1940: The Last Days of May
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
One of the best things we’ve done with our games is the introduction of the story-arc format. Scenarios are grouped in chapters, all of them designed to help tell the story of the battle or campaign through the narrative and the game-play.
The second chapter of 1940: The Last Days of May (the chapters and scenarios of this Campaign Study pick up the sequence from the core game, Panzer Grenadier: 1940 The Fall of France) is a fine example of this approach. Designer Philippe Léonard’s scenarios show the increasing desperation of the French to eliminate the German bridgehead south of the Somme, flinging strong armored forces at the Bavarian 57th Infantry Division in the face of their supporting 88mm guns. Let’s have a look at them.
On 20 May 1940 the Germans reached the English Channel, trapping a large part of the Allied army in the Dunkirk pocket. They also secured no less than six crossings of the Somme River. To keep the British in the field, the French had to eradicate the German bridgeheads on the Somme. These bridgeheads represented a threat; from these points the German mobile spearheads could make a rapid advance towards the Channel ports, which were essential to the British troops fighting in France.
The Abbeville bridgehead had to be reduced while the Germans were still busy at Dunkirk. A British armored attack against Huppy on 27 May failed (see Scenario Fourteen of Road to Dunkirk). General Benoît Besson, commander of the 3rd French Army Group, issued a terse order on the same day: “The Abbeville bridgehead must be reduced tomorrow, 28 May.” Col. Charles De Gaulle’s recently-reinforced 4th Armored Division (DCR) would lead the assault, with the aim of eliminating the Abbeville bridgehead.
28 May 1940
Huppy, South-West of Abbeville, France
For twelve days the regiments of the Bavarian 57th Infantry Division marched into France. The second-wave division had fought in Poland but seen little action so far in the Western campaign and arrived on the Somme at full strength. “The bloody Somme” held an almost mythical status for soldiers of both sides, a fearful symbol of the slaughter of their fathers’ generation. The division’s regiments relieved the 2nd Motorized Infantry Division; not all of the division’s artillery had yet arrived but on the evening of 27 May Capt. Erich Kiel’s four 88mm guns of the 64th Flak Regiment reinforced the bridgehead. The wrecks of the British tanks destroyed the previous day became observation posts and machine-gun nests. Finally, when the rain stopped at 1645, the French artillery opened a violent bombardment and De Gaulle’s 4th DCR attacked.
Two tank companies led the way through the eastern part of Huppy, destroying some anti-tank guns before overrunning the village. Capt. Maurice Dirand’s B1-bis named Jeanne d’Arc took 90 hits from German anti-tank guns, which eventually shot off all of his armament. Dirand’s tank kept rolling, squashing guns and gunners under its treads when it could no longer shoot them. Durand’s tanks progressed rapidly towards the crossroads of Les Croisettes, dragging along two infantry companies. But two 88mm guns posted on Hill 104 brought the main road under fire.
Around 1715 a second wave of tanks attacked the village, supported by infantry. The Chasseurs Portés were caught by machine-gun fire hidden in the bocage, but at 1830 the French tanks reached Les Croisettes, a hamlet on the national road which served as headquarters for the German battalion. Four anti-tank guns defended this strategic point, along with some mines and a barricade. Huppy held for four hours and only at 2130 did the exhausted Germans give up. The 217th Infantry Regiment’s 10th company had been annihilated but it cost the French dearly. Only eleven tanks were available the next day. On the German side, part of the III/217 Infantry had to be disbanded as the battalion had no more than 75 men left in fighting condition. Victory was certain for the French if they had continued the offensive. Not knowing that the Germans had collapsed, the French did not resume the assault until the following day.
This is a brand-new scenario, with the French on the attack against a fairly sparse German defense. At least the Germans balance their numbers with low morale and a lack of much artillery support, but they do have a battery of 88mm guns and there’s a chance that they can shoot at the French with the leftover wrecks of British tanks, which is a weird wrinkle.
Married, with Children
28 May 1940
Caumont, South of Abbeville, France
In the center of DeGaulle’s attack, the 44th Tank Battalion would advance along the Limeux-Limercourt-Huchenneville axis, supported by a regiment attached to 4th DCR from the 5th Colonial Infantry Division. With the tanks delayed by muddy roads, the 22nd Colonial Infantry Regiment advanced into the face of enemy machine guns. Though part of La Coloniale, the French overseas army, only the cadre came from that branch with the rank and file constituted by reservists from across southern France – married men over age 30 with children, subject to recall only in wartime.
