In the late evening of June 5th and pre-dawn hours of June 6th, 1944, a steady flow of Allied paratroopers began dropping throughout the French countryside to clear the inland way for the D-Day beach landings to come later that morning. Like elsewhere, scheduled US Airborne drops near Sainte-Mère-Église left paratroopers scattered around the countryside. To the southwest of the town’s target area, a contingent from the 82nd Airborne found itself near a quaint French farm compound and a small bridge over the Merderet River. Recognizing the river crossing as a key defensive line, the assembled paratroopers established a perimeter along the river. A few hours later, the US troops were met by a German Grenadier and armored battallion hoping to stall the Allied invaders from moving inland. The battle that erupted at the river would rage for three days until the German force withdrew in time for the arrival of US infantry and Sherman forces rolling in from Utah Beach on June 9th.
The Flames of War website offers a basic scenario of the encounter at La Fiere Causeway suitable for 1500 point forces on either side. This past weekend a visitor to Metropolitan Wargamers and I had a go at the scenario with my US Airborne facing off against his Germans. As with the historical record, my force held closely to the scenario’s outline with two parachute rifle platoons with plenty of bazookas supported by a platoon of light machine guns, parachute engineers, a glider artillery platoon and M18 tank destroyers. On the German side of the table, my opponent lacked the primitive French tanks that historically fought at the battle. Instead, he filled his force with a number of Grenadier platoons mounted in half tracks backed by two small platoons of Panzer IVs and a Nebelwerfer rocket battery.
As per the scenario rules, each of us chose half of our platoons to be held in off-table reserve. Beginning with the Germans, we alternated deploying our starting forces on the table. My American engineers took up position in the courtyard of the farm on my left flank, the machine guns lined the hedge on the other side of the bridge and a rifle platoon deployed on my far right flank. As expected, the Germans deployed a tank platoon at the road entry point and the rocket battery and a mounted Grenadier platoon in the field on their left flank.
With the Germans taking the first turn, the first Panzer IV platoon made way for the river crossing at the middle of the table while the half tracks rolled for the ford on the American right flank. Deployed in and around the farm buildings, the US engineers quickly laid down mines at the foot of the bridge and an Airborne platoon crossed the river to meet the approaching Grenadiers and the rocket battery beyond.
With turn three, German tank and Grenadier reserves appeared on the table edge opposite the farm and pointed their way toward the French buildings and the nearby bridge. Four US bazookas bailed one Panzer in the clearing across the river but three other Panzers made it across at the middle ford. US tank destroyer reserves came on the table and immediately poured machine gun fire into the half tracks across the river. The Grenadiers bailed from their transports and the half tracks raced to the rear while the Nebelwerfers failed to score effective shots in the hearty US Airborne troops.
With the Grenadiers on the run back to defend the rocket battery, the US tank destroyers turned their attention on the Panzers and quickly destroyed one while the others continued to push on unharmed due to the protection of their side Schurzen armor. At the farm, the approaching Panzer and Grenadier platoons exchanged fire with the engineers and riflemen defending behind the stone walls. Even with heavy casualties, the engineers repelled a direct assault by two Panzers as a fresh rifle platoon rushed to reinforce the farmyard strongpoint.
Alas, by the fifth turn the game was effectively over for the Americans as the late-arriving US howitzers once again failed to hit in one final volley against the Panzers rushing to seize the objective. The Americans had chased both Grenadier platoons from the field and destroyed a couple Panzers, but the Airborne focus on defending rather than seizing objectives allowed the Germans to take the table.
At the game’s outset, both of us shook our heads with the difficult mission ahead of us. The Airborne never effectively engaged in a close-quarters assault that might’ve taken out more of the tanks sooner on in the game, and artillery on both sides contributed nothing to the game. As with the last few FOW games I’ve played, the engagement at La Fiere once again pointed out the strength and tactical importance that infantry played in WWII. Keeping men moving and in the fight is key to victory, and this time around the German troops got the better of the day.
- Flames of War: Singling 1944 Scenario (brooklynwargaming.com)
- Flames of War: Fielding the PSC Panzer IV Tank (brooklynwargaming.com)
- Flames of War: Modelling European Western Front Buildings (brooklynwargaming.com)
- Flames of War: Barkmann’s Corner Scenario (brooklynwargaming.com)
- Flames of War: Metropolitan Wargamers Summer 2013 FOW Day (brooklynwargaming.com)
- Flames of War: Fielding the M3 Stuart Tank (brooklynwargaming.com)