Battle in the Bocage

What better way to kick things off for a wargaming blog than a battle report? This post is about the first game I’ve played in six months or so, thanks to lockdown – a game of Battlefront’s Flames of War, using the D-Day books.

The Setting

Some time in summer 1944, somewhere in Normandy, a German Panzergrenadier company is being forced into a strategic withdrawal in the face of the Allied advance. They have managed to occupy a defensible village by a river, supported by a platoon of Panzer IVs and Hummel self-propelled artillery in the fields to the south, two powerful FlaK 88 guns covering the main approaches, and a small StuG self-propelled gun platoon on the grassy hill to the north. Meanwhile, a US armoured company advances from the west, a column of Sherman tanks and armoured infantry approaching from a nearby manor house, while yet more Shermans and Greyhound armoured cars guard the mobile artillery across the river. The Germans must hold off the US advance long enough for their key elements to escape.

A quiet village in the Normandy bocage, summer 1944

The Game

We used the ‘Rearguard’ scenario from the Flames of War version 4 rulebook. The attacking player starts with a restricted deployment zone within 8″ of a long edge of the battlefield, placing two objectives in the defender’s deployment zone – which takes up fully half the table. The defender wins if they prevent the attacker from holding an objective until the start of their ninth turn.

The problem for the defender is that they must follow the Strategic Withdrawal rules. Every turn from turn two, they may have to take a unit off the table. Given the far greater numbers of the Americans, the Germans were in a difficult position – made worse by having to deploy the entire army first.

StuGs and Panzergrenadiers dig in on the northern hill

In this scenario, the Germans were able to deploy four minefields. Naturally, I placed them at the river crossings and along the lane running from the manor house to the village – a mistake I would later regret. Meanwhile, JB placed the Allied objectives in the ploughed field to the south of the village, and at the foot of the grassy hill to the north.

Panzer IVs deploy in the ploughed field, and Hummel howitzers wait under cover of the bocage. Unfortunately for them, it won’t be high enough to hide them from US spotting aircraft.

The Germans having mined both river crossings and deployed 88s and heavy machine guns to cover them, the Americans were forced to commit most of their forces to a tightly-packed advance towards the village from the manor house in the southwest. Meanwhile, a supporting force of Shermans covered the northern bridge, guarding the M7 Priests concealed behind the nearby trees.

The US armoured infantry quickly advanced up the road, disembarking their halftracks to occupy the woods. Their advance was covered by Shermans and M-10 tank destroyers, which opened fire on the Panzers in the field ahead, knocking one out.

The battlefield viewed from the southwest. Red cross mark the minefields, blue circles the Allied objectives. The US armoured infatry and tanks advanced from the southwest, while jeeps and Greyhounds skirted the minefield at the ford.

In response, the Panzers commenced a fire-fight with the US infantry and incoming Shermans, and to the north the StuGs advanced to the riverbank. There, they succesfully destroyed several American tanks, but the real danger was the M-10s, which crossed the wheat fields in an attempt to flank the Panzer IVs. With the village itself safe, it made sense for the Germans to withdraw the 88s and infantry teams first.

All the while, JB’s Grasshopper spotting plane was helping the Priests rain artillery shells on their German counterparts, but with little effect. The Hummels though did a good job of suppressing the US artillery, forcing their crew to bail.

The Grasshopper begins another fly-over as Greyhound armoured cars navigate the mined ford, and StuGs advance to the river bank.

In an effort to stem the flow of US armour bearing down on the Panzer IVs, or at least make things more difficult for the bazooka-wielding infantry in the woods, German armoured Panzergrenadiers launched an ambush, taking out the jeeps crossing the ford as they established a position supporting the tanks.

Armoured Panzergrenadiers deploy from their halftracks, occupying the northern end of the field.

The Panzers successfully knocked out several Sherman platoons, and the southern end of the battlefield was soon clouded with smoke. However, in the meantime the American M-10s had advanced to a well-protected position in one of the wheat fields, from which they fired on the German tanks with deadly effect, soon reducing their numbers and eventually elminating the entire platoon.

Panzergrenadiers attempt to hold the line as the Panzer IVs are destroyed.

Suddenly, the Germans’ position in the south looked very fragile; with the American artillery crews reluctant to remount their guns, the Hummels were pressed into an anti-tank role as a desparate measure to counter the M-10s. They took out one, but it wasn’t enough, and they soon came under fire themselves.

Smoke from knocked out tanks clouds the battlefield.

With the situation looking dire, the Germans pulled the StuGs away from the remnants of the Sherman platoon at the northern bridge in an attempt to slow the main US advance. German defence in the south was now up to the infantry. They fought well against the Americans in the woods, but the loss of the Panzers meant the US halftracks could move out of cover and lay down withering machine gun fire.

Meanwhile, over-defensive deployment meant that infantry in the village had to first clear the mines to allow the StuGs safe passage. By the time this was done, the southern defence had all but collapsed. As the remnants of the armoured Panzergrenadiers fled the field, the US infantry charged forwards, taking the objective and winning the game.

A US bazooka team digs in among the wreckage of knocked-out Panzers as the Shermans roll in to mop up the fleeing Germans.

This was a very enjoyable game, and the first using the terrain tiles I built during lockdown. In hindsight, I’d have thought more carefully about placing the mines – had JB’s Americans been spread more evenly, the Germans might have survived long enough to complete their strategic withdrawal…

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