Battleground: Bocage HQ Near Le Mesnil-Rouxelin 1944 Scenario

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On June 6, 1944, General Dietrich Kraiss and the 7000 some soldiers of his 352nd Infantry Division were at Omaha Beach to meet the Allied invasion. Fighting valiantly against the overwhelming tide of American and British forces, Kraiss and 352nd were stretched thin at the beaches and continued the defense inland for weeks as they fought the Allied advance toward their objective of St. Lo.

LeMesnilStLoMapMap of the area around Le Mesnil-Rouxelin and the US 175th Infantry Regiment June 14-18, 1944 advance

St. Lo was an important crossroads objective which had endured German occupation since 1940. On the morning of June 6, 1944, the city was hit with vicious American artillery bombardments. As the Allies advanced inland after the coastal landings toward St. Lo, the German 352nd and 353rd Infantry Divisions and 3rd Parachute Division formed a line to slow them down. By late July, St. Lo was liberated by the Allies and the 352nd was destroyed. By early August, Kraiss was dead, and the German presence in Northern France was near its end.

SCHeroesofOmahaSkirmish Campaigns “Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr” scenario book

The Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr book from Skirmish Campaigns outlines the eleven engagements during this key period from D-Day to the German counterattack through the Allied breakthrough. This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY we ran through the battle near Le Mesnil-Rouxelin just north of St. Lo on June 17, 1944. With elements of the US 175th Infantry Regiment closing in, General Kraiss and his headquarters quickly assembled an ad hoc force to delay the American advance. In the game, three US rifle squads (each armed with a BAR team) and a lone M4 Sherman must advance and seize the German HQ while being held at bay by several small German teams armed with rifles, Panzerfausts, a mortar and a MG-42. the Americans have to hustle, and they have eight turns to capture the German HQ before Kraiss and his staff can make their escape to fight another day.

IMG_6808Game set up near Le Mesnil-Rouxelin with the German HQ in the distance

With my US Airborne 28mm models standing in for the American infantry, they spent the first few turns moving in from the north and navigating the bocage hedgerows. Two squads and the US HQ moved to the east of the main road, the Sherman ran straight through the middle and one squad edged toward a French farmhouse mid-field. The German machine gun set up at the road edge in the bocage, looking to cover the advance by road or in the thick fields. Other German riflemen spread out along the hedges, looking to create a defense using their thin units and cover to the best advantage.

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US soldiers push through the fields and bocage

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German soldiers edge into position along the bocage

IMG_6806The Sherman rolls straight along the road toward the objective

By turn four, the firing began. Germans along the bocage made an attempt to shoot the Sherman at close range with a panzerfaust but the shot miraculously missed. The Sherman answered with a burst of machine gun and high explosive shots, forcing the Germans to fall back from the hedge and into the field. The Sherman rolled forward and a second squad of Germans emerged from the bocage and rushed the tank, placing three grenades along its left side. With the charges set to blow, the tank moved forward and rotated its turret to light up the exposed Germans with another round of machine gun fire, destroying the entire unit. Just as the smoke cleared, the grenades blew up along the side of the tank, immobilizing it for the game with its weapons still functional and crew left unharmed. Back in the field at the center, the German rifles and MG-42 took up new positions and the two US rifle squads and HQ continued to creep forward in prone positions.

IMG_6807Germans await the Sherman’s advance from their bocage positions

IMG_6809Germans disperse under machine gun fire from the Sherman

IMG_6810Germans bravely close assault the Sherman from the hedgerow

IMG_6813The Sherman is immobilized but still keeps fighting

With game time running short, the Americans in the field stood to fire on the Germans. Two German riflemen fell and the MG-42 crew took heavy fire, knocking it out for a round as the remaining crew scrambled back into position. At the left of the field, a US squad opened up at the Germans stretched along the hedgerow. Leaping the bocage and rushing forward, the Germans vanished in a hail of bullets, opening the route forward to the German HQ ahead. At the same time, Germans fell back along the right side of the field and the Americans ran forward. On the far US right, the third fire team ran forward, using their broken tank as cover as they made an end run toward the German command team in their farmhouse HQ.

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Two US squads and the platoon HQ advance at prone through the field

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US riflemen and BAR gunner fire into the German MG-42 as another American squad rushes forward in the distance

IMG_6815With the German HQ in sight, the US soldiers push hard to their objective

By the sixth turn, Kraiss and his command staff were on the move, making a run south from the safety of the farm where they had sat in cover for the whole game. With the final German defense in the field breaking, Americans broke through toward the farmhouse straight ahead and to both sides. Four remaining German rifles behind a wall and in a small copse of trees at the farm exchanged fire with the Americans, holding off dozens of GIs as Kraiss continued his run for safety.

IMG_6816American and German soldiers come face-to-face at the German HQ

With the final turn eighth turn’s arrival, the Americans finally reached the edge of the farm. After quick series of shots, another German fell but no Americans were able to seize the HQ in time as Kraiss and a couple straggling men slipped off to the south further toward St. Lo..

Our battle at the German HQ near Le Mesnil-Rouxelin presented a pretty good feel for the fighting that occurred in mid-June 1944. With a wave of Allied forces closing in toward their objective of St. Lo, General Kraiss and the other German commanders struggled to stall the advance. With the four-year German control of Northern France at stake, German forces cobbled together a fierce retreating defense. Beginning with the tide of men landing on the beaches and from the air on D-Day, the war had turned inevitably for the Allies.

