Day 2 of Operation Martlet dawned with the town of Fontenay firmly in British hands. A strong German counter-attack at the end of the previous day had pinned the British in the town but been unable to retake any ground. As the British stood to in the pre-dawn and watched the first rays of sun start to creep over the horizon, the ominous noise of tanks could be heard along their front. Big tanks. The Tommies nervously checked their weapons and prepared for their next test…

Despite running into unexpectedly fierce opposition around St Nicholas and getting bogged down the overall British attack of Operation Martlet was going well. Striking along the divisional boundary of 12th SS and Panzer Lehr the 49th Infantry Division had forced a worrying gap between the two German units (in real life the British were in a similar position at this point, still clearing Fontenay of stubborn Germans and not yet able to push on to their next objectives along the line of Tessel Wood-St Nicholas)

In order to seal the gap the Germans have stripped armour from nearby units and thrown them in under the command of Sturmbannführer Max Wünsche. His force of Panther tanks and troops from the Aufklarungs Abteilung (armoured recce battalion) would be trying to push through and link up with Panzer Lehr.

Forces

The British platoon was reinforced recently, so can still field 33 men despite the heavy fighting so far.  They are lavishly supported with 21 points available:

  • 17pdr AT gun
  • Sherman VC (17pdr)
  • Sherman V (75mm)

The German force consisted of two Panthers (one commanded by the senior leader), and two Sd.Kfz. 250 half tracks, each with a 4-man infantry recce team. They had five support points available and opted for:

  • Pak 40 AT gun
  • Adjutant

The Ground

The battlefield is exactly the same as the last game. German armour is advancing from the southeast up the road from St Nicholas and Rauray into the town of Fontenay. The fighting would centre around a crossroads and a farm complex, with more open ground towards the British end of the table.

Deployment

The Germans got four free moves, so stepped up their line of patrol markers 12″.  The British pushed markers up in the centre and quickly locked down one German marker beyond the farm. The Germans got up to the line of the road running across the table, with the British in the small wood and the large stone barn in the centre. One German marker was sneaking around the flank a bit worryingly, but in this game German JOPs would be of little use, as most of their force was mounted.

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Martlet_game_5_DeploymentBritish JOPs went with one forward in the trees, and two kept back near the baseline. One was near the main road, and one in the treeline right at the back edge. German JOPs went into the wooden barn by the crossroads, with another in the hedge nearby (giving the AT gun two good deployment options) and Phil tucked his third away out of trouble on his own baseline, as he didn’t have enough infantry to protect it.

The Plan

My plan as the defenders was to hold the line further back than the last game. The Germans could have the houses if they wanted them. The first line of defence against the Panthers would be the 17pdr AT gun, as it should be harder for a Panther to kill than the Shermans. The 17pdr Sherman was a backup in case the AT gun needed help, and the other Sherman was a mobile counter for infantry in half tracks. Likewise I’d kept one JOP forward in the woods so I could deploy infantry and the PIAT forward and tangle with those half track recce teams.

Phil’s mission was just to inflict casualties wherever possible, so the idea would be to probe forwards with the armour and simply muller the British wherever they popped up. He was clearly expecting British armour (I did consider not bringing any) and so was bringing the Pak 40, which turned out to be a pretty good choice.

The Game

The action started (predictably enough) with a Panther entering from the road at the German end of the table. Actually the first few phases were pretty uneventful, with Phil not rolling well enough on his command dice and still hampered by the British barrage, limiting his options for deploying. Both of us managed to roll a decent amount of 5s, which built towards a higher than normal amount of CoC dice that would really influence the game later.

In the meantime the Panther slowly grumbled along the road straight towards the British lines, obviously not keen to turn and expose a flank. I decided to deploy my 17pdr and take it head on. The first high velocity round shot down the road and struck the Panther dead on, but ricocheted away harmlessly, causing only a point of shock. The AT gun crew braced themselves for the return fire, and Phil rolled his command dice: 5 5 5 4 4! The only way that Panther would be activating was if their senior leader turned up and after rolling for the barrage there was no sign of him. Bad dice on the German side would turn out to be a bit of a recurring theme in this game…

No such trouble on the Allied side though, I rolled a double six so would get a double phase. The 17pdr crew chambered another round and eye-balled a follow-up shot on the Panther, but an appalling roll of snake eyes saw the shell go whistling past the Big Cat. By now the platoon commander had turned up on the spot and clearly he encouraged some better shooting from the gun crew. Their next round hit the tank again and this time the hit was good: 5 strikes of which only one saved. The Panther lurched to a halt in the road, and the crew piled out into the hedgerows as smoke began to pour from the hatches. First blood to the British, and minus one point of force morale for the Germans.

