Sunday, 5 October 2014

Operation Epsom 26th June 1944 - AAR



This battle was fought solo, my first full battle with the Panzer Korps rules, including all the elements such as air strikes and weather (though in the event it never did rain). I used 6mm figures, almost all GHQ, on 1” square steel bases (though some of my vehicles are not yet based). I used the ground scale recommended for these small models – 1” in the rules translated to 1cm for all purposes. The table was three feet by five. The scenario is very suitable for solo play, as the Germans have limited options, and once entrenched they do not want to be moving around very much. Overall this was tremendous fun, a beautifully balanced fight in which I was convinced from time to time that the British would win easily, then that they had no chance, until finally it all came down to one Decision Die roll in the very last turn of the final Day Segment, as 20:00 struck.

For those unfamiliar with these rules, the day is divided into two-hour Day Segments within which there are a variable number of games turns. DMs are Disorder Markers, which are the measure of damage on battalions. Too many DMs and it may panic, and after, typically, three panics the formation will retreat off the field.

To win the British needed to drive about three miles south to the river Odon and capture at least one of the three bridges, as well as the closest town to that bridge. They had two Infantry Brigades (44th and 46th) each with three infantry battalions, a battalion of Churchills and two artillery battalions. They also expected reinforcements in the shape of 29th Armoured Brigade, with three Sherman battalions, one of Cromwells, a mechanised infantry battalion and a battalion of Sextons. 

To stop them the Germans initially had two regiments (four battalions) of SS Panzergrenadiers, plus a battalion of Flak 88s and a Pioneer battalion, and units of 105mm howitzers and 150mm Nebelwerfers. They planned to make their main defence roughly along the line of the railway, with the two battalions of 26th SS in Mondrainville and Tourville, with the Pioneers in the woods just behind. 1/25th SS took the eastern wood north of the railway, with the 88s in the wood to the west where they would have a good field of fire. 2/25th SS occupied Cheux – rather isolated in their forward position, but put there to deny the British the town and its many converging roads for as long as possible. A Panzer battalion, a half-track Recon battalion and a unit of Wespes were expected to arrive some time around mid-morning.



Day Segment 06:00 – 08:00. Initiative British. Visibility 18”. 3 turns. The British moved out at 0600 with 44th Infantry Brigade on the right (west) and 44th IB on the left. The plan was to concentrate the drive on the western flank, take Cheux and then on to the bridges, with just a small force to demonstrate on the left to fix the Germans there. The off board guns had three rounds of rolling barrage, but only one found a German target, 2/25th SS in Cheux, and the entrenched infantry took no harm. On the second turn 7th RTR got close enough to Cheux to spot the SS and the units exchanged fire to little effect (2DM each). In the next turn an FO with 7 RTR called in fire on Cheux but it fell short and caused minor damage to the British tanks. 9th RTR had now joined their comrades in front of Cheux but their joint fire still failed to inflict much damage on the SS troops (3DM).

Cheux at the Schwerpunkt
Day Segment 08:00 – 10:00. Initiative British. Visibility 30”. 2 turns. The British artillery concentrated on Cheux now, and despite the entrenchments inflicted significant damage on 2/25th SS (5DM). There was no risk of panic yet, it takes overwhelming firepower to force an SS unit to panic, and this was what the British now brought to bear. The Glasgow and Seaforth battalions joined the two RTR units in the attack, pouring fire into the town from the front and both flanks, as the 2/25th truly understood the meaning of Schwerpunkt. They finally panicked and fled, exposing themselves to more fire which caused a further panic (18DM total). In the next turn artillery bombardment and a Typhoon attack pushed them finally into permanent panic and they fled. However they had held up the British advance until 10:00 and there was an unholy traffic jam around Cheux. To the east the British were probing towards the woods. The Humbers of 15th Recce sighted the 88s at close range; surprisingly the powerful German guns only just managed to suppress the armoured cars, and were themselves suppressed – they had to relocate as the British approached to avoid being flanked, so they lost the benefit of entrenchment. However further east the 1/25th SS opened up on the 8th Royal Scots advancing in the open, and sent them back in panic.

Day Segment 10:00 – 12:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 2 turns. To the Germans’ relief their reinforcements turned up at the earliest possible moment – a PzIVH battalion with an attached Tiger company, plus an elite 250/1 Recon battalion and a battalion of Wespes. This was timely as the British were starting to sort out the jam around Cheux, and the Churchills of 7 RTR advanced over the hill to approach Mondrainville. However the 2/26th SS entrenched there opened fire and panicked the tanks back over the hill. To the east the British artillery pounded the 1/25th SS in the wood, to no effect. By contrast the 8th Royal Scots, caught in the open by artillery and then by fire from the 1/25th were panicked and fragmented. They were only saved because their retreat took them out of range of the infantry, and away from the aiming point of the bombardment.

