D-Day and beyond

INTRODUCTION

Yes, yet another new wargaming project to divert me!

The plan is that this will be a narrative campaign, reported from the point of view of a company commander of an indeterminate British infantry battalion.  The game itself is to be played using “Squad Leader” boards and 13mm square plastic counters, each representing a single rifle squad, MG, tank or gun crew, etc.

The campaign management rules are nicked from “Blitzkrieg Commander”.  The tactical rules are adapted from “Memoir 44”, with forces semi-randomised from “Flames of War” orders of battle, and the ground scale normally used for “Squad Leader” has been halved so that it fits better with both the unit size and the game board graphics, so that 1 hexagon represents 20 yards/metres (10% either way is immaterial). 

All in all, a total mish-mash plagiarised from other peoples’ bright ideas.

As for a time frame, I guess that each turn will represent about 10 minutes, but this is subject to verification as the game progresses.

3rd June 1944.

This morning the officers were briefed for the forthcoming operation, codenamed “Overlord”.  Captain Copley, my 2i/c, and I were shown the aerial photographs of our planned landing area with our objectives.

Our company assault area contains several large scattered sea-front houses, which we could assume were defended and possibly fortified.  The central sector is defended by a concrete sea wall.  A road runs east-west close to the beach, deviating inland at the centre-right to skirt an area of woodland.

Back from the beach are two ridges of steep hills. The only visible major enemy positions are two batteries of howitzers deployed behind the forward ridge.

From the centre of our landing area a road runs from the beach itself inland, winding through a gap in the ridge.  Seizing this road is our primary objective as it will allow reinforcements and supplies to be quickly moved up from the beach.  With the assistance of the tanks and the mortar platoon we have also been tasked with neutralising such of the enemy guns as have not been knocked out by air and naval attack prior to our landing.

In addition to my company, I have the support of one extra platoon from B Company, together with a vickers MG platoon, a 3” mortar platoon and two troops of Churchill tanks.  There are few good landing places for the tanks; a couple of 40 yard gaps on the far right flank, a single point where the road runs down to the beach in the centre and one single 60 yard gap on the left flank.

The MG and mortar platoons will not be able to support us until we have captured the initial beachhead.

The plan has been made.  One troop of tanks will be landed on the right flank where the road is close to the beach (at map 8 Y1-AA1) and make for the road junction (at map2 U7). The second troop will land at (map8 Q2) the point in the centre from which the road runs inland.

One infantry platoon will land either side of this central point, taking cover from the sea wall while attempting to neutralise enemy defences.  The third  platoon will land on the left flank (8E3-8K6)

The platoon from B Coy will land on the right of the tanks on the right flank (8CC2-8FF2).

As soon as the sea front beachhead has been captured the mortar platoon will land at the centre and attack the enemy guns.

The MG platoon will land later and set up in positions to defend the existing perimeter.

Transport will only be landed once the beachhead is secure.

Tomorrow we will embark and then brief the platoon commanders.

My biggest worry is that the RAF and the Navy will not suppress those enemy gun batteries before we land.

To be continued…

More painting and printing

Today, apart from spending over an hour sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for an appointment that was “running 16 minutes late”, I have managed to do a bit more painting.
Today’s colour was Vallejo 70.875 Beige Brown.

Although I like Vallejo paints as a medium, I do not like the way they are bottled. Whenever possible I decant them into old Coat d’Arms pots.

Anyway, this previously decanted paint was applied to:
Irregular Miniatures 2mm “Tiny Town” roads for my “Bomber” project,
Some of the tree trunks on my 3d printed outline woodland for gridded wargames,
House fronts for 3d printed outline BUA for gridded games.
6mm Zulu huts,
6mm Zulu Krall, touching up bare patches of ground,
6mm ex-Confederates, overpainted to become more variegated civilian clothing and hats,
6mm mediaeval crossbowmen, leather jerkins.

DSCF0004

Returning indoors from the Shedquarters I found that I need more printed counters for my play by e-mail Market Garden campaign. This time it’s British glider-borne infantry and artillery. So an hour or so at the PC and they are ready to be stuck onto the plastic counters.

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I foresee an evening of cutting and sticking as we catch up with series 1 of the BBC drama “Line of Fire” on TV.

Market Garden – Wilhelmina Canal

Attack on the Wilhelmina Canal
18th September 1944

09:30
A Squadron of the 2nd (Armoured) Battalion Irish Guards, under temporary command of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, advanced to cross the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son. They were followed by infantry companies of the Grenadier Guards in armoured half-tracks.

18 sep son 001

As the first tanks began to cross the bridge there was an enormous explosion and the lead tank tumbled into the canal. The bridge was wrecked.

A radio message was sent immediately to HQ 2nd Irish Guards advising them of the situation and requesting that they should force the railway bridge crossing and then move east towards the main “Club” route to clear the enemy from their defensive positions north of the canal.

