Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Battle for Checkov's Cherry Orchard - the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia 1941

I've been meaning to get a game of BKCII in for a long, long time now. So with post Salute inspiration and having received a copy of the newly released BKCIII, I thought it high time I got my act together. But what Battlegroups to use? I've had plans for an AVBCW scenario for a few years now, coupled with something in North West europe 1944 with my newish Fallschirmjager. Both of these were discounted as for some reason my thoughts turned to my Italian Battlegroup and their great L3/35 tankettes.

So what theatre? I discounted Sicily 1943 and also Greece, as I had gamed this before. But this didn't stop me ordering the following books as reference material for some future games: Hollow Legions and War in the Balkans , both of which look rather good. I also ordered some 're-inforcements' from Pendraken to flesh out my early war Italians.

I eventually settled on the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia in 1941 and chose to base my scenario on Scenario 38: Rural Encounter from Scenarios for Wargames. This was tweaked slightly to broadly fit in with the Assault scenario from BKCII.

My bplan is to play the scenario twice, firstly with BKCII and then with BKCIII, so that i compare each version of the rules. As a result each force may be slightly different as dictated by each version of the rules, but broadly speaking I will have:

1 x CO
2 x HQ
1 x FAO
1 x Recce
9 x Infantry
2 x MG
1 ATG plus tow
1 x Mortar plus tow
1 x IG plus tow
6 x L3/35
3 x 75mm Artillery (off table)

1 x CO
2 x HQ
9 x Infantry
3 x MG
1 x 45mm ATG
1 x Mortar
1 x IG

So with the Battlegroups sorted, the terrain was layed out as best I could as per the scenario book, and the Battlegroups deployed as below:

The Italians enter the table via the left hand edge, using mobile deployment, whilst the russians are already deployed on the right hand third of the table.

The Russian positions, with the Cherry orchard as the objective by the main building.

The view from the Russian infantry gun on the hill.

The view from the Russian mortar position.

Turn 1
The Italians got off to a bit of a flyer, with their right flank advancing along the road, but stopping just short of the range of the Russian infantry gun, which was more by luck than judgement. In the centre the Italians pushed through the cornfield, surving a mortar barrage that failed to hit anything. On the left, the italian CO pushed his tankettes forward and deployed his infantry gun.
In response, the Russian left flank had no visible targets or ones that were in range, so just sat put. The centre failed their command roll and the CO moved up his reserve company into the orchard.

The Italians begin their advance.

A tempting target but just out of range of the Russian gun.

The Italian centre and left flank advance through the cornfield.

Turn 2
As the Italian right flank advanced, it was hit my fire from the Russian infantry gun, leading to all of the units dismounting. Return fire by the Italian mortar saw the gun suppressed. The newly arrived Italian FAO called in a successfull artillery strike on the Russian mortar position, which suppressed it. In the centre the Italians pushed forward once again, but the CO failed his command roll.
There was little that the Russians could do in response, with both of their long range weapons suppressed, so they basically sat there and waited for the Italians to come into small arms range.

The Italians continue their steady advance.

The Italian right flank having dismounted as a result of Russian fire.

The centre nears the edge of the cornfield.

Turn 3
Despite a successful communication with the FAO by the Recce unit, the Italian FAO failed his command roll. On the right flank, the Italian mortar once again suppressed the Russian infantry gun. As they moved forward however, their commander blundered, resulting in the lead infantry unit nearly coming a cropper as a result of hits incurred as a result of the blunder. In the centre, the ATG moved forward and deployed, only to then become supressed as a result of opportunity fire. As the infantry emerged from the cornfield, they came under fire from the Russians, with both sides trading hits in the ensuing exchange. Once again the Italian CO failed his command roll.
The Russian left flank still had no targets, but in the centre, the commander rolled a double 1, resulting in the demise of an Italian MG unit and the ATG unit that had just deployed.

The Italians edge closer to their objective and come under small arms fire from the orchard.

The Italian tankettes line the roadside, ready to open up on any Russians they can see.

Russian troops have pushed forward to try and gain the fence line before the Italians, but fail in their mission.

Turn 4
The turn got off to a fine start for the Italians, as their FAO called in a concentrated artillery strike right on top of the Russians in the orchard. All but one unit was suppressed, including the commander and they lost their MG unit. Not a good thing for the Russians as many of their units had 4 hits. On the right flank the Italians finally managed to destroy the infantry gun on the hill and suppressed an infantry unit in the wood. In the centre the commander failed to motivate his troops, but the CO managed to get through to his infantry gun which led to the Russian mortar once agan becoming suppressed.
With their units in the orchard all but suppressed, there was little that they could do. However they did manage to finish off an Italian infantry unit.

