Cardboard Wars

War is the continuation of politics by other means

Narvik PBEM: Allied Post Game Analysis


Although the game lasted the full 15 turns, it finally ended with the ill-fated German attack on Bodo. I have to hand it to Alan to continue on after that disaster. I would have conceded the game.

The game was hard fought and close, ranging from the Allies being pushed around early in the game, to the Allies stabilizing in the arctic and around Trondheim as the game progressed.

The Allied game was not, by any stretch of the imagination, perfect, but it is rare that anyone plays a perfect game.

Most of the victory points that I received were due to elements beyond my control, namely the sinking of German units in transit. Most of the points that any Allied player is going to receive will because of the abstracted naval system. I did get a few, though, from shooting down bombers as they tried to take out my supply bases, though. I ultimately lost the bases, but British AA was able to extract a high price for doing so. In the end, he lost a pair of Ju-88s (out of 9), six He-111s (out of six), and three Me-110Cs (out of 6; a fourth was lost over Bardufoss trying to bomb Swordfish). The Ju-87 dive bombers never really came into play.

The German attack on Bodo

From the perspective of the Allies, this was an ill conceived attack born of desperation. I’m sure the idea was to destroy the British units there, but it would have netted him very little in return. The worst thing that could happen (and did happen) was that he would lose half of his attacking force, a total of 32 combat factors. The end result was that I gained 11 VPs from this attack. The next worst thing, would have been an exchange, followed by a half exchange.

The reason being is that the Allies lose VPs per battalion destroyed, not battalion equivalents, like the Germans do. There were seven battalions in that hex, plus sundry other non-battalion units. The most he could have cost me was 14 VP, but for an exchange, the net would have been a loss of 3 VP for the Allies, and for a half exchange, a net of 9 VPs lost. I don’t think that was quite the result he was hoping for. He only had a 1 in 6 chance of obtaining the result that would have hurt me the most, a defender retreat result, and I had nowhere to go.

He had a 1 in 3 chance of obtaining a favorable result, and the dice didn’t go his way.

Trondheim

The most surprising thing to me was that Alan did not attempt to land at Trondheim on his first turn. Once the landing is made, the most difficult aspect is getting supply in the area to sustain them until help arrives. This is where the floatplanes ability to land at a port rather than an airfield comes into play, and Alan used that ability effectively. There are no guarantees that Trondheim can be secured on the first turn. The best laid plans can be torn asunder by a single bad die roll. The units sent to capture Trondheim could be sunk in transit. The Norwegian defenders could stand their ground rather than running away.

The flip side to not trying to take it on the first turn is that as long as the Allies hold onto it, they can significantly delay the German advance. The Germans began to arrive at the Trondheim area on turn 3 (April 16, 1940), and were held off until turn 8, when the city finally fell (May 9, 1940). That’s a delay of 6 turns, and forced the Germans to traverse the mountains in order to bypass the city, slowing many of them down.

Could I have held out at Trondheim longer? Possibly, but I felt that I had pressed my luck to the limit at that point. If I could have figured out how to pull the five 0-1-4 infantry companies and the two Royal Marine battalions (1-2-2) out to be resupplied without a significant drop in defense, I would have done so, and probably could have held out indefinitely.

BUT, the Germans made two attacks in this area, and rolled an Attacker Retreat (AR) both times. Bad dice rolls at critical times were a theme for Alan throughout the campaign. He made four major attacks, and was forced to retreat three times (Trondheim airfield, Trondheim proper, and Mo). He escaped without injury, but the fourth time it bit him, costing him half of his attacking troops.

It was when he rolled his second AR that I figured it could not continue, and sooner or later, he was going to roll hot. I needed to evacuate my troops from Trondheim while I still had troops to evacuate.

It does show, however, that Trondheim needs to be high on the list when the German player is considering the invasion force and where to land.

I’ve already laid down the plans for my invasion of Norway, and I am going to try something that some people may consider a little crazy. Not only am I going to attempt to secure Trondheim on the first turn, I am going to attempt to secure the airbase as well, and land troops there. If successful, it could set the tone of the whole game.

The Allied Sea Lift Capacity

While I am on the subject of Trondheim, one of the most important abilities the Allies have is their sea lift capacity. The Norwegians have a limited capacity, where they can move a single unit to an adjacent port. I started doing this in the arctic after I realized that I had that ability. The Allies, on the other hand, can move any number of units to any port. Neither can make opposed landings until the landing craft appears, but in this case, it was committed to extending the Allied supply lines.

