Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pfeiffer’s Last Ride - The Battle of Le Hamel and Rots, Sunday 11th June 1944

We played our “big game” a couple of weekends ago, a summer extravaganza in a rented hall with eight players. Played over two days, the aim was to play R. Mark Davies' Rots scenario (played in 20 mm using Battlefront WWII rules) to its 24 Turn conclusion, and true to wargamer fashion, our reach far exceeded our grasp. We did get to Turn 14, however, two turns after the arrival of the Canadian reinforcements and almost certainly the beginning of the end for the Germans, who had no reinforcements of their own.
An option to this scenario allows it to be played to Turn 12, the turn the bulk of the Canadians show up. We decided to take stock and determine fulfilled Victory Conditions at this point before moving on, so that, in the end, became the de facto conclusion for our game.
The scenario covers the attack on the Normandy village of Rots on June 11, 1944, by the 46th Royal Marine Commando and Canadian tanks of the Fort Garry Horse, with la Régiment de la Chaudière reinforcing. The attack was in support of the resumed offensive against Capriquet Airfield and the Cheux Heights, with the aim to secure the eastern flank, currently occupied by the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 26 and a company of Panthers from SS Panzer Regiment 12.

The scenario map, scaled down a bit for 20mm play. The map shows the starting positions for the German forces. 1 Kp. in La Villeneuve moved up immediately to stay in reserve in the southern half of Rots and bolster the defence of Le Hamel and La Haute Rue, as did the Panthers. Also shown are the key avenues of attack for the first 12 turns.
Attacking Forces
The 46th Royal Marine Commando, divided into five troops and support weapons.

The armour support, the two Centaurs of the Royal Marine armour and the nine Shermans of 'A' Squadron, Fort Garry Horse. Missing is the command Sherman for the Royal Marine armour.

The battlefield looking north
Here is the battlefield from the German end of the board. Le Bourg and La Villeneuve in the foreground, Le Hamel and Rots towards the top, the Bray heights top left. The soft ground and dense overgrown orchards of the Mue River valley run through the middle of the battlefield, cutting down lines of sight to mostly one field at a time.

The battlefield looking south

As seen from the Allied side of the board. At the top of the board (and never in play) are the extensive walled grounds of the chateau.

The north edge of Rots (bottom) and Le Hamel above with south Rots just at the left edge. This was the focus of most of the fighting, with the Germans choosing to place a very stiff line of defence through these two villages and along the hedgerow on the heights west of Le Hamel.

'A' Troop advances along Rosel road
'A' Troop (one of five) of the 46th RM Commando advances towards Rots, using the cover of high crops to gain the orchards bordering the Mue River. The defenders had identified this as the most likely avenue of attack because of the cover it offered infantry right up to the north edge of Rots.

'B' Troop advances along Mue River
'B' Troop parallels A Troop's advance, moving through the orchards along the Mue.

'C' Troop with Royal Marine armour advances along hedgerow west of Mue valley
Further to the west 'C' Troop and the Centaurs of the RM armour advance towards Le Hamel via the cover afforded by a tree line that runs parallel to the river.

Fort Garry Horse move up behind cover of ridge
On the Allied right flank the Fort Garry Horse advance unseen by the enemy on the far side of the ridge, trundling past the AT guns and a dug in company of les Chaudières on the Bray Heights. 'D' and 'E' Commando Troops fall in behind.

17 pdrs. emplace on Bray Heights
The 17 pdrs. of the RCA 3
rd AT Regt. dig in on the Bray Heights, covering the Fort Garry's advance with lines of sight down both sides of the ridge. They are unable to leave this position for the first part of the scenario as they are guarding against any German armoured counterattack that might be attempted up the right flank of the Allies.
The Commando's mortars also emplace behind the heights while the Canadian FOO takes up a position close to the 17 pdrs. with good lines of sight south and down to the west edge of the Mue Valley. Most of Rots and the rest of the valley, however, are not visible from this vantage point.
In the background the Centaurs roll past.

German Panther pokes nose over the ridge
One of the German tanks deployed in La Villeneuve moves quickly up the road in order to take a peak over the ridge. Other Panthers move up behind a nearby tree line but hold back, not yet revealing their positions.
The Panther takes a couple of long shots against the advancing Shermans to no effect, and then pulls back as the Canadian artillery ranges in on its position. The German tank commander is hoping to sow confusion in the Allied advance by demonstrating on this flank, drawing the Fort Garrys into a tank battle and separating the Allied armour from the infantry attack. In the end this is exactly what unfolds.

'E' and 'F' Troops follow armour behind ridge
The Germans move their battalion commander, operating as an undetected mortar observer, over the ridge and shells begin to zero in on the advancing tanks but with little effect. The Commandos hang well back and remain untouched.

