Grogheads AAR – Combat Mission Black Sea!

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When in 2009 Battlefront began to develop Black Sea, the next title in the Combat Mission series involving a modern fictional Russian invasion of the Ukraine, they couldn’t possibly have imagined that in less than five short years, Russian combat units would be storming across the border into Ukrainian territory making the scenario much less of a hypothetical.  Despite exerting every effort to avoid the portrayal of an ongoing, undecided conflict, it is nearly impossible to avoid comparisons to the violent confrontation that is still raging across the Donbass.  

Combat Mission Black Sea (“CMBS”) is described by Battlefront as a “military grade simulation” depicting a fictional armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine which results in open combat in the summer of 2017. “As Russian forces move into Ukrainian territory the Ukrainians do their best to defend their country against a numerically and technologically superior adversary. Events surrounding the invasion cause NATO to send its advanced rapid deployment forces to check the Russian advance. A brutal scenario, for sure, but one which allows you to get a glimpse of what full spectrum contemporary near-peer tactical warfare is all about.”

Although CMBS has been available directly from Battlefront since November 2014, it has recently been released on Steam in partnership with Slitherine Ltd., significantly broadening its audience and reinvigorating interest in the source material.  So, grab your AK and join Grogheads on the frontline of this brutal modern confrontation as Russian and Ukrainian mechanized troops clash over a small government complex.  Ura!!!

By: Craig Handler

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The Russo-Ukranian War

Although the conflict modeled in CMBS is “fictional,” it is still worth taking a brief moment to review the actual conflict between Russia and Ukraine that erupted in February 2014 and which continues to persist to this day.  The crisis is confusing and an overview will provide some insight and perspective into the competing objectives, strategies and military capabilities of the primary belligerents.

To be certain, the conflict has roots dating back to Ukrainian independence from Russia in 1991, but the present hostilities stem most directly from pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject a deal for greater economic integration with the European Union, which resulted in protests throughout the capital city of Kiev in November 2013.  Ultimately, the protests became so severe that Yanukovych was forced to flee the capital city leaving Ukrainian parliament to vote for the restoration of the nation’s 2004 Constitution and to formally remove Yanukovych, the democratically elected president, from office.

Days after Yanukovych fled the capital, armed men opposed to the closer economic ties with the EU began to take control of the Crimean Peninsula. Checkpoints were established by unmarked Russian soldiers with green military-grade uniforms and equipment in Simferopol and Sevastopol.

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“Little Green Men”

After the occupation of the Crimean parliament by these unidentified troops, largely believed to be Russian special forces operatives, the Crimean leadership announced it would hold a referendum to secede from the Ukraine. In March 2014, the referendum was followed by the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Ukraine declared Crimea occupied by Russia, which openly increased its military presence in the region.


Following the March 2014 annexation of Crimea, demonstrations by pro-Russian groups took place in the Donbass region of the Ukraine, which escalated into  armed conflict between the Russian-backed separatists of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and Ukrainian government forces.  Russian volunteers are reported to make up from 15% to 80% of the combatants, with many claimed to be former or active duty military personnel “on vacation.”  Recruitment for the Donbass insurgents was performed openly in Russian cities using private or military commissariat facilities.

In late March, Russia continued the buildup of military forces near its border with Ukraine reaching 30–40,000 troops total.

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Russian Federation and Ukrainian force dispositions prior to armed conflict

Beginning in July 2014, Russia shelled Ukrainian units from across the border with, among other things, modern MLRS systems.  The shelling escalated through August until on or about the 22nd of the month, Russian artillery, armor and personnel began surreptitiously crossing the border into Ukraine itself.  Within days, the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil was declared “an outright invasion” and Ukraine ordered national mandatory conscription. Although Russia continues to deny active involvement in combat operations, Russian units including the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, 331st Guards Airborne Regiment, 200th Motor Rifle Brigade and 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, among others, have all been spotted taking part in battles.

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Furthermore, Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and air defense systems, including but not limited to T-72B and T-72B3 tanks, BTR-82AM, MT-LB 6MA, MT-LBVM, and MT-LBVMK, Orlan-10 drones and 1RL239 radar vehicles have all been observed within Ukrainian territory.

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Russian armored personnel carriers in Ukraine

In addition, the use of 9K38 Iglas, ASVK rifles, RPG-18 rocket launchers, 95Ya6 rocket boosters, MRO-As, 9M133 Kornet anti-tank weapons, PPZR Groms, PKPs, and VSS rifles have all been documented and these weapons, mostly manufactured in Russia, were never in the Ukrainian government inventory prior to the outbreak of hostilities.


