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Friday, February 19, 2016

The Ultimate Sacrifice: Quinto, Game 4

Before the war, no one would have thought of Cipriano Ortega as a monster. And even once the war started, the man his soldiers called El Profesor, was regarded as a cool-headed and idealistic, if remote, young officer. But today that would all change.

Captain Vasquez was impressed by the young officer's conduct during the first day of the battle, and was happy to being El Profesor's platoon back up to full strength.  Survivors from other units, and a few young men from the town now stood with him, ready to throw the International Communists from their town, just as they had done earlier that morning.

The Captain's orders were explicit: do not let the Communists enter the town. Hold them at the edge for as long as you can. Make them pay for every inch.  But the look in his eye said that he knew it would be costly.  The town was utterly surrounded, and contact with Zaragoza completely cut off.  Hope for victory had been replaced among the officers by a grim determination to resist until the bitter end.

El Profesor understood what the Captain had really been suggesting, if only with his eyes. The Internationals must be stopped, even if it meant that all of his men would die here, in these handful of houses at the edge of Quinto de Ebro. He knew what he had to do.  He brought up the town's priest for a blessing, and to exhort the soldiers under him to behave not only as men, but as martyrs.

Most of his men would not make it to nightfall.  The Lincolns would come again, and when they did El Profesor would lead his men in a glorious sacrifice in an effort to break or bloody the enemy.  Yes, there would be no retreat from this place.  Behind him, El Profesor knew that some of the disciplined cadres of the Ejercito Nacional were preparing to defend the city if the Communists broke through.  Cipriano knew that it would happen eventually, either in this attack, or in the next, or the one after, but he grimly steeled himself to make a martyr's end and to make the Lincolns face the devil whom they served.

The scenario once again is "Flank Attack", but I did a bit better with the patrol phase this time. I locked all three of my markers down very quickly, forcing Fritz to place his jump off points relatively far back.  Last time the Lincolns had tried stealth, and were soundly defeated. This time they would try something different.

Lincoln Jump-Off Points:  Neither made it very far forward from the western table edge.

One patrol marker had made progress in the south however, and a JOP was placed in the light cover of the field.

The Nationalist got four for this scenario. One in the middle of the buildings, very close to the courtyard where Lincoln bodies still moldered from this morning's action.

Another, close to the north table edge, close enough to deploy troops into the ruined section of wall. This was probably the best place to cover the approach from the west.

Another in the foremost building on the north side of the street. The fourth was placed in the building directly across from it.

After having fallen back from table 2, and winning on table 3, El Profesor had time to set up two barbed wire sections, causing the enemy some consternation. With one covering the gap in the wall and the other the street, any infantry hoping to enter the town would need to cross those tall walls.

Fritz's answer to this conundrum was not exactly subtle...  A Putilov field gun was selected for support, deploying at his southern JoP.

Supported by a MMG team from the Tom Mooney Company setting up to the West.

And the first section of infantry further back. I was surprised to see all of this on the board so quickly.  The Lincolns had also used their one-time replacements, but had rolled less well. While I was at full strength, the Lincolns were still down 5 men.

I agonized over when to deploy... how long do I wait. In the end, I could not resist the urge to fire at the far off infantry section.  In hindsight, definitely a mistake.  I set up in such a way that the enemy MMG had no line of sight on my gun, so I hoped to shoot a few times, do some casualties,

I did manage to do some casualties, but...

The field gun targeted the section of wall blocking the MMG's line of sight, toppling it, and exposing my gun to fire.

It quickly got ugly, with MMG fire and rifle and LMG fire from the section across the fields. The lower quality of the requetes troops quickly showed in their inability to make best use of the cover.

El Profesor sent his loyal student and platoon sergeant, Loredo Guzman, out of cover to rally the machine guns and pull the team back out of the murderous fire.

But the enemy machine guns also redeployed, and soon resumed firing at long range.

They took some shock from return fire, but nothing compared to what they gave out.

