29 May 2014

Part 5 D-Day Refought: Merville Battery

D-Day Re-fought: Merville Battery:

 On 6 June 1944, the British 6th Airborne Division was given the task of securing the left flank of the Allied seaborne landings. One of their objectives was the destruction of the Merville Gun Battery. Allied planners had judged from the size of the concrete gun emplacements that the guns must be around 150 mm in calibre. If so, the guns would have a range of about 8 miles (13 km) and could threaten Sword Beach, to the west of Ouistreham, where the British 3rd Infantry Division were due to land later that day.

The Merville Battery was composed of four 6-foot-thick (1.8 m) steel-reinforced concrete gun casemates, each housing a Czech M.14/19 100 mm gun Other buildings on the site included a command bunker, a building to accommodate the men, and ammunition magazines. During a visit on 6 March 1944, to inspect the defences, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel ordered the builders to work faster, and by May 1944, the last two casemates were completed.

The battery was defended by a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun and several machine guns in 15 gun positions, all enclosed in an area 700 by 500 yards (640 by 460 m) surrounded by two barbed wire obstacles 15 feet (4.6 m) thick by 5 feet (1.5 m) high, which also acted as the exterior border for a 100-yard-deep (91 m) minefield. Another obstacle was an anti-tank ditch covering any approach from the nearby coast. The original commander of the battery, Hauptmann Wolter, was killed during a Royal Air Force bombing raid on 19 May 1944. He was replaced by Oberleutnant Raimund Steiner, who commanded 50 engineers and 80 artillerymen from the 1st Battery, Artillery Regiment 1716, part of the 716th Infantry Division.

The unit assigned to destroy the battery was the 9th (Eastern and Home Counties) Parachute Battalion, part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway. The battalion's normal complement of 600 men was supported by a section of sappers from the Royal Engineers, eight Airspeed Horsa glider loads transporting Jeeps and trailers, and stores including explosives, an anti-tank gun and flamethrowers.

Three of the gliders, transporting 50 volunteers, were to carry out a coup de main landing onto the position to coincide with the ground assault.

Just after midnight on 6 June, the 9th Parachute Battalion's advance party landed with the brigade's pathfinders, and reached the battalion assembly area without any problems. While some men remained to mark out the company positions, the battalion's second in command, Major George Smith, and a reconnaissance party left to scout the battery. At the same time, Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers started their bombing run, which completely missed the battery, their bombs landing further to the south. The pathfinders in the meantime were having problems. Those who had arrived at the correct drop zone found their Eureka beacons had been damaged when they landed, and in the smoke and debris left over from the bombing, their marker lights could not be seen by the pilots of the transport aircraft.

 The main body of the 9th Parachute Battalion and their gliders were to land at drop zone 'V', located between the battery and Varaville from 01:00. However, the battalion was scattered, with a number of paratroopers landing a considerable distance from the designated drop zone. Lieutenant-Colonel Otway landed with the rest of his "stick" 400 yards (370 m) away from the drop zone at a farmhouse being used as a command post by a German battalion; after a brief fire-fight, they helped other scattered paratroopers, and reached the drop zone at 01:30. By 02:50, only 150 men had arrived at the battalion's assembly point with 20 Bangalore torpedoes and a machine gun. The mortars, anti-tank gun, mine detectors, jeeps, sappers and field ambulance section were all missing.

Aware of the time constraints, Otway decided he could wait no longer, and the reduced battalion headed for the battery and joined up with Major Smith's reconnaissance party just outside the village of Gonneville Sur Merville. The reconnaissance party had cut a way through the barbed wire, and marked four routes through the minefield. Otway divided his men into four assault groups, and settled down to await the arrival of the three gliders.

In England, one of the gliders never left the ground, as its tow rope had snapped on taxiing. The other two gliders, unable to locate the battery, did not land where expected.  On their run in, both gliders were hit by anti-aircraft fire. One landed around 2 miles (3.2 km) away, the other at the edge of the minefield. The troops from this glider became involved in a fire-fight with German troops heading to reinforce the battery garrison.

Otway launched the assault as soon as the first glider overshot the battery, ordering the explosives to be detonated to form two paths through the outer perimeter through which the paratroopers attacked. The defenders were alerted by the explosions, and opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties; only four attackers survived to reach Casemate Four, which they disabled by firing into apertures and throwing grenades into air vents. The other casemates were cleared with fragmentation and white phosphorus grenades, as the crews had neglected to lock the doors leading into the battery. During the bombing raid, the battery's guns had been moved inside the casemates and the steel doors left open for ventilation.  During the battle, 22 Germans were killed and a similar number made prisoners of war. The rest of the garrison escaped undetected by hiding in the underground bunkers.

