Capitaine Hugo de Latte de Grandcreme straightened to attention and saluted as the colonel approached.
"Ah," the colonel hesitated and fished a piece of paper from his pocket, "de Latte de Grandcreme," he read and stopped. "Really?"
"I'm afraid so mon Colonel," replied de Latte de Grandcreme reluctantly.
"Good," said the colonel untruthfully. "Are you prepared? The Boche are approaching."
"Indeed mon Colonel. The invaders will not take Dunkirk this day," he looked around in confusion. "Tell me, where are the English?"
"Perfiding their way back to Albion," replied the colonel. "We are to keep the Germans off their backs while they do so."
"So that we can say they ran away and abandoned us to our fate."
"Can't we go with them?"
"Do you fancy spending four years in England?"
"Dear God no."
"Then see to your defences Capitaine."
After the monumental disaster that was my first ever paradrop I decided to revert to a normal ground based scenario where my defeat would be encompassed by good, honest incompetence. Dave Wilson suggested we try The French Perimeter, Scenario U21 from the Turning the Tide pack. This is apparently an old, updated Squad Leader scenario. To compensate for the entire paradrop debacle Dave offered me my choice of sides and I decided to take the Germans on the attack in 1940, what could possibly go wrong?
The task for the Germans is to take seven of eleven multilevel (ie with a stairwell location) buildings in a village that has apparently been inconveniently built over the most direct route to Dunkirk where the British are currently gathering pleasure boats and making movies. I have a powerful force at my disposal; sixteen squads, half elite and half first line with a plethora of medium and light machine guns and a pair of antitank rifles. These pervitin munching supermen are led into battle by five officers including a 9-2 and are supported by two PzIVD tanks. Stalwart on the defence are Dave's French, nine first line squads, a heavy machine gun, a pair of medium machine guns, a pair of lights and eighteen factors of antipersonnel mines. They are led by three officers including a none too shabby 9-1. Oh and guns, do they have guns? Two 75mm artillery guns, a 25mm antitank gun (more than capable of taking out thin skinned early war PzIVs) and a 105mm artillery piece; infantry for the slaughter of. Lest this seem inadequate Dave gets reinforcements on turn five consisting of another pair of squads carrying an lmg led by a second 9-1 leader and accompanied by a pair of R35 tanks.
Below is Dave's at start set up and my deployment for the attack. As you can see I have dropped a lot of eggs into the one basket.
I originally intended a rather straightforward attack through the centre but at the last moment I threw that out and decided to try and swing around from the left. I would deploy as many half squads as possible and send them ahead of me like a Napoleonic skirmisher swarm. I also had a couple of squads and a low ranked leader over on the right just so that Dave couldn't rush all his right hand squads leftward with impunity.
Although I had chosen the left for my schwerpunkt I was a little uneasy about it. There seemed to be plenty of convenient locations where Dave could position a gun or two to slow my progress. I was paranoid about the hills every one of which in my mind was growing forest of guns on its summit. My very first moves were to send halfsquads charging up those hills on missions of discovery.
|Well I found a couple of guns
Guns I certainly found, two of them both over on the right facing my slender diversionary forces. More importantly none (apparently) on the left. Dave's hmg was in the obvious level three location which brought grief to a couple of scouting halfsquads but all in all I was satisfied with the results of my recon by suicide.
Over on the right my diverters flung themselves at the guns which resulted in a broken halfsquad, a generated hero (my first of three) and a captured gun crew. In response Dave's other gun crew on the hill picked up their 75 and slowly started making their way left. With the hill cleared of guns my surviving flankers (along with some prisoners) continued flanking.
On the left I couldn't quite believe my luck and proceeded somewhat more cautiously than I needed to, moving on both sides of Hill 498 to get into Dave's left flank. His hmg team (guided of course by the 9-1) overlooked everything but I was feeling bolder now and brought forward my tanks (christened Anna and Birgit) to take it under fire. Birgit promptly broke her MA which led to much seething on my part but nowhere near the level of seething that emanated from Dave when he broke the hmg in response. A six on the repair die roll would assure that I had nothing further to fear from that particular weapon.
|Weapons are breaking all over the place
With my first victory location taken I became drunk with success and rushed my boys forward with mixed results. In fact I almost lost the game in one move. I had been holding my kill stack (a pair of squads with both mmgs, guided by the 9-2) back until I could identify his main defences but now I pushed them forward into a wooden building where they could take some of his defenders under fire. Whereupon Dave revealed his 105mm hidden in the woods two hexes away boresighted on to that location. I had actually parked Birgit right next to Dave's gun but with admirable fire control Dave had kept quiet and awaited a better target, now he had it. Dave's to hit and kill rolls can be described as "average overall". He rolled snake eyes for a critical hit and then rolled boxcars on the effects. I'm not entirely sure who I sold my soul to to get that result but it was worth it. Return fire broke the gun crew (Dave's guncrews did not have a fine reputation of standing up under fire) and I breathed an almighty sigh of relief.
|One boxcars and one minor heart attack later and Dave's 105 is out of the game
His 25mm also showed itself, nestled in a building in the centre. Bereft of armoured targets it amused itself shooting at infantry. Again return fire broke the crew and three of Dave's guns were down. Pay attention to the fourth however, still ploughing its lonely journey towards the battlefield. That particular guncrew would redeem the failures of its comrades.
