The previous battle of the campaign had seen the Germans give the cocky Brits a bloody nose and left a trail of burnt out Shermans half way back to Fontenay. From being on the back foot and firmly stuck in reverse gear the men of the 12th SS were now taking the fight to the 49th West Riding.
The Brits held positions along the southern edge of Fontenay, could the Germans push back towards their start lines and turn Operation Martlet into a costly failure? Or would the fighting spirit of the Tommies stop the Nazi juggernaut cold?
The Germans had 12 points of support available for their counter-attack and chose:
- Extra rifle squad
- le.IG-18 infantry gun
- PAK40 AT gun
- Adjutant? (not sure about this, but it must have either been this or a medic)
The British had 20 points and went for:
- Extra rifle section with two entrenchments
- 6pdr AT gun with entrenchment
- 3″ mortar platoon and Mortar Fire Controller
- Extra PIAT
- Extra 2″ mortar
This map is normally played with the Germans defending and the British attacking, but we’ve ended up doing it backwards. The Germans originally gave ground when they were on the defensive so we never played a British attack on this table, and now it’s the Germans who are on the offensive. As such it’s not ideal terrain for a defender, particularly the big open field in the northern corner.
The German plan was based on the overall strategic situation in the campaign. This would be the first of two successive German counter-attacks, but manpower was getting a bit short in the lead platoon. Phil’s plan was to beef his platoon up with some support and throw them into the British lines to cause as much damage as possible. The platoon was expendable, with an armoured group fighting the next game and a fresh platoon waiting in the wings.
On the British side the plan was to mount a fairly active forward defence. The rear half of the board was pretty open, and I didn’t fancy the Germans having all the cover. Instead of armour I spent my support points on infantry weapons, the plan was to grab the attacking Germans by the belt buckle and punch it out face-to-face.
The Germans were still suffering from the attentions of the Royal Artillery in this game, so the first phase was a damp squib: no German units managed to get on-table. The British reply was to bring up two sections; one in the stone barn in the farm compound, and the other in the woods to the south.
When no Germans turned up in the following phase either I decided to go for it and try to snatch a German JOP. The corporal of the section in the woods put his Bren team on overwatch covering the small wooden barn containing the German JOP, and then led his rifle team in a dash across the road towards the barn. A mediocre roll for distance left this rifle team half way across the road, and my opponent Phil seized the opportunity. All of a sudden his deployment rolls came right, and a German squad popped up near one of the gates into the farm compound and both machine guns fired down the road, chopping down three British soldiers straight away. With the rifle team now severely weakened Phil hammered his advantage home by launching an assault out of the barn that the Tommies had been heading for. The second of the two main German squads deployed straight into close combat in the road. The Bren on overwatch took a crack at them as they charged in, and managed to drop one landser and hit the squad leader, taking him out of action for the rest of the turn. This was a real blow to the German assault, costing them at least 5 dice and making the odds pretty even. When the dice were rolled all three British riflemen had been killed for the loss of one more German and some shock. The lone British corporal took to his heels and fell back but since the whole rifle team was dead all their shock vanished. The Germans had brutally counter-assaulted the British coup-de-main, but it had cost them. Both sides dropped one point of morale, putting the Brits on 8, the Germans on 10.
Meanwhile the British section in the barn had responded with overwatch fire against the Germans deploying to their front and firing at their comrades in the road, but had only managed some shock. Continuing his good run of deployment dice Phil brought up an le.IG-18 infantry gun and immediately returned fire on the barn, rattling some British teeth. The Germans now had a full squad and the infantry gun in the centre, and the platoon CO soon deployed with them to lead the attack. I decided that looked like a juicy target for my mortar barrage and the observer got on the landline to the 3″ battery to see if they were up for an immediate DF task.
The German command dice were pretty unhelpful next phase, the squad that had assaulted the British in the road couldn’t be activated (their JL was out of action) and the rest were satisfied with pounding another 75mm HE round into the barn, wounding a British rifleman. The British Mortar Fire Controller decided to forego ranging shots and had the mortars fire for effect immediately; the target was close but most friendlies were under good cover while the Germans could be caught in the open. The 3″ mortar rounds hammered home, but fell slightly to the north of the German position and none of them were caught in the beaten zone.
Back down the road the other German squad was still stuck in the road, and the Bren gunner set to work avenging his lost section mates, piling more shock and kills onto the Germans. Phil’s command dice had swung back to being a bit useless and he was failing a lot of rolls to bring up support, leaving the troops on table unable to do much. His troops in the centre continued to put some fire onto the barn, but the hard cover continued to offer decent protection, and as soon as he could the British MFC repeated his barrage and adjusted it onto the German position; a squad, the platoon commander and the infantry gun were all caught under the barrage.
