Thursday 31 October 2019

Gembloux Gap (game six) Scenario 2 The Culverts at Noirmont

It was a long and tough struggle to dislodge the French defenders from Perbais, with the Germans successful only at their fifth attempt (you can read all the previous battle reports starting here). That delay has put the schedule for the German campaign in serious jeopardy, leaving no margin for error in the games that remain.

The next scenario calls for the French to demolish two important culverts in the vicinity of Noirmont. The Germans must stop them in order to maintain the pace of their offensive (this is supposed to be blitzkrieg after all). French engineers must first set their charges and then use a full CoC die to detonate them. Time is not on their side, they must act quickly while the platoon and whatever support it can muster keep the Germans at bay. If the French succeed this delays the Germans for an additional campaign turn which would be enough to see them run out of time and face defeat. Consequently my Germans must win this table at the first attempt. Like I said earlier, there is no margin for error.

Here is the table from the French perspective with a small culvert on their right flank and a large one at the rear.

The charges for the small culvert require six task points to set. Each time the engineers are activated they roll 1D6 to determine how many task points they have accumulated during the phase, which makes it quite possible that could occur in only one or two phases.

On the other hand setting the charges for the large culvert (pictured below) requires twelve task points, which should take them longer.

The Germans must find a way to disrupt French deployment while moving as quickly as possible themselves. The key to the game is the small culvert. If it can be captured before the French destroy it then I believe there is a good chance of winning.

The French have a full strength fresh platoon, but that same platoon must fight all the actions on this and the next two tables so they cannot afford to take too many losses.

The Germans have three platoons for the campaign, however the bitter fighting at Perbais saw two platoons written down and so they now field their final platoon. Somehow I have to keep this unit in decent shape and make it to the last map of the campaign (if we get that far). Fortunately we emerged victorious from the last game without taking any permanent losses and so the platoon remains at full strength.

The Germans can call on armoured support for this scenario and with eleven support points available it's certainly an option I've considered (note that it should be twelve support points for this scenario but the low opinion of the German CO has reduced the amount available). I suspect Dave will be expecting something like this and will have adequate anti-tank support. Nonetheless I do give serious thought to a PzIV because its 75mm HE rounds could be very useful if the French defenders prove stubborn, yet in the end I decide against it.

I will call on a motorcycle reconnaissance squad to not only provide extra men but the ability for rapid movement should an opportunity arise. In order to maximise leadership on the table the platoon will have the support of an adjutant. A Stuka bombardment will attempt to disrupt the French defence and hamper their deployment and finally, a shabby Nazi trick in the form of a 5th columnist should further disrupt French coordination.

Much like a pre-game barrage the effect of a Stuka bombardment is abstracted into the rules, which makes a model of a Stuka unnecessary. Despite that, I thought it would be a nice touch to have something to illustrate the pictures in these AARs and so made up the new Airfix 1/72 JU87 for that very purpose.

The game starts with German force morale at eight and the French at nine, giving them the initiative and the opening phase. During the patrol phase I try to make some headway on my left flank towards the small culvert, but the French respond quickly and so two of my jump-off-points are in fairly exposed positions. I place my third over on my right flank which will provide a covered approach towards the large culvert.

Before we begin the Stukas arrive to soften up the defence. Unfortunately the first bombs miss the building closest to the small culvert. I was really hoping to cause it damage and so limit its use to the French, but no matter, there are more Stukas to follow.

The next Stuka misses one of the farmhouses, but manages to strike a large barn making it unstable and likely to collapse.

The following Stuka targets a group of farm buildings close to the large culvert.

A bomb crashes through the roof of one of them and the building erupts in flames, sending a pall of smoke across the road.

The final Stuka hits the building on the German right flank making it unstable and hazardous to occupy.

That Stuka bombardment was more successful than the one during the first playing of the scenario at Perbais, so there can be no complaints. Damage has been inflicted and this should make it a little more difficult for the French to build a cohesive defence. I'm now hoping the bombardment is just as successful in disrupting their deployment.

Things don't get off to a great start when the first French command roll delivers a double phase. Time is against them and this is just the sort of start they need. The only consolation is that the command roll does not allow an engineer team to activate.

