Unternehmen Launenhaft: Part 1

As part of the assault on Britain in July 1940 it was decided by Adolf Hitler’s whim and a few die rolls to make a diversionary attack to the west between the Isle of Wight and Plymouth.  West Bay was selected as the focus for the attack, having two access roads inland and a small harbour for unloading follow-up units and supplies.

The German plan was to land a company of infantry at West Bay by subterfuge, wearing French greatcoats over their regular uniforms.  These would be supported after 30 minutes by a platoon of experimental submersible PzIV tanks.  The harbour at West Bay would be secured for further landings.  A second company of mountain infantry would land south of Lower Eype, supported by a platoon of experimental submersible PzIII tanks to take and secure Lower Eype.  A company of parachute infantry in gliders would take control of and destroy the radio transmission station on the hills east of Lower Eype.

The glider assault was initially successful, but eventually defeated by the arrival of a squadron of A10 tanks that happened to be in the area on an anti-invasion exercise.  A further squadron of Matilda II tanks (the “enemy” from the same exercise) were parked in Lower Eype, to the west.  The tanks were scheduled to move to the Lulworth firing ranges on the morning of the attack.  Fortunately, following the exercise both squadrons had re-armed with live ammunition before bivouacking for the night.

Two companies of the Dorsetshire Regiment were also in the area.  One company was in comfortable billets in Bridport while the other was dispersed.  A platoon was guarding the radio station and two more platoons were encamped at nearby farms.  The West Bay Home Guard Platoon was responsible for the harbour and in particular the pill-box overlooking it.

At dawn (05:00) an old steam tug warily approached the harbour at West Bay, flying the French flag.  As it docked, two soldiers in French greatcoats leapt off to tie it up.  They were followed by more soldiers.  The local Home Guard, alerted to their approach, formed up on the road at the end of the mole.  Sergeant Prendergast met the leader of the newcomers, who explained in halting English that they had escaped from Brittany and sought refuge in England.

Sgt Prendergast ordered his men to stand down, and to escort their allies to the local hotel for refreshment.  At that point, two large gliders swept overhead and the local volunteers gazed skyward.  The Frenchmen reacted and shot them down to a man.  They then discarded the French coats, revealing their German uniforms.  More German infantry then emerged from the tug, and an MG was set up on the prow in case of further opposition.

Meanwhile, on the heights west of the town, two gliders had landed near the radio station.  One crashed on landing but the passengers emerged shaken but intact.  The pilot was killed in the crash. The two platoons of Fallschirmjaegers moved to the radio station and began to cut through the barbed wire defences before scaling the high stone walls around the compound.

One platoon moved around to the main entrance.  There they were met by rifle fire from the men defending the control building.  Many of the Germans were killed and wounded and the rest ran.

While all this was happening the mountain infantry company approached the beach to the west in rubber dinghies.  They landed and began to cut through the barbed wire entanglements on the beach.  Half the allotted submersible PzIII tanks allocated to their support made it ashore and together they moved inland.

Two more gliders arrived. Again one crashed, but all the soldiers emerged unscathed.

Back at West Bay the Brandenburg Infantry (trained for surreptitious activity) had secured the town of West Bay, including the pillbox that the Home Guard foolishly left unmanned as they greeted their supposed allies.  Half their allotted submersible PzIV tanks had made it to the beach, but were stuck in the shingle, unable to move.

In Bridport the commander was alerted by the noise to the south and by the fact that the town was now under fire from an offshore destroyer.  He stood his company to in the churchyard – they were billeted in the church itself.  One platoon was ordered to patrol and see what was happening.  As they reached the south end of town they were caught in another naval salvo and all were killed or wounded.

At Lower Eype to the west the Gebirgsjaeger company moved inland and, by keeping out of sight of the enemy tanks, infiltrated and occupied all the houses on the east side of the main road.

The squadron of Matildas at Lower Eype was more concerned with trying to eliminate a platoon of enemy tanks that had appeared at the south end of the main street.  After several exchanges of shot and some near misses the German tanks withdrew under cover of smoke, making for West Bay.

At the radio station the German Paratroopers broke in and killed the defenders, destroying much of the equipment with grenades. 

Two platoons of the Dorsets tried to oust them but one was effectively wiped out and the second retreated to the safety of a nearby farm.  The arrival of a squadron of A10s with their twin turreted machine guns forced them to abandon the place and retreat to West Bay.

By 07:00 the situation was that the German Kampfgruppe HQ had landed and taken control at West Bay.  He ordered the remains of the Fallschirmjaeger company to occupy the warehouse complex near the dock and the PzIII platoon to remain on watch.  The PzIVs, bogged down, would provide support as and when they could spot an enemy.

On the British side both tank squadrons were moving, unsupported by infantry, towards the western side of West Bay.

To be continued…

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General Whiskers

Wargaming butterfly (mainly solo), unpainted model figure amasser, and Historical Re-enactor of the black powder era.

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