Götz von Berlichingen – Advance!

The American 5th Infantry Division had returned to the line on the 9th of November 1944 when where they took up defensive positions. The 2nd Infantry Regiment was the most advanced Regiment of the division and took up positions around four village areas. Indications were that to the front was 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen.

The American regimental commander deployed 1st Battalion forward holding a town and woods to the regiments front. These troops were well positioned to disrupt any German counter attack. Behind 1st Battalion, 2nd Battalion provided a strong second line while a reinforced company was oriented north to protect the likely direction that a German flank attack would come from. Below, the 1st Battalion sector from the northeast. The 2nd Battalion reinforces the position with supporting dispositions.

The American 3rd Battalion was deployed to the right of 1st Battalion taking advantage of high ground and wooded slopes provided advantageous positions for screening the regiments flank. A platoon sized team secured a small village on the right rear, near which divisional mortars were placed. Each battalion was supported by an understrength company of M-36 Jacksons. Two artillery battalions were on call, as was the usual American aircraft.

Above, the area of operations viewed from the north. American 1st & 2nd Battalions are in the foreground, while the 3rd Battalion is in the top left.

To the east elements of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division under command of SS-Standartenführer Gustav Mertsch was forming for a hasty attack. Mertsch allocated 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment for the operation and reinforced it with a Kampfgruppe built around surviving elements of the divisional Panzerjäger battalion and reconnaissance battalions. SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans Lingner would command the attack which would be directly supported by two 105mm artillery battalions and a werfer battalion. Finally a 150mm artillery battalion was allocated for counter-battery fire.

Reconnaisance prior to the attack had built up a general picture of the American positions, which comprised three battalions in the sector with greater strength to the American left. However, the exact positions of American forces was unclear. Lingner determined to launch a phased operation, with each attack going in silent. First to move was his 1st Panzer Grenadier Battalion which moved over open ground towards a short wooded ridge behind a village. This was the battalions first objective. To the left a small but steep hill providing excellent visibility was to be secured and was clearly an important objective. With 1st Battalion advancing and approaching the likely enemy positions the 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion moved forward to the right of 1st Battalion. 2nd Battalion was tasked with supporting 1st Battalion’s attack, if needed, and securing a village. The battalions were then go into defensive positions. 3rd Panzer Grenadier Battalion was further to the right and held back in reserve to act as a follow-on battalion. As 1st and 2nd Battalions engaged the enemy right the Panzerjäger Kampfgruppe, Kampfgruppe Wahl, was to conduct a swift deep flanking movement against the unprotected in the American right. It was critical this battalion was to advance with speed and break into the rear areas. As this attack developed 1st Panzer Grenadier Battalion would support by moving against the now exposed American right flank.

In this aerial photograph above the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment are seen to be advancing in the top left.

Above, the 1st Panzer Grenadier Battalion secures a small village while their objectives, a steep hill in the front and enemy positions on the wooded hill to the right are visible. Below, a view from 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion as it advances to the right of 1st Battalion. American infantry and tank destroyers have engaged 1st Battalion. In the following turn German Nebelwerfers and 105mm artillery saturate the American position forcing the survivors to retire.

In the following turn German Nebelwerfers and 105mm artillery saturate the American position forcing the survivors to retire. The Panzer Grenadiers of 1st Battalion now advanced seizing the wooded ridge and engaging the retiring American survivors with small arms and in the case of the retiring tank destroyers with Panzerfausts.

American 155mm artillery now joined in firing at the advancing infantry, the resulting suppressions visible above, top left. This was met by counter-battery fires by German 150mm guns firing at extreme range. Despite locating the American artillery quickly the counter-battery fires were frustrating ineffective, continually suppressing rather than destroying the American artillery. Also visible above in the foreground are German trucks towing Pak 40 anti-tank guns. These were allocated to each Panzer Grenadier battalion for possible use against American counter-attacks.

It was at this time that the flanking action by the Kampfgruppe Wahl entered. Divided in to two groups, in an effort to navigate the dense terrain on the American right, the unit moved rapidly forward.

The Kampfgruppe comprised 28 Stugs and was supported by a company of Panzer Grenadiers in 250/1s halftracks, a number of Sdkfz 250/9 reconnaissance halftracks and two sections of quad 20mm flak vehicles. They can be seen above advancing on the right rear of the American position. The village was found to be held by a single American platoon. Beyond the village was an American 106mm mortar battalion which was overrun by the advancing troops.

