So it was off to Benson again for a re-run of Dave’s Battle of Benson scenario: a fictional Operation Sealion encounter imagining the Germans, having invaded England in the autumn of 1940, are working their way towards London and need to capture a vital bridge on the Oxfordshire/Berkshire border in order to continue their advance.
The last time we played through the game (click here for the AAR, will open in a new window) I played the Brits, so was looking forward to having a go as the commander of the initial Fallschirmjaeger drop: my aim being to capture the bridge by a coup de main and then hold until re-inforced. My force consisted of four platoons of FJs supported by a couple of MMGs, with an HQ gruppe of 10-men plus an anti-tank rifle team. Although my troops were good quality, they had fairly standard weaponry (i.e. no bonus for having loads of SMGs) and had been badly roughed up in the drop (i.e. weren’t Aggressive and only Level II Big Men at platoon command level, meaning that a whole 3-gruppe platoon couldn’t be activated at once by their commander).
The terrain we were fighting over is shown below, and represents the real Benson area in 1940. Later on in the game, when one of the players was complaining about lines of sight (it was probably me!) it was suggested that they might like to walk down the road and have a look for themselves, as the hill and woods in dispute is still there today. The objective is the Shillingford bridge, between the two white houses at the bottom of the table.
With the actual drop taking place off table, my plan was to split my force into two and hit Shillingford simultaneously from both sides. On my left flank, I brought three platoons under Blinds onto the table near a large ruined house (now an old people’s home). In the photo below, you can see that I sent forward one platoon under a Blind in an immediate reconnaissance-by-assault on the house: having no Dummy Blinds, I thought I can either creep forward and get spotted then shot at out in the open, or I can get stuck in asap without taking damage on the way in. Back and to the right is a Blind holding over its Actions: that’s concealing a couple of MMG teams that would reveal themselves and give covering fire if there were Brits in the house.
Well, there were: a squad of regular infantry. My machine guns fired, but such was the range and their cover that the Brits only took a bit of Shock. Far more damaging was the close combat that followed: the first round ended in a draw, the second with the Brits being wiped out, but I did sustain three deaths per squad in my own platoon: about 40% casualties, meaning that the platoon was probably relegated to providing covering fire in future.
Just behind the house was a small wood which the Brits had fortified with some sandbags. Within this mini bunker was an MMG and an anti-tank gun, but these were soon taken care of by my troops now occupying the house. The way to Shillingford on the left was clear!
Meanwhile, on my right flank, another two platoons and the HQ gruppe arrived on table, and began to make their way towards Shillingford, keeping to the hedge rows for cover. Before long, they were in position opposite the two buildings at their end of the bridge, and had spotted and were exchanging fire with a couple more squads of British regulars supported by a Vickers. I had a bit of luck here, in that as the Vickers opened fire from its position in the grey barn, I hit it with a ‘natural 17’ on the dice: Churchill’s favourite number so an automatic kill on a support weapon.
Although you can’t see them in the pictures above, there are three squads of Home Guard (commanded by Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson and Corporal Jones!) at the other end of the table. These began the game protecting the lock and Benson itself, but began moving down table towards me as the game progressed, but were largly wiped out by a couple of rounds of fire from the two MMGs and the HQ gruppe. Their only significance was to delay the advance of the HQ gruppe for a turn or two, which worked in my favour as at this point the British received reinforcements: two carriers (one with an MMG, one with an anti-tank rifle) and an armoured car.
This was hardly unexpected, but still a real pain in the Germanic backside: as the left hand squad of the FJ pltoon in the road opposite the village found out as they lost two men to MMG fire. Desperate measures were obviously called for.
Next chip out of the bag was German Heroic Commander, so my CinC grabbed the anti-tank rifle from the team standing enxt to him, jumped the hedge, and walked down the road towards the carriers, firing from the hip.
Obviously he missed, but was fortunately rescued by the appearance of the German Dynamic Commander chip, allowing him to neatly hop back over the hedge and, somewhat sheepishly, hand the ATR back to its team.
Although mildly diverting, this hadn’t solved the problem, so the HQ gruppe of ten men charged up the hedgeline and close assaulted the nearest carrier. This turned out to have somewhat TARDIS-like qualities, as it contained the MMG, eight infantrymen and a driver. A close combat ensued that annihilated the HQ gruppe and left only a couple of dead Tommies on the ground. What it had done, however, was to effctively disarm the carrier, at least until the British infantry could climb back on board.
