9 June 2014

Back to Bagration?

The Russian Offensive: Operation Bagration

Not really "Back to Bagration", but the alliteration could not be resisted ! Have not played this historical era before, but working on it ! Maybe the title of this post should read "Backed by Bagration" reflecting the triple whammy landed on Hitler's Third Reich:

In Italy the fall of Monte Cassino, then Rome; in Normandy the D-Day landings, followed by Bagration in the East 1944 would deliver a series of crippling blows from which Reich could not recover.

Working away at my Fall/Autumn Russian 1/72 army for a few weeks:

Have almost finished my Siberian ski troops, all based now, just needing one more coat of paint.
Multiple Zis 3 76 mm Guns and 4 x 122 mm Howitzers at the ready, PTRDs and Maxim guns by the handfuls. Darn fiddly those Esci/Matchbox Maxims!

From Wiki: Operation Bagration (Russian: Oперация Багратион, Operatsiya Bagration) was the codename for the Soviet 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation during World War II, which cleared German forces from the Belorussian SSR and eastern Poland between 22 June and 19 August 1944.

The operation was named after 18th–19th century Georgian Prince Pyotr Bagration, general of the Imperial Russian Army who received a mortal wound at the Battle of Borodino.

The operation resulted in the almost complete destruction of an entire German army group, with the loss of Army Group Centre's Fourth Army, Third Panzer Army and Ninth Army. It is considered the most calamitous defeat experienced by the German armed forces during the Second World War.

By the end of the operation most of the western Soviet Union had been liberated and the Red Army had achieved footholds in Romania and Poland. German losses eventually numbered well over half a million men killed or wounded, even higher than the toll at Verdun in 1916.

The Soviet armies directly involved in Operation Bagration were the 1st Baltic Front under Army General Ivan Bagramyan, the 1st Belorussian Front commanded by Army General Konstantin Rokossovsky, the 2nd Belorussian Front commanded by Colonel-General G. F. Zakharov, and the 3rd Belorussian Front commanded by Colonel-General Ivan Chernyakhovsky.

The objectives of the operation were complicated. The Red Army practiced the concept of Soviet deep battle and maskirovka. One American author suggests that these Soviet innovations were enabled, in part, by the provision of over 220,000 trucks by the United States to motorize the Soviet infantry. It has been suggested that  the primary target of the Soviet offensive was the bridgehead on the Vistula river in central Poland, and that Operation Bagration was to create a crisis in Belorussia to divert German mobile reserves to the central sectors as a part of maskirovka, removing them from the Lublin-Brest, Lvov–Sandomierz area where the Soviets intended to undertake the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive and Lublin–Brest Offensive.

 This allowed the Red Army to reach the Vistula river and Warsaw, which in turn put Soviet forces within striking distance of Berlin, conforming to the concept of Soviet deep operations — striking deep into the German force's strategic depths.

Army Group Centre had previously proved tough to counter as the Soviet defeat in Operation Mars had shown. But by June 1944, despite shortening its front line, it had been exposed following the withdrawals of Army Group South in the battles that followed the Battle of Kursk, the Second Battle of Kiev and the Crimean Offensive in the late summer, autumn and winter of 1943–44, which the Soviets called the Third period of World War II. Operation Suvorov had seen Army Group Centre itself forced to retreat westwards from Smolensk during the autumn of 1943.

By the middle of June 1944, the Western Allies on the Cotentin Peninsula were just over 1,000 km (620 mi) from Berlin, while the Soviet forces at the Vitebsk Gate were within 1,200 km (750 mi) of the German capital. For the Third Reich, the strategic threats were about the same. Hitler underestimated the threat posed by Soviet troops facing Army Group Centre, and had redeployed ⅓ of Army Group Centre's artillery, ½ their tank destroyers and 88% of their tanks to the Southern front where the German high command expected the next major Soviet offensive to come. Army Group center only had a total of 580 tanks, tank-destroyers and assault guns. They were opposed by over 9000 Soviet machines. The redeployment of forces from Army Group Center left only 80 men defending every kilometer of the front line.

Bagration, in combination with the neighbouring Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive launched a few weeks later in Ukraine, allowed the Soviet Union to recapture Belorussia and Ukraine within its 1941 borders, advance into German East Prussia, but more importantly, the Lvov-Sandomierz operation allowed the Red Army to reach the outskirts of Warsaw after gaining control of Poland east of the Vistula river. The operation enabled the next operation, Vistula–Oder Offensive, to come within sight of the German capital. The Soviets were initially surprised at their success of the Belorussian operation which had nearly reached Warsaw. The Soviet advance encouraged the Warsaw uprising against the German occupation forces.

