|16th SS Panzergrenadiers force the Royal Marine Commandos from their positions on the east bank of the railway bridge. Pic copyright of and courtesy of David Davidson.|
The first meeting of 2014 for the Peninsula Wargames Group saw thirteen players gather for a large Bolt Action game - a hypothetical scenario based (very loosely) on events in the Italian campaign.
German forces comprised just over 5000pts of 16th SS Panzergrenadiers, 362 Infantry Division (known throughout the game as "the Armenians") and a mixed 4th Fallschirmjager/RSI Nembo company. Facing them were 3 platoons of American Infantry, including a platoon of Nisei, 2 platoons of the 24th Guards Brigade, and a RM Commando platoon - also totalling over 5000 points. Each force generated just on 60 order dice. We played it on a 6 x 12 ft table, with 6 players per side and 1 umpire.
|Part of "Kampfgruppe Landbrot". Pic courtesy of and copyright of Greg Pullin|
|The usual suspects. Pic courtesy of and copyright of Greg Pullin.|
The scenario was designed to have multiple objectives (so that players could be assigned separate objectives, making "games within the game"), and to ensure that both sides could select from different strategies to achieve victory. I have published the scenario in full here, which I hope will provide some context for this AAR.
The Germans were tasked to destroy the bridges and hold the village for as long as possible. However, they could also score victory points by delaying the bridge demolition to allow Oberst Landbrot – a VIP – to escape off the table via the north west road.
The Allies needed to secure the two small bridges. To secure the lines of advance, the village, and the high ground to the east of the bridges needed to be controlled. They could also score points by capturing Herr Landbrot.
The game began with the deployment of the Commando force. The Allied commanders had made the risky decision that the British elites force could hang on to the railway bridge deep in the enemy deployment zone...
|Royal Marine commandos dig in around their objective - and hope to hold off the inevitable counter-attack until their allies roll in... Pic courtesy and copyright of Grant Burke.|
The Heer infantry deployed to hold the village, while the veteran paratroopers formed a screen in the forests and buildings on the Allied table edge. The Germans deployed the majority of their heavy weapons on the ridgeline to the east of the river. All the infantry that could be accommodated in transports was held in reserve.
|The Heer Osttruppen - inexperienced and with the "shirker" attribute - are depoyed into positions where they are least likely to cave in... Pic courtesy and copyright of Grant Burke.|
Before the first order dice was pulled, the Allies called in their Preparatory Bombardment - and rolled a 1. They could rustle up no support from their divisional batteries! It was an ominous start for the attackers...
By the end of the first turn, it was obvious that the Germans had elected to create a powerful, armoured "Kampfgruppe Landbrot" and were planning to punch through any Allied force holding the bridges. The Americans seemed to be deploying west of the river and heading for the town, but appeared to be holding a significant percentage of their forces in reserve. The British were trying to push through the forest and hills east of the river. And the roads leading to the RM commando positions were empty of Allied vehicles...
|"Kampfgruppe Landbrot" makes its dash towards the bridges... Pic courtesy and copyright of Grant Burke.|
The second turn saw the German defensive screen launch a number of successful ambushes - the Allied armour taking a fearful pounding from the panzerfaust-equipped infantry. Again, no Allied armour appeared to be rushing to help the commandos (who were taking a hammering from the German artillery and mortars) and Kampgruppe Landbrot was making a dash towards an unsecured south bridge. The Allied commanders were accusing each other of not following orders, and the Royal Marines seemed resigned to getting the short end of inter-service rivalry. The umpire called the allies together and asked if they want to set up a comms net and possibly change orders (including any flanking/reserve nominations). They took the opportunity, but FUBARed the comms roll with a double 6. No radio link! It would be up to the individual Allied commanders to react to the situation and revise their objectives...
|The Guards lose two Bren Carriers in one turn - both to panzerfaust-equipped paratroopers camped out in the farmhouse. Pic courtesy and copyright of Greg Pullin.|
As the game progressed through turns 3 and 4, it was obvious that the RM commandos wouldnt be able to hold the north bridge alone - their casualties were overwhelming their ability to act effectively. On the west bank they were fighting veteran paratroopers, and on the east bank SS fanatics had successfully occupied the commando's foxholes. The Americans were bogged down in the village, despite some effective air support, and were having a very hard time calling on their reserves (despite their radios). Shifting enemy troops - even inexperienced "shirkers" - out of intact buildings is difficult, slow work.The Guards had managed to contest the south bridge, but their attack on the ridgeline had stalled. They had, however, managed to do some serious damage to the SS halftracks headed towards the commandos. They had also disabled the Oberst's halftrack, and he and his surviving staff were hoofing it towards their comrades on the ridge.
The last of the commandos - a solitary piper, his officer felled by a sniper's bullet early in the game - saw the start of Turn 5. SS panzergrenadiers now occupied the east bank of the river at both bridges. Oberst Landbrot commandeered a Kubelwagen, but was lucky to survive a direct mortar hit on the vehicle shortly afterwards. If he wanted to get across the river, he would have to walk (or swim, as it turned out). In the village, the GIs were putting plenty of pins on the shaky Armenians, but had only occupied 2 of the 3 objectives. By the end of the turn, the Germans controlled both bridges, and made the decision to demolish them. But the charges didnt fire, and it looked like the game would play to the wire. (We had ruled out the option of a 7th bound - time was running out)
As with any game of limited duration, the last bound saw a series of "all or nothing" plays by the Allied players to try to, if not control, at least contest, the south bridge and the village. Taking very high casualties, they threw everything they could at the objectives, but by the end of the turn the Germans still controlled both bridges. Two further attempts at demolition, and two successes! A comprehensive German victory, despite American successes in the village.
|Dust and smoke from twin demolitions drifts across the river valley... Pic courtesy and copyright of David Davidson.|
A note on the speed of play: The game had taken most of the day to play. We started at 10h30, and managed 3 bounds before lunch (13h15-14h00) and 3 in the afternoon, finishing by 17h00. To keep the game moving quickly, we insisted that as far as possible, each player got their own colour dice. This limited debate amongst the players as to who had the most urgent dice priority. (We even co-opted Saga dice to create extra colours in the bag.) Also, we kept 3 dice in play at all times. And from turn 2, when it was clear there were 2 distinct battles - split by the river - we split the dice into two bags, one for those units involved in the battle east of the river, and one for those units involved to the west. (If a unit crossed the river, its dice was moved to the relevant bag the next turn.) This doubled the number of dice in play at any one moment.
All in all, the game was a very dynamic affair, with lots of swings of fortune, and with players concentrating on their own sectors and objectives, and only vaguely aware of the developments across the table. As one player put it: "Bolt Action as we played yesterday is probably much closer to a real battle than our usual turn-based games – you really need to stay focused all the time, and stuff was happening everywhere in an almost random sequence".