A Groupe tries to deploy but fails to make it through the Stuka barrage. An attempt by a second Groupe does succeed and they deploy into the house by the small culvert, just the one I was hoping the Stuka attack would deny them. Had I been a bit more alert I should have used my 5th columnist. My attention was distracted by the amount of shock the Stuka bombardment may place on the deploying Frenchmen. 

In the end it proves to be quite a lot with four points of shock on each French team. The Groupe Sergeant uses his command initiatives to immediately rally a point off each of those units.

The next French command roll is 54443, not the most useful and it means we won't see the appearance of any engineers this phase either. The platoon sergeant deploys through the Stuka bombardment and joins the Groupe in the upper level taking the opportunity to rally more shock off them as he does so.

The Groupe sergeant then puts both of the teams onto overwatch.

In the following phase the first German squad deploys on their right flank and takes up tactical positions along the hedgerow. 

They are at effective range from the house and can both be targeted by and target the French in the upper level of the house. I hope to be able to move out of their arc of fire in the next phase and so for now I choose to stay in better cover rather than fire.

The 50mm mortar team deploys and does fire, but it has no effect. This elicits a response from the French rifle team in the upper level who are on overwatch and they inflict a points of shock on the mortar team. 

The Feldwebel joins the squad and mortar team.

The first thing he does as he arrives is to rally the shock off the mortar crew.

The next French command roll is 63211 and that means there is an opportunity for the engineer demolition team to begin work setting their charges on one of the culverts. First though, the platoon sergeant takes more shock off the rifle team and then has them move out of sight towards the back of the building.

It's no surprise to discover that the French engineers will try to work their way through the Stuka bombardment and deploy, which they do successfully. Dave is being cautious and so they don't go straight to the culvert but remain out of sight behind the building. It turns out to be a wise decision as they have taken five points of shock from the Stuka attack which sees them pinned.

In the German phase the Feldwebel orders the squad and mortar team to move forward along the hedge row. This they do at a good pace, moving 9" and 8" respectively. 

Another squad deploys in the centre. They are in open ground and so take up tactical positions as they can be targeted from the upper level of the house. 

In the French phase the platoon sergeant rallies the last point of shock off the rifle team before moving downstairs to where he can rally shock off the engineers. Meanwhile on the lower level the Groupe sergeant takes two points of shock off the LMG team. Despite arriving with a fair amount of shock the presence of two leaders and the early double phase has enabled the Groupe to gather its senses ready for the fight ahead.

In the German phase the Feldwebel continues to urge the squad and mortar team forward. Once again they move at a good pace and that brings the LMG team within sight of the French engineers.

In the centre the squad continues to move forward cautiously using tactical movement. While I feel a sense of urgency to push hard and take advantage of the Stuka bombardment I don't want to do anything rash that will cause unnecessary casualties.

Having said that I want to keep pressure on the French. I was holding back the motorcycle squad in case of a double phase or an unexpected opportunity to try a coup de main that would see them come roaring up the road on their motorcycles. Instead I decide on something a little more pedestrian (literally and figuratively). Taking advantage of their ability to deploy 9" from a JoP I bring them on as far forward as possible on my left flank. They will be exposed in open ground and so they too take up tactical positions, but they won't need to move far to come outside of the arc of fire from the windows in the house. 

The French LMG team on the lower level is on overwatch and they react to this deployment by opening fire on the only German team they can see - the LMG crew (note that this is an incorrect use of Overwatch that we missed in the course of playing the game. Units on Overwatch cannot fire at a unit deploying unless the unit fires. In this instance my squad deployed but did not fire).

Only one German is hit but it's the leader and he is wounded and stunned. Luckily my morale holds steady, but that was a bit of bad fortune. The LMG team takes two points of shock.

The French platoon sergeant uses the next phase to rally two points of shock off the engineers. 

The Groupe in the house all open fire at the German squad on my left.

There is only one hit but it strikes the wounded leader and this time he is killed. Fortunately he's the commander of a support squad and not from the core platoon, nonetheless German morale takes a tumble and falls to six. That's not a great result, my only consolation being that the earlier wound didn't lower my force morale.

