Late June 1944, the 15th Scottish Division had punched a hole in the German defences near Caen, but now found itself attacked on both flanks of the resulting salient. After beating off a Scottish counter-attack the SS kampfgruppe under Albert Frey has resume its advance, with the village of Mouen dead in its sights.
German forces are well-supplied and supported for this operation, and the platoon commander has the firm backing of his superiors. Their 17 points of support would ge them:
- Extra panzergrenadier squad
- 2x Panzer IV F1
That gives them four squads with two LMGs each, and two tanks. That’s an impressive amount of firepower. Manpower-wise, the platoon was short two men, more than made up for by the extra squad.
The British have plenty of men, but little else. The German surprise attack leaves them short of support, and the CO is reluctant to reinforce the platoon. That means only four points of support, which would go on:
With Weidinger doing well squeezing the other side of the salient it was time for Frey to make back some of the time and ground lost in the Scottish counterattack. It’s now mid-afternoon, and the Germans are half way to securing victory, but have to keep up their momentum.
There are small fields on the south side of the main road surrounded by high hedges which block line of sight, as do the sturdy walls around the farmhouse. At the intersection a garage and some houses and shops form the edge of Mouen.
Previous battles had all been centred on the woods and hedges south of the road, with German infantry originally pushing through there when they first took this ground, and British armour attacking along the same axis when they counterattacked.
The Germans were caught snoozing in the patrol game, with an unimpressive one free move of their markers. This allowed the British markers to get up the table quickly and get the first lockdown. I tried to swing around my left flank a little in the late patrol phase and the German JOPs ended up contained in a fairly small area due to the angles and the lack of other cover.
Since I was defending I opted for a one-up two-back layout with my own JOPs, leaving one somewhat forward as bait (we’ll get to this in a bit) and keeping one back at the garage by the intersection. My choices for the other were limited, if I used my right-most marker it would be too far forward, so instead I opted for the left-most one, even though this put the JOP on the table edge with no cover. I felt it was actually safer stuck out in the open there as German infantry wouldn’t want to attach through there (and er, let’s just hope they don’t have tanks, eh?)
Both sides were rolling with penalties for force morale, and both managed to roll up a morale of nine.
My plan was entirely based on the idea that I thought I was going to get a pasting in a stand-up fight. If I simply deployed troops and played a normal game I’d lose, so I decided instead to be an annoying git and mount a sneaky hit-and-run type defence. Hence the sniper, who the Germans couldn’t simply engage at will.
I was pretty sure the Germans would advance on my forward JOP. I would allow them to do this, and use the sniper, hit-and-run attacks and hopefully some ambushes to inflict casualties on the advancing boche. I wouldn’t stop them, but if I could inflict casualties without exposing myself to too much counter-fire I might get a “losing draw” which I’d be very happy with.
So limited aspirations on the British side indeed.
German plans were more straightforward. With two tanks and lots of infantry they would simply be able to probe until they found the British, then overwhelm them.
The Germans kicked off with an infantry squad deployed near the road at their table edge, who immediately went on overwatch. They were shortly joined by another deploying into the isolated farmhouse, although this lacked any windows that pointed towards the British end of the table it did have eyes on their forward JOP. These troops were soon joined by a Panzer IV trundling up the road, all of which went onto overwatch.
Meanwhile, the Jocks were keeping their heads down. There was little point deploying while all those Germans sat on overwatch, as they’d simply cop a face full of 8mm Mauser bullets as soon as they did. The Germans would have to advance eventually, and when they did would be the time to pop up and hit them.
Meanwhile however Phil rolled an unexpected turn end on his command dice, which took all the Germans off overwatch, so in the next British phase the sniper deployed into the bushes at the intersection and fired a shot down the road. Flukily this hit the squad leader of the first German squad to deploy square in the head. His helmet saved him from serious injury, but he was knocked cold. Rattled by the sniper fire, his men knocked their side’s force morale down to eight.
