The British troops were well dug in on the outskirts of the French town of Fontenay. Twice already they’d thrown back German assaults on their line, and twice the British had tried to go back on the offensive and been beaten. The grand advance of Operation Martlet had broken down into a series of tit-for-tat blows. It was midday 26th June 1944 and the British were no closer to achieving their objective of pushing the Germans off the Rauray spur and protecting the flank of Operation Epsom to the east.
In their foxholes the British troops watched the houses and the treeline to their front. Was that movement? Here they come!
The Germans would be coming at the British line with a full-strength platoon, and had 12 points of support to back them up. Phil opted for:
- Two extra rifle teams
- Pak 40 AT gun
- A senior leader
This would give the Germans some extra bodies to throw at the Brits, and a decent counter should any Shermans roll into the fight. I did seriously consider bringing a Sherman, as the Germans have a Panzer IV available and I wouldn’t mind an extra gun capable of killing it on table. But in the end I went for:
- Extra section
- Vickers gun
- 3″ mortars and observer
- 6pdr AT gun
- 3 entrenchments
The mortars are good for shutting down a section of the table, so really cramp an attacker’s style. The extra infantry and Vickers were purely there to put more durability and firepower into the line, while the 6pdr was there to hedge against that PzIV, as I don’t fancy having to tackle a German tank with a PIAT. The entrenchments would allow me to dig in a section and the Vickers to make a good solid rock to anchor the defence.
The British core platoon was in reasonable shape, with 31 men available. Crucially one of the missing men was the platoon sergeant, who had gone missing in the shambolic withdrawal from the dreaded farm at St Nicholas last game. Having only one SL is a major pain.
Familiar stuff here, we’ve fought over this patch of ground twice already (here and here). The German end of the table is broken up by houses, roads and walls, while the British end is a bit bare. The small wood near the crossroads has proved to be a popular spot for fighting in the past and would be again this time, while the farm compound near the centre tends to be another key piece of ground.
With the benefit of hindsight I think we should have placed some wrecked tanks on the table, as the Brits have bagged a Panther, a Panzer IV and a half track on this table previously. Maybe they towed them away.
The Germans made a bad roll for free moves, only getting one. That meant the British patrols could get up to the farm compound rapidly and not get stuck on the wrong side of the open fields. On the British right the Germans moved up more swiftly and managed to get a marker snuck slightly around the end of the British line and put a JOP on the table edge by the woods, which was a good result for them.
JOPs on the British side went for the traditional 2-up-1-back defence, with the rear JOP watching down the road for tanks. The Germans had a useful JOP on their left flank in the woods, but the other two on the right were further back than they might have preferred.
Morale on the British side was superb, topping out at 11, while the dice gods deserted Phil and his grumpy lot started on 8.
The main British objective was to try and do some permanent damage to the Germans, a win would be no good if there was still a strong German platoon defending next game. An aggressive defence had worked well for me on this table before, so I was planning to use a couple of sections (plus support weapons) in hard cover to slow the Germans, then launch counter-attacks on their flanks with the other two.
Peace in the British lines was shattered by the rude appearance of some SS youths sneaking through the woods looking for trouble. They’d deployed from the JOP in the woods, and I decided to respond by hitting the small, lightly armed team hard and hopefully rolling them back and capturing the JOP. Picking the weakest of my rifle sections I deployed them dug in about 12″ away from the Germans and backed them up with my support section in the hedge behind. Despite their tactical movement fire from the dug in boys was unexpectedly effective, hitting one and piling on decent shock. The Second British section decided to start their attack straight away and while their Bren put covering fire on the Germans the rifle team fixed bayonets and started to hop over the hedge.
The Germans attempted a bit of return fire but couldn’t hurt the well dug in British infantry and helped by some double phases things quickly went pear-shaped for the German probe as they became pinned. A quick thrust from the British support section could have settled things, but they were making a dog’s breakfast of getting over the hedges and shaken out into line abreast. The Germans saw the threat from the slow-moving counter-attack a mile off, and deployed a squad with two MGs into the woods behind the unhappy rifle team. Their arrival seemed to do little to reassure the riflemen though, and after a fantastic volley from the lads in the foxholes saw three hits on the rifle team the sole survivor broke and ran, carrying his unconscious JL on his back. Running right through the friendlies to his rear this man dropped an ugly seven points of shock on the new arrivals as he fled through them, coming very close to pinning them just from his gibbering.
Phil cursed and begrudgingly deployed one of his senior leaders to help clean up the mess. Meanwhile the attacking British rifle section were moving towards the woods at just marginally above snail’s pace, consistently rolling 1s and 2s for tactical movement across open ground. After all the drama things started to go through a bit of a lull on that side of the table.
Things had been occurring over the other side though, as a German squad deployed and quickly ran up to the back door of the farmhouse dominating the farm compound. Lacking a JOP with a decent line of fire on that approach I let them get away with it and the Germans soon disappeared in the back door and made their way upstairs. Once they were inside the building I deployed a section of my own, planning to run around the corner and go in the same back door they had used, but Phil sent in another squad to take up position in another house covering the back door. I started to lob some smoke from the 2″ mortar to screen his nasty MG42s and allow my boys to run to the door, but a series of pesky turn ends kept clearing the smoke away and left my section hanging around uselessly behind a wall waiting for the signal to go.
