Today John and Dave from the Oxford wargamers came over to my place for another game of IABSM. I'm umpiring for them whilst they pick up the rules so that they can go back to Oxford and spread the Lard to the other gamers in their club. Today's game was another from the Blenneville or Bust! Normandy scenario pack: scenario #4H, Diot.
It's towards the end of the campaign. The Allies are attempting to move south down the Riveaux valley, but have so far been outfought by the Germans at every turn. Now the Germans counter-attack, seeking to swing round to the east of the main axis of the Allied advance and 'cut the head from the snake'. In order to successfully concentrate their forces, they need to move through the small market town of Diot: a place where four major roads meet at a crossroads in the centre of the town. The Germans have dispatched a powerful kampfgruppe consisting of four platoons of infantry (one of them fallschirmjaeger) backed up by four StuG assault guns and a couple of Tiger Is to capture the town before their way can be blocked. The Allies have realised what the Germans are up to, and have dispatched the only troops available, two platoons of Scottish infantry from the Alban Regiment backed up by a couple of 6lbers and three Churchill tanks, to prevent the Germans getting a foothold in the town before reinforcements can arrive.
This was going to be a pig of a battle for the Germans, hence the reason for their overwhelming numbers. As you can see from the main picture, above, Diot's eastern side is protected by a river crossable only at the two bridges. The Germans would enter the table from the east and have to fight their way into the town over the bridges. The British troops could deploy anywhere west of the river, and would start the game under hidden Blinds although not dug in.
Rather than keep their StuGs and Tigers in separate zugs, the German commander, Dave, decided to mix them up and have two zugs consisting of a Tiger and two StuGs assault guns each. One of these mixed zugs would cross each bridge, with two of the infantry platoons backing up the armour at the far bridge, and another infantry platoon, the HQ squads and the FSJs backing up the armour as it crossed over the near bridge.
The British deployed two Forlorn Hopes, each a PIAT team and a section of infantry: one in the church, one in the town hall. The rest of the infantry were in the houses at the top of the town's main street. An AT gun covered the far bridge from the garden of the house at the top of the main street, with another lurking behind the bocage right at the northern end of the table, ready to deploy where necessary. A couple of Vickers guns mounted on carriers lurked on the road side of the Town Hall, and the Churchills were in reserve way out of town behind the far strip of bocage bisecting the fields to the south. Note that I was using Paras to represent the Scots: both suitably fierce opponents!
The game began with the almost simultaneous arrival of the two German armoured zugs. Rather than smashing forward, they crept slowly over the bridges, Tigers in front to soak up any shots fired, infantry kept behind on Blinds. I did remind Dave about the Tigers' Vehicle Breakdown card at this point, but he seemed very sanguine about it...but then Dave is very sanguine about everything!
Eventually the northern Tiger crept forward into the churchyard, trying to see down the main road. At this point, the PIAT team in the church steeple popped up and fired a couple of shots into the beast's flank...but only managing to slightly knock its main gun out of alignment. The PIAT team in the town hall tried the same thing, and both their shots hit but bounced: these Tigers are tough!
In response, Leutnant Eisbein, the Big Man commanding Tiger 31, put a few rounds of HE into the town hall with his 88mm gun, which began swaying and crumbling in an alarming manner! The PIAT team and supports would have to vacate the building next activation, or end up buried under a pile of bureaucratic rubble!
Moments later, he swiveled his turret and did the same to the church steeple, which also started showing signs of imminent collapse! Again the PIAT team and supports would have to vacate the building or risk being buried alive. Five hundred years that church had stood there, five hundred years...now it had been pulverised by 'Eisbein the Destroyer' and his Tiger tank!
