Beyond Avesnes

After a little discussion Friday evening found Robin and I settling on a Spearhead game set in France during 1940. We of course intended to use the Scenario System to develop the situation. With my own British still not ready for this campaign I promptly dusted off a German list based around the 7th Panzer Division.

Having reached Avesnes 7th Panzer was expected to reform following it advance. However Rommel had other plans. Colonel Karl Rothenburg, commander of the 25th Panzer Regiment, was ordered forward and soon encountered further enemy forces. To his front was “Sutton Force”, an adhoc assembly of various formations. Rothenburg opted to engage the enemy by a rapid hasty attack. when he to learnt the British had failed to secure two critical ridges. Either the British commander was up to something, or he was incompetent. Rothenburg hoped for the later, but feared the former. Divisional intelligence officers further advised that Sutton Force comprised elements drawn from an Armoured Division, rather than the more typical Infantry Division.

The German staff work hastily began to put the plan together. Immediately available were two Panzer Battalions from 25th Panzer Regiment as well as one motorised battalion from the 6th Motorised Regiment. Flank marches were ruled out, instead both Panzer Battalions would work together, massed for the expected armoured clash. The more open right flank was clearly the area for the Panzers to operate leaving the infantry to secure the centre. One Panzer battalion would advance with the second held in reserve. A Motorised Battalion drawn from 6th Motor Rifle Regiment, without armour, would secure the centre and one flank of the Panzers. This battalion would be reinforced by a number of 88mm Flak guns and using high ground could dominate the centre. Divisional 105mm artillery was available for support of the attack. Around 1pm German formations of the 7th Panzer Division crossed their start lines. As they did Stukas circled overhead occasionly swooping down to attack enemy forces.

In the centre 1/6th Motor Rifle Battalion advanced over open ground with out incident. The battalion secured its objective and deployed several platoons secured a large wood. Other platoons and support companies deployed to the left while the attached Flak deployed on dominating high ground.

Some distance from the battalion British forces held a second wooded ridge, seen below.

Meanwhile to the right German Panzers advanced towards their initial objective, a ridge some 1400 yards in length, British infantry were detected advancing from the opposite direction and intent to secure the same ridge.

While clearly they would reach the high ground first they would expose their flank in the process. As a result the 1st Panzer Battalion would halt while the second Panzer Battalion was ordered forward to envelope the advancing British. Below, 1st Panzer Battalion is on the left while the 2nd Panzer expands to the right.

Valuable time was lost manoeuvring the 2nd Panzer battalion into position. Below, Panzers and infantry in halftracks prepare to engage the exposed British left. In the distance British armour can be seen moving forward.

This British armour was clearly a threat, and had to be countered removing valuable assets from the main effort. Below, the under strength armour of Sutton Force comprising an adhoc regiment of A-13s and Vickers Mk VI light tanks.

Meanwhile in the centre battle was also underway. British infantry pressed forward pinning the German 1/6th Motorised Infantry Battalion while advancing to attack the German left. Rather than react to the flanking attack German infantry engaged the British centre. Here, German infantry and heavy weapons, supported by concentrated artillery fires, decimated the British centre. Then, as planned exposed German elements fell back to their next defence line.

Below, the attack on the German centre viewed from the British right. In the left distance British forces are heavily engaged and suffer heavy casualties, while in the foreground the press forward the British infantry are not engaged.

The German main effort was however on the German right where the Panzers were massed. Attacks on the British infantry positions were generally well coordinated. Again supporting artillery provided critical assistance to the infantry and armoured components. The attacks included a number of overrun attacks, though those against the British infantry near the high ground were generally more successful than those against the infantry on the ridge. 

Above and below, the German main attack gets underway. Panzer I and II tanks are visible close assaulting British infantry. While other Panzers secure the high ground.

However, well positioned British anti-tank guns limited the ability of German tanks to overrun a number of British positions which slowed the German advance.

As this battle was in full swing British armour was now moving forward. Interestingly, British armour seemed unwilling to engage at long range, but rather pushed forward to reduce the range. By doing so the generally deployed Panzers often had the advantage of stationary fire. 

Soon the British Crusier tanks were burning brightly. Though their élan had been admirable they were no match for the Panzers. With the British armour a spent force the British infantry position on the ridge, having lost their armoured support and their own anti-tank guns, had no other option but to fall back. 

