Scenario Preview, Part Four
As we’ve rebooted our Panzer Grenadier game series with Fourth Edition rules, battle games and story-arc format scenarios, it’s become my goal to continue that tight focus with a series of expansion books that focus on just one boxed game, or at most two.
Spearhead Division does exactly that. It draws on just one game, our most popular Panzer Grenadier title ever, Elsenborn Ridge. And it has a compact and coherent story line, following the actions of the U.S. 3rd “Spearhead” Armored Division in the last months of World War II.
Let’s look at the scenarios of the fourth and final chapter:
The Last Offensive
Another week, another one hundred miles. After closing the Ruhr pocket, Spearhead moved east. As our final chapter begins we find Spearhead on the western border of the Harz mountain area. Today, the area just to the east is Nationalpark Harz which is introduced to visitors as “Our legendary mountain wilderness.” Perhaps other units had the pleasure of travelling through Germany on modern highways and in clear terrain but Spearhead had to undertake its advance through heavily wooded and sparsely populated areas where a giant assault gun (see Scenarios Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three) could be easily hidden.
In addition to the natural caution such an environment engenders, Spearhead’s soldiers shared the feeling that this really, finally was the end of the war and no one wanted to be the last casualty. Many writers discussing all of the combatants on the Western Front have mentioned this concern and the reluctance of those involved to unnecessarily expose themselves to fire.
Oh, and there was that rumor that the Nazis, being suicidal maniacs, had prepared a fortress in the Harz Mountains populated by Werewolves (insane, even more suicidal Nazi assassin maniacs), so the unit that approached that area needed to be wary of the potential to run into fanatical resistance in a prepared defensive zone, something quite different than what Spearhead had been dealing with for the past two weeks. Indeed, what was forecast by the pessimists among them was a battle not unlike the ones in September and November of 1944 while piercing the West Wall. A battle that no one wanted to fight.
9 April 1945
It was obvious to all involved that the Third Reich had entered its death throes and that the war in Europe would be over soon. The only fly in the ointment was a rumor that the Nazis planned to continue the fight out of a redoubt in the Harz Mountains. The Allied command was not in a mood to take chances and ordered troops to occupy the passes leading out of the southern edge of the mountains. On April 5th Spearhead moved out and early on the 9th Task Force Richardson encountered a large number of tanks around Harste. This certainly didn’t quell the rumors of a last stand.
Task Force Richardson fought the Germans for a couple of hours, then slipped by them and continued their advance. Combat Command B had been following Task Force Richardson to eliminate the strongpoints that Richardson bypassed. They had already started to engage the numerous bypassed panzers when their old antagonists from Heavy Panzer Battalion 507 showed up. Together with plentiful close air support Combat Command B was able to drive the Germans from Harste. The Germans admitted losing four of their six King Tigers to the new American trend of using white phosphorous against them – the powerful fans providing air to the engines sucked in the deadly chemical fumes as well, making the tank’s interior uninhabitable.
For these Germans, the war is not yet over. They have strong armored support (including Tiger II and Panther tanks, among others) and fairly strong morale. The Americans bring numbers, artillery and air support, but this is going to be a tough fight for the Spearhead.
10 April 1945
While one task force of Combat Command A attempted to secure Osterode and thereby seal Spearhead’s flank, the other headed for Herzberg. On approaching Herzberg they encountered massive German assault guns that were just shy of 35 feet long and over nine and a half feet wide. Their frontal armor was over nine and three-fourths inches thick and they mounted a high velocity five-inch cannon that could defeat any enemy armor at distance of well over a mile. Unfortunately their weight of almost 69 tons put a huge strain on the 700-horsepower engine and drive train. This meant that breakdowns happened early and often.
The defenders fought for the approaches with vigor and once in the Herzberg itself the fighting intensified. All the defenders’ efforts went for naught as they were sent packing sometime before midnight. On paper the Jagdtiger was an awesome weapon but in the hard light of reality it weaknesses that might have been overcome with enough time and attention. As it was, it was a maintenance hog that put a huge strain on a logistical system which even in the best of times was never more than haphazard.
The Americans have a lot of ground to cover in order to win; the Germans have pretty good numbers and weaponry but suffer from thorough disorganization. But they do have The Beast.
10 April 1945
With the Allied high command more worried about blocking the southern passes out of the Harz Mountains than prosecuting the war against the rapidly-dwindling German diehards, Spearhead was ordered to go no farther than Nordhausen before being relieved by an infantry formation. This didn't mean the fighting was over for Spearhead as they still had to reach Nordhausen.
It was well after dark before Spearhead forced the Germans from Osterode. Official reports commented on the stubborn German defense of the town. They also mentioned the strength of the defenses leading north into the mountains and the appearance here of heavy self-propelled guns in addition to tanks. For the man at the front the war wasn't quite over yet.
The Beast is back, and the Germans aren’t ready to give up yet – they have numbers, heavy weapons and some artillery support, plus night is falling. This is another tough one for Spearhead when it should already be over.
10 April 1945
As part of the effort to close the passes leading into the southern edge of the Harz Mountains, Combat Command R drove eastward toward Nordhausen. Spearhead’s division staff had already noted that not much resistance was encountered when moving eastward, but as soon as a formation turned northward they met heavy opposition. Things changed for Combat Command R around Gieboldehausen.
The Germans fought hard to keep Spearhead from advancing eastward but in the end it didn't make any difference as the Americans slowly pushed them back. Finally the Americans broke through and one task force headed to Silkerode while the other targeted Bockelnhagen.
Once again, the Germans are on the defensive but once again, they have enough mobile forces including tanks to strike back against American advances, and the heavy weapons to make those advances costly. Spearhead will have a hard time winning without going up against the Panthers.
10 April 1945
Combat Command R had become entangled with a surprisingly large number of panzers at Gieboldehausen, holding up their progress. The problem was eventually overcome and the advance continued. While one task force continued on to Silkerode the other strove to reach Bockelnhagen.
The Americans managed to push the Germans from the town but that was it for the day. It made little difference as Bockelnhagen provided a secure place to fuel and perform maintenance on the vehicles; Spearhead might have halted there in any event.
In our final scenario, the Germans are finally starting to show the effects of the prevous battles – most of their armor is gone, and so is a good deal of their will to fight. Even so, they can still put up resistance, and Spearhead will need its advantages in firepower and mobility.
And that’s the last chapter.
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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.