The village of Villers-laBonne-Eau hunched miserably under a late December sky. Even at the best of times this wasn't exactly the highest rent section of Belgium and the new occupants weren't doing anything for property prices. Scattered among the houses were small groups of American soldiers, chewing gum, drinking coca cola and generally conforming to national stereotypes. Sitting comfortably at the window of the largest building in town Lieutenant James Q Honeysucker III stared with disfavour at the view spread out before him. He had no idea where his commanding officer had got to but he felt that the man could have given slightly more helpful deployment orders than "spread out and make yourselves at home".
At least Honeysucker had been able to persuade him to position the .50cal in this building, the CO had wanted to hide it in a cellar. He had even given Honeysucker a soldier to help man it. Honeysucker cast a worried glance at this soldier. The man had to be at least six foot ten with dense, wiry hair and a plug of chewing tobacco apparently permanently lodged in his cheek. He was also holding the .50cal in one enormous hand and was peering down the barrel with interest. Honeysucker had privately nicknamed the soldier Chewbaccy apparently unaware that this joke wouldn't be funny for another thirty years.
"Can you please put that down, you might break it."
A guilty look passed over Chewbaccy's face and he returned the .50cal to its position, carefully placing his foot over the component that had been shaken loose during his examination.
"If I were the Germans," mused Honeysucker, "I would put King Tigers over that hill and drive us out of here in five minutes flat." Right on cue the bellow of underpowered Maybach engines split the air as one of the less impressive examples of German engineering attempted to drag seventy tons of Krupp steel up a gentle slope. Chewbaccy stared at Lieutenant Honeysucker in awe,
"That was amazing, can you predict lottery numbers too?"
For some reason I don't play the Americans as often as I would like (probably because they didn't fight the Italians often enough) so when Dave Wilson waved this scenario at me from a distance I agreed to play it. Then I saw that the Germans got four King Tigers. I commended the souls of my cardboard warriors to an uncaring God and commenced a set up. This is scenario ShellShock #1 - Pinching Patton. Here I shall command a group of poorly positioned Americans attempting to fight off a German attack with their fingernails (and one .50cal of which more anon). Dave in command a combined force of fallschirmjaeger and SS panzers would attempt to seize a crossroads and simultaneously try to dissuade the Americans from occupying the only building in the village with a chance of protecting them against 88mm shells.
To rage against the machine(s) I have thirteen and a half squads, four and a half elite the remainder first line. To support them I have four officers, a .50cal machine gun, two medium machine guns a 60mm mortar and three bazookas. The bazookas are guaranteed to at least wake up anyone inside a King Tiger who might have dropped off to sleep. These heroes have to be scattered around the area with no more than one MMC per hex. No American MMC was supposed to set up adjacent to another either but I completely overlooked that rule so you can say that I deserved what was coming. On turn four I was reinforced by four M36 GMCs. Just in time to attempt to enter under the waiting 88s of four King Tigers.
To rout my hapless legions Dave has the aforementioned King Tigers. He also has fourteen squads, half elite and half second line (even the fallschirmjaeger were finding it hard to get good help by this stage) equipped with two dismantled medium machine guns, four light machine guns, a panzerschreck and a flamethrower. These heroes are herded towards the firing line by four officers led by a grizzled 9-2. Just in case four King Tigers doesn't seem like enough armoured support on turn four Dave gets a trio of StuG self propelled guns to make up the numbers.
Despite shamelessly flouting the set up requirements I still found it difficult to organise a coherent defence. The .50cal of course went on the second level of the victory building where it could sweep the hills surrounding the village. After that I tried to place my troops so that somebody was covering all possible approaches but was nevertheless reasonably positioned to rush back to the main point of attack once that became revealed. This did work up to a point although not so well as to make a difference.
Dave sent a out a diversionary force on the right consisting largely of second line troops although an elite squad and both flamethrowers were present including one carried by an 8-0 leader who would become the bane of my existence. Defending was an equally diversionary force consisting of a half squad, a dummy stack and a squad in reserve. The remainder of his force including the other three tigers swarmed up over the left hand hill aiming directly for the victory building and crossroads.
There wasn't much (any) fire in the first turn as the tigers sluggishly worked their way up the hill and his troops were content to slink along in the shadows of these mighty beasts. As you can see from the picture below my conformance with the set up instructions was at notional at most.
|End of German turn 1. The Americans shall pay for their illegal setup|
On my first turn I attempted to tighten up my defences, fill the victory building with troops and send a squad to reinforce the folorn hope sitting out on the right. With the Germans not yet in position to prevent them I was resonably successful in this. A little concealment was lost on the German side as we belatedly realised that there were unlikely to be wheat fields ripening in the sun in Belgium in December. The shooting didn't start until turn two and it stopped again almost immediately. As Dave pushed forward large stacks of troops on the left my .50cal opened up, broke a squad then broke itself and stayed broken for the next five turns. So much for the .50cal.
