Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part VII

Turn 2 opens with a nice US play on the German right.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow of this test, but I wanted to illustrate a few of the modifications I’ve made in the BoB base system for From the Ground Up.

Here, the US begins with his infantry movement. He makes his activation roll, takes a big risk, moving D4 past the dummy at G6 and H6. (Easy to do when you are soloing and you know they are dummies!) The German, hoping to withdraw yet again, holds fire. He then loses concealment due to being adjacent. Since all FTGU scenario assume use of the flank rules, the German is obliged to select an orientation, turning the unit to vertex 1 to cancel the eventual FP bonus the Assault firing US unit would otherwise enjoy. US fire causes a level of suppression. The German isn’t sweating this yet, as he plans to make a declared withdraw during his phase.

The US moves a squad out of E3, through the orchard and along the bocage. He is now in the German flank. The German would still rather withdraw as his shot (should he make his proficiency roll) would change his orientation. It goes without saying that there are also tanks nearby and it would be nice to get in a panzerfaust shot, however unlikely that may be. So the US moves adjacent and stops. Both sides now enjoy the bocage bonus, although they are adjacent. The US assault fire does not result in increased suppression but it does cause placement of a flanked marker, which in FTGU is the result of fire attacks from non-adjacent hexsides (side 2 and 6) conducted over consecutive impulses. The German, at this point, is stuck with a -1 morale for being flanked, counted against his yellow morale of 5. He has an 80% chance of being able to withdraw from this position (yellow morale 5; + 4 declared withdrawal; -1 flanked).

The tank in D6 flips to its nonmoving side, fires, increasing the German’s suppression level to red, thus halving his chances of making a successful withdrawal.

My draft rule for tank-infantry coordination prohibited vehicle and foot movement in the same phase. I backed off, opting instead obliging that a turn end upon vehicle activation. The rule needs a bit more testing. Honestly, I feel a bit bad about the ease with which this play came together and wonder if the more janky rhythm imposed by the original rule wouldn’t better serve. A situation where it wouldn’t be more advisable to move your infantry first is difficult to imagine. But so far, the running and gunning seems to square with Middleton’s account.

I’ll play through a few more turn before posting again. My instinct is that the Germans might want to spend a VP or two to make draws from the reinforcement pool in hopes of coming up with the Mark IV. I think, also, for historical reasons, I’m going to include an artillery battery in the pool.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part VI

End of Turn 1. US find a nice position to overwatch his advance all the way to an objective. It is also inadvertently in the field of fire of a PaK40.

Just a few days before, 712 tk bn’s S3 journal notes that “tank infantry coordination is totally different” meaning that it was lacking. Accordingly, the US cannot use armored advance, which is a module-specific rule based on JK’s halftrack rules. Bold play revealed a real unit and a dummy. The real unit was in the orchard (woods) now occupied by the Sherman on the left. He wisely held fire and bugged out (under the H concealment counter).

At the turn’s end, the US enjoys an excellent overwatch position, but is also exposed to the AT gun dug in on the road. Note that the gun was not revealed as it occupies concealing terrain (Norman Roads). Even if the brown ditch depiction weren’t present it would still enjoy a three-level height advantage. It would be nice if the US decided to commit to this corridor, maybe put a second tank into it. I’ve already decided it makes sense to swing the infantry behind that bocage to see what they can see while they enjoy overwatch fire from the tanks.

It is difficult to appreciate how much an effect bocage has on lateral fires until you are actually walking the terrain. With respect to the historical action, this axis of advance is more oblique to the ridge line and is thus steeper, making it much harder going for the infantry. The fields are also narrower. Which, as you can see above, works both ways so long as you have highly mobile supporting fires.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part V

Initial draw. Playtest counters look pretty sharp, no? No? Okay.
Initial draw. Playtest counters look pretty sharp, no? No? Okay.

Middleton writes the dismounted element consisted of fifteen men. He also mentions (and draws) three tanks. 712 tk bn’s S3 journal confirms a detachment to 357IR. (They also mention the loss of two tracks on the previous day. Where this fire came from is not immediately evident.)

I decided to change the squads to all first-line and casualty reduce them to show the fragility of fire-team sized elements. As far as enemy forces are concerned, I only know that the attack initially took small arms fire and that the tanks withdrew under artillery (or mortar) fire. I know that 15FJR was active in the adjacent regiment’s sector, so it is unlikely that they would be committed to the line. I’ll include them as a possible reinforcement.

