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.

IMG_4840German Panthers are thwarted by smoke rounds at the US left

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: Fielding the FOW M10 Tank Destroyer Platoon

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The Blitzkreig of German armored forces is one of the more enduring tactics introduced in World War II. Swarmed masses of German tanks and mechanized forces in the early war period rolled through Poland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands in Western Europe and punched into the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa in 1941. With early Panzer and later Panther and Tiger tanks ruling the battlefields of Europe, Allied forces struggled for solutions to crack the German tide of iron.

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A US M10 tank destroyer comes ashore in Normandy after D-Day in 1944

By mid-war, the Americans had a solution with the M10 tank destroyer. Introduced first into the battlefields of North Africa in 1943, the M10 GMC (“gun motor carriage”) carried a big 3-inch/76mm gun and on a Sherman hull. After success in Africa against earlier model German tanks, M10s became part of the post-D-Day Allied breakthrough campaign. While effective against Panzer III and IV tanks, more heavily-armored Panther and Tiger tanks still proved problematic. Luckily, the M10 was supplemented by the British-modified Sherman 76mm Firefly and the later US-built M18 Hellcat which was quicker on the field. The combination of these three tank destroyers, along with the stalwart work of Allied infantry and deadly air support, turned the tide in Europe.

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One of my earliest 15mm WWII purchases years ago, and somewhat at random, was the now-discontinued M10 Tank Destroyer Platoon set from Flames of War. I think at the time, I just liked the look of the models and I was looking to fill-out my new US forces with more variety. To get to a full platoon of four M10s, a fellow club member at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY recently gave my two more M10s to which I’ve added an additional M20 scout car.

IMG_3389New M10 tank destroyer and M20 scout car

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IMG_3390US tank destroyer platoon with new models (left) and older models (right)

With my existing and new section sections, I now can field a full tank destroyer platoon using a variety of Allied Late War European lists. Anti-tank tactics in the game provide multiple opportunities for the M10 platoon to be used in combination with infantry and other Allied armor on the game table. With optional deployment as a recon platoon using the M20 scout cars, the M10s can create ambushes to wreak havoc on German tanks. Admittedly, using this full platoon will take some practice but I’m certain they’ll be causing headaches for my German opponents in the very near future.

Flames Of War: Encounter Mission

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The official FOW website makes all the missions from the third edition rules available online, and they’re a quick way to throw together a game and practice tactics without putting all the work needed into a historic scenario. Having been away from a Flames of War table for a week or two, a couple of us at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY threw together a quick, non-historic Encounter Mission last weekend.

IMG_2698Encounter Mission table (German deployment to right and US to the left)

My opponent, playing as Germans, rolled as attacker and chose the long side of the table with the church on his right and a farm and wooded area to his left. This left my US 101st Airborne with the bridged river at my right and a farm at my left as defender. As per scenario rules, we each began by placing an objective on either long edge of the table, placing half our platoons in reserve and deploying the remainder of our starting units along our edges.

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Germans Stugs move to control the center

The Germans won the roll to go first and immediately pressed toward the center around the church yard with their Stug platoon and on their left toward the river with Panzergrenadiers. It was clear the Germans hoped to make  speedy run to the objective just on the other side of the stone bridge and ford on the river.

IMG_2700US anti-tank platoon rolls to seal the German advance at the bridge

In my first turn, I moved my M-18 Hellcat tank destroyers to the bridge and hoped to get some quick kills in on the advancing German Stugs from the bridge.

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Members of the 101st Airborne take position in the woods

On the other side of the road to the bridge, my US Airborne hustled into the two sets of woods. Hiding among the trees, the paratroopers looked to seal the flank against the advancing German mounted troops on the other side of the river.

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One Hellcat burns at the foot of the bridge while another fires from the bridge

With my Hellcats missing their shots on the advancing Stugs, the German guns rolled to the intersection just beyond the bridge and destroyed one of my anti-tanks. While the loss of the Hellcat halved my anti-tank capabilities, the burning hulk effectively shut down the German path to the bridge.