The German Panzers were once again free to advance, though casualties on the Panzers of 1st Battalion had been heavy. Clearly British resolve was increasing as has been indicated in British reports, but they were still unable to halt the Wehrmacht.

The miniatures shown here are from the excellent Heroics & Ros range, with the British from Robin’s collection and the Germans from my own. The buildings are from Timecast while trees from Irregular Miniatures. The remaining terrain is homemade.

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Advancing with Mr Churchill

With our son down over Christmas we managed a most enjoyable WWII Spearhead game. While time prevents a more in depth look at the game I thought I should at least provide a few photos and supporting captions. It’s been a while since Joel had used his Germans and equally long since I’ve used my British so it was with much anticipation that we set up for a mutual encounter.

I opted for a strong advance in the centre, where a British infantry battalion was supported by two companies of Churchill tanks. My left comprised a further infantry battalion supported by a Churchill company, a heavy machine gun company and a 17pdr battalion. Finally a reserve battalion was held in reserve on the right to either attack on the right or support the centre.

The Germans in contrast opted to secure a long ridge on the German centre right, while sweeping in on the British left, once it was fully committed, with a Panzer battalion equipped with Panthers. Finally a weak Panzer Grenadier battalion would secure a town on the German left.

Above, the British left after a considerable but slow advance across the battlefield. The Churchills on the high ground were to become a significant obstacle to the German flank march which arrived soon after the 17pdr anti-tank guns were deployed. Below, the British left is echeloned back where infantry and additional anti-tank guns were deployed. The battalion comprised 24 stands.

Below, a part of the British centre. The spot height was secured without casualties but German artillery fire drove back the British infantry leaving the Churchills and British artillery to drive back the Stugs and silence the German artillery. The British counter battery fire was particularly effective silencing almost two German artillery battalions.

Below, the general situation with the flank marching German Panther battalion visible in the foreground. British 25pdrs soon disrupted the limited German flak but the Typhoons failed repeatedly to appear.

Instead, the Panthers were engaged by anti-tank guns and Churchills.

Below, and in the centre of the battlefield, Churchills engage German Stugs. With such a heavy concentration of firepower the Germans were reluctant to engage.

Below, another view of the centre and British right. Later as the battle stagnated the German Panzer Grenadier battalion deployed in the town in the top right advanced along the stream to secure another objective. This resulted in the commitment of the British reserve infantry battalion. Under extreme pressure elements of the British centre were redeployed to stabilise the situation. Unfortunately this allowed an attack on the British centre by German infantry supported by Stugs. This attack was only driven off by rocket armed Typhoons who attacked the German infantry!

Below, German Panthers engaged against British infantry armed with PIATs and supported by 17pdrs and 6pdrs. Surprisingly 6pdrs accounting for two Panthers, previously suppressed by the 17pdr anti-tank guns. 

Below, a more general view of the situation on the British left.

Above and below Churchills from the British centre move to support the prolonged engagement with the German Panthers supported by the few surviving Stugs firing from high ground.

Eventually the left and right German battalions broke, though not before breaking the British right, originally 15 stands, and inflicting very heavy casualties on the two large British battalions on the British left and centre. Realising all hope was lost the final German battalion conceded the battlefield. A truely entertaining game!

Crisis at Chemenot

The days of retreat from Normandy were over and by September our valiant forces were once again reforming for offensive action. Flush with reconstituted forces, new equipment and refreshed determination our forces prepared to engaged the Americans in a series of critical battles in the Lorraine. One of the first actions was that around the small town of Chemenot where elements of Lieutenant General Wend von Wietersheim 11th Panzer Division clashed with 377th Infantry Regiment drawn from Major General Harry L. Twaddle’s 95th Infantry Division.

The 1st Battalion of the 4th Panzergrenadier Regiment was by noon well deployed in hasty defensive positions around Chemenot. The defence was centred around woods and a small hill some 500 yards to the west of the town with further detachments a similar distance to the south. The latter being all that held our left flank. The battalion’s right was to be held by the regiment’s 2nd Battalion which was advancing from its forming up position to its defensive position centred on the east end of a long ridge.

Above, 1st Battalion of 4th Panzergrenadier Regiment deployed around Chemenot. Below, 2nd Battalion advances to the right of Chemenot where it will deploy into defensive positions on the Patrounal Ridge and woods.

