Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Session report: Winter War Rematch

More in my series of pre-game strategy discussions followed by post-game analysis.

Last year Mark and I played a game of Winter War with me as the Russians and him as the stalwart Finns. My Russians managed to get a substantive victory.

We discussed how that game came out in a session report, and disagreed somewhat over the strategies employed by each side and agreed to try a rematch with sides switched someday.

Well, someday is scheduled to be this weekend, a few days away as I write this, so I thought it would instructive to discuss my plans as the Finns before the vent and see how they turn out in practice.

In my opinion the standard game slightly favors the Russians, although I think that using the

optional rules swings the game balance strongly towards the Finns. In most cases I think the Russians can capture Petsamo and the Mannerheim Line for a total of 70 points and marginal victory. If the Russians can get as far as Viipuri then they get up to 95 and a substantive victory and two more hexes of westward progress bring 105 points and decisive victory.The Finns, on the other hand, can't allow the Mannerheim line to fall and still win, although the fall of Petsamo alone is acceptable.

So clearly the Mannerheim line is the vital front for the Finns, so my focus will be there.

My initial deployment will use four 6-6-2 divisions stacked with four 1-1-3 battalions to hold all four hexes of the line. I am trying to take advantage of the unusual configuration of the front here, where four hexes of fortified line can only be assaulted from 3 hexes. The Soviets are obligated to attack adjacent units, so this configuration means that no Finnish hex can be attacked by more than one Soviet hex and at least two will just face a soak-off attack. The strongest Soviet attacking hex is 40 attack factors so the best possible odds against the two Finns (who are doubled to 14 defense factors) is a 2-1. At 2-1 against a fort there is a 50% chance of an exchange, 1/6 chance of an attacker retreat and 1/3 chance of no effect at all.

Interestingly, stacking a second Finnish division does little to help strengthen the defense unless more divisions are used overall, which, as we shall see below, has negative consequences elsewhere. If the Finns hold the line with just two hexes of two divisions each they provide the Soviets with an opportunity for concentrating up to 80 attack factors against 24 (12 doubled) which is a 3-1. At a 3-1 there is still a 50% chance of an exchange, except now the Finns lose 12 factors instead of 7 while the Soviets still lose just one 20-12-2 unit.

The 1-1-3 is useful because it bumps up the defense of the fortified hex just enough to shift the odds down from a 3-1 to a 2-1, which has no practical effect on the main attacks if the Soviets use just 20-12-2 armies but it prevents the Soviets from trying to use 6-6-2 divisions to soak up exchange losses with 2-1 attacks made by a stack comprised of a 20-12-2 and a 6-4-2. A defense of 7 means every exchange will cost the Soviets a 20-12-2. The drawback of this plan is that it strips four useful 1-1-3 battalions from elsewhere.

The objective is to hold the Mannerheim line throughout the game.

The second most critical front is the Ladoga Line, just north of its namesake lake. While no victory point areas lie behind that position, its early fall will compromise the Mannerheim line and probably force the Finns to abandon it. So substantial forces will be committed to that front as well, comprised of three 6-6-2 divisions and a couple of 1-1-3 battalions guarding the flank of the line. The objective here is to hold the line until about turn 5 or 6, which should be long enough for the Mannerheim Line battle to be decided one way or the other. Making the Mannerheim Line stronger necessarily means reducing the Ladoga Line defenses too much.

The third most important front is the far north around Petsamo. I don't believe the Finns can keep the Soviets out of Petsamo if the Russians send enough force. The Finns cannot reinforce the area in a timely fashion, while the Soviet railroad to Murmansk means they can deploy whatever force they require and redeploy those forces when the mission is complete. While Petsamo can't be held against determined Soviet attack, I don't believe it's in the Finns interest to make it too easy, either. So I will commit the 4-4-2 division, a 2-2-3 and 1-1-3 to that front. The 4-4-2 will garrison Petsamo itself. This will force the Soviets to commit significant resources to that sector.

