Sunday, 14 February 2016

29, Let's Go! - Turn 1: La Cambe

D+2, 8th June 1944

The sun rose, golden light low across the open fields, casting the long shadows of orchard trees, barns and scattered farm buildings. The road was the highest point in this flat landscape, though only one or two feet higher than the ground on either side. Clouds of midges rose from the flood water that filled the fields to the south. On any other day, a calm, tranquil place.

 The 175th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division advanced slowly through the Normandy countryside along the line of the main road to Isigny. For these men, their war so far had been quiet, even disappointing. Late to land at Omaha, the long wait out at sea hadn't been fun, but they were lucky. The guys first off the boats had had it hard. By the time of their own arrival it seemed at first that all the hard work had been done and there was little resistance left. The Germans, it seemed, were on the run.

Not that Colonel Goode was pleased, though. Disaster was always just around the corner as far as he was concerned. So it was fortunate, the men knew, that Brigadier General Cota was there to provide a counterbalance.

Colonel Goode's outlook at the beginning of the game is "Concerned". This is the only campaign opinion tracked for the Americans. The Americans begin the game with 10 Force Morale points.

This morning the men of the 175th marched with confidence. They had been given an objective - the bridge over the Aure river at Isigny. Capturing this would block the retreating Germans and open the way into the heart of France. A line of Shermans of the 747th Tank Battalion had joined them, steadily crawling toward the same objective.

La Cambe seen from the US table edge
And so, just over 5 miles inland from Omaha, US forces approached the quiet hamlet of La Cambe.

La Cambe seen from the German table edge
The morning had not started well for Unterfeldwebel Lund. Two days since the Invasion and he still hadn't had more than a couple of hours sleep. There were no tanks anywhere, and only a handful of support weapons. Morale was low. And while flooding the fields to slow the enemy down might have worked, it had blocked German lines of retreat as well. Someone, somewhere, had failed them. So much to do, and so little to do it with.

The German Senior Leader, Unterfeldwebel Karlheinz Lund, starts the campaign with an outlook of "Worried". His commanding officer, Hauptmann Krauss, begins with a starting opinion of 0, and the men in his platoon with -1. The Germans begin the game with 9 Force Morale points.

Yesterday, Lund had received orders from Hauptmann Krauss. Like all Prussians, the old officer, a veteran on the last war, hid his fears behind a calm and methodical exterior. "It seems we have very few options. The bridge at Isigny must be held, so that our troops may withdraw to stronger positions," he had explained. "Lund, I don't like to give you the order but I have little choice. The Americans are already on the road to Isigny. They must be delayed as long as possible. This order is of the highest priority and be assured you will have my every assistance."

Every assistance turned out to be two small field guns that had been left behind by retreating troops, and their makeshift crews, reassigned by Krauss from who knew where and provided with barely enough ammunition to last half a day. But that was the situation, and since before first light he had been organising impromptu defences along field boundaries around what in other circumstances he might have considered an idyllic country retreat. A typical French estate with a manor house set among fields and orchards in the Normandy countryside, called La Cambe. A position made particularly defensible given that a FlaK36 battery some miles away had a view of the road at this point, and had promised him support from one of their 88's.

Lund reviewed his own force. Three sections of ten men, each with an MG42, each led by a reliable NCO. Reliable meaning he hadn't deserted his post when it was clear the enemy wasn't going to be held on the beaches after all. Two sections were digging in behind a hedge, watching and waiting for the enemy advance along the main road. The third, under his own watchful eye, would cover the same area from the protection of a small house in which he had set up his HQ. One of his men, a former athlete, apparently, had taken a sniper's position in the attic. And he'd been impressed at how well the impromptu gun crews had set up in positions either side of the house, where they would have reasonable views along the road and over the fields the enemy would have to cross.

German deployment, defending from the hedge line

The main Isigny road runs along the length of the table, with the manor house of La Cambe to one side. Most hedged fields, scattered buildings and trees are at each table short side. It's a
probe scenario, so all the Americans need to do to win is to get one unit to the German base table edge. There is no time limit.