Unafraid of snipers, the Panzer IV set off along the road, spearheading the advance. The sniper managed to get off a couple more shots past it while it did, although to no effect this time. Meanwhile, German infantry were moving up behind the steel beast, and still there was no major reply from the British. The tank advanced past the forward British JOP in the field and parked within 4″ of it, precluding its use by the British. Meanwhile a good run of CoC dice had allowed Phil the luxury of ending a turn just to stand his wounded JL back up, and he now had two squads of infantry advancing behind the panzer.
The tank had stopped near the intersection and put itself on overwatch, so the sniper (only about 8″ away) decided to keep quite and stay alive. The Germans doubled up the road behind the tank and leapt over the hedge to capture the British JOP unopposed. This cost the Brits two points of force morale (now seven) as I hadn’t been able to build up a full CoC dice yet.
Normally losing a JOP would be a big deal, but the British game plan wasn’t about holding ground and we needed to draw the Germans on into close terrain where their firepower advantage mattered less. Indeed the tank was now quite close to the main British JOP, so it would seem rude not to have a crack at it. Deploying on the far side of the garage from the tank the Jocks brought up their PIAT team and it shimmied up to the corner of the building and popped off a round from their silly springy contraption. The shot needed a seven to hit and rolled…a seven! The shot was right on the line between front and side armour so we decided to throw a dice for it and it came up with a side shot. PIAT bombs aren’t the most fearsome animals though, and the result was one net hit, panicking the tank’s gunner and meaning he couldn’t be activated next turn. The tank was on overwatch though, and I suggested to Phil that it didn’t make a lot of sense to allow him to act normally now, but then spend next phase gibbering, so we instead took away his opportunity to fire on overwatch now.
That was little comfort to the PIAT team though, as the next German phase saw both the hull MG and main gun fire at them. Their firings position at the building corner undoubtedly saved their lives and after a lot of smoke and noise the only result was some shock on the PIAT crew.
Total British forces on table at this point were one sniper pair and the PIAT team, but I had rolled a four on my command dice which would allow me to bring on a senior leader. It was risky, he was not well protected with loads of Germans steaming in but without him I’d be relying on rolling two 1s every phase to activate my two teams. So I went for it, and platoon 2ic Sgt Jock McStereotype bravely strode into the garage to take charge.
Meanwhile, about 60m away the German squad that had snuffed out the British JOP had been joined by their officer, and spent a CoC dice to move up one of their own JOPs, which immediately gave birth to another whole squad of Germans. There were now a lot of grey uniforms milling about in that field, so the newly arrived platoon commander ordered the point squad back over the hedge they had just climbed over. Clearly somewhat miffed by all this scrambling back and forth the squad was somewhat sluggish getting back over the high hedge, despite the fact that their officer had decided to come with them.
Seeing the Germans exposed in the road (and with the tank right in front of him temporarily preoccupied with the PIAT) the sniper decided to stop hiding and slotted the bolt of his No.4T home. Little did he know he was about to change the course of the whole battle.
The German officer was shouting at his men to stop arsing around and get over the hedge, when all of a sudden there was a shot and the shouting stopped. His men looked up in time to see the officer fall in the dust of the French lane and stay down. The sniper had dropped him stone dead. This was too much for the troops, they jumped back over the hedge they’d been climbed and into the relative safety of the field beyond. Three points dropped off German morale in one blow, cutting them to five which is starting to get pretty borderline.
Meanwhile, the crew of the Pz IV had rallied off their original alarm at being hit, but the PIAT had now reloaded and in a slick display of PIAT handling managed to punch off two more rounds in quick succession (I rolled a lucky double phase). Both rounds hit the tank, one spooked the driver and the other convinced the crew to back up the road a short way. Neither hit did any major damage and the total effect was two points of shock, not enough to get the crew to bail out. The PIAT was now out of ammo, but their luck held when the tank returned fire with the main gun and MG again with no casualties (although I suspect the garage itself was looking a little worse for wear). The duel between man and machine at the intersection looked like a stalemate for now, although the tank now held the initiative.