With long distance fire removed as a threat (my mortar was peering myopically down the road waiting for enemies that never came) Dave pushed his left hand forces forward through the hills and woods that separated him from his objective. On the right he broke my half squad but lost a squad himself and my reserve squad foolishly rushed forward to reinforce the dummy stack now standing proudly alone.
|Given my history with supposedly impressive support weapons I guess I should be grateful for one broken squad.|
The picture above shows a massed horde of Germans pouring into undefended woods while the Americans seem to be positioned anywhere but. I could have rushed troops forward to try and contest the woods but decided that troops with six morale were better off hiding in buildings rather than attempting to defend mere +1 defensive terrain from a bunch of 8 morale psychopaths. As for the tigers, I largely ignored them. I had nothing that could really hurt them so I suffered a rain of 88mm shells with good grace (Dave may have his own views on that last statement) and concentrated such brain cells as I still possessed on stopping his infantry.
By the time the fourth term came around Dave was moving forward delayed more by the speed of his tigers and the terrain than any sort of die hard resistance from fanatical American defenders. While exchanges of fire were few and far between I had bulked up my forces in the victory building and had consolidated my defences in the village. My force on the right had been swept away at the cost of a half squad and a malfunctioned flamethrower but the remainder of his forces (including a tiger) were now moving to assault the village from the right flank. His 8-0 had been wounded (and had lost his flamethrower) and was reduced to a limping 7+1, little did I know his glory days were yet to come.
|End of German turn 4, can the Americans hang on? I think we both know the answer to that question|
Dave's StuGs had entered and rolled up on the hill to add their firepower (and more importantly smoke shells) to the attack while his infantry moved forward through the woods. I had already decided that this wouldn't be a stand and fight defence. Rather I would hide in buildings, skulk, maintain concealment and hope this would cause enough delay to bring him up short at the last. My four M36s would arrive next turn and I had a job for them.
Strangely I wasn't too worried about the massive force bearing down on the victory building. I had a decent number of troops hiding behind its stone walls and the bulk of my remaining infantry was occupying buildings the Germans would have to shoot them out of if they wanted to get forward. My concern was his right hand force, backed by a tiger which was now making its way (slowly in the case of the wounded leader) over the hill. To thicken my defences on the left I had had to abandon most of the right which meant that all I had to stop them was one squad (admittedly with an mmg and 9-1). My M36s, I decided, would change all that and strangely they did although not in the way I expected.
One M36 I raced down the road to support my 9-1 and mmg team. With his flanking tiger still struggling up the hill I sent the other three M36s behind it hoping to swarm it and get a 90mm shell where it could do most good. Whereupon his wounded 8-0 limped forward, found a panzerfaust and blew up my lead M36 in his advancing firephase. In the next turn his tiger would spin around and despite being in motion would manage to hit and kill my second M36. My "swarm" was reduced to a single M36 looking for somewhere to hide. In what was a good turn for light antitank weapons generally over on the far side of the map a halfsquad which had been lurking for this purpose managed to hit a newly arrived StuG in the rear with a bazooka and blow it up as well.
|So much for my armoured counterattack|
If it was a good turn for light antitank weapons it was also a pretty good turn for snipers as both Dave and I got our best leaders wounded by random shots a long way from where the battle was actually being fought. Despite the armoured disaster on the right it had actually kind of done its job. The tiger was delayed a turn and Dave sent back a halfsquad (plus that damned leader who would go on to kill the crew of one of my M36s in close combat). My mmg team (and their now wounded leader) managed to drive off or break the remainder of his flankers with the assistance of my other M36 and I was relieved of the danger of attack from that area.
Which only left the massive horde of troops backed by five armoured vehicles currently monstering my remaining defenders. Methodically with a combination of smoke and HE Dave blasted the troops directly in front of him apart and ground forward while I counted the remaining turns and prayed. It took him a while as my troops lurked under concealment counters and disdained to fire, except for my mortar team who hopped out into the road and managed to kill his wounded 9-2 as he was hobbling forward to support his troops.
Somehow despite mounting casualties I managed to keep enough concealed units in threatening positions to dissuade Dave from simply strolling forward and forced a modicum of caution on the attackers. The last couple of turns rolled around and Dave was sweating a little. He had plastered the victory building with so much smoke that if he had had the time he could simply have waited for the defenders to die of lung cancer. Time however was pressing and with most of my other defenders now gone he made his move. He had amassed a spectacular amount of firepower and plastered the building but now the smoke worked against him a little as my boys inside although blind and choking managed to survive. Still they could see little and Dave's fallschirmjaeger made their move pouring into the building from all directions.
At which point I finally managed to repair my .50cal and despite firing out of smoke was able to carve up some of his assaulting troops as they crossed open ground. It wasn't enough though in the last turn Dave was in close combat with the three units I had left in the building. If I could win any one of the close combats I would win the game. I didn't win any of the three close combats and Dave pulled off a victory at the last.
Interesting karma note; in one of the CCs Dave actually rolled boxcars, if I had withdrawn I would have gained the win. Instead I stayed and failed to hurt him. I did actually know that I could withdraw but I seem to have temporarily forgotten it. I like to think this was punishment from the ASL gods for a completely illegal set up. Thanks to Dave for the game. Next time I shall take American marines trying to winkle the Japanese out of their holes on Tarawa. Hopefully I'll read the set instructions accurately this time.
Lieutenant Honeysucker clung to the window ledge by his fingertips, took a deep breath and dropped the two stories to the ground. Rising unsteadily to his feet he stared around, there were Germans everywhere but none of them seemed to have noticed him. "Right," thought Honeysucker, "time to get out of here." He took a pace forward and was promptly crushed into the earth as private Chewbaccy landed on top of him. Fortunately he broke the private's fall and Chewbaccy loped off towards the trees and freedom.