No retreat, no surrender

This is it; the finale. The past five weeks Kev and I have been using WWPD.net’s Operation Overlord global campaign as the backdrop to which we have been learning Flames of War. It has served as the motivation for assembling, painting and finally gaming with no fewer than 97 infantry teams, 27 tanks, 16 artillery pieces and 32 new pieces of terrain between us.

90% of those were not even assembled, let alone painted before the campaign began, so in that respect Operation Overlord has already been a hugely rewarding experience.

As each round was fought, we have been steadily building up our Flames of War knowledge and experience as well as our armies, each introducing a new element or rule. This week was the culmination of those battle in the context of the events in Normandy during D-Day and beyond, so I knew I would have to come up with a fitting end-game scenario. The theme I came up with was a breakout style battle.

Operation Overlord – Round Five.

With Saint Lô currently the focus of much of the action and the area Kev and I have been battling over the past few weeks I was keen to see out our end game there or thereabouts. I ruled out a full on fight over the town because there weren’t enough roads and ruined buildings between us to give it justice. Instead I considered the many pockets of German resistance that would stall have been engaged with Allied forces south and east of the town outskirts, in an attempt to stall the advance. I structured the game around one such group of Grenadiers attempting to breakout and regroup with other retreating forces to the south. The objective for the German forces would be to attempt to hold the town outskirts long enough to a) slow the allied advance and b) buy enough time to fall back in an organised manner with as many platoons still combat capable. I set up two objectives in the centre either side of the road south and one US objective at each of the short ends including the US starting position. For this game we would be including the victory points for taking the objectives, but suspending the rule that the game ends when you take an uncontested enemy objective. This was to allow the scenario enough freedom to play out in a cinematic way, but still give the German player (me) enough a challenge to decide when was the optimum time to fall back. Surrendering the field too early would mean I would lose on victory points, but staying and fighting too long would likely lose me too many platoons and result in the same outcome. Kev would be starting the game with six platoons and pretty much guaranteed to hold his north objective in the town. The Grenadiers would start dug in defending their two central objectives and would have three platoons with an easy capture of the southern US objective when they fall back south.

Holding the line would be a single Grenadier Platoon supported by three Stug assault guns and a single Tiger I E which I added as a wildcard just to help balance the scenario.

Advancing towards them would be an overwhelming force of Sherman’s from the 22nd Armoured Brigade and three platoons of US Airborne consisting of Mortar and LMG sections plus a rifle platoon from the 101st.

We selected the forces to produce the most challenging and fun outcome rather than be balanced or legal to a particular list. In principal however Kev would be following The US lists from Devil’s Charge and my Grenadiers were valid for a force from Earth & Steel.

The US forces deployed in the town and I was occupying either side of two minefields bordering the southern road. The Stug’s were all hull down waiting alongside the bocage bordering some wheat fields  behind the Grenadiers lines ready to deal with any allied armour and the Tiger was somewhere in the starting zone under plenty of natural cover waiting to give Kev a nasty shock.

As the allied Shermans rolled up either side of the houses and the LMG teams moved from cover to cover, the chatter of German MG42s started up from the fields and hedgerows alongside the southern road and battle was joined.

The retreat from Saint Lô 

The first squadron of Sherman’s rolled up and opened fire on the Grenadiers dug in to the west of the road with their hull and turret mounted MGs, but were unable to penetrate the bullet-proof cover of the German positions. Not making the same error twice, Kev then opened fire with the second squadron on the other dug-in position using his main guns taking out one of the rifle/MG teams. The second Grenadier platoon also started taking mortar fire from the US mortar teams inside the town. Pinned down the Grenadiers kept their heads down while the Sherman’s received their answer from the fields alongside them.

In a ripple of muzzle flashes the three assault guns drew a bead on the Shermans and scored three hits. My attempt to single out the Firefly only resulted in one of the hits being allocated so had no effect anyway. The end result was to my liking however as the one of the Sherman crews bailed out and the other Sherman V and the Firefly were reduced to burning scrap.

Kev advanced the LMG sections up behind the now burning tanks and in range of the Grenadiers opened up. Dug in as they were the Grenadiers took plenty of hits becoming pinned down, but some lucky saving throws plus their bulletproof cover soaked up all of the incoming fire. The 101st moved through the town and  with support of a Sherman V from second squadron began hammering the German position to the east of the mined road. Again, the dug-in fortifications the Grenadiers had put up absorbed the majority of incoming fire.

