Sunday, 21 July 2019

There Are Many Rivers To Cross - Game 1: The Village

Thursday, 6th of June 1940 just south of Veckring, France. The morning mist has just dissipated and it promises to become a warm and pleasant day. The forecast says 20°C and a little windy. You can hear the thunder of artillery and the drone of bombers in the middle-distance. Everybody is edgy, something is in the air.




The men of 2nd Lieutenant Martin McMutton, having just taken over positions the day before, are in the midst of their morning routine. At once the drone of aircraft first gets louder and a cry goes out:


Stukas!

And indeed the vulture like silhouettes of a whole squadron of that most hated of enemy aircrafts can be seen against the clear sky. The Platoon, in fact the whole Division, hasn't yet seen the devastation wrought by those birds of prey, having been in a quiet sector of the front, far away from the Germans Sichelschnitt through the Netherlands and Belgium and the resulting fiasco. But the horrific tales from these theatres have spread wide and far. Carried across northern France by displaced civilians and fleeing soldiers alike.

The western outskirts of the town - just before the attack

Without having to be given an order the men of McMutton's platoon go to ground, searching for any available cover. Roadside ditches, hay stacks, bushes, everywhere the men seek shelter. There's just one thought on everybody's mind: "Dear Lord, don't let them see us!"

Despite all the prayers all of a sudden there's an infernal noise, later likened by many to the sounds of the trumpets of Jericho. The Stukas must have seen the commotion below them as the noise heralds their attack run. Diving out of the sky nose first the planes target the north-western outskirts of the town. Clearly intent on creating as much damage as possible.

British Force Moral at the start of the game
After minutes that felt like hours to the men on the ground, the air-attack lifts and an eerie silence engulfs the area. It takes a minute or two for the men to recover all their senses but through sheer luck, or the hand of fate, there appear to haven't been any casualties amongst the platoon. The town however has seen some significant damage. The old tavern in the middle of their deployment zone is nothing more than a pile of rubble, while the small manor house at the left of their flank has an ominous hole in the roof, hinting at a possible unexploded bomb waiting to go off at the slightest disturbance. But hardest hit of all is the old church. The 12th century building is on fire with flames bursting out of the bell tower and black, acrid smoke drifting eastwards.

A triple-six - meaning the morale effect of the Stuka ends and the next phase is also mine
The silence is cut when hard German commands are heard from the derelict barn at the easternmost edge of the town. The enemy is close. In the face of imminent danger the men of McMutton's platoon shake off the after effects of the air attack and take up their positions again.

Four hits - not bad considering my usual dice rolling
With much swearing and after some encouragement with choice words from Corporal Dockerty his men take up positions behind a low wall at the outermost left wing of the Platoons position. Believing to have seen movement at the barn right ahead he immediately orders his men to open fire but the desultory fusillade fails to have any immediate effect on the Germans other than to alert Obergefreiter Schwarzfuss of the enemy ahead.

Corporal Davis D. Dockerty directing the fire of his men

Obergefreiter Schwarzfuss waving his men into cover
While a fierce firefight rages on the left flank Corporal O'Sliter and his men position themselves in the backyards of the destroyed Inn and the Café. After some initial confusion the men dig in, ready to repel any German attack in this sector. O'Sliter does the rounds and exchanges a few quiet words with those men who seem to need his encouragement. Except for the sound of gunfire from the left it's all too quiet to be true.

Corporal O'Sliter and his men taking full advantage of the cover provided by a low garden wall
The men go on overwatch, focussing on their immediate front
After the initial frenzy of the air attack and the rather haphazard firing taking place around the small manor house an uneasy silence settles across the whole area when Corporal Dockerty orders his men to stop firing. Smoke from the burning church starts to drift towards the suspected German positions.
In the distance Dockerty can hear the song of a lone bird and to his surprise he finds his thoughts drifting home to Old Blighty and the loved ones he left behind.

