Those people who have gamed with me will know that my favourite WW2 theatre is early war, western front: specifically the fall of France and, with a little bit of historical license, Operation Sealion. I was therefore very happy to be asked to help playtest a scenario for IABSM that my friends from Benson (a village in Oxfordshire) are preparing as a display game at a forthcoming wargames show.
The game would be set as part of Operation Sealion, the German invasion of Great Britain in September 1940, and actually take place in the Benson of 1940, or at least a tabletop representation thereof. Looking at the (real-life) map provided by Dave, the organiser, I can actually see that the hall we played in is less than a few hundred yards from where the battle, if it had occurred, would have taken place. Finally a way to settle any line-of-sight disputes during a game: we could actually go have a look for ourselves!
Dave’s scenario was based on the actual plans for Sealion. The Germans had got across the channel, looped around London, and were heading north via what is now approximately the line of the M40. Their major problem was how to get what little armour they had across the Thames, and this game would feature their attempt to capture the bridge at Shillingford that would allow them to do so. As a secondary objective, there is a small footbridge crossing the lock at Benson itself that would allow the passage of infantry.
The game would feature British regulars defending the bridge, with Home Guard defending the lock. The Germans would initially drop fallschirmjaegers (FJs) on the area, who would soon be reinforced by armour coming up from the south. The British could also expect reinforcements from near Abingdon.
The Thames bisects the table and is impassable except at the bridge or footbridge.
Shillingford bridge is at the left hand end of the table, next to the big building with the red roof (the Shillingford Hotel). The building to its right is Rush Court (an elegant Queen Anne style house that is now a care home). You can see the lock bridge behind the bunker (which is still there) at the far end of the table.
The land between the roads (which are hedged but have no drainage ditch) is largely open ground that contained a pig farm (the little shed things) and was seeded with anti-glider devices. The small copse in between the Shillingford Hotel and Rush Court is quite dense, and provides the only real cover.
The fields on the outside edges of the table are exactly that: open fields. Indeed, the field to the left of the hotel is apparently the biggest field in the UK.
Finally, the house at the far end of the table is the edge of Benson: allegedly it represented Dave’s actual house.
The Initial British Force
The British regulars, commanded by Yours Truly, were based around the Shillingford Bridge. I had an enlarged platoon of five sections, supported by a light mortar, a Boys anti-tank rifle, a single 2-pounder anti-tank gun and two Vickers machine guns.
I placed one machine gun in each of the small sandbagged emplacements that I had: one in the (biggest) field (in Britain), the other covering the terrain in between the two roads. Each MMG was supported by a section of infantry.
One section of infantry was a forlorn hope in Rush Court, another was in the copse. The rest of my troops were either in the Shillingford Hotel or lurking in its beer garden.
The Home Guard, commanded by John, were at the other end of the table. One section (the only one with a support weapon: a rather ancient Lewis gun) was in and around the bunker. One section was in their temporary camp (the tents near the Y-shaped junction. The other was protecting the junction itself.
Any reinforcements would be entering via the road top left i.e. passing Dave’s house.
The German Fallschirmjaegers
Bevan commanded the German airborne troops. A number of gliders landed (into the wind!) about half way between Rush Court and the lock. They contained a platoon of elite Luftlande glider troops: three squads of eight men each plus Big Man commander.
The FJs themselves dropped into the big field on the other side of the table. There were three platoons of them supported by an HQ squad (i.e. ten 8-man squads in all), two MMGs and a light mortar. Command came from five Big Men.
The game began as the British troops realised that they were no longer alone…
First Moves – Rush Court
The section of Home Guard in the bunker (commanded by Sergeant Wilson) and the section of British regulars in Rush Court opened fire on the Luftlande troops. Although the Home Guard’s fire was reasonable successful, pinning one Luftlander squad near its glider, the British regulars discovered they had a batch of dud ammunition (the first of three “triple ones” that I rolled today) that rendered their first “sitting ducks” volley completely ineffective!
This catastrophe allowed the other two German squads to get organised and return fire, driving the British back from the windows of Rush Court. This was followed by a rapid assault that then drove the British section out of the building itself, leaving half their comrades behind, dead.
The Luftlanders then occupied the building, and just managed to catch the remaining British infantry running back towards the copse: shooting most of them down.
Round one to the Germans.
First Moves – the Field
The German FJs, all three platoons, dropped into the field, landing almost in a line running parallel to the road.
