Call To Arms 2005: "Alsfeld" Mega-Game Print
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Wednesday, 31 August 2005 00:01

Aldsfeld Game in progressCall to Arms is a regular convention held in August each year in Wellington, New Zealand. Having previously run a couple of Spearhead Mega-Games (including a Crete 1941, Maleme game) successfully, local MSH players Pete Connor & Rhys Batchelor decided to try a hand at a Modern Spearhead game assisted by other local gamers and joined by several other New Zealand Wargamers on a table 20' x 6'.

It is Summer 1984, and tensions are high between East & West, and an unusual Soviet build-up has occurred along the Iron Curtain ostensibly under the grounds of annual exercises. NATO forces have been raised to high alert, and preparatory steps are taken for potential hostilities although full mobilisation has not been initiated for fear of pre-empting hostilities...

Alsfeld - centre line of the Soviet EffortRight: The infamous Alsfeld - Soviet bridging operations are beginning (left & bottom right) while the West German Territorials wait apprehensively in the town! Some brutal urban combat occurred here involving the 54th West German Heimatschütz Brigade as it was overrun by the 57th Guards Motor Rifle Division's attached Czech Regiment in the morning.

Below: Aerial view early on - from the East. The table is 20' wide and 6' deep. It is slightly 'staggered' to keep the (meandering) river (the Soviet start-line) as close to the edge as possible. A side effect of this was to make it a little easier to reach parts of the central sector by reaching diagonally from behind the adjacent part of the table. This was possible because the table consisted of 5 actual 4' x 6' tables side by side. 

Aerial view of the 20' Alsfeld ValleyOn 23 June the WarPac forces declared war and began offensive operations against Western Europe. After a couple of days of initial frontier operations Soviet & WarPac forces had advanced sufficiently to threaten a breakthrough in the area of Alsfeld on the 25 June while NATO completed mobilisation; Alsfeld being North of Fulda is one of several possible routes of advance in NATO assessments of possible Soviet attack scenarios. As such a somewhat scratch force is assembled to face the attack, a German Territorial brigade that was already in position was reinforced principally by British Forces from the North and German Regulars. A Dutch Brigade arrived to cover the Southern Flank, and their was the vague possibility of a U.S. Task Force arriving as a reserve later on the 25th. Facing them were 3 Soviet Motor Rifle Divisions, with second line support from a Guards Tank Division and an East German Tank Division intended to exploit the breakthrough.

The attacking Soviet & WarPac forces were under the command of the 8th Soviet Guards Army (Rhys Batchelor) and from North to South consisted of:

  • 27th Guards Motor Rifle Division (Greg Jennings & John Moher).
  • 57th Guards Motor Rifle Division & attached Czech Motor Rifle Regiment (Jake Collins assisted by Rhys Batchelor).
  • 8th Guards Army Air Assault Battalion (Rhys Batchelor).
  • 39th Motor Rifle Division (Kieran Mahony assisted by Pete Connor).
  • Possible leading elements of the 79th Guards Tank Division.
  • Possible leading elements of second line from the 9th East German Tank Division.

39MRD swarms forward against the DutchRight: Mass attack in the South - Three Regiments of Soviets (on Right) swarm forward to their river crossings against the Dutch.

NATO forces were under overall command of the British 1st Armoured Division (Paul Reynolds) and was a cosmopolitan mix (North to South) as follows:

  • 7th British Armoured Brigade (Keith McNelly).
  • 54th West German Heimatschütz Territorial Brigade in Alsfeld (Ant McKenna).
  • 12th & 22nd British Armoured Brigades in central reserve (Mike O'Reilly).
  • 35th West German Panzergrenadier Brigade (Chris Harrod).
  • 43rd Netherlands Mechanised Brigade (Peter Page).
  • Possible Task Force of 1st U.S. Armoured Brigade from 3rd U.S. Armoured Division.

