Americans: Jack O'Quin
Germans: Jim Martin
Americans: Jack O'Quin
Germans: Jim Martin
Jim Martin and I played this scenario from the new Action Pack 4 at the Austin game day last Saturday.
For me, the appeal of this scenario is as an introduction to bocage rules [B9.5] and tactics. The date is 17 June, 1944, when the allies are trying to cope with the unanticipated difficulties of that uniquely Norman terrain feature. No special equipment, like the Cullen "rhino" device, was available yet. Instead, the US player must choose two of four support elements: assault engineers with four demo charges, three .50-cal heavy machine guns, two modules of 100+mm OBA, or a pair of M4 Sherman tanks. Making those choices and then figuring out how to use them mirrors in ASL terms the challenge facing Allied infantry commanders.
That was exactly what I wanted to do, so Jim graciously let me take the Americans. I chose the assault engineer and armor support groups. By SSR, those engineers can breach bocage hex-sides with DC using the B23.711 row house rules. I figured that was a good way to get armor though the hedgerows. The Americans only have six turns to take three of the four stone buildings, so they need to move quickly, which is hard to do in the bocage. The .50-cal machine gun support group, would provide lots of firepower, but lines of sight are short and those guns would move slowly in this terrain. Similarly, I figured the OBA would take too long to call in and might get in my own way during a close-range battle.
I gave two of the four DC's to 8-0 and 7-0 leaders, taking advantage of their faster movement. Then, in the turn one RPh, I recombined a pair of 347 assault engineer half-squads into a 667, with smoke exponent 5.
Jim's setup was strong in the middle along hex row Q, where boards 55 and 54 meet. The six-squad German force can't be strong everywhere. Since it looked somewhat weaker on my right flank, I decided to make my main attack there.
Jim had a 467 squad defending the 54R1 stone building, at the front left edge of the German setup area. The Americans took it in turn one using the engineer halftrack to VBM freeze the squad, then running a strong infantry platoon and one of the tanks up behind it. The defending 467 broke in the AFPh, but was able to route to the woods behind, because there were no Americans in position to interdict the row Q road. I sent another platoon along the opposite board edge to threaten the 55P8 stone building. A 60mm mortar and one of the tanks took up overwatch positions along the row V hedges, while a third platoon closed on the 54T3 wooden building. The 667 advanced into 54S4, gaining Wall Advantage and then concealment [B9.55] behind that corner of the central bocage field.
In German turn one Prep Fire, the 81mm mortar opened fire from its HIP location in Q6. Technically, it should have been revealed when my 667 in S4 gained WA in the previous APh, but that didn't matter. We were both becoming more familiar with the peculiarities of bocage while playing. I was lucky the mortar needed to change covered arc: although Jim rolled a hit, the colored die of 3 did not maintain ROF due to NT CA change penalties [C2.5]. My squad survived the ensuing 8+1 on the IFT, and was very happy not to get more of the same.
Jim's mortar placement totally surprised me, but it really makes good sense. Although generally one of the most powerful weapons in the ASL arsenal, short lines of sight make it hard to use in this scenario. The level one board 55 hills are all completely blocked by woods, bocage and in-season orchards, so the usual sites are worthless. The board 55 road from I4 to Q8 is an obvious possibility. But, with ROF 3, a minimum range of 2 hexes and bocage TEM of only +1 against indirect fire, this mortar can make almost any bocage field difficult for infantry to approach.
In turn 2, an American tank placed WP smoke on the road in Q8, where the drift would cover Jim's mortar. By SSR, there is a mild breeze from the east, making this tactic more effective. My 667 skulked back to the T3 building to avoid getting smashed in defensive fire before the smoke could drift in the AFPh. Defensive fire from the 467/LMG in R5 caused a morale check, but the 667 rolled a 2, became fanatic and created a hero. The 7-0 passed his DC to the hero, and they advanced back into S4 at the end of the turn, gaining concealment in the bocage against the 81mm mortar now covered with drifting smoke.
The American HT bypassed the woods in 55P1, VBM freezing the concealed unit there. To me, this gap looked just wide enough to permit vehicular bypass. Jim concurred, but I doubt he had noticed that possibility during setup. I recommend that both players agree on this crucial feature before starting, since it strongly affects both the American plan and the German defense. Looking at it again today with no Plexiglas covering the board, I now have doubts. Plexiglas makes the space appear wider, because one can see open ground underneath the counter from both sides. Without it, the gap looks too narrow.
