Wednesday, 25 July 2018

29, Let's Go! - Turn 6: Counterattack at St Germain-du-Pert

4.30a.m., D+5, 11 June 1944

It was reasonably quiet on this warm night in St Germain, but even so, Lieutenant Cooper couldn't get to sleep. Outside, beyond the broken window frame, there was the glow in the sky from the fires burning in distant Isigny, the occasional flash of some distant explosion, irregular bursts of gunfire from far away.  But it was the war inside his head that was keeping him awake. Too many recent memories that he would already rather forget. The first three days had been fairly uneventful. The advance into France had been slow, and the only Germans he'd see had been those taken prisoner or those dead in the remains of bunkers or ditches beside the road. Until yesterday, when the Major had ordered him to lead G Company in the assault on St Germain. And so they had seen the enemy off, and opened the way for the attack, and been given some time to recover. He'd even found a comfortable bed in what remained of a hotel. But there were just too many thoughts chasing around in his head, and he couldn't relax.  Not long, he thought, and the sun would be rising again, and all his chances of getting to sleep would end. He shifted position, hoping that would do the trick.


Outside, in the pre-dawn light, there was movement along a hedgerow to the north of St Germain-du-Pret, as a platoon of German grenadiers crept slowly through the darkness, approaching the village with as little noise as possible. Their commander, Oberleutnant Klaus Neumann, a young clean-shaven patriot, whose ambition had already led to his promotion beyond his capability, was keen to grasp the opportunity to prove himself in this war, and confidently signalled his men forward. The men, who were far less confident, looked to Gefreiter Keller, an older, wiser man, who had seen action in North Africa and the Balkans, a man in whom they put much greater trust, even though he hadn't shaved recently. The NCO read their expressions, smiling grimly at his men when the  officer had turned away, gesturing them to follow.

Having taken the initiative from the Americans by holding them off at Cardonville, the Germans choose to buy some time by counter-attacking at St Germain. They are the attacker in an Attack/Defend scenario. Because the Americans have taken the village during Turn 4, the terrain on the table was adjusted from that set in 29, Let's Go! to allow the Germans to approach from the south. Their challenge is not insignificant. They play the game with a fresh platoon with +10 (29LG) -1 (Men's opinion) +2 (no Marders) = +11 support points, starting the game with -1 on their Force Morale roll because of overall German losses to date. The Germans select an Adjutant, a FO and 8cm mortar battery, a second Panzershreck team and an MG42 on tripod mount as support.

The Americans defend with a fresh platoon +19 (29LG) +6 (second time played) = +25 support points, which must include at least two Shermans. They select additional BARs for each team, a sniper, a FO and 60mm mortar battery, an HMG team and two Shermans.

Patrol Phase
The Americans deploy their patrol markers generally around the church and buildings in the village, and the patrol phase is swiftly over as the Germans pin down these markers with their own. Three American jump-off points are positioned near the buildings while the Germans have two in woodland and hedgerows set forward on their left flank, and one at their base table edge towards the centre right. With good dice rolls, both sides begin the game with a Force Morale of 10. The Germans take the first turn.
Oberleutnant Neumann signalled the men to halt. Crouched behind the hedge, even in the half-light of dawn he could clearly make out the church, the key strategic position in St Germain and their objective, barely fifty yards away. All that lay between it and their position was an open field and the churchyard hedge.  Looking to his left, he watched as the machine gun team set themselves in position to provide covering fire, and ordered his men across the open field ahead. The Gefreiter, encouraging his men, obediently followed, and with as much speed as they could muster without breaking silence, they advanced across the open field.

"Did you see that?", the private at the window asked the corporal. "Something in the field, there." The older man squinted through the broken window frame in the direction the private was pointing. For a moment, scanning the distance, all he could make out was the line of the hedge and the silhouette of a copse of trees against the brightening horizon. And then, in the centre of the field, he saw movement. The captain had warned them the enemy might try something exactly like this. Counterattacking at dawn: a plan straight out of the German battle manual. He pointed out the target and instructed the machine gunner to open fire.

