A couple of weekends back I had my first Panzer Marsch game since... oh, it must be April last year. This time I decided to field a British Army force, Northwest , against Tony Ormandy's Germans. A fossick among the long neglected infantry discovered what I had available, and what work needed doing. They had come through the earthquakes of the last 15 months (yep, we are still getting them from time to time...) more or less OK, but I hadn't even looked at these guys in all that time.
This action broke out on the 8th June 1944, whilst the situation in Normandy remained in a state of flux, about the village of Ste-Mere de la Croix. The high command on both sides had suddenly become aware of the importance of the road network in the neighbourhood of the place, and were determined to occupy, seize or carry the village for their own use.
The opening picture - a distant shot of Tony's fine German panzer grenadiers - A weak platoon of 2 Panthers, another of 2 Jagdpanzer IV/48, and a company of what we would now call 'armoured infantry'. This Kampfgruppe was commanded by Hauptmann Werner von Wiener, a highly experienced commander of armoured infantry.
I opted for something pretty straightforward: an infantry company and an armoured squadron:
A Company, 1st Battalion Codswallop Regiment;
3 Rifle Platoons (7th, 8th[mounted on M5 half-tracks], 9th)
1 Support Platoon
Section 2xVickers MMG
Section 2x6pr AT guns with tows
Section 2x3-inch Mortars, with carrier mounted FO.
C Squadron (less one troop), 4th County of Yeoman Londonry; [Note: CYL, not CLY :)]
HQ: 1xM4 Sherman
3 Troops each comprising: 2xM4 Sherman; 1xM4 Sherman Firefly.
Here is 7 Platoon, advancing on the right accompanied by the 6pr guns, the Vickers section, and the Support Platoon's PIAT team. Unfortunately, this force was unable to find a decent position to hold, being on foot for the most part, and the enemy mounted upon half tracks.
The British (commanded by Major Hugh Billinghurst-Thorpington) made their main thrust upon their left, to the east of the village of Ste-Mere de la Croix.
Eight Platoon, mounted upon half-tracks, were to advance until they reached a point due east of the village, then wheel and assault its east face. The armour were to advance a little farther before wheeling into the rear of the place. Nine platoon were to push up the road at their best speed and seize as much of the village as they could, before the Germans intervened.
Awaiting the British armour, lay the Panther platoon, lurking hull down upon the east end of the ridge south of Ste-Mere. On the road leading in to the village, the Jagdpanzers were also waiting. Four German tanks against ten British... hardly a fair contest, is it...?
Here's the general view of the field, looking northwest from behind German lines. German tanks, lying in wait; panzergrenadiers advancing towards the village and through the wooded country to the west.
Jono laid out the terrain, and it's quite a nice tract of country he designed. Unfortunately Tony and I ought to have allowed him more room to lay out terrain at the extreme ends of the table. The British in particular were to feel acutely the want of a solid position at which to anchor their right and centre.
The County of Yeoman Londonry and the mounted platoon of Codswallop Infantry sweeps up the left flank. The platoon has dismounted as the armour begins to come under fire...
...and the Germans naturally single out the Fireflies for attention. Both from the leading troops (#1 and #3) are taken out in short order. But the German armour does not come out unscathed. A lucky hit from one of the M4 Shermans damages the drive sprocket of one of the Jagdpanzers on the road south of the village; and #3 Troop's Firefly strikes right hand target panther (#121) somewhere near the turret ring, causing heavy damage and jamming the turret so that it can no longer traverse.
The British armour charges on. The last surviving Firefly (#2 Troop) scores a remarkable hit upon the undamaged panther (#113) - a hull down target into the bargain - and knocks it out. But this strike is swiftly avenged.
Meanwhile the British were starting to bring mortar fire down upon the intersection in the middle of the village - the observer being ensconced in the bell tower of the church a short distance to the north of the place. The first salvo took out a vehicle and a few infantry, but after that the British mortars proved ineffective for anything except setting buildings on fire. By the end of the action some 80% of the village was in flames, forcing its abandonment.
Minus its Firefly, #1 Troop wheeled to the west to assist an action against German infantry in the woods opposite the hamlet. These might have remained hidden, but had opened fire upon the #1 Section of 9 Platoon as it advanced through the fields northwest of the place. Retribution was swift: mortar, tank, Machine-gun and rifle fire reduced the panzergrenadier section to two or three survivors, and put them out of action for the duration.
Lacking targets, the Jagdpanzers were directed to intervene against the British armoured attack by the remains of #2 and #3 Troops. Here we both forgot that one of the Jagdpanzers had earlier been immobilized (a critical hit). It probably would not have made much difference, and I didn't remember until after the game, by which time, of course, it was too late. Possibly the aid to forgetting was the Shermans' failure subsequently to inflict further critical damage. What happened during the action, we can infer, was that the damage wasn't as severe as first thought, and the crew was able to effect a repair sufficient to get the assault gun moving again.
At any rate, the last Firefly and two Shermans were knocked out for trivial damage to the Germans, whereat the remnants of #2 and #3 troops made off back whence they came.
Away over to the west, 7 Platoon was trying to establish some kind of defence line against the oncoming German infantry. The latter had established a Mortar OP in the tree line at the north end of the ridge in front of 7 Platoon. A stonk had cost #2 Section three men, and then, when the Anti-tank section attempted to set up a position, and as #1 Section passed through it to take up a position along those same trees, another bombardment wrecked both guns, though without loss to any of the crew.
The village proving rather inflammable under British mortar fire - the British having to abandon one building when a short knocked over a couple of men and set their building alight as well - the Germans made a virtue of the necessity of evacuating their buildings, and subjected the British hold on the northern part of the place to a heavy close assault. British countermeasures were slow and muddled (my response was slow and muddled), and they were bundled out of the place with heavy loss.
On the right, 7 Platoon's #1 Section had discovered the German 4-man OP team among the trees as they approached. A brisk close range firefight cost both sides three men, the sole German survivor running off on foot.
But it was clear that, after successive defeats on the left and centre, and the right in an untenable position, the British would have to call off the operation as a whole. The Germans had won.
The butcher's bill reflected the result. The Germans lost about 20 men, a soft-skin vehicle, and one tank destroyed, another heavily damaged and (possibly) one immobilised. The British had to deplore the loss of 39 men, 5 tanks (including all three Fireflies) destroyed, and another with light damage, and 2 anti-tank guns wrecked.
Hauptmann von Wiener could rest content. For Major Hugh Billinghurst-Thorpington, it was not a good day.