Monday, 24 August 2015

Trapped in the bocage...

My final Spearhead game with Rhys was a meeting engagement using Keith's scenario generator system; 650 points a side.  In keeping with our Normandy theme this week, we set up a table with plenty of terrain, including lots of bocage-type heavy hedgerows.

The table from what would become Rhys' left corner.  The water course counted as just a stream, so was fordable by all.

Rhys's force was taken from a German Panzer Division (1st SS) list - 4 rather small battalions (10 to 12 stands apiece), graded Regular.  Two were of leg infantry, each of which had an 88 stand in support, along with a stand of 120 mm Mortars, and two were armoured, with Panzer IV Hs and their accompanying half-tracks cross-attached.  Rhys had two small batteries of off-table artillery; 2 stands of 105 mm howitzers, and 2 of 150 mm.

Rhys had been telling me about a game he had recently where he had maxed-out on British field artillery.  25-pdrs might have crap attack factors, but the British ability to mass their fire over and above what any other nationality can do in Keith's scenario system proved cost-effective in his game, and he recommended I give it a go.  Sure, I said, I'm game!

So my on-table force was also 4 battalions-strong, each slightly understrength, but not greatly so, and larger than Rhys'; they were taken from a British infantry division list (15th Scottish), except for the tanks which were an independent Armoured Regiment, of Churchill VIIs (from 6th Guards Brigade), and whose three companies were parcelled out to the three infantry battalions.  In support, I had a full 18 stands of 25-pdrs, along with their corresponding 9 forward observer elements: one for each battalion per infantry battalion.  Thus nearly 1/6 of my points allocation was spent on FOs, and another 1/6 on the artillery itself.

German advance orders in red; British in blue; positional objectives are in yellow. I don't think the central one on Rhys' side is actually a valid one, but we nothing else in the centre that looked even this noteworthy...  Excuse the cropped off table - I didn't aim the camera properly!
Rhys opted to group his two infantry battalions together, on my left; they were tasked with taking the hillocks there; his 88s would be deployed in overwatch positions to cover the infantry's advance.  One Panzer battalion would be a central holding force, while the other would advance down the road on my right.

My three battalions were almost identical, each 21 elements strong  including the FOs.  I determined to defend on my right, anchoring myself on the village by the stream; while I would concentrate my attack on my left, and then sweep around toward the centre after the 10th move with timed orders.

Rhys' Panzer IVs move down the lane toward the village on my right while my 6-pdr element gets off some telling shots.
On my right, I secured the near village and adopted defensive positions as Rhys' tanks moved down the road.  The tall hedgerows here really limited manoeuvre and visibility.  My 6-pdr element, that had unlimbered just in time as the lead tank of his column moved into view, got off a lucky shot, suppressing it (factor 5 vs 6 isn't the best...), halting his advance temporarily, and allowing me time to consolidate my position and start calling in artillery fire.

Here's the same confrontation viewed from Rhys' side of the board.  The forests are cut up brown-fibre doormats with flock on top - easy to make and rather effective, visually.
On my left, I advanced boldly, and since Rhys did much the same, we were soon in close contact.  My artillery fire over here wasn't initially very effective (although that would soon change), but the constant casualties it inflicted gave me the upper hand.  And my Churchills weren't suffering too much from his 88 batteries either, as they swept up my flank, past a developing fire fight between two woods, and onwards...

The view from Rhys's centre toward my left flank; his troops are bottom- to mid-right.  I had the advantage both in numbers and in fire support here...

In the centre, there was some exchange of fire between our tanks where visibility allowed, which went to my advantage, aided by the Churchill VII's formidable 8 Defence factor, and this tied up his central force, preventing it from aiding both his left and right flanks. On my left, my artillery dice suddenly started to roll hot (oooh look at that - 4 sixes !), and Rhys' casualties mounted alarmingly.  By turn 6, I had forced his first battalion there to check morale, which it failed, and the survivors started legging it toward their rear; they didn't survive the next turn however.

A bit of smoke won't help Rhys' batallion here - the lane to the left is littered with dead Panzer IVs (which we keep forgetting to provide wrecks for...)
On my right, Rhys' tanks were taking too many losses from a combination of artillery fire, PIATs from behind hedgerows, and AP shells; by turn 8 this battalion had also been forced to turn tail.  Since Rhys had only bagged a single victory objective - which he was about to lose, whereas I had not only already broken two battalions, taken 2 objectives, and was about to seize 2 more, the proverbial operatic fat lady was clearly in fill aria mode by this stage!  I'd only lost 8 elements in the process, and Rhys was just 1 stand off losing his 3rd battalion...

So what were the lessons learnt?  Well apart the the obvious ones we all know about 6s beatings 1s, the British fire concentration, although appearing a non-starter to the casual eye, proved its worth.  Individually, each gun isn't up to much, but the ability to keep a sustained massed barrage going at the crucial point of contact - assuming you don't dilute your attack too much - can be very much worth it.  I'm wondering if the ability to do this with heavier pieces than 25-pdrs would be too overwhelming.  Test-driving required!

The other thing I learned were some further inanities of the points system.  Apparently the WW2 points were developed by the Auckland club and thus pre-date Keith's involvement; and they really need reviewing.  For example, a Pz IV H has a +1 attack factor on a Sherman, and a longer range.  For this it pays a 20% premium in points (4 points), which seems a bit steep, but is perhaps arguable.  But a Churchill VII pays just 10% extra to get 2 extra defence factors over a Sherman (and 3 on the side armour!), albeit while losing some speed in the process, making it very good value in comparison:  there is no way 11 Shermans are as good as 10 Churchill VIIs, and even more obviously, there is now way 11 Panzer IV Hs are as good as 12  Churchill VIIs - indeed, 13 of them  aren't!  Likewise, a T-34/76 costs the same as a Sherman, despite moving faster, and having all other factors the same.  Even worse, a Panther costs more than an IS-2, despite the IS-2 apparently being better, or at worst, equal, in every respect, factor-wise!

Rhys' game account here.


  1. Great looking table. Those wooded areas are very effective. Sounds like a slightly rushed plan by the Germans against solid Ueda-Sarsonian defense. There was good flank-marching country on the German right though; if the starting edges had been reversed it might have been interesting!

    1. We had decreed before the start of the game there were no flank marches allowed there, hough, removing that option for both of us. I thought it was a good place to flank march for the Germans, so I was going to counter-flank march there, and that leads to a dog's breakfast of a game, so we decided, naah, let's not deal with that!

      Rhys will have to do a short write up of making the woods, I reckon...

  2. I enjoyed reading both these reports Luke. Thanks for taking the time to post them.

  3. Thanks Keith. This was an enjoyable game - the close-in nature of the fighting due to the terrain made it quite a different kind of challenge; you were up against the terrain as much as the opponent.

  4. Your bocage is impressive and realistic, nicely done!

    1. Thanks Phil; it was the first time I had really played with heavy hedgerows in abundance, and it made for both an interesting spectacle, and an interesting tactical challange.

  5. Great looking game and write up, Luke. Finally joined up your excellent blog thanks to Aaron's link on his.

    1. Welcome on board! I've got two games to write up this evening, so excellent timing...