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Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Gembloux Gap Scenario 1 Palm-off at Perbais

Up until now our Chain of Command campaigns for World War II have been set during the mid to late war period, but ever since my regular opponent Dave painted up early war platoons for both the French and Germans we've been eager to use them in a campaign. The publication by Too Fat Lardies of the 1940 Blitzkrieg Handbook followed shortly by the 'pint sized' campaign Taking the Gembloux Gap made it easy for us to decide where our next campaign should be set and so France 1940 it is. As of yet I don't have any early war platoons in my collection and so for this campaign my opponent Dave will supply all the miniatures and I'll provide the terrain.


The Gembloux Gap campaign kicks off with infantry from 3 Schutzen-Regiment of 3rd Panzer Division trying to push the French 110e Regiment d'Infanterie of the 1e Division d'Infanterie Motorisee out of the village of Perbais in order to clear the way for the panzers to attempt a breakthrough. This initial scenario is a difficult ask for the Germans as they have to approach the village across fairly open ground and in so doing will be confronted by defenders taking full advantage of the solid protection offered by the many stone buildings.

One thing to make a note of while following this campaign is that the wheat fields can provide light cover. This is clarified in the campaign notes which state: 'Wheat is around 3’ high at this time. Stationary troops in a wheat field count as being in light cover, due to their location being masked. Moving troops count as being in the open. Where a unit moved in the previous phase they will count as moving when fired at, but in subsequent phases they are assumed to be stationary'. Similarly the railway lines offer some protection: '..troops lining a railway line are presumed to be in light cover from the raised ballast present.'



Armoured support is not available to the Germans for this scenario. The division's tank regiments were made up predominantly of Panzer I and II tanks which were very vulnerable to French anti-tank guns and so the division's commander wanted the infantry to clear a path through which the tanks could follow.

Fortunately the infantry will not have to attempt this on their own. The Germans can call on the support of a Stuka bombardment and I've decided this could really help. Firstly, it has the potential to destroy or set fire to a number of buildings and so deny them to the defenders. Secondly, the bombardment will impede the deployment of French units. Both of these could prove very useful. Given the solid defensive terrain I've also decided to call on the support of an Ie.IG18 75mm gun. The HE rounds should make the buildings less attractive to the defenders.

Lastly, I will add a red command dice, an asset which represents the high quality of training and junior leadership in the division and this can provide extra command options with rolls between 1 and 4 (however 5s or 6s will be ignored). Observant readers will not that the 1940 Blitzkrieg Handbook specifies that a red dice is available when those units call on three or more support units, however Rich Clarke has clarified that this does not apply in the case of the Gembloux Gap campaign. There is no minimum support requirement for the red dice for the Germans.


Anticipating an aerial attack the French have included anti-aircraft machine guns in their support and this goes some way to mitigate the impact of the Stuka bombardment. As a result the Stukas only manage to hit two of the buildings with their bombs. To make matters worse the fuses are faulty and they fail to explode on impact. This leaves two unexploded bombs (UXBs) at each end of the table both of which could explode with little notice during the course of the game. One in a building close to the French table edge and one nearest the German table edge. For the Germans this is something of an own goal as it's highly likely I will want one if not two jump-off points located near that building. 

One UXB sits ominously in the forecourt of the local petrol station, the nearest building to the German table edge and an ideal location for a jump-off point. 


The other sits alongside one of the buildings in Perbais. This might cause some problems for the French defenders not least because it is the local wine merchant, the destruction of which would no doubt be considered a most heinous war crime.



To be honest I'm disappointed, I was hoping for a bit more destruction than that. The main aim of the aerial bombardment was to try and break up some of the hard cover in the village, so in that sense this particular Stuka bombardment has not been a great success. My remaining hope is that the bombing of the rear areas will be more successful in impeding French deployment.

We start with French force morale at eight and German at ten, which is more promising. With the Stuka bombardment out of the way we run the patrol phase and I manage to place jump-off points on both flanks. I wasn't expecting to do this and so I'm pleased to have some options as to how I approach the village. Hopefully I can turn this to my advantage.


From a tactical perspective an ideal location for one of the German JoPs is close to the petrol station and therefore uncomfortably close to that UXB. It's just a risk I'm going to have to take and will limit how much use I can make of the position, but that flank offers the best covered approaches into the village and can't be ignored.


Should the UXB explode we wonder jokingly whether the blast should be considered more catastrophic than normal given the presence of so many inflammables? An outcome that would no doubt suit the French.


