For over two years Col.Bourne (of The Lead Poet Society blog fame) and I have been in talks of playing a Chain of Command pint-sized campaign. The time has come, and we had our first game!
The pandemic seems to wear off (for now) and the world offers more than enough reasons to withdraw into the hobby, right? Wargamers crawl out of their formerly locked-down bunkers and emerge from hibernation. Everybody’s added to the lead mountain, some of us added to the lard mountain, few of us actually painted something! Now we crave what has been in short supply over the past two years – people to play with.
The campaign of choice is Too Fat Lardies’ first in the “Pint Sized” campaigns series for Chain of Command: 29, Let’s Go!
It covers the US 175th Infantry Regiment’s (as part of the 29th Infantry Division) attack down the highway between Bayeux and Caretan to capture the bridge at Isigny and link up with Allied troops from Utah beach. The whole campaign covers just a few kilometers of highway and the linear layout makes it very suited for a ‘ladder’ type campaign, as laid out in At The Sharp End campaign supplement for Chain of Command.
The US goal is to punch through the German defences along the highway and seize the Isigny bridge intact. The German goal is to delay the US troops to such a degree that they have to dig in and call in more support. This would buy the German troops enough time to withdraw across Isigny bridge and blow it up, effectively cutting off Allied troops from Utah beach. Meanwhile German troops could rally, call in supports and counter-attack.
Col.Bourne will be in command of the US infantry regiment.
I will take on the role of Untereldwebel Claus Zausel, platoon commander of a German army platoon tasked with delaying the Americans’ advance. My platoon is a regular 44 Type army platoon, consisting of:
Unterfeldwebel Claus Zausel (senior leader, platoon commander), 23, average build, overall a jovial character. He’s born in Hildesheim into a middle-class family and was set for a promising career after Realschule. He completes basic officer aspirants training and basic military service in Hannover and France, makes Gefreiter, and is shipped to the Eastern Front for field army service. From March 1942 to March 1943 he is Truppführer in Russia, returns to Hannover for further officer’s training until December 1943. Originally he applied for a commission with the veterinary branch, but as fate had it all the applicants failed their aptitude test and instead are offered infantry officers posts. With the threat of an invasion in France looming, Zausel is put in charge of a newly raised infantry platoon, 352nd Infantry Divison, in Northern France. Shortly before this departure he married Gudrun, shop assistant at Textilien Winkelmann & Sohn in Hannover. Unterfeldwebel Zausel isn’t necessarily a huge fan of the regime, but will happily work within it to provide for him and his wife and secure a good life.
Obergefreiter Wolf Stanischewski (junior leader, Section 1), 21, average build. Model citizen and -soldier, from Hitlerjugend straight into the army. His personality is borderline fanatic and eager to advance his military career.
Obergefreiter Rolf “Fuchs” Lohse (junior leader, Section 2), 22, short, but full of fight. Just like Stanischewski, who he’s friends with since they entered HJ together, a model citizen and -soldier in the sense of the regime. He’s a religious man, influenced by his mother, and draws a lot of motivation from studying the bible. Recently he developed a pessimistic streak. (without a doubt Obergefreiter Rauch’s opinionated backtalk is rubbing off on him)
Obergefreiter Wilhelm “Willi” Rauch (junior leader, Section 3), 36, tall build. A former gameskeeper at a high-ranking party member’s estate near Bamberg, he was drafted in 1941 and served at the Balkans and the Eastern Front. His experiences taught him to seek out pleasures where he can find them. Despite his survivalist qualities, he’s a pessimist.
United States Forces
In this campaign casualties and other losses won’t be tracked on the US side. They get a fresh platoon for each game. The platoon layout is along the lines of a US platoon for 1944.
For further information about the men in this platoon, refer to Col.Bourne’s blog post in which he offers the American view on the whole affair.
