Battleground: Bocage HQ Near Le Mesnil-Rouxelin 1944 Scenario

leMesnilRouxelinJune1944

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.

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.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Panzer Lehr Counterattack Campaign – ‘Morning of the 902nd’ July 11, 1944 Scenario

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The battle near Hauts-Vents was a two-day affair between the US infantry and armored forces and German Panzer Lehr Division. After a day of intense combat on July 10, 1944, US forces were warned of local movements of the 902 Panzer Grenadier Regiment toward Hauts-Vents. With a German counterattack expected in the early morning hours of the next day, American infantry and armor prepared for a defensive fight under the cover of darkness and foggy, damp weather among the dense bocage hedgerows and under cover of the strong French buildings.

HVJuly44MapMap of the battle at Hauts-Vents, July 11, 1944

(via US Army Center of Military History)

After a first game loss at Hauts-Vents by the Germans, we continued our campaign at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY this past week. The second game from the “Panzer Lehr Counterattack” mini campaign from the Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns is called ‘Morning of the 902nd.’ The game uses the same terrain set-up as the first scenario, but this time focuses on the German attempt to recapture Hauts-Vents on July 11 after losing key objectives to the Americans the day before. The game begins under pre-dawn darkness over wet ground with US platoons in hidden positions at the north end of the table and the Germans advancing under blinds from the hill position to the south. The Germans must retake the field by capturing two of the three objective buildings at the center town.

IMG_4251Germans deploy on blinds looking to take back the town

IMG_4253Germans blinds rush forward and immediately hit a minefield

IMG_4254A German platoon encounters a minefield and takes heavy casualties

The German advanced on blinds from Hill 91, making a hasty frontal push straight for the town. On the German left, mechanized Grenadiers mounted in Sd. Kfz 251s roared their engines and drove straight into a minefield at the bocage at the bottom of the valley outside town. Making matters worse, American machine guns hiding in the dense hedge sprayed the German line with fire. German infantry and half tracks fired back, destroying one US machine gun team and forcing a retreat of the other to the center of town. At the end of the firefight, the German commanding officer escaped but three fire teams in one platoon took heavy damage, forcing them to fall back.

IMG_4256The German Panzer IV column exposes two Shermans behind a farmhouse

IMG_4255The lead German Panzer IV is destroyed, blocking the road

IMG_4312Panzer IVs switch routes, making for the American flank

On the German right, things didn’t go much better. A column of Panzer IVs drove on the main road for town, accompanied by a a Grenadier platoon closing in on a farmhouse they had lost the previous day. Waiting hidden at the stone cottage were two M4 Shermans which opened fire at the lead Panzer at close range , leaving it a burning hulk blocking the road forward. Closing in from behind, Grenadiers ran to engage the tanks with a Panzerfaust shot on their rear armor. Several turns of fire were exchanged between the Shermans and Panzer IV second in line as the two rear Panzers reversed direction back to the fork in the road. A few rounds later both Shermans were destroyed, and the surviving three Panzer IVs and the unharmed Grenadiers were heading for the east side of the town.

IMG_4313Panzer IVs and Grenadiers move on the US left and expose a Sherman platoon at an objective

The Germans continued their advance up the road on the US left, looking to flank the town. The three Panzer IVs were slowed over the barbed wire blocking the road, and one bogged for the remainder of the action in soggy ground. German infantry spotted a Sherman platoon camped out around one of the objectives and then ran over and around the bocage looking to avoid fire in the field beyond.

IMG_4314US Wolverines take aim at a German Panzer III flame tank in the open

IMG_4316US and German armor exchange fire, leaving a Wespe, Panzer III and M10 Wolverine in flames

Two remaining German blinds rolled to the field as US tank destroyer M10 Wolverines appeared behind the bocage at the town. The blinds revealed themselves as a Panzer III flame tank and Sd. Kfz. 124 Wespe and both turned to engage the Wolverines. Two quick shots from the flame tank failed to harm the open-topped Wolverines which returned fire and blew up the Panzer III. The German’s mobile gun fired back, destroying one of the Wolverines before subsequently being wrecked by US anti-tank fire. With German armor burning in the field, the Grenadiers continued to sprint over the open area and looked to swing into the town from the rear.