Steiner was not present during the bombing, but at a command bunker in Franceville-Plage. After the raid, he set out for the battery, but was unable to gain entry due to the volume of fire from the British paratroopers. At the same time, a reconnaissance patrol from an army Flak unit with a half-track mounting a large anti-aircraft gun arrived. The crew had intended to seek cover at the position, but instead used the gun to engage the paratroopers.

With the battery in their hands, but no sappers or explosives, the British gathered together what plastic explosives they had been issued for use with their Gammon bombs to try to destroy the guns.

By this time, Steiner had returned to Franceville-Plage, and directed his regiment's 2nd and 3rd Batteries to fire onto the Merville Battery.

Just before 05:00, the battalion's survivors, just 75 men of the 150 who had set out, left the battery and headed for their secondary objective, the village of La Plein. The battalion, being too weak, only managed to liberate around half of the village, and had to await the arrival of the 1st Special Service Brigade later in the day to complete its capture.

After the British had withdrawn, the Germans reoccupied the battery position. Steiner was unable to see Sword Beach from his command bunker, so even though he was able to get two of his guns back in action, he was unable to direct accurate fire onto the landings. However, observers with the 736th Infantry Regiment, holding out at La Brèche, were able to direct his guns until that position was neutralised.

The Merville battle formed a very small part of out D-Day scenario.

Effectively the Airlanding and Paratroops had to control the Orne River Bridges first, before they could advance on the Merville Battery.

The game: 

In our Mini Universe Leutnant Steiner was present from the preliminary bombardment, or if he wasn't, the German succession rule came into play, with a grizzled NCO stepping up; as the Germans were not pinned down. The Allied did not succeed in opening a path through the perimeter defenses.

The Allied paratroops were way off on the first landing, and only managed to arrive on the table in turn 2, and then only near the DZ of the horsa air landing group, directly in the line of fire of line on line of dug in defenders, minefields and barber wire defenses.

On the 3rd turn the 4th Airborne Regt succeeded in landing near Benouville and also to the east of the gun emplacements. Sappers gut the wires, and the Paratroops stormed into the Battery, only to find that the Germans had anticipated this move. 

A Pak 40 was rapidly swung around, and 3 shells tore into the tightly packed Parabats. Just to add to the hail of destruction the reluctant Luftwaffe AA gunners then turned their Flak vierling on the hapless group. 
(just like in te real history)

Several of the gunners also remembered those distant rifle range days, and let their Mausers do the talking. 

If A troop had not left the vecinity of the Benouville bridge they may possibly have given covering fore, and split the defenders' fire, but they were too far away. The confusion closely resembled the actual battle, and misfortunes that befel Otway's men. Lady luck was not smiling on out table-top Paras though.

 Dusk saw the battery still in German hands.

On 7 June, the battery was assaulted again by two troops of commandos from No. 3 Commando, part of the 1st Special Service Brigade. The attack in daylight was repulsed with heavy losses to the commandos. As they withdrew, they were engaged by the battery's guns firing over open sights.

The British never succeeded in completely destroying the battery, and it remained under German control until 17 August, when the German Army started to withdraw from France.

So it was in our alternate universe too.

28 May 2014

Discovery: The Cobbaton Collection

I came across this on the net today: The Cobatton collection
Photographed by Jay Wilkinson

Photo Jay Wilkinson (No copyright infringement intended)

I have never heard of this collection, but what a treasure trove!
The presence of an AVRE Petard Mortar above in particular caught my fancy!

Eclectic and priceless, and by the looks of things well worth a visit if you're going to the UK!

Link: The Cobbaton Collection (clicky)

and their official site: The Cobbaton Combat Collection

Lots of detail, but sparse in photographs.
Love the tagline though, " a hobby that got out of hand"
Sounds all to familiar!

D-Day Part 4: Gliders and Parachutes: Pegasus Bridge and the Orne canal: Airborne assault

Re-fighting D-Day: Part 4: 

Airborne landings at Pegasus (Benouville) Bridge over the Orne Canal; and Orne River (Horsa) Bridge, Ranville, Normandy 

Operation Deadstick: D-Day Minus 1 or the Opening Shots, as you wish:

Historical background:

Orne bridges
Pegasus Bridge is a bascule bridge (a type of movable bridge), built in 1934, that crossed the Caen Canal, between Caen and Ouistreham, in Normandy, France.

Also known as the Bénouville Bridge after the neighbouring village, it was, with the nearby Ranville Bridge over the river Orne, a major objective of Operation Deadstick, part of Operation Tonga in the opening minutes of the invasion of Normandy. A glider-borne unit of the British 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major John Howard, was to land, take the bridges intact and hold them until relieved. The successful taking of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the days and weeks following the invasion. Lord Lovatt's Commandos were to Land at Lion-sur-Mer and advance via Ouistreham to relieve the airborne troops. The

In 1944 it was renamed Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. The name is derived from the shoulder emblem worn by the British airborne forces, which is the flying horse Pegasus.

