On 7 May 2016 the Abbeywood Irregulars gathered for our monthly Big Battle – Mission Command: Normandy, The Day After D-Day. For those not in the know, Mission Command: Normandy is a set of World War Two wargaming rules for use with miniatures. What we try to do is:
- Capture the essence of tactical and operational combat command from roughly company level to army corps level without real warfare’s bloodshed, fear, death and destruction.
- Model the differences in how different armies fight.
- Reflect WW2 practice of tactical and operational command, control and communications.
This scenario pits the advancing Canadian 7th Brigade, 3rd Division, with supports against a hasty attack by elements of Panzer Lehr. It’s a pseudo-historical scenario, presuming that Panzer Lehr was further forward than it was in reality. It is designed to challenge both sides with roughly equal forces (though the Canadians have more artillery and the Germans more tanks), and a similar operational and tactical situation to that experienced by Canadian 9th Brigade and 12 SS Panzer Division further east. This situation has been displaced west, so that players cannot know exactly what will transpire by reading the history books.
The idea on both sides is that their forces are part of broader advances covering their flanks. The purpose of structuring the scenario in this way was to limit the inevitable nervousness about edge-of-table flanks, which in this game were not compromised. An additional restriction (unknown to the players) was ‘no air power or naval guns’, simply to limit our attention with literally no overheads.
The area consists of mainly flat fields with occasional villages, woods and hedges. The terrain in front of us is cut by the main railway line from Bayeux to Caen. All built-up areas have some 2-storey town houses. Hedges are all normal hedges not bocage. Owing to standing corn, and bumps and lumps in the fields, visibility along the flat open terrain is a maximum of 1,000m. However, from ridges, buildings or trees, you’ll be able to see out to normal distances. All wooded areas are open woods. Roads are metalled and are supplemented by tracks that aren’t indicated specifically. Open ground counts as firm and level. The playing area is about 3km wide by 3.5 long.
The orders for the Canadians are roughly historical. 7th Brigade is to continue to carry out its D-Day orders to establish a ‘fortress’ defensive zone around Putot-en-Bessin and Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse, linking up with 9th Brigade on the left and British 50th Division on the right. Contact was made with 50th Division at Creully yesterday evening, and 50th Division will be moving forward in parallel to 7th Brigade. Supports are in the form of AT guns, most of which will be coming up over the next 48 hours, and artillery, 2 regiments of field guns being already available.
The Canadians were led by John, a highly experienced player, with Richard, Mat, Pete (resiling from umpiring this time), Toby and Alex. Both our teams this day were slightly larger than expected, which meant we went with the full regimental / brigade groups, rather than toning it down. We usually estimate that a team of 3 or 4 can handle a brigade group, but it’s a squeeze, so more is better, especially as most units on both sides were at full strength with a fair few supports. The Canadians had 3 infantry regiments (note: regiments = battalions) with half a battalion of tanks, supported by 12 and 13 RCA Field Artillery Regiments with M7 Priests (105mm howitzers), plus a battery of Achilles SP anti-tank.
Canadian General Synopsis
3rd Canadian Division has successfully landed on Juno Beach and penetrated inland about 4 kilometres to a line stretching from Creully in the west to Anguerny in the east. 8th Brigade is to the left (east). According to the Allies overall plan, the division’s fresh 9th Brigade will pass through 8th Brigade and advance to its ‘fortress position’ in and around Carpiquet. In concert with this, 7th Brigade (Canadian team’s forces) will advance to its ‘fortress position’ in and around Putot-en-Bessin and Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse to the west of Carpiquet. The object of the Division’s defensive plan is to prevent the enemy exploiting the open ground to the west and east of the Mue valley, the Mue being a stream that runs south to north, spilling into the sea at Courseulles-sur-Mer, which the Canadian’s own 7th Brigade took yesterday. 9th Brigade will advance today to their position almost due west of Caen, so as to defend the east of the Mue valley, while 7th brigade will advance in line with them to defend the west of the Mue valley. When in position, the German panzer attack will break on the Canadian’s overwhelming anti-tank and artillery fire power, supported by mobile armoured forces, while strong infantry holds the covering line.
To the right is the British 50th Infantry Division. The Canadians met up with elements of their 69th Brigade at about 18:00 on D-Day at Creully. To the left is 9th Brigade, who will be advancing up the other side of the Mue. Behind are the rest of the artillery and anti-tank supports landed or due to land and come up from the beaches over the next couple of days.
