Panzer Grenadier: 1940 The Fall of France
Scenario Preview, Part Four
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The story began in Part One and continued in Part Two and Part Three.
At this writing, we’ve created 20 boxed games for Panzer Grenadier (including those designed but still in production for future release, and those that are out of print). Some of them were fairly easy to research, some very difficult. But none presented the challenge of a game on the 1940 French campaign. After a great deal of effort, I saw no way to obtain the detailed combat narratives needed to build a comprehensive scenario set short of travelling to France. Which appealed to me personally (I do read the language, though I speak it terribly) but most definitely not to the Avalanche Press budget even in the salad days of the old regime.
And then came Philippe Léonard, with an immense personal library, access to a great deal more, and thorough experience in designing tactical wargame scenarios for another publisher’s game system. The result is the game I desperately wanted this series to include, 1940: The Fall of France. Here’s a look at some more of its scenarios.
17 May 1940,
Montcornet , France
The Germans had achieved amazing success in the first week of the campaign, crossing the Meuse at three different points and advancing westward while severely battering French armored forces. Continuing the advance would expose the southern German flank to French counterattacks, but Guderian pressed on nonetheless, counting on speed and continued confusion in French ranks to prevent any effective response. It worked better than he could have hoped, but the anticipated counterattack finally came from de Gaulle’s 4th Division Cuirassée de Réserve. Although understrength, not fully trained and lacking intelligence on the enemy, 4th DCR was unleashed toward the Serre river crossings at Montcornet.
At Chivres the French destroyed a German artillery column, but then had to leave their heavy tanks at Clermont for refuelling while sending the lighter R 35s ahead to Montcornet. The small German garrison there held off the French attack, destroying seven French tanks and forcing the rest to withdraw. Then some of the French heavy tanks arrived and blasted everything in their path until German dive bombers and 88mm shells drove them off again. The disjointed and poorly planned attack accomplished nothing.
Charles de Gaulle’s division arrives on the scene in piecemeal fashion, with waves of tanks crashing on a very small defending German force. But the Germans will eventually have two deadly batteries of 88mm guns, and have much better morale than the French. The French have almost no infantry, yet they have to capture town hexes. That’s not an easy task with a force made up almost exclusively of tanks. But you can send them into battle in their own distinctive color scheme!
To the Bridges!
17 May 1940,
Berlaimont, east of the Mormal forest, France
French troop strength on the Sambre River line was so weak that the commanders in the field decided to only defend the bridges. This was the role of the 87th Régiment d’Infanterie de Forteresse, supported by some motorcycle platoons of the 8th Cuirassiers. When word came that the bridges at Berlaimont had been taken by the Germans, these units were sent to take them back.
Desipite their best efforts the French could not muster enough anti-tank guns to do anything about the panzers patrolling the Mormal Forest. But then two Somua tank platoons of de Segonzac’s escadron arrived from Le Quesnoy, and thus reinforced the French drove through the forest (destroying a few light panzers on the way) and reached the outskirts of Berlaimont in the evening. A short and violent firefight erupted between the French tanks, some light panzers and German anti-tank guns. Three Somuas were damaged before the French called a retreat. Combat the following day would be even more difficult, and 4th Cuirassiers ended up being withdrawn to Jolimetz.
Motorcycles! An entire French battalion of motorcyclists is on the attack, though once again their morale seems a bit low for elite troops (no different from the far-less-than-elite fortress troops accompanying them). Their tank support greatly outclasses that of the Germans, though they’re on the short end of the morale comparison. Unfortunately for the French, they’re after a specific objective (a bridge) and so their great mobility isn’t that much of an advantage. But anytime you get to play with this many motorcycles, it’s a fun scenario.
18 May 1940, Jolimetz, northwest of the Mormal forest
Capitaine de Segonzac (commanding the first squadron of 4th Cuirassiers) and Hauptmann Graf Schimmelmann (commanding 15th Panzer Regiment) were the sons of old aristocratic families. They fought a duel on the edge of the Mormal forest on the road to Le Quesnoy.
De Segonzac was actually a Somua specialist who had trained his men thoroughly in the use of these excellent tanks. So when the Germans attacked the French position near Jolimetz, some of the Somuas charged them and succeeded in driving the panzers back while destroying several German tanks and AT gun positions. Not one Somua was lost, and firing ceased at noon when the Germans realized that a continued frontal assault would cost them far too much.
Each side comes to this battle with a mixed tank-infantry force and strong morale. The victory conditions force them to fight for towns, but given the long board and each side’s limited mobility (both have more foot units than transports) there’s going to be a tank-on-tank free-for-all to determine the winner. And this time the French get Algerians, even if it is only one platoon’s worth.
They Shall Not Pass!
18 May 1940, East of Maubeuge, France
The Maubeuge fortified sector was part of the old World War I fortress line along the Belgian border. It had been built along the Sambre River as a kind of secondary extension of the Maginot line. Following the failure of the Dyle plan and subsequent German moves southward to cut the retreat of the French armies, some utterly exhausted French troops were assigned to hold the line along with the garrisons there. The Frenchmen on the line knew that they were just waiting for the Germans to close the noose around them, but their orders were to delay the enemy advance at any cost.