Since the Russian incursion began, open combat has raged across the areas in and around Lugansk, Donetsk and  Mariupol, the three cities that represent the three fronts on which Ukraine has been pressed by Russian forces and those it has armed, trained and backed.

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Donbass frontline map of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the ongoing struggle which has now transitioned to a state of stalemate. Shelling and skirmishes occur regularly, with various periods of escalation and increased intensity of combat operations. As demonstrated by the below map, a sizable portion of Ukraine has fallen under the control of Russian and Russian separatist forces.

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The present situation


Our scenario is a rather generic meeting engagement and is simply entitled, “Firefight”.  It takes place at 2000 hrs, with light rain and should last approximately 45 minutes with variable extensions of time. Both sides are composed of company sized mechanized forces equipped with BMPs, and our mission, as the Russian Federation commander, is to seek and destroy the Ukrainian force that is moving toward our lines, while preserving our force for future operations.

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A simple move to contact scenario

The Russian force consists of two platoons from the 1st Company, mounted on BMP-2s. The Russians are supported by a couple of tubes of 82mm mortar. There is no aviation component and there will be no reinforcement if we run into trouble.  Likewise, the enemy is expected to be mounted on BMP-2s with anticipated light mortar support, as well.  Intelligence suggests this will be a pure peer-on-peer engagement.

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Russian Force briefing

1st and 2nd Platoons are the lead elements of our Company and are moving into position to engage. The Company HQ is advancing toward our position and is presently about ten minutes behind our formation.  Our mortar battery is moving into firing positions and is expected to be on-call within five mikes.

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A simple map and a simple plan

The battlefield is small and is dominated by two distinct building complexes centrally located, one on the east side (“Complex East”) and the other on the west (“Complex West”).  Our force enters the AO with a spread out frontage and good concealment behind wooded zones, but will be relatively exposed in flat, open terrain on approach to either building complex.

With relatively little room for maneuver and limited tactical options, a quick tactical plan that will capitalize on speed and aggression to seize the dominant urban features on the map is formulated. Although historically slow and careful to advance, the Russian commander decides to throw caution to the wind, ordering both platoons to sprint toward the objectives at maximum speed. 1st Platoon will advance on the western complex, will 2nd Platoon will tackle the complex to the west.

The scramble for superior field position works and First Platoon quickly destroys two Ukrainian BMPs, while immobilizing a third and forcing its crew to bail. A squad from 1st Platoon, as well as HQ and a sniper team has reached the outer wall of Complex West and is covered by one BMP in close support and two more to the South in over-watch.

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Burning Ukrainian BMP-2 near Complex West

Meanwhile, as 2nd Platoon reaches Complex East, a Russian BMP in over-watch supporting 1st Platoon is hidden within a clump of trees and has an excellent field of fire across open ground leading toward the complex.  The crew catches an advancing force of Ukrainian troops mounted on BMPs in the open and shreds them with a 30mm cannon and 7.62 coaxial machine gun fire, leaving the survivors to flee under a withering fusillade of hot metal.

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Ukrainian mechanized force caught in the open


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Burning Ukrainian BMPs with mounted infantry casualties


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Fleeing survivors

The Russian force is in excellent position, has sustained extremely light casualties to this point and has shattered the bulk of the enemy forces in sight.  Assuming intelligence on the enemy force is accurate, with six armored vehicles destroyed or abandoned, effectiveness of the remaining Ukrainian force is questionable.

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Exceptional Russian field positions

With Ukrainian dismounted infantry pinned in the open field north of Complex East, the remainder of 1st Platoon advances on Complex West.

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Advancing to control Complex West


Consolidating the foothold

With 1st Platoon making steady progress in securing Complex West and the bulk of the remaining Ukrainian force pinned in the open field north of Complex East, 2nd Platoon begins to move into three-story buildings within the complex in order to improve situational awareness from elevated positions.


Moving a GPMG into elevated positions

3rd Squad also moves into elevated positions within the complex and additional surviving Ukrainian infantry is spotted in a wooded area to the north.


3rd Squad takes Ukrainian infantry under fire

With the advantage of the “high-ground” 3rd Squad observes additional survivors pinned in the open field and continues to engage the helpless troops.


