Pffffffffffffffffff Pffffffffffffffffffffffff (Blows dust off microphone) "Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there?")
Whew, life got in the way there for a while, in a mostly good sense. Work's been busy but largely happy. If you ask nicely, I may post the photos of me and Mrs. Padre at our Oktoberfest mess dinner. I took a break from wargaming when I bought the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown game for PS3 and have been battling aliens and saving the earth pretty steadily for the last month. I played both the XCOM games back in the 1990s when they were 18bit PC games and loved them, so this has been a nostalgia trip for me. But I've been missing Real Wargaming
It's been a while since I took out my 20mm WW2 figures, so in early November I set up a game using both the excellent Platoon Forward campaign scenario generator and Too Fat Lardies' small unit skirmish rules, Troops, Weapons & Tactics, and have been noodling away at it a turn or so a day. I revisited my callow French Canadian character, Lt. Denis Audet of Quebec's Regiment de la Chaudiere. The last game I described here was back in March, when Audet and his men of Les Chauds' No 18 Platoon had been ambushed in Normandy while escorting a road move to pick up some German prisoners. That left the platoon much depleted, left Audet stuck with a difficult relationship with his platoon sergeant, and left a blot on the good record that he had been developing since DDay.
Once again the dice were not kind to Audet, putting him on the defensive in Platoon Forward Scenario Card O, Defence Against A Raid. As I fleshed out the situation, No 18 Platoon had been assigned a sector of the line to hold while they recovered after the ambush debacle two days before. German opposition is building, and Brigade has identified several enemy formations, including leg infantry, and grenadiers belonging to 21st and 12SS Panzer Divisions. Sgt. Beaulieu has returned to duty after a bad experience in the ambush. 18 Platoon is holding a series of foxholes and fighting positions on the edge of an orchard, facing German positions in some light hills on the far side of farmers' fields. So here, dear readers, is the story of Audet's Orchard.
Normandy, 10 June, 06:30hrs.
Denis Audet sipped his tepid and evil tasting instant coffee from a tin mug and watched the mist clearing to his front. Most of the Chauds didn't care for the tea that their Anglo comrades seemed to prefer, and made do with the instant coffee that sometimes came in their compo rations. He considered going back to Company HQ and making another plea to Major Charpentier for replacements. It was simply unfair to expect him to hold this piece of line with the few men he had left to him.
A birds' eye view of the battlefield. Note my spiffy new grain fields, as described in an earlier post.
Canadian initial dispositions. On the bottom left, on top of the blind, Lt. Audet (Lvl 3 Big Man) with his radioman and 4 surviving riflemen from Section 2. In the centre are the two surviving members of Section 2 Bren team with Section 2 commander, Cpl. Côté (Lvl 2 BM). In the centre, at the Canadian table edge, are the four surviving members of Section 1 with their commander, Cpl. Legros(Lvl 2 BM) organized as a Bren team and also equipped with a PIAT. In the At the top right,in the orchard partially surrounded by the broken stone mall, are the seven men of No 3 section (3 man Bren team, 4 man rifle team). The Bren team is led by the 3 Section commander, Cpl. Matthieu (Lvl 2 BM), while the rifle team are led by the No 18 Platoon Sergeant, Sgt Beaulieu (Lvl 3 BM). The Canadians are blessed with decent Big Men but are very short on troops (only 17!). The Canadians are classed as Average troops. Audet's ace in the hole is a Sherman tank from the Fort Garry Horse parked near Legros and his men as a reserve.
Audet was mentally composing his speech to the Major when one of his troops blanched and pointed towards the hills across the fields from their foxholes. "C'est un char!" The handful of riflemen were discarding their tin cups and breakfasts, and hastily buckling the straps of their steel helmets. Audet turned to Private Delisle, one of the 2 Section rifle men. "Go alert the tank and tell Cpl Legros to come forward." Delisle nodded nervously, scrambled out of his foxhole, and began trotting back down the orchard path. Audet noticed that he had forgotten his Lee Enfield.
Above, a storm of German blinds emerges from the woods and begins pouring towards the Canadian positions. As per the Platoon Forward scenario, the axis of attack is randomized, and some of those blinds could be nothing but the imgainations and fears of the nervous soldiers. The German STUG assault gun was rolled as an AT gun, but I changed it to a STUG, which seemed to make more sense on the assault. Besides, the model is relatively new (I honestly can't recall what make it is, possibly DRAGON, as I recall that it was quite fiddly to make). The German mission is a prisoner snatch. A German platoon from 21 Panzer has been ordered to identify the Canadian unit in its regimental AOR and hopefully capture some for interrogation. The German troops are also classed as Average for this scenario.
Pte Delisle did his job, dashing back to the Fort Garrys who were standing about their tank drinking coffee. Fortunately the Sherman crew are from the French speaking St. Boniface neighbourhood of Winnipeg and have no trouble understanding the Chauds. The Sherman rumbles forward and catches a German section maneuvering forward in the lane between the two fields. The tank coax opens up on them, along with Cpl. Côté's Bren gun team. Two Germans drop, and the rest scamper through the hedge and away from the bullets.
Above, more German blinds move aggressively to the hedge across the road from the Canadian positions, but they have not spotted any of the Chauds. The STUG takes up a position in the middle of the road, ready to rake the orchard with MG fire. The STUG and the Shermans don't have lines of sight to one another.
