Mission Command: Paras in Normandy, Another Outing, 2013-07-29

Well, we managed a 2 player Mission Command (plus myself as umpire). Unfortunately Alan M and Shawn couldn’t make it for various (perfectly fine) reasons.

David and Chris were the players, the British command team. David being obviously very experienced took the lead, while Chris, as a newbie to WW2, aided very competently.  I ran the Germans as umpire. The Germans are pre-programmed by the scenario design, both in terms of starting positions and range of actions. The game is designed to teach the basics of the Mission Command rules in a fun way. There’s no expectation that the British won’t ‘win’.

The British players have a battalion of elite British paratroopers in Normandy, a few days after the landings. They’re supported by a squadron of Shermans, a battery of 6 pounders and a couple of batteries of 75mm pack howitzers. The enemy, reported by recce, is a company of panzer grenadiers from 21 Panzer Div, somewhat mauled already, but with supports expected. Terrain is typical Normandy terrain – not the full bocage, but plenty of thick hedges, patches of wood, the odd farmhouse and quite a lot of open terrain, mainly flat but some ridges. The physical area of the game is only 1.5km by 2km (1mm to 2m), so it would fit on a fairly large dining table. The British objective is to get to the ridge on the southern edge of the board.

I tend to stress the idea of ‘having a good plan’ (revolutionary, eh?). David rose to the challenge, and the British had a fairly standard first phase of 2 companies leading the attack on an intermediate ridge objective, with a third company and the AT guns supporting and some reserves standing by. Mortars supporting from just on-table, artillery off-table. I permitted them to attach a couple of tanks to their left-hand C Company (possibly a stretch, because British didn’t do this type of integration till later in the campaign), while the other 2 Shermans were supporting from the centre, so could be brought to fire in support of either lead company. Following on from phase 1, the team planned for a phase 2 assault of the final ridge.

The first 3 turns or so were very quiet – in MC terms this is ‘cold’, and movement can be doubled. The left-hand company reached the isolated farm and found it unoccupied. Two companies prepared to storm the first ridge, though interestingly it turned out that the supporting company led in the end, as the initially proposed lead company was not quite as close to the enemy as suspected. The Germans, concealed in dense woods beyond a hedge, reserved their fire till an element of paras crossed the hedge, then opened up with small arms and LMGs. This element was pretty much wiped out, but David had sensibly withheld the rest of the battalion, so damage was limited to the combat recce guys.

David’s response to locating the first group of Germans was fairly typical (I think) of Normandy actions. Call in the artillery, oh and the mortars, and a couple of Shermans, and most of two companies worth of small arms fire. There was a very big risk of friendly fire with the artillery bombardment, which might have been very costly, but all the shots went in accurately, somewhat against the odds. The Germans were in cover, so weren’t immediately destroyed. They also had high morale (perhaps misguidedly), stayed put and shot wildly back to no effect.

German outpost takes a pounding

German outpost takes a pounding

The remaining Germans in that outpost were wiped out in place, though some transport – the French conversion U307(f) – got away back to the main German position on the south ridge. Supporting German 10.5 cm fire came down on the right flank of A Company, so they ‘avoided it’ into some woods.

U207(f) (Becker conversion) flees from the carnage.

U207(f) (Becker conversion) flees from the carnage. German artillery strike in the background.

About an hour had passed. The lead company on the left with no opposition had moved cautiously forward about a kilometre and the final objective was another kilometre in front. There was a pause as new orders were required for everyone at the achievement of phase 1 objectives. Some desultory MG42 fire from ‘somewhere’ kept their heads down. Most of the British casualties had been taken by A Company, so David switched to B Company to lead the main assault from the phase 1 ridge towards the final ridge, while C Company (Chris) outflanked the final ridge from the west. A Company was to support from the east, but keep behind hedges if possible. The reserve tanks to stay concealed at the edge of the woods and engage enemy vehicles. Mortars to give smoke in front of C Company and the 2 Shermans, all the artillery to plaster the ridge, then go in on ‘lift’ of the bombardment. Good plan actually.

Deploying for the attack, it was (naturally) A Company that encountered the enemy – a flanking force in ambush to the east opened up on them and A Company retired precipitately back into the woods. This had the potential to slightly slow up the co-ordination of the artillery bombardment, because the FOO was with A Company, however, as throughout this scenario the RA did the biz marvellously (I don’t think they failed to hit first time at all). David switched the 2 Shermans in the woods to the support of A Company and this force spent the remainder of the game exchanging fire with the ambushing Germans, who failed to give way or to advance.

Final Position 1: Shermans and A Company ready, but Germans have fled. Note red markers = casualties, blue markers = suppression. B Company have retired from German artillery strike.

Final Position 1: Shermans and A Company ready, but Germans have fled. Note red markers = casualties, blue markers = suppression. B Company have retired from German artillery strike.

Denoument: Explosions rippled all along the ridge line, while the mortars maintained the smoke screen for C Company outflanking to the west. Just to the south of the smoke beyond the ridge line, a Sherman pushed forward and and was discovered with extreme prejudice by a Panzer IV on the far side of the reverse slope of the ridge. The German panzer then unwisely moved forward to engage the second Sherman and was brewed up in turn.

MC2013-07-29_5

Final position 2: at southernmost ridge.

The weight of the barrage had fallen on the remains of the German company only hurriedly dug in (no prepared positions in this scenario). As you might have expected, they attempted to flee, leaving the burning wreckage of a couple of PaK 40s on H39s and some U307s hull down on the ridge. The PaK 40s might well have been important if the Shermans had pushed out of the woods; they’re lethal at up to a about a kilometre range. The British captured a couple of elements of Germans fleeing on foot, while some in transports managed to escape. Overall the British lost about half a company (mostly from A Company) and 3 or 4 actual Shermans (one model), while the Germans lost about 2/3 of their force including Kampfgruppe Klein’s commander in the Panzer IV.

Final position 3: the whole field. German prisoners top right.

Final position 3: the whole field. German prisoners top right.

The British performance (IMHO) was very good. They had a plan, adapted it to circumstances, and importantly didn’t do anything impetuous, making excellent use of their artillery and mortars. The Germans in the outposts paradoxically could have done with failing a few morale rolls, as it would have got them out of danger quicker, and back to the main line of resistance.

I enjoyed it, and I hope David and Chris did to. Next time, we should have two sets of players!

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