Oh yes!! I felt today like a character in The Longest Day film, in my first (and overwhelming!) successful command of a British paratroops platoon in Normandy. A very intense scenario played with Chain of Command and featuring the defence of a farm in a typical Normandy landscape by the Red Devils, facing a furious counterattack of the Germans in the second day after the landing.
In this scenario (from the Skirmish Campaigns Book “Normandy ’44- The Devils of the Orne”) the objective is to control the walled house towards the centre of the map in the British area. We arranged this scenario to be played as an Attack on an Objective of the Chain of Command book.
The Germans comprised a regular reinforced infantry platoon supported with a Pz IV,a Stug, a FOO to control the offboard artillery pieces and a MMG team. The British had a full elite paratroops platoon supported by 2 Shermans and selected a PIAT team as reinforcement.
The patrol phase is one of the most important segments of the game, as it has a significant effect in the development of the game with your troops of the table. In this case the Germans decided to concentrate its patrols in their right flank with the intention of placing the jump-off points as close as possible to the contested house and game objective, under the cover of the orchard and the field to the northern edge of the table.
The reaction of the British was to launch its patrols forward and in a couple of moves most of the German patrol markers were locked (= within 12” distance of another enemy marker) far-far away from where they were looking to deploy.
This significantly constraint the Germans the ability to place its own jump-off markers, while gave the British ample flexibility to place its own, which we did concentrated around the house and covering our right flank in case of a flanking move of the Germans and to deny the control of the hill in the southern edge of the table.
Now the game started and two Germans sections were deployed on their right flank and advanced to the limit of the bocage line, while the FOO was placed in the second floor of the main building in the farm compound within the area of control of the Germans.
To check the threat I deployed a paratroop section in the dense woods on my left flank, ready to fire (overwatch) if any German unit attempted to cross the bocage line. A second section was deployed in the farm, with the rifle team protected behind the stone wall outside and the Bren team in the second floor level of the house, having LOS into the orchard and the main farm compound.
The German AFVs entered the table along the road hidden to our forces with the bocage line and the farm. The British tank troop was also activated, and after moving in its second phase, were put on overwatch, thus covering any potential threat coming from the road and/or the farm.
At this stage of the game, three simultaneous and remarkable actions took place:
On the left of the British line, the rifle section jumped over the stone wall an made a grenade attack on the Germans behind the bocage, killing two men.
The Bren gun in the second floor of the house detected some activity in the farm and opened fire of the FOO hidden there, (luckily) killing him and therefore knocking out the threat of the German heavy mortars.
Finally the Stug attempted a surprise attack, charging and tumbling down the stone wall of the farm and emerging in front of the British AFVs, taking advantage of a double activation phase...
...but to no avail, as the Sherman (in overwatch) fired first and make a one net hit on the German tank; in its own activation phase the same Sherman landed two shells on the Stug causing panic in the crew who bailed out the vehicle.
The loss of the FOO and the tank made already a dent in the German Force Moral level, reduced to 6 by now. However, the much stunned players put a straight face and attempted a new attack. Deploying two new infantry sections in the farm, they moved under cover of the field and towards the British controlled house. The remaining German tank came in support and emerged from the bend of the farm.
The British put in play the last reserve of troops, two Bren teams that deployed from the jump-off point located in their right flank. In the meantime, the British rifle section defending the house, crossed again the stone wall with the intention of fencing the new threat on the right.
Another almost simultaneous set of events took place:
The very motivated Sherman gunner put five hits on the emerging Pz IV who unfortunately rolled zero(!) savings, therefore automatically exploding.
The Bren teams and the other Sherman took aim on one of the German sections stopping them on their heels, pinning the unit and wounding the junior leader in command.
Two more rolls on the force moral table and two additional levels lost, now to four. Things were getting really difficult now for the German players, as their command dice were reduced from five to four
However the other section (thanks to a double activation) reached the house perimeter and made a frontal assault on the paratroopers rifle team, but not before launching a hail of hand grenades. Close assault is always a bloody affair in Chain of Command and this was not different, as the Germans had the initiative and completely wiped out the rifle section.
Bad for the British, as the house was just defended by the Bren team and a senior leader attached to them. The Germans were clearly at an advantage if assaulting the building, as I did not have any reinforcements left! In addition to losing the main objective, two of my jumpoff points were in danger as well as the risk of losing one team and the senior leader.
It was my turn now and I had to decide in the most critical point of the battle what to do... should I try reinforcing the house with the section in the woods? But then a full German section was free to attack me before I could cross the stone wall. Or should I send the two Bren teams on the right? But they had to run in the open and in the LOS of a murderous HMG under cover in the farm... risky!
My final move: I put all fire available on the German section pinned in the open... KIAs plus additional shocks broke the moral of the unit who also lost his junior leader.
Force moral was rolled (section broken and junior leader killed) and 3 additional points lost... time now to use the Chain of Command dice to end the turn... any unit broken when the turn ends is routed out of table... meaning another Force Morale roll... another point lost... German Force Morale at zero, British victory!!
After action thoughts
Another hectic game this morning. I must admit that putting out of action the German FOO early was a lucky strike and made life easier for the British; but there were three other aspects of the game that helped too: the patrol, a rational use of the reserves (not commit too early/too late) and reserving the Chain of Command dice for a critical moment on the game. Specially the last, players must consider a precious and scarce resource.
The game today well illustrated the flexible nature of the rules, in the sense that offers players a wide range of tools and options to use your assets, but the outcome of a battle it is NOT in the rules but in making good use of those assets. See in these regards my comments and thoughts in the “A Chain of Command Diary” series in this blog
A final remark, related to the Force Morale mechanism. As again shown today, this is for me one of the best ideas of Richard Clarke when Chain of Command was designed. Looking to erode the morale of your enemy rather than its physical destruction seems to me a very realistic after reading contemporary memoirs and battle reports.
Additionally, it forces the player to act in a different way to other rules, where “resisting to the last man” is in no way penalised. Commanders should adopt and holistic view and to take into consideration the erosion suffered by the individual units in play as they can have the effect this could have on the overall cohesion of the force.
Today for example, despite significant forces still intact on the table, the German commander had to finally disengage the combat and leave the battlefield due to combat fatigue and increasing difficulties to give orders and these being obeyed.