Pegasus Bridge and the structure that replaced it in 1994 are examples of a distinct sub type of bascule bridge, the "Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge" or "rolling bridge". Bridges of this type do not pivot about a hinge point, but roll back on curved tread plates attached to the girders of the main span. This design allows a greater clearance of the waterway for a given opening angle.

German AA 20mm guns. Still in place after 70 years.

Pegasus Bridge from Benouville. Note how close the gliders landed (right)

On the night of 5 June 1944, a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, southern England in six Horsa gliders to capture Pegasus Bridge, and also "Horsa Bridge", a few hundred yards to the east, over the Orne River. The force was composed of D Company (reinforced with two platoons of B company), 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry; 20 sappers, 249 Fd Co. (Airborne); and men of the Glider Pilot Regiment. The object of this action was to prevent German armour from crossing the bridges and attacking the eastern flank of the landings at Sword Beach.

Coup De Main: Five of the Ox and Bucks's gliders landed as close as 47 yards from their objectives from 16 minutes past midnight. The attackers poured out of their battered gliders, completely surprising the German defenders, and took the bridges within 10 minutes. They lost two men in the process.

One glider, assigned to the capture of the river bridge, landed at the bridge over the River Dives, some 7 miles off. Most of the soldiers in this glider moved through German lines towards the village of Ranville where they eventually re-joined the British forces. The Ox & Bucks were reinforced half-an-hour after the landings by Major Pine-Coffin's 7th Parachute Battalion, and linked up with the beach landing forces with the arrival of Lord Lovat's Commandos. (Kieffer batallion)

The bridge in Allied hands

Paratroops assembling the Mini Motorcycles used as transport

What happened in our Miniature Universe:

Wild Cards: Allied Players rolled +1 to reinforcement rolls; Axis player rolled the same
03.00 6 June 1944
Turn one. Allied Goes first per rules

The night time peace in Benouville was shattered by the thunder of exploding bombs and the drone of high altitude bombers overhead from midnight.

Hans Friedrichsen of the 716. Infanterie Division nodded at his comrade in arms, leaning on the barrel of his 20 mm AA gun at the bridge: "The poor guys over in Merville seem to be getting a pasting tonight. The verdamte RAF must be targeting their battery. Thank goodness we only have this small gun! We may even get some rest tonight!"

" Pity poor ol'  Leutnant Steiner ! He may go the same way Hauptmann Wolter did !" A guffaw came out of the dark. "Ja, but then I won't mind going the way he did! In bed, with a warm French Liebling! Not a bad way to cash in your ticket!"

His wish was not to be. Silently, 3 Gliders dropped down out of the ink black sky, coming to rest hardly 30 metres away from the bridge. "Achtung! Alarm! Alarm" he shouted, bringing his 20 mm to bear on the Horsa glider closest to the bridge. Dark figures spilled out, and the chatter of small arms fire was heard. He emptied the first ammunition clip on the advancing figures. One or two went down. Then they were upon him.

The Allies landed both a glider party and one paratroop party (Ox and Bucs) near the bridge over the Orne River at Ranville and the bridge over the Canal at Benouville. One set of pathfinders missed the drop-zone and was unable to take part in the first move as a result

The Germans had 2 Heavy machine guns placed at the approaches to the bridges, and when the first shots fell they stirred from their slumber. Being trained veterans they passed their pinning tests almost without exception, and were able to return fire an the Glider troops.Being dug in and gone to ground casualties were light. The gliders had landed in such a fashion that they did not provide much cover for the troops. They immediately went to ground.

The Germans raised the alarm in their turn, and successfully called up a unit of K-Rad Fahrer, who roared across the bridge on their BMW and Zundapp Motorcycles, MG 42s blazing. Lucky for the Brits only 2 LMGs were in rang.  A unit of medium mortars were dug in halfway between the two bridges. They started raining down shrapnel on the Tommies.

The Orne Canal bridge, with 20mm Cannon and unit of Krad Schutzen racing over the bridge to engage the Brit. Paratroops and Air Landing Troops

By Turn 2 only the command group of the 1st air landing platoon was still standing (or rather, dug in)
Reinforcements arriving and forming on their pathfinder, ready to take on the Hun! (Photo Roly Hermans)

Turn 2 saw more glider and paratroop landings. The lost Ox and Bucs paratroop unit still had not found its way onto the table, but another glider landed next to the bridge, and yet another was blow off course, failing to reach the DZ. Presumably this is the glider that landed at the River Dives. 4th Reg. Paratroops landed successfully at the Benouville side of the bridge, but the 716.ID provided stiff resistance.