Meanwhile Lt. Antov, the Bulgarian-American Communist platoon leader, joined the gun team to direct its fire. His plan this time was much more direct, and it involved avoiding the barbed wire entirely by knocking down all the walls, which he proceeded to skillfully do.

With holes blasting away any cover, it was a matter of time before my machine gun team was no more. Thankfully, El Profesor had withdrawn Guzman before that happened. Still, it caused the Nationalists already shaky morale (8) to drop to a five (a dead junior leader and loss of support). All in all, only a few Lincolns had been cut down in the exchange.  Perhaps El Profesor's fatalistic prayers and talk of martyrdom wasn't exactly what the troops needed to hear before combat...

By this point, the walls on the western edge of town were like Swiss cheese.

...So Lt. Antov had the gun turned on the walls on the southern edge.

With nothing left to shoot at, the infantry began a cautious advance.

The MMG covered them.

All the while, the gun continued to pound the walls, leveling them and opening the way into the cursed courtyard that the Lincolns knew so well.

All the while, El Profesor watched and wait.  Patience is a virtue, and it is rewarded by Chain of Command dice.

Lt. Antov ordered a sudden pivot, and both the MMG and rifle section turned towards the southern approach.

Meanwhile the other half of the platoon deployed, joined by the MMG team in the southern field, all clustered near the field gun, and most within Lt. Antov's command radius.

It was a strong position. The field gun was on a rise, able to fire over the heads of the infantry in front of them. Lt. Antov, satisfied with the destruction of the walls, put his men on overwatch, waiting for the enemy to reveal themselves.

Doing nothing is difficult. Even El Profesor has limits to his patience. With what felt like ample Chain of Command dice, I couldn't resist using one to ambush the section crossing from the west to the south as it crossed the open road. Sniping with the LMG team, we got lucky and took out the brand new junior leader before he could even be accepted by his men (the previous had died last game). It felt good to hit back.

The leaderless and weakened section eventually managed to crawl its way to join the others.

Meanwhile, a team from the full-strength section made its way cautiously forward towards the edge of town.

El Profesor decided it was time. One CoC die was spent to end the turn, removing all of the enemy's overwatch markers, and then a section deployed into a building on the north side of the street, overlooking the encroaching enemy team.  One team was separated from the other two by the doorless wall. Sergeant Guzman was with the single team, and the fresh-faced new junior leader with the other.

Fritz spent two chain of command dice on interrupts and managed to badly mangle the separated team, but the rest of the section was able to pour fire into the alleyway.

Fritz's command dice gave him an unfortunate roll on his own turn, four 4s, only allowing him to activate his commander, but not extricate the team nearly pinned down in the alley. However, with so many units within Lt. Antov's command range, he made that one activation count.

The field gun fired, plastering the building. Three sixes not only wiped out what was left of the single team, it also made the building unstable. I'd have to get my men out of there before the turn ended, or they'd likely die in the building's collapse.

Furthermore, the explosion from the shell killed Sergeant Guzman instantly.  El Profesor felt a hollow place inside him. Although he knew Guzman was now with the saints, he mourned the innocent young student who had been so loyal in war and peace.

Taking a chance, I didn't pull the men out of the building immediately. I wanted badly to finish off the isolated team. I succeeded in pinning them, but no more casualties.

Facing withering fire from the fields and the imminent collapse of the building, I could wait no more than one turn, and soon fled out of sight of the enemy.

The men found cover and once again, the waiting game began.

Once again, El Profesor urged patience. We needed to wait for our opportunity. But by now the men had soured on the idea of martyrdom completely. With the loss of a team and Guzman, morale was down to a 2. After all, if the cerebral El Profesor was willing to sacrifice his student and friend just to kill a few more communists, would he hesitate to sacrifice the simple farmers and peasants which made up the platoon?

The Lincoln MMG team began to move up to support the team pinned in the alleyway. The Mooneys would surely complain about the way they were used in this battle, but that was an argument for the higher ups. As it was, Lt. Antov was reluctant to risk any more of his own men trying to flush out these doomed fanatics.

