Hello London! Hello London!
Robert Avery reporting from the besieged French town of Arras. I’m here with the BEF, happy to report that another Bosch attack has been beaten off!
The Germans attacked from the south, with about a company’s worth of men supported by six light tanks. Our position was in front and behind the railway embankment that runs through to St Quentin, with a platoon of Welsh Guards led by Lieutenant Llewellyn (ably supported by Sergeant Griffiths) forward of the embankment dug in to three houses in a neat line. In front of us, in another house, was a brave section of French infantry: a forlorn hope led by WW1 veteran Commandant Hercule Poumier. Behind us to the left, two sections of sappers led by Lieutenant MacAlpine manned positions along the embankment: equally brave men itching for a fight.
As day began to break, we thought at first that it was some other poor fellow’s turn to feel the might of Adolf’s fist but, as the morning mist cleared, it became apparent that the enemy had snuck forward to within 500 yards of our positions! Facing the sappers were three enemy tanks, with three more behind them; and coming down the road was a mass of enemy infantry.
I hadn’t previously understood the purpose of a forlorn hope before now, but now I see clearly why men sacrifice themselves in such an endeavour…for as the enemy moved towards our main position, they suddenly spotted the French and were forced to react. Some of the Germans continued forward, some moved into the trees lining the main road, but what this meant, as far as I could see, was that the individual German squads of two platoons became intermingled, with what looked like some confusion setting in.
The enemy also sent one tank platoon across the battlefield towards the loyal French. This exposed the flank of one of the iron beasts, and the company Vickers blew its track off, its crew hightailing it back the way they had come.
The two other tanks, however, closed to within forty yards of the French position, and raked it with machine gun fire. At the same time, the enemy infantry were shooting as well, and the brave French lost at least one man killed and were pinned down by the hail of enemy fire.
What they had also failed to spot, moreover, was another German platoon moving into position for close assault. Suddenly the nine remaining Frenchmen, in their positions along the hedge at the edge of the garden, were charged by almost thirty enemy stormtroopers led by two officers! I closed my eyes in anticipation of the carnage that was due to follow.
But what was this? The Germans were held, at least for a moment, and one of their officers killed! Bravo les braves!
Unfortunately, the respite was only temporary: the Bosch surged forward again, and the French were overrun: only Commandant Poumier and two of his men escaping! Sending his two men to the rear, the brave Commandant joined us in the main position: puffing, blowing, and full of Gallic imprecations!
The enemy, however, were now under our guns, and we let them have it with the Vickers and a section’s worth of fire, seeming to knock the enemy infantry over like ninepins!
Lieutenant Llewellyn was, however, very worried at the situation. Most of three platoons of enemy infantry, albeit in somewhat of a confused mass, were coming forward towards his single platoon. Not only that, but two of his infantry sections were manning ground floor positions, and were thus not able to engage the approaching Bosche.
Now, however, he played his trump card. Three light tanks from Cooke’s party rushed from behind the railway embankment towards our main position. The other German panzer platoon opened fire, but two rounds of shooting only managed to halt one of our tanks, it heading back into cover with smoke pouring from a damaged engine. Looks like these Bosch tankers need their eyesight checked! Another three friendly light tanks raked the shooting enemy tanks with fire from behind the embankment, but at this range the damage seemed insignificant.
Although the light tanks were rushing forward, so were the Germans, and they appeared to have the drop on us. The two tanks that had so punished the French moved up to the hedge row in front of the house in which we were sheltered, and prepared to fire. Coming up behind them was the mass of enemy infantry, now finally starting to sort itself out.
What to do? The Boys gunners were dead (although they had managed to jam the turret of one of the attacking tanks), the Vickers was manned by just one brave soul, and the garden too long for even the strongest grenadier to throw over!
Desperate measures were called for. One section of infantry left their positions in the ground floor of the house, rushed up the garden, and engaged the two German tanks with grenades and Molotov cocktails! Their attack proved successful: with the undamaged German tank being permanently immobilised! Their mission complete, the eight brave infantrymen then retired back into the house from which they had come – a bit out of breath, but untouched by enemy fire! An incredible piece of audacity!
Meanwhile, the sappers under Lieutenant MacAlpine had got themselves into positions from which they could fire, albeit at long range, into the mass of German infantry; and Sergeant Griffith’s section on the right had severely punished some enemy who had strayed too close to his house! Despite this, things were still very tight, and Lieutenant Llewellyn prepared to give the order to retire to the embankment.
At that moment, however, it seems that the Bosche had had enough. With half their tanks out of action, and their infantry still some way from being organised into coherence, they decided to retire themselves, quickly melting away as we chased them with more fire.
Arras is still in Allied hands!
A great battle using the first scenario from the Cymru Am Byth booklet. The French forlorn hope did exactly what it was supposed to do: breaking up the coherence of Neil’s attack and forcing him to concentrate men to one flank, exposing them to flank fire as he did so. The fact that Poumier drew a close combat where thirty dice faced ten was an added bonus! The Germans never really managed to sort their men into three clear platoons after that, and could therefore not get organised enough to do the usual two platoons fire whilst one rushes forward tactic.
There were two other truly significant points in the game. The first was two British tanks managing to get from behind the embankment to behind the main British position unscathed despite taking some twelve flank shots from Neil’s Panzer IIs! The second, and this is without a doubt what actually broke the German morale, was a single section of Welsh Guards rushing out of their house, four inches down the garden, knocking out one of the two enemy tanks peeking over the hedge at the garden’s end and, next turn, getting a lucky run of cards and managing to get back down the garden and back into the house unscathed, despite their being some six German infantry sections closing fast!
How tight was the game? Neil conceded just as I was about to withdraw!