Meanwhile, several attempts to get the German CO on table had failed. Was his Panther broken down? Quick final drive change by the roadside? Or was he just lost? Who knew, but in the meantime the supporting half tracks began to turn up in the fields either side of the main road. With the big tank knocked out and smaller targets on the table the Brits brought up their 75mm Sherman and it started moving over the hedges and fields towards the trees where a rifle section had deployed and was advancing cautiously.

The Germans were having none of that though, as the Sherman muscled through another hedge they launched a nasty surprise: a Pak 40 AT gun was set up at the crossroads! A loud BAM! rang out and the shot bounced of the glacis of the Sherman, panicking the driver and inflicting 1 shock, but frankly they’d been lucky it wasn’t worse. The British infantry scrambled to get into firing positions and put some fire down on the gun, and the Sherman commander barked orders to his gunner to return fire. Phil jumped in before this could happen though: he played a CoC dice and interrupted. The Pak 40 fired again: another round on target and this one penetrated, going right through the mantlet and killing the Sherman’s gunner. Shock was now at 3 and the Sherman crew were freaking out. The commander ordered the driver to get them out of there, and the American tank lurched back over the hedge in reverse, swerving out of sight of the German gun and coming to rest in a field behind.  That tank was effectively out of the fight, with a badly shaken crew, casualties and a decent sized hole in their vehicle they called for medics and parked up to lick their wounds.  1-1 on tank kills so far then..

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Meanwhile the German commander had finally made it onto the table after a spectacularly bad series of rolls for deployment. Taking command of his little battlegroup he charged down the right flank at full speed, with the half tracks following closely behind on either flank. The close terrain of Fontenay screened them from the 17pdr, which kept a watch on the main road. Up near the crossroads the rifle section sent their Bren gun up to the corner of a house and started putting some rounds down on the Pak 40, while the corporal took his rifle team straight at the gun. A German halftrack was starting to move towards the flank of this section, so the British leaders sent up their PIAT to greet it.

British fire on the Pak 40 was pretty ineffective, rounds pinging off the gun shield, and the Pak 40 showed it was keen to stay and play. Cracking open a case of HE they fired into the advancing British rifleman, wounding one and worrying the rest. The riflemen went to ground and kept moving up tactically while their Bren gun pattered away at the gun crew without scoring any hits. Another HE round struck the piano that some of the riflemen were using as cover and obliterated it, causing more shock but miraculously not wounding anyone seriously. The Pak crew were doing a good job of defending themselves from infantry attack.

On the other flank the remaining Panther had moved rapidly round the flank with a half track in support. British troops spotted the move and their lieutenant ordered the 17pdr swung around to cover the threat. The gun crew chambered a round and waited on overwatch. The German tankies were wary of the British gun though, and the German commander ordered his supporting infantry group to debus and work their way through the buildings to get their MG42 into a good firing position.

Back at the crossroads the fight between the infantry and AT gun raged on. The British platoon sergeant saw that the first section was getting bogged down and brought up a second section to reinforce the attack. Leading them forward himself he brought the fresh men up rapidly and started to reorganise and rally the original mob, who had only suffered one casualty but were close to being pinned. He also got the PIAT team across the road and covering the small lane down which the flanking half track would have to approach from.

The Pak 40 continued to stand its ground, and had plenty of targets now. Another HE round hit the approaching mob of infantry and dropped two men from the new section. British return fire was starting to have some effect now though, and two men from the gun crew had been hit. I rolled a double phase, and with some shock and a couple of casualties on the gun I decided to risk assaulting it and sent the platoon sergeant and a section charging in with bayonets. The four German defenders got a respectable amount of dice to repel the assault but Phil’s unlucky dice rolling continued and he only managed three kills, while the attacking British piled in with a murderous seven. The stubborn Pak 40 crew were no more!

There was still a half track full of recce troops nearby, and ignoring the close combat at the crossroads they advanced, looking to take the PIAT team guarding the lane head on.  I had a handful of CoC dice (for once!) and played an interrupt to get a shot off at the halftrack in the German phase. It was very short range (8″) and the shot was on target, but exploded without causing any real damage to the lightly-protected half track. It startled the driver though, who jammed it into reverse and backed up, scanning for the source of the fire. Spotting the PIAT team in their own phase the vehicle commander ordered his MG42 gunner to open up. Rounds pelted the dirt around the PIAT team, rattling them badly (2 shock) but hitting neither of them as they struggled to reload the unwieldy weapon. They managed the reload, but the small target and the incoming fire made it a tough shot (9 required on 2d6 for a target in the open at about 30 yards!), and the PIAT bomb flew wide of the little half track. If the German machine gun fired again it would probably finish the PIAT crew off, but the gun jammed (I played another interrupt in the German phase) and the PIAT crew loaded their last round in desperation. This time they managed a good hit; 2 net hits and 3 shock on the vehicle, plus hits on the crew and a compulsory retreat. Splinters from the exploding PIAT round hit both the landsers manning the top gun and put more shock on the crew. The driver floored it in  reverse and took the vehicle back into the safety of the fields beyond. With a total of five shock the surviving JL and driver hauled their wounded comrades out of the smoking half track and fell back. The PIAT team had won the duel by the skin of their teeth, thanks largely to me burning two CoC dice, and German morale took another hit from the recce team breaking, putting them on six to the British nine.

