Road to Dunkirk:
Scenario Preview, Part Three
In the early years of Panzer Grenadier, the games we made (the now long out-of-print first edition titles) had many scenarios (up to a shocking maximum of 112). That followed the pattern laid down by an ancient, long-forgotten game called Panzerblitz, which had a dozen scenarios. Many other games followed the same pattern; we just took the number up to insane levels.
We still put a lot of scenarios in a Panzer Grenadier game; Philippe Léonard designed 47 of them for the new Road to Dunkirk. What’s changed over the past several years is how we put those scenarios together: we use them to tell the story of the campaign, so you can play your way through history. The scenarios form chapters, which both tell the narrative of the campaign and give the players longer-reaching goals in the “battle games” that provide extended play.
This is what I always wanted Panzer Grenadier (and our other series) to be: a means of story-telling through game play. Philippe managed that very well with Road to Dunkirk, melding history and play value. Let’s look at the third chapter of this fine work.
You can see Chapter One here and Chapter Two here.
By May 20th the Allied northern army group scrambled to defend it wide open right flank. The Germans had driven a wedge along the Somme River which would force the French to fight their way across a river before moving towards the trapped forces. Of course, the encircled forces could also fight their way south, but the Germans brought some of their best formations to the battle. General Maxime Weygand, the new French commander, committed what reserves he had to the attack from the south while the BEF would attack from the north.
The attacks in the north centered around four divisions, two British and two French, attacking towards Arras. The French, still trying to re-organize after heavy combat at Hannut, provided less support than was expected. Only some of the British jumped off as planned and drove the German forces back, but they lacked the strength to carry through.
The British 1st Armoured Division participated in the attack from the south of the Somme. Hastily shipped to the continent even as the BEF retreated, the division arrived in separate groups while its already-limited infantry component was stripped away to join the defense of Calais. Tank crews had little experience with their slow machines, and many maintenance personnel had apparently been left in England. The French would have to provide most of the forces for the southern wing of the attack, forces they simply could not provide quickly.
None of those problems stopped the British and French soldiers from attempting to carry out their duty. The attacks went forward.
Piper to the End
South-East of Arras
20 May 1940
First Battalion, Tyneside-Scottish/Black Watch formed the right flank of 23rd Infantry Division’s 70th Brigade. Abandoning the Canal du Nord line on the 19th, they marched westwards to defend the Arras-Doullens road. They reached Saulty, on foot and exhausted. The battalion regrouped with 660 men along with 75 new recruits having just completed seven weeks of training. They took up their positions during the night and at 0730 the panzers attacked.
Only days before the Tyneside Scottish had been assigned to airfield building; they now faced German tanks with only their rifles and bayonets. Over the same ground where Tyneside Scottish pipers had led the troops over the top in July 1916, the pipes again skirled and the Scots again died. Within hours the battalion had ceased to exist, having delayed the German advance at the cost of entire companies dead or captured.
The overall popular-history impression of a campaign is usually formed by just a few battles. This is one of those battles: the British are outnumbered, out-gunned and unprepared and facing rampaging panzers backed by aircraft. The British win by hanging on to the sounds of their pipers.
The Station Rifles
20 May 1940
In response to the German drive to the sea, the British gathered troops to form a second defense line running from Gravelines and facing south-west with its southern hinge at Arras protected by the so-called Petreforce. On the 19th, the enemy bombed the town, destroying the railway station and hitting two trains filled with refugees. Various small British units and detachments were sent out to defend all access points to the city and roadblocks were constructed as rapidly as possible.
The German armored cars made repeated attempts to penetrate the city and cross the roadblocks. Mines blew up two cars in the first attempt two cars, and in the second the infantry managed to destroy two more and hunt down the crews who scattered into nearby houses. Meanwhile, mortar fire dispersed lorry-borne infantry and more recon parties. Eventually, with the help of Cooke’s tanks, a platoon of Number Two Company beat off a more determined attack by six tanks south of the railway.
