Panzer Grenadier: 1940 — The Fall of France
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The story began in Part One.
A couple of years ago I handed over the day-to-day operations of Avalanche Press to a general manager, and took on the title of “resident creative genius.” That experiment came crashing down in flames pretty quickly, but fortunately a number of other creative geniuses have stepped into the breach including the Belgian Madman, Philippe Léonard.
Philippe’s design work on 1940: The Fall of France is truly outstanding, yielding a fine picture of the French Army’s noble but doomed fight against the Nazis. Here’s the second part of my look at the game’s 50 scenarios:
The Witch’s Cauldron
13 May 1940, Merdorp, Jandrenouille and Jandrain, Belgium
After an easy trip through Belgium, 4th Panzer Division met French armor for the first time near Hannut on May 12th. Its commander halted the advance and waited a day for 3rd Panzer Division to arrive on his northern flank before launching a massive attack on the French line held by the 3rd Division Légère Mécanique. The assault was brutal, with all German forces committed to a hammer blow on a narrow front and nothing held in reserve. For their part, the French were well dug-in but scattered along the line, diluting the effectiveness of their otherwise-powerful Somua tanks.
Often thought of as the first big tank vs. tank battle in world history, this was actually a combined-arms assault, with the Panzers having received orders to bypass village strongpoints when possible and leave the mopping-up to the infantry. The tactic did not work well, with a counterattack by French tanks from 1st Cuirassiers wreaking havoc among the panzers. Confused armored combat lasted several hours, but in the end brute force and numbers prevailed over tactical skill. The French abandoned their positions all along the line in costly retreats, and by the end of the day 3rd Division Légère Mécanique was nearly destroyed.
This is just the sort of scenario to make a treadhead swoon like a little girl: 18 French tank units (10 of them the awesome Somua S35) against 20 German tank units (though nine of these are the nearly useless PzKpfw I tankettes). It’s going to be tough on the Germans: the French not only have the better tanks, they have the powerful 47mm APX anti-tank gun (three batteries’ worth) and are dug in on the defensive.
13 May 1940,
The heavily-fortified Meuse River in the French Ardennes was a formidable obstacle, so the Germans planned their assault carefully. Thorough reconnaissance pinpointed every French bunker, and spies confirmed that most of the fortifications around Sedan had not been completed. First Panzer Division and Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland would spearhead the attack on the city. A five-hour aerial bombardment fell on Sedan the morning of May 13th, and in the silence that followed the German ground forces attacked.
The Germans fired smoke to conceal the troops paddling furiously across the river. Still shocked by the incredible force of the aerial bombardment, the French finally emerged from their shelters and began firing at the attacking German forces. Bunker Nr. 211 was a particularly troublesome strongpoint, causing the Germans to bring up artillery and assault guns to fire directly at the pillbox openings. German engineers led the assault on the French fortifications, using demolition charges to clear the French trenches. French resistance crumbled under the seemingly-unstoppable German momentum, and the in just a few hours the Germans had established a bridgehead two kilometers deep.
This is just a little scenario, with a crack German force trying to bash its way against a well-held river line. The French have fortifications and machine guns, and really poor morale. The Germans get a decided edge in numbers, sky-high morale, plenty of leaders and the awesome Bufla bunker-busting self-propelled cannon. There’s also a lot of German artillery, but poor communications will make it hard to use on the French side of the river.
14 May 1940,
On May 13, 5th Panzer Division crossed the Meuse north of Dinant and sent infantry probes westward to expand the bridgehead and secure strategic objectives. Haut-le-Wastia was one such objective: a tiny village on the edge of a plateau overlooking the road to Anthée. French forces defended the village all day long, and 1st Groupement de Reconnaissance was ordered in as reinforcements. But German air attacks kept them away and the village fell that night. Gathering reinforcements under cover of darkness, they counterattacked at dawn on the 14th.