Map 1 – Probe at La Cambe
It’s the early hours of 8th June 1944. For the past 48 hours the radio spew out contradictory orders from all over the sector, mixed with calls for reinforcements, intermingled with eerie silence indicating heavy enemy bombardment tearing cables apart. I think that young rifleman Zizek even reported seeing a carrier pigeon, but I can’t understand his broken German half of the time. It’s not just that half my men are barely out of their diapers, but dealing with “Reichsdeutsche” from halfway across the globe to whom German isn’t even their second language doesn’t make my job any easier.
Be it as is may, we stay put. This isn’t the worst place to quarter. A well built roof over our heads, warm weather, wine… Gudrun and I should spend the summers here once the war is over. Maybe t-“
At 04:00 a runner on a bycicle delivers written orders. The Americans are advancing beyond the beaches and slowly move inland. A sizeable force of infantry with armoured support are expected to move towards Zausel’s position, surely attempting to break through and advance towards Isigny. They are to be delayed for as long as possible.
German Force Morale: 11
US Force Morale: 9
The campaign book gives an idea what the table should look like, and Col.Bourne recreated it faithfully on his table. After the patrol phase we placed our Jump-Off Points and off we went, starting with me placing some fortifications I got from the Support Table. I got 12, while the Americans get a whopping 19!
Objective: This is a Probe scenario as from the rulebook. The US commander’s goal is to move one of their sections or teams (including vehicles) across the German table edge, indicated by the red line. The German commander’s (which is I!) goal is to keep them from doing so by reducing the enemy force morale to 0 or make them withdraw voluntarily.
For me, that support naturally included some fortifications. I placed a minefield at one flank, and a barbed wire obstacle at the other. I don’t want any enemy units zipping around at my flanks.
There is a twist to the scenario though. Unbeknownst to the American player, I get some 8.8cm Flak support to help me deal with enemy tanks, which are almost sure to turn up.
At 05:30 the main road ist full of enemy activity. Of course they send some scouts ahead, as per their crafty doctrine, but it’s hard to hide that amount of men, let alone their armoured support!
Somehow Unterfeldwebel Zausel’s mind wanders back to his childhood when his grandfather used to take him to the ethnological exhibitions. They saw real American Indians there. Claus has been a fan of the native tribes of America all his life and on some level hopes to see them now, employed as scouts to the enemy.
Soon he is torn from his romantic fantasies as dust clouds along the road intensify and the Americans come into sight. The man are all instructed to keep quiet and hidden from sight at all cost until it’s time to strike. So far, the mostly young recruits keep their calm even as the first tank makes its appearance.
The oddly shaped vehicle is flanked by infantry huddling around one of their officers in a garden.
‘There’s more of them’, Obergefreiter Stanischewski remarks breathlessly, directing Unterfeldwebel Zausel’s attention to the building at their left flank. Keeping a keen eye on the activity over there, Zausel notices two silhouettes splitting off from the larger group. They cautiously advance across the nearly open space along the main road.
Much to Zausel’s dismay they wear neither feathers in their hair, nor moccassins. They do look rather tall though, and well fed.
The scouts seem to give their blessings for the rest of the force to advance. The Sherman tank, flanked by an infantry section, cautiously move ahead.
That’s close enough with that scary tank. A pivotal piece of Zausel’s platoon’s support reveals its position; a Pak40 anti-tank gun in a well-prepared gun emplacement. The projectile hits the tank’s turret with a deafening CLANG as the whole vehicle shakes. They hastily reload.
No point in holding back any more (apart from that I really don’t want all the enemy attention on the AT gun). Obergefreiter Stanischewski’s section deploy and open fire at the scouting team and the full section at the small crossroads.
The enemy is caught flat-footed. The section behind the building to the left is thrown back, their scouts pinned in the open, as MG fire erupts fom behind the bushes and from the upper level of the main building next to the AT gun.
The cards are on the table now. The Americans bring another tank in position. This one’s got a big antenna on top, so possibly a command vehicle?
