Battleground: Bocage HQ Near Le Mesnil-Rouxelin 1944 Scenario

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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.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Cabourg June 6, 1944 Scenario

LandingatOmahaOn the morning of the Normandy Landings of June 6, 1944, taking the eastern sector of Omaha Beach fell to the United States 1st Infantry Division. Despite some missed targeted landing zones on the beach and heavy losses at the far ends, the exit “draws” were largely secured by mid-morning. As additional troops and supplies began to arrive, the push inland began.

Omaha to CobourgMap of the US push to Cabourg from Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944

(via US Army Center of Military History)

Moving toward the objective of Colleville-sur-Mer, probing forces from the 1st Infantry Division pressed forward through the seaside fields of Normandy and began to encounter German defenders in various states of disarray. Tired from the fighting at the beach, the first group of Americans on patrol moved cautiously into Cabourg from the north and east while the German force scrambled to hold against any additional headway by the invaders. WhereTheHell After a couple of month hiatus, we jumped back into a 15mm World War II game at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend centering on the action at Cabourg. Using the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules and a post-D-Day scenario from the Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book, all from Too Fat Lardies, our table was set to show the American advance and German defense at Cabourg.

IMG_4940Initial advance of US forces on blinds from the east and north toward Cabourg

Playing on the US side, my partner and I divided our force of three rifle platoons under blinds plus three false blinds. I swung two platoons and a false blind directly at the village from the east while my teammate took the other two false blinds and a single platoon around to the north behind a copse of trees. The mass of US blinds hiding a force only half the actual size provided a great simulation of the confusion the Germans felt that morning as they also lay hidden in and around the village in defense.

IMG_4941US forces near Cabourg on blinds from the east

IMG_4942The first US forces are revealed beyond a wood north of Cabourg

After a couple turns of US movement and prodding for Germans outside the town, the Germans spotted the Americans moving cautiously to the north. With two false blinds exposed, the third American blind revealed a rifle platoon armed with a mortar and two officers present. A false blind was also revealed near a farm at the eastern edge of the town as the Germans continued to burn up turn actions trying to find out where the Americans actually were.

IMG_4943American and German forces simultaneously surprise each other near the farm

IMG_4944A close assault erupts in the woods behind the barn

In close proximity to each other to the rear of a barn at the farm, US and German blinds were exposed nearly simultaneously with American gunfire tearing into the outnumbered Germans. A close assault at a hedgerow quickly pushed the first German fire team to the rear and out the action for the game. The remainder of the German platoon stayed to continue on firing from within the first barn and a hede nearby.

IMG_4945The final American blind is exposed just north of the farm

IMG_4946Americans give and take fire at a hedgerow

On the other side of the farm, the final American blind revealed another rifle platoon hunkered behind a hedge lining a road to town. At long-range, shots were exchanged between German defenders in and around the barn and the Americans now shooting from both sides of the barn. The action at the east end of Cabourg settled into a stalemate of fire across the fields and around the barns.

IMG_4947US forces inch toward Cabourg across hedges and fields from the north

IMG_4949US forces stall out to the northeast of Cabourg

Back to the north of town, the lone US platoon on the moved cautiously along a road and over fields, fences and hedgerows. With the Americans creeping toward Cabourg, the Germans opened up with MG 42s positioned in an upper story of a second barn and from the garret of a farmhouse near the entry road to town. With a cross-fire of heavy machine gun pouring into the Americans at the north and east, the US advance stalled somewhat until something could be done about the German fire ripping from building windows.

IMG_4948The remnants of the first German rifle platoon look to reposition to cover

IMG_4950Americans move to assault the German machine guns at the second barn

Back at the two barns, one US platoon swung around to the rear of the barn to assault the German machine gun crew inside. With the MG 42 crew thrown back into a retreat from the barn, the surviving German rifles on the other side of the barn retreated from fire into a nearby house. Firing from their new position, the Germans stalled the Americans pushing around the barns to the village. At the same time, the other MG 42 continued to fire into the other US platoon now pinned with dwindling numbers behind a hedge.

