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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Tis The Season For Toy Soldiers

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Thanksgiving is upon us which means the annual run to holiday gift shopping is nigh. By some estimates, upwards to 40% of toy sales occur around the holidays which fits squarely with my memories of the plastic bounty of Christmas past. The arrival of store Christmas displays and holiday catalogs sent my childhood mind reeling. Before the arrival of electronic games in the late 1970s and early 80s, my dreams of toys stacked under the Christmas tree were filled with action figures, playsets, games and toy soldiers.

So, with visions of Christmas toys past dancing through my head, I find myself paging through the glorious selection from the recently-relaunched website from I The Toy Soldier Company. For almost 30 years this New Jersey-based company has been keeping plastic and metal toy soldier fandom alive with an enormous catalog of toys in all scales and hand-crafted playsets which harken back to the glory days of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

With so much play now relegated to screens and virtual fun, there is still nothing like seeing a kid moving dozens (or hundreds) of little plastic figures around the floor. These toys not only make for hours of fun across generations, but they can also open young minds to burgeoning interests in history and maybe some eventual wargaming. Going a step further and combining some toy soldiers with books, movies, documentaries and family outings that highlight the period is another great way to make up a fun and educational gift package for the holidays.

Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome

Kids are fascinated by the ancient eras of Egypt, Greece and Rome, and a lot of elementary school curriculums focus on these periods, their culture, arts and the gods they worshipped. Books and films full of pyramids, temples, gladiators and chariots dazzle young minds.  Mid-century film classics Ben Hur, Spartacus and even The Ten Commandments are thrilling, family-appropriate entertainment to this day. From one-on-one arena battles between tiny gladiators to epic plastic battles on the sands and plains of the Mediterranean region will enliven the imagination for these ancient cultures.

Ancient Era playsets and toy soldiers

 American Revolution

Living here in the Northeast United States, I’m surrounded by history of the American War of Independence, inlcuding the Battle of Brooklyn fought right over ground I cover on the way to work every day. With forts, museums, battlefields and museums dedicated to the period dotting the countryside, the formative conflict of the nation is all around us. The classic 1943 children’s novel Johnny Tremain and Disney’s 1957 movie adaptation have been the hook for kids for years. There’s so much color and mythic personality to this period in early American history, and some plastic soldiers armed with muskets and cannons will easily spark interest in any wee patriot.

American Revolution playsets and toy soldiers

American Civil War

We’re right in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, so the time is ripe to get burgeoning historians interested in the period. With the release of Lincoln last year and many past offerings available like 1989’s Glory and Ken Burns’ epic 1990 The Civil War, the War Between The States maintains its cinematic hold on the American narrative. The seminal book on the war in many ways remains Red Badge of Courage which is still a rite of passage for many a young reader . Spending the holidays learning about the Civil War might kick off some family visits to battlefields and historic sites when winter breaks to spring, but getting some blue and gray toy soldiers out on the floor now can make for a very timely history lesson through play.

American Civil War playsets and toy soldiers

World War I

Europe is in the midst of the 100th anniversary of World War I, and next year America’s involvement in “the war to end all wars” will be quietly memorialized. The US came to the war late and it’s effects on our country were nowhere near those on the European continent, so learning about this conflict is a great way to broaden young minds to 20th-centtury history beyond our usual American-focused history education. My oldest son read All Quiet On The Western Front this past year, and the adaptation of that classic novel as well as films like Paths of Glory and Gallipoli are engaging ways to get a view inside the troubling politics and tactics of the war. Lining up multinational plastic armies bridging the gap of 19th to 20th-century warfare makes for a great intro to the period.

World War I playsets and toy soldiers

World War II

Perhaps more than just about any other war, World War II remains an enormous part of historical and popular culture through countless books, movies, TV shows and documentaries, both factual and fiction. From The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far to modern classics like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and Flags of Our Fathers, Hollywood continues to crank out epic stories from the war. Aside from books and movies, their are some amazing WWII games from the likes of Axis & Allies to Flames of War. To me, WWII is the period to watch, game and play in, no matter your age.

World War II playsets and toy soldiers

The above are just a few of my favorite periods in which I think kids could easily establish a lifelong interest. Through a combination of books, films, field trips, games and plastic soldiers from the likes of the Toy Soldier Company, you can make this holiday season a bit fun, a bit unique and maybe your kids or grandchildren will even learn a little something in one of the most time-tested ways: play.