Many decades ago I read Tank Battles in Miniature Volume 4 Northwest Europe) and was very taken with the account of the Staffs Yeomanrys stand against 22nd Panzer Regiment on Periers Ridge on D-Day. So, 40 years later, I finally got around to putting on a game about it.
This is the final engagement in my ongoing mini-campaign covering 3 Div on D-Day. The KSLI (supported by the Staffs) have taken Periers Ridge but ran into heavy opposition from 192 PGR so went firm on the ridge while a flanking force pressed on for Caen via Bieville and Lebissy Wood. See the previous account here
Meanwhile, 21st Panzer Div, having been nicely lined up at 9am to wipe out 6th Airborne Div was instead ordered to send its panzer regiment to the west of the Orne to attack Sword Beach via Periers Ridge. Finally by mid afternoon the re-deployment was complete and 22nd Panzer Regiment was ready to roll. The various sources for the strength of 22nd PR are somewhat contradictory, but I am inclined more to Zetterlings version than Jentz, and in the end I went with the figures quoted in the South Staffs war diary for the battle itself (which are about half the operational Pz IVs which 21st Panzer Div had available).
The view from Bieveille Ridge towards Periers Ridge. This the first outing of my new Deepcut Studios green game mat. Very pretty it is too.
John commanded the KSLI. He'd dug out his KSLI cap badge specially.
Tim was Oberst Von-Oppeln-Bronikowski, CO of 22nd Panzer Regiment. Clearly just back from the desert as the old Arika Korps cap rode forth once more.
W Company, KSLI mopping up in Bieville. Sadly some burning Staffs Shermans marked the way. This company was under umpire control. Eagle eyed readers will also spot the first game outing of my new Leven Miniatures bailey bridge, replacing the old bridge blown up by the Germans.
Around Periers the battalion AT platoon deployed for defence. As the guns were deployed, I gave them two groups (each representing three guns) based on the rule of thumb that one AT gun is worth two tanks with the same armament. The burning Sherman was left behind from the earlier assault on the ridge. That battle was covered here: Periers Ridge
The other group of 6pdrs was in Periers itself, supported by a company of infantry in hastily dug slit trenches. The previous occupants (a company of 192 PGR) had vacated the village once the gun battery was taken in the previous game and fell back to join their pals on Bieville ridge.
On the main ridge was the remaining company of KSLI, Battalion HQ and Support company. A replacement squadron of Staffs Shermans had arrived to take over from their pals burning on the road through Bieville. These chaps had survived an unfortunate encounter with some proper 88s (Pak 43s no less) to the southwest, leaving five more burning Shermans. They were happily parked in hull down positions on the ridge now looking forwards to a breather.
The first sign of trouble was a radio message from the Staffs recce troop reporting 'at least 30' German tanks heading towards Periers Ridge. A group of Panzer IVs duly appeared on Bieville Ridge. They were immediately identified as Tigers by John.
They were rapidly followed by a lot more German tanks. The Staffs war diary recorded it as ' a squadron of 24 tanks'. In fact it was the entire 2nd battalion, 22nd Panzer Regiment plus the regimental HQ. Sadly for wargamers everywhere, they'd left all their Somuas behind and just brought the Pz IVs (each of the four companies had half a dozen Pz IVs, the rest were Somuas).
There was a certain degree of excitement on Periers Ridge at this target rich environment. Happily 20th AT Regiment RA took this opportunity to put in an appearance in the form of one of my shiny new M10
s. The turret promptly fell off to general hilarity. I must put more blu tak on it.
The Germans were a bit surprised when this recce Stuart made a very high speed retrograde move right around their position heading in the direction of Bieville village. This was the element responsible for the spotting report (quite how they'd managed to get right into 21st Panzers defensive positions is something the War Diary didn't elaborate on). Anyway, faced with half a panzer division, they wisely decided it was time to run away.
I/22 PR shook out into combat formation and moved menacingly into the valley. There are also some panzergrenadiers lurking on the ridge, but they are out of sight.
