Friday, 24 March 2017

29, Let's Go! - Turn 4: St Germain-du-Pert

"Little Bird to control, we have a spot on the target. Over."
"Go ahead, Little Bird. Over"
"Four nine three four north, one zero four west. Repeat four nine three four north, one zero four west. Two self-propelled guns, with supporting infantry. Over"
"Got that, Little Bird. Message received. Over"
"Roger, control. Over and out."

Pulling the stick gently left, the pilot smiled to himself. Job done, they'd found those guns, and no ack-ack this time.  Its twin engines roaring against the headwind, the P38 accelerated as it banked, beginning to turn a wide circle, heading for home.


The duty officer saluted, turned smartly, and walked back to his desk, leaving the small written note in his senior's hand.  Despite the success of his men at Arthenay, the Colonel remained troubled. Cota had been lucky, but now there were more damned 88mm guns on the flank of his tanks. That was not what he needed, not at all. And there was no question about it, there would be no further advance until those German guns were silenced. Too many good men had died on the beach at Omaha and he wasn't going to have more unnecessary deaths on his conscience. Not this time. He picked up the phone to give the order.


The smell of freshly brewed coffee beckoned Lieutenant Cooper, George Company, 3rd Battalion, 175th Infantry, towards the tent at the top of the hill, where an older, heavily moustached man stooped above a field table, poring over a map with two other officers. But for his helmet, and the colour of his uniform, he might have been mistaken for a commander in the US civil war.
"Major Foster?" he asked the group.
"Be with you in a moment, Lieutenant", the older man replied, apparently without even looking in his direction. "Sinclair, get this man some coffee".
In moments a steaming metal mug of black liquid was forced into his hand by a fussing, subservient lackey, who scurried away as rapidly as he had arrived, before Cooper had even registered from where he had appeared. The coffee was strong, burnt and bitter, but still very welcome.
"Lieutenant Cooper". The Major spoke his name as a statement, not a question. "Good of you to join us."
Not as if he had any choice, he thought.
"You'll be aware that we've been ordered to halt again," the Major continued. "Well, you and G Company are going to get us on the move again".

D+4, 10th June 1944

Now the attention moves away from the main attack towards Isigny. Concerned about the vulnerability of their flank, and aware of the presence of a Marder battery around the village of St Germain-du-Pert, the Americans halt until they are able to outflank this German position. The fresh German force defending this position comprises as infantry platoon supported by two Marder IIIs, and begins the game with a Force Morale of 9. American forces comprise a platoon with support points spent on two Shermans, a forward observer and 81mm off table mortar battery, a medic and additional BARs for each team. They start the game with a Force Morale of 10, so begin with the initiative. This is Scenario 5 from the rule book. After the Patrol Phase, German jump-off points are concentrated around the church and houses of St Germain du Pert, with three of the US jump-off points at their starting table edges. One of their jump-off points ends up within the village, dangerously close to the German positions and allowing American troops to deploy in one of the houses.

Dangerously close jump-off points
Sergeant Franks was feeling pretty pleased with himself. After marching through the night, the platoon had split up two hours ago about a mile from St Germain-du-Pert. It was a clear night, with a bright moon, and though they could hear the occasional sound of movement, for the most part it was quiet. He'd pointed out the ruined farmhouse on the far western edge of the village, and the Lieutenant had agreed it was unlikely to be occupied by the enemy, who seemed to have been caught off guard. Not even any signs that they had set a watch tonight. That building would be an ideal position, both to scout out the enemy and to ambush them from the rear when the main assault began, and so his Section had been ordered to take position there. 

Stealthily crossing the fields, shielded by a herd of cattle that barely registered their presence, they reached the edge of the building easily and entered without a sound. A bombed-out ruin, its roof collapsed, the outlying building offered no shelter and understandably had been left abandoned. Finding good defensive positions, so close to the enemy that they could hear at least one man snoring, they waited in silence for the attack to begin.

