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!”

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Flames of War: Fielding the Guards Armoured Division

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Among the multi-national Allied forces that participated in the campaign following Operation Overlord on D-Day on June 6, 1944 were the British Guards Armoured Division. Arriving a couple weeks late to the party on June 26, the Guards would roll on to participate in many of the key post-D-Day engagements including Operation Goodwood, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. I’ve been encountering the Guards over and over again in Rick Atkinson’s engaging The Guns At Last Light, the latest and final volume in his “Liberation Trilogy” telling of the Allied march to victory in World War II. And so, it is great timing that I’m finally getting around to adding the Guards as my first allied group supplementing my already extensive US forces in my Flames of War gaming.

FWOFBoxI’ve been working away for half this year on finishing up the models included in the excellent Flames of War Open Fire! box set. Among all the plastic goodies included, the set offers up a nice Guards platoon to provide support to their allied US Airborne infantry. The eight models include six of the US-supplied Sherman V tanks and two of the famed Sherman Firefly tanks, retrofitted by the British with a massive 17-pound anti-tank gun.

Aside from a rather significant and well-documented issue with some parts fitting together, the models glue up pretty nicely. To the included stowage and gear included on the sprues I also added some leftover bits. A quick coat of green armor spray paint followed by black and silver lightly brushed on the treads made up the majority of the painting work. The exposed drivers received a tan uniform, black beret and radio headset picked out in detail. Crates and tool handles strapped to the hull got a quick touch of brown.

IMG_1894For decals — a big oversight in not being a part of the Open Fire! kit — I used a set from the Plastic Soldier Company and guidelines found on the Flames of War site. I found the decals from PSC to be easier to apply than those I had used from FOW in the past, but I did still use a few Allied “star” markings I had lying around from previous US tank models from FOW. With the decals dry, a bit of dried mud color and watered-down brown wash added some wear and tear around the tanks before they were hit with a matte finish.

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IMG_1898Now that I’ve got some Brits on the table, I’m eying some UK infantry to add some depth to my collection and flavor to my games. There’s a big full-day Flames of War gaming event coming up in just a few days at Metropolitan Wargamers, but I don’t think the Guards will be making an appearance this time around. Still, it will be good to know they’re waiting to throw in with the Yanks on another day in the near future.