Friday 9 December 2022

The Battle For Bialystock & Bloom Farm

This game has been in the making for over a month now, but as intimated in my last post, life had put various obstacles in the way of my getting it onto the table to play. The inspiration was once again from Featherstone's  'War Games' and was based upon the 'Tank and Infantry Action on the St James Road' scenario. Initially I had planned to set this in Normandy '44, as per the original, but whilst pondering things during the enforced delay, I thought of switching it to somewhere in Russia during Operation Barbarossa.

With a new setting I began to flesh out some basic OOB, but in the end due to real life incursions, I kept things pretty basic and went with a Russian Conscript Battalion supported by some tanks in defence, with a German Tank & Infantry Battalion for the attack. As it was a solo outing and a sort of trial run for some more Russia '41 games, I wasn't too worried about points, balance etc.

The original map upon which the scenario is based.

The Game
I tried to keep things as close as possible to the map, but one change I did make was Fir Tree Hill was no longer a hill, just a wood. A few points to note:
  • Turn 1 would be Dawn and so visibility was only 50cm and a -1 to the CV of all units.
  • The Russians counted as Conscripts, with a CV 7 for HQs and CV8 for the CO.
  • The Germans had a CV9 for HQs and CV10 for the CO.
  • All sides had Company Commanders as I find this makes for a more fluid and involved game.
  • The Germans had one Scheduled Air Strike to arrive on Turn 2 to attack Copse Hill.

As normal, I'll try to give an idea of how the game playerd out using the captioned photos (apolgies for the poor quality of the pics. I need to replace the light bulb to make things brighter which will hopefully reduce camera shake somewhat). So without further ado...

An overview of the table, which was 6' x 4'. The Germans enter from the right hand edge.

The German Kampfgruppe Liebkind deployed along the railway embankment ready for the attack.

A Russian Company is dug-in on the reverse slope of Copse Hill. Another Company is dug-in in Fir Tree Wood.

The final Company is defending the Bialystock & Bloom Collective Farm. A T-28 and T-35 are in reserve (top left).

The view from the Farm.

The end of Turn 1. The Germans got off to a patchy and slow start, with about half the units failing to move, leaving the Panzers leading the attack. Oh for some SdKfz 251's to help keep the infantry in support! The Russian heavy tanks moved slowly forward and a Russian ATG suppressed a PzIV near to The Plantation.

The Panzers out on their own. The Russians can only just see them in the Dawn light.

The 45mm ATG suppresses the PzIV.

The Big Beasties move forward slowly to avoid breaking down.

At the start of Turn 2 the Stukas arrive...

... and Suppress all the Russian infantry on Copse Hill.

The end of turn 2. The Germans make up for lost time, with the infantry moving swiftly up in support and some Pz I's push forward on the left flank by Copse Hill. The Pz IV's move back to await infantry support to avoid falling victim to the 45mm ATG.

For the Russians little happened due to their infantry being Suppressed on Copse Hill along with some failed command rolls, but once again the Big Beasties continued their steady move towards the Germans.

A lone T-26 halts the Pz I's in their tracks. MG's versus a 45mm gun: what could possibly go wrong?

The Germans push towards Copse Hill.

The Panzers move back as the infantry move up in support.

The Big Beasties move forward but are just out of range to be able to engage the German tanks.

The end of Turn 3. The German FAC failed to call in another Stuka strike, but a combined arms attack cleared Copse Hill of the enemy. Elsewhere the Pz's move forward with the infantry trying to keep up for support.

Another Turn of limited options for the Russians, but the Big Beasties with the 45mm ATG get a morale boost by KO'ing a Pz IV.

Pz II's move forward to support the Pz I's, who manage to Suppress the T-26 with MG fire.

Pz III's (37mm gun) engage the Big Beasties, but to no effect, as the infantry move up in support.

The Pz IV brews up as the infantry move up in support.

Turn 4 and the FAC calls in the Stuka on Fir Tree Wood...

... Suppressing many units.

Not to be outdone an I-16 'Rata' makes a welcome appearance for the Russians...

... catching a German Company in the open and Suppressing most of the units.

The end of Turn 4. There was little movement as both sides engaged each other. The Germans KO's the T-28, but the T-26 KO'd two Pz I's and suppressed another.

The advantage of a 45mm gun is plain to see.

The Germans move into and around The Plantation as the T-28 burns (top left).

