Thursday 24 June 2010

Cambrai Scenario Sketches # 1: "The Beast's Last Sting"

Following a detailed reading of Bryn Hammond's excellent "Cambrai 1917" (a must for anyone interested in this battle), my plan now is to publish some blueprints  for scenarios in the context of this famous battle. These won't be final ready-to-play scenarios but rather "sketches" of ideas that will evolve and reshape over time and hopefully will be enriched with contributions from other gamers. So please, join the effort and leave your ideas and comments.

The battle around Cambrai in 1917 is best known for being the first in which a significant tank force was employed while developing an active effort to coordinate the armoured, infantry and air British forces. The initial attack achieved a total surprise and the formidable Hindenburg line was easily pierced all along the front.

If you're looking for a good scenario covering this first and classical leg of the battle (tanks breaching the wire lines and crossing the first line trenches followed by infantry) , I recommend to play  Scenario Four of the Lardies' "Stout Hearts and Iron Troopers" M&B supplement. My interest is in other phases of the battle.

Sketch # 1 - The Beast's Last Sting

Setting up the scene
My first entry is a tank crew rescue scenario. Tank E40 "Edward II" (14 Company, E Battalion) advancing on Flesquiers receives a direct hit from the German artillery. The tank crew bails out and take cover in a nearby ditch. Second Lieutenant Bion tells the story (Cambrai 1917, page 158-159).

"Outside the tank we were under fire, but I had not the slightest idea where the bullets were coming from ... I told O'Toole to take charge (of the wounded) in the trench while I tried to deal with our tormentors. Taking four drums of Lewis gun ammunition ... and a Lewis gun, I clambered clumsily onto the top of the tank and set up my gun under cover of the fascine ... I commanded a good view of the little copse behind the wall, I proceed methodotically to spray.

 I was surprised to find German troops led by an officer pouring out of a gap in the left distance corner... I swung round and opened fire on them..."  What followed was a series of short, mad rushes by Bion and his two remaining unwounded crew members to a trench occupied by infantry of the 1/6th who had now caught up with the tanks".

Terrain lay-out
My initial proposal is for a standard 6" x 5" table with the following lay out.

The terrain is mainly flat with a smooth downward slope running from south to north, crossed east-west by a secondary road with a ditch on its southern bank. On the northern part there's a stone wall a and hedge row runnig in parallel. Small and medium sized tree copses as well as shell craters are scattered more or less ramdomly across the table.

Some consideration about the terrain features:
  • Craters and  tree areas offer light cover.
  • The stone wall and the ditch offer medium cover.
  • The ditch is wide enough to to accomodate 1 man, therefore any unit attempting to by pass another will have to go "over the top". 
  • Tree copses and the hedge row block the line of sight to units standing behind but not to those taking cover within them.

 The German forces will enter the table through the northern and western sides, up to the dotted line (at a distance of around 2 feet from the northern side). The British forces will enter through  the southern side.

Placing the tank wreckage and crew
The tank wreckage will be placed on the road at 4d6 distance from the western edge of the table.
4 crew figures armed with a Lewis machine gun and pistols, including Lieutenant Boin (Big Man Level III), can be placed up 2" from the tank model.
The Lewis gun is subject to the ammunition shortage rule.

The British player objective is to safely evacuate the tank crew exiting through the southern edge of the map. As two of the crew members are wounded they will not be able to move except with the support or other unwounded British soldiers.

The German player objective is to capture the British tank crew for interrogation (see rule 12.6 of M&B) and move them through the northern edge of the table.

Forces involved
And now for the forces involved.
  1. A first  of introductory remarks: I feel that the timing of entry and composition of the forces involved should have a high degree of randomness, considering The specific scenario situation: a tank unit that has outpaced its infantry escort,  now more or less far away from them (but how far? ) and probably pinned/taking cover by German HMG  fire.
  2. The phase of the battle: the British were by now entering into the second stage of the first battle day, having suffered a fair (but not overwhelming)  number of casualties; the Germans being a makeshift defence force made up of remanents of different units, still under the shock of the surprise tank attack but already recovering and not just putting up some decent resistance but launching first isolated counterattacks, in line with the German fighting philosophy.
In other words, a very fluid situation corresponding to the midst of a second British offensive move, attacking the rearguard areas of the German trench system, where the surprise effect is gone and the artillery support less effective than in the early hours of the day.

My first approach, looking to a balanced scenario will be as follows:
  • Around 25  figures per side, 4 British Big Men (1 x level III, 2 x level II, 1 Level I) vs 3 German Big Men (1 x Level III, 2 x Level I).
  • The British forces will be divided in 5 groups with a maximum of 6 figures per group. Could include up to 2 rifle grenadier teams (4 figures in total), 8 grenadiers and 3 trench cleaners. British are Veteran/Good
  • The German will divide their force in 4 sections with a maximum of 7 figures per section. Can include up to 10 bombers and 5 trench cleaners. No LMGs. German are Veteran/Reasonable.
  • At the start, only the British tank crew will be on the table and a half  German squad (1 x Big Men Level I + 5 rifles)  deployed in blinds plus a sniper (hidden until activated).
Reinforcements activation
After the second Time for Snifter, introduce a reinforcement or blank card to activate reinforcements; once the card is shown, the unit will enter the board at the end of the turn , placed in blinds in the areas desiganted for each player.

The first two activations will be for the German player (as he is taking the innitiative); the third activation will be British and after that alternate 1 German, 1 British until all units are on the table. The Germans will also enjoy a 1 Sharpshooter HMG fire round (off table) on the blank card once the last British unit  is on board.

Proposed card deck

Common: Time for Snifter and Blank Card (if reinforcement card not used)
British at start: 1 x Big Man Level III, 1 x Iniative III, Ammunition Shortage; Dynamic Commander
German at start: Blind, sniper

British (remaining): Blind, Big Men +  Initiative according to level, Up and At Them, Reinforcement
German (remaining) Blind, Big Men + Initiative, Reinforcement, Storm Card, Dynamic Commander

Your feeback is welcome

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