Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign '45 West. PC game expansion pack. Game Developer: Lordz Games Studio. Published by Slitherine and Matrix Games. Download: $4.99, Boxed Edition: $14.99.
On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched Operation Watch on the Rhine (Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein), attacking a weakly defended part of the American line in the Ardennes Forest with 200,000 men and over 600 tanks (Panzers) and other armored vehicles. The plan was to break through the Allied lines to the port of Antwerp, cutting off four Allied armies and forcing the Western powers to make a separate peace with Germany.
After some initial German successes, the American’s stubborn defenses of St. Vith and Bastogne stalled their plans. Patton’s Third Army turned 90 degrees, attacked the German’s left flank and relieved the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne. The Wehrmacht never crossed the River Meuse and did not even approach Antwerp. By the end of January 1945, the battle was over and the Germans, for no gain, had thrown away their carefully husbanded ground force reserves and the Luftwaffe was a broken force.
After that, the Western Allies fought into Germany, breaching the German’s vaunted Siegfried Line and crossing the Rhine at Remagen. There was hard fighting inside Germany, especially in the Ruhr valley. After that the war was all but over. The Americans and British met the Soviets at the River Elbe and the Western leaders let the Russians pay the price to take Berlin.
’45 West looks excellent. The interface is clean and easy to use. The battlefield graphics are also nice and clear. No guessing if your unit is in a city, forest or in the open. The sight and sound of the explosions, gunshots, cannons firing, etc are all well rendered. The unit icons really pop off the screen and have some good details as well (the player can just look and see the difference between tank models, or airplane types). However, a minor nit to pick here, having the option to switch from the picture icons to the standard NATO unit symbols would have been a great option for some (of us) old grognards.
As an expansion pack, ’45 West follows the game mechanics of its main game. It is turned based, “I go, you go” (IGOUGO) game. The player selects his units with a mouse click, this click reveals the movement range and any attacks that unit may make. Before movement a unit may also be reinforced, replaced or resupplied. After the player has made all their moves and attacks, then the AI has its chance to play.
Units have ratings for movement, detection of the enemy, range and attack types. Different units have different abilities; artillery makes ranged attacks and adds its defensive fire to nearby friendly units. Aircraft can fly long distances to scout and attack ground units, they also fight other air units. Armored and infantry units may attack adjacent enemies, but the tanks move further and usually hit harder. Terrain affects combat; for example, infantry in the open are very vulnerable to air and armored assaults, but much less so in urban or forested hexes. As units are attacked or attack, their strength goes down, shown in numbers below the icon, as is the supply status.
Anyone who has played a hexed based PC war game would be able to play this game (or any of the other Panzer Corps games) with little more than a quick look at the rules and the interface.
The heart of the game’s concept is the “prestige points” system. Players are given prestige points based on the scenario’s level of difficulty. Taking victory hexes and winning games gives the player more prestige points, which are than spent to replace and upgrade units. However, losing units and scenarios is punished by the loss of prestige and the player is put on a path of harder scenarios. In short, losing one battle in the campaign makes winning the next one that much more difficult. With five difficulty levels (Sergeant, Lieutenant, Colonel, General, Field Marshal) finding the best one to challenge the player’s ability without raising their frustration level is not easy. However, the prestige system and the difficulty settings give the game a lot of replay value. Lose badly at the “colonel” level, dial the setting down and try again. Find the “lieutenant” setting a cake walk, go up to “field marshal” and see how you do.
Strategy? Yes. History? Not so much.
The AI is no pushover and is pretty smart; attacking when it can and retreating when it must, but it is no “Patton”. Generally, it will go after weaker units first and try to launch multi-unit attacks against single friendly units. But it rarely, if ever, does it seem to go for the deep penetration, or wide flanking move.
While the game uses the Western Front in 1944-45 as a template, its relationship with the units that actually fought there is merely a nodding one at best. The player has the ability to grow and then import a core set of units into the scenarios, essentially demolishing any resemblance to actual history pretty quickly. Not that that diminishes the game as a game, but if the buyer is looking for an accurate simulation of the Second World War, they should look elsewhere.
Panzer Corps: Grand Campaign '45 West is a fine and fun final expansion pack to Panzer Corps (or Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps). If the player already owns the basic game, then they know what to expect and this pack delivers very well on that expectation. With 18 scenarios at a mere $4.99, ‘45West has a high cost to play (CtP) ratio and is well worth it.