IMG_4317Flares illuminate the town objectives and German mechanized Grenadiers push forward

Back on the German left, several Grenadier platoons on foot and mounted in their half tracks moved to the US left in the town as the early morning darkness was lit up with a flare. Two fresh American rifle platoons revealed their positions in two of the objective buildings and gunfire was exchanged with the German platoons moving toward the town. Despite their cover in the stone building, the combined arms fire from the Germans ousted one US platoon from their building and the other took steady damage.IMG_4318Panzer IVs destroy the final M10 Wolverine as German infantry rush to flank the town from the rear

On the other side of town the two functioning Panzer IVs rolled across the field, shooting at and destroying the last American tank killer. Under continued cover from their Panzers, the Grenadier platoon continued slipping across the field, climbing over the bocage and looping around to the American rear.

IMG_4319A direct hit from Germany artillery arrives in the middle of the American position

With German infantry looking to encircle the town and two Panzers wheeling to engage the Shermans at the center of town, a German artillery barage hit dead center amid the objective buildings. As the smoke cleared, only two Shermans remained fully operational and the surviving US rifle platoons were on the run. As early morning light began to break, the Americans heard encroaching German voices from the hedgerows from every side of the town. The Panzer Lehr counterattack had been a success, and the Americans chose to cut their losses, regroup and fight again.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Panzer Lehr Counterattack Campaign – ‘Hauts-Vents’ July 10, 1944 Scenario

NearStLo

Although the Panzer Lehr Division was held out of action during the Allied D-Day landing at Normandy in June 1944 , they would go on to provide a number of important defensive, delaying and counterattack actions in the months following. They first distinguished themselves in the days immediately after, throwing up a hasty defense at Caen against encroaching British and Canadian forces. After battles at Tilly-sur-Seulles and Villers Bocage in mid-to-late June, the vastly depleted Panzer Lehr Division was called out of the fight. With only a short time to regroup, the war-worn division was ordered west to countetattack he Allied inland progress toward Saint-Lo. While the June battles had run the Germans up against British Commonwealth forces, the July engagements in the hilly fields and bocage-lined roads would be against the armored and infantry forces of the United States.

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Map of the Panzer Lehr Division counterattack in July 1944

(via US Army Center of Military History)

For a few months now at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, we’ve been playing a fair amount of I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules system for World War II. After a number of one-offs and our recent North of Caen game, we finally decided to jump into a mini campaign focusing on the Allied push inland toward St Lo and the German defense following the D-Day landings in  Normandy in June 1944.

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

For our campaign, we’re using the classic Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns. The Skirmish Campaigns series of books offers well-researched and detailed campaign scenarios full of detailed orders of battle, terrain layout maps and deeply descriptive narrative of how actual engagements unfolded during World War II. With just a little bit of work, the Skirmish Campaigns scenarios are easily adaptable to a variety of wargaming rules and scales including Battleground, Bolt Action, Flames of War and I Ain’t Been Shot Mum.

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Scenario set-up with two small houses as objectives at the middle of the table set amid rolling hills, small farms and thick bocage

The scenario at Hauts-Vents is set up on a long table with hills rolling into a valley from either end. Roads cross the table among fields lined with heavy bocage hedgerows. At the center of the table are two farmhouse objectives that are the focus of the US mission. All German platoons are deployed on blinds nearly everywhere on the table, accepting the northeast corner from which the US advance begins.

My Germans deployed on blinds with a Pak 40, a Sdkfz 10/1 and an artillery spotter for the off-board 105mm artillery deployed around a farmhouse atop Hill 91 on the southern end of the table. German rifle platoons armed with Panzerfausts deployed in blinds in and around the objective farmhouses. One platoon also had a MG42 and another contained a Panzerschrek anti-tank team. To block the predicted US advance, one road was blocked with barbed wire and another was laid with mines.