Turn 1, Phases 1-5
The US deploy their forward observer and one Senior Leader behind a hedge with a clear view of the whole village. Squad 1 with their Junior Leader are deployed in the house at the rear of the village. The Germans deploy infantry squads in two houses and the church, where they also deploy their Panzershreck team. The Americans deploy their remaining infantry teams close to the forward observer and one Sherman along the road. They successfully request mortar support.

Lieutenant Cooper checked his watch. It had been an hour already, plenty of time for Franks to have gotten his men in position. In the silence, Cooper could hear distant metallic squealing; the wheels and tracks of armour - the movement of those Nazi self-propelled guns, no doubt. 

Squinting into the distance, towards the church, he just caught a glimpse of one of the Marders before he was caught unprepared by the sudden explosion. Slate tiles on the church roof and the western side of the steeple flowered out amongst a cloud of dust as the mortar barrage began, covering the area around in smoke. Behind him the he could now hear American tanks behind his position. Shermans of the 747th, announced by the unmistakeable, reassuring drawl of their Detroit motors.

The Americans deploy
Turn 1, Phases 6-7
US infantry squad 1 advances tactically along a hedge line towards the village, as the Germans deploy both Marders in the village close to the church. An immediate mortar barrage is slightly off target but hits troops in the church, killing one man, and one of the Marders, to no effect. The Sherman advances and another appears along the road behind, as the second US Senior Leader deploys.

The 29th Infantry advance
A shadow moving forward towards him out of the cloud shrouding the church took solid shape. There was a brief muzzle flash from the Marder's 88mm gun, as its shell whistled above Cooper's position, off-target, and exploded at the edge of the road. Its target, the lead Sherman, was showered with black mud from the ditch, but otherwise unscathed. Some distance to the left, a second flash betrayed the presence of another Marder, and the wall of the house crumbled in response, the bodies of two of Franks's section tumbling down, sickeningly, to the ground amongst the rubble. Weapons opened up from troops in both houses, each trying to find advantage. Cooper understood now that the house Franks had occupied was too close to the enemy positions, too vulnerable to their response. But he would do what he could. He gave the order to advance,  and his men started to make their way cautiously through the hedge and across the open field beyond.

Turn 1, Phases 8-12
One Marder moves around the church to face the Shermans, and shoots inflicting 1 shock, while the other shoots at US troops in the house, killing 2 and causing 1 point of shock. The troops in the house shoot back and a firefight develops between houses over several phases, killing 1 German, but with the US troops taking the worst of it, with 2 men killed, 5 more points of shock accrued, and its Junior Leader wounded such that he may not activate again this turn.  US squad 1 continues its cautious advance, and US squad 2 crosses the hedge and moves tactically across the field beyond towards the church.

One of the Marders leaves the smoke of the mortar barrage behind
"Take cover!"
As soon as he had shouted the order and fallen face-flat in the damp earth of the field, he realised he and his men were not the target. Another German shell whistled overhead, missing, with two coming back in response. Cooper looked up. The house was still there, just about, though its front wall had largely collapsed, and he could see the movement of men from Franks's section leaving the building from the rear, and Germans advancing to the front. The advance position had been lost - and there was nothing that Cooper could do about it.

Cooper ducked instinctively, cursing as he bit his tongue in the moment of the explosion. He hadn't even seen the shell, but there was now a crater in the road behind, with one wheel and some tracks of the lead Sherman in it. The tank wouldn't be going anywhere, but those men were lucky it hadn't been any worse.

Phases 13-16
The Marder shoots the Sherman again but fails to hit, and both Shermans return fire causing 1 shock. The firefight between the houses continues, the Americans suffering a further 4 kills and 6 points of shock, and they break. The mortar barrage kills 2 Germans in the church.  German infantry leave one of the houses and capture the US jump-off point at the edge of the village. German infantry leave the church to take up positions along the hedge line. Finally, the Marder returns fire successfully and the lead Sherman is immobilised.