Score: 87% out of 100%
Dr. Robert Smith
We first got interested gaming wise in this topic due to the Khyber Pass Games simulation The Jewish War: The Zealot Rebellion against Rome 66 AD to 73 AD. The second time I got interested was when Gary Graber sent me Masada, one of his new Battlegame Books he is selling on Amazon in an effort to expand his gaming reach. The Zealot Rebellion was an attempt by Jewish nationalists to throw off the yoke of Rome in a war of national liberation. The end result was the sacking of Jerusalem, the beginning of the great Diaspora and the advent of a new Judaism. As we all know, Romans hated to lose. The final act in this rebellion was the destruction of the Jewish garrison at Masada.
The annals of history are filled with Epic Stands. But it is the epic last stands that most fascinate us. We try to imagine our ourselves in the beleaguered and foredoomed boots or sandals of those surrounded men. Some battles readily come to our lips. Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Brest-Litovsk 1941. Isandlwana 1879. The Alamo 1836. But Masada falls into a category unto itself, as it was both motivated by religious fervor and had not a shred of hope of rescue. The defenders at Masada knew they were doomed if the Romans stayed, despite the fact that the water cisterns were filled. The men knew their options under the Roman, that even if their surrender was accepted they still might be crucified. For those the Romans cared to single out, they would be crucified upside down, a particularly onerous method of crucifixion. Should they be simply "enslaved", their lot would be likely one of being worked to death as a galley slave or the mines. Is it no wonder that the Jewish defenders at Masada chose death to surrender? It is certainly no surprise that today the Israel Defense Force swears in its new armored soldiers at Masada with the vow "Masada shall not fall again".
On Amazon, Masada looks like a nice glossy book, and it is exactly that on the outside. What Masada lacks is components in the traditional sense of the word. Now this isn't unusual for Minden Games but it's something you should know up front. There are eight Combat Rosters one can detach from the booklet, eight maps of Masada that allow you to track various game events and turns and one Page of Game Tables. In sum total the booklet contains 58 pages of which nine are intentionally left blank. The maps and all the pages are black and white. So in terms of graphics or such, Masada is a bit old school. What you are interested in though here because of this them is the intellectual components, and those are rich.
Masada in sum has ten pages of rules. But considering the book is small in terms of dimension and much of those rules are detailed examples of play, they are at tops a total of twenty minutes to get through. They are well enough detailed that I did what I seldom do - not screw anything up. I played nothing wrong which is a yea for me. Masada has a series of different victory conditions that are simple and generally clear cut. By generally clear cut, that means if the Jewish game engine gets to the Combat Phase, every six rounds of combat they survive drives down the Roman Victory Points by one. And - the game has the kicker that the Roman player could by the game tables simply pack it in and go home early. Now that was highly unlikely, but the Roman besiegers did exactly that at Jerusalem in 66 A.D. for reasons that are still murky to historians.
Game play is as simple as it gets as you simply roll dice, consult the various Tables and move along to the next turn after doing the requisite bookkeeping. Masada is a game on the epic siege of Masada in 73 A.D. You as the Roman are trying to win as timely as possible. The game system replays the siege. The sequence of play is simple as it has an events phase and an action phase. Both these phases involve rolling dice to see what the Roman accomplished or how game events up to that point impact the turns die rolls.
In the Action Phase, the Roman is hoping that they get to place a ramp. Placing a ramp means the X Legion is getting closer to the plateau where they can assault the redoubt. What can also happen is the result ends up with you rolling on the Defenders Response Table. It's a series of simple calculations - add together the current Supply Index and the sum of two dice, comparing it to the current number of ramps placed. If the Defenders total is higher the result is simply no effect. HOWEVER if it is lower - urk...roll another die and compare that to the current Defender's morale Index to get your results. Upon conclusion of the action phase, you end that turn.
It is interesting to note there is no turn limit in the game as historically the Romans were committed to destroying this last resistance. Upon placing the 16th Ramp, the siege ramp is now completed and combat now happens. First though you roll to see if the defenders commit mass suicide (the historic result) or if there is a fight to the death. The combat phase can last up to 19 combat rounds. Each Roman roll of six eliminates a defender, and Romans roll first. There is no simultaneous combat where each side gets a chance to roll before results are implemented.
The system neatly handles the increasing Roman legionnaire presence on the plateau as each turn the Roman combat value increases by one to a maximum of 19. This means the Roman would roll nineteen combat roles for the final combat round. The surviving defenders roll with each die roll of six moving the Combat rounds forward by one. Each six combat rounds the defenders survive results in the Roman Victory Points being lowered by one.
