The Château at Ranville was set up as a field hospital soon after the Paras landed, and it wasn’t long before the first wounded men had started coming in. This was supposed to be a safe rear area, but over the last few hours the noise of heavy fighting had been drawing closer.
A rifle platoon had been rushed into position and was hastily digging fighting pits into the carefully kept lawn while listening to the clatter of rifles, the distinctive buzz of Spandaus, and the thumps of mortars and guns working their way closer. Columns of smoke rose above the town, and to the Paras inside the château grounds it seemed the stream of wounded men being carried through the gates seemed to be getting heavier.
The Paras knew if they couldn’t stop the Germans there was no fall-back position. They’d either hold the château or their war would start and end on D-Day.
The British had a full strength airborne platoon, and 8 points of support. They also had a free entrenchment due to delaying the Germans by one campaign turn. They opted for:
- An extra Bren team
- A Vickers sustained fire MG
- Three entrenchments
This would give them enough trenches to dig in their 3rd section with its two Bren guns and the Vickers. That’s a lot of MGs in hard cover.
The Germans were sending in the first of their 3 platoons, which was two men down so wouldn’t be bringing the panzerschreck. Including their bonus for CO’s opinion they had 21 points of support:
- 15cm sFH13 Lorraine Schlepper SP howitzer (never leave home without one!)
- Extra Panzergrenadier squad
- MG42 sustained fire MG
- Unic P107 (f) halftrack
- Extra Senior Leader
I considered options like a werfer barrage, but I didn’t think I’d be able to move quickly enough through the terrain to make good use of it, and I also ruled out a mortar platoon due to the close ranges I expected the fighting to be at.
Having pushed up through the town and secured their right flank the Germans had arrived at the gates of the château. Beyond this lie the glider landing grounds and the road down to Pegasus Bridge. With the town in German hands they could push on to capture the bridges and the glider troops would take a horrendous beating when they landed, especially if the Germans reinforced their success by bringing up their tanks. Flimsy glider packed full of guys vs Panzer IV is not a fight you want to be on the wrong side of.
The château is protected by high walls. A man can scale these, but they block vehicles. There are however two gates at the front that the Germans can drive through to press the attack. The grounds inside are flat lawn, with a few buildings, and beyond that is mostly ploughed fields.
The Germans are attacking from the south, but can also skirt around the walls through the fields to the west.
As the German player I really wanted to get beyond the château walls during the patrol phase, so quickly pushed a marker up through the front gate, Phil responded by quickly locking it down, which would put my JoP just outside the main gate, but I’d be able to deploy men into the gatehouse beyond. Better than nothing.
Having achieved my first objective I wanted to swing around to my left and try to push up along the fields to the south (more about this in a bit!), but again Phil was able to lock that down fairly quickly and the patrol phase ended when he did.
German JoPs went at the gates, one in a two-storey house outside the gates, and one on the left flank near the fields. The British held the big barn and opted to put one beyond the walls in the fields, with their final objective JoP sitting right out in the open on the lawn. Normally JoPs have to be in cover, but in the delay mission the defender can plonk the objective anywhere they like within the specified zone.
German morale started high (11) while the British were clearly a bit unhappy (8).
I didn’t fancy trying to kick in the front door and go through the front gate, there’s minimal cover and it’s a bottleneck. My plan was to shout and make noises at the front gate hoping to get some defenders to deploy there, then zoom around the road that skirted the walls and hop the wall into the woods to the British rear. To cover that route I’d put a section into the hedgeline overlooking the fields. Phil made this interesting by putting a JoP outside the walls , meaning I’d potentially have to fight my way through.
The last line of the British defence was anchored round two Bren guns and a Vickers that were dug in on the objective, a nasty fact I wouldn’t discover until late in the game. The high walls of the château were a strong defence against infantry, any Germans hopping over could expect a face-full of Sten guns to greet them on the other side. I’d already faced a bit of that in Game 3, and it was messy.
I started to build up fairly quickly, putting a squad inside the gatehouse and bringing up the SP howitzer (cue grumbling noises from Phil, who has learned the hard way to dislike anything that brings 13 HE dice to the table). These were quickly reinforced with the tripod MG42 in the upper storey of a house near the gate, and a rifle section deployed near the hedge on the western table edge.
The British responded by deploying a sniper watching the gatehouse, and a rifle section inside the big barn. They also posted their PIAT team by the barn to cover the two gates, but this just drew the attention of the SFMG which poured steady fire into it, hitting one of the crew and pinning the other one. Phil brought on an SL to try to keep them in play and had a Bren fire from an upstairs window at the German gun, tagging one of the crew.
