Battleground: Advance to La Fiere 1944 Scenario

LaFiereAerialAllied airborne troops were the first units on the ground in the pre-dawn hours of June 6th, 1944 invasion of Normandy. As the vanguard ahead of the massive beach landings to come on D-Day, the inland goals of the paratroopers was to secure key inland areas and deny German reinforcements a path to the coast. Members of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division were tasked with seizing a bridge over the Merderet River at La Fiere and just west of Sainte-Mère-Église.

LaFiereMapMap of the action around La Fiere, June 6-9 1944

There to meet the arriving Americans were elements of the German 1057th Infantry Regiment of the 91st Infantry Division. For three days, German resistance amid the open fields, bocage hedgerows and scattered stone Normandy buildings held out against the elite US airborne troops. By July 9th, however, the Germans withdrew and the way was cleared as Allied troops began to arrive inland from the beaches.

IMG_6037Skirmish Campaigns  “Normandy ’44 – First Hours” scenario book

I’ve previously run a 15mm Flames of War scenario at La Fiere, so I was excited to scale up the battle to 28mm at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend. Our game at La Fiere once again came from the classic Normandy ’44 – First Hours scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns, and we used Battleground rules. The Skirmish Campaigns series offers narratives, orders of battle and terrain layout maps that are brief and to the point, focusing on getting into the game as quickly as possible. For our game at La Fiere, we modified the order of battle and added in my newly-painted Rubicon Models Sherman tank for the US and a German anti-tank unit I’ve also recently completed. The rest of our forces came from my collection of 28mm German and US troops painted over the past year.

IMG_6699Table set up and initial German deployment at La Fiere

At the 28mm scale, we increased the tabletop set-up to a 4′ x 4′ board accommodating two main bocage-lined east-west roads, fields and a large stone house. With an American objective to seize the house, the Germans set-up with an infantry team and light machine gun in a line of trenches stretching through the main field. The German command set-up in the top floor of the house with a tripod-mounted MG 42 and anti-tank unit armed with a Panzershreck and Panzerfausts ready to deploy from the rear of the building. Two small anti-personnel mine fields were also set — one to the east of the house and one protecting the northern end of the German prepared positions.

IMG_6701Entrenched German troops and machine guns shift to meet the arriving Americans

With a game time limit of ten turns, the game began with the US being given the initiative as the Germans lay quietly in wait. The Americans took the first two turns to move on from the far edge of the table to the east and their deployment quickly revealed their plan. To their right, a M1 mortar crew set up behind a tree with their spotter creeping to the edge of the bocage to sight German targets across the field. Next, a .30-calibre machine gun team  set up at the hedgerow, followed by the HQ and a parachute rifle squad all stretched along the thick hedge. Across the road at the American left, one additional rifle squad moved in along the road with their Sherman rolling in support.

IMG_6700US paratroopers advance at the bocage hedgerows supported by a Sherman

Clearly the US plan was to lock down the German forces in their prepared positions with combined mortar, machine gun and infantry fire as the infantry would push through the open field toward the house objective. All the while, the balance of the Americans would creep toward the house using their tank for cover and intimidation. The mortar team confirmed the plan by launching two smoke rounds into the wide field at the end of the second turn, providing drifting cover for the next two turns.

IMG_6706German machine gunners take heavy fire from the American rifles

With the tank’s position revealed at the road, my Germans quickly moved their anti-tank squad around the house through turn three and lay in wait behind the bocage. The Germans also redeployed their tripod-mounted MG 42 to the far right of the trench to stave off the American advance in the field. The German advantage lay solely in their defensive positions, and all they had to do was survive. The Americans were going to have to abandon cover early in the game, but they superior numbers, elite troops and better weapons. Plus, the airborne had a tank.

IMG_6703The Sherman rolls down the road

There were few targets for the Germans soldiers to shoot at through turn four, and they had difficulty spotting through the smoke and distance across the field. The American machine gunners managed to lay down steady fire each turn, forcing some Germans into prone positions, wounding others but not scoring any kills. The American plan shows signs of unraveling early on as the mortar began failing to repeatedly to sight and range in effectively on any German targets in the trenches.