The first German command roll delivers a double phase with 66555. The red dice is a redundant 6 and so I settle for three CoC points and a chance to roll again. The subsequent phase sees another 6 on the red dice, however the remaining rolls allow the Germans to start deploying. A squad arrives on the right flank near the railway line and takes up tactical positions.



The squad is joined by the platoon's 50mm mortar team which will provide supporting fire. 


The French command roll of 55442 offers few options and so the phase passes back to the Germans. Despite another redundant roll of 5 on the red dice German units can activate and so the squad by the railway line moves forward to take cover behind the embankment. 


On the other flank a squad deploys into the wheat field taking up overwatch positions.



My fear of being restricted to deploying on a single flank was that it would allow the French to concentrate their defence and make my task even more difficult than it currently is. This way they cannot ignore the German moves on both of their flanks and will need to spread their defence accordingly.


The French make an attempt to deploy a Groupe de Combat, but the Stuka attack has disrupted their efforts and they don't appear. While that is welcome I note the French are fast accruing CoC points and will no doubt try to end the turn as soon as possible to free up their deployment.

The Germans roll another redundant 6 with the red dice. That dice has yet to produce a usable command number, I hope this doesn't continue! That said, I am still able to get things moving. The squad on my left creeps through the wheat using tactical movement and makes good progress. It's tempting to make a dash while the French have yet to deploy, but I need to keep in mind that a unit that has moved in wheat in the previous phase will be treated as in open ground if fired upon in the subsequent phase. That could end badly, so some caution is called for.


The German squad receives support in the shape of the infantry gun which deploys as far from the UXB as practical. Nonetheless it's a location that provides good lines of sight across much of the table.



To keep the French uncertain about where best to concentrate, the Germans deploy the platoon's second in command, the Feldwebel, on their right, from where he can command the squad and the 50mm mortar team.



The French command roll is a mixed blessing. With three 5s it means they have their first full CoC dice and will be able to end the turn, however the remaining dice don't give Dave the range of command options he would like and so he decides to hold off ending the turn just yet. Despite the effects of the Stuka bombardment a 60mm mortar team successfully deploys and arrives without any shock.



The Germans continue to press forward on both flanks knowing a French response must be imminent.



On the right the squad tries to make the most of the small amount of cover offered by the railway embankment.



The French end the turn and we roll to see if any of the UXBs explode, but both remain dormant for now. With that the French infantry are free to deploy. Unfortunately their command roll is not the best and while it provides three more CoC points it will limit their deployment. Nonetheless an entrenched Groupe de Combat appears facing the German left. They are joined by the platoon sergeant who issues commands to both them and the 60mm mortar team to fire on the Germans in the wheat field.



The German squad interrupts the French fire, but the entrenchment provides excellent protection and so the fire has no effect.


The same cannot be said for the French fire which inflicts shock on the MG34 team.


The fire from the 60mm mortar is less effective and leaves the Germans unscathed.


However my squad are caught in a bad spot here and I will need to use the infantry gun to try and suppress the French defenders. In the German phase the squad Obergefreiter rallies off a point of shock and has the squad pull back tactically and out of close range.



Their move clears the line of sight for the infantry gun which proceeds to hurl a round of 75mm HE at the entrenched defenders.


The French suffer some shock but are otherwise unharmed.


From the other flank the 50mm mortar team also fires on the dug-in French, but the fire has no effect.


Meanwhile on the same flank the squad and the Feldwebel advance alongside the railway line.



Another 5 in the French command roll sees them accumulate a second full CoC die. The Sergeant orders the LMG team with the entrenched Groupe de Combat to continue pouring fire into the wheat field.


The Germans have pulled back beyond close range and made the most of the available cover by taking up tactical positions, despite this the FM24/29 fire is accurate and two men are casualties.


The sergeant then orders the Groupe's rifle team to try to suppress the crew of the infantry gun by putting down covering fire.


With his last command he orders the nearby 60mm mortar team to target the gun, but it has no effect. The French are determined to minimise the threat of the gun and the platoon's VB rifle grenade team deploy into one of the houses and fire off an initial volley of grenades, but like the 60mm mortar they fail to have any effect.



The Germans advancing along the rail line pose a real threat to the French left flank and so it's no surprise when another Groupe de Combat deploys into the farm nearest to them.


