Flames of War: 70th Anniversary Battle Of The Bulge Mission

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This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge fought between Allied and German forces in the snowy, wooded Ardennes region of Western Europe. The six-week German offensive through a frigid December 1944 and January 1945 surprised Allied forces and proved to be costly for all involved. At its conclusion, commanders on both sides counted nearly 100,000 casualties and much of the German ground and air reserves had been smashed as a result of their ill-fated gambit against the Allies.

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The Battle of the Bulge Mission rules from Flames of War

To mark the occasion, several of us met at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY to run through the big Battle of the Bulge Mission available free online for Flames of War. The simple scenario plays out on a huge 6′ x 8′ tabletop with 4000-point forces on either side drawn from the Nuts! and Devil’s Charge books as well as the Panzers To The Meuse PDF. We set our table using a large off-white canvas with roads crisscrossing the forested field dotted with a few small structures.

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101st Airborne US Parachute Rifle Company from Nuts!

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US Glider Rifle Company from Nuts!

On the Allied defending side, I ran my US 101st Airborne Division “Easy Company” list made famous by the book and TV series Band of Brothers. Several special character Warrior figures were included in my list and I also added a hefty group of five M4A3 76mm Shermans and an 81mm mortar platoon. My partner fielded a US Glider Rifle Company, also with 81mm mortars and a 57mm anti-tank platoon. In support, his list was rounded out with M7 Priests, M18 Hellcats and a tank platoon with a Jumbo, two Easy Eights and two more M4A3 76mm Shermans.

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Lehr Panzerkompanie from Panzers To The Meuse

For the armored attacking Germans, both players pulled Lehr Panzerkompanie lists from the Panzers To The Meuse PDF from FOW. Across the lists, a swarm of Panzer IV platoons were accompanied by Panther G and Jagdpanther tanks, Puma armored cars, rocket launchers, Wirbelwinds and two Panzergrenadier platoons. To supplement their massive armored ground forces, the German players also opted for limited air support from a ME 262 A2a Sturmvogel jet plane.

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Initial Battle of the Bulge set up as German players plot their offensive

Per the scenario, the largely infantry US forces were deployed with the exception of our 76mm tank platoon and anti-tank guns which we held in reserve. The US anti tank platoon deployed at the center of the board with their M20 Greyhound scout cars, ready to spring support with the soft but deadly Hellcats to either flank.

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Panzer Lehr forces deploy and move toward the American right

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The German armored assault pushes to the American left

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German ME 262 jet attempts to dig the 101st Airborne out of their positions

The German forces moved quickly onto the board with reconnaissance moves from the Pumas stretching across the table. A mass of Panzer IVs and the Jagdpanthers rolled to the US right. On the American left, Panthers moved to cover in a small wood while the two platoons of mounted Panzergrenadiers pushed down the road toward a US rifle team dug into another woods looking to attack with an armored assault. At the rear, the first run of the Sturmvogel took after the US Airborne in position protecting an objective to no effect.

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The German armored assault on the US rifles in the woods

The German armored assault commenced but was bounced back over the first couple turns with the Americans taking only a few losses from the protection of the trees. Panzer IVs moved in to support from behind the German halftracks and took fire from the Jumbo, Easy Eights and 76mm Shermans sitting in a treeline across the road. The Americans sprang their first ambush, placing anti-tank guns nearby the Panthers. While shots from the US AT platoon were unable to crack the heavy panther armor, their position would go on to strongly limit the maneuverability of the Panthers for the whole game.

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US 76mm tank platoon springs an ambush on the right

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US tanks receive heavy fire from the Panzer Lehr

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US Hellcats move to stop the German armor advance

Over on the German right, the Panzer IV and Jagdpanther force divided around a wooded area and was engaged by the platoon of five 76mm Shermans exposing themselves in ambush. Over the next several turns, armor fire was exchanged as the German tanks sought cover in and around the woods. Three 76mm Shermans were quickly destroyed and the position was quickly reinforced with the US Hellcats deploying from behind a nearby barn. One Jagdpanther quickly bogged and sat stalled over repeated attempts to unbog for the majority of the remainder of the game.

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Panzer IVs are devastated by US armor fire from the woods at the left

Back on the US left flank, the German armored assault was pushed back with most of two platoons destroyed in a crossfire from American rifle infantry in one woods and tank fire from another. the combined fire from the US armor likewise laid waste to the approaching Panzer IVs and Pumas. At mid-game, the American left was holding but the US right was in trouble.

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The ME 262 Sturmvogel takes a run at the US Priests

Supporting fire from both sides proved relatively ineffective throughout the game. The German ME 62 failed to score a hit on multiple runs over the table both to infantry and the rear American Priest platoon. The Priests themselves served to only stall the German armor advance with poor results from multiple bombardments. German rocket fire from their rear also showed little for its repeated efforts once spotting teams were in position on both flanks.