Soviet Chemical Strike in the NorthLeft: Day of Infamy! The scene in the North when two British battalions broke and ran after being targeted by a mass BM-21 Persistent Chemical strike (the yellow 'squares')!

Soviet operations began at 0400 with simultaneous river crossing operations in at least 6 locations, screened by smoke, and preliminary artillery bombardments including SS-21 & 9K52 Luna (FROG-7B) missiles with conventional warheads. The 8th GA Air Assault Battalion was dropped in the rear of Alsfeld to disrupt NATO communications and hopefully block any reinforcements or redeployment of reserves... This backfired as they were dropped right in the centre of one of the reserve British Armoured Brigades and were rapidly put out of action, the last survivors being rounded up within an hour or so of the initial landings...

In the South the 39th Motor Rifle Division (MRD) quickly got all 3 of it's Motor Rifle Regiments (MRR) with T-62's, BTR-70s & BMP-1s up to the river and preparing to cross, bearing down on the Dutch. The latter were less well equipped than the other NATO Brigades (barring the German Territorials) having older Leopard 1's and YPR-765s and older communications equipment (that struggled to maintain communications with the rest of the NATO force). The 39th MRD's Tank Regiment (T-64's) followed in support but had to wait until the MRR had completed their crossings (in the end it did not cross and was transferred to follow up 57th GMRD successful penetration in the centre).

39 MRD's TailRight: Kieran's tail (39th MRD); part of the mass behind the rapid advance - including artillery, engineers, ferries, SRBMs, and assorted support stands...;

While the bulk of the Soviet plan was based around expecting resisted crossings of the river, in the South 39th MRD in fact had to advance some way to reach the river resulting in their crossings not beginning until sunrise and in clear view of NATO forces. But in the Central & Northern Sectors the Soviet Divisions had already completed their initial crossings in darkness. However one bonus was the heavy commitment to Counter Battery (CB) missions by the Soviet Command – realising the usefulness of their Artillery would be limited early on and potentially impacted by NATO ECM they opted to put all the Army level support and the heavier Divisional units into dedicated CB tasks. This had a huge effect rapidly silencing almost all the NATO batteries and greatly reducing ongoing NATO artillery support. It’s believed that only one NATO Artillery Battalion in the entire battle successfully fired more than 2 fire missions the whole day without taking heavy casualties,MiG-21 air strike and that was due to it making major changes of position after each fire mission (greatly impacting its response time and how often it could fire). By late afternoon the Soviet artillery dominated the battlefield and NATO artillery units had more or less ceased to fire.

Left: The ignominy - As the Challengers & Warriors flee the gas attack they get targeted by a MiG-21 air strike! Although their disorderly rout to the woods didn't get there fast enough it was a good job the elderly MiG's couldn't hit anything to save themselves (their 'iron' bombs being relatively ineffective against the armoured British troops)!

AlsfeldIn the Northern Sector the 27th GMRD rapidly crossed the river in a steep valley and the first of the BTR MRRs (with BTR-80's & T-80's) advanced to the lip of the plateau beyond (albeit through some concealed NATO minefields); while the Division’s BMP MRR (BMP-2's & T-80's) conducted a separate crossing on the Southern Flank of the Division followed by the Tank Regiment (with T-80s), covering the open terrain between it and the 57th GMRD at Alsfeld. Upon cresting the Northern Plateau the leading BTR MRR however came under heavy fire from concealed Challengers of 7th British Armoured Brigade supported by occasional ATGM fire from the supporting Warrior mounted infantry.

A determined advance following traditional doctrine only resulted in heavy casualties to the 2 leading Motor Rifle Battalions (MRB) & the supporting companies of the MRR's Tank Battalion (T-80s), quickly rendering them hors d’ combat in less than an hour. Across the river a bit of a log-jam at the primary river crossing meanwhile restricted the crossing of parts of the second BTR MRR and many of the Divisional assets for a couple of hours until the tail of the leading regiments had passed.

