A Panther Hunt with Chain of Command
Feldwebel Jurgen Schatz kicked his right foot forward and spoke into his mouthpiece. “Schnell, vorwarts!” The V12 Maybach engine gunned as the driver crunched into gear and roared up the road. Ahead a squad of infantry could just be seen near the junction, and with friends up ahead Schatz was confident enough to use the full power of the Panther’s engine to make good time.
Gefreiter Rudi Kelner knew his job was to push up in order to ensure no Tommies sprung out with their PIATs. A couple of words to the MG42 team saw them move into the hedgerow in order to cover his advance, then he and five riflemen slipped through a narrow gap in the foliage and ran towards the farmhouse.
“Hold it, hold it”, Corporal Billy Walker had been crouched behind the gun shield of his 6 pounder gun wondering if there was ever a good moment to announce your presence to a Jerry tank, especially a Tiger like this one. He was just about to pull the lanyard to fire when the tank slowed, swivelled on its tracks and began to disappear up a side road. “Now!”. The 6 pounder gun roared its defiance and Billy swore he could see the projectile whip across the top of the tanks’ rear deck. “Bollocks”.
“Gott im Himmel!” Schatz swore “Quickly, get up the lane, then reverse into the field that is up on our right.” His driver again gunned the engine but overshot the gateway by some distance before crashing through the gears and selecting reverse. “They are over there somewhere” Rudi spoke now to the gunner who responded by swinging his turret round to face this invisible threat”.
While Corporal Walker had been lining up his shot Albert Tatlock’s section was advancing across an open field. On the right the rifle team was moving up the hedgerow whilst, in the interest of speed, the Bren team were sprinting to get to the hedge and cover. They arrived just in time to see Rudi Kelner waving forward his MG team as a party of German riflemen entered the rear door of the property. A burst from the Bren was sufficient to see the German machine gunners dive back into the safety of the hedge and Kelner duck into the house.
Tatlock was controlling the Bren team, putting fire down into the Germans when the crash of the anti-tank gun firing rung out and a Jerry tank roared past along the lane where the German MG team had dived for cover.
“Alright Corporal” It was Sergeant Roberts “That bloody Jerry tank will be causing us some problems in the next moment or so, what’s happening here?” The Corporal rapidly explained the situation and Sergeant Roberts took charge.
“Keep your Bren firing on those Jerries in the hedge, but get ready to leg it when that bloomin’ tank takes and interest in you. Oy!” he shouted to the rifle team “get over the hedge, work your way up the road and chuck grenades into that house. There are Jerries in there”.
Lieutenant Raymond Langton spoke clearly into his radio set as the first 3” round detonated immediately in front of Corporal Tatlocks position showering mud over them. Instantly Lanmgton reported the fall of the shell and waited for the battery to make their corrections.
“Go!” Sergeant Alf Roberts shouted and Tatlock’s rifle team responded. Sprinting up the road two Number 36 Mills bombs were hurled into the French farmhouse, followed by two more. The muffled explosions and the cries from within suggested that they had done their deadly work.
Rudi Kellner’s MP40 spat death as the farmhouse door was turned to matchsticks by a Size 9 British boot and five khaki clad men burst in. Fists, bottles, knives and entrenching tools were the order of the day in a brutal but hard fought exchange. The fleeting exchange saw the British ejected, but Kellner’s remaining riflemen slipped away from the carnage and fell back towards their comrades with the MG42. The British riflemen fell back, leaving one man dead. It was then that both British and German were caught in the barrage of 3” mortar shells.
Despite Lieutenant Langton’s efforts the mortar had strayed thirty yards off target and the flying shrapnel was no respecter of any uniform colour. Two British riflemen disappeared in one explosion, the German MG team broke and ran.
Jurgen Schatz jabbed his foot forward again, kicking into his driver’s shoulder. “Get me out of this verdamdt lane. Look, push that stone wall away and get into that field. I have no intention of sitting here under a bombardment!”
The driver moved forwards and crashed into the old stone wall, but instead of breaking through into the field the Panther’s engine screamed as its running gear appeared to be jammed. “In the name of all the Saints, what the Hell are you doing?” Schatz began to open his turret hatch to see for himself when the bombardment rolled onto his position. Below he could hear the driver screaming, then a direct hit saw blood pouring from Rudi’s nose and ears.
“Heave, you buggers” Billy Walker cajoled his men as they dragged the 6 pounder down the French road. While the Jerry tank was under a bombardment he wanted to get his gun into position for a clear shot. The 6 pounder rolled along and swung into position. Only twenty yards away Lieutenant Langton called on the mortar battery to cease fire.