View towards Benouville from Ouistreham and Merville at the far left. LZ for the planner Coup de Main at Right. To the left the 4th Para Regt. taking on the 716. Inf Div defenders, eventually routing and annihilating the unit, at the expense of not taking their objective, the bridge.

The Merville battery: 20mm AA and dug in medium mortars, twin AAs and Pak 40, Quad vierling 20mm, minefields. Formidable defenses. This is what faced the landing groups that overshot the Orne canal bridge in their landing. A very hard nut to crack!

The glider troops were now caught "in der kessel"; (in the pot)  ready for the "Kesselschlag" : Two pincers and bombarded by medium mortars, HMG, 20mm cannon and LMG on the northern flank, K-Rad Zug with 5 LMGs (and mobile) in the south. They resisted well, but at the end of play (German turn 3) it was clear that they were not going to take the bridges, and were hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

"Where was Lord Lovatt and his Commandos? and the Shermans the Hussars had promised? What, still on the beach! What are they doing? Sun bathing? "

"...Are those Stugs bearing down on us now?"

Even the stragglers eventually turning up on the table with  mortars and Brens did not assist in taking the bridges. To little, too late! The Germans were too well dug in. Supporting fire from the Merville battery also did not help! It is no fun having a quad vierling 20mm AA gun turned on you! And a Pak 40 firing 3 rounds per turn!

... Also, the 4th Parachute regiment went off on a tangent: Chased down and destroyed a unit of 716.Inf Div in harsh hand-to-hand assault: Gerry that turned tail on the Benouville side of the Bridge.

 "Oi! What about the objective!"
"The objective!  The Allies could have taken this one!"
Well, at least the Benouville Bridge, was it not for a tactical decision in the heat of battle...

"Clear and imminent danger, you say? OK. I'll give you that."

23 May 2014

Lieber Himmel ! Ein Liebster!

Lieber Himmel ! Ein Liebster !

(or Achtung! Englander!  ...Aaaargh?)

"Gefreiter!  Zu Befehl, Herr Oberst!
Der OKW haf dezided zat you have earned an award in ze field of battle!
Really, Herr Oberst. Der Eizen Kreuz, Herr Oberst?  Der Ritter Kreuz?
Nein Gefreiter! Der LIEBSTER!"

Slightly awkwardly, Liebster translates as "Lovey or Beloved":

It has (no kidding) German origins – the word “Liebster” has several definitions: dearest, sweetest, kindest, nicest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, welcome, sweetheart and boyfriend (really?)

Joking aside, many thanks to Paul at "Red Dog of War" who nominated my blog. The Liebster Award is a nice way to acknowledge and promote blogs in the blogosphere. In our case, the sharing and promotion of our beliebster miniature worlds of wargaming.

You nominate eleven blogs (usually with less than 200 followers) to answer eleven questions.
Those eleven then nominate another eleven, and so on, like a chain letter, giant pyramid or Ponzi scheme of mutual back patting and shameless blog promotion. Great, innit?

You also get a snazzy "award" logo to stick up on your blog that links back to the person who nominated you. All in good fun!
 My answers to the Eleven Questions:

1. Why did you start blogging ?

I have always been reasonably good at writing. I love history, gaming, painting and modeling. I love militaria, photography and aeroplanes, and in fact everything that flies.(Birds included)

Our wargames club (Kapiti Wargames Club) here north of Wellington seemed doomed to suffer an ungraceful death due to a confluence of circumstances. Steps were taken re-organise and to promote our club. One of the decisions we took was to create a club Facebook and Web presence. Several of us undertook to start putting articles together, and next thing I was one of those members writing for the club, and an admin for the blog and FB pages. So I needed to learn how to blog.

Getting a bit embarrassed at blowing my own trumpet on the club page and blog, I  decided to start blogging on my own too: "Trouble in the Border Provinces", was my first blog

At first I blogged on both Fantasy and WW 2 on one blog, but soon realised that not everyone appreciated the mix, and separated the two: So enter: "Wargames Obsession!"

Ok...there is one more: Aircraftnut; about my love for aeroplanes.

Just like painting and gaming, blogging becomes an obsession too...(sigh)

2. If you could change one thing about the wargaming hobby, what would it be?

Commercialism feeding hard core competitiveness and vice versa.

For me there is no fun to play against someone who wants to win at all costs. Competitive I am, but it is all about the fun element for me. Bring your toys and I'll bring mine, we'll agree on a rule-set and have fun.

