Saturday, 28 January 2017


Many years ago I was struck by accounts of the early fighting in Normandy about the difficulties posed to the British attempts to take Caen on D-Day by the strongpoint codenamed 'Hillman'. The position is still there, located on the 'Rue de Suffolk' south of Coleville on the back route into Caen and Tim visited it in 2004. 

Anyway, after 17 years of planing and research, I finally got around to putting on a game of the Suffolks attack on the position, which followed on from the game I put on before Christmas covering the assault on Coleville and 'Morris'

The game are covered two map grid squares (approx 2km x 2km), and once again featured the plucky heroes of the Suffolks, supported by 76 Field Regiment and 246 Field Company Royal Engineers. Against them was the ominous looking Hillman position, known to contain two German regimental headquarters as well as artillery observation posts overlooking the invasion beaches (Sword Beach is a couple of map squares to the rear).

I ran this with my 15mm toys using Johns 'Battlegroup' rules, somewhat modified by myself. The action kicked off at around 1300 hours on 6th June 1944. John commanded the Suffolks, Jerry reprised his role as artillery commander, Tom took the assault infantry companies and Tim got to push some tanks around.

The battlefield from the south. The Suffolks will form up around Coleville, the previously captured German positions visible in the distance. Over in Hermanville to the west the KSLI and Staffs Yeomany are building up to drive down the main road to Caen, which they can't do until Hillman is cleared.

The Suffolks move out from Coleville. Left flanking covered by bags of smoke. I was a little disappointed that Jerry got out of his nice shiny OP tank and decided to scramble up the church steeple instead.

Oooeer. Ju 88s from KG56 make an appearance. Unlike their historical counterparts who were shot down in flames by Spitfires over the beaches, these actually made it through the defending fighters and the massed AA fire of the Royal Navy, only to dump their bombs ineffectively in the sea. Masterful flying by Tim as temporary bomber pilot.

A squadron of the South Staffs rolls on, along with a stray troop from 13/18th Hussars.  Nice bit of unexpected support for the Suffolks. The battalion mortar platoon and attached MMG platoon are also visible here.

The Royal Artillery lay down some covering fire. Meanwhile German artillery fire covers the exit from Coleville, one platoon is pinned down but rapidly recovers using the stone buildings as cover.

A full squadron shoot from the Shermans is quite impressive. The infantry move up under cover of the barrage.

A German AT bunker opens fire on the Shermans. They respond with massed HE fire to suppress the position.

Over on the left flank, a German pillbox opens fire to no effect, but the German artillery plasters one of the infantry companies. The ditches around the field provide decent cover but the company HQ is knocked out.

A gunnery duel ensues. The artillery bunker engages the Shermans, knocking one troop out, while artillery provides covering fire as the engineers to use bangalore torpedoes to clear the wire and mines (the great big explosion). Some German interval troops pop up and suppress one rifle platoon.

Over in front, things are getting a bit sticky. The German 10cm guns engage and disable another troop of Shermans and catch a rifle company in the beaten zone.  The infantry have fortunately been digging in and are protected by their shell scrapes.

Over in the far corner, direct fire from the AT platoon and HE fire from the atillery has failed to suppress the armoured pillbox. However, the battalion assault pioneer platoon has managed to get through the cleared path, soon to be followed by an infantry platoon.

The Assault pioneers failed to close with the unsuppressed pillbox, but the infantry distinguished themselves by knocking the pilbox out with their PIAT while the Germans interval troops are suppressed by mortar fire.

We called it at that point, as once the British had broken into the position, it was just a question of mopping up each bunker. In the actual battle, the last Germans didn't surrender until 0730 on 7th June as the position was fortified to a similar level as Fort Douament at Verdun with underground concreted tunnels etc.

I think this went rather well and rolled along at a fair old pace. I had originally imagined gaming the fighting to clear the trenches and bunkers too, but it would essentially have been a slow fire & movement slog, so I think ending the game at  the point the British broke into the fortification was the right thing to do. One again 'Battlegroup' worked well and produced a believable result, which is always a good sign. 

Saturday, 14 January 2017


One of the lesser known games in Phil Sabins 'Simulating War' is Kartenspiel, partly because it is buried in the appendices. It is an attempt to model a Napoleonic battle as a card game, in the style of Clausewitz (who observed that war is very much like a game of cards, with its mix of calculation,bluff and limited knowledge).

The game system is designed for ten(!) players, but I reckoned as a minimum I could get away with four. This was good, as I had four players at the club Christmas games day. The battle is abstracted out as four (opposing) Corps sized engagements, and the forces are allocated to each side as playing cards, each representing a division of infantry or cavalry. Initially the CinC holds all the cards, but then allocates some of them to each Corps. Once allocated, they are committed and cannot be recalled so the CinC has to deploy his forces wisely and keep a reserve. The Corps commanders then simultaneously  decide whether to attack or defend, and once all attacks are declared, the battles are resolved. It is only at this stage that the forces allocated to each Corps are (briefly) revealed. Battles are entirely deterministic, the side with the most combat power wins and if they double the enemy, they inflict an extra loss. An attacker can never lose more than three divisions in a battle and a defender can never lose more than two, so combat tends to be quite attritional.

I couldn't resist having a tinker around with it, one major thing missing was any consideration of terrain (something which shapes any battle) and also explicit representation of artillery which was assumed to be factored into each division. I added some simple terrain rules, and also allowed each side a single 'grand battery' which didn't greatly affect the outcome but did explicitly represent the third arm. I also couldn't resist using some toys, so I marked up a battle board into four zones and dragged out my Austrians and French.

Tim and Russell took the French (on the left above), Graeme and Jerry the Austrians (right).  

After a few turns of pounding,this was the French left/Austrian right. Lots of forces sucked into the IV Corps sector, while a couple of Austrian divisions hold a village opposed by the French grand battery.

The slugfest in IV Corps merely resulted in lots of casualties. The French had more luck against the village, gradually whittling the defenders down with repeated assaults supported by their guns. Alas it was in the woods of I Corps that the battle was decided. The French committed all their reserves in IV Corps in a huge effort, but the Austrians opposed them with enough strength to hold them up, while attaining a critical force superiority against the lightly held woods. With no reserves left, the French could only watch as they eventually managed to break through.

The saving grace was that as neither side had any reserves left at all, there was  no French rearguard, but neither was there an Austrian pursuit, so the French just fell back to lick their wounds and reorganise.

This seemed to go swimmingly well, and the rock/paper declaration of attacks/defences and cavalry charges was hugely entertaining as the Corps commanders thumped the table and the respective Army commanders looked on and hoped  they would make the right decisions. Russell actually threw away a chance to take the village on the last turn, much to 'Napoleons' fury, but c'est la guerre.

Thoroughly recommended, and one of the better simulations of mass nineteenth century warfare I've seen, especially the ability of subordinates to utterly mess up the CinCs carefully laid plans, and with not a dice in sight. Great stuff.

This will probably be making an appearance at COW.