'A' Troop cautiously advances north of Rots through orchards
'A' Troop moves into the orchards east of the Mue, cautiously approaching the village and staying out of sight of the German observer stationed in the upper floor of the windmill. Early German positions encountered are discovered to be dummy positions. Smoke is dropped on the river to facilitate 'B' Troop's crossing as they prepare to link up with 'A' Troop for the attack on Rots.

17 pdr. covers RM armour's advance along hedgerow
A 17 pdr. on the Bray Heights covers the advance of the Royal Martine armour and 'C' Troop as they move undetected towards Le Hamel.

Centaur KO'd!
As the armour moves past the final bend in the tree line that has been blocking their view of Le Hamel a German PaK40 dug in on the edge of the hamlet knocks out the lead tank. With German Panthers also showing up on this flank and no visible Fort Garrys to share the pain, the accompanying tanks fall back, considering an alternate route of advance.

Pfeiffer shows upS
SS-Haupsturmfürher Hans Pfeiffer along with other tanks of his company make their presence known along the valley side of the ridge. Although still hidden from view of the advancing Shermans by the ridge line they are easily spotted by the FOO on the Bray Heights. Undetected (still a marker), a PaK 40 also repositions along this hedge.

And another big cat south of Le Hamel
Still another Panther shows up below the ridge south of Le Hamel, and the Allied tank commander is starting to feel boxed in. With German armour between him and his planned attack down to Le Hamel and La Haute Rue and a heap more on his flank, his options begin to dwindle.

Speed bump in the orchard
Meanwhile, back in the orchards north of Rots 'A' Troop runs into its first major opposition. German pioneers armed with flamethrowers throw back the Commandos' close assault. With the Germans now aware of their presence they are subsequently slammed by mortar fire and 'A' Troop casualties begin to mount.

Commandos converge on windmill
Under cover of smoke Commandos from 'B' and 'C' Troops converge on the windmill north of Rots which the enemy has been using as an observation outpost. The windmill is quickly cleared, but German mortar shells now rain down on the windmill, further delaying the Commando advance.

Fort Garry tanks poke noses over the ridge
With 'D' and 'E' Troops now moving into position to assault La Haute Rue and Le Hamel from the ridge, the Fort Garrys cautiously poke their noses over the ridge in support. The waiting Panthers open up, supported by another PaK 40 that has redeployed west of La Haute Rue. One of the Shermans is promptly knocked out and the rest withdraw again out of sight.

Stripped of their tank support the Commandos move in for the attack regardless. Two German heavy machine guns, one emplaced west of Le Hamel and the other along the road leading out of La Haute Rue, open up with grazing fire, the second in enfilade. The Commandos pull back.

Assault on Le Hamel
At the same time 'B' and 'C' Troops dash across the last bit of open ground north of Le Hamel. Under cover of smoke they manage to force a small foothold into the village, despite intense German defensive fire. The PaK 40 in Le Hamel is knocked out in close assault.

Germans bolster defence
The Germans, caught flat-footed, pull some of their reserves forward, including one of the Panthers, to reinforce this sudden incursion into Le Hamel. They manage to throw the attackers back, although the Commandos retain a foothold in the buildings between the two villages.

Smoke screen west of the Mue Valley
Meanwhile up on the ridge the guns of the 12th Field Regiment lay down a heavy smoke screen in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the Commandos pinned down west of Le Hamel. But the Fort Garrys hold fast and still fail to venture over the ridge, with half the squadron belatedly withdrawing from the cul de sac to bolster 'A', 'B' and 'C' Troops' attack from the north.
At this point, (Turn 12) we assessed the Victory Conditions as, being our second full day of play, there was no certainty that we would play to Turn 24 (actually a very strong certainty that we wouldn't!) It was suggested in the scenario that one could end at this point, before les Chaudières arrived, and as it turned out we didn't get along too much further. As of Turn 12, the Germans still held all of the villages and river crossings, (although the Commandos had gained a foothold in the buildings between these two villages) but the Allied tanks had pushed more than half way down the board, behind the ridge. This gave the Germans a Major Victory.

Reinforcements arrive at Rots
Canadian reinforcements begin to arrive in support of the stalled attack on Rots. 'A' Company of les Chaudières, arriving on Turn 8, had just made their first attempt at breaking into the village, taking over from 'A' Troop which has been reduced to a single stand. They are supported by their attached engineers, but are driven back. Meanwhile the carrier platoon also lends its support, some moving in on the mortar positions east of Rots on the high ground where they were forced back by small arms fire. The Germans are hampered by having no remaining AT assets on this flank (they were withdrawn once the Allies had committed their armour to the west flank), but with only carriers to contend with they manage to hold on.