Audet heard the engine of the Sherman and seconds later heard it's machine gun open up, along with the thudthudthud of Côté's Bren. That was encouraging but now a full section of German infantry were rushing forward, evidently emboldened by their supporting assault gun. It was clear to Audet that the Germans had not yet spotted him and his handful of infantry, and he was grateful that he'd insisted on his men refreshing their concealment at stand to an hour ago. "Ready grenades! Now!" No sooner had he tossed his own grenade, an awkward overhand throw, then Audet snatched up his Sten gun and started spraying. The Germans panicked, dismayed as the NCO leading them was tossed backwards by a bursting grenade, falling in a flayed heap. With two of their number down, the rest of the German section fell backwards. Audet and his few men had one a reprieve, but the STUG had seen them and was pivoting on one track. A second later, a massive sound, and Audet was half buried from the dirt of an HE explosion yards from his foxhole. This was not good.
German section roughly handled. Because they had not spotted Audet's men, and Audet had reserved his dice, they got the shot in before the melee. The fluke killing of the German Big Man alone explains Audet's survival.
Two of his sections had been checked, but the German officer (a lvl 3 BM) kept his calm and as the German blinds came up they got lucky as their identities were rolled. An MG42 team set up and returned fire on Coté's Bren team, and the Canadian corporal slumped to the ground, badly wounded. To make matters worse, the next German blind was a small group of tank hunters, who used the cover of the hedge opposite the road to line up on the Sherman and fire a lucky shot, hitting the turret and beginning a huge fire. The surviving crew bailed out and fearing an explosion, fell back, joined by the two Chauds dragging their wounded Corporal. On Audet's right flank, a German LMG team had infiltrated the orchard and was keeping him and his men pinned down. Miraculously Pte Delisle sprinted back through the bullets and fell into Audet's foxhole. "Ton fusil", Audet said, pointing to man's forgotten Enfield.
The Sherman burns, a bitter sight for the handful of the Chauds trying to hang on.
On the right, it was all hell for Sgt Beaulieu and 3 Section. They had managed to repel a rush of German infantry, leaving four sprawled in the road before their position, but the return fire, along with the HMG that had silenced Coté. was ripping them apart. Cpl. Matthieu was shot in the head and was clearly dying, while two of his Bren team and a rifleman were down. Beauleiu was working the bolt of his rifle like a mad man, and was exhausting his profanities as fast as his ammo. The survivors of 3 section were shaken, but for now the Germans semmed to have no appetite for another rush.
Beaulieu and his few men grimly hang on behind the stone wall as casualties mount.
For Audet and his five men, the foxholes were all that was keeping them from death, singing over them in the form of countless Spandau rounds. Audet's signaller had abandoned his radio, which was covered with dirt, and was cowering with his hands over his head like the others. Audet thanked the Blessed Virgin that the German assault gun had not moved forward to crush their foxholes under its treads, but its cautious commander might soon get that idea. Sensing a brief lull, he gave the command to fall back. As the Canadians emerged from their holes, more bullets began to fly but miraculously, only one man fell. The remainder fled, shedding rifles, helmets, and packs.
"Men, come back!" Audet's men flee the table. Look at all those shock dice! That's an epic amount of shock, 24+ points. There was a question in my mind as to whether Audet would share the shock, or whether as a Big Man he'd be immune to it. I decided in his favour, but now I'm not so sure that was the right call.
By this point the game was pretty much a done deal. The only thing that spared the Canadians was a good run of cards, preventing the STUG from moving forward and denying the two surviving German Big Men much chance to rally their men and lead them forward. By the same token, the cards pretty much froze Audet's reserve section in place. Cpl. Legros and the four men of 1 Section had managed a shot on the STUG without being spotted, since the PIAT round missed. Otherwise the cards left them out of the battle, no doubt skulking in cover. Audet fell back on them, and ordered Legros to set up the Bren on the table edge to cover the withdrawal of the survivors. Using his one time Heroic Commander card, Audet raced forward to the stone wall on the left of the position, to find Sgt. Beaulieu and tell him to get the hell out of it. Beaulieu and his two remaning men were happy to comply, but unfortunately were pushed too hard by the now advancing Germans to save their wounded.
German panzergrenadiers, their numbers much depleted, push forward to the wall held, until recently, by Sgt. Beaulieu and his men.
By the time the German infantry had rallied and linked up wkith their STUG, the Canadians had fallen back through the orchard and broken contact. However the Germans achieved their aims, capturing one of Beaulieu's wounded riflemen who could be carried back on a litter for interrogration. The Canadians left four others dead or dying, not counting the dead tank commander and gunner. German casualties were around a dozen.
Now that the STUG commander has his infantry support, he's finally willing to push into the orchard, but the birds have flown.
Poor Audet is not looking forward to reporting to Major Charpentier. He has lost his position, his armour support, his platoon radio, a Bren gun and has several men without arms and accoutrements. The muster is as follows: Lt. Audet Pte. Lanois (signaller minus radio) Platoon Sergeant Beaulieu Section 1 Cpl. Legro Bren/PIAT team: 4 men Section 2 Cpl. Côté seriously wounded Bren team: 2 men Rifle team: 3 men Section 3 Cpl. Matthieu either dead or seriously wounded and captured Bren team: 1 man Rifle team: 2 men
I continue to enjoy the Platoon Forward experience. I've become attached to Audet after several battles, and it hurts to see his platoon whittled away, but such was the lot of many an infantry battalion in Normandy. Honestly, I didn't expect him to survive this fight. He got lucky killing the NCO of that German section, because otherwise they would have rolled right over the Canadians in the melee, and he got lucky again when the cards never came up for the STUG, which was quite prepared to crush them in their foxholes. He got lucky a third time when he survived a hail of lead as they fell back from their position. Will his luck continue?
Will his career continue? Audet has an abrasive personality and is seen as a glory hound by many in the battalion, but he has been a brave and aggressive commander thus far in the Normandy campaign. It may be that the high attrition suffered since DDay will see him sent to command another, leaderless platoon, and either 18 Platoon will be broken up or rebuilt. Hopefully it won't be another five months before you get another report. Many thanks for reading! Mike