Archive for the 'Miniatures' Category

Mission Command: Pleskau / Pskov, June ‘44

The Eastern Front. For the Soviet Army, it was a long way and a costly way to retreat, and now it’s a long way and a costly way to push forward to Germany. But after Kursk it’s just a matter of time and blood. For the German Army, the endless steppe is no longer the front, now it’s back nearly to the Baltic States and Poland, trading space for time, so that the Army can be re-built.

Though we were a tad short of players, Pete and I decided to push on with the full version of our Pleskau game from 2012, with the 2 of us playing as well as umpiring. So we ended up with roughly 3 v 2 for most of the game; somewhat pressured, but we all coped fairly well. This was our first outing to the Eastern Front for a while, and also the first with the relatively settled beta version of the Mission Command rules. For the Soviets, it looked like an interesting proposition, I think, using battalion-sized groups with hardly any radios, instead of company-sized groups with lots of radios, as in Normandy. For the Germans, a chance to hole up in heavy stone buildings, cover your ears and hope!

This account is largely from a German point of view, as that’s what I was playing. Apologies if I am at all unfair to the Soviets! No doubt their propaganda will give a different version of events.

Terrain

The town consists of primarily stone buildings in a rough equilateral triangle about 5km per side with one side running north-south and the triangle pointing towards the east. A river runs through the town, entering at the NW corner and flowing mainly south, forming an effective barrier about a kilometre from the western edge of the town. The only easy routes across the river are a road bridge in the middle of the town and a rail bridge in the south. A tributary with a couple of bridges meanders from east to west, joining the river in the northern poorer part of town. The main road to Riga also cuts the town in two from east to west about a kilometre south of the stream. The railway runs from NE to SW, with a few smaller lines branching at the edges of the town.

RussianAerialSketchMost of the town’s buildings are one or two storey stone town houses. The northern area beyond the stream has poorer quality, smaller buildings. There is a large imposing tractor factory in the south part of town beside some railway sidings and close to the rail bridge. Similar very sturdy buildings are on the west bank by the road bridge, but these are not so high. The centre of town also has a few tall municipal buildings that stretch along much of the main road. There are also two tall churches, one facing the road bridge, the other across the stream to the north.

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Outside town to the east lie some areas of higher ground, one of which is wooded. To the north, east and south the region is mainly open ground and scrub with few buildings. To the NW some buildings continue to run alongside the river. A few buildings continue beyond the western edge of the town proper, and there is some high ground a couple of kilometres to the west.

The town itself has many small streets and several quite large open areas, including a tree-lined boulevard that runs NE to SW through the centre.

The map’s slightly misleading, in that we shrank the size to about 7 km wide (North to South) and 4.5 km deep (East to the river). This had the effect of enabling the Germans to concentrate a bit more, but for the Soviets to do so too and have less far to travel.

German Commander in Chief, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Fallschirmjäger Regiment, Major Walter Meindl

Strategic situation and orders

The date is sometime during early June 1944. Your battalion has been moved to Pleskau (Pskov in Russian) on the north of the Eastern Front (the “Panther Line”) to help to stem a Russian offensive that may (eventually) threaten Riga. Pleskau is an important rail junction and also, with its position near the southern shores of a series of lakes, prevents the German lines being outflanked from the north. However, the weight of the offensive cannot be stopped by your battalion, and your orders are to conduct a delaying action, by carrying out a ‘delaying defence’. See your sketch map.

Your delaying action is a temporary measure, designed to inflict high losses on the enemy and to conserve friendly forces. You have freedom of initiative to act according to local circumstances – for example, limited counter-attacks are permitted, as are feints, deceptions, and so on. Your primary requirement is to conduct a delaying defence for as long as possible (at least a whole day), while enabling extraction of your forces across the river to the west at the end of the action. Timing of withdrawals is a matter for your decision. Night-time withdrawal of men can be achieved via bridges and boats – the latter are pre-positioned for that purpose. Note that this means you should NOT destroy the bridges over the river.

You do not have active supporting units on the eastern side of the river. All supporting units of the Division have been withdrawn behind the river. Once your troops have crossed to the western side of the river, they will be secure from further attack except from troops to your immediate front.

Your forces consist of a full strength German Parachute Battalion, plus some supports. All your Fallschirmjäger elements are elite. All your other elements are veterans. You have complete confidence in your troops and officers.

