For my latest game with Neil, I decided to go back in time and play one of the Skirmish Campaigns scenarios converted for IABSM by Tom Ballou that appeared in the 2005 TFL Summer Special: Royal Tanks.
The scenario, set in Normandy in 1944, is an encounter battle: with a two-platoon company of British infantry supported by an anti-tank gun, three Churchill tanks and off-table mortars fighting it out with a two-platoon company of German Panzergrenadiers supported by two Panthers.
The table was bisected lengthways by a road, and crossways by a small stream buried in vegetation. The bridge over the road where it crossed the small stream was the German objective, getting a fair proportion of his force off the other end of the table was the objective of the British player (Neil)…so both sides had plenty of motivation to move forward and get stuck in.
The rest of the terrain was a patchwork of fields, which were quite muddy so movement for wheeled vehicles was mostly limited to the roads. Significantly, there wasline of bocage just on the German side of the bridge, bordering an orchard, that looked, to me, like a good place to defend: which once again shows how wrong I can be!
The game began with both sides moving smartly forward under Blinds. My tanks were unavailable at the start of the game: not appearing, according to the dice, until five turns had gone by. This was not very helpful, so I decided to follow my first instinct and line the bocage and wait for my armour to arrive before deciding what to do next.
This neatly handed the initial initiative to Neil, who took full advantage. As my men settled themselves in behind the bocage, a mass of British blinds suddenly appeared on my left flank near a large manor house. This was a bit concerning, then very concerning when the lead blind revealed itself as the Churchills.
As the back of the bocage was open field with a track, my infantry, both companies worth, were now horribly exposed and immediately began to take casualties from HE fire. Worse, British infantry were right behind his tanks, concentrated in numbers and preparing to storm my Pinned troops. Neil had achieved a massive advantage: totally outflanking me and putting his men in a position where they could not fail to roll up my defensive line with ease. An amazing demonstration of brilliant tactics.
Well, yes…and no.
Yes, it was an amazing demonstration of brilliant tactics, and the game looked to be Neil’s, but unfortunately it was now turn five and the German blinds chip followed by my Panthers now arrived.
Worse, my deployment instructions allowed me to place them anywhere on the baseline, so naturally I put them opposite where the Churchills had now turned to roll up my flank. My Panthers opened fire, and two Churchills immediately blew to bits and, as Neil had packed them together tightly in order to get through the gap in the bocage, collateral damage was inflicted on the other Churchill and infantry as well.
In a single moment, the game had turned. Don’t get me wrong, I was still in trouble, but immediate utter defeat had been avoided.
I would like to report that Neil gave a wry smile, shrugged, and said something like “C’est le guerre!”, but unfortunately having victory snatched from him after so brilliant a start, particularly when my Panthers then started shelling his infantry, led to…well, I shall draw a veil over the next few minutes and leave you to imagine how you might react!
Anyway, a short time later we resumed the game. My infantry withdrew from their exposed positions on the right and centre: pulling back to a position where they could prevent the British moving forward but be out of the firing line of the remaining Churchill. My Panthers began to move forward towards the now-lone British tank, all the time pouring HE into his infantry and, to add insult to infantry, a Panzer Grenadier recon squad began moving unopposed up the left hand side of the battlefield, into a position where they could threaten to take the bridge.
We called the game at that point. Although technically a draw, victory was declared mine as there wasn’t much Neil could have done about my marauding Panthers. The British withdrew, leaving the field to the Germans.