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The remaining German force consisted of the CO’s Panther and the other recce team. The infantry doubled forwards with their MG and prepared to cross a high wall so they could bring the gun up to shoot the British 17pdr. As they were about to cross the wall though the last British section (an understrength one with six men and rookie leader) deployed into the treeline across the field and caught them in the open. Phil played an interrupt with his Panther and opened up with both MGs on the fresh British troops, but only inflicted one shock. The British opened fire and the German JL went down in the first volley (-1 force morale) and would stay down for the rest of the turn. Without their leader they failed to activate in the next German phase, but the nearby Panther continued to pour fire on the small British section, again failing to hit anyone.

Meanwhile, the British platoon sergeant that had assaulted the Pak 40 led the survivors forward and aided by another double phase they managed to park themselves on the JOP the AT gun had deployed from. I spent the CoC dice to end the turn and German force morale dropped again. The Panther was still peppering the treeline with fire, but a truly awful series of dice rolls meant it was almost totally ineffective. The recce team stuck by the wall were now pinned, and when the British fired again they took more casualties and shock, enough to break them. The recce troops fell back (presumably to their parked half track for a speedy escape) and German morale slumped to 3. With only one Panther left on the table, which seemingly couldn’t hit the side of a barn Phil decided enough was enough and sounded the retreat. For what it’s worth my next move would have been to deploy my 17pdr Sherman and take it up the main road to get around behind that Panther, so pulling out before getting caught with 17pdr guns to the front and rear was definitely the right call.

The Butcher’s Bill

The Germans had lost a Panther (crew casualties unknown), the six man Pak 40 crew and four of the recce boys, with one Sd.Kfz 250 badly damaged and abandoned. The British had lost six riflemen to the AT gun and serious damage on the Sherman (with the gunner dead), but their force morale ended up six points higher so the final tally was a big fat zero on the core platoon.

Man of the match for the Germans had to go to the Pak 40 crew, who had hit six infantrymen and damaged a Sherman badly enough for it to withdraw. Nobody else on the German side managed anything other than shock, which just goes to show how pants Phil’s dice were. Honours on the British side probably goes to the 17pdr crew, who stone cold killed a Panther and worried the other one enough to keep it from pressing the attack aggressively.

Campaign Post-Match

As this was a completely different unit of Germans attacking we haven’t bothered rolling for any post-game effects.

On the British side the CO continued to improve his opinion of the British lieutenant, now up to four points. The men’s opinion also improved greatly due to the light casualties and giving the Germans a good battering. They’ve now jumped from -1 to 2 points. The platoon commander is drinking heavily and his victory moved his mood from “gregarious” to plain old “loud”, which actually puts him in a worse place. If he keeps drinking any more wins will probably start to negatively affect morale.

Platoons for Next Game

The Germans get a full fresh platoon for their second defence of the farm at St Nicholas, and a shiny new Panzer IV. They’re also finally free of the British artillery, so this will be the first time we see them at full strength with the handcuffs off. They need to hold the Brits for four more games as far from Rauray as they can manage.

British casualties were zero for this game, so they get two blokes back from the hospital and are near full strength at 35 men. Unfortunately the new corporal in charge of the third section is still unpopular with his men, so is stuck on 1 command initiative.

Lessons Learned

  • With an almost totally mounted German force this was an interesting game. The slow early deployment meant lots of command dice rolls and both sides had several CoC dice (I think I played three and Phil played two).
  • AT guns are actually pretty good at holding off infantry. In light cover with a gun shield I struggled to get kills on the Pak 40.
  • The lack of German infantry is what cost them the game. The small infantry teams were very fragile, by concentrating on breaking them and the AT gun I managed to knock German morale down enough to cover all my own casualties and leave the Panther unsupported. This is a difficult scenario for the Germans to win, I think.
  • That said, a big chunk of the result was dice rolling. Phil’s was shite at all the wrong times, while I had three double and one triple phase, which never hurts. Plus I got decent damage rolls in on the two vehicles I shot at.