Open Vassal Playtest, Saturday 4 February 2017, 2000 UTC

Excerpt of an account of 359IR’s fighting vicinity of Chambois, ~22 August 1944

After a restorative holiday visit to the US I’m bringing back a great number of new documents from the John Colby papers housed at the University of Oklahoma, two of which are particularly illuminating about the action at Beau Coudray in which two companies of 357IR were overrun. (This will be the subject of an upcoming scenario, BEAU4.)

Anyway, I’ll be doing a drop-in playtest of the learning scenario SEV0. Download the playtest package and drop me a line. Or just show up. As usual, communications will be via Skype (neal.durando). If you need help using VASSAL, just let me know. It isn’t hard–there’s remarkably little configuration hassle.

VASSAL module
Playtest Kit

Demo at Military Museum of Fort Worth, 15 January, 1200 hours

Current exhibit (ends April 2017)

I’ll be there with the director of the museum. I’ll do a quick presentation of the game and we’ll get right to it. Depending on the number of people who show, I may run a short tournament with the prize being a complete set of playtest counters to the winner. We’ll play BEAU0 and SEV0, two all-infantry learning scenarios which take place on an excerpt from the Beau Coudray and Sèves maps. When I get a moment, I’ll put this together as a PnP sampler of the whole module. Anyway, hope to see you there!

A note about the Military Museum of Fort Worth. Tyler Alberts’s labor of love in honor of his grandfather is unbelievably well curated. Really a jewel of a museum and where I’ve done the lion’s share of my research. Tyler has unbelievably precise knowledge of individual veterans in addition to an excellent and deep understanding of 90ID’s actions from Normandy until the end of the war. He is especially good with the social history of the artefacts in his displays. If you want to know where the laundry number in a 1942-issue U.S. musette bag can be found, Tyler is you man. He can probably even track down the original owner. Even if your questions aren’t about 90ID, if you have a question about the experience of the citizen-soldier in the Second World War you would be hard pressed to find a more accessible and knowledgeable source.

Sèves Learning Scenario

An intervisibility puzzle. Germans must not allow themselves to be flanked.
An intervisibility puzzle. Germans must not allow themselves to be flanked.

Here’s the third installment. One more to go. Pushed the counters around once, upped the US and dinged the Germans. The situation is 22 July 1944. After a hard day of fighting to gain less than a kilometer, 1- and 2/358 try to integrate their lines. The scenario is here and you can right click to download the VASSAL module.

It will be important to consider flanking, mines, crossfires, and dusk. I think this will be a fine illustration of how closely fought engagements in bocage country really were. Here’s a draft crossfire rule. I already see that the cases of 180° hex spines already need to be added.

Optional base game rule 3: Flanks are alway in effect in FTGU. If a player makes two consecutive direct fire attacks in the same impulse at normal range against the same infantry target across two non-connected hex sides, place a flank marker on the target unit. Note: a vertex is not considered part of the hex side. In addition to the usual negative effect for melee, the infantry unit under a flank marker now tests morale at -1. Remove the marker in the Recovery Phase.

Cases A, B, and C from left to right. Yes, I’m aware there’s an error in the graphic.


One Klick Out of Whack

Current game map projected upon aerial photograph. The red box to be covered in the revision.
Current game map projected upon aerial photograph. The red box to be covered in the revision.

Ely’s maps are off. My vision came from them and from eyewitness accounts. I have the usual photographs from 1947. I have an overlay, but that just gave me the battalion boundaries. I visited the ground in 2013. I talked with Henri Levaufre. I read a few accounts. Sèves was not a victory nor was it a defeat that merited analysis, for whatever reason.

My first map was of 1/358’s AO. There is so little history to support it. There was a house that burned. And a veteran who remembered it. Henri Levaufre thought the man was at the limit of of first battalion’s advance. I couldn’t find anything in the archive. Henri’s own maps were vague. The land there is private from the Sèves side.

Ely’s maps are off in a funny way. They are of second battalion’s area, the river, the ford, the farm, and a few hedgerows beyond. The surrender site is on them. I thought I understood where that was in 2013. Ely’s distances are deeper than they should have been. Perhaps because the ground was so hard to take the distances seem longer to those who were there. I couldn’t fit their accounts to the ground. What you need is an officer who had a recent look at a map. But whatever notions that officer might have had don’t seem to have survived whatever happened next. The big picture got torn up or is still resting is some drawer in Maryland.

Henri shared some parts of it with me. The overlays, his own cartography. The intelligence overlay shows German antitank defenses oriented on the ford. To cross it at least two guns must have been destroyed. Every American accounts says a marsh. There is no notion of an armored assault. But there is talk of the river’s rise, of swimming in the dark under fire. Henri has mapped this ground for more than forty years. And Henri has never seen the Sèves rise more than twenty centimeters. Second battalion’s commander surrendered. Memories are more precise wherever objectives are achieved. He showed us his notes on which positions he assumed were American, which where German, and which were shared over the course of the two days. You get a sense for maximum advances, but not who was where when. We began our walk on the other side, in first battalion’s area. It is not a marsh. The ground is solid and stable. As is the gravel in the streambed. There are no steep-grade transitions up the far bank. It is the same story on the other side, in second battalion’s area. I have no record of 712th Tank Battalion conducting any route reconnaissance. The Germans defenses were correctly deployed, though they were a surprise to me.

But my initial map is nearly one klick out of whack. The ford was obviously not the only way across, or even the main one. The sedimentary profile was just better. No further information came out on first battalion’s fight. One day, I’ll come across the field order, the operational overlays. It is hard to see what the US was trying to achieve. I want this to be a good game, to highlight what I think is most important. The record speaks of failure in shifty ways. It often uses passive voice to better inter those presumed guilty. The winners are given greater agency. That alone is the definition of victory in linguistic terms, come to think of it. Bad things just happen at random in other accounts, like these, at Sèves. Anyway, a complete redraw is in order.

Sèves St. German, Catchment Basins

Catchments prior to calculating flood plain. Using QGIS/GRAS, SRTM30 DEM, and OSM as stream centerline.
Catchments prior to calculating flood plain. Using QGIS/GRAS, SRTM30 DEM, and OSM as stream centerline. Click through to a manipulable 3D model.

Taking out a little time to look at Grass GIS. The objective here is to do a simple (heh-heh) floodplain map for Sèves St. Germain. These are the catchment basis as calculated from SRTM30 data via QGIS/GRASS, which will serve as a basis (I hope) for a flow model. Downstream is to the north east (right in the static image. Here’s a 3D model.)

So why does an historian, even an amateur one care about land areas contributing to runoff toward a given flow? Well, this is the terrain that first and second battalions of 358IR attacked across. The plan called for crossing tanks, only there was a pretty big rainstorm in the evening. The crossing was already contested and the water high, but should have been possible the following morning. If I can track down divisional G2 meteorological information from 1944, I should be able to feed it into the model and come up with a better visualization of exactly how high the water was.

Lots of caveats here. The SRTM was taken in the 1990s and the streambed has probably changed a bit since. Metaled (paved) roads are now the norm, which changes the flow coefficients. But enough. I just want a better idea of how high the water was back then. And it is keeping with my design objective to bring as much data to this design as I can.