Back over at the woods Snail Section had finally made it to the edge of the woods, making themselves visible to the Germans patiently waiting within. By now the Germans had rallied off the shock they took from their retreating friends, meaning they were likely to win the firefight. I decided to attack them anyway, as I figured even if Snail Section got shot up they’d do some damage to the Germans, who would then have to fight their way through my section dug into the field. Callous I know, but the life of a soldier brought in off the support list is cheap. So I advanced my boys to within 12″ of the Germans waiting on overwatch, who promptly opened fire scoring eight hits. Rolling the four hits on the rifle team the dice gods decided to award a paltry one shock; cue smug chuckling from me. The smile fell from my face though when the four hits on the Bren team were rolled and came up: three kills! Ouch. Bye bye Bren gun. The section was tactical in light cover, but losing their whole gun team straight away meant they wouldn’t stand a chance against two MG42s, so the surviving riflemen bravely ran away, managing for once to put on a decent turn of speed and head back towards the hedges they’d started from. My biggest piece of luck was that I rolled well on the Bad Things Happen table for losing the Bren team and didn’t suffer any morale loss.
So, time for Plan B then: the British mortar observer popped up and immediately got on the phone to the firing point. The Germans must have heard the mortars firing because they immediately buggered off out of the woods (not wanting to catch treebursts) and parked up on the road behind. This was fine by me, as it meant they’d just abandoned their JOP. I turned Snail Section back around as the first 3″ rounds started smacking into the trees and fields, showering British and Germans alike with dirt and bits of trees. The German squad was caught under the barrage, but tactical stance helped them avoid any casualties.
Starting that barrage was actually a risky move for me, as I was actually slightly behind in CoC dice (2 to 3) which meant the Germans could shut down the barrage within a few phases, albeit at the cost of all their COC dice. Instead Phil went for a more aggressive use of his CoC dice. Back at the farm compound I’d given up on my plan of running a section around the corner and going in the back door of the farm house ( multiple turn ends and bad shooting had meant I hadn’t been able to put down an effective smokescreen). Instead my platoon CO led the boys over the compound fence and had them heading towards the front door of the farmhouse. As they did a German LMG team popped up from behind a wood pile across the yard and blazed away at the Brits in the open, hitting one rifleman after which the ambushing LMG scarpered. Phil was a little underwhelmed by this effort so launched another ambush from the same spot but fared even worse this time, only managing some shock. The MG team stuck around this time, but before Phil could activate them again in his phase I played an interrupt, and with only my Bren and a couple of riflemen able to fire I managed to put three shock and a kill on the 3-man LMG team, which was enough to pin them and cut their fire to only 3d6. Somehow a rifle section caught in the open had managed to win a firefight with an MG42 in cover, despite being ambushed by it twice! I guess sometimes your luck just comes in. I think it only took one more phase of firing from the British section to put the small brittle unit of Germans on their heels.
While all this had been going on the LMG in the upstairs window of the farmhouse had been battering away at the dug in British section. Over several phases of fire they were starting to chip away, hitting a rifleman and lightly wounding the Corporal (although another jammy morale roll meant I was still up on 11 morale). The dug in squaddies had not been bothering to return fire as I was using all my command dice elsewhere, maybe they were having trouble spotting the MG42 in the farm window on their flank with all the noise and spectacle of the mortar barrage landing about 50m to their front.
And speaking of mortar barrages, the observer had been repeating this nearly every phase, and had walked it forward enough to allow Snail Section to calmly walk onto the German JOP in the woods. Unfortunately I didn’t have any CoC dice left to end the turn, so they would have to sit there for now. Meanwhile the German squad to their front endured the mortar barrage, but only one man had been hit and the SL located with them had kept the shock rallied off.
German morale was looking very sad by now, though. With a JL wounded and two teams broken then routed they had sagged from their starting eight to three and lost two command dice, but were still hanging on. My dug in section decided to finally have a crack back at the LMG in the farmhouse window that had been badgering them, and a great first volley from their Bren and a couple of rifles saw them score three kills (in hard cover!), one of which hit the squad’s leader and chopped German morale down to two. Unable to complete his objective Phil announced the withdrawal. The unbreakable British line at Fontenay had bested the Germans again!
The Butcher’s Bill
British morale stayed at the top of the scale all through this game, I’d only had to make make two morale rolls and fluked them both. British morale ended on 11 to the Germans’ 2, that nine point difference would be enough to wipe out all the British casualties (four core plus four supports), so an excellent result there.
On the German side they’d lost five men from the platoon, so two dead, two wounded. They also had one squad pinned under a barrage when they tried to withdraw, resulting in two men being captured and one more going for a little walk in the Normandy countryside (missing next game).
The German CO is now mildly displeased at -1, while the men were not impressed by their casualties and drop to -2, but neither of these have any negative effect yet. The platoon commander stays “relaxed”, and it looks like he’s done enough to prevent a British victory in the campaign, and even a draw is looking shaky.
On the British side the CO is very pleased, bumping his opinion +2 to 4, which will grant +1 support point next game. The men were pleased about their light casualties and socking one to jerry, so go from 1 to 3, which gives a slight morale boost. Unfortunately the platoon commander continues his erratic booze-fuelled behaviour and jumps from “loud” to “wild”, which wipes out that morale bonus. If he doesn’t get his drinking under control there’s now a real chance he’ll be relieved of command at the end of the campaign…
Platoons for Next Game
The Germans will line up to defend the farm at St Nicholas for the third time with 18 men and their Panzer IV. The Brits get a man back from the hospital and the platoon sergeant wanders back in, putting them on 33 men and plenty of support, but they’ve bounced off St Nicholas twice with those odds before, so you can’t rule the Germans out for a minute.
- Small details in the patrol phase can have a big effect on the game. Much of the action in this game centered around the woods, all due to the angles of the patrol markers allowing the Germans to get a JOP up on the table edge there.
- The reduced fields of fire from buildings can be a big deal. I allowed a German squad to get into the farmhouse in the centre and they ended up having a pretty minimal effect on the game as they only had my dug in section to shoot at. I deployed a single section and threatened to sneak up to that building, forcing Phil to deploy two more units to protect them.