Once I realized that I had the sea lift ability (that I had not been using), I immediately began to move units in and out of Trondheim to get resupplied, and extend my hold on the port as long as possible. I think it caught my opponent off guard just a little, because based on his writing, I think he expected me to abandon Trondheim before I did since he had just destroyed the supply base there.

I may have been able to do the same thing at Mo if I had good enough units in ports north, but by that time, I was guarding against a parachute drop around Narvik.

The Allied sea lift is a neat little trick that the Allies can use to keep their units in supply when a port is out of supply. However, you have to keep careful track of how long they are out of supply, and evacuate them in a timely manner in order for this to work.

Once I started doing that, he immediately moved on Bergen. I was going to attempt the same sort of move there as well, since he had few units in the area (most were in the Trondheim area), and I felt I might be able to hold it through the end of the game.

Alas, he took it out before the Poles could arrive to bolster the Bergen defense.

The Royal Air Force

There were a couple of moments that I wish I could have had back. The first was leaving the northern single capacity airbase unguarded with a Blen 1F night fighter on it. Of course, had it escaped, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Alan caught me with my pants down, as I did not think he would attempt such a raid, when considering the risks of being sunk to slip into Mo like that. However, given the choice between raiding and capturing the airbase and securing the Mo gap, he elected to go for the -2 VP penalty and the airbase. That’s one set of points I would have liked back.

The other is trying to get my bombers north to Bardufoss where they would have been relatively safe until I needed them. Then I would have been able to attempt to shut down the German 3 capacity airbase south of Mo, permanently. The passage through Trondheim was not safe, however. Me-110C fighters prowled the skies, but I should have at least taken my chances and tried to get through, and have been shot down instead of allowing the bombers to be destroyed on the ground at Bergen. The effective use of my air assets was not the best. As the game progressed, and more and more fighters were drawn north, I should have started going after the dive bombers on the ground, if only to draw more fighters south and given my air assets in the north a better chance. Of course, he could have withdrawn his dive bombers to Germany for safety, and that would have been okay with me. too.

I was so fearful of his fighters, and my bombers getting shot down (and the VP penalty that it incurred) that I let them get destroyed on the ground instead, and ultimately stopped using them altogether. If I ever play the Allies again, I need to develop a better air strategy. Instead of not using Bomber Command, I should have sent them up, VP penalty be damned. I may have been able to shoot down his Me-109s (they aren’t the best on defense), then he may have had to commit his 110s to air defense in the south.

Ah, hindsight.

Bergen isn’t as critical as Trondheim, but I was able to use the airbase to harass him for a few turns, until he got tired of it and I failed to get my aircraft out of there in a timely manner.

Anti-aircraft

One of the things I definitely struggled with was anti-aircraft. The Norwegians have no AA of their own. The Royal Navy provides 5 squadrons of AA cruisers. The Allies get three AA batteries, one per turn on turn 2, 3 & 4, and that has to last until more AA starts to dribble in on turn 7 on. These batteries are no match for German bombing raids that come over in groups of five. So, if two batteries are in a hex, the odds ratio (used in the game) is 1:5. There is no 1:5 column on the air chart. This was a source of some dispute, as my position (later confirmed by Arthur Goodwin and David Stokes) was that all AA below that should be resolved on the lowest (1:4 table). Alan’s position was that I shouldn’t be able to fire at all. In order to keep the game moving, we agreed (before either Arthur or David weighed in) that any ‘1’ rolled would equal one bomber being aborted, a rule which he must now live with.

Because of that agreement, there should have been two more bombers killed, +2 VP for the Allies, and who knows how that would have affected the rest of the game as far as supply depots and planes. I should have provided AA for the airbase at Bergen, but I felt that the highest priority was the supply depots. I wanted more than just a 50/50 shot at his bombers, but I probably should have left 20 points of flak wherever there was the primary supply base, and tried to protect the ports with the other CLA, and a couple of batteries.

Once again, hindsight.

The Allied Supply Net

Alan was able to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Allied supply net. He not only destroyed supply bases, but he went after the ports as well, to prevent them from being used as supply bases by the Allies. This is a very effective German strategy. If the Allies don’t have supplies, they can’t fight, and become easy prey. Did I say easy? I meant easier. Alan’s luck was so bad that a pair of battalions that were on their second turn out of supply (their defense factors were halved) managed to hold off his two mountain divisions. It just goes to show that you can have everything in your favor, and still have the dice say the British hid under the rocks and popped out after the Germans passed them by.

