A rude shock awaits the British forces involved in Operation Epsom (28 June ’44). The troops of 15th Scottish Division that were providing flank security for the breach created in 12th SS to their front had already had to give ground in the east due to a counter-attack from Kampfgruppe Frey, and now they were about to be hit from the west, too. It seems the Germans intend to pinch off the Scottish Corridor entirely!

Men of 12 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers move into a French village during Operation ‘Epsom’, 26 June 1944.

The Forces

Both sides have 16pts of support available, but the British choices are pretty constrained by the threat of the Germans fielding a Panther. The only gun they have available that can realistically counter that threat is a 17pdr, which means they have to also bring up a 75mm Sherman.

Accordingly their support list was:

  • Sherman VC (17pdr)
  • Sherman V (75mm)
  • Adjutant
  • Medic

The Germans opted for:

  • Extra panzergrenadier squad
  • Flamethrower
  • Panzer IVG
  • Adjutant

Campaign Progress

Kampfgruppe Weidinger kick off the big squeeze of the British Salient with their punch from the west.

The Ground

Le Valtru is a sleepy little hamlet to the south of Grainville-sur-Odon. The main road passes through some houses and buildings, with fields on the western side and a creek passing through a culvert. The Germans are pressing in from the west, while British troops are moving in from the east.

Deployment

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The Germans Were able to get one of their JOPs into the orchards on their left, and another in the garage at the crossroads, which gave them a definite toehold in the town. The British pushed up into the village through their own left, which forced the Germans back into the fields on that side, and were content to get a JOP on either side of the road.

The Plan

The Patrol mission doesn’t have any particular objectives; just meet the enemy and fight them. With 16pts of support I had to assume that I’d see at least some German armour and it was potentially a Panther, so I’d be obliged to spend most of my support getting a 17pdr Sherman. That meant the British wouldn’t have any bells or whistles available and would be fighting with just the basic platoon. My plan was to try to isolate a German squad and create local superiority by hitting it with two sections, an SL and the 2″ mortar. I did consider ignoring the Panther threat, but having had the guts torn out of my platoon by unopposed German tanks in Operation Martlet (here and here) a couple of times lately I felt that was a huge gamble.

The Germans were just counting on being able to deploy extreme firepower at the point of contact. With four squads, each packing two LMGs, plus a flamethrower and an adjutant they had a very, very pointy force.

The Game

The British started proceedings, and I didn’t see any particular point in playing coy. A section deployed onto each one of the two forward JOPs, and drew the response of two German squads matching that move. In the orchards on the German left a squad deployed and went on overwatch, while their support squad appeared out of the wheat on their right and started moving towards the high street of the little village.

The distance between the British and German troops in the orchard wasn’t very far, only about 18″, but the Germans were tucked up in the trees so weren’t yet visible. The British sent their platoon CO and 2″ mortar forward to reinforce that flank, and it looked like there was a reasonable chance the British could push up quickly and deny the Germans use of the JOP, which was somewhat in front of the actual troops. If I could manage this I could outnumber the Germans and hopefully beat them, so a second British section joined their mates and started moving across the back garden of one of the farmhouses, towards the German position.

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Luck smiled on the British here, and they rolled a triple six. One of the British sections took the chance and moved up from their position in the stream and into the orchard. The Germans on overwatch responded, hitting one man and causing a point of shock, and the British return fire put some light shock onto the Germans in response.

A few phases of fire going in both directions saw no major results, with both sides sending in a senior leader to manage shock. A couple of Brits had been hit and one German, but the British had a second section which now made a move to jump the garden hedge and move towards the German JOP. Unfortunately about here their luck ran out: snakeyes! This left them 1″ on the other side of the hedge, and very much in the open in view of the Germans.

The boys from Der Führer seized their chance and whistled up their flamethrower. The devastating weapon belched burning fuel at the British section, but amazingly none of them were wounded. They were severely rattled though, with four points of shock  on each team, not enough to pin them, but it left them in a shaky position. The Germans decided to double down, and deployed a fresh squad straight into close combat with the singed Brits.

