The Bitter Woods Series Replay #2 between Randy Heller and Tom Gregorio ends in a draw.
On the afternoon of December 26, OKW issued orders to begin a staged withdrawal from the Meuse. Soviet preparations had become too significant to ignore and it was clear that 'Wacht am Rhein' would never accomplish its goal of splitting the Western alliance militarily and politically. Wehrmacht casualties were surprisingly light but it had become clear that the war would not be decided in the winter wasteland that was the Ardennes forest.
US Army Post Game Analysis
Allied Series Replay Game Summary: This was undoubtedly the most challenging campaign game of BW I have yet played. Tom is the #1 AREA ranked player and he shined throughout. I was unable to gain even a brief tactical initiative until the final game turn. I attribute this to both Tom's excellent play and the generally favorable German combat die rolls. Although I think the combat die rolls favored the German Player, I was very fortunate with the majority of my bridge blowing attempts.
My major tactical mistake occurred later in the game when I failed to adequately protect an artillery unit and allowed for a German advance which prevented the construction of a Dinant bridgehead IP. This then became a focus for the Germans to cross the Meuse with an armor unit, resulting in two attempts at 1/3 chance and 1/6 chance of crossing. Had Tom been successful, I doubt I could have thrown him back across the river.
A couple of constructive criticims of German play which would have made my job more difficult - Placing FuhEs in the forest gave my air interdiction the opportunity to segregate this important unit from the critical action in the center of the mapboard. And by leaving some mechanized units on the far flanks, I would not have been able to defend as easily in the center. By concentrating the German mechanized forces, I was able in turn to concentrate my defense.
All-in-all a great gaming experience. Thank you, Tom.
Wermacht Post Game Analysis
Randy's US Army demonstrated what it takes to stop the Germans in a Bitter Woods Campaign game. For six months now, he and I have waged war in the Ardennes. Going into the game, my record was unblemished in terms of getting the Germans across the Meuse. That streak is now over and it's time to review what worked and what did not. Although the outcome was a tie, I feel that Randy and I both emerged winners in terms of the knowledge acquired from playing this match.
My approach to playing the Germans is to not take chances. Experienced US players counterpunch while preserving their forces and defensive positions. By reducing the exposure of my units, I felt that I'd preserve my subsequent threats as well as maintain the initiative at both a strategic and tactical level. I think I achieved this as measured by the low German casualties and the fact that I feel that the US was constantly responding to my moves. I don't think I ever was worried about counterattacks except when deciding how far to advance my units!
In terms of battlefield position, I reached the Meuse in a relatively timely fashion and thought I had sufficient time and materiel to force a crossing. I've never tried to breach in the Meuse in the region of Liege so I'm unsure as to whether or not I was in position to undertake an offensive in that area. By reaching the Meuse on a broad front, I also ensured that I had the prerequisites for a tie; I was pretty sure that Randy would never be able to push me away once I reached it.
With regards to the Wermacht decision to bypass Bastogne and capture Marche I think I made the right decison. Of course, it helped that my initial die rolls against Marche were quite favorable! It still took three turns, however, to clear that town. Assaulting Bastogne would have cost me as much time and would have provided the US with ample time to dig in. As things worked out, the pell-mell flight to the western banks of the Meuse did cost the US a few extra units.
I think my approach to screening Patton works; 7th Army was able to prevent any southern edge reinforcements from even threatening to cause problems in the south. The real question to ponder is whether or not the 7th Army was too effective. I seriously considered giving Patton a 'much looser rein'. Any US forces drawn into the south would not be available to defend the Meuse. As this seemed too much of a risk against an experienced player, I decided to forego this approach.
From a die rolling perspective, my bombardments seemed unusually successful and certainly prepared the battlefield. The followup combats did not prove to be as successful though. From a 'luck quotient' average point of view, I think the Germans got some good rolls.
What did not work?
The bottom line reason the Germans didn't cross the Meuse is that the US preserved their army. Not only could the US protect the crossings, they were able to also garrison all Meuse hexes that I could even threaten to cross into! (Of course, elements of Lehr did cross the Meuse but, by my own seemingly arbitrary definition, I'm assuming a 'crossing' has to include a German armor unit.) A quick review of the casualties web page will quickly reveal that there were long streaks of turns that saw very few US unit eliminations.
There were also some questionable German decisions worth discussing. In hindsight, I probably would make many of the same decisions though. For example: I committed GD/Fuh Es into the woods in the southwest. It then failed to successfully challenge US air interdiction. If I had hit the 2/3 chance of not getting stopped by the interdiction then the initial decision to put the unit in the woods would not have been questioned! Of course, once it took the step loss, I wasn't about to risk an unsuccessful interdiction challenge again. The decision to keep the German forces concentrated in the center also allowed the US to concentrate in the center. I thought that was a reasonable approach since my central position would have allowed me to reach either extremity in short order. Unfortunately, I did not count on Randy's clever air interdiction placements; these often prevented me from even getting units close to the flanks.
In hindsight, I think my biggest mistake was to not challenge the US bridgeheads on the East side of the Meuse near Liege. I should have pushed them back as that would have magnified the threat I could project in that area and commensurately reduce the strength of the US defense near Givet and Dinant.
While the game clearly could have seen me across the Meuse if I had hit a 1/3 or 1/6 shot, I don't think the Wermacht armor deserved to cross the river. Combined with excellent bridge blowing results, the US army effectively utilized the river terrain to ensure that there would be no reserve movement or combat advance that would see the Germans through. The US also effectively managed their armored divisions to maximize the defensive coordination (+1) benefit. Perhaps the Wermacht should have gone after them but I generally don't go for the 1/6 shot at an ENG if there are 'better' things to try.
Perhaps my most egregious mistake was not noticing that the Germans had no air power on the last turn. Even after doing my 26AM turn, I still had thoughts of getting a 1-1(-1) which, combined with good bombardment results, would have given me a shot at gaining a crossing. Of course, lacking the ability to counter an Allied air shift combined with the fact that the crossing sites often had five or six Allied artillery units backing them up, I soon realized that pushing pieces on 26PM would be pointless.
As always, I enjoyed playing a player of Randy's caliber in the Bitter Woods campaign game. While the transcription of moves and posting of the replay web pages was laborious, I feel they proved worthwhile from an entertainment and education point of view. (In addition to learning new things about BW, I also learned more about MS Front Page and web graphics management!) I've played Randy many times now, usually on the losing end, so getting a tie is respectable. I don't think my US play is as 'tight' as his so his achievement is that much noteworthy and something I can but hope to emulate in the future! Thank you, Randy.