This gives the French a solid front line and my men feel very exposed. This was something I had feared and my hope had been that the Stuka bombardment would make that more difficult for the defenders. Sadly that's not been the case.


The newly deployed Groupe opens fire across the rail tracks.


Both German teams suffer a point of shock but unfortunately for the squad the only casualty is the Obergefreiter, who is hit and killed. That comes as a blow and German morale drops two points to eight. It looks like the platoon Feldwebel will need to step in and take command.


The French are not quite finished and the Sergeant orders a man to throw a grenade. Fortunately he can't throw it far enough and it explodes harmlessly amongst the crops.


So far my squad has benefited from the light cover of the railway embankment. However they are suddenly ambushed by a team of Escouade de Fusiliers motorcyclists who emerge from the wheat on the same side of the railway line. Having moved in their last phase the Germans can't benefit from the cover of the crops and are caught in the open.


The sudden and unexpected burst of fire causes a casualty in each team and sees shock rise. Having made a good advance the squad have suddenly found themselves in a bit of trouble.


The Germans have hit a wall of French fire on both flanks and it is difficult to see how they can gain the upper hand. In the next phase the infantry gun targets the Groupe opposite, but their entrenchments provide good cover and the fire has no effect.


I decide my best bet is to try and take advantage of how far I have advanced on the right. The lead squad has taken casualties but if I can give them more support and have the Feldwebel take them under command it might be possible to made headway. With that the Feldwebel joins the squad, rallies off some shock and orders them to return fire.


They manage to inflict some shock on the Groupe behind the hedge row.


The third German squad from the platoon now deploys on the right flank and they also open fire on the same Groupe.


Their fire is more accurate and the French suffer a casualty and more shock.


The squad in the wheat field on the left can also target the same Groupe and so the Germans try to mass their fire to force a decision.



Once again the French lose a casualty and take more shock. Finally the Germans seem to be putting the defenders under pressure and if this can continue it might be possible to push hard on the right and tip the balance.


Despite the threat to the French left flank they deploy the platoon's third Groupe de Combat on the opposite flank.


Here the two Groupes seem intent on destroying the German squad in the wheat field.


The Groupe fires and despite only two hits one of the MG34 crew is killed leaving only one surviving crew member.



Meanwhile the entrenched Groupe divide their fire, with the LMG team targeting the German squad and adding more shock, while the rifle team maintain covering fire on the infantry gun.


The V-B team now have their aim on the infantry gun and so fire a full volley of grenades. This comes down with unnerving accuracy and violence, killing two of the gun crew.


The French are determined to put the infantry gun out of action and the 60mm mortar fires a round that kills another gunner and adds shock. This is not looking good.


Over on the other flank the Groupe Sergeant rallies shock off his men.


They are then joined by the platoon Lieutenant who rallies off a further point of shock.


He then orders the Groupe and the motorcyclists to open fire.



That's a lot of fire coming the way of my squad and after receiving ten hits I'm lucky to get away with only three points of shock. That could have been a lot worse, but at least I now benefit from the cover of the wheat. Nonetheless the squad has accumulated eight points of shock and is perilously close to pinning.



There is momentary relief for the Germans with a double phase, although the remaining command dice don't offer as many options as I would have liked. Still, if I can make the most of these two phases I might be able to regain some of the initiative.

The commander of the infantry gun rallies off a point of shock and orders the gun to fire at the hedgerow opposite.


The LMG crew suffer a casualty and take two points of shock.


The Obergefreiter with the squad in the wheat field assigns one of the rifle team to join the MG34 team and then has the whole squad fire, adding more shock to the same Groupe behind the hedge row.


The next German command roll offers many more options and I need to work out how best to maximise this phase. Firstly the infantry gun commander rallies off the remaining shock and returns fire. No longer suppressed by the covering fire their aim is likely to be more accurate.


And so it turns out, with the Groupe losing two casualties. Despite the volume of French fire the number of casualties on both sides is reasonably even, however the Germans have the harder task and I don't feel they have an adequate force to do what is necessary.


On the German right the Feldwebel rallies more shock off the lead squad and has them return fire, but it has little effect. At this point I decide I need to push as hard as I can on this flank and with all units now deployed the platoon Leutnant joins the 50mm mortar team and the squad. He has both units fire and they inflict a casualty and shock. Despite this I sense the French will be able to return some effective fire in their coming phase.


This they start to do when the Sergeant orders both Groupes on the French right to fire into the wheat field with a total of 25 fire dice. This could really hurt.


