22 July 2014

Straight from the Beta Testers: Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue - After Action Review

Beta tester Mark Hemns tells us about his experiences with the pre-release version of this operational strategy game and why it's unforgiving.

Published on 15 JUL 2012 1:00pm by Mark Hemns

 

Introduction

This is an After Action Report for Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue, the new accessible historical operational simulation of the fighting in the Ukraine and Caucasus during May 1942 – April 1943.

This game comes with campaign scenarios, small scenarios and a linked-scenario campaign. This report will cover the first mission in the linked-scenario campaign. The linked-scenario campaign uses some campaign rules like replacements, dynamic OOB (new unit creation, etc…) and the officer pool, but is played on smaller maps that have a limited number of rounds. When you win a scenario, your forces are automatically taken to the next scenario in the campaign.

The only linked-scenario campaign available is the “1st Panzer Army” campaign. This campaign puts you in command of 1st Panzer Army for up to four scenarios, beginning with crossing the Don and, if you are successful, ending with your efforts to capture Baku and the end of the War in the East. OKH will watch your every move. Success will result in additional prestige points and the honor of keeping your command for the next set of objectives; failure will result in your immediate “retirement.” 

I will be playing as the Axis forces against the Soviet AI. The game is set to 'Easy' difficulty level. I am playing beta version 0.99c. 

 

The briefing for the first scenario.

I already hold three cities and need to capture another four as soon as I am able. The scenario starts on the 25th of July and ends on 16th August. A turn is two days, so I have eleven turns to complete my objectives. 

However, it would be better to capture the cities as soon as possible so as to gain extra prestige to carry into future battles in the campaign. The prestige score determines the number of “Political Points” you get at the start of each round. Political Points allow you to request extra replacements and influence “High Command” decisions. 

The terrain to be fought over. The front-line is the river Don. 

As the title of the campaign suggests, I have all of 1st Panzer Army under my command. Using the excellent Order of Battle (OOB) tab I can see that 1st Panzer Army consists of 3 Corps (III, XXXX and LII). 

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The game has a dynamic order of battle that allows you to attach units to command structures of your choice. I modified the force layout described below from that originally set-up in the game. The main changes I made were to attach the independent artillery regiments, engineer regiments and Stug battalions to the individual corps commands. The reason I did this was because units get a combat bonus from the commanding “General of the Corps” and his staff. This effect reduces over distance. In the picture below the commander of XXXX Corps, Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, and his staff give a combat bonus of 77% to troops under his command in the green highlighted areas. 

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So my amended order of battle is: III Corps consists of 16th Motorized Division, 13th Panzer Division, an artillery regiment and an engineer regiment. 

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XXXX Corps consists of 3rd and 23rd Panzer Divisions, an artillery regiment, an engineer regiment and a Stug battalion. 

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LII is the weakest of the three Corps. It consists of 111th and 370th Infantry Divisions and an engineer regiment. 

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I also have air support in the form 3 air Gruppe. 30xJU87D dive bombers, 30xHE 111H level bombers and 45xBF109E fighters. 

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Let's take a closer look at the troops that make up one of the divisions. The following information is of the 13th Panzer Division. It consists of 4 regiments: Panzer Regiment, 1st Motorized Infantry Regiment, 2nd Motorized Infantry Regiment,


Panzer Regiment

1st Motorized Infantry Regiment

 

2nd Motorized Infantry Regiment

 

Artillery Regiment 

Further information is available for each troop type: like the SdKfz 251. 

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The Panzer Divisions are the bulk of my combat power and I intend to use them to drive deep into the Soviet rear. It is not possible (or desirable) to try and destroy every enemy unit individually. It is better to attempt to encircle enemy forces and then finish them off when they are depleted through lack of supply. To this end, I intend to cross the Don in several places to threaten the Soviet forces from multiple directions, hopefully forcing them to retreat from their entrenched positions along the Don. 

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In the east, XXXX Corps will capture Martynowka and then drive towards Proletarsk. In the center, III Corps will capture Bagalevskaya and then assist in the advance towards Proletarsk. In the west, LII Corps will capture Metchetinskaya.

 

This is the situation at the start of the game on 25 July 1942 - Turn 1

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Just a quick note on the various display preferences: in the picture above, I have zoomed in to the maximum level and chosen to have smaller unit counters, but with up to 4 displayed per hex without any overlapping. 


