“Ah, good morning Sergeant McKie, thank you so much for coming. Please stand easy. In fact, sit down man, this isn’t official, just an opportunity for a chat while Lieutenant St Clair is away getting that nasty bump seen to”
“I’d prefer tae stand sir, if I may, sir”.
“Of course, of course. But please feel free to smoke”.
Colonel Rawlinson looked at the young Glaswegian. What was going on in his mind. Just how much of the truth would he get from this notoriously tight lipped young NCO.
“So McKie, tell me, in your own words what happened.”
“Well sir, I cannot rightly say how things developed at first. Mr St Clair was very keen to lead from the front, and as such he left me back with the reserves to begin with. What I do ken, is that when I went forward with Bairstow’s section…”
“Aye sir, he was Davis’ Lance Jack. I’ve had my eye on him, he’s a good soldier. Yorkshireman. A dour fellow, and nae too interested in standing his corner in a roond, but a good soldier at that. When Stoney went into the bag I suggested to Mr St Clair that we put him in charge of 3 Section. They’re largely the replacements we got in two days ago, and a couple of the old lads back from yon infirmary, sir”.
“Ah yes. Carry on”.
“Aye, well, when I came forward I could see Mr St Clair trying to get his men to move forward down the slope to the road. I dinnae think they were terribly keen if I may be so bold sir.”
“Bold as you like Sergeant. It’s the truth I’m after!”
“I could see Joey Capstan and his lads on the hedgeline up the hill. They were exchanging fire with some Jerries right across the valley. They were nae getting too badly shot up, but I could see they were not getting the best of it.
I told Barstow to move tae support Mr St Clair, but then we were ordered to join Capstan on the hedgeline and engage the enemy across the valley. Mr St Clair said he’d gae on wie just Davis and his men, sir.”
“May I ask sergeant, how far away were the enemy on the flank, the ones with whom you were ordered to exchange fire.”
“About 200 yards sir”
“And were they an immediate threat to the flank of the attack?”
“Well, they were on our flank, but the country was largely open ground. They could’nae have advanced without getting shot to bits. As far as I could see it was just a few men with a machine gun. sir“
The Colonel paused, taking in the information. His brow furrowed. He packed his pipe from a small leather pouch, carefully tamping down the wad of tobacco before lighting it with a match. He sucked violently, encouraging the match to flare up as the tobacco caught. For a moment his attention was entirely on the pipe, then it took. Satisfied, the Colonel exhaled and then sat back in his chair.
“So, let me get this right Sergeant. Mr St Clair seems to have planned to push forward towards the road, presumably with a view to find a route through the enemy outposts. Would you say that was correct? It was certainly what he was ordered to do!”
“Aye, I would say that was the case, sir.”
“And at the same time he diverted two sections to exchange fire with a distant enemy.”
“That is so sir.”
“And this, presumably, was when Lieutenant St Clair ran into the main Jerry position?”
“Yessir. He shouted back for the Wasp to move up and give the Germans something to think about while he moved forward to keep them pinned in position. The problem is that the wasp had no sooner gone through the gate into the open field than a bloody great explosion tells us that Jerry has ambushed it with a bazooka, sir.”
“And Mr St Clair was now rather exposed. Tell me sergeant, what would you say he ran up against on the road?”
“I’d say two Jerry full sections. Dug in probably. They certainly made mincemeat out of Davis’ section. I could see men falling, and I saw Davis himself try to get the Bren back in action when that went down. But it was nae good sir”
“And this was when Mr St Clair was seen to fall?”
“Aye sir. I cannot say that the wee man lacks bravery, for he was rallying his men when we saw him fall.”
“And what happened then sergeant?”
“Well, it is difficult to say sir.”
“Oh, come now sergeant, you were there, from what I hear you were less than fifty yards away, let us have the truth man. Out with it!”
“Davis and his men broke sir. What was left of them turned and fled back to the hedge where I was standing, sir. Ye cannae blame Davis sir, it was run or die! I’d hae done the same.”
“And Mr St Clair?”
“He was still down sir. He’d fallen back from the hedge away from the road. I’d not say that Jerry could see him. Well, that was when Private Theakstone ran forward. He was yards from me, sir, but on the other side of the hedge. He ran thirty yards, and three of his mates followed him. If I may be honest sir, I was about to signal for a general withdrawal. I’m afeared to say that rescuing Mr St Clair was not my main thought at that time. I believed that to risk the lives of any more men of the platoon would be wrong. However, Theakstone took matters into his own hands, and it is due to him that Mr St Clair is now in the care of the MO and not a Prisoner, sir.”
“Have you spoken to RSM McGilliculley about this?”
“I have sir”.
“And your recommendation?”
“I recommended only that his actions should be recognised, sir.”
“Sergeant. I must be frank. From what I hear Mr St Clair could not be described as a popular officer. Some would say, unfairly of course, that the platoon may have been better off if Private Theakstone had not done what he did. Would you not agree Sergeant McKie?”
“Aye, some may say that sir.”