The Bren gunner shooting at the Germans in the road had now whittled the squad down to two men, and when their shock hit four points they fell back, dragging their unconscious NCO with them. All of a sudden Phil had no troops on table that could be activated to do anything useful, most of his boys were pinned under the mortar barrage and his other squad had just broken, chipping away another point of morale.
I decided to go on the offensive and reinforced the sadly reduced southern section with a fresh section and my platoon CO to lead them, after getting themselves organised they legged it across the road and took shelter in a little lane near the wooden barn containing the German JOP. Much better dice rolling for distance this time, although they must have had to watch their step, because ten British and German bodies were sprawled in the road.
More mortar bombs were raining down on the German position and a few men were starting to get hit, but the German officer was managing to keep the shock under control. They needed help though, so the Oberscharfuhrer fired of a green distress flare, and hoped it would be seen. Meanwhile the new British section led by the 2nd Lieutenant kept their rapid flanking move going and turning the corner around the brick wall saw the survivors of the shattered German squad in a small field nearby. The British officer yelled “Follow me!” and charged in firing his Sten gun. The two dazed Germans (and their wounded NCO) turned to face the charging Tommies with their MG42s, managing to drop one man before they were overwhelmed in hail of bullets and bayonets, cropping a couple more points of morale from the German total and taking them down to six. As an encore the British sent a rifle team over the hedge and advanced on the German JOP in the barn, just managing to get within the 4″ distance to prevent the Germans deploying into it.
However the German plan for countering the British flank run wasn’t to require a JOP, as the Panzer IV summoned by the German CO rolled up the road and opened up into the rifle team with both MGs, cutting a man down. The British section commander ordered his men to hit the deck, and they crawled for the barn while the tank continued to pepper them with both spandaus. Their tactical stance stopped them getting cut to ribbons, but shock was mounting and prevented them making it to the relative safety of the barn.
Luckily for the British force they had a 6-pounder AT gun in support, and it deployed and cracked a high velocity shell down the road at the panzer. Despite being an easy shot they somehow managed to miss (need a 5+ on 2d6, got a 3, doh!), the German tank seemed completely unfazed and continued to hose down the infantry in the field. This really shows what Phil’s game plan was: the tank could have returned fire at the AT gun (admittedly a bad target since it was dug in) or crashed through a hedge into a nearby field, but he chose to keep firing both MGs at the infantry. His whole platoon was pretty much fought out and expendable, he just wanted to inflict maximum casualties on the British.
While all this drama had been unfolding on the southern table edge things hadn’t stayed quiet at the farm complex. With all the Germans to their front pinned under the mortar barrage the section commander sent his rifle team out of the barn and into the courtyard, making a dash for the German JOP in the shed nearby. Unknown to me though the Germans still had reserves off-table; a small squad of riflemen and a JL managed their deployment roll and surprised this British assault, catching them in the open (bit of a recurring theme for me in this game) hitting a couple of men and piling shock on the survivors. The assault on the JOP was hastily called off and the riflemen dashed back into the barn to join the rest of their section. Phil piled on the pain as much as he could (including an interrupt as I tried to extract them) and of the five men who went out the door only one came back. Initiative had swung back towards the Germans in the farmyard.
The British AT gun seemed to have sorted their initial accuracy problems now, and scored a hit on the Panzer IV. I was underwhelmed when I only rolled one strike on seven dice, but the tank managed zero saves and picked up two shock. The tank commander opted to rally off one point of that, but decided to keep braving the AT gun’s fire and activated his gunner to keep hitting the British infantry. That fire was being pretty effective, so I threw in some more AT support, burning a CoC dice on moving a JOP up to the wooden barn and deploying a PIAT team (always good to get these guys as close as possible) but the shot went wide and hit the hedge. The poor rifle section stuck in the midst of this sensibly all kept their heads down as all the British AT rounds and German bullets tore up the area around them.
The next shot from the 6pdr was a lot better, a double six on the hit dice giving me ten dice to roll. The round struck an ammo bin and the tank blew its top, killing the crew and inflicting another drop in force morale for the Germans. Around now the German CO took a shrapnel wound from the mortars and one of his MG42 teams under the same barrage got wiped out, causing another two point drop. German morale was now looking very shaky on four, British still on eight.