The south bank of the Mauberge was defended by the casemates of Marpent, while on the north bank the mixed collection of French units under Lt. Col. Marioge made a desperate effort to defend the few bridges which had not yet been destroyed. The Germans attacked the southern casemates on the morning of the 18th and took them one by one that afternoon despite powerful defensive fire from the fort at Boussois. Meanwhile, Germans coming from the city of Maubeuge hit the French from another direction. On the Assevent bridge, scattered infantry elements and several tanks resisted several German attempts to cross the river and held the bridge until nightfall. Groupement Marioge held out for several days, but their fate was sealed from the outset. The fort at Boussois was the last of the Mauberge Line to fall, capitulating under massive bombardments and engineer attacks on May 21.
It’s not always about the tanks. This is a fairly large scenario featuring a German infantry assault on French fortified positions. The Germans have sky-high morale and some very limited tank support, plus a great deal of artillery. The French have reasonable morale given their situation, even more artillery than the Germans, and entrenchments to protect their troops. This is going to be tough on the Germans.
For God, France and Joan of Arc
18 May 1940, Jolimetz, northwest of the Mormal forest, France
At 1300 hours the Germans began their second attack on Jolimetz. Heavy Panzer IV tanks took point while the light Panzer I and II tanks made a wide flanking movement to come at the village from the north. With the village being quite close to the forest, combat would be at close quarters.
The badly outnumbered Somua tanks fought hard but fell to the Germans one by one, and when the crew of a destroyed tank called for a retreat de Segonzac replied calmly “Go back into your tank and continue to fight!” But resistance was useless against such odds, and German infantry began to take the village despite a valiant close-combat effort by Algerian infantry there. At 1600 de Segonzac’s tank was shot through by several shells, and the rest of the Somuas began withdrawing from the village toward Le Quesnoy. They were ambushed by other panzers at the village exit and set afire, and in the end only one Somua escaped. With their tank support gone, the Algerians left Jolimetz at 1700.
This is the sequel to Knightly Combat, in which the Germans mount the attack they should have made the first time. They have big advantages in numbers and firepower; the French have no artillery but they do have a great deal of fighting spirit (and some Algerians).
Sidi Brahim Again
19 May 1940,
Chambry, North East of Laon, France
Early in the morning of the 19th, the tanks of 4th Division Cuirassée de Reserve plus some units of 3rd Division Légère de Cavalerie rushed northward to cross the Serre River at Crécy. To the east, 4th Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés and units from 39th Infantry Regiment and 10th Cuirassiers were tasked with holding the right flank of the French advance. On the German side, Colonel Durrstein of the 25th Infantry Division had orders to take the city of Laon as soon as possible, since it was a main supply base for the French armored attack.
Taking his information from the retreating armoured cavalry, Capitaine de Chavannes ordered the 4th Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés to settle down in the small village of Chambry, a few kilometers northeast of Laon. When Commandant Bertrand (CO of the 4th BCP) joined them on the eve of combat, all the Chasseurs knew that the defence would be “at all costs” just like at Sidi-Brahim. The first German attack hit the northern entrance of the village at the same time as a flanking move from the west. The flank attack stalled, but the frontal assault (supported by heavy guns and helped by fires raging in the buildings) was only stopped by the iron will of the Chasseurs.
A quick one-board scenario in which a mixed French force led by high-morale Chasseurs tries to hold back a powerful German infantry attack. The French have decent numbers but most of their units are reservists of average morale or worse. But it is another chance to send DeGaulle's Division into action.
Holding the Flank
19 May 1940, Chambry, Northeast of Laon
There was no road to Laon except the one that went through Chambry, so 25th Infantry Division had no choice but to renew their assault on the village later the same day. As for the French, De Gaulle’s attack was going nowhere and Chambry (the anchor of the French right flank) had to be held as long as possible so that to 4th Division Cuirassee could withdraw.
After some powerful preparatory fire from their self-propelled 88mm guns, the Germans renewed the attack on the eastern part of the village concentrating on the chateau and its park. Soon the chateau was on fire and the encircled chasseurs had no choice but to fight or surrender. After a valiant resistance that took many German lives, they finally surrendered around 1400. Frenchmen in the rest of the village were low on ammunition but kept on fighting until 1600, when a French motorcyclist arrived carrying the order to retreat. Fourth BCP retreated to Laon that evening.
This scenario picks up the action from Scenario 30: Sidi Brahim Again; the defeated Germans have regrouped and are launching a fresh assault. Both sides have suffered losses, but this time the French have powerful tank support in the offing.
A Bridgehead Too Far
20 May 1940, Bouchain, France
Falling back in disarray from Maubeuge and the Mormal forest, French units tried to find some safety behind the Escaut (Schelde) river. This jibed with the French High Command’s plan to form a new line of defense between Denain and Cambrai and all around Arras. But gaining control of the scattered French forces was just wishful thinking at this point, and some bridges across the Escaut were simply left unguarded and swiftly occupied by the marauding Germans.
Third Battalion of 2nd Régiment de Tirailleurs Marocains just barely escaped from the inferno at Gembloux and then marched 140km in three days to arrive at Bouchain. They were immediately assigned to the defence of the Escaut river line, and on May 20th they were sent to retake the small bridge at Boucheneuil from the Germans. The Germans repulsed the initial attack, but that night the Moroccans attacked again with a Somua tank platoon in support. Pushing through mortar and heavy machinegun fire, they reached the bridge and the sappers mined it. But the demolition charges failed to destroy the bridge completely, and two Somuas were lost.
This is just a small one-board scenario, but the French get two companies of Moroccans to try to seize and blow up a bridge held by a German infantry company. It's all about the bridge: blow it up, and the French win the game. Keep it up, and the Germans win. Don't let the Germans win.
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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.