During the attack and subsequent actions of 1 LOAM. R. in the area of the village of BRETTEVILLE-SUR-ODON on the 16th July, this Officer showed outstanding gallantry, leadership and devotion in command of his Platoon. During the initial approach to high ground to the south of BRETTEVILLE-SUR-ODON, he displayed great steadiness and determination in keeping his men advancing in the face of enemy fire, although casualties were being suffered from well entrenched German forces. On advancing forward to clear the road for supporting armour to push through the enemy outposts the Platoon came under heavy and accurate small arms fire at short range. Lieut. ST CLAIR at once utilized his Platoon’s full fire power, gained the initiative and pushed on towards his objective. He showed the greatest determination in driving forward through the difficult and confusing wooded country and handled his Platoon weapons with exceptional dash and skill against an enemy well concealed and firing strongly. As enemy resistance became firmer, Lieut. ST CLAIR took the lead and advanced at the head of his force. Lieut. ST CLAIR saw a German Officer with a M.G. Team taking up a position about fifty yards to his front on the edge of a field. Lieut. ST CLAIR at once took five men and, without hesitation or regard for personal risk, rushed the enemy post. By his quick and bold action, this Officer undoubtedly removed a serious threat to his Platoon. Unfortunately, in the course of this action, Lieut. ST CLAIR was killed. His personal example was an inspiration to his men and maintained morale in the most difficult of situations.
So ended the military career (and, ahem, the life) of Lieutenant Sandy St Clair of the 1st Loamshire Regiment and with his demise ended our first Chain of Command campaign. It made for an intriguing story, as we watched his promising start fade away, his men begin to have worries about his abilities and then a complete collapse of confidence. This in turn led to the C.O. to begin to question his ability to command, and set us up for a final two games where Sandy was desperate to restore his good name. This led to some rash (some would say heroic) actions which ultimately ended in his untimely death. However, in that death he restored his name in the annals of the Regiment, as one can see from the medal recommendation submitted by Colonel Rawlinson. Did he get the Military Cross posthumously? In the end we didn’t want to know. The fact of his passing was a poignant moment in a campaign where we had all come to “know” the men involved. I think we’d rather presume he did.
The campaign provided us with an increasingly poignant tableau of events, at the core of which was the impact of war on the men involved. From a game perspective this added many different dimensions to our games. Issues which simply don’t appear in your normal weekly club game, fought in isolation, become paramount. At its most simple this makes us consider manpower losses from the long-term perspective rather than the false heroic. There comes a point in any game where it becomes better to surrender ground rather than lose more men.
But then one must add to the mix how that will sit with one’s commanding officer. There are times when there are additional pressures to stand (and die) if one is to maintain good relations with one’s superiors. But equally it is important to consider the opinion of the men when it is they who will be putting their lives on the line for your reputation in future.
In essence we have attempted to distil the key issues of command down into several component parts which may be tracked simply but together provide a result where the total is greater than the sum of the parts – specifically an accurate representation a platoon in action, with all of the stress points therein.
How Did the Campaign End?
In truth, we terminated our campaign in the Odon valley slightly early. The campaign scenario had a twelve game limit, the British had to achieve their objectives by that point or the Germans would automatically win. As it was we had reached a point where the British could at best secure a draw, but where their force was now much reduced, the platoon being commanded by the Sergeant. Most importantly, we had to take into account that whilst we were having fun, this campaign was a component part in the development and testing of the campaign mechanism and from that perspective it had done its job. So we ended it a few games early, secure in the knowledge that what had begun as a fist-full of ideas was now a robust system.
What Next? Bring me Sunshine…
Now we have the campaign system in place we are going to test it with a new campaign. This time set in the desert of North Africa. I’m going to be writing up a preview in the Christmas Special with all the nuts and bolts. Last night we had a warm up game to move the players from the rolling verdant close terrain of Normandy to the wide open spaces of the Libyan and Egyptian deserts. We rolled up our characters with some very interesting individuals emerging, but the prime concern of the evening was to allow the players to acclimatise to their new surroundings.
Whilst Nick and I played some very open terrain games in the playtesting of the main rules, this was the first time the players had experienced such terrain and, as viewers of our Twitter feed will have seen last night, it really was flat ground with broad sweeping fields of fire. Readers of historical accounts will recall how the veterans of North Africa initially found the terrain in Normandy a confusing conundrum. We had precisely that situation in reverse last night.
We very soon established that the desert is an unforgiving place to fight in. The German machine gun teams really come into their own when they are allowed very long fields of fire, and the British must be careful to play to their own strengths in order to counter this. To a very large degree, such open terrain creates a rarefied atmosphere in which tactical successes and failures are magnified in equal measure. The smallest error can have the most painful implications.
For the Germans, there is the imperative to follow the doctrine of the schwerpunkt. If they fall into the oft-seen wargaming trap of simply spreading their forces across the breadth of the table “because it’s there”, then they will leave themselves at the risk of being defeated in detail. However, if they pin with part of their force whilst concentrating effort at the critical point they will reap the benefit of their firepower advantage and ability to finish aggressively with a hail of grenades.
For the British, they must attempt to wrong foot the Germans. It is critical for them that they do not surrender the initiative by simply forming static defensive lines against which the Germans can manoeuvre. If they do that then the Germans can use their better firepower to destroy them in salami slices. The British must use the terrain to their best advantage. Unlike Normandy there will be a limited number of possible “quality” positions on the table. They need to ensure that in the patrol phase they can secure positions which will allow them to best cover potential German avenues of approach. This may well mean holding back and securing a smaller perimeter which is more defensible rather than spreading their jump-off points on a broad front where they can be targeted individually with little inter-connecting fire support.
With such positions secured, the British must carefully select support options to suit the situation. They will normally get decent support options as the German basic platoon value is +2 over the British, so that will allow some fairly generous choices to stiffen resistance. This selection should be focussed on support weapons which can break up the German cohesion in a defensive situation or provide mobile firepower in an attack. So that puny looking Bren carrier is potentially a game changer!
We’ve been busy here on Lard Island, primarily finalising the layout for young Chris Stoesen’s Eastern Front Great War supplement for Mud & Blood, but in snatched moments of free time I’ve also been prepping for the first “Pint Sized Campaign” supplement for Chain of Command I’m writing called “29, Let’s Go!”. It’s a quote