American forces comprise one infantry platoon with 19 support points, spent on three Shermans and additional BARs for each platoon. The Germans have 12 support points, spent on one LeIG18, one PaK38, and a sniper.

The Patrol Phase ends with German jump-off markers beside the house and along the hedge on their side of the table, two American jump-off points near the Isigny road and one behind the manor house.

Turn 1, Phases 1-16
The three Shermans deploy and advance in column along the road, while one section takes up position in the manor house. The Platoon Sergeant (senior leader) is deployed behind one of the houses beside the road on the left flank. The Germans deploy all three squads and the panzershreck team along the hedge line, and one LMG team, a sniper and the senior leader in the house.

The column of Shermans advances along the Isigny road
In the old bedroom, between mildewed curtains that stank of damp, Lund squinted through binoculars over the sill of one of the broken windows towards a haze of diesel smoke in the distance. A column of tanks - at least three Shermans - steadily moving along the road towards them. Beside him, Obergefreiter Schmidt had already managed to contact Flak-Sturm Regiment 1 on the radio and was passing on instructions to the gunners through the static crackle. Lund gave the order for them to fire at the first opportunity. A second's pause between the radio crack of the 88mm gun and the whistling of the shell overhead, and the explosion of dirt and vegetation in the distance. A moment of optimism - and then as the cloud of dust settled, disappointment, for the shot had missed all three tanks and only succeeded in removing a few branches from a large oak tree beside the road. Lund yelled at the Pak38 outside the house to fire once their line of sight was clear. Another miss, but it must have taken the Americans by surprise - or perhaps they were still recovering from the 88mm shell - enough time for a second to find its target before the inevitable shot came back in return. The second Sherman in the column moved around the first, which was clearly in difficulty. The Pak38 fired again. This time the lead tank brightened the horizon, exploding in a pillar of flame.

PaK38 deployed so as to fire along the road
Turn 1, Phases 17-20; Turn 2, Phases 1-8
The Germans spend one Chain of Command die to fire with the off-table 88mm gun and miss. They deploy the PaK38 in cover beside the house looking down the road. Because of poor US dice and several consecutive phases going to the Germans the PaK38 is able to fire multiple times on the lead Sherman, immobilising it and repeatedly inflicting shock. The tank shoots back only once, ineffectually, and is then destroyed. The Americans lose 1 Force Morale point.

The lead Sherman is destroyed
Moving around the burning Sherman, the hull machine gun of the second tank opened fire. As Lund watched, one of the gun crew fell dead under the hail of bullets, but the PaK38 fired again. Lund never heard that shot, though, as the Sherman exploded in the same moment, hit by a second shell from the Flak battery. A brief cheer came up from the German lines, but this was just the start. Through the dust Lund could make out another enemy tank moving forward.

Turn 2, Phases 9-12
An exchange of fire occurs during which one of the PaK38 crew is killed and the second Sherman is knocked out. The Americans lose a further 2 Force Morale points.

In the loft of the house, almost completely hidden from view, barely breathing, Jakob Mas was watching movement beyond a gap in the hedge behind the manor house. As the first man stepped through, his shot missed, only just, but had the desired effect as the Americans ducked for cover. From the window to his left, the MG42 opened up on the same target as Mas watched the enemy officer, standing, ignoring the gunfire, shouting angrily at his cowering men, pulling them up and urging them forward.

Caught in the open, the US third squad come under fire
Turn 2, Phase 13
The German sniper shoots at the American third squad who have deployed and are now moving out of cover towards the manor house, giving them 2 points of shock. The LMG team in yhe building opens up on the same target and lightly wounds the third squad’s Junior Leader. The US second squad is deployed and advances into cover behind a hedge on the American right flank.

Without warning, the bedroom below exploded with gunfire. Both men manning the MG42 were knocked to the ground as the glass and wood of their window fragmented, bedroom furniture and the few remaining pictures on the wall abruptly shattering. In the roof space, Mas remained calm, observing without moving, the instinct of the sniper. Behind a fallen tree along the far hedge line two BARs were firing at the MG42 now they could identify its position.

