Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Panzer Grenadier: Land Cruisers is a small expansion set, with 10 scenarios, eight double-sized pieces and 72 normal-sized ones. But in terms of story, it’s a pretty big deal – developers Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau sort of went a little bit nuts with it. When you have something weird and wonderful, you really do need to evoke the atmosphere, and Land Cruisers does that exceedingly well. Let’s look at a little more of its scenario set.
Fog of War
It had been clear before the war began that the standing Imperial German Army would have severe difficulty keeping the French from breaking through the border fortifications and approaching the Rhine. Crossing the Rhine appeared to be a much more difficult prospect for the French but no German general was willing to be the one to have lost Alsace, Lorraine and the Rhineland to the revanchist French.
Since the French military buildup had been apparent for years and their plans were hardly a secret given the short border between the two countries, the Germans had to have something up their sleeves. The French intelligence community had been looking for anything out of the ordinary but the German tanks that had been spotted to date didn’t cause anyone any concern. They kept their eyes and ears open but no one could have blamed them for a bit of confidence as the outclassed German armored brigades were easily dealt with.
On the German home front, early stages of hysteria and panic appeared as the news from the front seemed to indicate that the French would be in Munich within the next week and racing to meet the Russians in Silesia within a month. Conscripts continued to report willingly, but recruitment centers noticed a sudden drop in the number of young men volunteering to fight the French and Russians without coercion. War bonds sold at a discount. Something had to be done to calm the people and generate some confidence in the government and the armed forces.
The Bavarian Army Group commander Prince Franz grumbled as any soldier would as he prepared to let the curtain rise on the first true German production of this show.
Pop Goes the Marak
15 September 1940
German leaders believed, correctly as it turned out, that their enemies had no knowledge of the Land Cruisers’ existence. Indeed, the Imperial Army held the secret so closely held that even the Kaiser didn’t know about their existence until he signed the order to use them. The Imperial High Command counted on the mere appearance of the Land Cruisers to create shock and awe amongst the French, and, not least, to create a sense of confidence on the home front.
In order to reap the maximum propaganda benefit from the first action of one of the behemoths, at Kaiser Wilhelm’s urging the Army’s Propaganda Section brought film crews to the front and indeed some were embedded within the Land Cruiser itself. For the best result, the battle needed to be small, short and victorious. Careful movement by night and heavy daytime camouflage brought a single Land Cruiser to its jumping-off point near a French infantry division’s advance positions.
The German secret weapon shocked the French, who blazed away with their standard 25mm anti-tank guns to no effect. French attempts to close with the monster were consistently rejected by the on-board Marines. With the help of the giant steel beast’s artillery the German infantry ejected the French from the small town of Teterchen with the cameras running to record the spectacle.
A critical component of the engagement was to show the German population that the Imperial government did indeed have the ability to defend the homeland and strike back at the French invaders. The newsreel footage captured by the on-board cameras immediately boosted public morale and both volunteers and cash resumed their flow; the old Kaiser smugly reminded his generals that the Supreme War Lord still had ideas to contribute.
You know how the script works: the first time you see the kaiju, it’s only a brief glimpse. One Land Cruiser – the Marak, of course – waddles out of its lair and terrorizes some French infantry in a small scenario that lets you try out the special Land Cruiser movement and combat rules.
18 September 1940
Prince Franz breathed a sigh of relief that the Land Cruiser Marak had not been destroyed in the Kaiser’s ridiculous propaganda sideshow. The doctrine for using the Land Cruisers called for a mass attack of all available machines in a single action against the flank of a French penetration. This would only work if the attack was massive and unexpected, and if the weapons themselves new to the French. He hoped that the Marak’s appearance had so confused the targeted infantry unit that they failed to produce an accurate intelligence assessment. Certainly the French had nothing like the Land Cruisers with which they could be compared.