For me it's NOT:
 " Lets see how we can make you buy more expensive models, as we have dreamed up a new model with some amazing stats that is going to make this model the Wunderwaffen that will make your opponent's list so strong that he will OVERKILL you every time, and if you want to remain competitive you will have to invest in a similarly expensive model, and by the way those expensive models you bought last week, they are now obsolete!"

For a while I bought into the arms race created by the you-know-who's of the analog gaming world, but I am becoming more and more disenchanted as we go along. Hence back to garage hammer and my roots in a way. Brought out the old 20 mm figures, affordable and a history that can not be changed at a whim...
the PzKfw VI Tiger I is NEVER going to become obsolete (well between 1942 and 1945, anyway)

3. What is best in life?
The joy of living. Every day as it comes. I enjoy my work and my hobbies, my family and friends. I am able to afford some of the toys that almost seemed out of reach as a kid.

4. Do you want to live forever? 
No, but some more time for gaming and my other hobbies would be nice. Living long enough to clear that hobby pile of shame (un-built kits) under my work-space would be nice.

5. Fame or Fortune?
Neither. I'd like to fly below the radar. Comfort and recognition maybe. Being an established professional in a relatively small community being known and recognised is not always fun.Sometimes I quite enjoy being invisible in the crowd. I really pity those stars and social climbers who end up having no privacy due to their  fame or fortune. They are welcome to it ! Recognition by my peers does give me a little satisfied glow, be it in the form of a Liebster, a hobby "nice model or paint job"  or professional pat on the back.

6. What miniatures are you most proud of having painted? 
I'm pretty happy with my ever expanding plastic and lead hordes, and how my painting skills (still lacking) have improved over time. If I had to single one out, it would have to be a Fantasy Confrontation (Rackham) Rag'Narok Orc Hero/Lord/Chieftan, which I built a year or so after getting into WHFB and 28mm models for the first time. I think it marks my painting skills turning a corner.

 Since then I have painted several themed armies that I am quite proud of: Empire Talabheim/Talabecland, Daemons of Chaos (Again a Rackham model as a Khorne Lord/Hero) and My GW Nurgle Daemons (Specifically Epidemius and The Drones of Nurgle) and then of course, the only army that has seen formal competition- My Dark Elves!

In 20mm WW2 I'm really chuffed at how I am starting to get uniforms and armour right.
German Erbsenmunster and Eichenmunster and both German and Allied Paratroop Camo would be up there. My K-rad Zug (Italeri) seems to hit the spot with fellow gamers. Achieving a uniform look for my armoured units is also satisfying.

7. How do you deal with burnout?

I keep switching between genres and armies. When I get sick of Warhammer I swop to FoW and vice versa. Building terrain also helps, and also helping my youngest daughter who has recently discovered she can make her own Barbie Doll furniture and accessories. Dad has helped make a spa pool, a lounger etc. Quite proud of her, chip off the old block! Second chip actually, with my 15 year old son taking out a painting prize second year in a row at our club's Golden Griffon painting competition.

I also indulge in my other hobbies,sea fishing, travel, photography and bird-watching, and sometimes help out in my wife's catering business.

8. Why is a raven like a writing desk?
 Corvidae, the Ornithological order that ravens and crows belong to, is one of the few bird orders that can do barrel rolls and loops. If you try really hard you can also do this with your writing desk. Specifically the older types with an inkwell and a top that lifts up. Do try it.

9. Star Wars or Star Trek ? Either, actually, but only the first 3 Star Wars movies and up to Jean Pickard in Star Trek. After that it just seemed they were flogging a dead horse and some of the magic just was not there. Jarjar Binks was funny-bleh!, the special effects good but they killed the story. Hmmm...Jedi Knight, YOU not make. Lets not mention cartooning it.
Like Paul, I also enjoyed Battlestar Galactica. Does anyone remember Space 1999 ?

 10. If you could only buy from one miniature company from now on, which one would it be?
For my current purposes Plastic Soldier Company. They seem to understand the need for affordable, simple and quick to build kits for wargaming with enough detail, and multiple units in each standard pack. A+ for PSC ! If only their website could navigate a bit easier! Also liking Valiant, but a very limited range.

11. What is your favourite takeaway? Fish and chips; closely followed by Chinese from our local Cantonese restaurant. Struggling to find a good curry in Kapiti now-days.

So there ya go. My penny's worth on the questions.

And my eleven blog nominees are:

Mike Creek at Bunkertalk
- blogs on his love for plastic soldiers of all scales, current events and history

Steven Beat at Kitnoob
- 1/72 gaming and modeling

Tim Gow at Megablitz and more
-" Toy soldiers, wagames and modelling madness"

The Hoodling at The Hoodling's Hole
- Warhammer Fantasy Battles

Steve at Bleaseworld
- Wargaming Ancients, Medievals, WW1 and 2, WHFB, 40K and Iron Cow

Sam and Fern at Napalm Elf and Rebel Scum
- WHFB, Warmahordes, FoW, and then some!

