Dave is starting to feel under time pressure and shares his thinking:
'This turn I decide to make a determined push to clear out Maps 1 and 3. With time pressure mounting, several failed attacks (four repulses and only the one successful probe) and several platoons now weakened or written down, the task of opening the road to Bastogne now appears increasingly difficult. The Volksgrenadier sturm platoon that arrives this turn will attacks straight onto Map 1 meanwhile I move into the village of Holzthum (Map 3) from the outskirts (Map 2) which I secured last turn. I am now able to interdict all the roads including the road into Consthum that the reinforcements use, which was something I wanted to do from the start.'
The Americans receive ten support points for this turn and given I expect to come up against more armour I decide to call forward a Sherman and two bazooka teams. These arrive from the west and as the Germans have a platoon at Assembly Point D they run the risk of interdiction (and possible destruction). I make a roll for each of the units and while none of them are destroyed they all fail to make it through to Consthum. I will need to try again in Campaign Turn 8. That's disappointing, but at least they are still available and can make another attempt to break through.
So we will witness two German attacks this campaign turn - Map 1 Skyline Drive and Map 3 Holzthum Village. We will start by playing the attack on Skyline Drive.
Campaign Turn 7 scenario 1 Skyline Drive
This will be their third attempt to clear the crossroads. Up until now the Americans have proven very difficult to dislodge but I have to confess I'm not very optimistic about this one. I have no doubt I'll be attacked by German armour and I suspect Dave will use it aggressively while keeping his infantry out of sight. If that's the case I will be asking a great deal from my solitary bazooka team, those two men will carry a lot of responsibility in the fight ahead.
Here are Dave's thoughts on how he intends to approach this one:
'For the third attack on Map 1, I will abandon any attempt at being tactically subtle and go for maximum armoured support – a Panther and a PzKwIV. My idea is to have the Panther advance covered by the PzKwIV and the infantry in the woods with the aim of advancing and shutting down the jump-off-points around the crossroads. Once that happens, if the Americans are still holding on, the PzKwIV can move up and hold the crossroads while the Panther advances relentlessly on the final jump-off-point. There is a mine clearing team to get rid of the bloody minefield in the woods, and I plan to keep the infantry in the woods and out of sight until needed. This attempts to mitigate the ‘US use a CoC die to end the turn, remove overwatches and then open devastating first fire on the green guys’ syndrome. The main risk is an ambush from the bazooka team taking out the Panther, but I cannot expose the infantry prematurely, so I will simply have to grit my teeth and wait for the first rocket.'
The Germans will attack with a fresh Volksgrenadier Sturm platoon. The American platoon is in very good shape, considering it has been attacked twice. They have had a rifleman and a squad leader killed. A man will be promoted from the ranks to fill the shoes of the squad leader and so one squad will be short two riflemen.
The promoted man has his base marked so that we remember he has a short command range and a single CI until he is fully accepted by the men of his squad.
The Americans placed a minefield at the edge of the wooded area in the last game and so that remains for this scenario.
In addition to the four entrenchments which were part of this map's initial supports the victory in the last scenario has allowed the Americans to strengthen the position. For this I have selected another minefield and intend to have this block the road. It should slow down any German attempt to make a rapid thrust for the crossroads as it will force vehicles to leave the road and traverse the soft ground, where they will risk bogging if they drive too fast. More importantly I'm hoping it may make a German tank turn and show its flank and that might just be the opportunity I need for the bazooka team.
The Germans receive five free moves at the start of the patrol phase but it's clear Dave is intent simply on establishing a position in the woods where his infantry can deploy into cover.
We start with American force morale at nine and the Germans at eight. Before play begins I place the second minefield on the road.
As I said earlier, I fully expect the Germans to have armour for this game, most likely two tanks and I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with those. The first time the Germans tried to take this map they did so without armour support and their infantry were badly mauled. The second time they had armour in support but allowed their infantry to become exposed to American fire and once again they suffered badly. This time I don't expect to see the German infantry take any risks and would be very surprised if their armour doesn't lead the way for this attack.