Let me tell you this - when I first received this game in 2004, I tried reading it and gave it up because it lacked something. Nothing about it stood out, I mean come on now - no components or such and what was I to do really here? Fourteen years later Minden Games republished it and sent me a review copy and a friend who badly wanted this game was iffy about his copy after receiving it I forced myself to play it and was blown away. Seldom have I been so mistaken in my first impression about a game as Masada is simply aces for what it sets out to achieve. I found myself enthralled each game despite the mechanism being no more than rolling dice, comparing the results to the various Tables and moving to the next dice roll. Masada is truly a dark horse, and is simply a veritable delight for both the gamer who wants to play something or lacks time and the for the discerning gamer who is looking for that special, fun niche game.
Part 2 – Anaheim California, 12 August 2017
One group of dedicated historians are St. Crispin’s Irregulars of Anaheim, California. The second Saturday of every month the Irregulars meet at the Knights of Columbus Hall in the shadow of Disneyland. I invited myself to one of their gatherings, although “Hobby Day” is open to all and no invitation is required. Harmon Ward, the Irregulars’ “Keeper of the Keys," was happy to facilitate a special event to suit my particular purposes. Harmon is so much more than the humble janitor that his self-given title implies. In speaking with other Irregulars, I learned that since the group’s founding in 2004, Harmon had been the glue that holds the Irregulars together. He is also the person responsible for the club’s community outreach efforts and the architect of Mini-Wars 2017, the gathering held in Fullerton California on 30 September 2017, which would be the culmination of my journey.
I asked Harmon about the origin of the group’s name, and he taught me that “St. Crispin’s Day falls on 25 October each year.” It is a day made famous by the battles that occurred thereon. The Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific theater of World War II (1944), the Battle of Balaklava (1854) during the Crimean War, immortalized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem Charge of the Light Brigade and finally, the Battle of Agincourt (1415). The latter dramatized by William Shakespeare's "Henry V" which contains the famous "Band of Brothers" speech were all fought on the 25th. “So, the St. Crispin’s part of the name encompasses the arts and literature as well as history from ancient to modern” he explained. And the Irregulars? “That part of the name is a reminder of Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars and symbolizes the importance of youth and reminds us that we all have lives, and games are just games.”
I entered the hall at the appointed hour and found that the Irregulars had been at work for hours. The atmosphere was electric. On the periphery, groups of two to six concentrated on their games of choice; mostly military board games and science-fiction or fantasy card games. A few used the hot and humid Saturday to complete the most detailed and exact scale models I have ever seen.
I knew that the Irregulars planned to investigate a segment of Operation Market-Garden, fought in Holland during World War II between 17 and 25 September 1944 and did my research accordingly. Immediately, I recognized the large table in the center of the hall as a twelve by six-mile segment of the Dutch countryside. In my mind’s eye, I rotated the maps I had studied and the forests, fields, bridges, and buildings fell into place. The Belgium border was on my far right (south), and the approaches to the Veghal bridge across the Zuid-Willems Canal were to my left (north). The Wilhelmina Canal divided the table into two roughly equal parts along the short axis. The modern highway bridge across the canal at Son was on the far edge (east), and the steel drawbridge across the canal at Best (west) was to my immediate front. The main road ran north to south from the Belgium border, between the four brick buildings that represented the town of Eindhoven, across the highway bridge and due north through the Dutch countryside. This was “Hell’s Highway,” the single narrow road that the British 2nd Army column would traverse to link up with the American airborne and rescue the British paratroopers in Arnhem.
Next Harman introduced me to JG Randall, a retired United States Marine from Fort Dix New Jersey who would be the referee for today’s exercise. JG had emailed me a copy of the “rules” to the Fire & Maneuver (F&M) system which are his creation. I will expound upon the F&M structure later, but in short, I was very surprised by their brevity and philosophical nature. The document more of a pamphlet than a tree killing tome which most wargame rule books resemble. I did not see how such brief instructions could yield a realistic simulation, but I was wrong. I discovered, to my surprise that play was extremely fluid and realistic because there were so few rules.