Jossy at Plastic krak
- WHFB, current GW gaming news and 40K

Nick Jebson at HMS Distraction
- WHFB, FoW, History and Militaria

Rex Foote at The Dice Odyssey

Thanos at Miniatures and Terrain
- WW2 from a Greek perspective, great hints and tutorials

Will McNally at Will's Wargames Blog
- WW2 1/72 and more. Excellent tournament pics

22 May 2014

D-Day Landings Part 3: Ouistreham Harbour, Riva Bella Casino and German Observation tower

 D-Day Landings Part 3: Ouistreham Harbour, Riva Bella Casino and German Battery Observation tower

The French Commando Kieffer attempts to liberate Ouistreham

Ouistreham was a town situated just behind Riva Bella on the Normandy coast; close to the mouth of the River Orne and the Caen Canal. The area was strongly defended in 1944. 

Historical background: 177 Frenchmen of the 1st Batallion of Fusiliers Marins Commandos landed there on 6 June 1944. The French under Commandant Kieffer were integrated into the N°4 British Royal Marine Commandos. They were granted the honour to set foot on Normandy soil in the first wave. The Commandos left about forty casualties on the beach and moved inland. Commandant Kieffer was wounded but went on with his troops. 

Troop 1 suffered heavy losses in front of the casino strong-point. They eventually obtained support of a tank of the 13/18th Hussars of the 27th Armoured Brigade. The German blockhouse was neutralized and  Ouistreham was liberated at the end of the morning. The Germans in the Artillery Observation tower next door survived completely surrounded and barricaded in for 3 days before surrendering to a platoon of Royal Engineers. Ouistreham was a small coastal harbour, but none the less useful to the Allies, as it was the gateway to the road to Caen, and the Orne river and canal.

Ouistreham harbour on the morning of 6 June 1944. Defended by a garrison of 716.er Inf. Div Germans, an HMG pillbox, twin 20mm guns on the harbour wall. A Quad Vierling AA gun was provided to protect against air attack. When the Germans saw the allied invasion force on the horizon a HMG on a tripod was also brought up and mounted on the harbour wall outside the harbour master's office and the water tank. The exposed fuel dump was particularly vulnerable to attack.

Our Alternate Battle:
Allied attack goes first. Preliminary bombardment spared the harbour, and concentrated on the Merville battery further up the coast and inland from OPuistreham. The commandos decided to split their forces, and attempt a sea-borne landing and assault on the harbour with half their force, while the balance landed in the second wave on Lion-sur-Mer beach, and attacked the Casino Riva Bella and the Artillery Bunker-tower there. Keiffer commanded that assault himself. The battle is descibed in the preceeding post. 

Unlike the real battle, where Kieffer was only wounded, he was killed outright during the assault, and the Sherman tank reinforcements did not have any significant effect on the entrenched defenders. This had a serious knock-on effect for the Commando commanders, as half their forces were trapped on the beach at Lion-sur-Mer, and could not out-flank the German defenders as they had  planned. 

Wild Cards: Both generals rolled +1 on their reinforcement rolls.

Well before dawn allied bombers and transporters droned overhead, laden with Allied Airborne troops, on their way to the bridges over the Orne river and canal. The commando's huddled against the sea spray in their landing craft. A number of them slipped quietly into their cockleshell canoes, and started paddling towards the harbour, a dark silhoette ahead of them. Searchlights swept back and forth across the harbour approaches. The plan was to capture the harbour and link up with the Paratroopers who were dropping down behind enemy lines.

photo Roly Hermans

A RAF rescue launch dropped a number of the advance party near the harbour entrance. They slipped silently onto the shore under the cover of darkness. The sappers set about cutting through the barbed wire defenses. Then the probing Nazi searchlights found them...

A siren wailed, and simultaneously the German MG gunners opened fire, a sound almost like canvas ripping, but far more deadly: MG 42's firing! The commando's hit the deck in an attempt to make themselves as small as possible. The element of surprise was lost. Even though the Germans had started pinned down, the platoon that had started making the assault was in serious trouble.

Turn 1: The platoons of Commandos that have successfully landed start attacking the pill-box and 20mm gun emplacements. The German defenses are well thought out, and the commandos are caught in a murderous cross-fire. Rank after rank fall to the Heer machine gunners, specifically picking out command platoons with unerring accuracy. (Or shall I say lucky rolls) The commando officers appeared to be particularly suicidal on the day. Commandos do not avail of the British bulldog rule, but can act independent teams. Small consolation. Not a single German unit failed their pinning test, and the Commando forces took heavy casualties. Only a single platoon was left standing by the end of the German 1st round. 

