Back to Market Garden this week, and off to the 101st Airborne Divs attempts to capture to town of Best, west of Son bridge on 19th September 1944. The town and its environs were garrisoned by the remnants of the 59th Infantry Division, which had been ferried out of the Breskens pocket across the Scheldt. The scenario is based on relevant Command Decision scenario in their Market Garden campaign book, here it is converted for NBC: Indian Country
Saturday, 1 May 2021
Indian Country, the Battle for Best
Battlefield from the south. Hells Highway and Son bridge are on the right, Best and the partially demolished bridge over the canal are to the left. General Gavin was anxious about the width of the corridor at this point, and ordered 502PIR to advance west and push the Germans further back.
Best was garrisoned initially by KG Rink, centered around IR723 from 719 Infantry Div. In the game Tim C took command of this force. I decided to run this game in 15mm rather than the more usual 6mm as it is fairly low density and it looks nice.
The bridge south of Best was demolished on the 18th as XXX Corps advanced and the Flak batteries at either end were left unscathed, so Rink incorporated them into his fire plan.
Best itself was garrisoned by a battalion of Police hastily re-deployed from Tilburg. WW1 German Jagers stand in for German police and their distinctive hats. Although they had rifles and LMGs, they didn't have any heavy weapons.
IR1034 from 59th ID had been trapped in the forest west of Son by the paradrops and XXX Corps advance. Two battalions (at half strength) hunkered down in the middle of the woods, posing a threat to the main highway north. Mark commanded these chaps.
Rushing to the rescue was IR1036 from 59th Infantry Division, along with the Divisional Fusilier Battalion mounted on bicycles. Tim G commanded these, as well as being the overall German commander, representing General Walther Poppe. Tim also commanded the mighty German artillery contingent, a single battery of 105mm howitzers.
Many years ago I cycled around this area en route to Arnhem, starting at Hertgenbosch, following the very route the Fusiliers took. Good cycling country, albeit surprisingly hilly in places.
Right in the middle of the battlefield was 3/502 PIR command by Jerry. They had made a tentative advance they day before and patrols had detected a fair amount of German activity ahead.
Zon itself was fairly packed. 2/502 PIR, the Regimental HQ as well as a squadron of Cromwells from 15/19 Hussars and observers from 86th Feld Regt (Guards Armoured Div). John commanded the British and Simon had both the paras and overall command of the regiment. Combat debut of my QRF Cromwell, which was partly why I did this in 15mm:)
86th Field Regt (SP). My trusty QRF Sextons get another outing. As the US and British hadn't really sorted out their co-operaton yet, the guns could only be called in by British units.
Marching back down the road to reinforce the attack was 2/327th Glider Infantry, commanded by Tom.
3/502 marched bravely into the forest only to run into a wall of fire from the 1034th, to add insult to injury German 105s rained down on the US paras and they were soon pinned down by artillery fire.
Meanwhile Simon bravely led 2/502 into action against the other battalion of the 1034th who had marched cautiously in the direction of Son.
Further north the the Cromwells linked up with the glider infantry.
Inspired by the Colonel, the US paras got stuck into the German infantrymen. Some paras fell but the Germans were sorely depleted. To everyones amazement they passed their morale check and kept on fighting.
The 1036th Regiment now rolled up, with Fusiliers frantically cycling down the road leading the way.
The glider troops and tanks sorted themselves. The British FOO was also tagging along with this group, and having the only two units which could call down the 25pdrs in one place where they couldn't see anything rather interfered with any Allied artillery fire.
2/502 finally overcame the the stubborn Germans, but not before sustaining another hit. Jerrys battalion failed to rally but the Germans suffered an unfortunate friendly fire incident when their own guns dropped shells all over them. Danger Close!
The bicycle Fusiliers outpaced their leg pals, who were busy dragging some Pak 40s along with them.
The Allied units had all linked up now, which looked rather scary.
2/502 sidestepped to face off against the remaining Germans in the forest while the Colonel went to help rally Jerrys battalion. The glider troops and their accompanying tank pushed on westwards, while the German cyclists frantically started digging in. Attacked on all sides the remains of the 1034th broke and ran, completely disintegrating as the US troops pursued.
The glider troops meanwhile advanced to contact with the Fusiliers while the Cromwells went right flanking. The Fusiliers opened up on the US infantry while the 1036th at the crossroads took a potshot at the Cromwells with their AT guns, but their aim was off and the fire was ineffective.
