Saturday, November 24, 2012

Soulagny August 15, 1944

Last week, we played Paddy Green's and Richard de Ferrars' excellent Soulagny scenario, a scaled down version of their Idaho and Soulagny scenario written for the Battlefront WWII rule set. The battle was played on a 6' X 6' table with 20mm models and figures.
It is based on the fight to wrestle Soulagny (and the high ground to the east, Objective Idaho) from the elite 12th SS Hitlerjugend Division, who were well entrenched here holding open the north flank of the Falaise Pocket. The Soulagny part of the attack was given to the Canadian Winnipeg Rifles, supported by B Squadron of the Fort Gary Horse.
The German infantry are supported by the Tigers of 102nd Heavy Tank Battalion. In this scenario the Tigers, due to standing orders and poor communications, are limited to a restricted deployment zone, only released when the German player is able to bring a command stand into base to base contact with one of the tanks. This creates some interesting dynamics, on the part of the Germans adjusting their defences to meet ever-changing avenues of attack and the Canadian player as to exactly how to winkle the Tigers out.

The attack on Soulagny, as we played it out. Objective Idaho would be off to the right, but is not inlcuded in this scaling down of the scenario.

1. The Battlefield
Soulagny lies in the foreground, with the high ground to the top and objective Idaho off board top right.
The Canadians entered from the left, the German were dug in and around Soulagny with a platoon dug in in defence in the small woods just visible beyond the Tigers. The Tigers are seen in their starting area (but not starting positions).

2. From the northeast
Soulagny seen from the high ground to the northeast where the Canadians sited their 3" mortars.

3. The Canadian attack goes in
 A, B and C Companies of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles enter from the north, advancing out of sight behind high hedges and in tall crops. The German artillery, sensing something afoot, brasses up the hedgerow with random shelling but to devastating results, knocking out half of A Company with its 150's (5 10's!) A Co.'s battle is over before it started.

4. The carrier platoon rolls around to the west flank
The carrier platoon, less its 2" mortars but with the addition of the Vickers platoon, enter on the Canadian left flank, and dash for the cover of high hedges running up this flank while D Company cautiously advances on foot in support (upper left).

5. Grazing fire
Moving quickly to join with the enemy under cover of smoke, B Company runs into German machine gun fire. Grazing fire from the heavy machine gun drives them to ground before they can close with the significant German presence dug into this small field east of Soulagny.

6. Remainder of A Company advances
While 2" mortars give support, the remnants of battered A Company form up and doggedly move forward.

7. Heavy going
With B Company stalled out, C Company is sent in and in turn is savaged by artillery, infantry gun and machine gun fire.

8. Carrier platoon battles it out in the woods
Meanwhile, on the far east flank the Canadian carrier platoon has run into a significant road block dug into a small woods on this side of the battlefield. The Germans, expecting a flank attack on the Tigers from this direction, had committed a platoon loaded with anti tank weapons here. Three carriers are knocked out in quick succession, but the infantry bail out and press home the attack on foot.

9. Woods cleared.
The woods are cleared after a bitter fight, making way for the Canadian armour on this flank, which has been kept back up until now.

10. In rolls the armour

The Fort Gary Horse, held back until the left flank had been cleared, now tear pass the Canadian mortars (as they are stonked by the German mortars) loosing a single Sherman to the lurking Tigers before the remaining four make the safety of the tall hedge on this flank.

11. A little bit of muscle for the right flank
The remainder of the Canadian tanks enter on the Canadian right flank in support of the main attack on Soulagny, but they will prove too little too late as German fire whittles away the Winnipeg Rifles.

12. A foothold in the fields east of town
A slim foothold is gained in the fields east of town, with one German mg knocked out and the second driven back, but the ground is quickly retaken moments later in counterattack.

13. Tigers pull back
With Canadian infantry pressing in the Tigers pull back along with the battalion commander's 251/1 which had been spotting from this flank. The tanks are still unable to leave their deployment zone however as they have yet to have had a request for support from Soulagny.
 The transport of the now deceased German platoon in the woods bugs out too, but is too late, getting disordered ad eventually knocked out by close combat.

14. Hey, you!
Because of bad radio communication, 1 Kompanie's commander is forced to drive over to the Tigers in his Schwimmwagen and knock on the turret, demanding help warding off the main Canadian attack on Soulagny. 

