Counterattack at Horton Cross
By late August 1940 the RAF’s condition had been degraded beyond precarious. The grinding war of attrition in the southeast of England combined with a number of massive German fighter sweeps over London and the West Country had sufficiently reduced Fighter Command’s strength to a point where Göring’s forces could achieve local air superiority and OKH could consider a launch of Operation Seelöwe, the invasion of England.
Concurrent with the Luftwaffe’s campaign, the Wehrmacht, working with the Navy, had stripped western Germany of every available small-craft capable of transporting troops and equipment across the Channel and together with a small number of purpose-built landing barges moved them to various ports along the northern coast of France. Despite Bomber Command’s and the Royal Navy’s efforts to disrupt this movement of craft, as well their conduct of desperate raids of harbors and facilities along the French coast, by mid-September sufficient transport had been accumulated to launch the cross-Channel attack. After a period of anguished contemplation, Hitler gave his approval and the invasion date was set for Sunday, October 6, 1940.
On the evening of Tuesday, October 1 the German Navy had sent twenty-two minelayers into the channel to lay extensive mine-belts intending to wall off the Dover Straits in the east and a line in the west running from Swanage on the English coast to Omanville-la-Petite on the French. Air attacks on the RN destroyer bases on the Channel coast had significantly reduced this threat. Presuming they could defend this perimeter the Germans would have limited control of roughly half the English Channel. Two days later an attempt by the British to disrupt and clear a corridor through the western belt was driven off by the Luftwaffe and German destroyers inflicting heavy losses. Undeterred, the RN would continue the pressure while gradually moving heavier forces south from their northern bases.
With the eastern half of the Channel effectively “controlled” from Bournemouth in the west to Dover in the east, a series of pre-dawn landings were executed on the morning of October 6, primarily on the coast of southeastern England. Simultaneous air-landings were performed behind the beach assaults attempting to thwart British counterattacks by the few mobile forces available. By the end of the day the Wehrmacht had gotten the better part of five infantry divisions ashore at various points and had moved inland up to four miles.
Furthest west near Bournemouth landings were conducted by the 16th Infantry Division commanded by General Gotthard Heinrici. Despite an attack by Royal Navy torpedo boats which sank a number of small transports the bulk of the division was successfully landed. Encountering few beach defenses and facing relatively light resistance, the division, led by the 16th Reconnaissance Battalion and the 64th Infantry Regiment, was able to push nearly seven miles inland. Within a week, reinforced by the arrival of elements of the 79th Infantry Division, Heinrici had repulsed and/or destroyed counterattacking forces in his area and was pushing northwest toward Yeovil.
Through the spring and summer of 1940 British Home Forces under the command of Sir Edmund “Tiny” Ironside had developed an interior defense network sectioning the country into zones bordered by a number of lightly-fortified “stop-lines”. These were intended to halt or delay enemy advances, particularly those supported by armor, allowing mobile reserve forces time to come up and engage/destroy the opposition. These stop-lines were sited to take advantage of natural obstacles such as rivers, canals, soft or hilly ground, with inter-locking lines of fire with defined kill zones. Bunkers, pill-boxes, gun-emplacements, etc. were typically linked by buried telephone lines. Successful defense of the interior, however, relied extensively on the development of the mobile reserve. This languished under Ironside's leadership and by early summer Churchill and the CIGS gave him the sack, replacing him with General Alan Brooke in July.
The British Army, having lost nearly all of its heavy equipment in the retreat from France, was in a sorry state. However the Luftwaffe bombing campaign, primarily directed at airfields and aircraft production facilities, allowed nearly uninterrupted output from factories engaged in tank, small-arms and munitions production. Within two months nearly two hundred tanks had been built and sent to outfits around the country. Similarly production of the 25-lb field gun was accelerated and the first pieces began arriving at the Royal Artillery regiments. While most of the tank production was of types defeated handily by the Germans on the continent, the General Staff had opted for quantity over quality in the hope that a fully equipped mobile reserve could overwhelm an enemy force expected to have few tanks available.
For the Germans there was now an increasing sense of urgency. After twenty days their progress southeast of London had slowed as they ground relentlessly toward the great city and resistance stiffened. While they had destroyed a considerable number of British vehicles and formations, they’d failed to achieve a total breakout and now their own losses were growing. Now, with autumn upon them and the weather deteriorating, they were beginning to have difficulty maintaining supply as pressure by the Royal Navy was growing despite German air superiority over the Channel. British night operations were routinely broaching the western mine-belt to take a toll on supply shipping.
Things had gone a bit better for the Germans in the center until they’d run into Montgomery’s 3rd Division, the only full-strength outfit available to Brooke. Montgomery, having waged a brilliant campaign to garner a wealth of resources for his division at the expense of every other outfit in the country, had fought a series of vicious mobile battles on the Salisbury Plain against a force three times his size. Having halted the German advance, his attempts to push the blighters back had fallen short and now both sides soon ground to a halt, exhausted.
In the west Heinrici had been directed by OKH to press his attack west from Yeovil aiming to once and for all cut off British forces streaming south and east from Bristol and the western Midlands. With ever-lengthening supply lines and a lack of heavy equipment he'd made a quick lunge capturing the bridge over the River Isle on October 25th. However, two miles on whilst pushing toward the small town of Horton Cross he ran into a stretch of the southern end of the Taunton Stop-Line.
The line here was comprised of a small number of concrete pill-boxes, gun emplacements and anti-tank barriers, interspersed among a few infantry trench-lines and redoubts. Despite the small number of defenders and obstacles an initial assault by an exhausted battalion of the German 64th Infanty Regiment was quickly thrown back. Interrogation of a few captured enemy revealed the position at Heinrici's immediate front was held by elements of the British 15th Infantry Brigade detached from the 5th Infantry Division (most of which had been sent to northern Ireland), and a few units of Home Guard.