(another Roly photo)
View of the harbour with defenses, the Orne river to the right and the Canal to the left. In the distance a Horsa glider and the Canal bridge, fated eventually to become known for ever as "Pegasus bridge+, after the emblem of the 6th Airborne. German reinforcements are making their way to the harbour at left. Barely visible at the far left is the Merville battery.

Turn 2 and 3 saw wave after wave of commandos in landing craft and canoes land. The second wave was able to get a gammon bomb through the gunner's slit in the pillbox, and silenced it. The link-up with the troops from Lion-sur-Mer did not happen, and the German defenders did not have to defend their flank as well as the frontal assault they now faced.

As a result the second wave was also caught in the cross-fire. Several platoons were able to make it into the open area beyond the harbour wall defenses. To their dismay they walked straight into 3 platoons of infantry hard up against the perimeter wall, thoroughly dug in! With disbelief they saw the 4-barreled antiaircraft level it's 20mm cannons at them. Then they were no more.

As dusk fell, the commando attack petered out. A single canoe made it's way back to the RAF rescue launch. The waves continued to lap up against the shore as the evening tide came in. It was 12 hours since the attack had begun. Not an inch of ground gained.

The German commander walked onto the harbour wall, and looked down on the heaps of khaki clad bodies piled below. "Brave men", he thought, "A full frontal assault! Foolish. Did they not learn anything from Dieppe? " 

The last blog post on this battle, the Airborne landings will follow Mon Petit Generals!

21 May 2014

D-Day Landings Part 2: Sword Beach Re-fought: Lion-sur-Mer and Hermanville-sur-Mer

D-Day Landings Part 2: Sword Beach Re-fought: 

Lion-sur-Mer and Hermanville-sur-Mer

La ville d' Lion Sur Mer, Hermanville-sur-Mer farms in the distance.
L to R: Artillery observation tower/bunker, the Riva Bella casino (German HQ)
Dug in 716. Inf.Div Troops, HMG Bunker, HMG Pillbox, LMG dug in
Heer Artiller and Luftwaffe 88mm guns in place.

An uneasy dawn broke over Lion-sur-Mer in Normandy. It is 6 June 1944. English and Americans ships had bombed the area significantly since midnight...

Surely they would not launch an attack in such foul weather. Surely this is just a diversion, as everyone knows their attack will come at the Pas de Calais...

At 0300, the Allied air forces bombarded the German beach defenses for the final time before the amphibious invasion. A few hours later, British warships bombarded German gun batteries and other strong-points along Sword Beach. At daybreak, British destroyers closed in and fired at short range. At 05.10 hours, Royal Air Force aircraft laid a smoke screen to shield the invasion force, but the smokescreen was used by boats of the German 5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla to attack, firing 15 torpedoes and scoring one hit, sinking the destroyer Svennert. 

At 05.30, soldiers began embarking landing craft. At 0600, LCA landing craft began sailing for Queen Red and Queen White sectors, joined by waves of various landing craft every few minutes. 

Sword Beach from the Air at low tide

Wildcards: Both teams rolled an extra +1 to reinforcement rolls for armour.
The winner would be the Army that held the objectives (Bella Riva Casino/Observation tower) and Road to Caen.

Turn 1: 

As the landing craft closed, LCT(R) vessels fired a total of 1,064 5-inch rockets, knocking out some beach obstacles, 2 troop units of infantry. Shortly after, at the range of 7,000 yards, self-propelled guns of the UK 3rd Division began to fire from their vessels to knock out beach obstacles. 

At the distance of 5,000 yard to the beach, 40 duplex-drive Sherman tanks of the UK 13th/18th Hussars were launched; historically 31 of them would make it to the beach successfully. By this point, all German guns were firing at the landing craft, and the Allied formation began to break up...
The D-day assault on Sword Beach was in full swing 

First Wave of Allied troops land: 2nd East Yorks Engineers/sappers supported by DD M4 Shermans
Several Higgins boats have already refloated 
DUKWs bring in weapons teams bearing mortars in the 3rd wave.

07.25 hours, the infantry arrived on the beach, which quickly attracted fire from machine guns and other small arms. The UK 2nd East Yorkshire sappers which landed on Queen Red sector, experienced a tough fight as they attempted to dash across an area bombarded by 88-millimeter and 75-millimeter guns inland, while being raked by HMG and LMG machine gun fire. 

The Germans returned fire in their turn, and picked off a surprising number of English command teams. It may be due to the fact that many wore their officer's caps and carried swagger sticks, making them easily identifiable to the German gunners.

