Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fighting through the Fulda Gap with SABRE SQUADRON!

Gosh I've been playing a large amount of Cold War era games lately!  It's only noteworthy because they were not my originally intended focus for 2018 but they sure are turning out to be.  Recently, Ken and I were able to replay this epic Cold War fictional battle from one of the best World War III Pre-Histories out there using the terrific SABRE SQUADRON rules. 

We used the scenario from "The Bear Marches West", a compendium of World War III scenarios taken from popular WWIII fictional novels and includes classic battles from Red Army, Red Storm Rising, and of course Team Yankee.

My favorite WWIII battle, "First Blood" from the Team Yankee novel, is one of those battles.  Ken and I used the forces from that battle and had another go at SABRE SQUADRON after my disastrous other attempt.

Given how things went last time, I went into this game feeling nervous.  Very nervous, especially about Soviet artillery concentrations, and the survivability of my forces.  (sounds like something an actual commander would have been worrying about?).

This game called for a different set of tactics to defeat Ivan instead of setting up in the treeline and blasting away.  I would have to fight a little cagey if I was to have a chance at beating the red hordes.

  Here's a sneak preview - not the pushover it was in the book for Team Yankee, but not a jailbreak either. 

The good guys are holding the line - so far.

Second platoon on the right, overwatching the valley and NOT in their firing positions.  The FIST'ers are with them as well.  The ITV's are off to the right.

First Platoon minus the command tanks (Bannon in the 66 tank and Uleski in 55)

They came in the same, old way!

Dismounts who are not yet placed on the table, will start in their fighting positions.

 First turn I try out these new tactics - with the tanks pulled back into the woodline so Ivan (Ken) can't see them.  Ken's first turn he doesn't get to shoot.  During my phase, I pull up to the treeline and fire, scratch 3 x T-72s.  Ivan keeps coming.

The Soviets need to get half of their elements off the table.  The scenario doesn't specify about those being mounted or dismounted so Ken has lots of options to win.

FISTers dismounted and calling in the battalion mortars.  Ken would have to be 1" away to shoot at them.  Unbelievably, even though the Soviet barrage kills a ton of stuff, the FIST team is spared.  It's a good thing, too.  Because I'll need those mortars!

The Soviet artillery arrives and kills a ton of stuff, including 3 x Abrams tanks, BOTH of my ITVs, most of the infantry dismounts, and literally all of their tracks. The infantry platoon is left with 1 rifle/SAW team, and 1 dragon team.

 This is due in no small part to my bad rolling.  The next turn, I shoot, killing some more stuff, then retreat back to my hide sites.  It's a constant game of back and forth and not allowing Ivan to have a stationary target to shoot at.

The tanks concentrate their fire on the T-72 company moving into the valley.  Ken surges the BMPs forward, leapfrogging the platoons, shooting ATGMs with one platoon, while moving with others.  Does all this sound real-world?  I think so.

The orange boxes are the corners of the minefield.  The red poker chip is my mortar fire mission.

A squad is all that remains of the infantry platoon.

Dragon team to catch stragglers that make it through the valley

BMPs going around the minefield.  

More T-72 wreckage.

Dismounts from a knocked out BMP.  

Most of the tank company is knocked out and the M1s switch their fire to the infantry company now.

Neutralized dismounts

A BMP reaches the sleepy village 

More BMPs reach the village

Ken drives a BMP through the minefield, which was reduced 2 levels by Soviet artillery fire.  The mines knock out a BMP.

I start to train my fire on the BMPs once the tanks are KOd.

BMPs crossing the creek.
 Ken noticed it was tough to keep cohesion of all these disparate platoons (Sabre Squadron has a neat way to track this and integrate "command confusion" to ensure you don't mix up units).

Soviets at the edge of the minefield.  

BMPs still coming on strong

FIST Team unbelievably still alive
 So that's part 1 of the battle at midpoint.  Part 2 still needs to be played out.  Ken still has tons of highly mobile combat power to use against my forces and we're only at turn 4 or 5 of a 10 turn game.  Ken's missiles are pretty deadly and he's had a few hits against my tanks, some of which survived thanks to the armor, a very small amount to dodging the ATGMs.  So the results of the game are still very much up in the air.

