Panzer Grenadier: 1940 The Fall of France
Scenario Preview, Part Six
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The story began in Part One and continued in Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.
With 1940, The Fall of France, Philippe Leonard introduced the French campaign of 1940 to Panzer Grenadier (the game title’s kind of a giveaway there). It’s a campaign well-suited to the Panzer Grenadier series, with many fast-moving battles and the side that lost at the strategic level well able to hold its own at the tactical scale: the French have better tanks and some very fine units.
The campaign is such a rich historical background that we have two more boxed games in the pipeline, and will doubtlessly re-visit it again and again over the coming years. For now, here’s the final installment of our scenario preview:
29 May 1940
Southwest of Abbeville, France
A successful Blitzkrieg in France required motorized divisions to screen the flanks of the panzer divisions forcing their way westward, followed by infantry to secure the flanks and rear areas. The latter would generally establish defensive positions behind rivers, and the River Somme was certainly a good choice. At Abbeville, however, the German 57th Infantry Division (an undistinguished reservist unit) had pushed beyond the Somme to establish a bridgehead in preparation for further attacks. Groupement A of French 7th Army issued orders to erase the German bridgehead and retake Abbeville, and gave the job to DeGaulle’s 4th Division Cuirasse. He attacked on May 28 and retook Huppy after a fierce battle, intending to wipe out the rest of the bridgehead on the following day.
The Germans deployed two 88mm guns named Cesar 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). DeGaulle countered all this firepower with superior tactics, his tanks out-maneuvering and destroying Dora while forcing Cesar to flee. The B1-bis tanks reached Villers ahead of the French reservist infantry, which was advancing slowly from the south behind a formation of Renault 35 tanks. German machine guns wreaked havoc on the reservists and broke their morale, but then some overzealous German infantry charged the B1-bis tanks and were cut to pieces. That spread panic in the German ranks, and many German soldiers fled the field abandoning weapons and comrades. By noon the German bridgehead had been reduced by half, and the only substantial German strongpoint remaining was at an ancient Celtic fortification on Mont Caubert. Unfortunately, exhaustion, casualties and dwindling fuel kept the French from pressing their advantage to re-conquer Abbeville. The Germans would get the chance to regroup and prepare for a counterattack.
This time it’s the Germans who are dug in on the defensive, with the French on the attack backed by a strong armored force. Neither side’s all that into it, with only average morale, but both bring a good amount of artillery with the French for once having strong off-board support. The Germans have a pair of 88mm batteries that can shred the French tanks, even the mighty B1-bis; if the French tankers can avoid them it’ll go hard for the Wehrmacht.
Back on the Attack
30 May 1940
Southwest of Abbeville, France
The previous day’s panic forgotten, the Germans were on the move again in the reduced bridgehead after Manstein himself gave them some "encouragement." Meanwhile in the village of Villers-sur-Mareuil at the foot of Mont Caubert, the French troops of the 22nd Régiment d’Infanterie Coloniale received the order to renew the attack and deliver the final blow. But curiously, only 180 men and a small number of light tanks were committed to the French assault. Their first objective was the Bois de Villers, just on the other side of the road.
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 were hit and lost, but the others kept moving. Fire from tanks and supporting artillery eventually silenced the guns while the French infantry stumbled into their German counterpart in the woods. The fight then devolved into a confused stalemate, and by evening the French had only advanced 300 meters.
This is an odd little scenario; while both sides claimed to be attacking, neither committed much force to the effort. The French need to push the Germans back while the Germans must advance (anyone left behind counts against them). Success or failure is going to depend on the 88mm battery supporting the Germans; without it they have nothing to oppose the French armor. With it the French tanks are toast if they come out of cover.
Coup de Grace
30 May 1940
Southwest of Abbeville, France
German reinforcements had arrived in the Abbeville area the night of the 29th and were now threatening the nearby villages of Moyenneville, Villers and Bienfay. The French were out of time; they had to strike the fatal blow at the Abbeville bridgehead. So after a short artillery bombardment late on the afternoon of the 30th, French tanks charged the German positions followed by all the forces DeGaulle could muster.
German 88mm gunfire smashed into the charging French tanks, destroying five of them in short order. But the German infantry was forced out of the "Bois des Anglais" and sent 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,” meaning “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. Then at 8 p.m. 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. The 4th DCR was spent, and the Battle of Abbeville was lost.
