Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chain of Command AAR: Assault on the Chateau St-Come



Paras counterattack from the Chateau
Well, it seems like yet again the best laid plans have gone awry, and for the umpteenth time I’m offering my apologies for the paucity of posts over the last few months.
Life has been proceeding apace, and I’ve now finished my four year undergraduate degree, and am a few weeks away from being a fully qualified History/French High School teacher.
I’m presently on my internship, a 10 week block where  I work in a high school, teaching a full ‘load’ and getting involved in all the extra-curricular activities as well. I’ve been at the school, which is only 20 mins from home, for the last three-and-a-bit weeks, and appear to have been rather lucky in being allocated this school. The staff are great, there are loads of resources to use, and the kids are well behaved (on the whole J) and keen to learn. The only difficulty is that I’ve been allocated Geography to teach – a subject which I’d not even looked at (apart from the odd documentary) since I was at school, over 10 years ago! So I’ve been busy educating both myself and the students about topics as disparate as deserts, Australia’s physical characteristics and climatic patterns, and the issue of radioactive waste! Needless to say, any time I find which isn’t filled up by teaching and lesson planning is used to cram in as much knowledge about the topics as I can.
That said, Geography seems a rather interesting subject, and my cooperating teacher has been very helpful and supportive. It even seems like the kids might be learning something! I’ve also been able to get my history ‘fix’ by teaching some year 7 kids all about ancient China (a fascinating period by-the-by).
So, that perhaps goes someway to explaining my lack of blog activity over the last couple of months.

NOW, ON TO THE IMPORTANT STUFF!

What little free time which I have found over the last few weeks, I’ve been pottering along with painting up British paras in 20mm, and scratch-building a 20mm model of the Chateau Saint-Côme. I finally finished off both of these projects a few weeks ago, and have managed to get in a game of Chain of Command, the highly anticipated (and soon-to-be-released!) platoon level ruleset from the TooFatLardies. 

The rules have been made available for pre-orders, both of the hardcopy, tablet and pdf bundles, together with some excellent jump-off points, markers and some nice big Chain of Command dice to help you keep track. You can check some of the details of these deals out here over on the TFL blog.  These pre-order deals offer some pretty decent savings as well. I’ve been able to preview a few of the finished chapters, and the book looks gorgeous, full colour with loads of eye candy and useful diagrams. I probably should also say here that photos of some of my figures and vehicles are in the finished rules (which is rather exciting I must say!) 
The rules are available from the 21st August, so get in quick if you want to get the pre-orders! They're available from the Lardies website here.


Rich and Nick have done an amazing job on these rules, including some pretty serious proof-reading and multiple play test groups. If you’re interested in a WWII platoon level rule set that is fast to play, very fun, and presents you with real command challenges, check out Chain of Command, you’ll not be disappointed.

This is the third of my occasional series of AARs using Chain of Command. You can check out the first two here and here.


On with the After Action Report:

Assault on the Chateau Saint-Côme, June 10th, 1944

An aerial photo of the Chateau and surrounds, June 1944
Lieutenant Edward Rawlinson of 9th Parachute Battalion was exhausted. It had barely been four days since he had taken that first step out of the heaving Dakota into the darkness of the Normandy sky. He could remember the feeling of terror and excitement, and how his parachute had opened and he’d drifted slowly down through a black sky lit by brilliant flashes of tracer from the Flak. Four days it may have been, but it felt like another lifetime ago. Rawlinson had not been at the brutal and confused fight for the Merville battery. While Colonel Otway had led the battalion through the wire into the German strongpoint, Rawlinson had been struggling his way through seemingly endless fields, flooded by the swollen Dives river. He had finally reached the battalion on the evening of D-Day, having neither fired a shot nor seen a German soldier.

But that had been four days ago. He was amazed at how quickly he had become accustomed to the horrors and absurdities of war. As he trudged back towards his platoon position he barely noticed the shattered body of a German soldier which lay in the ditch by the road.

