With a big full day of Flames of War gaming coming up at Metropolitan Wargamers on July 20th a few of us got together for a practice game this past weekend. There’s a renewed interest in FOW at the club as of late, and one of the great things about the group is the way experienced and new players alike come to learn together.
Wanting a manageable but interesting late war Western Europe scenario with US Airborne and German forces, we settled on the Battle of Foy from January 1945. The battle was just one small part of the brutal and much larger Battle of the Bulge campaign in the Ardennes forest region of France, Belgium and Luxembourg during the winter of ’44-’45. The engagement near Foy is featured dramatically in an episode from HBO Band of Brothers miniseries (clip here), so I was looking forward to trying my hand at commanding Easy Company from the 101st Airborne Division on the table for the day.
The FOW website offers a downloadable PDF outlining the scenario which fairly represents the German defensive position in and around Foy. No guidelines are given on the make-up of forces, but we decided on 1780 points on a side with flexibility beyond the historic record. The US Airborne begins in two divided deployment areas with I Company pinned due to indecision by its commander Lt. Norman Dike. Only by the daring sprint across open ground by Ronald Spiers sent on orders by Capt. Richard “Dick” Winters to relieve Dike of command can I Company join the assault on Foy. In the FOW scenario, the US forces have six turns to wrest control of one of two objectives from the defending Germans. The Germans must hold their ground against the bravery and skill of Easy Company.
The US struck first with an airstrike from their P-47 Thunderbolt taking out two of the three German PaK 40 anti-tank guns tucked behind the churchyard walls at the center of town. After being pinned by the P-47, the anti-tank platoon wound up rolling poorly and remained pinned and ineffective for the remainder of the game.
That was pretty much the last major good story the US could tell for the rest of the game. Some house-to-house fighting took place along the German right flank with the Airborne eventually beating the Germans back from the protection of the row of houses along the road to town. The American Sherman tank platoon rolled up the center but remained stuck for the whole game attempting to machine-gun the German platoons dug in behind the churchyard walls. Four of the five tanks wound up taking fire and being destroyed where they sat.
With the US infantry moving too slowly on both sides of the table, the Germans rolled their armored reserves in on turn three as their Stug platoon entered the table to hold off any US advance on the German right flank.
US volleys from the parachute artillery platoon tucked far back in the field did little more than occasionally eliminate a few German infantry and keep the units protecting the objective on the German left flank pinned.
Aside from a deadly late game P-47 strike on the German mortars which had harassed the Americans for the entire game, US air support never did much more for the rest of the game. By the sixth turn, the final German Panzer IV armor support rolled onto the table. With both flanks locked down by the Germans, a final desperate US attempt at dual assaults on the German armor platoons were ineffective. With three American platoons eliminated and most others with heavy casualties, the US ceded victory to the Germans in a revisionary result from the actual American victory in 1945.
Games like this are fun but also an opportunity to consider lessons learned. My US 101st Airborne was entirely too cautious and didn’t get into the fight fast enough, losing the opportunity to control the town’s center before the arrival of the German armor. My machine gun platoon got stuck mid-field and got chewed up bit by bit without having the opportunity to truly unleash its full effectiveness on the Germans who remained out of range and dug in for most of the game. Other infantry platoons hung back too much in the woods or buildings and never really got up in the fight.
With a much larger game coming up in a few weekends, I see that taking greater advantage of Easy Company’s aggressive, daring and deadly experience is going to be key to an Allied victory. Looking back at our re-running of the battle at Foy this past weekend, I can see I was a little too much like the wavering Lt. Dike and never let the heroics of individuals like Ronald Spiers to take over.