This picture shows the larger unit counters, which have more information on them. 

I also could have chosen counters with graphical representations of the troops, instead of NATO symbols. 

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My first attack will be against a single regiment of the 102nd Rifle Division. While I don't have perfect reconnaissance information on this hex, it appears that this is a weakened unit. 

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The bar on the left of the unit counter shows the unit's integrity, which is how much of the troops in the unit’s OOB that are actually present within that unit. It does not influence combat, but it does influence the chance the unit will break under pressure in combat. Most units have a chance to break if they are below 50% integrity. 

The key factors to look for in your units when attacking are high readiness and good supply. Combat odds are not displayed in the game before you attack. You need to make your own judgment on how much combat power to use. I tend to go with the old “golden rule” of needing at least 3:1 advantage when attacking. 

I want to try and destroy this unit, allowing my Panzers to exploit the rear. So I first order an artillery barrage from the 23rd's organic artillery regiment and the nearby independent artillery regiment. Artillery has a range of two hexes. To better simulate the effect of the need to prepare for offensives, stockpiling has been introduced for artillery. Basically, this means you’ll need a number of rounds after firing your artillery before it can be used at full effect again; this simulates the logistical effort to create new ammo dumps for the artillery. Artillery ammunition stocks, when full, allow for maximum effect of artillery. When stocks are depleted, artillery effectiveness is only 25% of what it would be otherwise. So you need to make sure that you spend your ammo stockpile at the crucial moment! 

The combat results screen shows the results of the barrage. This is a dynamic screen that changes during the maximum 10 rounds of combat. 

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The moment battle commences all troops are split up as individual units (about 100-man units, 5 tanks or 5 aircraft per unit). These units then battle it out for several rounds, each round costing 10 AP. The moment an attacking unit is out of AP it ceases combat. The troops all start in the middle boxes, and then move to the outside as they are destroyed (red) or use up all their action points (white). In this case I have destroyed one infantry and one anti-tank. Artillery also reduces enemy readiness and fortifications. I now decide to follow up with a ground attack. 

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I have selected all three regiments of the 23rd Panzer Division. They had gotten a bonus because the division is operating together, with a concentric bonus for attacking from three different hexes. Also note the stack limit. This is a mechanic that applies to all types of attack. If you over-stack your troops will be more vulnerable and fight less effectively. You can over-stack in defense as well as in attack. Over-stacking makes attacks and defense stronger, at the cost of higher casualty rates. Stack points spent in a failed attack are saved for the next attack on the same hex. 

The attack was a success, although the enemy unit was not destroyed—only forced to retreat. I was hoping to get into the rear on the first turn to pressure the AI to retreat, but I have used all my action points attacking across the river Don. However, I do have another option. Corps commanders are able to play a variety of “Officer Cards” which can do anything from increasing combat power to improving morale. They gain a number of command points each turn, which can be used to play the cards. I decide to play the “Speed” card, which gives additional Action Points to a unit. 

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In this case each unit of the division gets an extra 36 AP, which I use to attack again. The extremely lucky Soviet infantry survives again! This is quite unusual. I would have expected a kill on the first attack. It retreats and I advance further forward, making sure I protect my rear to ensure my spearhead won’t be cut off. 


To put pressure on the Soviet forces, I make three further attacks across the Don during this turn. 


Elements of 3rd Panzer Division push back a regiment of the 74th Rifle Division, and the 16th Motorized Division destroyed a regiment of the 353rd Rifle Division. 

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Finally, the 111th Infantry Division destroyed a regiment of the 341st Rifle Division. 

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At the end of the turn I had crossed the Don in four places.

 

27 July 1942 - Turn 2

During the AI turn, the Soviets fallback to the southeast. 

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My reconnaissance is not strong enough to identify what units face me south of Bagalevskaya. I therefore decide to order an air reconnaissance mission. Fighter units can be used to conduct combat or reconnaissance missions. I order my fighter gruppe to undertake a reconnaissance flight south of Bagalevskaya. The success of any such mission depends on flak or enemy fighters in the area. In this case, I have received information on the targeted hex and those surrounding it. 

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I order a general advance to keep the pressure on the Soviets. 