Meanwhile, the armoured car edged past the carrier and skidded into a handbrake turn opposite where the German CinC and ATR team (plus a light mortar team) were calmly discussing what was wrong with the sights on the PzB39. A round of LMG fire killed one ATR crew member, but the other chap managed to disable the armoured car and force its crew to abandon ship, leaving the road neatly blocked.
Amusingly, when the triumphant anti-tank rifler turned to his CO, hands raised in victory, all he could see was the CO and light mortar team sprinting away for the safety of the platoons near Shillingford. The ATR gunner followed suit as fast as his little legs could carry him.
Meanwhile, back on the other side of the river, the first set of German reinforcements had arrived: a recce force of a single Panzer II and a detachment of motorcyclists. Although this was good news for the Germans, the single British medium mortar (by the truck to the right in the picture above) had their range, and began dropping shells right on top of the narrow area around that end of the bridge, not so much causing casualties as slowing everything down and causing a bit of a traffic jam.
Back in Oxfordshire (i.e. the other side of the river) the FJs had moved forward and taken the grey barn building. Resistance in Shillingford was now down to just one squad of British infantry holed up in the Shillingford Hotel.
Along the road, however, behind the carriers, a british Blind now appeared, repidly deploying as a column of tanks (two A-13s and a MkVIb) supported by an anti-tank gun and a lorry-moubted section of infantry. Seeing the road was blocked, they pushed through the hedge and headed cross-country for Shillingford and the river bank.
By now, the FJs should have been in Shillingford, digging in to resist British counter-attack. However the luck (up to this point, the dice had really been with me) now deserted the Germans, and their chip just wouldn’t appear. Worse, the main German reinforcements (a couple of Panzer IIIs and a Panzer IV) had now arrived and, rather than helping, had just contributed to the traffic jam around the bend in the road near the hill. Oh, the British carrier with the anti-tank rifle had been shot at and killed by a Panzer III as it tried to sneak behind the German tanks.
The focus was now bouncing from one side of the river to the other, as the German anti-tank rifle gunner managed to halt the lead tank with a couple of flank shots before being killed himself. The British tanks replied, however, by blowing the lead Panzer III to bits with a couple of well-aimed shots up the jacksy, not before, however, the Panzer III had managed to pin the British squad in the house with some equally well-aimed HE fire, allowing the lead FJ platoon to win the following close assault, even if their bashed-up command structure (only Level II Big Men) hadn’t allowed them the walkover it should have been.
Now the German machine guns opened up. They had been gradually moving forward, and were actually in the dug-out previously occupied by the British anti-tank gun by the ruined house. This proved to be a very good spot to occupy, as they were able to pour several rounds of fire into the flank of the second A-13, causing its crew to bail out of what had become a very large collander!
At this point, unfortunately, the game had to end. In terms of what was left on the table, the Germans had two 80-90% strong platoons of FJs, a couple of bashed up platoons of FJs (50-60% strong), a full platoon of regular infantry (just arived with the Panzers), two MMGs and three tanks (a Panzer II, Panzer III and a Panzer IV). The British had a bashed up squad of infantry still in the white building opposite the hotel, an anti-tank gun, a slightly bashed up A-13, a single squad of infantry, and an untouched MkVIb.
Naturally I claimed victory for the Germans, but Victory Conditions were consulted and it was pointed out that I hadn’t actually taken the bridge. Yes, the Germans 100% controlled one end, but the other end was technically overlooked by the remains (4 men) of a British squad. On top of that, no German had actually stepped foot on the bridge. The battle was thus declared a draw, my (many and loud!) protests that if we had just continued for one more turn, then the bridge, and indeed perhaps the whole battlefield, would have been German-held, met with only the single word “if…”!
It had been a great game, with a well-balanced scenario contributing to the action. As mentioned above, for once my dice-rolling was phenomenal…although my opponents quickly caught on to what was happening and started getting me to roll for my own casualties. At one stage, therefore, we reckoned that I was actually killing more of my own men than those of the enemy: for one roll, I even switched to using their dice rather than mine, and still managed to inflict three kills out of three potential kills on one of my squads.
My thanks to Dave and John for running the game, and the rest of the Benson crowd for being such good gamers. I’m now off to the modern day Shillingford bridge, figures case in hand: at least one of my FJs will soon be standing on that damn bridge!