The American blinds moved in straight in column along the road sloping down toward the valley. Heading the advance was a US recon platoon led by an M8 Greyhound armored car. Three platoons of mechanized infantry loaded up in half tracks and a platoon of Sherman tanks fell into line behind.

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A US recon Greyhound at the head of the column exposes barbed wire laid to block passage on the road to the objectives

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The recon unit moves to overlook the German position near the objective house as US half tracks roll into position

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 German infantry move out of the house to engage the US infantry

IMG_4213Fire from German Panzerfausts destroy two half tracks and their passengers

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Germans use their last Panzerfausts to destroy the remaining half track and its crew

The first few turns progressed quickly with the US column moving down the road under blinds while the Germans quietly defended from concealed positions. The lead Greyhound revealed the barbed wire blocking the road, forcing the first platoon of half tracks off the road toward the first objective. Closing in on the house, the German position was revealed and the Germans quickly destroyed two half tracks and their mounted infantry with shots from Panzerfausts. In subsequent turns, the US commander jumped from his vehicle and was followed in by the final half track which was also destroyed. With the lone US commander in the position, the Germans assaulted taking casualties before eliminating all Americans from the disastrous head-on assault on the objective.

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 The column of US Shermans and infantry mounted in half tracks rush down the road

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German 105mm artillery rains in from off the table wreaking havoc on the US column

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A German Pak 40 and Sdkfz 10/1 break their cover on Hill 91 to engage the paralyzed American column

As the first platoon of US infantry fell, the remainder of the column ran into problems of their own. The Shermans attempted a push into the field off the road but two of the three quickly bogged in the rain-soaked ground. With the Shermans stalled and the rest of the column bunched-up on the road, an off-board German 105mm artillery barrage made a direct hit to the US line. As a result, the tanks took severe damage to their sights, main guns and mobility. Infantry jumped from their half tracks and one platoon took immediate fire from German MG42s hidden in the bocage across the nearby field. As the Americans desperately attempted to spread out and move to cover, additional rounds of fire from the Pak 40 and Sdkfz 10/1 on the far hill continued to pour shots into the remnants of the burning US column.

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 US reinforcements arrive at the house and advance on the defending German left

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Germans attempt to hold the flank at the objective

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Smoke is laid down in front of the German position on Hill 91 to cover the US advance

IMG_4245A late game push up Hill 91 by the US Greyhound leaves it in flames

The survivors from the US column swiftly moved to position themselves for another round of assaults on the German position. Two surviving Shermans unbogged and rolled to position along the bocage, destroying the MG42 positions along the way. US infantry rushed in along both flanks of the German survivors at the farmhouse who were quickly reduced to a single operable fire team. US mortars followed up with a directly aimed smoke bombardment in front of the German guns on the hill, providing invaluable cover for the American ground advance. Pressure from the advancing Greyhound forced the Sdkfz 10/1 to fall back late in the game. As the armored car breached the crest of the hill, a quick shot from the Pak 40 eliminated it. Unfortunately for the Germans, this was one of their last bits of glory for the game.

IMG_4242German defenders get routed at the first objective during close assault and fall back

IMG_4243The last platoon of German defenders get spotted at the second objective

IMG_4244The final objective falls to the Americans as the German defenders are caught in combined infantry and artillery fire

Back at the two objectives, the US moved hard toward victory. A close assault at the first house sent the survivors of two German fire teams running for the rear with heavy casualties and all but eliminated from the game. With that, one lone German platoon was exposed at the second house objective, and all US focus turned toward them. Two turns of heavy US artillery strikes and small arms fire from the bocage across the road laid waste to all but a few of the last Germans holding out. With the US Shermans still working their way on the German left and US infantry closing on the front, my Germans threw up their hands in defeat.