Your reconnaissance suggests that the opposition has a full Russian Tank Corps. Each of 3 Tank Brigades has about 8 tank models (representing 30 or so actual tanks), plus supporting assault troops. Artillery barrels tend to be extensive, but inflexibly used. You will also realise that, even though it’s called a Tank Corps, that doesn’t mean it’s short of PBI.

The enemy has complete air control – you have no air assets, though you do have some flak to knock the enemy aircraft down with.

Any of your elements and / or vehicles can be in concealed positions. This means that they will not be spotted till they fire, and even then, only if the enemy is close enough.

Each of your company commanders may indicate ONE building or part-building (of size to be occupied by one standard element plus one supporting gun if desired) as a ‘bunker’, which has received specific reinforcement attentions from engineers. Bunkers will have all round fire and will count as strong structures (fortified) against attacks; for example, Soviet field guns with normal indirect fire would need a 20 to cause a casualty to a defending element in firing position.

You can win some sort of victory for the German side by hanging on to any areas to the east of the river at the end of the game.

Russian Tank Corps commander:General-Major Belaborodov, 32nd Tank Corps

Strategic situation and orders

The date is sometime during early June 1944. Your Tank Corps is the spearhead of a Russian offensive that intends to open the way to Riga. In front of your forces is Pskov on the north of the Front against the Fascists. Pskov is an important rail junction, and if we take it we may (eventually) threaten Riga. Unfortunately we cannot flank it to the north, because of its position near the southern shores of a series of lakes, while the river that runs through it is unfordable, and the only bridges are in the town. The enemy has occupied the town with elements of a parachute regiment. You’ve cleared forward positions occupied by regular Wehrmacht infantry, but you expect the parachute infantry to be more of a problem.

Your mission is to take the town as quickly as possible, so that the momentum of the offensive can be maintained. You are an experienced commander, and Stavka is happy to let you get on with it. Losses are not of any particular concern, though you do appreciate that your more experienced troops are valuable for future operations. Your primary requirement is speed. The faster your success, the more pressure it will put on the Germans and the better the momentum of the follow-up.

You have no worries about either flank or rear. There is no possibility of any major German counter-attack, because other units are protecting these spots. Local counter-attacks are a possibility (they always are with the Germans). You have access to more troops if needed, so you’re not going to run out, and you’re quite aware that reinforcements will probably be necessary. Your star will rise quicker, the quicker you can complete the mission.

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Your forces consist of a full strength Tank Corps (see attached command cards). Each player on your team represents a Brigade Commander. The Motorised Infantry Brigade is the one formation which you have issues with, they are little better than raw conscripts at present having only just replaced the previous brigade which was decimated earlier in the month. This brigade needs to be used carefully. You have the option of further reinforcements if needed.

In addition, you have air control – the Luftwaffe hasn’t been seen in the area for weeks. You have been allocated a couple of air raids (dive bombers: 4 models), because Stavka has allocated most air power further south. Before the game starts, you must choose a time and target for these air raids which cannot be altered or stopped.

Air reconnaissance shows that the enemy has parachute infantry dug in inside the town and support units beyond the river to the west. Enemy strength is unknown. Ground recce has discovered that elements of the 326th infantry division occupied forward screening positions to the east of the town, and that men of the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Regiment are certainly in the town itself. German Kampfgruppe organisation means that you could be facing a mixed force.

You can win some sort of victory for the Russian side by taking and holding as much as possible (preferably all) areas to the east of the river by the end of the game.

The Battle

Prep on the German side was somewhat frenetic, as I was on my own for the planning stage, before I was reinforced by Mike. For planning purposes, and for showing hidden positions and hidden movement, we had A2 colour printouts of the sketch maps.

With only very limited man-power, I was forced to stretch the companies quite a bit. I put 5th company all the way from the bridge roughly at 010020 across to the strong points down the road from 012011 to 005014. 6th company was holding the tractor factory (there’s always a tractor factory) and all the way over to 5th company positions, but with some forward LMG outposts on table F. 7th company was behind the other two in reserve and holding the main river crossings.

I put a couple of StuGs with 5th company to give the Soviets pause if they came steaming down either main road, but the remaining AT (2 more StuGs and the PaK40) were positioned to cover the main river bridges directly. I didn’t want to lose too much useful AT stuff in the outskirts, because that would just give easy targets for the Soviet heavy guns.

