An Army at Dawn: Big Red One
Scenario Preview, Part One

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
June 2024

For the new Playbook Edition of Panzer Grenadier: An Army at Dawn, designer Mike Perryman brought the focus tightly onto the actions of the U.S. 1st Armored Division. The prior edition of the game already centered this formation; the new version clarifies this and builds the campaign narrative around the division.

That leaves the other American divisions without the headline treatment, though their troops do see a lot of action (subordinated to ad-hoc task forces by the battalion or even company). By March 1943 these had reverted to control of their parent divisions, once corps commander Lloyd Fredendall was banished to Memphis. And that’s where An Army at Dawn: Big Red One picks up the story, as the 1st Infantry Division finally gets to fight together as a unit. Let’s have a look at the first chapter (Big Red One picks up the chapter and scenario numbering of An Army at Dawn):

Chapter Eleven
El Guettar
A new commander, George S. Patton, brought new confidence to the defeated and demoralized U.S. II Corps. Patton took over the corps on 6 March, and after sacking a number of disappointing subordinates and instilling new discipline, began a cautious advance on the 17th. On 18 March the Americans occupied the oasis at El Guettar, with the Italians pulling back into the nearby hills.

The Americans had landed in North Africa five months previously with their anti-tank defenses in the hands of specialized tank destroyer battalions. They soon found the equipment and weapons far from adequate, and the doctrine for their use little better. The German tanks did not happily charge into the anti-tank guns, instead hanging back under cover of their own anti-tank guns and artillery, enticing the American tankers to rush forward to their destruction. A revised doctrine more suited to the theater would now be employed.

On the Axis side, Erwin Rommel had decamped for Germany, finally giving the Axis a clear chain of command. Hans-Jürgen Arnim now led all German and Italian forces in Tunisia, and he decided to eject the Americans from El Guettar with his 10th Panzer Division.

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Scenario Forty-One
Morning on Hill 336
23 March 1943
The Americans once again occupied Sened Station and advanced beyond Maknassy in conjunction with the British 8th Army’s operations around Mareth. This placed the Italian 1st Army in an untenable position. As the Americans pushed farther eastward against the 131st “Centauro” Armored Division the Germans slowly gathered a force to repel them. The Germans moved forward well before dawn on the 23rd.

The Germans stormed Hill 336, inflicting heavy American casualties in fighting that became hand-to-hand at many points. A pair of German tanks came close to the Big Red One’s command post. “I will like hell pull out,” division commander Terry de la Mesa Allen told his staff, “and I’ll shoot the first bastard who does.”

A minefield stretching from the southeast corner of Hill 336 across the road to the Keddab Wadi slowed the Germans enough to allow two American tank destroyer battalions to engage the enemy. Taking the fight to the Germans, they claimed thirty enemy tanks while the minefields accounted for eight more. This broke the attack’s momentum and the Germans withdrew to regroup. They would soon return.

We open with a big scenario, as a strong German combined-arms force including tanks, infantry and motorcycle troops tries to seize the high ground from American infantry lavished with support weapons. The Big Red One isn’t the awesome force it will become later in this war, but the tank destroyer crews are eager for action, and there’s good artillery support, too.

Scenario Forty-Two
An Evening on Hill 336
23 March 1943
The unexpected morning repulse had left 10th Panzer Division with just fifteen operational tanks, but more of its infantry had come up and so a renewed assault would be made on the stubborn American positions on Hill 336. The Germans hauled away their disabled tanks to a nearby maintenance point, both sides brought up ammunition and traded air attacks, and then at the sound of a siren, the German infantry went forward.

“Enemy attacked as scheduled,” 18th Infantry Regiment reported to division command, “preceded by dive-bombers which did little damage. Troops started to appear from all directions, mostly from tanks. Hit Anti-Tank Company and 3rd Battalion. Our artillery crucified them with high explosive shells and they were falling like flies. Tanks seem to be moving to the rear; those that could move. 1st Ranger Battalion is moving to protect the flank of the 3rd Battalion, which was practically surrounded. The 3rd Battalion and the Rangers drove them off and the 1st Battalion crucified them.”

On the German side, theater commander Albert Kesselring admitted “substantial tank loses in the morning attack” and claimed that the German attack failed due to “a threatened penetration of Italian-held positions on the northern edge of Djebel Berda.”  All this came at a cost to the Americans as the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion alone lost fourteen men and twenty-one of their thirty-one gun-equipped halftracks. 

The Germans are on the attack again, pretty much as the intro has it: a short, sharp air attack followed by an infantry assault with a smattering of armor support. This is going to be tough on the Germans; the Americans hold the high ground though they lack their usual overwhelming artillery firepower.

Scenario Forty-Three
Djebel Berda
23 March 1943
The Americans had now taken the offensive, with German and Italian forces making determined counterattacks. First Infantry Division’s Eighteenth Infantry Regiment had spent the previous afternoon attempting to take Djebel Berda northeast of Hill 722, and now forced their way along the Gabes-el Guettar road. Dawn found them attempting to again take Djebel Berda before 10th Panzer Division broke into their rear area and unhinged the Allied position.

The day ended with the forces about where they started after inconclusive fighting. Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the First Infantry Division, believed that his men could take the hill but would need substantial reinforcements, at least another regiment of infantry in addition to tank and artillery support. Unwilling to commit such forces to the attack on Djebel Berda, even if they were available, Patton at II Corps headquarters eventually ordered Allen to abandon the effort.

This is a small scenario, with an American infantry assault against Italians occupying the top of a rugged hill, backed by a smidgen of armor. Morale is even, but the American have more numbers and more leaders and more artillery. They’re going to need all of them.

And that’s it for Chapter Eleven. Next time, we dive into Chapter Twelve.

You can order Big Red One right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.

Big Red Package
      An Army at Dawn
      Big Red One
Retail Price: $92.98
Package Price: $85
Gold Club Price: $68
You can order the Big Red Package right here.

Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.

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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.

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