American infantry on the right flank tried to cross the road in row Q using smoke grenades, failing twice, but succeeding on their third attempt. That last unit was able to assault move safely to Q1, then advance into 55P1, where the defender was revealed as a dummy in the CCPh. More infantry advanced into the row Q road, adjacent to the row P woods.
American infantry on the left flank closed up with the row R hedges. The large German stack in the P8 stone building held their fire, retaining concealment. But, American defensive fire eliminated the dummy stack in the P9 wooden building.
Since the German 81mm mortar was covered with smoke, Jim dismantled it in his PFPh, preparing to move back, only to have my 667 break the crew in defensive fire. Another stack retreated from Q4 back to the next field, while the 467/LMG continued to hold tough in R5. Unable to break the American infantry, it took some stiff return fire, but created a hero of its own on a Heat of Battle roll.
In turn 3, American infantry and armor poured through the gap on their right. The 347/DC in P1 double timed to L0, then placed a DC on the L0/K1 bocage hexside, successfully breaching it [B23.711] in the AFPh. The HT moved to M1 and the other tank to O1 in bypass of the bocage hexside. The center platoon moved into Q4 and P3, flanking the main defensive position and advancing into P4. The platoon on the left infiltrated into Q10, P10 and O10, flanking the P8 building. One 666 advanced adjacent, into the P9 building.
In their ensuing PFPh, the Germans in P8 finally opened fire with a 9-1, 467/HMG stack, breaking the adjacent 666 with a 20+1, but not retaining ROF. This squad failed its ELR, but survived and later routed to N10. Jim's tough 467/LMG in R5 advanced to S6, threatening to retake the stone building in R1, which was inadequately protected. Luckily, defensive fire broke them. They routed to T10, which was bad for the forward motion of my attack.
In turn 4, one Sherman moved to T6, covering the road leading to P8. A squad of the left flank platoon, moved concealed back to S10, then advanced into CC and captured the broken 467 in T10, which was unable to route away.
The right flank force moved up to threaten J3, gaining WA in J2 and advancing a conceal hero/DC into K3, where they were attacked by a 6 FP minefield, but to no effect. The HT moved to H3, where its machine gun could cover the road leading back to O8. The other Sherman moved through the bocage breach to K1 in support of this attack.
Jim's half-squad with PSK in the J3 stone building prep fired at my unit behind the wall in J2, but the backblast broke them, putting another victory building within my grasp. A lucky shot from the tank in T6 broke and casualty reduced the squad manning the HMG in P8, putting a third victory location within reach.
In turn 5, American infantry closed in on T6 from both sides. To make sure of this victory hex, the 8-0 placed a DC, killing the remaining defenders. Still concerned about the remaining German mines, one squad moved into O4 and did a Search, which revealed AT mines there, a good placement for the Germans.
Meanwhile, the HT did his VBM freeze trick on the defenders of the H5 stone building. US infantry moved adjacent. The hero ran from the K3 minefield to G5 and placed his DC in H5, breaking the defenders in the AFPh. The tank in K1 moved up to cover the road from I4 to Q8.
At this point, the Americans had all four stone buildings. Jim gamely counterattacked with the few remaining German units, but American firepower was too strong. At the end of turn 5, he conceded.
This scenario offers plenty of challenges for both sides. It looks tough for the Americans because they have a long way to go in tight terrain. But, the Germans have only a small force to hold them. In our game, the decisive moment came in turn 3, when a large American force broke through along the west board edge. That kept the Germans from falling back, unhinged their strong central position, and allowed the Americans to attack the J3 stone building a turn or two sooner than expected. Otherwise, they would likely have run out of time. If the players decide that 55P1 does not allow vehicular bypass, then the scenario looks even harder for the Americans.
With multiple American support group options, "Bocage Blockage" offers considerable replay value. There are six different two-group combinations out of four choices, giving a kind of rock-paper-scissors feel to this game. Should the Germans defend against armor or artillery? Things would go very differently in an attack using the artillery or .50-cal machine guns. But, I like the way armor and DC breaches worked together, and would be very tempted to combine those units again.