Shermans return fire
Shells were exploding all around.
A young man had rushed to his position, thinking the Lieutenant injured.
"I'm OK son," Cooper reassured, "Just bit my tongue. Nothing serious."
It was time to get the men moving. There was confusion ahead and behind and he knew this was the situation the Germans would take advantage of to counter-attack.  As if on cue, as their advance began, they could make out the enemy at the edge of the smoke ahead, and opened fire. Caught by surprise, the Germans tried to take cover, but the firepower of Cooper's men, alert to the danger all around, vengeful of the friends they had seen killed, was more than they could take. As the Americans ran forward, a young German officer turned, desperately attempting to hold them back, disappearing into the smoke as Cooper opened fire in that direction with his Thompson.
"Forward", the Lieutenant ordered, gritting his teeth as his men advanced toward the German armour which had once again found itself beneath the smoke of the mortar barrage.

Phases 17-20
The mortar barrage shifts, killing two Germans now caught in the open and causing 2 points of shock, while the US infantry continue their advance, despite German harassing fire. The Marder is about to fire, but the Americans use a Chain of Command die to interrupt, and the Sherman fires first. Shots are exchanged but miss. The German platoon opposing the US infantry advance takes heavy fire and is wiped out, and its Junior leader is also lightly wounded. The Marders shift position to oppose the advancing US infantry and the one remaining effective Sherman. 

Dangerously close!
Cooper heard nothing. There was a sudden flash, and he was thrown backward. Blood, warm against his skin, tickled his cheek. Mortar shells were falling nearby, exploding, and at least one had hit one of the Marders, which was on fire. As his hearing slowly returned, he could make out the screams of men caught in the wreckage or burning nearby. War was hell. But before he had time to take in more of the situation, he heard the other Marder, close by. Too close, its shadow emerging from the smoke ahead as its muzzle flashed again. Without a thought, he ordered two of his men forward with grenades. That open turret was too good a target to overlook, and they were so close. Two, three, four grenades, but the Marder's relentless advance could not be stopped. Cooper's men fell back, some of them too slow, trapped between the hedge and the advancing vehicle, bearing down on them with its crushing tracks.

The end of the Marders
But it was not to be. The second Sherman fired and the Marder stopped dead, armour, tracks and wheels destroyed by the perfect hit on its side armour.  The two men emerged, mud-stained, from the ditch, unexpected grins of relief on their faces. Peterson, the first to emerge and, behind him, Garman, the Lieutenant recalled, pleased that in the moment he was able to remember their names.
"Damn, Sir, that was close," Peterson stuttered, and then fell to the ground as a single shot rang out. Cooper swung round instinctively, firing back at the shooter, the German officer, the one who had previously disappeared into the smoke. This time he fell to the ground, dead.
"Damn it to hell," Peterson yelped, holding his leg where the bullet had torn a hole in his ODs and opened the skin; complaining, but knowing his luck - this wound wan not serious.
Cooper smiled. The guns were destroyed and the Germans had fallen back again. Major Foster could rest easy, the job had been done.

Phases 21-31; Turn 2 Phases 1-4

One Marder is hit by the continuing mortar barrage and takes sufficient shock to be abandoned by its crew. US infantry are close enough to attack the other Marder with grenades, which they do over several turns. The Marder tries unsuccessfully to run the infantry over, and is finally destroyed by a shot from the Sherman against its side armour. Finally the wounded German Junior Leader is killed and German force morale is reduced to 0, though the result is close with the Americans ending the game at Force Morale 2.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Vive La Resistance!

Last week at the club we played a game of Chain of Command to introduce new players to the rules. The game was also an opportunity to use Bill's lovely French Resistance figures.


It is the day of the Normandy landings. The Germans have been caught off-guard, having expected the Invasion to have taken place further north, closer to the pas-de-Calais. Believing Normandy to be a diversion, Hitler was slow to release formations from the armoured reserve, which meant that only 21st Panzer Division, based in the wider area of Caen, was immediately available for a counterattack, though many of its units were dispersed.

