30 June 2022
Words by Jim Webster. Photos by The Editor
This is a scenario using Hell and Uncivil Disorder rules but could be adapted to any other WWII rules that may well be preferred or suitable (or even some other periods). These are written by Mr Webster and have been previously reviewed in this magazine. Ed.
THE SIEGE OF BUDAPEST
This siege – which took place during the winter of 1944-1945 – was one of the longest and bloodiest in the Second World War. Depending on how it is measured, it lasted 102 days.
Prior to the siege both sides had suffered considerable casualties and were running short of manpower. So for the Germans, 18th SS Panzer Division had only 1000 men supported by sixteen tanks and assault guns. Other units had seen similar levels of attrition. On the Soviet side, 44th Mechanised Guard Corps was 6000 men strong and had only 73 tanks. To put this in proportion 2nd Mechanised Guard Corps which had just been entirely replenished and was effectively a fresh unit had 12,000 men and 248 tanks. There were some very tired units on both sides.
Both sides did what they could to refill their ranks. Hungarian deserters were rapidly ‘turned round’ and used in Hungarian units under Red Army control. Rear echelons were ‘combed out’, and on the German side, the rear echelon was pretty soon the front line whether High Command planned it or not. Then there were a lot of ‘special units’ formed as part of the defence. Vannay raised a ‘Flying Squad Battalion’ which was armed by the Hungarian state and had a ration strength of 1000 men (perhaps 800 of them were combatants.) Whilst he might initially have tried to train his men, as things got worse, there are accounts of him conscripting all the men in various apartment blocks. Many of these would have no military training and some of them survived their first combat, but many didn’t. The University produced two assault battalions, again armed by the state but with extra weapons they acquired from elsewhere. So their sniper rifles came from the university rifle club. These did get more training – indeed there was talk of pulling them out of the city and taking them to Germany to train them properly – but that never happened.
Also the Arrow Cross Party formed its own combat groups. There were about 2,500 combatants in six combat groups but some accounts claim that only 700 ever came into contact with Soviet forces, and that was due to the Soviets attacking where they happened to be loitering. Most of these combat groups were used in security patrols behind the front lines, intimidating defenceless civilians.
I used Hell and Uncivil Disorder (H&UD) rules for this game, but it can easily be converted for other rules. One thing that most rule sets have in common is that they work on the assumption that the people you hand all this weaponry out to are trained and competent to use it. After watching news clips from the 1960s onwards – and reading accounts of actions fought in the Second World War – I decided that competence has always been rare. So, a lot of years ago, I produced a set of rules to reflect this state of affairs and have finally republished them.
Having talked to people who have tried to call down artillery or an air strike, I realised that there was far more to it that we allow for in wargames rules. There was often a competitive element we miss out entirely, after all, ‘you’ need the support far more than ‘they’ do. Hence I changed the language used. Remembering Arthur C Clark’s comment “technology if sufficiently far advanced is indistinguishable from magic” I decided to build into the rules a Magic System. So rather than calling down an airstrike, you ‘summon a demon’ (this is dangerous stuff Mr Webster! Ed.) You still get an airstrike but your ability to convince the people at the other end is every bit as important as whether you have a good radio connection.
Given the background, you can use a lot of different figures. You can use German infantry (as German infantry) or Hungarian infantry (for both sides), Russian infantry, and Partisans (to mix in for both sides as members of various irregular forces. So really it depends on what you have, that’s what you can use.
Basically you want to fill your table with as much terrain as possible. Destroyed buildings, piles of rubble, destroyed vehicles, both civilian and military. You want so much terrain that you will struggle to move a tank through it. The streets should be narrow and often blocked by fallen masonry.
Divide your table into three broad bands. One end is held by the German/Hungarian forces, (From now on, to be referred to as the Defenders); one end is held by Soviet forces; and the middle bit is the no-man’s land. When the roads enter the area held by either side, you can if you want, erect barricades to block them. The defender will probably do this, the Soviet player may want to leave them open to allow his armour to advance.
For this game it’s useful if you – metaphorically at least – divide your table into squares about a foot across. You don’t need actual squares, but it will allow you to allocate some things at random.
MANHOLES & DRAINS
The defender will produce a quick sketch map of the terrain and will roll a d6 for each square. On a 5,6 there will be a manhole cover in that square. Once all the manhole covers are mapped, link them up into a sewage and rainwater system. The various drains do not have to connect with each other, indeed a drain might only be accessed from one manhole on the table.
Both sides can access the system, but the Soviets don’t know which manhole connects to which, but obviously can find this information out the hard way... Troops move along the drains are normal speed.
Note down ‘the order of march’ of the men in the unit. If you’re using Hell and Uncivil Disorder rules, combat occurs as normal as troops are equally incompetent above or below ground. The big difference is that only the two leading figures in a unit can fire. A unit can enter a manhole in one move. Leaving a manhole can be trickier. Toss a coin, on heads half of them get out in the first move, on tails, all get out in the first move.
AIMS & OBJECTIVES
- If both sides hold their original front line this is a Defender victory.
