France 1940, a British Staff Officer writes in his diary, on hearing news of the ever worsening situation in France…”Meanwhile the nightingales sing full throatedly around the chateau and like the countryside in the loveliness of May, illustrate with great measure of delight that can be drawn on in spite of the madness of the men who are responsible for this disaster.” With the scene set let us turn to the situation at the front.
Elements of the 8th Panzer Division, were moving rapidly forward with the Panzers leading the advance. As the day progressed reconaissance reports indicated a stiffing of enemy forces with at least three battalions detected to the front of the division. Not wishing to be delayed the advanced Panzer Regiment commander determined to conduct a hasty attack.
The aerial photograph, looking north, shows the general area with the British deployed from the left with their advanced positions some 1200 yards from the right, which denotes the German entry. In the area of operations five terrain features have been identified as of particular interest to the British commander, Brigadier Stopford who commanded 17th Brigade a component of the 5th Division on this fateful day. In the foreground left to right are a small village which had no mention on the maps the Stopford had in front of him, and a small but high hill providing excellent vantage points over the open country. Further north (centre left and right) two ridges, one forward one to the rear each with high points providing further excellent visibility. Finally, in the far north, (upper left) a small village marks the only objective on the British left. Like that in the south both villages set astride roads critical to 8th Panzer Divisions advance.
The 17th Brigade, indeed all of 5th Division, had been on the move for two days and arriving around noon was hastily deployed. Brigadier Stopford focussed his defence on four of the objectives, a fact soon identified by advanced German reconnaissance patrols. Unfortunately little time was available for entrenching, platoons were hastily deployed making what use of the cover available.
The brigade comprised three infantry battalions. 2nd Battalion The Royal Scots, 2nd Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment and finally 6th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders. The brigade was also supported by the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, a Divisional Cavalry formation equipped with MkVIb light tanks and carriers. In support were four 25pdr batteries (each of two firing stands in Spearhead) and in more general support a number 4.5″ guns were available for counter battery fires should the Hun venture into the divisions area.
A view of the British centre with elements of the 2nd Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment holding a key hill covering one of two roads that pass through the Brigade’s area east to west. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Scots can be seen in the left rear.
German forces advanced in three groups against the British left. The 1/28th Schützen battalion, on foot, advanced in an arc on the first ridge which formed the advanced left flank of 17th Brigade using woods to screen its left flank. To its front was 6th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders. Supported by a 105mm artillery battalion this battalion was to seize and occupy the ridge and drive back the expected British counter attacks.
1/10th Panzer Abteilung was to support this attack by a wider flanking movement designed to attack the rising ground to the rear of the ridge that formed the British left flank. This battalion was to dislodge the expected defenders from the flank and to support the main dismounted grenadier attack by attacking the enemy from the rear. It would in fact fall on rear and flank elements 6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. The Panzer battalion was supported a company of infantry in Sdkfz 251/1 half tracks. On call were artillery fires from a further 105mm artillery battalion. Once the position was secured the Panzer battalion was to deploy into a blocking position. The Regimental HQ was to remain forward to ensure exploitation if the situation allowed. Both battalions would open up a corridor which would allow the remaining Panzer battalion, 2/10th Panzer Abteilung, to bypass all enemy forces and moving through this corridor breaking into the enemy rear.
Above, a view of the British left flank. The 6th Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders can be seen deployed on the first ridge with further elements of the battalion deployed on a second lower ridge behind. The battalion dispositions provided anti tank guns in the rear, as well as infantry to protect against German flanking movement.
Above, the 1/28th Schützen Battalion advances. In the distance the ridge marking the British left flank is clearly visible. Elements of the the Seaforth Highlanders can be seen on the ridge, as well as in the right distance. Further elements were deployed to the left to halt the expected frontal advance. In the foreground a MkVIb light tank platoon, 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, has opened fire from a small farm. In the ensuing firefight German anti tank guns were able to neutralise the tanks.
Another view of the farm and the MkVIb light tank platoon. In the battle the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry was broken up by company to provide fire support to the infantry battalions.
Meanwhile 1/10th Panzer Abteilung advances against the open British left. Panzer I and II tanks lead the advance with Panzer 38t and Panzer IVs in support. Visible are half track mounted infantry which were critical to the battalion overcoming enemy infantry. In this photo the British light tanks have not been located.
Having destroyed the light tanks German infantry surged forward. British artillery fire was relatively ineffective falling on platoons that were not to be engaged by British infantry. In contrast German 105mm artillery fires targeted British positions in support of German infantry. German platoon fire tactics, supported by HMGs and 75mm Infantry Guns, quickly overcame the defenders.
Visible in the top left elements of the 2nd Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment, put in a counterattack against the German left. This company strong attack caused the German commander some concern. However, Brigadier Stopford was unwilling to order a battalion sized attack in support of his own left flank. He remained convinced that the main German attack was yet to be delivered against his own right or centre.
By now the 1/10th Panzer Abteilung had begun its own flanking manoeuvre. Having advanced directly west it now swung south and and moved to attack the British left flank. Just as it did so British anti tank guns concealed on a the ridge opened fire destroying Panzers I tanks leading the advance. Below, the anti tank guns deployed on the ridge conduct, ambush fire.
The attack now became general with Panzers and half track infantry moving forward. German artillery was particularly effective targeting the anti tank guns with a massive artillery strike. Yet the German artillery was compromised as British counter battery fires fell around the German guns. Amazingly the German artillery continued to support the attack, as the British 4.5″ guns were totally ineffective.
Below, another view of the advance, showing the two German battalions converging on the Seaforth Highlanders. Just to the left another MkVIb platoon of the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry is seen engaging advancing German infantry. This flanked platoon was decimated by fire from Panzer IIs to its flank.
As the attacks continued German Panzers swept forward destroying the hopelessly outnumbered Seaforth Highlanders. Despite a solid defence the battalion broke, allowing the objectives of the 1/10 Panzer Abteilung and 1/28th Schützen battalions to be secured and hence to deploy into blocking positions as seen below.
With the corridor secured 2/10th Panzer Abteilung was unleashed. As noted earlier while Brigadier Stopford expected the remaining German battalions to attack his centre and right the Panzers advanced on his far left, German right, continuing their drive deep into the rear.
The scenario was developed with the Scenario Generation System. The Germans comprised 450 points while the British 300 points. Robin, commanding the British, reinforced his defence with a further Option A. The Germans had two Stuka sorties which failed to appear. Enough said about that! British artillery, while well planned to provide much needed support was particularly poor on the day. The counter battery fires failed to silence a single German battery and the 25 pounders doing little more. The final result, in what was a very enjoyable game, was a 9-5 German victory.
All miniatures are from the excellent Heroics & Ros ranges. Trees from Irregular and buildings from Timecast.
Since publication of this report the British government has released a statement regarding the battle via the BBC. You can read the report here.