IMG_4951German reserves arrive late in the day to defend against the American push from the north

As the engagement progressed late into the scenario, the game’s referee announced the arrival of reserves on both sides. From the west, a fresh German rifle platoon joined the fight at the road and tree line at the northern edge of town. At full strength, two German platoons focused fire on the lone American platoon which had so cautiously moved toward that end of the village. Taking casualties, the shrinking US force began to fall back over the hedges and fields from where they had just come.

On the far end of the table, three more American platoons arrived from the beach to the east. Looking to advance quickly on the road straight toward town, the US reserves just couldn’t get in the fight fast enough. With the US forces already near Cabourg greatly reduced and in retreat to defensive positions, the game was called with the Germans holding Cabourg from the American assault.

At Normandy in 1944, the result was the same and the German defense halted the US advance which broke off by mid afternoon. The IABSM scenario at Cabourg is a great illustration of the dozens of small inland battles which raged after the morning’s landings along the Normandy coast over 70 years ago, and we’ll be returning to more follow-up actions in the weeks to come.

Metropolitan Wargamers D-Day Plus 70 Event Report

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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.

Flames of War: Omaha Beach “Easy Green” 1944 Scenario

OmahaBeachSandwiched between tall bluffs on either end, a five-mile stretch of Normandy coastline was designated Omaha Beach near the center of the Allied D-Day landings on June 6th, 1944. Landing at Omaha was the relatively fresh US 29th Infantry Division. With British and Canadian troops landing on beaches to the left and other US men landing at Omaha Beach to the right, the 40,000 Americans at Omaha met with the highest rate of casualties of the day with some 3,000 falling in the French surf and sand.

OmahaEasyGreen“Easy Green” sector on Omaha Beach, Normandy 1944

Lying in wait at Omaha was a mix of green recruits and older veterans in the German 352nd Infantry Division. Dug in at the coast in a wall of pillboxes, bunkers, gun pits and trenches, the German men (and unknown number of boys) met the US invaders with a storm of machine gun, artillery, mortar and rocket fire. For the US, little went right as landing craft drifted off course and special floating DD M4 Sherman tanks were swamped and sank offshore. Only through improvised efforts and a slow, methodical pace under withering fire did the American infantry finally make it through the German lines to control the beach by the close of the day.

EasyGreenFOWMap set-up for the Flames of War “Easy Green” scenario

In preparation for our upcoming D-Day Plus 70 weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY on June 6th-8th, a couple of us have been playing out beach landing practice games. Flames of War offers a specific outline for coastal assaults with their “Hit The Beach” rules, but we’ve found them to be very difficult to play with US invaders losing more often than not. Last summer we ran through our first beach landing on one of the club’s sand tables with a Utah Beach “Easy Red” scenario in which the US failed horribly. Since then we’ve been studying up, tweaking our forces and diving deep into the particular rules for a tabletop beach landing game.

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This past week we ran through the Omaha Beach “Easy Green” scenario to what was probably our most evenly matched and played game to date. The scenario sticks pretty closely to the situation at Easy Green with one beach exit road guarded by lines of barbed wire, trenches, mines and anti-tank obstacles. Finally, a combined defense of heavy machine guns, a 5 cm KwK 39 gun bunkered at the coast and Nebelwerfer rockets at the rear provide a daunting nut for the US infantry to crack. For our game, my German opponent was able to field forces as outlined in the published FOW scenario but I had to modify my American list slightly to fit my model collection. Even with slight changes, our final lists had the US at a few more points stronger than the Germans as per the mission outline and the game rules.

IMG_3452The first US boats land and platoons rush ashore

After an initial US naval bombardment which destroyed one stand of German infantry, my boats and DD tanks headed for the beach. In the initial wave, one DD tank sank in the water offshore and one boat was delayed in the bouncing surf. With two platoons of US infantry on French ground, they made way for the barb-wired seawall. Further down the beach to the right, my three surviving Shermans rolled to the one exit causeway from the beach.

