Saturday, 28 January 2023

Stonne, May 1940

 As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of the various Command Decision scenario books. The scenarios are very well researched and translate easily into brigade level NBC scenarios. During lockdown we've mainly been playing scenarios from the Market Garden book and Benghazi Handicap covering the early desert war.

For my birthday I got a couple more, one of which was 'Birth of the Blitzkrieg' which covers Poland and France in 1940. I've already got quite  few 1940 scenarios (mainly from the TAC publications 1940 book) but some of these looked interesting, the Stonne scenario in particular. I've played both the old Squad Leader Stonne scenario and the 1940 Panzer Leader expansion one a few times, so it was interesting to see the CD take on it. 

Battlefield from the south. The wooded Meuse valley is off to the north (containing the German bridgehead). Stonne is in the centre, ringed by various hills. The sharp bend in the road in the top right marked with entrenchments is a sunken road (the road our of the valley climbs quite steeply here).

The French defenders holding the southern shoulder of the German breakthrough deployed in an arc around the head of the valley.

Stonne is held by 1st battalion, 67 Regt with a detached company on the hill. This unit commanded by Tim C. They have an attached company of 25mm AT guns.

2nd battalion, 67 Regt is in reserve to the south waiting to counterattack. They also have a company of Hotchkiss guns. This unit is commanded by Nick.

Regimental HQ on Hill 336. John is Regimental commander. RHQ includes a motorcycle recce company and an FOO of the artillery. The Regiment is supported by a battalion each of 75mm and 105mm guns.

Reinforcements on the way. A battalion of 57 Regt (commanded by Mark) and a motley collection of tanks. A 'battalion' each of Char Bs and H39s (essentially both at company strength), and a weak company of FCM36. I gave each of the infantry commanders one tank unit to command in the hope it would cause a degree of command confusion. I don't have any FCM36s so an R35 is standing in instead. It has a short 37mm gun so it will do.

Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland was tasked with seizing the high ground south of the bridgehead while 1st and 2nd Panzer Divs broke out the west. At this stage of the war, GD was an independant motorised infantry regiment, although later in the war it would expand to a full PanzerKorps. The Regiment was assigned quite heavy artillery support and slowly made its way up out of the valley.

1st Battalion, IR GD (commanded by Pete). The battalion was reinforced with a platoon of assault engineers and had attached 75mm infantry guns. Artillery support was the regimental 150mm SiG company, plus a battalion each of 150mm howitzers and 210mm Moersers! The heavy guns will take several turns to deploy, so the initial support is just the heavy infantry guns.

Also present is the Regimental HQ. Tim G is commanding the regiment.

Lurking in the woods north of Stonne is the balance of 42nd Sturmpioniere Battalion. Three platoons from the battalion have been attached to GD (one platoon per battalion) leaving two companies.

Lots of German reinforcements on the way. The 2nd and 3rd battalions GD, commanded by Russell and Simon respectively. 3rd battalion had an attached platoon of Jagdpanzer Is, well I don't have any of those in 15mm, so they have a Stug IIId instead. Bringing up the rear are FOOs ofr the heavy guns mounted on motorcycles and a heavy (Pz IV) company from 8th Panzer Div.

The Luftwaffe is busy supporting the breakthrough to the West, so my Ju 88 will make occasional appearances,

The Allies however were busy bombing the Meuse bridges, so this will be an excuse to field my 1940 aircraft, the French ones being various bodge jobs assembled from other models.

Turn 1 opened with the Ju88s flying westwards. Although my Dewotaine put in an appearance, it failed to intercept them. The D520 is bodged up from a Zvezda Mig 3.

Things got quite hot around Stonne as the Sturmpioniere pushed forwards. The Germans were supported by their 150s, and the French 75s crashed down amongst the Germans. Some of the pioneers went down.

Pete meanwhile advanced into the sunken road (it provided some cover) and Tims HQ set off for the woods.

The French RHQ observed proceedings. The FO for the 105s couldn't see anything to shoot at as the Germans were all too far away.

Next up some Bloch MB131s appeared, heading for the Meuse bridges. This is converted from a Blenheim and was covered in a previous post.

The fighting for Stonne became more intense and casualties were suffered by both sides. Eagle eyed readers will notice that the 'French' are wearing forage caps, which is because they are actually Nationalist SCW figures. I thought I had more SCW figures in khaki uniforms and Adrian helmets than I actually did. Close enough.

Petes battalion pushed up to the base of Hill 335, under ineffective rifle fire from the troops on the heights.

The French FOO was frustrated by his inability to see so drove into Stonne, just in time to be overrun by the Sturmpioniere. The latter cleared the eastern end of the town but suffered heavy losses in the process, being reduced to a single weak company.

Petes battalion attempted a frontal assault, but charging the unsuppressed and entrenched defenders, they became disorganised and fell back to the sunken road.

Russells 2nd battalion GD come on from the northeast.

And Simons third battalion GD in the northwest. They boldly pushed the Stugs onto the exposed end of Hill 339. Marks battalion from 57 Regt now also put in an appearance,

The Char B battalion also rolled up now (commanded by Nick) and trundled along the road, bounded by a marshy stream on one side and woods on the other. The Char B is a Peter Pig model and is very hefty. It was previously seen in one of the Arnhem games masquerading as Pz Ko 224.

Nicks 2nd battalion now set off towards Hill 335 while the disorganised Germans milled around on the far side.

More Ju88s appeared, this time pursued by the RAF. This is my Zvezda Hurricane.

Tim Cs H39 battalion came on and found the road blocked by the column of Char Bs. It managed to swing off the road and pull in front. This is a QRF model.