During the noon break, JG would explain his thoughts on the relationship between the study of history and “war game” for lack of a better word, but that would have to wait. H-Hour had passed, and XXX Corps was still at the starting line. A British “Firefly” tank (a variant of the American M4 Sherman medium) and other lighter armored fighting vehicles lead the column and were ready to go. Beside them was a plaque which read “3rd Battalion Irish Guards Armor.” JG placed a single Mk. II “Dingo” Armored Scout Car near the front of the column, and shaking my hand said, “this is yours, Colonel.”
I had planned to observe, take notes and photographs, but that changed when I learned that the battalion’s usual commander, a retired English banker was absent. I could not help but remember the scene in the movie when XXX Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks announced to his assembled subordinates that his Irishmen, would lead the charge into Holland. “What do you think of that Joe?” J.O.E. Vandeleur (played by Michael Caine), although exhausted by days of fighting on the Dutch border, replied “Delighted.” I too was delighted to lead the Guards.
There was no time to waste the airborne assault was underway. At the north end of the table, I could see white parachutes and pillars of red and purple smoke. The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (506th PIR) soldiers were already gathering to attack a German 88mm gun position on the way to their objective – the Son Bridge.
In a field nearby, Waco gliders, with their nose sections pointing skyward disgorged, 327th Glider Infantry and their jeeps towing 57mm antitank guns a copy of the British 6 pounder. “Those are all Ethan’s troops,” JG pointed. Today Ethan Reiff, a Hollywood screenwriter from Brooklyn New York was 101st Airborne Division Commander Gen. Maxwell Taylor, whose objective was to capture and hold the bridges across the Wilhelmina Canal until relieved by XXX Corps.
I retuned my attention to the still idle British column and asked, “How do I start” “Just read the table and do what you think Vandeleur would do.” Then JG was off to intercept Kampfgruppe Walther’s commander, Frank “Bama” Patterson from Roy Webb Alabama, who was suspiciously eyeing the table where German reinforcements not yet available for play were located. Mark “Duke” Deliduka was kind enough to set aside the model airplane he was painting to be my deputy-commander and advise me on the particulars of the F&M guidelines. “Let’s get started Duke.” My deputy saluted, and XXX Corps stated moving.
The game sequence in F&M is very simple: Win Initiative, Issue Orders and Take Action. The first phase of every turn is to determine who has the Initiative, i.e., which side will issue their orders and resolve combat first, but the turn is not complete until each combatant has completed their sequence. The two segments are sequential in real time but are simultaneous in-game time. Except in certain circumstances, damage does not take effect until after both player’s segments have ended. The initiative is determined when each combatant rolls a pair of six-sided dice, and they compare results. Plus/minus modifiers are applied to the roll, as the game progresses, based on the running tally of shaken, retreating and destroyed units fir each combatant. For example, the German’s were slow to react to the airborne landings (subtracting from their initiative roll), but on the Belgium front, XXX Corps engaged the German’s for weeks, so no modifiers were applied. That being the case, Duke and I still won the initiative for the first three turns.
The next step in a player’s segment is awarding of Command Currency. In retrospect, I decided command coins are most intriguing and significant mechanism of F&M and having the greatest effect upon the realism of play. Another six-sided die roll establishes the number of coins a commander receives. Although any token will suffice, JG loves it when players use period coins, which add historical character to the game.
While every unit may fire or maneuver in every turn, but commanders must expend command coins to resupply ammunition, bring forward reinforcements, call in offboard artillery or rally shaken troops. Every unit makes take only one action unless a command coin is expended to double their rate of fire or movement. Additionally, commanders must allocate command coins to their subordinates, or their lieutenants will not have the means to complete their objective. Command coins remove the unrealistic “birds-eye” view element present is so many war games, i.e., the idea that a commander can accomplish everything they want in every turn. An F&M commander’s finite resources force them to make hard choices, the embodiment of imperfect communications and Limited Logistics. Both contribute to the “fog of war” atmosphere which predominates the battlefield.
In Turn 1, I rolled a “4” and used my four coins to “purchase” ten units of ammunition, call up a unit of mechanized infantry from a Grenadier Guards infantry battalion, and ordered my lead tanks, and half-tracks to move twice their normal distance (double-move) – two coins. Next, I Issued Orders to my units by placing green movement tiles on all the units in my column with the double-move vehicles receiving two green tiles to indicate their special orders. Were any of my units attacking the German, rather than maneuvering, a red tile would replace the green, but as yet I had not seen any. The final step before my segment ended was to Take Action. For the British in Turn #1 that meant consulting a single table to determine the maximum distance (in inches) that each unit could move in a turn given the type of terrain upon which it was traveling. We then used a ruler to physically more units one by one taking care to remove each title when the action was complete. With all the tiles removed from the table, my turn ended.
