Tiger in the long grass

Three post in three days, a shocker I know. It is all in a  bit of an effort to catch up as I have been making the most of the great weather here (sadly now gone), so have been spending more time outside as opposed to hunched over my paintbrushes. As a result I am a bit behind on the battle reports, so this post will bring things right up to date in time for (hopefully) this Thursdays finale.

Round four of my WWPD.net Operation Overlord campaign efforts was a little different to make use of all that bocage I mentioned yesterday. This battle would be an all-armoured affair pitting the combined Shermans of Kev’s 22nd Armoured and my Grenadier Guards against five Tigers led by the famous Michael Wittmann. Sixteen Sherman V’s and Fireflys against five of Germanys finest. I wanted this game to be far more cinematic than our previous battles to try and mix up the pace and scenarios a bit more. The table was purposefully set to present my opponent with tough tactical choices and force him to carefully consider the terrain. As it turned out, the terrain ended up playing a far bigger role than either of us had anticipated.

The previous battle on the road to Saint Lô set this encounter up beautifully, with my Fallschirmjäeger delaying Kev’s armoured reinforcements on the road long enough for Wittmann to set up an ambush in the ruins of an old church on the outskirts of the town. Now, I know this is not Villers-Bocage and historically Wittmann’s 2nd Schwere SS-Panzerkompanie was nowhere near Saint Lô. However, I don’t have enough roads and buildings to set up a realistic Villers-Bocage table and linking this to our previous campaign scenario really appealed,  In this instance a little creative freedom had to be called upon.

So, the scenario was set, the Allied tanks were marshalling on the outskirts rightly suspecting a trap and somewhere to the south east four Tigers were hull down waiting to pounce. I had set up two in the ruins of the church and two in the fields behind the bocage. Wittmann’s Tiger was held in reserve to ambush and support where needed. Kev won the first turn and cautiously moved out along the road and across the fields.

At this point I would love to write about what a close fought and brutal clash it was with the numerical superiority of the British Shermans continuously harassing and wearing down the more heavily armed and armoured Tigers as no fewer than six platoons rolled towards the town.

Unfortunately that wasn’t what happened. What actually happened was a pretty comprehensive one-sided mauling of the British tanks down to a man without so much as a single casualty on the German side. No matter how carefully you try to set up what should on paper produce an exciting and close fought battle, you can never legislate against luck, or in this case bad-luck. Throughout the entire battle I don’t think I missed a single shot, and with the massive 8.8cm AT value of 13 the Tigers pack, the paltry front armour of ‘6’ didn’t even grant Kev the pleasure of trying to roll an armour save. Basically if I hit it, I mostly killed it. And I hit them a lot. The Tigers on the other hand have a healthy front and side armour of 9 and 8 respectively, shrugging off most of the Sherman rounds with impunity.

The British did however have a lot of guns in their favour and sooner or later they were going to overwhelm the Tigers one by one. Or at least they would have, if most of them hadn’t got stuck on the bocage!

It all started when Wessel’s Tiger (211) took out the first pair of Shermans on the road effectively blocking it. The squadrons behind were forced to re-route across the fields and became dismally bogged down trying to escape into open terrain. The platoons that were already in the fields fared no better and were pounced on by Brandt (223) and Steif (234), neither who had any difficulty with the terrain with their wide tracks and veteran skills checks. With no fewer than four tanks bogged down on the bocage at one stage and two bailed out, the British advance was in complete disarray and easy pickings for the Tigers main guns.

Repeated bogged down test failures just compounded Kev’s miserable run of luck and I have to hand it to him for maintaining a British stiff upper lip in the face of such adversity. Nobody enjoys a game that goes so badly against them, I have been on the receiving end of a few myself and know how gut-wrenching helpless you can feel.

As Wittmann’s own tank finally made an appearance and took up position in a wheat field in support of Brandt and Steif, Kev made a last ditch attempt to break through having freed up his remaining Shermans. A nice bit of positioning granted him a cheeky defilade shot on Wittmann’s side armour in the hope of stealing a couple of victory points back (one for him and one less for me if I lost Wittmann). Sadly the dice still weren’t with him and the shell failed to penetrate. Hantusch (221) answered in kind from behind the church wall putting an end to that exploit.

The 22nd Armoured tanks were now burning wrecks all over the field and the Grenadier Guards rear guard about to go the same way. A valiant attempt to hold the north end of the road almost paid off with both Sherman Vs and the sole surviving Firefly landing solid hits on Brandt’s tank. Unfortunately Kev’s dice deserted him yet again and his firepower result had me bail out instead. With the protected ammo rule and Wittmann’s motivating presence Jürgen Brandt and his crew were soon back aboard next turn and that was pretty much that; the British advance destroyed outright and the rally point comprehensively under the control of the Tigers.

Post action review

It was a sobering demonstration of just how much more powerful (in gaming terms at least) the Tiger I ‘E’ was in comparison with the Sherman. Kev may have had over 3:1 numerical superiority, but if you can’t bring all those guns to bear effectively you are fighting an uphill battle of attrition. With an anti-tank value of 13 there was not much other than serious dice luck going to stop the Tigers 8.8cm from chewing through those platoons; the best you can hope for is a Bail Out result. Even then, the British crews ‘Trained’ status made them less than enthusiastic about getting back into their tank. By contrast Wittmann’s ROF of 3 when stationary plus a re-roll made his Tiger alone a force to be reckoned with. They rarely bogged down and even the slow traverse penalty for the turret was for nowt as I was overlapping my fields of fire. When one moved, the other stayed hull down to make the best of the cover and full rate of fire.

I have now been banned from fielding Wittmann’s Tigers again until after the campaign finale on Thursday. A bit unfair I feel, but in the spirit of ending the five linked battles on a high I shall keep the big cats caged and rely on the Fallschirmjäeger and some Lehr Panzer Grenadiers this time to hold the last line. That is if I can get five Hanomags painted by Thursday!

Until then, have a great week.

CW

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