Meanwhile the German rifle section outside the walls had moved into their firing position covering the fields outside the wall, so the Germans brought up a halftrack full of panzergrenadiers to take a run at the exposed British JoP. The little Unic P107 (which looks suspiciously like a Hanomag in the photos) gunned down the dirt roads, but as it rounded the final corner and went to start its final sprint to victory a Bren on overwatch gave it a long stream of .303in bullets. All the lead bouncing off the front armour momentarily spooked the driver, who reversed back into cover but clearly got a boot in the backside from his Obergefreiter as he put the track back into gear and charged onto the undefended JoP (aren’t double 6s nice?). I thought this would be a good time to end the turn, but the loss of the JoP only caused a 1 point reduction in British morale.
This meant the area outside the walls was secure, so sticking to the plan the German halftrack and the section supporting it moved up to the château walls, as did their platoon CO. The men in the halftrack debussed. The British sensibly deployed a rifle section into the small woods on the other side of the wall from them and put the men on overwatch, which made jumping over the wall a genuinely unattractive option for the Germans.
Meanwhile the German squad in the gatehouse had been staying put. A man with an MG42 took up a position in the doorway, and the British sniper duly took the opportunity to remove his head, but the shot sailed wide. The German gunner got his binoculars out and started scanning for the sniper but saw nothing. Helpfully the “sniper” fired again and managed to miss the stationary target once more, but the German didn’t spot where it had come from. “Third time’s a charm!” thought the British sniper, and his shot this time was at least accurate enough to put two shock on the machine gunner, as the shot bounced off the wall uncomfortably close. This time the German spotted his harrasser, and answered with several bursts from the MG42, but hit nothing. The little duel was decided when a massive bang came from the nearby main gates where a huge dust cloud obscured the newly arrived Lorraine Schlepper and its 15cm gun. Looking downrange the machine gunner saw nothing put smoke and dust where the sniper had been.
The tripod MG42 in the upstairs window had been focussing its hurt on the remaining British PIAT crewman, who was unable to get away due to being pinned and the eventually got hit. I was half expecting a 6pdr to be lurking somewhere in the château grounds, so the SP howitzer had been being reasonably cautious but this certainly cleared the way for it to advance more aggressively.
The British sent a rifle team from the section in the barn to reinforce their section watching the south wall for intruders, which lulled me into thinking the route through the main gate was relatively open, so the Germans in the gatehouse exited the building to join the advancing SP howitzer. As per the rules this squad used “normal” movement to exit the building , so was temporarily out in the open. This turned out to be decisive, as Phil promptly rolled a double six and slapped down his weapons section in trenches near the objective and opened up. The Bren in the barn joined in and over a couple of phases all three Bren guns poured it at the hapless German section in the open, as did another sniper and even an ambushing Bren gun from off table. All this firepower was way too much for the Germans. Several landsers went down, the squad leader was wounded and the senior NCO accompanying them was killed stone dead. The squad was soon pinned and after another couple of phases of being battered in the open they broke and ran back out the main gates. German force morale had swiftly fallen from 11 down to six.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, the SP howitzer had punched several rounds into the newly deployed Bren section causing some casualties, and the two sections lurking outside the château walls had flung several grenades over the walls into the mob of Paras milling about on the other side, causing some havoc. Although they’d also managed to cause a bit of excitement on their own side when one man fumbled his grenade and blew himself (and luckily just himself) up. I wasn’t in any rush to jump over that wall as I now had the howitzer inside the château grounds and was keen to wear the defenders down with its big gun. The British answer was to get their 2″ mortar working, and it started putting accurate (and very annoying) smoke in the way of the howitzer. A couple of successive rolls of 1″ for movement meant the vehicle spent a lot more time lurking in the smoke than I would have liked!
By now however time was ticking, and I was seriously considering pulling out. Morale was six each side, and I had caused a decent number of casualties on the British core platoon while mine was in ok shape (my supports had been getting a beating though…). I didn’t really fancy either attacking the dug in positions around the objective or the inevitably huge casualties from breaking the Mexican standoff on either side of the château walls. If I pulled out now I could take another crack with a fresh platoon against a weakened British force…
I decided to stick at it a bit longer and committed my last panzergrenadier squad by moving a JoP up so that they could deploy straight into the hedge the broken section had been trying to get to when they were cut down. They were immediately rewarded with kills on the Bren team in the barn window which chopped another point off British morale, but Phil simply replaced them with his extra Bren team and then brought on a dug in Vickers MG to reinforce the two Bren guns holding the objective, which was now starting to look pretty impregnable.
