Dishonor Before Death:
Scenario Preview, Part Eight
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
More than 75 years after the end of the Second World War, just about every member of the Nazi Party’s armed militia, the Waffen SS, is dead. Their ideals, it would seem, did not die with them. They have to be fought again by each new generation.
So let’s wrap up our scenario survey of Panzer Grenadier: Dishonor Before Death, in which the U.S. Army continues its fight against the agents of evil.
Operation Lüttich: The Defeat
Even as the Americans halted the German offensive at Mortain, other Allied forces continued their own advances. On the Allied right, Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army sped around the open German left flank against only token opposition. On the Allied left, British and Canadian forces renewed their attacks as well. Adolf Hitler reacted to these threats by demanding that still more forces be withdrawn from those fronts to reinforce the panzer divisions still trying to carry out Operation Lüttich. Fearing implication in the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler, the German generals offered no resistance to their leader’s wishes.
10 August 1944
On the eastern side of Mortain, the rise known as La Suisse Normande to the locals and Hill 314 to the Americans had been held by the American 134th Infantry Regiment since the opening of the German offensive. Isolated and short of supplies, the Nebraska Guardsmen desperately needed relief. Maj. William Gillis of 320th Infantry Regiment gathered Shermans from the 737th Tank Battalion and the Spearhead Division to support his infantry, and charged straight down the road to Mortain. Experience had already shown this tactic to be a recipe for disaster in bocage country.
The leading Sherman advanced just 100 yards before three anti-tank rounds disabled the vehicle. That set off a confused fight along the hedgerow-flanked road, with the American infantry dismounting and trying to drive off Germans with panzerfaust anti-tank rockets and root out hidden anti-tank guns while the Shermans blazed away at potential German positions. A German counter-attack sowed still more confusion. The tanks retreated as night fell while the infantry stubbornly kept trying to reach the trapped companies on Hill 314, with Gillis finally calling a halt to prepare for a new attempt on the next day.
The Americans are on the attack, with plentiful armor support and some airplanes but only some artillery. The SS militia have a strong position and strong morale; they’ll get a small band of murderous bumbling bozos as reinforcements but what they have at the start is what they’re going to have to stand on.
North of Mortain
10 August 1944
News that more German panzer divisions had appeared on the Mortain front caused Maj. Gen. Leland Hobbs of 30th Infantry Division to redouble the efforts to relieve the troops on Hill 314. With reinforcements from 12th Infantry Division and 3rd Armored Division, Hobbs’ troops made a new attempt to seize the crossroads American maps identified as RJ278 and relieve the pressure on Hill 314.
Breaking with American doctrine, VIII Corps had parceled out two companies of Sherman tanks from 3rd Armored Division’s Combat Command B and placed them under 30th Infantry Division’s command. Despite the extra firepower, the Americans could not secure the crossroads as fighting would rage here for days to come. The SS militia in this sector was well-experienced and eager to fight and die for their supreme leader, no matter how foolish his ideas.
The militia are eager to die for their lunatic leader, and the Americans have the numbers are firepower to grant their wishes. Even with the aid of air support the hedgerows make for a natural fortress, so the fight’s going to be a tough one.
11 August 1944
With their attacks south of Mortain bogged down, the Americans undertook a series of advances north of the town to drive the Germans away from the battalion trapped on Hill 314. The attack against road junction RJ278 failed to make an impression, and the “Swamp Dragons” of the 119th Infantry Regiment would advance against the town of Romagny in an effort to drive in the German flank and free their fellow North Carolina Guardsmen clinging to their fortified hilltop.
This time the American attack proceeded according to plan. Two companies feinted from the same direction as the previous day while another slipped around and took the Germans from an unexpected direction, quickly driving them from the town. By late afternoon the battalion neared the railroad west of Mortain but they advanced no farther and pulled back to Romagny for the night.
The American advance continues, but by this time both sides have been worn down and there are fewer troops on the board. American artillery remains a powerful weapon, there’s some air support (guaranteed this time) and somehow the Americans have the element of surprise. But it’s an extra-strong hedgerow this time, so it still won’t be easy to crush evil.
11 August 1944
Despite the confusion, Task Force Gillis almost succeeded in reaching Mortain but ended up with its infantry devoid of armor support and isolated. Undaunted, Col. Bernard Bryne of the 320th Infantry Regiment ordered Maj. Gillis to remain in place while the regiment’s 2nd Battalion along with the tanks that had abandoned Gillis advanced up a different road. But the Germans struck first, with the SS militia attacking Gillis’ isolated infantry battalion and driving them back.
The American tank companies that had abandoned Gillis the day before were in the process of doing the same to 2nd Battalion when the Germans attacked. They quickly redeemed themselves, helping the infantry turn back the German attack and resume the advance. But after that initial success the German defense toughened and the Americans could not meet their objectives. It would take still more fighting to relieve the beleaguered Hill 314.
The militia counter-attacks, and while they’re fairly weak (some infantry with a tiny sprinkling of tanks) the defense is kind of sparse, too. But the Americans have the edge in tanks and they have those hedgerows, which aren’t going to be easily overcome by small forces.
And that’s Chapter Eight, which is all of them.
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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 countless books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.