Alan probably should have finished off the supply base at Alta, even if it was a flak trap. It only needed one more hit to be put out of action. He may have lost a couple of bombers, but he could have finished off the supply net and forced the evacuation. While the supply base was loaded up with anti-aircraft, Tromso proved there are no guarantees. Tromso was destroyed much more easily than I imagined it would be. Had Alan finished the job, it is possible that he could have broken the backs of the Allies, allowing the Germans to systematically destroy them as they scrambled to escape, costing me a lot of victory points. They were so far south that they may not have been able to move fast enough to escape, especially without any railroads. Then the road to Narvik could have been thrown wide open.

The Company Sized Units and the Norwegians

Alan, along with several other people, had said that they would have taken the 0-1-4 infantry companies, along with the Norwegians, and thrown them in the path of the oncoming German horde, keeping them as far away from Narvik as possible, and in one case, calling it the Allied “Molasses defense”. The reason for this is that these smaller units, and the Norwegian units have no VP penalty associated with them, so they are expendable.

While these are viable strategies, they aren’t my playing style. I like to play my own style and not imitate what other people do. I may take some things that work here and there, but I like to keep my strategy and style my own. I also like to experiment with stuff and have fun while I’m doing it.

As I was backing away from Mo, and split my units, one group going to Bodo, and the other moving to the mountain entrance to Narvik, I split a British brigade to protect the French. I could have used the 0-1-4 companies in this case, and probably should have. I would still have had the 2:1 odds ratio if he had attacked Bodo, but if it came to an exchange, he would not have had enough damage done to him, in my opinion at least.

I think Alan runs a variation of the “molasses defense”, based on our first abortive run at the game, and it is my task to figure out how to get around/through it.

The Secret, German Game Winning Hex

Make sure this hex is defended if the Germans do not land at Narvik on the first turn (click image to enlarge)

Make sure this hex is defended if the Germans do not land at Narvik on the first turn (click image to enlarge)

Alan discovered something on turn 14 (fortunately for me), too late for him to do anything with. I never saw it until Alan pointed it out to me. If you ever play the game of Narvik as the Allies, pay close attention to this. Some of you may be aware of this, others not so much. Of course, the game is so old that some may not care.

The area marked in yellow is the area the Allies need to hold onto in its entirety to gain 100 VP at the end of the game. If the Germans are struggling to make it, they may make an attempt at an airdrop within those boundaries to deny the Allies the VPs.

The hex 0912 is off by itself, part of the series of mountain hexes that do not need to be defended from an airdrop, because parachute units are not allowed to airdrop into mountains.

But hex 0913 is a clear/rough hex, a hex that a parachute company can land in, then move to 0912 to gain a hex adjacent to Narvik, and in order to drive them out, the Allies must make a long journey all the way around to attack them.

In my situation with the Allies, my supply lines ended at hex 1012. I could not attack with the British units (the 148th Brigade) in the area, because I would not have had any attack supply. The Norwegians would have taken a couple of turns to arrive, but by then it would have been too late. Alan, had he been aware at the time, could have landed sky gangsters in that hex, then moved on to the mountain hex, and the game would have switched from a Marginal Allied Victory to a German Decisive Victory.

That’s how close this game was.

The easiest way to defend against this is to put one of the Norwegian mountain battalions to cover this hex. The reason is that the Norwegians are always in supply, and mountain units can move through the mountains at a faster rate.

Don’t be like me. Always be aware of your surroundings and potential pitfalls to victory.

Overall, I don’t think I did too bad. To me, a victory is a victory. It doesn’t matter to me if it is by a single point or by 200 points. I will take this victory and move on.

I know I did not outplay Alan. I know I didn’t outfox him (except for maybe the Trondheim thing), I didn’t outgun him, I didn’t outsmart him.

I outlasted him, and if any one of those four bad rolls that he had during the game returned any other result, I would be sitting here saying that I took a poor risk at Trondheim, at Mo, or whatever. It was Alan’s poor luck that handed the game to me, and nothing else.

That’s why it was an Allied marginal victory and not a decisive one.

If one were to look at from the historical perspective, the German losses were horrendous. Most of the losses were sunk at sea. There were some that ended up being combat losses (through half exchanges and attacker half eliminated results). If one were to assume 800 men per infantry battalion, 500 per artillery battalion, and 150 per artillery battery, the Germans lost roughly 31 battalions (mostly artillery), not including armor companies, or the HQ unit that was sunk. This is a loss of 20,000 men to the Germans (4 times the amount they lost historically), while the non-Norwegian Allies lost about 1600 men. Most of the losses were Norwegian, totaling, if Alan was correct and he got 50 battalions, 40,000 men, mostly prisoners, I would assume since many were captured trying to mobilize. I’ll have to keep better track of these losses in the next game.

German casualties: 20,000 men.