The Germans have a combined force of roughly half a panzer division in size (perhaps slightly smaller) – bearing in mind that Panzer Lehr was missing its Panther battalion and a battalion of field artillery. The idea is that this force forms the right-hand side of an attack by the whole division, coupled with 12 SS to the right. So the kampfgruppe’s left is secured by the attack of the other half of the division, and the right by 12 SS. The Germans’ orders are to advance quickly, find gaps in the Allied deployment and penetrate as rapidly as possible northwards towards the coast with armoured forces. Infantry are to secure the gaps, to mask resistance initially and then to mop up. The whole corps (Panzer Lehr, 12 SS and 21 Panzer) is being committed, and every unit will have to show flexibility in supporting the most favourable opportunities.
The German team has almost the whole of 901st Panzergrenadier Regiment (2 battalions with almost all of their transport and support vehicles intact), half of 2nd Battalion, 130 Panzer Regiment (46 Panzer IVs – represented by about a dozen models), 2 companies of the 130 Aufklarungs Battalion, a company of 130 Panzerjager, a battalion of Field Artillery (3 batteries), and a flak Battalion.
German Current Situation
D-Day has happened. The Allies have a lodgement on the coast and a shallow bridgehead. Little detail is known, except that Americans have established themselves to the west, threatening to cut off the Cotentin peninsula, while British and Canadians have landed north of Bayeux and Caen. Most of the German coastal defence forces have been wiped out in the overwhelming air, naval and artillery bombardments, and there has been significant disruption to command caused by paratroopers all over the immediate rear areas of the Atlantic Wall in Normandy. Immediate counter-attack by 21st Panzer Division to the north of Caen has not been entirely successful, but that Division has created the basis of a new line of resistance north of Caen. The original main line of resistance from the Cotentin to the Orne has effectively been destroyed and overrun, with only some pockets surviving, and the Germans had to put in hasty reinforcements in dribs and drabs from Brittany and even a battalion or two from 15th Army.
Even though the Atlantic Wall has not proven tough enough to stop the Allies cold, Rommel’s primary Army Group B reserves are, except for 21st Panzer Division, intact and in position. It was fortunate that Rommel was able to persuade OKW and Hitler to move the Panzer Lehr Division forward before the Allies could launch their invasion, so that it can now join with 12 SS Panzer Division in an armoured Corps attack. Both Divisions have reached their assembly areas between Bayeux and Caen in good time to counter-attack this morning (7 June), utilising the open ground on both sides of the Mue valley, as previously wargamed. The overall intention is to strike north hard and fast, so as to reach the sea, then to exploit as the situation suggests to east or west.
A classic 2-up 1-back advance with a gap in the centre for the Shermans of the Hussars of Ontario to use and exploit as they came up (they were delayed, so not available at game start). The Canadian objectives were Bretteville and Putot, with (I’m guessing) permission to push on to give more depth if opportunities arose. Finally the Canadian Scottish were to push through behind the Hussars of Ontario and move on Le Chateau and Le Mesnil-Patry. Support from their massive artillery was to be provided at each stage.
Focused on getting tanks and supporting infantry rapidly down the left flank through Putot, primarily using all the tanks (2 companies) and 1st battalion of the panzergrenadiers, with the 2nd battalion supporting from the centre between Le Chateau and the railway farm. This rapid advance was possible because Panzer Lehr 130 had a couple of companies of recce at the railway line at game start. These were able to scout forward rapidly and report back.
The engagement began at 07:00 with the German recce already at the railway line in the hope of seeing the direction of the Allied movement. The Canadians started with heavy smoke screens to shield the advance of the Regina Rifles on the right towards Putot and the Royal Winnipegs on the left towards Bretteville. The Germans put down a brief barrage on Bretteville and Putot, covering the advance of their recce, in case either of those villages had been occupied.
