Sunday, November 5, 2023

Forcing the Fulda River: Battlegroup NORTHAG

 A rare blog post by yours truly as Dave came over for the mother of all Cold War '83 Battles. We played a 'uge Battlegroup: NORTHAG game using the "escalating engagement" scenario from the NORTHAG rulebook and an American Army list from the CENTAG book.  The battle featured a Soviet T-62 Battalion (-) and Motor Rifle Platoon along with all of the support trimmings forcing a crossing over the Fulda River, IE capturing one of two bridges and exiting the table.

Yes, more NORTHAG at Sound Officers Call!

The long, long, looooooong awaited CENTAG book...

The "good guys" IE elements of a US Armored Cavalry Troop were tasked with slowing down the Soviet horde and the battle starts with the Cav elements moving out to occupying their battle positions while the Soviet troops are pouring through the valley.  Can the thin line of tanks and troops hold out?

View from the American entry point.  The hill masses covered with dense pine forest will be tough to maneuver around in, but the central hill will be key terrain in this fight, able to cover both river crossings.

The terrain was very hilly, with a considerable water obstacle bisecting the table (Fulda River anyone?), and 2 bridges connecting the table halves.  The river is not fordable anywhere and can only be crossed at the bridges.  Clearly the Soviets will need to get over the bridge ASAP and fight the Americans on their side of the riverbank.  Easier said than done?

The Soviets are fighting from the march and have no dedicated fire support, except for a timed SU-17 "Fitter" strike coming in on turn 5.  (turned out the Soviet planners thought this out very well - more to follow on that)

M113 scout element trundles down the road in the early morning gloom in central Germany.  This track is about to breakdown and catch on fire!  Goodness gracious have they been doing their PMCS every Monday?

Meanwhile a T-64 breaks down on the road during the early minutes of the war!

American tanks clawing their way over the hill to engage the Russians on the other side

A Soviet scout BMP takes up firing positions!

American Cavalry Scouts take up positions guarding the bridge - the Russians are already on the opposite bank at the bridge!  

Dave out-scouted me and started with 2 x scout elements on the table in ACAVs and a platoon of M60 tanks.  Each element is watching a bridge standing by for "the cavalry to show up" (see waht I did there?)

American M113 weathering the Soviet advance!

The Soviets are planning on only using 1 single axis for the attack and it's a good thing because the other way was heavily mined.  The Americans purchased a minefield blocking one approach.  The Soviet forward screen consists of a BMP1 recce vehicle w/dismounts, and 2 x T-64A main battle tanks - a nasty surprise of the M60-armed tankers.  The Americans move first and bag 2 objectives while Ivan (yours truly) moves out and captures the bridge approach.  Meanwhile Dave's M60 tanks are fighting from the march as Dave's tanks struggle through the pine forest to get to the top of the hill and engage.  

Hard luck as one of Dave's M113s suffers a breakdown, then one of my T-64s suffers the same fate!  War is hell!

Americans deploy next to a sleepy German village

The Soviet left approach is blocked!  Good thing I didn't plan on going this way!

First blood!  T-64 at the bridge takes out an American M60 before it is destroyed!

On turn 3, An American 5 x tank platoon shows up.  Note the broken down, burning M113 on the road to Zilchhausen (made up)

The Soviet vanguard is a T-62 company.  They reach the broken down T-64.  You can see the bridge ahead!  THe road is clear!!!

Americans reinforcing the hill position.  Key terrain in this fight!

Speaking of terrain, note the canalizing valleys.  The Soviets are in a murderous traffic jam.  Good thing the US artillery isn't available yet...

US forces coming from the opposite corner

Dave knocks out my 3 x lead tanks at the bridge entrance and I have to roll as if I'm crossing an obstacle for each destroyed tank I move "through".  All the while, the Americans are throwing sabot rounds at me and peppering me with ATGM fire.  The pre planning did pay off, however, and an SU-17 fitter is inbound on turn 5 and its target is the house in the background overlooking the bridge.  Call it intuition :) but i figured there would be troops there.

