Mission Command at Frome, Somerset, 7 Nov 15: a brief write-up

Well, that was fun! Thanks to all the participants. As usual, we had a good turnout, 12 of us – 6 German players, 4 British, and Pete and I umpiring. The group included a fair smattering of players new to Mission Command, but now they’re proper vets!

We started just before 10:00 with a brief briefing from yours truly. This was intended to give an overview of the terrain and the game mechanics. We played on 2 tables with a nice split in the middle that allowed everyone to get at the troops easily. In this scenario it was relatively easy, because it split naturally between the Orne Canal and the Orne River. For the very knowledgeable that comment confirms the location, we were at and around Pegasus Bridge on 6 June 1944.

The East Side
East Side

The West Side
West Side

By about 10:30 we were into the planning phase. This is an important component of Mission Command (and any significant wargame, I feel). Both sides had a moderately extensive written background sheet, but hadn’t been given material in advance. This was deliberate, because we wanted to put some time pressure on. So the longer their planning, the more time the other side had to prepare!

The British paratroops are basically defending the bridge area on both sides of the waterways, with D Coy, Ox & Bucks, in reserve after their heroics of taking the bridges. The rest of 5 Brigade have arrived, but the game starts at 05:30 before they’ve had long to prep the positions. The British team established the locations of their elements, we then photoed them and removed them, so that the Germans couldn’t see them at all, till spotted. This mechanism worked really well – the British commanders could easily refer to their smart phone pictures to see exact locations and inform the Germans when they were spotted.

The scenario assumes that, contrary to history, 21 Pz Div has moved out very quickly and a sizable Kampfgruppe (reinforced panzergrenadier battalion, half a tank battalion, plus lots of heavy weapons, supports and artillery) has been assembled to attack northwards, primarily on the East side of the waterways. This is before there is a clear indication of the invasion, using standing orders to attack airborne troops vigorously.

The Germans quickly identified the bridges as their ‘schwerpunkt’ and indicated a focused infantry attack on Le Bas de Ranville, with the tanks swinging wide to the right bypassing Ranville to attack the bridges from the East and North East. The infantry advance was covered by a smoke screen from the German artillery Regiment. The artillery was later switched to a general On Call stance in response to FOO requests.

On the West Side the Germans pushed through the open woods close to the canal, but unfortunately led with their vehicles. These were engaged by concealed PIAT teams and several were lost. There seemed an undue concentration on using the gunboat on the canal as a recce vehicle – it was of very limited effectiveness, only having a 3.7cm gun, and it did find some British positions, coming under fire from most of a company at one point. On the West Side the opponents became rather bogged down, but it seemed like the German artillery pressure would eventually tell.

The German Navy is beaten off!

German Navy

The German infantry attack was pushed in, but only after the smoke screen had lifted, exposing the attackers to considerable mortar and small arms fire. Again the Germans led with their vehicles, losing a high proportion of them by the end of our game. The infantry, with 3 lines of one company each fairly closed up, were repulsed several times. German artillery was the main killer of the British defenders of Le Bas de Ranville – the paras morale was high, but firepower eventually routed the company out of its position with high losses. The German advance here was also put under intense pressure by naval gunfire (leading the German commander to inform Rommel that it seemed likely a prelude to the real invasion).

German infantry attacks despite heavy losses.

German infantry attack despite heavy losses

On the right flank the German panzers moved out in two fairly closely arranged lines and attempted to push round Herouvillette. Just after they’d passed the village they were engaged by PIATs from the hedgerows and also by longish range AT fire from both 6 pdr and 17 pdr guns. The lead company was wiped out in fairly short order, largely because the Germans were relatively slow to use their own firepower in response. The AT guns were knocked out by artillery (bravely staying put rather than bugging out?!), so the remaining tanks were able to continue ‘on mission’. The PIATs were very effective at close quarters, “PIAT Pete” making something of a name for himself, and a likely posthumous VC.

Panzer, marsch!

Panzer, marsch!

By the end the situation was still very much in the balance. The British were desperately trying to redeploy their remaining 6 pdr to the east bridge (having moved it over to the West Side), having very little to resist 2nd Kompanie, 22 Panzer Regiment. It seemed likely that the Germans would also eventually penetrate to the bridge to the West of Ranville – I suspect the paras would have had to counter-attack here to stabilise the position.

I’d said at the start that we should take it slowly, but I’d anticipated rather more progress. We called the game at around 16:30 (real time) having played 10 turns. With the planning phase this meant the game ended at about 08:00 in game time – not as much as I’d hoped. However, we did gain a great deal from the play test, including further insight and testing of new methods for communications mechanics (particularly for calling in artillery), clarification of how to fight at night and in smoke and some additional points of detail.

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