Smoke from the destroyed church drifting lazily towards the enemy
With a start Dockerty is suddenly brought back to reality when the men around him open fire again. Immediately he robs forward, body as close to the ground as possible, to have a closer look at what caused his men to open fire so abruptly again. It takes a moment for him to adjust to all the commotion around him, but in the distance he can make out the typical form of coal scuttle helmets behind the hedge around the old barn. So it hasn't been his imagination playing tricks on him after all.  A desperate cry can be heard across the din of battle, followed by a frantic "Sani, hier her! Sani!". Seems like at least one of the darn Boche has had it. But there's no time to rejoice as the enemy gets his acts together and opens fire himself.

Obergefreiter Schwarzfuss is hit - he loses one command initiative courtesy to a british bullet
At the right flank meanwhile the shapes of even more German helmets can be seen across the fields and O'Sliter and his men are suddenly very wide awake. "Steady! Hold your fire! We don't want to draw their attention all too soon." The corporal calls to his men.

Obergefreiter Waldarm arriving at the british right flank
Across to the left Sergeant Campbell joins Corporal Dockerty's section curious as to the cause of the frantic firing. A dirty and slightly disheveled looking man in the garb of a french motorcycle courier follows him, calling out in a wild mix of French and English with a funny accent the man introduces himself as a Lieutenant Aubergine with orders directly from the french 3rd Armies HQ. Sergeant Campbell is momentarily distracted.

Shabby Nazi trick - an imposter trying to mislead Sergeant Campbell with faked orders
It's only when a German bullet zips past nearby and a spit "Scheisse!" escapes the mouth of the alleged french Lieutenant that Sergeant Campbell recognizes the man for what he is and knocks the imposter down with the butt of his service pistol. "Bind him!" he yells to one of the men of Dockerty's section while keeping his pistol firmly trained on the forehead of the enemy spie.

The imposter is uncovered, Sergeant Campbell making short process  with the wretch
All the while Dockerty and his men keep up the fusillade and German return fire slowly starts to weaken.
Pins starting to mount on the German Trupp
Another call of "Sani!" goes out over at the German position and the German fire suddenly ends. It seems like the German NCO has been wounded during the short but fierce exchange.

With casualties mounting German Force Moral starts to drop
Meanwhile in 2nd Sections positions the enemy fire hasn't been without effect and more and more of the men prefer to keep their heads down while only the bravest among them keep firing at the distant silhouettes of enemy soldiers. The corporal seems to be a little distracted by all the buzz and so Sergeant Campbell takes it upon him to rally the men, many if not all of them having just experienced their first taste of what combat actually is like.

Sergeant Campbell on the left flank putting some fire into the hearts of Corporal Dockerty's men - Look lively now!
All the while things start to get hot on the right flank as well as the enemy opens fire on O'Sliters men when one of them exposes too much of himself in order to get a closer look at the German swines.
The German fire is immediately returned by the men of 1st section. Projectiles zip back and forth across the young corn on the fields.

The enemy can be seen in the distance
With things well underway 3rd section under Corporal Awry appear on the scene and finally take up the advantageous position on the Cafés upper floor. From here they have an excellent line of sight to the Germans caught at the edge of the field and they take immediate advantage of the situation by adding their firepower to that of 1st section.

Corporal Awry making himself comfortable in the upper floor of the Café
Over on the left the Germans seem to have recovered from their initial shock and a new voice can be heard across the field. Obviously some top brass has arrived to put some backbone into the men.

Feldwebel Zornburg arriving to rally the men of  Obergefreiter Schwarzfuss
As of yet the men of 2nd Section haven't taken any casualties a situation that immediately changed for the worse when Corporal Dockerty goes down with sigh. A bullet caught him right when he was about to order his men to advance and take the fight to the enemy. Numb with shock his men stay as if rooted to the ground while their beloved Corporal makes his last breath. Even the Sergeant is momentarily stunned by the sudden demise of Dockerty.

Medic! - Corporal Dockerty is fataly wounded, Sergeant Campbell now takes over his section

The loss of the well liked Corporal means a severe blow (-2!) to British Force Moral
In a bid to at least momentarily stop the German fire Campbell orders the nearby 2"mortar team to lay down smoke in front of the German positions. The time gained he uses to reorganize the men and establish control over the late Corporals section.

