Scenario Preview, Part Two
Spearhead Division is pretty much a model Panzer Grenadier supplement: it draws on just one other game for maps and pieces (Elsenborn Ridge), it has a tight historical focus (actions of the 3rd “Spearhead” Armored Division in late 1944 and early 1945) and it tells a compelling story (by way of 25 scenarios and five battle games). Let’s take a look at the second chapter. You can see the rest in Part One, Part Three and Part Four.
Second Battle of the West Wall
Aachen had been taken after a bitter, slogging battle in October. Beginning in November the Americans could turn their attention to breaking through the final belt of the West Wall. The first battles occurred just to the east of where the Spearhead Division had fought to penetrate the line in September. The area to be secured by Spearhead, east of Stolberg, was the only ground suited to a mechanized advance; several hills ominously overlooked the proposed battlefield. Infantry divisions on Spearhead’s flanks would have to clear those hills.
Spearhead had absorbed replacements of men and machines and now were to use them to pierce the West Wall’s furthest fortifications. Task Forces Lovelady and Mills set out to force their way through the next villages: Werth, Kottenich, Hastenrath and Scheerpenseel.
16 November 1944
Third Armored Division’s Combat Command B sent forward two task forces, each roughly equivalent in force. Task Force Lovelady was to move on Kottenich. In keeping with the “heavy” nature of the division, Lt. Col. William Lovelady’s command brought a large number of armored vehicles to the encounter. Success would depend on careful use of those weapons.
While Task Force Mills met spirited resistance, Task Force Lovelady found the going much easier and despite their late start secured Werth and Kottenich before dark. Their biggest problem during the day was some German armor on Hill 232 that accounted for five Shermans before return fire knocked out a tank and the firing from that quarter stopped. The 47th Volksgrenadier Division had just been rebuilt in late September after being destroyed at Mons. Transfers of men from the Luftwaffe and Navy made up about half of the division while raw recruits made up about a third. The other men and the majority of the officers were veterans of the Eastern Front. They learned quickly; according to the First Infantry Division the 47th Volksgrenadier represented “the most suicidally stubborn unit this division has encountered in its campaigns on the continent.”
This is a small scenario, with a tank-heavy American force pushing across just one mapboard against a very small defending force. But much is expected from those to whom much is given, and the Americans will pretty much have to wipe the Germans from the map without suffering many losses themselves if they hope to win.
Bad Road to Hastenrath
16 November 1944
Second and Third Armored Divisions had already deployed to England when the rest of the American armored divisions reorganized. This was unfortunate, as their tank-heavy organization made it very difficult for them to form effective combined arms task forces. On this day Combat Command B sent out two task forces, each containing a full battalion of armor supported by a single armored infantry company. Task Force Mills’ mission required it to subdue Hastenrath.
According to ordnance officer Belton Cooper, mines cost the Spearhead Division fifteen Shermans with the Germans destroying thirteen more. Despite the heavy tank losses and disappearance of their supporting infantry long before, four Shermans managed to reach Hastenrath but were unable to accomplish much. When fire from the town set another Sherman ablaze the tankers called it a day.
The Americans have the numbers, plus armor, plus artillery. The Germans for their part don’t have many weapons that can really harm the American tanks, so they’ll have to protect those while hoping the enemy comes close. Unfortunately for the Americans, they’ll have to come close if they hope to win.
Round Two at Hastenrath
17 November 1944
Amid heavy fighting on the previous day, four Shermans from Task Force Mills worked their way forward to Hastenrath. When their infantry support was unable – or unwilling –to reach them, they pulled back to a more defendable position for the night. At some point during the night the infantry finally made it forward to join the unsupported tanks.
The Americans fought their way into Hastenrath, where both sides gained the upper hand at various times in inconclusive fighting. The VII Corps staff dispatched Combat Command B's reserves to tip the balance in their favor. When they moved forward they quickly became involved in heavy fighting with a surprisingly large number of Germans who had been bypassed on the previous day, and the reinforcements could not reach Task Force Mills until the next day. Fighting lasted well into the night with the Germans finally pressing the Americans back but unable to eject them from the southern portion of the town. At 06:00 the next morning Lt. Colonel Herbert Mills would be wounded fighting in Hastenrath and be forced to relinquish command of his task force.
Relatively small forces fight across a relatively large battlefield, which gives the Americans a chance to use their mobility to bring forward their reinforcements. The Germans are going to have to leave their strong fortified positions and attack if they want to win this one, or they can leave the attacking up to the small groups of stragglers that come wandering onto the board from random locations, which makes for tough decisions by both players.
18 November 1944
The Spearhead Division had tried to capture Scherpenseel in September in a bloody action that cost it the services of the U.S. Army’s best tank commander, Staff Sgt. Lafayette Pool, and his unstoppable Sherman “In the Mood.” Returning to the same sector two months later, a small contingent of Task Force Mills tried to drive the remaining Germans from Scherpenseel while the majority of the task force remained engaged at Hastenrath.
Despite the weak forces committed to the attack, the Americans ejected the German defenders from Scherpenseel and declared the village secured well before noon. American officers were worried that their lack of infantry would not allow them to repel a determined German effort to take the village back. The Germans did launch small counterattacks but were unable to muster enough men to seriously threaten Scherpenseel. With an infantry division squeezing in on each flank, VII Corps had begun planning to put Combat Command B in reserve.
This one’s a small scenario, with an American tank-infantry force trying to fight their way through German prepared positions. As in many of the Spearhead scenarios, the 3rd Armored Division’s tank-heavy organization shows its weaknesses again: there’s just not enough infantry to get the job done, so the American player is going to have to expose his or her armor to German close assaults and all of those “tanks count double” penalties that go with that.
Back Into the Fray
25 November 1944
Constant combat had ground down the Spearhead Division’s fighting power, and so VII Corps replaced it in the front lines with two infantry divisions. In theory, this would allow the division to recover its damaged vehicles, especially the large number of tanks stuck in the autumn mud, and get them back into service. The ordnance crews worked tirelessly to bring the tank battalions back up to full strength, but the pause ended quickly when VII Corps reversed itself and ordered Task Force Richardson back into action to help the 9th Infantry Division seek a breakthrough.
The Americans ejected the Germans from Wilhelmshoehe and split into two columns upon leaving the town. One column took the right flank, but soon the supporting Shermans went off the road and eighteen of them became stuck in the thick mud with no way of getting free until the ordnance battalion showed up with their recovery vehicles. This pretty much ended their forward progress for the day. The column on the left flank ran into well-served German anti-tank guns which shot up three of their accompanying Shermans, while one of the Ninth Infantry’s rifle companies was reduced to thirty-five men.
The Americans are on the attack once again, with a mixed force that’s well-supplied with artillery support, at least on paper – they can run out of ammunition. There’s also air power available, plenty of tanks, and a good number of foot soldiers from the Ninth Infantry’s “Old Reliables” help redress Spearhead’s chronic lack of infantry support for its tanks. Even so, the Germans are pretty tough and they have at least some armor of their own to provide a mobile reserve.
And that’s the second chapter.
You can order Spearhead Division right here.
Dishonor Before Death
Journal No. 27: Sherman Tanks
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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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.
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