Helpless survivors pinned and in serious danger



Additional elements of 2nd Platoon advance

Although engaging the beleaguered Ukrainian troops from a position of significant advantage, some element of the enemy force succeeds in calling in accurate fire support from Ukrainian artillery, and the ferocity and strength of the barrage reveals a threat and intensity well beyond the light mortar support forecaste by intelligence.  The Ukrainian artillery is on target and deadly.


Accurate Ukrainian artillery rips into 1st Platoon



Heavy artillery continues to fall



Complex East under heavy attack



Ukrainian artillery upsetting a one-sided battle



At least one squad from 1st Platoon is caught in the open



Devastatingly effective Ukrainian artillery continues to rain

The endless barrage of heavy artillery continues to fall on Complex East, while Complex West is declared secure.  1st Platoon continues to engage scattered Ukrainian infantry and BMP crew fleeing north to safety.


Complex West secured!

A Ukrainian HQ with radio equipment is spotted in the woods north of Complex East, the obvious culprit spotting for the support artillery that has brought the Russian eastern advance to a sudden screeching halt.


Ukrainian leadership with forward observers spotted

Despite the brutal artillery, uninterrupted fire from 2nd Platoon BMPs has taken care of the Ukrainian infantry trapped in the open field. There is no further movement detected.


No survivors.

Despite the continuous Ukrainian artillery, Command takes advantage of a shift in the barrage that has given a brief respite. It is time to call in fire support of our own onto the Ukrainians concealed in the woods.


What goes around comes around

Silence finally settles across the battlefield as the devastating Ukrainian artillery finally ceases.  Second Squad was caught in the open and has several casualties. The survivors are rattled and in shock.


Shattered bodies and minds



An aerial view of the destruction.

While the Russians collect themselves, Ukrainian reinforcements rush onto the battlefield in a brave effort to retake the initiative from the stunned Russian invaders. Soft transports loaded with anti-tank weaponry seek out positions to engage the enemy BMPs.


Ukrainian reinforcements

Unfortunately, the Ukrainian gamble is ill-conceived and poorly planned and timed. The bulk of the mechanized Russian force remains in position with clear fields of fire and is unfazed by the artillery that was directed on Complex East. The unarmed and unarmored Ukrainian transports are met with a hail of cannon and machine gun fire and within seconds, are utterly obliterated.


Poor planning and bad luck



There will not be many survivors



A gunner’s dream



Interlacing fire



A wasted effort

Russian mortars begin to burst over the heads of the Ukrainian command position in the woods. Shrapnel from the mortar and splinters from the trees force the troops to leave their position and attempt escape.


Russian mortars bark



Direct hits

The last of the Russian mortars succeed in silencing the Ukrainian commanders. No further troops or movement are observed in the woods as the victorious Russian force continues to advance north to take control of the field.


Victorious Russian troops advance north

Remaining Ukrainian units are shattered and capitulate. Surrendering troops in hiding begin to slowly vacate their positions, waiving white flags or raising their hands pensively above their heads. All resistance effectively ceases. All that remains is the crackling sound of burning Ukrainian BMPS.


Ukrainian positions collapse.

Parting Shots

Despite the long, accurate and heavy Ukrainian artillery barrage, it was not as effective in generating casualties as initially feared. Russian forces sustained a total of only 1 KIA and 8 men wounded. No armored vehicles were lost. To the contrary, the Ukrainians suffered 41 KIA with another 20 wounded. In addition, all 6 armored vehicles in the Ukrainian force were destroyed with the loss of a further two soft-skinned vehicles.  It is a total victory for the Russian Army. The Ukrainian forces is destroyed and the Russian component is for all intents and purposes, completely intact and preserved.

Such unbridled success is rare for me in a Combat Mission game. I conclude that this one-sided victory is the result of my early decision to sprint my troops forward in order to limit exposure to open fields and gain the advantage of holding the two urban complexes, the only dominating physical features on the map providing elevated positions and clear fields of fire. Had I chosen the more common cautious approach, I feel the results may have been equally lopsided in the other direction – in favor of the Ukrainians, since their opening field position is geographically closer to the two complexes, especially Complex West.

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Russian Total Victory

This was as short, nasty and intense skirmish – the kind of scenario in which I feel Combat Mission excels. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this AAR as much as I enjoyed playing out the scenario. If you want to try your hand at fighting it out on this deadly modern battlefield and you have not already picked up CMBS from Battlefront directly, now is your chance to try it out on Steam. It is available for $59.99 with the DLC Battle pack costing an additional $9.99. Both the original game and the DLC are available for free to existing Battlefront owners.


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