Turn 5 and once again the Stukas arrive and Suppress all bar one of the Russian units in Fir Tree Wood. 

The end of Turn 5. The German attack really got going, as another combined arms attack saw all bar one unit KO's in Fir Tree Wood. The Pz II's managed with some difficulty to KO the T-26 and the Pz III's KO'd the T-35. With so many units gone and all the armour, the Russians had no hope of stopping the Germans and so began to withdraw from the Farm.

The Pz II's get their revenge.

The German view from Copse Hill as they attack Fir Tree Wood.

The Pz III's finally KO the T-35.

The Germans hold their position by The Plantation.

Isolated at the farm, the Russian troops withdraw to prevent being out flanked.

Post Game Thoughts
After the months delay it was great to finally get this game played and as always, I really enjoyed using BKCII, with some BKCIV add-ons. In the end not a surprising result, but one that felt right and historically accurate, given the qualtiy and quantity of the troops and AFV's involved. So, given what happened, some thoughts on the game etc in no fixed order:

  • The difference in the CV's really did make a big difference in the game, but this did feel right and reflected quite well the initial German superiority at the start of Operation Barbarossa.
  • The German AFV's, even though more numerous, certainly felt quite weak compared to the T-26 as well as the Big Beasties of the T-28 and T-35. You can see why the Germans suddenly had to up gun their Panzers, ditch their Leichte Panzers and what a shock it must have been to encounter the T-34 and the KV2.
  • Even though the Russian armour wasn't too bad in comparison, the Penny Packet approach and poor mechanical reliability meant that they could be out manouevred by the German Panzers.
  • The Russian Conscripts worked well and reflected the rushed nature of their Reserve units and their general lack of equipment, training etc, in comparison to the German Heer troops.
  • The Stuka support really gave the Germans a marked edge in the game, from the first scheduled attack and on. The Dice Gods were certainly on their side and provided that mobile artillery support that you read about on this and the earlier French and Polish Campaigns.
  • The I-16 Rata making a brief appearance was good and I simply allowed it to arrive at the start of the Russian Turn on a '6' on a D6 roll.
  • Having very open terrain was a nice change from Bocage style Normandy games and certainly gave a very different flavour to the play. The Early War tanks and their general lack of range and 'Big Guns' added to this too, giving much more movement that I would normally see.
  • The Unreliable rule for the T-28 and T-35 tanks was good, meaning that they could only half-move each Turn without risking the chance of breaking down. Also the Pz I's being able to Suppress the T-26, as per BKCI, was good to see and a welcome return.
  • Playing on a 6' x 4' table brought its own challenges on several fronts. Firstly it is a tight squeeze to fit it into my normal gaming area of the dining room. This means I have to move some stuff around to be able to access all table edges comfortably. Secondly with quite a few units on the table and many commands, keeping track of things was a bit tricky for solo play. I certainly wouldn't want anything bigger as it would become too unwieldy IMHO.

So there we have it. For a trial game it worked a treat and now I'm keen to paint up some more German units and AFV's as well as some Russians, to play a linked campaign based around Operation Barbarossa. The Germans will have to manage their resources so that they don't 'victor themselves to death' early on, as they will have limited replacements and reserves. for the Russians even though they have seemingly limitless infantry to call upon, the armour will be hard to come by, certainly in the initial stages. 

As always I have plenty of ideas to mull over and hopefully firm up over the Xmas period. With luck I'll even get some painting in. Unless of course I get distracted by another shiny project that lures me away!

So until next time stay safe and keep healthy.


  1. An interesting repurposing of the scenario and enjoyable game report. As always a splendid looking tabletop.

    1. Thanks Peter and I think moving it back a few years, made for a more interesting game, due to the weaker tanks and armaments. No standing off and shooting each other to bits!

  2. Great batrep and a very nice table set up. Love the early war Russian tanks too.

    1. Thanks JBM and the early war tanks of all Nations have become favourites of mine:).

  3. Very good. I just can’t help loving those old school line drawn schematic maps, yes, pure nostalgia, but they do hit the button! The sweep of action looked very good and BKC did well, I should get mine back to the table, your intimate knowledge and comfort with these rules really comes through. Still think that T-35 is a beaut! ;-)

    A barbarossa campaign game would make an excellent subject. In some of my boardgames, they have a mechanic called ‘untried units’. Basically the Soviet game counters are placed face down at set-up, so that their strength is not known to either player. When they attack or are attacked, they are flipped to reveal their strength. The thing is most have rubbish values, but every now and then a good unit crops up and causes the German player a real problem, as they tend to under commit (to get more attack in) and so they get an unexpected hard fight on their hands. It would be good to get some ‘surprises’ like that in a campaign game - was it at Bryansk that the Germans were brought up sharp due to unexpected good enemy troop quality?

