Czechmate ’38 was an operational megagame put on by Paul Howarth in October. As can be guess from the name it is a what if? Exploration of what could of happened had the Czechoslovaks militarily resisted the attended annexation of the Sudetenland. It was designed to test out some mechanics before they were used in other, bigger, games; as such this game was run as a small affair through Paul’s Story Living Games.
I got the chance to be the overall commander of the Czechoslovak forces. I came up with a simple plan. A crust of defences that would be held doggedly and the reserves held centrally to respond to the inevitable breakthrough. With only one good mobile division I kept it near the capital as I figured that this would be the main target for the Germans on the day to try and force the Czechs out of the game. I did know that the Germans only had about a fortnight’s worth of supplies, so it was a question of just holding on and trying to not give up any more real estate than I could.
The plan forms.
On the day because of the small numbers of players I would also be running the air forces for my side. I had helped Paul with playtesting this part of the game quite a bit, so I was confident that I could do both jobs easily.
A close up view of the air game board.
What really made my day go so well was the sterling work gone by Nick who was my aide de camp who kept me up to date with what was happening on the map, relaying messages and generally keeping things going along.
My reserves looked impressive stacked up until I saw all the German cubes….
The previous playtesting of the air game had given me a slight advantage even though the Czechoslovak Air Force was greatly outnumbered by the Luftwaffe: I knew I could go toe to toe so put very little up in the early turns conceding air superiority on the basis that I’d never be in a position to seriously contest it anyway. I fully expected a massive German offensive, so my plan was to only fly 50% of my force at any one time, keep stuff cycled through quickly and concentrate on targeting the command and control links of the Wehrmacht.
General shot of the room: the two smaller tables are for the air game.
The main game was played on an open map with 5cm polystyrene blocks. Each block represented a regiment with the face uppermost indicating that regiment’s current status. The blocks also showed the combat value in each state. Players were given and then had to spend command points to activate their units. It was my responsibility to assign from my pool of points allocations to each player.
See what I mean about all the red German cubes…? Good job they took so long to clear the border fortifications.
In the plenary briefing of the game I got a little worried when Paul said that if the Czechoslovaks got wiped out and defeated by half past 12 would could just reset, swap sides and go again… it got me expecting a whitewashing. Fortunately, the bunkers that most of my troops started in were pretty tough and the fact that the German Heer was trying to advance whole Corps along a single mountainous road in October meant that they struggled to get the command points to activate.
Fall back positions were organised.
When the Germans made their first breakthrough I called a tea break to sort out the allocation of reserves and to speak to each commander to see how likely they were to hold out and for how long. At this point I assigned some fall-back positions trying to make the best use of natural obstacles. I was prepared to give up some areas rather than risk having any forces encircled.
An army marches on its stomach so I brought tea lof to sustain my Czech team.
In the end the reserves, at least those that were rifle divisions, were parcelled out quite early. Hindsight has made me consider if a bolder strategy would have been to have released them to players at the start to make the initial crust of defences very strong indeed. It would have left me with only the Fast Division to act as a reserve which wouldn’t have been very much at all…
Towards the end of the game the Germans did start breaking through.
I got the chance to do a little roleplaying/ politicking to try and appeal to the French to apply diplomatic pressure. I knew a full-scale invasion of Germany wouldn’t be possible (and outside the scope of the game) but when it was announced that the Poles were mobilizing to take advantage of our misfortunes I appealed to the French to call them off. I knew that this would be easier if we managed to put in a decent counter attack. I knew that I couldn’t turn back the German tide, but I could definitely put a dint into the main thrust. It is worth remembering that the German tanks at this stage were quite poor, mostly Panzer I and Panzer IIs with the better Panzer IIIs and IVs being quite rare. Easy prey for the LT 35 and LT 38 tanks with their 37mm guns I could field. The attack went in as I planned and managed to stall the main German thrust to Prague. It wasn’t a game winning manoeuvre, but it should that will still had fight left in us and saved the capital for a few more days. In the end the game ended after ten days/ turns; certainly, much of the country was occupied but we still had units in the field and a functional government. The Germans had paid a heavy cost to get this far, especially in materiel. So much that a further invasion of Poland the following year would have been doubtful.
The game system seemed pretty solid and I’m looking forward to it being used in next year’s Poland game. The only thing that needs to be added would be a better fog of war mechanism so the location of my reserves would of have to have been discovered in the game by the Germans but that is a minor thing. The only down side of the day is that I now want to raise a 20mm collection to fight out some of the battles the game generated with toy soldiers.