"War is a drama, not a game of chess."
Gen Eisenhower

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Captain's Courageous - or - The Light Company Gets a Bath

Upon the safe return of Lieutenant Swiven to the Division, Captain Beesley and the Light Company had two weeks of blessed rest. The East Southhamstershires were kept busy guarding the Divisional Headquarters and there was no urgent need for the Light Company's services. Such idleness did not go unpunished. The men of the Light Company were good men in a fight and quite capable foragers. Too clever by half for many of the provosts. Chickens, pigs and goats began disappearing for mile around after the return of the Light Company. While nothing could ever be proven, enough complaints were raised that once again, the Light Company drew official notice. Finding himself in the General's tent, Captain Beesley sweats lightly as he awaits his audience. His Colonel stands beside him casting disproving glances Beesley's way since neither knew why they were summoned. The General and his aide enter the room. The twinkle in the general's eye only partially calms Beesley's nerves. "Well Captain, you and your rogues have made quite a name for yourselves. It seems that idleness does not become your men. So I have found something to keep them active." With a large smirk upon his face he adds, "We shall keep them from running a fowl of the provosts, eh?" Dutifully, the aide laughs at his general's jest. The Colonel joins in and subtlety moves away from Beesley, instinctively sensing something amiss and not wanting to get splashed in any foul mess that Beesley may have jumped into. "In reading your record, Beesley, I see that you have worked with the Navy before. And therefore you are familiar with His Majesty's ship HMS Gout?" The General continues without pause assuming the answers, "The Captain of the Gout has been ordered to land a company of British infantry on the northern coast of Spain as an observation post. You will be landed in the dead of night and given a number of birds to send messages back here to keep us informed. The Gout will check in on you from time to time, keeping you supplied with powder, shot and necessities. As resourceful as your men are, I do not thing you shall be lacking in any comforts." Beesley presented a calm outward visage but internally he ranted, Damn and blast Smallwood. Whose chickens has the man been stealing for my mess anyway? Wellington's?!? Instead he responded, "Yes sir," with a crispness that would have done them proud back at horse-guards. "Now, in order to move your men, we have had to rather upset Captain Turnwall as his ship had to be configured 'en flute' or whatever that nautical nonsense means. He seemed quite upset so be on your watch on the voyage. He has also had to post his marines to shore duty to fit your full company on board. Once landed, you will be staying here." With that he jabbed a finger at the map on the desk. You spot an 'x' on his map that is very near the French border. "This is a ruined castle that dates back nearly to the reconquista. You can see the main coast road coming down from France and keep an eye out for French movements into Spain. This is vital work. You will be relieved in about a month. Any questions?" By this the General made it clear that there were to be no questions and he was expected to go away. Three Days Later - Off the coast of Northern Spain The storm crashed down upon the HMS Gout. They had been in harsh weather for over 42 hours straight. The men of the Light Company were dreadfully sea sick. The men of the Gout were fighting for their ship's very life. Though Beesley offered his assistance, he was rudely dismissed below by the Captain. The second officer and three hands had already been lost in this storm. Several more have been sent to the surgeon having ruptured themselves in the strenuous work of saving the ship. To the men of the Light Company, they nearly to a man believed that they were doomed. Fifty six hours into the storm, the wind slackened enough that the sailing master and the Captain decided on a desperate plan. They ran the ship towards the shore in an attempt to wait out the storm in a sheltered cove that the Sailing Master knew from his days as a smuggler in his misspent youth. Halfway into the mouth of the cove, the main top gallant mast snapped with a thunderous report. The whip crack of stays and lines was heard slashing from above as the broken mast plunged downward to the deck below. The mast struck the deck after first passing through the body of the captain, nearly cutting the man in half. The next two hours were a blur of motions as sailors and their surviving officers restored order and saved the ship. Once order has been restored, Captain Beesley found himself being summoned by the ship's Bosun to the Captain's cabin. Finding himself there with the First Lieutenant (now captain of the Gout), a Midshipman, the Sailing Master, the Bosun, the surgeon and the Master Gunner, he looked from man to man at the grim faces. Lieutenant Hardbrace spoke for the group, "Captain Beesley, we cannot complete the mission as ordered. The ship is leaking badly from the storm. We lack the cannon to defend ourselves in the event of an attack from sea. We need to repair the masts and other damage to the rigging. We are stranded here on this shore until we can make repairs. We need your help." The last sentence was delivered where Hardbrace had to visibly swallow his pride before hand. Beesley nods, "I understand, Captain. I have inquired with my Ensign, the pigeons have all perished in the storm. Even if you were to drop us off at our original destination, we have no means of communicating back with the division. Half my men are still ill from the voyage but I place my officers and those of my men that can work at your disposal." With relief the naval types all nod. Hardbrace describes their situation, "We are in a sheltered cove. It is doubtful that anyone has spotted our arrival and we are secluded enough here that unless someone comes down the hill from above, we should not be noticed. I would like your men to form a perimeter around the hill and serve as sentries while my men complete the repairs on the ship. If you have men to spare, we need additional hands at the pumps to keep us from sinking." Pointing to the Bosun, "I will send the bosun ashore with a party of reliable hands to gather what materials we can in order to expedite repairs. There is a small fishing smack that we have confiscated in the cove. We have this and one longboat left. The other ships boats were lost in the storm. We will begin ferrying your men ashore as soon as you are able." Another half hour of quick work sketched out what little was known of the cove and their approximate location. ======================================================================================== This will be the third outing of Captain Beesley and the Light Company. I have been looking for a way to utilize the Frigate model that I have been building. This seems to fit the bill. I hope to get this on a table to game out shortly.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Audet's Church: A D-Day Plus 3 Skirmish

