So after another defeat at the hands of Dave's panzer grenadiers the action shifts to Scenario 4 'The Church on the Flank' (you can find links to all the Von Luck campaign AARs here). The Paras can use a fresh platoon here, but they only have 3 support points to draw on. However the terrain looks promising for the defender with the Germans having to cross a fair amount of open ground in front of a defensive position with several houses and stone walls. That said, the Germans do have a quite considerable 20 support points available to help them tackle the terrain and this could ease that task for them.
So far Dave has invariably called in a mortar barrage for support and looking at this terrain I would be very surprised if he doesn't do it again. At first glance the obvious place to defend is the church and surrounding graveyard and I'd estimate that's rather conveniently also about 18" square. If it were me, that's where the barrage would come down. That's one of several reason why I think it unwise to anchor a defence around the church. Firstly, the church building itself offers little for the defender. What few windows it has face north and south and the tower is such an open target I doubt anything would survive up there for long. Looking at the stone walls in front of the church, while they offer some good cover and allow the defender to sweep the open ground with fire, it is also very exposed to German return fire (and they can muster quite a lot of that).
Dave is too experienced a player to hastily rush across that open ground and I can be certain that when he feels ready to do so, it will be only when he can bring a lot of fire down on any defender who dares show himself. I'm outgunned by the panzer grenadiers and my only chance is to try to pick him off in detail and not allow him to bring that overwhelming firepower to bear. For those reasons I'm going to avoid the obvious and not defend within the church grounds.
So here is my thinking, I will look to cover the open ground from both flanks. Both points 1 and 2 are not open to his entire front, which should mean it will be hard for him to bring the fire of several units to bear on units in either of these locations. However, I'm not convinced the open ground will be a killing ground. I think the graveyard in the church grounds could be the place - it only provides light cover to anyone moving across it and yet allows the Paras to take up positions on several sides, behind the walls or in the upper levels of buildings, and hit an attacker from several sides. With my gut feeling that Dave will put a mortar barrage on the church and then advance up behind it, this becomes my preferred plan of defence and I will look to place my JoPs accordingly. As for support, I have two entrenchments at no cost as part of the campaign progress. I will add another two entrenchments and my final support point goes on an Adjutant, as I may need both Senior Leaders on the table if my defence is to be as flexible as possible.
As nothing in life is certain and just in case I've got Dave's intentions all wrong, I decided to place one JoP in the church, just to ensure I could respond if things played out differently.
|German JoP in blue, British in red.|
The Germans have far fewer options for JoP placement, so no surprise they have them in the sunken lane and behind the hedgerows. Force Morale saw British start at 11 and the Germans at 10. So with that done, we started. I start the first command rolls and while my plan is to deploy once he is much closer, I'm hoping to build up some CoC dice while he is deploying and making those initial moves. In the early rolls Dave slowly begins to deploy onto the table, while I roll a lot of 6s including one triple. I hoped perhaps he'd called on a Werfer barrage for support, but no such luck, so that triple 6 was wasted. I followed that roll with four 5s and a 6. It then looked like things were getting really out of hand when I rolled four 6s. The random event was the discovery of a wine stash, but with my Force Morale already at 11, it made no difference. Crazy stuff. While this is all going on the Germans have begun to deploy in force.
|So, no Lorraine Schlepper, but a 75mm HE round is not to be ignored.|
|That's a tripod mounted MG42 in the corner of the hedge|
So far this is pretty much how I was expecting things to unfold - cautious German advance combining Overwatch with Tactical movement. It then comes as no surprise to see a Forward Observer turn up behind the hedges. No unpleasant surprises so far.
With that I decide to deploy the Sergeant and the 2" mortar. I'm thinking that if I can isolate some of his sections and block some of the Overwatch using smoke, then I can try to inflict casualties on any exposed units when he can't return too much fire.
|The 2" mortar gets ready to lay down some smoke|
|With the threat of a mortar barrage on the churchyard the Germans begin to edge forward.|
The 2" mortar lays down some smoke that blocks the line of sight for the MMG and the FO and with that I deploy the entrenched Para support section and its two bren teams on my right, slightly behind the farmhouse. There is a German MG42 team that has detached itself carelessly from its section (a roll for a normal move of 11" saw it rush ahead) and that becomes my target.
The Bren teams do their work, causing two casualties and enough shock to break the team and send them racing to the rear. Meantime the German MMG team has moved out into the open to try to find a line of sight to the entrenched Paras.