Another designer might look at Middleton’s writing and say “There isn’t a scenario here.” No WW2 game design I can think of has perfect (or even good) information about the orders of battle, much less positions. This goes especially for tactical level designs. You can only drill down so far. German records either do not exist or remain uncataloged.

Spreadsheet with quick and dirty scenario draft.

I think this should be a short scenario. Barth’s account says the tanks withdrew under artillery fire whereas Middleton makes no mention of it, claiming they withdrew because it was dark. We know the attack started at around 1430. The sun sets quite late at 47 degrees north latitude in July, say around 2230. There’s no way the tanks would want to drive around during nautical twilight, so let’s say five hours. My rule of thumb for FTGU is that one turn represents anything from a few minutes to an hour. I want quick play and few units and, to ameliorate the random force draw, a replay with the players switching sides.

Starting positions for first test. Germans have made a lot of draws and have 3 VP from a starting total of 10.
Starting positions for first test. Germans have made a lot of draws and have 3 VP from a starting total of 10. Remember woods are as orchards and are trafficable by vehicles.
Victory Conditions

My supposition is that the US battalion commander wants to extract two companies in distress. The scenario represents a feint presumably designed to force the Germans to commit to committing reserves to protect a junction which they have been using to reinforce their efforts to envelop the beleaguered US companies. The German wants to continue the reduction of I and L companies unhindered, as well as preserve freedom of movement on the left flank. He needs to commit the smallest force necessary in order to impede the US’s attempted relief.

Historically, I’m not sure the US action achieved its mission. The German regimental commander seems to have been content to dare the US armor to advance into more closed terrain, opting instead to bring indirect fire to cover subsequent night operations. Also, on this date in the adjacent sector, US 712 tk bn was putting heavy pressure on another mission to relieve isolated infantry units and suffered accordingly.

In game terms, the German will make random draws from a pool composed of some clapped out squads, remnants of 77th Infantry, a light antitank gun, and a lot of decoys. Each draw will deduct from his starting VP total, to be determined. I want the first phase to be a ginger shell game, with points scored for enemy losses on both sides. This should result in a reconnaissance by fire all the way to the road.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part IV

A little more on the situation 7-8 July. Companies I and L had become isolated on the reverse (n) slope behind Le Plessis. On 8 July, an attempt was organized to relieve them. The attack, however, was never made. Middleton is no help here, as he was just a private.

Writes COL Barth, CO 357IR:

“On 6 July at 0800 C Co. advanced, and by 0930 had crossed the blacktop road west of Beau Coudray. B Co. failed to advance and it was determined that the heavy losses during its repulse of the night before had left it disorganized. [n.b. Middleton describes this failed attack]. While reorganization was in progress orders were issued for the 3rd Bn. to advance south with I and L Cos abreast in the gap between a and C Cos. At this time the fact that A Co. had retired to the north from its previously reported position 200 yards northwest of the Bau Coudray crossroads was not known to me. As a result, when the two companies of the 3rd B. advance their left flank was exposed. This latter proved disastrous as it allowed the Germans to envelop the exposed (east) flank of the 3rd Bn. By 1100 c Co. had fought its way to the blacktop. K Co. was then attached to the 1st Bn. and A Co. to the 3rd Bn., and the 3rd Bn. ordered forward on the left of the 1st Bn.

“At 2315 C Co. was violently counterattacked by infantry and five tanks (estimated) and broke along with K Co. that was moving up on its left. The two companies became intermingled and were finally stopped and reorganized by Capt. Woodrow Allen [Woody Allen?!] about 300 yards north of the blacktop….

Here is the situation:

Map drawn by Ely superimposed on 1947 IGN aerial photo showing the initial advance, the German counterattack, and the nighttime repulse of C coy.

The next day, B coy is ordered to attack to relieve the pressure on I and L coys. I believe that Middleton’s account was of a feint preliminary to the rest of his company’s maneuver mounted to facilitate their effort to link up with I and L coys. Middleton explicitly mentions moving through C coy’s positions just up from the creek bottom. Here is COL Barth again:

“B Co.’s attack go under way at 0930 [n.b. Middleton is explicit about his attack taking place in the afternoon] and progressed to a point one hedgerow north of the town by 1130. [At this point, they must have been only about 150 yards away from I and L coy’s last reported positions.] It suffered heavy casualties and was continuously engaged for several hours. At 1450 it was attacked in the flank from the west, but with the assistance of tanks it held its ground. At 1545 a heavy artillery concentration fell in the position and the supporting tanks withdrew.”