IMG_6705Confident US soldiers make for the open as their tank protects their left

The only other alternative for the Americans was to simply start pushing across the field in the open. With the heavy German machine guns at their center and right jamming and the crew taking fire, the US airborne began a slow advance by turns five and six. Infantry fire from the US included three dice from each Thompson submachine gun and two dice for every M1 rifle. As the paratroopers closed in, grenades were also thrown and knocked the German tripod MG 42 out of commission. All the Germans could answer with were single dice from their rifles and three dice for submachine gun shots from the officers, all in fewer numbers than the larger US squads.

IMG_6702German anti-tank weapons move to meet the advancing American airborne and supporting tank

Across the road, the second American rifle squad crept along on either side of the bocage with the tank rattling along beside them. As the first troops closed near the house, the first minefield was exposed but no Americans were injured as they continued on at a slower pace. Their delay allowed the German anti-tank crew to move into position, firing a few rifle and submachine gun shots along the way at the airborne tip-toeing around the mines. With the tank finally in sight, the Sherman opened up with opportunity fire from its hull, turret and top-mounted .50-calibre machine guns. Under a hail of bullets, the anti-tank crew went prone and took light wounds, disallowing their planned shot at the tank for the turn. By the sixth turn, the assistant gunner was able to crawl to the injured Panzershreck and deliver a crippling shot to the tank’s front track. Rolling for morale after the hit, the American crew rolled a ’20’ — the worst possible outcome — and fled their tank and the field.

IMG_6704German troops hold fast against continued fire from the Americans

With the tank out of the battle, the airborne infantry were left alone to do the job. At the seventh turn, the first US troops to close on the building were mowed down under heavy fire from the German HQ inside the building. The German survivors in the field trenches held out against three waves of US advances. In the open and with no heavy support, the Americans were eaten up in the field despite their superior training and weapons. Against the odds, the German forces had thrown back the US airborne’s advance on La Fiere.

Playing a 28mm battle with the Battleground skirmish rules gives an incredible amount of detailed feel to the game. Wounds, suppression, weapon jams, moving, loading, spotting, morale checks, cover and troop quality all intertwine to effect each figure individually as they contribute to the overall mission of their force. Under battle conditions, unlikely things — like mortars being completely useless or a tank crew fleeing the field– can and did happen. In our game, a well-laid plan by a superior American force was thwarted by Germans who just kept hanging on as the dice went their way.

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Touching History at the Military History Society of Rochester

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I have logged many, many hours over the years visiting battlefields, historical homes, living heritage sites, reenactments, roadside markers and all sorts of art, history and military museums. Near the top of these experiences was a full day I spent at the Imperial War Museum a few years back while working in London for over a month. With over two million visitors a year and some 11 millions artifacts, the IWM is hard to beat for immersing yourself in the history of warfare.

This past week I had a very different, yet truly remarkable experience in my first visit to the Military History Society of Rochester. Located up a flight of stairs in a warehouse inhabited by various artist galleries and studios, the MHSR occupies roughly 2000 square feet of space packed with all manner of historical artifacts focused on telling the story of the US military through the local lens of Rochester, NY.

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A timeline of US long arms from the American War of Independence through the Korean War at the MHSR

Founded several years ago by Chuck Baylis as the American Civil War Artillery Association, the group’s mission has since grown beyond his original collection of Civil War artifacts to encompass American wars from the Revolution to the present. The first room still focuses on the Civil War including detailed displays on artillery, uniforms and the 140th New York Volunteer Regiment formed in Rochester in 1862. A timeline of American long arms from the American War of Independence through the Korean War covers an entire wall.

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A timeline of military uniforms from the American War of Independence through the present at the MHSR

In the rear space of the museum, the focus swings to 20th-century with displays on World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and present day wars. Uniforms, guns, swords, equipment hang from the walls, rest on shelves and lay slung over mannequins. Scale model airplanes hang from the ceiling, model vehicles rest on the floors and cases and a D-Day diorama sits nearby. Throughout the museum are some 2000 books as well as countless other letters, maps, photos, schematics, deck plans, prints, posters and other ephemera for perusal or research.