While all this had been going on, the Scottish sergeant had decided to act to press the momentary advantage his sniper had created when it broke the advance of the lead German squad. Those Germans were now in a field on the other side of the intersection, and where visible from the garage. Calling forward a rifle section, he deployed the Bren gun and a few of the riflemen in the windows and door of the garage and they opened up on the Germans with everything. Needlessly to say, the Germans knew what to do, and finally a proper fight was on. Bullets flew in both directions in a vicious short-range firefight, one squad each side.
His platoon commander was lying dead in the road, but the German squad leader knew what to do and moved between his two MG42s, directing fire and encouraging his men. Somewhere in there though a British squaddie spotted him, and the German JL took a round. It wasn’t fatal, but it was ugly and German force morale sagged a further point to four, which cost them one of their command dice. The British luck hitting leaders was starting to erode the German ability to command their forces.
By now the second German tank had arrived on-table, but the action up at the intersection was consuming all available command resources, and orders to bring it up were not forthcoming. Likewise the other German squads slightly to the rear, nobody seemed to know just who was in command or even where the enemy were.
The tank at the intersection knew only too well where the British were. The PIAT team that had attacked it had now disappeared, so they fired their short-barreled 75mm gun into the garage, sending masonry flying but again failing to wound anybody. Where the PIAT team had gone was along the outside wall of the garage, in though the window and to the JOP concealed inside. Rummaging through the gear there the lads found a fresh case of PIAT bombs, and grabbed them before jumping back out the window.
Things were getting very kinetic in that garage though, the two German LMGs and the tank were working it over and a couple of men had been hit. Worse, the section commander took a nasty piece of flying something and had to be dragged into a back room to be checked out. The Brits’ medic turned up with his bag, put a quick dressing on it, and the corporal went back into the firefight to lead his men. British morale had taken a small hit from this, but was still ok on six.
The pain hadn’t been all in one direction though, the Jocks were showing some excellent control of both Bren gun and rifle, with several Germans wounded and shock mounting on the squad. The British platoon sergeant was able to manage the shock caused by the German fire, and the thick walls of the garage offered decent protection. The Brits were holding out.
Meanwhile over on the German side of the road things were looking slightly more disorderly. Ammo boxes were being cracked open and flung away at a rapid rate, several wounded men were being seen to, and fire was starting to get ragged and uncontrolled. Grimacing from his earlier wound, the squad leader tried to get things in order, but a momentary lapse of concentration saw him stand up a little too high, and a .303 round clipped him in the head. For the second time in a few minutes, the squad saw one of their leaders killed in front of them, only a few yards from the spot where their officer had bought it. Morale dropped further to only three. The Germans would now be down to only three command dice. Now leaderless the point squad would be unable to rally any shock, so it was probably a blessing that they now became pinned, as this would at least improve their cover.
The German assault had well and truly bogged down now, with the leading squad hopelessly pinned. The tank continued to pound the garage, but the British were just refusing to give up the position. An aggressive flanking move by some of the fresh German infantry was needed to force them out, but nobody stepped up and gave the order. German morale was on three, the lowest it could possibly go if they were to achieve their victory conditions and they needed to come up with something fast.
Not for the first time today, the dice gods laughed at the SS troops and when another round of small arms fire swept over the pinned squad it resulted in four hits. Since they now counted as hard cover it would take fives to inflict shock and sixes to inflict a kill. Four dice were rolled, and came up four sixes! The squad had five men remaining, and four went down in a single volley. How? We’ll never know. Perhaps a man was wounded and fell into the open, and two more tried to grab him while another stood up with an MG42 and tried to draw fire away from them. Caught in the open the two brave men trying to save their comrade were quickly hit, and the fourth went down firing.
Whatever happened, the sole survivor broke and fled, taking a point of force morale with him. The German force sagged to two morale, so could not win the game and the withdrawal was sounded.