'E' Troop Assaults Le Hamel
Under cover of smoke 'E' Troop once more assaults the German positions holding on behind the hedgerow west of Le Hamel. This time they are successful, driving the Germans off this line of defence but are greeted by withering fire from a second line covering this position, including 75mm German infantry guns and 20mm flak guns, as they break through the hedgerow.

Les Chaudières advance over the fields west of Rots and Le Hamel
As the Commandos battle to break into Rots and Le Hamel, two more companies of les Chaudières advance down from the Bray Heights.

Rots Overview
In this overview you can see 'A' Company of les Chaudières and the troops of their carrier platoon moving forward through and along the orchard. Under a heavy smokescreen another push is made on the village but is driven back. In the field beyond can be seen the depleted B and C Troops battling it out in front of Le Hamel while the RM armour moves up behind to engage the Panther, hidden by the smoke. In the far distance two companies of Canadian infantry move across the fields to join the fray. Noticeably missing in all of this are the Fort Garry tanks, still splitting their forces between those beyond the ridge and those working their way back to a safe approach down to the two villages from the north.

Canadian guns moved forward
Released from their positions on the Bray Heights, the Canadian guns are brought forward under cover of smoke to bring pressure on the German armour boxing in the Fort Garrys on the ridge.

German armour pulls back to a new defence line
Leaving the PaK40 and a couple of tanks to tie down the remaining Shermans on the ridge, Pfeiffer moves the rest of his Panthers into the valley, into new defensive positions. Although northern Rots still holds strong, this is to bolster a new German defensive line La Haute Rue - southern Rots. The defenders abandon Le Hamel, which has become difficult to defend as the German casualties mount and the Allied reinforcements advance.

Armour forms up north of Le Hamel
The first of the Fort Garrys join the Commando armour in positions just north of Le Hamel and engage at medium range the Panther deployed there.

'D' Troop moves in on Le Hamel
On the west flank 'D' Troop finally manages to break into Le Hamel, dispatching in close combat the last of the Germans still in the village.

Game end overview
In this game end overview, looking south from the Canadian end of the board, you can see how the fight concluded. On the far right a second Sherman (Firefly) is brewed up long range by the Germans as the Fort Garrys pull back and move to support the Allied attack from the north. Other Fort Garrys breach to join the armour already aligned to the tall hedge north of Le Hamel.
The Canadian mortars deploy in the orchards at the south of the picture, lending their support to what is now a preponderance of Canadian indirect fire assets (off board regiment of 105's and the two Commando mortar stands).
Breaching the stream are two of les Chaudières 6 pdrs., moving to the east of Rots where heavy fighting still fails to dislodge the Germans from this position while on the far right the third 6 pdr. and the Canadian 17 pdrs. take up more forward positions along the ridge. And top centre German armour and troops redeploy, bringing in their reserves to support a new and shorter line defending all but the most northern of the Mue crossings but abandoning Le Hamel in the process.
If the game had played out, there is little doubt that the fresh battalion of Canadian troops would seriously impact the depleted Germans, but to what extent is hard to say. The German armour is still completely intact, with no losses, and the Germans lost only a quarter or less of their forces. The Commandos took over 50% casualties with 'A' Troop virtually annihilated, but the Allies still have most of their armour to support the next push, only losing three tanks in total.
Sadly, after 16 hours of play, we ran out of time!

First and foremost, luck of die fell heavily on the German side. Having said that, the defence plan proved solid against the identified avenues of attack, all of which, by the end of the game, had been employed by the Allies. The German players spent a week panning their defence prior to the game, identifying avenues of attack, lines of sight and deployment with contingency plans for the eventual avenues of attack employed by the enemy. Excessive , yes, (including a Photoshop document, gridded to the inch with ten+ overlays) but a lot of fun in the planning.
The German primary and second lines of defence, with 1 Kp. in reserve, served the Germans well, although the second line was never really tested. The Allies, without doubt, suffered by deciding to push their tanks along the far side of the ridge, a possibility considered and well-planned for by the German defence so that they were easily able to bottle up the enemy tanks. It effectively robbed the Allies of their armour superiority and support for their troops, which were left to battle it out on their own.
Although the Allied calls for fire were, more often than not, failed calls having the FOO or Commando commander further forward and supporting the attack on Rots more immediately would have helped a lot. Having the Commando mortars in a position where they could self spot, up on the Bray Heights, would have allowed them to use their indirect fire more effectively.


  1. Outstanding Bill! Nice terrain, figures and vehicles. Do some more RM stuff mate :) Tops!

  2. Thanks, Al. Yes, I always love doing RMD's stuff. You get bonuses, like battlefield tour pics and a wealth of background information as a result!

  3. Uh, RM - Royal Marine. Yes, got it. I intend to!

  4. Great looking table, terrain and figures! I enjoyed reading this.

  5. Thanks, Ted. It's nice to know people take the trouble!