Outstanding picture!  American tanks overlooking the valley.

The Soviet main column shows up - I'm giving up on my plan to speed down the valley and am instead going to plan B - kill as many tanks as possible and force lots of chit pulls :)

One thing we're noticing is that there is parity in the tank engagements.  Hits have excellent chances at killing so I'm hoping my numbers and firing from cover will help.  The bridge is turning into a liability and is exhausting to cross.  I have to roll deductions for EVERY destroyed tank I cross on the road!  It's like Market Garden!  "This bit we're on here?  It's the wide part."

Lots of destroyed vehicles on this once-quaint German country road.

Tanks ARE crossing, though.  Just not many.  I think I exited 3 AFVs off the board today - which is saying something because they had about 4 feet of board to traverse under TOW, Dragon, and L7 105mm gun fire!

Fitter Inbound!  Heads Down!  (yes it's a MiG-21 - my apologies) the strike will knock out a US fireteam and pin a Dragon team and their accompanying M113

More Soviet tanks from 1st Company waiting to cross.

After the Fitter strike, my Main Column begins moving up to the central hill to execute "Plan B" which is really just kill what's in front of you.  Another observation?  Dave an I were playing with the pre-canned orders - but realized for the smaller games it's better to actually take your chances.  Dave rolled 2D6+4 for orders and I rolled 2D6+3 for orders.  For the longest time, I could not get my support elements, IE a Motor Rifle PLatoon in BMPs, an AT vehicle, and a ZSU23/4 moving!  They rotted at the line of departure.

Soviet 2nd Company moving up to execute Plan B!  Note the line of burning tanks on the highway to the right

Soviet T-62 running the gauntlet.  THe house on the right houses the US FO who has not yet been able to make radio contact with the 107mm mortars!

Hind Inbound!  Lucky chit pull sees the arrival of an Mi24 Hind gunship!  I am keen to use the rocket pods and they are absolutely devastating.  I shredded the US mech platoon with 1 M113 destroyed, and 2 x pinned at the other bridge.  OTherwise they had a lackluster performance, only pinning an M113 the rest of the game.

Dave gets an M901 TOW vehicle into position watching over the road!  This is tough fighting!  

American casualties start to mount now as the 2nd T-62 company gets online.  I will say the Americans gave as good as they got!  My BR is getting really high and by turn 9 I'm at 56 of 61.

I hope this was evocative of the German countryside somewhat.  This is the view from the Armored Cavalry battle position.  Lots of burning Russian tanks!

US Mech Platoon at the other crossing, after the Hind's rocket run!

The Russians broke first!  The Americans, I came to find out were only in the high 30s (54 was their BP)

Hard fighting along the Fulda River as both sides disengage and lick their wounds.  Ivan has a few more Battalions where this one came from!

Dave's mortar battery had a track pinned and this was his only successful mortar strike of the battle.  It did not pin or destroy anything.

Starting the battle with 21 tanks, the Soviets ended with 2.

So that's it!  Another successful NORTHAG game in the books and we're both loving Battlegroup: NORTHAG.  This game really had everything - vehicle breakdown chit pulls, heroic action(s), confusion chit pulls, and lots of twists and turns of events that were unexpected. We had about 60 AFVs on the table today and reached a clear decision in 4 hours of battle.  I am SUPER excited that PSC is going to give WWII the "NORTHAG" treatment (they're calling it "Battlegroup: Commander" and that will fuel my inner megalomaniac for some big WWII battles.  Since it's going to take probably another 6 years like NORTHAG did, I'm going to give WWII the NORTHAG treatment to get some games on the table.  Look for some posts coming up about that...

Okay what did both sides learn in today's fight?

Pre Canned Orders
PLaying a "platoon" sized battle, it was more effective to roll for orders rather than use the set number of orders (9 for NATO, 8 for WP).  Dave was averaging 10 or 11 orders and I think I had an excellent roll where I got 14 or 15 orders.  Even on my bad rolls, the number of officers made up for lackluster rolling and I still "broke even" with 8 orders anyways.  Something to think about for NORTHAG players.