23rd Panzer has surrounded Martynowka on three sides. Cities can be difficult to subdue, so it is often a good idea to surround them completely and weaken the enemy before attacking. However, there appears to be a weakened unit in Martynowka—I am pressed for time. I decide to order an immediate attack with 23rd Panzer Division. After an artillery barrage, a ground attack using all three regiments destroys the Soviet unit. 

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23rd Panzer takes the city and advances south of the town. In the center I advance III Corps south, and in the west 11th Infantry Division moves towards Metchetinskaya. 

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29 July 1942 - Turn 3

During the AI turn the Soviets counterattacked the 16th Motorized Division, but got the worst out of the attack. The “History Screen” (shown below) allows you to step through the AI's moves if you missed anything during the AI turn. Players can also jump to all the battles. 

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I have a clear opportunity to cut-off and encircle a large number of Soviet troops. Given the huge numbers of troops in the larger campaigns, this is an essential skill to learn. 


A regiment of Soviet 353rd Infantry Division is blocking the bridge for my 3rd Panzer Division. I really want to move this enemy but have only a single hex to attack from, limiting any bonuses I get. I therefore decide to soften up the enemy with an airstrike. Fighters protect your bombers or attack enemy airfields. Level bombers are good against soft targets and reduce entrenchments. Stukas are good against tanks. 

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I send both bombing Gruppes with a fighter escort in case there are any enemy fighters. The enemy softens up. 

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The subsequent ground attack by 3rd Panzer forces the Soviet Rifle regiment to retreat. However, because most of 3rd Panzer’s Action Points have been used up, I move up 13th Panzer Division into the attack. 

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To give 13th Panzer Division more Action Points to attack with, I order LII Corps HQ to play the “Speed Officer” card. This gives 13th Panzer another 36 AP. Their subsequent attack destroys the enemy. On the other side of the potential encirclement I use 16th Motorized Division to launch a ground attack against a single weakened regiment of the 261st Rifle Division. This regiment is destroyed and the trap closes. 


With the road clear I use 3rd Panzer Division's remaining Action Points to advance towards Proletarsk. 23rd Panzer continues its advance in the east towards Proletarsk. I continue to move 111th Infantry Division towards Metchetinskaya even though it is getting towards the end of a very long supply chain. 

 

31 July 1942 - Turn 4

During the AI turn, the Soviets continue to fall back towards Proletarsk. 

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The encircled troops try to breakout, but the attempt fails with heavy losses. 

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During the end of turn calculations you usually receive some replacements, which filter down to the units that need them. 

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On the western side of the battlefield a weakened armour regiment of the 63rd Tank Brigade faces my 111th Infantry Division in front of Metchetiskaya. I decide to hit it with my Stuka Gruppe—excellent against armoured units. They are successful this time. 

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I follow with a ground attack by a regiment of the 111th and their attached Stug battalion. The attack is very successful: the Soviet unit is destroyed. 

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After the victory 111th Infantry Division moves to the outskirts of Metchetiskaya. In the center, I have a lot of units tied up surrounding the trapped Soviet regiments.

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It would usually be better to wait a few turns to ensure the lack of supply has fatally weakened them before attempting to eradicate the pocket. However, the units were weak to begin with and time is now a factor. I therefore order the attack. My attacking forces are impressive .... 

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and the trapped Soviet units are destroyed. 

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In the east I advance 23rd Panzer Division further towards Proletarsk. In the center, 13th Panzer and elements of 3rd Panzer advance to engage the retreating Soviet units. 


Their advance has created the opportunity to trap another pocket of Soviet units, with a single regiment of the 31st Rifle Division standing in the way. I launch an immediate attack with 13th Panzer and a regiment from the 23rd. The Soviet unit is destroyed and another encirclement has been completed. At the end of the turn my units are at the outskirts of their last two objectives, and another large body of Soviet troops has been cut off. 

 

2 August 1942 - Turn 5

During the AI turn the Soviets attempted to breakout of the encirclement. Again, this was unsuccessful, with heavy losses. 

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Metchetinskaya appears to be weakly defended by a single regiment of the 176th Rifle Division. 
However, my 111th Infantry Division has stretched its supply line too far. 

