Le Hesnay - Normandy 1944

Here are some skirmish scenarios in the manner of Dick Schofields 'The birds are singing and its a wonderful day' ie a series of different scenarios set in the same terrain and run as role playing game for one side.

Le Hesnay is actually a farm in the Cherbourg Peninsular, but the terrain is sufficiently similar to the Normandy, the game terrain is copied from a large scale map of the Le Hesnay area, consisting of a valley dotted with orchards, farms, small villages and lots of roads with hedges.

The map is fairly self explanatory, the grid is 1' squares (with 1' = 100 yards), the dark brown lines are contours, the black squares buildings, gren blobby bits are woods/orchards, orange bits are roads, lined with hedges. I suspect the fields on either side of the road should be cornfields, and therefore count as cover, at least for observation purposes.

I drew most of this stuff on the table with chalk, though you could cut up bits of felt for the hill contours. I made a load of hedges out of pan scourers the weekend before.

Scenario 1 - The OP.

The players take on the role of the British, with the Germans played by the umpire or a willing assistant. They have the following forces:

One infantry platoon:

Platoon Headquarters group, 2" mortar group, PIAT group and three rifle sections, each with a Bren group and a rifle group. The British enter from the right side of the map (I let them setup in the farm and orchard to the right).

Their mission is simply reconnaisance. The main battalion position is a few hundred yards in the rear, and their task is to identify any German units in the area and whether they are currently in occupation of the crossroads on the far side of the map.

A frontage of 400 yards would normally be held by about a company (or at least a full platoon with significant support from company/battalion assets), however the Germans only have a small OP manned by a section of Panzergrenadiers from the 12th SS Panzer Division (or other unit of your choice). They have made some preparations for defence, the OP is dug in and has a field telephone with links back to a battery of 81mm mortars. Their engineers have laid some small minefields on obvious chokepoints, and the mortars have pre-registered two target points for fire, which the Panzergrenadiers can call down with a simple code (as they don't have a Forward Observation Officer with them).

The German OP consists of two MG42 teams (with a few riflemen if you like) positioned at A on the map, dug in and camouflaged. The field phone is in the farmhouse and the wire runs back along the contour and off the table. The OP has good observation across and up the valley, obvious dead ground being behind village C, the woods and orchards across the valley and the orchard to their southeast. Anyone foolish enough to march straight up the road will run into the flanking fire of two MG42s. There are two small minefields at B and C, each 50 yards in diameter. The mortars are pre registered on point C and the bend in the road on the wooded hill (D on the map, this is hard to see). They are quite determined troops, but will pull out if their position becomes untenable, they are only a forward outpost after all.

The game.

I was running this game using John Armatys 'A Platoon Commanders War' rules, which are based on his 'Blitzspiel' quick play WW2 rules, and very good they are too, being a DBA variant of WRG 1925-50 73 ed rules. I managed to find two willing recruits, Bob & Kevin, to take on the British. Suitable silly accents were adopted, and the British proceeded to plod on.

They had obviously been watching too many war films and faced with an empty battlefield and no time limits, proceeded to empty thousands of rounds into every innocent bush and house 'just in case', their main effort following arrow 1 on the map. They did make careful use of cover and fire & movement, and after shooting the village to pieces, ran a rifle section up the road having dropped 2" smoke to cover the gap NW.

The Germans had heard all the firing, but had not been able to see anything, and like the good professionals they were, awaited developments without giving away their position. The MG team in the farmhouse now spotted the rifle section moving and opened fire pinning the Bren group. The rifle group pressed on straight into the minefield and was very unfortunate in suffering catastrophic casualties from the mines (well, enough to end its useful participation). With the Bren group droped out of sight, the Germans had nothing to fire at, so they contented themselves with measured bursts into the smoke. The detonation of the mines alerted them that someone was in the minefield (they did not know they had been wiped out) and they rang HQ to request mortar fire on the village, which would take a minimum of five minutes (10 turns) to arrive.