German patrols probe the para positions
His mind was focused on other matters. He was returning from an O group, where he had been ordered to move his ad-hoc platoon to the westernmost flank of the battalion. The Major had warned that a new Jerry unit had arrived in nearby town of Bréville, and that an attack was expected against his new position. More alarmingly, the sounds of Jerry armour had been heard earlier in the evening. Aside from the unreliable PIAT launcher, Rawlinson had no anti tank support. The Major had promised him the support of Sergeant ‘Moody’ Naismith’s Jeep. It was armed with a Vickers machine-gun, but that, Rawlinson supposed, was better than nothing.

Para patrols move cautiously
“Morning Lofty,” Rawlinson greeted his Platoon Sergeant, the aristocratic Reggie Threepwood. 

“Finish your brew, then best rouse the lads. We’re moving out again and I want you to take a patrol out to see if you can’t find what Jerry’s up to”

Threepwood nodded. “Right you are guv'nor, I’ll gather the usual assemblage of ne’er-do-wells. What delightful location are we to visit to this time, and shall I pack the golf clubs?”

Rawlinson smiled wryly. “No such luck Reggie, it’s back to the chateau I’m afraid. The Colonel wants to mask the place. We’ve not got enough men to hold it, but we don’t want Jerry getting settled in either. An observer or sniper up there could cause us rather a lot of bother.”
German grenadiers form up for the attack
Threepwood nodded again, downed the last of his tea and headed off to assemble his patrol.

Rawlinson stared off into the darkness in the general direction of the imposing Chateau. Rumour was that it was owned by an English Lord, and that the surrounding paddocks had once been the breeding grounds for valuable racehorses. Now the fields were overgrown and scarred with the ugly brown smears of shell holes. Racehorses or no, in Rawlinson’s opinion the best thing to do would be to let the artillery flatten the place.

Jerry StuG moves up
The onslaught begins
Threepwood’s patrol returned at first light, the sergeant excitedly confirming the reports of large enemy movements across the paddocks to the west. He even claimed to have seen one of the dreaded Tiger tanks moving up, a prospect which Rawlinson found very unsettling indeed. Rawlinson stood the men too and sent the platoon sniper to the chateau tower to keep watch over the fields, now almost fully visible in the grey light of dawn.

Sharpton keeps Jerry's head down
Private Alf Sharpton carefully pushed back the drapes from the window and peered through the scope of his .303 calibre Short Model Lee Enfield No.4 (T) to the fields below. Lieutenant Rawlinson had ordered him into the upper wing of the Chateau where he was to use his superior marksmanship to take out any Jerry leaders in the coming attacks. Sharpton was a trained sniper, an expert marksman and an integral part of every parachute platoon. As he gazed intently through the scope, he saw movement across the Chateau’s circular drive. He carefully aligned the crosshairs on the green-grey of the German soldier’s tunic, exhaled, and as he did he squeezed the trigger.

McReedie's section rushes forward
The crack of Sharpton’s shot sounded from the chateau. The sound shook Rawlinson out of his reveries and galvanised him into action. He called over to Sergeant Douglas McReedie.

"Doug, take your section forward to the ditch by the drive. Hunker down down and hold that position. It is absolutely critical that you do not let Jerry get through. We’re all that stands between the enemy and battalion HQ. If they get through here, the whole battalion could be lost. Go to it."
The gruff Ayrshire man saluted sharply, turned, and led his section off at the run.