- If the Defender front line has been pushed back but is still a defended line, it’s a draw.
- If the Defender front has broken and Soviet units have exited off the defender’s base edge, it’s a Soviet victory.
Artillery is available to both sides. Unfortunately you don’t have radio and the telephones no longer work. You have to send a runner back with the coordinates you want the artillery to fire on. As you’ve already notionally gridded the table, just say which square you want the artillery to hit.
You then wait for your messenger to get through. Each move roll a d10, and keep a running total.
- Soviet messengers get to their plentiful artillery when they’ve totalled 15 points.
- Defender messengers get to their hard pressed and outnumbered artillery when they’ve totalled 25 points.
Once the messenger gets through, we discover what the artillery make of your message. With Hell and Uncivil Disorder rules, commanders have a Techno rating and a Chutzpah rating. These Techno and Chutzpah ratings always add up to 12. At the start of a game the player decides whether he wishes to be a Technomage or Shaman and rolls a d10. The player assigns the number to the rating of his choice. So if you want to be a Technomage and roll 5, then assign the 5 to your Chutzpah. Deduct 5 from 12 and that will then give you your Techno rating of 7.
TECHNOMAGE OR SHAMAN?
A Technomage is a commander who can do all the technical stuff,: they know how to direct artillery fire and so forth. A Shaman is a commander who is really good at pressing the flesh: he knows how to appeal to – or if necessary how to drive – his men.
So anyway: back to your artillery. Under the H&UD rules, rather than regard the calling down or artillery as a clinical scientific process, instead it is described as ‘summoning a demon.’ To bring down the artillery, to ‘summon the demon’ the commander must roll less than or equal to their Chutzpah.
This shows they’ve been really persuasive, known the right people to talk to, got through to the battery and convinced good old George to deliver the goods. (In this game they’ve obviously written a particularly eloquent note.)
Then the commander must roll less than or equal to their techno rating to hit the target point. Of they fail on their techno rating roll, the incoming will deviate in a random direction. To work out how far it deviates, roll one d10 for each point you fail your techno rating roll. Yes, you’ve spotted it: the people with the chutzpah to successfully talk their way into getting artillery support are probably the ones who aren’t all that good at directing it.
Next, you roll to see what sort of artillery you get. After all the battery you contacted might be busy and may have passed your request on to somebody else.
RANDOM INCOMING FIRE
Remember that there is a war going on: all sorts of people are firing all kinds of artillery and other weapons: stuff is going to overshoot, fall short, or just be badly aimed. Every move roll a d6 and – on a result of a 1 – something has joined your private little war. Roll a another d6:
- 1,2,3,4: This result means that small arms fire hits a random square on one of the two sides of the table. Under the rules treat it as ten rounds of friendly fire into that square.
- 5,6: This result calls for something heavier: one barrage of 81mm mortar fire hits one square chosen at random.
In Hell and Uncivil Disorder the basic ‘unit’ is the bunch. This is about ten figures with each figure representing one man. Both sides have four bunches of infantry, so they’re probably nominally at company strength.
Each move roll a d6. The Defenders get reinforced on a roll of 6. But if – in their first roll – they don’t get reinforcements, they get +1 to the next roll, +2 to the roll after that etc., until they eventually do get reinforcements. At that point the dice are ‘re-set’ and you go back to needing a 6.
The Soviets also roll a d6 and need a 6 to get reinforcements but in their case they add +2 to
Both Soviets and Defender forces are ‘gunmen’ (the middle grade in Hell and Uncivil Disorder) but each Defender bunch has a panzerfaust as well as their usual small arms. The Soviets have their usual small arms. These include the expected level of light and medium machineguns but – given the competence of these men – the weapon type doesn’t make all that much difference to the effectiveness of the infantryman. As an aside the lowest grade in the rules system is ‘thugs’ who could – in some circumstances – be armed criminals, but in this case are untrained ‘volunteers’. The best grade is ‘riflemen’ who are almost proper soldiers...
Roll a d6 when the reinforcements arrive to determine the type:
- 1,2: Two bunches of poorly trained thugs.
- 3,4,5: Two bunches of gunmen.
- 6: One bunch of riflemen who have panzerfausts as well as their small arms.
- 1,2: Three bunches of poorly trained thugs.
- 3,4: Three bunches of gunmen.
- 5: One bunch of riflemen who have panzerfausts as well as their small arms.
- 6: One T34
As you can see, as the game continues, the Soviet forces will gradually increase and should eventually outnumber the defenders. But it’s entirely possible that – earlier in the game – the defenders may end up with a short lived superiority. Certainly it makes sense for the defenders to seize the opportunity to push forward their front line to take advantage of this. At the very least it will give them more terrain they can trade for time later in the game.
HOW DOES THE GAME PLAY?
Sometimes in a scenario it’s obvious which side goes first, but with this one we just rolled a dice.
PLAYING THE GAME
I decided to just run through the first few moves for you, to give you a feel for the game.