In the German segment of Turn #1, events unfolded just as they had in 1944. The quickly advancing armored column was stopped dead in its tracks. A Panzerfäuste (a German bazooka) hit the second Firefly in my column. Fired from the woods to our right-front, and the blast knocked out the tank and killed the mounted infantry. Then Bama shelled my column with 8.1cm mortar fire but fortunately to little effect. Turn #1ended when the Germans resolved their last action and picked up the tile.
I found the Fire aspects of F&M is a little more complicated than Maneuver, but still very simple and straight forward. A unit with a red tile (orders to shoot) place the tile on its target, and the distance between the two is measured. The attacking player refers to the Combat Capabilities Chart to determine attacking weapon’s Rate of Fire and Range Limitations. The former determines the number of dice rolled. The latter the number(s) needed on a 6-sided dice that indicated the target was hit. For example, at long range, a ‘6’ indicates a hit on the target, ‘5’ or ‘6’ indicates a hit at the weapon’s effective range and ‘4,’ ‘5’ or ‘6’ at close range.
Just because a weapon hits its target that does not mean the hit caused any damage to the target putting it out-of-action. A unit’s ability to recover (remain combat capable) is highly dependent on the target’s cover state. Each hit requires a recovery roll (a savings throw) to see if the hit caused any real damage. The Recovery Roll is carried out by the leader of the target unit. A single die is rolled for each hit, and the Recovery Table consulted. If the roll fails, then the hit causes a casualty, or, in the case of a vehicle, it is destroyed, which must be immediately marked with black smoke. I could see what JG meant when he said to “Read the table.” The colored tiles and white (gunfire) and black (explosions and fire) puffs of smoke placed on the table with each combat action helped make the tactical situation very apparent.
Still with the initiative in Turn #2, I rolled a “5” and spent that number of command coins as follows; I ordered the off-board artillery to lay a smoke screen in the field between the road and the German mortar, the lead tank double-fired into woods, called in artillery on the woods themselves, brought forward engineers to remove the burning tank and purchased ten units of ammunition. The dismounted infantry joined the lead tank attacking the woods killing the Panzerfäuste gunners. German casualties from the combined artillery, armored cannister, and infantry arms were so great that the surviving German infantry failed their Morale Test and deserted the woods for the open field. Bama would have to spend a command coin to rally this unit before it was combat effective again. The mortar fire was ineffective because of the smoke screen and Turn #2 ended with no XXX Corps casualties.
In Turn #3 a section of Hawker Typhoons appeared on station. I expended a command coin to order an airstrike on the forest on the east (opposite)side of the road. It turned out that there were no Germans in those woods. I’m glad I had opted for ammunition and reserves in the previous turns because I only rolled a ‘2’ for my command coins and had just one remaining command coin. There were so many things I wanted to do, but the command coin limitation was making me prioritize the logistics and the tactical demands of the situation, which is precisely what they are intended to do. This one game principle was making for extremely realistic play.
I used my last coin to double-move an armored reserve to close the gap with the lead tanks. My dismounted infantry passed through the woods on the eastern side of the road to clear the three-story brick building on the outskirts of Eindhoven, which looked like a hotel. In the bottom half of the turn, deadly accurate mortar fire rained down on the infantry approaching the hotel. One unit failed their Morale Test after taking heavy casualties. I never did prioritize the command coin necessary to rally this unit, and it remained shaken for the remainder of the game. The German 8.1cm mortar fire was directed by a forward observer on the roof of the hotel. I would continue to take casualties, although none vehicular, until Turn #5 when it shifted fire elsewhere because my infantry killed the Germans in the hotel. To add insult to injury, a heavy machinegun lashed out at the lead Irish tanks stopping the column’s advance once again.
I lost the initiative in Turn#4, but I managed to make limited progress nonetheless. Despite heavy casualties to my infantry, I had sufficient forces to overwhelm the Germans in the hotel. The infantry reinforcements I call for in Turn #1 were just now getting into action. If I had not heeded JG’s maxim to always have sufficient reinforcements, I would not have been able to clear the building. This turn, all three of my command were devoted to purchasing ammunition and bringing mechanized infantry reinforcements forward.