At the edge of the village of Airan, just over three miles south-east of Caen, two miles north of a muster area for tanks from 21st Panzer, there is a small bridge over the Muance River. Too small and too far from the coast to be a target for air landings, the bridge was nevertheless considered important as a possible route for Panzer reinforcements moving towards Caen. It was important that the bridge was destroyed, and this task was assigned to a resistance cell in the area.

During the previous week, telegraph lines to Airan were destroyed in an attempt to isolate the village, and later, a Lysander landed in darkness in a remote field and weapons and explosives were passed to members of the Resistance.

Now, it is the early hours of the morning of 6th June. Timing their activity to coincide with the landings at Gold beach, resistance fighters approach the village of Airan, their objectives to place charges and blow the bridge before the arrival of armour from 21st Panzer, and thus to help the allies capture Caen before the end of the day.

Unbeknown to the French, on June 5th a German platoon including field engineers who had been tasked with repairing broken communications lines were moved to Airan.

Game Setup 

Bill surveys the battlefield while Alan has a sly nap. The houses of Airan are off to the left beyond the river. The bridge just in the picture on the left in the objective; the French enter from the right table edge.
The houses along one table short edge represent the outskirts of Airan, with a road running through them. Another road leads out roughly along the table centre-line, crossing a small river about 1/4 of the wall along the table from the village, within a band of marshland. Hedges and farmland with isolated trees, and a farmhouse, cover the rest of the table with some small woodland blocks at the table far side.
  • The Germans have a basic platoon with no support points, but two Marders of 21st Panzer Division (each with a Junior Leader) are on the way towards the village along the main road. Each of these becomes available to move onto the table along one of the roads in the village when one Chain of Command die is expended before command dice are rolled for that phase - that's one die per tank.
  • The French begin the game with 8 points of support. They can spend up to two of these points to give them one or two extra Phases at the start of the game, though they are not allowed to shoot or fight, or set explosives, during either of these Phases.
  • The game starts at the point where the alarm has been raised in the village. Somehow, the Germans have become aware of Resistance activity in the area.
  • The Resistance get the first Phase.
  • The bridge is the objective. To blow the bridge at least three Resistance fighters, which must include a Junior or Senior Leader, must start their Turn on the bridge. They must spend one Chain of Command die to place explosives. At the start of each subsequent phase roll a die. On a 6, the bridge detonates. At the start of each subsequent phase, add another die to this, so the chance of the bridge lowing increases each Phase. If the Turn ends, the bridge will blow.
  • The Germans can stop the bridge from blowing if at the start of one of their turns they have at least three engineers plus one Junior of Senior leader on the bridge and they expend a Chain of Command die.
  • The Resistance force is comparatively fragile, and begins the game with 8 Force Morale points.
  • Regardless of Force morale, the Resistance win the game if the bridge is blown.
The Game

Apologies for the quality of the photos and the general lack of them, which makes the story of the game a little abbreviated. The Germans deployed in houses and ahead of the river behind a hedge, while the French came on from the opposite table edge, advancing boldy despite enemy fire. Their chances looked slim, but luck was on their side...

The Resistance deploy in the woods

And around the farmhouse, with their vehicles

Advancing, they come under heavy fire

They rush down the road towards the bridge in their vehicles. The driver of the Citroen is shot and it ends up crashed in the hedge, but the truck continues toward the objective despite the heavy gunfire.

Despite suffering a lot of shock, the French make it to the bridge, having seen off the Germans in advance positions. They lay charges on the bridge

BOOM! The bridge unexpectedly explodes, killing everyone nearby, and even causing the photo to be out of focus. Many French died to bring Victory to the Resistance!
Despite the Resistance success, if I were to play this again I would add some rules for night fighting to make the approach to the objective less fraught. It makes sense that the French would try to get close to the objective before sunrise, and some mechanism by which the alarm can be raised by the Germans would raise the level of excitement.

But overall, this is a great set of rules, giving a real sense of playing out something out of a classic war film. A very enjoyable game as well and very satisfying to have played it easily in an evening.