    1. Thanks Norm. I too love those old B&W line maps, both from a visual point of view and for pure nostalgia too.

      Being happy and comfortable with a ruleset, even though in todays World they would be seen as rather old, makes a huge difference on so many levels. It is easier to come up with scenarios as you kind of know what 'works', ditto for balance and of course just the ease of playing the game, allowing you to focus on that rather than the rulebook. Hence my move over the past few years to core rulesets with a commonality where possible.

      I think Operation Barbarossa particulary lends itself to a campaign, due to the sweeping nature of the opening battles etc before the Winter set in. Kershaw's 'War Without Garlands' touches upon how the Germans 'victored' themselves to death, as despite winning many, many battles, simple attrition did for them in the end. IIRC one Panzer Regiment (Battalion?) was reduced to just 3 tanks by the end, with most crews operating as infantry.

      The 'Untried Units' is a great idea and adds another level of uncertainty to the campaign, so something I will bear in mind and give it a go to see how it pans out. I really need to read Kershaw's book again to refresh my memory to get some info for said campaign, such as many Russian units fighting to the death as it were. Plenty to think about and to spur me on to paint more units etc.

  4. Super looking table and a very enjoyable battle report, Steve. To me, the three Stuka strikes were instrumental in allowing the Germans to succeed. Without suppressing large numbers of Soviet infantry, could the Germans have pushed the Soviets out of their defensive positions?

    Terrific seeing your armies back out onto the table for a good scrap.

    1. Thanks Jon. I think the Germans would have prevailed without the Stuka support, but almost certainly would have sustained more losses, especially amongst the infantry. A victory but a Pyrrhic one for sure. Hence my desire to campaign this at some point next year.

  5. Great looking game Steve, and as you say, a realistic result given the date. Woukd mg fire really have suppressed a T26 crew, do you think....? Maybe it would..... A linked campaign of games would be interesting, although I guess there is a risk of predictable outcomes, if they are based historically....

    1. Thanks Keith. The Germans did have AP bullets for their tanks, but this is not factored in in BKC, so the Suppression rule sort of takes this into account I think. The campaign should give the Germans the upper hand, but as outlined above, they cannot risk 'victoring' themselves to death early on. As with all campaigns, it's getting the balance right for the victory conditions for both sides, but based around plausible historical outcomes.

  6. Lovely looking battle Steve, We have played several Barbarossa battles with BKC and find many of your observations to be true. The Russians often do better than they did historically, I fear we all try to get balance and give both sides a fair chance and in reality the Russian CV should be even lower ! Nice to see st James road and you have reminded me to give it a run through some time

    1. Thanks Matt. The Russians generally perform pretty well on the defensive and when dug-in, but with break through type battles and beyond they struggle for sure. As with Norm's Untried suggestion above, there is a good case for doing the same with CV's to again give that edge of uncertainty, especially for the solo player.

      With your recent 15mm WWII games, maybe an opportunity will present itself to get give the scenario a run out?

  7. Great looking battlefield and really nice to see early war tanks in action for a change. Regards.

    1. Thanks Tony and early war tanks are really fun to play:).

  8. Very nice Steve. And the new buildings got to appear on the battlefield too. 👍

    Wargaming the early Barbarossa campaign is difficult for the Soviets. The Germans have the advantage of being better led and were superior on the battlefield in almost every way. Over time, of course, reinforcements and replacements would be much more difficult for the Germans whilst Stalin could draw on seemingly limitless troops and, given time, the industrial might of the USSR would provide significant numbers of vehicles, planes etc.

    Perhaps the Soviets could have a few minefields to help counter the German mobility. And they always like lots, lots, lots of artillery too.



    1. Thanks Geoff. Certainly at the start the Soviets are very much on the back foot for sure. But a few months in and the Germans had lost a lot of their cutting edge, the Soviets had learnt their lessons and had had time to form some decent defensive positions. This is why I want to run some form of campaign to try and reflect this in some shape or form. Plenty of reading to do to aid this alongside painting stuff up etc.

  9. Great post Steve, really insightful and a great guide.