I chose to place our precious 8.8cm FlaK off-map, and not in an AT role. The problem with the AT role was that they would have been very difficult to conceal, and unable to use their range advantage, so we would have lost them pretty quickly. No doubt we would have knocked out some tanks, but unfortunately the Soviets can afford tank losses, or else they wouldn’t be attacking a town with a Tank Corps! So the 8.8s were in FlaK role – they were Luftwaffe after all.

We had bunkers at 008016 (on the corner of two main roads), 008009 and 003019 (by the joining of the 2 waterways). Knowing the heavy weight of Soviet artillery, we placed most troops in the strongest buildings, in the basements where they were to a large extent protected, and where we had decent ambush positions. Otherwise, we were relying on ambushes from panzerfausts, StuGs and even our rather pathetic recoilless guns.

We had anti-tank roadblocks on the main thoroughfares, 1 extensive minefield in an open strip in the middle of town, and also a very well booby-trapped block of houses that we figured they might use as cover against our strong points.

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The Soviets came in using several prongs. 1 brigade was to try to push across the bridge at 010020 down the road, another (motorised with heavy tank support) frontally due west and a third via the factory, but flanking it to the south. Recce preceded the last prong down the railway line and round the southern side of the large wooded area. Early on, artillery pounded various buildings, but to little effect, as we were either not there (we’d not manned the outskirts) or were in strong buildings. In Mission Command, we cater for light, medium and strong buildings, with 3 height levels, in addition to full blown fortifications. The main structures in Pleskau were strong stone structures (industrial, primarily), so they might lose a top storey, but troops in basements would be relatively hard to get rid of, especially as our troops were all elite paratroops. I had half-expected a couple of hours of massive bombardment from the Soviets prior to their sending in the attacks, but their guns were restricted to brief preliminaries, and some smoke, while their troops advanced to contact.

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The attack across the bridge at 010020 was rather effectively blunted by Mike’s very smart idea to blow the bridge immediately after their first couple of elements crossed it. The Germans had specific engineer assets for this task, nicely pre-positioned with covering fire from 5th company and StuGs to hit the cut off troops. For much of the rest of the game this attacking brigade was getting up engineers to repair the bridge, while pushing on with infantry – this wasn’t the main river, so we settled that the terrain across the now defunct bridge counted as ‘difficult’ for infantry. A heavy weight of artillery fire came down on the built-up areas close to the bridge over the next hour or so, with the result that we did lose most of our 2 models worth of StuGs eventually – in reality, these were likely to have been immobilised or damaged by falling masonry and such like, rather than destroyed outright, but in wargame terms they counted as KOed. Since we had 5th company’s bunker behind this position, but not embroiled, the Germans felt reasonably content with this sector.

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In the centre, the Soviet motorised brigade smacked into our booby-trapped area and lost very significant casualties; I think they had orders to keep going regardless. When they sorted themselves out and flowed round the danger area, our forward troops were able to keep them back by forcing them to take morale checks that they were very likely to fail because of prior losses.

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Support for this prong of the Soviets came from their heavy tank battalion (KVs), which was a big problem for the paratroops, as we didn’t have much that could stop them till they got close to the bridges. Eventually the Soviets here did get a reasonable foothold in the town, but they weren’t able to move forward on the bridges past the 6th company bunker. To be fair, the motorised brigade was made up of green troops, so this attack was always going to more of a pinning affair than a penetration. It certainly made sure that part of 6th company was pinned. Later in the day, I suspect that the heavy tank brigade would have approached the northern main river bridge. We had a couple of surprises up our sleeves, including some more StuGs concealed at the bridge. Although the ambushing recoilless guns were going to be a surprise, I suspect they were not going to be effective in stopping the KVs, so we would have been very reliant on the StuGs.

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The southern prong attack towards and round the tractor factory was more successful for the Soviets. A couple of Soviet air strikes on the factory turned out well for the Germans – the FlaK shot down several aircraft (2 models) and the bombs themselves were mostly ineffective. That’s one of the few times we’ve had successful FlaK defence. Lesson: don’t always use 8.8cm FlaK for anti-tank – they’re pretty good FlaK guns! That aside, the German forces in the factory were woefully inadequate to defend such a large area. We repelled the initial couple of attacks, but supporting fire from tanks, bren carriers and lots of infantry caused casualties on the defenders, and in the end we had almost nothing left, the remaining paratroops surrendering to the final assault. A mortar team held out in the middle of the factory for a while, but I figure that it too would have surrendered on the approach of the attacking battalions.