Turn 2, Phase 14
Having seen gunfire from the building in front of them the two BARs of the American second squad return fire on the LMG team in the building and kill 2.

Lund, in a daze, found himself in the doorway of the room at the top of the stairwell. The room was destroyed and two men were badly injured, but somehow he had escaped the damage. Already manned by new crew, he saw, the MG42 was back in position and firing again.

Caught in the open, the Americans weren't moving, despite the frantic urgings of their officer. They knew they were vulnerable but didn't seem to understand that staying still where they were didn't make them safe. As if to prove it, one of the cowering men abruptly jerked, shot by a stray bullet, and almost simultaneously, their NCO flinched and fell to the ground, hit a second time.  Two men tried to stand and advance but were felled before they were even half upright. They were going nowhere.

Turn 2, Phases 15-16; Turn 3, Phase 1
The Germans get two turns in a row, and then interrupt using a Chain of Command die to concentrate fire from the MG42 at the American third squad still exposed in the open. This kills 3 men, wounds the Junior Leader and leaves the unit with 8 points of shock. The Americans end the turn with one of their own Chain of Command dice so that the Junior Leader can function, and attempt to move them at the double into the manor house. A poor roll and accumulated shock reduces their move distance to zero.

Mas kept his balance as the house shook, a shell exploding somewhere below. His last two shots had missed, and he realised his gun sight wasn't working properly - the settings seemed correct but his aim was out. It must have been damaged somehow. He peered down the sight, taking careful aim now, as the MG42 below began firing again. A perfect line on the American officer, he thought, but before he could squeeze the trigger his target folded, crippled, and fell to the ground.

Turn 3, Phases 1-2
The third Sherman moves off the road to the left flank and shoots at the MG42 team causing 2 points of shock. The German sniper shoots twice to no effect, while shock on the MG42 is reduced and they open up again on the third US squad. 1 kill, 1 shock, and the Junior Leader receives a second light wound, and so is removed from the game. The Americans lose 1 Force Morale point, and the squad is pinned.

Adjusting his rifle, Mas waited, silent above the gunfire and the sounds of destruction below. Again, the Americans had found their mark, and the MG42 team were taking a beating. And as abruptly as it had started, the shooting stopped, but this time the room below was silent. Through the gun sight Mas saw an American head looking his way, straining to take in the scene. This time his bullet hit its mark. Another GI down. Only a handful of them left now.

Again, Lund had been lucky, standing on the stairs when the room was filled with gunfire for the second time that morning. He'd seen the carnage though, and the damage to the gun itself, which looked beyond repair. Schmidt was lucky too. He'd been wounded, for sure, but he would live. The engines of the Sherman sounded very close, and Lund hurried down the stairs to take in the situation. That last American tank needed to be dealt with. He shouted to the PaK38 team to move to the other side of the tree where they would have a better view of the tank across the ploughed field beyond the gate, and open fire.

The PaK38 is repositioned
Turn 3, Phases 3-4
The US Senior Leader orders the squad on the left flank to fire on the MG42 team, which they do with devastating effect, killing the last 2 of the team, adding 1 point of shock, and wounding the Junior Leader. The Germans lose their first point of Force Morale. The sniper shoots at the third squad inflicting 1 kill. The German Senior Leader moves to the ground floor of the building and moves the PaK38 to a position where it has line of sight to the US second squad.

Just as the gun crew moved into position, the tree shook with a shell from the Sherman and a shower of leaves and small branches. The gun crew returned fire, but wildly, too fast, the shot falling short by twenty feet or more, harmlessly raising a spout of muddy soil from the ploughed field. Worse, the gun could now be seen by the enemy and was under fire from the manor house as well. Crouching behind their gun shield, hiding from gunfire and shell explosions, the Pak38 fired once more, but again the shot fell short. Lund shouted encouragement, but it was too much to expect the crew to last, and another shell put the gun out of action, those of the crew who were able running for cover.