I will say this has been a very fun game that requires much planning and thought.  The old Soldier's saying "if it can be seen, it can be hit, if it can be hit, it can be killed" comes to mind when playing Sabre Squadron.  A hit from an MBT on another MBT pretty much guarantees a kill in this game, requiring you to use cover and concealment as much as possible.

This is probably the biggest game of Sabre Squadron that we've played so far and it has been very satisfying and thought provoking.  I'm looking forward to playing more.  I also received my Sabre Squadron markers in the mail today, so no more fussy cutting out!  Thank you Nick!

In other news, I finally received reinforcements for my Arab Israeli Wars micro armor including Magach 3s, T-55s, Ishermans, BTR152s, and PT76s that I purchased to participate in Alex's mega game, among other games.  Dave and I had much fun playing Fate of a Nation recently, so naturally the answer is to paint them up and game with them!  So much good Cold War gaming goodness to be had!


  1. Cool fight man, looking forward to part 2 (and more Fate of a Nation).


    1. It's been a nail biter, Jack. Every turn has been a nail biter. Down 3 tanks including the Company XO's tank. The ITV's were both nailed by the artillery and the infantry got seriously messed up with 2 squads and the HQs section knocked out.

      It's just another day in World War III!

  2. OOoh yeah, more stuff.
    Recommended an interesting book on Egyptian army in '73 war to Ken. I think that the two sides will square very nicely in a game, they are different and have different gear, doctrine, everything. I'm skipping cold war but always interested in seeing what came thru the Fulda Gap in 15mm!

    1. Been a good game so far. Very close.
      You may be skipping Cold War but your rules won’t be. I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw some Fulda gap action, after more 67 and 73 Arab Israeli War action of course.

  3. Saber Squadron can be deadly if you mess up. The only plus on the Soviet side is the front of a T-64 is very strong.

    1. Actually in Sabre Squadron any Cold War tank hit by another Cold War tank will be knocked out. Only way to have a chance to survive is to be hull down . Makes for a quick game.

    2. I learned the hard way after watching my company team shot to pieces!

  4. Steve, look out for a copy of The Third World War by General Sir John Hackett (and others), published by Sphere. The book is almost 40 years old, it is a fictional piece written in 1978 about the start of WWIII that would occur in 1985.

    Hackett's military insight as to how things work at the operational level and his association with political reality, make for a fascinating look at how a war could develop to a flash point and how the opening weeks would be conducted.

    I read it in 1981 and was fascinated, as at that time the chill of war was in the air and the under-current of civil defence was tangible.

    I have just bought a couple of tactical based boardgames that cover the 'go hot' aspect and so I obtained a copy of the book via amazon and am looking forward to giving it another spin.

    1. Thank you Norm! I’ve read Hackett’s book and loved it! In fact Harold Coyle’s “team Yankee” novel takes place against Hacketts geopolitical backdrop. It’s fascinating and I’ve never seen authors do that before or after these novels were written.
      I play and love GDWs “team Yankee” written by frank Chadwick. In my humble opinion it should be mandatory on any Cold War gamers’ shelf!

      Do you think you’ll be tackling any modern period or Cold War hot games in the near future?

  5. Well I would have said no on the figures side of things ..... but I saw the new offerings of resin (I think) 10mm from Timecast the other day at the York show and they are really nice (really really nice!).

    Boardgame wise, I have MBT by GMT and designed by Jim Day (Part of the Panzer family) and Heroes against the Red Star, which is the Lock 'n Load modern module.

    I did have Team Yankee many years ago and scenario 1 is quite memorable(the edition with the M1 Abrams embossed in silver paper on the front of the box). It was the first tactical game that I had, that used odds ratios for armour combat!

    Hackett did a follow on book called 'The Untold Story'.

  6. I haven't heard of "The Bear Marches West" before - thanks for the heads up Steve