Although the Panzer Lehr Division was held out of action during the Allied D-Day landing at Normandy in June 1944 , they would go on to provide a number of important defensive, delaying and counterattack actions in the months following. They first distinguished themselves in the days immediately after, throwing up a hasty defense at Caen against encroaching British and Canadian forces. After battles at Tilly-sur-Seulles and Villers Bocage in mid-to-late June, the vastly depleted Panzer Lehr Division was called out of the fight. With only a short time to regroup, the war-worn division was ordered west to countetattack he Allied inland progress toward Saint-Lo. While the June battles had run the Germans up against British Commonwealth forces, the July engagements in the hilly fields and bocage-lined roads would be against the armored and infantry forces of the United States.
For a few months now at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, we’ve been playing a fair amount of I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum rules system for World War II. After a number of one-offs and our recent North of Caen game, we finally decided to jump into a mini campaign focusing on the Allied push inland toward St Lo and the German defense following the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.
For our campaign, we’re using the classic Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns. The Skirmish Campaigns series of books offers well-researched and detailed campaign scenarios full of detailed orders of battle, terrain layout maps and deeply descriptive narrative of how actual engagements unfolded during World War II. With just a little bit of work, the Skirmish Campaigns scenarios are easily adaptable to a variety of wargaming rules and scales including Battleground, Bolt Action, Flames of War and I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum.
The scenario at Hauts-Vents is set up on a long table with hills rolling into a valley from either end. Roads cross the table among fields lined with heavy bocage hedgerows. At the center of the table are two farmhouse objectives that are the focus of the US mission. All German platoons are deployed on blinds nearly everywhere on the table, accepting the northeast corner from which the US advance begins.
My Germans deployed on blinds with a Pak 40, a Sdkfz 10/1 and an artillery spotter for the off-board 105mm artillery deployed around a farmhouse atop Hill 91 on the southern end of the table. German rifle platoons armed with Panzerfausts deployed in blinds in and around the objective farmhouses. One platoon also had a MG42 and another contained a Panzerschrek anti-tank team. To block the predicted US advance, one road was blocked with barbed wire and another was laid with mines.
The American blinds moved in straight in column along the road sloping down toward the valley. Heading the advance was a US recon platoon led by an M8 Greyhound armored car. Three platoons of mechanized infantry loaded up in half tracks and a platoon of Sherman tanks fell into line behind.
The first few turns progressed quickly with the US column moving down the road under blinds while the Germans quietly defended from concealed positions. The lead Greyhound revealed the barbed wire blocking the road, forcing the first platoon of half tracks off the road toward the first objective. Closing in on the house, the German position was revealed and the Germans quickly destroyed two half tracks and their mounted infantry with shots from Panzerfausts. In subsequent turns, the US commander jumped from his vehicle and was followed in by the final half track which was also destroyed. With the lone US commander in the position, the Germans assaulted taking casualties before eliminating all Americans from the disastrous head-on assault on the objective.
As the first platoon of US infantry fell, the remainder of the column ran into problems of their own. The Shermans attempted a push into the field off the road but two of the three quickly bogged in the rain-soaked ground. With the Shermans stalled and the rest of the column bunched-up on the road, an off-board German 105mm artillery barrage made a direct hit to the US line. As a result, the tanks took severe damage to their sights, main guns and mobility. Infantry jumped from their half tracks and one platoon took immediate fire from German MG42s hidden in the bocage across the nearby field. As the Americans desperately attempted to spread out and move to cover, additional rounds of fire from the Pak 40 and Sdkfz 10/1 on the far hill continued to pour shots into the remnants of the burning US column.
The survivors from the US column swiftly moved to position themselves for another round of assaults on the German position. Two surviving Shermans unbogged and rolled to position along the bocage, destroying the MG42 positions along the way. US infantry rushed in along both flanks of the German survivors at the farmhouse who were quickly reduced to a single operable fire team. US mortars followed up with a directly aimed smoke bombardment in front of the German guns on the hill, providing invaluable cover for the American ground advance. Pressure from the advancing Greyhound forced the Sdkfz 10/1 to fall back late in the game. As the armored car breached the crest of the hill, a quick shot from the Pak 40 eliminated it. Unfortunately for the Germans, this was one of their last bits of glory for the game.
Back at the two objectives, the US moved hard toward victory. A close assault at the first house sent the survivors of two German fire teams running for the rear with heavy casualties and all but eliminated from the game. With that, one lone German platoon was exposed at the second house objective, and all US focus turned toward them. Two turns of heavy US artillery strikes and small arms fire from the bocage across the road laid waste to all but a few of the last Germans holding out. With the US Shermans still working their way on the German left and US infantry closing on the front, my Germans threw up their hands in defeat.
The first day of battle at Hauts-Vents went to the Americans, but as dark was drawing near, another battle was already looming before dawn as more Germans rushed to the defense.