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.

Advertisements

Flames of War: Utah Beach “Uncle Red” 1944 Scenario

utah1944

When most people think of the D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6th, 1944, the deadly images from the US landings at Omaha Beach in popular movies like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan generally come to mind. Utah Beach was added as an objective for US forces late in the invasion planning and occupied the far right of the Allied coastal assault. The beach was divided into three sectors (Tare Green, Uncle Red and Victor), and the landing of some 23,000 troops and armor support started the day’s invasion at 6:30am. Awaiting the invasion was the German 709th Infantry Division.

utahmap2Map of US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach June 6, 1944 (“Uncle Red” circled)

The US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach, including Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and author J.D. Salinger, came ashore with relatively few US casualties of just 400 compared to the 3000 at nearby Omaha Beach. The success of the assualt is credited largely to the effective landing of more Sherman tank support, relatively light German fortifications covering the exits from the beach and early inland actions by the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions earlier in the morning.

ussandtable

US 17th Airborne Division using a sand table before Operation Varsity in 1945

 Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY is pretty well known for the sand tables which occupy our space, and some of our founding members have won several awards for presenting sand table games at conventions over the years. Sand tables have been used by military planners since ancient times when sticks and stones were simply laid out in the sand on the ground.

modern sand table

NY Army National Guard troops train with a sand table at Fort Irwin, CA in 2011

Despite all our military technological advancements, modern war colleges and even troops deployed in the field today still use sand tables for training and planning real-world actions. Gaming on a sand table provides a great amount of flexibility and realism in shaping the contours found in real-life battlefields, adding tremendous playability to just about any scenario.

HitthebeachmapFlames of War “Hit the Beach” scenario set-up

This past weekend a few of us ran an Uncle Red beach assault scenario on one of the club’s sand tables using the Flames of War Amphibious Assault rules and ‘Hit the Beach’ scenario.The 4′ x 5′ table I set up featured a sculpted surf landing zone, sea wall and two beach exits leading to an inland area. Each player placed an objective. The German player then deployed their coastal defenses at the beach including barbed wire, two bunkers, tobruk machine gun nests and a Grenadier platoon. At the rear of the table, the Germans deployed an artillery battery and another machine gun platoon in a nearby house defending their objective. Half their 1500-point force remained off the table in reserve.

IMG_2813The US landing begins against the fortified coast and German artillery at the rear

The Americans began with a naval gun barrage pinning every German platoon but only detsroying one stand at the beach. With the first turn, two boat assualt platoons and a pioneer platoon landed at their left and center area of the beach. Choosing to shoot rather than move at the double, the first three American platoons were quickly pinned and subsequently destroyed in the first two turns of the game.

IMG_2814View from the German rear with Americans landing

Choosing to still keep their D-Day tanks off the beach, the Americans attempted another landing in turns three with only two boats able to land. Naval guns and P-47 air support attempting to hit the rear German artillery proved completly ineffective as troops at the beach continued to be pinned and detsroyed.

IMG_2816

US waves struggle to get off the beach

IMG_2819

Remanants of US platoons get over the sea wall in turn four

With still more delayed landing reinforcements and no tanks heading for the beach, two US platoons breached the sea wall in turn four. Moving at the double and under heavy machine gun fire, the short-lived progress was stalled and the platoons lay pinned with heavy casualties.

IMG_2821

Swimming Shermans finally come ashore with more infantry

Switching tactics in turn five, the Americans went for the right side of the beach. Two boat crews hit the beach moving at the double with three Shermans coming ashore in support. Two tanks immediately bogged, creating two targets stuck on the beach for the next round of incoming German artillery.

IMG_2822

Shermans pour fire into the German defenses

With turn six, one more Sherman made it to the beach while another was swamped and lay destroyed in the surf offshore. Just one more boat of infantry landed to support a pinned and heavily-damaged platoon already on the beach. Progress was made over the sea wall with US troops moving out of range of much of the German machine gunners on the far right edge of the table. Finally, the US did some damage with fire from the Shermans destroying several Grenadier units and a tobruk nest. At the bottom of the turn, the Germans brought on their first reserves with a Nebelwerfer battery at the back of the table. One Sherman was hit and destroyed by German artillery and another’s crew bailed out.

The US looked to be making a bit of progress as turn seven began with their M7 Priest arillery platoon landing with half of the platoon bogging right off the boat. The remaining three guns, along with three Shermans, took  shots at the German defenses and destroyed two more Grenadier stands. German infantry reserves began rushing on the table in front of the artillery to cover the American objective. On the beach, another monstrous German barrage left the Priests in flames and just one surviving Sherman. At turn eight, the Americans ceded the table after only one additional landing craft of troops made it to the beach to join their final Sherman.

This was our first FOW beach landing at the club, and a big learning experience for us. The US players chose to play way too conservatively from the outset with troops moving too slowly off the boat in the first two turns. Leaving the Shermans off the beach until the fifth turn was also a huge mistake, as getting them on sooner would’ve provided greater pinning support and potential for smoke cover for the boat infantry. US air support was frustrating, as often seems the case, and use of the naval guns was likewise botched. The US also suffered from poor luck with too many landing craft either not getting back off the beach to grab more reserves or failing to land existing floating reserves. In many turns, just one of three boats were able to arrive, making it impossible to hit a critical mass of troops on the beach.

Several of us at the club are planning a weekend-long D-Day series to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy campaign this June, so look for more practice scenarios and a lot more on the anniversary event in the coming months. As Gen. Roosevelt said at Utah Beach, “We’ll start the war from right here!”