That being the case, my plan is simple. I will stay concealed for as long as possible and wait patiently for the right circumstances for the bazooka team to make their strike. If there are two tanks I will need to find a way to eliminate one of those and then somehow for the bazooka team to survive long enough to find a way to take out the second. That's not going to be easy.
Given my plan is to stay concealed I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the opening phases. Instead I will summarise the key activity, as it's all very one sided and carried out by the Germans.
The first sign of activity is the appearance of a lone Panther on the road. I don't like the look of it, but I'm not surprised to see it.
An engineer mine clearance team deploys into the woods by the minefield.
The Panther is soon joined by a PzIV and the gunners of both tanks are placed on overwatch.
They look menacingly up the table toward the American positions.
German squads begin to deploy in the woods, but they are all careful to keep back from the tree line and out of the line of sight of the Americans.
The engineers set about trying to clear the minefields, but don't have much success.
More Germans appear in the woods, again taking care to keep back from the tree line. Meanwhile the engineers continue to struggle clearing the minefield.
The most threatening moves come from the Panther which makes its way forward carefully. It leaves the road to negotiate its way around the minefield taking care to drive slowly and avoid turning its flank to the Americans.
During these opening phase both sides are quick to acquire a full CoC dice - I have a feeling those could play a significant role as the game develops. The Volksgrenadier LMG squad deploys into the woods and, like the remainder of the platoon, keeps out of sight.
Over several phases the Panther is the centre of German attention as it slowly and carefully makes its way forward. The Americans wait patiently. Most likely they will have one good opportunity to strike the German tanks and so I need to wait for the right moment.
With three squads from the Volksgrenadier platoon deployed their senior leader, the Unterfeldwebel, joins them in the woods. From what I can work out this looks like the full German force I will have to face. The question is, how will I deal with them? I see no easy answer.
The engineers finally clear the mines, opening up the way for the Germans to form a cohesive firing line at the edge of the woods.
With the PzIV on overwatch and the Panther creeping dangerously close to the crossroads the point at which the Americans need to react is fast approaching.
Eventually the Unterfeldwebel orders the Volksgrenadier platoon to reveal itself and they all move tactically to the edge of the woods.
Meanwhile the engineers are sent out toward the road to clear the second minefield.
While all this has been happening the Americans are close to acquiring a second CoC dice and I begin to formulate a plan. My best chance is a side shot on the Panther and to do that I would need to have the bazooka team deploy as far out to the flank as possible. Using a CoC die for an ambush from the jump-off-point at the rear of the table would allow for just that. Ideally I get a shot off and then the team slips away.
The problem is that both German tanks are on overwatch which makes the bazooka team's chance of survival very slim. If I can get a second CoC die then I could end the turn, which would see the Germans lose their overwatch before I conduct the ambush.
I think this sets up a terrific narrative. Rather than see use of the CoC die as a gamey mechanism I think this is exactly how they are intended to be used. Using the die for an ambush is obvious and represents the platoon commander watching and waiting for the right moment to surprise the enemy. The end of the turn might not be so obvious, but I'm seeing this as the same thing. Once again the platoon commander is using a trained eye to watch events unfold. He's waiting for the right moment to launch the ambush, perhaps a momentary pause by the Germans while they confer or think about their next move. This pause is what the turn end is supposed to represent - the Panther stops while the commander looks back towards the infantry to indicate that so far he can see no sign of the Americans. I think you can give it any number of plausible story lines.
The time to make that happen is drawing ever closer as the Panther continues to roll forward relentlessly.
In the next American phase I collect the extra CoC point I need for the second dice and so I think it's nearly time to seize the moment. Meanwhile the Unterfeldwebel organises a powerful base of fire with the whole platoon placed on overwatch along the edge of the woods.
This makes it imperative that the turn ends before the ambush. Ideally the bazooka team disable the Panther and escape, ready to return to deal with the PzIV.
I think the moment of decision has arrived. In the following American phase, before the command dice are rolled, I use my first CoC die to end the turn. That sees all the German units come off overwatch. The command roll is 65333, which would mean an opportunity to deploy the American squads if the moment is right. However, before that, the bazooka team are called into action. I use the second CoC die to declare an ambush and deploy the bazooka team.
