pak 36s deployed and started a shooting duel with the KV-1, which didn't dare to get into closer range as that would expose it to the Elephantino gun as well. But in the end the German guns revealed why they got the name "doorknockers" in real life after facing these monsters on the Eastern front - after dealing several hits that simply bounced off, the section had nothing but one blown up gun and several dead and shocked crewmembers to show for it. Needlessly to say, the remaining gun retreated back into the house to save itself.
Then, disaster struck again! A second KV-1 hit the table! This one advanced slowly around the station, clearly showing that it was planning to protect the rapidly deploying Soviets as they rushed into the station building. There was just one thing to do: send in my flamethrower and burn down the house (the very same house that I spent the previous days painting! *sob*)
The burning station put an end to the immediate Soviet attack, and the rest of the game pretty much consisted of a stand-off between the Italians and the left-most KV-1, while my troops begun a slow crawl along the tracks supported by machine guns:
The Italian forces occupied the left flank uncontested:
The attack gave the Soviets a few casualties, but once the KV-1 was in place by the train, it was answering with a deadly hail of machine guns and heavy exposives. As time dragged on and I had to leave, we called it a draw.
Learning points from this game was that man, a KV-1 is pretty much impossible to even nudge if you don't have the right gear. It's simply not reasonable to expect a Pak 36 to deal with it: I'd need to roll five dice and get three results of 5+, while the KV-1 rolls eight dice and removes a success for each 5+ it rolls. In the end we did what we could, and tried to hurt the infantrymen slogging along with the tanks. Thinking back, it would probably have been better to this even more, instead of spending most of our resources on trying to hurt the tanks.
We also spent a lot of time talking about rules and the campaign, which is probably good for the overall campaign, but meant that we spent less time playing. Since Big CoC tends to take a significantly larger amount of time than a normal battle, we'll have to be more careful about this in the future.
Another result that I've seen in several of our Big CoC battles is that one, or even two, of the players/platoons sees a lot less action than the rest. In this case, one of the big tanks were effectively stuck in a stand-off with the entire Italian force, while my Germans took on one of the tanks and most of the Soviet infantry. It's often a good idea tactically for one side to get local numerical superiority, but it is less fun to be the player who gets to see less action. So keep in mind if you try Big CoC battles that it can get a bit of an uneven experience for the various players, and schedule in plenty of time!
But in the end, it was very nice to see all the new painted terrain and miniatures, and I could not stay mad at the KV-1s for too long, as they were so beautifully painted. And since it was a tie, we'll get to see the station again! I promise to try to paint a suitable sign for the station until then. Oh, and study this video a few times:
WW2 Campaign Blog
This blog follows the second Chain of Command club campaign, set in the intense fighting over Stalino in October 1941.