Frustrated, Mas adjusted the sight on his rifle yet again. The Americans weren't moving, but his last four shots had all missed. He'd have to get the rifle repaired, or better still replaced, when he next had the chance. To his relief, his fifth shot didn't fall wide, and as that man fell, others stumbled back into the cover of the hedgerow, some of them in panic even leaving rifles and helmets behind. It was a relief to shift position. Mas turned in the direction of the Sherman and the men in the cover of the hedge in front of the tank, looking for a new target.

Turn 3, Phases 5-9; Turn 4, Phases 1-11
The surviving Sherman moves into position behind the squad on the left and there is an exchange of fire. Shock and kills build on the PaK38 after several rounds of US shooting. The Germans use a Chain of Command die to end the turn so that the wounded Junior Leader recovers. The US Platoon Leader is finally deployed behind the Manor House and attempts to remove shock from the third squad. The Germans cannot remove shock from the PaK38 faster than it is accumulated. Finally, the Americans expend a Chain of Command die to interrupt the Germans and inflict the final blow to the gun, which breaks. The Germans lose 1 Force Morale point. The Germans deploy the leIG18 against the hedge opposite the US second squad. The sniper, who has missed four times during this period, finally kills one man in the US third squad which breaks. The Germans expend a Chain of Command die to end the turn such that this squad is removed from the table. The Americans end this period with 5 remaining Force Morale points and are reduced to 4 Command Dice.

The defensive line of the US second squad, with armoured support
Now that he could clearly see the Americans behind the hedge on the other side of the ploughed field, Lund gave the order to aim the infantry gun in their direction. The crew, who had seemed nervous up to that point, fell immediately into their routine, and oblivious to the incoming fire launched shot after shot of high explosive toward the distant hedge line. From a broken ground floor window, Lund shouted encouragement as every round exploded on the horizon. The enemy infantry were being held, but that tank was a problem. Twice the ground beside the gun errupted with the explosion of one of its shells. The infantry gun would not survive a direct hit.

Lund pointed at two nervous-looking men carrying a Panzershreck and its ammunition who had recognised the foxholes they had dug were dangerously close to the infantry gun position. "You and you," he shouted, "Get inside the building where you can see, and do what you can to that tank with that drainpipe!" As he gave the order, though, his heart sank. The men were far too young. Sixteen, perhaps, maybe even younger. This year's war was very different to the one he and so many like him had eagerly awaited in that hopeful summer of 38. That seemed so long ago now.

The boys with the Panzershreck were in the house now, feeling safer inside as they clattered up the stairs, and just in time, it turned out. Finding its mark at last, a shell from the Sherman exploded in the hedge beside the gun position, almost exactly where they had been lying a moment before. The crew on one side of the infantry gun took the full force of the blast, both men killed instantly, torn apart and scattered along with branches, leaves and soil from the hedge to rain down over the line of dug-in infantry . The gun had rolled over, useless, its wheels bent and carriage broken, the two of its crew who were not instantly killed thrown, helpless, bloody and stunned, into the ruined garden in front of the house. Gritting their teeth, the infantry remained in position, Teutonic discipline held.

Turn 5, Phases 1-15
Both sections of the second squad are put on Overwatch, to try and spot the sniper. The sniper shoots twice, and is spotted by the BAR team after inflicting 2 shock and 1 kill. With a lucky shot the sniper is killed. US shooting is concentrated on the infantry gun, which inflicts 3 more shock on the infantry. The Panzershreck team moves into the top floor of the building to shoot at the Sherman. The infantry gun continues to shoot at the second squad but is accumulating shock at the same rate as its target, and it finally breaks. The Germans spend a Chain of Command die to avoid testing Force Morale.