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US Airborne and German Panzergrenadiers exchange fire over the river

Across the river, the 101st troops safely fired from the treeline toward the mechanized Germans across the river. With combined fire from a a nearby remaining Hellcat, Jeep and armored car from the tank destroyer platoon, a German halftrack was destroyed and forced its troops to dismount. Returning fire, the Germans destroyed the armored car and Jeep.

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Stugs cross the field as an Airborne platoon lies behind the bocage beyond

With the road to the bridge shut down, the Stugs turned to speed their way across the fields at the center of the board. An Airborne platoon took up position on the other edge of the field, lying in wait for the advancing Stugs.

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The US P-47 hits the Stugs in the open field

The Stugs sitting in the open field made for a quick target for the P-47 Thunderbolt which flew on in turn four, leaving one Stug in flames and a second with its crew bailed out.

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The Stugs reach the gap at the field edge and destroy the remaining Hellcat

I their next turn, the Stugs remounted and made their way to the gap at the far edge of the field. A couple quick shots to the side armor of the remaining Hellcat destroyed the remaining US tank destroyer which had been busying itself pouring fore into the still-mounted Panzergrenadiers. It looked bad for the Americans with nothing standing between the German Stugs and the objective just beyond the river ford.

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US Shermans make quick work of the remaining Stugs

Luck switched back for the Americans as they successfully rolled for their Sherman tank reinforcements in turn five. The Shermans moved to the river’s edge and destroyed the remaining three Stugs. Not only had the German armored advance to the objective been thwarted, but yet another easy path had been closed-up with a burning Stug clogging the exit from the field.

IMG_2710Panzer IV reinforcements move to take the US left

By turn six, the German Panzer IV reinforcements were rolling down the road looking to run around the far edge of the field and attack the US left flank. The left side was only held by a US light machine gun and rifle platoons, so armored support was badly needed if the Germans were to be stopped.

IMG_2716The first turn at the battle of the crossroads on the US left

At the intersection on the US left, ferocious fighting erupted as an assault from the usually stalwart 101st Airborne was repelled. The Shermans moved in and destroyed a Panzer IV.

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The second turn of the battle of the crossroads on the US left

With space and options getting tight, the Panzer IV’s returned fire and Sherman was left burning. With a two-on-two fight. the Shermans destroyed another Panzer IV in the sixth turn and the final German tank fled the field after failing a morale test for the pummeled platoon. With German armor destroyed across the field, the US rifle and light machine gun platoons scurried to the German right toward their objective behind the church.

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German half tracks struggle to cross the river on the weakening American right

The final turns of the game played out back at the river with the reinforced Germans struggling across the river. Fire continued to be exchanged with the US rifle platoon in the forest which eventually fell back into the treeline at the road.

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The Thunderbolt engages German transports at the river crossing

Another run from the Thunderbolt threw more Germans from destroyed transports. Remaining Germans trucked over the river and around the woods with only only a few US rifles between them an victory with capture of the objective.

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The final showdown at the contested objective

On the eight turn, it all came down to the contested objective. With a full US parachute rifle platoon in the woods and another heavily-damaged one nearby, the final battle looked like it was going to be decided with some bloody assaults. It looked like anyone’s game, but the Germans were now at half-strength on the table, and a failed motivation test caused the Germans to cede the battle.

German artillery never played a factor in the game, and the heavy terrain shut down use of US air support except for in two deadly runs of the game. Tanks on both sides wound up serving more as roadblocks at some key points on the road, and the river also played an important role in the US defense against the German advance.

We’ve got a couple historic scenarios at the club I’ll be reporting on soon, including a landing at Utah Beach and a scenario from the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. What makes FOW flexible and so enjoyable as a system is the ability to play historic and non-historic engagements, something I experienced last week and am certain to see more of in my after-action reports soon to come.

