Britain’s Battle of the Bulge:
It Goes to Eleven
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2024

In the very earliest years of Avalanche Press, once we’d published enough games to actually have series of games, some of them included scenarios that called for pieces from other games in the same series. No more than one or two scenarios, out of a set of 40 or more.

I thought at the time that this was a pretty cool thing, adding unusual extra ways to play your game. Not everyone agreed; the howls of “incomplete game!” were frustrating; if we’d taken a razor and sliced out the two scenarios using extra pieces, out of 50 total scenarios, would it then be a “complete game” of 48 scenarios? Our then-marketing director salved my frustration by laying down what we’ve since called the “Fulda Rule.” Every scenario of every game must be playable only with the pieces included. “If you want to do more scenarios with pieces from other games,” she said at the time, “sell it to them separately.”

That was a wise decision, one we’ve followed for nearly two decades since. Scenarios that cross over between games get presented in separate books, like Panzer Grenadier: Britain’s Battle of the Bulge.

Britain’s Battle of the Bulge is one of our Campaign Studies, little books with just scenarios and historical background (no pieces or maps) that take pieces and maps from a couple of games to tell their story. It’s twice the usual size. The pieces come from Liberation 1944 and Elsenborn Ridge, and the maps from Elsenborn Ridge. That’s all you need to play the scenarios.

Philippe Léonard designed the set of 11 scenarios, with Vincent Kamer writing the historical background, and they came up with exactly what I wanted. This is an outstanding little book. Being Philippe, he of course went well beyond the design brief of ten scenarios. This book goes to eleven, each of them with extensive background explaining the action on which it is based.

That action is the British XXX Corps’ intervention just east of the Meuse River to help blunt the German advance. The 6th Airborne Division and 53rd Welsh Infantry Division, later replaced by 51st Highland Division, advanced against the German 2nd, 9th and 116th Panzer Divisions plus the Panzer Lehr Division. British commander Bernard Law Montgomery would draw deserved criticism later for overstating the role of the British divisions in turning back the advance, which obscured the fact that XXX Corps had seen some intense combat at the “tip” of the Bulge.

Like the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the “Pegasus” Division rushed to the Ardennes from its training camps, in this case in England, and fought a series of intense engagements against the Panzer Lehr Division in and around the town of Bure between the 3rd and 5th of January 1945. The Paras fought hand-to-hand to take the town, losing 195 men – about a third of the battalion’s strength – while the supporting 29th Armoured Brigade lost 16 Sherman tanks. “They win or die, who wear the rose of Lancaster.”

On the airborne division’s left flank, the 53rd Infantry Division with attached 33rd Armoured Brigade also began its counter-offensive on the 3rd; on the 7th the 51st Infantry Division took its place at the front. The British corps ceased its offensive on 16 January, with the Germans having been driven back from all of their gains.

Our story opens on Christmas Eve, with an armored battle group from 2nd Panzer Division running into a dug-in force of British tanks and infantry east of Dinant. The Germans had penetrated far deeper than the British expected, but after recovering from their shock the Brits turned them back. On the next day – Christmas Day - it’s the British on the attack alongside the U.S. 2nd Armored Division.

Those two scenarios lead into the first of two battle games. In the first battle game, the 6th Airborne Division, including a Belgian SAS squadron, begins their advance on New Year’s Eve 1944. The main attack, titled Operation Smash III, opens three days later. The four scenarios from this operation focus on the brutal close-quarters fighting for Bure.

The second battle game, with four scenarios, follows the advance of 53rd Welsh Division against the German 116th Panzer Division dug in around Grimbiemont. The Welsh have some nominal tank support from 33rd Armoured Brigade, so it’s the poor bloody infantry that will have to root out the panzer grenadiers and their own limited armored support.

In the final scenario, the 51st Highland Division has replaced the Welsh and battles the rearguard left by the remnants of 2nd and 9th Panzer Divisions. The Germans have taken serious losses, but as in all armies is usually the new guys who get killed or run away and the rearguard is tough and determined.

It’s always a pleasure to get a game submission from Philippe Léonard. They’re deeply researched, from primary sources in multiple languages (in this case, in French, English and German). I know this, because he always appends excerpts to his submission – the after-action reports of the American 82nd Armored Recon Squadron, 67th Armored Regiment or the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion, handwritten diary entries from Maj. Jack Watson of the same battalion, situation maps from both the German and British perspective.

Winter WonderlandEven for a little item like Britains Battle of the Bulge, Philippe does his homework. The scenarios and background are deeply researched, to tell the story of this little-known aspect of the Ardennes campaign. That’s the sort of product I want us to publish, focused on the interweaving of history and game action; whether it’s a full-sized game or a little expansion like this one, they need to hold to the same standards.

The British contribution (which included one Canadian parachute battalion) was miniscule compared to the American commitment; American casualties would top 90,000, while British (including Canadian) losses were about 1,400 (for comparison’s sake, German casualties were about 82,000). The American First Army probably could have carried out its mission to crush the Bulge without XXX Corps. But the British were there, they fought like heroes, and that deserves recognition. I’m glad that we’ve been able to do that.

You can order Britain's Battle of the Bulge right here.

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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 and three children; he misses his dog, Leopold.

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