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Supply flows from “Supreme” HQ’s (OKH, Stavka, etc…) to lower HQ’s and normal units. Supply can only flow from its source HQ to a final destination unit within 250 action points of the original source. Supply moves faster over roads and railways, and is reduced substantially over poor terrain and rivers. If the distance from the original source to the target unit is more than 100 AP, only part of the requested supplies can be delivered; the amount delivered falling as the distance becomes greater. 

A unit requires 50% of their supply requirements to prevent losing readiness. Elements of the 111th are not getting this level of supply, their readiness is therefore in a poor state and they are not fit to fight. To improve the supply situation, I drive 16th Motorized Division to link up with the 111th and provide a shorter supply route. 

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The supply situation has improved, although it is still far from ideal. I have another option to increase the readiness of the unit by using LII Corps HQ to play the “Care Officer” card—I do so. The card increases morale and readiness of a selected unit. Given the weakness of the enemy unit and the slightly improved state of 111th Division, I decide to storm Metchetinskaya. After an ineffective artillery bombardment the ground attack goes in. 

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My overconfidence has led to failure and the attack is repulsed. This poor result is a combination of the weakened state of 111th Division and poor reconnaissance. All units exert reconnaissance points up to 4 hexes away. If your recon is high enough you can see enemy units. There are three levels of recon: if you have up to 100 points of recon on a hex you only get the information that a unit is there, but no information on its composition; if you have up to 250 points of recon you get information about its composition but will not be sure about the exact troop quantities. If you have 750 points of recon, you will know exactly what is in the hex. This reconnaissance failure led me to believe that the town was garrisoned by 300 weakened infantry. However, there turned-out to be 900. 


Meanwhile, on the other flank, I push 3rd Panzer Division further towards Proletarsk. The panzer regiment of the 23rd Panzer Division, with an infantry regiment, makes a dash for the town. The assault is successful and the town is captured. 

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At the end of the turn I only need one more city to complete my objectives and move onto the next mission. 

 

4 August 1942 - Turn 6 

During the AI turn my overconfidence has again got me into trouble. The Soviet forces have encircled the 3rd Panzer Division, although it survives several attacks. 

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At the start of the turn things are not looking so good. 

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However, the Soviet encirclement of 3rd Panzer is weakly held in several places. 


I use all available forces and artillery to attack these two Soviet units. Both are destroyed and the weary troops of 3rd Panzer are freed. 

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In the west, I let 111th Infantry Division rest for a turn whilst 16th Motorized Division completes the encirclement of Metchetinskaya. 

 

7 August 1942 - Turn 7 

I had been unable to withdraw the panzer regiment from 3rd Panzer at the end of my last turn as it had no Action Points after being surrounded.mDuring the AI turn, a three-pronged Soviet attack forces the regiment to retreat with some losses. 

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In revenge, I eliminate the pocket southwest of Martynowka and destroy the enemy. 

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In the west, Metchetinskaya is surrounded. I am now allowed to attack from multiple directions with the most units possible. 

To fully prepare, I play another Care Officer card on 111th Infantry Division to raise its readiness, and an “Initiative” card (increases Action Points and combat power) on 16th Motorized Division. 

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I then soften up the enemy with an airstrike, followed by an artillery barrage. Finally, the ground assault gets underway/ Metchetinskaya is captured. 

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The seventh city is captured and I have met my objectives.


Final positions.

Summary 

Clearly, High Command is pleased with my progress. 

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Because I have finished early, I will get more Prestige Points per turn in the next scenario. This will give me the ability to call for extra units and influence High Command decisions.

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The casualty statistics were overwhelmingly in my favour. 

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I feel this is a decent result. Although, I could have captured Metchetinskaya sooner if I had paid more attention to the condition of 111th Infantry Division and given it the support of other units. I also overreached with 3rd Panzer Division, which cost me some needless casualties. Another key to victory is the correct and timely use of Officer Cards. Simply put, I did not use them very well. I could have played more combat orientated cards in the initial assaults rather than trying to give units another chance to attack after a failure. 

My units will now move onto the second mission in the campaign with the OOB and statistics with which they finished this battle. However, future battles in this campaign will only become more difficult as Soviet resistance stiffens and High Command becomes more demanding. 

 

After action review written by: Mark Hemns, Beta Tester