Realizing his men were at or past the point of exhaustion Heinrici called off further attacks for two days while bringing up what few reinforcements were available. Local weather conditions were foul, discounting any support from the Luftwaffe. He could wait another day or so to bring up the few batteries of his divisional artillery that had subsequently come ashore, but decided a second rapid stroke could break the British in their holes. With no replacements available he pulled men from the third company of the 2nd Battalion to bring the first and second up to full-strength. Among the reinforcements arriving were a platoon of the new Stug-IIIB assault guns and a few 37mm anti-tank guns. With these he was confident they could sweep the British aside allowing his infantry to press on toward the town.
CinC 1/285 Stug-IIIB
The British sector commander, a Major John Barton, sensing both the imminent resumption of the attack as well as the Germans' increasingly depleted condition, called for whatever mobile reinforcements might be available from the sector's reserves. Having handily repulsed the German attack two days earlier, the men's morale was good. Barton had some concerns about the Home Guard but they'd performed adequately during the previous action. During the evening of the 27th a mixed troop of A9/A10 cruisers and a second troop of A13’s took up positions just east of Horton Cross, a quarter mile behind Barton’s line.
On the morning of October 28, 1940, elements of the German 2nd Infantry Battalion, 64th Infantry Regiment, together with a battery from the 16th Anti-Tank Battalion and an attached independent battery of Stug-IIIB assault guns launched an attack on dug in and fortified positions of 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, supported by two platoons of the 42nd Royal Tank Regiment. This action is just one of a number of attacks launched by the German 16th Infantry Division this day, in and around the village of Horton Cross in County Somerset.
Low cloud blotted the sun from the morning sky precluding air attacks. A light rain had been falling for two days.
The scenario is fifteen turns long (approximately ninety minutes, but this may be lengthened on the first play-through depending upon the action).
A pillbox of a type employed on this version of the Taunton Stop Line. For this action these pillboxes will house a re-purposed 6-inch Mk VII naval gun of WWI vintage, as was frequently the case historically.
As this is primarily an infantry action with less than a dozen AFV's available, an effort was made to keep the action compressed by using a small table of just nine square feet:
The British will set up their positions anywhere on the western and central rows of squares. British armor will enter from the western table edge on a variable turn. The Germans will advance onto the table on Turn 1 from the eastern edge. Tilled fields are saturated to such an extent so as to prohibit the entry/movement of armor.
German Order of Battle
64th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion Veteran
Unit 1 – Battalion HQ, Command Stand (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3), 81mm Mortar Squad (1) (attached)
Unit 2 – 1st Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 3 – 1st Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 4 – 1st Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 5 – 1st Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 6 – 2nd Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 7 – 2nd Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 8 – 2nd Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 9 – 2nd Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Sturmartillerie Abteilung 665
Unit 10 – Batterie C (reduced), Veteran, Command Stug-IIIb (1), Stug-IIIb (3)
16th Anti-Tank Battalion
Unit 11 – Batterie D, Veteran, ATG Pak 35/36, 37mm (3), Lt. Truck (3)
Sturmgeschütz IIIB, the second variation of the German assault gun based on the Pzkpfw III chassis.
British Order of Battle
42nd Royal Tank Regiment, 1st Light Cruiser Squadron Regular
Unit 1 – 4th Light Cruiser Troop, A-13 (3)
Unit 2 – 5th Light Cruiser Troop (ad hoc), A-9 (2), A-10 (2)
15th Infantry Brigade, 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Regular
Unit 3 – 1st Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 4 – 1st Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 5 – 1st Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 6 – 1st Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 7 – 4th Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 8 – 4th Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 9 – 4th Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 10 – 4th Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Home Guard, Ilminster Green
Unit 11 – Battery A, BL 6” Mk VII (VIII) in Concrete Box (2), Vickers MMG in Concrete Box (2)
Cruiser Tank Mk I (A9). The Cruiser Tank Mk II (A10) was a slightly up-armored improvement of the Mk I, but without the auxillary MG turrets. Both served in France and carried on through the early days in the Western Desert.
Cruiser Tank Mk III (A13), a high-speed replacement for the Mk I/II (A9/A10). It had a top-speed of 30 mph as compared to 16 mph for the Mk II. Served in France and the Western Desert.
(1) Determination of the 42nd Royal Tank Regiment units' eligibility to enter play from the western table edge is determined using one D12 and the following table:
Turn 1 - Roll 1-2 on D12
Turn 2-3 - Roll 1-3 on D12
Turn 4-5 - Roll 1-6 on D12
Turn 6+ - RTR units automatically eligible for entry.
Once the RTR units are eligible they may be activated and enter the table at the British player's discretion. Units are not obligated to enter and may be held off-table for later activation/entry. A single die-roll is made for the entire RTR contingent.
(2) Any vehicle entering a tilled field for any reason is immediately immobilized and abandoned. Such immobilized vehicles count as destroyed for VP purposes.
(3) British redoubts and pillboxes may not be deployed on the road.
(4) The four-emplacement Home Guardsmen are not required to be sited within two inches of each other. Historically the bunkers/redoubts of the stop-line were equipped with buried telephone cables linking positions for communication purposes, theoretically providing unit cohesion/coordination without LOS requirements.
Germans are awarded 1 VP for each AFV, gun and/or pillbox destroyed/immobilized, 1 VP for each infantry-type squad destroyed and 1/2 VP for each AFV/squad exited off the western table-edge.
British are awarded 2 VP for each AFV destroyed/immobilized, 2 VP for each infantry-type squad destroyed.