They have a good line of sight to the Panther's flank and need a 6 or more to hit.
But it's not to be, a roll of three means the rocket fails to find its target. My heart sinks.
I thought the bazooka team were safe to slip away but Dave makes a quick check of the rules and discovers he can use a CoC die to interrupt the ambushing team before it can slip away. This use of a CoC die also fits our narrative well. This time it's the German platoon commander who is alert to possible danger, he's quick to spot the bazooka team and reacts quickly. He uses one of his CoC dice to have the LMG squad open fire.
The bazooka team are caught in the open and they are lucky to escape with just two points of shock.
However Dave is not prepared to let them slip away easily. He uses his second CoC die to have the PzIV fire a round of HE. That proves far more deadly and the bazooka team is wiped out. American morale drops a point down to eight.
Well that's a lesson for me about using CoC die during an ambush. One to remember in future. The issue now is what to do from here? The only possible chance remaining for the Americans is to drive down German morale by focussing on their infantry. With that I use those very useful command dice for this phase to deploy all three squads from the platoon. Two of the squads are entrenched at the rear of the table.
The third squad takes up position in the house.
The first rifle team engages the nearest German squad in the woods.
They lose one man as a casualty and suffer a point of shock.
The team loses one man killed.
The next American squad does exactly the same thing, with the BAR team engaging the engineers and the rifle team firing on the squad.
Another engineer is killed.
The remaining engineer looks unlikely to make it to the minefield.
The squad in the woods suffers shock but don't lose any more men.
Lastly the squad in the house opens fire. Once again their BAR team targets the engineers.
The last engineer is hit and killed. The loss of that team takes German force morale down to seven.
Lastly the squad's rifle team puts covering fire on the Volksgrenadier LMG squad.
When the German phase arrives it's clear Dave is not planning on playing my game. A command roll of 64431 sees the Unterfeldwebel orders the LMG squad and one of the sturm squads to pull back into the woods and out of sight.
The Obergefreiter of the other squad rallies off a point of shock before ordering his squad to pull back as well.
With the threat of the bazooka eliminated and the American platoon deployed all that remains for the Germans to do now is have both tanks hurl HE and MG rounds at them for as many phases as it takes to break or destroy them. That means this scenario can have only one outcome. The American platoon have done more than was expected and forced the Germans to make three attempts to clear the map. There is no dishonour in withdrawing now that they find themselves defenceless in the face of tanks and so they concede the crossroads to the enemy.
Dave reflects on how the game unfolded from his perspective:
'In the end the plan worked more or less as intended. I did break my own rule and advance to the edge of the wood on overwatch. Naturally, at the optimum moment, Mark used a CoC die to end the turn and strip the overwatch status, and then another CoC die to spring an ambush with the bazooka team and fire at the Panther. Luckily the rocket missed. I could then use two CoC dice to fire on the team before it withdrew and wipe it out. Once the American squads deployed I withdrew back into the woods to avoid being shot up, and with no anti-tank weaponry it left the Americans with no choice but to abandon the position.'
Despite their heroic defence the American rifle platoon will now exit our campaign and melt away into the forests of the Ardennes. Some will make it back to friendly lines, others will be rounded up and captured. Sadly, history will make little mention of their stand, more often than not judging them as one of those American units that collapsed in the face of the German onslaught. It is only more recently that historians have come to understand the crucial role played by numerous small groups of determined Americans whose actions collectively caused the Germans considerable delay. I'd like to think this platoon's stand on Map 1 is representative of one of those actions and this campaign has given us a small window on history.
In terms of our campaign this victory sees the Germans undertake an important bit of tidying up on their front before they direct their energies to clearing Holzthum and Consthum villages. Our attention now turns to the first of those villages, Holzthum, and the second German attempt to clear the Americans from that map. You can follow what happens in that attack in this game report.
You find reports for all the games in this campaign and many other campaigns on the Chain of Command Campaign AAR page here.