Today I played scenario #3A from the Blenneville or Bust! scenario pack for I Ain't Been Shot, Mum!
The situation is as follows: the invading Allies are working their way around the flank of the main German positions half way up the Ribeaux valley. The Germans have rushed a small kampfgruppe consisting of decent tankers and half-decent infantry to block a crossroads in front of the Allied advance. This scenario covers the battle for the crossroads as the lead elements of an American armoured division attempt to clear the Germans from their path before reinforcements can arrive.
The battle took place in a valley between two hills, with the hills being at the south-east and north-west corners of the table. A main road runs north-south along the table's centre line, crossed by a smaller road running east-west nearer to the table's southern edge. A church and graveyard surrounded by stone walls sits slightly west of centre in the valley, surrounded by rough, open ground that, to the east changes into bocage lined fields, and to the south changes into woods.
The Germans had at their disposal two two-squad platoons of infantry with a couple of MMGs in support. They had two PaK38 anti-tanks guns, one 75mm infantry gun, and could call on artillery support from an off-table mortar platoon. They also had an FOO in contact with a battery of 155mm howitzers, but could only fire them for effect twice. Their main "punch" came from three Panthers.
As all they knew was that the Americans would attack from the north, the Germans had to defend along the whole southern, long, table's edge to prevent themselves being outflanked. One infantry platoon, MMG and anti-tank gun went at either end of the table: the eastern force dug into the treeline, the western one dug in behind the bocage. Two of the Panthers were right by the crossroads, one hull-down either side of the main road.
This provided a good solid defensive line, and one that could shoot at the Americans as they either came down the hill to the west or across the open ground to the east. The problem was that this was quite a passive defence, and one that could be quite vulnerable to a rapid American advance that would cover the killing ground faster than the Germans could react and shoot. Something was needed to break up the American attack, and that something would be the last Panther. This was hidden behind the southern end of the church as a Forlorn Hope, ready to emerge either side in order to halt and disrupt any US advance.
Neil, my opponent running the Americans, had decided to mass his forces on western side of the table. His tanks (nine Shermans, three of them 76's, in three platoons) would sweep down the hill towards the church in a rapid armoured thrust, followed up by his three platoons of armoured infantry, one in half-tracks, the other two on foot. Behind this assault, the Americans had a weapons platoon consisting of two mortar-carriers and a couple of M2 half-tracks each carrying an LMG squad and a bazooka team. They, too, had an FOO, who was in contact with a cab-rank of air support and a battery of off-table artillery.
After a brief scouting phase in the Germans' favour, a host of American Blinds swept over the hill to the west and headed south. One was quickly spotted and revealed as tanks: four Shermans to be exact. The German anti-tank gun in that sector opened fire, forcing the crew of one tank to bail. The other Shermans reacted by firing smoke, but failed to cover the anti-tank gun properly. It fired again, and was able to slightly damage the lead Sherman, now hiding behind the shoulder-high stone wall surrounding the graveyard.
It was time for the German Forlorn Hope to make its move. The Panther edged out from behind the church and fired uphill at an advancing Sherman, forcing its crew to bail. It then pulled back behind the church to wait for its next target to appear. This totally disrupted the American advance, with the Blinds that had been coming down the open side of the western edge of the battlefield rapidly reversing direction and 'hiding' behind the church themselves.
Desperate measures were called for. The American armoured infantry HQ half-track shot forward and sped towards the church, literally crashing into the brick wall surrounding it but able to give the bazooka team it carried a shot into the Panther's rear. Unfortunately, perhaps shaken by the impact, the shot missed. The Panther's turret slowly swivelled, and then it fired: blowing the half-track to pieces and killing the bazooka team, and the company commander. Only Staff Sergeant Ollie Oakland managed to crawl from the wreckage.
More desperate measures! All the US tanks de-cloaked and charged the church! Lieutenant Memphis' tank, a 76, managed to get into a shooting position on the Panther and, after a couple of shots, managed to brew it up.
This may seem like the Germans (i.e. me!) threw the Panther away (one Panther for two Shermans and the infantry company HQ), but it was worth it for the effect it had on the US attack. Their planned advance had stalled, meaning that they had to spend time sorting themselves out before moving forward again…and those German reinforcements were on their way.
Not only this, but the delay had allowed the other German anti-tank gun time to get across the battlefield and set up to shoot at the enemy tanks around the church. They needed to be dealt with. The American support platoon was on table by this time. Its two mortar carriers hung back: they would conduct a rather ineffectual dual with the German 75mm infantry gun for most of the game. The two M2 half-tracks carrying the machine guns and bazooka teams, however, were available and, indeed, were about the only thing that was available to deal with the anti-tank gun.
They moved forward, with one of them running straight into a shell from one of the remaining Panthers, de-cloaking from its position around the crossroads. The half-track brewed up, but its passengers managed to get out, although there were heavy casualties. The other managed to drop off its weapon teams, and they and the survivors moved forward under cover of smoke fired from a tank to mask the road.
This is where I made a bad mistake and almost lost the battle!
I needed to cover the anti-tank gun, or at least prevent it being shot to bits by the enemy machine guns. So to give it support, I moved my other infantry platoon and MMG across the table under Blinds. No problem there, but I was so focussed on protecting the anti-tank gun, so totally focussed on protecting the anti-tank gun, that I was totally surprised when the American support weapons actually climbed on top of the bocage and spotted then shot at my troops. My platoon was caught out in the open and lost an entire squad to enemy fire! The machine gun was also hit, receiving so much Shock that it headed for the edge of the table at top speed.
The other infantry squad, and indeed the anti-tank gun, managed to get back to the tree line, but I had effectively thrown away one squad and the HMG.
Meanwhile the rest of the American tanks had resumed their advance to the west, heading into the graveyard in an attempt to overwhelm the anti-tank gun and Panther. Most of them rapidly reversed their advance, however, when ranging shots from my 155mm howitzers neatly bracketed their position. One did come forward, but the Panther took care of it before switching its attention (ineffectually) to the US support troops busy annihilating my out-in-the-open platoon.
Spotting also finally revealed an advancing armoured infantry platoon, and my dug-in infantry finally had a chance to do something: stopping the attackers in their tracks with withering fire.
The 76mm Sherman that had brewed up the Forlorn Hope Panther had been lurking under cover of the burning half-track by the church, but now tried taking advantage of the fact my Panther was distracted by sneaking forward and shooting at it, but the two hits it scored bounced off the Panther's thick armour, and return fire blew the unfortunate Sherman to bits.
Blocked to the west, and having scored some success to the east, Neil now attempted to totally switch his axis of attack. Led by a Sherman, two American Blinds (the other two infantry platoons) now heading down the track in an attempt to outflank my position. Unfortunately, the Panther and other anti-tank gun were there and ready, and the Sherman was quickly brewed and the Blinds spotted. Now conscious that time was ticking away (you can see the photos are getting darker!) Neil decided on one last throw of the dice and charged his armoured platoon forward in a desperate attempt to close with my troops.
Unfortunately it didn't work: the half-tracks were hit by the Panther and anti-tank gun and forced to deploy their men and, as I started shooting at them, the sound of German reinforcements were heard. The Americans were forced to break off their attack: the crossroads was safe and I had won the day.
Great battle where my initial good deployment and, admittedly, some good dice-rolling were very nearly over-turned by the almost fatal error made with the second infantry platoon. Without the Forlorn Hope Panther severely disrupting the first American attack, I think I would have been overwhelmed. Interestingly, neither side got any of its off-table artillery firing properly, and the two American air-strikes both missed their target. A great game.