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.”

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.

“Are we there yet?”

Excerpt from 3/357's operations journal. Note paragraph 41.
Excerpt from 3/357’s operations journal. Note paragraph 41.

 

Little wonder that I Company simply stopped in its tracks before the first water obstacle it reached.

It is a terrible idea not to attach important control measures like limits of advance (LOA) to obvious terrain features. I haven’t seen the order and, being generous, I wonder if this isn’t just the battalion clerk’s incomplete transcription. Or was the LOA set by division and/or regiment and transmitted down the chain? At best this is poor staff work. Grid line 80, for what it’s worth is the southern limit of the 1:25k Carentan map sheet, making it an even more dubious choice. Someone once said the most important areas on the map are always found just off the margin. Grid 80 is more than two kilometers south of the line of departure, maybe an hour’s distance in a fully committed and well supported attack. Companies I and L made it over the crest, crossed the blacktop road (1/357’s LOA), and came into line with C/357, who had overshot their limits. Then everybody but Company I withdrew. According to the survivors, they held out against six counterattacks supported by armor and even featuring a bayonet charge.

Situation at the limit of 3/357's advance. Map by Ely 1991 overlain on 1947 IGN orthophoto.
Situation at the limit of 3/357’s advance. Map by Ely 1991 overlain on 1947 IGN orthophoto.

Setting such a dubious LOA seems proof to me someone in the chain of command did not expect fierce resistance or the possibility of German counterattack. MG Landrum was not renowned for his imagination, but recent experience at Gourbesville seems to have taught the division little. Col. Barth, commander of 357IR, was well liked and seemingly a good leader. I’m still unaware who was commanding 3/357 at the time. Perhaps command was duped by the notion the enemy they had cleared out of Ste Suzanne and St. Jores were disorganized remnants of other harshly treated formations. LTC Reimers of 343FA reports firing shells filled with propaganda written in Polish and receiving prisoners thanks to this effort. Did command expect the Germans to draw their lines elsewhere? If so, why? In truth, they faced the competent 77th Infanterie-Divisionen, reinforced by elements of 15 Fallschirmjager regiment.

The FTGU game map depiction of the same area overlain with Ely's map.
The FTGU game map depiction of the same area overlain with Ely’s map.

Such an oversight is hard to countenance, however. Mont Castre, just looking at it, is clearly a formidable obstacle. It is inconceivable the bottleneck between its summit and marshes of Gorges would only be lightly defended.  I suppose that is one of the hazards of attacking an opponent who defends in depth; it may not be immediately apparent where he has drawn the line.