Looking up, Lund could see the open end of the Panzershreck tube protruding beyond the window ledge. Not the safest position, perhaps. He hoped those boys would live long enough to learn. The sound was like a sudden draught of wind, opening a door against a hurricane, then closing it quickly, as the weapon fired, the distant explosion if its charge almost immediate. A plume of oily, black-brown smoke rose from the Sherman. A good first shot, but not enough to put the tank out of action, and it continued to fire back in their direction. One miss, whistling over the top of the house, but a second shot exploded in a burst of broken tiles through the roof, and the Panzershreck team were silenced. Lund sighed. A lot of his men were suffering in that house today, but it was still the strongest defensive position and had the best field of fire. Aware of the danger, Lund ordered the riflemen to move from their foxholes into the house. The American infantry were slowly moving through the hedge to advance across the ploughed field, and Lund knew that now was his chance to stop them.

Turn 5, Phases 16-24
The Panzershreck team and the Sherman exchange shots several times. The Sherman is hit but only suffers engine damage, while a hit on the Panzershreck team eliminates it. The Germans test Force Morale, but there is no points loss. The US Platoon Sergeant removes shock from the second squad and they advance across the hedge, while the German rifle squad moves to positions upstairs in the building.

Amongst shattered furniture, fallen joists and piles of broken roof tiles, Lund watched with his men as a line of crouching American riflemen cautiously made their way across the centre of the ploughed field.

A brave advance leaves the US second squad very vulnerable
"Hold your fire," Lund encouraged, his voice calm, assured. It had suddenly, eerily, become silent, the only sound the occasional crunch of debris as men shifted position to improve their aim. Lund was surprised by the steady sound of his voice now that there was no need to shout. "We fire when they are furthest from safety. Half way across the field, no sooner." He held his breath, watching as the enemy advance continued.

Half way across the field was the perfect place. An opening in the roadside hedge meant there was a short distance - ten yards, no more - where they would be exposed to enfilading fire from the other two German squads positioned behind the orchard hedge. Most importantly, this would leave them in the field of fire of one of their MG42 teams. The Americans, edging slowly forward, seemed unaware of their vulnerability. Beads of sweat formed on Lund's forehead as he watched their progress, silently willing them on.

The enemy did not disappoint. As they advanced a few yards further, crossing the centre-point of the field, Lund ordered his men to fire, and at the same moment, the remaining two German squads opened up on them as well. In the field, the enemy tried to find every small piece of cover they could, their danger recognised too late. With some hope, they saw the guns in the manor house respond, laying down a steady fire at the German positions, but it was a token resistance as the onslaught continued relentlessly.

Turn 5, Phases 25-26; Turn 6, Phases 1-3
The American second squad advances across the ploughed field. Reaching the centre-point of the field, they come under fire from the second German squad, positioned behind the orchard hedge roughly at the table centre-line. They accumulate shock, and rapidly become pinned. The Americans respond with fire from the manor house and are themselves shot at by the third German squad and at last, all on-table troops are involved in the firefight.

Lund saw the Obergefreiter of his second squad flinch, but remain standing, taking a hit as he directed MG42 fire at the enemy troops in the open field. They had stopped shooting back, helplessly waiting for relief that wasn't coming. The manor house was taking the full fire of the third squad's guns as well. Its windows were shattered, the plaster of the building peppered with gunshot, responding enemy gunfire becoming more sporadic. The tide of events was moving in his favour, Lund saw, and for the first time today allowed himself a grim smile. Some of the Americans in the open, those furthest to the rear, were running now, and as they disappeared, more joined them. And so they ran, sporadic gunfire in their wake, to the safety of distant cover.

Turn 6, Phases 4-13
The Junior Leader of the German second squad receives a light wound. While the German first and second squads concentrate fire on the American second squad in the open, the German third squad fires at the Americans in the manor house. They have a couple of lucky phases of shooting, kills and shock on the Americans reducing the effectiveness of their return fire. The squad in the open accumulate kills and shock, lightly wounding the Senior Leader and pinning the squad. At Phase 13 with a roll of three sixes the turn ends, and in that turn the US second squad breaks. The Americans are reduced to 0 Force Morale points and retire to regroup for another attempt. A victory to the Germans.

