A Letter from Bert – The Chain of Command Campaign Continues
I hope you and Dad are well. What a palaver we are having here. Our new officer, Mr St Clair (that’s pronounced Sinclair mother) is a madman. We had a terrible experience today and it wasn’t very nice!
Mr St Clair ordered the platoon forward to take on Jerry once again. We’d done this before and pushed him out, but he had, in his turn, pushed us back all the way to the start line. So yesterday we had knocked his patrols back out of No-Mans-Land, and today we were meant to be clearing out his outposts.
Well, I was lucky enough that Corporal Davis and the lads in our section we held back to put down fire on Jerry in his trenches. Corporal Stone and Corporal Capstan’s sections were sent forward to try to find a way through Jerry’s positions. That’s normal Ma, some of us shoot, some of us move to try to persuade Jerry that we can get round behind him and, like as not, he’ll clear off as he has no wish to be captured. But this time it was different.
We were by the 2” mortar and Sergeant McKie was getting it to put down smoke in front of some Jerry trenches. We were generally taking a few pot-shots to try to persuade them to keep their heads down. In fact it all looked like it was going swimmingly. Then a shout went up. I’m not sure who it was , but Corporal Capstan ran up the hill and started piling into Jerry through the smoke. On their left Corporal Stones men started walking up the hill. We couldn’t believe our eyes! You don’t attack Jerry in his trenches until you’ve got him well and truly rattled. And we hadn’t.
Of course it was over in moments. Corporal Capstan and a couple of men were running back down the hill, the rest we thought must be dead. Then the Jerries came out of the smoke and shot up Corporal Stones section. We saw Stoney go down and his lads putting their hands up. Before we could do anything the Jerries were in among our lads taking them prisoner. Sergeant McKie told us not to fire for fear of hitting our mates. It was bleeding terrible to see. Our muckers going into the bag and nothing we could do! We saw a Jerry medico helping Stoney, so he ain’t dead. That’s a blessing.
Sergeant McKie ordered us to fall back to where we had jumped off and there, you won’t believe this Ma, was Mr St Clair with a Wasp flamethrower. He cried out, laughing, “Look at this lads” and he got the flamethrower to send out a jet of flame, off which he lit a cigarette he was holding with a long stick! It seems he’d been practicing this party piece while our mates were getting killed. It sickened us, I can tell you.
A few lads made their way back to our lines in the evening, but all in all its been a black day. I heard Davies speaking with Sergeant McKie. The Sarge said he’d be speaking to the Colonel. Too right and all. The lads are calling him “Dangerous” St Clair, ‘cos he’s a dangerous man to have as your commander, and that’s no lie.
Hope all is well with you, Dad and little Elsie. We hear much about the buzz bombs.
Your loving son,
Well, what an interesting game! If somewhat odd. The Germans achieved their initial objectives in the Patrol Phase, securing three jump-off points on a broad front across the table. This scenario is unusual in that the British objective is not to defeat the Germans, but to find a route past them, at which point we assume that any German forces will withdraw to their main line of defence and abandon their outposts. So, the initial patrol phase sees the defender trying to make sure there are no gaps in his defences.
That said, the British did achieve something of a coup, placing one of their jump-off points half way up the table near the left hand edge; tantalisingly close to their objective of the German base line. This was to play a huge part in the ensuing game.
The game began very normally. The British were able to deploy their 2″ mortar under the watchful eye of their platoon sergeant. The Germans, very aware of the threat on their right, deployed a squad in a trench close to that flank and placed them on overwatch to cover that potential avenue of approach. In their initial set up they had been able to choose between entrenchments for one squad or a full Chain of Command dice. Personally I’d have chosen the latter, but they went with the former. As it turned out it was a wise move.