“The 22nd RIC,” DeGaulle declared, “is the first French regiment which, since the war began, has won a German position in a fierce struggle and held it in the face of all counter-attacks.”
Though stirring, DeGaulle’s words were only partially true. The infantry advanced without the tanks and took about 500 meters before German fire pinned them down. The tanks finally arrived at 1800, by which time Limeux was burning. Fire from the tanks and the colonials’ machine guns shot a German reinforcement column to pieces, and the French advanced towards Caumont, where the main German resistance point was the castle. The Germans had placed numerous anti-tank guns around the castle, but the colonials stormed in and killed most of the defenders. The German infantry fought fiercely before they broke and fled, abandoning weapons, food and equipment. In four hours, the French had gained four kilometers, taking all of their objectives by nightfall. And then DeGaulle ordered a retreat, throwing away the reservists’ success and the opportunity to press their advantage.
This is also a brand-new scenario. We have another French attack on a well-prepared German position. Neither side offers much in the way of morale, but the French bring plenty of tanks to the party. Only one of them is the unstoppable B1-bis, however.
Rendering Unto Caesar
29 May 1940
Southwest of Abbeville, France
Despite having yielded hard-won ground on the previous day, DeGaulle resumed the offensive on the morning of the 29th. With nothing to show for those successes, the renewed attack would go forward with fewer tanks and infantry. The defending Bavarians had suffered even greater casualties, but they did still have the support of those deadly 88mm Flak guns.
The Germans deployed two 88mm guns named Caesar and Dora on the main road near Villers-sur-Mareuil, and another two named Anton and Berta on Mont Caubert (a long flat hill shaped like a whale running along the river). The four guns had claimed many French tanks on the 28th, but this time the French were ready for them and maneuvered to destroy Dora and force Caesar to flee. The B1-bis tanks reached Villers, but German machine-gun fire drove off the French infantry. Some overzealous German infantry charged the B1-bis tanks to be cut to pieces in turn. That sowed panic in the German ranks, and for the second day in a row many German soldiers fled the field abandoning both weapons and comrades. By noon the German bridgehead had been reduced by half, with the only substantial German strongpoint remaining at an ancient Celtic fortification on Mont Caubert.
The French have the answer to the big German flak guns – artillery. Lots and lots of artillery. They’re on the attack again, with scads of tanks, some of them actually good. This is going to be a tough one for the Bavarians.
Great Caesar’s Ghost
29 May 1940
West of Abbeville, France
By noon, victory lay within reach of the French, with the German positions about to break and their troops in full rout. But the French attack stopped. When it finally started again, at 1600, the Germans had recovered and reoccupied the lost ground, which had been abandoned for a moment. DeGaulle’s opportunity had been wasted.
The Germans dug in at the old Celtic fortification, or oppidum, atop Mont Caubert – an earthwork that locals attributed to Julius Caesar. Despite their earlier failures, this time the 3rd Battalion of the 179th Infantry Regiment held their positions on Mont Caubert with the support of the Flak guns. Other infantry companies rallied and came from Abbeville to join them.
In the center, the French 4th BCP advanced with towards Yonval. Supported by the Panhards of the 2nd RAM, they took Mesnil-Trois-Foetus before coming under heavy German artillery fire. The nine remaining B1-bis tanks made a last effort to take Mont Caubert but the Germans held on and even launched counter-attacks. The 88mm guns inflicted catastrophic French tank losses: at nightfall, only one B1-bis remained in working order. In the evening, the Germans tried to retake Mesnil-Trois Fœtus but could not hold it.
The French don’t have many B1-bis tanks left, but the Germans don’t have much that can stop them, either (except for that 88mm battery, which can most definitely stop them). Yet the French have to come at them, somehow.
30 May 1940
Southwest of Abbeville, France
Having turned back the French attacks, with some opportune help from Charles DeGaulle, the Germans returned to the offensive after their corps commander, Erich von Manstein, gave them some “encouragement.” Meanwhile in the village of Villers-sur-Mareuil at the foot of Mont Caubert, the French troops of the 22nd Colonial Infantry Regiment prepared to renew the attack. After their heroic exertions and massive casualties of a few days’ previously, only 180 men and a handful of light tanks could be mustered.