British 2"mortar deploying smoke and thus buying some breathing space for the Brits
At the far right the clatter of tracks and the ominous growling of a tank engine can be heard when a lone Light Tank MkVIc arrives on the scene. The tank immediately opens fire with his 15mm Besa heavy machine gun onto the German positions right ahead but apart from a few puffs of smoke no immediate effect is recognizable.

A Vickers Light MkVI C arriving on the right flank
Encouraged by the sudden arrival of the tank Corporal Awry's men redouble their efforts to inflict pain onto the enemy. Several shouts of "Sani!" can be heard in the distance and some of the figures seem to lie unusually still. "Deserves them right!" Awry thinks while loading a new clip into his rifle. He feels rather satisfied by his mens performance thus far.

Corporal Awry's men open fire... 

... and score a grand total of 6 hits!

The squad on the outermost German left starts to look rather brittle
When a German officer accompanied by a few men with what looks like communications equipment arrives on the scene the 2"mortar team is called upon again to lay a smoke screen to protect the British positions from the FOO's deadly attention. Unfortunately the mortar operator has got his bearings wrong and the round appears well to the right of the intended target.

A british smoke round aimed to block the German FOO's LOS lands well away to its right
With the arrival of a fresh German Trupp in front of the center of the platoons positions O'Sliter and his section find themselves in the sick of it.  Bullets impacting into the wall they've been taking up positions behind or flying low overhead force the men to keep low. 

Concentrated German fire means Corporal O'Sliters men accumulating lots of Shock
With no offensive movement on both sides of the engagements there's nothing the men of 2nd Section, now under direct command of Sergeant Campbell, can do but open fire on the German positions ahead of them. Their frenzied rate of fire at least serves for the enemy to stay low.

The men under Sergeant Campbells supervision open fire on the Germans again
In the center the mortar finally has got the range and a nice, puffy cloud of thick smoke appears right where that accursed German artillery observer has taken up positions. Hopefully he hasn't transmitted his coordinates yet.

This time the smoke lands just on spot and keeps the German  mortar battery from opening fire for another round
All the while 1st section have no choice but to stay as close to cover as possible. Those damn Jerry's!
A little shaken but still in the fight O'Sliters men open fire again
With a loud chatter the tanks machine gun opens fire again and it seems like it has found its target. The German Truppführer goes to ground twitching but his remaining men stubbornly refuse to retreat.
Success - Johann Waldarm is hit and drops dead instantly

German Force Moral drops - but that CoC die troubles me no end
Again a short break appears and both sides take the chance to replenish their ammunition. Exhausted Landser and Tommys alike take a sip from their canteens and look for a more advantageous position from where to continue the fight.

The church is still burning and smoke now effectively separates both flanks from each other
The short break suddenly is over when a barrage of mortar fire goes down and 1st and 2nd section suddenly find themselves in a world of hurt. Causing both to be effectively out of the fight for the time being.

Chris ends the turn and with the effect of my smoke rounds gone immediately opens fire with his off-table mortar battery
But luckily for the men the Germans don't seem to have brought enough ammunition, or the mortar battery is called on to fire on more important targets. Whatever the reason the fire lifts with Awry and his men coming out unscathed while 1st Section having been caught in the open having got the worst of it. Corporal O'Sliter is down unconscious with four more of his men sprawled around him.

Corporal O'Sliter is wounded just when he's needed to rally his men

When 2nd Lieutenant Martin hears of the bad news he decides it's high time for him and his men to surrender the field and retire to a more defensible area.


Conclusion:
The first game of this campaign was a pretty intense shoot out which saw little in the way of movement. This was probably due to a mistake in laying out the terrain at a 90° degree angle to the set up as described in the campaign guide. This presented the German attacker with more open ground to cover than there should have been while at the same time allowing the British defender to better concentrate its fire than would have otherwise been the case.
The reason I decided to withdraw at the end, with the Germans at a Force Moral of 3 and the British at a 4, was my 1st section under O'Sliter (who was down unconscious on top of it) being well and truly pinned and close to breaking which would probably have cost me the game anyway.
So having made the mistake of not taking with me a "Drinks Cabinet" I thought it was better to call it a day while my force still was more or less intact.
Despite the lack of movement it was still a rather intense game which hung in the balance all the time. Only the mortar barrage and the resulting pins on 1st section clearly turning things in the Germans favor.