Turn 2: 
Shortly behind the initial wave were 24 landing craft carrying British Royal Marine commandos. The commandos landed on the extreme western end of Queen White sector and moved toward the German strong-point at Lion-sur-Mer, which would serve as the link-up between Sword and Juno Beaches. The first target of the commandos was the casino at Riva Bella, which had been turned into a formidable fortress of interlocking bunkers, trenches, wire entanglements, and minefields, and housed the German HQ

Leading the attack on Riva Bella was French Captain Phillippe Kieffer, commanding officer of two groups of French commandos attached to the British Royal Marines, thus making this attack a purely French effort. Kieffer attacked Riva Bella at two locations from the rear with small arms, personal anti-tank weapons, and grenades, but the commandos were soon stalled by the German defenses proving to be difficult for Allied weapons to penetrate, with well dug in infantry. (Objective 1)

Kieffer found a duplex-drive Sherman medium tank, and persuaded the tank to assist the assault on Riva Bella. The Sherman tank failed to knocked out the defenses, trapping the commandos on the beach, exposed to a cross-fire between two pill-boxes. (Contrary to the real history)

To the east, British commandos attacked the German gun battery at the mouth of River Orne from the sea, in an attempt as ill-fated as the Dieppe raid. (More about that in a different post.) 

Machine gun nests, tank traps and minefields protected the battery. In the center of the battery was a 56-foot high concrete tower that housed the control and ranging equipment for the coastal guns; though not a defensive structure, German troops made effective use of the tower's height to observe British movements to relay down to the defenders on the ground, meanwhile throwing grenades down at close-by British commandos as opportunities presented.This gun battery, with its concrete tower, would remain in German control for a days to come. (Objective 1)

The German battery at Hermanville-sur-Mer received the co-ordinates for the beaches from the observation tower, but to their dismay found that their shells fell short, and failed to inflict any damage on the enemy.

Only the coastal defense 88mm and 75 mm guns were able to put some Shermans out of action and pin the sappers down. A bitter lesson learnt - make sure your artillery is within striking range of the target!

Heer Artillery: LeFH18 with 20mm Quad Vierling mounted on half-track: The initial landings were out of their range, and they could but idly wait for Allied forces to move to within striking range.

Second Wave: More Sappers and LCTs disgorging  M4 Shermans. These were eventually successful in destroying the pill-boxes, but not the concrete enfilade bunker. A high cost was pain by the sapper units, particularly amongst their officers. Thank goodness for the British Bulldog rule and the good ol' NCOs. Lesser men would have crumbled.

DD Shermans come ashore as more M4s with Firefly VC Command tanks land from LCTs

Turn 3 saw yet more troops land, this time with mortars. The heavy weapons proceeded to rain destruction on the 716.Inf Div troops, who took shelter, and survived the onslaught dug into their trenches. A Typhoon flight took out numbers with their rockets in 2 separate attacks in turn 1 and 3, but were apparently intercepted by the Luftwaffe in turn 2. There was no German aircraft to be seen whatsoever. The Allies had complete air superiority. The huddled troops in the embankments paid the price. But there was no-where to run too. Feldmarschall Rommel's displeasure would be worse than any Tommy's bayonet!

Turn 2 saw Oberst Leutnant Fischer's 21.er Pz Div Stugs arrive. They barrelled down the road towards Lion-sur-Mer, but diverted towards Ouistreham when the radio message was received that the bridges and lock over the Orne River was under attack from Allied airborne and commando troops. 

The defense of the coastal towns was thus left to the gun emplacements and dug in infantry. 
Word had also been received from the east, where it Pz IVs were ready to engage the enemy.  

Photo Roly Hermans
Typhoons unleashing 60 lb rockets on the dug in 716. Inf. Div: 
A payload equal to that of a Lancaster bomber! 
The 21.er Pz Div Stug Abteilung decided to detour to try and counter the Paratroop attack on the Orne river. The commando teams landed to the left were decimated by accurate and sustained Spandau fire from the pillboxes, and failed to reach their objective, despite assistance from the DD Shermans

Herr General der Infanterie Division inspecting
 the 21.er Panzer Div. Stug Abteilung as they arrive on the table

More Shermans land as LeFH 18 artillery shells fall harmlessly in the water

All too soon dusk fell, and we had to call and end to the battle. The invasion forces were still firmly trapped on the beach. Mine fields, tank traps and barbed wire had prevented the tanks from making inroads, and the sappers had failed to clear the defenses. 
The Commandos were left leaderless, with Kieffer himself succumbing on the sand. 

Both objectives were still in German hands. Had the battle had continued for more turns the tide would eventually have turned, but in this alternative battle the German forces were the victors.

More photos: