Panzer Grenadier: 1940 — The Fall of France
Scenario Preview, Part Three
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D
The story began in Part One and continued in Part Two.
Designing Panzer Grenadier scenarios is both harder and easier than it looks. Once you’re working from good sources and on a roll, translating actions into game situations just sort of flows. But if you want your scenario to model an actual event, you can’t just make stuff up. No starting the battle earlier or later to even out the odds, adding or subtracting artillery, increasing or decreasing morale not because your sources lead you to believe it’s justified but because it “makes the game come out right.” Instead you have to figure out just why one side won and the other lost.
Philippe Léonard did a great job of that with 1940: The Fall of France. Here’s a look at eight more of his fine scenarios:
Piercing the Iron Line
15 May 1940, Perbais and Ernage, North of Gembloux, Belgium
The soldiers of 1st Division d’Infanterie Motorisée had spent an uneasy night in Perbais, a village north of Gembloux. Though well dug-in and fortified, they could sense German troops crawling toward them in the dark and cutting through their barbed wire barricades. When day dawned, the Stukas came and German troops attacked all along the line. Meanwhile south of Ernage, the main French strongpoint was the Sart-Ernage farm which bristled with mortars, machine guns and anti-tank guns (including the powerful 47mm APX). The test of strength began.
The Germans had underestimated French strength at Perbais due to insufficient reconnaissance the previous day. The infantry of 3rd Panzer Division attacked at 0915 hours, but without armor support they became bogged down under heavy French artillery fire. The arrival of armored reinforcements plus more air support finally opened a gap in the French lines, and as the Germans reached the railway line most of the French units in Ernage were forced to fall back. This left the flanks of the neighboring French units exposed, and Perbais fell somewhat later. But German casualties were mounting, and the frustrated and exhausted assault troops were eventually halted by rumors of counterattacking French tanks. They even began to retreat from Perbais, causing German commanders to send more reinforcements there. Meanwhile back in Ernage, a lone French company was still holding out, causing the Germans to send more tanks and infantry across the railway and deep towards the already burning Sart farm and the village of Cortil-Noirmont. But a final French counterattack restored their lines, forcing the German spearhead to fall back beyond the railway. The French First Army had held its own against all odds.
This is an odd scenario. There are two boards placed one atop the other to make a long, narrow corridor, not that unusual in Panzer Grenadier scenarios, but the Germans are trying to fight their way across from east to west. Thus the French have to defend the whole length of the board, but do have a sunken railroad bed to help out with plentiful troops, support weapons and anti-tank guns. The Germans will eventually get substantial tank reinforcements, but it’s the infantry who will have to win this battle.
The Iron Line: South
15 May 1940, Gembloux, Belgium
The Germans had launched two attacks on the railway line at Gembloux on the 14th, and both times the Moroccans holding the line had rebuffed the Master Race with ease. So the next morning, the Germans ruined a magnificent sunrise by sending in a flight of Stukas to pour loads of bombs into the Moroccan lines. Soon afterward, the tanks and infantry of 4th Panzer Division attacked in much greater numbers than they had the day before. But the French artillery got the jump on their German counterparts, silencing the enemy guns and depriving the Pioneers of the covering fire they’d need to push through the railway obstacle.
The German tanks joined the fray far too soon and French heavy artillery, minefields and well-situated anti tank guns wreaked havoc in their ranks. Squad leader Louis Brindejonc commanding one of the 25mm AT guns claimed 7 Germans tanks that morning. More brilliant commanders and simple soldiers lost their lives near the terrible sunken railway before the tanks retreated and another wave of Stukas was called in at 1030 hours. The German infantry continued the assault alone, and at a high price in men and machines they successfully infiltrated the railway to move into the fields beyond it. They were eventually joined by forces diverted from the heavy fighting near the railway station at Gembloux, once the Germans figured out there was no way they could dislodge the Moroccans from there. By noon the French forces had lost seven complete sections in numerous close assaults, but the counterattack to restore their line was ready for launch.
