Sunday, August 7, 2011

Combat Mission Battles for Normandy - Busted by the Bocage - Breaching ... Stalling ... Failing

This is a continuation of a previous entry. I am commanding a combined force of US infantry and armor through hedgerow country in Normandy.

We have just cracked the enemy security zone, which by the way was just a HMG. Now we are leaning on the left flank of our area of operations and we need more real estate to our front in order to pivot right and roll up the enemy from his right flank.

After crossing the first hedgerow line (not shown in the picture, a few meters to the right edge in this), we found out that the second one (shown in this picture) was unmanned by the enemy. This is very good news. A US infantry squad looks through the hedgerows onto a plowed field.

Sooner than you can say "kill zone", enemy fire from the next line of hedges pours through the plowed field. The volume of fire is considerable and my troops are green. I order all infantry to keep their heads down. Platoon leaders close to check the lines ... The forward observer team moves forward.

The plan is to gain control of the terrain ahead of us through fire ... Just fire ... No maneuver possible other than to just walk into the kill zone. A mortar barrage will be called on the hedges across the field, tanks will break through  the close line of hedges, move into the field and saturate the enemy line with fire. Only when fire superiority has been achieved the infantry will move in.

Two tanks are just not enough for the breach and I waste precious minutes waiting for reinforcements. When the reinforcements arrive, the sight of troops and machines lined up at the two future breach points is reassuring.

The space is tight and this assembly area is an invitation for an enemy indirect fire mission.

After plotting the mission for the 60mm mortars, the forward observer team orders just a few  marking shots . It is not rare  to get indirect fire missions that are way off the target. The mortar fire accuracy is excellent this time and the forward observer team quickly adjusts the fire mission to a full blown barrage.

The enemy line is under fire, the time for breaching has come.

SOP for my armor is to breach the hedges, move a few meters ahead, draw enemy fire (if any) and then pull back behind the hedges. The enemy is still overwhelmed with our mortar fire and not surprisingly the two tanks used in the bridge do not come under fire.
Our tanks enter the kill zone, MGs blazing.
As the mortar fire wanes down, the tanks start to get sporadic enemy fire. A panzerfaust team (grey icon in the far background) is a continuous sore that refuses to go even with tank main gun fire.
The other side of the hedgerow. This AT team is getting into my tank crews' nerves.

The infantry is called up. Onto the field, gents!

The first platoon to step into the field advances forward, on our left flank, under the tight overwatch of the tanks.
Once the infantry moves ahead of the tanks, the tanks can still fire their MGs over the heads of the GIs without risking blue on blue. This is gamey. Only tank main gun fire can produce effects on friendly forces.
In order to move the tanks ahead, that panzerfaust in the background has to be gone. A new mortar fire mission is called on it (note the mortar round falling on it). Waiting for that mortar mission took me some serious time and our pace is slow: we are halfway through just the left side of the field.
Closing with the enemy. A completely demoralized German MG team on the other side of the hedges is neutralized by a US infantry squad. The smoke is from grenades. 
The plowed field is only partially secured. We just advanced on our left flank. The right flank is still not secured but strangely enough we didn't get under fire from there. A team of 3 men advances to scout a small gap in the hedges.

Nasty surprise! A scout team in the mid background walks through a small gap in the hedges at our right flank. An enemy machine gun is waiting, its bore thirsty for American blood. The top of the turret of a Sherman tank is in the foreground, rotating to deal with the new threat.

The gaffe costs us two men. But their lives save many others. That gap in the right flank was a death sentence for many Germans still manning a defensive line. We waste them quickly.

The gap in the hedges was a death-dealing flank keyhole for the Germans.
One of the three GIs has been spared his life but his troubles are not ending. An explosive, direct fire round explodes behind him as he tries to retreat back into safety. Confusion ensues ... an AT gun?

Where did that round come from?
The rest of the squad moves towards the hedges on the left flank and their findings are disheartening ...

Enemy armor spotted.
A Tiger dominates the field on our right flank.
As you know, a Sherman should never attempt to take a Tiger in a frontal engagement. That field that the Tiger is controlling is death ground. We shall continue our push through the left flank of our area of operations.

A new field enclosed by hedgerows ahead ... Rinse and repeat, forward observer team up!

The forward observer team plots a new fire mission for the 60mm mortars. Tanks and infantry await for a new breach.
And this is where the scenario reached its time limit. Doooooohhhh!

This scenario is being edited by a good friend of mine and I am just beta testing the first draft. I had a lot of fun with it and I thought of sharing the fight here. Notes about hedgerow fighting will follow soon.



Anonymous said...

what kind of heavy machine gun did "ze germans" have? isn't it just an mg42 on a tripod? if i am not mistaken it does not qualify as an HMG =)

Anonymous said...

sMG 42 is exactly 'heavy MG 42' in translation - it is a rifle calibre MG, but on a sustained fire mounting, and with sustained fire equipment* with long range optical sights - the heavy spitzer is longer ranged than the 'equivalent' NATO 7.62mm round used today from the M240/M60/MG3
*In this case additional quick change aircooled barrels, with the Vickers or MG08, water cooling.

Other rifle calibre HMG include the Vickers .303"

It is a modern 'reclassification' that gives the M1919, Vickers, MG08 & MG42 as MMG based on calibre, or the MG34 or MG42 as a GPMG based on dual use as an LMG (ie MG42) or HMG (ie sMG42)

Anonymous said...

well, thanks for making that clear :)
so nowadays an MG42 on a default bipod is a medium machine gun if classified on the basis of calibre? so an MG42 on lafette 42 with optics and additional quick change barrels is an HMG? nevermind the name ze germans gave it
can you provide some links where i could read a bit about this reclassification thx

Anonymous said...

It is a historical cause:
The original "MG" was the Maxim/MG08/Vickers types, of water cooled weapons.
During WW1 'light' machine guns were introduced - the Lewis, MG15, MG08/15 - some aircooled, others still water cooled (but lightened - slightly, and with bipod/light sled, rather than heavy mounting.)

At this point a distinction was made between 'heavy' machine guns, and 'light' machine guns. The distinction being in weight of fire - a Vickers battery was reported to fire 3,000,000 rounds in a single day, which is not something that similar number of Lewis/Bren etc could even dream of.

Only later did larger calibre weapons get introduced, and with the demise of water cooled HMG, the classification has become one based on calibre, with dual-purpose guns (with quick-barrel change and belt feeds) being GPMG, and then eventually just 'LMG' with the 'bren type' becoming SAW/Automatic rifles.

Stian said...

Great AAR, very interesting to read.
Those bocage fights are really hell, and especially the AT teams tend to dig in to the point of stupidity under extreme fire even.

Btw, you should use 'eliminate' not 'waste' when talking about killing ;)

JC said...

Thanks for your comments and the clarification on the 42s.

Lieste said...

Here is a 1943 US document referring to the MG34/42 as a multipurpose machine gun unlike anything in the US arsenal - capable of being used without a mount, on a bipod as a light machine gun, or on a tripod as a heavy machine gun.

Note that the effective range for the tripod mount is given as 3500m, compared to 2000m for the bipod mount - the difference being in mode of fire - telescopic sight, searching fire in indirect mode - as also used on UK Vickers MG (.303")

That it is now a 'normal' GPMG is a tribute to how outstanding it was a a concept. If anything the postwar change to 7.62x51 was a backwards step - the round is lighter, and carries less well to long range.

JC said...

Thanks Lieste for the clarification. Certainly better than the BAR, and I'm glad this difference shows up in the game.