The British prepare to attack Mondrain
Day Segment 12:00 – 14:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 3 turns. Now it was the turn of the British to have their reinforcements turn up promptly; the 29th Armoured Brigade with four tank battalions, a mechanised battalion of the Rifle Brigade and a battalion of Sextons. 2nd Fife & Forfar and the Rifles went to help on the eastern side, the rest followed up the main push past Cheux. Over the two hours the British approached Mondrainville, but it was slow going, especially for the infantry. 2/26th SS started taking serious damage, first 8DM then 12, but still no panic. By contrast the Shermans of 2nd Fife and Forfar took 3DM from 1/25th SS and panicked back. SS troops in good cover are very tough to shift. The tanks of 2/12th SS Pz and the elite Recon battalion moved up to the gap between Mondrainville and Tourville.

Day Segment 14:00 – 16:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 1 turn. The British artillery was now all focussed on 2/26th SS in Mondrainville, and at last they broke and panicked back out of the town. Then an “over” hit them and they panicked again. 7th RTR and the Cameronians hit the elite SS Recon battalion and surprisingly they panicked, taking 2/26th SS with them again. Typhoons attacked the PzIVHs but to no effect. It was now 16:00, and the British were a long way from the bridges and even further from the towns beyond.

23rd Hussars dash for the gap
Day Segment 16:00 – 18:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 2 turns. German artillery panicked the Cameronians in the fields west of Mondrainville – infantry in the open is very vulnerable to a bad cover die throw on a D4. A Typhoon squadron attacked the SS Panzers but was driven off by an attached AA company. The Panzers panicked 9th RTR but 7th RTR pushed the German tanks back, and the Seaforth Highlanders swung round onto their right flank. Suddenly a gap had opened in the German defences, and the Shermans of the 23rd Hussars, in transit column on the Cheux road, dashed forward like a running back going through the line. There was nothing between them and the bridge to Tourmauville, but a roadblock prevented them reaching the bridge this turn. 1/26th SS in Tourville mounted their 251s and, helped by a free move (the Germans were throwing good white Decision Dice) they threw themselves across the road in front of the Hussars. In spite of the light armour on the half tracks the Shermans were unable to do any decisive damage and the Panzergrenadiers formed a defensive line blocking the bridge. To the west the 2/12th Panzers were being pushed steadily back; retreating across a stream they had accumulated 15DM but still no panic.

Day Segment 18:0 – 20:00. Initiative British. Visibility 18”. 3 turns. Dusk was falling (curiously early for midsummer in northern Europe) but three turns and the initiative gave the British a slim chance of breaking through somewhere. 3rd RTR which had swept up the western edge of the battlefield was threatening the unguarded western bridge, but that was no use without taking Garvus, which was now held by the elite Recon battalion, with the Pioneers in front by the central bridge. 7th RTR panicked the Panzers but that only pushed them back around Garvus, well placed as a buffer against 3rd RTR. The best hope seemed to be a breakthrough by the Hussars in the centre, but they failed to dent 1/26th SS and in return the Germans caused the Sherman battalion to panic and fall right back.
Over to the east, in what was now just a sideshow, two infantry battalions and the Shermans of 2nd Fife and Forfar attacked 1/25th SS in the woods. One battalion was pushed back but the 8th Royal Scots charged home. The close combat was very even, 3DM each, but the Germans had won the leadership roll so the British had to test morale, failed and panicked back. In the end this German battalion held on in their original entrenchments all day.
Meanwhile time was running out for the British. Artillery fire forced the SS Pioneers to fall back across the river, but their fire at 7th RTR caused the Shermans to retreat. 3rd RTR could not force another morale test on the Panzers so Garvus was still solidly held.  

However in the centre 6th Scots Borderers, very footsore, had occupied Tourville, and their fire caused 1/26th SS to panic. 9th RTR, coming up to replace the Hussars, also fired and panicked the SS battalion again, pushing them back (still mounted in their 251s) all the way through Tourmauville and out the other side. With about 15DMs there was no way they could recover, so the bridge and the town lay undefended – could the British seize them before nightfall? On the last turn, 9th RTR would have to form transit column and navigate round the roadblock and over the bridge – too far for a single move. The red Decision Die was rolled and came up – 6! With a Decorated Leader in the HQ unit that meant 7 Red, and a single vital free move. 9th RTR trundled over the bridge and into Tourmauville, and the crossing was secure for Monty’s attack on Caen.

9th RTR occupy Tourmauville and win the game
There was far more going on than I have put down here. The Flak 88s held off a battalion of Cromwells all day in the central woods. The German right flank did a fine job holding on – if they had crumbled then the British would have swept round behind Tourville and won quite easily. In general the German artillery did more damage, catching infantry in the open, but the concentrated fire of 4-5 British artillery formations was crucial in winkling SS units out of their entrenchments in the towns. I realised afterwards that the Germans could have “won” if I had shuffled the Pioneers a little bit east in the final turn – that would have put them just within 16” of the Tourmauville bridge and technically the British would have failed their victory conditions. However I didn’t, and I am glad, because that would have been a very “gamey” way to decide the battle. As it was it felt very realistic, with both sides exhausted but the British just managing to secure the vital bridgehead.

2 comments:

  1. That's a dramatic and entertaining report. Thanks for the work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks. I find that the historic scenarios that HR Games produce usually result in a close encounter, great fun.

    ReplyDelete