As a result of these dispositions, and despite a number of key terrain features existing in our area of operations, only two were able to be secured immediately. In contrast the Americans were expected to advance with three reinforced battalion sized formations before unleashing a significant attack on either our relatively undefended left near Chemenot, or our right around Patrounal Ridge.

Lieutenant General Wend von Wietersheim was however clear, holding the Americans was not sufficient. Instead while bolstering the defence he ordered a Kampfgruppe Münchhausen to attack in a wide sweeping flanking action against the enemy right. However, the attack was to be delayed until all American forces were engaged. Then Kampfgruppe Münchhausen would roll up the American forces from south to north. Once in the area of operations speed, Münchhausen was told, was critical.

As the two battalions of the 4th Panzergrenadier Regiment were to engage the enemy, without significant support for some time, they were reinforced with a number of assets. The 1st Battalion, deployed around Chemenot would be supported by a company of Jagdpanthers and a company of Jagdpanzer IVs while 2nd Battalion would be supported by a Stug company. Further, both battalions would be supported by support fires from divisional artillery.

Wietersheim Division had suffered at the hands of the American Jabos too often. As a result he hoped to neutralise their impact them in some way. He believed the deployment of the powerful Jagdpanthers in the central sector, where ample fields of fire existed. Here he believed they would draw the attention of the enemy jabos, possibly reducing the likehood of them being able to interdict his manoeuvre elements.

Soon after 1pm American formations indeed were detected advancing in three battalion sized combat groups in 4th Panzergrenadier Regiment’s sector.

Below, viewed from the north, the town of Chemenot is visible on the left centre while the 2nd Battalion of 4th Panzer Regiment advances in the left foreground, from the east, towards its defensive position on the east of the long Patrounal ridge. On the right three American battalions can be seen advancing towards three key positions. One American battalion is not yet fully visible in the right foreground. These immediate American objectives are the central ridge as well as the two villages north and south of the ridge. The village of Patrounal is in the foreground, at the base of the Patrounal ridge. That in the top right is the village of Ossé.

Below, the American 1/377th Battalion as it advances towards Patrounal supported by a company of Sherman’s from 738th Tank Battalion.

It was however in the centre where the forces first clashed. Here the 2/377th Infantry Battalion advanced astride a small ridge. On the south infantry supported by M-10 Tank destroyers provide flank protection while infantry, supported by the battalions heavy weapons company, advanced on the north of the ridge.

The advancing M-10s were soon engaged by an advanced Jagdpanzer IV platoon firing from a spot height while German infantry manoeuvred to a reverse slope position on the ridge line. It was hoped that such a position would force the advancing Americans to deploy early so they could be engaged by long range fire from the Jagdpanthers.

Above, the advanced Jagdpanzers engage the American centre. Visible in the top left the 3/377th Battalion which has just secured the village of Ossé. The German left is visible in the left foreground and comprised only three platoons. An attack by the American 3rd Battalion against the German left would have been difficult to withstand.

As the accurate fire by the Jagdpanzers halted the M-10 advance the American advance in the centre now switched to that by the infantry supported by artillery, heavy machine guns and Jabos.

Above and below American Jabos are committed in unceasing attacks. The deployment of the Jagdpanthers in woods, supported by limited AA, reduced vehicle casualties but the rocket armed Jabos caused a number of casualties amongst the German infantry. This in turn made the German Jagdpanthers susceptible to infantry attacks.

While the desperate battle in the centre developed, on the German right flank where the 2nd Panzergrenadier Battalion was subjected to a sustained and concentrated attack by two American battalions. The 1/377th, having secured Patrounal advanced down the Patrounal ridge while elements of the 738th Tank Battalion conducted a limited flanking movement.

Above the American flanking action arrives. It was intended to catch any advancing Germans in the flank but instead caused initial confusion among advancing American 1/377th Infantry Battalion. Soon however it reoriented and advanced through the woods as can be seen below.

Both the German centre and right flank were now heavily engaged and were fighting desperately to maintain their defensive positions. However it was now the Kampfgruppe Münchhausen entered the battle area behind the American right flank.

Advancing at speed Münchhausen’s Panzers and Panzergrenadiers raced forward while the Americans desperately tried to face this unexpected threat so far from any objectives. While some Panzers overran mortars, HQs and anti-tank guns others aided by Panzergrenadiers engaged M-10 Tank destroyers and infantry. Then with the American 3/377th battalion all but destroyed as a fighting force, though still holding the village of Ossé, Münchhausen order the advance to continue while support units completed the mopping up.

