Flames of War: Dust Up Mission With “Blood, Guts and Glory”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_3398US M7 Priest platoon taking up position

IMG_3399US rifles deploy in the woods to guard a nearby objective

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.

IMG_3401A German Panther and Wirbelwind are destroyed by incoming US 105mm fire

IMG_3400Panthers make through the woods but one bogs in the terrain

IMG_3402The P-47 Thunderbolt attempts a run at a Stug platoon

IMG_3403More fire from the Priests take out another Panther

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.

IMG_3405Panzer IV reinforcements surprise the Priests from the rear

IMG_3406The Thunderbolt tries to stall the German armor in the middle of the field

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.

IMG_3407Reserve American 75 and 76mm Shermans roll on the board

IMG_3409The last of the Priests burn as more Panzer IVs appear

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.

IMG_3410A reinforcing column of US rifles follows-up the Sherman advance

IMG_3413A lone Sherman survives as the US rifle company dismounts and heads for an objective

IMG_3414US riflemen break from the woods in a desperate assault on German tanks at an objective

IMG_3415With tanks aflame in the fields, the Germans take an objective

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.

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Flames of War: Singling 1944 Scenario

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By the winter of 1944 the US 4th Armored Division had distinguished itself through a number of actions in France ranging from Operation Cobra in July and the Battle of Arracourt in September all the way through various engagements heading east toward the French-German border. Battleworn and bogged down in the wet winter slush of eastern France, the 4th Armored lumbered to the outskirts of Singling, Lorraine on December 6th, 1944. As part of the defensive Maginot Line, a hasty attack was thrown together to take the farm town with a small force of tanks and infantry. Finding themselves caught up fighting superior elements from the German 11th Panzer Division between the cottages and tight roads of the village, the day’s battle eventually fell to a stalemate and the 4th Armored pulled back. In the coming days, a hail of American artillery and subsequent ground force attacks eventually took Sibling.

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The WWPD site has a handy Flames of War scenario available for the action at Singling called Abrams’ Folly. In addition, there’s some other gaming-freindly write-ups available online as well as some great historical documentation (including maps and photos) on the battle at Singling. Before heading off to an annual family vacation to Cape Cod, I had a chance to try my hand as the Americans in the Sibling scenario this past Wednesday evening at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn.

bggbookEach of us fielded 2500 points, sticking as close to possible with the forces outlined in the scenario. I used the Blood, Guts and Glory book which focuses on the armor-heavy battles in this region of France in late 1944 through early 1945. My force featured a mix of 75mm and 76mm Shermans, some tank destroyers, two armored rifle platoons and an off-table 105mm Priest battery. My German opponent started with a Panzer IV platoon, a Jagdpanther platoon, an 10.5cm leFH18 battery, a platoon of Pak 40s and a couple infantry platoons. As it was historically, the Americans were clearly in for a tough fight.

In December ’44, the US entered Sibling from the south but the scenario places the American point of entry at the western edge of the table. The Germans deployed first with infantry and Jagdpanthers in the town, the Panzer IVs to the northwest and the Pak 40s in prepared positions to the southwest. The artillery battery was positioned to the northeast of town with spotters stationed in the church belfry and the attic of a house near the town center.

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With the first turn, the Americans rolled in around the main road to the west. Seeing the Pak 40s, all the armor rolled north toward the Panzer IVs parked around and behind a small copse of trees. Infantry platoons made way for the center and the orchard just south of the road. My US plan was to avoid the killing alley of the main road while the infantry would swoop toward an assault on the infantry and Pak 40s to the south and the armor would rumble to the north toward the German tanks.

The US 76s made quick work of the Panzer IVs in the first two turns and then turned toward the center of town. The Jagdpanthers crept out from behind buildings and took a few a shots down the road, eliminating a Sherman. A German platoon camped out in a house at the western edge of town made a misbegotten attempt at an assault on the Shermans, bailing two with Panzerfaust fire but ultimately running off when faced with return attacks from the US armor. Another Panzerfaust-wielding squad popped out from an adjacent cottage and destroyed another Sherman with a quick rear shot before being machine-gunned down. By the end of the third turn, the northwest area of the table was a snarl of burning German tanks and shaken but advancing US Shermans.

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To the south of the road, a stalemate which would run the whole game commenced. The Priest battery struggled to range in and hit the Pak 40s on every turn, proving to be a complete waste of points. The American armored infantry platoons to the south of the road spent most of the game being pinned by German sniper fire and artillery barages, all the while struggling to progress through the orchard. Not until the fourth turn of the game did the American infantry truly get in the fight, exchanging fire with two nearby platoons of Germans but losing nearly half their number to fire from the Pak 40s and German heavy machine guns.

In turn four, things got bad for the Germans. After littering the field north of town with charred wrecks of US armor, several American tanks broke to the middle of town toward the three remaining Jagdpanthers. A near-certain side blast to one Jagdpanther glanced off with no effect, but then an extremely lucky shot from a US 76 destroyed the Jagdpanther command tank. While the Germans scrambled to appoint a new command tank, the Americans ganged up to destroy one of the two remaining Jagdpanthers. With the platoon reduced to just one remaining tank, the German player rolled and failed a morale check and the last tank fled the center of town.

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With the center of town secured, all German armor destroyed, a stalled infantry firefight to the southwest and the American tanks advancing to the German artillery battery, the game was called at the fifth turn. I was honestly surprised by the American victory, upsetting the historic outcome of the battle. We stood around for some after-action what-ifs for both sides while packing up the table, and clearly there could be improvements in choices of forces and tactics the next time we head back to Singling.