This Sunday we played the second scenario of the Villers Bocage campaign for Chain of Command that you can download for free from the Playingtheodds blog. The campaign's background is Normandy '44 and delas with a set of pitch battles between the German Panzer Lehr and the British 7th Armoured Divisions. This is a an exceptionally well structured campaign that we plan to play entirely sometime in the autumn winter, but today we went for one of the scenarios.
The scenario pitches an attacking British force (an infantry platoon with supports) vs. an elite German panzergrenadier platoon. The latter are a very powerful unit with 2 x LMG teams in each of the 3 sections of the platoon.
The deployment and the victory conditions are those of the “Scenario 2- The Probe” form the Chain of Command book: the defender must control an area 12” wide next to its tactical edge and must prevent that any enemy formed unit stay within that area at the end of its own phase.
The campaign materials do not include a specific drawing of the table but it provides a general description: “Terrain will be woods/ orchards, fields, bocage and the outskirts of the town (some buildings). Roads will be either dirt or cobblestone”.
After putting a table with our interpretation, the patrol phase started and the final jump-off points were placed. The photo below shows the table and the final position of the jump-off points.
|Deployment and jump-off points|
After rolling for support (3 for the Germans, 13 for the British), the game started. I was playing German and could be expecting some armour support in the enemy; so I chose as my own options a Panzerschreck team (2p) to beef up my AT defences, and the adjutant (1p) to allow the senior leader arriving early to the table, without jeopardizing the arrival of other units off-table.
The British initially pressed on the two flanks, deploying one infantry section in each of the extreme jump-off points under cover of the bocage, plus a Cromwell tank in the middle. On the German side, we deployed a first full section on the lower and upper floor of the building to our left, dominating a good filed of fire, but wait for the British to move additionally before committing more troops (at this stage the attack line was unclear).
The British first attempted to move through their left flank, advancing in steps crossing the bocage lines until arriving to the road next to our building in the right. We parry the attack deploying a second infantry section in the field overlooking the gate in the bocage, in overwatch to make fire as soon the first British soldier attempted to enter the area.
The German decided to grab the initiative (no surprise, being aggressive) and charged the British unit after throwing some grenades. Close combats are always a bloody affair, especially if the units are intact, and this was no exception. After two rounds (the first was a draw) the British sections was totally wiped out (except for the junior leader that remained on the table although wounded) while the Germans had only half of the LMG in place plus the junior leader.
Before the last German survivors could pull out, the British brought into play a nasty flamethrower and I thought all the unit was going into BBQ... but a lucky dice roll just put enough shock on the unit to make them break and flee to cover.
In the meantime, our third German infantry section was brought into play the close the breach. Having failed the attempt to reach our lines, it was now the turn for the Cromwell tank to attack. It moved into the road crossing the table north to south and started to move.
At this stage we use our only Chain of Command of Dice to trigger an ambush with the Panzerschrecker team and placed just in front of the steel beast ready to make fire. What I did not realize is that the British also had a CoC Dice which the use to make fire with the tank's MGs before we could fire our rocket. Luckily the gunners were apparently too scared to wipe out us, achieving a kill but leaving the other half of the team on the table.
Our turn now: we roll to hit achieving a direct impact. Our 13 attacking dice put six hits on the enemy tank who could only save two,: Kha-booomm!!! Cromwell exploded!!!
Despite all the bloody fight, wounded leaders and tanks eliminated, the Force Moral of both contenders remained surprisingly high at this stage of the game (7 points). So a lot of game still ahead of us. With no reserves left by now, the British attempted their last card by advancing through the right flank.
|The attack of the British left|
Crossing the bocage, two British section stoically advanced though the high crop fields defying the fire of the German LMGs located in the house. True, we got terrible rolls and we thought was going to be a massacre was almost a nice walk in the countryside for the British.
Failing to put an effective smoke screen from the small mortars, the FOO and the big guns were put in play; after two attempts the artillery barrage started falling on the house. Not a lot of direct impact on the occupants, but they were pinned and blind, allowing the British to get close to the German tactical edge almost unmolested…. almost, because we decided to move the German section on the left to check the British advancing troops.
|Forward march! (but where are the bagpipes???)|
The reaction of the British was to put a blocking force in the gate of the bocage line to contain our unit while keeping the rest moving towards the house. In the last lap of the game the fire barrier was lifted to allow the British to pass by the house and claim victory.
|The road to victory: British right flank moves|
What can I say? It was a close-run and tight affair until the last minute, resulting in one of most emotional games that I have played so far. Despite the superior quality of the German troops, the British made a good use of the available assets and specially the artillery barrier, refraining from spending it before time (well done boys!).
Do I have any regret of my handling of the game? Not really, I think all decisions were correct in general; but as it happens in the real life, you cannot have all that you need when you want it. The last two or three command dice rolls did not provide enough command points to activate all the units that I'd like so you have to choose... not very different to the experience of a junior leader in the battlefield. Chain of Command is the best rules I’ve ever play and the more I play, the more they show their quality and reliability.