However the Germans are fortunate and somehow manage to escape with only a single point of shock on each team.


Things are not so fortunate when the V-B team fire their final salvo of grenades at the infantry gun and the gun commander is hit and wounded. With their ammunition now exhausted that's the last we will hear from the V-B team, but the wounding of the gun commander has seen German morale drop to seven.

On the other flank the French Lieutenant orders the Groupe and motorcyclists to continue firing at the nearest Germans.



The squad don't suffer any more casualties but the large amount of shock is enough to see them break and make a hasty retreat back through the wheat. The sight of which is enough to bring German morale down even further, to five.


It's fair to say that at this point it is clear the French have successfully driven off this first assault on Perbais. With the German squad broken and back where they started; the infantry gun very close to losing its leader and/or crew and the other squad stranded in the wheat field facing two French Groupes I feel I'm back where I started. Not only that, my force morale is down to five and I still have a large French force to overcome. I can see no benefit to continuing the fight with such bad odds and so on that note the Germans withdraw.


German casualties have not been too bad but there seemed no point suffering any more with such little chance of a scenario victory, so best to regroup and fight again.

This is a tough scenario for the Germans and they need to make sure they have called on the right support. I'm not sure a Stuka bombardment was the wrong support necessarily, but it was not as effective as it might have been - both in terms of destroying buildings and of impeding French deployment. As it turns out today's outcome is not far from what happened historically, including Stuka bombs landing too close to the German jump off points. At least I was spared the ignominy of the UXB exploding and causing me even more grief.

Both core platoons suffered six casualties but with a difference in force morale of three the French see that number of men return immediately and so will go into the next game down one man permanently and with a further two who are wounded and unavailable until the following game. The French CO is pleased to hear the Germans have been repelled and his opinion is now at +1. The light casualties also mean the men's opinion rises and that is now at +2, while the platoon commanders outlook is Content.

The Germans took a total of nine casualties but three of those were from a support unit, the infantry gun crew. In terms of the next game the platoon will have lost three men permanently and have two wounded men miss the next game. One man will return. The loss of an Obergefreiter from one of the squads will mean a man will need to be promoted out of the ranks to fill his place. The German CO is unimpressed when he hears the news and his opinion drops to -1. Likewise the men's opinion drops to -1 and the platoon leader's outlook is now Retiring (which will mean -1 to the FM die roll for the next game).

So the next game in the campaign will be a return to the outskirts of Perbais and a renewed attempt by the Germans to clear the village. You can follow what happened in this AAR.

32 comments:

  1. Another excellent game (and superbly presented report ... as usual). Good to see that the Shabby Nazi Trick of the illegal red dice (you need to have three supports before it can be used) did not steal the win from Les Bleus. Looking forward to the sequel.

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    1. As you know, Rich has now clarified that the trick is not so shabby and the three supports for a red dice are not a requirement of this particular campaign. Not that we knew that at the time though!

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  2. A splendid entertaining report. One of those days for the Germans, one needs better in what is a tough ask anyway. I shall look forward to the next attempt.

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    1. Thanks, yes, the Stukas were disappointing, on another day it could have been a very different story. Time to scratch my head and have a think about how I can try something different, or hope the Stukas can be more effective.

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  3. Cracking write up and a really lovely looking table. Could you tell me what figures they are please (thinking of getting some French) and also what company makes the buildings?

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    1. Thanks. The figures are from Dave's collection, not mine but I think most of the French are from Early War Miniatures with a few Blitz figures (mainly leaders I think). I have a feeling most of the Germans are from Blitz.

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    2. Hi Iain. Most of the Germans are actually from Kellys Heroes range through Grubby Tanks with some EWM, SHQ and a few Blitz mixed in. French are as Mark says.

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  4. Ah, I guess the buildings are Sarissa, hadn't read through the 'terrain' tab!

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    1. The majority of the buildings are from Sarissa, however some (like the Garage) are also from Charlie Foxtrot. The greenhouse is from Blotz (I think).

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  5. Rough start. Does the Stuka provide the typical 4+ to enter, or is it upgraded to 5+? Maybe the key to success is a refused flank, pushing hard under the cover of air assault to destroy the French in piece-meal fashion

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    1. The Stuka can be very effective (on a good day). Aside from destruction of buildings it impedes infantry deployment like a pre-game barrage (so 4+), not only that, each team will roll 1D6 to determine how much shock it arrives with. Vehicles have their deployment impeded like this throughout the scenario, not just for the first turn. Potentially a very potent support and this scenario does not really show it off at it's most effective. Dave was lucky to accrue a CoC die very quickly and the bombs were all duds, it could have been very different.