Around now I had troops on top of one German JOP, with most of the rest of Phil’s troops pinned under a barrage. I wanted to end the turn to capture the JOP, but if I did I’d lose my mortars and bring a big pile of angry Germans back into the fight. I either needed two full CoC dice (one to end the turn, the other to keep the mortars firing) or I needed to get German morale down even further. The only active German squad were the riflemen in the farmhouse who’d just chopped up my rifle team in the courtyard. They had to be the target.
The fourth and last British section deployed on table behind the stone barn and began working their way around to the back of the farm house containing the Germans, and the occupants moved to cover that side of the house. But now the whole rest of the British platoon was closing in from all sides, while a team dashed across the courtyard heading for the shed containing the German JOP.
I had one German JOP with a PIAT team parked on it, and would get on top of another one soon. I had two CoC dice, so could chop 2-4 points off German morale in the next phase. A rifle section was in position just outside the farmhouse, ready to get stuck into the German rifle team inside. The Hitlerjugend NCO inside knew he was in a spot, so in an act of suicidal bravery decided to charge the British section just outside. Was he trying to fight his way out of there, or did he just decide to go down in a fanatical gesture of defiance?
We’ll never know, because his whole team were cut down to a man charging into the guns of the (somewhat surprised) British section. I’d rolled well for the close combat and Phil not so well, only killing one British soldier. The loss of a team and JL cost two more points of morale, at which point Phil conceded. German force morale was two, British still solid on 8.
The Butcher’s Bill
Huge casualties in this game. I lost 17 men, but six of those were a support choice. After accounting for force morale difference I’d lost 2 dead, 2 wounded. I was lucky, I hadn’t taken any hits on leaders all game so my force morale stayed high and that cut my casualties in half.
On the German end; 6 dead (including a squad leader), and 3 wounded from the core platoon, and they’d lost their tank.
When he signalled the withdrawal Phil still had troops pinned under the mortar barrage. His soldiers managed to slip away, but his platoon CO was picked up by the Brits. So the German platoon was down to 7 men with one JL (they had only started with 17). Campaign over for that platoon then. They’d fought well, and held off a larger force for an entire day of hard fighting.
Man of the match for me was the Bren gunner from my support section. He’d personally killed three German soldiers and wounded an NCO, and his fire pretty much single-handedly broke a squad and left them vulnerable for being finished off by an assault.
The German CO was unhappy that one of his platoons had torn itself to bits in this counter-attack, -2 points of opinion. The men were even less impressed, high casualties and the loss of a well-liked NCO costing XX points of opinion. After all that carnage you’d think the German platoon commander would be upset, but his mood only changed to “Thoughtful”. I guess his war was over though, he was a POW and would be spending the rest of the summer of ’44 in a camp with a roof over his head and nobody trying to kill him.
The British higher-ups were happy at how successful the aggressive defence had been, and increased opinion by 1 to 3, giving an extra support point next game. The troops were far less impressed due to the high casualties and dropped their opinion by 2, putting them on -3, which was starting to be a problem. Also a problem was the platoon commander, who was obviously trying to ignore the men’s hardening opinion of him by hitting the bottle, he jumped over into “Gregarious” mood on the green section of the table. This still gives a force morale roll bonus big enough to negate the negative men’s opinion, but makes him a lot more volatile as long as he stays in the green.
In other news, word arrived via the Red Cross that the British corporal taken prisoner in the last game now had his feet up in a POW camp and wouldn’t be back. His section was currently being led by his L/Cpl, but the men still hadn’t accepted him yet and the he’d still be stuck on a fairly useless 1 command initiative next game.
Platoons for Next Game
The Germans are in “use it or lose it” territory with their “Punch from Wünsche”campaign Wild Card, so they’d be fighting the next game with Panthers and some lads from the armoured recce battalion in their tracks. After that they’d be using a fresh panzergrenadier platoon.
On the British side two men came back from the aid station, and one private who had been taking the scenic route back from the farm at St Nicholas turned up. This would make up for three of the four men missing in the next game, giving the British platoon 33 men in total.
- An aggressive defence can work, especially if the attacker is subject to a barrage and you can threaten his JOPs early.
- Likewise, aggressive manoeuvres (ie: running your guys into the open) can pay off if you inflict force morale hits from it. End the game with high morale and those kills might not count.
- Mortars are evil, but they only work if you’ve got the right CoC dice. I was lucky, and managed to roll more 5s than Phil did, so kept the barrage going through most of the game. Not exactly a revelation, but definitely relevant to how this game played out.
- The main effect of mortars isn’t casualties (although you do get some), it’s neutralising big chunks of your enemy’s force.