THE FIRST MOVE
The Defenders go first. Because he’s moving first he rolls for random incoming fire. It doesn’t matter which player does it, so long as somebody does. On this occasion, nothing happens.
The next thing the defending player does is to check his initial four bunches of troops. Whilst they’re gunmen, they can have three morale states.
Sullen. This is what they tend to default to if you don’t keep them motivated,
Truculent. This is the ideal as they’re at their most usefully warlike.
Psychotic. This means they just want to charge in and melee.
At the start of the game these are decided randomly. The defenders are in good heart: three of them are Truculent, and the fourth is Sullen. So the commander moves across to the Sullen ones to raise their morale.
To achieve this he uses his Chutzpah to cast the spell of ‘true faith.’ Effectively he’s inspiring them by reminding them what they’re supposed to be fighting for.
He also decides to have two of his bunches edge forward into the contested zone, all the while using cover to avoid being shot at.
Finally he sends a runner to call down artillery support. He decides to target the road the Soviets haven’t blocked.
The last thing he does is roll for reinforcements and gets a 6. Two more bunches of gunmen! They are the scrapings from rear-echelon but they arrive on his base edge.
Next it’s the turn of the Soviet player. The player rolls for his four bunches. Two are Truculent, one is Sullen and one obviously wants nothing more than to hurl the despoilers of Mother Russia into oblivion: they’re Psychotic. Psychotic troops will move forward at least six inches, unless he gets to them and calms them down. He assesses the situation, decides to allow them to go forward, sends the Truculent bunches forward as well. He then moves to encourage the Sullen, casting ‘true faith.’
He also ponders artillery and so sends off a runner. He aims at the defender’s base line, on the assumption that they’ll probably miss but at least he shouldn’t end up being shelled by his own guns.
He rolls for reinforcements but gets nothing.
THE SECOND MOVE
Let’s begin again with the Defender. First he rolls for incoming random fire and gets a one. Something is happening so he rolls again and it’s an 81mm mortar barrage. He rolls to see which square is hit at random, and it falls behind his lines but – fortunately – not near his reinforcements. So the artillery has no effect.
Next he rolls for the morale of his reinforcements: one bunch is Truculent, the other Sullen. He moves the Truculent bunch to the nearest manhole cover. He personally moves towards the Sullen bunch: he’ll be able to reach them next move.
He rolls for his messenger running to the battery and gets 2. Obviously the runner has stopped for a brew or has been diverted...
The units he advanced last move continue to advance. One can now see the Psychotic Soviet bunch advancing. They halt in cover and open fire. Truculent gunmen have a firepower of 5. They were moving so that decreases to 4. So they roll 1d10 per figure, needing to get 4 or less on a dice to get a hit. They get three hits.
The target is Psychotic, which means they’re making poorer use of cover than they should, so they need to roll 4 or less (although there is some cover, so it goes up to 5 or less) on a d10 to save. They roll badly: no saves so they lose three figures and take a morale test. They need to roll 5 or less on a d10. They fail, and drop one level of morale. They become truculent and take cover in the ruins.
Now the Soviet player. First he rolls for his runner. 10: obviously he knows the way.
He rolls 1 for reinforcements, so still he’s outnumbered.
Then the Soviet player carefully moves his units. They move cautiously forward, the aim being to keep out of sight. One of the units finds a manhole cover (portrayed by a 2p piece laid on the table) and watches it warily.
The bunch that was fired upon returns fire. There are seven of them left: they too need to roll 5 or less each. They get two hits, but the defenders have a save of 5, (6 because of the cover) and make two saves.
THE THIRD MOVE
First the Defender rolls for reinforcements. Another 6 is achieved so two more bunches of gunmen arrive on his table edge. Thus the fatherland supports its gallant defenders!
Then the Defender rolls for random incoming fire but nothing happens.
Next he rolls for his runner who got a ten and is obviously refreshed by his brew and is now moving at speed towards the battery.
His bunch already involved in a gunfight get four hits on the enemy bunch they’re facing. The Soviets make four saves but two are pinned (if you roll the exact number needed to save then you count as pinned.)
The remaining advancing bunch arrive at the position he wants them to occupy so they halt and take cover.
Finally he personally encourages the Sullen bunch and sends them to hold a gap in his front line, whilst the last bunch makes its way down the manhole into the drains.
What do the Soviets do? First they roll for reinforcements. Success! A T34 rumbles onto the table. The tank commander, his head out of the hatch, looks aghast as he tries to work out how he is going to get his vehicle down the table.
Another 10 is rolled for the runner. The dice are with the workers and peasants. There may well be artillery support next turn.
He halts his advancing units where they are. Whilst they cannot see anybody, a decision has been made. Any further movement forward will be made with tank support.
Finally his unit already in a firefight only fires with five men (three are dead and two are pinned) but they still gets three hits. Only one is saved. Perhaps things are starting to come together?
Will the defenders be able to hold their new front line? Will the tank be able to make its way through the rubble to give close support? Just who will get hit by the Soviet artillery? This is just a taster but why not give it a try and find out!
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