No longer harassed by mortar and heavy machinegun fire from the hotel, my column rolled into the town square in the first phase of Turn#5. I sent a Mk. I “Staghound” 4x4 Armored Car northeast along the secondary road towards Best. Just then my lead tank was hit by a Pak 40 (75mm) anti-tank gun firing from the field to the east of the town. Another heavy machinegun raked the dismounted infantry from the steeple of the stone church at the north end of Eindhoven. The German aim was surprisingly poor compared to the fire from the hotel, and the Wessex Division infantry secure the church by Turn #7 with fewer casualties. The XXX Corps tanks would then get back on the road again.
I had become so engrossed in the XXX Corps’ fight for Eindhoven during the morning session that I had completely ignored the 101st sector. After lunch, I gave command of the Irishmen to Duke and some late arrivals to the campaign and shifted my attention to the American side of the canal. First, I retraced the Staghound’s path up the secondary road from Eindhoven to the Best bridge. In Best, I found 502nd PIR troopers dug in on both sides of the bridge. The 502nd commander, Isabella Reiff and her high school chum Dave, informed me their men had easily overtaken the German guards, captured the bridge intact, with a double-move from their drop zone, and were preparing for the inevitable counter-attack. A few days ago, as I started putting my experience down on paper, I received an email from Izzy’s proud papa Ethan saying that she has been accepted to the United State Military Academy at West Point for the fall of 2018. I learned later that the German counter-attack came in the form of a self-propelled 4.7 cm anti-tank gun (on a captured French R35 chassis) supporting elements of the German 59th Infantry Division. The counter-attack on the American bridgehead was a piecemeal affair and easily repulsed by Izzy’s paratroopers.
The situation on the Best bridge was the biggest surprise of the day. While I expected the XXX Corps slugfest south of Eindhoven, I was shocked at the ease with which the 502nd achieved its objective. In 1944, H Co. 502 PIR, reinforced by a light machine gun section and 3rd Plt. C Co. 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion battled for three days before capturing the bridge. Even then the assault required an additional battalion of paratroopers to capture the bridge. This was quite a reversal events, but exactly the sort of alternative historical outcomes the Irregulars hope to explore. Seventy-three years ago, the Americans at Best experienced extremely difficult fighting because elements of the 15th German Army, retreating from the Scheldt Estuary in western Holland, occupied Best, but today the Germans had been caught napping. Lots of things were happening on the American side of the canal, and I was determined to get the low-down from the American commanders before the game ended.
I found Gen. Taylor resolving the last orders to his paratroopers on the in Turn #6. The general smiled and asked me, “Where is XXX Corps?” “Burning in Eindhoven,” I replied. Things seemed to be going well for the Screaming Eagles in Son with the 506th PIR troopers on both sides of the highway bridge. There was, however, evidence of a difficult fight with German half-tracks burning on both sides of the bridge and Ethan quickly brought me up to speed. After marshaling his paratroopers and glider infantrymen on their drop zones, the troopers in the 506th area overran the 88mm anti-aircraft gun position. The troopers then destroyed an armored reconnaissance half-track north of the canal with their towed 37mm anti-tank guns. “A lucky roll” took out the half-track on the south shore and the 10th SS Panzer Division troops failed their Morale Test and ran, almost unheard of for SS troops. The paratroopers completed a Coup de Main over the Son Bridge and spread out on the road approaching the bridge from the south, and Ethan was preparing for the counter-attack across the field east of town. I made a note to ask Bama why he had not blown the bridge. In 1944 the blown bridge had delayed XXX Corps for three days. I could not help but think of the scene in A Bridge to Far where the cigar-chomping Elliot Gould, playing the 506th PIR commander Robert Sink, is drenched to the bone as the Son Bridge blows-up in his face. I suddenly felt troubled. It had never occurred to me to order the bridging units onto the highway. If Bama destroyed the bridge, the Allies could not win a strategic victory that day, being prevented from a link-up up by Turn #10.
