Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Ardenne December 1944 - FOW Battle Report

Let it be noted that on this day; Sunday the 15th April 2012, nine gamers did, with malice and forethought, gather at the HQ of the Deeside Defenders and fight out a Flames of War scenario loosely based on the Battle for Bastogne December 1944.  Here I will take up a story based mostly in fiction.

The scenario was a ‘fantasy’ version of the famous battle, with a panzergrenadier company holed up in Bastogne, cut off by American and British paratroopers and under siege from British and American armour.   In their own turn the paras were facing the might of the panzer armies, desperate to breakthrough and lend their weight to the armoured fight.  I’d allocated 6 turns (or 5pm, whichever came first), with 30 minute limits and 9 objectives were placed.  The side with the most objectives under control by the end would be the winner.  Simple.  Honest.

I arrived before 10am, to find an additional 2 gamers ready and willing to join the happy band, making our numbers up to the famed 9.  The initially set up of the boards and the days defending forces (the paras and the panzergrenadiers) took just over half an hour, then the wait for the bulk of the Panzer armies (Laurent) took more like 45 minutes.  The players (a goodly mix of RGMB and Deeside Defenders members) were as follows:

Luke – US Paras
Alex – British Paras
Red – British Armour
James – American Armour
Rob – More British Armour

Dave (Blue Team) – Panzergrenadier defenders of Bastogne
Laurent – Panzer Army
Phil – Panzer Army & Konigstiger CO
Rick (me, logically) – Panzer Army

The Initial Moves:
The Paras looked scared, and well they might, with an armada of German heavy tanks steaming down towards them.  And then suddenly it all became ok again as Laurent and Phil (commanding the left pincer of the German advance – the centre had been abandoned as not German enough, and too far to reach into) launched the first assault in turn 1.  Having forded the river, the two lead platoons; 4 Tigers and 4 Panthers drove into the village of Foy, and came off significantly worse against its US Para defenders, commanded by Luke.  8 burning tanks later and the Allied players were literally shrieking with laughter.  Literally.

This was to be a reoccurring theme of the first half of the battle, and as Phil and Laurent scrambled to bring the second wave (Panzer IV’s and StuGs) into play, I pushed my own Panzer IV’s, Panthers and Tigers across the river on the right flank, only to bounce off the British Para’s (Alex, aka Colonel Frost – how I cursed his name) dug in there.  I was 2 Tigers, 4 Panthers, 5 Panzer IV’s and an armoured infantry platoon down before any form of breakthrough was made.

In Bastogne itself Dave (the panzergrenadiers) looked to have tried something clever; coming out to meet Red’s British armour on the edge of the town with his halftracks and Panthers.  Unfortunately he may have forgotten the Americans and further British armour (James and Rob) arriving on the other side of the town.  Carnage and severe German depression ensued, with Dave forced to just react to the horde of vehicles coming his way for the rest of the battle.

The initial setup – the battlefield grew slightly from the plan, and ended up as a 12 foot long and 7.5 foot wide space.  The German armour can be seen in the foreground, just in front of the river, and the para’s behind it.  The buildings on the immediate left are the village of Foy, the farm is the red building to the right, and the built up area is Bastogne at the far end of the board.
The Germans on the offensive; my panzers in the foreground, while Laurent and Phil mount the ill-fated attack on Foy.
A moment of smugness for the Allies, and the US paras in particular.
Dave launches his attack out of Bastogne, looking to blunt the British armour.
It goes horribly wrong, and the panzergrenadiers are sent reeling.
Bad to worse for Dave as Robs British Shermans (sandy coloured) and James’ American armour (top corner) arrive, and catch the Panthers in a crossfire.
As things go from bad to worse the Germans consider taking drastic action against the allied command, from left to right; Dave, Phil, Red, James, Laurent and Rob.

The Breakthrough:
At the midway point we stopped for lunch, Red went to Tesco to find his car, and the Germans talked tactics and revenge.  Victory had been significantly beyond them since turn 2 due to the inability to break through the paras early enough.  However, the rest of Laurents Panzer platoons (which had been held off table in the hope of becoming a flanking force, but couldn’t because we couldn’t take the flank objective to let them on) were now on, and doubling as quickly as possibly to re-enforce the left pincer, with a big platoon of Tigers and one of armoured panzergrenadiers coming to assist me on the right.  We decided that we should plough on, with the aim of causing as much damage as possible, and identifying the likely targets to gain objectives – an unbelievably far-fetched plan to snatch victory was concocted.  Dave was understandably despondent; the Panzers had been unable to assist his hopeless fight so far.

Back underway and the pressure finally started to tell on the American paras, with the village of Foy falling to Panzer IV’s, and the first Konigstiger shots falling amongst James’ American armour in Bastogne itself – at this point Dave looked visibly happier.  On the right my Panzer IV’s and Panthers engaged Red’s Cromwells at long range – to more positive waves from Dave, while trying to get out of assault range of Alex’s British paras who were doing a nice line in sneak-up ambushes, one which had cost me substantial parts of my army so far.  Things in Bastogne looked generally bleak for Dave however, with Robs Shermans hitting his Panthers from the rear, and Reds Cromwells doing the same to the rest of his army from the front.