This scenario is a lot of fun: huge numbers of troops jammed onto one board, fighting it out nose-to-nose. The Germans are very good, as befits a crack panzer division, but the Moroccans have equal morale and just as many leaders. I really regret not giving the French Colonials their own counters in a unique color scheme; we need to fix that someday.
15 May 1940, Stonne, South of Sedan, France
The Germans were still holding out in Stonne at 1000, so the French sent in a second counterattack to retake the village. The French tanks followed the tracks left by the first wave to ascend the ridge to the plateau.
As the French tanks advanced on the village, German soldiers sniped at the oncoming French infantry from the top of the village’s water tower. A hail of AT shells immobilized or destroyed several French tanks, and the French infantry eventually chose to bypass the village through the western woods. They captured a position in the western part of Stonne, and as the Germans fought to repel them the French tanks closed the pincers on the village. Soon, most of the Germans could be seen running and driving away from the deadly heights. This was a serious failure for the Grossdeutschland Regiment, and its first retreat since the beginning of the war.
We’re back at Stonne, this time with a French counter-attack. I suspect the French probably should have better morale, given their performance, and the Germans not so much given that they ran away. To balance that out the scenario would have to be a little shorter, to force the action on the French. It does play well as published, but I’m not convinced it does so for the right reasons.
15 May 1940,
The small crossroads town of Montcornet was of special strategic importance since it lay at the nexus of the Reims, Laon and Vervins roads. The German “sickle-cut” plan had confused French forces as to the real objectives of the attack, throwing them into disarray as they moved hither and yon to cope with a ubiquitous enemy. Some motorized elements of the 2nd Division Cuirassée de Réserve were shifting positions around Montcornet when they met a recon column from 6th Panzer Division closing on the town.
Around 17:00, Lt-Col von Esebeck’s column was approaching Montcornet from the east just as a detachment from 17th Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés was approaching the town from the north. Spotting the Germans, the French formed a defensive line around the railway station at the north edge of the town. The combined attack of the German motorcyclists fording the small river and the tanks of the 6th Panzer firing from the rear eventually wore-down French resistance. Combat ended around 20:00 with heavy French losses: 3 officers, 9 NCOs and 45 chasseurs wounded or killed and ten 25mm guns lost along with their trucks.
This is just a small scenario, but the Germans are mounted on motorcycles (not all, but a bunch of them are) and that adds a fun wrinkle to play. The Germans have tank support, if you can call it that (just light tanks) but the French have a strong contingent of anti-tank guns to take them out. Except for the small French garrison that starts the game on the map, both sides are mobile and have good morale.
15 May 1940, Gembloux, Belgium
The German assault on Gembloux itself had gotten nowhere. Rebuffed by rock-solid Moroccan infantry backed by extremely accurate French artillery, the German infantry paid a heavy price. The one bright spot for them was a point between Ernage and Gembloux where they had been able to punch a hole through the railway line and overrun the hidden antitank guns there. Then word came around midday that 3rd Panzer Division had pierced the line at Perbais and Ernage, and that brought on a new German attack backed by air support. The French began to give way around the Lagasse farm just north of Gembloux, but then the armored counterattack that had been ordered at 11:30 finally began.
The Germans poured heavy fire into the French, whose infantry became separated from their tanks. Some of the latter were disabled by German AT fire or pinned down by German tanks arriving from Ernage to the north. By 1830 the counterattack had ground to a halt, but the Germans had been stopped and ended up withdrawing behind the railway. Unfortunately, as darkness fell on the battlefield the French success at Gembloux was voided by German victory farther south.
It’s just a one-board scenario, but there are lots of troops running around. The French are on the attack with numbers on their side, Moroccan morale, and armor superiority. It’s going to be a tough close-quarters fight; I just wish we’d given the Moroccans their own counters.
15 May 1940, Between Perbais and Gembloux, Belgium
The French line had repulsed nearly all assaults, but Ernage was a soft spot. German forays had bypassed the small village and pushed onto Cortil Noirmont, where they stopped at 1730. After some moments of near panic, the Moroccans rallied after their divisional commander General Mellier took the field himself to lead the counterattack that had been planned since since 1130 that morning.
