Scenario Preview, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I prefer for our expansion books to split their content about evenly between story (historical background and such) and scenarios (including other new stuff to play the game being expanded). Panzer Grenadier: Black Panthers meets that, if you don’t count the Race in America piece. Otherwise it’s about 2/3 history, 1/3 scenarios, but for a topic like this, I think we can stretch those bounds a little.
Let’s have a look at some of the scenarios, starting with the least-known of the African-American armored units, the 784th Tank Battalion.
784th Tank Battalion
Part One: From the Roer to the Rhine
The Last Bridgehead
25-26 February 1945
The village of Hilfarth stood on the west bank of the Roer, the last German foothold on the river’s left bank. The village dominated a stone bridge over the river, the last span left standing and a crucial objective for the 35th Infantry Division’s sector of Operation Grenade. The division’s 134th Infantry Regiment, supported by the Shermans of the 784 Tank Battalion’s Able Company, launched a nighttime assault to seize the town and the gateway to its bridge.
With direct-fire support from the tanks of Able Company and the 105mm-armed Shermans of the battalion’s Assault Gun Platoon, the infantry cleared the town and engineers made it to the bridge before the Germans could set off their explosive charges. The 784th Tank Battalion’s first exposure to intense combat went very well.
The Americans are on the attack, against German fortified positions that are well-manned, but not manned very well – most of the defenders are very reluctant to die for their country. Tank support will be important, but the Germans have an 88mm anti-aircraft gun. Except that it’s “manned” by the Bund Deutscher Mädel, sort of like the Girl Scouts, if the Girl Scouts backed a genocidal lunatic and his regime of mass murderers.
Over the River
26 February 1945
While the rest of the 35th Infantry Division crossed the Roer at Hilfarth, the 137th Infantry Regiment and Baker Company of the 784th Tank Battalion used a bridge in the neighboring 84th Infantry Division’s sector. Moving north-west along the river’s right bank, they struck the exposed German flank and proceeded to roll up the defenses.
The 137th Infantry’s after-action report gave a great deal of credit to the 784th Tank Battalion; whoever wrote it took pains to mention their race multiple times. One platoon from the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, a white unit newly-reequipped with M36 vehicles armed with 90mm guns, also acted in the direct-support role. The Germans put up strong resistance, aided by accurate artillery fire, something that was becoming a rarity in these last days of the Wehrmacht.
Once again, the Americans face the very unwilling People’s Grenadiers; there are a lot of them but they aren’t very good at their job. And this time they have no fascist Girl Scouts to help out, but they do have an anti-tank battery and plenty of Panzerfausts.
27 February 1945
Crossing the Roer on Hilfarth’s stone bridge, the 134th Infantry with its supporting tanks turned left the next morning and moved toward the town of Wassenberg. There they met more determined resistance, and the regiment’s Item Company mounted Able Company Shermans and 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion M36’s to deal with the problem. Wassenberg lay among open fields and several stretches of well-tended forest, providing ample positions for defense.
The 784th Tank Battalion lost its first Sherman on the road outside Wassenberg, hit and brewed up by an anti-tank gun concealed in some woods. Corporal Earl Morgan burned to death in the stricken machine, but the rest of the crew bailed out safely. The infantry leapt off the tanks and overran the offending anti-tank gun and two others in its battery, and secured Wassenberg. But even with the Third Reich on the run, the war was not yet over.
This is just a small scenario, in a set with no truly large ones. The Americans have a tank-infantry task force that’s pretty heavy on the tank side; the Germans have a gaggle of People’s Grenadiers with an anti-tank gun.
Ambush at Sevelen
2-3 March 1945
After a rapid advance to the Dutch city of Venlo against only light resistance, the 35th Infantry Division and its attached 784th Tank Battalion turned eastward into Germany again. This time, the Germans seemed less willing to give the Americans a free pass into their country. At the Rhineland town of Sevelen, German paratroopers were ready and waiting for the invaders.
The Germans allowed the American task force to enter Sevelen, and then sprang a nighttime ambush. A concealed anti-tank gun knocked out the lead tank, and a house-to-house fight went on throughout the night before the town was secured. Despite a rain of mortar bombs, the tankers lost no more vehicles despite the need to refuel them under fire.
Now the Germans are getting tougher. Not that much tougher, but these paratroopers – most of whom were Air Force ground crew not long previously – are more willing to fight than were the People’s Grenadiers, and they’re better armed.
Delay at Kamperbrück
5 March 1945
The first American attack on Kamperbrück, a crossroads village on the road to the Rhine, ended in failure thanks to some unexpected resistance and a weak probing force of their own. The 320th Infantry Regiment pulled back to try again, this time with a full battalion of infantry and a full company of the 784th Tank Battalion’s Shermans plus a platoon of light tanks. But the Germans had been reinforced as well.
The German anti-tank guns claimed three Shermans, while the infantry held back from the tanks once they started exploding into balls of flame. Shorn of infantry support, the tank company pulled back to spend the night alongside the approach road, while the light tank platoon circled behind the town to prevent a withdrawal or further reinforcement. That didn’t work out as planned; when the Americans attacked again the next day, they found that the Germans had slipped away during the night.
And still the Germans get tougher, as the ersatz paratroopers have a strong position, more anti-tank guns and some artillery to back it all up. The Americans are still going with their tank-infantry combined-arms team approach, which has worked for them so far. It might not be enough this time.
Repulsed at Millingen
6 March 1945
Despite evidence of increasing German resistance, the 35th Infantry Division’s columns sped up their advance in an effort to reach the Rhine River as quickly as possible. The tankers and the foot soldiers of the 320th Infantry Regiment had already taken three towns against only light opposition, and expected Millingen to be the fourth of the day. They were mistaken.
The tanks ran into concealed anti-tank guns and Panzerfaust-wielding paratroopers who quickly knocked out four Shermans and a light tank; all of the company officers were killed or wounded in the first minutes of fighting. One of the Black platoon sergeants took over the company and led them in repeated attacks on the town to try to recover the wounded officers, or at least their bodies. When Millingen finally fell, the Americans also found that two Black crewmen from the destroyed tanks had been tortured and killed by the Germans; a third had been beaten and left for dead but survived.
Next time, we’ll follow the 784th over the Rhine.
The Americans are actually out-numbered by the paratroopers, who even have armored support this time. It’s going to be a tough problem for the Americans this time; the war may be over but no one told the Germans.
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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 an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.
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