Late in the game when 1st US Armoured Brigade arrivesRight: The mass in the middle late in the game when 1st US Armoured Brigade (from 3rd US Armoured Division) has rushed in to plug the gap!

Meanwhile in the centre the Soviet 57th GMRD (with T-72's, BTR-60's, & BMP-1s) accompanied by the Czechs crossed rapidly entering the outskirts of Alsfeld and the surrounding country either side. Mixed Soviet & Czech forces rapidly entered the town initiating some brutal street fighting with the 54th West German Heimatschütz Territorial Brigade – this later consisting of just 2 Battalions of non-motorised Infantry and a Panzer Battalion of older M48s and the whole formation being very weak in ATGWs, Heavy Support Weapons, and Communications Equipment. The German Territorial Commander however had endeavoured to increase his manpower by urgently calling for volunteers for a Volksgrenadier formation the day before, resulting in a weak battalion of additional troops of unknown value (and with small-arms only and no AT or Heavy Weapons). The Soviet plan expected that either NATO would avoid directly defending Alsfeld (to avoid costly urban fighting) and thereby indirectly allow a rapid breakthrough in the very centre of their position; or worst case that they would feel compelled to defend it and hopefully draw their central reserves into a bloody town fight leaving the flanks of the town exposed, "...in either case a penetration in the centre should be possible by going through or around the town..." stated the Soviet 8th Guards Army Orders of the Day.

Action in the middle of the gameLeft: Its all go in the middle of the game! Not sure what Keith's doing (third from left) down the opposite end of the table from his command poking around behind Soviet lines - considering he is commanding a British Armoured Brigade (that's in the foreground on the right)! Jake Collins (57th Guards MRD), is on left negotiating with the British Command opposite in the centre sector (Anthony - sitting, Mike, and Paul closest to camera on right). On the left between Jake & Keith talking to Keith is Rhys Batchelor, the Soviet C-in-C.

In the South the 39th MRD was facing a fairly rugged area, much of it was covered by a large dense wood and South of that an open valley leading away from the river, but covered by a significant dominating ridgeline to the West. While the bulk of the Division endeavoured to break out into that valley, the BMP MRR crossed directly opposite the wooded area and headed for the 35th West German Panzergrenadier Brigade which was ensconced in and beyond the woods & the flank of the 43rd Dutch Brigade.

Late in the game - aerial view of the tableRight: Later in the game - Soviet forces are pushing forward along most of the line and the infamous 27th GMRD Chemical Strike is visible on the right (yellow area).

In the Northern Sector the arrival of Lynx Helicopters further stiffened the anti-tank defence and the 27th GMRD began to take heavy casualties, losing large numbers of T-80’s and BTR-80s. As losses mounted and the second BTR MRR was thrown in, the Soviet Command authorised a limited tactical chemical weapon strike once communications with the forward units were successful (NATO had put the bulk of its jamming & ECM efforts into the Northern Sector and this was primarily affecting the 27th GMRD who had virtually no communications for the entire morning and early afternoon); The Chemical Attack primarily hit the forward positions of the British Royal Hussars (Challengers) and the supporting 3rd Queens Regiment (in Warriors). In a day of infamy, after suffering some casualties, the British battalions broke and abandoned their positions to flee the persistent chemical strike zone straggling back through the few remaining British positions in disorder. Unfortunately Alsfeld and surroundsSoviet casualties in the North were so high that insufficient forces were left to exploit this temporary breach and to their credit the British Battalions quickly reformed and were back in a new line within an hour of the initial strike – but without thorough decontamination it was likely the survivors would suffer ongoing effects over the coming days… The Soviet Command had gambled that a small enough strike would not prompt a similar NATO response or an escalation and it seemed to have paid off but had failed to capitalise on it.

Left: Alsfeld and surrounds - Soviet forces are in and through the town, and spreading out on either side as well as penetrating deep into the NATO positions!