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IMG_4841German armor pushes for the crossroads objective

By the sixth and seventh turns, the game continued to progress steadily on two fronts. At the US left, Panther tanks moved into position after their allied Panzer IVs sat burning all around them. Smoke rounds from two US mortar platoons effectively kept the Panthers out of most of the fight as they crept forward and back in the woods. Finally, a couple of side armor shots from the American anti-tank 57mm guns took a couple of the Panthers out and effectively ended the German threat on one side of the field.

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101st Airborne troops rush forward to contest the crossroads objective

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Panzer Lehr forces attempt to push out the 101st Airborne

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German armor continues to roll to a second objective crossroads at the rear

Things were fairing much better for the Germans all along at the other end of the field. Over several late game turns, the German armor pushed forward, leaving all the US Hellcats in flame and the final surviving 76mm Sherman fleeing the field. The veteran 101st Airborne troops continued to snarl the German advance, remaining static and dug in under wooded cover. With the Americans handily holding their left, two US platoons ran to the right to shore up the defense of two objectives. Just as one platoon of US paratroopers broke, a round of fire from the Priests took out one of the Jagdpanthers. With German armor at one objective and pushing hard at a second, a lot of American troops were poised to go down contesting two crossroads with plenty of mortar support ready to shift their attention across the table.

The written scenario doesn’t call for a turn limit, but after having played for nearly eight hours we called the game at the ninth turn. This was one of the longer and larger FOW battles we had played at the club in Brooklyn in this year. In a year of 70th anniversaries, wrapping up with an exhausting and dynamic Battle of the Bulge game seemed the best way to play some tribute in miniature to the largest battle fought in US history.

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Flames of War: Foy 1945 Scenario

With a big full day of Flames of War gaming coming up at Metropolitan Wargamers on July 20th a few of us got together for a practice game this past weekend. There’s a renewed interest in FOW at the club as of late, and one of the great things about the group is the way experienced and new players alike come to learn together.

Wanting a manageable but interesting late war Western Europe scenario with US Airborne and German forces, we settled on the Battle of Foy from January 1945. The battle was just one small part of the brutal and much larger Battle of the Bulge campaign in the Ardennes forest region of France, Belgium and Luxembourg during the winter of ’44-’45. The engagement near Foy is featured dramatically in an episode from HBO Band of Brothers miniseries (clip here), so I was looking forward to trying my hand at commanding Easy Company from the 101st Airborne Division on the table for the day.

The FOW website offers a downloadable PDF outlining the scenario which fairly represents the German defensive position in and around Foy. No guidelines are given on the make-up of forces, but we decided on 1780 points on a side with flexibility beyond the historic record. The US Airborne begins in two divided deployment areas with I Company pinned due to indecision by its commander Lt. Norman Dike. Only by the daring sprint across open ground by Ronald Spiers sent on orders by Capt. Richard “Dick” Winters to relieve Dike of command can I Company join the assault on Foy. In the FOW scenario, the US forces have six turns to wrest control of one of two objectives from the defending Germans. The Germans must hold their ground against the bravery and skill of Easy Company.

The US struck first with an airstrike from their P-47 Thunderbolt taking out two of the three German PaK 40 anti-tank guns tucked behind the churchyard walls at the center of town. After being pinned by the P-47, the anti-tank platoon wound up rolling poorly and remained pinned and ineffective for the remainder of the game.

That was pretty much the last major good story the US could tell for the rest of the game. Some house-to-house fighting took place along the German right flank with the Airborne eventually beating the Germans back from the protection of the row of houses along the road to town. The American Sherman tank platoon rolled up the center but remained stuck for the whole game attempting to machine-gun the German platoons dug in behind the churchyard walls. Four of the five tanks wound up taking fire and being destroyed where they sat.

With the US infantry moving too slowly on both sides of the table, the Germans rolled their armored reserves in on turn three as their Stug platoon entered the table to hold off any US advance on the German right flank.

US volleys from the parachute artillery platoon tucked far back in the field did little more than occasionally eliminate a few German infantry and keep the units protecting the objective on the German left flank pinned.

Aside from a deadly late game P-47 strike on the German mortars which had harassed the Americans for the entire game, US air support never did much more for the rest of the game. By the sixth turn, the final German Panzer IV armor support rolled onto the table. With both flanks locked down by the Germans, a final desperate US attempt at dual assaults on the German armor platoons were ineffective. With three American platoons eliminated and most others with heavy casualties, the US ceded victory to the Germans in a revisionary result from the actual American victory in 1945.

Games like this are fun but also an opportunity to consider lessons learned. My US 101st Airborne was entirely too cautious and didn’t get into the fight fast enough, losing the opportunity to control the town’s center before the arrival of the German armor. My machine gun platoon got stuck mid-field and got chewed up bit by bit without having the opportunity to truly unleash its full effectiveness on the Germans who remained out of range and dug in for most of the game. Other infantry platoons hung back too much in the woods or buildings and never really got up in the fight.

With a much larger game coming up in a few weekends, I see that taking greater advantage of Easy Company’s aggressive, daring and deadly experience is going to be key to an Allied victory. Looking back at our re-running of the battle at Foy this past weekend, I can see I was a little too much like the wavering Lt. Dike and never let the heroics of individuals like Ronald Spiers to take over.