For right now things looked good for the bad guys (by which I mean me). I had lunged forward to capture the 25mm and had also managed to trap a French squad in CC on the left. In response Dave had pulled back again leaving me with victory buildings but also thickening his lines to defend those that remained. Over on the right a squad and a half (plus a wounded hero) were unlikely to chase Dave out of any buildings but it forced him to keep a couple of squads there away from my rampaging forces on the left.
|Pushing forward but wait, is that the sound of Renault engines in the distance?
Well "rampaging" might be a little hyperbolic but I definitely felt I was doing ok. With three guns and his hmg down, and three victory buildings already in my hands Dave was feeling the heat. Then the R35s arrived and injected a note of caution into my previously cheerful use of my tanks. I also had to worry about his remaining 75mm gun that his crew were herniating themselves in an attempt to bring it into the battle. Dave's reinforcements added to his defences and slowed me down considerably.
Dave resisted the temptation to go charging into battle with his armour and settled for building a wall of steel between me and the final couple of buildings that I needed. In response (and feeling a little nervous about the slowly arriving 75) I repaired Birgit's MA and sent her up to the centre to add some firepower to that flank. Anna I kept down on the other flank.
Then things went badly wrong although I didn't know it at the time. With three buildings under my belt I had pushed forward challenging for two more in the centre. This would give me five and put me within appreciable reach of my goal. Close combat raged in one building but in the other building, in the centre, an ambush allowed Dave's boys to slip out of close combat into some German provided (curses foiled by my own weapons) and then escape into the other building where they assisted their comrades in wiping out my guys in CC. Of course that gave me the building in the centre but it also meant that I had to capture the other building all over again.What's more the presence of two squads and an 8-1 leader meant there was a danger that Dave could sneak around and retake some of the buildings I previously captured.
Guess what happened? I'm not a complete idiot (my parents can keep their opinions to themselves at this point) I did delegate troops to the task of taking these guys out. It worked, a bit. With my other troops at the front I sent my most convenient troops (which happened to be the 9-2 and two mmg squads) to deal with this sudden problem. I hoped to keep on pushing forward with my other troops while I did so. I did indeed capture the building his impromptu kill stack was occupying courtesy of some tank supported attacks but a squad and leader survived and fled directly towards the victory buildings I had left behind in my triumphant push forward. The only force in its way was a fanatic squad (which promptly broke and casualty reduced the moment it came under fire) and a halfsquad so burdened with prisoners that it could hardly move. The only thing I could do was chase after them which took a couple of squads and my best leader out of the main fight.
|Things suddenly look a little bad
|And now they look worse
While I was failing to deal with this situation on my right flank I managed to make a mess of the left as well. I had pushed Birgit forward to menace the next target building in what turned out to be the ridiculously over optimistic assessment that I would soon be fighting for it. Whereupon Dave started up his little Renaults drove up next to her and blew her apart in the advancing fire phase. This is a tactic which always seems to work except when I try it. Of course it was my fault for having the tank unsupported but given the low kill number on the Renault's MA I thought it was worth the chance. The tank crew survived and actually made it into the building where they stubbornly resisted all of the defenders attempts to kill them and were still there at game end. Unfortunately they weren't able to do anything about the French currently occupying the location.
Over on the right things had been stuck in a sort of a groove for several turns. Dave would fire at a broken halfsquad of mine, DM them but not have any other sort of result. My squad would fire back at him with an equal lack of results. Then I rolled a snake eyes on what I expected to be another futile rally attempt and battle hardened the halfsquad and generated a hero (my second) into the bargain. I also self rallied the halfsquad who had been broken when I first attacked the guns that had been languishing in the backfield ever since. With this new accession of "strength" I went on the attack. I managed to break one of his two defending squads and actually push into the building. Deciding that the chances of fighting my way through a pair of Renaults were reasonably low I sent units looping around to challenge for the right hand buildings from behind. Foolishly I would send them into the very large building rather than it's smaller neighbour.
|Coming to the end and I still have hope; foolish foolish man
Meanwhile over on the left things had, if anything, got worse. I had generated another hero from somewhere (I forget how) but Dave fled the building and cheerfully occupied the one behind it. Or rather, his squad fled. The leader snatched an lmg and scurried upstairs in the building it currently occupied. I would now have to recapture both of them. I sent the hero and a halfsquad into CC with the leader while Anna sleazed the squad in the other building and my 9-2 led a squad into CC with it. The leader slaughtered my hero and halfsquad for no loss and the guys in the other building ambushed me and withdrew. In the next turn they fled to the other end of the building.
With one turn to go there was still a chance for victory. If I could get units into CC in both rear buildings and I was successful in taking the building on the right I would have my seven. I would need to be lucky in three separate close combats but it was just doable. At which point the crew of Dave's remaining gun abandoned the weapon they had been hauling about most of the afternoon and charged for an unoccupied victory building while my remaining troops were looking the other way. At that point I conceded. I had wound up with three victory buildings and the most I could possibly gain was six. There had been a little bad luck but essentially I neglected my flanks and wound up paying the price. Still it was a very enjoyable game with swings of luck on both sides and for about nine out of eleven turns it really looked like I would do it. Many thanks to Dave for the game and for crushing my hopes and dreams one more time.
|The end and my tears flow like a river down my cheeks
Captaine de Latte de Grandcreme turned to a messenger.
"Inform the colonel that we have held our positions and the Germans have pulled back."
"I'm I can't."
"The colonel is on a boat to England," replied the messenger. "Oh look, the Germans are forming up for another attack."
"Get to your position and hold firm," ordered the captaine.
"What are you going to do sir?"
"Learn to swim."