Back in the Centre the Czechs (with T-55’s & OT-64’s) and some Soviet support had continued to grind their way through Alsfeld and now held about two-thirds of the town; while either side the bulk of the 57th GMRD (with T-72's, a few supporting T-64s, BTR-60's, & BMP-1s) advanced and drove back first the Heimatschütz Brigade’s supporting armour and then elements of the British central reserve from 12th Armoured Brigade.

Where do we start?Right: "Where do we start?" Some serious work ahead for Rhys (Soviet C-in-C) and Jake (57th Guards MRD). 68th Guards MRR from the 27th GMRD is just visible at bottom right of photo waiting to cross the river. The white markers on points along the river denote where bridging operations have been successful and one or more Soviet Pontoon Bridges are in existence. NATO did not conduct a forward defence so little interference with these operations occurred and only one half-hearted air strike was subsequently made against any of the pontoon bridges along the whole front.

By mid-afternoon the 22nd British Armoured Brigade (Chieftains with a Battalion of FV432 equipped Infantry) was dispatched from the central reserve to reinforce the Southern front. Here the 39th MRD had made good progress despite not committing it’s Tank Regiment, and the stout defence of the Dutch was gradually being pushed back with steady casualties while in the wood the West German Panzergrenadiers were also being slowly pushed back – if the 39th MRD had had more than T-62’s in it’s inventory the result might have been more climatic versus the Dutch in the open Southern flank. NATO frantically committed the bulk of its air support in this region, but the 39th MRD and supporting AA assets downed large numbers of NATO attack planes (approximately the equivalent of 2 squadrons of Phantoms and another of Alpha Jets – around 35 aircraft in total)!Aerial view of the Southern end of the battlefield The Regimental AA assets earned further glory in 39th MRD when the effectiveness of the ZSU-23/4 Shilka’s for close range ground fighting in the heavy woods was discovered – resulting in them being deployed with the forward elements of the BMP-1 equipped MRBs and used to literally blast the West Germans out of their positions (thankfully for the Germans the Soviet MRRs had only 1 company of these each). Meanwhile their T-64 Tank Regiment had moved off to support 57th GMRD's successful penetration in the centre. It is now highly likely the 39th MRD will be elevated to Guards status post campaign due to their heroic efforts at Alsfeld.

Above: Aerial view of the Northern end of the battlefield near the end - 68th Guards MRR is making it's river crossing in the centre of the picture in conjunction with most of the 28th Guards TR (these represent the cream of the 27th Guards MRD; the remainder of the Division having been committed with limited success across the river on the high ground to the right and decimated by the 7th British Armoured Brigade - although they did prevent them assisting the NATO centre resisting 57th GMRD).

Soviet CommandHowever the going was slow for the 22nd British Armoured Brigade moving South through the rough wooded terrain and it took most of the day to reach the Southern Sector, but the leading Chieftain Regiment arrived just in time to occupy the dominating ridge-line in the mid-afternoon just as the Dutch resistance opposite 39th MRD was finally collapsing.

Looking pleased with themselves - pictured below the Umpire & Part-Organiser Peter Connor (left), and the Dutch Commander Peter Page (right).

In the centre the final collapse of the NATO front-line forces occurred, the remnants of the West German Territorial’s broke and ran abandoning Alsfeld to the Czechs, the 57th GMRD was already well past the town on both sides and driving across the valley The Umpire Peter Connor (left) and the Dutch Commander Peter Page (right)towards the open country beyond supported by the T-64 Tank regiment from 39th MRD… In the South as mentioned the main 39th MRD effort had cleared about half the woods of the German Panzergrenadiers inflicting heavy casualties on them and the remnants of the Dutch to the South were falling back on the positions of the newly arrived 22nd British Armoured Brigade. In the north things were different – half the 27th GMRD were effectively out of action and the 7th British Armoured Brigade had safely secured the Northern Flank (although with a reasonable cost in casualties), however the BMP MRR & most of the Tank Regiment from 27th GMRD had diverted South and was poised to support the flank of the 57th GMRD in the centre, and the British 7th and parts of the 12th Armoured Brigade were now isolated in the North and unable to bring immediate assistance to the crumbling centre…

Looking South-West with Alsfeld in the left centreLeft: Another shot late in the game looking South-West with Alsfeld in the left centre. In the centre of picture the 68th Guards MRR (from 27th GMRD) has finally crossed the river and is heading South-West to assist 57th GMRD in the centre!