This post is an attempt to remember a solitaire game I played several months back was a busy summer, using the characters generated with the help of Platoon Forward as described in previous posts. The scenario I rolled up with PF was Scenario Card F, a Platoon Attack, and the randomly generated objective as a Key Building. Of course, in a Mad Padre wargame, the key building has to be a church. In keeping with Lt. Audet's abrasive and glory-seeking nature, there would be no way that he would pass up another chance to gain attention. A further assumption of mine was that in the first few days after D-Day, given the historical role of the Chaudieres as rear security, any German opposition would likely be scattered and disorganized. You may feel from this AAR that Audet got off lightly. Perhaps. One gets attracted to the imaginary troops that PF gives you. No doubt in future, Audet's challenges will increase.

07:45, 8 June, 1944 Normandy - within the lines of La Regiment de la Chaudiere,

"Things are going well for us. The Division is ashore, we've linked up with the British, and we're taking ground. Just as importantly", Major Charpentier paused to look around at his platoon commanders, "D Company succeeded in our first tasking yesterday. We took some casualties, but the CO is pleased that we pushed out and straightened our sector. Well done all."

Lt. Denis Audet was hoping to hear the Major praise 18 Platoon for their role in the company attack yesterday, but was disappointed as the OC continued. "Today is maintenance and routine patrolling, but we do have one special job. Our recce platoon heard some motors and noted some vehicle activity here, at Eglise St. Michel. They also report that the church is suitable for an OP that could overlook our battalion lines. I need a platoon to have a look at it and if possible take the church. You were all in action yesterday so I'm asking for volun ..."

Charpentier stopped as a hand shot up. Audet saw Capt. Cournoyer roll his eyes but he didn't care. "My boys can do it, sir."

"Good. Go get the recce brief from Lt. Aubin and report back in an hour with your plan and your support requirements."

Here's the table I rolled up using Platoon Forward's terrain generator.
Canadian side, left to right: Forest, Building, Hill
Center, left to right: Forest, Significant Building, Open
German side, left to right: Open, Open, Swamp

Since it was Normandy I interpreted the open areas to be hedged, and since there is a significant building in the centre, that seemed to require roads and perhaps suggest a road junction. Here's the result.

18 Platoon was sitting near the foxholes they had slept in the night before, eating a breakfast of compo rations: tinned fruit, biscuits, and coffee. Adjutant (French for Warrant Officer) Beaulieu was telling the new corporal, Legros, about his adventures with Legros' pere in a barfight in the last war when Lt. Audet came strolling over with a worrisome purpose. "Have the platoon ready to move in thirty minutes, Adjutant. Light fighting order. We have a patrol."