The Colonel paused, sucking on his pipe as though the tobacco aided the crystallisation of his thoughts.
“I don’t suppose the men are happy?”
“No sir. They are not.”
“Well, I am sorry McKie. I can tell you that I have my eye on Mr St Clair and I will do all I can to assist you and your men. You know you’re going to have to go back and try again. Let me see if I can’t get you a bit of support which will make things a bit easier for you. Mr St Clair will be back with you within a few hours. He’ll be commanding the platoon, as before, but I am relying on you to do all you can to keep up morale. Let the chaps know that I am looking favourably on Private Theakstone’s actions and will be submitting my recommendations to the top brass. I can do no more than that.
You’re a young man McKie, the youngest Sergeant in the Battalion by a country mile. If you continue to do your duty as you have done then you must be aware that it will not go unnoticed. I’m relying on you, understand? I think that’s all. Dismissed.”
“Very good sir.”
Sergeant McKie saluted, turned smartly and left the small front room of the French farmhouse which served as Battalion HQ.
Colonel Rawlinson drew on his pipe and watched the smoke as it trickled from the corner of his mouth and dispersed in the direction of the blackened fireplace.
“No Sergeant McKie.” he said to the empty room “It is not very good.”
This was a real milestone game in our campaign. The British defeat here means that they no longer have sufficient time to achieve their primary objective. The best they can do now is to take and hold their black line objective; that for the first phase of the operation, the German front line positions. In historical terms this is still important, putting pressure on the German defences here will draw reserves from elsewhere when the operation may be going better. From a campaign game perspective this will still allow the British the chance of a draw now that outright victory has alluded them.
What the game really showed was that to win one must develop a plan and then adhere to that. It is very easy to be side-tracked by events, and in this game the German deployment of a single weakened section on the hill across the valley – a deployment which I though highly questionable when it was made – was successful in drawing two thirds of the British force into a long range fire-fight which was never going to reach any conclusion other than to tie down troops who elected to become thus engaged.
Had the British foregone their ridge line and pushed all three sections down with Lieutenant St Clair then the Germans would have had only two under-strength squads to counter an advance by three sections with a Wasp in close support. As it was their two squads ended up facing one British section and, with the superior German firepower, they literally tore the British to shreds.
From a campaign perspective St Clair’s men are deeply unhappy. The Lieutenant is approaching the point where he should be fearful of his life, and it is unlikely that Private Theakstone will get much thanks from his mates for rescuing such an unpopular platoon commander. In truth, St Clair was already at the point (just) where the campaign rules say that his men would abandon him in such circumstance; however, our British player, Sidney, could not make last night’s game, and in such a situation, with other chaps running his team for him, I felt it unfair to kill off his primary character in his absence, so I bent the rules and St Clair lives on. Next time there will be no such hesitation on my part.
St Clair’s reputation with the C.O. has now reached a point where the level of support his platoon will get is reduced by one list. The C.O.’s opinion of his subaltern is nowhere near as bad as what the men think of their officer, but he has a different perspective on things, being more focussed on raw results. However, it isn’t a good place to be.
The men are very unhappy, and this is really affecting the force morale. We saw that in this game, with the British having just a 1 in 6 chance of starting the game with a morale of 9, and a 5 in 6 chance of starting at 8. This isn’t a total disaster, but it isn’t great. Starting with a low morale means that force will lack the “stickability” it really needs. It also means you cannot take chance, you simply MUST plan and then work through the phases to achieve your goal. We need to see more of that from the British. Much more in fact.
As for Sandy? Well, poor old Sandy seems to be on a bit of an emotional downward spiral. His anger of last week has now turned to self-pity. Not a great place to be. What has been interesting has been to see the reactions of the players to the characters. On the one hand Sandy is seen as a bit of a Jonah, a bad luck charm, but on the other people are genuinely wanting the poor old sod to succeed. The best way to describe the mood table is to think of a dartboard. Characters begin in or around the bullseye and then move about north, south east or west according to the game results. As long as you stay inside the trebles you should be pretty stable and fine. Sandy is now out around double 8 and not having a good time at all.
On the German side, the unflappable Kellerman remains firmly relaxed. Interestingly whatever his results, win, lose or draw, Kellerman’s mood has not changed at all. With the low casualties he has taken over the past few games his me are really appreciating his leadership. His C.O. is rather more neutral in his opinion, but Kellerman is certainly “In the right place”.
Here’s a few snaps of the action.
The Patrol Phase
German jump off points marked in red
The British first section exchange fire with distant Huns
Germans deploy, dug in, behind smoke conveniently provided by the British
Sandy advances cautiously towards his objective
The Wasp hits the gate at speed (I know, it isn’t a Wasp, I don’t have one painted up yet!)
More Germans deploy to face St Clair’s advance
This year has been a busy year on Lard Island, not least because of the mileage we did taking Chain of Command on its tour of the UK. The four capitals tour took us to London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff and then we hit all points of the compass with club visits and wargames shows