German 2nd company 130 recce (infantry in Sdkfz 250s) pushed into Putot to have a look-see, initially only seeing a smoke screen. Similarly the Pumas of 1st company, only seeing smoke, took up a position in light woods near Bretteville. The lifting smoke revealed leading companies of both Canadian battalions (Royal Winnipegs 2-up, Regina Rifles 3-up). Each German recce company left single elements to cover the withdrawal of their main body. HE from the Puma damaged the 6 pounders of the Winnipeg’s Support Company, but the armoured cars were rapidly dealt with. Spotting: Pumas hidden in the woods were able to spot the advancing infantry and AT guns, while remaining unseen themselves, *but* of course as soon as they fired, they could be seen and picked off by the 17 pounders of the supporting Achilles (would have been tempting for the Pumas to simply Fire-then-Move, and reverse out of trouble, I’m thinking).
The Royal Winnipegs used classic fire-and-movement by companies – one on overwatch while the others advanced – and were well supported by properly cautious Achilles SP guns. Caution was definitely important in this scenario. Almost the entire ground was flat with occasional open woods and villages, so cover was at a premium. Standing crops meant that spotting from flat ground to flat ground was a maximum of 1,000 metres, so no long-range sparring here. With most AT weapons being long 75mm guns, pretty much any hit was a kill – there being only Panzer IVs and Shermans, no Panthers and Tigers. Despite not having much opposition to start with, the Royal Winnipeg advance to Bretteville seemed very much by-the-book, resulting in complete success and little loss (a 6 pounder, a carrier and only very light casualties, if I recall correctly). There was some Puma activity, a little artillery fire, but nothing too troubling.
The Regina Rifles, having suffered heavily on D-Day, also suffered today in front of Putot. Their leading company was beaten off by 2nd / 130 Recce, then subsequently struck by the leading tanks of 130 Panzer Regiment. Reinforced and rallied, the battalion eventually forced its way into Putot, thanks to its 6 pounder battery, supporting field artillery, and the late-arriving Shermans, who were able to knock out the Panzer IVs. Smoke played a big part in this action (as did a rules glitch that we’re looking at now).
The fight around Putot was the main battleground of the day. The Germans had committed all their tanks and almost the whole of the 1st battalion, 901st Panzergrenadiers here.
There was some confusion in the attack, and it was not quite clear to the 2nd echelon of 1st battalion exactly where they should be committed. By the time they’d shaken themselves out to the right of Putot, the tardy Shermans had arrived, and a tank duel around the railway line behind and around Putot ensued. PIATs from the Regina Rifles also joined in. The Germans came off badly, as the Shermans refused to over-stretch themselves – Jagdpanzers in ambush behind the railway farm languished with no targets, and eventually came forward into the general attack, only to be knocked out by 17 pounders (Achilles and / or Fireflys). The German 1st battalion 2nd echelon unwisely moved forward into the open killing ground at much the same time, and the Germans ended the game with only a handful of operational tanks, while the Canadians still had more than half of theirs remaining.
In the centre, 2nd battalion, 901st Panzergrenadiers were unable to develop their attack, in the face of withering 105mm fire directed from Bretteville. The grenadiers pushed through the shells, but were halted before they could reach the village. Many vehicles were destroyed, and by the end of the day the Germans here were effectively stopped and forced back towards the cover of Norrey. Canadian occupation of Bretteville gave them a fairly clear view from the buildings right across the German deployments behind Putot, and their artillery made this very uncomfortable. On the other hand, a German FOO, concealed in the woods to the north of Le Chateau was making life unpleasant for the Canadians advancing between Bretteville and Putot.
Towards the end of the game the German artillery switched from direct support of the German attack to counter-battery fire. During the day the Canadian field artillery batteries were intent on deploying to their proper firing positions, so they had to move up while keeping guns on call. The Germans were fortunate to catch a couple of batteries of the Royal Canadian Artillery during a period of heavy supporting fire, which enabled the German counter-battery fire to score some damage on temporarily stationary Priests. The counter-battery operation did have the disadvantage of denying the Germans artillery support for the last 30 minutes or so of the game.
The final game positions, by about 09:15 to 09:30 saw the German panzergrenadiers deployed in the hedges and woods to west of Putot, resisting the attacks of the Regina Rifles infantry, but with no effective answer to the extensive Canadian artillery. Hanging on was the best they could hope for here. The Royal Winnipegs were pushing on towards Norrey behind their artillery barrages, but it was relatively slow progress, and German infantry guns were keeping them in check. The Germans could hope to hold Norrey, Le Chateau and le Mesnil-Patry, but their attack had certainly been stopped.