Beaulieu climbed to his feet, feeling every one of his forty three years in his bones. "Us again, sir?"

Audet grinned and slapped the older man's shoulder. "Us again. Natural choice. We showed them we're the best, eh?"

As Audet walked away, Beaulieu took a long drag on his Players and threw it to the ground. He looked at his corporals. "You heard Clark Gable. We're the best." He shook his head. "Idiot."

By 09:00 18 platoon has been briefed and guided into position by two scouts from recce platoon. Audet had surveyed the ground through binos with in company with recce's Lt. Aubin. He was reasonably happy with his supports. He had been hoping for a tank, but a vehicle from the Carrier Platoon would give him some recce capability and another Bren gun, while the same Vickers HMG team that had worked with him in their last fight had been reassigned. Major Charpentier had approved his plan and now it was time to go.

Lt. Audet briefs Major Charpentier on his plan while the men of two section crouch ready in the hedges on the start line. Command group are plastic figures by Valiant.

This small image looks bigger when you click on it. The blue text and arrows show Audet's plan as follows. Vickers HMG and 1 section under WO Beaulieu will move onto the hill and establish a firebase to cover platoon's advance. With that covering fire, Audet will lead 2 section towards the church at the right moment, while three section with the Bren carrier will probe up the road into the village and look for possibilities to outflank the church posititon.

The black shows the force that PF generated for the Germans. In addition to dummy blinds, the Germans had an infantry section with a Big Man in the church, a heavy AT gun behind the church, two tanks, an MMG section at the crossroads, and a Forward Observer in contact with a four gun 81mm mortar section. Since German resistance would still be firming up just three days after the invasion, my premise is that the infantry and the FOO belong to 716th Div and have orders to hold the church and the village, the other elements belong to separate formations, most likely 21 Panzer Div, and are not attached or supporting. So the two tanks, Pz IIIs, and the AT gun, a towed 88mm, are passing through and have orders to exit the board.

Gefreiter Lothar Schreiber sat on board bench in the little church steeple and listened to the conversation in the street below. Janke, his sergeant was in the street, sharing a smoke with a Luftwaffe leutnant commanding the 88 and crew tucked in alongside the church. Schreiber was impressed at the careful placement of camo netting and twigs to conceal the gun and its heavy mover. He could appreciate the need for it. A few minutes ago a flight of jabos had passed low over head, hunting for targets further inland. For the last three days all he had seen were Tommy aircraft, and he wondered when one would get bored and strafe his steeple just for sport.

Limbered 88mm gun and heavy mover, carefully tucked behind the church. I've had this model for years and never used it until this game. ESCI, I think.

"He's been gone too long." The Luftwaffe leutnant was peering up the street, hoping to see the military policeman return on his motorbike. The chaindog was route control for this sector, and had held the gunners in place while he went to check that the route further inland was safe for transit.

"Be nice if you could stay, sir. We could use your support. Same with the Panzer boys." Janke pointed to the orchard across the road from the church, where two Pz IIIs, also heavily netted and concealed, were parked, their crews lounging about.

"Sorry. Got to get back to my unit, wherever they are. Been wandering for three days now, ever since the Tommies arrived. And as for the Panzers, while, they don't talk to the likes of us air force types."

Schreiber was about to chuckle at the joke when Moller, number two on the MG42, elbowed him and pointed out the belfry to the south. "Actung! Tommies on that hill."

1 section and the attached HMG move onto the hill and come off their blinds.

Beaulieu heard the first rounds of MG tearing the air above him. They were shooting high. He had expected the Germans to have opened fire earlier, but perhaps some sentry had been snoozing. "Get to the crest and let 'em have it. All fire on that church." Now rifle fire was coming at them as well, and gouts of earth were kicking up closer to them. Cpl. Legros and his Bren team had already flopped down and seconds later started chugging out rounds at the church. The riflemen of One Section joined them and Enfields began cracking. Two of the Vickers team arrived a moment later, toiling under their burdens, and began setting up their weapon. Their third man lay crumpled twenty feet back. Beaulieu raced over to him, retreived the heavy ammo boxes, and staggered back to the machine gunners. "Spray that f'n church good."

