1940: Polish Exiles
Scenario Preview, Part Two

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
February 2024

I had intended 1940: Polish Exiles to be a Campaign Study, the small scenario books we issue for all of our game series. They’re very popular, extending a game’s play-life with extra scenarios and some history, too.

Designer Philippe Léonard provided too much material for the format, and 1940: Polish Exiles would not fit without some serious cutting of scenarios and/or background text. Instead of that, I expanded the book to 32 pages, but it actually only needed 24. I could have made it a 24-page book, but it costs the same as a 32-page book (I could explain why, but none of you would care).

It's moments like this when I like being a creator-owner. I had eight pages to fill. Eight wonderful, blank white pages. So I did. I expanded the background story, and added four more scenarios and another chapter, to bring the total to 15 scenarios in four chapters, each with a battle game (from the original 11 scenarios in three chapters).

This is why I do this job: to dive into Polish histories of their troops in France, tales of obscure battles no wargamer ever knew existed (they’re obviously not “unknown,” a truly stupid and insulting term – 30,000 guys fought on the Clos du Doubs in June 1940 and they certainly knew there was a battle). I had a good time with it.

That was not a smart business decision, but the smart business decision would be “don’t publish wargames.” I’d rather publish a good book than a smart one to feed the beast.

Let’s have a look at the second chapter.

Chapter Two
Facing Annihilation
By 4 June, the initial phase of the German offensive, known as Case Yellow, had concluded. The French and their British allies had suffered heavy losses in men and equipment, yet they still held a coherent front line along the Somme River. The Germans had taken important centers like Lille, but Paris remained in French hands and French factories had finally started operating at wartime capacity, turning out tanks, vehicles and weapons.

Polish motorcycle troops on a training exercise. Spring 1940.

The renewed German offensive broke this line as well, capturing Paris and shattering the French armies along the Somme and then the Aisne rivers. Supreme Commander Maxime Weygand formed a new defensive line along the river Loire. The French Army quickly formed new divisions from the remnants of shattered units and those evacuated from Dunkirk and Calais. Weygand recalled more divisions from French North Africa, and recalled the expeditionary force dispatched to Norway in April. Their British allies promised a “Second BEF,” but its commander refused to depart England for the first ten days of his command and his troops saw little more action.

Among these emergency reinforcements would be the Polish Army in France, now deployed into front-line combat despite not having reached its target of four complete divisions. To help prop up the battered French divisions, the French command assigned additional Polish anti-tank companies, stripping them from the Polish infantry divisions (these had more anti-tank guns than the standard French table of organization, based on the Polish experiences of September 1939). Many of the gunners had been coal miners and steelworkers a few months before, but their new French comrades had little more training or experience.

Scenario Six
Children of Vienna
19 June 1940
The Germans had forced their way across the Loire River at Beaugency and Orléans, and now advanced southwards, threatening the entire right flank of the French X Corps. Under pressure, the French units retreated towards the Cher River. South of the Chambord Forest, the 241st Light Infantry Division (DLI), now down to around 250 men, halted at Bracieux along the course of the river Beuvron before withdrawing behind the Cher River. They set out a few defensive positions to the east as well.

 On the morning of the 19th, the Austrians of the 44th Infantry Division (elements of the 132nd Infantry Regiment) attacked the Villeneuve crossroads from the east, and the French strongpoint gave way.

Further west, at 0600 a reconnaissance group from the 44th Infantry Division crossed the Chambord Forest and attacked Bracieux from the north. Fresh tracks prompted the German vanguard to move ahead with anti-tank guns. The previous evening, the corps commander had instructed his divisions: “Motorized vanguards must not engage in combat in the manner of infantry units. They must pass through the French lines, and take the opposing units from the rear, under fire, until they are annihilated.” But the 44th Infantry Division had not yet fully switched over to German practice; its recon elements remained mostly horsed cavalry.

One of the second wave of companies raised by the Polish Army in France, the 6th Polish CDAC (divisional anti-tank company) comprised four officers, 14 officer cadets, 27 NCOs and 106 troops. On 19 June, the four remaining 25mm guns took part in the defense of the Beuvron with the 241th DLI. The second gun of the 1st section engaged enemy machine gunners at Bracieux, while the last gun of the 2nd section fell into a ditch while trying to escape from German motorcyclists.

Throughout the region, the retreating French infantry did so under the protection of the 4th DCR, whose delaying tactics enabled many men to escape.