Another French Groupe tries to make its way through the Stuka bombardment and this time they are successful. They plan to deploy from the JoP on the French left near the large culvert but I announce the presence of a 5th columnist. Unfortunately luck is not running my way and a roll of six sees the Groupe recognise him for who he is and they despatch him. With that the Groupe deploys into one of the houses hidden by the pall of smoke from the burning farmhouse. 

Like the earlier Groupe they arrive with a lot of shock, five points on the LMG team and four on the rifle team, and so the sergeant spends his command initiatives reducing some of that from each team.

In the German phase the Feldwebel takes the chance to hit the engineers behind the house and orders the LMG team to open fire.

Despite a number of hits the engineers are unscathed.

The Feldwebel then orders the rifle team and mortar crew to come forward and join the LMG team from where they will all have a line of sight to the engineers. 

In the centre the squad advance tactically up to the hedgerow ready to create a base of fire prior to any assault on the house. 

On my left the motorcycle squad advance tactically across the open ground and just out of the arc of fire of the French at the windows of the house.

I don't feel the German assault is moving fast enough but I'm conscious of casualties and so prefer to take this slowly. The downside is it is allowing the French to recover the shock inflicted by the Stukas and sure enough in the following phase the sergeant of the recently deployed Groupe spends the phase further reducing the levels of shock.

In the other house the rifle team in the upper level move back to the windows and join the LMG team on the level below firing at the German squad opposite.

Once again there is only one casualty and yet again it's a leader, the squad's obergefreiter who suffers a light wound. My leaders seem particularly vulnerable today.

To my relief this has no negative impact on German morale.

However the luck is not all going the way of the French and the next German command roll is 66321, a double phase and an opportunity to go up a gear and push the assault forward.

On my right the Feldwebel orders the 50mm mortar team to target the French engineers.

The mortar rounds are on target and the engineers lose a man killed and suffer a point of shock. That is enough to break them.

The broken team fall back 12” taking French morale down to eight. That will make it much more difficult for the French to destroy the small culvert. I need to capitalise on this and use the double phase to seize the initiative.

I now want my men moving instead of shooting and so the Feldwebel orders the rifle team over the hedge.

In the next phase they should be able to close down the nearest French JoP.

The Feldwebel then directs the LMG team to advance up to the hedge so they can provide covering fire to the rifle team should they need it.

On the German left the motorcycle squad push forward moving normally. The shock slows down the LMG team, but the rifle team move ahead at a good pace. With another phase it's quite possible I can shut down two of the French JoPs which could see the initiative swing favourably towards the Germans.

The following German command roll of 61111 is not ideal but it does allow me to do the two most important things. On the left the rifle team move at the double and run up to the building which takes them within 4" of the French jump-off-point. 

The rifle team on the right flank do the same thing and run towards the second French jump-off-point, also closing it down.

With that we have succeeded in shutting down two jump-off-points which will greatly restrict how they can react. From here I should be able to secure the small culvert and fend off any French counter attack.

The last act of the phase is to have the squad opposite the house open fire, but they only manage to inflict a single point of shock. 

At this point Dave decides he has little chance to destroy both culverts and stands only to suffer casualties which he can ill afford. With that the French platoon withdraws leaving both culverts undamaged and in German possession for a scenario victory.

That was a good outcome from my perspective, not only a scenario victory which was essential, but one achieved at no cost in casualties to the core platoon.

The only German casualty was the obergefreiter from the motorcycle squad which was a support unit. Similarly the French lost a single man from the engineer demolition team. A victory without heavy casualties is just the turnaround my platoon needs although we still move to the next scenario with the Men's Opinion at -9 and the CO's Opinion at -4. The platoon leader's outlook moves from the rather disgraceful 'In Shame' to a slightly improved 'Insecure'. The light casualties see the opinion of the French men rise to +8, however the scenario defeat sees the CO's Opinion drop to +4. The platoon leader's outlook moves from 'Happy' to 'Short Tempered'.

The campaign now moves on to Scenario 3 'Blitz on Villeroux' and you can follow the events of that game in this post.