Fifth Corps a Bore?

Chris Harding came over (after some phone-confusion on my part) to ohh and ahh at the new house and, more importantly to push around some cardboard after a 6-week hiatus. Earlier in the day, he e-mailed me the results of a game of Sicily: The Race for Messina with his son (also called John). John was the victor in that encounter, which prompted Chris to suggest that perhaps that the name is not sufficient reason for my head-on-a-platter state.

So after some social banter we got down to business. Fifth Corps is one of a series of games published as part of SPI’s Central Front series (the others being Hof Gap and BAOR). Two later games, North German Plain and Donau Front (published during the 3W tenure of S&T) used the same scale, and the maps were compatible with the earlier games but the system was drasitcally modified. The SPI progeny revolve around the Friction Point.

After determining who goes first (both players simply roll a D6 and the highest roller goes first), both sides move units in alternate phases. Units will generally start the turn on their fresh side. When they move they gain a friction point (in the first instance they are simply flipped over). Units may move in subsequent phases in the turn but only if they moved during the initial phase. So stay put in the first phase and that’s it for you for the turn.

Units are allocated Operation Points (in the scenario we tried each unit had 12), and are used for movement and combat. Terrain determines the line of the CRT that you roll on, which effectively functions as a form of column-shift. So a 3:1 in city terrain is the equivalent to a 1:3 in clear. Different types of terrain (naturally) have different Operations Point costs, but players can also choose different types of attack: March, Hasty and Prepared (again with different Operations Points costs). These effectively function as die roll modifiers. So rolling a 1 when undertaking a March attack is the same as rolling a 3 for Prepared (lower numbers are better). Units also move individually or by stack, so setting up multi-hex attacks on a position takes some co-ordination (all units in such an attack must start the phase adjacent to the hex in question).

Each subsequent phase that you move you gain a friction point marker.  Units that are flipped to their friction point side also expend additional Operations Points for each hex entered and each combat entered, so they slow down as the turn progresses. These represent things such as supply usage, wear and tear and casualties. And when a unit accumulates six of them, it’s gone for the rest of the game. So you can drive units a long way in a turn but at the risk of making them extremely brittle for subsequent turns.

They lose Friction Points at the start of each turn if in supply (if on their Friction Point side, they are simply flipped, otherwise their marker is reduced by one), so supplies and replacements trickle to the front (though in uniform quantities to each unit, so there is no option of beefing up some units at the expense of others). In a small scenario it was OK, though I imagine that it could get tedious in the larger ones.

Over that is layered toppings such as artillery (which can make chemical attacks), airpower, electronic warfare and tactical nukes. There is also some attempt to include aspects of doctrine for each side. NATO units of different nationalities may not stack, Soviet divisions have a march order that must be adhered to when they first enter as reinforcements, and so on. We found that it played reasonably smoothly, but then the scenario had no EW or airpower.

Scale-wise, each hex is roughly four km across and each turn represents 1/2 a day. Units are batallions and companies for NATO forces, and regiments with some batallions for Warsaw Pact forces. Units are rated for attack and defence (Operations Points are defined in the Exclusive rules: 12 in Fifth Corps). One thing that the unit scale means is that NATO units will I think seldom get a chance to mount attacks. Soviet motorised infantry regiments typically have a defensive value of 14, while NATO attack strengths are 3-4 (in this scenario around 1-2). That may differ in latr games where weaker Czech and East German formations also make their appearance.

Not that things are smooth sailing for the Red Army. A prepared assault carried out by 2 Soviet motorised infantry divisions (attack strength 20) in total versus a single cavalry company (defensive strength 2) will still have a 1 in 3 chance of causing losses to the attacker. Two such units will mean that the defender has a 1/3 chance of taking no losses at all. Add to that the fact that the Warsaw Pact forces will be expending friction points moving up to the attack and the Pact player may well be in for a bloodied nose. What helps the Pact are:

1) A goodly amount of artillery support

2) the ability to make more liberal use of chemical weapons, which provide a positive column shift (in this scenario 2 such shifts).

The introductory scenario (the Rhine-Main Raid) features 11 companies of the U.S 11th Cavalry Regiment and 3 battalions of West German 5th Panzer division rushing in from the north of the map to forestall an incursion by 2 Soviet motorised rifle divisions.  In this scenario the Soviets move first on each game turn, and get to pick any 4 hexes on the map, in which is placed a ‘4’ friction point marker. This many additional OPs must be expended to enter the hex (on turn 2 they are replaced with a ‘2’ marker, and removed on turn 3.

