The club normally meets on Sunday afternoons, but over the Festive Season, we didn't meet up on either Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. However, we did have a Thursday afternoon session on the 28th. I offered to put on and umpire a big game of I Ain't Been Shot Mum for two players a side. This would be a 1944 game, with the British forces pushing forwards into the Low Countries after the Liberation of France as part of the advance towards the Rhine.
What I wanted to do was put on a game with a lot of tanks but also have plenty of obstacles to aid the weaker side (in this case weak was relative). The field was laid out on four tables, creating a long battlefield with plenty of cover and dead ground. Here it is, seen from behind the German position.
The scenario was as follows: after the end of the Battle of Normandy, Allied forces are pushing eastwards into the Low Countries. German resistance is stronger than expected but patchy in places. Defence in many cases depends on ad hoc formations made up from whatever troops are available to counter the advance of the Allied armour. This scenario is one such encounter.
A British tank squadron and a company of motorised infantry have been tasked with taking a river crossing.
An ad hoc German Kampfgruppe is opposing the British advance.
The German force was:
A weakened Kompanie of Panzergrenadiers (veterans):
- Company HQ (with 3 Panzerschrecks) and a L3 Big Man (2 x SdKfz 251)
- Two Zugs, each with a L2 Big Man
- One section of 4 x MG42
An improvised Rifle Kompanie (poor regulars):
- HQ of two tripod MG42, 2 x Panzerschrecks, a L2 Big Man and a L1 Big Man
- A rifle Zug with a L1 Big Man
- A Zug of Panzerknackers (two MG42 teams, four riflemen, eight Panzerfaust shooters) and a L2 Big Man
An ad hoc Panzer Kompanie:
- HQ: one Tiger I with a L3 Big Man (veteran crew)
- One Panzer IVH (average crew)
- Zug 1: 3 x Panther G L2 BM (average crews)
- Zug 2: 4 x Panzer IVH L2 BM (green crews)
An Anti-tank Zug:
- 3 x Stug III (average crews)
The British force was:
A squadron of Cromwell IV and Sherman Vc tanks (all average crews)
- An HQ of three Cromwells (one with 95mm CS howitzer) and a Sherman Firefly with L3 Big Man
- Four troops, each with three Cromwells and a Sherman Firefly, each with a L2 Big Man
A company of motorised infantry (the infantry are dismounted from their vehicles) all good regulars:
- A Company HQ of one 8 man rifle section with a L3 and a L1 Big Man (in a halftrack)
- Three rifle platoons, each with a L2 Big Man
- A carrier section: four carriers with Vickers MMGs (can be mounted or dismounted)
- A flamethrower section (four teams in a halftrack)
For this scenario, the following conditions were applied:
- The Germans may defend in depth on both sides of the road. The Germans must defend a river crossing at their end of the table.
- Some of their tanks have been recycled from battle-damaged vehicles and the German deck includes the Vehicle Breakdown chip. When this is drawn, roll 1D6 for each tank that has already been deployed (don’t roll for tanks under Blinds). Only roll once for each tank.
- Any tank that rolls a 1 is broken down and will be immobilised for the rest of the game, but can continue to fire. Any shock against an immobilised vehicle will be doubled.
- Any tank that rolls a 2 will suffer a failure of the turret traverse and will only be able to fire in a 90 degree forward arc.
- The Panzerknacker Zug is split into two sections, each with an MG42, two riflemen and four men with Panzerfausts. Once the Fausts have been fired, these troops revert to being ordinary riflemen.
- The Germans have four pieces of field earthworks and one small pillbox.
- The Germans can deploy hidden or under Blinds, They have no dummy Blinds.
- The British will deploy under Blinds and have two dummy Blinds.
- The 95mm CS howitzer fires smoke shells only, as do the 2” mortars in the British platoons.
- The British are to advance along the road, which is hemmed in by trees on both sides to take the two bridges over a river defended by a German force. Only the larger bridge can support the weight of tanks, but smaller vehicles can cross both bridges. The terrain is undulating and visibility is broken up by the trees and hedges. The ground suits the defenders and is not prime tank country.
- Intelligence reports that the bridges are well-defended.
- I allowed the Germans to deploy up to halfway along the length of the table, with the British being limited to a deployment zone that was one quarter of the table deep.
The Germans chose to deploy with everything hidden in their deployment zone. I didn't know where they had placed their units, but I assumed that the pillbox would play a role. The British deployed under blinds on both sides of the road but pretty soon they had had a number of elements spotted.
The 2" mortar of this platoon quickly started to lay down smoke to prevent the defenders from firing on them. On the British right, more tanks and infantry advanced towards a hill, spotting some German defenders, Panzerknackers and MG42 teams from the weak Landser Kompanie. These were quickly eliminated by mass machine gun fire from the tanks (well, the Cromwells actually, the Sherman Firefly tanks not having hull MGs) and the Vickers-armed Carriers. The power of the machine guns was pretty much devastating.
The Germans were unwilling to show their hand at all and most of their troops remained unspotted and hidden, holding their fire and pretty much inviting the British to advance. The British managed to discover a Zug of Stug III tank destroyers behind a hedge.
Despite massed fire from the two British left flank tank troops, these Stug IIIs remained unharmed and soon caused havoc on the single Cromwell troop in front of them. The infantry platoon was also suffering from accurate fire from a tripod-mounted MG42 in an earthwork. The British advance appeared to be stalled on the right.
On the British left, the tanks were pretty much stuck in a traffic down in the unsuitable ground on this side of the road.
The platoon supporting these tanks, cleared away the German infantry screen opposing them and started spotting more Germans. These were a tougher prospect than the Landsers: hull-down PZKfw IVs and the Tiger.
On the German left, the remaining tanks were revealed (a poor photo, unfortunately):
And the Germans also revealed a previously unseen Zug of Panzergrenadiers covering the central lake and road junction.
A different view of the German Panzerfront, a daunting sight for the British tanks.
At this point, the clock was ticking and there was little time left to reach a conclusion. However, it didn't look too healthy from the point of view of a British tanker. Regretfully perhaps, the British commanders decided that discretion was the better part of valour. One tank troop was a set of burning wrecks and one infantry platoon had taken a lot of casualties from machine gun fire. The Germans remained in a solid defensive posture, with the only casualties being from the screen of Panzerknackers and MG42 teams.
So, an interesting game, the Germans playing a canny waiting game and the British being unwilling to advance too far into the unknown, even declining to use the Allied Armour Bonus chip whenever it emerged from the bag. Discussing this afterwards, the consensus was that after the attritional horrors of the Normandy campaign, the British regulars tended towards self-preservation rather than Tally Ho-style heroics. We agreed that once the location of the German tanks was known, the appeal of advancing towards those long 75mm guns (not forgetting the 88mm on the Tiger) was limited, to put it mildly, especially as they were adequately protected by those unharmed and fresh veteran Panzergrenadiers.