BOCAGE COUNTRY (ST-LÔ)
“The engineer waves his hand frantically as the nearby riflemen run for cover. As he pushes the plunger down, a section of the hedgerow vanishes into dust. While dirt clods fall amongst the troops, the tanks charge forward, hoping the TNT had done its job...”
The allies have successfully created a beachhead, and trying to maintain momentum, push further inland. The Germans, having lost the initiative, prepare to hold the enemy troops at bay, and with enough reinforcements, plan to push the allied forces back into the sea.
The French countryside is going to be the stage of many ambushes, and both sides prepare for a rumble…
Preparing for battle
A bocage-filled table simply means that we needed to think carefully about our deployment, as the severely limited line of sight hampers units covering each other.
AM chose the side that had the buildings, meaning he could move around my infantry but still have a good chance of having bulletproof cover without digging in. The objectives were placed as far away from each other as possible, which he expected would happen, but that also made his deployment a no-brainer. One PaK platoon in ambush, the other on the hill to snipe any tanks, and both infantry platoons on each objective, with the HQ in the middle, ready to rush towards and boost morale.
Well, isn’t that a surprise I brought a Sherman list to a Bocage fight he was expecting a horde of infantry, but he was now facing a “horde” of tanks. And with the bocage, we were looking at lots of cross checks. Deployment of my forces had a focus on AM’s left flank, but with enough tanks left to swing right if need be.
Slow and steady wins this race (turn 1 and 2)
The grenadiers are tense, and pensively look around. There is a distinct rumble in the distance, and that can only mean one thing: tanks. Lots of ‘m. A runner arrives at both platoons, and informs the lieutenants the hauptmann wants to have eyes on the road. Gathering up their gear, the german soldiers move out of their foxholes and quickly prepare positions in the bocage.
But just when they get settled in, a burst of machinegun fire rips through the hedges, and three Stuarts appear right in front of the grenadiers on the left! Keeping their cool, the germans lay effective fire on the small tanks, and force their crew out. Just after grabbing a few new ‘fausts, a Sherman crashes through the bocage and keeps on driving, perhaps not aware of the grenadiers in front of it. A short, smoky trail from the hedge connects with the racing tank, and after a dull crump, the tank catches fire.
The grenadiers on the right flank cross the road but run into a small group of British soldiers. Too surprised to react appropriately, they lose a few men before choosing to break off and return to their original positions.
----- AM wasn’t really expecting that much action in the first two turns, but I pushed my forces hard and aggressively forward. My assault with the Stuarts and single Sherman was meant to push my platoon back enough so the other tanks could more easily move up, but his defensive fire was ridicously effective, bailing two Stuarts and even destroying the single Sherman. Hoping to pull a quick punch,AM had moved his grenadiers on the right forwards to his infantry, since he would be receiving very little defensive fire, but I rolled exactly five hits, AM lost two teams, and he moved his infantry back towards my tanks.
Its back at me again
Surprise! ...did we scare you? (turn 3)
Distinct shapes appear near the center of the battlefield: more Shermans! Planning to cut through the bocage, the dauntless tank commander orders his platoon to get ready and move as soon as the infantry clear the minefields. The short respite is just what the Germans have been waiting for, and ambush the tanks with a trio of PaK40s! They score hits on all tanks, but the angle is clearly off and they don’t cause significant damage.
----- AM managed four hits on three Shermans with his PaKs from ambush, and then fail to make a single firepower test. Ups and downs, ladies and gentlemen, ups and downs. I did get my mortar team into the minefield, but the platoon gets pinned.
We got eyes on target! (turn 4 and 5)
Seeing the hedges densely packed with heavily armed Germans, the Stuarts pull back and get support from a squad of M10s. Maybe their 50cals could deal more effectively with the dug-in defenders.