15. Pressed on all sides
The Tigers, pressed on all sides and in danger of being outflanked, are too happy to oblige.

16. Road block
As infantry pour into the Tigers' deployment area, the first Canadian carrier is brewed up in the gap between the high hedges, temporarily stemming the tide of armour that was about to sweep in as well. A Firefly takes up position conformed to the hedge with a clear if longish shot at the retreating Tigers.

17. Soulagny from the high ground
More Canadian armour takes up positions on the high ground east of Soulagny.

18. Too quiet
Meanwhile, back on the west flank of the Canadian attack, A Company, now supported by armour cautiously approach the north edge of town. A German heavy machine gun, located in enfilade northwest of the town, silently slips back into the village as the tanks approach their position.

19. Overview
An overview of the main attack shows just how diminished the Canadian forces have become. By the time the armour arrives (held back by the Canadian commander) all three companies on this flank have been reduced to less than half of their original total (some units have panicked at this point and have fled towards their starting positions). As a result, lacking infantry support, the Shermans hover on the outskirts of town, wary about approaching too close.

The Germans still hold in force the field to the west of Soulagny (smoked), and an infantry gun, machine guns and panzershrek wait in ambush in the building on the north (left) side of the town. The German commander has started to shift some of his reserves to the southwest side of the village (top right) to meet the growing threat on this flank while others infiltrate into the hotly contested western field to bolster the defences there.

20. German mortars
The German mortars, from their positions southwest of Soulagny, fire off one more salvo disordering the Canadian mortars on the high ground (top right). The German mortars have done a good job of keeping the 3''s out of business for most of the fight, but now prepare to pull back to the safety of the town, as Canadian troops approach from the west. 

21. Banging on the door
Mustering what meagre resources are available, the Shermans press towards the town. One is promptly knocked out by panzershrek fire and the infantry attacks are driven off.

22. Tigers in trouble
Some good shooting on the part of a Firefly disorders one of the Tigers as the majority of the Canadian infantry, achieving their objective of driving the Tigers away from the blocking high hedge, shift their advance towards Soulagny. Using the opportunity, with the Tigers forced away from their positions, Fort Gary Shermans advance in an attempt to outflank the Tigers before they retreat to the village.

23. Firefly hit
The second Firefly is disordered by a long shot from a Tiger before it can get into the relative safety provided by the blocking high hedge line.

24. Bagging a cat
Disordered a second time, the command Tiger is overrun by Canadian infantry and knocked out in close combat before it can retreat from its original deployment zone.

25. Loosing steam 
Just as things start to heat up on the west flank the main attack on Soulagny deflates.The remnants of the battered infantry companies grow gun shy and the remaining two Shermans pull back out of panzershrek range to reconsider their options.

26. D Company approaches east side of Soulagny
Using the cover of tall crops and under cover of smoke D Company moves relatively intact towards the southeast flank of the village and discover the recently abandoned positions of the German mortars, now withdrawn to Soulagny. In the background the Fort Garys can be seen also using the smoke to press in on the remaining big cat.

27. Second cat bagged
As the Tiger withdraws over a low hedge into the fields southeast of Soulagny, a terrific shot by the second Firefly, through dissipating smoke, bags the Tiger in ambush as it emerges from behind the tall hedge.

28. Cavalry to the rescue
With both Tigers silenced the remaining elements of the carrier platoon, remounted, tear down from the high ground to close assault the sticky Germans still defending that crucial field just east of the village. The infantry gun is driven out of its position and, as it attempts to re-emplace in the road, is knocked out by a Vickers waiting in ambush.

29. Run away!
The attack is short-lived however, as the carrier platoon is, in turn, driven back by counterattack.

30. Forming up for an attack on the German east flank
The first elements of D Company, finally arriving on the east flank of the village, form up for attack in the abandoned mortar positions. The Germans, however, have had time to reinforce this flank.

31. Shifting focus once again
With pressure being put on the east side of the village, the Shermans on the west flank move to support the attacks coming from the east.

32. Attack driven off
Although a deadly Canadian mortar attack takes out two of the defending units, the Germans still manage to drive off the first platoon-sized attack on the southeast flank as other D Company units arrive.

33. Attack over
However a final and deadly stonk from the German 150's guts any threat from this quarter, knocking out a third of D Company's remaining infantry.