The first day of battle at Hauts-Vents went to the Americans, but as dark was drawing near, another battle was already looming before dawn as more Germans rushed to the defense.

Metropolitan Wargamers D-Day Plus 70 Event Report

NYTimesDDay

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, dozens of gamers came together for three days commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Throughout the weekend, we ran multiple WWII-themed games, including Normandy ’44, I Ain’t Been Shot Mum, Flames of War, World In Flames and Memoir ’44. Dice were rolled, strategies were debated, prizes were won and Allied and Axis forces vied for control of France. In all, it was another great weekend full of gaming at our club’s space in the heart of Brooklyn.

Friday Games

IMG_3586The invasion of France begins with Normandy ’44 at Metropolitan Wargamers

Friday kicked off after work with a few players unpacking a fresh copy of the classic Normandy ’44 from GMT Games. This one-map game covers the pre-dawn D-Day Airborne landing areas, five Allied invasion beaches and the charge to the initial inland objectives. The game scale plays with regiments and battalions with each turn representing one day of action. The small, self-contained game provides a great introduction to game mechanics at this scale with a tight, clear rules set. With a quick look at the game, I decided I’m going to have to personally give this one a shot sometime soon.

IMG_3587 US infantry blinds move toward unsuspecting German defenders at a farm outside Vierville

At the back of the club, we ran a game of our new favorite WWII tactical miniatures game, IABSM  from Too Fat Lardies. In our ongoing campaign of the Normandy scenarios in the IABSM Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book, our game focused on the battle at Vierville-sur-Mer. With the 116th Infantry Division supported by the 5th Ranger Batallion, the Allied mission was to drive inland to capture and defend the church at Vierville.

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German and US units exchange fire in and around the farm at Vierville

As per the scenario, initial Allied blinds approach a farm outside Vierville where a German blind sits unknowingly in the complex of buildings. With Allied infantry closing in over dense bocage hedgerows and orchards, a firefight erupted and drove the German defenders through the buildings and into the orchard beyond.

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German reserves arrive at the flanks of the advancing US infantry outside Vierville

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Germans reinforcements push the Americans from the farm

As the first force of Germans fled the farm, their reinforcing comrades came on to the rear and flank of the US infantry. The Americans made consecutive moves of firing and moving back to defend at a series of stone walls across the road from the farm. The retreating defensive US actions held off the German onslaught until enough Americans could take up position amid Vierville’s houses. At the same time, the US Rangers moved in at the far end of town to hold the objective at the church.

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Americans pull back from the farm to take position in Vierville

The game eventually settled into a bloody house-to-house and hedge-to-hedge fight along the road leading toward the church. Occasional lucky shots from US Ranger light machine guns at the church also harassed the Germans lying low behind their stone wall position at the farm’s orchard. By midnight, much of the initial American force had been destroyed or was retreating to a final stand at the church held by the Rangers. While the Germans had also lost a sizable amount of their force, their heavy machine guns were still in play as they closed in through the town. This time around, we called the action at Vierville a draw.

Saturday Games

IMG_3603The Americans hit the Easy Green sector of Omaha Beach

The next day kicked-off with a running of a FOW beach landing at Easy Green on Omaha Beach. We have been play testing the FOW scenario over the past two months, tweaking our forces and strategies to cope with the clumsy beach landing rules. In our past games, the US invaders only manage to win about a third of the time. Even so, we decided no D-Day weekend was complete without a return to “Bloody Omaha” on one of the club’s award-winning sand tables.

IMG_3604German defenders hold their positions behind a burning bunker

The opening turns found a lot of US boats on the beach and a quick push to the seawall. So early combined arms fire managed to destroy the main bunker at the beach, but the battle was far from over. The initial US push followed on to the left of the beach, but multiple turns at clearing the barbed wire stalled the advance as the Americans took heavy fire.