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 A US .50 caliber machine gun at the MHSR

Baylis has been joined by a number of passionate volunteers who can be found at the museum during its operating hours on Thursdays, Fridays and some Saturdays. Civil War reenactor, historian and wargamer Mike Vasile (co-author of the excellent Arena Games: Gladiatorial Combat rules) is responsible for many of the scale dioramas throughout the museum. Scale ship modeller Timothy Igoe of Historia Militaris Shipways has contributed several naval models to the collection and is currently undertaking a build of the USS Rochester (CA-2) for the museum. Retired Social Studies teacher Orton Begner rounds out the group with a deep knowledge of every object on hand.

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A US M1919 Browning machine gun at the MHSR

The one-to-one interaction with the MHSR’s members and the collection is what sets the museum apart from any other I’ve every visited. Everything has been well labeled, organized and put on display but hardly anything in the museum sits behind glass. Care to hold the various types of artillery rounds used in the Civil War? Want to feel the heft of a WWII era Thompson submachine gun or M-1 rifle? Would you like to take a look inside a pack carried by an American GI on D-Day? Want to lie down with a German MG-42? Ever wanted to hold a Japanese officer’s sword or 1913 “Patton Saber”? Just about everything in the museum, with the proper care, respect and assistance from one of the staff, can be touched, offering an incredibly rare opportunity to physically connect with past.

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 A German MG-42 and StG 44 at the MHSR

The mission to bring history alive beyond the walls of the museum also occurs with the exhibits members of the group bring to school groups and veteran events in the Rochester area. With its focus on celebrating the men and women of Western New York’s service in every branch of the military past and present, the museum is serving a unique and human mission of connecting today’s generations to a long tradition military service.

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My son gets some hands-on time with a Thompson submachine gun at the MHSR

In all my years of interest in history and military heritage, I have yet to find a museum as alive as the experience found at the Military History Society of Rochester. As a wargamer, the opportunity to see and handle so many objects up close is unparalleled. My time spent at the museum on my first visit was brief, but meeting the guys and seeing the collection at the museum will definitely bring me back my next time in Rochester.

Interview with Chuck Baylis of the MHSR

The Military History Society of Rochester is located in the Anderson Arts Building at 250 North Goodman Street on the second floor. Admission is free.

Flames of War: Fielding the CD and FOW M13/M16 MGMC AA

M1650cal AA

One of my favorite blogs, War Is Boring, recently ran an article about the famed Browning M2 machine gun. Introduced in the 1930s, the .50 cal machine gun went on to become one of the most common heavy weapons used in the field by US infantry, mounted on ground vehicles and installed in aircraft. Whether used on the ground or against air targets, the gun is beloved by troops for its ferocious stopping power. Installed in combinations in half tracks as anti-aircraft guns, the weapon earned affectionate nicknames like the “Ma Deuce,” the “Quad 50” or simply “The Fifty.” To this day, the .50 cal is still in wide use wherever US forces deploy.

IMG_4295M13/M16 MGMC AA model comparisons with Flames of War (left) and Command Decision (right)

My recent projects for  my 15mm World War II gaming have focused on filling in extra support units, and adding some AA was key to filling a gap in my forces. Needing four models for a full platoon, I was faced with a choice of manufacturers. Flames of War sells their M13 MGMC models separately for about $13 each. Old Glory Miniatures offers a 3-pack of M16 Quad AA SP Halftracks for $25. So, I was looking at choices of purchasing four of the FOW models for $52, buying two of the CD sets for $50 (and having two leftover, unused models) or ordering from each manufacturer and getting exactly the four models I needed for $38.

I opted for the economical route and wound up with some pretty different models. Side-by-side, the FOW resin and plastic truck is taller, longer and wider than the CD all-metal castings. Everything glued-up nicely, but the guns for both companies proved to be very delicate and prone to bending. The FOW model has crisper lines, but the rougher CD half tracks have a fair amount more detail.

IMG_4296My completed M13/M16 MGMC AA platoon

With four half tracks in the platoon, the larger FOW model literally stands out among the other three smaller CD models. With its bigger profile, I’ve decided to take advantage of its differences and use the FOW half track as the command model in the unit. Since I won’t be fielding the platoon all the time, the delicate gun barrels are less of concern as they are bound to sit comfortably in one corner of the table and blaze away at any Axis aircraft or unfortunate ground forces who dare get too close.