The division’s armored cars repelled several enemy advances on the division's eastern flank, and a counter-attack late in the morning even recaptured the Villeneuve crossroads. In the afternoon, however, the retreat towards the Cher had to speed up. Many soldiers of the 241th DLI were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner during this difficult day, with the result that most of the division’s infantry (reservists from the 219th and 264th Infantry Regiments) was lost. Only a few small groups reached the Cher in the evening and the 241th DLI, too weak to hold on, was merged into the 85th DIA (Division d’Infanterie Africaine) set up between Montrichard and St-Aignan. By 1800, the 44th Infantry Division’s headquarters set up at the Château de Chambord, a few kilometers north of Bracieux.

The Divisions Légères d'Infanterie (Light Infantry Divisions) had been created at the end of May from instruction battalions and the remnants of regiments previously destroyed on the Meuse or in the north. Compared with the large pre-war units, these divisions had only two infantry regiments instead of three, and only one light artillery regiment (with 75mm guns) instead of two (leaving the division with no 155mm howitzers – the linchpin of French defensive doctrine). Thus the term “light.” Some units were reinforced with pioneer regiments or machine-gun battalions, but the time devoted to their training was very short, barely ten days.

The Austrians have horsed cavalry, which is unusual in this campaign; the French have . . . well, they have some Polish anti-tank gunners with no tanks to shoot at, and a whole passel of French troops who would rather be home right now.

Scenario Seven
Line of Demarcation
19 June 1940
St-Aignan-sur-Cher, France
South of Blois, the French retreated and re-established a defense behind the Cher River on the Montrichard/St-Aignan line. The German 33rd Infantry Division occupied Romorantin and Selles-sur-Cher before pushing westwards to close the trap. In St-Aignan, on the south bank of the river, the remnants of several French formations gathered. Weakened and with virtually no infantry left, the 241st DLI handed over its combat elements to the 85th DIA, notably the 98th Artillery Regiment and the 125th GRDI. Elements of the 4th DCR also joined in the defense of the town and surrounding area: self-propelled guns, Laffly W15TCC tank destroyers, motorcyclists and motorized infantry and a few anti-tank guns. The troops immediately began preparations to destroy the St-Aignan bridge.

In the early afternoon, a detachment from the 4th DCR, along with some Algerian riflemen and the Polish anti-tank gunners from 85th DIA, stopped the German attack in the Cher valley. A single B1bis tank named “Vercingétorix” helped the Algerians hold the St. Aignan/Novers railway station along enough for French engineers to blow up the bridge at St. Aignan, but many of the riflemen were trapped on an island in the Cher and suffered heavy losses to German fire. The Polish gunners and the remnants of the Algerian riflemen held the town until the next day, when the division abandoned the river line; the Polish company commander and eight of his men fell prisoner to the Germans. After the Armistice, St. Aignan would fall on the line of demarcation between Vichy and Occupied France.

The German player has an unusual choice: come at the Poles (who are actually mostly French, with a smattering of Algerians) with their full force all at once, but with all of the Germans on the wrong side of the river. Or attack on both banks, but wait for the privilege. The Germans (actually Austrians) have plenty of horsed cavalry, which is an unusual feature for the 1940 campaign.

Scenario Eight
Pépé le Moko
20 June 1940
North of Valencay, France
The Maczek Group left much of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade’s strength behind when it deployed to the front, including the tankless 2nd Tank Battalion commanded by Major Zygmunt Chabowski (who had commanded the Polish 2nd Tank Battalion in the September Campaign as well). As soon as Chabowski received his long-awaited armor – 21 R35 light tanks with long-barreled guns and 24 R40 light tanks – he headed east with his battalion in search of the rest of the Polish brigade.

German advances had cut off that route, so he turned his battalion southward toward Sologne. On the 19th the Polish tankers crossed the river Cher and joined up with the 8th Cuirassiers, another wandering unit seeking Germans to fight. Their division command had set them to blocking the German advance, and with no other orders, Chabowski decided to help them.

The bridge at Selles-sur-Cher (the large town on Board 30) had been conquered on the evening of 19 June by a surprise attack from German reconnaissance troops. Further east, at Chabris (the town south of the river on Board 29), the French had maintained a roadblock across the river, around the bridge. Behind the Cher, the French defense spread out in depth, blocking routes to the south with various groups including a few
Polish tanks.

