After crushing the German defences in the last game, the British infantry have pushed beyond the village of Fontenay southeast of Caen, and are driving along the road towards Rauray. The farm at St Nicholas has been built up as a strongpoint by the German engineers, and the lads of 12th SS Panzer will make their stand. Can the Germans halt the advance of the British juggernaut, or will they be sent packing again?
The infantry sergeant checked the magazine on his Sten gun and loaded it into the weapon. Artillery rounds banged into the objective up ahead of him, and the shock waves rattled through the orchard where his platoon was lying up. An apple fell off a tree and landed with a bonk on one lad’s helmet, triggering a ripple of laughter.
Between the blasts of the bombardment, powerful engines could be heard motoring up the road behind them.
“Here come the tanks, lads. Jerry should be in for some fun now. We’ll go and pick up the pieces when they’re done.”
The Germans took a bit of a beating in the last encounter, but managed to recover a few men by giving ground. They’d be fielding 17 men including one SL and two JLs, so Phil opted to field two 8-man squads. With his 10 points of support he opted for:
- Extra rifle team with JL
- Panzer IV G
He’s also got his core Panzer IV, so would be bringing two tanks to the party. Which is interesting because with my 21 points for the Jocks I chose:
- 2x Sherman V (75mm)
- 1x Sherman VC (17pdr)
So that would be no fewer than five tanks on table in this game. Blimey.
The Germans had abandoned the town of Fontenay, and the battle has moved into the open farmland beyond. The axis of the attack was along the main road, with open ploughed fields to the southwest, orchards and a small farm complex on the northeast. German resistance centred around the farm.
The British patrol phase started with two free moves, and both sides (predictably) focussed their patrols along the cover north of the road, meeting near the walls of the farm. The Germans put all their JOPs into the farm complex; inside both stone buildings and behind the wooden barn. The British put one JOP as far up in the orchards as possible, with another deeper and one out in the open fields on the table edge.
Phil was expecting the Churchill AVRE to put in another showing after being so effective in the last game, hence his choice of two Panzer IVs. However, getting the AVRE up to close enough range to blast the farm would mean crossing open ground, and I knew there would be at least one German tank. So if there was going to be a tank shootout I decided to win it. With two regular Shermans and the specialist anti-tank 17pdr Sherman I figured I could win the tank duel and then set about shelling the farm buildings into dust. The infantry would follow up through the orchards once the Germans were pinned down.
Now free of the morning mist the British started by pushing a rifle section up into the orchard, supported by the platoon sergeant and the 2″ mortar. The Germans were still feeling the effect of the barrage and initially didn’t deploy anything, allowing the British to advance through the orchard carefully and bring up the first of their tanks.
The German reply was swift, and a Panzer IV clattered into view blocking the road. It fired a shot, hitting the Sherman on the glacis but not penetrating. The Sherman crew were on overwatch and replied with a 75mm round that scored a good hit on the panzer, wounding the commander and inflicting two points of shock. In the British phase this tank was joined by it’s 17pdr-armed friend, which immediately scored another hit on the German tank but failed to do any damage (two strikes scored on 12 dice! Arg!). The follow-up shot from the first Sherman put another 75mm on target and this time scored an outright kill. So far everything was going to plan, as I thought I’d neutralised the only German tank. If only that were the case…
Meanwhile, the infantry had got within range of the stone barn, and a German machine gun took up position in a upstairs window and gave them a burst. The Tommies replied in kind, but both sides only traded a little shock and the British platoon sergeant ended the dispute by getting a 2″ smoke round in front of the machine gunner’s window. With that threat neutralised the infantry resumed their advance towards the walls of the farm compound and a second echelon deployed behind them in support.
The third and final Sherman now joined the troop and the commander ordered his tanks to advance over the radio. The American tanks nosed out into the fields and started chewing through the poor farmer’s crops, looking to get an angle on the stone barn and start reducing it to rubble. Suddenly the blocky shape of another Panzer IV appeared around the corner of a farm building and fired its long 75mm gun, hitting the 17pdr VC and stopping it dead. The survivors bailed out and crawled for cover in the cabbages. Phil had rolled a double 6 on his phase dice, giving the German tank another shot before the Allies could reply, and the panzer nosed forward slightly and took aim at the only Sherman in view. Another excellent shot took the tank out with a single hit, this time destroying the troop commander’s vehicle. 2-1 to the Germans.
The remaining British tank took advantage of a double 6 on the other side to cautiously move up and fire at the panzer, but the shot smacked into the farmhouse the German tank was tucked in behind. The Sherman reversed back into cover, but in the German phase the Mark IV could move up enough to bring the Sherman back into view and the shot it fired whistled past the target missing by mere inches. Return fire from the Sherman was badly wide again, and a repeat shot from the German tank ended the tank battle by hitting the Sherman and knocking it out. That German tank had not really had much of an impact so far in this campaign, but it had made up for it with some red hot gunnery today.