Totting up the dice it turned out both sides would be rolling about the same: 13 German dice to 14 British. The dice were thrown, and the actual result was far from even. The Germans killed two Scots, but their recent toasting had clearly only enraged the Jocks, who killed six Germans including the squad leader. The three surviving men broke and fled past their friends, taking a whopping four points of force morale with them. This chopped the Germans from eight points down to four in one stroke. One of the victory conditions in a Patrol is to keep your force morale at three or more, so the Germans were now two points away from being unable to win the game, with the British still lording it on 11 morale. A dark cloud settled over the German end of the table…

Elsewhere on the table very little had been happening. The German support squad had been making some very half-hearted moves towards the boulangerie on the corner (Phil had been rolling very poorly for their moves), so clearly these Germans weren’t a fan of French pastries. Meanwhile the British section deployed on the left moved a single Bren team into a firing position near a wooden barn and took a quick blat at the Germans in the orchard, to no effect.

Luck was about the change for the Germans though, as they rolled  a double phase. With a battered British section in the open to their front this would mean the flamethrower could hit it twice more if needed. Big gouts of flame and smoke blanketed the unlucky British section, burning most of them to a crisp and twice wounding the platoon sergeant who had moved up to rally them. By the time the flamethrower ran out of fuel the section had been gutted, and the Germans now deployed their last fresh section into the orchards and gunned down any survivors. The section which had been nine men was down to just the corporal and his badly wounded and unconscious sergeant.

While all this murder had been going on, the panzergrenadier squad had laid into the rifle section to their front and some great rolling on the double phase saw them wound the JL, kill several of the squaddies and put enough shock on the rest to break them. In short  order the Highlanders had to make many force morale rolls for leaders being wounded, teams lost and the section breaking, which cut them from force morale 11 down to 2. That’s a bad couple of phases in anyone’s book.

Things were now looking absolutely dire for the British cause. They couldn’t win the game, but if they could take two points of morale off the Germans they could salvage a draw. Unfortunately they had no real troops left to do it with. Of the two sections that had been in the main fight one was now broken, and one had been nearly wiped out, with only the JL left standing. With only three command dice to roll I threw them and got 6, 5, 3, meaning I could only activate one JL this phase before the Germans got to go. There was no real point in activating the lone JL, as he wouldn’t be able to either get himself out of trouble or inflict enough damage to save the game, so instead I threw a hail mary pass and deployed a 75mm Sherman near my baseline and lobbed an HE round into the nearest German squad, hoping to maybe catch a leader in the blast, but only put a point of shock on them.

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With the British on force morale of two the end was inevitable, and the closest Germans squad charged the lone corporal guarding the fallen sergeant. The young soldier acquitted himself well, taking down three Germans with his Sten as they charged, but suffered three kills himself, which we didn’t even bother rolling the effect of. As he died the last two points of British morale went “poof” and it was all over. The Germans had managed to take eleven points of force morale from the British unanswered, and had gone from looking quite shaky themselves to a crushing victory.

The Butcher’s Bill

German force morale ended four points higher than the British, so their twelve losses would be cut to eight, which works out as four dead.

British losses aren’t carried over into the next game, but this platoon suffered eight dead including a JL, the wounded platoon sergeant was captured, and the platoon CO and one squaddie also brought in by the Germans while trying to withdraw.

Campaign Post-Match

The British CO’s opinion now drops to -2, which isn’t enough to start robbing them of support yet, but the men are very unhappy. They’re now on -4, reducing force morale rolls by one. Honestly that could have been a lot worse, but they rolled well for the terrible thrashing they took this time. It seems like the mood of the troops and commanders is quickly going to be a problem for the British in this campaign.

The German commander is very happy, and will now boost their already generous support by +1 as a reward. The men were pretty nonplussed about casualties, despite losing a squad leader and some men they remain neutral on zero.  The leader of this platoon moves from “relaxed” to “cheerful”, so he’s obviously enjoying himself.

Lessons Learned

  • Deploying a flamethrower pretty much automatically means breaking whatever enemy squad is within range. A couple of shots from one are normally enough to do the job, and is pretty much a guaranteed 2-3 point morale drop for the enemy. List 3 is an absolute bargain for that, really. This isn’t so much a new lesson for me, but one this game has definitely reminded me of.
  • Further to the above, if there’s a chance the enemy has flamethrowers, don’t try to attack their JOPs. Any time you come within 18″ of the JOP they can just plonk down the flamethrower and BBQ one of your squads. The only real counter you’ve got a flamethrower is staying out of range, so don’t hand your units to it on a plate like I did here. Once your enemy has a CoC dice that danger distance increases to 30″, as they can deploy it as an ambush.
  • I lost the paper-scissors-rock game of picking supports in this game. The threat of heavy German armour lead me to spank my entire support budget on hedging against it, and that left my core platoon woefully underequipped to face a German platoon that was both bigger and better-armed than mine.