A couple of days ago, I was generously invited over to the Benson gamers for a game of IABSM. It was to be a Normandy 1944 game, with British Paras having to clear a path for a column of American tanks coming up from the beaches.
The table had two main features. At one end was a small four-building village, at the other was a river and bridge. Connecting them was a road crossing an area of rough ground interspersed with small copses and patches of scrub. The Paras, which I was commanding along with IABSM-newbie Steve, had two objectives: clear the village, then secure the bridge for the US tank column.
The Germans, commanded by two of the chaps from Benson, had only one objective: to hold the bridge in preparation for a counter-attack on the Allied beachhead. In the event of the arrival of the enemy from the direction of the sea, engineers would blow the bridge as the lesser of two evils.
Here are the briefings and forces involved:
You are Captain Richard Sharpe of 2nd Paras and it is 0500hrs on 7th June 1944. Dawn has just broken and you are in trouble. You are on the outskirts of Vaux, a small village east of Bayeaux, and whilst the plan looked good back at base, suddenly it is not looking o clever. SNAFA as they say!
Instead of having two full platoons plus support, a high wind during the drop has scattered the chaps all over Normandy apparently, and you have just managed to amalgamate everyone you can find into three sections: just half the allocated force. You have radio contact with part of the air landing support sections, who will both be with you “shortly”. You seem to have lost the Major, so you are now i/c.
The mission was simple: RV on the edge of the village, suppress any opposition found and then take the vital road bridge just west of the place so the leading Recon unit of Yanks advancing from Omaha Beach can link up with our main force. Oh, and hold off any opposition from the south whilst the link up is complete.
An overjoyed local has told you there are a few Germans in the village centre (sounds like an HQ unit) and more down by the bridge. Otherwsie there are no Bosche this side of Caen or perhaps even Paris. Hmmm…
Your Force: A Company, 2 Para
- Captain Sharpe (Level IV)
- Lieutenant Price (Level III)
- Sergeant Harper (Level II)
- Corporal Harris (Level II)
- Corporal Hagman (Level II)
- Three Sections of Paras (elite, festooned with extra weapons)
- Three PIATS (integral)
Air Landing Support Weapons Section
- Big Man 6 (Level II)
- Carrier with MMG
- Jeep with two 2-inch mortars
Air Landing AT Section
- Big Man Seven (Level II)
- Carrier and 6-pdr AT Gun
German Player One Briefing
It is just after dawn on 7th June and you, Hauptman Karl Kruger, are not happy. What had been a comfortable posting in this sleepy French village was shattered yesterday when the Tommies landed on the beaches north of you and the Amis out to the west.
You were woken an hour ago with news of low-flying aircraft and have put your men on alert. Your mission is to deny the enemy the small but important bridge over the river Seulles, and to keep the crossroads in Vaux free for our expected counter-attack. This will come (if it comes!) from Caen to the south, but the Allies could appear from any direction.
To achieve this vital defence, you have exactly one platoon of infantry, and a very sorry bunch they are too, with some Luftwaffe men to stiffen the old ones and the kids. However, you have good NCOs and have been promised back-up by a Division battle group if trouble shows.
You have one squad here in the village with the Kompanie HQ, whilst two squads spent the night by the bridge with Leutnant Weber who has the anti-tank squad to guard the bridge. You have split the MG squad between both sites, as well as the panzerfausts, whilst keeping the panzerschrek team with you.
A Kompanie HQ, 1003rd Infantry Regiment, 751st Infantry Division
- Hauptman Kruger (Level III)
- Feldwebel Seeler (Level II)
- One MMG Team (5 men)
- One Panzerschrek Team (2 men)
- One Infantry Squad (8 men with one panzerfaust)
- Leutnant Weber (Level III)
- Feldwebel Steiner (Level II)
- Two Infantry Squads (8 men each, each with one panzerfaust)
- One MMG team (5 men)
- One Pak38 AT Gun and Tractor (5 crew)
German Player Two Briefing
It is about 0530hrs on 7th June 1944, and your sleep was disturbed by reports of Tommi aircraft flying low just to the north, near Vaux. The Oberst insisted that you take a small battlegroup to investigate, since he has no confidence in the local commander.
It is vital that the bridge over the Seulles in Vaix is held until our glorious counter-attack pushes the Allies back into the sea, or until the engineers arrive to blow it.
The Amis landed to the west of us yesterday, and they would have to use the bridge to join up with the Tommies. If British Paras have landed, they can only be aiming to capture the bridge, as they did so well yesterday further east.
You have a scratch force, with some good infantry and some armour. The Oberst has promised further support if there is serious trouble.
- Leutnant Siggi Schmidt (Level III)
- Feldwebel Hamman (Level II)
- Two squads of Panzergrenadiers (8 men each) in lorries
- Oberfeldwebel Helmut Haller (Level II)
- One Panzer IV H
- One StuG IIIG
As can be seen, there are not a lot of Paras, but they are very well-armed elite troops with more Big Men than you can shake a stick at. As for the Germans, the regular infantry were three-action troops, with the Panzergrenadiers and tanks being four-action troops.
The game began with the British Paras infiltrating the village from the north. Sneaking along the bocage, the Paras managed to get right into up to the edge of the buildings without being spotted, and then get a dummy Blind forward into the nearest one: it proving empty of enemy.
