Sunday, 21 November 2010

Greenhouse in a Hailstorm

Sidney Roundwood's blog (a MUST for any I WW wargamer) recently got a post commenting a Mud & Blood scenario called "A Greenhouse in a Hailstorm" played in the latest Beer & Lard Day. The game simulated the first days of the Battle of Cambrai (November 1917) and the combats to control some of the foprtified villages in the area (/Bourlon Village, Flesquieres...). I thought it was an interesting scenario to play with my collegues at our local club, and here is the after action report.

Map and forces involved
We played in a 6" x 4" table. The dark brown lines represent the network of trenches and communication lines while the grey strip represents the village former high street, now aligned with ruined houses and covered with debris. "A" and "B" are the entry points for the German reinforcements. A thick barbed wire was deployed in front of the main trench line. The buildings had reinforced cellars counting as heavy cover for artillery fire.

This is a view of the table from the British side...

...and this is from the German side.

British forces and objectives
The British order of battle included a full infantry platoon and three tanks (2 male and 1 female). They also had a 3 turn artillery barrage that could be deployed discretionally anywhere on the table. Their objetcive was to control the village. All troops were regular with "good" morale and in "aggressive" battle stance.

 The British command was also alerted by the intelligence that important reinforcements were concentrating near Cambrai and that a counterattack might be likely. Addtional control of entry points A and/or B could deny the arrival of potential German reinforcements.

German foces and objectives
The German had a few sections of mainly riflemen, rounded up by the military police when trying to reach Cambrai , fleeing from the British iron monster and forced to defend the small village of Bourlon. As a result the troops were classified as "regular" but only "reasonable" morale.

 The high command allotted the German platoon with an anti-tank rifle, and HMG with Sk (anti tank ammunition) and a couple of Grenatenwerfer 16 to help in the defense of Bourlon.

Additionally they were promised important reinforcements (arriving after turn 5) consisting in a heavy flamethrower team, an LMG section and a "panzer jager" squad armed with grenade bundles.

The objective of the German troops was to deny the British the control of the village.

Battle development
The Germans placed the Grentanewerfer at the end of the village's main road and the bomber section in the communication trench on the German's left flank. The rest of troops were sheltered (as expected) in the buildings' cellars awaiting the British artillery barrage.

The artillery barrage was split, allocating one turn to the barbed wire line and the remaining 2 turns to the first line of houses, causing a minor impact on the Germans.  

The British main axis of attack was placed on its right flank, the three tanks leading and the infantry sections behind.  The idea was to outflank the village while mantaining a strong force guarding the British flank supported by the communication trench running to the rear in case the German reinforcements emerged in "B"

The British attack soon bogged down in front of the main trench line, for two  reasons: they moved forward too cautiously, looking all the time to get cover in the artillery shellhoes, and they scattered their superior fire power by targeting too many of the German sections in sight at the same time.

The situation could have been worse for the British should the Germans had made better use of the support elements on their side (granatenwerfer and HMG). On the one hand, placing the the grenade launchers behind the  village menat that they had a very narrow line of sight to be effective (a  line of fire running along the main village street).

On the other hand, the Germans got obsessed with stopping the tanks and used the HMG to try to hit the iron beasts (also quite ineffectively; they could have seriously softened the British infantry sections instead).

In the meantime, the German reinforcements started pouring in (after turn 5) and the British realised that time was now running against them. The British players finally took some rational decisions and concentrated the tanks, grenade rifles and LMG  fire now in the two sections occupying the front line trench. The British took control the trench in just a few turns.

The German reinforcements had in the menatime enough time to arrive into the village,  being palced in some of the rearmost buildings. However the German player took the oddest decision of the game by ordering these units (including a powerful flamethrower team) to hide... in the cellars!

Having conquered the main trench line, the British infantry moved now to attack the first line of buildings, while sending a couple fo teh tanks to outflank  the Germans, resulting in one of the tanks getting bogged down in the trench when attempting to cross it.

What followed was a confusing melee between a British bomber squad and the German flamethrower team hidden in the cellar. I was acting as a referee and I considered that the Germans were at a disadvantageous position (one level below the Brits, confined in a close space and with probably one door to exit) so the melee will have to be fight as if attacking a bunker (see section 12.5 in page 29).

The German players complained specially because from reading section 12 of M&B rules set (dealing with close combat) it was concluded that the flamethrower was not allowed to be used, as with any other support weapon  (in any case, I have just put the question to the Yahoo Group.) The melee concluded as expected with the Germans killed and the whole unit out of action (although the British bombers were now just reduced to the Big Man and a private).

Four hours had already passed since we started the game and the situation was inconclusive. The German sections were suffering some wearing from the tanks fire but the British infantry were probably now at only 50% of their initial allotment, unclear if enough effectives to take the village. Lunch time by then, we decided to stop the game at 2PM.

Overall it seemed to me a balanced scenario but I have to admit that some deployment mistakes on both sides (as explained in the text) make it really diifficult to come up with a strong conclusion. I have the impression that tanks seem to be almighty and difficult to stop; but as we never arrived to the encounter between the "panzer jager" section armed with grenade bundles or the flamethorwer team and the iron beasts, again it makes really hard to argue in favour or against.

Both the the AT rifle and more significantly the HMG with Sk ammo were truly ineffective (not a single shot was successful all along the game). And this to some extent contradicts what I have read in Hammond's Cambrai and Verrinder's Tank Action when the tank crews described their experiences in battle.

In any case it was an interesting scenario and we saw definetely some changes of fortune through it that made it quite enjoyable, as illustrated by the foru hours playing without stopping to have a coffe.

A young British conscript (my son Alex) clearly dissappointed because dad ordered his tank to be collected and to go back home for lunch.

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