Twelve air squadrons: 72 x He-111H bombers, 24 Ju-88A bombers, 48 Me-110C fighters.

I’m not trying to rub Alan’s nose in it (and I apologize if he takes it that way).

British losses were:

2 battalions (1600 men) (-4 VP)

Eleven air squadrons: 3 x Skua Fighter Bombers, 3 x Gladiator fighters (one Norwegian), 1 x Blen 1F night fighter, 1 x Whitley bomber, 1 x Wellington bomber, 3 x Swordfish torpedo bombers, for a net of -10 VP

Of course, the Norwegians paid the highest cost of all. Close to 40,000 casualties and prisoners. Countless numbers of battalions captured as they tried to mobilize.

The historical cost is not measured in how many men the Germans lost in Norway, or even to anti-shipping forces. The cost is measured in how much transport was lost to the Germans during this campaign, and how it helped prevent the invasion of the British Isles.

Mission accomplished.

Now let’s see how I can do as the Germans.

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6 thoughts on “Narvik PBEM: Allied Post Game Analysis

  1. Bravo to you both! That was an outstanding Batrep and one that I followed closely. Very enjoyable and now I have a better grasp on the play of Narvik. I was going to suggest using VASSAL early on but you both discovered that tool later in the game.

    For those wanting to follow your next game even more closely, would you consider play via VASSAL and posting your turn files in addition to your already, excellent commentary? I, for one, would enjoy replaying your VASSAL turns.

    The insights you have provided tempt me to pull Narvik off the shelf and give it a try.

    Thanks to both of you. Well done!

    Jon

    Like

    • Thank you, Jon. I had fun. For Alan, not so much, I think. I’m also glad we could serve as inspiration for others.

      I will try to post the log files from the turns, if I can figure out how to do it. I’m still a novice at this.

      Like

  2. Alan Tibbetts on said:

    A couple of points without giving away the Allied game plan for the rematch.

    1. I did not catch that subtle “VPs only for Allied Bns, not equivalents” which makes the molases strategy even easier to implement.

    2. I was under the impression we would play any rematch using the correct rules interpretations. For example, when do any ground units moved by air on the first turn move their 1 hex? Oh, and the AA table, yes, round up any odds below 1:4. We never determined if that also applies to air-to-air. Using incorrect rules interpretations for the rematch was not discussed that I remember. The first phase of the game is the pre-game rules negotiation/interpretation phase and loosie goosie Narvik is a prime example.

    3. Where are the Guru answers we requested over the course of the game? At some point HMS could also belly up to the bar and publish some long needed eratta.

    4. The Allied bombers can easily avoid all the German fighters on their way to Bardufoss. Just do a night bombing mission.

    I do not regret attacking Bodo (the 214th Inf XX was not going to move futher north as a division due the HQ not being able to move thru mountains) or not bombing Alta on turn 15 (the end of time and where we were in regards victory level).

    I do regret bombing naval units (sank 1x CLA) instead of the supply base at Trondheim. Had I realized bombers have to total all the TBFs of their group instead of attacking individually I would not have attacked the ships. That would’ve probably shortened the Allies stay in Trondheim and allowed me to start bombing other ports sooner.

    The Stukas were hardly used, mostly because I didn’t commit to securing the Stavanger airbase.

    Yeah, the dice were not my friends this time around. I’m an “over time the dice will even out” player, and got burned a little by that approach. Oh well, it’s only cardboard and there’s another opportunity for the dice to even out coming right up.

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    • 1. Yes, it is a subtle distinction.

      2. a) I will email you about that. I think there is a comma missing in the prose.

      b)I had to suffer under that rule, and should have received 2 extra Ju-88 kills (+2 VP), and who knows how that would have impacted future bombing missions. If I had to suffer under it, you should have to suffer under it as well. Fair is fair, especially since Arthur made a ruling in plenty of time for the game to be adjusted, and it wasn’t.

      c) Really? You want to bring that up? If AA fire below 1:4 is resolved at 1:4, then it follows that the same applies to air combat. However, a person would have to be suicidal to go at those odds.

      3. Yes, the Guru failed miserably. It seems that if it was not Storm over Scandinavia, he declined to answer.

      4. I never actually thought about that. I didn’t realize that bombers at Hatston Field could easily make Trondheim, and from there to Bardufoss. I openly admit, however, that the Allied air game was a major weakness for me that needs to be improved.

      5. The Stukas are kind of difficult to implement in the game due to their short range. It always seems like the war outpaces their range.

      Like

  3. stephen.gidney@yahoo.com on said:

    Really enjoyed the write up gents – a classic game indeed! Stephen

    Like

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