Against huge odds the British had done it! Were they just lucky? Undoubtedly, a lot of really crucial dice rolls went wrong for the Germans while the British stayed lucky, losing only two riflemen and a JL wounded in the exchange. The Germans suffered multiple hits on leaders despite only facing small numbers of Brits, and when they’d sent a panzergrenadier squad and a tank to duke it out with a single British rifle section (a fight that on paper they should win) the panzer boys had taken a beating and ran away.
Personally I am quite happy to take a fluky victory and tuck it away for the campaign. Nobody stays lucky forever, I’m sure my turn will come.
The Butcher’s Bill
It goes without saying that the Germans took the worst end of the damage here. The Germans withdrawing with their force morale on 2 while the British were still on six meant the two British casualties were ignored and they emerged from the scrap unscathed. The Germans lost three dead, two wounded and one POW from the squaddies, plus a squad leader and the platoon commander killed. To fill these gaps in leadership one of the two surviving squad leaders was promoted to Oberscharführer and would now lead the platoon, while two of the men were bumped up into squad leader roles. These new leaders would still be finding their feet the next time this platoon fought.
The German battalion commander dropped his opinion by a point, which cuts the bonus support points he grants from two to one. Much worse though was the reaction of the men, they took a beating without making any real impression on the British, and lost what must have been a popular NCO, so their attitude drops 3pts to -8. This is getting into danger territory and gives a -2 penalty on force morale rolls. Normally it would also mean a carpet parade for the platoon leader, but he’s dead and it would seem a bit harsh for the CO to tear a strip off the newly promoted SNCO for the dead man’s mistakes, so I think we’ll ignore that one.
On the British end, more cheerful news. Getting through it with barely a scratch the men recovered a healthy three points of their opinion, but since they started the game on a near-mutinous -8 this still leaves them at them rolling for morale at -1 next game. So better, but not great. The CO was cautiously optimistic about the unexpected win and his opinion crawled back up to -2, where it no longer impacts on support levels.
So all up, the British have managed to stop the rout somewhat and even out the penalties each side carries into the next game a bit. The men on both sides are still seriously unhappy though.. It’s now mid-afternoon and the they’ve been fighting since 0700, losing numerous NCOs. I put losses (dead or POW) at 45 Jocks and 34 Germans so far, so it’s been pretty bloody and it’s only natural the lads are upset. Is it going to be a big deal in the later stages of this campaign? It’s already hurting both sides’ morale…
- When you’re outnumbered and outgunned, holding off deploying your troops can work. If you put them on-table they’ll just get shot up. Avoid the stand-up fight that you’re bound to lose. If you can draw part of the enemy force in and hit them with small teams, snipers, ambushes, etc you might just be able to give them a bit of a bloody nose. I’m not guaranteeing it’ll win you the game, but it will limit the risk and you might just get lucky like I did.
- I think snipers are quite expensive at 3 support points, so get them on early to get some use out of them. If the enemy pop onto overwatch don’t be afraid to simply hide with the sniper, while those troops are on overwatch looking out for your sniper they aren’t advancing or shooting your main troops. So the sniper can be cramping their style even if he’s not shooting.
- As always, getting an SL on table into the right spot is crucial. Deploying my platoon sergeant into the garage near the sniper and PIAT teams meant I wasn’t needing two 1s every roll to activate both, it was a risk to put him in there, but it paid off in spades.
- There wasn’t anything fundamentally bad about the German tactics. They pushed up astride the road with armour and infantry in close cooperation. Once making contact they should have had more than enough manpower and firepower to either bully through or swing left or right. They were unlucky that when trying to maneuver a squad to engage they got caught in the road and the lucky sniper shot took out the platoon commander (-3 morale), which cost them a command dice and that’s when they started to struggle.
- PIATs are still rubbish. Three rounds, three hits (just!) and that Panzer IV is still in action.