The British infantry worked quietly through the orchards north of St Nicholas. It was mid-morning, and after the last 12 hours of constant German counter-attacks it felt good to be out of their slit trenches and advancing, taking ground from Jerry. Bayonets were fixed,  tank engines could be heard not far behind, and the Germans had taken a beating in their counterattacks. If any of them were left defending the farm at St Nicholas then surely one more push and it would fall into British hands?

Forces

The British would be fielding a fairly strong platoon with two full sections and one understrength section with an inexperienced leader. Lavishly supported with 22pts, I chose:

  • Churchill AVRE
  • Sherman V
  • Extra rifle section
  • Adjutant
  • Medic

The Germans were fielding a fresh platoon of 22 men, plus an attached Panzer IV. For their support they picked:

  • A Pak 40 anti tank gun
  • An extra rifle team with JL
  • Adjutant
  • A tank scrape for their Panzer IV

The Ground

The battlefield is the same one we fought on a few turns ago: the farm at St Nicholas. Last time the British had sent a platoon of Sherman tanks through the fields and got them all blown up.  The heavy weapons would continue to dominate that open ground while the infantry would only be able to safely advance through the orchards, but had to hop over some high walls once they got there.

St Nick Aerial

Deployment

I rolled badly for free patrol marker moves; only one. We met in the middle, with the British grabbing two JOPs in the orchards, and the Germans putting one in the stone barn and farmhouse. Phil also put one on a table edge out in the fields, which had “heavy weapon” written all over it, so I took the opportunity to put one of mine not far away on the same edge so I could rush it if need be.

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The Plan

My plan was pretty simple: smash the buildings the Germans were likely to be hiding in to rubble. The AVRE was the vehicle for this job, but I’d learned my lesson about charging tanks across the open fields and would be approaching through the orchards. The Sherman was to clear this route and draw out any German AT weapons or tanks.

The Germans were clearly expecting this kind of attack, as they reinforced their attached Panzer IV with a Pak 40. The infantry had more than enough men to hold the farm, and these two heavy weapons would dominate the open ground. All up, a pretty solid defence.

The Game

The British attack was spearheaded by a rifle section in the orchard. They were led by the platoon sergeant and he’d brought the 2″ mortar with him. Their job was to feel out the German defences and put some smoke on them. Soon another section moved up behind them, and the Sherman started crashing through the orchard at a good speed to link up with the infantry.

The Germans were playing it fairly cool, but put MGs into both the upstairs windows of the farmhouse, with a rifle squad downstairs and another MG-armed squad in the stone barn. After last time they attacked this farm the British were expecting Germans in the buildings, and as soon as it reached the edge of the orchards the Sherman began shelling the stone barn, immediately causing casualties and colourful Teutonic swearing from the Germans within. After an unlikely triple phase during which the Sherman battered the barn for all it was worth the Germans inside decided they’d had enough of the barn and went for a breather in the yard outside. This put them in the open, but the high walls around the yard protected them for now.

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Meanwhile, a British section had been sneaking down the flank hugging the wall and was now nearing the back corner and the rear door of the white farmhouse that held the platoon HQ. The British point man risked a quick glance around the corner of the wall and saw a Panzer IV parked outside the back door of the farmhouse. Not good news! Word went back for the PIAT, but too late as the British infantry had been spotted by the tank crew and the big Mark IV Special lurched into gear and raced over to the corner of the wall. It clanked to a halt pointing right at the infantrymen at near point blank range, but before it could open fire the riflemen nipped over the wall and into the dubious safety of the farmyard, only metres away from the German squad who had piled out of the stone barn!

The Germans must have been taken by surprise by this bold move, as they simply gawped at the newcomers, who in turn opened fire with everything they had (I actually played an interrupt), one of the Germans went down wounded and the rest took some shock. This had meant that one of the MG42s was down to one man, and with the shock it meant that the return fire from the Germans was somewhat reduced.

With the action well and truly on, the British Sherman commander barked an order at his driver and the tank smashed out of the orchard and roared down the road towards the farmyard, hoping to catch the German squad in the open and hose them down. The tank crew knew the Panzer IV was round on the other side of the farm complex and not in position to engage them, but they hadn’t counted on a well-concealed Pak-40 that was lurking in the open fields on their flank. The long German anti-tank gun lined up a near-perfect shot on the weak side armour of the Sherman tank, at this range could Herr Magoo and his elite crew miss? Well, as it turns out they found a way. Needing only a 5 on 2d6 the dice came up as a 4, and the 75mm high-velocity round screamed past the head of the surprised tank commander, smashing a ragged hole in the barn behind him.

The Sherman wasted no time, traversing quickly while the Pak-40 scrambled to reload. The HE shell from the tank struck dangerously close, wounding a Pak-40 crewman, and the tank’s fire was supported by a barrage of small arms fire from a fresh British section deploying into the open fields and throwing everything they had at the gun crew. Another German fell wounded.

Back in the farmyard, the British and Germans were continuing their murderous short range firefight, but German firepower was beginning to tell. Casualties so far on the Brits in the open had been fairly light, but they picked up plenty of shock. Sensing the need to split German fire, the platoon commander led a second section over the wall into the farmyard of death.

Back on the other side of the wall however the platoon sergeant was facing off against the Panzer IV. Commanding the PIAT team, they dashed into a hasty firing position by the old wooden barn and fire off a quick shot at the German tank. Predictably it sailed wide, but the tank didn’t react, perhaps unaware that it was being shot at (or maybe Phil just didn’t get any command dice he could activate it with…) A second shot from the PIAT found the mark. It didn’t penetrate but did force the tank to back up.