Second squadrons Sherman V took a glancing hit which miraculously didn’t penetrate. The crew bailed out, but the Tiger had finally revealed where it had been hiding in the woods to the south east. Seriously under threat from the heavier German tank, the platoon HQ was called up to support the sole remaining Firefly, but it was for nowt. The Sherman’s response easily deflected by the Tigers thick front armour, it replied by eliminating both tanks in quick succession. The remaining Sherman from ‘A’ squadron failed its motivation test and the platoon broke, retreating back to the relative safety of Saint Lô town centre. Although the allied supporting armour had been blunted by the Tiger and Assault Guns, they had bought enough time for the US Airborne to get the LMG sections set up in effective range. The rate of fire on the Grenadiers stepped up to an astounding level, at one stage no fewer that thirty dice rolling to hit the Grenadiers. Unbelievably they only lost a single team, but with the US now in a great firing position casualties on both platoons were starting to mount up. They retaliated for two further rounds inflicting a small number of casualties in return on the LMG positions, before rallying and retreating south towards cover of the bocage.

Closer to the town the 101st pressed their advantage under cover of the mortars and using the presence of the remaining Sherman to get within assault range of the second German position. Pinned down as they were the Grenadiers only managed a weak defensive fire, however incredibly the US charge failed to inflict any hits in return allowing the Grenadiers a counter assault. The Germans didn’t make the same mistake and won the assault eliminating two of the US teams including the Airborne’s Lieutenant. As the US fell back the Grenadiers re-grouped and were suddenly reinforced by the platoon HQ and the weighty presence of the Tiger. The return fire from supporting officers SMG stacked up three more casualties on the US Airborne and shockingly all three teams failed their save taking the platoon below half strength. The Tiger forced the remaining Sherman crew to bail out, the normally reliable 8.8cm gun unusually failing to penetrate its mark.

To the south things were going more to plan for Kev as the Airborne heavy weapon sections and anti-tank teams took up residence on the objective and rained further fire down on the retreating Grenadiers who took another casualty forcing a motivation test from now on.  The Stugs charged forward past the retreating Grenadiers in a bid to buy them more time by launching a shock assault on the LMG positions. Resorting to MG fire the assault guns pounded on the US position denying them uncontested control of the objective. Overall it was balanced on a knife edge as the Grenadiers were close to being routed which would have handed Kev an important victory point. At this stage things were 3:1 to the Germans, but if the Grenadiers failed their motivation tests and the Stugs driven off it could easily be 4:3 to the US.

Having repositioned the US mortars were raining fire again down on the second objective and the German commander and anti-tank team were both killed. The remaining Grenadier platoon abandoned their fox holes and started falling back supported by the re-assuring presence of the Tiger. Both platoons made it into the fields and headed for the second US objective which would secure their breakout if they managed to make it to it unbroken. They passed their motivation test and escaped south into cover. Back at the second German objective the LMG teams were still taking harassing fire from the three Stugs, but were steadfast in their saves. Moving aside for the anti-tank teams, Kev moved his Bazookas in an effort to get to grips with the pesky German assault guns. With a grinding of gears and much exhaust smoke the three Stugs rocked back in reverse to the fields and continued to pound the US heavy weapon teams from range.

Back at the northern objective the unbelievable happened. On the very brink of seizing the second objective, the US rifle platoon failed their motivation test and broke, retreating back into Saint Lô and leaving it in the hands of the Tiger. By then the Grenadiers had stayed motivated and rallied at the southern US objective effectively ending the game having achieved their goal of getting out intact. But what was the final score? Well, in the end, it was the failure of the US Rifle Platoon to rally and take the second objective that did for Kev. Having taken one of the two German objectives, but not inflicted enough casualties on the Grenadiers to break them he scored two victory points. The Grenadiers however had ended up still holding onto one of their objectives whilst still achieving their goal of getting out of St Lô combat effective.  In return they had blunted all of the British armour and scored a bonus VP from the Rifle Platoon breaking giving the Germans a total of five points.

Result: Axis 5 – 2 Allies

Out of all the games we had played as part of Overlord, this had been the most enjoyable by far. Despite the disparity in the score it had been balanced right until the end and we both enjoyed the Band of Brothers feel of it with the US advancing and Stugs retreating back across the countryside supporting the Grenadiers. Their were highs and lows on both sides, just as it should have been. But in the end the turning point of the battle was the normally reliable US Rifle Platoon finally letting Kev down. They had been the stars of the campaign throughout until the very end, so it was going to happen sooner or later. For me it was the two Grenadier platoons that were the stars of the game. A lot was asked of them to hold the line against a mighty weight of LMG and mortar fire and them winning an assault against odds was probably their heroic moment of glory.

Overall, it was great to end the five games on a high for both of us. A cracking game, no doubt.

So what’s next for my fledgeling Flames of War army? Other than the aforementioned Half Tracks and heavy weapon teams, I am undecided. I am keen to try out some new scenarios and Kev would like me to work on some more bocage. I still have a couple of buildings to finish and would like to round the collection out with a farmhouse. So, for now I am going to rest up the Germans and weigh up my options. It had been fun using the Operation Overlord campaign as motivation for getting into Flames and in that respect it has certainly done that and more. I think it is safe to say I have been well and truly bitten by the 15mm scale bug, so I shall submerge myself in some further source books and see where they take me.

Until next time, have a great week.

CW

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