Then, in the late afternoon, as the Soviet breakthrough was almost assured the 1st U.S. Armoured Brigade arrived* (one battalion each of M60A3, M60A2, & M113 Infantry). Despite slow deployment and late arrival they formed a last line on the West side of the valley to try and deny the Soviets a breakthrough that day – as dusk arrived a huge mass of Soviet forces bore down on the U.S. Brigade and the local elements of the British 12th Armoured Brigade, and as Hind helicopters circled looking for prey, Soviet Artillery & Airpower dominated the battlefield…

* The U.S. Armoured Brigade was a last minute addition to the game, as it was felt the Soviets had broken through too easily in the centre (despite there having been over 1.5 days of gaming at that point) – unfortunately it soaked up a lot of time to organise and some of the ‘climactic’ momentum was lost – it also contributed to an inconclusive result (i.e. a draw of sorts). It would have been better in hindsight to have left it off and allowed the possibility of the Soviets completing a decisive breakthrough. Kieran's Southern chargeThe NATO forces also still had 3-4 strong Battalions that had hardly been committed, that could have been used to initiate some form of counter attack, including reserves committed early in the game that were still redeploying for example (e.g the Southern 'wooded' Sector).

Right: Kieran's Southern charge - the BMP Regiment roars into the forest to rip into the German Brigade lurking there... During this fight ZSU-23/4 Shilka's were pressed into service for close range fire support against ground targets - and very effective they were too!

Ignoring the U.S. Brigade (and the 2 Soviet & German Tank Divisions which were never committed), there were 6 NATO Brigades (about 21 'fighting' Battalions) with Supports (AA, AT, Artillery) facing the equivalent of 14 Soviet & Czech Regiments (about 56 'fighting' Battalions) with Supports for the game – a ratio of about 1 : 2.5 or just over.

Kieran's Southern end and his Division's Hinds have finally turned upAlsfeld was a fantastic game and well done to Rhys Batchelor & Pete Connor who put it on. You can read Keith McNelly’s account of the game from the British perspective at The Wargames Room, and he also has some additional Notes on the Alsfeld Game for those interested in the game organisation.

Left: A final scene from near the end - again Kieran's Southern Sector and his Division's Hinds have finally turned up and are about to decimate the Chieftain battalion on the ridge at left rear. The Chieftain Regiment was the heaviest armour at this end of the front supporting the Dutch & Germans as the Challenger equipped units were in the more open Central and Northern Sectors - all under the responsibility of the British Armoured Brigades who were the heaviest armour on the battlefield.

Soviet 8th Guards Army Command Team

Soviet 8th Guards Army Command Team (L to R): Greg Jennings (27th GMRD); Peter Connor (Umpire and part-time 39th MRD); John Moher (27th GMRD); Rhys Batchelor (C-in-C 8th Guards Army & 8th GA Air Assault Btn); Jake Collins (57th GMRD & Czech Regiment); Kieran Mahony (39th MRD).

NATO Command Team

NATO Command Team (L to R): Mike O'Reilly (12th & 22nd British Armoured Brigades); Anthony McKenna (54th West German Heimatschütz Territorial Brigade & later 1st U.S. Armoured Brigade); Paul Reynolds (C-in-C NATO & British 1st Armoured Division); Keith McNelly (British 7th Armoured Brigade); Chris Harrod (35th West German Panzergrenadier Brigade); Peter Page (43rd Dutch Mechanised Brigade).

You can go to Keith McNelly’s account of the game from the British perspective at The Wargames Room, or read his additional Notes on the Alsfeld Game.

This article © 2005 John Moher.

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 April 2010 14:11