Above, the view from the American mortar battalion position as Stugs advance. These Stugs are the less effective L/43 version pulled into service by the division from serveral reserve and training formations to supplement the division’s limited armoured units.

Below, the general situation with Panzer Grenadiers attacking the American 3rd Battalion from the front while the  Kampfgruppe Wahl advances on the rear.

As the German Kampfgruppe Wahl advanced through the rear areas they came under a series of Jabo attacks. The first, shown below, was ineffective due to well placed 20mm flak. The second however was delivered after the flak had been neutralised and resulted in a number of destroyed Stugs. Below, Jabos deliver an attack run, a Sdkfz 250/9 is visible in the foreground.

Above, Jabos deliver the first attack run, a Sdkfz 250/9 is visible in the foreground. Below, another attack targets on another group of Stugs.

The Kampfgruppe Wahl had now advanced deep behind the American position but had now become dangerously outstretched. Obersturmbannführer Lingner had issued several order changes.

1st Panzer Grenadiers had been issued follow on orders which was to see them push into the second line of the American 3rd Battalion. However a lack of artillery support delayed the attack. Until the attack finally went in the American battalion retained a strong blocking position. Finally, when the American 3rd Battalion broke in route the Panzer Grenadiers were now unable to support the Kampfgruppe Wahl as planned.

Further, the 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion was taking heavy casualties from elements of the American 1st Battalion, especially direct support fires by tank destroyers, and finally a platoon counterattack by anti-aircraft half tracks. There position risked being comprised and with German casualties rising quickly Lingner had no choice but to commit his 3rd Panzer Grenadier battalion, visible below in the foreground, in an effort to maintain momentum.

Above, foreground 3rd Panzer Grenadiers advance in support of 2nd Panzer Grenadier. Top left Stugs of Kampfgruppe Wahl are  engaged in an exchange with tank destroyers supporting the 2nd American Battalion. Portions of the battalion had relocated east facing positions to face south to slow the German flank attack. American artillery has fired smoke to isolate portions of the Kampfgruppe Wahl so the outnumbered Americans can concentrate their fire. In the centre American M16 halftracks conduct a company sized local counter-attack to apply pressure on the 2nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion, which was near breaking. This couster-attack was driven back by hastily deployed Pak-40 anti-tank guns.

With casualties mounting, fading light and the momentum of the attack clearly lost, Lingner now called his attack off. Casualties on the Kampfgruppe Wahl had been heavy and while the morale was high the commander was unable to advance further. 2nd Panzer Grenadier had suffered heavy casualties and further operations would have been unwise. Three objectives had however been secured and one American battalion shattered. The 37th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had acquitted itself well, though the crushing victory so needed, remained elusive.

The scenario  was developed using the Scenario Generation System and involved a hasty attack by the Germans who reinforced their attack with an Option A, the werfer battalion. By the end of the game three objectives had been secured while the Panzerjäger battalion had been forced to check morale. The Americans had also taken an Option A reinforcement, a 155mm artillery battalion. They retained two objectives but had lost one battalion, it had been forced to test morale twice. The result was therefore a winning 7-5 draw to the Germans.

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.

Panzer 38t TO&E

One of my many Spearhead projects was the assembly of a generic early war German Panzer formation. The aim was to collect vehicles that could be used on the Western Front, during the invasion of France in 1940, as well as the initial operations against the Russians as part of Operation Barbarossa.

Russland, Panzer 38t

I have always liked the look of the Panzer 38t. Its versatility, at least of the chassis, is well demonstrated by its use in some versions of the Marder and the eventual evolution to the Hertzer. I therefore decided to use the formations equipped with the Panzer 38t as the basis for my initial early war German Panzer formations.

Over the years my Early War Panzer Battalions have seen service in scenarios set in France and Russia, with mixed results of course.

The following TO&E represents these formations. The core information was provided some years ago by John Moher. This revised TO&E differs slightly from the more generic TO&E included with the Spearhead rules.

France 1940:

For the invasion of France two Panzer Divisions were equipped with Panzer 38ts,  the 7th and 8th Panzer Divisions.