IMG_3453DD Sherman tanks make it across the beach toward the exit ramp

In the opening salvo from the Germans, rocket fire came in from the rear of the table as entrenched guns fired from the beach defensive lines. US troops did well with dice roll saves and lost just a few teams before ending the turn pinned high on the beach.

IMG_3454German Nebelwerfers sit atop a hill overlooking the Allied objective

In the next couple turns, landing craft continued to meet mixed success in landing and stalling on the sea. Luckily, most boats didn’t drift too far down the beach, allowing me to execute my general plan of running infantry to the left while my tanks dealt with the heavier nests and pillbox to the center and right. One tank bogged in the sand but the other two rolled over the barbed wire to take up position at the line of minefields, sending fire into the Tobruk nests and gun bunker. A couple turns in, the bunker was in flames and the German machine guns had been dealt with. The way was clearing for the US infantry to push inward.

IMG_3455The 5 cm KwK burns in its bunker as US troops push over the seawall

IMG_3456DD tanks struggle through the coastal defenses and take heavy combined fire

With several US platoons whittled-down in their struggle through several tiers of barbwire, one platoon of German infantry arrived and made way for the row houses near the objective and remaining rockets on the hill. In the open, the Germans took fire from naval guns but most survived to find shelter in the buildings. Back on the beach, my final US reserves of M7 Priests landed at the center of the beach and one heavy machine gun section tramped forward at the extreme left. With these late arrivals so far back from the main action, it was up to the forces already inland to get the job done.

IMG_3475German defenders rain mortar and machine gun fire into oncoming US troops

IMG_3476With German defenders destroyed at the beach, the 29th Infantry Division hustles inland

With the major defenses eliminated at the beach, the Shermans turned their machine guns on the remaining German infantry manning the trench line high on the central hill. At the same time, US infantry began pushing into the German position after spending turns alternately being pinned by rocket and mortar fire, removing barbwire and shooting back with light machine gun, rifle and direct mortar fire. Despite their losses, the combined arms of my US troops really shined, as was often the fateful experience of their German opponents 70 years ago.

As the game moved into the second-to-last turn, the Americans were ultimately just too far away and too weakened to make the final push to the objective still held by the remaining German infantry comfortably defending from the nearby houses. It had been a pretty even match, but timing was everything. Luckily for the Allies on June 6th, 1944, the only limits on the day’s outcome at “Bloody Omaha” was the grit and dedication of the storm of humanity hitting the beach.

Flames of War: Utah Beach “Uncle Red” 1944 Scenario

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When most people think of the D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6th, 1944, the deadly images from the US landings at Omaha Beach in popular movies like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan generally come to mind. Utah Beach was added as an objective for US forces late in the invasion planning and occupied the far right of the Allied coastal assault. The beach was divided into three sectors (Tare Green, Uncle Red and Victor), and the landing of some 23,000 troops and armor support started the day’s invasion at 6:30am. Awaiting the invasion was the German 709th Infantry Division.

utahmap2Map of US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach June 6, 1944 (“Uncle Red” circled)

The US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach, including Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and author J.D. Salinger, came ashore with relatively few US casualties of just 400 compared to the 3000 at nearby Omaha Beach. The success of the assualt is credited largely to the effective landing of more Sherman tank support, relatively light German fortifications covering the exits from the beach and early inland actions by the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions earlier in the morning.

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US 17th Airborne Division using a sand table before Operation Varsity in 1945

 Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY is pretty well known for the sand tables which occupy our space, and some of our founding members have won several awards for presenting sand table games at conventions over the years. Sand tables have been used by military planners since ancient times when sticks and stones were simply laid out in the sand on the ground.

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NY Army National Guard troops train with a sand table at Fort Irwin, CA in 2011

Despite all our military technological advancements, modern war colleges and even troops deployed in the field today still use sand tables for training and planning real-world actions. Gaming on a sand table provides a great amount of flexibility and realism in shaping the contours found in real-life battlefields, adding tremendous playability to just about any scenario.

