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.

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Flames of War: La Fiere Causeway 1944 Scenario

lafiere1944

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.

causewaygamemap

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.