At the recent OML2 Day in Evesham, I met a couple of chaps from Oxford, Dave and John, who had just started playing IABSM. After a bit of a chat, I volunteered to go over to Oxford and run a game for them. The venue was John's excellent man-cave, the game one of the scenarios from the Blenneville or Bust scenario pack: #5J Belle Maison. Below is the resultant AAR.
The Riveaux valley campaign is drawing to an end, with the Germans proving resilient to Allied attacks. So resilient, in fact, that they have pushed the Allies back to Diot, a town at the head of the valley, and are now preparing to take that as well. Key to their attempt is their heavy artillery. Key to getting their heavy artillery into position is the road that runs through the village of Belle Maison. The Allies have recognised this and have rushed a blocking force into the village to prevent the Germans getting through. Now the Germans will attempt to clear Belle Maison of all resistance in order to bring up their guns and seal Diot's fate.
The Allied blocking force consists of part of B Company, The Alban Regiment: a Scottish unit headed by Captain Gordon Glasgow. Two platoons of stubborn Scots infantry are supported by a platoon of anti-tank guns (six-pounders), a couple of MMGs mounted on universal carriers, and a troop of three Churchill tanks. The tanks were held just south of the village, ready to be brought into action when required. Off-table artillery in the form of a battery of four 25-pounders had been tasked to assist whenever necessary.
The German clearing force was very powerful indeed. Six Panther tanks in three zugs were supported by three zugs of panzergrenadiers, one of which was mounted in half-tracks. There was also a small reconnaissance unit of a Puma and a couple of SdKfz231, plus multiple small recon teams (four Dummy Blinds).
Belle Maison itself is built along the main Chemont-Diot road. The road runs north-south but, at the bottom of a valley, it turns east-west for a couple of hundred yards, and it is this east-west section that is bordered by the houses and shops that make up the village.
The Germans opened the action: advancing down the western or non-road side of the battlefield. They spotted movement in the houses at their end of the village, but couldn't identify exactly what it was they were seeing.
The Germans were quickly spotted themselves; their Blinds being revealed as the Recon unit backed up by a zug of Panthers. Also spotted were the British carrier-mounted MMGs who were, unfortunately, quickly pinned down by saturating HE fire from the two Panthers.
The Germans were naturally keen to know what was in the houses in front of them, so concentrated their spotting efforts there, eventually revealing a platoon of British infantry. The British were operating two up, one back i.e. they started with two sections in the front row of houses, one behind.
Two more Panthers de-cloaked from Blinds and started shelling the houses, eventually forcing the enemy infantry to retreat one section to the rearward row of houses. The other would have retreated as well, but was pinned down by the tank fire.
More German Blinds now appeared, charging down either side of the bocage running through the centre of the field in front of the village. This was too good an opportunity to miss, and the British FOO, obviously positioned in the church tower called in his artillery. Initial ranging shots were disappointingly off-target, but it was only a matter of time before the guns' accuracy improved.
Meanwhile the British Churchills had appeared on the southern edge of the table, and immediately started a long range duel with the two originally-spotted German Panthers, still on the hill on the other side of the valley. The result was perhaps a foregone conclusion, and it was not long before two of the Churchills were KO'd for the loss of a little paintwork on the Panthers! The remaining Churchill headed into comparative safety, hiding behind the bocage on the main road.
Incidentally, it's worth noting at this point that the German Panthers, all of them, seemed to have some kind of super-armour in place that day. Despite being hit again and again and again by six-pounder fire (either from the Churchills or the AT guns) they only failed to roll less than five saves (on eleven dice) one or twice all day: an extraordinary and statistically improbable event!
The Germans then decided that the remaining British infantry in the main house had been softened up enough for an assault. Forward headed a Blind under which was a full platoon of panzergrenadiers. Unfortunately for the Germans, although the British were a little softened up, they were actually stubborn-as-rock Scots who happened at that precise moment not to be pinned by the German tank fire. Three squads of infantry charging with all their movement against one section of stubborn infantry defending a brick house. Yes, the Scots were wiped out, but the Germans lost two full squads: not all killed, but damaged enough to flee backwards and to play no further part in the battle. The remaining German squad squatted down in the garden behind the house, unwilling to move forward and get into automatic close combat with the other two Scottish sections.
Oh, and if you look carefully at the picture below, you can see that the British artillery has finally ranged in on the mass of German Blinds, dropping a couple of salvos on both them and the Panthers.
There was now one of those weird lulls in the action as the German Blinds shifted east to get away from the British artillery fire; the Panthers moved forward in an attempt to get into firing position on the second row of houses; and the British Churchill moved forward to stop them so doing.
The action then started up again as the Germans switched the angle of their attack to the other side of the village. Both remaining panzergrenadier platoons de-cloaked and prepared to assault the second British platoon, which had been discovered in the houses at the other end of the village.
To conclude the account of what happened at the original end of the village, the German tanks disposed of the remaining Churchill without too much difficulty and, after some more HE fire, managed to set fire to the second row of houses. This forced the Scots to retreat up the hill towards the stone-wall surrounded churchyard, where they joined up with one of the six-pounders, which had just arrived there having moved across from its original position to the west.
The first Panther to poke its nose forward on this flank immediately began receiving AT fire, and although remained undamaged at the end of the game, was certainly not too keen to advance through the village gardens, or across some bocage, up the hill towards the carefully positioned gun.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, the Germans were preparing to assault the British in the houses in front of them. The final two Panthers moved forward, and were immediately engaged by the remaining British 6-pounder, hidden in the bocage in front of them. Again no damage was done, but it just meant that the Germans tanks couldn't do exactly what they wanted, but had to keep an eye on what the anti-tank gun was doing.
Their other problem was that now the British artillery was ranged in, wherever the German infantry and HQ elements went, they kept getting hit by salvos of shells! Although a section of British infantry was forced to retreat to the second line of houses as the first line caught fire, this was a tactical withdrawal with the platoon remaining mostly intact.
At this point we called the game as a British win. If you look at the picture below, you will see the gaps in the German infantry squads caused by British artillery fire. Although the Germans still had six functioning Panthers (although some had a few bits knocked off them!) they were literally running out of infantry. First platoon was down to one squad; second platoon had 25% casualties; third platoon had 10% casualties. They had also lost their support vehicles, and the British artillery showed no signs of running out of ammo.
As for the British, they had only really lost one section of infantry and the three Churchills. The MMG armed carriers were still prowling around looking for firing positions, and both anti-tank guns were still fully crewed.
Could the Germans have eventually taken the village? Maybe, but not with tanks alone. By this time I had literally been screaming "Is the road clear yet?" at John and Trevor, the German players, for about 45 minutes, as the calls from the heavy artillery waiting to get through got louder and more insistent!
So all in all a great game of I Ain't Been Shot, Mum!. The Germans never managed to properly concentrate their assault in one schwerepunkt and, as you will have seen, split their tanks into petty packets as opposed to keeping them together as one stunning armoured punch. It was, however, the British artillery that properly broke the German assault, and willpower. The Germans were spending so much time avoiding the shells that they couldn't properly focus on their objective. Good play all round, though. My thanks to John for his hospitality and to Dave and Trevor for their participation in the game.
Finally, mention must be made of the German reconnaissance zug. After doing its duty in the initial spotting phase, it spent the rest of the game zooming round the battlefield as fast as the heavily damaged Puma would allow. Obviously it never actually achieved anything, but it did keep moving!