Dawn was breaking over the village of Trois Lapins. Bombadier Dougie Mercer woke beside his gun and stretched to get the kinks out of his back as Fred handed him a mug of tea and a tin of hot campo rations.
Dougie commanded a 17 pounder antitank gun. They had been pushed up to reinforce this vital crossroads in Normandy held by a company from the North Novas. He could hear the squaddies in the bombed out house beside him standing to and getting their own breakfasts going. He had just started into his stew when they all heard the clanking of tracks coming down the road through the morning mist.
"Action front!" he barked and tossed his breakfast to the side.
"Half track! 100 yards!" he barked as Timmy Dougal, the gunner, laid the sights on the shadowy form looming out of the mist. Freddie got busy getting more AT rounds ready.
The gun boomed out, shredding the morning's quiet. The armour piercing round screamed over top of the Hanomag, startling the Panzer Grenadiers inside.
"Sweet Jaysus lad, you bloody missed!" Timmy frantically adjusted his aim and the gun barked again. This round scored a glancing hit, mangling the halftrack's machine gun and causing it and the ones behind to scuttle off the road and debus their squads of Panzer Grenadiers on the edge of a wheat field surrounded by high hedgerows.
"More of the buggers on the right!" The gun slewed around to engage more halftracks that could be glimpsed in the orchard on the edge of the village. Splinters and fruit flew through the air around the Kampfgruppe HQ platoon as Timmy tried to hit the obscured targets.
On the right of the North Novas position, Lt. Franklin was also peering through the mist. He could hear the 17 pdr on the far side of the village banging away and he could hear tracks out in the field across the road. His sections were in the trees to his right and in the houses on his left, covering the right side of the village and the second 17 pdr, whose crew were now alert and scanning for targets.
Then out of the mist lumbered 3 halftracks, half hidden by the wheat. "There they are, lads! Give 'em hell."
His entire platoon opened up. The Hanomag on the left was caught in a cross fire from the houses and took a glancing hit from the AT gun that tore up it's right hand track. It's engine started smoking and a few Germans bailed out dragging wounded comrades with them into the shelter of the crops. The other two halftracks stopped and their sections of Grenadiers jumped over the sides to rush across the road covered by fire from the vehicle MGs.
The 17 pdr was already hooked up to it's Grizzley and was bugging out even as Franklin and his section were overwhelmed by the charging Grenadiers. Franklin and four men ran behind the bouncing gun to take cover along the road at the north edge of the village.
Things were quiet in front of Dougie right now. He could hear the action getting hot on the far side of the village with 8 Platoon. Troops in the houses on the far side of the street were firing steadily at the unseen enemy. The sharp crack of rifles was punctuated by the steady chatter of the Brens and the ripping sound of the MG42s. Then they all heard more tracks to their left. His gun was horribly exposed if the enemy came down the road to their left. He quickly re-positioned the big gun behind the house that was behind them and resighted it to cover the road entering the village from the Canadian left flank.
"Look you, Timmy, the Nazi buggers are coming down that lane. Keep it covered. And keep calm. Remember your training!"
Soon enough one, then two, then three, now five of the big hulking bastards lumbered into the lane between the hedgerow and the wood.
"Fire!" The 17 pdr barked twice, scoring just glancing, ineffective hits on the leading Panther. In a terrible race against time, the second 17 pdr came bouncing across the garden plots, desperately hoping to get into a firing position and engage the oncoming Panthers.
The Panthers fanned out into the field, engaging the AT section caught wrong footed. One charged up the street, it's MGs spitting fire at Dougie's crew. Timmy and Hank, the loader, went down spouting blood.
Another 75mm shell screamed out, slamming into the second gun's Grizzley vehicle. The crew jumped out, shocked and wounded, and tried to get their big gun unhooked and slewed it around ready to fire before it was too late.
Dougie lugged Timmy clear of the firing controls and shouted at the gun No. 5; "George do what you can for these poor bastards! Freddie, reload! AP!" The oncoming tank was bloody close, it's armoured bulk filled his gunsight.
"You can't get away from this one, you bastard!" and he fired. The shock wave and shrapnel from the exploding Panther blew over the gunshield. He quickly laid the sight on the second tank as Freddie slammed another shell into the breach. He scored a perfect hit beneath the gun mantlet and was rewarded with a big fireball blowing through the top of the Panther's turret.
