Wednesday 21 February 2024

Operation Martlet Scenario 5: Winning your Spurs

Having fought off the German counterattack in the previous game the British now push on into open farmland towards their objective, the village of Rauray. A major campaign victory is within their grasp if they can take this map and the next one at the first attempt. To do so would mean they have played their small part in helping clear the flank before Operation Epsom begins. The longer it takes to dislodge the Germans the greater the chance they can disrupt the forthcoming British offensive. 

There is much open ground to be crossed on this map and aside from a few scattered hedges the only cover is a drainage ditch running alongside the road. I'm not sure how best to tackle this one. Do I try to punch through with armour, or will the clear fields of fire make the British tanks easy targets? 

I know the Germans have a PzIV and it could be entrenched, making it very difficult to hit. To compound the problem it would most likely have the first shot, giving it a distinct advantage. It feels like I'd be pinning all my hopes on a couple of vulnerable tanks if I went down that path.

Instead I've decided to make this an infantry assault, backed up with a 3" mortar barrage to help shoot them onto their objective. I have thirteen support points and opt for an additional infantry section and a forward observer (and a reminder, once again, that we are using a set of playtest modifications to the existing rules for mortar barrages that you can find at the end of this post). I'll also call on an extra 2” mortar team to provide smoke and a second PIAT team to help deal with any German armour.

Given the limited positions for British jump-off-points the patrol phase has a fairly predictable outcome. It comes as no surprise that I will have to make the assault along the full length of the table.

The British start with their force morale at ten whilst the Germans are at eight. That's promising, as is the first British command roll which provides a double phase. There is no good reason to delay deployment and so the support section makes an appearance in the drainage ditch by the road.

They take up tactical positions and make the most of what cover is available.

In the following phase the section moves forward cautiously. 

They are joined by the forward observer who also takes cover in the drainage ditch. He makes contact with the mortar battery.

One of the 2” mortar teams deploy into the road. 

The crew try to fire a round of smoke onto the crossroads but it lands off target to the left. It's not totally wasted as it will hinder line of sight for any panzer grenadiers deploying behind the hedgerow.

The Germans opt to do nothing other than watch and wait and so the British continue to deploy. The forward observer is joined by the platoon sergeant. 

He keeps the attack moving and orders the section to continue its cautious advance. 

With no cover on the road the bren team join the rifle team in the drainage ditch. Best to make the most of whatever meagre protection they can find.

The sergeant instructs the 2” mortar team to aim another smoke round at the crossroads. 

This time they find their mark.

With smoke blocking some of the lines of sight from the hedgerows a second section deploys to the right of the road and the corporal places both teams on overwatch. There’s no cover on that flank for the Germans to deploy into, but I want to be able to respond quickly if they chose to do so.

As it happens a German squad doesn't deploy there, but a sniper does. He's hidden in the field and aims a shot at the recently deployed section hoping to hit the nearby platoon sergeant or forward observer. 

The shot rings out but it has no effect. The British are on overwatch and scan the fields for the source of the fire, but can’t locate it.

The Germans choose to do no more. In the British phase the sergeant orders the section in the ditch to keep moving forward cautiously. 

They are making steady progress, but they have a long way to go.

Meanwhile the sergeant has the 2” mortar team provide more cover. 

Another round of smoke lands in front of the German jump-off-points.

The sergeant then takes up a tactical position in the ditch. 

The mortar smoke is doing an effective job of restricting opportunities for the Germans to engage the British infantry. A third British section deploys from the jump-off-point on the right and the corporal puts both teams on overwatch.

That establishes a firm base for the British on their right flank. There is little option but to deploy into open ground, but I'm hoping with the support of the forward observer they can lay down as much covering fire as possible to allow the section in the ditch to make an advance. 

At this point Dave has made a quick mental calculation and worked out I don't have any armour in support. Unwisely, I've revealed my hand too soon and not made the most of the fog of war. It gives Dave the confidence to deploy the platoon's PzIV in the following German phase. 

I feel rather foolish. It's all very well equipping the British with two PIAT teams, but they are not much use when enemy armour sits well beyond their range. I don't think I've thought this through sufficiently and may pay a heavy price.

The tank commander wastes no time and orders the gunner to fire a round of HE at the section nearest the road. They lose a man from the Bren team and suffer a couple of points of shock.

The tank's bow machine gun proves equally deadly, killing another one of the Bren gun crew and inflicting more shock. 

I've found myself in a nasty predicament and urgently need to limit the damage the PzIV can do to my infantry. In the British phase the second 2” mortar team joins the section on the right flank. 

They aim a round of smoke in front of the tank and fortunately their aim is good. 

The sergeant orders the 2” mortar team nearest to him to also fire off a smoke round. 

This one lands further in front of the PzIV and it serves two purposes. If the tank tries to advance and continue firing it should find its line of sight still hindered. At the same time I'm also hoping it might induce the tank commander to move even further forward in search of a clearer line of sight. In so doing I might be able to coax him to come within range of a PIAT team.

Meanwhile, the section in the ditch continues pushing ahead slowly and carefully. 

It has a long way to go, but I'm keeping my eye on the British CoC dice. It may be possible to move a jump-off-point up behind them at a later stage and have one of the PIAT teams deploy from there and engage the tank.

The sergeant then moves cautiously up the ditch to remain within command range.

With the tank's line of sight blocked by smoke the section corporal rallies a point of shock and assigns one of the rifle team to join the lone gunner in the Bren team and act as his No2.

The only German response is for the PzIV to pivot on the spot and turn its turret.

In the British phase I ponder how best to extricate myself from this messy situation. Much of which, I regret to say, is of my own creation. Fortunately, the forward observer is able to activate. 