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American armor and artillery follow-up the infantry landings

As US armor arrived, several tanks managed to drive off the beach to the minefield position to lay down fire on the German trenches. One tank wound up spending three turns bobbing in the surf offshore only to arrive and bog for two more turns on the beach. As this most inexperienced tank crew in Normandy struggled, the other Shermans took fire from German rockets and reserve tank platoon which rolled to bulk up the beach defense. American artillery also arrived but proved pretty ineffective to the Germans at the trenches. Wave after wave of US infantry pushed to the trenches, eliminating most of the defenders but never managing to clear the barbed wire lines to seize the German position. At the final turn, the Americans just hadn’t made enough headway to control the beach.

IMG_3627World In Flames continued over D-Day weekend

With action raging on the sand table, a group of club members showed up to continue playing their massive World In Flames game. Australian Design Group’s WIF from 1985 is the standard in grand-scale strategic fighting of the entire WWII period. The game’s rich playable detail, dizzying number of 1400 playing counters and sprawling maps makes it a commitment for only the most experienced gamers over many months of play.

IMG_3630Allied forces push from the beaches inland to Caen in Normandy ’44

The Normandy ’44 game from the evening before concluded with a decisive Allied victory Saturday afternoon. Pushing the Germans back from all but Utah Beach, the Allies captured Bayeux and several smaller towns. With German defenders routed from roads leading inland from the landing beaches, the victors rolled in to control half of Caen by the game’s end.

IMG_3625No one was going hungry at Metropolitan Wargamers over the weekend

Saturday also included a lot of other club members down for the usual variety of board, Euro and card games, making for a packed house. As the crowd rolled in, a longtime club member showed up with an enormous fresh-caught fish which he proceeded to gut with a huge military-style knife. With fish on the grill and food ordered in, there was plenty of food to sustain the crowd of gamers throughout the day.

We all took a mid-afternoon break to dice-off in a game, books, DVD and miniatures raffle to raise funds for the club. I was fortunate to score a copy of A Few Acres of Snow from Treefrog Games, and another lucky person picked up an unused copy of out-of-print the Games Workshop classic Dreadfleet.

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Initial deployment of Allied and Axis blinds in our Saturday evening IABSM scenario

As the main crowd thinned out, we ran an evening IABSM game continuing the assault beyond Easy Green. The scenario found initial US forces deployed around a small French farm with the objective of moving men off the table on the roads beyond. The Germans were tasked with preventing the American advance and seizing the farmhouse stronghold.

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Settling in for a contested fight at the farmhouse above Omaha Beach

Using initial blind deployment, Germans quickly moved to the farm along thick hedgerows as the Americans drove into the building for cover. Turns followed with the Americans jumping from cover to fire on the dwindling German force which returned fire over the hedges to unfortunate US infantry hanging out in the open. A US flamethrower attack from the window of the farmhouse decimated another German squad sitting close behind a nearby hedge. Pressing their luck, a group from the farmhouse made a run for the road exit only to be stalled by a reinforcing German heavy machine gun squad. Returning fire, the German MG42s were eliminated from their position in the open field. However, the damage had been done. Although the Germans had not captured the farm objective, the Americans no longer had a sufficient force to push off the table. The night ended with a German victory beyond Easy Green.

Sunday Games

IMG_3620The war continues on the Memoir ’44 Hedgerow Hell battle map

With the first days of Operation Overlord behind us, Sunday’s game focused on the breakout actions. A couple visiting players showed up for the club’s Memoir ’44 game around noon on Sunday. Using the wide Hedgerow Hell expansion map, the Allies beat the scenario odds to win the game in the Overlord scenario. There was much talk of getting larger games of Memoir ’44 back in rotation at the club soon, so hopefully getting the game back on the table will bring some renewed interest in the coming months.

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The initial armored encounter outside Lingevres leaves British tanks in flames

I finished off my weekend as the British at Lingevres using the same scenario I first ran at the club a few months ago. The mission ahead for the Brits was to move into the heavily defended town and take two of the buildings. Historically, the battle played out as a tank duel between UK Sherman Firefly and German Panther tanks, and our game this past weekend played out in a similar way.

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A Panther meets its end at the hand of the British Royal Artillery as a close assault is attempted on another in the woods nearby

At the outset, my first platoon of tanks got a bit overly aggressive and charged into contact with the full Panther platoon at the farm outside Lingevres. With the first Firefly destroyed in the opening turns, my remaining Shermans pulled back as the Panthers rattled to the middle of the field to hold off UK infantry advancing through the woods and bocage-lined fields beyond. One Panther bogged on a hedgerow and another was destroyed in an initial volley from the Royal Artillery in the fields outside town. Several turns became ensnared in attempted infantry assaults on the third Panther in the woods, but eventually the German tank rolled away to deal with the building reinforcing infantry and tank platoon in the fields on the other side of the table.

IMG_3622British Shermans and infantry break across a field toward Lingevres

With the Panthers moving away, fresh British infantry and the surviving Shermans moved to the farm and fields beyond. British artillery fire winnowed and pinned the German platoon in the church over several turns. Artillery fire also sought to keep the reinforcing German spotter pinned to limit the effectiveness of the reserve Nebelwerfer battery which as delayed reserves to the rear of Lingevres.

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The duel between the Panther and Firefly ends with the British tank in flames as the remaining Shermans destroy a Panzer IV platoon in the distance

In the meantime, a multi-turn tank duel had settled in between a lone Firefly and Panther while a reinforcing Panzer IV platoon arrived at the edge of town. Both tank groups traded fire, and in the end, the Panzers were routed with two or their three destroyed and the Firefly fell to the Panther’s gun. Back at the farm field, Shermans traded fire with Pak 40s and destroyed an anti-aircraft platoon defending the town’s flank. With two Panthers left on either side of the church, Shermans on each side of town and advancing British infantry, we called the game a draw.

 Weekend Debrief

After more than 20 hours of gaming over two nights and days, I was pretty worn out, but the interest in the D-Day event had made the weekend well worth it. WWII still holds enormous interest to this day, as demonstrated not only by our weekend of gaming but by the mainstream media’s coverage of D-Day over the week leading up. In the next week, we’re kicking off an FOW Infantry Aces campaign with fresh forces hitting the tables in rounds of Italy-themed WWII games. This fall we’ll be playing out some Market Garden battles and by the winter we hope to host some Battle of the Bulge engagements. It was a pretty special weekend in Brooklyn, but for regular visitors to Metropolitan Wargamers, there’s always the next game in this very unique New York City community.

New Game Weekend: I Ain’t Been Shot Mum

IABSMbook

As a World War II gamer, I have a newly-discovered love for a game which doubles my gaming possibilities with all the time and money I’ve  got invested in the 15mm Flames of War game which is the modern standard for the period. The past two weekends at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, I’ve been turned on to I Ain’t Been Shot Mum which is billed as “the other World War II miniatures game. For gamers with a lot of miniatures on hand and a hankering to play WWII at a different and more historical level, IABSM is well worth it.

TFLlogoNow in its third edition, IABSM has been published since 2002 by Too Fat Lardies, UK-based makers of a number of wargaming rules systems for a variety of historical periods. Overall, the game provides WWII wargamers with a simple, sleek set of skirmish rules that focuses far less on fielding shiny models and more on tactical decisions on the tabletop. IABSM is a true “what you see is what you get” system with a 1:1 scale at 15mm but easily adaptable to other model scales. One guy on the table equals one soldier in the field during battle, taking the game down to a level that really “feels” like commanding a group of troops. The smaller, less abstract scale of IABSM games provides a lot less “gaminess” to the systems, and relies a lot more on the decision-making skill of players commanding forces on each side. In many ways, the game is a throwback to original Kriegsspiel invented for use in Prussian army training two hundred years ago.