As the Soviet tanks came round the factory to head for the bridge, our StuG position held them up. Owing to the range, the Soviets couldn’t discover exactly where the firing was coming from, so they had to lose a small number of vehicles to find out which built-up area concealed the StuGs. Their recce troops were very useful here, and of course their tank numbers told.

Shortly after this a tank battalion and supporting truck-borne infantry dashed for, and across, the bridge! We had insufficient blocks on the edge of the table (I plead shortage of time!) to outright prevent this. However, covering fire from the concealed PaK40 knocked out almost all the Soviet tanks, and their motorised infantry also lost their lead vehicles. By the end of the session the Soviet infantry were only precariously holding a couple of buildings on the western bank. Mind you, achieving this forward position was quite an accomplishment (though technically not a Soviet objective!), so credit to those guys. Almost the whole of our 7th company was defending this area, so my suspicion is that the Soviets would have been pushed back.

The final German success of the day was to knock out some Soviet mortars using the 8.8cm guns in counter-battery role. So, even though the Soviets did manage to reach the river, it was, I feel, a well-contested affair by both sides.

Some conclusions

We’ve kept a note of the outcome of this engagement, so that we can continue with a post-Pleskau Soviet breakthrough later in the year. I think the Germans did quite a bit better this time around than in our 2012 version of the game, though we had a different setup and much better developed rules in 2017, so perhaps not entirely comparable. The Germans didn’t suffer huge casualties this time, but there was an inevitable attrition owing to Soviet artillery fire. This felt about right (to me at least). The Soviets suffered rather more casualties, as expected, in all areas, but then again, they had the material advantage, and were in a position to spend it for ground gained.

I would have preferred longer to plan and more players to help. For defensive positions, I think we’ll need to supply some parts of the plan in advance, so that the defenders aren’t overly taxed, particularly as we usually have fewer players on the defensive team than the attacking one.

Players should be encouraged not to hurry. I think the Soviets could have carried out a more concentrated fire plan for a longer period, and could have attacked more slowly, more methodically and with less risk – but still this would have been quite fast, but not break-neck speed. Re-organisation of attacking troops takes time, and you can, in fact, realistically take that time.  Positioning of specialist assets, such as engineers, needs a lot of thought, especially if there might be bridges to repair or mines / booby-traps to remove.

I got the impression that the Soviet Tank Corps was a different kettle of fish to our more usual Normandy forces. However, I’d like to invite comments from our Soviet players on that. Certainly the motorised brigade looked very different, with lots of elements but a need to keep them close together, so vulnerable.

For the future, A2 printouts of the actual table layouts would be far superior to our sketch maps, and would have speeded up our interpretation of where everything was, but this requires access to a printer on the day. Not impossible, but would need organising. It’s important to keep track of where hidden elements are located, so a closer approximation to the real layout would be advised.

Bearing in mind the relatively small number of players that we had, I think it went well, and there were no particular difficulties with the game mechanics.

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Airfix Tanks

A little bit of prep for Airfix Battles happened over the hols.  Only a little, but the objective is to get a whole set of figures and minis in Airfix for use in Airfix Battles.

airfix_tanks

Mission Command: The Joy of Research

I’ve been reading shed-loads of books and articles about Normandy ’44 over the past few months, as I stumble forward (and occasionally back) with the design and development of Mission Command: Normandy beta version. Sometimes a little snippet of “new” information comes to light that seems to have been overlooked by many a professional historian (or, indeed, gamer). My latest read is Ben Kite’s 2014 book “Stout Hearts, The British and Canadians in Normandy 1944”, now available in weighty paperback from Helion & Co.

For best credibility of scenarios in historical games like Mission Command: Normandy, it’s important to do careful research, lest you get held to account by, shall we say, “gamers who have great attention to detail”. I’ve been researching and playing a set of scenario variants for the 6th Airborne Division’s actions north of Caen for some while. One thing that’s struck me is the amount of firepower available to our paras. Apart from the naval gunfire support from a cruiser and a destroyer for each parachute brigade, they had 9x 6 pounder and 2x 17 pounder AT guns.