Battalion Headquarters:
HQ: 1 Panzer 38t
1 Recon Panzer I or Panzer II
2 – Light Tank Companies each with:
3 – Panzer 38ts
1 – Panzer I or II
1 – Medium Tank Company with:
2 – Panzer IVDs
1 – Panzer II

Notes:

  1. In 1940 only Panzer II A-E were available, all have DEF 2/2 only. The points cost is reduced to 6 points.
  2. A mix of Panzers I and II tanks were operated in each battalion. To model this within each battalion one light tank company would use the Panzer I and the second light tank company a Panzer II. Other divisions may have used a similar mix.
  3. Some battalions in the 7th Panzer Division can replace a Panzer 38t, in light tank companies, with a Panzer II.

Russia 1941:

For the invasion of Russia five divisions were equipped with Panzer 38ts. These were the 7th, 8th, 12th, 19th and 20th.

Battalion Headquarters:
HQ: 1 Panzer 38t
1 Recon Panzer II
2 – Light Tank Companies each with:
3 – Panzer 38ts
1 – Panzer II
1 – Medium Tank Company with:
2 – Panzer IVDs
1 – Panzer II

Notes:

  1. In 1941 all Panzer II are F models. Earlier model vehicles have been up armoured. All have a DEF 3/2.

Russia 1942:

I haven’t been able to confirm which divisions were still operating the Panzer 38ts in 1942, though production finally ended in that year.

Battalion Headquarters:
HQ: 1 Panzer 38t
1 Recon Panzer II
2 – Light Tank Companies each with:
3 – Panzer 38ts
1 – Medium Tank Company with:
3 – Panzer IVDs or Panzer IVEs

Notes:

  1. All Panzer II are F models. Earlier model vehicles have been up armoured. All therefore have a DEF 3/2.
  2. Panzer 38ts would be later models so should be up armoured with a DEF of 4/2.
  3. Panzer IVs are either D or E models. 

In future posts I shall post some photos of my Panzer 38t battalions as well as their points costs if using the Scenario Generation System.

Franvielle Ridge – 1944

After the relative success of the previous day the commander of 11th Panzer Division, Generalleutnant Wend von Weitersheim ordered urgent reinforcement and replenishment of the advanced Kampfgruppes of the division, now under command of Oberstleutnant Kirchner. By noon of the following day Kirchner’s Kampfgruppes were on the move preparing to exploit the tactical situation, which was now fluid. Weitersheim however advised Oberstleutnant Kirchner that the Tiger company that had been available previously was withdrawn from his command for employment elsewhere.

The tactical situation and Kirchner’s command objectives for the 14th can be outlined generally as follows. In front was the 2nd Infantry Regiment from the US 5th Infantry Division. An advanced American infantry battalion was 2400 yards from the regiment’s start lines and deployed in various woods forward of the Franvielle Ridge some 1000 yards in length. To the American right a small hill further dominated a relatively open plain between it and the German start lines. These two positions would be the final objectives of 11th Panzer. Kirchner expected American forces to consist of an infantry regiment of three battalions supported by M36 tank destroyers and an unknown number of Sherman tanks. These forces were expected to advance through the deployed battalion towards the German lines. In the process they would attempt to secure high ground on the German left, and a tactically important bridge in the German centre. This would secure four of the five objectives. Kirchner did not believe the small village on the German right would significantly influence American planning. He therefore determined to hold two objectives, possibly three, while conducting a deep flanking movement to attack the advancing Americans from the flank and rear. By noon the various forces were in motion.
  

Above, the general area with German forces advancing from the left and Americans from the right. German initial objectives were a village (left foreground), a bridge (centre left) and a ridge (top left). American initial objectives are a the Franvielle Ridge (centre right) and a hill (top right).

On the right flank KG Richter, comprising dismounted grenadiers and ten Jagdpanzers, advanced rapidly to secure the first of two small villages. Kirchner deployed his Regimental HQ with this Kampfgruppe to maintain tactical flexibility. After securing the first objective elements of the KG Richter moved forward and left to secure a bridge towards the German centre. The Kampfgruppe now went into a defensive posture while the plan unfolded elsewhere.

Above, KG Richter advances. The first objective, a small town has been secured. Elements of the Kampfgruppe will soon swing left to secure the bridge while Jadgpanzers take up over watch positions, shown below.

