Category Archives: France 1940

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.


Pawns against Panzers

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.