Meanwhile, precise French air attacks had shattered the concrete bunkers protecting the crossroads town of Waldwisse, weakening the German line. Second Army’s commander, Fedor von Bock, had no authority to order the Land Cruisers into action, as they came under the direct authority of Prince Franz and the Bavarian Upper Rhine Army Group. Despite their knowledge of the intent of Prince Franz as to their use, Bock’s plea to the 1st Mechanized Support Brigade to “stop these Frenchmen who would take German land and lives” proved too urgent and heartfelt to ignore.
The Land Cruisers managed to slow the French advance, but the high command had specifically intended to concentrate their force for the maximum shock effect rather than fritter it away in isolated detachments. “Were this a different sort of Germany,” Prince Franz raged at Bock, “You would be shot for disobedience and incompetence.” Franz fired Bock, who was relegated to training the massive new draftee class, replacing him with Halder. When Halder asked what he should do with the Cruisers that had already deployed and could not easily be withdrawn, Prince Franz said that he didn’t know at this time, to “just cover them up.”
The French are on the attack against a defending German infantry force, backed up by a pair of late-model Land Cruisers. The French have numbers, high morale, copious artillery support, and a horde of very good tanks. The Germans have two Land Cruisers.
Bring me the Head of St. John the Baptist
20 September 1940
Halder considered exactly how to “cover up” the Land Cruisers while awaiting a new directive for their use. In the end, he decided that, since there simply wasn’t anything smaller than a warehouse that would adequately conceal the monstrosities, he would cover them with dirt. Engineers from the 30th Infantry Division sweated and swore under the nighttime sky to get at least one of the cruisers covered. If they had known that this was simply an expedient while other plans were made, one expects that the swearing would have had a different target.
While the Imperial Army juggled its senior leadership to punish the lack of operational security and rushed to “cover their tracks,” the French advance continued. The French aimed their next offensive against the German 30th Infantry Division which had been pinned to a few villages reported to have “odd fortifications.” French intelligence reports could not agree on whether the armored fortresses encountered in Lorraine were huge vehicles, or static emplacements for heavy artillery. The French Second Army attached more of its infantry-support tanks to the III Armored Corps and ordered a renewed assault against the unusual German structures.
The formal orders were the usual: to capture more “French” towns and continue to penetrate towards the Rhine. In a secret codicil to the orders, however, Corps command was instructed to use whatever force necessary to overcome one of these fortresses so that measures could be developed to counter them. As a result, the initial assault would be supported by substantial reinforcements, if the weapons were discovered.
“Whatever the Germans construct from steel, French élan will defeat.” The men of III Armored Corps moved out to test that theory. Halder knew that loss of the secret could change everything, and prepared to resist the likely French assault. He, too, had reserves to commit.
Despite repeated French assaults, the German line bent but held. The German engineers had dug the Cruisers in well, using a thick layer of earth to protect all but their heavily-armored turrets from anti-tank fire. The huge vehicles poured murderous fire on the advancing French; the Germans had deployed their light artillery in the front lines as ad-hoc anti-tank guns but would have been sorely pressed without the Land Cruisers.
Both sides poured additional forces into the line as the French pushed to discover the true nature of these odd steel fortifications that seemed to move. Prince Franz remained unhappy with the deployment; Bock’s error had already ruined the element of surprise and there would have to be some quick reconfiguring of operational priorities in the wake of this security failure. Overnight the decimated French units were withdrawn and Halder had the Land Cruisers withdrawn as well, including the damaged units which would be quickly repaired with replacement sections already floated over the Rhine.
At the same time, the French had gained enough intelligence about the Land Cruisers, their capabilities and their armaments to begin to develop responses to them. Mostly, those responses appeared to be to avoid contact. The French did not again directly assault an area of the line where a Land Cruiser was present, deciding that it would be better to focus their attacks on the Imperial Army’s lines of communication, thus forcing the Land Cruisers to retire, albeit painfully slowly.
A multi-layered scenario, with the French initially on the attack against a German infantry line supported by three dug-in Land Cruisers. But that’s not all. The Germans get to counter-attack with three more Land Cruisers and a battalion of their crapulent tanks. It’s a small and therefore concentrated battlefield, which is going to make for a bloody struggle.
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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.