On the morning of 20 June, the Germans were blocked at Chabris by a delaying group led by Aspirant André Jullien (a staff officer of the 19th Infantry Division). A roadblock had been improvised with around twenty men, mostly clerks and orderlies from Jullien’s headquarters staff. This initial nucleus was reinforced by a W15 tank destroyer (nicknamed “Pépé le Moko”), engineers and a 75mm field gun from the 306th Artillery Regiment. A few French armored vehicles were also positioned behind the first line of defense.

The Chabriotes protested; on the 17th, Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of the new government, had broadcast that, “I tell you, it is necessary to stop the fighting.” Jullien told them to leave their homes immediately, because his men and the Polish tankers had no intention of giving up the fight.

The French held off the Germans in Chabris throughout the morning, inflicting considerable losses on their opponents – Jullien would later claim that between 200 and 300 Germans were killed. At 0700, the 75mm cannon hit an armored vehicle head-on; it burned on the spot, obstructing access to the bridge. Shortly afterwards, several hits on a German convoy on the right bank of the river caused ammunition trucks to explode. At around 1000, as the convoy finished burning, the French and Poles granted the Germans a brief cease-fire to collect their wounded and dead. Fighting resumed half an hour later.

The Germans reinforced their artillery, and two hits destroyed the W15 while the 75mm field gun ran out of ammunition. By 1430 the French had pulled back. The Germans moved through Chabris, murdering two civilians along the way, and soon ran into the 8th Cuirassiers holding the Nahon valley. The Germans pressed on to the small town of Valençay, but there the French defense held firm.

Further west, the Germans advanced rapidly from Selles-sur-Cher, already occupied the day before. German elements reached Luçay-le-Mâle, west of Valençay, behind the Gatine forest. The village was defended by a small rearguard of the Armée de Paris, including a few Polish tanks, reconnaissance troops and elements of a colonial unit. Two Polish tanks were lost in a confused battle.

This is a wide-ranging scenario, without a lot of forces trying to cover a lot of ground. The Germans are on the attack, and it’s up to the Poles (once again, they’re mostly French) to hold them back. The Germans aren’t all that mobile, but they do have firepower on their side.

Scenario Nine
Last Stand of the Podhale Rifles
18 June 1940
Combourg, France
The Podhale Rifle Brigade departed Narvik, Norway on 1 June, arriving in Greenock, Scotland on the 12th. The British soldiers sharing the convoy disembarked, and on the 14th the Polish brigade sailed for Brest, France. By this point, it was obvious that French resistance could not last much longer. But the Poles sailed on, landing at Brest on 15 June with some troops unloading at Lorient a day later.

Coming under command of the French 10th Army, the Poles received orders from Gen. Marie-Robert Altmayer to move forward to the eastern border of Brittany and slow the German advance against the port of St. Malo. There the 1st Canadian Division and other troops of the “Second BEF” were embarking for England, having seen no combat, and the Poles were expected to hold off the Germans long enough for them to complete their escape.

Brigade commander Zygmunt Bohusz-Szysko faced an ethical dilemma; the Poles had agreed to follow French operational orders but he considered this deployment at best stupid and at worst suicidal. He compromised by sending one of his four battalions to Combourg, where they dug in to await the onrushing Germans. They didn’t have to wait for long.

The lone Polish battalion held up the Germans long enough to allow the Canadian and British troops to embark safely in St. Malo, at the cost of enormous casualties. The Polish speed bump had done its job, without acknowledgement from the British or French commands; local Bretons have not forgotten and still hold annual remembrance services more than eight decades later.

Even as his men died, Bohusz-Szysko received confirmation from his Polish commander-in-chief, Wladyslaw Sikorski. He was to ignore any further orders from the French to sacrifice his men, and re-embark for England. French Gen. Antoine Béthouart, who had commanded the Narvik expedition, urged the Poles to leave as quickly as possible. The brigade staff landed in Plymouth the next day, and most of the troops the day after in Southampton. The brigade would be disbanded later in the summer, with its troops assigned to new formations of a new army in exile.

I designed this scenario, to fill out the book’s full length and because I wanted to play with those Polish mountain troop pieces from The Deluge, which see no action otherwise. The Podhale Rifles are tough bastards, but the Germans come with mobility and firepower (and tanks!) matched by a very high bar for victory.

And that is all for Chapter Two!

You can order 1940: Polish Exiles right here.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
      The Deluge
      Lithuania's Iron Wolves
      Legend of the Iron Wolf
      1940: Polish Exiles
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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