Several AMR33 and P16 armored cars supported the dragoons attacking from the west. Many of the Germans retreated to the center of the village but were quickly surrounded, and were finally forced to surrender when their ammunition ran out. By 0730 hours the fighting died down and the French commander radioed his victory message to 9th Army HQ ... and was immediately ordered to retreat since German tanks were now reported as having crossed the Meuse.
Another little scenario, with just one map. This time the French are on the attack, and their troops are of mixed quality. The Germans are pretty good but have no support from artillery or heavy weapons. Objectives are pretty straightforward: the Germans hold the town hexes, and the French are here to kick them out.
Expanding the Bridgehead
14 May 1940,
West of the Meuse, near Dinant, Belgium
The day had well begun for the French: Their successful early morning counterattack at Haut-le-Wastia had endangered the whole German bridgehead on the Meuse. But 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions had been ordered to merge their two separate toeholds on the left bank and expand their control to the west. The German engineers had worked all night and thrown two pontoon bridges across the Meuse: one to the south of Houx and another one at Bouvignes. But neither bridge was strong enough to support heavy panzers, so the main burden of expanding the bridgehead fell to the poor, bloody infantry.
The French were in high spirits due to their successful counterattack that morning, and several French units attacked the narrow German bridgehead aggressively. But coordination between them was poor, and one battalion of the 39th Infantry Régiment was encircled and crushed after retaking the Surinvaux woods on the heights above the river. Meanwhile, the Germans sent 2nd Battalion of 7th Schützen Regiment toward Onhaye, a village four kilometres to the west of Dinant. The battalion met little resistance, so Rommel followed them with the main body of his force. Riding in a tank, he was lightly wounded when his column came under anti-tank fire after pushing too far into an area held by 5th Régiment de Dragons Portés. But the Germans took Onhaye along with all the other hastily-formed French strongpoints in the area. By evening, the German advance was running wildly ahead of schedule and the shattered French XI Corps had to be dismantled.
This is a big scenario, with the Germans across the Meuse and trying to expand their bridgehead, while the French hope to throw them back whence they came. Both sides have plenty of artillery and only light armored support, though the French morale seems a little low for units of this quality riding high on momentum.
Lords of Steel
14 May 1940,
Between Chémery and Connage, South of Sedan, France
The motto of 7th Bataillon de Chars Légers was "Seigneur Suis" (loosely translated: “I'm the Boss”). It was equipped with the rare FCM36 light tanks, which had impressive armor protection but were armed with the old 37SA18 gun that couldn’t do much damage to German main battle tanks or to much of anything else. The battalion’s 3rd Company was ordered to attack the Sedan bridgehead, and on May 14th the tanks began their slow advance up the winding road to Connage on the way to Sedan.
Followed by too-cautious infantry, the lead French tank was soon immobilized by a German anti-tank gun hidden in the woods along the road. The tanks pressed on as more German AT guns opened fire, but eventually their progress slowed to a snail’s pace since they had to keep stopping to allow their infantry to catch up. When the armored column reached Connage, two more tanks were immobilized by German AT guns on the heights above the town. Then German tanks appeared in the village streets, and a short fight erupted at close range between two platoons of FCM and a handful of Panzers plus a monster self-propelled gun. The French caught the worst of it, and only three French tanks escaped back to French lines.
This is another small scenario, with the French attacking first and then holding on against a powerful German counter-attack. The French infantry is truly execrable, and while their tanks aren’t all that good either they also have to contend with the Bufla, which can destroy them at seemingly interstellar ranges.
A Quiet Village
14 May 1940,
Grand-Leez, Northeast of Gembloux, Belgium
It only took an hour for the engineers of 4th Panzer Division to clear a breach in the line of Cointnet anti-tank obstacles just wide enough for the panzers to pass through one by one, single-file. Such a slow procession would have made a juicy target for Allied ground-attack aircraft, but none ever showed up. Once past the obstacles, the Panzers entered open fields and charged toward Gembloux. Waiting for them at the edge of a wood were some hidden rearguard forces of the retreating 2nd Division Légère Mécanique.