As the first tanks crossed the rail bridge, one was knocked out by a 50mm AT gun of 59th Infantry Regt. The Irish Guards turned on the enemy and soon removed the problem. At the same time the US parachute infantry securing the bridge removed their guns to allow free passage for the British tanks.

18 sep son 003

The Grenadier Guards, having orders to clear the approach road for the Royal Engineers Bridging Column, moved to their right and debussed south of the canal, taking up defensive positions and establishing their mortars for a potential assault. One company moved left to assist the tankers of 2nd Irish Guards.

The 2nd Battalion Irish Guards pushed eastwards along the north canal bank, encountering small pockets of German infantry and pushing them away from the canal, but without inflicting serious damage. The Germans pulled back to establish defensive positions further north.

18 sep son 006By 11:00 the Irish Guards had reached the main road again. An alternative route towards Arnhem had been secured, but the diversion would have consequences for supply unless a new bridge could be established in place of the one that had been destroyed.

Operation Epsom – 27th June 1944

This was a fairly rare opportunity for some face to face wargaming for me.  Some years back I used to host weekend gatherings of some reenactor friends for team wargames while my dearly beloved was away at Sci-fi conventions.  We gamed, if I remember the sequence well, a 1944 airborne/land river crossing operation (possibly one of the cancelled run-ups to Market Garden), Gettysburg, Albuera, Napoleon’s invasion of Kent, the (in this case failed) crossing of the Meuse 1940 and Vimeiro 1808.

Gradually the lads became less available as their families expanded and grew more needful of their company at weekends.  One who has maintained the interest, but not the available time, now has a son at university who expressed an interest in playing a game after a four year break.  As he was home for a while and I am now retired a mid-week game was possible, albeit with just the two of us.  Fortuitously this coincided with the Memsahib taking her horse away for a week’s residential course, so we could claim occupation of the dining room.

[Aside:  When we bought our house the large dining room was earmarked both as a sewing room and a wargaming room.  We should have bought a large haberdasher’s cutting table for duplicate purposes, but we also have a need to host the biannual family Christmas dinners and other convivial occasions, so a dining room it remained.  My interior decorator, Mrs GeneralWhiskers, did design and mainly build a cupboard which could be described as “Ironing board storage”, but which actually hosts six old flatpack wardrobe doors that can be assembled into a 5ft x 7ft tabletop]

I had a week’s notice of the impending game, and I knew that as usual, whatever we did I would need to paint and re-base models and prepare terrain.  I have spent years re-basing 6mm soldiers in various configurations until I hit on a standard of 2cm x 2cm x 1mm MDF for everything (of which more later).

My opponent, BJ, likes tank battles.  For simplicity – one of the criticisms of my games weekends is having to learn a new set of rules every time – I decided to use Richard Borg’s Memoir ’44 game system translated onto a “Kallistra Hexon” terrain with 1/300 models.  Searching the scenario books I found Operation Epsom which had a map of 13 x 17 hexagons, or approximately 5ft x 4ft.  This was the one.  I dug out the models and found – shock! horror! – I owned no Tiger tanks at all.  Emergency order to Irregular Miniatures (one of the fastest suppliers I know) for a couple of Tigers – only one needed, but planning for the future – and some other specific models where I had usable alternatives within the game rules but I like to play with the correct tokens!  The other modelling point was that many of my WW2 infantry had already been re-based onto circular plastic counters in ones, twos or threes in an experiment with Rapid Fire rules and instead of my early war 2cm x 2cm bases with four figures I had a load of 1cm diameter bases with two figures each.  I compromised.  Only I can tell the difference without examining the underside (when flocked) between a rifle unit on a green plastic counter, a machine gun unit on a yellow counter and a mortar unit on a red one.  MG and mortar bases were re-based yet again onto 2cm x 1cm x 1mm MDF bases with three figures instead of two for rifle bases.  The owner would need to check only if the associated weapon appeared to point upwards or forwards.

I laid out the terrain.  I had to create some new road and stream sections, simply by scraping off flock with a sharp knife and painting the road or stream.  Roads are covered with fine sand while the paint is wet.  I use MFI tester pot “pebble” as the preferred colour for my roads after observation of what roads look like from aircraft overflying Europe.  Streams are painted blue, then soot, with PVA glue added when dry to give a “wet” effect.

The River Odon is at the scale of the battlefield (1 hex = ca 1500m) no more than a stream and is designated as a “fordable river”.  Next problem: not enough slope hexes for both Hill 112 and Hill 113.  Emergency order to Kallistra who in this case beat Irregular to the delivery, but I blame the Post Office.

Well done Sally at Kallistra and Ian at Irregular Miniatures!  “I’ll be back”

And so to the game:

The game table laid out for action with all the gaming aids.
The game table laid out for action with all the gaming aids.

One of the advantages of using Memoir ’44 is that if you have the basic rule set, everything else you need for clarification is available online, including an FAQ section and a card database for all troop types, actions, terrain, etc.  I printed as many of the relevant cards (by default at four times the original card size) as I thought I needed, and kept the I-pad handy pre-linked to both FAQ (downloaded PDF) and card database sites in case further clarification was needed.  BJ is a computer geek so this was not seen as any problem when we needed to halt the game for five minutes to check a rule.