German infantry sneak towards St Germain as the sun begins to rise
Turn 1, Phases 1-2
The Germans deploy their MMG team behind a hedge on the approach to the church, with their first infantry squad and their Senior Leader to its right, deployed as far forward towards the church as possible, in the open. The adjutant enables them to deploy without delay. The Americans respond by positioning their first infantry squad in the upper storey of the house beside the church and immediately open fire.
Having spent so much time in silence, the sudden burst of gunfire, raising spouts of dust from the dry soil around them, was alarming. The Gefreiter, though, was undeterred. He'd seen it all before, many times. Raising his arm, he pointed at the house, where irregular flashes betrayed the enemy machine gun position in an upper-storey window. The NCO smiled again, and then fell back, and stumbled to the ground clutching his arm, landing beside two of his men. They were quick to bind the wound - nothing fatal, but the Gefreiter wouldn't be taking much part in the action from now on. With disappointment, the men realised they would have to trust in the Oberleutnant's judgement from here on. In the distance, they could make out movement, and occasional shots being fired. They had lost the element of surprise.

"Forward!" the Oberleutnant ordered, and the squad scrambled the few yards ahead into the cover of the ornamental hedge lining the churchyard, their own machine gun opening up on the defenders, as gunfire rained all around.

The German mortar observer has a good view of the village
Turn 1, Phases 2-3
With a lucky result from the first shots of the game, the Junior Leader of the German first squad is  wounded, and will be unable to activate again this turn. German Force Morale falls by one point. The Americans deploy a second infantry squad in the church, positioning one BAR team in the tower. They shoot the same target inflicting a point of shock. The US Sergeant is deployed behind the hedge along the main road opposite the advancing Germans and the first Sherman at the end of the road on the US left flank. The German FO is deployed with a field of view toward the village, away from the main German force. The German Senior Leader removes one point of shock and advances the first squad to take cover behind the hedge along the churchyard edge, while the MMG returns fire at the church tower, inflicting one point of shock. The German second infantry squad are deployed to the right behind the hedge line and open fire on the troops in the house, killing one.
As the first rays of the morning sun brightened the horizon, between bursts of machine gun fire the radio man in the clock tower reported the situation to his commanding officer.
"Twenty - no, thirty Germans, advancing from the south-west, to the east of the copse, sir" he confirmed. "One squad is almost at the church already. How did they get so far forward?"
The BAR team beside him fired again, watching one of the enemy below fall as they crossed the hedge into the churchyard.

The radio went dead, ended by an explosion of bullets and stone chips that killed three men, silencing the gun in the tower. Behind the hedge, the German machine gun steamed as the morning dew lifted. The tower silenced, as they crossed the hedge and crouched amongst gravestones, the German mood had improved. Perhaps the enthusiasm of this young officer was infectious - with blood dripping from the side of his head where he had been clipped by an enemy bullet,  he certainly had luck on his side. And they had made it across the field and the church door was only a few yards away across  the churchyard. Behind them, on their left flank, another squad of Grenadiers was advancing across the field in support. The omens were good.

The Germans advance rapidly towards the church...
...taking heavy fire as US forces become more organised
Turn 1, Phases 4-5
As the Sherman advances along the road towards the bridge, the Americans fire again, killing one man in the German 1st squad and with another lucky hit on the Senior Leader, who takes a light wound that reduces his Command Initiative by 1 and reducing German Force Morale by another point. Despite this, the German Senior Leader advances the 1st squad over the hedge up to the church and removes the point of shock. The German 3rd squad is then deployed into the open field on the left. The Germans concentrate their fire on the church tower and kill all men in the BAR team. American force morale falls by one point.