We called it a night there. The US are now firmly in control of the woods and all their troops are in good order while skirmishing with the German Fusiliers. US losses are moderate, about half their companies have taken hits. Their big decision for tomorrow is whether to go for the bridge or go for Best. Best is closer but more strongly defended.
On the German side, they have significant forces (nominally six battalions) around each of the remaining objectives including heavy weapons support from the Flak and AT guns. Their real problem is that their troop quality if so low compared to the US paras, they've lost an entire regiment in the woods and are running at a loss ratio of 2:1, despite defending.
It looks like any attempt to cut Hells Highway is off the cards given where all the units are not, so will their interlocked firing positions be enough to stop the Americans? The more open terrain may be in their favour. Well, lets see what happens next.
Things resumed with a bang. The British dropped artillery all over the 1036th and they promptly failed their morale test and become disorganised and pinned down by the artillery fire.
The three US battalions rolled forwards, but the German Fusilier battalion managed to hit the glider troops and the Americans also failed their morale and hit the deck. They elected to remain in contact rather than pull back, a high risk strategy as future developments will show.
2/502 moved towards Best bridge and ran into a hail of Flak from the 20mm and 88mm guns around the bridge. The battalion suffered losses and every base was now carrying a hit.
3/502, accompanied by the Colonel charged the German Fusiliers. The Colonel was christened 'Larry' at this point (after Larry Hagmans exploits in 'The Eagle has Landed').
As they outnumbered the Germans 2:1 and were considerably better quality, the Fusiliers surrendered, but not before the Americans had taken another hit, which reduced this battalion to half strength too. This also put them next to the pinned and disorganised 1036th who were in no position to repel an assault. Things were suddenly looking bad for the Germans around Best.
We were reckoning without the police units in Best, who promptly gunned down the leading companies of 2/502 as they advanced through the fields towards Best.
The 1036th fell back into Best hoping to reorganise and the German Flak chipped another hit off the 2/502. They were now down to an effective strength of a couple of platoons and out of the fight.
Larry and the 3/502 followed up the retreating Germans. Luckily for them they drew a red card on their next turn which enabled them to reorganise.
The Cromwell moved up on support on the right flank, and called in the 25pdrs on the town, but unfortunately they overshot and landed behind the buildings (the shell bursts are just visible). The Germans made no such mistake and dropped their 105s right on Larry and 2/502.
Back in the fields the 2/327 was still trying to reorganise.
Sadly for Larry and his boys, the German artillery fire disorganised them, and taking advantage of the confusion, the German police launched a counterattack! Disorganised troops are at a huge disadvantage in close combat, so the attack was not as foolish at it seemed. It is a good idea to pull disorganised troops back away from the enemy (which is what the 1036th did).
Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the police scattered the disorganised Americans, reducing them to a couple of shattered companies.
The only bright spot for the Allies was that the 25pdrs were finally on target and spread death and destruction among them 1036th in Best. Their AT gun managed to chip a hit off the Cromwells though, and IR 723 dragged their 20mm Flak up to support the town. The police wiped out the last of the US paras and Larry was left defending his HQ with his .45.
Larry finally succumbed and the Cromwells very wisely failed their morale test after being ordered to assault Best. However the 2/327 had finally rallied, and rolled up to exact revenge by smashing into the weakened police battalion.
Unsurprisingly the reorganised Glider infantry finished off the weakened police, but it was too little too late and the Allies ran out of time. They'd also effectively ran out of troops as all their units were damaged and/or disorganised at this point.
The German 88s still controlled the damaged bridge.
And around Best, there were enough troops to hold it against what was left of the US force. Time for the US to head back to Son and regroup.
Well, that was a hard fought battle, and in the end, a very historical result. When the US cleared the forest so easily, I thought it was curtains for the Germans, but their interlocked defence just managed to carry the day. Historically, the US failed to take Best and in the end it was captured by 51st Highland Div a few weeks later.
A posthumous Purple Heart to Colonel Hagman, a DSO to Major John of the 15/19 Hussars for his excellent close infantry support work and an Iron Cross 2nd Class to Mark who managed to have three battalions shot out from under him. Winner of the Knights Cross however, is Tim C who managed to get the third rate Police battalion to perform miracles and in particular, spotted the tactical opportunity for a decisive counterattack.