Air Defense
While it seems like a waste, Dave could only watch while I strafed his mech platoon and fired ATGMs at his rear area mortar platoon (because the missile literally needs 20" of room on the table before it is effective).  Dave had nothing on "air guard" (as we used to call it in the Army) and tried firing at me with his pintle mounted MGs, needing a 6 to drive me off.  Food for thought.  If you're a big list-building type and you want a force composition that's going to win, you might not care, but if watching jets and helos strafe your units with impunity bothers you, consider air defense going in with your forward screen and just sitting there on ambush for the right time to present itself.

Shoot Every Turn
I wasted a couple turns trying to get down the road on "Top Speed" rather than engaging the M60s.  I could have evened the odds alot quicker (most hits were kills) instead of trying to get all my vehicles past the bridge - which was suicide.

Stationary Targets make Better Targets!
Since this is a higher level game, there is no choice to either fire twice stationary or fire once and move.  The only difference is you dont incur the penalty for moving if you sit still (obviously - unless you have advanced gunnery) so make yourself a harder target.

Pre Timed Artillery and Air Works!
It's not hard to identify key terrain on a wargaming table.  It's also not hard to identify where he's going to place his troops.  As the Soviets, I was "cheap" and only purchased a pre planned airstrike instead of a bunch of 122mm artillery strikes.  PLastering the woodline would have damaged those M60s or at the least kept them pinned and less tubes firing at me.  Again, something to think about.

So a victory for the US Cavalry.  That's about all for now - thanks for stopping by!  


  1. Steve, a lovely table and with 60 AFV’s, would you call that wargamer heaven!

    (Interesting news on the WWII NORTHAG variant).

    1. It was as close to wargame heaven as you could get on this side ofbthe dirt, Norm! A very fun, 80s meatgrinder.

      We're really enjoying NORTHAG, and I was very excited to hear they're doing a "big battle" variant of battlegroup based on the mechanics in NORTHAG.
      As best I can tell you have the forward screen, vanguard, and main force selections to make based on your army, and you get special support options based on your mission/posture IE attack or defense. It looks absolutely perfect for 10mm or for micro armor and if it's anything like northag, people are really going to like it IMHO.

    2. I wonder whether PSC will get into WWII 10mm vehicle production? It might be a tough market with Victrix and Pendraken serving most needs.

    3. Great question, Norm. PSC seems to release minis that support their rules ventures and i suspect with the success of their 10mm cold war lines that they'd want to follow this up with WW2 if they do in fact publish new rules. All I've heard has been rumors and a trickle of tempting draft screen shots from the writers showing army lists.

  2. An excellent table and game there Steve, plus good post-game thoughts. when I played CWC you had to pay a lot of attention and thought to deployment to try and avoid those early massed Soviet artillery strikes etc.

    1. Thanks Steve. When the micro armor is on the table I tend to go all out with throwing down lichen a d fields :)
      The soviets get lots of cheap, pre planned arty strikes and they can be really devastating to troops in the open! I think that should be a feature of any good cold war game. It forces NATO players to really think tactically about their deployments.

  3. Nice AAR, and good to see a post on your blog! The pics are nice and the miniatures wonderful.
    I played my first game of Battegroup back in September. It was rather enjoyable and I felt it hit a good spot in the gaming spectrum.

    1. Nice, Ski! TBH, the Battlegroup system remains one of my favorites for WWII and now Cold War fighting. NORTHAG really streamlines the system and allows much bigger battles if that's your thing. The longest game we played was yesterday and that was just over 4 hours.

      I dont think i've ever had a similar game of BG - each one has been unique and fun and lots of unexpected things happen which I love about the game.

  4. Great table and great report! Nice work!

  5. Great game Steve. Interesting lessons learned. Good habit!

  6. What a great game Steve - and love those 'lessons learned'. The spectacle and layout definitely brought back memories of epic games from the 80s. Great set of rules - which I must play.

    1. Cheers Darren you'll definitely want to give these a spin. They tick all the cold war boxes!