The battle has been described as the triumph of the Soviet theory of "the operational art" because of the complete co-ordination of all the Strategic Front movements and signals traffic to fool the enemy about the target of the offensive. The military tactical operations of the Red Army successfully avoided the mobile reserves of the Wehrmacht and continually "wrong-footed" the German forces. Despite the huge forces involved, Soviet front commanders left their adversaries completely confused about the main axis of attack until it was too late.

5th Guards advance during Operation Bagration

The end of Operation Bagration coincided with the destruction of many of the strongest units of the German Army on the western front in the Falaise pocket in Normandy. The number of troops involved and especially personnel and material losses inflicted on the Wehrmacht was much bigger in Bagration than in Normandy.

After these stunning victories, on both eastern and western fronts, supply problems rather than German resistance slowed the subsequent rapid Allied advance, and it eventually ground to a temporary halt.

However, the Germans were able to transfer armoured units from the Italian front, where they could afford to give ground, to resist the Soviet advance near Warsaw.

Top Battlefields to Visit ?

A recent article posted the following as the top 5 Battlefield Sites to visit 
(According to Virtual Tourist)

I beg to differ. What would you rate the top sites to be ?
Maybe wargamers and history buffs may  have a different take. Maybe we should rather go by century?

I would not rate Hiroshima as a battle site though.
Historical yes, catastrophic yes, significant yes, but not a battle site in the true sense.

I am also just a little removed geographically from US history, having grown up just a tad euro-and afri-centric, being from the Colonies, what, old chap!

Battle sites I've been to:

1. Waterloo

2. Somme/Marne - WW 1 Western front

3. Bridges at Arnhem and other WW 2 sites throughout Western Europe

4. Gates of Vienna 

5. KwaZulu Natal  - Valley of a Thousand Hills (Rorke's Drift, Isandlwana and Blood River)

6.  Tienanmen Square and Beijing (Notable, but maybe also not really a battle, as it was one-sided)

Ones I'd like to visit:

1. Beaches and Bocage of Normandy

2. Bannockburn

3. Gettysburg

4. Midway Island/Truk Lagoon - would love to dive here (one of my other passions)

5. Kursk and Prokhorovka

Philosopher George Santayana once said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

With this in mind, members of travel website VirtualTourist.com shared five locations of historical conflicts that they believe even the most modest history buff should visit if they want to learn from the past as well as be inspired to build a more peaceful future.

1. Battle of Bosworth (Wars of the Roses), Leicestershire, United Kingdom

On the afternoon of August, 22, 1485, the course of English history changed.

The Battle of Bosworth was the major turning point, for it was during this battle that King Richard III was killed and his place as monarch taken by a Welsh prince, Henry Tudor.

Richard's troops are said to have camped near the village of Sutton Cheney, and Richard himself prayed in the tiny church of St. James the night before the battle. You can visit this beautiful little church most days, and see for yourself where Richard spent his last few hours.

Each year, there is a re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth with traditional jousting, soldiers in armour charging each other and of course the charge led by King Richard against Henry Tudor which ultimately led to his death.

2. Battle of Gettysburg (American Civil War), in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, United States

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought between Union and Confederate forces July 1 -3, 1863, turned the tide of the American Civil War against the Confederacy.

The "battlefield" is actually a series of locations now part of the US National Park Service, with the town and houses intermixed with the fields, over which tens of thousands of men fought.

On the tour provided by the National Park Service, visitors learn that decades after the war, there were reunions of Union and later Confederate troops at the battle.

Because of this, they know where each unit was during the three days, and as a result, monuments have been erected for individual Union and Confederate units on the site where the unit fought.

As one VitualTourist member puts it, it's sobering to drive and walk through the area and see what a vast space it was. This battle is also what led to President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one of the most powerful speeches in the history of the United States.

3. Bombing of Hiroshima (World War II), Hiroshima, Japan

During World War II, on August 6, 1945, the world's first deployed atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber, killing approximately 80,000 people.

Its target was the Aioi Bridge but it missed and exploded almost directly above a building, which was at the time an exhibition hall known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall.

Because the blast was felt from immediately above, hitting the structure vertically, a surprising amount remained intact, even though everyone inside was killed instantly.

For some years after the war, the skeleton of the building remained as it was. There were some who felt it should be pulled down and the site redeveloped, while others argued for its restoration and yet others for its preservation as a ruin, to stand as a memorial to what had happened and to those who had lost their lives.

The latter group won the day, and in 1966 the city council declared that it intended to preserve the building, undertaking only the minimal work necessary to ensuring its stability.

In December 1996 the Atomic Bomb Dome was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its listing was based on its survival from a destructive force, the first use of nuclear weapons on human population, and most importantly its representation as a symbol of peace.