It’s often assumed that the AT guns, particularly the 17 pounders carried by Hamilcar gliders, were not available when the main para drop arrived early in the morning, because the principal glider landing was famously at 21:00 in the evening of D-Day. Hence the particular danger of the potential counter-attack by 21st Panzer Division during D-Day.

Ben Kite mentions this in his book: “Sergeant ‘Jock’ Simpson was a second pilot on a Hamilcar which landed on Phase three [the 21:00 landing] of operation TONGA with a 17-pounder anti-tank gun..”. However, a reading of Ben Kite’s quote from Sergeant Simpson shows that he landed with the Phase one gliders in the early morning: “A short time after midnight we rolled down the runway and took off…”. As the crossing by towed glider was only a tad more than 2 hours, it’s clear that Sergeant Simpson was not going to land at 21:00, but round about 03:30.  Moreover, it’s recorded in 5 Para Brigade’s diary that 4 Airlanding AT battery, including attached 17 pounders, arrived safely (as ordered) about 03:30, confirming  its operational orders.  So, assuming it might take a couple of hours to deploy the guns, from around 05:30 in the morning of 6 June, 5 Para Brigade had 11 AT guns, including 17 pounders capable of dealing with Panthers and Tigers, more or less ready for action.  Our Mission Command scenario variants take this into account.

This information is nowadays happily available online, but this type of potential error does show the importance of double-checking the evidence.

The Day After D-Day: part 2

Last post focused on the narrative, this post will focus more on what we learned, in particular, tweaks required in the Mission Command: Normandy documents.

As you’ll know if you’ve been following my Mission Command posts, we’ve not yet reached the final version of the game.  All sessions so far have been play tests, resulting in various tweaks or more far-reaching changes.  I’m hopeful that we’re nearing the end of that particular road, and we’ll have a stable beta version later this year.  This session threw up a small number of points.

Artillery control boards worked very well.  Jerry ran them for the Germans, John for the Canadians.  From their notations and looking over their shoulders during play, the boards helped to ensure that time delays for comms and for prep were appropriately handled.  John’s thought was to make sure that the C-in-C was centrally involved and received communications, so he ran the artillery himself.  This was particularly necessary for the Canadians, who had 6 batteries each, plus 3x 3” mortar batteries.  While we didn’t make inclusion of company level mortars compulsory, we’re coming round to that view, especially with a view to controlling the type of ammunition, and possibly a bit more delay when tubes are not ‘on call’.

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A well-used Artillery Control Board

There were a couple of “umpire glitches” that I find it worth recording, so it doesn’t happen again.  Smoke was used a lot in this scenario (our slogan “smoke is your friend” seems to be working!).  I was allowing smoke to lift at the end of a whole turn, which, when you think on’t, gives one side quite a big advantage.  Our mechanics actually have each smoke screen lifting at the end of either *turn* (even friendly, odd enemy), so that neither side knows exactly when it will lift.  Much more equitable, especially on a calm, still day.  Secondly I foolishly allowed German counter-battery fire at a rather long range; it’s quite possible this was beyond the range of the German field artillery, so let’s just say this was a battery of mediums.

It’s probably worth noting the effect of our spotting rules, which rely on distance and circumstances, rather than dice rolls.  The Puma armoured cars pre-positioned in light woods near Bretteville were able to see advancing infantry at 500m, whereas the Pumas themselves were only visible at 250m (halted in partially obscuring terrain) – of course, when they fired they were visible to all and sundry.  It’s worth remembering this kind of thing for effective recce.

The most major point that arose, I think, was illustrated by Si’s panzer force versus the Canadian Regina Rifles.  The panzers had skilfully advanced under cover of some light woods to the west of Putot and were confronted by a company of the Regina Rifles retiring from attacking the village, having just been beaten off by the German recce troops there.  As the panzers had just moved up, the tanks couldn’t fire in that bound, even though they were very close to the enemy infantry.  The Canadian infantry fell back in their bound.  While the tanks could then have fired and advanced, there was a little mix up with movement and spotting ranges, I think, and the opportunity was missed or handled incorrectly.

