“The damndest country I’ve ever saw”
Many of you guys know that the hedgerow countryside of France imposed a formidable tactical challenge to the American troops after the Normandy landings. The title of this AAR is a phrase presumably said by Gen. Bradley, referring to the difficulties this kind of terrain presented to the advance of the liberation forces.
This AAR is inspired in recent readings. The book “Closing with the Enemy” by Michael Doubler has an entire chapter describing both the problems and the solutions the American GIs came out with for hedgerow fighting.
The challenge of taking out an enemy defensive position in the hedgerow countryside is obvious. You have to drive your forces in an open field, offering an easy target to defensive positions located in the hedges in front of you. You have to be aware that in [this unknown game], the hedgerows are not modeled accurately. The real-life hedges were taller and harder to cross. Regular tanks were not able to cross them until later times (more on this in the next installment). So, during the first days after the Normandy landings, company commanders had to advance in across this type of terrain without tank support. In this AAR, I describe the outcome of a scenario I made to re-create and analyze the early tactics in hedgerow fighting.
The map used is shown in the figure, the hedgerow in the foreground is the point from which the Americans will attack a German defensive position located in the hedges of the background.
If you take a look to the map, there is a road in the left flank. For this AAR, we are going to ignore this inviting tactical alternative. I am only interested in portraying the terrible thing that should have been to advance in the hedgerow country without tank support.
As described in Doubler’s book, I will use the “early” infantry tactics, this is the tactics used before a device was attached to the tanks to allow hedgerow crossing. The plan is as follows: 1st Squad and 2nd Squad will assault the enemy defenses across the open field. A weapons team (mortar and heavy MG) will provide fire support and smoke. Just before the 1st and 2nd Squads reach the hedges, the 3rd Squad will follow alongside with the weapons team.
In this figure, you see the 1st and 2nd Squads (foreground). The weapons team is deployed in the hedges, awaiting orders.
After the weapons team start their jobs (support fire and smoke), the 1st and 2nd Sqds. run across the open field. I was surprised to see how effective the smoke screen resulted: the two squads advanced untouched by bullets all the way.
But when the two squads cross the smoke screen, hell breaks loose. My fault, now I realize that the smoke screen should have been targeted just over the enemy defense line.
The 1st and 2nd Squads reach the hedgerows in bad shape (5 KIAs, 2 wounded in the 1st Squad; 2 KIA, 1 wounded and 1 incapacitated in the 2nd Squad). They manage, though, to spread destruction and confusion in the enemy defense line. Note the German AT gun in the background, they don’t know that the Americans have crossed the defense line.
It is time to bring the 3rd Squad and the weapons team to the gap created by the 1st and 2nd Squads. In the next figure, they are seen advancing towards the enemy.
As happened just minutes ago, they cross the smoke screen to meet a horrible welcome party.
At the time the last picture was taken, the 1st Squad was routed and the 2nd Squad was broken. The 3rd Squad will have the job to clean up this mess until the rest of the company is called upon.
Luckily, the German defensive line started to loose morale and several MG42s cannot be heard firing. They must have routed. In this picture, two German soldiers debate where to rally (the Americans are advancing from the left, perpendicular to the road). Look at those tracers!
By the time the 3rd Squad has cleared this road, the Americans have suffered horrible losses (only one survivor from 1st, 2nd and weapons team). The 3rd Squad itself has 2 wounded.
In this other picture, a German soldier has decided to live another day and runs away from the destruction.
Just when the 3rd Squad has consolidated itself in the hedges, a counter attack from the left flank is mounting. The MGs that I thought have routed have intentions of reorganizing a counter attack.
However, they cower as soon the 3rd Squad fires the first shoots. Mission accomplished at last!
Conclusion: this was a horrible slaughter. 23 Americans have been killed. This is too much compared to the German losses (12 KIAs). Without any doubt, this “early” type of tactic had to be changed to preserve lives and material.
Do you remember this game?