The German plan of bringing on their re-enforcements by capturing Foy have gone disastrously wrong, and they call on the remainder of the panzers – desperately doubling to arrive in time to make a difference.
Some good news as my panzers on the right start to break through, but the casualties are too high.
Better news on the left, with Foy overrun by Panzer IV’s, backed up by Phil’s babies; the two Konigstigers.
Bad times for Dave, with Reds British armour pressing in from one flank, Robs Shermans already in the centre of their position, and more of James Yanks arriving at every moment from the South.  One panther is left, and some scattered infantry in the buildings, but not much more.
Last stand time for many of Daves troops.

The Latter Stages:
On the left an almost lightening attack took place, with Laurent and Phil combining with Panzer IV’s, StuG’s and Konigstigers to start to cause some serious casualties on James’ US Armour, and reaching the edge of Bastogne.  Lukes US paras were now unable to delay them further, and themselves were under pressure from an armada of Laurents Panzer III’s, carrying German paras, leaving Foy firmly in German hands.  The sheer volume of James armour on the edge of Bastogne managed to slow up the Panzers advance, and they simply didn’t have the strength to push it further.

In the centre an effort by Laurents large armoured infantry platoon to deal a stunning blow to Alex’s indomitable British paras fell flat, and cost us the armoured infantry, although at least not before killing off Colonel Frost, who had frustrated me all battle.  Laurent handed me control of the large platoon of Tigers, which I then used to push Lukes paras off the central objective by the bridge over the first river.  With only one Tiger lost it was a major coup.

Over to the right and I was also too limited in strength to make inroads against the exceptionally large British armoured force Red had built up.  My second (last!) Panther platoon was causing damage to the Cromwell horde, and raising Dave’s morale significantly in the process!  My last few Panzer IV’s were also getting in on the act, shooting up some Stuarts, and engaging in odd shenanigans around the farm where I was contesting the objective there.  Red had a moment of excitement when he thought he saw a Konigstiger flank, but his challenger missed the shot.

James’ armour, with Dave seemingly finished, turn Northwards, and, having secured two objectives, start to trade shots with Laurent and Phils now advancing Panzers.  Unfortunately that meant the two Konigstigers, and its didn’t go well.
On the German right flank my troops break into open ground and reach the farm, unfortunately Alex’s British Paras retain the strength to ambush the re-enforcing halftracks and they are lost.  
The high point of my advance, gaining the grounds of the farm and starting to cause serious damage to Reds armour on the edge of Bastogne.  Sadly the Brits retain the numbers to contest the farm objective, and I lack the numbers to do anything about it.
The high point of Phil and Laurents advance on the left; the Konigstigers reaching the edge of Bastogne. 
In the centre an assault with heavy tanks finally bears fruit; one Tiger lost when 6 ganged up on a very large US Para platoon, and pushed it back, claiming the objective and control over the central bridge after a 6 turn stalemate.
The fate of some of the last of Daves troops; outnumbered, outgunned and outflanked.
It may look like a German disaster, but the building to the right actually holds the very last of Daves army; a platoon of pioneers performing a miracle in holding an objective in the very centre of Bastogne.

End Game:
Suddenly it was over.  The 30 minute turn limit had been nicely kept too and turn 6 was reached at around 4pm.  The Allies, counting objectives and with the result in the bag didn’t press their advantage in the last turn, and it ended with the Allied troops holding 5 objectives to the Germans 3.  Dave, with the few troops he had left, had pulled off a miracle; holding an objective in the centre of an allied-dominated Bastogne, while Laurent and Phil held the village of Foy on our left, and Laurents Tigers held the bridge over the first river.  I contested the farm, but the rest of Bastogne and the bridges belonged to the Allies.

The scenario was always likely to be unbalanced, although I had given it plenty of thought and worked out the distances etc.  The alternative had been to go for a simple total war scenario, but a few people had voiced the preference of a character scenario, even if it was uneven. 

The first couple of turns looked as if it really had gone against a German Panzer army unable to break through the first line of the Para’s, and really highlighted their inflexibility.  Meanwhile Daves panzergrenadiers would have been better off with the main army, and an infantry-based force used to hole-up in the buildings of Bastogne.  I had real concerns it wouldn’t provide entertainment for the players, and the panzers vs paras contest was one sided despite the 2-to-1 difference in points. 

However, once the Germans got going and started getting past the Para’s and attack the Allied armour the battle started to come alive with much more interaction and fighting between the different armies.  Without the paras the German armour would have mashed the Allies, especially with the points advantage, but with the paras it was almost, sort of, balanced. 

Thanks to all the players for showing up, throwing themselves into the spirit, and putting up with my own creation of a scenario.  It was pleasing to note the lack of a nasty competitive nature which made the necessary in-game alterations to the scenario easy to make.  Particular credit to the Germans; Dave, Laurent and Phil, who kept going despite some awful setbacks in the first couple of turns.   its was good to get across to Deeside and get a mix of players from both clubs playing, hopefully do it again soon.

The last shot as the players begin the troublesome task of packing away their models, something the Germans at least have the upper hand on due to most of theirs already being dead….The same suspects manage to make an appearance, Alex, myself and Luke skilfully avoiding all known cameras. 

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