Just as the first M10 peeks through the bocage, a ‘schreck missile streaks out and hits it on the underside of the turret, explodes inward and kills the crew. As the rest of the tank destroyers pull up, another missile finds it mark but doesn’t detonate, only scaring the crew, but the rocket glances with a weird angle into a nearby Stuart, punches through the weak side armor and sets the tank on fire.
In the center, the bailed crews of the Shermans aren’t sure enough of their surroundings to remount, while the nearby infantry pulls back, not wanting to risk the bulletstorm again. The observer, having successfully climbed the hill, gets a hit from a PaK for his troubles, but the hit glances off before being able to do much damage.
Further back, the ambush by the PaKs is just what the British artillery have been waiting for. The eager crew rush to load and fire their guns, killing a PaK and suppressing the grenadiers in the center.
The scout cars find their way towards the buildings and prepare to tackle the troops there.
----- That ‘schreck is worth its weight in gold. It earlier accounted for a Stuart, and now had killed an M10, bailed another and killed another Stuart. The artillery was now in play and a real threat. Would AM move his PaKs and have less shots, or hope to unpin and kill more tanks before losing more guns? After he scored a hit on my observer tank, and once again failing to roll firepower, AM simply had to wait what my I was going to do.
Time is running out (turn 6 and 7)
The British infantry are implored to clear the mines, whatever the cost. The tanks need to move forwards, and push through onto their objectives. It’s a tense few minutes, but enough mines are eventually cleared to have a safe corridor. But just as the brave men get ready to pull back again, the
Germans finally find their mark and kill over half of the platoon. The artillery exacts some form of revenge on the PaKs and grenadiers, but it isn’t enough to force them away from the bocage hedges.
To make matters worse, a platoon of StuGs and Jagdpanzers appear, adding to the British problems. The scout cars race around the outer houses, hiding from the arriving reserves, but suffer a casualty by a quick shot from a StuG.
----- With three dice for reserves, AM was guaranteed at least one platoon coming on, and with one left to get in on turn seven, He had everything on the table and could start working towards my goal of keeping the Brits 20cm away from both objectives.
Retreat and fight another day (turn 8 and 9)
The StuGs, Jagdpanzers, grenadiers and PaKs all combine to kill as many tanks as possible, succeeding in killing the Stuarts, two Sherman platoons, and the observer tank.
The M10s, having worked their way into a good position on the hill, let their presence known and destroy the remaining two Jagdpanzers. The scout cars, together with the remaining Shermans, take care of all of the StuGs, and only lose one tank for their trouble, and another one bailed. A good trade, and it looks like there’s still some hope left.
But that hope dies with the destruction of the last Sherman platoon. Grenadiers, armed with ‘fausts and ‘schrecks, clamber over the wrecked tanks, and undeterred by the few shots coming in defense, take care of a Sherman, forcing the last tank away.
With only one HQ tank, his scouts, M10s and artillery left over, the commander decides to retreat and fight another day.
----- Losing the StuGs was really bad, but it wasn’t a surprise. Caught out in the open, between the scout cars and Shermans, AM was hoping I would simply roll bad. But I didn’t, and AM lost his last true anti-tank option. But did he? AM had moved the remainder of the centered grenadier platoon back towards the objective on the right, and gave him the option to assault my last Shermans there. But despite the morale re-roll from the HQ, the Brits were forced back, losing a bailed out tank, and that meant not enough platoons in good spirits to stay on.
First of all, mad props to Phil for taking a tank list into the bocage! There weren't many failed cross tests, but still, you can do better without them. My grenadiers staying in the fight and holding out against everything was great, with the 'schreck team from the grenadiers on the left flank deserving a promotion.
When I lost my StuGs and Jagdpanzers (due to my own fault, really), Phil was still very much in the game, but then lost his last Shermans thanks to two rounds of good dice rolls on my part. It doesn't happen that much, losing a game because of formation morale, but I saw the opportunity and took it.
The funniest moment was when I popped my ambush. I hit four times, despite his tanks having concealment, but then fail to blow them up. Then Phil fails to get any crew back in again. Who expects that?