The British meanwhile held a council of war, with one section pinned and taken losses, and the inital route obviously blocked by machinegun fire and the mines, the Platoon CO called an orders group. They had not yet identified the German positions, but had a fair idea based on possible lines of sight where the may be. After a heated debate, basic training reasserted itself, and the platoon set off the carry out plan 2. This involved the platoon sergeant taking a fire group (with two Brens and the 2" mortar) to occupy fire positions on the wooded hill, while everyone else would skirt behind the vilage and make their way through the orchard to the farm on the hill. The troops set off, and halfway through performing this evolution, the German mortar fire came down. The first slavo was way off target, but the second landed right on the village after the OP telephoned corrections in, and the edge of the blast zone managed to pin some of the southern assault group in the orchard.

The firegroup meanwhile got into position and proceeded to plaster the farmhouse with Bren and 2" mortar fire. Against unspotted and dug in targets at long range, this had no chance whatsoever of even pinning the Germans (but I didn't tell the players that), but a lucky bomb overshot and cut the phone line, ending the German mortar fire. The assault group was able to rally once the shelling stopped, and made its way cautiously through the orchard. Dug into the hedgerow SE of the farm was one MG42 team - dug in and camouflaged as they were, they could not be spotted over 3" away, so they held their fire as the British lined up at the edge of the orchard, hoping to catch them in the open. The British sent a rifle team down the hedge which ran straight into the hidden German group (the other German group was masked by the hedge) whilst the PIAT took the farmhouse under fire. The hidden Germans let off a long burst at the exposed British - and missed completely! With one German group now spotted, it was pinned by Bren fire. The German group in the farmhouse decided that with the phone dead and its other half section under close assault, it was time to leave, and it began to crawl back through the orchard. Their comrades, pinned down and subject to a bayonet charge, meanwhile surrendered.

The British eventually entered the farm and found the phone and vacated foxholes and ascertained that the crossroads was also unoccupied. The mission was a resounding success, and had even managed to capture some valuable prisoners, although the minefield losses were unfortunate.

Scenario 2 - The Hasty Defence

After playing scenario 1, Bob was keen to play again and he rounded up two more recruits. The British had the same force as before, and a similar mission, however it was two days later, and in preparation for a battalion attack, their task was simply to identify enemy positions in the area.

After the attack on their OP, I decided that the Germans would reinforce the sector (they could have just left it unoccupied!) and set up a full platoon of Panzergrenadiers. They had a platoon HQ, Panzerschreck team and three grenadier sections with two MG42 teams each (plus Panzerfausts). A section each was positioned at A, B and C to provide mutually supporting crossfires, and platoon HQ went in the church tower at B along with a replacement telephone. I ruled that the Germans had not had time to dig in, but they were still camouflaged and I warned the British that this was going to be hard. There was almost no way the British could successfully attack such a strong position, and I wanted to see how far they were willing to go before giving up.

The British plan was basically a repetition of their previous plan 2, with the exception that their fire group would be positioned a bit closer. The idea that the Germans might be in a different place only seems to have been considered briefly. The assault group 1 was to make its way through the orchard, platoon HQ and reserve to stay at 2 and fireteam three to move to the wooded hill.

Assault group 1 immediately ran into trouble, coming under machinegun fire from A, who also spotted group 3 are proceeded to fire on them as well. The German platoon HQ also ordered in mortar fire on exactly the same pre-registered target as before. As the British sorted themselves out the mortar fire crashed down, overshooting and landing on British Group 2. The shells burst in the trees overhead, pinning two groups and destroying the platoon HQ. It then landed on assault group 1, killing one group and pinning others.

Eventually the survivors reorganised themselves and pressed on into the orchard, the Germans meanwhile had despatched group C to reinforce the orchard. British group three tried to advance south across the front of the town and were hit by machine gun fire from German group B which pinned or killed an entire section. German group C meanwhile arrived in the middle of bloody hand to hand fighting in the orchard, and their additional numbers were sufficient to turn the tide and a number of prisoners were taken.

At this point the British withdrew their survivors. They had in fact attained their mission, having identified all the German positions in the area, but cost was brutally high with four teams destroyed or captured.

I plan to run some more games over the terrain - either a formal company sized attack, or maybe a German counterattack with our heroes dug in with artillery support for a change. It depends which set of toys I manage to get painted next (I've only got a platoon each of Germans & Brits in 15mm, but more is on the way).