Bama had been crazy busy since the game began and I had not spoken more than a few words to him all day. He had had few subordinates during the morning session, which I’m sure was a contributing factor to Allies’ success to this point. That was changing; however, as several junior ROTC (high school) cadets arrived after lunch and took command of the German forces in Eindhoven and near the Best bridge. “Bama why didn’t you blow the bridge,” I asked getting right to the point. I needed to be judicious about my questions because I was not sure how much time we had to talk. “I didn’t have enough manpower,” he explained, “the American’s landed and crossed the [Son] bridge to fast.” “Well, what is your plan? The Americans have captured both bridges and XXX Corps is in Eindhoven,” I summarized. Bama issued a command coin to his new 59th Division commander and sent them on their way before explaining. His strategy was to drive a wedge between the paratroopers and XXX Corps by attacking across the field, east of Eindhoven and severing the highway. All the while, off-board artillery and the heavy machine guns in the church steeple would keep the paratroopers pinned down. Simultaneously, the 59th, with the help of the 4.7cm self-propelled gun would retake the Best bridge and then counter-attack XXX Corps from the northwest along the secondary road. Bama was on a roll, and I did not want to interrupt him, because I sensed that my time with him was just about up. I had to ask though, “do you have the troops for that?” “Kampfgruppe Heinke is small but very powerful being an SS unit. They roll a lot of dice,” and with that, he was off. Later in one of our many post battle emails, JG answered the question I did not get to ask. Kampfgruppe Heinke was a detachment of the 10th SS Panzer Division assigned to the newly formed and poorly equipped Fallschirmjäger Regiment 18 (Oberst “Colonel” Max von Hoffmann commanding) which was dug in along the Dutch border when Market-Garden began.
I thought Bama might be a bit optimistic. It seemed like he didn’t have the men or machines and that field seemed like a mile wide. A long way run, in the face of the, dug in paratroopers. I discussed this observation with JG later, and he reminded me of two concepts fundamental to F&M. The first is Exponential Scale, a seamless abstraction, which allows units with extremely short and extremely long ranges to appear on the same tabletop. In other words, the table top distance squared equals the real-world distance, regardless of scale. For example; a paratrooper, about to bayonet a German infantryman, is one inch apart on the table, which is equal to one yard in real-world. Conversely, if an anti-tank gun fires on a half-track fourteen inches apart, the range is just under 200 yards (14”x14”=196’). So, Kampfgruppe Heinke was only about 100 yards from the American lines. JG also reminded me that for this scenario he was using a 1 to 10 ratio, so each soldier or vehicle on the table represented ten. I had no idea what ready replacements the Germans could call up so; maybe the odds weren’t so long after all. I was certain; however, that XXX Corps would breakout of Eindhoven before the 59th would get anywhere near the town. I may have failed to bring up the bridging equipment, but I had given the armored spearhead plenty of tanks and infantry.
This afternoon felt like it was drawing to a conclusion and the German counter-attack had not even started. In Turn #7 Bama brought forward a StuG III self-propelled assault gun with a 7.5cm short barreled canon to back up his reinforced company of SS soldiers. He called upon off-board artillery to barrage the American lines, and the paratroopers waited. In Turn #8 the British infantry silenced the heavy machine gun in the church steeple, and the first Firefly broke out of Eindhoven. The StuG III double-fired on the speeding tanks headed for the bridge at extreme range but missed. A double-move by the Fireflies ended the game in a strategic victory for the Allies as XXX Corps linked up with the 101st before Turn #10.
On this Saturday in August 2017, Field Marshal Montgomery’s plan worked precisely as written. The paratroopers captured both bridges across the Willemena Canal and held them until they were relieved by XXX Corps. Assuming the 82nd and 1st British airborne divisions captured their assigned bridges, at Nijmegen and Arnhem respectively, the Irregulars demonstrated that the British 21st Army could have crossed the Lower Rhine in September and possibly ending the war in Europe by Christmas 1944.
Part 1 Holland 1944
In September 1944, British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery proposed a bold and daring plan to end the war in Europe by Christmas. Since the Allied breakout of the Normandy beachhead, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt’s armies were in full retreat. Relentlessly pursued through the bocage of northern France, across Belgium to Holland, the Germans showed no signs of stopping. But at the Dutch border, the Allied chase ended. Unable to draw their supplies from the liberated port at Antwerp, the Allied material was trucked, in great convoys from depots on the Normandy beach, a journey of some 200 miles.
Montgomery believed that a dash across Holland, into the Ruhr, the industrial heart of Germany, and on to Berlin would end the war that year. To support this single thrust, however, Montgomery demanded “priority of supply,” a request which the Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower was loath to grant. Monty’s single drive was counter to Ike’s broad-frontal strategy of pressing the Germans on every front. Giving the Briton priority meant denying the Americans, Bradley, and Patton, the supplies they needed to continue their assault on Hitler’s Western Wall.
