Monday, June 7, 2021

Action across the Meuse .. France 1940

 The rattle and clank of a mess tin caught Dubois' attention. A quick glance caught Allaire in the process of starting a small fire to brew some coffee.

"Allaire, you dumb bastard, do you want every f**n pilot on the entire Luftwaffe to drop his load on you? Put that *** fire out" . A hand full of loose grit and dirt doused the nascent flame, and a short sharp curse burst from Corporal Allaire's lips.

The winding banks of the river out front, and the marsh that sat in the loop of the river, gave Dubois some comfort. Groups of white wading birds were just visible against the dark waters in the distance, a contrast to the dark shapes of the chars surrounding him. But there was still far too much space for German Panzers to attack. Defence was not the greatest strength for any armoured division in the French army. What stupid top brass bastard had decided to lock his troops into a defence? Where were the bloody infantry?

The rattle of tracks and the roar of engines in the distance brought his attention back to the fields to his front. Les Bosches - ils sont arrivee!! It was always the same: there were killing officers and there were murdering officers. Today he knew that he was commanded by 'murdering officers'.

(Credit to Bernard Cornwall and 'Sharpe' for the reference.) 

This game was set in northern France in May 1940 as the German attack against France struck. Elements of a French armoured division were deployed to block a German advance. Specifically two squadrons of Hotchkiss H39s, a squadron of Char B1 bis, and the division's mechanised infantry battalion. They were well supported with AT guns, and artillery, including a battalion of army level 155mm guns allocated for counter battery support (even this early in the campaign the German artillery had forged a fearsome reputation).

Coming at them were elements of a German Panzer Division. This included a recon battalion, a Gerpanzert battalion, an infantry battalion, and a tank battalion. 

The game was fought using our usual Spearhead rules, and the armies and the scenario were developed using keith's scenario generation system.

The French deployed on the left of the table, refusing their right flank (nearest the camera)

The French deployment saw the centre held by the division's mechanised infantry battalion. They were supported by a battalion of on-table 105mm artillery guns, and had left their Lorraine APCs in the rear. The left was held by one of the Armoured regiments (H39s) supported by a company of 25mm AT guns and a battalion of 105mm artillery, while the right was held by the Char Bs. supported by a company of 47mm AT guns, deployed hidden per the SGS option. A squadron of H39s was held off table in reserve.

The German attack began with the infantry pushing forward on the centre left of their front, and the recon battalion racing down the extreme left flank threatening the French right, intent on probing and uncovering the French defence. Keith had his suspicions about the French reserve and sought to have them committed before he committed his own, a clever (and historical) use of recon.

The German infantry advanced to the edge of the wooded area and held (the end of their command arrow)

French mortar shells begin to land around the German infantry

Keith commits his Panzer battalion on his right, approaching to capture the bridge which was an objective on that flank. The French left opposite is held by the squadron of H39s supported by a company of 25mm AT guns.

The German recon probes deep along the flank, looking to swing around into the French rear.

Elements of the heavy tank squadron (the Char Bs) spot the German recon, and messages go back to the divisional commander. The probing German recon prompts the commitment of the French reserve (an H39 squadron) in order to block any attempt to get behind the French position. 

A clear view of the H39s (bottom left) in position to block the German recon.

The German panzer battalion continues to apply pressure on the French left

A French H39 section holding the French left comes under fire from elements of the Panzer battalion

The offending German panzers positioned in the village

Using a timed order written at the time of the commitment of the reserve, the French reserve swings east to apply pressure through the centre. I'd written the timed order knowing that if the recon were still around, I could continue to 'fight' the H39s against the recon, and if not then this active pressure against the German centre and right could still occur. Keith had withdrawn the recon, having spotted the French reserve. It's important to remember that you can't simply change orders etc in Spearhead. You need spotted enemy, and you also need to pass an order change die roll (easy for Germans, damned hard for the French). My counter attack was intended to coordinate with an attempt to push the left flank H39s forward as well. However (not surprisingly) I failed every order change die roll for the squadron).

The French reserve pushing ahead in counter attack, passes the Char B heavy squadron defensive line

The counter attack forces come under fire

Meanwhile French artillery fire falls on the Panzers holding the village.

At this stage German artillery fire begins to fall. However the French counter battery artillery proved its' worth, eliminating the battalion of German 105mm guns in two turns.

Despite the artillery support for the H39s on the left the fire fight with the German armour goes in favour of the Germans.

The German recon (at the bottom of the photo) receive orders to resume their probing on the French right.

The French counterattack seen here in the centre of the photo

One of the H39 sections is eliminated, and the H39s pull back behind their supporting anti tank screen

The French counter attack takes casualties

At this stage a German 88mm A gun appears in the outskirts .. intent on applying pressure to the Char Bs holding the French right

A Char B is suppressed.. and at this range the French commander cannot locate the source of the fire (the German 88)

The recon continues its push deep behind the French position

The French counter attack takes casualties

At this stage the game came to a close. The French position would eventually be compromised, but this had been a fascinating game filled with tactical subtlety. The German tactical flexibility was a signifiant 'force multiplier' in the face of the tough French armour. The light German recon lacked punch, but its mobility and flexibility meant that it could be applied at just the right point in just the right time. Keith is a master of that.

The French armoured division is a difficult force to use, lacking in infantry. The French inability to apply combined arms tactics in the way that is possible for the German forces makes it difficult to use too. 

However the French force is a lot of fun to use. All of the troops have 'Random Morale' under the rules, meaning that their morale is checked the first time the come under fire. All of the units that came under fire turned out to be Green, meaning it is more difficult to lift suppressions, and that first moral check is taken at 1/3 casualties. A great challenge, but one of the best Spearhead games I have played, against a great opponent.

The game was played using my French forces and Keith's German forces, all modelled using Heroics and Ros 6mm miniatures,


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