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Friday, 2 November 2018

Canadians vs 12th SS Panzer Div

My old buddy Graham rarely gets to wargame these days. We had the rare chance of a game together so decided to blow the dust of his lovingly painted collection of 1/300 late WWII Germans. I'd been reading Napier's very fine book, The Armoured Campaign in Normandy. Napier devotes a good number of pages to examining the Canadians' actions on and just after D-Day. Their fight on 7-9 June with 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend" seemed to me to offer particularly promising material for a wargame. Both sides are in motion, both sides have about 100+ tanks to play with, the country is pretty open, with fairly low troop densities and without crushing amounts of artillery or airpower. I thought this should produce a nice mobile game rather than the bocage slog we often think of in connection with the battle for Normandy.

Nein, nein, nein! 
Direly ineffective German defensive fire 
as Canadian 7th Bde storms Bretteville.
(Carpet tiles are hills; pipecleaners in the background
mark the railway embankment.)

A few weeks before the game Graham and I drove around the battlefield and visited the Canadian museum at Juno beach. I have to say this was a sad disappointment - sorry, Canucks. I'd been there before when it was fairly new and hoped it might have improved, but it hasn't. Being a latecomer, it has very few actual exhibits to display: a couple of bits of ordnance outside; a few uniforms, fragments of DD tank, and a Sten gun within. Most of it is just big infoboards with blown-up photos. It has quite a lot of info about non-D-Day stuff - the home front, industry and society, RCN convoy battles in the Atlantic, etc - but I learned virtually nothing about the 7-9 June actions. Nevertheless I had high hopes of finding some decent books in the museum shop, in which case I could have forgiven it - but no, there were a few general works but nothing that helped me. (I think the book I need is this, "Stopping the Panzers" by Marc Milner - from my own current favourite publisher, I'm pleased to see.)

Anyway, to the game. The rules we decided to use were Bruce's experimental WWII adaptation of BBB (the third significant effort in that direction, after Bob Mackenzie's and my own). I sketched out a scenario to cover the two major episodes: first, the Canadian 9th Brigade's encounter with SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment 25 and friends around Authie on its way toward Carpiquet; and then the German counter-attacks against 7th and 8th Brigades by Panthers and SS PG Regt 26 around Bretteville.

This worked out rather well as a see-sawing "game of two halves" - with the seesaw swinging in kind of the opposite direction to history. Historically, 9th Bde had a nasty surprise when it was taken partly in flank by 25 SS PG supported by the Panzer IVs of  II./12 SS Pz Regt. In our game, it was the Pz IVs that had the worst of it, being pretty much blown away without loss by the Shermans of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. This was partly due to the German advance exposing their flanks to envelopment, but mainly down to the dice. Thus at the halfway mark of the game, on the Canadian left there was very little between 9th Brigade and its objective of Carpiquet, while on the right 7th Brigade had made good progress as it mostly only had a flimsy tripwire of remnants of 716th Infantry Division to deal with.

Day 2 and all changed. Although the Canadians were now substantially reinforced by their artillery in the shape of four regiments of Priests, it was the arrival of the potent Panther battalion of 12 SS Pz that turned the game. First they confronted the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, whose luck with the dice had changed; a few Panthers perished, but all the Shermans burned. 9th Brigade's push on Carpiquet was decisively halted.

The Panthers then turned west (which historically they did as soon as they arrived, not having to detain 9th Bde). Here, on the Canadian right, 7th Brigade had mounted a textbook attack of two battalions, shot in by their field artillery, to turf 26th SS Pz Gren Regt out of Bretteville l'Orgueilleuse. The 7th was poised to pursue the Panzergrenadiers and chase them out of Norrey-en-Bessin as well when the Panthers showed up. The last turn of the game saw a climactic counterattack in the dusk, rather like the history. Again like the history, Canadian PIATs deterred the Panthers from the village, but they couldn't halt the SS Panzer Pioneers. Bretteville was stormed and the Canadians pushed out.

This was quite a long and exhausting game (about 5+ hours) for various reasons: Graham hadn't played at all for a while; we were using an unfamiliar rules variant; we hadn't had a chance to print out QR sheets so kept having to flick through laptop screens to check charts or OBs; and there were a couple of untested aspects of the rules that proved a bit fiddly (but can be fixed).

Despite these elements of Clausewitzian friction, we achieved our aim of playing a fun and interesting game. It did seem to get the right feel for me of the difficulty of winkling Germans out of their strongpoints, while Graham as the Germans felt suitably stretched and under pressure from Canadian numbers and artillery for most of the game. The scenario justified its choice as we both had plenty of options and plenty to do, and it matched up pretty well to the shape of the actual operations. I expect this one will be seen on my table again some time.

I will revise the scenario a bit and then post it to the BBB Yahoo group as usual.

Anyone interested in seeing more detail of the game can find annotated photos in my Flickr album here.