34. Only incursion into Soulagny
The one and only incursion into the village proper occurs when a Sherman sticks its nose into town just in time to see a German infantry gun being man-handled to cover the eastern exit from the village. The gun disappears before the tank can draw a bead.

35. Two Shermans brewed up
Making a final push to dislodge the Germans from their positions east of Soulagny, two Shermans are brewed up in quick succession by close combat, discovering that the Tigers weren't necessarily their biggest threat!

36. Aftermath
With nothing left in the cupboard and any infantry assets scattered to the four winds if not in full retreat the Canadians call off the attack after 14 rounds of play. Although very successful in dealing with the Tigers, the early decimation of the three lead attack companies left nothing to support the Canadian armour when it was finally committed. As a result the Germans successfully held the village, with all BUS's still in their control, but with 50% losses and the destruction of both Tigers, the shine is taken off what would otherwise have been considered a creditable minor victory.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Galatas Counterattack

We playtested my new scenario, "Galatas Counterattack" last week. It was played on a 4.5' X 4.5' table using 20mm figures and the Battlefront WWII rules system. It is the second Crete scenario I have written, the first being the fight for Maleme Airfield. This time the Kiwis get to punch back.

On May 20, 1941 the Germans launched Operation Mercury, the airborne invasion of Crete. Over the following four days they secured the Maleme airfield and steadily pushed the defending forces back as they gained a grip on the island.
Crack German paratroops and mountain infantry, pushing strongly along the Galatas Line, finally forced the New Zealand Composite Battalion (an ad hoc battalion formed from anti tank gunners, engineers and support troops) and 18 Battalion from their positions around the village of Galatas, seizing it shortly before dusk on the 25th and thus threatening the entire Galatas line. 
The New Zealand commander hastily threw together a counterattack to restabilise the Galatas line, employing Vickers VIB of the 3rd Hussars and recently arrived companies of the 23rd Battalion. As the tanks moved up the road towards the village, C and D companies of the 23rd Battalion, with fixed bayonets, fell in along both sides of the road.
Joined by elements of the recently ousted 18th Battalion intent on revenge, the 20th and other units, the New Zealanders swept forward in what has been called “one of the greatest bayonet charges of the Second World War”. 

The challenge in designing this scenario was to create an atmosphere that reflected the German surprise and confusion in responding to the unexpected NZ counterattack. To achieve this, the defenders are given a a "disorder" rating for the first couple of turnsseverely handicapping their ability to respond and giving the opportunity for the Kiwis to push home the attack.

The German player defended with his three company-sized maneuver elements in and around Galatas (red line), placing elements of the 1st Battalion, 100 Mountain Regiment to the northeast, the 2nd Battalion troops covering the center and the elements of Ramcke group (fallschirmjaeger) to the southwest, leaving the southern most BUS's (built up sectors) undefended.
The New Zealand commander attacked two up, with C and D Companies straddling the road and advancing with the light tanks of the 3rd Hussars (Area A) while the ad hoc group lead by Lieut. Col. Gray moved to out flank the defenders to the south (Area B).

The Battlefield
Galatas viewed from the New Zealand start positions.
The village of Galatas is a collection of houses strung out along the road to Canea. The New Zealand objective is to recapture the village from the numerically superior enemy, who have recently taken it. The German objective is to recover from the initial shock of the attack and hold Galatas.
The gully. The ad hoc company's starting positions are just to the north of the bridge.
Galatas viewed from the northwest.

The Battle
1. The New Zealand attack goes in
Under cover of darkness the New Zealand attack goes in. Supported by the Vickers VIB of the 3rd Hussars, C Company attacks to the left, D Co. to the right. The Kiwis quickly run into surprised elements of the 1st Battalion, 100 Mountain Regiment in the buildings at the northern end of the village and sweep them aside.

2. Ad hoc company joins the attack.

Elements of 18th Battalion, recently ousted from the village along with soldiers from the 20th and Composite Battalions rally under Liet. Col. Gray and join in the attack.

3. C Co. storms the church
While the outlying buildings are being cleared, a platoon of C Company, lead by Capt. Harvey push on into the town and storm the Galatas church at bayonet point.

4. Mountain Troops flee Galatas
Rattled by the sound of machinegun fire, clank of tank tracks and fierce cries from the charging Kiwis most of the Mountain Regiment's 2nd Battalion troops break and flee the village towards their own lines.

