Operation Charnwood – The Game
Following on from our piece the other day when we looked briefly at how we put our scenario together for the Operation Charnwood game, we can now look at the battle and how it played out. Rather than the usual narrative I thought we’d look at the decision making process that we involved for both sides.
The terrain was unusual in that most of the hamlet of Galmanche was covered across its northern front by a swathe of woodland that allowed very little room for Allied armour to advance. They basically had two points at which they could enter the village, on the right by the Chateau where the road cut through the trees or on their left by crossing several fields and passing the smaller fame there. For the Germans this allowed them the option of a forward position along the line of the woods and a second line behind that. In German parlance this would have made a classic position with a Gefechtsvorposten outpost line and then a Hauptkampflinie main position behind it, albeit somewhat squashed up due to the nature of the terrain.
The British Plan.
The first thing the British needed to consider was where to attack and how to prepare for that. Neither route into the hamlet was appealing for armour; on the left the terrain was close and German AT teams could easily be hiding among the hedgerows (this is NOT bocage country, but there are plenty of hedges here), whereas on the right the gentle slope across hundreds of yards of exposed ground made perfect tank killing terrain for any Paks in that area.
As a result the British decided that their infantry should push up through the fields while their tanks stood back on Engage orders ready to take on any Germans in the treeline who showed their faces. To support the attack the British had a sizeable preparatory bombardment that would occur immediately before the game began, hopefully shaking up the defenders and reducing their ability to defend. This “Stonk” could be focussed on four 12” square areas of the table, and the Brits put two on the main woods to their front, one on the smaller farm and one on the orchard to the rear of the hamlet.
The German Defences
This was July 1944 and the Germans were, by now, used to the impressive amount of firepower that the British could deploy to precede any attack. As mentioned they had an almost perfect position of two lines to defend, but in the end they did not take the obvious option. Knowing that any troops put forward in the woods would likely be pulverised by a British bombardment the Germans deployed their force further back, ready to “seize the belt buckle” of any attackers, engaging them at close range and thereby avoiding the worst of the British artillery. They occupied the main Chateau with one platoon, a second platoon in the smaller farms down the hill and a third platoon in the orchard to the rear. Up front they limited themselves to a well dug-in Pak on the hill overlooking the sloping plain, a tank hunter team on the rear side of the woods where they could use a farm track to move to whichever flank was under threat whilst remaining hidden and a Forward Observer in a heavily strengthened bunker on the treeline up the slope towards the Chateau. Their plan was to disrupt the British advance, allow themselves time to recover from any bombardments before the enemy got up close and then fight a close quarter battle against an enemy they believed to be tactically inferior.
The game began with the British bombardment which missed completely in two areas due to the Germans not taking the predictable options, but which did some serious damage elsewhere. In the small farms the German platoon lost its Panzerschreck and took some significant Shock across all three squads as well as two men dead. In the orchard the losses were less, but the Shock effect was still high. That said, the German player was confident enough that they were far enough back to lose one point of Shock per turn (as Blinds can now do) before the British arrived.
The German anti-tank gun and FOO were more than able to spot the early British movements, and whilst the Pak decided to sit tight in its hiding place the FOO was much busier. A platoon of four 8cm mortars was located off-table and he quickly called for fire on the field where the British infantry were advancing cautiously.
One of the disadvantages of having two clear routes of advance was that it created a de facto defile, and it was onto this that the German mortars began falling. This saturated that area, causing significant damage to the lead platoon and disrupting some units still on Blinds. The situation was exacerbated by the German FOO carefully walking his barrage as the British attempted to move out of the kill zone, and this really did some serious damage. Over the course of three or four turns the British lost about a dozen men, with losses being spread across most of their sections and weapons teams, thereby really reducing their effectiveness.
The chief objective of the British officers and NCOs at this stage was to try to keep rallying their men and where possible move forward towards their initial objective, the farm.
This began with first contact with the Germans in the small farm. The platoon there had deployed in a classic “two forward, one back” formation and when the British advanced cautiously towards them they let them know of their presence at close range, literally slaughtering the two squads in front of them. The British 2” mortars now were deployed, but their effectiveness against troops in buildings is limited to say the least.
Now the British were really under the cosh. Two of their three platoons had been badly handled by the German mortars, now thankfully no longer firing, and their initial attack on the farm had been literally shot down. The frustration was palpable, and the desire to get things moving saw them throw their third platoon forward in to close assault the farm. The numerical odds in their favour were more than countered by the force multipliers in the Germans’ favour. They were defending a position, they were stubborn troops, the British were advancing across open ground to attack them. The result was predictably bloody. The British platoon was repulsed with very heavy casualties, the German losses were minimal.
Now the British were in a complete mess. Many of their sections were so shocked as to be ineffective and it was clear that an immediate advance would be impossible. The British officers and NCOs, the Big Men of the rules, set about rallying their troops and getting them into shape. Meanwhile one Troop of tanks was bought forward to engage the farm with direct fire while the 2” mortars saturated the area behind it to discourage any withdrawal.
The effect of the High Explosive shells on the farm was sufficient to worry the Germans. They abandoned the building to occupy the yard behind, only to reoccupy it when the British advanced forward to try to take the position. They successfully drove the Tommies off, but the resulting shelling from the tanks pretty much destroyed them along with the farm. This allowed the British to finally push into the ruins with their re-organised infantry and make some headway.
On their right the British had spotted the German platoon in the Chateau during Phase Three and a few well aimed shells had been sufficient to see the Germans pull back into the main farmhouse. Now the second platoon of Shermans advanced forwards intent on getting a decent shot into the main building and closing the range to increase accuracy. They had previously spotted all across the ridge but failed to see the camouflaged Pak 40 in the hedgerow. This would now cost them dearly.
The Pak 40 first immobilised and then took out the Firefly before turning its attentions to the 75mm Shermans. H.E. fire was sufficient to Shock the gun crew but not kill anyone and a subsequent round in which the Pak 40 fired once, taking out a Sherman with a catastrophic damage, turned and then took out a second Sherman with a snap shot was sufficient to send the fourth Sherman reversing back into the wheatfield.
On the British left the Shermans were assisting the infantry to clear the final small cottage to secure the lower part of the hamlet. Now, however, the arrival of a platoon of Panzer IVs behind the chateau orchard presented a new threat. Fortunately the Firefly was able to destroy the lead German tank blocking the road junction, and at this point a stand-off ended the game.
This was an interesting action as the Germans played very much to their own strengths in their deployment and the way they then fought. The sought to avoid contact until the critical moment and then maximise the damage they inflicted. At the end of the game the British had secured one small part of the hamlet but the Germans were still in control of the orchard and the Chateau.
Historically the British were held up on the morning of the attack and were only able to gain a foothold in Galmanche. In the afternoon they committed more infantry and a number of AVRE and Crocodile Churchill tanks to try to clear the Germans out. In our game the British achieved pretty much exactly what their historical counter-parts did and the Germans certainly succeeded in playing an intelligent game that obliged the British to fight on their terms.
My thanks must go to Thomas and Henrik from Penguin Force playtest group in Sweden who had flown over to join us for this last playtest game, their contributions were invaluable. Thomas was pleased to be able to go home having gained a reputation as a dead eye with the Pak 40, as the photo above shows. Unfortunately we neglected to get a picture of Thomas and Henrik while they were here. But using the latest crime scene technology we have been able to recreate the scene using stand-ins to show you what fun we had.