Monday 13 April 2015

PETIT DEU-PONT - A Battlegroup game in the Ardennes, Dec 17th, 1944.

With the German offensive just getting underway, troops of 26th Volksgrenadier Division have orders to advance to the river Clerf and secure two bridges in the vicinity of an old saw mill at Petite Deu-Pont. Holding Petite Deu-Pont were a rapidly gathered US force of any available troops in the local area, with order to hold the river crossings. Shelled by German artillery through the night, at dawn, the grey-clad figures of the German grenadiers could be seen approaching through the mists and trees, along with the ominous rumble of enemy armoured vehicles.

I would be commanding the US defenders, a 600 pt chosen from the BG Overlord lists (US Infantry Division), my opponent would be the 600 pts of Volksgrenadiers (a play-test list) on the attack.

The bulk of the German force consisted of an inexperienced infantry platoon, with 2 foot patrols and a sniper as its scouts. Using the Infiltration special rule, one of these foot patrols gained the ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ special rule, making them very dangerous (see later). The infantry were supported by an off-table 120mm mortar battery, 4 (or was it 5?) timed 80mm mortar strikes, a StuG battery of 3 vehicles and a specialist choice of a Jagdpanzer IV and a massive Sturmmorser Tiger! To help out also came 2 supply wagons (1 for the Sturmmorser of course), Forward HQ, wire team and other small change.

The US defenders (my picks) were an inexperience infantry platoon (of cooks, mechanics and clerks) with a bazooka team, a single 76mm-armed Sherman, a 3” AT gun, with loader team, dug-in. Forward HQ (upgraded to radio comms network), forward observer and off-table 155 guns (woo-hoo), 20 foxholes for some of the men to hide in, a sniper, a .30cal MMG team and a forward aid post (just because my BR looked a bit weak). In reserve would be a combat engineer squad in M3 halftrack and an M8 Greyhound armoured car, racing to the rescue (some hope). 

I deployed first with a thin line in the trees and on the high ground opposite the saw mill buildings, my forward observer was covering the left, senior officer the right, for calling in the 155s which would hopefully derail the German attack plan.  In the end, they came strongest up the middle! Such is war.

The battle was hard fought from the off, my lines raked by very heavy mortar fire, with casualties instantly mounting, I lost my MMG team and pinned the AT gun and several squads, even my aid post took some losses in the stonks (boo). My return artillery whistled in, initially to little effect, but they were just getting their ranges sorted. Thankfully, the Sturmmorser failed its first spotting attempts for infantry in cover (not firing)and couldn’t open fire!  As the incoming and out-going rounds screamed overhead most of my force was placed on ambush fire. This did not save my only tank. The Sherman was waiting well back from the front, hoping to move to engage wherever the StuGs arrived, but in darkness the US lines had been penetrated and the foot patrol crept through the trees, found the tank parked on the track and fired a panzerfaust into its engine compartment – kaboom! No more US tanks for this battle then! The infiltrating squad was then hunted down and was eliminated in a close range firefight with two US infantry squads, which arrived from reserve, but not before taking about 7-8 casualties with them. The foot patrol had done a good job, but were now on their way to POW cages.

Early BR counters heavily favoured the Germans as my BR total quickly raced to 20 in about 3 turns. This was going to be a walk over at this rate, my 'rear-area lurkers' had obviously not signed-up  for this hard-fighting. Doubly so when the Sturmmorser finally opened fire and wiped out an entire squad in foxholes in 1 direct hit, which just about flatten the hillock they were on, overlooking both bridges. Still, it had to go and re-arm how, saving me from too much punishment next turn.

The US reserves arrived, along the track, but ran into more heavy mortar fire. One deviating shell wiped out the Forward HQ in his jeep (ouch!) and then blew up the engineer’s half track, leaving the lane choked with wreckage and wounded men. The Germans pressed cautiously forwards, into the saw mill’s buildings and two Stugs moved on the central bridge via the narrow track. US infantry fire pinned down their supporting infantry, but the StuGs raked the stream’s far bank with HE and MG fire, pinning the US troops down in return.

US morale was close to cracking, even when a small German flanking force arrived on my left, a Jagdpanzer and an infantry squad. This caused my left flank squad and FO (so no anti-tank weapons at all) to pull back fast and concede their wood line to the surprise Germans, but at least save themselves (and the counters). The M8 arrived and valiantly tried to help out, but 37mm guns aren’t much use duelling with a Jagdpanzer, even desperately trying area fire to pin it. The first German hit saw the plucky M8 wrecked, not a fair fight!

Meanwhile, my last hope seemed to be the 155s, which hammered the far bank, turn after turn, making the German advance a costly one, as direct hits saw an MG team, then the wire team wiped out, and even pinned the Sturmtiger for a few turns (thank god, because 1 more shot like the first would have finished me).

The German commander was now confident the Americans wouldn’t stand, both his objectives were in reach, and the first StuG (the battery commander) reached the bridge to claim that objective. Taking that counter, expecting to break, my luck changed, it was an air attack! Rolling for it, I got a 6, a P-47 dropped through the low cloud and appeared in the haze to rocket the lead StuG commander into a fireball on the bridge. 2 BR counters to the Germans drew a serious grimace, that had hurt the Volksgrenaider’s shakey morale. Next turn, a second StuG by the bridge was destroyed by the next attack run, braving German small arms fire from the ground. Next turn, the bold pilot switched to MGs and came in strafing, and another enemy MG team was wiped out in blaze of .50 cal rounds. Adding to this, the 155s scored another direct hit and the last MG team was blown into next week by a 155mm air bursting directly overhead.

That BR counter cost the Germans the game, breaking their attack. The Jagdpanzer  hit reverse and pulled back, along with the beastly Sturmmorser and the last of the grey-clad grenadiers in the saw mill. The bridges at Petite Deu-Pont were somehow, miraculously, still in American hands. I had 1 BR point left! The air attacks had saved the day.

So close, and a brilliant game. The German had it in the bag for so long, but a few diehard US units held out beyond all hope of victory with star performances from the P-47, my forward observer who earned his salary with repeated fire missions and never failed a comms check all game, and my sniper, who scored 4 kills and multiple pins picking-off unwary German conscripts in the saw mill.

The game had a great Ardennes feel, a desperate US defence by scratch forces had just held on (how, I have no idea, except my last 4 count draws cost me 1 BR – 2 air attacks (one arrived), a Confusion and a 1
; – and I only had 2 BR left as well – pure fluke).

Here are some snaps;
 US infantry dug-in on the Clerf, watching the bridge objective.

 And on a hillock over-looking the saw mill. They would have very bad day when the Sturmmorser opened fire.
 Solo US tank waiting in immediate reserve on the tree-lined track to the bridge and mill. It never moved or fired.

 Aid post, hidden at the back, but still hit by a mortar bomb.

 Volksgrenadiers advance on the saw mill.

 On their right, more landsers and the beast roll forwards.

 Kaboom, surprise Panzerfaust up the jacksy, it never happened like this in Fury!

 155 shells find their range on the saw mill's courtyard.

Left flankers, Jagdpanzer and infantry in support. With nothing to fight back with, my guys just ran (well fell back).

 OP team in jeep pulls back to safer ground, then gets back on the horn.

 Carnage on the track to Petit Deu-Pont. More timed mortar strikes (walked right into that one).

 Bazooka team in a foxhole cover the bridge, until StuG fire wiped them out too!

 A change in luck, 2 counter pulls, 2 Air Attacks, and one arrived as well, despite the low cloud cover.

 The result at the bridge, both rocketed StuGs burn and the game changed in the US' favour.