Flames of War: Aalst 1944 Scenario

aalst

The ultimately unsuccessful week-long Operation Market Garden commenced on September 17, 1944 with an Allied push toward Germany. The ground “Market” portion of the campaign saw the British Guards Armoured Division taking point on the push into the Low Countries.

On the second day of the operation, a column of the Guards Armoured had rolled to the southern outskirts of Aalst, a Belgian town occupied by German forces since 1940. Led by Col. Joe Vandeleur, the division’s tanks encountered the remnants of German troops and guns which were dug in but heavily-damaged by the previous day’s Allied air bombings and artillery barrages. For the Germans, Aalst was a line in the sand protecting the Allied advance northeast to Antwerp and  the Netherlands beyond. For the Allies, keeping the long column of armour moving was key to reinforcing the Allied airborne troops already engaged with German forces along several bridges.

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY we ran the Aalst scenario for Flames of War with 2000-point forces on either side of the table. We pulled our British and German lists from the Market Garden and Bridge By Bridge books. As a jumping off point for the game’s outline, we referenced an Aaalst scenario originally designed for Battlefront. We planned a 10-turn game with points scored for destroyed platoons and an immediate end to the game when the British rolled a platoon off the German-defended north end of the table.

IMG_3026

German set-up at Aalst

As per the actual situation at Aalst in 1944, the Germans began setting up with half their force heavily dug in just north of the town’s center. Deadly 8.8 cm Flak guns were positioned on roads to their right and left flanks, and 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns stood closer to town. Infantry and heavy machine gun platoons hunkered down in the fields just outside of town, and a single Jagdpanther idled nearby. Expecting both ground and possible air forces, the German guns were well-prepared for the arriving British.

IMG_3027

German 88’s dug in at the northeast and northwest ends of town

IMG_3016

British set-up at Aalst

The British laid out their 8-gun 25 pdr battery at the rear of the table and rolled on two platoons from the Guards with Joe Vandeleur attached. Spotters for the artillery were deployed in Shermans to the right and left hoping to provide eyes across the entire table for. Towed 6 pdr anti-tank guns, infantry, machine gunners and additional tanks lay in reserve off-table to follow the initial wave of armour. The plan was to use Vandeleur’s special rules to rush tanks to the center of the table, saturate the Germans with artillery fire and pave the way from additional supporting platoons.

IMG_3029

 Vandeleur leads the Guards into position behind the town

IMG_3028

German infantry and Pagdpanther make for the church at the center of Aalst

In the first two turns, the Guards quickly rolled up to take position behind the town to the south with their Vickers machine gun platoon riding on the tanks. The British artillery spotter hopped from his Sherman tank and ran for back door of a building. The Germans made way to the north of town with infantry looking to occupy the church at Aalst with a lone Jagdpanther in support.

IMG_3031

A Firefly lays waste to the approaching Jagdpanther with its first shot

IMG_3032

The Guards take heavy fire and two Shermans and a Firefly sit in flames

Fire opened up in the next two turns with a well-positioned Firefly scoring a kill on the nearing Jagdpanther. Returning fire, German 88s destroyed the Firefly and PaK 40s bailed and subsequently wrecked two other Shermans. Machine gunners made their saves, jumped off their tanks and made way for cover in a nearby building at the town’s intersection. Meanwhile, British artillery lobbed a volley over the town hoping to slow down the German infantry and machine guns looking to take hold of the town’s buildings. The barrage resulted in a destroyed PaK 40 just to the north of the church, but the German infantry pressed on to take up positions in the church.

IMG_3034

British infantry move to assault the church as reserve armor rolls to the town center

With British infantry reserves moved at the double to the town and then moved in a subsequent turn to assault the church. At the same time, a reinforcing Guards tank platoon raced to the town center. Shots from the Shermans failed to destroy nearby PaK 40s but fire from the Vickers guns in a nearby building pinned the Germans in the church ahead of the assault. Despite all the British fire lighting up the center of town, the assault failed and the British infantry fell back to the other side of the street.

IMG_3033

German armored reserves arrive

With the British stalled at the crossroads in Aalst, German reserves moved onto the table. A Stug platoon, Wirbelwinds and a fresh Jagdpanther began closing in from the northwest of town, drawing fire from the British battery looking to slow their advance. Volleys from the 25-pound guns blew up an 88 and a PaK 40, but the mass of German hardware kept rolling forward.

IMG_3035

British command tanks move to engage the Germans

IMG_3036

A swarm of German armor and troops push forward under British artillery fire

IMG_3037

A Panzerfaust lights up a British command tank

Hoping for a hard push of combined arms on the German right, British command tanks followed by two platoons of infantry pressed forward from a nearby woods. The British tankies proved to be tough, surviving a turn of fire from nearby Stugs and an attempted infantry assault with  Panzerfaust-wielding infantry as British guns continued to range in and rain shells on the Germans to no effect.