Another Panther charged into the garden, over runing the second 17 pdr before it could get a shot off. The Panther zug commander, pushed his own tank up beside the flaming wreck of the first Panther to spray Dougie's gun with more MG fire. George went down with a bullet in the head. Fred rolled away screaming and clutching at a spray of blood. Then Dougie was hit by a shovel and spun around, falling beside the tire of his gun.
Maj. Fraser was in his CP in the upper story of the house, calling Battalion and directing the PIAT team beside him to shoot at the Panthers in the back garden. All his antitank support was getting ground down by the onrushing Panther tanks.
"Bugger this for a game of soldiers!" he snarled. Grabbing a satchel of AT grenades, he rushed out to attack the closest tank. He flung the explosives at the tank only to have them explode harmlessly on the front armour. In futile rage he started shooting at the lumbering beast with his Webbley.
Help was at hand though. The North Nova's Anti-tank Platoon rattled up the road and started to unlimber their 6 pdr guns at the end of the village. Fraser had to duck as AP rounds started slamming into the remaining Panthers.
Lt. Franklin hurried into the house held by one of his sections as another platoon of Panzer Grenadiers raced up in their halftracks to spray the building with MG fire. He was still trying to organize the defence when the Grenadiers assaulted, hurling stick grenades through windows and spraying the rooms with SMG fire. Franklin and most of his men went down.
The Panzer Grenadiers pressed their attack on the Canadian right. Halftracks from the company HQ pushed up in the center, trying to break into the village center while the victorious Grenadier platoon cleared a second house.
The Panther platoon leader now became the target of two sections of North Novas, who rushed out of their houses to try and close assault his tank. He easily shrugged off their attempts but it made him worry, being surrounded with no support. He ordered his remaining tanks to withdraw. One was immobilized by a 6 pdr shot. The second was heavily damaged. It retreated back up the lane only to break down. The Platoon leader steered his own tank towards the Kampfgruppe HQ to the south of the village.
Even as the German armoured attack on the Canadian left became unhinged, the Carrier Platoon arrived and swung to the right to outflank the Panzer Grenadiers and force them to withdraw.
Doug Mercer crawled over to help Fred put a shell dressing on his bleeding arm. He pointed over to where Maj. Fraser still stood in the midst of the garden trying to reorganize the defences. "Would you look at that Freddie. Craziest thing I ever saw."
Some stretcher bearers soon arrived with more reinforcements. They quickly had Doug and Fred loaded onto a jeep and heading down the road to the RAP at the beach, then a hospital in England with buxom nurses and uninterrupted breakfasts.
Mike ("the Mad Padre") came over yesterday, it being a holiday here in Ontario. After consuming lots of tea and "Timbits" (aka 'donut holes'), we finally decided to just lay out some terrain and play a "Hasty Defence" scenario from the I Ain't Been Shot, Mum 3rd edition rule book. Because he was taking his new Panthers, I took my as yet unplayed with 17 pdrs. Because the German company HQ is pretty much another platoon's worth of firepower and they were all in Hanomags bristling with even more MG42s, I took a couple of Vickers MMGs and a second rifle platoon. The Canadians were considered good regulars and stubborn. The SS were considered good regulars (the Hitlerjugend Division were motivated, but not very experienced) and aggressive. The Canadian Big Men were level 2 and Maj Fraser was a 3. To reflect the experienced leadership cadre of 12th SS, we made their Big Men level 3 with the commander a level 4. Mike also got the "Dynamic Leader" card which he used for his Panther zug commander. "Dynamic Panther Man" becoming a bit of a meme in our IABSM games (see also here). Both sides got the "Rally" card and the Germans were vexed by "Vehicle Breakdown" (which got the last Panther as it retreated). The Canadians also got the "Tank Killer" card, which came in handy for extra shots from the PIAT team, putting shock and a bit of engine damage on the Panthers. The Canadians also got the "Heroic Leader" card, but it turned out the medal award went to my heroic 17 pdr, which after some bad die rolling, finally figured out how to kill some targets at the last.
At game's end Mike had taken one side of the village and we were both down a platoon of infantry. But I had pulled the claws on his Panthers and was threatening his flank with the Carrier Platoon. It was a bloody draw, but I think the Carrier Platoon made his position ultimately untenable. Plus I still had a third platoon of reinforcements on the way, which would have been more infantry.
We both hoped Bombadier Mercer would get his MM, and even more importantly, meet a pretty nurse at the hospital.