The sergeant swore under his breath. Bloody useless tanks! All three were stuck in the open fields, and brewing up nicely. He’d seen a few tankies jump out when they’d been hit, but he was guessing quite a few hadn’t. Nothing he could do for them, it would be suicide running out into those fields to look for wounded.
“Oh well boys, looks like Plan A isn’t on the cards today. But there’s always Plan B: do it your bloody self!”
These three quick tank losses had knocked British morale from nine down to five. The infantry were clearly unimpressed but kept up their advance on the farm complex, and the 2″ mortar continued to drop smoke into the courtyard, which allowed the first British section to jump the wall into the compound without getting horrifically machine-gunned. By now the Germans were fully committed in the defence, with one squad in the stone barn and a second squad in the farmhouse. The platoon commander and their extra riflemen bulked up the defences in the house.
The British were making good ground against the defenders, but digging them out of their buildings would be difficult, and the infantry now had no heavy weapons with which to suppress them. This was going to have to be done with bayonets and bodies. So playing a CoC dice I moved up the JoP in the orchard to near the wall of the farm, which allowed me to bring up my third and final section and the platoon CO, deployed right over the wall into the compound.
The Germans were clearly bothered by the amount of smoke that the attack was putting on them, so played a CoC dice to end the turn and clear the table. The British sent a rifle team into the wooden barn which managed to shut down a nearby German JoP. The Germans kindly welcomed them by blasting the barn a couple of times with the Panzer IV, killing a man. Meanwhile one of their Bren guns took advantage of the now unobstructed view in the courtyard to open fire on an MG42 in the upstairs farmhouse window, but achieved nothing and the return fire from the defenders hit one of the gun team and wounded their corporal (Brit force morale now down to four, meaning one less command dice).
I figured at this point that I needed to assault the stone barn and start clearing out the defenders pronto, but charging in at this stage would be suicidal, they had a full squad with MGs and hard cover. The 2″ mortar put more smoke into the courtyard, and a rifleman threw a smoke grenade to give some more cover while a section moved up to line the wall outside the stone barn. The plan was for them to start lobbing grenades in next phase to soften up the defenders, then go in with bayonets. The odds weren’t good, but to be brutally honest I knew I could replace casualties more easily than the Germans. Sucks to be an infantryman!
Like all my plans so far this game though it was not to be. Phil rolled four sixes in his command dice: a pair of fighter bombers swooped in low and everybody took cover. This also ended the turn and cleared out all my covering smoke (again), leaving the barn assault section standing in the open in the courtyard in front of a load of angry Germans. They opened up, cutting down four men in the first volley and pinning them in the open.
And that was it for the British attack; if I stuck around all those men pinned in the open would be wiped out, I had no troops immediately ready to attack either German house and the German defenders were in good shape. With my force morale sitting on four I could only afford to lose one more point before I’d fail the mission anyway so I felt that now was the time to break off the attack.
Of the five pinned men in the courtyard two managed to scramble away and join the rest of the platoon falling back. One rifleman and the NCO were captured by the Germans, and one man is still unaccounted for (although I have reason to believe he may turn up…).
German force morale ended on 6, their only loss being from the first tank that was knocked out. I’d said after the last game that the Germans needed a good result to turn their fortunes around in this campaign, well this was it. They’d thrown back the attacker with heavy losses and would be able to launch a counter-attack that would take the British right back to the outskirts of Fontenay. They’d done all this without taking any losses at all. Well played Phil!
The Butcher’s Bill
One way traffic this time. The crew of the first Panzer IV had been blown to bits, but apart from that no casualties at all on the core German platoon. On the British side I lost 3 dead, 2 wounded. One rifleman got separated in the withdrawal and is out for the next game, with two POWs (one of them a Junior Leader), so a total of eight men out of action.
The British CO dropped his opinion of the platoon by one point, which will mean they no longer get an extra support point. The men were not impressed with the uneven rate of casualties and also dropped a point, taking them to -1. The platoon commander is seemingly unfazed by any of this, and remains “Sociable”, with the +1 on the force morale roll this gives.
The German platoon leader also stays steady on “Content”, while recovering some esteem in his CO’s eyes although he’s still only on -1. The men were very pleased that they took no casualties and really hurt the Tommies, bringing their opinion up two points to -1. This wipes out the force morale penalty they started this game with. So all up a very productive engagement for the 12th SS. No casualties and their situation is improved.
Man of the Match was definitely the second of the Panzer IV’s. After its mate was rudely dispatched by the Shermans this tank simply wiped out the British tank force singlehanded.
Platoons for Next Game
At the end of this game the British platoon is missing a section worth of men, but can still muster 27 men to the Germans’ 17. With a well-supported German counter-attack on the cards I felt it was time to call for some replacements and was granted 7 men, enough to give the newly promoted leader of my third section a decent body of men to command.
With only two JLs the German platoon will likely stick to filling two 8-man squads as in this game.
- Shermans are rubbish.
- Defended buildings need softening up. Plan A was for the Shermans to do this with HE, when that plan went wonky I didn’t really do enough to make it happen with infantry weapons and was left dithering about in the farm courtyard, unwilling to launch an assault.