American armor approaches
Stretching up from the cupola, scanning the area ahead with binoculars, the tank commander took in the scene. The gunfire was on the other side of the village, beyond the church. As the Sherman rode the crest of a small bridge, the could make out American infantry moving rapidly along the road up ahead, taking defensive positions on the left hand side, as they fired at the unseen enemy.
In the fields, unaware of the American armour approaching, the German advance continued. The infantry covering the left flank were taking heavy fire, but in the centre, they had reached their objective.
Wiping blood from the side of his face, machine pistol at the ready, Oberleutnant Neumann gave the order: "Handgranaten!" The Grenadiers charged, bursting through the church doors, their entrance heralded by the explosion of two grenades. But the last words of the radio man in the tower had been heard, and the Americans were ready. Behind overturned pews, they met their enemy with a strong defence. The Germans fell in the doorway, their only survivor the young officer, who somehow managed to escape and make it back to the distant hedge line alive.  Inside the devastated church, the high price the Americans had paid for victory had been high, the two men who remained unscathed tending their wounded friends.

Turn 1, Phases 6-7
The American 3rd squad is deployed to face the threat of the German 3rd squad, who come under heavy fire, taking one point of shock and losing two men, but continue their advance across the open field. The Sherman moves up the road and crosses the bridge. The Germans request mortar support. The German Senior Leader orders his men to assault the church, calling for Handgranaten and charging in. Their entire squad bar the Senior Leader is wiped out, while the Americans lose all but the Junior Leader and 1 soldier with a BAR. The German Senior Leader flees back to comparative safety. German Force Morale falls by two more points.

The mortar barrage offers some support to the German counterattack
In that moment, the momentum of battle shifted. Either side of the church, American infantry in strong defensive positions put down a hail of fire on the Germans, stalling their advance. In the open field, the Grenadiers hit the dirt, despite the cover of the hedge line only a few yards ahead.
"Get up! Get up!" their NCO shouted, kicking and dragging men in the direction of the hedge. "Stay here and you'll die here!" But his shouting had no effect, and as bullets hit the ground all around, too many hitting their targets, the NCO fell to the earth, clipped in the thigh by enemy fire.

To their right, around the church, smoke was rising as German mortar fire landed nearby. The men crouching in the field looked hopefully towards the barrage. If the smoke came closer they might be given the opportunity to retire in safety.

Behind the hedge, German soldiers were having similar thoughts. The fire coming from the distant buildings had increased its intensity and was taking a toll. Their young commander, disregarding his own wounds as well as those of his men, was unwilling to order a withdrawal, but the decision was taken out of his hands only moments later as a stray bullet found his forehead and he fell dead to the ground. And as the wind blew mortar smoke across the front that separated them from their enemy, abandoning their guns and ammunition, those men that could get away fell back towards safety in disarray.

German forces fall back after the failed assault, but not fast enough
Turn 1, Phases 8-15
US forces open fire, killing 1 man and inflicting 2 points of shock on the German 3rd squad and killing 1 man and dealing out 4 points of shock on the 2nd squad, while the Sergeant removes 1 point of shock from the survivors in the church. The Germans press on, but roll a double 1 when advancing the 3rd squad, which because of accrued shock means they do not move at all. As the German Senior Leader attempts to control the accumulation of shock, German mortars begin firing - on target but to no effect. The American FO deploys as the Americans continue to shoot. The German 3rd squad, caught in the open, over two phases suffers 4 casualties, 2 points of shock, and their Junior Leader receives a light wound, while the 2nd squad receives a further 3 points of shock. German Force morale falls dangerously low and their central jump-off point is removed. Unable to control the build-up of shock, contemplate withdrawal but decide to fight on for one more phase, their shooting and mortar barrage inflicting 1 casualty and 3 points of shock on the Americans. The Americans then roll 2 sixes, and concentrate their fire over two phases. The German 2nd squad suffers 1 casualty and 2 points of shock, and their mortar barrage is requested and arrives on target, killing the German Senior Leader. German Force Morale is reduced to 0 and the game ends.
Colonel Goode was woken early when the news arrived. An unexpected German counterattack on the left flank had been repelled. Again, Major Foster had done well. He needed reliable men like that; the Major's promotion prospects were looking good. Less nervous than when he had gone to bed, he called in his aide to give the order for the men to continue their advance. The road to Isigny was clear.

The counterattack at St Germain-du-Pert may have been repelled, but it had succeeded in its primary purpose, to gain time. American forces had been slow to advance along the causeway, and were still some distance from the bridge at Isigny, but the Germans need even more time than this to complete their escape.