Scenario Preview, Part Four
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In some ways, the 1944 British campaign in North-West France looks more to the future than the past, as both the attackers and defenders were well-supplied with tanks, vehicles and artillery and one side had overwhelming air superiority. That dynamic would form the basis of much Allied planning for Cold War battle planning.
Let’s continue our scenario preview of Panzer Grenadier: Liberation 1944. You can see Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here.
Operation Goodwood: Maneuver Room
19 July 1944
Late in the afternoon of the 19th, the Guards Armoured Division remained mired in the German defenses just south of Cagny. This lack of progress represented a far cry from the breakout envisioned by the planners, which unacceptably retarded the whole advance. At 1700 the Welsh Guards moved forward to gain some maneuver room.
The British attackers are primarily high morale Welsh Guards infantry, with a good array of support weapons and artillery, and a little specialized armor support (a flame-spewing Crocodile and a bomb-tossing AVRE). They’re facing the fanatic SS troopers of the Hitler Youth, who are outnumbered and lack a lot of anti-tank capability, but hold a strong position.
Operation Bluecoat: Sept Vents
30 July 1944
During the previous few days ULTRA intercepts revealed German reinforcements moving to the area southeast of Caen. This intel gave the Operation Bluecoat planners a good chance of success since they could therefore avoid heavy concentrations of enemy troops and hit more lightly defended areas. British XXX Corps received the task of securing the Point 309, also known as Quarry Hill, followed by its area-dominating sibling Hill 361. Maneuvering to take the hills required first taking the village of Sept Vents and the small Lutian Woods to the east. Two lavishly-supported infantry battalions began rehearsing for the task.
Fighter-bombers augmented with over 1,300 heavier bombers replaced the customary artillery barrage. Despite this, the spearheads started taking casualties immediately with each battalion losing a company commander early on. Tank commanders popping up for a look were lost to snipers as well, but the lads pressed forward. The German heavy mining around Sept Vents cost the Grenadier Guards a good deal of time in addition to five Churchill tanks. It took until 1500 and a "…very good shoot in the village" by the antiaircraft tanks to secure the buildings. According to The Buffs’ War Diary they cleared the Lutian Woods in "a very successful operation.” Unfortunately, the time required to accomplish all these tasks exceeded the plan, leaving the whole operation well behind schedule and causing follow-up formations to have to fight just to reach their starting lines.
This is a big scenario, with a good German Army division on the defense with plenty of heavy weapons and minefields. They get plastered by bombs to start off, and then have to face the Brits, who make up for their roughly equal numbers with scads of tanks including Crocodiles and AVRE bomb-tossers, lots of artillery, soaring morale and staggering initiative. And clouds of airplanes overhead. It’s not going to be easy for the British Army, thanks to a relative shortage of infantry, but they do get to play with all of the toys.
Operation Bluecoat: Counterattacked
30 July 1944
On the first day of Operation Bluecoat the 11th Armoured Division attempted to secure St. Martin des Besaces and cut the road from there to Hill 309. This time the British Second Army had clearly-stated limited objectives, to tie down German armored forces and wear them down. Before reaching St. Jean des Essartiers the 3rd Monmouths suffered a counterattack by a mixed German force.
The German counterattack failed to drive the attackers back but stopped all forward progress. This left the right flank of the 15th Scottish Division exposed but the Germans lacked the manpower to take advantage of the situation. By the next morning British armored cars began probing for a way around the enemy strongpoint at St. Martin des Besarers.
Once again the British are on the attack, with a strong force backed by lots of Shermans including some awesome Fireflies (awesome when shooting up German armor, anyway). While the Germans do get a counter-attack force, it’s not very large (some infantry backed by two platoons of assault guns). The German player is going to have to identify a key point and strike carefully.
Operation Bluecoat: St. Germain d'Ectot
30 July 1944
The opening phase of Operation Bluecoat found the 56th Independent Brigade tasked with forcing the enemy from St Germain d'Ectot and some hills to the west. The 2nd Gloucesters were detailed to take the heights while the 2nd South Wales Borderers were assigned the town. Once they had the enemy's attention the 2nd Essex was to occupy as much of the Launay Ridge as possible. The attacked received the minimum armor support due to losses.