The Atomic Bomb Dome is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

4. The Battlefields of the Western Front (World War I), in the province of Flanders, Belgium and Northern France

Stretching through 724 kilometres of the Belgian province of Flanders and regions of northern and eastern France, the fighting on the Western Front started in 1914 when Germany invaded Luxembourg and Belgium on its way to France.

It ended in 1918 with the collapse of the German Empire and the Treaty of Versailles. It is estimated that more than 13 million soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing during this time.

While there are numerous preserved sites and monuments to visit along the coastal stretch, one of the most moving sites is the Notre Dame de Lorette Cemetery in Ablain, France.

Also known as Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery, it was the site of three battles and is now the location of the world's largest French military cemetery, holding the remains of 40,000 casualties, most from the First World War.

5. Battle of San Jacinto (Texas Revolution), La Porte, Texas, United States

On April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston led his troops to battle against superior forces led by Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Houston's troops were eager for revenge over the devastation and fall of the Alamo. In a surprise attack, the Texans were able to overtake the Mexican camp in a battle that lasted only 18 minutes. Although only nine Texans died during the battle, a monument was erected dedicated to all the heroes of the Battle of San Jacinto and to honour all others who contributed to the creation of the independent Republic of Texas.

The 570-foot-tall monument is the world's tallest memorial column and is topped with a 34-foot star symbolizing the Lone Star Republic. The Battleship Texas (BB-35) is moored in the Houston Ship Channel less than a mile away, the first battleship memorial museum in the US.

What do you thing should be on this list?

5 June 2014

D-Day Minus One, the paratroops go in (again, for one veteran)

Paratrooper jumps again: 70 years after D-Day

A former U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrain aircraft (bottom) flies alongside a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron over Germany in this handout photo taken May 30 and released June 3, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Sara Keller/Handout via Reuters

Normandy, France (CNN) -- Jim "Pee Wee" Martin acted like he'd been here before, like jumping from a plane is as easy as falling off a log.

Maybe that's because he had -- 70 years ago.

"I'm feeling fine," Martin told reporters moments after landing in a French field. "... It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful."
Martin was part of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division that parachuted down over Utah Beach in their bid to retake France and, eventually, the rest of Europe from Nazi Germany. They actually touched down in enemy-controlled territory a night before what's referred to now as D-Day.

His jump Thursday in the same area was different and -- despite his being 93 years old now -- a whole lot easier.
"It didn't (compare)," Martin said, "because there wasn't anybody shooting at me today!"

Every year, every day it seems, the number of surviving World War II veterans like Martin dwindles. He estimates there are only a few dozen members of his unit who took part in the now historic D-Day invasion who are still around.
It's ironic, in a sense, because Martin was among the oldest of his bunch in June 1944 -- at 23 years old -- surrounded by others who were mere teenagers.

Together, they parachuted onto France's northern coast in the dark of night not knowing what awaited them. Whatever it was, it would not be friendly or easy, they expected.

"Everybody (was) scared all the time, and if they tell you anything differently they are full of crap," the former paratrooper recalled. "But you just do what you had to do regardless of it. That's the difference."
And they didn't stop. According to a Facebook page he regularly updates, Martin fought for 43 days as part of the Normandy campaign before moving onto invade Holland, fending off Nazi fighters during the Battle of the Bulge and finishing off by taking Berchtesgaden, site of Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" redoubt in the German Alps.

None of it was easy, but Martin insists, "I don't ever have flashbacks. Never. Nothing ever bothered me."
All these years later, he has become a celebrity of sorts -- as evidenced by a mob of reporters who greeted him after his parachute landing Thursday. Martin says he feels "kind of humbled and embarrassed at the adulation because I don't feel we did anything that we weren't supposed to do or anything exceptional."
He adds: "We just did what we trained to do."

On Norman soil again...

Seven decades later, Martin did it again -- not fighting a bloody war but at least reliving his role in a military campaign that changed the course of history. Others joined him in this now daytime jump, though he was the only one from his generation.
This time, he said that he wasn't scared because, "once you get in the plane, you forget everything." Bored would be more like it.

As he told reporters afterward, "To tell you the truth, riding around in the plane is boring. It's when you get off the plane, that's when it gets exciting ... But there's no fear to it. It's just something you do."

​Veteran 101st Airborne paratrooper Pfc. Jim "Pee Wee" Martin reminisces about D-Day at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.: ​Veteran 101st Airborne paratrooper Pfc. Jim "Pee Wee" Martin reminisces about D-Day at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Martin admitted that he was motivated by "a little bit of ego, (to show that) I'm 93 and I can still do it."
"And also I just want to show all the people that you don't have to sit and die just because you get old," he added. "Keep doing things."
Among those things he'd like to do is another jump in the same plane, one year from now.