The key moment came early on in Phase Three of Turn one when the British rolled two 6’s, giving them the current phase and the next one. It was an opportunity that was too tantalising to pass up. Two sections were deployed to the aforementioned jump-off point and they crossed a hedge and advanced onto the open slope leading up to the German base line. Being on overwatch the Germans could have fired at this point, but they elected to wait as they were hoping that the British would move closer so that the squad leader could add his SMG fire to the mix.
The next phase saw a near perfect roll for the British. Three 3’s allowed them to activate all three sections, and a 1 allowed the 2″ mortar to activate. They elected to first put down some harassing long range fire from the covering section (Bert’s section, as we read about above), then dropped smoke right in front of the German squad, rendering their overwatch useless as line of sight was broken.
What should have happened next was that the British moved their first section to screen off the German trench whilst moving the other section up past them to seize the baseline. Textbook stuff which would have seen the Germans withdraw and the British win without loss. In truth the British would need a few phases to achieve their objective, but with the Germans screened off and the jump-off point shut down they would have needed to launch an all-out counter-attack to restore the situation; something likely to have been very costly and, in a campaign setting, probably not worth doing.
That’s what SHOULD have happened. What DID happen was that the British first section stormed forward to assault the German trench through the smoke. Now, you really, really do not want to assault entrenched Germans unless you have softened them up first. Softened them up quite a bit, like pinned down and unhappy. As it was the British charge was met with withering fire. As they emerged from the smoke EIGHT British were put out of action, the remaining men routing back down the hill. The Germans lost Obergefreiter Lehrmann in the combat, a freak result which shook them somewhat, but their victory was complete.
On the left the second British section was making heavy work of the hill, leaving them exposed when in the next phase the Germans advanced through the smoke, pinned them down with fire, knocking out the British Corporal, and then advancing to accept the surrender of the survivors. It was, in truth, a disaster. One compounded by the fact that Lieutenant St Clair had not even deployed onto the table and the Wasp they had to support them was also unused.
Now, this sounds like a harsh condemnation of the British tactics. In truth that is unfair. WHat we saw was a classic example of “The curse of the Double 6”. It is extremely seductive to roll two 6’s on the command dice, giving you two phases on the bounce. It promises so much, and in this situation a speedy advance would have led to a stunning coup de main, yet in truth such an opportunity will generally be illusory. As indeed this proved to be. What Chain of Command does is reward the gamer who develops a plan and works through the phases to achieve that goal. Occasionally an opportunity will present itself which promises much to a player who seizes the moment and takes a risk. What we have seen is that opportunity is a hard one to ignore, and yet it brings forth fruit only in cases of extreme luck. For the most part it is the player who sticks to his plan who will win. And this is what happened here. In spades!
At the end of the game we consulted the campaign results to see what had happened. For the British player the key result was losing so many men dead or captured. The troops opinion of their officer went through the floor, to the extent that their sergeant has spoken to the RSM who has in turn spoken to the Colonel. This has seen the Colonel’s opinion of St Clair drop and the Lieutenant obliged to attend an “interview without coffee”. His reaction to this is key to how the platoon goes forward. From being pretty affable and confident in his own abilities, Lieutenant St Clair left his interview a very angry man. For the next game this, combined with the mens’ unease about their leader, will see the force morale pretty low and the Lieutenant’s personal influence on the battlefield reduced somewhat. How St Clair recovers from this will be interesting. He certainly needs a couple of solid victories under his belt to placate the C.O. and to get his self-confidence back, but getting his men back on-side will be a harder job. Earning the soubriquet “Dangerous” is not a compliment. His men would rather be led by someone in whom they have confidence. If St Clair continues like this he will find a hand-grenade rolling into his tent.
On the German side Kellermann is feeling pretty relaxed about his position. In truth neither his men nor his C.O. are overly impressed with his performance, but they are neutral rather than hostile. He was unfortunate that a much liked NCO was killed, his only casualty of the engagement as it happened, as it was only this that stopped his men feeling more positive about him as a leader. Such are the vagaries of war.
Our next game will see both the Germans and the British with one new NCO each. We shall see how they fare over the coming actions.