The center of the map gets the leftover Finnish forces, which amount to just one 2-2-3 regiment and three 1-1-3 battalions to start, although the lion's share of the reinforcements will probably go to that sector. There's only one victory point objective in this entire zone, Oulu, and it's a very far journey for the Soviets to get to. I'm all for letting them try. If the Soviets make a determined effort to get there it will take a long time and expose them to being cut off and destroyed.

The Session

Overall things went as planned and expected.Up in the north, Petsamo fell, although not until the Russians lost a few regiments. The Finns' 2-2-3 regiment and 1-1-3 battalion hung around for a while, picked off one more regiment and then redeployed to aid in the central front battle. The Murmansk defense rule obligated the Soviets to keep seven units within five hexes of Murmansk after turn 4. Mark elected to fulfill a lot of that requirement with NKVD regiments, although I think that deprived him of useful units needed elsewhere. I think he did that in order to maximize his offensive potential elsewhere because the NKVD units cannot enter Finland and are therefore purely defensive.
At the other end of the line, the Mannerheim Line was never really seriously threatened. Mark's Soviets couldn't figure out an attractive way to attack the 6-6-2/1-1-3 combos and made just a few efforts in the early going. Instead he preferred to send extra troops from the Leningrad area to aid the Ladoga Line fight. By the time he made a strong effort in the last few turns there wasn't enough time to punch through. The pressure on the Mannerheim Line was so light that at one point I was able to redeploy most of the divisions using rail lines to attack the spearhead of the Ladoga Line breakthrough (discussed below) and then scurry back to the Mannerheim Line.
The Finnish rail net played a very important role in their defense, giving them many of the advantages mechanized German forces often enjoy in Eastern Front games, of being able to rapidly concentrate force, strike and then redeploy.
Mark's Soviets made their main effort on the Ladoga front, eventually breaking through around turn 6, although at heavy cost to both sides. Fortunately for the Finns, victory in the central front had freed up forces that could threaten the flank of the Ladoga advance and then reinforcements from the Mannerheim Line hit the spearhead hard, forcing a Soviet retreat.
In the center the Soviets made a main effort, committing unusually heavy forces including the Tank Corps, the Cavalry Corps, the tank brigades and extra army headquarters and most of the 2-1-2 regiments. This formidable force was able to make good initial progress, even destroying an unwisely forward-deployed 2-2-3 Finn regiment.I'm no believer in a strong Soviet effort on that front however, and the fate of Mark's Soviets illustrates why. On the second turn the Finns get some substantial light reinforcements including the ski patrols and 1-1-3 battalions that can retreat before combat and are therefore very hard for the Soviets to pin down inside Finland. Before long the Finns were probing the Soviet lines and inevitably weak points and small whole began to appear. The end came rather suddenly when Mark forgot that Soviet headquarters units don't have zone of control and he allowed one of his army headquarters to get surrounded by ski patrols, cutting off supply to the whole sector. Truthfully, though, from my perspective it appeared the Soviets were in serious trouble anyway and that headquarters would have had to retreat to avoid being cut off -- which still would have left the sector largely unsupplied.
Once unsupplied the Soviets lost their zones of control and their line collapsed into isolated pockets that were mostly mopped up, although the tank corps was ignored. Some of the Finnish units made a gesture towards the Soviet rail line but even the NKVD-less Soviets were tough enough to fight off that effort after causing some Finnish casualties and the Finns gave up the effort as not worth the risk considering favorable developments elsewhere.
The majority of the victorious Finnish central front forces redeployed via the rail lines to a position on the northern flank of the Ladoga Front Soviets, compromising their breakthrough's potential, helping to surround some units and eventually forcing a general retreat to protect Petrozadovsk.
The final result was 30 Soviet victory points for Petsamo, which meant a Finnish victory.Mark would like another rematch and I expect he'll devote considerable thought to how to counter this Finnish strategy.

No comments:

Post a Comment