HitthebeachmapFlames of War “Hit the Beach” scenario set-up

This past weekend a few of us ran an Uncle Red beach assault scenario on one of the club’s sand tables using the Flames of War Amphibious Assault rules and ‘Hit the Beach’ scenario.The 4′ x 5′ table I set up featured a sculpted surf landing zone, sea wall and two beach exits leading to an inland area. Each player placed an objective. The German player then deployed their coastal defenses at the beach including barbed wire, two bunkers, tobruk machine gun nests and a Grenadier platoon. At the rear of the table, the Germans deployed an artillery battery and another machine gun platoon in a nearby house defending their objective. Half their 1500-point force remained off the table in reserve.

IMG_2813The US landing begins against the fortified coast and German artillery at the rear

The Americans began with a naval gun barrage pinning every German platoon but only detsroying one stand at the beach. With the first turn, two boat assualt platoons and a pioneer platoon landed at their left and center area of the beach. Choosing to shoot rather than move at the double, the first three American platoons were quickly pinned and subsequently destroyed in the first two turns of the game.

IMG_2814View from the German rear with Americans landing

Choosing to still keep their D-Day tanks off the beach, the Americans attempted another landing in turns three with only two boats able to land. Naval guns and P-47 air support attempting to hit the rear German artillery proved completly ineffective as troops at the beach continued to be pinned and detsroyed.

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US waves struggle to get off the beach

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Remanants of US platoons get over the sea wall in turn four

With still more delayed landing reinforcements and no tanks heading for the beach, two US platoons breached the sea wall in turn four. Moving at the double and under heavy machine gun fire, the short-lived progress was stalled and the platoons lay pinned with heavy casualties.

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Swimming Shermans finally come ashore with more infantry

Switching tactics in turn five, the Americans went for the right side of the beach. Two boat crews hit the beach moving at the double with three Shermans coming ashore in support. Two tanks immediately bogged, creating two targets stuck on the beach for the next round of incoming German artillery.

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Shermans pour fire into the German defenses

With turn six, one more Sherman made it to the beach while another was swamped and lay destroyed in the surf offshore. Just one more boat of infantry landed to support a pinned and heavily-damaged platoon already on the beach. Progress was made over the sea wall with US troops moving out of range of much of the German machine gunners on the far right edge of the table. Finally, the US did some damage with fire from the Shermans destroying several Grenadier units and a tobruk nest. At the bottom of the turn, the Germans brought on their first reserves with a Nebelwerfer battery at the back of the table. One Sherman was hit and destroyed by German artillery and another’s crew bailed out.

The US looked to be making a bit of progress as turn seven began with their M7 Priest arillery platoon landing with half of the platoon bogging right off the boat. The remaining three guns, along with three Shermans, took  shots at the German defenses and destroyed two more Grenadier stands. German infantry reserves began rushing on the table in front of the artillery to cover the American objective. On the beach, another monstrous German barrage left the Priests in flames and just one surviving Sherman. At turn eight, the Americans ceded the table after only one additional landing craft of troops made it to the beach to join their final Sherman.

This was our first FOW beach landing at the club, and a big learning experience for us. The US players chose to play way too conservatively from the outset with troops moving too slowly off the boat in the first two turns. Leaving the Shermans off the beach until the fifth turn was also a huge mistake, as getting them on sooner would’ve provided greater pinning support and potential for smoke cover for the boat infantry. US air support was frustrating, as often seems the case, and use of the naval guns was likewise botched. The US also suffered from poor luck with too many landing craft either not getting back off the beach to grab more reserves or failing to land existing floating reserves. In many turns, just one of three boats were able to arrive, making it impossible to hit a critical mass of troops on the beach.

Several of us at the club are planning a weekend-long D-Day series to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy campaign this June, so look for more practice scenarios and a lot more on the anniversary event in the coming months. As Gen. Roosevelt said at Utah Beach, “We’ll start the war from right here!”