It seems reasonable to assume that in this type of situation, the tanks would conduct some form of overrun attack (getting in amongst or even through the infantry), but current rules don’t permit any friendly element to move onto or through an enemy element.  We don’t have a different mechanic for melee or overrun, largely because at very short ranges the normal firing is very bloody.  Reaction tests with close up enemy AFVs (within 100m) are taken at -3, and a Retreat result within 100m of enemy AFVs is surrender instead, so it seemed OK on the surface.  However, infantry will normally get to move (possibly using both their action) before their reaction check, so they may well move out of sight, or at least out of the 100m range for the “100m of enemy AFV” modifier.  Even if they fail a reaction test, they may simply retire and continue to block AFV movement.  So this doesn’t quite work.

We have had many discussions about overrun mechanics now, including at our meal on Saturday evening after the game, when toothpicks were taking the place of infantry and tanks.  Our current position is perhaps best illustrated by a couple of illustrations:

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Overrun!

This example shows a Panzer IV company overrunning some retiring British, much like our failed op during the game. Here the Panzers are carrying out the proposed new “overrun” special action that enables them to move through infantry in the open, then fire at them with MGs.  It’s the rough equivalent of a Move Once action followed by a restricted Shoot action (only MGs and only at the overrun element).  The overrun also suppresses the target element and any infantry element behind that might have to be displaced.  The Panzers have to survive any opportunity fire from overwatching elements – in this case a PIAT team shoots up the left hand tanks.  After this, the Brits have an unenviable reaction test at lots of minuses (that’s -1 for each of 5 suppressed elements, -2 for the element lost (3 casualties), -3 for being shot at by AFVs within 300m (changed from 100m to make it more effective), for a total of -10, though they do get +1 for knocking out the vehicles).  In Mission Command you roll a d10, then make adjustments.  6 is Obey Orders, 1 is Halt / move to cover, 0 or less is bad.  So the British are going to be in a bad way.

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Ultimate overrun?

This one is even worse for the British.  Here the overrunning force is a mixed group of panzergrenadiers and tanks, utilizing the German joint activation capability. Direct area fire has further suppressed the bottom British element.  In this case the PIATs were not on overwatch, so the Germans don’t take fire.  The British reaction test is further reduced by enemy infantry advancing within 100m, so Retreat or Rout immediately followed by surrender is the likely result.  A couple of useful tactical notes: always back up your infantry line with proper depth, including AT guns, to hinder this type of tactic; also, in attack, you can use smoke behind the target line to attempt to isolate it – co-ordination of planning and implementation is essential though.

Finally, we had another breakthrough on the hidden units front.  For this game I provided large printed maps of the playing area, upon which teams were encouraged to place the HQ elements of units not yet visible to the enemy – the HQ representing the forward position of the company.  This mechanism (with the printouts oriented the same way as the playing tables) worked very very well to indicate the position of hidden units without having to show every single element.  As long as you have a spare table for each side, this mechanism is less cumbersome than using dummy markers, and more efficient and accurate than scribbling on small maps.

The Day After D-Day: part 1

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.

PlayingArea

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Playing area looking north to south, with Putot front right, Bretteville front left, and the main Bayeux – Caen railway line bisecting the table.  Above this picture is a larger shot of our hall, the Bennett Centre, Frome.

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.

Canadians

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Canadian 7th Brigade HQ, showing its command card. Non-combat troops not listed.

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.

Germans

GermanHQ

Some Germans, Kampfgruppe HQ at top.  M3s substituting for some (unused) Engineer vehicles in the foreground. Note the Pumas and 2nd Ko 130 Recce, deployed prior to game start.

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.

Plans

Canadians

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.

Germans

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.

What happened

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.

RoyalWinnipegsDeployed

Royal Winnipegs 2-up. Rest are behind the carriers and cannot be seen yet. Smoke has lifted and they’re going into overwatch.  3rd company will deploy through the front 2 companies into Bretteville (or attack it if 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).

PumasEngaged

Puma rearguard engages the 6 pounders with HE.  Canadians placed smoke in front of Bretteville, but the Germans are cannily in the woods, and Bretteville is unoccupied.

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).

ReginaRiflesBeatenOff.jpg

Regina Rifles rightmost company beaten off by recce rearguard in the woods in front of Putot.  Red pawns are casualties, purple are suppressions.  The Canadians suffered several Cease Fire and Retire results here, but no Retreat or Rout; they proved to be tough.  Note the smoke, which unfortunately has prevented supporting fire from the centre company.

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.