22 Panzer Regiment HQ. Oberst Bronikowskis HQ troop is the Pz III with the commander, the other Pz III is a BeobWg (observation tank) from the attached SP artillery battalion. The HQ tank troop still has functioning guns (something the Germans rectified very rapidly after dummy guns were found to be a disaster in Russia) while the observation troop has wooden gun barrels.
1st battalion 22PR now put in appearance ('another squadron of 16 tanks' as the Staffs war diary put it). I suspect this was a company of 1st battalion detached to support the 2nd, as the 1st Bn had four companies of 17 Pz IVs each, whereas 2nd Bn only had about 24 Pz IVs in total. John and Tim were both impressed with the size of my collection of Panzer IVs. This was probably the most German armour we'd ever deployed in a 1944 NWE game.
The Panzer Regiment set off across the valley.
Over in Bieveille, the remains of the Squadron who had been supporting the assault on Hillman turned up, despatched by the Staffs RHQ in the face of the massed German armoured assault. The War Diary noted that 'they arrived in Bieveille just in time to take up positions covering the natural anti-tank obstacle'. John adopted a more aggressive posture and they advanced out of the orchards to take 22PR in the flank, observed by the recce Stuart section.
The British AT guns and Shermans opened fire, knocking out the leading platoon of Pz IVs (the regimental recce platoon)
The Germans retaliated with artillery and mortar fire to suppress the defenders. Long range AT fire from the advancing Pz IVs was ineffective, but the mortars destroyed one of the 6pdr groups (there hadn't been time to dig the guns in properly).
The advancing Shermans also came under fire. Oberst Bronikowski even managed to suppress one of the Sherman troops.
In the valley, the positional disadvantage began to tell as more Pz IVs were destroyed despite their superior numbers. Even the M10 managed to knock a platoon out, most unusual for a new model on its first game outing.
The M10 was duly destroyed in turn as a battalions worth of artillery landed on it. With half the German armour destroyed or disabled though, 22 PR called it a day, as they did historically (and then headed off to the sea at Lion Sur Mer). The Germans were a little unfortunate as they did land a number of hits on the Staffs Shermans, but their hull down positions generally saved them.
Ah well, there we have it. In the end it was all a bit underwhelming, which was a shame. The Germans tactical position was quite poor, as to have a reasonable chance of engaging the hull down Shermans they needed to get quite close (there wasn't much point sniping at them from ranges over 1000 yards) and Tim pressed the attack with somewhat greater resolution than his real life counterparts. The Allies had a slight edge in quality as I modelled the Staffs higher cohesion by giving them one model per four tanks, while poor old 21st Panzer only got one per five tanks. I'm not sure evening it up would have made much difference. I'm glad the M10 had some fun though, as did the mass of Panzer IVs I've slowly accumulated. I'd also specially converted Oberst Bronikowskis command Pz III, not that anyone noticed, but it was fun to put it all together.
In the real engagement 21st Panzer only lost half a dozen tanks written off, and hilariously both the South Staffs and the KSLI claimed six tanks knocked out each and each war diary barely mentions the presence of the other units. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if 20th AT Regiment didn't also claim six kills. One thing I did note was that the Staffs made particular mention that they'd knocked out 'Mark IV Specials' and it is important to remember that the Pz IV Lang was still a scary tank in 1944. Quite capable of knocking out a Sherman at 2000 yards and with frontal armour thick enough to worry a 75L40. Large numbers of Panthers hadn't been encountered yet, something 12th SS Panzer rectified pretty quickly the next day.
The poor old 22nd Panzer Regiment soldiered on for the rest of the campaign with a few dozen operational Pz IVs, the divisions 200th Stug Battalion with all its converted French vehicles earned greater fame. The division was however given some additional armour later in the form the 503rd Tiger Battalion, with a mix of Tiger Is and Tiger IIs. I covered the latter units adventures in the Battle for Cagny a few years ago. Perhaps that is worth a re-visit at some point as you don't get many opportunities to field multiple Tiger IIs.