IABSMcardsSample cards from I Ain’t Been Shot Mum from Too Fat Lardies

The core rules of IABSM retail at under $20, and provide a number of basic underlying mechanics easily usable in any battle or theater of WWII. As an avid FOW player who is often faced with hundreds of pages of more grand-scale rules, army lists and ongoing modifications, the elegance of the skirmish-level IABSM comes down to five main areas:

1. Random Activation: Rather than playing by a simple “I go, you go” turn-based mechanic, IABSM games are powered by a set of cards which randomly activate deployed troops in the field. At the beginning of the game, a deck of cards is shuffled with each card representing a unit in the game. Cards are drawn and units are activated in turn, with units choosing a number of actions based on their quality. Highly-trained US Airborne troops may have four actions when activated, while less elite regulars may only have three. Actions include movement, firing, spotting the enemy and many other activities which makes commanding a unit’s turn one of many possible choices. Cards are added to the deck as new units arrive and removed if a unit is destroyed. Drawing a “tea break” card ends the turn with one final round of shooting for available inactivated units before the cards are shuffled a new turn begins.

2. Morale: Troop morale is nearly as important as firepower on actual battlefields. A well-armed but rattled group of soldiers may prove to be nearly ineffective in the field without some stalwart command leading the way. IABSM offers several levels of morale with pinning, shock and suppression which progressively eats into how effective a particular force can perform on the table. When being shot at, a simple table resolves possible kills as well as whether a unit is progressively shocked into poorer performance in subsequent turns or entirely immobilized due to overwhelming fire.

3. Command: Commanding and junior officers in IABSM are represented as “big men,” with individual cards allowing for their separate officer actions to drive gameplay. Through proximity or attachment to their forces, commanders can greatly affect morale by clearing shock from troops and boosting their strength in subsequent exchanges with the enemy. The presence of command also doubles the chance of troop activation, as a drawn “big man” card can press an attached unit into action without its own card being drawn.

4. Blinds: In real-world combat, knowing the enemy position through intelligence, observation or contact is almost as important as the engagements that result. While many miniatures games present an open table where nearly everything is known from the get-go, IABSM preserves a “fog of war” element with the deployment of “blinds” on the table. Represented by oval-shaped markers, blinds are able to move around the table without revealing their actual make-up. Thus, a player might move a small unit, a large platoon or even a false blind containing no troops around the table without the enemy knowing its true make-up until revealed. This allows players to add an element of diversion to the game, as an enemy way burn up several turns chasing a ghost across the table as real forces jockey into position.

5. The Game Referee: One of the hallmarks of wargames until recent decades was an all-seeing, all-controlling game referee. As a non-player, the referee not only provides clarifications on rules and contested play on the table, but they also are able to maintain a level of secrecy between each player as a scenario unfolds. The game can be played without a referee, but the presence of one adds yet another depth of to the “fog of war” randomness employed already with blinds and random card activation.

WTHbook

Beyond the base rules, Too Fat Lardies offers a number of IABSM scenario and guide books for Europe, Italy, North Africa and the Pacific. General lists allow for the creation of custom scenarios, but I really like the historically-specific books. The past two weekends, I played the first two games in the D-Day-themed Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book which contains over twenty scenarios from Omaha and Utah beaches to the inland. Following the United States advance and subsequent German counterattacks, each scenario lays out a simple briefing for the German and US players along with a referee sheet, terrain map and a guide to forces and cards needed for play.

IMG_3554“Protect The Guns” scenario set-up for IABSM

IABSMGameScenes from the German defense above Pointe du Hoc in “Protect The Guns”

My first game — “Protect The Guns” — saw me playing as the defending Germans looking to hold off the Allied advance from Pointe du Hoc with a couple heavy machine guns, snipers and some off-board artillery. One of the remarkable things about IABSM is the vast amount of space represented on the table, making decisions of movement and firing  very important. My artillery was also very unreliable, representing some of the German communication challenges come alive. That said, with only a few men at my disposal, I was able to stave off and force the Americans to redirect through constant harassing fire until their reinforcements entered under a blind at my rear. With one of my machine guns and both snipers finally destroyed, the last of my Germans found themselves pinched on two sides of more-skilled US troops who took the game.