Time was ticking now though, I needed to either do something rash or chuck in the towel. I had the howitzer inside the walls, but the 2″ was limiting it to fairly slow attrition on the dug in troops. There were two German squads and an SL at the south wall, with one and half Para sections just on the other side. If the Germans jumped over the wall they’d face some overwatch fire then it would be a massive close combat. I gambled that even if I lost I’d probably cause so much damage to the Brits that it would rip the guts out of their platoon. So the platoon commander gave the order…”Handgranaten!” and jumped over the wall…
…luckily his men followed him. A Para went down, caught in the blast from a stick grenade but the waiting Paras avenged him by gunning down a panzergrenadier as the Germans swarmed over the walls (I was lucky, a full para section on overwatch with two SMGs at point-blank range and I only took one dead and two shock).
The mother of all hand to hand fights brewed up. Entrenching tools swung, bayonets stabbed, Stens and MP40s fired from the hip, and Phil and I went scrounging for more dice so that we could resolve it. The awesome tally was 35 dice on the British side, and 34 for the Germans. This was going to be very, very nasty.
So we rolled the dice and came up with:
- British caused 14 casualties and 7 shock
- Germans caused 13 casualties and 6 shock
Technically the British had won the combat, but there were a couple of problems with this. For a start they only had 13 men in the fight, and they sum total of the morale hits was more than they had in the bank. So there was no more fight in the Paras.
The Germans had taken huge casualties, but to be honest we weren’t sure how to apply all the kills to the leaders. It’s pretty likely they’d have lost most if not all of their six force morale points, but Phil made the sensible call that there wouldn’t be enough of the defenders left to mount a second defence, and that the guys who hadn’t been killed in the close combat had all buggered off when force morale hit zero anyway.
So that was it and we shook hands on the completion of a really entertaining campaign. Kampfgruppe von Luck had indeed been lucky and rewritten history, pushing the British out of Ranville and threatening the glider landing grounds and the bridges over the Orne.
Phil and I both really enjoyed this campaign. Personally I liked it better than the 5 Platoon campaign we did recently, but then I did get my butt kicked in that one. I found that Arnhem one a really tough campaign for the Germans, they were facing an elite opponent and had very little in the way of heavy weapons and fire support to help out. They also only have regular infantry squads with one MG. In Kampfgruppe von Luck the Germans have two MGs per squad and plenty of good support available with the SP howitzer, cheap half tracks and an upgraded barrage on offer. That goes a long way to matching the advantages the Paras have built into their basic platoon. The howitzer in particular is amazing, it delivers a ton of hurt at long range. The Paras will struggle to hit it with PIATs and they don’t have enough support for a 6pdr in every game. If you play as Paras you’ll need to use your 2″ mortar and deploy your troops in positions that don’t expose them to howitzer fire, or they’ll get blasted.
The Paras are of course nerfed in this campaign, which means they’re closer to the Germans in capability. The terrain is also quite close, which means you’re more likely to see close combat. Close assaults are generally going to be bad news for the Brits, even if they win they’re likely to lose more men than they can really afford to.
As the German player I didn’t feel short on men at any time. Even going into the last game I was able to absorb any shortages by dropping the panzerschreck team, which isn’t needed anyway. In contrast I think Phil always felt really short on men in the first half of the campaign while he was still bringing in stragglers. Once you hit “The Church on the Flank” and/or switch to your second platoon the Paras are back up to full strength, if the Germans have lost too many men in the first half of the campaign this could start to hurt. One good trick for the Brits is to use your naval bombardment early on, as the delay it causes will give you a free entrenchment in subsequent games.
Over all I’d highly recommend the campaign. It was fun to play, and perhaps with the exception of the first game it was always closer than the 5-0 scoreline would suggest. There were definitely a couple of games where I seriously considered chucking in the towel, but managed to swing the win at the end.
- Big guns are brilliant, but the crucial things to consider with them are lines of sight, and they can be shut down fairly effectively by smoke and terrain.
- If the other guy has a big HE gun, don’t occupy buildings. Phil lost Game 3 because a good shot from the howitzer collapsed a house with loads of guys in it. Disperse your men, or better yet stick to positions that can’t be engaged directly.
- LOS-blocking terrain like big walls are a double-edged sword. They allow an attacker to get in close to the defences, but are costly to cross if they enemy is watching. The Germans have limited smoke available to screen such moves, and covering fire is often not an option.
- The Achilles’ Heel of many infantry AT weapons is their limited range. Hold your AFVs back and use terrain and they’ll be tough to hit.
- A lot of what makes the elite troops so hard to beat is that sixth command dice. The difference fighting the Paras with only five dice was noticeable.
- Having said that, don’t forget that the elite rating means a Bren will outshoot an MG42 at effective range! We had a few long-range MG duels that the Paras always got the upper hand in.
- Above all, this campaign just reinforced the point to me that campaigns are absolutely the most fun way to play CoC. The At The Sharp End campaign system adds loads of flavour without demanding loads of administration and I can’t recommend it highly enough.