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    2. Gotcha. Thanks for the details. Damn air force -- never get it right

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  6. Excellent report once again. This is a tough nut to crack look at Rich's attempts. Yes I too would like to know the figure manufacturer for both Germans and French. The buildings are a mix of Sarissa and Charlie Foxtrot.

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    1. Thanks, see my reply to Iain above for the figures.

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  7. Great report and terrain as usual. I really enjoy playing the 1940 games, I find the weapons in late war are quite overpowered and make for a less interesting tactical game. Great hothouse and UXB's!

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    1. Great mix of weapons and rules additions for this period which should make for a very interesting campaign. Glad you liked the UXBs, I couldn't help myself!

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  8. Great report as usual. As a minor comment to counterattack the German red die without enough supports, the French platoon sergeant is an inferior SL so only has 2 initiative. Seems like at least one phase he used 3.

    Chris

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    1. See my reply to the first post, it seems Rich has lifted the 3 support requirement for this scenario. Well spotted on the inferior SL, you may well be correct, that one may have slipped past us.

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  9. Nice report. Looking forward to seeing how this campaign plays out

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  10. Doesn't the Stuka also apply shock to French units who do manage to deploy?

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    1. Yes indeed, however if the French select AA MGs as support the shock is reduced by 1 point. In the case of the 60mm mortar team Dave rolled a 1 for their shock and so that reduced to zero for the AA MGs. Dave then ended the turn before any other French units deployed. This scenario is not the best showcase for what the Stuka bombardment can do, I suspect on another day with more effective bombs and a longer first turn things could turn out very differently. A bad day at the office for the Luftwaffe.

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  11. Enjoyed immensely, as always. Thanks for the reports, they really help when my gaming is in a lull. It's the next best thing to playing, and I especially like how you add in your tactical thoughts. It is always useful to understand the thought process and inform your own play.

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    1. Thanks Doug, glad I can fill a gap in your gaming. While putting these posts together is time consuming I find it very enjoyable, it's like reliving the game all over again, so I'm glad others can enjoy them too.

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  12. Beautiful looking game Mark as always.
    I admit I had to skip to the end to see if the UXB blew up your IG - was sure with your die rolls it would!

    Looks like a tricky mission having watched Richs failures on Lard TV I am looking forward to having a go myself and trying something different - not a big fan of relying on the HE gun or mortars - not enough punch to do the job.

    Dunno what the support points/options are but I am thinking more bodies and more MMG's?
    Use a bit of covering/Overwatch fire and movement then in with the Hangranarten.

    Also what is the mission objective?

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    1. Thanks. Mission objective is to drive the French from the table through a failure in FM. In other words just hammer them into submission. The French have only one platoon for this scenario with no replacements but it can fight to the bitter end as it will be replaced for the next scenario, so the French have no incentive to withdraw and can burn up this platoon over as many scenarios as it takes. In terms of supports the German cannot select any armour for this one, so options are the usual suspects - MMG, infantry gun, extra squad. Alternatives include a mortar barrage (at 6 points, mind you) or Stukas (4 points). I felt this particular game was a poor showcase for what the Stukas could do, as they have the potential to damage the village and then play havoc with French deployment. The problem is if they don't do that then that's four valuable supports wasted.

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    2. Ahh right thought it might be a probe.

      Would be tempted with an extra squad and the mortars.

      That would allow you to close and use the support squad to lead the close assault! ๐Ÿ˜‚

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  13. Great read. I was rooting for you the whole time.
    A sensible decision to withdraw at that point.

    I love the smoking bomb markers. ๐Ÿ˜€

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    1. Thanks Stew, appreciate the moral support! I couldn't resist the UXB markers, I think they add a nice touch of colour to the table and they didn't take long to make.

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  14. A bit late I know, but I only found your blog last week.

    Thanks for an excellent write up with fantastic photos of the action.

    Received the rules and the Blitzkrieg book last week and am waiting for my French to arrive. I have no doubt your blog will be an inspiration. I have already used your excellent QRF download to help me in reading up on the rules.

    Thanks again

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  15. Thanks Keith, glad you’ve been enjoying the blog and hope you’re finding it useful.

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