He calls for an aiming round and it lands on target. If I can bring down the barrage in the next British phase that should do much to limit the options for the German tank until I can bring up one or both of the PIAT teams.

The platoon sergeant continues directing the platoon.  

He orders the section in the ditch to keep on moving forward. 

It's a slow and agonising journey but if I'm patient and use the cover of the barrage and mortar smoke I may possibly be able to make something out of the situation.

The sergeant has the 2” mortar team fire more smoke to cover the move.

Another round lands in front of the hedgerow making it more difficult for any panzer grenadiers who deploy from those two jump-off-points to find a target.

The sergeant then moves back along the ditch. He has work to do here and so must leave the advancing section to work its way forward without him.

In the German phase the PzIV reverses slowly. 

It just manages to reach a point where it can see through some of the mortar smoke and the commander has no hesitation ordering the gunner to target the British section with a round of HE.

They are lucky. There are no casualties and they suffer only a small amount of shock. 

The Germans haven't finished with them just yet and the sniper targets them once again. His aim is off and his shot misses.

The section are still on overwatch and this time they spot where the fire is coming from and return it, but they too fail to hit their target. 

In the following British phase a PIAT team joins the platoon sergeant in the ditch. With the barrage about to come down and the cover provided by the mortar smoke there might soon be an opportunity to rush forward.

The section by the road continue to target the sniper. 

This time they find their mark and the hail of small arms fire eliminates him. That's a blow to German force morale which drops two points to six. 

The forward observer then calls down the mortar barrage. 

It blankets that flank, hitting the PzIV and effectively closing down the jump-off-point.

The mortar rounds prove particularly effective, inflicting one net hit and an additional point of shock. The end result sees the tank crew suffer a total of three points of shock and the tank reverse 2D6". We interpret the 'reverse' literally and it moves 9" directly backwards in its current facing. Had it not pivoted earlier it would have reversed off the table, but regrettably for the British, that's not to be. 

While the tank may have escaped the barrage the crew have been rattled by the experience and are very close to bailing out. Yet I don't think I can drive them from the tank as the British don't have any weapons that can strike it again at that range. I've really made a meal of this.

The tank commander rallies some of the shock in the German phase.

By sheer good fortune the tank now finds itself with a line of sight through the gaps in the mortar smoke. 

From there it can target the section on the British right.

An HE round comes crashing down. It inflicts two points of shock on the rifle team and a light wound on the corporal, but British morale holds steady. 

Come the British phase the first thing the sergeant does is try to close down the tank's line of sight.

He orders the 2” mortar team to fire a round of smoke into the road. 

It lands on target and adds to the smoke screen. For now the mortar smoke is proving to be the platoon's best anti-tank defence. 

For as long as the PzIV remains a threat the entire British attack is stalled and so the PIAT team moves up quickly to try and close down the range. 

Meanwhile the section in the ditch continue to press forward. 

The forward observer needs to adjust the barrage and so he contacts the battery to request a move.

I sense fortune seems to be favouring the Germans at the moment and a roll 66321 for their next command roll seems only to confirm it. The tank commander rallies off another point of shock. 

He then orders the driver to reverse so that the gunner can find a better line of sight.  

Yet again they find a gap in the mortar smoke. How I regret not having any armour!

Dave is fully intent on capitalising on the double phase and a squad deploys behind the hedgerow. 

They have a line of sight to the PIAT team and open fire. 

It may be at effective range but the two men of the PIAT team find there is little protection to be gained from the drainage ditch. One of the crew is a casualty and the survivor suffers three points of shock. 

That's enough to break him and he runs back along the ditch leaving his comrade behind. 

He falls back and flees right off the table taking the PIAT with him. That brings British morale down to nine. 

The subsequent German command roll is 66652, a sure sign things are not going well for the British. The panzer grenadier squad can't see the section in the ditch, but they can see the section across the road. They open fire. 

The corporal is wounded and out of action for the remainder of the turn. The section suffers shock and British morale takes another drop to eight.  

With that the phase ends, as does the turn. It's a small consolation, but the recently wounded leader dusts himself off and gets back on his feet.

More ominously all the mortar smoke is removed. In desperation I choose to use my CoC die to keep the barrage in play, but it may be too little too late. 

The next German command roll is 64321. Their run of phases may come to an end but it still leaves plenty of options for this current phase.

The squad at the hedgerow continues firing at the British section. 

The rifle team suffers two casualties and shock mounts on the Bren team. It's enough to see the section pinned down.

The PzIV then turns its attention to the same section.

The HE round is deadly. It kills the two remaining men in the rifle team and one of the Bren team. They accumulate enough shock to see the corporal and surviving Bren gunner break. 

They fall back far enough to move right off the table. With a team wiped out, a team break and a junior leader routing off the table British morale tumbles to five.  

When it comes to the British phase I think I've seen enough and I know when I'm beaten. It's time to withdraw, I can't see any way to turn this one around. That was a rather brutal lesson and best I leave now before casualties climb any higher.

The British suffered eight casualties, four of which are permanent and two men will miss the next game wounded. The men's opinion takes a drop to -2 and while the CO's opinion also drops it remains high at +4.

The Germans lost only the sniper team and their men's opinion rises to +4 as their casualties to date have remained light. The CO has been less impressed with their performance but after this encounter his opinion rises to -1.

Dave will now capitalise on this victory by mounting a local counterattack. It's a smart move, as I expect him to mount a limited spoiling attack. He won't be looking to inflict many casualties, by simply delaying the British for a further campaign turn he will have achieved his primary objective and with it deprived me of any chance of a major campaign victory. A bad day for the British all round.

A humbling defeat that will see us return to St Nicholas Farm for the next instalment in the campaign and you can follow what happens there in this post.

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