This is an odd scenario, with small groups of Germans continually appearing to try to force their way past British roadblocks. It’s a pretty classic probe-against-screen operation, with both sides wielding high morale and no artillery.
Retreat from Beaurains
South of Arras
21 May 1940
Despite the best efforts of all concerned, the attack at Arras was thwarted by the Germans. Following the battle, the forward companies of 6 DLI received the order to fall back from Beaurains. The Germans took back the initiative and followed right on their heels. At 1915, the Recon Battalion 37 started to drive down the main road south of Arras and at 2240 began mopping up in Tilloy and Beaurains, forcing the British out of the villages.
Two platoons from 4th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, with scout cars, covered the withdrawal of the foot troops from 6th Durham Light Infantry. The Germans attacked using illuminating flares to advance in the darkness. Even when the few British antitank weapons succeeded in stopping the infiltrating German AFVs, numbers gave the attackers the advantage. Their engineers assaulted with flamethrowers and inflicted cruel losses on the British. The Tommies tried to escape the battlefield in the dark one by one but only a few eventually reached safety.
The British are out to win time for a withdrawal, facing the forward elements of Rommel’s panzer division. It’s another unusual battle, with a lot of mobility on both sides and it all takes place in the dark of night, which is full of terrors (flamethrowers, in this case).
West of Amiens
24 May 1940
The Germans had taken Amiens and Abbeville, and pushed their leading elements across the Somme. Britain urgently needed to keep France in the war, even if many at highest level thought defeat inevitable. Fortune’s Scots became the sacrifice to prove to France and the world that Britain would support her allies to the end. The Queen Bays supported by the 4th Border Regiment were ordered to reconnoiter the Somme crossings at Picquigny and the next two crossings upstream where bridges were possibly intact and said to be held by the French. They found no French troops, but plenty of German motorized patrols. Reconnaissance revealed that the Germans held the whole of the river’s north bank.
Fortune planned for a single troop of tanks with a company of infantry to attack each of the three bridges. On the right, some Mark VIb tanks advanced on Dreuil. A mile from the objective, an anti-tank gun fired at the leading tank and a machine gun located in a water tower inflicted casualties on the infantry. Small arms fire erupted from various directions and no progress could be made against the dug-in Germans even after another tank assault. At Ailly, where the partially-destroyed bridge allowed only foot troops to cross, two platoons under cover of Cruiser tank guns seized the village of St Sauveur but had to withdraw during the afternoon. On the left, close to Picquigny, an ambush inflicted many casualties and the column had pulled back to its start line by dusk.
The British bring a balanced tank-infantry force to the table, but they’re spread out to strike three separate objectives (all of them bridges). The Germans are outnumbered and out-moraled, but they have a strong position and face a divided enemy.
The Baker’s Glory
South-West of Abbeville
27 May 1940
Huppy is a very old village on the Abbeville road, bordered by large hedgerows enclosing apple orchards. The houses sit behind the orchard, and from a distance the town appears to be a wooded oasis in the open cultivated fields through which it must be approached. That town was the location of the first French-British combined operation in the Somme sector. The Allies hoped to crush the German Abbeville bridgehead and prevent any further exploitation into the heart of France. The odds were clearly in favor of the Allies with a large number of tanks to throw against a defense manned solely by infantry. However, French commanders directed British attacks without any consideration for the armored division’s potential.
The lightly-armored British tanks were fast but had never been intended to break through enemy defenses. A lack of French artillery support delayed the planned attack, but the 10th Hussars did not receive the message. About 30 tanks charged the village in the foggy morning. It was an hour of glory for the numerous 37mm PaK hidden among the hedges and trees. Corporal Brinckforth, a baker in civilian life, became a German national hero and won the Ritterkreuz when he personally destroyed more than 10 British tanks. In the end, about 20 tanks were destroyed in the brief and wasted assault.
Panzer Grenadier is a game that, like the actual campaign, rewards combined-arms tactics. Unfortunately for the King’s men, they have no arms to combine: only tanks without infantry or artillery. The Germans on the other hand have a small but balanced defending force with anti-tank guns well-capable of shooting up the British armor and infantry to swarm any survivors.