Simultaneously KG Coblenz advanced to secure the high ground on the German left. This Kampfgruppe was based around a battalion of grenadiers who advanced on foot supported by some 15 Stugs. Like the previous Kampfgruppe it was supported by an artillery battalion some distance to the rear. The Stugs were to secure the high ground and provide over watch for any further advances. Unfortunately one Stug platoon was decimated by long range fire from M36s deployed in a wood firing at extreme range as it moved onto high ground.

Above, KG Coblenz secures its initial objectives. The Stug on the extreme left was spotted advancing on to an area of rising ground and later eliminated by long range fire by M36 tank destroyers drawn from the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The Stugs on the two contour hill were not located and dominated the plain in front. American infantry from the 2nd Battalion are advancing on the left and centre screened by light recon elements. American infantry from the centre to the right are from the 1st Battalion and were deployed forward prior to the battle.

Two hours after the advance began three of the Regiment’s objectives had been secured and the burden of attack had theoretically moved to the Americans. Yet the American commander, Col. A. Worrell Roffe, seemed hesitant. Of the expected American battalions were in the area only one was moving forward and this was behind a screen of recon vehicles. This is when KG Foelkersam was unleashed. The Kampfgruppe, comprising some 40 PzIVs a company of grenadiers in half tracks and various recon elements, arrived to the American right flank.

Advancing in a deep flanking movement KG Foelkersam was to move rapidly into the American rear, over running American infantry in the open and generally bypassing those in woods. The arrival of the Kampfgruppe caused chaotic scenes on the American right flank as the panzers advanced. However, the friction of combat slowed the advance. Some platoons became bogged down in firefights with enemy infantry while others pushed forward into the enemy rear areas. American armour near the Franvielle Ridge were now ordered to the right to halt the rampaging panzers. Further, a third American infantry battalion was moved from reserve to form a hasty blocking force. KG Foelkersam was now engaged with, or soon would be, elements of three battalions.

To reinforce the attack Kirchner ordered his other formations forward.

Above, American armour are ordered to the right flank. The column is led by several 76mm Sherman Jumbos which halted the Panzers, yet were themselves unwilling to advance.

On the German left the dismounted grenadiers of KG Coblenz, supported by Stugs advanced to provide direct support. While some progress was made the battalion was to suffer heavy casualties by artillery fires by 155mm artillery. Before the attack could effectively support the Panzers of KG Foelkersam the grenadiers were forced to retire. At the same time, facing heavy opposition KG Foelkersam refocused its efforts. Manoeuvring, it disengaged from combat with American Shermans, the under strength 737th Tank Battalion which contained several Jumbo Shermans, deployed on tanks Franvielle Ridge to destroying elements of the American infantry on the extreme left. Unfortunately lacking artillery and only limited infantry this was a difficult task.

On the German right KG Richter also advanced. Sweeping wide it advanced on the Franvielle Ridge from the American left. In this movement several grenadier platoons were subjected to American artillery strikes causing heavy casualties.

A member of the Jadgpanzer company describes the action. “We bypassed the woods and pressed on…Suddenly we saw movement ahead. The Panzers angled to the left and one fired its main armament…The artillery fire became stronger. Then there was a new tone in the explosions – a harder, drier whipcrack. Two shells exploded in front of our tank…A tank was knocked out in front of us…It was almost a relief when we were hit ourselves…When the smoke cleared I saw that my hatch was gone.”

Despite the artillery fire, and direct fire of American tank destroyers, advanced elements of the Kampfgruppe were soon within 700 yards of the Franvielle Ridge, as shown below. Again the Germans had flanked the American positions.

As a result the American commander was again forced to react, switching his armour from his right to the left and organising a scratch company to provide protection for divisional mortars that were at risk of being overrun. Prisoners later indicated this attack caused great concern to the Americans.

Alas, darkness had once again intervened as both commanders accepted a stalemate existed. Yet again 11th Panzer had failed to gain the significant breakthrough desired.

The scenario was an “Advance to Contact” developed using the Scenario Generation System. American forces, commanded by Jim, comprised 650 points with one battalion deployed on table. The Germans, commanded by myself, comprised a 650 point force reinforced by a free 50 point Option A. At the end of play the result was a 6-6 draw. The Americans held two objectives and had forced one German battalion to test morale. The Germans held three objectives but had caused no American battalions to test morale. No objectives were contested.