Saturday, March 2, 2019

A masterclass in mobility - Action with Spearhead on the Belgian Plain 1940

White eyes, round as saucers, staring unblinking from smoke blackened faces. White eyes, deep set above sallow cheeks, trying to block out the yelling and the screaming, the smells of emptying bowels, and blood, the piteous cries of men calling for their mothers. White eyes, fighting the terror, staring unmoving into a past that would not be forgotten, a past that showed no respect for pips or stripes, for age or youth.

The men of the Dorsetshires had not crossed the channel for this. The men of the Dorsetshires had come expecting to boldly go forward and stop the Bosche in his tracks as their forebears had done in 1914. This was not the war they had expected. This was not the war they had trained for. This was a war that had found them wanting.  And they had paid the price, unable to cope with the roar of engines, the shriek of shells, the speed with which their foe had come upon them.

"They woz all over us" a voice comes from the middle of the group.
"Like a bloody rash" another mutters. A corpsman, walking amongst the sea of torn khaki and bloodied bandages, offers little more than solice to the bashed and bloodied men.
"How the 'ell did we even get away? Bloody miracle that woz." A murmur began, coming from parched throats.
"Righto lads, let's see what we can do eh?" and a tall solidly built man stood, the soft reassuring voice at odds with the more usual bellow that was expected with the crowns on the sleeve.

The scene was set for another Spearhead game, France 1940, with the BEF facing off once more against the German panzers. Except that this time they found an opposition intent on playing . a different game, an opposition determined not to be intimidated by their big Matilda tanks, and their heavy counter battery artillery.

The scene is set looking east, the BEF advancing northwards in Belgium from the left  and the German advance coming form the right. 
The BEF plan was to advance to take Silly-sur-rive, a large town close to the local waterways on the right, securing the left flank at the river, with their centre holding a line close to the river.

The advance begins

German Panzers .. ok, business as usual

2 Battalion advances in the centre

Infantry? Apparently not.. a motorcycle battalion. BEF players however mistook them for infantry after failing to make a close inspection...

The German left as it first appeared

The British left. I didn't expect a significant attack on this flank. The Regimental commander was positioned with 3 Battalion on this flank, expecting to use them as a reserve, his presence meant to enhance the ability to change orders to bring them into the battle

The BEF were surprised when they were met by German motorcycle troops that had raced forward to grab one of the two town sectors that was Silly-sur-rive

What had appeared to be the German left ....

However a reconnaissance battalion made a deep flank march on the German left, driving hard into the right flank of British 1 Battalion

The German motorcycle battalion pushed against the front of 1 Battalion, especially the copse that acted as a pivot for their position

This was now the German centre, but the armour held back, leaving the hard work to the motorcycle battalion and the reconnaissance battalion

The German right flank having taken their objective, sat quietly awaiting their opportunity

Seeing no threat on their left the BEF commander ordered 3 Battalion forward to put pressure on the German right flank

2 Battalion sorts itself out and pushes forward against the German centre

Action begins for 1 Battalion which comes under simultaneous assault from the motorcycle battalion and the flanking reconnaissance battalion. Three battalions of artillery (2 of 105s, and 1 of 150s) brings down fire on 1 Battalion. This was intense

German reconnaissance units outflank 1 Battalion and begin a drive deep into the rear past the supporting armoured brigade elements supporting the battalion

The main elements of the reconnaissance battalion engage in a frenzied action against the 1 Battalion flank, which desperately attempts to re-orient itself to face the threat

Artillery fire falls everywhere, British 25pdr batteries joining in with salvoes of their own

This aerial view shows the confused state of the battle, and the lighter brown bases Keith uses for his troops show the extent to which his moves had completely outflanked 1 Battalion. The armoured brigade in support of 1 Battalion was unable to make any impact on the action despite manoeuvring in an attempt at a local counter attack

Infantry platoons stripped away, the RA forward observation team, and the battalion command itself, are exposed to attack

Another view of the seep penetration behind 1 battalion, the lighter armoured cars simply using their speed to bypass the heavy tanks

Motorcycle troops of the reconnaissance battalion close assault the 1 Battalion Carrier platoon, and another supporting platoon

The action gets even hotter in the centre of 1 Battalion's position, with the battalion command group being eliminated from the action

2 Battalion pushes forward in an attempt to take some pressure off 1 Battalion

1 Battalion Carrier Platoon withstands the close assault, driving the motor cycle troops back

Action continues to take place in the copse which is the pivot of the 1 Battalion defensive flank

The Carrier platoon finally falls, and the armoured brigade are left to try to shore up the flank, but lack the manoeuvrability to respond to the fast moving armoured cars

More close assault action in the copse

Reconnaissance Battalion elements close assault 1 Battalion Mortar platoon, but with support from a Matilda troop they manage to survive this first onslaught

The Mortar platoon still extant on the table --- for now!!

The reconnaissance battalion winning the action in the copse. The 1 Battalion position is now looking seriously compromised
This was a masterclass in table top 'gaming. Keith had foregone his more usual panzer battalions, going instead for a more highly mobile reconnaissance battalion, and a motorcycle battalion to support a smaller number of panzers and Gerpanzert troops. He used the mobility, and the superior command flexibility, of the Germans to 'dance on the table top' like a ballerina on a stage.

The lateral thinking was impressive, the execution outstanding. This is how you deal with a heavily armoured but slow BEF.

What am amazing game, showcasing the ability of the Spearhead rules system to replicate battle in all its subtlety and nuance. This is what I love about these rules, despite the fact that I was on the receiving end of the 'masterclass'.

As Churchill said, "This is not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning." We'll be back. ...


  1. Robin
    Nice report. Thank you.

    I have been fighting the early war Germans for a few years now and that m/c battalion has similarly ruined many of my Soviet positions. We now play that it has a defence of 4 on any turn it moves faster than leg infantry i.e. 3 inches or more, and fires, in the clear or 6+ inches. Similarly with cavalry (Red Army motorbikes).

    You always seem to play on considerably 'busier' tables than I do - more pieces of smaller terrain. That must complicate tracking spotting and LOS when determining firing priorities. Also your troop density looks on the low side. Am I right in assuming that's a 6ft by 4ft table with a regiment plus a few support stands on each side - fifty or so stands each? Only asking because I'm trying to get a little more fluidity into my scenarios and I think troop density might be at least part of the answer.

    Finally, might I suggest that you take one of two more 'overview' photos to better place the tactical photos in context. In turn those overviews would be much enhanced if annotated with unit IDs to pick out the very well camouflaged stands which tend to blend into the table. Attack arrows would be a useful addition also - all subject to your having the time and ability, of course.
    Thanks again

    1. Andrew
      Thanks for the comment. I think troop density is an issue, and Keith's scenario system seems to capture that very well... take a look at the lists you can create.. they balance the battles exceptionally well.. Russians seem to appear as hordes, and they ned that with the relative command inflexibilities, germans always seem so thin on the ground, but clever thinking allows the player to exploit the command and control they have

  2. Excellent Game
    I really am interested in this period
    Very nice outing of the "old but still good|" Spearhead rules


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