We've been working on the premise for the second in a series of MP fantasy games simulating battles in England following a German invasion in 1940. Up next:
The Lamb and the Lion
General Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command, sat at the far end of the make-shift conference table, waiting for the explosion. Ten days of effort to push the Germans back from the outskirts of London had finally run its course, and the results had been lackluster. Ground gained had been quickly retaken by the Germans. Now “The Auk” was going to get a good thrashing, and he wasn’t likely to get much support from CIGS or staff seated around him.
Churchill, having spent some twenty minutes examining the latest situation map, at last slammed his fist on the table, showering those gathered around him in a deluge of flying papers, map-sleeves, “Action This Day” stamps, and broken pencils. “I cannot believe we are incapable of ridding ourselves of the blasted Hun,” he bellowed, his words slurring badly in an apoplectic rage. For two weeks they’d been trying to push the stalled Germans out of the southern suburbs. “Something must be done,” he shouted, and not a soul in the room could argue otherwise.
By January, 1941, both armies lay exhausted along a line that ran roughly from the south-London suburbs to Reading, dipping southwest across the Salisbury plain and into County Somerset before turning south to the East Devon coast. Both suffered extremely limited resources, the Germans due to their difficulties moving reinforcements and supplies across the Channel, and the British who were still suffering the loss of heavy equipment in France, followed by further losses during the early battles opposing the German landings and ground campaign.
In fact, however, the German effort in Britain was growing weaker by the day. The Kriegsmarine’s plans for protecting the Channel supply-pipeline had proven largely defective. The minefields sown at either end, together with the Luftwaffe’s local air supremacy, had done well to prevent intrusion by the Royal Navy’s heavy units. However, light units such as the MTBs, a number of British submarines, even a few destroyers, were routinely penetrating the belts to wreak havoc on German shipping. The Kriegsmarine had some success fending off the MTB threat and the few destroyers that dared show themselves, but their efforts to fight the submarines had been inept, at best. While great proponents of submarine warfare themselves, the Germans had demonstrated their ASW capabilities to be near non-existent. As recently as New Year’s Day, the submarine threat was clearly evidenced by the torpedoing of the German transport Pinnau, carrying stores and a number of Pzkpfw IVD medium tanks to Folkestone.
The Germans had other problems, primarily grand-strategic related to the incompetent Italian army’s near complete failure in the Balkans. The Greeks, having driven the Italians out of their northern highlands, had continued forward, pursuing Mussolini’s minions back into Albania. This they had managed without British aid, and Hitler now grew fearful of an Italian rout. He needed a wrap of the “English Problem” before he could clean up the Balkans.
Deep in his bunker below the War Office, Churchill had lost confidence in Auchinleck. He turned to Brooke, demanding that a blow be struck to push the Germans back from London’s outskirts. The CIGS and the General Staff, however, were rightfully cautious in their planning, and even more so in their execution. For nearly a month, they had watched as a number of local actions aimed at pushing the Germans back had ended badly, especially the recent counterattack launched at Feltham which had seen heavy casualties for the infantry and the loss of nearly 30 light tanks. They simply lacked the heavy equipment and the numbers necessary to fight in the built-up areas of the city’s outskirts.
Brooke weathered Churchill’s most recent tirade, instead arguing that it would be best to continue their efforts to hold the center (London) and attack from the flanks. He based this on the well-founded presumption that Hitler had sent the bulk of his troops and resources in the direction of the British capital, hoping for a knock-out blow. Actions elsewhere had shown the more lightly armed units along the edges were far more vulnerable. Brooke thought the chances of a breakthrough were substantially better there, offering an opportunity to roll up the German line, or at least force the withdrawal of units from those facing London.
He had hoped that Montgomery’s 3rd Division, the only full-strength division in the British Army, might have been available to launch a counter-offensive across the Salisbury Plain toward the southern coast, thereby splitting the German forces in two. Montgomery had fought a tremendous battle to halt the German drive north, and now looked forward to going over to the offensive. Churchill, however, had directed a number of Monty’s units be withdrawn for service elsewhere, not the least of which being nearly an entire infantry brigade moved to Northern Ireland in an effort to promote/assure good behavior by the Republic. The effusive Montgomery protested vigorously, but was overruled, left to resume a defensive battle against the Germans now once again pressing from his front.
The battles in the West Country had been epic, raging for the better part of three months. While far more mobile in nature, neither side had established much momentum, primarily due to the number of natural obstructions the British had done well to incorporate into their defense lines. This gave them the ability to channel German attacks, a huge advantage as they could choose their defensive priorities without being compelled to defend every yard of ground.
General Gotthard Heinrici, now commander of all of the forces comprising the westernmost portion of the German line, was still smarting from the rough treatment his units had received in the series of battles in and around Horton Cross. In December, he had established strong defensive positions there and redirected his efforts northeast, aimed at eliminating all enemy units south and east of the River Isle. Concurrent with this effort, he had established a number of bridgeheads for his planned offensive toward Taunton, Bridgwater, and ultimately Bristol. Told that reinforcements and supplies would be long in coming, Heinrici had a growing sense of urgency. By January, most of the British had been pushed north and west of the river, but there remained a small pocket of the enemy in and around Hambridge.
The Hambridge position was bounded by the River Isle to the north and the old Westport Canal to the east. But for the two highway bridges over the Isle immediately north of the town, there were no other nearby crossing points of the river. The only chance of escape or resupply centered on these two bridges. The Westport Canal, unused for more than 60 years, formed little in the way of a defensive barrier. Still flooded for much of its length, it did, however, offer some occasional capability as an anti-tank ditch.