A big scenario, with the French 4th DCR (DeGaulle’s Division) on the attack against German infantry backed by those dreaded 88mm batteries. It’s a big force of French armor, this time with good infantry in support, with good artillery support. Given the furious fighting, the morale levels for each side are kind of questionable – low morale tank crews don’t press forward against the 88mm death ray.
Road to Dunkirk
3 June 1940
South of Dunkirk, France
The last British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk the night of June 2nd, and on the morning of the 3rd the French were making a desperate effort to hold the lines while evacuating as many of their own troops as possible. Few men and weapons were available for the last-ditch defense, but courageous volunteers from 7th Groupement de Reconnaissance and 224th Infantry Regiment were determined to give their lives for their brothers in arms.
South of Dunkirk on the road to Bergues, French forces held fast at the Sept-Planètes crossroads and bridge. German casualties were heavy, and around 1100 their attack slowed as no German trooper wanted to be the last man killed before final victory. Trading ground for time, the heroic French soldiers held back the German tide until nightfall. Sadly, they did their job too well: they held the line until after the last boat left Dunkirk, and most of them were captured the next day in the nearly deserted city.
The Germans are on the attack, and they need to cross a river and advance off the edge of the world – and there’s a penalty for stragglers. The French defenders match their high morale if not their firepower. The fight’s between two infantry forces, with the French deploying enough motorcyclists to make things interesting.
9 June 1940
Between Saint-Just-en-Chaussée and Clermont, south of Amiens, France
Like the phoenix, 1st Division Cuirassée rose from its own ashes. Having been nearly wiped out in Belgium, it was rebuilt in the first days of June and sent to defend France from the German armies moving southward after the fall of Dunkirk. On June 9, 1st DCR was ordered to take a westward-facing position on the Arré River line to screen the rear of troops retreating behind the river. Unfortunately, some of the approaching German forces had already crossed the river at points farther north and were ready to outflank the French position. The day would be a hot one for the reborn French armor.
The tanks of 34th Bataillon de Chars de Combat took serious punishment around Lieuvillers and the La Folie farm, and mechanical problems and traffic jams delayed the arrival of French armored reinforcements. Individual tank companies began arriving one by one mid-morning, and soon the village of Erquinvillers became the centre of combat between German anti-tank guns and the Renault tanks. At 1115 the encounter was all but over with the 34th BCC having lost 22 of its tanks, while at Lieuvillers the town was on fire but the German advance had been slowed. Meanwhile to the north at St-Just en Chaussée the R-35s and B1-bis tanks skirmished with the Germans, putting about 10 enemy tanks out of action. They pulled back at 1130 having accomplished their mission. At Clermont to the south, reinforcements arrived in time to support the defenders, and 1st DCR had saved the day (but at a high price).
The phoenix only rises piecemeal in this big scenario, with French troops and tanks appearing in tiny groups over the course of the game. The German panzers come from two directions, with the French in good position to do serious damage to first one group and then the other – if they can get into place in time.
16 June 1940
Near Saulieu, France
By mid-June the German armored spearheads had struck deep into the French interior. The French 2nd and 4th Armies had disintegrated, and in the Bourgogne region some small groups were fighting their way toward the Loire river as best they could. One such group included paratroopers from the 14th Regiment de Dragon Parachutistes plus some of the brand-new Hotchkiss tanks from the 8th Dragons. On the 16th they made a break for freedom through an area that was crawling with Germans.
Following trails and back roads, the French column advanced cautiously and bypassed the main towns in the area. But then they ran into a roadblock formed by abandoned trucks, behind which was a strong detachment of the 3rd Panzer Division. The French tanks opened fire and destroyed German regimental command tank along with some others. But then some powerfully-armed PzIV tanks arrived, and the French realized they’d fallen into a trap of their own making since the narrow road they were on left them no room to maneuver. One by one the French tanks were picked off by German anti-tank fire, and most of the survivors were eventually captured. The 4th Escadron of the 14th Regiment de Dragon Parachutistes and the 8th Dragons ceased to exist.
I’m dismayed to find that we published a scenario with French paratroopers, but failed to publish any special pieces for French paratroopers. That’s just wrong; we’re going to have to fix that in the Golden Journal sooner rather than later. It’s a tough trek for the paratroopers and their friends, whatever pieces are used to represent them.