Germans take cover near the chateau
Sharpton was certain that he had hit at least two green-grey figures before the attacking force went to ground in the woods near the circular drive. He saw paratroopers moving to his left, led by the unmistakeable 6’2” figure of Dougie McReedie. He saw the section reach the relative safety of the ditch by the drive, then saw them open fire across the drive, the Bren rhythmically chattering away at some unseen enemy. Just then he heard a the unmistakeable whistling sound of an incoming round, and saw the single round smash into the undergrowth to the rear of McReedie’s section, throwing up a wet smear of earth. A ranging shot, thought Sharpton. McReedie’s section would soon be covered under a deluge of fire. Poor bastards, he thought, before once more peering through the scope of his rifle, searching the area to his front for any movement.
McReedie's section under fire

German observer calls in fire
The area around the driveway was like a small vision of hell. Rawlinson carefully raised himself over the rim of the ditch and gazed in horror at the place which moments ago had been a rather stately dirt driveway. Now it was a wall of dust and smoke, illuminated by the flashes of exploding rounds. He hoped to hell that McReedie and his men were in cover. Then, after only a brief moment, the barrage stopped as suddenly as it had started. Even before the dust had settled he could hear the distinctive chatter of a Bren gun. Thank God, he thought, McReedie’s chaps must have kept their heads down. Just then, he heard the distinctive sound of a Jerry MG. Rawlinson thought it sounded vaguely like tearing canvas. McReedie would be needing some help. He jogged over to the jeep which was idling just off the road.

“Sergeant Naismith, take your jeep down the road to the drive and give our chaps some support.”

Naismith’s gunner smiled a toothy grin as he cocked his nasty looking Vickers ‘K’ gun. Naismith looked more hesitant.

Naismith's jeep moves up
“Right you are sir,” he said cautiously, “Its just that Danny Reece was saying that there’s bloody Jerry tigers down that way, and if we run into any of those..”

“Sergeant, I’m ordering you to get down there and give our lads some support. So you’ll damned well get moving.”

“Sir” the chastened sergeant saluted then tapped his driver on the shoulder. The jeep sped off down the road towards the fire, and soon the distinctive ‘brrrp brrrp’ of the Vickers joined the din.

Hitchens' men defend the chateau
Rawlinson wiped his brow with a trembling hand and once more raised himself carefully above the rim of the ditch. Just then, a wide-eyed Private whose name the lieutenant had forgotten stumbled breathlessly out of the woods to his right.


“Sir, Sergeant Hitchens says to tell you that there’s a Tiger coming across the paddock towards the chateau He says sir, that if you could please send the lads with the PIAT he would be very
appreciative. Sir.” The boy looked terrified, and Rawlinson very much doubted that the notoriously foul mouthed and foul tempered Jim Hitchens had phrased his request quite so politely.
British line under pressure

“Thank you private, run back to and tell Jim to grab the spare Bren and the PIAT team, and to get himself into that chateau. We absolutely must hold the place. Tell him to get upstairs and try to get a shot with the PIAT down onto the top of the tank.”

“Yes sir.” The private saluted, and made to turn away but then the crack of a tank gun from the direction of the driveway made him hesitate.

“Well, go on then private!’
2" mortar lays down smoke

“Oh, yes, huh, of course sir. Sorry, sir” The lad saluted then ran back the way he’d came.

“Lofty,” Rawlinson called the platoon sergeant over, “Looks like things are getting rather dicey. Get that 2” mortar to lay some smoke in front of the Jerry panzer, then you’d best get down to the drive and see how McReedie’s getting on.”

The sergeant looked less than pleased at the prospect, yet he saluted as crisply as if on a parade ground, before turning without a word and disappearing over the rim of the ditch.

McReedie's section hold the line
Sergeant McReedie raised his head and peered towards where he had last seen the Germans. Through the smoke he could just make out the low menacing shape of the Jerry assault gun.  Its gun was still trained on the burning wreckage which moments before had been Sergeant Naismith’s jeep. Movement to his front drew his attention, it looked like that Jerry section was having another crack.

Sgt Threepwood moves up
“Perkins, target to your front. They’re coming again” He didn’t need to give the order, the veteran private had already drawn a bead on the green-grey shapes moving through the drifting smoke and opened up with the Bren again. The remnants of the section opened up in, the sharp crack of their rifles joining the lower chatter of the Bren. The Germans returned fire, but it was more feeble than it had been in the first assault. McReedie saw one man fall, and then suddenly the Germans were falling back.
“Go on, run you bastards” shouted Perkins, reloading the Bren and then opening up once more. McReedie peered warily through the smoke and dust towards the assault gun.