Although they hadn’t spotted the MMG, they had spotted the sandbags, and one platoon headed down to investigate. The British Vickers’ team waited until the very last moment before revealing their position, opening fire at point blank range as the FJs charged towards the emplacement. The British section supporting the Vickers also opened fire from a position on the road behind the hedge. It was carnage: with the FJ platoon being rendered effectively hors de combat.
Round two to the British.
The Germans knew that if they were to have any hope of taking the bridge, they had to shift the British MMG, so they had no choice but to send another platoon into the attack.
In preparation, however, the two German MMG crews hopped over the hedge, set up on the road, and then blasted the British support section into oblivion.
Now on its own, things looked bad for the British Vickers team, but they kept by their gun, firing at anything FJ that they could see.
The second FJ platoon charged forward and overwhelmed the plucky Vickers team, but took heavy casualties doing so. In all, the Vickers and support section had taken out five squads of FJs and three FJ Big Men: medals all round!
Meanwhile, the third FJ platoon had destroyed the Home Guard section in the camp half way down the road, with Captain Mainwaring being killed in the process.
Round three was therefore probably a draw, although both Bevan and I afterwards revealed that at this point we both thought that we were losing!
The third phase of the battle involved German reinforcements arriving along the road that runs past Rush Court. First up was a recce force of a squad of motorcycle infantry supported by a Panzer II.
As they roared past Rush Court, the British HQ section in the hotel opened fire at the motorcycle infantry: more dud ammunition as another three 1’s were rolled. That meant that I had to move my section in the copse up to the hedge bordering the road, and let the Hun bikers have it before they could dismount and scatter. This fire was a lot more successful, and half the motorcycle troops were killed before the remainder managed to seek safety in Rush Court itself.
The Panzer II that had been behind the motorcycle troops spotted the 2-pounder before the ATG could open fire, and dodged into Rush Court’s gardens, then pushed forward to start circling round the wood. This it managed to do, but as it poked its nose out, a shot from the British Boys team, hanging out of one of the hotel windows, punched a neat hole in its armour, forcing it to halt and take stock.
Meanwhile, the main German reinforcement force had arrived, also on the road from Wallingford. This consisted of three Panzers: two Panzer IIIs followed by a Panzer IV.
Seeing that the British ATG had been manhandled across the road to face where the Panzer II was expected to appear from, the German tanks slammed down the road: hoping to run over the British ATG before it could be turned to face them. Unfortunately, the Panzers turned up a bit short, leaving the lead tank vulnerable to a flank attack from the section of British infantry that had retreated from the copse in the face of the Panzer II’s advance.
The assault caused some Shock, with a couple of shots from the Boys team then forcing the lead German tank’s crew to bail: blocking the road with their now un-manned vehicle.
Meanwhile, the remaining British machine gun (that had been exchanging desultory fire with the FJ machine guns now positioned on the hedgerow) joined in the fun: forcing the Panzer II crew to bail after hitting their tank with a hail of well-aimed bullets that penetrated its rather thin front armour.
This was a bit much for the remaining German tanks. Under assault from infantry, under fire from a Boys and an MMG, they attempted to put a bit of distance between themselves and the pesky enemy. Unfortunately for them, the 2-pounder finally got to work, and blew the other Panzer III to bits.
This was an incredibly frenetic episode, all carried out in about a foot square of table: great stuff, very exciting!
The German FJs had by now regrouped and were preparing to move against the bridge. The final section of British infantry had moved away from the second MMG and attempted to cover the T-junction, but were driven back by concentrated FJ fire. Things looked a bit grim: I might be beating up the German reinforcements, but there was no way what I had left could hold up a platoon and a half of annoyed FJs supported by a couple of MMGs.
Fortunately, the chaps at Abingdon had ‘marched to the sound of the guns’: two British Blinds appeared on the road near Dave’s house and headed straight for the rear of the FJs. As they came within range, they revealed themselves as two A13 Cruiser tanks, a couple of Vickers Mk VI light tanks (they must have been the only ones left after Dunkirk!), and a platoon of carrier-mounted infantry.
That was too much for the Germans. As the FJs began taking fire to their rear, and the Panzer IV realised that it was doomed, they capitulated. The bridge was saved!
A great game that swung backwards and forwards before eventually, and just, ending in favour of the Brits.
I found the FJs incredibly hard to deal with: their elite status (four Actions) and extra weaponry (+1 dice when firing at close range) making them both nimble and deadly.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing the game in action again.