Above elements of Kampfgruppe Münchhausen engages the 3/377th around Ossé while below advanced elements have already seized their next objective in the American centre. From here Münchhausen would press further north to Patrounal Ridge.

Yet despite such a rapid movement events have overtaken Münchhausen. Ever growing casualties had resulted in both Panzergrenadier battalions breaking, simultaneously with their American attackers! The butchers bill was indeed terrible with two German battalions and three American battalions combat ineffective.

The scenario was developed using the Scenario System. Each player used an Attack List. The scenario provided the Americans a free Option A while the German commander selected an Option B despite the significant victory point penalty. At the conclusion of the engagement the Germans held two objectives for four points. They gained a further six points for casualties on American battalions, less three points for their reinforcement option giving them a total of seven points. In contrast the American held three objectives, though Ossé was contested, providing five victory points. They inflicted crippling casualties on two German battalions providing a further four points. This provided the Americans a total of nine victory points and a winning draw in what was another fascinating game.

The Cauldron 

Having failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough in the engagements along the Vodista the advanced elements of 8th Panzer Division reformed before being recommitted. The 10th Panzer Regiment’s 2nd Panzer Battalion had suffered heavily in the previous engagement and was replaced by the 3rd Panzer Battalion. Likewise the 28th Schutzen Regiment’s 1st Battalion, having been badly mauled, was allowed time to rest and reform while the 2nd Battalion was allocated to the renewed advance. Yet despite these changes the advanced battalions of the division were moving forward less than 14 hours following the bloody encounter at Vodista.

The Soviet casualties from the previous action had been similarly heavy. This coupled with the German ability to manoeuvre against the Soviet flanks greatly concerned the Soviet commander. Soviet battalion commanders were reminded of the importance of all round defence. Attempts to reinforce the division, including counter battery assets were generally rejected. Again only an under strength Tank Brigade was bought forward to stiffen the line.

As the first German reconnaissance reports came in, and were analysed, it become clear to the German commander that the reorientation of Soviet battalions had created a gap between the towns of Roskopol and Dovhonosy.

Aware of the Soviet armoured formations in the area General der Panzertruppe Erich Brandenberger ordered an advance by 2nd Battalion of the 28th Schutzen Regiment into the gap to both seize high ground and act as an anvil against the Soviet armour. This advance would see the 2/28th Schutzen advance some 3000 yards over open ground. Having secured the high ground an anti-tank screen was to be established overlooking one of two bridges in the area. The majority of the battalion would then conduct a flanking movement against the Soviets deployed in around Dovhonosy. Brandenberger was confident that here a significant portion of the Soviets here would be orientated west and south and therefore by poorly prepared for such an attack. This attack also provided relatively direct access to critical high ground, the battalions secondary objective.

At the same time 3rd Panzer Battalion would conduct a deep flank march and attack Dovhonosy from the south. The aim of this attack however was to draw the Soviet reserves, likely comprising armour across the front of the anti-tank screen. The commander of 3rd Panzer Battalion was given clear instructions to break off at anytime. Both battalions were to be supported by divisional artillery assets. Finally 1st Panzer Battalion was held in reserve slightly to the left of 2/28th Schutzen for exploitation or as flank protection for Soviet infantry attacks from Roskopol into 2/28th Schutzen.

Below, the area of operations with 2/28 Schutzen visible advancing east towards high ground overlooking a bridge. The town of Dovhonosy is visible in the right foreground while the village of Roskopol is centre right.

In the Soviet plans were also checked. With no key terrain in the centre, apart from a bridge near the Soviet rear area of operations the centre was lightly held. Further, acutely aware of the German ability to conduct flanking movements the Soviet battalions were indeed deployed to protect against such attacks. Finally, concerned by the threat posed by Panzers breaking out into rear areas, villages now became hasty blocking positions ensuring that could only be taken by direct assault. Holding has Independent Tank Regiment in reserve the Soviet commander relaxed to await the Germans.

Above the Soviets deployed around Dovhonosy, viewed from the south. The village is held by a SMG company. To the rear is the high ground that would be 2/28th Schutzen Battalion’s secondary objective.

Below, the Soviet right flank, viewed from the west. The battalion in the foreground was not engaged while that to the rear formed part of the position around the village of Roskopol. Both are positioned for all round defence but comprising limited troops (11 stands) have a limited command radius.

