Dishonor Before Death:
Scenario Preview, Part Five
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Once upon a time, a wargame expansion centered on the Waffen SS would have been a runaway best-seller. It probably still would be, but I just find myself unable to write the sales copy needed to make it so. The Nazi Party’s armed militia fought in the front lines during World War II, at times very well (though often much less than well), and leaving them out completely means also leaving out the heroic deeds of the American, British, Soviet and other Allied soldiers who defeated them.
Panzer Grenadier: Dishonor Before Death concentrates on just the American battles against the party militia between June and August 1944. It’s an outstanding set of scenarios, all of them of very manageable size (none have more than two mapboards) and by using the same style of victory conditions throughout, designer Mike Perryman has cleverly made them play very smoothly as you move from one to the next.
Let’s have a look at some more of them.
Operation Lüttich: Day One
Adolf Hitler, neither the first nor the last self-proclaimed genius to lead his nation to ruin, had a plan to crush the Allied invasion of Normandy. Eight panzer divisions would make a surprise attack near Mortain, back by all of the reserve artillery that could be assembled and the German Air Force’s entire reserve of aircraft. And all of these formations and weapons would be assembled and unleashed in secret.
When the attack - named Operation Lüttich (Liege, Belgium, site of a 1914 German victory) went forward in the early hours of 7 August 1944, the Allies had plentiful warning thanks to their code-breaking operations, while the Germans managed to assemble only parts of four panzer and six infantry divisions with about 300 tanks between them.
7 August 1944
The recent American advances had rendered Operation Lüttich obsolete before it began, setting the German corps and army commanders to arguing with each other for several hours. To add to the confusion, the late-arriving SS Lifeguard Division had highway priority and delayed the 2nd SS Panzer Division's own attack by several hours.
Second SS Panzer Division had assumed control of 17th SS Panzer Grenadier due to the latter's poor performance in the Battle of Bloody Gulch. Second SS Panzer formed two battle groups from their incompetent sister division to secure Hill 314 from the east. Battle Group Fick consisted of several understrength infantry battalions along with some engineering assets and the remains of the recon battalion. Compared to Battle Group Ernst, a collection of artillerymen fighting as infantry, they were a virtual juggernaut. Second SS Panzer added their assault gun battalion to ensure that this motley crew would have no trouble securing Hill 314. While this was happening 2nd SS Panzer's own Battle Group Wisliceny was to take Mortain from the south. Morning fog shielded the attackers from the punishment of Allied air superiority. Night found the Americans on Hill 314 surrounded and battered but they had refused to yield the high ground.
This scenario’s a little different from the others, using a map board from Elsenborn Ridge to present a pretty tough-to-scale hillside right in the path of the Waffen SS advance. The Americans have the literal as well as moral high ground here, and though the Germans have numbers they’re going to have a tough time kicking the Americans off their hilltop.
Late Life Guards
7 August 1944
The hastily-drafted German attack plan had little chance of success even if everything went right, and very little went right even in the opening stages. The commander of the 116th “Greyhound” Panzer Division flatly refused to participate in the attack. The late arrival of 1st SS “Lifeguard” Panzer Division in turn delayed the assembled 2nd SS Panzer Division's attack. Complicating things, SS Lifeguard’s Panthers required maintenance, aborting that division’s planned coordinated attack with the regular army’s 2nd Panzer Division. Morning found 2nd Panzer Division preparing to attack St. Barthelemy from two different directions hoping SS Lifeguard would arrive in time to lend a hand if needed.
The Americans fought hard, but the Germans had plenty of tanks to push them back once the anti-tank guns of 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion had been methodically eliminated. The Americans lost 350 men fighting for St. Barthelemy, but inflicted heavy losses on the Germans as well; Col. Hans Schacke of 2nd Panzer Division’s 304th Panzer Grenadier Regiment was killed in the fighting. With Schacke’s death the Germans paused to re-organize their battle groups before pressing forward again. By afternoon the fog had cleared and the Germans began to suffer from American air power.
The Germans have a strong armored component here attacking on a narrow front against a layered American defense with limited anti-tank capability. The Americans are going to have to use that dense terrain to get in close with the panzers and take them out with infantry.
7 August 1944
After securing Romagny early in the day, the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment split in two groups. The militiamen stumbled across the American 197th Field Artillery Battalion, and in a confused battle in the fog the artillerymen - altered by the approaching tank engines - organized an ad hoc defense. The Americans had suffered serious casualties before a bazooka knocked out a Panzer IV and the SS militia panicked. Made confident by their successes, the Americans quickly gathered a force to retake Romagny.
The Americans began the fight by knocking out a German tank with a bazooka, but when the thin-skinned Stuart light tanks tried to exploit this initial success, they were stopped by German anti-tank fire. The two sides engaged in a firefight before both gave up and decided to wait for morning.
This one’s going to be tough on the bad guys, who are defending with almost no one on their side while the Americans have tanks (well, not very good ones, but they’re still tanks) and more guys. It’s tough to hang on when outnumbered in Panzer Grenadier, just like in real life, plus the Americans can splatter the Germans with superior artillery support.
And that’s Chapter Five. Next time, it’ll be Chapter Six.
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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. Leopold is a good dog.