And now, an interruption of the description for some fictional narrative:

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This report, submitted on behalf of the KGB on the conduct of the attempted siezure of Frankfurt and Wiesbaden on July 12-13 1982, submitted to the Executive of the Supreme Council of the USSR  on August 4th, 1982 was found within Soviet military archives when they were opened during the late 1990’s. Translator’s notes appear in <> brackets:

Comrades! Comrade General Ivan Nebauerevich was given the task of seizing 3 widely separated objectives: Frankfurt and Wiesbaden in the south, and the REFORGER site at Giessen, within a 36-hour time-frame.  The attack was timed for the morning of July 12th. The assignments were adjudged as tough but necessary in order that the Red Army and it’s fraternal allies conduct its principal assaults on the one hand towards the strategic ports of Hanover in the north, and to allow the completion of the encirclement of Munich in the south. For this task he was given two fully-equipped rifle divisions: the 20th Guards and the 39th Guards, both at the peak of their training and fully committed to crushing the enemies of the working class. It was felt that NATO opposition would be sparse and in any event would arrive too late to greatly influence events.

His plan of attack was for one column of the 39th Guards to conduct the assault on Giessen, and for the other column of the 39th, plus the 8th Guards in toto to seize the airfields. The Comrade, when later defending his decision at Dzerzhinsky Square argued that it was in accord with the theories of scientific warfare as expounded by Comrades Budienny and Voroshilov. Comrades, as you know the great Vladimir Ilyich Lenin wrote ‘Better Fewer but Better” in 1923, stating that it was better to have few good-quality people than a mass of poorly-prepared ones to organise work. Comrade Nebauerevich would have been rewarded, it seems, by a better study of Lenin’s works. Such a division of forces would likely to have led to an inability to deploy fully, and that this was what duly occurred. Comrade General Nebauerevich’s poor deployment sent three attack columns onto a single main road artery, where thet were unable to properly deploy their strength. Concentration of one entire division against Giessen may have ensured it’s early capture and released the bulk of that division for re-deployment south to aid in the assault on Frankfurt.

Comrade Nebauerevich compounded this error by ordering aerial interdiction of the main roads heading south into the area, in particular the autobahn north of Wetzlar <hex 2818>, the traffic corridors around the cities of Montabaur <hex 2906>, Limburg <hex 2609>, and the strategic intersection east of Wiesbaden <hex 1610>. In our view Comrade Nebauerevich lacked due care in his choices. Having decided to commit only 2 full-strength regiments to the north, he ought then have interdicted the road network to ensure that U.S were unable to arrive in Giessen before our lead elements. While Wetzlar was deemed a good choice, Marburg and the road network to the north <hexes 2818, 3317, 3125 and 3821> may have served better. This would have been in accord with concentration on the aim. It is now known comrades that Comrade General Nebauerevich was a devotee of the Trotskyite-fascist theories of Mikhail Tukachesvsky and it is likely that these inculcated a defeatist mindset before action was joined.

It must be noted, comrades, that the men of the Red Army performed with the highest valour and professionalism. The lead units of the southern column of the 39th Guards reached the the Main River near Hanau just after midday on the 12th. In the north Alsfeld (located on the main east-west autobahn to Giessen) was reached about the same time.

The imperialists sent elements of the U.S 11th cavalry regiment to oppose the advance.  These were able, despite attempts at interdiction able to reach Giessen before our own troops. One of the few prisoners taken in the area, U.S. army captain Harding told our officers that two companies of the 11th cavalry deployed around the REFORGER site <hex 2621, worth 6 VPs>, and another 2 companies in the western part of the town <hex 2622, worth absolutely no victory points>. Foolishly, comrade Nebauerevich ordered the local commanders to launch an immediate attack on the town, rather than prepare for a later assault on the vital REFORGER sites. These attacks caused grievous losses in men and materiel, and although some elements launched attacks on the central part of the city on the following morning, it became clear that the chance to seize the city was lost.

In the south companies of the 11th cavalry reached Hanau and likewise proved difficult to dislodge. After some initial headway, the advance ground to a halt as the Americans were engaged in fierce city fighting.

At this point Comrade General Nebauerevich could have pulled forces north and west in order to drive on Frankfurt, but instead insisted on trying to root out the by-now stubborn defenders. Perhaps their small number encouraged a nore reckless approach that would not have been used against a more numerical defence.

More puzzling was Comrade General Nebauerevich’s non-use of chemical weapons. All Red Army personnel of the rank of colonel and above had been briefed on the new chemical agents that were deployed to front-line units in 1981. At his de-briefing, Comrade General Nebauerevich indicated that he had forgotten to deploy them! If true this is an astonishing oversite!! Even given his poor disposition of forces, they may have enabled the Red Army to at least have captured Giessen.

In short, Comrade General Nebauerevich’s deployments would have shamed a first-year officer cadet, support arms were poorly used and his tactical decisions were questionable. Comrades, you know that the working class must display no mercy to those who imperil its dictatorship. On the other hand, it must also be lenient with those who make errors in its service. After his de-briefing, we believe that Comrade General Nebauerevich be relieved of front-line command, but be given responsiblty for rear-area security forces where it is hoped that he may in time remove this seriosu blot on his military record. <the reanscript indicates applause>

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Having now had two runs, I would say that this is definitely not a bore, but I would be interested in giving this a run with a larger scenario. The friction point system may also prove rather fiddly with more units. This scenario is definitely a hard one for the Warsaw Pact.

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