Thursday, 12 March 2009

D-Day Dodgers

I ran my Italian scenario using Combat 300 last night. I couldn't recall exactly when or where the original action took place, so it was down to the redoubtable troops of the South Essex Regiment to save the day once more. I did at least recall the original terrain layout and orbat well enough to recreate the battle. I was surprised the assembled multitudes didn't recognise it as it has been published in The Nugget not once but twice (it was one of the US Army 'Combat Lessons' series). In the original battle it was a reinforced US infantry battalion taking on the dug-in Germans, but for this game they became British.

The Germans had a fairly simple setup, two rifle companies each reinforced with a machinegun platoon dug in in front of the village, a battery of 88s plus battalion HQ dug in to the village itself, 81mm mortar platoon plus the 88s prime movers in the woods behind the town. The British had nice covered approaches down each flank (on the right a wooded ridgeline, on the left ribbons of open woodland) plus a convenient hill with reverse slopes as an asembly area some 1.5km from the village. The Germans were all hidden, so I let the Allies have one pre-game recce flight as per the original rules. I'd been mulling over spotting and target location (something not included in the rules, just hidden/on table) so I transposed the target location distances from John Armatys' 'Blitzspiel' rules coupled with the concept of target detection vs actual location from TAC:WW2. This produced a simple fixed distance spotting table for different types of targets, but meant that it wasn't possible to see infantry 5km away as in the original rules.

In the original battle, the US commander opted for a double envelopment and used his platoon of Shermans for indirect fire support from the reverse slope. The double envelopment was roundly criticised by the staff compiling the report (although it worked as it forced the Germans from their position without a series fight). In the refight, the British went left flanking with the tanks in close support. One lucky infantry company was tasked with marching straight up the road as a demonstration. The British task was made easier as they had an incredibly lucky recce flight which spotted both the German infantry companies, but not the guns and mortars lurking in the woods and buildings. This made it fairly easy to task their mortars, attached Vickers guns and supporting 25 pdrs to thoroughly brass up the German positions while the infantry closed under the cover of their fire.

As is common in wargames, the players got a bit bored with trying to pull off a broad oputflanking manouvre, and ended up pushing all their infantry companies and tanks out into the open after a few turns in a broad arc, which was still essentially a frontal attack, albeit angled to the left. The Germans were inconvenienced by the allied support fire, but being dug in they could still fire back at reduced effect, their MGs and mortars in particular had some success laying down barrage fire which pinned at least one company. The Allied infantry pressed forward, and as the barrage lifted attempted to assault one of the German infantry companies while the Shermans nosed into the open. A nice feature of the rules is that artillery fire is resolved when the barrage lifts, not as it is fired, and it turned out that even 25pdrs weren't terribly effective against dug in troops, so the Germans were in reasonably good order and managed to throw the assaulting troops back. The 88s meanwhile unmasked and loosed off a volley at the Shermans, and managed to miss every single shot.

These developments caused a degree of consternation in the Allied camp, and they redoubled their efforts. Artillery fire shifted onto the 88s, the infantry determined to beat down the dug in defenders with close range small arms fire, and the Shermans began lobbing HE. The 88s had recovered from the their initial shock and fired a deadly volley at the Shermans, driving them back in disorder before the 25pdr fire thoroughly suppressed them. On the front lines, the weight of Allied fire gradually suppressed the shaken German infantry and despite the personal intervention of the battalion CO (which cost him his life) they ended up hiding in their trenches. The allies launched another assault and this time the defenders either routed and surrendered. It was time for the Germans to pack up and pull back to the next position, and their remaining troops melted away to the rear. The British had won, but it was a much bloodier and costly victory than that achieved by the original US commander (whose wide outflanking induced the Germans to simply pull out when their communications were threatened).

There were some nice ideas in the game, I was particularly taken with the treatment of area fire, as well as the friction events built into the card drawn unit activation. We were a bit less enthused by some of the mechanism as the game slowed to a crawl once serious combat started, and artillery fire seemed to be far too flexible within the scope of game time. Overall it ran somewhat slower than a similar sized action using 'Battlegroup', but there were certainly some interesting ideas which will no doubt show up elsewhere.

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