The Jeep burns
“Down lads” he shouted, as the low shape lurched on its tracks and began to turn towards their position. That bloody tank would be the end of them. It had headed for the chateau before something had made it reverse quickly. McReedie was certain that it would be the platoons PIAT projector. He only hoped that the PIAT team were stalking the tank, as his tattered section had nothing to face the armour with. The tall, elegant shape of Sergeant Threepwood lept ungracefully into the ditch beside him.
“Morning Dougie” said the sergeant, straightening his camouflagued tunic. “The guv'nor’s sent me down to see how your chaps are getting on.” McReedie made to respond but his words were drowned out by a deafening crack as a round from the German assault gun slammed into the rim of the ditch.

And the PIAT fires on the StuG
StuG fires on the Chateau 
“I say, that Jerry panzers a right nuisance isn’t it” said Threepwood, removing his maroon beret and carefully dusting it off. “At least it’s not a damned Tiger though, am I right.” He smiled a toothy grin. “The guv'nor’s sent  Jim with the anti tank lads over to the chateau. Jim being a rather resourceful chap I’d wager that the lads are already out there crawling about and looking for a half-decent shot.”
McReedie smiled and nodded grimly. He had no doubt that Threepwood was right, but he didn’t like the chances of the lads on anti-tank duty. The PIAT was heavy, slow to load, and dreadfully inaccurate. His ears rang and the ground shook once more as another round slammed into the ditch. McReedie stooped and ran to where Private Perkins was writing and clutching at his chest, blood pouring from a nasty looking wound.
The German attack falters
“Spence, look after him,” McReedie ordered, before grabbing the discarded Bren gun himself. He checked the magazine, positioned it on the rim of the ditch, and opened fire on the retreating Germans. From the north he could hear the twin chatter as Jim Hitchen’s section moved out from the Chateau and advanced across the driveway. He glanced across at the panzer, only to see that it was no longer where it had been. A private who he vaguely recognised as from Hitchen’s section jumped into the ditch beside him. The man was briefly taken aback by the carnage around him, but composed himself and saluted.
German survivors rally

“Sarge, Hitch says to tell you that the lads have cleared out the driveway. The PIAT took a shot at that Jerry panzer. He missed, but the bloody thing buggered off anyway. Looks like the worst of its over.”

Threepwood and McReedie hold
McReedie gazed around the ditch and counted the remnants of his section. Corporal Timms was nursing a bleeding arm, Darrow, Jones and Robinson looked unharmed. Only these four remained, just four of the ten men he’d trained with, laughed, drank and fought with over the last two years remained. He glanced at Perkins, but the lad lay still, his arms limp at his side and his eyes staring lifelessly towards the grey June sky.
Christ, he thought, but how much longer could they take this. The sergeant shook his head slowly and slumped down on the lip of the ditch. He was suddenly very tired.

***********



Game end. Hitch's section is advancing to the north, McReedie holds the centre, and German survivors rally near their jump off points
So that was the first game using the British Parachute platoon. The Germans attacked in platoon strength, with an observer for a 81mm mortar battery, an unarmoured halftrack, and a StuG IIIG assault gun in support. The British paras had just a single Vickers mounted jeep in support, their only anti armour capability being the platoon’s two man PIAT team. The German attack bogged down and the paras superior training (which is represented by an additional command dice) let them react quickly blunting each attack in turn. The Vickers jeep broke up an assault by one section and turned the halftrack into a smoking ruin before falling prey to the StuG. The StuG took time to get into the action, first trying to attack the Chateau, before when taking fire from the PIAT. It then turned its attention to the jeep and then McReedies section. Perhaps if it had focused on one target, it may have carried the German attack into British lines. The 2” mortar played its role to a tee, masking the StuG and preventing it from taking a higher toll on McReedie’s exposed section.
The mortar bombardment of McReedies section caused a fair amount of shock and some casualties, but McReedie and Threepwood were able to rally and so keep it in the fight, and the British play of a Chain of Command dice ended the turn and with it the bombardment, avoiding any further damage. Hitchen’s section with the two Brens unique to the British Paras was able to bring a devastating  fire on the northern German section, before leading a counterattack which knocked out a German section and finally broke German morale. With all three infantry sections breaking and falling back, the StuG decided to follow after a second miss by the stalking PIAT team.