Of note from a scenario design standpoint, the Germans have either already withdrawn 77th Infantry or 15FJR is acting as a fire brigade. I’m a little bit mystified as to which unit provided the armor present there, but I remember anecdotes mentioning Mark IVs (a tale of a bazooka kill on the central street of the village). I don’t want to belabor the research phase of this design any further. Most of my German unit information comes from Niklas Zetterling’s indispensable handlist, Normandy 1944.

COL Barth repeatedly refers to the road as “blacktop” but I think he was simply referring to the AMS map, which is agnostic on the subject. The high reflectance found in the 1947 aerial photo lead me to conclude this was a dirt road and I’ve depicted it as such. (It is nothing like the wide Argentan road found at St. Leonard in any case.)

So, the scenario will depict the actions of a small tank-infantry force making a feint on the La Stelle road junction. Unfortunately, the map dimensions oblige me to cheat on the actual terrain. I think a satisfying situation can be invented, nevertheless.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part III

The game map doesn't depict the actual terrain over which the attack took place.
The game map doesn’t depict the actual terrain over which the attack took place. (Orange arrow is the notional axis of advance; the blue is the historical one). So the scenario will be moved about 250 yards to the east. North to left in all images.
Here's the aerial photo from which the map was drawn.
Here’s the aerial photo from which the map was drawn.
Scenario map
The game map of the same area. As there is no breach like the one shown in Middleton’s map, a scenario specific rule is in order. Thus all woods hexes become orchard, which will permit the tanks to maneuver.
The long, open rising corridors along the real route of attack.
The long, open rising corridors along the real route of attack, vic. 2-3 hex rows west of the map end. Indicative of the steady rise out of the creek bottom toward the intersection on the Lithaire road. Brendan Clark is walking SSE.


Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part II

Here’s a higher-level US perspective before the enemy votes:
357IR's field order (derived from division) with company taskings and attachments. Note that, in four days time, B company ends up on the bn's right (w).
357IR’s field order (derived from division) with company taskings and attachments. Note that, in four days time, B company ends up on the bn’s right (w).


Excerpt from 712th Tank Battalion's S3 log, 7-9 July, 1944
Excerpt from 712th Tank Battalion’s S3 log, 7-9 July, 1944

“Practically no resistance encountered.” Tank battalion journals routinely overstate advances and understate resistance. Infantry ones never understate resistance.

Here’s OKW’s overlay for the sector on 4 July. 357IR is attacking into 77 Infanterie, backed up by 15 FJR:

The X marks the limits of the game map. Note that the Germans refer to Le Plessis as Plessis and not "Beau Coudray."
The X marks the limits of the game map. Note that the Germans refer to Le Plessis as Plessis and not “Beau Coudray.”

B coy CP, Le Bourg St. Leonard

Who wouldn't want to drive tanks around in such constricted terrain?
Who wouldn’t want to drive tanks around in such constricted terrain?

Here’s my rendering of the old center of Le Bourg St. Léonard. More than with the other maps I’ve had to commit some sins of scale and, for playability’s sake, sacrifice outbuildings (hence the gardens). M15 is B/359’s CP 15/16 August 1944. I’ve written the observation post rules to be very simple. If you can occupy M15 or keep a unit adjacent to it, you may observe artillery to the range printed on the map. (Twenty hexes in this case.) No, you needn’t calculate LOS, as the fall of shot can be observed from shell bursts, the height of which are sometimes materialized in other tactical systems. However, LOS may be traced only through the indicated (yellow) hexsides.

These hexes are something regimental and battalion commanders worried about historically. They do not serve as likely spots for installing ASL-like “death stars”. This impacts game play quite a bit, especially in built-up terrain. I can find no doctrinal guidance about using buildings as cover. During this battle, US corps command prohibited deployment in buildings out of CIMIC concerns. 359IR’s executive officer, who wrote the best account of combat here, explicitly mentions the advisability of doing so in his lessons learned paragraph. However, it is just as easy to find anecdotes of more experienced troops (75th Rangers in the Hurtgen Forest, for example) preferring to defend built-up areas from newly-dug foxholes with trenches communicating to buildings.

