Oberst Karl Rothenburg, commander of 7th Panzer Division’s 25th Panzer Regiment, dropped into the turret hatch of his command tank. Moving past him were the tanks of 2nd Panzer Battalion. Pausing for a moment he contemplated the last 24 hours before giving the order, “Forward Hans, its time we gave the Tommies another lesson”. The Panzer 38t lurched forward. For a moment his mind drifted, the drama of yesterday’s unfortunate incident around Arras was of course still haunting, but the advance must be renewed. Surely British resolve was weakened after yesterday’s attack, and the corresponding casualties. The wreckage of British Matilda tanks, some still smouldering after greeting an 88mm shell yesterday was a stark reminder of the battle. Then on the left another, this time a machine gun armed Matilda, upturned by a Stuka’s dive bomb attack. Combined they left a vivid image as the panzers once again moved west.
Then as the tank lurched right he was reminded of his orders group. Why was the British to their front so bunched, assuming the reconnaissance was correct, and why was the British right flank so open? As he considered the possibilities the sound of machine guns could be heard 1000 yards to the northwest, then the pounding of artillery. The battle had begun.
Above, 2nd Panzer moves forward, in the distance elements of 1st Panzer can be seen.
Rothenburg and his staff had hastily determined the plan based on patrols by the divisional reconnaissance battalion. The hasty analysis indicated three British infantry battalions somewhat clustered together in the northern sector of the area of operations. Some prisoners indicated that a number of Matilda tanks were in the vicinity, though numbers and locations were vague. Radio traffic indicated elements of a British Cavalry formation, operating MkIV light tanks may also operating in the area.
Above, the general situation viewed from the north with the British forces in the foreground, mostly deployed in the “V” formed by various streams. The infantry are from 50th Division, 150th Brigade with the 4th Battalion East Yorkshire (centre) and 5th Green Howards (left foreground). The 4th Green Howards are in the right foreground. Below, guns from the 72nd (Northumbrian) Field Regiment provide support for 5th Green Howards.
After some deliberation at his orders group Rothenburg opted for a flanking movement to the south with the Panzers while pinning the British forward elements. One Panzer battalion would advance deep before swinging north. Simultaneously, a Panzer battalion and Schutzen battalion would attack the British forward elements from two directions. This plan of course required two Panzer Battalions, both from the 25th Panzer Regiment, as well as a Schutzen Battalion from the 7th Schutzen Regiment. The attack would be supported by the divisions artillery assets of three battalions, with the Schutzen battalion being the main effort, would be allocated two artillery battalions.
Already ahead and to his left was the 1st Panzer Abteilung and to his right I/7th Schutzen Abteilung was moving forward. He was himself near the front of the 2nd Panzer Abteilung. The telltale indication of battle joined soon came from his right as 1/7th Schutzen began to be engaged. First spasmodic fire which soon evolved into full battle as artillery and machine gun fires increased to full crescendo.
Above, 1/7th Schutzen advance on their first objective.
The Schutzen battalion advanced rapidly and within 60 minutes of crossing their start lines were at their initial objective, a long ridge that dominated the valley to the west. While elements of the battalion dispersed into firing positions on the high ground two platoons moved forward to probe the likely enemy positions on three areas of rising ground across the valley, separated by a gentle stream. In direct support of the battalion was an 88mm Flak battery and the 7th Schutzen sIG 33 150mm self-propelled Infantry Gun battery. Both these batteries were tasked with securing the high ground adjacent to a portion of the British position where they would have excellent fields of fire. As the infantry moved into advanced positions and the assets deployed the British responded.
A hail of machine gun fire erupted and almost simultaneously a barrage of fire from 25pdrs crashed down on the Flak battery deploying on the high ground. The German infantry went to ground suffering few casualties in stark contrast to the Flak battery whose prime movers and guns, as well as ammunition, erupted in a series of explosions.
Above and below of the 1/7th Schutzen. The 88mm Flak battery has already been destroyed.
The German response was equally devastating. As this was considered the main effort of the German attack the battalion was heavily reinforced with indirect fire weapons. A series of German artillery fires from two divisional artillery battalions unleashed their fire. The hills opposite became a death trap for the Tommies who suffered heavy casualties from around 30 guns ranging in caliber from 150mm to 105mm. Targeted first were the Vickers HMG teams which were quickly neutralised. Simultaneously, German infantry advanced in a series of short movements well supported by the heavy machine guns and 75mm Infantry Guns of the Schutzen Battalions Heavy Weapons Company.
While British counter battery fires were for once both responsive and accurate the damage had been done. The British position was untenable and soon, now engaged by German small arms the remnants of the 4th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment began to fallback.
It was at this time that the Panzers of 2nd Battalion of 25th Panzer Regiment were to converge on the flank of 4th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment (4ER), which can be seen above.
From here they would provide unstoppable momentum to the attack. Yet unfortunately the advance of the Panzers was stalled. As advanced elements prepared to attack the 4th East Riding two troops of Matilda tanks were observed moving towards a blocking position on the flank of 4ER. The British tanks were a significant proportion of the survivors from the fighting of the previous day, which now formed a composite formation denoted called 4/7 RTR and were command of Major George Parkes. A proportion of 4/7RTR, some four troops, were now allocated to support of 4ER.
Above, elements of 2nd Panzer Battalion engaged against British armour. In the fore ground elements of 1/7th Schutzen drive back elements of the 4th East Riding.
