Le Hesnay (again)

This is a scenario covering the continuing saga of B Company, 1st South Essex Regiment in North West Europe in WW2. Following the previous days recon missions, Battalion have decided to push forward to take the D269 as a startline for a major attack. This game is somewhat bigger than the previous ones, involving two British infantry platoons, a platoon of Churchills and artillery support against what turned out to be a fair number of Germans.

As before, the Germans were played by the ref (me).

British Briefing and map.

15th June 1944, 0400 hrs.

From: HQ, 1st Battalion, South Essex Regiment

To: HQ, B Company, 1st South Essex Regiment

OPERATIONS ORDER for 15th June 1944.

1. SITUATION

a) FRIENDLY: The battalion has been dug in for two days, sending out reconaissance probes to determine enemy positions. Some losses have been sustained. The battalion is preparing a major advance, so some operations are required obtain suitable start lines, deal with pockets of resistance and so forth.

b) ENEMY: The enemy directly to our front has been identified as elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division. They are holding a fairly long front, but can still allocate company frontages of around 500m to their infantry units. They too are digging in and preparing defensive positions. The enemy to your front probably consists of a platoon or weak company sized force, probably with on call mortar support. They are known to occupy positions along the D269 and the hilltop orchards.

c) WEATHER: The weather will continue wet and unsettled.

d) TERRAIN: Low hills, orchards, hedgerows and small villages joined by hedged tracks and roads. The summer corn is sufficient to provide cover for infantry.

e) ATTACHMENTS: 5 Troop, A Squadron, 107th RAC.

f) DETACHMENTS: One infantry platoon.

2. MISSION

Clear the hill and orchards to the east of the LE HESNAY FARM (grid 478299) as far as the crossroads of the D269/D69.

3. EXECUTION

Your company is to make a limited two platoon attack to clear the orchards of enemy machinegun and observation posts. Startline is the hedgerow running east from the D69 along contour 100 as far as Grainville. Objective is the D269 road. The attack will commence at 0600.

One battery of 25pdrs is available for preparatory fire. Coordinate fire plan directly with Divisional Artillery - task HUMBER 3. This fire task will be fired by map grid.

Close cooperation with the tank troop is essential, they will form up 800m behind your start line at 0430, advancing to join you at 0600. Liaise with the tank troop commander before the attack.

An observation post has already been established in Grainville and the enemy minefields in the area have been cleared.

4. SERVICE SUPPORTUnits carry normal basic fuel and ammo load. No resupply possible.

5. COMMAND AND SIGNALBn HQ located vic LE MAYNEL FARM. Communications by runner or No. 38 radio set. 107th RAC on a different radio net, so visual/audio signals only.

Referees Notes.

In the previous game, one platoon had suffered some losses, so the players need to sort out which two of their three platoons they are going to commit and how they are going to allocate their (limited) replacements. As it happened they had enough replacements to bring all three up to strength, but used nearly all the company replacement pool up in doing so. They also need to sort out when they are going to move up the start line, what they are going to do there (digging in is a good idea), when and where the artillery is going to fire (I allowed four minutes of battery fire) and also when the tanks are going to move up and what they are going to do when they get there. If the tanks move up too early, the noise they make will be easily detectable by the Germans, which means they can bring down defensive fire etc much quicker. On the other hand, if they leave it too late, they may not get there in time.

Each square on the map above is approx 100m, the contours rising up to the bottom left. I set up a small OP on the table drawn from the carrier platoon in Grainville. A single carrier parked behind the buildings, plus two dismounted teams (the Bren and a PIAT group in this case).

The Germans

In previous games these have been entirely hidden, but to make things more interesting I deployed a number of infantry, machinegun and Panzerschreck stands with inverted playing cards beneath them. Only the base on top of picture cards were real units, the rest were dummies.

The Germans had roughly a platoon on the table; four Panzergrenadier sections of 2 x MG42 teams each, one Panzerschreck team, one platoon HQ and one sniper, plus an equal number of dummies. They had phone communications back to mortar support and all units were dug into foxholes and slit trenches. They were deployed in fairly obvious places with a mix of dummies.

After 15-20 minutes, the company reserve platoon would arrive at the village near Le Hesnay Farm. This has HQ, three Sturm sections (MG42 team, assault rifle team each) riding two Panzer IVjs and a 251 halftrack. To keep the Allies guessing, the AFVs would be represented by King Tigers (!) until they got a really good look at them. After all, every German tank was a Tiger….

The Game

We managed to assemble the ideal number of players, one for each (allied) platoon and one company CO. Bob Maycock took the CO slot, Tim and Dave Brewer the infantry platoons and Kevin Tingle the tanks. The Allies then sat down to plan what they were doing, and although it took 45 minutes (always a good sign) eventually thrashed out a very reasonable plan. The infantry would basically advance one platoon up through the central orchard after a four minute bombardment by the guns. The infantry would push aggressively forward in the dark and dig in on their start line to be as close behind the barrage as possible. The tanks meanwhile would move up the field east of the D69 and maintain flank contact & support with the infantry in the wood. Having cleared the main orchard, troops would consolidate before pushing on to the final objective.