In other tankbusting news, the Pak-40 crew had reloaded and had another go at the sitting duck Sherman to their front. This time they managed to hit it, just. The glancing hit bounced off the thin armour of the Sherman and the German high command groaned.

 

Back in the farmyard, bullets were flying everywhere. The British CO attempted to send a Bren team around behind the stone barn to hit the German squad stuck in the open from behind, but unbeknown to them an MG42 was still on overwatch in one of the windows of the farmhouse. A single burst of fire rang out and all three men of the Bren team fell down dead. British force morale fell to eight, with the Germans on ten. The British were trying to fight, but the fortunes in the farmyard were swinging the Germans’ way.

Back outside the walls, the British PIAT crew chambered their last round and aimed at the panzer. They hit it again but the little PIAT bomb again failed to cause any fatal damage, although it did put another point of shock on and panic the gunner. The PIAT team had managed two hits out of three despite not having good odds, while out in the fields the Pak-40 crew were still struggling to convert a nearly unmissable flank shot on a poxy Sherman into a kill. Their third shot at the American-made tank was a hit and it penetrated killing the gunner, but again failed to completely disable the tank. In return they’d taken three crew wounded from HE shells and small arms fire. Not a great exchange rate really.

But back in the farmyard events were coming to an end. The British CO, shocked at the instant death of one of his Bren teams, attempted to get the rifle section into the stone barn for some cover. Phil played an interrupt and an MG42 blazed it’s way through the team, wounding the officer (British FM down to 6) and one of the men, and putting enough shock on the team to ensure they didn’t reach the safety of the barn. Their comrades across the yard were faring no better, now pinned by hefty amounts of shock they’d been unable to return fire on the Germans and when more German fire raked the section they broke and fled off the nearby table edge, taking three more points of force morale with them.

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The British situation was now hopeless. The assault on the farm had failed, and the remaining team with the CO were likely to get cut to ribbons shortly, the Pak-40 was still firing and was likely to finish the Sherman off before it could be silenced, the Panzer IV was still alive while the PIAT team were out of ammo, but most importantly British morale was circling the drain and with only three command dice it was unlikely they could muster much of an attack against a German force that was still strong and with high morale. The British CO sounded the retreat. The farm at St Nicholas had stopped the British cold again!

The Butcher’s Bill

Including their supporting AT gun the Germans lost five men during the game, but their hefty seven point force morale advantage means they took no permanent losses.

On the British side seven men including the tank gunner copped it, but only four of these were from the core platoon. So the result was two dead, one wounded. In the withdrawal the British also suffered a bit of a blow when their platoon sergeant went missing for the next campaign turn. Presumably he’s currently being hidden in the cellar by some French farmer (or maybe his daughter?) and will wander back into British lines when he’s finished with his little interlude.

So pretty much a flawless victory from the Germans: no damage and they’d snatched the campaign initiative back. This campaign is played against the clock, so delaying the Brits for a turn is the best result they can get. On the British side the casualties were mercifully light, considering, but the tactical result is a bit of a disaster.

Campaign Post-Match

The British CO was not happy at all, and dropped his opinion by two points, so won’t be giving out extra toys any more. The men are basically happy, they took more casualties than the Germans but the impact on the core platoon was pretty light. The platoon commander himself remains in his rather odd “Loud” mood, which has a neutral effect.

Both the German CO and the men in the platoon were cautiously optimistic, and both scores are now back at zero wiping out the German reverses from earlier in the campaign. The German platoon commander’s mood shifted from “thoughtful” to “relaxed”, so he clearly enjoyed his brush with the British army today.

No medals for anybody in this game, in fact we both walked away feeling like our troops needed a kick in the arse instead of a pat on the back. Phil was particularly scathing about his useless Pak-40 crew.

Platoons for Next Game

The Germans are still at full strength and happy. The British platoon is down to 31 men for the next game, so will be missing a few men here and there, but nothing serious. The missing platoon sergeant is likely to be their biggest worry.

The Germans will be launching a counter-attack, so it’s back to Fontenay yet again for campaign turn 7. That’s a problem for the British, as the absolute earliest they could now reach Rauray is campaign turn 10, which is the last turn they can claim an outright victory. Put another way, I have to win four games in a row (including this bloody farm!) to win the campaign. For the Germans to win they need to hold map 5 at the end of turn 11. Anything else is a draw. The odds in the campaign are starting to swing towards the Germans, I think.

Overall the campaign is trending fairly similar to what happened in real life. The 49th Division did manage to force a gap between 12th SS and Panzer Lehr, but stubborn German resistance meant the British forces didn’t clear the Rauray spur until well after their original deadline. The British attack did succeed in pulling German reinforcements away from the main show of Operation Epsom, which I guess you could say we’ve also seen in this campaign as the Germans have thrown in their Panthers and have had to replace their first platoon with a fresh one.

Lessons Learned

  • Always apply maximum force to the critical point. I had a whole section and the fearsome AVRE still off table. If I’d held off my attack until they were in position it could have gone differently. I rushed it, and it cost me.
  • Stick to your plan! I sprung the infantry assault on the farm before I’d adequately softened it up. I got distracted by the prospect of sneaking a section around to the back door and assaulting the house containing the German HQ, but the Germans had enough troops in reserve to easily counter this.