The advance of 2/28th Schutzen was relatively uneventful. While often visible to the Soviets they were unable to engage or determine determine the objective of the battalion or the main focus. Finally, as the battalion finally reached its first objective it began to deploy its anti-tank guns on high ground while the infantry orientated for its advance against Dovhonosy. At this point the Soviet forces were unleashed.

Soviet reserves, comprising a converged Tank Regiment were committed to an advance towards Dovhonosy, which it was reasoned was the main German objective. Simultaneously a supporting Soviet infantry battalion, deployed around Roskopol, surged forward.

The infantry can be seen above having emerged from Roskopol and the woods behind the village. Below, the Independent Tank Regiment and comprising survivors from two regiments, can be seen advancing. Roskopol is visible in the top left.

Having been deployed in defensive positions the Soviet battalion commander could have formed his battalion up prior to advancing. However, encouraged by the Regimental HQ and political officers such detail was forgotten. Instead the determined Soviets surged forward.

The general situation in the centre can be seen below with Soviet tanks and infantry advancing while Soviet artillery began to fall directed by Soviet observers on the high ground to the right. The 2/28th Schutzen was now engaged against three battalions on all sides. The defence of “The Cauldron” had begun!

At this point 3rd Panzer Battalion began its own attack on Dovhonosy. Moving rapidly the battalion deployed drawing fire and inflicting casualties on the Soviet defenders.

The Panzers and Panzergrenadiers were to be supported by 105mm artillery fires. Communications issues however caused delays in these fires. When they did arrive they were often ineffective. The result was the Panzers and Panzergrenadiers were forced to engage in direct fire. These attacks while effective they slowed the advance resulting in the loss of some momentum. However, the Panzers pinned many Soviets reducing their ability to effectively engage 2/28th Schutzen. Fortunately casualties on 3rd Panzer Battalion were remarkably few.

Below, 3rd Panzer presses forward the initial plan to feint here, followed by rapid fall back had been abandoned. 3rd Panzer would instead bypass Soviet defenders and press forward to support 2/28th Schutzen.

Meanwhile in “The Cauldron” 2/28th was becoming hard pressed. As the infantry repositioned to halt the combined infantry and armoured attacks German artillery provided relentless support. The less than optimal positioning of German forward observers meant that heavy 150mm fires concentrated on breaking up infantry attacks while 105mm artillery disrupted Soviet tanks. Yet these relentless fires provided valuable time for the German infantry to redeploy.

With Soviet reserves and infantry committed the German 1st Panzer Battalion, held in reserve, was itself unleashed. Advancing the PzIIs, Pz38ts and PzIVs raced to support the 2/28th Schutzen, as can be seen below. Their advance would see them attack the flank of the advancing Soviet infantry.

Yet the advance of the Panzers took time and the Soviet assault continued relentlessly. Soviet armour, desperate to overwhelm 2/28th Schutzen attempted a series of close assaults. However, each of these assaults was driven back by combinations of anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles and artillery. Below, KV-1 heavy tanks attempt to overrun Pak-36 anti-tank guns supporting a Flak-88. Also visible are T-34s, T-26s and T-28s.

This armoured assault was immediately followed by a desperate assault by Soviet infantry who surged forward against 2/28th Schutzen. At this critical moment 1st Panzer Battalion began to engage the exposed flank of the Soviet infantry as can be seen below.

With such desperate fighting and merciless attacks Soviet morale had finally reached critical levels. While all Soviet formations had fought with determination the tanks were first to break, being classed as green. Shortly after the attacking Soviet infantry’s resolve broke. With this the Soviet centre collapsed and the Panzers surged forward. Victory had been achieved and the breakthrough could once again begin.

The action was, like that at Vodista, a Hasty Attack developed using the Scenario Generation System. Generally similar forces were used, though some minor changes had been made. The Germans used an Attack List, supplemented by an Option A, while the Soviets used a Defend List without options. Soviet morale was classed as random. Unlike the veterans faced at Vodista here the Soviet tanks were found to be green while both infantry battalions engaged were classed as regular. There was much apprehension by both commanders when these rolls were made! Both Soviet and German artillery, while firing, was generally less effective. Yet again the ability of the Soviets to achieve combined arms was critical. As the Soviet commander described he could either advance his on a narrow front and achieve a degree of cooperation, or advance his tanks on a wider front but likely not achieve combined arms. A fascinating game with many hard choices for both players.