As soon as the French tanks began crossing the road the 88mm guns opened fire from the slopes of Mont Caubert. Two Renault 35 tanks exploded, but the others kept moving. Fire from tanks and supporting artillery eventually silenced the guns while the French infantry stumbled into their German counterparts in the woods. The fight then devolved into a confused stalemate, and by evening the French had only advanced 300 meters.
A version of this scenario appeared in the first edition of 1940: The Fall of France, but not even the title survived re-development. This version has both better history and better game play.
Coup de Grace
30 May 1940
Southwest of Abbeville, France
German reinforcements arrived in the Abbeville area during the night of the 29th and now threatened the nearby villages of Moyenneville, Villers and Bienfay. The French had run out of time; they had to strike a fatal blow to the Abbeville bridgehead immediately. After a short artillery bombardment late on the afternoon of the 30th, French tanks charged the German positions.
German 88mm shells smashed into the charging French tanks, destroying five of them in short order. But the French forced the German infantry out of the woods known as the Bois des Anglais and sent them backwards to Yonval. More tanks moved towards Mont Caubert but kept taking hits from Flak guns, and by the time an unexpected minefield stopped the French tanks more than half of them had been lost. The German infantry (who had received the order “Bis zum letzen,” or “Fight to the last man”) then made a stand at the Mésnil-Trois-Fétus farm, stopping the French infantry so that the German anti-tank guns there could kill more French tanks. At 2000 the Germans in Cambron launched a counterattack that drove the French left flank all the way back to Moyenneville. By the end of the day the entire operation had ended in disarray for the French. Every German anti-tank gun in the bridgehead had been destroyed, but the 4th DCR had only 40 of its 150 tanks left while the valiant 22nd RIC had suffered 626 casualties. The Battle of Abbeville was lost.
The French make their final effort, but daylight is fading and so is their combat strength. The 88mm battery is still in action, but even though the French had recovered some armored strength it might not be enough.
The Auld Alliance
4 June 1940
South West of Abbeville, France
In 1295, John Baillol, king of Scotland, signed the “Auld Alliance” with France that lasted for 250 years. In 1940, French Army chief of staff Maxime Weygand charged Maj. Gen. Victor Fortune of the Scottish 51st “Highland” Infantry Division with resuming the assault on the Abbeville bridgehead. The relative fresh French 2nd Armored Division (DCR) could only field about 100 tanks; the tanks of British 1st Armoured Division had already failed a week earlier and would not be deployed. Fortune apparently never asked the staff of 4th DCR for any information on the German defenses, which had been strengthened by the replacement of the battered front-line regiments with the 57th Infantry Division’s fresh 199th “List” Infantry Regiment, Adolf Hitler’s old unit.
The same battle as the one previously fought by De Gaulle, with the same errors, led to the same disastrous results. DeGaulle himself had been summoned by Weygand to give a personal report, but Fortune made no effort to contact 4th DCR’s staff, and little more to coordinate with the newly-arrived 2nd DCR. Aircraft failed to intervene, insufficient recon led to heavy tank losses in unknown minefields, armor engaged piecemeal. No coordination existed between Scots and French and even between French armor and infantry.
A few B1-bis tanks and about two sections of Scots reached the top of \Mont Caubert and scattered the Germans entrenched there. Literally at the doors of Abbeville, victory lay in their hands. But no reinforcements came, and finally they withdrew. The Allies suffered horrific losses while the Germans kept their bridgehead over the Somme. “You have saved our honor,” Weygand told De Gaulle. But the course of the Battle of France had not been changed in any way by the attack on Abbeville.
We wrap up with another brand-new scenario, this one drawing a few pieces from Road to Dunkirk as the Scots fight alongside the French. Just not very well. As Napoleon said, he’s rather fight against allies than alongside them.
And that’s it for 1940: The Last Days of May.
You can order 1940: The Fall of France right here.
Please allow an extra two weeks for delivery.
You can order 1940: The Last Days of May right here.
Please allow an extra two weeks for delivery.
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
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.
Want to keep Daily Content free of third-party ads? You can send us some love (and cash) through this link right here.