The Bren section are proving a real threat to the Germans who start to move away from that flank towards the centre. The 2" mortar tries to blind the Pak40 but the smoke drifts and this allows the 75mm to get off a shot at the Paras. There is only one casualty but it's the Junior Leader and he dies. Fortunately the Sergeant is close by, so I still have command options for the section, but that was an unlucky result for me there. On the flip side the exposed German MMG team is now a target. The Para Sergeant is on hand to use the British Concentrated Fire characteristic to try to take it out and one of the Bren teams manages to inflict casualties and shock. Despite all this the Germans continue to move forward, always making full use of Overwatch and Tactical movement.
|The Germans shift the emphasis of their attack away from the bren section.|
I think the picture above is an excellent illustration of why the churchyard wall is not a great spot for a defender. All those German units in the open are an incredibly inviting target, but it's an illusion. Even if we assume the Paras won't be hit with a barrage, they are faced with a possible 47 dice fire attack from the panzer grenadiers in a single phase. Even if they return some effective fire it's a prolonged fire fight they are bound to lose. Dave's tactical approach is a good one and going toe-to-toe with that many panzer grenadiers are poor odds indeed.
I continue to focus the fire from my bren teams on the remnants of the MMG team and finally manage to inflict more casualties and enough shock to see the sole surviving crew member break and fall back. The Germans are steadily moving forward, but they are slowly taking casualties.
The FO moves away from the smoke and when he eventually has a line of sight to the Bren Section he doesn't even bother to call for another ranging shot, but instead calls for the barrage to shift and come down at full effect. He's successful and the Bren section, the Sergeant and the 2" mortar team are all under the barrage. The Bren section is entrenched, so they have some cover, but the others are not, so could be in trouble. I have a CoC die I could use to end the turn, but that will also clear away my smoke. Dave also has one, so I couldn't necessarily eliminate the barrage anyway. Hmmmmm.
|81mm mortar rounds crash around the entrenched Paras.|
With the German attack shifting towards my left and centre it was time to deploy another section, this time to the other flank. We immediately engage with the nearest German section and inflict a few casualties, but we also get return fire from the Pak40. Being entrenched helps here and some Shock accumulates, but nothing more serious. This really sees his attack shift to the centre and towards the church.
Despite my fire on the left flank the Germans manage to make it up to the churchyard wall. The Pak40 has turned into a real menace putting some very effective fire onto the section and causing quite a few casualties. With the Germans about to enter the churchyard it was time to pull back and face that direction anyway. Now is the time I need my Bren section. I decide to use a CoC dice to end the turn. I can afford to lose the smoke now and I have a wounded leader who can get back up on his feet. There are other advantages as German Overwatch and Tactical markers are removed. Dave counters with a CoC dice of his own to keep the barrage going. I'm not totally surprised, but other than a triple or quadruple 6 nothing else would cause the barrage to lift.
|The Germans make it into the churchyard.|
|Paras poised to fight it out over the gravestones.|
A furious firefight ensues, but the German firepower begins to tell and the Paras casualties mount disproportionately. Dave manages to roll a double phase at a critical moment. With the first phase he rolls 36 dice and gets 3 hits. I breath a sigh of relief. His next phase attack is far more devastating and the Para section on my left takes 6 casualties. To add insult to injury the leaders are really taking hits and that begins to drive down force morale. The Germans have taken a lot of casualties too, but they sense a last push here might just do it. A weakened German section comes around one side of the Church and rushes into close combat with the Para section in the centre. The Paras wipe out the Germans but in the process take a few casualties and a wounded leader and the Para force morale drops to 3.
|A small band of courageous Germans prepare to take on some Paras|
|The leader takes another wound and British force morale drops to 3|
At this point the Paras are on the back foot. The Senior Leader is a casualty; one section with the Platoon Sergeant are pinned under the barrage; one other section has only two surviving men, and the other is without a leader. The options aren't great. What I have available is outgunned, outnumbered and is supported with more leaders. Sure, the Germans are weakened, but with leaders present and a force morale of 7 they have many more options and it's clear which way this one has gone. Chalk up another defeat for the Paras. That said, it's been a close run thing. The Germans took 19 casualties (14 from the platoon and 5 from supports) while the Paras took 17, so despite the loss, the Paras have managed to dish out punishment to yet another German platoon.
It's most likely too little, too late for this campaign. Much will depend on the outcome of the next scenario. The Germans have two attempts at that scenario for campaign victory. I have a fresh platoon I can bring on and the Germans have enough men to create one full platoon. To go the distance I need to win the next scenario and inflict significant loss on the Germans without taking too much myself.
The British finish with the CO's opinion at -5 (that will be one less support next game); the Men's Opinion at -7 (that's -2 to the FM roll) and the Platoon commander's outlook as Sad (I'm not surprised).
The German CO is impressed and his opinion is at +3, the men a little less given the increasing number of casualties, so is at -4 (that's -1 to their FM roll) but the platoon commander is feeling Secure.
So next up we go to Scenario Five 'Delaying Action at the Chateau'.
Previous scenario reports are here:
Scenario 3 Corridor of Death (part two)
Scenario 3 Corridor of Death (part one)
Scenario 2 Probe among the hedgerows
Scenario 1 Patrol on the ring contour