Petes GD battalion reorganised and the Pz IV company arrived. Meanwhile Nicks 2nd Battalion occupied the heights but was pinned down and disorganised by 150mm SiG fire, suffering some casualties too.

Back at Hill 339, things were squaring up for a big fight. Simon pushed his GD infantry up to support the Stug at the north end of the hill, while Marks 57 Regt occupied the wooded southern end. The Char B rolled menacingly towards them in the valley, while GDs 14th (Panzerjaeger) company turned up and rather optimistically deployed its 37mm AT guns facing the Char Bs. 

Back in Stonne, 1/67 Regt polished off the remains of 42 Sturmpioniere battalion, and leaving Tim Gs Regimental HQ perched alone on the edge of the village!

The FCM36 platoon rolled up along the central road, past the French regimental HQ.

At this juncture a squadron of Fairey Battles turned up, and vanished onto a hail of Flak around the Meuse bridges to the north. This is is the lovely Zvezda model, and it is absolutely huge.

First clash on Hill 339 was an exchange of close range fire in which the French came off worse, despite the Char B moving up in support.

This was followed up by an infantry assault by the Germans supported by their Stug. Superior numbers and quality decimated the French and threw them off the hill in disorder, but the Germans also suffered heavy casualties in the close quarter fighting.

The FCM36 company very boldly parked at the eastern end of Stonne. The remains of 1/67 Regt moved up in support and recaptured that part of the town. faced with enemy armour and infantry, Tim very wisely withdrew the GD RHQ, to the jeers of the French.

On Hill 335, things turned very nasty. Petes I/GD managed to rally and the called down 150mm fire on Nicks 2/67. The French were pinned by the artillery fire and scattered looking for cover. The Germans then followed this up with an infantry assault shot in by their heavy weapons including 75mm Infantry guns firing over open sights. The Field Grey waves advanced up the hill behind the barrage towards the disorganised French.

And duly wiped them out. Despite being disorganised by the German artillery, the French put up very stubborn resistance (they rolled amazingly) and inflicted heavy losses on the GD riflemen and wiped out the engineer platoon. The Germans had now taken Hill 339 and had a foothold on Hill 335, albeit at terrible cost.

In the background the Panzer IVs lobbed some shells at the FCM36s. They scored some hits but the thick armour of the French tanks defeated them. The panzers were out of range of any return fire.

Stonne was now firmly in French hands again, and the H39 battalion was moving rapidly up the road to reinforce it. The Germans AT company (14 Ko/GD) was busy duelling with the Char Bs, shooting and scooting along the tree line.

However, in the woods to the north of the town Russells III/GD was massing, accompanied by the RHQ.

At Hill 339 the Char Bs shelled the hill while Marks infantry failed to rally. The Germans seemed to be in control here.

Back on Hill 335, Pete stormed the remaining French trenches, being reduced to a single weak company in the process(!). John sent the Regimental motorcycle recce company to counterattack, it was all very glorious, but their morale failed as they tried to assault the Germans. 

At Hill 339 the hail of shells finally damaged scored a damaging hit on the Char Bs (the Stug got them). The remainder pulled back to a safer distance, lobbing shells as they went.

The German heavy artillery was finally in position to fire, and 150mm and 210mm shells dropped all over Stonne. This was too much for 1/67 Regt and the survivors dived for cover and became disorganised. Under cover of the barrage, III/GD pushed up to the edge of the town.

At the other end of town, the FCM36s were hit by 150mm shells and became disorganised. The prospects of a successful French counterattack here were fading fast. 

More Battles appeared on a doomed bombing attack against the Meuse bridges and vanished in a hail of Flak.

Marks infantry fialed to rally again, and to add insult to inury, the Frnech 75s dropped a barrage on them by mistake! Fortunately it didn't do any damage.

The Germans on hill 339 were distracted by the H39s which attempted to counterattack. They failed their movement roll and became stuck at the base of the hill. The GD 37mm AT gunners managed to knock some out.

At Hill 335 the FCM36 finally succumbed to fire from the Panzer IVs and the survivors of Petes battalion consolidated their position on the hill, moving the heavy weapons up into the wooded section of the ridge.

Russells battalion assaulted Stonne behind the barrage and the remaining French defenders just evaporated. The Germans didn't take any significant losses at all. Tims RHQ cheered them on from behind.

Johns French RHQ was still gamely holding Hill 336 as heavy shells dropped all around (and on) the Char Bs.

The attack on Hill 339 failed. Marks infantry finally rallied but the Char Bs were suppressed by the German heavy artillery and the H39s finally closed to contact but were destroyed in close combat, although they took the engineers with them.

At that point the French had little realistic prospect of retaking any of the objectives so with the Germans controlling three of four, it was a German win. An expensive victory as the Germasn had lost an entire Assault Pioneer battalion and GD only had one intact battalion left. Infantry Battalion Kleine Deutschland. 

That was lots of fun and went very well. I particularly liked the back and forth over the objectives. It did slow down a bit a times, the inevitable result of a lot of manouvre units and a lot of players, but we got far enough in two evenings for a decisive result. I may revist the morale rules again as I'm not convinced by my new 'lower overall morale but fewer tests approach' - it seems to make it even more random than before.

I really liked the look of the early war kit in 15mm, so I'll be planning on doing some more of these. Yes, I've got it all in 6mm too, but the bigger toys just look so much nicer and as long as I can fit the toys in the hexes, it isn't a problem. A 15mm Panzer 1 takes up a lot less pace than a Panther.