Having watched the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings recently I was prompted to dig out my old collection of scratch-built cardboard landing craft to see what state they were in. Fifteen years and ten house moves since they last graced the wargames table and they were still in pretty good shape. What I needed now was a passable section of Normandy coastline to land them on.
IABSM III is my favoured set of WWII rules for company+-sized gaming and so this is what we used.
The scenario needs no introduction other than to highlight the actual stretch of coastline and the forces involved. The target was Queen Beach Red; part of Sword Beach allocated the 3rd Infantry Division. The British were made up of a mixed assault group comprising A company 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment under Major CK King, a beach clearance party of two sections of RM Commandos, 2 DD Shermans from 13th/18th Hussars and a group from 254th Royal Engineer Workshop comprising Sherman Crab and Dozer tanks, a Churchill AVRE and another ‘straight’ Churchill VI.
Facing them were two thin platoons from the German 716th Infantry Division, machines guns, snipers and anti-tank guns and an open-mount 5.9” Naval gun in an emplacement.
The beach defences appeared formidable. Hedgehog tank traps littered the shoreline, log anti-landing ‘knife-rests’ and heavy wooden poles were dotted through the water with teller mines and contact-fused anti-aircraft shells placed on top of the posts all designed to deter invasion craft. The defenders also had artillery batteries inland connected via fixed telephone lines to a forward observer on the sea front.
The majority of this stretch of beach front was a sloped concrete sea wall with just one ramp allowing vehicle access to the road network across the the flat marshland behind. Mike, the British commander, had access to a battery of 25pdrs from the 79th FA regiment sat on open barges a couple of miles out into the channel and he had a choice of either using them in direct support of his forces or allocating them to the British parachute troops who had dropped inland earlier in the morning and were currently going round and attempting to neutralize the German artillery batteries where they could find them. He chose to hand off the artillery to this task and it probably ended up being a good decision. The initial British stonks are targetted on the defence positions. In the background is the assembled armada – 1st Platoon in three LCs on the left opposite the Naval gun, 2nd Platoon in the LST in the centre and 3rd Platoon on the right.
The game started with German blinds going first. Most landing craft were spotted straight away and so lots of British cards went into the pack. The various landing craft began to move towards the beach although the dice rolling was on the low side. Better progress was made by the beach clearance teams as they swam to the posts from the front of each landing craft and began to remove the explosives.
German artillery support, zeroed in on the coastline caused some consternation, destroying one landing craft, killing two commandos and sinking a DD tank although the crew were able to climb out of the partially submerged turret top.
The Naval gun crew emerged from their shelters, a little shaken up from the stonks (3 shock) and fired at one of the landing craft. The shell missed by one on the dice – the shock from the stonk enough to put off their aim.
More mine posts were cleared in the centre of the shoreline and some landing craft surged ahead, others moved very slowly (low rolling) and the LCT with the AVRE on board got fouled up by a partially submerged knife rest.The landing craft had to bob and weave through the obstacles and so the centre of the beach became quite congested.
1st platoon had a mixed day. One section charged ahead through the waves and up the beach. A second section had to dive off their sinking LC and started to accumulate hits and shock whilst weighed down in the cold water (I made a rule to roll for two hits per turn whilst swimming in full combat gear). The third section was marooned on the LST with the AVRE. 1st section exchanged fire with a German squad next to the Naval gun and lost their Big Man only to then kill the enemy’s Big Man in return with accurate rifle fire on the next card.
As a last thought on the day of the game I had decided to allocate one Beachmaster to the British. He was in one of the faster-moving LCT’s right in the centre of things and just when it seemed that the LST (Landing Ship Tank) would have nowhere to land the Beachmaster’s card came up. Historically they had complete authority over anybody on the beach and the Big Man mechanic worked perfectly for this. A level IV Big Man, the Beachmaster activated himself (and his arm-waving minder) to disembark. He then activated his LCT which reversed back into the sea. Next he activated the big LST to come in to land in the gap that had just been created and finally he activated Armour Platoon 1 which began to (slowly again) disembark.
The centre of the British forces was still very congested. Normally this would have been an ideal target for the German forward observer. Unfortunately for him the British support card routinely appeared in the first few cards of any turn and the cumulative damage rolled (abstractly) on this card was more than enough to destroy the German 105mm battery inland. The German FO got his card one more time to connect to another artillery support position but fire from there never arrived.
Next turn 2nd Platoon's card came up and they rolled very well for a change, streaming down the gang planks from the LST and heading up the beach towards the exit. Further over two sections from 3rd Platoon made their way slowly through the obstacles, the left-most landing craft, though, dislodged a mine which forunately didn’t explode but then the craft got itself jammed on a submerged hedgehog and the section inside opted to stay to see of the coxswain could clear the obstacle rather than risk diving in.
A German sniper on the left had some rare good rolling for the defenders. He targetted the nearest 1st Platoon section, killed one man and added two shock to the rest. His luck ended there though because his card didn't come up again.
The Sherman Dozer tank finally made a high movement roll to clear a path through the hedgehogs in front of the exit ramp but that ran him right though a minefield on the road opposite the exit and he lost a track.
In other circumstances this might have blocked the exit but the second Dozer was on hand to shift the stricken vehicle and the advance. continued. A flail tank (not on picture) was summoned from the LST to clear the minefield but there was still some resistance to deal with.
The British got a heroic leader card and Mike judged that 2nd Platoon was bunched up and presenting an inviting target for the Naval gun so he opted for the platoon Big Man to act on this card. He lead a section up over the sea wall using scaling ladders and straight into close combat with the German gun crew. The Germans had been intermittently subjected to autocannon fire from the LST Oilerkon cannon and having already accumulated six shock and a pin they got abysmally low numbers of dice. The result was a bloody victory for the British, killing five Germans for the loss of two of their own and sending the remaining crew running.
Over on the far right of the German position the 75mm AT gun in the concrete bunker finally got its card drawn and opened fire on the remaining DD Sherman causing it to explode. However there were no other armour targets in view. The Funnies were up by the beach exit and so out of the AT gun's scope so it didn’t have a great day. The Flail tank was primed to go up the exit ramp and the bunker with the Naval gun was in British hands when we ran out of time. The British had gained the exit and had sufficient combat power to easily clear the both bunker and trench complexes so we agreed that they won the day.
I probably could have had some more machine gun positions overlooking the beach or another AT gun but overall things went reasonably close to historically so I was happy with the scenario.
IABSM again came up trumps with the cards and a little quick thinking helping to build a convincing narrative as the battle unfolded. Excellent fun was had by the participants.