The sound of fire to his right was Cpl. Matthieu's signal to start 3 section moving on the road to the left of the church. With the Bren carrier leading the way in a cloud of exhaust, he and his men cautiously went forward, some hugging the walls of a ruined brick cottage, others crouching behind the carrier. Within minutes they realized that they had walked into the firelane of a machine gun, and three section was pinned.

Inside the church it wasn`t much better. Schreiber and his LMG crew huddled for dear life behind thick stone, keeping well away from the open spaces in the belfry. The fire from the hill had picked up and wasn`t stopping. Through the din he was aware of a young landser calling from the stairway. `Sgt. Janke is dead, corporal!`
Verdamnt! `Well, keep shooting!` he yelled back, then cringed as another burst of 303 lashed the steeple.

The Germans took an unlucky break early on when their Big Man in the church, Janke, was killed. Presumably he looked out a window at the wrong time. The character of Schreiber would be the replacement if the dice favoured it. Meanwhile, as 1 and 2 sections and the HMG under Audet and Beaulieu remained active, peppering the church, Matthieu would not have his card come up for many turns, effectively taking him and three section out of the game.

The German 88 had its card come up several times and did the sensible thing, pulling away from the church and towards the German rear, where it safely exited despite a few shots from the Bren. The two Pz IIIs followed. Without an effective infantry leader in the church to coordinate with them, they did the sensible thing and retreated off the board edge, since this was an assembly point on a road move and not a staging area for combat. One tank did take a shot at the Bren carrier which was visible down the road, and while the shot was a near miss, it convinced the driver that escape and survival was his best bet. His exit only seemed to convince Matthieu and 3 section to remain invisible and under cover.

Gefreiter Schreiber watches from the steeple in dismay as the second PZ III pulls out of its leaguer and heads away from the fighting.

PZ III covers the withdrawal of the towed 88 and fires a shot at the Bren carrier.

Which promptly flees back down the road and off the table.

Leutnant Gunther Horst and his radio operator had been driving cautiously towards Eglise St. Michel, following instructions from the day before to identify an OP to direct the fire a section of 81mm mortars. His major had said something about stabilizing the front line but as Horst heard small arms fire he had doubts that there was any front line. Signalling his driver to halt, they left the kubelwagen amidst some trees and crept forward until he had a line of site on the village.

The FOO Lt. Horst sets up in the woods with a line of sight to No 3 section.

Mortar shells begin to fall on No 3 section (background) while Audet starts 2 Section towards the church.

Matthieu and his section flattened themselves against walls and buildings as mortar shells began to fall nearby. The corporal could see from the postures of his men and the expressions of a few nearby that they were thoroughly pinned. He wasn't going anywhere, but he lifted his head briefly as he heard a new sound, tank tracks. The reassuring shape of a Sherman appeared in the roadway (a random event generated an Allied reinforcement).

Through his binoculars, Audent could see fragments of stone flying from the walls of the church as the Vickers gun continued to lash it. The rate of return fire from within the church had fallen off considerably. Now was the time. "Follow me, les boys!" Once again his men were sprinting behind him. There was a brief burst of Spandau fire from the steeple, and a man staggered and fell behind him, but they were through to the wall now. "Grenades, ready and ... now!" A flurry of grenades were tossed through the windows, with bangs and screams. A soldier kicked the door down and Audet stepped forward, Sten gun spraying. There was no return fire, the nave of the church was littered with six field gray forms, sone still, some moaning. "Kamerad", a voice called from the steeple stairs. Gefreiter Schreiber and his surviving No 2 had had enough. Minutes later, WO Beaulieu on the hill twatched his lieutenant wave jauntily from the steeple. "F*** me, he did it again!"

Epilogue: The Canadian close assault on the church was an amazingly lucky run of sixes, and wiped out the defending rifle section. With two of the three LMG crew surviving in the steeple, there seemed to be little point in further resistance. THe advent of the Sherman was enough to scare off Lt. Horst and the MMG team at tbe crossroads. Lt. Audet had his church and his casualties had been amazingly light. One killed from the supporting Vickers crew, and two riflemen lightly wounded from 2 section during their assault on the church. A very small bill for a decisive victory. In the next post, we'll see how Audet fares in his quest for recognition and promotion. Thanks for reading, and blessings on your die rolls. MP+