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“Holding The Pointe” scenario set-up from IABSM

In “Holding The Pointe,” my Germans were on the counter-offensive and looking to push the Americans back into the sea. With all my forces deployed at the game’s start and all American units under blinds, my Germans began in overwhelmed confusion. This disadvantage made the game play so much more like the actual action in Normandy as German forces scrambled to head-off the Allied attack inland. Rather than focus my attack, I made the poor gamble of splitting myself to chase two sets of US targets. By the time a large force of German reinforcements arrived in the seventh turn, my initial force had gotten chewed-up in a series of stand-off firefights amidst the thick bocage near my original deployment. My divided force tactics were ultimately my undoing, and I’m certain a more textbook massed attack may very well have giving me a greater shot at victory.

With a couple of games under our belts, we’re going to continue right through the IABSM D-Day scenarios and beyond. We’ve managed our games without a referee so far through some really good fair play, but we’re anxious to try some scenarios with the referee element. Overall, the up-close feel for command and the heightened tactical realism in IABSM has given me a second WWII game to love at the 15mm scale.

A Trip to Brooklyn’s Trainworld

trainworldbknyI’ve written several times about my lifetime love for model trains which served as my gateway to the scale modelling hobby and eventually to miniatures wargaming. Walking into a model train convention or local hobby shop as a kid was like opening an alternate fantasy world of endless possibility. On occasional nights after dinner as a young hobbyist, my dad’s announcement that we were climbing into his truck to take a trip to Kurt’s Trains & Hobbies in nearby Caledonia, NY was like declaring we were about to take a journey to another universe.

So, after some 16 years living in Brooklyn, NY I recently made my first stop at Trainworld in the Kensington neighborhood just a few subway stops from my front door. Located in an light industrial stretch of McDonald Avenue right under the elevated F line, Trainworld is an old slice of Brooklyn brimming with charmingly coarse but knowledgeably helpful staff and one of the largest inventories anywhere of model railroading and related hobby supplies.

IMG_2906Trains running on the layout at Trainworld in the Kensington area of Brooklyn, NY

Trainworld and their Trainland location in Lynbrook, NY in nearby Nassau County lay claim as “America’s Largest Discount Mail Order Discount Train Store” powered by their extensive and well-built website. The retail location in Brooklyn features a main store space packed from floor to ceiling with N, HO, O, G and S scale model trains, track, buildings, scenery and supplies. A small phone staff manages customer service queries in a second space off the main store which also features a small train layout which loops and clatters around all day long. The enormous warehouse opens through a door just past the main retail counter space, granting any walk-in customer full access to the store’s massive inventory.

IMG_2904Scale scenery supplies at Trainworld

It’s been years since I’ve had my own model railroad layout, but having a place like Trainworld nearby is a huge resource for a wargamer and miniatures modeller like myself. On my recent visit, I was able to grab a few bags of various ground cover products from Woodland Scenics right off the racks stretched the entire length of one wall. When one specific color I needed wasn’t on display, a quick call to the warehouse brought a package to the counter in about five minutes.

IMG_2905Shelves of trees and natural modelling details at Trainworld

A little further down the aisle are several shelves of ready-made model trees of varying quality, size, coloring and price point, as well as other packaged details like rocks, gravel, crop fields and a flowering meadows. All these scenic materials are just the thing  I enjoy in making my various tabletop battlefields come alive, a topic I touched on in one of my earliest posts on this blog.

I’ve got a number of scenery projects on my list for the coming months, including a re-basing of my trees and scratch-building bocage hedgerows. Discovering a place like Trainworld just 10-minutes from my apartment is going to make these projects all the easier and provide fuel for more ideas for some time to come.