Perhaps the planners failed to provide sufficient armor support. Regardless, the attack faltered along its entire front and the Brits incurred heavy casualties. Nor did the intrepid Tommies seriously threaten any of the objectives. According to the commander of the Hussars, the attack "lacked artillery support" and required his tanks to be committed in penny-packets, denying them the chance to influence the battle.
Another huge scenario, with a brigade’s worth of Brits on the attack with armor support and artillery – maybe not as much as the British player would like, but a good array all the same. The Germans are almost lavishly supplied with heavy weapons and hold strong positions, so it’s not going to be easy to winkle them out.
Operation Bluecoat: St. Martin des Besaces
31 July 1941
The 11th Armoured Division was not going to let the previous day's reversal at St. Martin des Besaces slow them down. Early morning found the mobile formations probing for an opening to exploit southward while an infantry battalion made ready to attack the village.
Before long St. Martin des Besaces fell into British hands and the KSLI raced southward to cut the vital Vire-to-Caen road before dark. The British had found the boundary between two German armies and made the most of their opportunity.
The British have to fight their way across a long, narrow battlefield. While the Germans only have to defend a relatively short front, they’re not very mobile, so if the British get past them it’s going to be a long day for the Herrenvolk.
Operation Bluecoat: One of the Best
31 July 1944
General "Pip" Roberts commanded the 11th Armoured Division with style and flair. Historians also consider him one of the best British armor commanders of the war. Lesser commanders would have lamented the failure to take St. Martin des Besaces on the previous day, and let the overall advance stall until it was taken. Instead, he detailed a mixed force to take the town and sent his spearhead units on a sweeping right hook maneuver to cut them off and make way for an exploitation once the town fell. The 4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry did indeed capture St. Martin des Besaces, then advanced to Le Beny Bocage catching up with the rest of the spearhead and reversed directions to take the bridge over the Souleuvre River from the south. Few German troops were situated to oppose them but others rapidly approached from the east.
The British pushed through the opposition and secured the bridge (just off the map to the north). This greatly compromised the region's defenses as the Vire-Caen road served as the major logistics artery for the Germans to move men and material around. Operation Bluecoat was off to a good start, However, the British missed the chance for a major coup when they didn't continue their penetration of the German rear as the 21st Panzer Division Headquarters lay just past the bridge, virtually undefended.
This one’s going to be tough for the Germans, who face waves of Cromwell tanks well-supported by infantry and artillery. They have a tank force of their own, which they’ll have to use to blunt the British armored advance.
Operation Bluecoat: La Ferronniere
31 July 1944
Having been thwarted in their effort to take the Vire-Caen road bridge over the Souleuvre River from the north, 11th Armoured Division swung around to the right to take it from the south. While the 4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry swung back north to drive the Germans from the bridge, other elements of the division pressed on to secure the crossroads village of la Ferronniere and provide some depth to the incursion.
The British managed to drive the defenders from the village. In response, the Germans feigned a counterattack but did not have enough remaining force to be effective. Meanwhile, the British contented themselves with bringing up a tank destroyer platoon to bolster their forward defenses.
This scenario stands out from the others, with relatively small forces trying to seize and hold objectives. The British player is going to have to use maneuver rather than blunt force this time.
Operation Bluecoat: The Cameronians
1 August 1944
To ease the mounting pressure on Quarry Hill, headquarters ordered the 9th Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) of 15th Scottish Division to clear Galet and la Mancelliere. With German forces attacking throughout the sector, components of the Divisional Recon Regiment bolstered the support provided by Guards Armored Division.
Although the fighting on Quarry Hill raged for hours with the outcome in doubt, neither side wanted a major engagement there. So when the British pushed forward despite their losses the panzer grenadiers delayed them for a while then gave way before incurring undue casualties themselves.
The Germans are very mobile this time; the Brits much less so but it’s a small battlefield so that’s far less of a disadvantage. Those German armored cars are fast, but they’ll melt away if they get too close to the plodding Churchills backing the British infantry.
And that wraps up the fourth installment of Liberation 1944 scenario previews.
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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.