It was a great game, and played out in a very similar way to the desperate and brutal historical battles for the Chateau. Anyone interested in this fascinating and crucial phase of the Normandy campaign should grab a copy of Neil Barber’s ‘The Day the Devils Dropped in”, a fantastic book which covers the attack on Merville and the subsequent battles for the Chateau St Côme.
This was our debut game with the Parachute platoon, and they were really very fun and quite different to regular British platoons. Chain of Command does really show the way that different platoon structures really affected the way units fought and acted. The paras are really able to react very quickly, aided by higher rated section leaders and an additional command dice to roll each phase. Add to this their higher proportion of submachine guns AND the section with two Bren guns, and the result is a flexible platoon which is really fun field, and just like their historical counterparts are well able to hold their own even when facing seemingly overwhelming odds.
I’ve just finished painting up a tetrarch light tank and will have to get that little beast onto the table soon, perhaps with the paras attacking a defended position.
Anyway, there will be more posts coming up in the next few weeks, including some rather exciting news – particularly for my Aussie readers. So stay tuned! 

24 comments:

  1. Great looking figs and game.

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  2. Greate AAR, Lovely minis and stunning terrain !!

    Love the wallpaper in the Chateau:)

    Best regards Michael

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    1. Thanks Michael, I do need to finish off the wallpaper. It's a bit of a pain to cut correctly and glue in place, but it does tend to add to a building I find.

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  3. Great AAR my friend! And the tables and photos are outstanding

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  4. I'm sooo envious for the rules won't make it to my cave for another week (rather two weeks but not thinking about that).

    As others have said: Very nice looking game, and an excellent write-up. Also, congrats to you for your figures' appearance in the printed rules. Well deserved!

    Cheers, SG
    mountainsoflead.com

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    1. Thanks SG. I'm also looking forward to seeing the finished hardcopy rules, I wouldn't like to bet on how long it will take to get to upside-down land though. Australia post can be very fickle :).

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  5. Fantastic AAR, with beautiful photos. The "inside the chateau" pictures are really impressive, great work!!

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    1. Thanks Phil. I do like to get in rather close with the camera and try to get some evocative pictures.

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  6. Great stuff! Love the eye candy. It's always a mark of a good rules system when the game results reflect the real thing.

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    1. Thanks AJ, glad you liked it. I'm sure you'll love Chain of Command, it does very accurately reflect the historical realities, but in a really fun way. The history is inbuilt in the system which is really pretty simple.

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  7. Brilliantly written and thoroughly evocative - a joy to read. Reports like this have me looking forward to my copy of COC.

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  8. A wonderfully written piece which I enjoyed reading on my Nexus whilst sat on the hotel balcony in Austria. (Would have replied earlier but easier to do on the laptop.)
    Very inspirational and this along with the release of CoC, WW2 really is flavour of the month.
    Cheers,
    Pat.

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  9. Well written AAR, a joy to read AND what excellent scenery and models. Just read about this game in WARGAMES Issue 67. I don't do WWII 28mm...but I think I'm sold!

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  10. Really enjoyed reading this. Great photos too!

    Cheers,
    Benno

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  11. Ben, where are you we need more AARs like this one. Great stuff.

    Chris

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  12. Thanks author for your nice blog and great article
    Galvanised tank

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  13. thanks Ben for great pics and report
    Just wondering what scale you prefer or are people using to play Chain of Command here in Sydney ?
    I just ordered the rule book.
    thanks John

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