IMG_3038

The lone surviving command British tank awaits its fate from the German onslought

Back at the center of town, the last tank platoon took fire from the 88s, PaK 40s and a Panzerfaust in the church steeple and was destroyed. The one lone command tank on the western outskirts of town was surrounded and destroyed by combined tank and artillery fire. With only the remnants two rifle platoons and the Vickers left spread through the town, the game was lost for the British. As the sun set in the west, Aalst remained in Axis hands.

In our discussion after, the British artillery had only been effective only about 50% of the time and only eliminated a few units throughout the game. Too many British tanks burned too quickly against overwhelming crossfire from German guns, and reinforcing British infantry could never make headway beyond Aalst’s crossroads. More British tank platoons with Fireflies might have gone a long way toward at least pushing through the town.

Fortunately for the people of Aalst, the engagement during Market Garden resulted in the liberation of the town by the British. Pictures from the victory show a very different outcome from our game with smiling faces all around. The very nature of wargaming sometimes just makes things go a different way, and this past weekend the dice rolled against the tide of history with a victory for the Germans at Aaalst.

Advertisements

Flames of War: Fielding the FOW British Rifle Company, Machine Gun Platoon and 6-Pdr Anti-Tank Platoon

BritSoldiers

At long last, my months-long build of my British forces for Flames of War was wrapped up this week (at least for now). Starting with the Guards Armoured Division this past summer, my British collection now contains a fair amount of armor, artillery, transport and now, infantry platoons. With most of my WWII gaming focused on the late war period from D-Day onward in Western Europe, having a solid British base to supplement my Americans provides me with a lot of playability for my Allies in any number of scenarios and campaigns.

fowbritinf

With nearly 3.8 million soldiers serving for the British army in WWII, the “PBI” (Poor Bloody Infantry”) led the war for the Allies from its earliest days right up until the bitter end in Western Europe and the Pacific. The FOW British Rifle Company box provides gamers the basic backbone for fielding a core group of British infantry. The FOW rifle company comes armed with the standard kit of WWII British infantry, including the Bren light machine gun, Sten submachine gun, 2-inch mortar and PIAT anti-tank weapon. The set also includes a few snipers and a hero figure of Stanley Hollis, whose heroic actions on D-Day earned him the only Victoria Cross awarded on that historic day.

For inspiration during my hours of painting, I looked to a lot of photos of Commonwealth forces from the period and have included some below.

britinfBritish infantry with their Bren light machine gun

BritStenBritish soldiers loading Sten submachine gun magazines

Brit2inchBritish 2-inch mortar crew

BritPiatA British soldier with his PIAT

I keep my painting simple with a brownish-drab uniform, brown boots and a bit of green lightly brushed on the helmet netting. The FOW models offer a nice variety of weapons and poses, plus little details like trench shovels tucked on the backs of many of the figures. I’m usually pretty spare with my basing of basic green flock over a light brown base. That said, I’ve recently discovered easy-to-apply grass tufts from Walthers, a model railroading hobby supplier, and so I added a bunch of those to really make the bases come a bit more alive.

I’ve included a few photos below of my completed British three-platoon infantry company:

IMG_2990

IMG_2988

IMG_2991

IMG_2989

To supplement the standard infantry company and its weapons, I added in the FOW Machine Gun Platoon with the Vickers machine gun. With wide use by the British from WWI to the late 1960s, the hearty Vickers machine gun lays down a hail of fire in support of the swift advancing actions of their infantry countrymen.

britvickersBritish infantry dug in with their Vickers machine gun

IMG_2987Completed British machine gun platoon

Aside from man-packed weapons, many infantry units were accompanied by heavier weapons for when faced by enemy armor. The Ordnance Quick-Firing 6-pounder or 6-pdr was the go-to British anti-tank gun throughout the battlefields of WWII. Hand-hauled short distances or commonly pulled along with the ubiquitous Universal Carrier, the 6-pdr proved most effective in stopping German tanks in the early desert war of Africa. Thicker armor on Panther and Tiger tanks eventually stymied the use of the 6-pdr in frontal face-offs with German crews, but later development of heftier armor-piercing shot by 1944 brought their effectiveness back into play in the last campaigns of the war in Normandy and beyond.

brit6pdrBritish crew with their 6-pdr anti-tank gun in Europe

Again, I needed some of these guys in the mix, so the FOW 6-pdr Platoon was another must-have in my force. I love this little set, especially the officer with his foot planted boldly on a gun’s wheel as he gestures to a distant target. Along with my existing British armor and Royal Artillery Battery, having some anti-tank guns in my force will hopefully provide enough firepower against my heavily-armored German opponents.

IMG_2984Completed 6-pdr anti-tank platoon

Any time I complete a big build, I’m inevitably left with the question of “what next?” First of all, most of my British will begin hitting the game table this coming weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY in a scenario at Aalst from September 18th, 1944 during Operation Market Garden. I’ll be posting an after-action report for the game early next week, and I’m certain I’ll have plenty more to write up on my fresh British boys in the months to come.