Meanwhile the rest of the platoon watched and waited.

A lucky triple run of phases by Fritz saw the Mooney machine gunners rush up and contest a jump off point.  Once again, the machine gunners took positions in the courtyard.

As the last of Fritz's triple run also ended the turn, pulling up the overwatch on the cannon and rifle team, El Profesor decided that the time had come for his last desperate play. The final section deployed, in what was only light cover due to the intervening terrain. Trading fire at long range, these green troops would not last long. El Profesor hoped they would last long enough to at least kill a few communists before they were martyred.

The Mooneys round the corner, being the first Republicans into the streets of Quinto. They ran right into the remnants of the first section, and into close combat.

Both sides rolled well, too well, and although the Mooneys were wiped out, only one man remained on on the Nationalist side.

The loss of the MMG team and its officer dropped the Lincoln morale to a dangerous 4 (they need to have at least a 3 to win the scenario).

Meanwhile, the Nationals were once again worse off. One man remained of the entire section.

Even after spending a CoC die to avoid the morale roll for the officer, the Nationalist morale dropped to a 1. Still, El Profesor refused to surrender.  His men looked at him like he was crazy, and maybe he was.

His rifle teams poured fire onto the damaged Lincoln section, which accumulated shock but took no more casualties.

The requetes however, were getting slaughtered by the return fire.

Still, El Profesor urged his men on from the distance (he still had not deployed, and my single command die never turned up a 4 to bring him on). The men had been pinned down by the fire pouring through the holes in the walls, and soon, inevitably, the first team broke and made for the rear.  With morale dropping to zero, El Profesor's brave words were ignored by his fleeing men. With his command disintegrated, Lt. Cipriano soon fled himself, slipping away, alone, to the town church to see if he could be useful there. If not, he could at least confess himself and prepare for the end.

This game was a terrible gamble that didn't pay off as well as I would have liked. My overall strategy has been (from the start) to use the requetes for a fanatical defense on board 3 (this board), with the goal of forcing the Lincolns to retire their first platoon and bring up their second (and last), even at the cost of my own first platoon.  My thinking is that while my first platoon is green, the second is regular, while the two Lincoln platoons are identical. With table four (the city center) probably the best for the defender, I hoped to follow up on that board by crippling the second platoon, and making it very difficult for the Lincolns to win on board 5 (the church and final objective). I estimated that if I could kill off half of his platoon in exchange for my full one on table 3 it would be enough to force both of us to take our second platoons forward.

Well, the best laid plans and all that... My first platoon is gone (I took something like 24 casualties!), and Fritz is going into table 4 with his first platoon still functioning, so this is not only a tactical loss but a strategic one as well.  This was a huge victory for the Lincoln Battalion, and a well deserved one. Fritz played a very solid game.

Still, the Lincoln first platoon is pretty cut up - they're down a full 10 men right now, and will be facing a full strength platoon of regular army infantry in an urban environment, and with less support than they've enjoyed up until now.  There are two boards left, and the Lincolns can only lose once more and still keep to their allotted time schedule for the offensive. If I can force just two more loses, they will be denied victory.

One thing is for sure - I'm looking forward to fielding regulars.  The quality difference was really punishing this game.  Additionally, Fritz and I agree that the field gun was the MVP.  They should name that gun "wrecking ball" or something.

There are lots of things I would have done differently, but two stand out:  First, I should have held off the table for way longer, allowing CoC dice to accumulate and waiting for the Lincolns to get in close. The edge of town is a weaker position than it looks, as the open fields allow for a lot of cross fire from multiple units. If I'd let him get closer, it would have been easier to bring more fire on fewer units, defeating them in detail. Second, if I ever again decide to offer up a platoon in sacrifice, I'll save all CoC dice to avoid morale checks.  I wasted several on ambushes and ending a turn at one point. If I hadn't, I would have had more dice at the bitter end, and been able to activate my last units more often, and thereby done more casualties. The various CoC die maneuvers were just not worth the morale loss.