Former town hall (marked "Mairie" on the game map), Brendan Clark, bottom left. Note bullet scarring still visible on its façade.
Former town hall (marked “Mairie” on the game map), Brendan Clark, bottom left. Note bullet scarring still visible on its façade.
Vic. hex P15. Note the density of buildings and the narrow streets. 359IR's XO CPT Hickman reported tank engagements taking place at 40 yards here.
Vic. hex P15. Note the density of buildings and the narrow streets. 359IR’s XO CPT Hickman reported tank engagements taking place at 40 yards here.

L Company, Beau Coudray

The small field, center left is the site where L/357 became isolated and stood against constant pressure before being destroyed or surrendering 7 July 1944. One group of infiltrators made it back to friendly lines by morning of 8 July.
Here is the revised Beau Coudray map. Note the new tree style. The small field, center left is the site where L/357 became isolated.

Fighting at Beau Coudray was a classic grand tactical problem often encountered in WW1. Once an attack had carried a position, holding was a matter of how quickly supply could be brought up. Bocage, per usual, makes lines of communication difficult to maintain. The Battle of Sèves Island would feature a similar challenge with the addition of uncooperative weather. Beau Coudray sits atop a ridge and defending the reverse slope proved to be very difficult.

In the above image, the five-hex field at center left is the spot where the survivors of L company, 357IR became isolated after losing contact once neighboring companies withdrew under pressure from a mixed paratroop/armored force. It fought hard throughout the day, 7 July 1944, finally succumbing before morning of 8 July. The survivors’ accounts I could find implied such desperation on the part of the Germans that at one point they may have mounted a bayonet charge. Try as he might, the commander of 357 could not reorganize his exhausted battalions quickly enough to relieve L company. The town would have to be retaken.

From the division history:

During the morning hours, a very few men from I and L Co worked their way back to our lines and reported that the great bulk of the two isolated companies had been killed or captured. There was no sound of battle from their last reported positions and it was consequently clear that our resistance in that area had ended.

It has been suggested recently in wargaming circles that the presence of vehicles, enemy or otherwise, was a rare experience for the average WW2 soldier. Those soldiers were not at Beau Coudray nor would I imagine that they could have numbered in the ranks of 90ID, who came up against combined-arms counterattacks over several notable actions. Perhaps the suggestion rests on the reality of the stunningly high casualty rates in rifle companies. It would be interesting to calculate the average number of days in the line a rifleman could expect to see; I’m sure such a figure must exist. In any case, wargames don’t trace individual soldiers. Not this one, anyway. Tactical commanders who fought in 90ID had to constantly worry about the possibility of mechanized attack. So should players of From the Ground Up.

Field where I Coy became isolated 8/9 July 1944.
Field where L Coy became isolated 8/9 July 1944.

Gourbesville Final for Playtest

Les Surelles on the Gourbesville map, the site of my interview with Mr. Levavasseur this past June.
Les Surelles on the Gourbesville map, the site of my interview with Mr. Levavasseur this past June. Notice the OP symbol with an observation range of 10. Nothing really to remember or go back to the rule book here: there’s complete intervisibility for artillery observation out to ten hexes. Rest easy. Put the LOS string down. And, yep, those green elevation bars in Y27 are indeed an error!

Well, that took a lot longer than I thought it would. Here’s the new style. Not so much different from the old one, I admit. I tried to bring out the visual density of the bocage a bit more. I’m really not that far out of scale and, as the rules convention blocks LOS traced along a hexspine it should have minimal effect. An important revision was normalizing the elevation bars above the center dot. Now one level equals one bar. A chevron equals five levels. The center dot hindrance/blocking scheme is now coherent. Lower contour elevations were simplified after a second or third ground truthing. Presumably the differences owed to artifacts in the SRTM data which often occur in low-slope areas. I had hoped to use ASTER data to correct, but the effect is even worse!

Sèves, as I posted before, had to be completely redrawn due to a research error, but is mostly finished. St. Leonard will require some squinting at and a final consultation with a local historian. Beau Coudray requires nothing much, especially as I’ve simplified the OP rule: an OP will have a range number associated to it. Anywhere within that range is observable for artillery fire (in both directions). Simple. Done. Now for some fumbling in the VASSAL module, which I hope will not be too fiddly….

Les Surelles farm. Looking into the courtyard from the road.
Les Surelles farm. Looking into the courtyard from the road, vic. hex Z27.