General Mellier committed his entire reserve to the counterattack, with the objective of retaking the railway line. The forces moved out early in the afternoon but were slowed by Stuka attacks and German artillery fire. Then as they neared the scene of action, all their Renault 35 tanks were abruptly rerouted to Gembloux. That left their infantry no armor support, but nonetheless the arrival of reinforcements stiffened the resolve of the French units holding the line. Around 2030 in Cortil-Couvent and Cortil-Noirmont, French antitank guns destroyed five panzers in the space of just a few minutes. Then the Moroccans at the front stood up and charged the Germans and forced them to fall back behind the railway. The day ended with a clear French victory, even though both sides had nearly been bled dry. The Gembloux battle was the lone example during the France 1940 campaign of infantry divisions successfully blocking an armored advance.
Those Moroccans are on the attack again, so perhaps the scenario should have been titled Furia Arabica. Though the Germans have more tanks and high morale, the French are actually Moroccans. And they get air support for once, plus good leadership. This is another tough close-quarters fight.
16 May 1940,
Stonne, South of Sedan, France
Though the French counterattack the previous day had driven Grossdeutschland from the village, troops and a few tanks from 10th Panzer Division remained there. General Flavigny (commanding the 21st Army Corps) felt he had no choice but to launch a massive counterattack to eliminate the German threat and secure the village. At 0505 hours on the 16th, French artillery began pounding what was left of the village as French tanks advanced again across the plateau.
Commandant Malaguti (commanding 41st Bataillon de Chars de Combat) drove his B1-bis tanks right into the smoking ruins of the village, destroyed a panzer and then sprayed some German infantrymen with machine-gun fire. By 0555 the southern edge of Stonne had been cleared, but the Germans still held the woods near the town. Meanwhile Captain Billotte (in another B1bis), entered the main street of the village from the west and found himself head-to- head with a long column of German tanks. Like tank ace Wittmann did later in Normandy, Billotte simply drove his tank down the German column and calmly destroyed 13 enemy tanks and several antitank weapons. By the end of the battle, Billotte’s tank had taken 140 hits but suffered no appreciable damage. The Germans fled, and by 0700 Stonne was French again.
We’re back at Stonne, and once again I think French morale is understated. I’d give them 8/6 and cut the game by a couple of turns; these are very good units even if they aren’t popping crystal meth like the Germans. The French get to deploy the Char B1bis tank in some numbers, so stomping Nazis with this big tank is going to be fun.
Secure the Flank!
16 May 1940,
South of Sauville, west of the Ardennes Canal, France
After breaking out of the Sedan bridgehead, 1st Panzer Division was ordered to strike westward while Grossdeutschland held the line at Stonne. To cover their flanks they sent detachments to secure the bridges east of the town of Le Chesne on the Ardennes Canal. As for the French, poor decision-making by the high command meant that the only units in the area were scattered recon elements and a few tanks.
West of the Ardennes Canal near Sauville, two French “moto” platoons on Simca commercial cars ran into a German motorized column at 0600 hours. Those who escaped alerted the various scattered recon groups protecting the canal line. As German infantry and anti-tank units advanced, more French infantry came from the rear to hold the bridges. The Tannay Bridge was saved at the last minute by the arrival of 16th Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés (riding armored Lorraine carriers), but by then all the bridges were under attack. Around midday Stukas arrived to support the German ground troops, but the bridge defenders held out for the rest of the day and French engineers were able to blow up some of the bridges that night.
Once again we have two boards stacked lengthwise, one atop the other, making a long river line. Both sides are trying to secure the bridges over the river, with the Germans pressing south and the French moving north. The French have a slight numerical edge, but the Germans have better morale and better artillery. It’s an odd situation, requiring careful planning (lest you send your troops up the wrong side of the river).
And that wraps up Part Two. Keep reading with Part Four.
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.