"Yes, I understand". Worried, Colonel Goode put down the receiver. He had always been concerned because he knew they had overstretched the line, and now this. Without artillery support, he reasoned, this sort of thing was inevitable, but nothing he said seemed to count with his superiors. It troubled him deeply, the way that his men were expected to throw themselves into the fire without being given the support they needed to do the job properly. A little more caution, a little more patience was what was needed, and surely they could afford that. He'd give it one more try now, though, because they had stressed the urgency. Because they had insisted. But if that didn't work he'd make sure his men got the artillery support they needed next time around, no matter how much time it took.

When the wounded had been seen to, it wasn't anything like as bad as Lund had thought. It was true that the gun crews were in a bad way, but for most of the others shock and superficial wounds accounted for most of the damage. The men's confidence seemed to have improved, for the time being at least, but Lund remained cautious, though this had proved itself to be a good position. It would take more than they had witnessed today to force his men to retire. For the time being, they had held their position, and slowed the enemy advance. But the Americans would be back, very soon, Lund knew, and there would be more of them, that much was certain.

Campaign Management at the end of Game 1
German losses are light and fewer than the Americans. The Germans end the game with 5 Force Morale points, the Americans 0, so are able to return 5 men immediately to their core force. The remaining one man lost from the platoon will return later, but will not be available for the next game.

Colonel Goode's outlook moves to Worried. The German CO's opinion changes from 0 to 1. The attitude of Lund's men moves from -1 to +1 while his own remains Worried.

29, Let's Go! - Introduction

29, Let's Go! pint-sized campaign from toofatlardies
This is the first in a series of blog posts following the progress of play through the pint-sized campaign for Chain of Command - 29, Let's Go!  It's a short introduction to the way we are playing the campaign and a brief note on the format and style of the posts that will follow.

29, Let's Go! is a mini-campaign comprising a series of linked scenarios for Chain of Command that recount one small part of the American advance inland a few days after the D-Day landings. The 175th Infantry Regiment of the US 29th Infantry Division have been given orders to advance and take the town of Isigny, thereby capturing the one bridge still standing that will link the landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. Scattered German forces attempt to delay them as long as they can.

Our Chain of Command games are played in 15mm. We like the sense of realism this gives because figure and ground scales match. It's also a lot more convenient as many of us have armies made up previously for Flames of War (for which our interest has waned) small parts of which, with a little re-basing (onto 1p and 2p pieces), are easily adapted. It looks and feels fantastic.

The Wehrmacht attempt to delay the US advance
We didn't play the campaign with an umpire, so there were no surprises as we both knew the details of the campaign and scenarios beforehand. This didn't mean it was any less enjoyable, though if you're intending to run this yourself, using an umpire will allow both sides to be surprised and would definitely reward both players as the campaign progresses.

The campaign is ongoing and my intent is to post battle reports after we have completed each game and campaign turn. I don't intend to repeat the Chain of Command rules, nor do I want to reproduce anything specific from the campaign material. Anyone who wants this should get hold of copies of the Chain of Command rules and the supplements At The Sharp End and, of course, 29, Let's Go!  from the TooFatLardies web site. They're well worth it. Where necessary, however, I will refer to the rules and material specific to the campaign. So if you intend to play this campaign using an umpire, beware - there will be some spoilers. My intent, though, is to present our campaign in narrative form for the entertainment and enjoyment of the reader (I hope!)

The main text of my blog posts will be the story of our campaign, as it might have been seen from the point of view of the characters concerned. Because of the way 29, Let's Go! pans out, with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of American troops, and only the attitude of the high level command being tracked, the narrative will tend to follow the German point of view, where more personal detail is monitored and characters are developed. As well as the narrative, I will also describe some of the game mechanics of what has happened. I will set this out in italics and indented from the main narrative, for reference, but also so that it can be easily skimmed over or ignored. Also, for the sake of readability, I don't intend to go through every single phase of the game in detail. Rather, I will summarise events into what I consider appropriate blocks. I hope you find it entertaining and enjoyable.

So, without further ado: "29, Let's Go!"