As a result of the days action three men, sadly including that giant of a man Corporal Davis D. Dockerty, were reported killed. Two men were sent back to the dressing station and would only be available again in the fight after the next, while one man with a scratch wound across the forehead immediately returned to duty.
Due to the -in his opinion- premature withdrawal the outlook of the company commander changed to -1, as did that of the men under command of McMutton. Having suffered only rather light casualties meant they'd continue to follow him into another fight without too many bad feelings.
The Germans on the other hand having sustained rather more substantial casualties but having effectively won the fight end the day at +1 for the company commanders outlook but at a rather harsh -4 for the mens oppinion.


Stepping in for the killed Corporal Dockerty as commander of 2nd Section is:

Corporal Patrick Smyth - Field promotion

After Corporal Dockertys untimely demise Patrick Smyth gets a field promotion to Corporal and is put in charge of 2nd Section. Born in Musselburgh, East Lothian, in 1919 he's a gardener by profession. Despite his young age he's famous throughout the county and beyond for his skill. His specialty is the recreation of naturalistic looking landscapes in even the tiniest gardens. Rumor has it he's even managed to squeeze a little copy of an Italian hill-town into his latest project. The demand for his services has even led to him writing a book wherein he discloses many a secret of his art to those aspiring to emulate his works. When war breaks out in Europe it finds Patrick working on his second book. Despite the well advanced stage of this second installment he feels the obligation to answer the call to arms and enlists in the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. In the evenings and during lulls in the fighting he can often be seen writing and making sketches of the springtime french landscape. Could it be that he's gathering materiel for even a third book?

On the German side Obergefreiter Waldarm is replaced by:

Obergefreiter Heintz Kellermann - Field promotion

Taking over for the recently deceased Johann Waldarm is Heintz the "old man" of the platoon at 33 was born and raised in Obermenzing near Munich Bavaria and made a living as a game keeper on a large country estate that Reichsmarschall Göring used on occasions. Heintz is of average height and build and tends to be rather quite from all his solitary work on the estate, but is easy going and well liked in the platoon(even more so when shooting for extra meals for the squad to improve the rations!) While Heintz was content being the squads "dinner man" both he and the men took it as no surprise Heintz was raised up as the replacement to Johann, but as leader of squad will take an adjustment for everyone nonetheless.


The "cast" has been modified accordingly and you can find all the relevant data there as well.

Thanks for reading and I hope you've enjoyed this rather lengthy post.

17 comments:

  1. Impressive gaming, Nick! I must say there are a lot of details down to the lowest level.

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  2. Cracking..but dang there will be a weeping in the old town !

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  3. Splendid narrative Nick, you were a tad unlucky with the enemy being so close to breaking too.

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  4. Fantastic game! And I'm a bog fan of terrain and minis :)

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  5. Great campaign narration, Nick! Too bad about Davis. He'll be sorely missed. Here's hoping that Campbell can avenge him in the coming battles.

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  6. My goodness, what a start! Good to hear Awry survived the encounter in the Cafe!

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  7. Great write-up Nick! :)

    RIP Corporal Docherty :(

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  8. Super AAR, lovely looking game!
    Best Iain

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  9. Great report Nick - loved it. Well done.

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  10. Fantastic and riveting write-up! Very nice to see such a detailed battle report on here!

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  11. Great read, very sad news about Dockerty

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  12. A cracking read Nick and a tough but wise choice to pull out when you did. A high ratio of leader to men casualties in this game but then, the quickest way to rise through the ranks is in dead men's shoes. Corporal Dockertys boots are going to be a big pair to fill.

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  13. Mmmm those Stukas are bad news but great narration of the battle.
    cheers John

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  14. I didn't even know you posted this! Should have PM me! Anyhow a fantastic read Nick! Superb job in the narration. It was indeed a tense game, but you made the right decision in withdrawing preventing high causalities. Really looking forward to our next game and getting ready to write up the next platoon.

    Christopher

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  15. Really good writing. It was a great read.

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  16. Excellent write up. A good read and seems like a good game was had.

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