Fire from French anti-tank guns and hidden tanks in the Bois de Grand Leez put a brutal halt to the advance of 36th Panzer Regiment. Neither air support nor artillery fire could silence the French, and the infantry of 33rd Schützen Regiment remained pinned in the fields and meadows. A furious tank battle developed while the Germans tried to bypass the French positions. More French tanks came into view on the road from Sauveniere, but Lt. Krause (commanding Section 2 of the German pioneers) stopped their advance by destroying 4 French tanks with an AT gun and then personally throwing a demolition charge under the French command tank. But then several Panzers bogged down in the marshy terrain, and more tanks were lost on both sides until the French finally withdrew.
This time the French DLM has the morale it deserves, plus S35 tanks. But the Germans have numbers and firepower on their side, so it’s going to be hard to hold the towns that are the key to their defensive line. There’s just one board in play and not a whole lot of time (just a dozen turns), so the Germans are going to have to come right at the French.
14 May 1940,
Walhain St-Paul, North of Gembloux, Belgium
The 3rd Division Légère Mécanique had retreated from the Jandrain armor cauldron back to the Wavre-Gembloux road. During that withdrawal, part of the division fought 5th Panzer Regiment at Thorembais while Captain de Beaufort’s escadron of the 2nd Cuirassiers stopped at Walhain some hundred meters east of the main road to Gembloux. In this fluid situation, the panzers were outrunning their infantry support and ignoring flank security.
The French brigade HQ at Walhain was suddenly surrounded by Panzers, and the Somuas of the 2nd Cuirassiers engaged them. In the village a Pz IV knocked out three French tanks at close range, and while the Germans claimed seven more French tanks destroyed they ended up backing off due to their exposed forward position. In the middle of the afternoon de Beaufort’s tanks pulled back under orders, having lost ten tanks at Walhain. It was time for the 3rd Division Légère Mécanique to withdraw and let the infantry take care of the defense of France.
Tanks tanks tanks. Nothing but tanks: six German, four French. The Germans have better command and control but the French have the Somua S35. This is a fun little scenario, built for the panzer-pusher that lives inside every wargamer.
Early Morning at Stonne
15 May 1940,
Stonne, South of Sedan, France
On a long ridge south of Sedan sit the woods of Mont-Dieu and a little hilltop village called Stonne. They were directly in the path of Guderian’s motorized infantry expanding the Sedan bridgehead across the Meuse. As French forces crumbled before Guderian’s advance, 3rd Division d’Infanterie Motorisée and 3rd Division Cuirassée de Réserve were hastily sent to restore the line and occupy the heights at Stonne.
The French did not have enough time to establish proper defensive positions at Stonne before Grossdeutschland regiment attacked at dawn on May 15th. After an initial artillery barrage, German soldiers climbed the steep slopes followed by panzers on the winding road. Five German tanks were destroyed by French 25mm guns and Panhards, but the rest wreaked havoc in the streets and the French quickly abandoned the village. But then French armored reinforcements arrived and counterattacked along with some of the infantry that had retreated. The Germans resisted fiercely, and held off the French infantry while destroying several H39 tanks. Only the arrival of several huge B1-bis tanks later that morning would turn the tide against the Germans.
Now we start a series of scenarios based on one of the campaign’s best-known battles, the epic struggle for Stonne. The Germans are very good, with high morale, many leaders and lots of artillery support. The French are not so good; the 7/6 morale is way too low for good regular army units like the 3rd Motorized and 3rd Armored divisions that have not yet been worn down in action. The Germans do have tough victory conditions, which makes the scenario balanced for play, but probably for the wrong reasons. I’d give the French 8/6 morale, move the game's start to 0415 (to bring it more in line with the battle's actual starting time) and extend the game's length to 20 turns.
And that wraps up Part Two. Keep reading with Part Three.
Click here to order 1940: The Fall of France!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.