The Italian advance is slow, but steady.

The Italians continue to deploy along the hedgeline and exchange fire with the Russians.

The result of the devastating Italian artillery strike. Ouch!

The Italian infantry are slow to advance, but they have their tankettes in support on their left flank.

Turn 5
Fortunately for the Russians, the Italian FAO fails his command roll, as does the commander on the right flank. In the centre, the Italians push forward and both sides see units supressed as a result of the firefight. The CO manages to deliver what turns out to be the killer punch, as the infantry gun finishes off the mortar and the tankettes the ATG. So with most of their support weapons gone, especially the ones that can harm the tankettes, the Russians wisely decided to call it a day and left the remnants of the cherry orchard to the Italians.

The Italian line at close of play.

With their support units gone, the Russians have nothing to stop the might of the Italian tankettes.

With their hits accumulating and their right flnak threatened by the tankettes, the Russians wisely choose to slip away.

The view from the cherry orchard.

The view from the pig pen or Russian left flank.

Post Game Thoughts
Well in the end a convincing Italian victory and achieved more quickly than I thought possible. It was great to be playing BKCII again and it is certainly one of my all time wargames, if not the favourite. So as always a few thoughts on the game:

  • The game felt historically accurate. Early on the Italians did perform well and not facing any Russian armour certainly helped. A BT-7 or T-26 could have made quite a difference to the Russians ability to put up a more determined fight. Also the Russians not having AT Rifles at this time also hindered their ability to fight off the Italian tankettes. It's not often that tankettes have such an impact on a game!
  • I gave the Italian commands a CV of 8 across the board, with the exception of the FAO that stayed at 6. This was to help reflect that the CSIR did fight well in 1941. Even with a modest CV of 8, they did manage to make quite a few commands per Turn, which certainly helped their cause.
  • In contrast, the Russian HQs had a CV of 7, to reflect the general poor Russian performance and the fact that they were second line troops. Althought the Infantry really didn't get a chance to fight, I classed them as conscripts, again to reflect their second line status.
  • I could have dug in some or all of the Russian troops, but from past experience, this would have led to a rather dull and attritional battle. Having the ooportunity to 'dig-in' during the game for a 5+ save, is probably a better option and one that I will try in the future.
  • The Italians having off board artillery made a big difference, mainly with the one strike in Turn 4. In other games artillery has had little effect, especially with a CV of only 6. 
The plan now is to replay the game, but using the new BKCIII version. I will be using the BKCII lists, mainly as there are some issues with the ones in BKCIII that are currently being looked at. It will be interesting to compare the old with the new.


  1. A very nice sized game, looking forward to the version comparison. Views to date seem to generally be positive towards the new edition rules, though as you say with reservation on the lists.

    The off table artillery - does that just need a command roll to fire i.e. is it potentially available throughout the game or does it have a restricted number of fire missions?

    1. A re-inforced Battalion is about the perfect size for a solo game on a 4' x 4' table Norm. Anything bigger and it gets a bit unwieldy for the solo gamer IMHO.

      The rules look good, but when I read them, it is hard to keep BKCII out of my head and read them afresh! The lists do have some issues which is a real shame, but at least Len is being open about this and is looking into it.

      In terms of artillery Norm, they can be called in once per Turn on a successful command roll, through out the game. Alternately, you can schedule them to arrive at a specific point on the board, in a Turn of your choosing before the game starts. this way they do not deviate. You have to schedule this before your opponent has placed his defences and troops, so requires some thought, but it works really well IMHO.

  2. Excellent Steve. I'll be interested to see your comments on BKCIII.

    1. Thanks Keith. I'm so used to BKCII and our 'house rules' that I'm not sure if I'll use BKCIII as written. It does have some nice ideas which I may simply translate back to BKCII. I'm keeping an open mind though.

  3. Interesting, you should post a link to this on the battles section of the Pendraken blog.

    I'm going to link to this from the Blitzkrieg Commander Fan page on FB

    1. I put it up in the Batreps section of the forum, but should really also now post it in the bKC section as well.

  4. Bit late to the party, but what are your road made from? Felt?

    1. Hi Gareth,
      they are sprayed 2mm MDF, with slightly different colours speckled over them. Hope this helps?

    2. Thanks! Did you use a jigsaw, the curves look very smooth.

    3. Hi Gareth,
      I used the bandsaw and disc sander at work, but a jig saw and sand paper would work just as well, but a little more time consuming. Hope this helps?