This battle is a hard nut to crack for the British player.  Checking the Days of Wonder website afterwards I found the results are 2:1 in favour of the Germans, who historically stopped Monty in his tracks at Hill 112 after a costly advance by the British.

Our game starts on 27th June, after the capture of Cheux and Mouen and focuses on the crossing of the River Odon and the drive on Hill 112

The British view south.  Red captions are British objectives.
The British view south. Red captions are British objectives.  Click to enlarge.

The British commander has six designated objectives, each worth one “Victory Medal”.  Victory Medals can also be gained by eliminating enemy units.  The target for both sides was 11 medals to win the game.

The German view north.  Mouen, captioned in blue, is the only German objective.  Click to enlarge.
The German view north. Mouen, captioned in blue, is the only German objective. Click to enlarge.

The Germans would earn their 11 medals mainly by wiping out the British attackers.

BJ chose the British side, which meant that my job was – as I perceived it – to sit tight and shoot everything that came into my lair.  Would that it were so easy!

For those unfamiliar with the game system, it is card-driven.  Each side has – in this case – six command cards.  One card may be played each turn allowing 1, 2, 3 or all units in one sector of the battlefield (left, centre, right) to be activated.  Other cards specify options such as “issue an order to all infantry” and many of these cards confer bonus dice in combat.  The dice are marked with symbols so that, for example, to hit a tank unit one must roll a tank symbol.  Each unit type has its own characteristics, bonuses and limitations, which is why the card index is so useful.

BJ started the battle with a general armoured attack in the centre followed by an attack on the right flank by infantry who skirted the German minefield by moving slowly through the woods.  I met his armour with my highly effective 88mm AT gun unit in the centre which spent the evening failing to miss until finally overrun.  As his tank units forded the Odon they had to halt just within range of all my artillery, so I picked them off one by one, bringing up my tank destroyers to help out.  One noticeable failure was my Tiger tank unit which was supposed to be hard to destroy (every hit is re-rolled with a 1/6th chance of an effective strike), but which was knocked out by the first enemy shot!  Michael Wittmann earned a wooden cross rather than an iron one.

The British attack across the Odon begins to stagnate.
The British attack across the Odon begins to stagnate.  (Red lines are British, blue are German)

Try as he might, BJ failed to break through my defensive line, but it was a close run thing, ending with an 11:10 victory for the Germans.

The end of the battle.  BJ was somewhat enthusiastic with marking his wrecked tanks with
The end of the battle. BJ was somewhat enthusiastic with marking his wrecked tanks with “smoke and flames”

This was a record.  Not only had we finished the battle in the allotted time but we had the whole of the next morning free.  We decided to reset, swap sides and start again.

Day two

After a hearty breakfast this time I took the British side, and we had both learned from our opponent’s failures of the previous evening, so we set to.  As we were now on a time budget we dispensed with the niceties of casualty markers, ruins and “smoke’n’flames” (and therefore also with photographs).

I began with an attack on the right flank by clearing a route through the minefield with my flail tanks and grabbing the first objective of Grainville for one victory medal.  I followed up by using my bridging tank unit to make a third “free” crossing of the Odon NE of Tourmainville and sent tanks, including a unit of Churchill AVRES armed with petard mortars, across to take that village for a second medal.  From then on things began to go downhill for me.  BJ had the clever idea of placing his command unit (I did not have one) on a hexagon spanning both left and centre sectors, so that every card he played for either of these sectors would activate one extra unit.  Why did I not think of that yesterday?

He began to push me back on the right flank.  This was not a major problem because the victory point for capturing a village is not lost if the village is retaken, unlike the two hill objectives.

I pushed on in the centre.  He moved his dreaded “88s” into Tourmainville for better defensive protection against infantry and tank attacks, but not against my heavy artillery, which picked them off.  I then concentrated on the left flank with the aid of an RAF Typhoon squadron which proved to be very helpful.  But I learned that with this game system it is rare that you can be effective in one sector without taking your eye off the ball in another.  BJ advanced on his left, my right, to great effect, particularly with the Tiger tank unit that had been so easily destroyed the previous evening.  Every attempt I made on this unit merely forced it to retreat out of range of the supporting troops I was trying to concentrate on destroying it!

Towards the end of the game, with the scores standing at 9:9 and then 10:10, both of us abandoned all pretence of a historical game and focused on destroying the easiest target to get that final, elusive point to win.  It took four turns before BJ spotted what I had already seen: an artillery strike on my unprotected supply truck would clinch the game.

So game two also ended with an 11:10 result for Germany.

We agreed that it had been fun.  The game system is easy to grasp, well supported by the creators and largely accurate, but is in the end a game, not a historical representation.  I am using the Memoir ’44 system for my refight of World War Two in its entirety as covered elsewhere in these pages and I will be looking eagerly, but carefully, at more of the expansions, particularly the D-Day Landing kit.