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Flames of War: Omaha Beach “Easy Green” 1944 Scenario

OmahaBeachSandwiched between tall bluffs on either end, a five-mile stretch of Normandy coastline was designated Omaha Beach near the center of the Allied D-Day landings on June 6th, 1944. Landing at Omaha was the relatively fresh US 29th Infantry Division. With British and Canadian troops landing on beaches to the left and other US men landing at Omaha Beach to the right, the 40,000 Americans at Omaha met with the highest rate of casualties of the day with some 3,000 falling in the French surf and sand.

OmahaEasyGreen“Easy Green” sector on Omaha Beach, Normandy 1944

Lying in wait at Omaha was a mix of green recruits and older veterans in the German 352nd Infantry Division. Dug in at the coast in a wall of pillboxes, bunkers, gun pits and trenches, the German men (and unknown number of boys) met the US invaders with a storm of machine gun, artillery, mortar and rocket fire. For the US, little went right as landing craft drifted off course and special floating DD M4 Sherman tanks were swamped and sank offshore. Only through improvised efforts and a slow, methodical pace under withering fire did the American infantry finally make it through the German lines to control the beach by the close of the day.

EasyGreenFOWMap set-up for the Flames of War “Easy Green” scenario

In preparation for our upcoming D-Day Plus 70 weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY on June 6th-8th, a couple of us have been playing out beach landing practice games. Flames of War offers a specific outline for coastal assaults with their “Hit The Beach” rules, but we’ve found them to be very difficult to play with US invaders losing more often than not. Last summer we ran through our first beach landing on one of the club’s sand tables with a Utah Beach “Easy Red” scenario in which the US failed horribly. Since then we’ve been studying up, tweaking our forces and diving deep into the particular rules for a tabletop beach landing game.

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This past week we ran through the Omaha Beach “Easy Green” scenario to what was probably our most evenly matched and played game to date. The scenario sticks pretty closely to the situation at Easy Green with one beach exit road guarded by lines of barbed wire, trenches, mines and anti-tank obstacles. Finally, a combined defense of heavy machine guns, a 5 cm KwK 39 gun bunkered at the coast and Nebelwerfer rockets at the rear provide a daunting nut for the US infantry to crack. For our game, my German opponent was able to field forces as outlined in the published FOW scenario but I had to modify my American list slightly to fit my model collection. Even with slight changes, our final lists had the US at a few more points stronger than the Germans as per the mission outline and the game rules.

IMG_3452The first US boats land and platoons rush ashore

After an initial US naval bombardment which destroyed one stand of German infantry, my boats and DD tanks headed for the beach. In the initial wave, one DD tank sank in the water offshore and one boat was delayed in the bouncing surf. With two platoons of US infantry on French ground, they made way for the barb-wired seawall. Further down the beach to the right, my three surviving Shermans rolled to the one exit causeway from the beach.

IMG_3453DD Sherman tanks make it across the beach toward the exit ramp

In the opening salvo from the Germans, rocket fire came in from the rear of the table as entrenched guns fired from the beach defensive lines. US troops did well with dice roll saves and lost just a few teams before ending the turn pinned high on the beach.

IMG_3454German Nebelwerfers sit atop a hill overlooking the Allied objective

In the next couple turns, landing craft continued to meet mixed success in landing and stalling on the sea. Luckily, most boats didn’t drift too far down the beach, allowing me to execute my general plan of running infantry to the left while my tanks dealt with the heavier nests and pillbox to the center and right. One tank bogged in the sand but the other two rolled over the barbed wire to take up position at the line of minefields, sending fire into the Tobruk nests and gun bunker. A couple turns in, the bunker was in flames and the German machine guns had been dealt with. The way was clearing for the US infantry to push inward.

IMG_3455The 5 cm KwK burns in its bunker as US troops push over the seawall

IMG_3456DD tanks struggle through the coastal defenses and take heavy combined fire

With several US platoons whittled-down in their struggle through several tiers of barbwire, one platoon of German infantry arrived and made way for the row houses near the objective and remaining rockets on the hill. In the open, the Germans took fire from naval guns but most survived to find shelter in the buildings. Back on the beach, my final US reserves of M7 Priests landed at the center of the beach and one heavy machine gun section tramped forward at the extreme left. With these late arrivals so far back from the main action, it was up to the forces already inland to get the job done.

IMG_3475German defenders rain mortar and machine gun fire into oncoming US troops

IMG_3476With German defenders destroyed at the beach, the 29th Infantry Division hustles inland

With the major defenses eliminated at the beach, the Shermans turned their machine guns on the remaining German infantry manning the trench line high on the central hill. At the same time, US infantry began pushing into the German position after spending turns alternately being pinned by rocket and mortar fire, removing barbwire and shooting back with light machine gun, rifle and direct mortar fire. Despite their losses, the combined arms of my US troops really shined, as was often the fateful experience of their German opponents 70 years ago.

As the game moved into the second-to-last turn, the Americans were ultimately just too far away and too weakened to make the final push to the objective still held by the remaining German infantry comfortably defending from the nearby houses. It had been a pretty even match, but timing was everything. Luckily for the Allies on June 6th, 1944, the only limits on the day’s outcome at “Bloody Omaha” was the grit and dedication of the storm of humanity hitting the beach.