Sous lieutenant Raoul Outlebarrel chewed his lip and drummed his fingers on his knee. Occasionally, for variety, he chewed his fingers and drummed his lip on his knee. So far it had to be admitted that his war had not proceeded as he had hoped. It was grossly unfair that the Commandante had blamed him for that ghastly cockup on the road to Marseilles. After all he had warned them about the power of the German mortars. Well, no he hadn't but he had thought it very hard, was it his fault if people couldn't pick up on his body language? Now he had been given this mess.
"A nice little job for you Outlebarrel," the Commandate had said with what Raoul was certain was an evil smirk. "Little garrison of Germans, cut off from support, lots of troops for you. Wipe them out and don't mess it up."
Raoul had said all the right things of course and struck the appropriate heroic poses but looking across the ground his troops would be fighting on things didn't look quite so simple. For one thing the previous officer (the Commandante's cousin surprise surprise) had scattered his troops like toppings on a pizza. Still it could have been worse. All he had to do was gather his men together and overwhelm the scanty defences. What could go wrong?
"Enemy tanks approaching!"
Outlebarrel shook a fist at the sky,
"That was a rhetorical question you bastard!"
So this is the second of the Provence Pack scenarios. Once again I command the Free French attempting to liberate the seaside resorts of southern France. Once again Dave Wilson stands ready to crush my hopes and dreams.
There is a small group of Germans cut off and running short of everything except concealment counters. Surrounding them not particularly effectively is a large but inconveniently spread out force of Free French commanded by yours truly. The Germans win if they have two and a half unbroken squad equivalents on Board 3 (the location of the cut off garrison) and also have to control six buildings on the same board. There is also a German set DC on the only bridge across the stream separating the Germans from the reinforcements. If the French manage to clear this the Germans will need to hold eight buildings, if the Germans manage to detonate it then they only need to control four.
Steaming to the rescue of their trapped colleagues are a tough bunch of assault engineers backed up by three somewhat shop soiled Hotchkiss tanks filched from a French car park. As commander of the Free French (and a random handful of partisans) I have to try and capture sufficient buildings so that the Germans can't fulfill their victory condition while simultaneously holding off their rescuers, defeating their tanks and hopefully clearing the set DC. Just on that last point. I've no idea why clearing it is a good idea for the French. If the DC goes off and destroys the bridge the tanks won't be able to cross the creek. Since if the tanks make it into the village the garrison there suddenly becomes fanatic (because wouldn't you be inspired to heroism by the sight of a small second hand French tank from 1940?) trying to blow the bridge up would have been the first thing I would have done. But no, clearing the DC is what the rules say and who am I to argue with the rules? Dave need not make any comments at this point.
My forces are divided into five groups. One group with eight infantry squads (four first line, four second) plus a 60mm mortar an mmg, and a pair of bazookas sets up on board 3 on level 0 hexes on or north of hexrow Y. Group two consisting of four squads (two elite and two first line) plus a pair of bren guns, six concealment counters and a trio of foxholes set up on boards 15 & 13 west of the stream. Group three consists of three partisan squads, a 9-1 leader and an lmg have to set up within two hexes of 12E9 (not coincidentally the location of the DC previously mentioned). Group four consists of two 81mm mortars and two .50cal machine guns (plus the crews to man them) and a pair of foxholes. They set up on level 0 of board 15 on or south of hexrow L. Finally there is a single 105mm artillery piece sitting alone on top of the highest ground he can find on board 15. It's a formidable force, no doubt about it but it is scattered from hell to breakfast time across a wide area. Actually focusing enough firepower on any given spot would prove difficult.
Dave has the Germans, a garrison consisting of four and a half squads (two and a half first line, two second line) from the 242nd infantry division who beat me up last time cringing in the village counting their bullets (troops on board three have ammo shortage until the tanks turn up) plus an isolated detachment of pioneers holding a single building on a hill which apparently must not fall into enemy hands (two elite 548s plus a 9-2 and an mmg). On turn one six squads of 548 assault engineers toting a pair of lmgs and DCs enter board twelve supported by three Hotchkiss tanks to attempt to bring relief to their comrades.
The tanks have to cross the stream by the bridge. The infantry do not but I expected that at least some of them would to support the tanks and my initial set up reflected that with the two .50cals and the mortars positioned to do as much harm as possible to anyone trying. For the rest I bulked up my forces near the woods to the east of the village hoping to use them as a springboard to attack the village and simultaneously guard against the arrival of his reinforcements. The remainder I positioned as close to the village as the set up restrictions would allow. I did make one ghastly howler however. The partisans have to set up within two hexes of the demo charge on the bridge, they are obviously the clearance team. I should have set them up on the bridge so that they could begin their clearance attempts immediately instead I set them up adjacent because for some reason I thought that clearing DCs would be like clearing a roadblock.
|Set up. That unsightly grey smear isn't a runway, it's Dave's rather poor attempt at drawing a road|
The Germans actually get to go first in this one so I had to sit there and wait while Dave's village defenders snuggled a little further under their concealment counters. His reinforcements steamed on, the tanks making a (rather slow) beeline for the bridge accompanied by precisely no infantry. The infantry instead slunk cautiously through the buildings heading for the stream, obviously intending on getting their feet wet. His elite defenders sitting alone on their hill poked their heads up to the next level of their building to enable them to actually see the surrounding countryside.