As part of his plan, Montgomery propose dropping no fewer than three airborne divisions and a Polish parachute brigade at key points on the road from the Belgium-Holland to the Dutch city of Arnhem across the Lower Rhine. The paratroopers were to seize key bridges across Dutch rivers and canals, as numerous in Holland as veins and arteries in the human body, and hold them until relieved. In the south, the American “Screaming Eagles” (101st Airborne) were to seize road bridges across the Wilhelmina Canal at Son and Best. The 82nd Airborne would be dropped farther north and seize the Maas River bridge at Grave (pronounced Grav-uh), the longest bridge in Europe, and the road and rail bridges across the Waal River at Nijmegen. The “Red Devils” of the British 1st Airborne Division and the Poles received the prize—the modern road bridge over the Lower Rhine in Arnhem. This airborne operation was codenamed Operation Market.
Operation Garden, the ground attack was the responsibility of 50,000 men of the British Second Army. XXX Corps was composed of the Guards Armored Division, the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division, 8th Armored, and Royal Netherlands “Princess Irene” Infantry Brigades. Along with its supporting artillery, engineering, and logistics units, XXX Corps would proceed north along the road, linking-up with each airborne division, and cross the Rhine paving the way for a breakout into Germany.
The airborne operation appealed to Eisenhower. The newly constituted Allied First Airborne Army, the parent unit airborne units assigned, had been marooned and idle in England since Normandy. Allied planners were beginning to wonder how much longer the paratroopers would remain inactive. What was the point of training these elite soldiers only to deploy them as infantry? Ike saw Operation Market as the perfect opportunity to utilize this formidable airborne force.
Two days before Ike and Monty met at Montgomery’s headquarters in Brussels, Hitler unleashed his V2 rockets on London. Unlike the V1s, whose approach was audible, and which were easily shot down, the ballistic V2 plunged to earth without warning and far too fast for an interception. Allied intelligence estimated that the V2 launch sites were in Holland. These two mutually supporting objectives conspired to sway Eisenhower towards Montgomery’s plan, and the fate of Operation Market-Garden was sealed.
This series of three articles, however, is not about Market-Garden per se although I cannot tell one story without telling the other. Several excellent books have already recounted the greatest airborne operation of the war. The definitive work, is, of course, A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan (1974) which does a superb job of chronicling the operation, primarily from the British point of view. Ryan’s interpretation received popular approbation when it was made into a movie, of the same name, starring Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, and Robert Redford, amongst others in 1977. John C. McManus’s September Hope (2013) tells the Operation Market story from the American point of view as the subtitle “The American Side of a Bridge Too Far” suggests. Even the German perspective has received appropriate consideration in It Never Snows in September by Robert J. Kershaw (1990).
The central theme of this series is to tell the story of a group of historians who use their passion for wargaming to explore alternative theories and outcomes of history. Replaced by computer simulations and first-person-combat video games, wargaming, in miniature is not as popular a pastime as it once was but is still practiced in living rooms, basements and meeting halls throughout the world. Author Robert Louis Stevenson fought battles with his collection of “toy soldiers” in the attic of his home in Edenborough Scotland. Futurist H.G. Wells fought “Little Wars” in his garden in the London suburb of Bromley. Prussian Army Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reiswitz developed “Kriegsspiel” (German for war games) to train Prussian and German army officers in the early 1800s. American Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz once boasted that the Japanese did nothing that surprised him because he had already fought the Pacific war in miniature on the gymnasium floor of the Naval War College. Wargames are still very valuable learning tools, not only in Portsmouth but military academies and staff colleges all over the world, although computer programs have replaced, referees, dice rolls, cardboard counters and lead figurines.
A few words from
Dr. Robert Smith
Many of us at the Saber & Scroll have unique interests. For example, many of us like Norse history, others religious history and then there are those zany gamers who like military-political simulations. They range from board games, to PC games to interactive other types. We see ones, on say, the election of 1860, 1960 and my favorite, 1912 and the Bull Moose. But the current one is the Road to Moscow -... see the big hulking book by David Glantz on the table? While playing this short scenario, I made certain to verify certain aspects of this part of July 1941, the German pause of sorts or ok...they haven't collapsed so how what do we do. The post Battle of Smolensk battles were brutal as the Wehrmacht worked towards establishing a logistical base, as well as rebuilding itself for the possible strike towards Moscow.
So did the game achieve these goals? After reading both the German and Soviet operational orders and daily summaries of this period, as well as consulting several other books that's a resounding yes in my mind. It's interesting when a game or simulation reflects close enough the realities, for here the Soviets have many battered units that are remnants that must defend in place, while anyone who can must counterattack.