By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In another lifetime, I did a rewrite of a veteran’s memoir of World War II. We became good friends; I guess a ghostwriter is sort of like a confessor, hearing the private tales that will go into the book, and the even more private ones that are just too awful to include. And so we became good friends, speaking the unspeakable horrors on warm Southern afternoons in his beautiful, sunlit garden.
Sometime afterwards, I decided that Avalanche Press needed to create something special featuring the 3rd Armored Division. Belton didn’t really approve of wargames and thought them pretty silly, but I like to think he’d enjoy seeing his beloved division finally equipped with better tanks than the Shermans he held responsible for the deaths of so many friends.
Spearhead Division is a Panzer Grenadier supplement focused on the battles of the Third Armored Division. It comes with a 32-page, large format book with 25 new scenarios by Mike Perryman plus five new “battle games” linking them together (these require one game, Elsenborn Ridge, and only that one game). And for those scenarios, there are 88 new die-cut, silky-smooth playing pieces showing the division’s units in their own special color scheme.
Third Armored Division formed in April 1941 in Louisiana, and along with 2nd Armored Division maintained the “heavy” armored division organization throughout the war: six battalions of tanks (four medium, two light) in two regiments, compared to three somewhat larger mixed tank battalions in the “light” armored division. The division also included a three-battalion regiment of armored infantry mounted in M3 halftracks, three artillery battalions plus signals, engineers and reconnaissance battalions.
As with any American division during the campaign in Western Europe, that order of battle could be augmented by additional battalions from corps and army-level assets, and divisional units would at times be detached to assist other divisions.
“Spearhead” became the division’s nickname in September 1944, after its commander Maurice Rose directed his staff to come up with one. Apparently the name had floated around the division for a while; the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment’s newspaper published during training in 1941 and 1942 was named “The Spearhead.” At least some troops were issued a homemade patch with a red spearhead on a gold background, with the official U.S. Army triangular divisional patch coming somewhat later.
Our Spearhead Division set shows the division’s units in full Panzer Grenadier glory, suitable for use with the many games and supplements in which the division appears as well as those included in the book. They use the U.S. Army’s Armored Force color scheme, with a golden-yellow background, deep blue lettering and a red spearhead modeled on those early shoulder patches. The pieces ranging from armored infantry to armored artillery. And tanks. Many tanks.
The new Armored Infantry pieces replace standard INF pieces. They reflect the much greater size and firepower of these platoons as compared to the line infantry: they do not have Browning Automatic Rifles (at least not officially) but have more machine guns. When combined with the inherent firepower of their halftracks, these are formidable units. The order of battle includes a few machine gun platoons, but far fewer than a standard infantry outfit (the machine guns are, for the most part, distributed among the armored infantry).
The standard American medium tank is Belton’s Bane, the M4 Sherman, which comes in many models. For the purposes of Panzer Grenadier, most of these models have been grouped together in just a few different unit types as their differences in performance aren’t great enough to show up in game terms. The M4 piece represents all of the models armed with the M2 75mm gun, a weapon designed to artillery specifications for long barrel life at the cost of a low muzzle velocity that hampered its effectiveness against enemy armor. The M4/76 represents several models, all of them armed with the more effective 76mm gun, which still isn’t as good as the weaponry of most German tanks. The Jumbo is a variant produced in 1944 with enormously thick armor, but correspondingly lower speed.
But the set includes the M26 Pershing with its powerful main gun. The Pershing (as well as the M24 Chaffee) actually arrived at 3rd Armored Division before the war ended, but not in any serious numbers. Now you can fight with the tank Belton believed his division should have had. And there’s artillery, mobile artillery like the M7 105mm self-propelled howitzer. And we’ve also included engineers, armored cars, anti-tank guns and all the other essentials of armored warfare in 1944 and 1945.
Spearhead Division is a model for the new type of Panzer Grenadier supplement we want to issue: tightly focused on its subject and on the games required to play its scenarios (just one, Elsenborn Ridge), with a good assortment of scenarios and battle games plus unique pieces.
Don’t wait to put Spearhead Division on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!
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.