|End of German turn 1. The scales have fallen from my eyes but is it too late?|
Things looked bad for me from the get go. My partisans were being menaced by tanks and his reinforcements were approaching with impunity. I turned to my ordnance for assistance and was not disappointed (well only a little bit). My American mortars didn't have smoke but they did have its glow in the dark cousin WP and I managed to shroud one of his tanks in billows of "smoke". My partisans, attempting to make up for their initial error moved onto the DC and prayed they would survive long enough to clear it (spoiler alert; nope). It has to be admitted I got a little obsessed by clearing that DC, there were much better things my partisans could have been doing, surviving for one.
I pushed forward into the trees near the creek attempting to get around the hill that sheltered the village with a certain amount of success, driving off his most forward defenders while troops behind occupied the wood to, hopefully, hold off his reinforcements. I also attempted to prevent his kill stack on the hill from hitting anything useful by providing a second rate target to shoot at. I'm not sure what I was thinking of here, I must have had a brief sanity vacation.
|End of French turn 1.|
My partisans duly paid for my foolish set up as they were monstered and beaten up by a pair of rampaging Hotchkiss tanks. Those that didn't die fled. Wait a minute, did I say "a pair of Hotchkiss tanks"? Indeed I did for from up on the hill my 105mm peered at the little metal box in the distance and put a HE round straight through the hull. One tank at least would not be reinforcing the village.
Unfortunately it was starting to look like it wouldn't have to as a bunch of disturbingly professional looking assault engineers infiltrated their way forward until little but a stream separated them from their comrades.
|The main job my partisans seem to have is to be a tank magnet|
My mini flanking manoeuvre had a little more success than I knew what to do with. It overran a mortar halfsquad with no loss and stomped them out of existence in close combat. I had captured a building and now gazed with interest at the remaining garrison of the village. All I had to do now was reinforce them. Unfortunately a significant amount of my force was an inconveniently long way away. Still with his kill stack on the hill now shrouded in WP I could start moving reinforcements in the direction of the village. In the meantime I would have to cling on and hope.
Sadly the first of his reinforcements managed to run through mortar fire and plunged into the stream. This trickle would become a flood. Meanwhile my troops seemed to be moving to reinforce with agonising slowness. The ruins of my partisan force huddled underneath a conveniently located tank wreck weeping with fear.
With his kill stack shrouded in WP (and the 9-2 leader wounded down to a more manageable 8-1) I pushed forward at the other end of the village as well. On paper it looked like a neat double envelopement attempt if you overlooked the paucity of the troops involved and the battle hungry combat engineers splashing to the rescue. Also in revenge for the wounding of his 9-2 the German sniper had managed to kill my 9-1.
Back at the bridge Dave had paid a high price for his attempts to wipe out my partisans once and for all when my 105 took out another of his tanks. It looked like his troops in the village would not be getting their ammunition, sadly it didn't look like they needed it.
|Yeah, things could be better|
It would all hang on whether I could hold off his reinforcements. I had one moment of glory when an 81mm mortar wiped out an entire squad (and subsequently immobilised his remaining tank) but the other five made it to the stream. Scrambling up the bank and shrugging off fire from a .50cal a pair of squads made it through. The game hovered on a knife edge. I had defenders in the woods and my remaining troops were trickling piecemeal onto the battlefield. If I could cling on there was still a chance. The remnants of my partisan force even made another attempt at clearing the DC (they failed and got shot to pieces for their pains).
|Can I hold on?|
I did have hopes, perhaps grounded in delusion rather than reality, yet hopes I did have. Then in one dreadful fire phase Dave simply shattered my right flank while simultaneously bringing the rest of his reinforcements across on the left. He didn't need to fight his way forward, he could just walk in. The game literally went from "in the balance" to unwinnable in the course a single fire phase. To be fair Dave was pressing and I was barely clinging on so it probably didn't change the ultimate outcome. Still the game ended rather abruptly as I surveyed the wreckage of my forces and gave the concession. So far it has to be admitted the Free French are not doing well.
|Um, no I can't|
In retrospect the set up of my partisans was a bad mistake. Also despite being constrained by the setup requirements I could have had my troops a little closer to the village. I focused too much on the bridge when I should really have been looking further south. Dave's tanks did sterling work and paid the price but I never had the firepower in place to effectively challenge his infantry reinforcements. Still onward and downward, I hear its peak hour at the Golf Hotel.
The messenger stood nervously as Sous lieutenant Outlebarrel scribbled out his report. Delivering bad news was one of the worst parts of his job. To his surprise the young officer seemed in good spirits.
"Tell the Commandante that no ammunition got through to the garrison and we destroyed an armoured counter attack."
"Just that?" asked the messenger.
"Is there anything you wanted to add?"
"We did sort of fail rather badly."
"Failure is in the eyes of the beholder and the Commandante isn't here to behold a damn thing."