Gefreiter Max Muhler ran forward. The bombardment across his position had now gone, sweeping eastwards. His MG team had been shocked by the experience but he had rallied them and brought them along the hedgerow from where they could cover his advance. With a pump of his fist the rifle team ran forward at the double.
Corporal Dennis Tanner ran down the stairs of the Manor house, above him he could hear his Bren gunner open fire. A stream of 0.303 tore up the ground around Muhler’s squad. A bullet tore into Muhler’s shoulder, but still the German came on. A British rifle team led by Tanner were emerging from the Manor’s kitchen door when the chatter of an MP40 announced that the enemy had stolen a march on them. Men fought and fell at close quarters, but with their NCO wounded the Germans had the odds stacked against them. Tanner’s sten cut down two men and the Germans ran, carrying their wounded Gefreiter with them.
As the bombardment ceased Feldwebel Schatz tried to clear his head. His ears rang and his vision swam. The sound of the 57mm round hitting the turret was like a mighty hammer on some anvil of horror. Frantically he could hear his driver crash into reverse and the lumbering beast broke free of the debris which had apparently jammed its tracks. The tank reversed back into the field away from the fresh threat.
With Kelner attempting to rally his broken squad and Muhler wounded Feldwebel Arthur Schmelling shrugged. He had one squad uncommitted and his panzerschreck team, but he could see that his force was on the verge of breaking. He signalled to his men to pull back, leaving the field to the British.
This was a very enjoyable game in which we saw the potential power of mortars as a support weapon. Some extreme dice rolling made for an interesting game. Muhler’s squad rolling three 1s when looking to outflank the British position in order to act as a springboard for a fresh assault was a disaster. A decent roll would have seen them shut down one British jump-off point and bring forward on of their own with their Chain of Command dice. Schmelling could have then committed his reserves to create a strong and unexpected schwehrpunkt, thereby wrong-footing the British player, but it was not to be.
The tank rolling consecutive 6’s when under bombardment, the only result which would really have caused them problems, saw no physical damage to the tank, but the crew’s nerves were shot to bits. When the bombardment stopped the Corporal commanding the 6 pounder calculated that probability meant that he would probably have a couple of decent shots before the Germans could react, and he made the most of that. I messed up somewhat in allowing the Panther to reverse out of trouble. I forgot it was bogged in and in truth the crew should have abandoned it. That would have really upped the margin of victory for the British.
The highlight of the game for me would have been the British assault on the farmhouse; making good use of a two phase run they rushed up the road and slung their Mills Bombs into the farm causing mayhem. However the German NCO, Kelner, resisted so fiercely that he beat off the British almost single handedly. The lesson is that if you are assaulting don’t leave your Corporal behind with the Bren team. His influence and his sten gun would have tipped the odds. We live and learn…
So, let’s have a look at the forces for this game. The way force selection works in Chain of Command is that both sides get a “standard” platoon size force for their nationality. One side, depending on the scenario, picks at least one support unit from a choice of several lists for their nationality. List A might be some very minor additions, such as upgrading the number of panzerfausts they have or adding an additional Leader, whereas other lists wil provide bigger and better items. What this side chooses then determines what lists their opponents can choose from. Here the Germans took their basic platoon of three squads and one NCO to command them, with a single Panzerschrect team. They elected to really go large and selected a Panther as their support.
The British standard platoon is three rifle sections, a PIAT team, a 2″ mortar team, a Platoon Sergeant and a Lieutenant. As the Germans selected the Panther the British can select from all of the lists available. They choose the 6 pounder from List D and the 3″ mortar battery from list C. In a skirmish game the 3″ mortars are, naturally positioned off-table – their minimum range would mean they couldn’t hit anyting less than 96 inches away so having them on table would require a truly massive table – and in our game they are represented by the spotter and his radio operator.
We have created the above system so that gamers who are looking to achieve a balance in their games can use this as a guide when putting their games together. The scenarios will each tell you what base force should be present for each side and what support is available. So it may well be that a defender in a good position won’t get as much support as the attacker trying to evict them. Not all gamers will want this, you can certainly ignore any such attempts at balance if you want or play solely historical scenarios is you prefer, that’s fine by us. However, for the gamer looking to put on a quick game on a club night this system, linked with the scenarios in the rules, does allow for an appropriate and historically plausible force to be put together simply and quickly.
A final word for those of you who will be looking for a more specific step by step guide to the rules. We will be filming exactly that for You Tube this coming week, so keep your eyes out for that.