Flames of War: La Fiere Causeway 1944 Scenario

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In the late evening of June 5th and pre-dawn hours of June 6th, 1944, a steady flow of Allied paratroopers began dropping throughout the French countryside to clear the inland way for the D-Day beach landings to come later that morning. Like elsewhere, scheduled US Airborne drops near Sainte-Mère-Église left paratroopers scattered around the countryside. To the southwest of the town’s target area, a contingent from the 82nd Airborne found itself near a quaint French farm compound and a small bridge over the Merderet River. Recognizing the river crossing as a key defensive line, the assembled paratroopers established a perimeter along the river. A few hours later, the US troops were met by a German Grenadier and armored battallion hoping to stall the Allied invaders from moving inland. The battle that erupted at the river would rage for three days until the German force withdrew in time for the arrival of US infantry and Sherman forces rolling in from Utah Beach on June 9th.

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The Flames of War website offers a basic scenario of the encounter at La Fiere Causeway suitable for 1500 point forces on either side. This past weekend a visitor to Metropolitan Wargamers and I had a go at the scenario with my US Airborne facing off against his Germans. As with the historical record, my force held closely to the scenario’s outline with two parachute rifle platoons with plenty of bazookas supported by a platoon of light machine guns, parachute engineers, a glider artillery platoon and M18 tank destroyers. On the German side of the table, my opponent lacked the primitive French tanks that historically fought at the battle. Instead, he filled his force with a number of Grenadier platoons mounted in half tracks backed by two small platoons of Panzer IVs and a Nebelwerfer rocket battery.

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As per the scenario rules, each of us chose half of our platoons to be held in off-table reserve. Beginning with the Germans, we alternated deploying our starting forces on the table. My American engineers took up position in the courtyard of the farm on my left flank, the machine guns lined the hedge on the other side of the bridge and a rifle platoon deployed on my far right flank. As expected, the Germans deployed a tank platoon at the road entry point and the rocket battery and a mounted Grenadier platoon in the field on their left flank.

IMG_2165With the Germans taking the first turn, the first Panzer IV platoon made way for the river crossing at the middle of the table while the half tracks rolled for the ford on the American right flank. Deployed in and around the farm buildings, the US engineers quickly laid down mines at the foot of the bridge and an Airborne platoon crossed the river to meet the approaching Grenadiers and the rocket battery beyond.

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IMG_2167With turn three, German tank and Grenadier reserves appeared on the table edge opposite the farm and pointed their way toward the French buildings and the nearby bridge. Four US bazookas bailed one Panzer in the clearing across  the river but three other Panzers made it across at the middle ford. US tank destroyer reserves came on the table and immediately poured machine gun fire into the half tracks across the river. The Grenadiers bailed from their transports and the half tracks raced to the rear while the Nebelwerfers failed to score effective shots in the hearty US Airborne troops.

IMG_2171With the Grenadiers on the run back to defend the rocket battery, the US tank destroyers turned their attention on the Panzers and quickly destroyed one while the others continued to push on unharmed due to the protection of their side Schurzen armor. At the farm, the approaching Panzer and Grenadier platoons exchanged fire with the engineers and riflemen defending behind the stone walls. Even with heavy casualties, the engineers repelled a direct assault by two Panzers as a fresh rifle platoon rushed to reinforce the farmyard strongpoint.

Alas, by the fifth turn the game was effectively over for the Americans as the late-arriving US howitzers once again failed to hit in one final volley against the Panzers rushing to seize the objective. The Americans had chased both Grenadier platoons from the field and destroyed a couple Panzers, but the Airborne focus on defending rather than seizing objectives allowed the Germans to take the table.

At the game’s outset, both of us shook our heads with the difficult mission ahead of us. The Airborne never effectively engaged in a close-quarters assault that might’ve taken out more of the tanks sooner on in the game, and artillery on both sides contributed nothing to the game. As with the last few FOW games I’ve played, the engagement at La Fiere once again pointed out the strength and tactical importance that infantry played in WWII. Keeping men moving and in the fight is key to victory, and this time around the German troops got the better of the day.