Whilst the rest of the Paras stayed under cover, the dummy Blind then scouted the next house along, spotting a squad of enemy infantry but being spotted itself. Unfortunately the platoon itself was then spotted despite its attempts to hide behind the house.
Well there was now nothing for it but to go hell-for-leather, so the entire Para platoon charged forward and close assaulted the enemy squad, throwing grenades through windows and generally making sure they had a really bad morning! The eight Germans were wiped out for the loss of three Paras.
Taking advantage of the initiative, the Paras then stormed into the house and engaged the German Kompanie HQ across the narrow street. Again the German were wiped out, again for the loss of three Paras. The village had been taken, but 25% of the Paras had been killed.
At this point I stopped taking many photos, or rushed them into blurriness, so apologies for the lack of many more pics!
As the Paras were consolidating their hold on the village and working out the best way to get to the bridge, movement was spotted both east and west of the village. To the west, two German Blinds appeared but, once their scouts had spotted the Paras, by-passed it entirely, heading across the open ground towards the bridge.
At the same time, to the east, the Paras airlanding support units arrived, also under Blinds. They headed towards the edge of the village closest to the bridge, aiming to link up with the Para infantry there.
The Paras in the village spotted the nearest German Blind to be the Panzer IV and the StuG heading towards the bridge.
This was too good an opportunity to be missed. Quick as a flash, the airlanding AT-gun unlimbered and smashed three shots into the side of the StuG, permanently immobilising it…significantly with its un-traversable gun pointing into nowhere. The gun then switched targets and fired at the Panzer IV, but despite hitting it at least once, only managed to slow it down a bit. In return, the tank turned towards the anti-tank gun and sent a shower of HE towards it, killing one man and pinning the rest of the crew.
Things looked difficult for the anti-tank crew: it was all very well shooting at surprised tanks from the flank, but being fired at with HE put a serious damper on things!
Next chip out of the back was, however, British Heroic Leader. Lieutenant Price knew what he had to do: grabbling a PIAT he sprinted out of the house his platoon had occupied and, standing in the middle of the open ground, slammed a PIAT round into the side of the Panzer IV. Unfortunately, the shot didn’t fully penetrate the tank’s armour, only knocking more bits off its tracks, slowing it down further. Its crew were, however, sufficiently distracted so as to do no damage to the AT gun next time they fired, with the gun crew managing to immobilise the tank in return. It was now a pillbox: still dangerous but with a crew close to abandoning ship!
The Paras were determined to get the tank. Sergeant Harper, obviously inspired by his Lieutenant’s example, also ran forward with a PIAT, but his shot missed.
Meanwhile, German Panzergrenadiers (the other Blind) had appeared on the edge of the wood just by the western side of the bridge. They opened fire on both British Big Men: with Sergeant Harper being killed despite being hidden in a bush. Lieutenant Price, however, was not, despite being out in the open. Untouched, but with his beret and uniform riddled with bullets, he calmly aimed the PIAT once more, and blew the Panzer IV to bits before high-tailing back to the house as fast as he could. Military Medal for Lt. Price methinks!
A gun battle now took place between the Paras in the houses and the Panzergrenadiers in the woods. It was no contest really, with the Paras rolling 5D6 with Big Men directing and getting off the first volley…and being supported by their MMG-toting carrier. Soon the ‘Grenadiers were falling back or falling down.
At that moment, another German platoon appeared from the direction of the bridge. This was Weber’s force: one squad and the AT gun joining the ‘Grenadiers, with the other and the MMG occupying a wood on the other side of the road.
The Paras were quite happy to exchange fire with the new arrivals, but a rather terse radio message reminded them that it was imperative that they take the bridge and that they were running out of time to do so.
That was all very well, but the Paras had lost a couple more men and were questioning whether they had the strength to continue to attack (they only had two functioning sections now) and were doubtless suffering from resting-on-their-laurels syndrome having done so well so far.
No, the bridge had to be taken right away, so whilst one section of Paras continued to exchange fire with the wood-dwelling Germans, the other crossed the road and headed north towards the bridge and the wood where half the new arrivals had set up shop.
At this point, the Paras did receive a boost, as support 3” mortars from off-table became available. Once the mortars had found their range (which took longer than expected) the Germans in the target wood suddenly found themselves in a world of pain: sharp splinters decimating their men. All it would take was one more push from the approaching, full-strength, Para section, and they would probably evaporate.
Unfortunately it was not to be.
At this point the American tank column appeared, and the German engineers blew the bridge. The Paras had run out of time! With words like “failure”, “tardy”, “incompetent”, and “guard duty in Birmingham” hissing from their radio, the Paras melted away before more German reinforcements could arrive.
It was a great game, with me as the only experienced IABSM player with and against and refereed by IABSM novices. The Germans really did nothing wrong: they were unlucky that the Paras were able to spot and take out their tanks before they could contribute much to the battle, but after that suffered only from the to-be-expected regulars-versus-elites problem.
The Paras managed to take out the German units one-by-one, rather than having to face them all at once, and to bring their superior firepower into action…but not to complete their mission in the time allocated despite their considerable successes. Very frustrating: and I shall wonder forever (and I mean forever!) whether I could or should have moved for the bridge earlier!
My thanks to the Benson wargamers for their hospitality, to Dave for his excellent scenario, and to John for hosting the battle in his man-cave shed.