"If I come back next year, I'll make a jump next year. You can bet on it."

4 June 2014

Allies Reach Rome: 4 June 1944

4 June 1944: Celebrations as Rome is liberated:

A masterstroke or gross insubordination?

Rome was quiet on the morning of 4 June 1944. Propaganda leaflets dropped during the early morning hours by order of the commander of the Allied 15th Army Group, General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, urged Romans "to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to protect the city from destruction and to defeat our common enemies."

Even though the retreating Germans had declared Rome an open city, citizens were urged to do everything possible to protect public services, transportation facilities, and communications. "Citizens of Rome," the leaflets declared, "this is not the time for demonstrations. Obey these directions and go on with your regular work. Rome is yours! Your job is to save the city, ours is to destroy the enemy."

Clarke, the commander of the 5th US Army had ignored an order by Alexander to pursue and destroy the retreating German forces. Hours later the first Fifth Army units, elements of the U.S. 3d, 85th, and 88th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Special Service Force, reached the outskirts of the city, encountering only scattered German resistance.

The citizens of Rome remained indoors as instructed, but on the following day, 5 June, throngs of ecstatic Italians spilled into the streets to welcome the Americans as the main elements of the Fifth Army moved north through the city in pursuit of the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies. The stay of Fifth Army combat units in the city was brief, however, and within days the battle for Italy resumed to the north.

The liberation of Rome was the culmination of an offensive launched in late January 1944 that Allied leaders had hoped would both result in the capture of the Axis capital by 1 February and complete the destruction of the German forces in Italy. Instead, the Allies failed to break through the formidable enemy defenses until late May 1944. Even with Rome in Allied hands, the Italian campaign would last another eleven months until final victory.

BBC Report from the time:

"The people of Rome have crowded onto the streets to welcome the victorious Allied troops.
The first American soldiers, members of the 5th Army, reached the centre of Rome after encountering dogged resistance from German forces on the outskirts of the city.

The German troops had been ordered to withdraw.

Rome is the first of the three Axis powers' capitals to be taken and its recapture will be seen as a significant victory for the Allies and the American commanding officer who led the final offensive, Lieutenant General Mark Clark.

In a broadcast in the United States this evening, President Franklin D Roosevelt welcomed the fall of Rome with the words, "One up, two to go." But he gave a warning that Germany had not yet suffered enough losses to cause her to collapse.

In Rome itself, the people have been celebrating. Shops have closed and huge crowds have taken to the streets, cheering, waving and hurling bunches of flowers at the passing army vehicles.

First reports from the city say it has been left largely undamaged by the occupying German forces.

The city's water supply is still intact and there is even electricity - recent blackouts are reported to have been caused by engineers reluctant to restore power for the occupiers.

Most Romans remained in the city during the occupation and many refugees also fled here. Food supplies are now extremely short with bread rationed to 100 g per person per day.

A report from Hitler's headquarters said he had ordered the withdrawal of the German troops to the north-west of Rome in order to prevent its destruction.

The statement said: "The struggle in Italy will be continued with unshakable determination with the aim of breaking the enemy attacks and to forge final victory for Germany and her allies."

The Pope appeared on the balcony of St Peter's this evening and addressed the thousands of Italians who had gathered in the square.

He said: "In recent days we trembled for the fate of the city. Today we rejoiced because, thanks to the joint goodwill of both sides, Rome has been saved from the horrors of war."

The American military authorities in London have broadcast a tribute to the British General Sir Harold Alexander, who has been in overall command of Allied forces in Italy.

It described the campaign as "daring, unconventional and brilliant" and said his methods had compelled the enemy to evacuate Rome without destructive fighting within the city itself."


The American commander of the 5th Army, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, chose to strike for Rome from the Anzio beachhead, after the fall of Monte Cassino, rather than chase after the retreating German forces as he had been ordered by the British officer in overall charge, General Sir Harold Alexander.

This decision has since been described by eminent American military historian Carlo D'Este as "as militarily stupid as it was insubordinate". Although Rome was liberated, the Germans were not decisively defeated.

After the fall of Rome German forces fell back to the so-called Gothic Line of defence, running across Italy just north of Florence.

The Allies did not breach this line until September 1944. The Allied front then stalled again until a breakthrough in April 1945 when their final assault broke German resistance and led to capitulation on 2 May.

The Italian campaign had tied down more than 20 German divisions - while the Allies concentrated on the battle on the western front. Although some have argued it was the Germans tying down the Allies.

But the Italian campaign was not in itself decisive and in the end victory in Europe was won only through direct attacks on Germany itself. It did, however force Hitler to defend on 3 fronts. Germany had neither the manpower nor resources to do this.

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."