5. Fallschirmjaeger reposition
With the mountain troops largely overrun or in full flight (failure to recover from initial disorder)  and the Kiwis advancing up the east flank of the town, the fallschirmjaeger reposition to form a blocking line across the south end of the village.

6. Trouble in the orchard

In the orchard bordering the church yard the New Zealanders run into the first signs of a hardening resistance. As the Vickers advances in support a platoon of Germans backed up by a 50 mm mortar fend off the first attempt to drive them out at bayonet point.

7. Ad hoc company advances on left flank
With elements of D Company retreating from the fight while others clear the church, the troops under Lieut. Col. Gray cautiously advance up the road east of Galatas.

8. Mountain troops rally…

Over half the 2nd Battalion company flee Galatas, never to return, before their commander manages to stem the tide at pistol point and get them back into the fray.

9. … and reoccupy Galatas
The rallied Germans reoccupy buildings on the west side of Galatas just as troops from D Company enter the same street of houses from the north.

10. Overview
With all of the 1st Battalion elements swept out of Galatas, the New Zealanders press home their attack. D Co., after clearing the orchards to the west of the village battles it out with the 2nd Battalion troops that have rallied and reoccupied the west side of the village. Meanwhile C Co. has come up hard against the veteran German Fallschirmjaeger holed up in the south end of the village and bring forward the light tank to help winkle them out.
Lieut. Col. Gray's command continues to move around the east flank, the first units entering the outlying houses to the south of Galatas largely undetected by taking a wide sweep through the orchards, taking sporadic fire from the German paras on that side of town.
The New Zealand commander, sensing the imminent collapse of the German defences, holds off ordering in his reserves, leaving the 2nd Vickers tank platoon on the outskirts of Karatos and the 20th Battalion's D Company in their positions dug in around the creek east of the village.

11. Just when you thought it was over …
The German commander, realizing that he is about to be out flanked by enemy troops moving around to his rear, decides to take the initiative and launches a hasty counterattack on D Co. rather than wait to fight it out on two fronts. 
This is easily driven off with German casualties, but the attack seems to be enough to cause loss of nerve on the part of C Company who become disordered on their next morale check. The Vickers is disordered as well by small arms fire, and the Germans take this opportunity to launch a second counterattack, swarming out from the cover of the buildings, driving off the tank in close assault and clearing the entire area of Galatas of enemy troops!

12.  Germans drive off Kiwi counterattacks

On the German right flank Lieut. Col. Gray's ad hoc company break off their flanking maneuver and charge in an attempt to recapture lost ground. But the enemy holds fast, repelling a simultaneous attack from D Co. on the left and inflicting serious casualties.

13. D Co. section advances on west side of Galatas

14. Stragglers advance
As the New Zealand attack falters Maj. Thomason, the 23rd Battalion's commander, rallies stragglers and brings them forward through the cleared part of the village.

15. 3rd Hussars in full retreat
A failed attempt to recover sends the New Zealand armour support into full retreat.

16. Ad hoc co. east of Galatas
Their counterattack driven off at great cost, the remnants of the ad hoc company take cover in the orchards east of the village.

17. Clearing the orchard
With the enemy on the ropes, Fallschirmjaeger exit the cover of the Galatas buildings to clear the New Zealanders out of the olive orchards to the east of the town.

18. And again, just when you thought it was over …
On the final turn, the New Zealand troops fail to rally and simply hold position, with the sole exception of a section from C Company, which charges in and once more clears out the Germans who had just retaken the western most houses in Galatas. As the German defenders then prepare to oust the last two undisordered enemy units from Galatas and incredibly snatch a major victory from the jaws of defeat, a bad morale roll sends the mountain troops packing and the paratroops hunkering down disordered. With two Kiwi stands still in good order in the village and all of the German stands disordered, the New Zealanders score a major victory and Galatas is theirs. The historical result, albeit achieved in a rather unorthodox manner.

Post Mortem
There was little more either side could have done. The fight was a pretty straight forward slugging match and good and bad luck abounded on either side. The night rules, causing all units to behave unpredictably, coupled by the initial disorder imposed upon the German defenders meant that it was a game full of high tension and surprising turn arounds. Thinking the fight was his up until almost the very end, the NZ commander didn't commit his reserves (the reserves being a non-historic scenario balancing option - those units were present but were never ear-marked to be called upon in this battle). But if he had he would have foregone the opportunity for a major victory, having to settle for partial at best. The result proved him right.