Meanwhile, one anti-tank gun had engaged the other Tiger to no effect and losing half their gun crew to HE in return; and the other AT gun had moved into a position to try and engage the northern armoured zug in the flank:
The PIAT team and infantry section in the church eventually managed to get out of the building just before it collapsed. They were apparently very annoyed because rather than running for cover, they decided to close assault the Tiger! This turned out to be a very unwise move, even with a PIAT, as they were machine gunned down without doing the tank any damage at all despite hitting it several times and literally covering it with sticky bombs. Not only that, but the Big Man in charge of the MG carriers used the Brits' only Heroic Commander card to rush out from cover, grab the discarded PIAT, and fire a round into the Tiger at point blank range. No effect, and Sergeant Aberdeen suffered the same fate as his comrades.
The other PIAT team also managed to get out of the town hall before it collapsed, but did equally badly against the Tiger, and was also shot down. Eisbein was on a roll...but a lot of precious time had been used up dealing with the PIATS and accompanying infantry...time that would come back to haunt the Germans later.
Meanwhile, to the south, the Tiger there had finished off the AT gun and prepared to move forward off the bridge and round the corner towards the town. Unfortunately up popped the Vehicle Breakdown card, and the Tiger ground to a grinding halt just the other side of the bridge. The Germans now had a very superior new pillbox that was perfectly positioned to shoot at...nothing.
This was a real blow for the Germans, and more time was wasted as the two StuGs behind the Tiger carefully manoeuvred past the broken down tank. Lots of paint work was scraped and the two StuGs ended up almost on top of each other just opposite a gate into the southern field.
Well this was exactly where the British tanks wanted them, and with a Tally Ho! the three Churchills slowly chundered up to the bocage. The lead Churchill decided to fire through the gap created by another gate, the other two thundering up the bocage to try and shoot through it.
One StuG was taken out, but that part of the battlefield then descended into a duel between the Churchills and the other StuG and the new German pillbox which would last until the game ended. Although two of the Churchills were destroyed fairly quickly, the other held on effectively keepinmg the other StuG from intervening in the main action.
Meanwhile, back in the town, the British had deployed all their infantry from Blinds, and were preparing to shoot anything that came within range. They now had no PIATS and no AT guns left, so were quite happy when it appeared that the northern armoured zug's activation card had gone on holiday, and even happier when the Germans, impatient and aware of the possibility of British reinforcements at any moment, moved their infantry forward. The British FOO had by now had plenty of time to call in artillery. It had already hit the German Blinds to the south (although the effect was not yet known - the two Blinds have moved up behind the church in the right hand picture above) and no slammed down on the hapless German infantry to the north.
Messy, very messy and, more importantly, the infantry was pinned down, unable to move forward.
The German infantry continued to struggle forward through the artillery killzone, but whenever they got close enough to think about an assault, the British infantry in the houses shot at them, once more forcing them to ground.
With Eisbein apparently resting on his laurels (presumably working out how to paint a church and a town hall onto his gun barrel) the German commander called in his own artillery. Well, eventually got his artillery to answer the phone! With a horrible whistling scream, fire from a battery of Nebelwerfers hit the end house for long enough for the troops inside to be pinned and close assaulted, but the assault was repelled albeit leaving the house empty of effective defenders.
The Germans were now almost out of time. The northern armour wouldn't move forward into the town, the southern armour was still exchanging fire with the Churchills: desperate measures were called for. The Fallschirmjaeger platoon, still under Blinds shot forward and assaulted the house just to the north of the crossroads occupied by a single section of enemy infantry. Twenty-four SMG-armed veteran paratroopers led by a Big Man. Surely they would succeed!
Well...no, actually. That house was occupied by a section of enemy infantry, but so was the house next door, and the German, overkeen, had got too close and accidentally close assaulted both at the same time. That meant that they faced sixteen rather than eight very pissed off Scotsmen (aggressive and stubborn troops) led by Captain Glasgow himself. Two thirds of the FSJs were killed outright, with only three brave Scotsmen biting the dust.
That was it for the Germans. Although they might well have taken the town eventually - especially if they could get their armour involved again - they were out of time. The British had held the town and therefore won the day. Admittedly there weren't many of them left to celebrate...but won the day they had.
In all a great day of IABSM, and Dave and John are to be congratulated for dealing with such big forces in only their second try. All agreed that it was a great game, with plenty of those exciting, critical moments that make wargaming so much fun.