OverviewOfAttackOnReginas

Overview of the German attack on the Regina Rifles.  Note the Panzer IVs on the right – there’s a company of infantry behind, but not visible to the Canadians yet.  The vehicles crossing the railway line and heading south are the withdrawing recce.  The vehicles on the left are from another company of 1st battalion, 901st. German vehicle by the tree at the top is dropping off a FOO, who stayed up the trees in that wood, giving the Germans a view beyond the northern table edge.

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.

2Co_1_130Pz.jpg

2nd Company, 1/130 Panzers support 1st Company. Just after this movement, most were destroyed by Canadian Shermans and 6 pounders.

UnhealthyForTanks

Burning tanks.  Mostly German, but this pic shows that the 1st Company 130 on the right got past Putot (in fact there’s another wreck further forward to the right as well).  If they’d been able to overrun the Canadian infantry … (of which more later).  Note many casualties flagged up, mostly from artillery – see white and orange 105mm template in the background.

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.

WinnipegsInBretteville

Winnipegs in Bretteville.  Lead units have already pushed on.  This is a great pic of the Achilles that supported the Winnipegs. Shermans (Fireflies with the longer barrels) in the background are winning their tank duel.

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.

SmokeCoversNervousShermans.jpg

Smoke covers nervous Shermans facing the remains of 1st Company, 130 Panzers. PIATs of the Regina Rifles helped to finish off the last few, despite German artillery pounding the crossroads.  Note lots of blue overwatch markers – it’s important to be ready!

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.

NearlyTheEnd

Nearly the end.  Putot has been taken by the Regina Rifles, but the German landser are resisting just to the west.  The Hussars of Ontario have a commanding position in the centre, and it’s difficult to see how they’ll be shifted.  Most of the jagdpanzers in Normandy are currently burning at the top right centre by the railway farm.  Note the command cards in the strip of table to the top left.  We encourage players to put them right in front, because they have relevant lookups for moving and firing on them.

Arty Control

WW2 – it’s an artillery war. And in that light, I’ve been addressing Mission Command’s methods for enabling players to control artillery. Forward Observation Officers, or others, who want to call in shoots of artillery batteries have to communicate (in other words “do a Communicate action”) to make it happen. The time delay between request and shells in the air depends on the efficiency of that communication, and in Mission Command we’ve previously handled it by messages with a delay in turns run by players, umpires or both, often relying on memory and the accuracy of individuals. As you might imagine, this has resulted in muddle, even with our one-message-box-per-turn experiment in our last game.

Now I’ve decided to try a lesson from the Euro game book – a ‘player board’. We have a simple artillery control board for the commander of the artillery. It lists the batteries down the side and the turns along the top, so that a very brief order can be written straight into a cell. Each battery has a wooden cube on the left hand side of the board to indicate whether the battery is Moving, Preparing or Ready/Firing; and these must be carried out in that sequence.

Arty_4

In this example 12th Field Regiment (Self Propelled 105mm guns, known as Priests) started the game On Call to the FOO of 11th Battery. It’s now Turn 3, so the turn at the top of the board is circled. 11th Battery has been directed to fire at 026040 with 11th and 16th batteries. This order will have come in, and been written on the board, on Turn 2 at the latest, as artillery cannot fire on the turn the order is received (in Mission Command, a Shoot action is always the first action of the two actions an element does). The shoot is planned for 2 turns duration, then the two batteries will prepare for fire elsewhere. 43rd Battery has been ordered to prepare to bombard the same target. Bombarding is the most intensive, highest rate of fire and takes 2 turns to prepare. When the other two batteries Prep on Turn 5, 43rd will bombard the same target. Meanwhile the medium guns of 5th Battery, 15th Regiment have been carrying out a rolling barrage close by.

If desired, you can also control battalion mortars through the control board, as shown. Mortars don’t need a turn to prepare, so the player has crossed out the Prep box for the mortars.

The current status cubes give a quick overview of what’s happening now, and they also remind you that you have to Prep after Moving the battery.

My plan is to use this for our game on 7 May to see if it works ‘live’.

Testing times in Normandy

On Thursday Pete and I had a quick play test of the proposed new group activation rules for Mission Command (see the previous post).  We each had about half a battalion of infantry with supporting tanks, AT, and artillery.  We played fairly slowly to make sure we had the mechanics of communications and control correct.  Even so, we managed 9 turns in an hour and a half of play, which is roughly game time = real time, so good pacing.

The Germans (Pete) had the first bound and advanced rapidly to the cover of a wood in the centre of the area of operations.

