Although actually made up of a number of battles and assaults during World War II, the post-D-Day breakout actions by the Allies in late 1944 in Northern France has become commonly known as the Lorraine Campaign to military historians. Frustrated by poor weather conditions and weak supply lines, the General George Patton’s 3rd Army push into Germany eventually led to the wintery and more famed German counteroffensive with the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945.
Flames of War offers a book outlining the Lorraine Campaign with Blood, Guts and Glory. US lists in the book focus on the powerful tank and armored rifle companies which made up the steely backbone of Patton’s daunting force. For the Germans, the cobbled-together 106 Panzerkorps Felderherrnhalle and 111 Panzer brigade are outlined with forces full of some of the best Late War armor and equipment albeit under somewhat challenging motivation and experience ratings.
A couple of weeks ago at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, two of us had a go at a fictional battle set during the Lorraine Campaign. We play against each other a fair amount, and both of us were looking to switch things up commanding some very different forces. The tabletop terrain was also different with a more open battlefield lined with fields, woods, gentle hills and two farms. All of this was quite a departure from the games we have most played set in the days and months after the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944.
My opponent’s Panzerkompanie was full of armor – Stugs, Panthers and Panzer IVs – and supplemented by an Aufklärungs platoon and a couple Wirbelwinds to chase away any US aircraft. For my US force, I wanted to try out some underused rifle platoons which were supported by 105mm M7 Priests, some Shermans and a P-47 Thunderbolt buzzing overhead. We also chose a different game framework, opting for a somewhat complicated Dust Up scenario from the official Flames of War missions list.
Our Dust Up scenario with my US forces in the foreground and Germans in the distance
Well, as the game played out, I quickly discovered I had brought infantry to a tank fight. With one of my infantry platoons camped out in the woods near two objectives, my hope was to stave off the German armor advance with repeated bombardments from my Priests and diving runs from the P-47.
Things went well for me in the early stages as Panthers stalled moving through the woods. A Wirbelwind and two Panthers were subsequently destroyed from 105mm volleys , but my P-47 failed to get any traction in stopping a group of Stugs creeping along the table edge. Even so, a couple turns in I was feeling fairly confident my artillery fire would whittle away the rolling German advance.
A German Panther and Wirbelwind are destroyed by incoming US 105mm fire
My plan fell apart as the first German Panzer IV reserves came on the table at the corner behind my Priest battery and made quick work of the nearly-armorless US mobile artillery. I swung my surviving Priest and supporting Sherman around and engaged the Germans at close range with direct fire, but succeeded in only cracking open one German tank. In another turn, the Priests were wiped from the board and only my infantry platoon remained to defend my end of the table. The P-47 appeared again to control the center of the battlefield, but missed on its run. The US center and flank were crumbling by the time turn four approached.
My reserve Shermans came on the table near a farm and quickly engaged with the Panthers which swung to meet the US armor advance. Shots from my heavier 76mm guns lit up a Panther and bailed another’s crew. The German tanks returned fire, destroying all but one 76mm Sherman as more Panzer IVs showed up with the Aufklärungs platoon close behind.
In the fifth turn, my final supporting infantry platoon arrived in their halftracks, dismounted and made a desperate run for an objective in the open field. The infantry on my side of the table also broke from the woods in a last-ditch assault on a mass of German tanks creeping toward an objective but were repulsed. With German armor swarming an objective, the game went to the Axis.
Clearly, my US plan from the outset was a stretch. Had I taken the more historic approach of Patton in the Lorraine Campaign of 1944, a fully-armored US force may very well have stood a fair chance against all the German tanks shuttling here and there on the tabletop. Balancing history and what-ifs is what makes playing Flames of war so engaging over and over again, but next time I’ll be careful not to second-guess the command decisions made in Northern France some 70 years ago.