Unbeknownst to Heinrici, Brooke had plans for Hambridge as well. He had designated the bridgehead there as the jump-off for a planned counterstroke in the west, and had ordered it held at all cost. To back up the effort, the CIGS sent a number of the relatively new third-generation infantry tanks (Valentine) into the pocket. German intel had observed this general movement of troops and equipment over the Isle into Hambridge and advised their HQ that it would be prudent to authorize airstrikes on the bridges, cutting off the British build-up. Heinrici, however, overruled any such action, reasoning that the bridges would be needed for execution of his own push north in the coming weeks, long after his planned liquidation of the British bridgehead.
If the bridges had been spared by the Luftwaffe, Hambridge had not. Loerzer’s 2nd Fliegerkorps had been ordered to reduce the pocket to ashes, and the village and the British forces in and around it had suffered a number of intense bombings with heavy casualties. For the most part, the civilian population had been evacuated, the town largely reduced to rubble. The Tommies that remained were now dug in, waiting.
In the days leading up to Christmas, the English winter had been temperate, little rain and no snow. Now temps were routinely near freezing, with occasional flurries. On December 27, 1940, Heinrici ordered General Friedrich-Wilhelm von Chappuis, commander of the 16th Infantry Division, to begin preparations to reduce the British bridgehead at Hambridge. Von Chappuis the ever-cautious Prussian, began assembling his men.
On the morning of January 9, 1941, elements of the German 1st Infantry Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, supported by armor from the 35th Panzer Regiment, conduct a recon-in-force, intent on (1) interdiction of the road south to Hambridge and (2) probing the British positions on the western edge of the pocket near the town.
Heavy overcast precludes air operations. The ground is frozen, offering good cross-country movement for vehicles.
The scenario is twenty turns long (approximately two scale hours).
A four-by-six foot table, running from the outskirts of the village of Hambridge in the southeast corner to the river’s edge just off the map to the north. Heavily farmed, the region features numerous fields bordered by thick hedgerows, intersected by narrow roads.
The British will set up anywhere on the table. The 1st Infantry Tank Squadron will enter the map on Turn 2 on the road south of Hambridge. The 1st Light Cruiser Squadron will enter on a variable turn anywhere from the eastern table-edge. The Germans will advance onto the table on Turn 2 from the western edge (with the exception of 1st Panzer Battalion Recon Platoon which will enter on Turn 1 using a variable entry location detailed below). Tilled fields are frozen, so no penalty for entry.
German Order of Battle
60th Infantry Regiment, 1st 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)
Unit 10 – 3rd Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 11 – 3rd Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 12 – 3rd Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 13 – 3rd Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Pzrb Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (3)
Unit 14 – 1st Panzerjaeger Platoon, Pzjgr IB (4)
35th Panzer Regiment, 1st Panzer Battalion Veteran
Unit 15 – 1st Light Panzer Company (HQ), PzKpfw IIIE (1), PzKpfw IIIF (1)
Unit 16 – 1st Light Panzer Company, 1st Light Panzer Platoon, Pzkpfw IIC (5)
Unit 17 – 1st Light Panzer Company, 1st Medium Panzer Platoon, Pzkpfw IIIE (4)
Unit 18 – 1st Panzer Battalion Recon Platoon, Pzkpfw IIB (4)
British Order of Battle
15th Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Tank Squadron Regular
Unit 1 – 1st Squadron (HQ), Valentine Mk 1 (1)
Unit 2 – 1st Squadron, Troop 1, Valentine Mk 1 (3)
Unit 3 – 1st Squadron, Troop 2, Valentine Mk 1 (3)
Unit 4 – 1st Squadron, Troop 3, Valentine Mk 1 (3)
15th Infantry Brigade, 1st Battalion, Green Howards Veteran
Unit 5 – 1st Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 6 – 1st Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 7 – 1st Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 8 – 1st Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 9 – 3rd Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 10 – 3rd Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 11 – 3rd Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 12 – 3rd Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 13 – 4th Company, HQ, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG Squad (1)
Unit 14 – 4th Company, 1st Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 15 – 4th Company, 2nd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
Unit 16 – 4th Company, 3rd Platoon, Combined Command-Rifle/LMG/Boys Squad (1), Rifle/LMG Squad (2)
44th Royal Tank Regiment, 1st Light Cruiser Squadron Regular
Unit 17 – 1st Squadron (HQ), A13 Cruiser (1)
Unit 18 – 1st Squadron, Troop 1, A13 Cruiser (3)
Unit 19 – 1st Squadron, Troop 2, A13 Cruiser (2)
(1) Determination of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment units' eligibility to enter play from the eastern table edge is determined using one D12 and the following table:
Turn 1 - Roll 1-2 on D12
Turn 2 - Roll 1-3 on D12
Turn 3-5 - Roll 1-6 on D12
Turn 6+ - RTR units automatically eligible for entry.
Once the 44th RTR units are eligible, they may be activated and enter the table at the British player's discretion. These units (17, 18, and 19) 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) German units exited off the eastern table edge may not be returned to play.
(3) German unit 18, 1st Panzer Battalion Recon Platoon, will enter on turn 1 using a variable location. Rolling a single d6, the edge location of entry will align from north to south 1-6. For example, a roll of "1" will require entry at the northern-most map-square on the western edge, "6" the southern-most, with intervening entry-points assigned similarly, i.e. a "3" would require entry into the third western map-square counted from the northern edge.
Germans are awarded 1 VP for each AFV, gun and infantry-type squad destroyed and 1/2 VP for each AFV/squad exited off the eastern table-edge.
British are awarded 1 VP for each AFV destroyed/immobilized, 1 VP for each infantry-type squad destroyed.