West of Abbeville
27 May 1940
The western wing of the combined French-British assault against the German bridgehead at Abbeville involved Dragoons from the 5e Division Légère de Cavalerie and cruiser tanks from the 1st Armoured Division. A combined battle group advanced into the narrow Tire valley, running from south to north almost perpendicular to the Somme River. They expected light opposition from German sentinels on the bridgehead flanks.
The Allies coordinated poorly while the Germans prepared to stand fast. At the mouth of the valley the British tanks achieved some transitory success, pushing away light opposition in Rogeant and Toeufles. Behind them, French infantry mopped up the villages while the cruiser tanks exited the valley and reached the plateau west of Moyenneville. This town was the gate to Abbeville and heavily defended by German AT guns and mortars. The anti-tank guns easily pierced the British tanks’ light armor and cut the attack to pieces, destroying six tanks. The French set up defensive positions north of Toeufles and fought off a German counterattack later in the afternoon. The result was an immense disappointment to Maj. Gen. Roger Evans of 1st Armoured Division.
Napoleon said he’s rather fight against allies than with them; his great-grandchildren should have listened more closely. The French and British have a whole lot of advantages here, but coordinating their attacks is going to be difficult against a pretty stout German defense.
South of Abbeville
27 May 1940
The Queen’s Bays regiment (2nd Dragoon Guards) was 250 years old and one of the oldest Crown regiments. Evolving from a traditional horse cavalry unit, the regiment had become fully armored even if that conversion was not so well accepted. During the early approach to the Somme River, the Bays, supported by a few French troops, constituted the easternmost column but they fared little better than the Hussars at Huppy. As the lead squadron passed over the crest of a gently sloping ridge at Bailleul through a thin line of French riflemen, they met a hail of heavy machine gun and anti-tank fire from strong enemy positions in the woods north of Limeux. Silhouetted against the skyline, their tanks presented perfect targets for the Germans dug in on the other side of the valley.
The four leading tanks were hit in the first few minutes. Moving to the east to try to outflank the enemy proved impossible – German shells found their targets with unnerving accuracy and caused great damage. The Bays soon launched another attack to test the position but their tanks were again stopped dead in their tracks despite impressive support from the French guns. The enemy was simply too strong. The Bays’ diary ruefully notes: It has been impossible to do little more than locate the enemy positions and at considerable cost.
The British come onto the field with a strong armored force, and while the German defenders are few and not really enthusiastic, they do have advantages of position and a great many (weak) anti-tank guns.
St Valéry sur Somme
27 May 1940
The westernmost sector of the attack against the German bridgehead on the lower Somme River mixed French cavalry units with British tanks. Maj. Gen. Evans was asked to lend part of his freshly-landed armored division to support the French. Evans explained to the French Tenth Army’s commander, Robert Altmayer, that the 1st Armoured Division was a mobile support force and not suitable for frontal assaults against prepared positions. Lacking other alternatives, Altmayer ordered the British 5th Royal Tank Regiment to advance from Le Tréport through largely enemy-controlled territory.
By 1135 the British tanks reached the high ground overlooking the Somme at the outskirts of St Valéry. The British even sent a patrol as far as Boismont, only half a mile from the Canal Maritime. The way to the bridges was blocked by strong German prepared defenses, which made it clear that the British could only get further forward with the help of infantry and artillery. Evans felt a lack of coordination with the French would create chaos. The attack was only moderately successful with nothing effective achieved. As usual French and British reports each accuse the other of failing to support the attack enough to break through. However, the losses of the Allies seem to be heavier on the French side and British tanks mainly suffered from mechanical breakdown.
It’s an Anglo-French tank attack; the Allies have numbers but can’t combine their evenly-divided forces very well. The Germans have better morale, and the Allies have to achieve a lot if they want to win. This is a tough one for the home team.
And that’s Chapter Three.
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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.