18 June 1940
North of Luxeuil, northeast of Vesoul, Vosges Mountains, France
On June 16 the 1st and 2nd Panzer divisions were pushing southward toward the Saône River while the 20th Motorized Division screened their northern flank and fought its way eastward toward the Swiss border. The trapped French 8th Army was their obvious target, and it could do nothing but wait for the hammer blow to fall. Even worse, the French didn’t know where to deploy their forces since the Germans could also strike at them from the east by crossing the Rhine or even by cutting through Switzerland (they did cross the Rhine on June 15). So the 8th Army opted to cover all its flanks and spread its forces thinly, ordering Groupement Duluc (named after its commander) to deploy on the French west flank on a front more than 70 kilometers long. Having lost many of the units under his command in a previous battle with 20th Motorized, he deployed what troops he could muster around small cities that had been fortified in a last effort to stem the tide.
The motley force defending Luxeuil was poorly-balanced, with more artillery than infantry. In addition, their scattered troops were set up to defend a line of villages along a river instead of defending the roads the Germans would have to use in their attack. Some ancient FT17 tanks completed the picture of a lost cause, and the French positions were overwhelmed by the Germans who then advanced to the northeast to complete the encirclement of 8th Army.
The French are losing heart, but at least they have plenty of support weapons and some armor support. They’ll need to hold towns and roads against a motorized German attacker who has strong morale but excellent mobility (at least on the roads) but only a little artillery support and no tanks, only armored cars. This provides for an unusual, highly fluid scenario that should be a lot of fun for either player.
We Will Not Surrender!
18 June 1940
Xertigny, southwest of Epinal, France
Word was out that France had requested an armistice. For the Germans in the field, that meant the race was on to conquer as much territory as possible before the guns fell silent. Sixth Panzer Division sent two kampfgruppen toward Epinal on the Moselle River near Switzerland. On his way there Oberstleutnant Koll sought to pass through the little town of Xertigny, but discovered that a French squadron was defending it and determined to make a stand.
Kamfgruppe Koll took its first casualties when 75mm shells erupted from the town just as the first panzers and motorcycles reached it. The Germans screeched to a halt but two PzII tanks and some motorcycles were quickly lost. Koll sent everything he had against the town, from panzers to self-propelled guns to artillery, but the dismounted French cavalrymen fought bravely behind their barricades and strongpoints. “We will not surrender!” was the final order of the French commander, de Saint-Cernin (who has a street named after him there today). They did not surrender until the town was on fire and most of their officers lay dead among the ruins. Koll lost 12 men killed and 26 wounded, and one day’s advance. In his report he called the “a surprisingly tough defense.”
This is a small scenario, with a group of die-hard French dismounted cavalry and some less-die-hard supporters holding a town against a mixed German mobile force. Their mobility won’t help much; at some point they have to dig the French out of the town and the French won’t be moved easily.
Valley of Death
23 June 1940,
Voreppe, north of Grenoble, France
Reaching Grenoble was a key objective for the Germans on the Alpine Front, because there they could link up with their new Italian allies (who had declared war on France on June 21). Colonel Von Funk decided to take the city via a nighttime surprise attack, but the phone lines were still working and the French were able to get word of the attack to their forces in Voreppe (a town in the narrow Isere Valley). Infantry, engineers, Marine gunners, a few 75mm guns, some 47mm antitank guns and two huge 194mm tracked self-propelled guns were deployed along the valley, and when a German column entered the valley on the morning of the 23rd, several of its tanks were quickly destroyed. A second frontal assault achieved similar results, so the attackers fell back to prepare a more careful battle plan.
The Germans gathered all the artillery they could and began bombarding French positions late in the afternoon. They then sent in an infantry assault but it was stopped by the French artillery, which benefited from excellent spotting by officers positioned on the nearby mountain tops of the Vercors plateau. Several German tanks opened fire on French positions at long-range, but French anti-tank fire responded and killed two more German tanks. The Germans abandoned all hope of taking Voreppe with a frontal assault, and planned to envelop the French the next day by moving through the mountains to the east. But by then the French had brought in even more artillery, and all further German efforts met with a similar fate.
We finish up with a scenario that’s for the truly dedicated player; I’m not sure any other scenario among the 1,000 of whatever of the total Panzer Grenadier series has this many special pretend-x-is-y terrain rules. It’s actually a pretty good scenario loaded with weirdness (and rail guns – we should have given those counters, too!) if you can get past the suspension of disbelief to pretend you’re seeing mountains on the map boards.
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.