Unterfeldwebel Zausel is very keen on getting rid of the Shermans, so he personally sits down with the gunners to instruct them. This leads to more irritation than success, mainly because the gun crew all stem from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Even their commander, Gefreiter Zéman, is only fluent in a few orders in German. Certainly not enough in explaining the technicalities of artillery to Unterfeldwebel Zausel right now. The second shot misses the target by a mile, and Zausel decides to take a more passive role when it comes to the nitty-gritty of range finding.
A third section of Americans deploys right behind the mine field. They’ll have a hard time going anywhere without a mine clearing team.
Finally, Zéman’s gun team takes out the Sherman. Much to everybody’s delight the tank never even fired a shot. Maybe that first hit against the turret damaged their optics or something. Or American tanks don’t even fire HE rounds?
The American infantry, sitting in the open, take a lot of fire as German MGs hammer at them relentlessly. There is nothing subtle, sly or gallant about it.
One American section gets almost wiped out, another one lose their leader and take a lot of shock. The AT gun fires at the American command tank, but to no avail. Still, the American advance seems to come to a stand-still. There is some sporadic small arms fire at Stanischowski’s section. He is hit in the shoulder, which prompts him to shout incoherent rethoric in the enemy’s direction. Right next to the howling Obergefreiter, young Schütze Reiner Habich sinks down into the shrubbery and doesn’t respond.
Shortly thereafter the Americans retreat and a deafening silence fills the road into LaCambe. The attack has been repelled, but that’s just the beginning of the onslaught.
German Force Morale: 10
American Force Morale: 1
Phew, that was rather tense. I got rather lucky with my dice rolls. Compare to Col.Bourne’s very first command roll of the game:
For the rest of the game, the command dice didn’t really roll that well for him either. I was also rather lucky to take out the foremost Sherman’s gunner with the first shot.
The scenario is also tougher on the Americans than I thought. There’s a lot of open space to cover.
Campaign Phase and Aftermath
Due to time constraints we didn’t take care of the campaign bookkeeping right away.
“8. Juni 1944,
Today we withstood the first enemy attack. The men fought bravely, despite their youth and this being their baptism of fire. Our anti-tank guns prove effective against what appears to be the enemy main battle tank. Obergefreiter Stanischewski was lightly wounded, but insists that this was a mere scratch and that he’ll be at the forefront of any counter-attacks. I didn’t feel like telling him that the time for counter-attacks is way off and that the worst is probably yet to come. Obergefreiter Rauch was quick to point that out though.
I am also pleased to note that one of Stanischewski’s boys, Habich, suffered no more than a fit of powerlessness and no further wounds. Stanischewski views this as a personal insult and promised to have a keen eye on the young Kamerad.”
The outcome of the engagement improves the commanding officer’s opinion of Unterfeldwebel Claus Zausel to +2. The men’s opinion of their senior leader improves by +1 and now sits at 0. Seems like for now Zausel earned the trust of his men. Somewhat. In return Zausel’s general outlook on the situation changes from Worried to Relaxed.
Since I won the first game I can opt to play this map again or proceed to the next “rung” of the campaign latter, i.e. the next map. If I choose to play this one again (which is quite probable) the enemy will get many more support points this time. Let’s see how long platoon Zausel can hold off the enemy hordes.
Despite the game being a rather one-sided affair in the end, it was just nice getting Chain of Command out again. Not the least because I got to play with my own figures again in a long time. Which is nice. The only trouble is that my 28mm collection of WW2 germans is tiny. I juuuuust have enough for a full platoon (plus a ton of surplus MG42 gunners, because I needed more loaders and ammo carriers), so I was very happy to see that Col.Bourne supplied the anti-tank gun and even made the mine field markers (very clever way of doing it too!), another emplacement, and the barbed wire obstacle. I’ll have to add to my 28mm WW2 collection though, I decided.
The American infantry are the Perrys plastics, which are very nice figures indeed. Saw them in the flesh for the first time.
I’m glad we finally got this going after the long Covid related wait. Looking forward to the next game, and make sure to check out Col.Bourne’s AAR on his blog!