The only flaw was that the tanks moved up to the front about half an hour before the attack, giving the Germans plenty of time to get on the phone to their mortar support. Bob decided to attack at 0530 (dawn) rather than 0600 as specified in orders.

The 25pdrs crashed out, and naturally being map fire, proceeded to drop a rain of shells all over the table. Overshots managed to pin some Germans on the D269, undershots pinned one British section in the woods, but a couple of good shots landed right on target and pinned at least one of the (real) German sections in the central orchard, plus various dummies. The British jumped off on time, despite the disorganisation caused by the shelling, to take advantage of the suppression caused by the barrage. Alerted by the artillery fire, and actually spotting the tanks, the Germans tried to call for mortar fire, but had appalling luck on their communications rolls for turn after turn.

For the first few minutes, nothing much happened, the infantry pushed up the wood, overunning one (dummy) position, whilst the tanks moved gingerly forward through the cornfields. The Germans kept on the phone and tried to rally their suppressed troops. A sniper positioned in the cornfields opened fire on the tanks, forcing them to close up, so they were unable to spot him (some closer infantry support may have been useful here). The tanks edged forward, the sniper somewhat unwisely fired within spotting range. Coming under machinegun fire he then failed his morale test and tried to crawl away, only to be shredded by 75mm HE fire, to great jubilation on the British side. I pointed out he was only an 18 year old youth with a rifle against three enormous tanks!

In the woods the British infantry rushed another position, only to find that a) it was real and b) the Germans recovered from suppression at that exact moment. The woods were torn apart by close range machinegun fire, expoding grenades etc. Although the Germans managed to shoot down one whole section, they were at a serious disadvantage in close quarters fighting, and eventually succumbed to a platoon assault. This platoon then dug in and reorganised.

Emboldened by this success, the reserve platoon pressed on the clear the rest of the wood, whilst one Churchill nosed through the hedge to give closer support. Unfortunately this brought it within Panzerfaust range of another Panzergrenadier section who promptly opened fire, luckily without effect. The Churchill fired back, suppressing one team but missing the other (the British infantry were still screened by the trees), the remaining team then scored a lucky Panzerfaust hit and the Churchill brewed up, most of the crew scrambling free, including a somewhat annoyed Lieutenant Tingle! The sacrifice of the tank however had enabled to other infantry to move up close, the unsuppressed MG42 missed completely as the rush went in and this German section was also rapidly overwhelmed in a platoon assault.

At this point the British were feeling very pleased with themselves, although there was some annoying machinegun fire they couldn't locate which kept the tanks shut down. Captain Maycock decided the best thing to do was call down battalion mortar support on the next section of woods and organise a deliberate assault , whilst the platoons reorganised. So that British occupied the trenches, made tea etc whilst waiting for the mortar fire to arrive. The Germans finally managed to get their own mortar support, which promptly undershot by 200 yards and landed right on top of their defensive positions along the road. This disastrously suppressed almost all of their remaining 'real' units, although a number of dummies survived. Rather than taking advantage of this temporary confusion, the British chose to wait for their own mortar fire, although one Churchill probed up the road, took fire from a Panzerschreck team, and retired again.

While this was going on, both the Grainville OP and the right hand British platoon noticed vehicular movement in the village, Tigers! A certain degree of confusion took hold of the British players, however Captain Maycock kept his cool, ordering the attack to go in as planned, meanwhile reporting an Uncle artillery target back to battalion HQ. The dehorsed Lt Tingle meanwhile crawled through the woods to get a better look at the Tigers amongst a flurry of runners, hand signals and radio messages.

The attempts to identify the vehicles were singularly unsuccessful, the British began to wonder if they really were Tigers when a couple of them took some almost lethal potshots at a Churchill which strayed too close to the edge of the wood. The Germans were busy debussing and organising a counterattack, which was unfortunate as battalion HQ managed to get a minimum delay (2 minute) fire mission from an entire Regiment of 5.5" howitzers on the German armour. This was reported back, to the jubilation of the British at the front.

After a few more minutes, the mortar barrage started, followed shortly by the 5.5" guns. Although there were some shorts and overs, most rounds were reasonably targetted, the fatal blow to the Germans being a lucky hit which actually blew one of their Panzer IVs to pieces, while the debussed Sturm platoon was thoroughly plastered by the medium artillery landing all around. The British attack rolled forward behind the barrage, the remaining German armour withdrew, prompting a general withdrawal. The Germans managed to pull out their HQ and two sections (although one was briefly pinned), but the Panzerschreck team was pinned down and overrun by infantry, the game ended with the British mopping up the remaining dummy positions in short order and occupying their main objective.

So, a very creditable victory to the British, having succeeded in taking their objective and coming out on top in terms of attrition (one tank each lost, but one section lost to two). The players all agreed it was an enjoyable game, and I felt being able to have a proper command structure added a great deal to the experience. I would recommend the use of actual models on the table as markers rather than counters or whatever as they just look nicer and funnily enough made the Allies even more cautious than an empty battlefield as there were so many of them. There was enough stuff for the players to do, and I especially enjoyed getting out my King Tigers!