GermanAdvance

First Panzergrenadier company is in the woods, second panzergrenadier company is forming a single group with the Panzerjager on the German right (our left), while the Panzer IV company (with HQ company in the rear) takes up a wedge formation by a hedge for partial concealment.  Note the tank formation – owing to the 1 model = 3-5 vehicles scale, the front 5 models represent a standard wedge formation, albeit they are too closed up; an artillery strike would possibly kill more than one model if they’re this close together.  Width of the this tank wedge is rather less than 200m; better if it was 250m, and it could easily be double the depth for ease of later deployment.  Panzergrenadier vehicles are also very vulnerable here, but then again, it does mean they were able to move up quickly.

The British advanced from the other side of the table, using the right hand side.

BritishAdvance

I also used a wedge, and mine also are rather too close together!  The infantry are two companies with some depth.  Note that an infantry element in a company group has to be within 100m of another group element chaining to the command element, in order to be in command.  As this was a play test, I deployed from a random part of the base line, when I should have gone for the cover of the ridge (top left).

The Germans develop their position. The tanks halt and go into overwatch (they can’t see anything for the moment).  On the German left, the FOO with 1st company prepares to call in artillery on the village.  On the right the jagdpanzers initially form up across the ridge with 2nd company infantry, but as they see Shermans advancing just under 1000m away, they take up hull down positions at right angles to the infantry instead.  Unfortunately for my Shermans, I can’t see them, as they’re partially obscured by the ridge – if only I’d had some scouting Stuarts!

Jagdpanzers!

I made the mistake of leading my tank squadron with the command vehicle (which was a very stupid mistake!).  As I came round the right side of the village, I spotted the enemy tanks at under 500m (fortunately they weren’t yet in overwatch).  My command vehicle was forced to use its second action to reverse back out of sight.  Unfortunately this meant that the commander couldn’t use a communicate action to inform or re-deploy the squadron quickly, nor to inform the overall commander straight away.  We’d also not seen the jagdpanzers on the ridge, and soon lost several tanks (the rear smoking turret being my sole Firefly model).  Then the artillery came down on where the German FOO thought my tanks were going to be, but of course they’d backed off.

You can just see the little blue marker between the right hand Sherman and my bottom infantry element.  This marks that this infantry element was separated last turn, as the infantry advanced into the Sherman company’s area splitting the infantry company.  Fortunately we were able to regroup the company quickly with no particularly bad effects, as the company was not closely engaged.

The action continues.  British artillery puts in a smoke screen against the flanking jagdpanzers, though it comes down a bit too far to the left and I have to supplement it with the company’s 2″ mortars.

My second (left) company had nearly reached the village, but mortar fire from the 2nd panzergrenadier company hit and destroyed the 2″ mortar element.  This element had been linking to the company HQ in the rear, and the separated forward elements failed a reaction test and fell back.  The leaderless Shermans meanwhile have tried to rally back to the second company HQ, but lost more tanks, this time to the Panzer IVs at just over 1000m.  The few remaining Shermans call it a day, because it’s just too open to deploy here.

SmokeButTooLate
Meanwhile the German FOO moves the German 10.5cm artillery barrage forward in 100m steps, and my 1st company manages to advance through towards the woods, taking some casualties from the artillery.  These are veterans, so they don’t give up easily.

At last my infantry have closed up to engage the enemy in the woods.  The German FOO drops the artillery back onto them, so it’s not going well for the Brits.  Finally the tanks move forward, and it’s beginning to look like my 1st company will be overrun (though I do have a PIAT element in the right place).

German strength isn’t going to be broken this day, so we call the game at this point.  I never brought on my 17pdr battery, because I needed to possess some cover to put it in.

Denouement

I’m very happy with this play test.  It shows that a relatively clumsy British advance without good co-ordination and reconnaissance has very little chance against a well co-ordinated opposition.  In fact, the Germans would have won (on this showing) without any tanks at all.  The key was to take up good positions and not get carried away.  Pete, quite correctly, spent a lot of time sitting on his hands, on the grounds of “don’t interfere when the enemy is making a mistake”!

The joint group activation wasn’t crucial, but could easily have helped the Germans if I’d attacked on the left.  Also the disadvantage of mixing up companies came out in the delay to 1st company and slight confusion in my 2nd company area when the Shermans fell back.

Thanks for the game, Pete!