The 2nd Panzer Battalion was itself strung out, a result of the advance through the defiles caused by various streams, woods and villages. Leading the advance of the German 2nd Panzer Battalion was a platoon of Panzer II tanks and another of Panzer 38ts. Seizing a small area of ground these tanks took up various hulldown positions and began to engage the advanced Matilda troop, consisting as it did of four Matilda II tanks. Unsurprisingly the German fire was ineffective with the 20mm and 37mm guns unable to penetrate the British armour. Colonel Karl Rothenburg, aware of the critical nature of the engagement moved forward, and along with the battalion commander, personally directed fire.
The British tank advance was stalled and now Rothenburg ordered forward his attached Schutzen company, their mission to clear a wooded area to the German left, suspected to be held by British infantry and then using combined arms engage the Matilda tanks from the flank. Alas, the Schutzen company soon became bogged down in the woods and its numerical advantage began to slip away. The Tommies in this sector seemed to maintain a greater resolve. Below the Schutzen company of 2 Panzer Battalion move forward while in the right foreground elements of 1/7th Schutzen battalion have secured one of several areas of high ground across the stream.
As the infantry attack played out, the Panzers opposite the handful of Matilda II tanks, would continue to exchange intermittent but ineffective fire until nightfall. Of note the second troop, some four British Matilda I tanks, languished unengaged some 50 yards west of the Matilda II tanks.
Above, the Schutzen of 2nd Panzer Battalion are heavily engaged against British infantry. Had the been eliminated the British Matildas would have been flanked. Below, another view of advanced elements of 2nd Panzer Battalion engaging the British tanks.
While 2nd Panzer Battalion was moving engaged the 25th Panzer 1st Panzer Battalion was simultaneously moving west. In a deeper flanking action this battalion secured its primary objective. Soon after 6pm, as the battalion continued its advance swinging north, another two troops of Matildas were seen moving south. Like the first two troops they were taking up a blocking position. Like the former they too stopped and, with infantry deployed in nearby woods, provided a difficult obstacle. Around 7pm British lorries were seen moving forward and unlimbering a battery of 2pdr anti-tank guns. A series of artillery fires was requested by the forward observation party attached to 1st Panzer. Unfortunately the divisions third artillery battalion was currently repositioning and was unavailable. Below, elements of 1st Panzer consolidate their position.
With the flanking actions of the Panzers clearly delayed, Rothenburg ordered the 1/7th Schutzen forward again. Reacting almost immediately the battalion resumed its advance moving across the valley floor and rolling up the Tommies to their front. The sIG 33 battery maintained a deadly fire targeting a series of British positions while the 105mm divisional artillery destroyed deeper targets including a Bofors battery providing support fires over open sights. British infantry resolve now began to stiffen in part by a series of artillery fires by 25pdrs. This forced the commander of 1/7th Schutzen to order a pause while the battalion consolidate its gains.
Above, the 1/7th Schutzen advance. The British platoon on the right foreground, part of the 5th Green Howards was quickly eliminated as was the troublesome Bofors battery which is top right, also from the 5th Green Howards. Soon after the 1/7th Schutzen were advancing up the slopes of the main hill, their secondary objective with the 4th East Riding continuing to give ground.
Around 8pm a localised counter attack by 5th Green Howards was moving against the 1/7th Schutzen’s right flank. The Schutzen battalion’s 3rd Company was well positioned to halt this attack which was poorly executed. Both British companies advancing in column, such was the hurried nature of the British push, and therefore provided no immediate threat. As dusk began to settle on the battlefield the sIG 33 battery found the range of the Green Howards. Combined with infantry and machine gun fire the Tommies soon went to ground.
Above, the 5th Green Howards begin to move forward. In the background is a forward observation officer section. His placement, and subsequent failure to move, resulted in the attached artillery failing to fire. No doubt the Battalion commander was more concerned of another German battalion advancing on his position.
Above, the sIG 33 battery engages the 5th Green Howards, while below the general situation. 1/7th Schutzen is on its secondary objective and in the process of driving back the 4th East Riding.
As night enveloped the field Rothenburg assembled his battalion commanders to evaluate the afternoon’s engagement. 1st and 2nd Panzer Battalions were practically unscathed, in part to Rothenburg’s determination to direct the battle from his forward HQ. The 1/7th Schutzen had suffered a greater number of casualties attacking over the relatively open valley. However, the well coordinated and supported attack had achieved significant results. The British casualties, even without considering those captured, were twice that of the 1/7th Schutzen’s casualties. Further, the British right flank remained completely open. At first light, 1st Panzer Battalion now poised astride the road to the coast would continue its march to the sea. The Tommies had once again failed to block the German advance.
The scenario was developed using the Scenario Generation System and involved the Germans conducting a Hasty Attack with three battalions with both players selecting an Option A. The British commander had three infantry battalions on table and maintained a Divisional Cavalry Regiment off table which was uncommitted. At the end of the engagement both commanders had secured or maintained two objectives, with the Germans contesting a third. No battalions had tested morale but one British battalion, some 20 stands in strength had lost 8 stands. The Germans had lost six stands, excluding off table artillery. This converts to a 5-3 British victory. If however the 1st Panzer Battalion had exited the table the result would have been a 6-5 German victory. Exiting too early would however have likely resulted in the commitment of the British Divisional Cavalry which would have negated the advantage and changed the result to a 4-4 draw. A fascinating result and a quandary for both players. The German commander of course only suspected the existence of the Divisional Cavalry, it could easily have not existed. It highlighted the advantages of the scenario system creating something of the “Fog of War” In summary a slender British victory, though one Reich Minister Goebbels would of course deny.
The miniatures are all 6mm and from Heroics & Ros excellent range. The Germans are from my own collection, while the British are from Robin’s collection. Buildings are from Timecast and trees mostly from Irregular Miniatures terrain range. Other terrain is homemade.
For those wishing to view the engagement through the eyes of the BBC reporter another version of the battle can be found here.