Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof,
We never gave Panzer Grenadier: Elsenborn Ridge the same scenario preview that other series games have received, and in going back over them I’m both amazed that I managed to craft something this good, and disappointed that I hadn’t yet hit on the story-arc format we’ve made standard practice for our newer games.
One of the aspects I really like in this game is the map design: the maps are both geomorphic (they fit together with any other maps from Panzer Grenadier, Panzer Grenadier (Modern) or Infantry Attacks series games) and they represent actual terrain (in this case, places like the Twin Villages). Philippe Léonard took that concept even further with Ardennes 1944, which is set for the most part in a different part of the battle.
If I’d organized Elsenborn Ridge into chapters based on theme instead of just a chronological list, with historical background and battle games, it would be with best game in the Panzer Grenadier series. As it stands it’s pretty damned good, though I’d pick Fire in the Steppe, which has those things, over it. Let’s have a look at more of those scenarios:
St. Vith: First Probe
18 December 1944
The town of St. Vith controlled a vital crossroads, but the German Fifth Panzer Army did not at first assign major forces to capture the town. Only on the offensive's third day did a Volksgrenadier division bring up its "mobile" battalion and advance half-heartedly on St. Vith. The disorganized defenders - the senior American officer had abdicated command to a junior general - had flung a cavalry squadron out to provide a thin screen northeast of the town.
The Germans made some initial progress, as the cavalrymen had little answer for the assault guns. When a company of tanks from the 9th Armored Division answered the cavalry's frantic calls for help, the balance shifted and over half of the German vehicles were left burning on the battlefield. There would be no easy capture of St. Vith.
This is a small scenario, with a battalion’s worth of Germans backed by a company of assault guns running into an American screen with armored infantry and armored cars, later supplemented by Sherman tanks. The Germans are going to have to work fast to seize their objectives, which is going to be tough since they’re on foot and the Americans are in half tracks.
St. Vith: First Assault
18 December 1944
While the Americans milled around in confusion within the St. Vith perimeter, on the other side of the uncertain front lines things were little better. It took a day and a half for the 18th Volksgrenadier Division to bring its infantry into line to attack, and even then, some of its artillery remained trapped in the massive traffic jams clogging the narrow roads. Ordered to attack anyway, the division launched its planned night assault in mid-morning.
The Volksgrenadiers made some progress against the American 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, but lost all their gains thanks to a timely counterattack by a nearby engineer battalion fighting as infantry. Troops on both sides proved very skittish under enemy artillery fire, with the greater American firepower making its weight felt.
It’s Fort Apache: The Ardennes, with hordes of Huns boasting low morale and no armor support crash against American positions manned by high-morale armored infantrymen backed by a handful of light tanks, a whole lot of artillery, and eventually getting help from those damned engineers. It’s probably going to be a long day for the Herrenvolk.
St. Vith: Help Arrives
18 December 1944
While three German divisions jostled for position to attack the vital crossroads town of St. Vith, two American armored divisions tried just as hard to jam reinforcements through the tidal wave of retreating men and vehicles streaming to the west. The two American divisions had little coordination, and when separate task forces found themselves heading up highway N23 to battle the advancing SS they joined-up to give Hitler's favorites a nasty shock.
As often happened during the Battle of the Bulge, the wandering American troops were perfectly willing to fight - as long as someone pointed them toward the enemy. Lt. Col. Leonard Engeman picked up some anti-aircraft halftracks along the way and tasked the 7th Armored tanks with providing fire support while his own went right at the SS. Stunned by the sudden violent resistance, the hardened Nazis fled in panic. Their division commander, Col. Wilhelm Mohnke, decided that he really didn't need to pass through St. Vith after all and turned his troops to the west.
This time the Waffen SS attack St. Vith, and they do it with one of their handful of divisions that was actually good. The Americans aren’t very numerous, they have no artillery support and their infantry isn’t mobile, but they have tanks and heavy support weapons and a willingness to fight. The SS have to do a lot in order to win, so this is going to be tougher on the German player than it looks.
Twin Villages: Finale
19 December 1944
During the night of the 18th, the American command decided its troops had held the twin villages for as long as necessary to disrupt the German timetable. The defenders could pull out the next night. Meanwhile, the German command had decided that the Hitler Youth had had enough; the SS division would assault the twin villages for one more day and then give way to an Army panzer grenadier division from the Army Group reserve. Kraas was determined to redeem his command with success, whatever the cost to his young fanatics.
Both sides remained relatively quiet during the night, but when daylight came fighting again erupted in both villages. Massive American artillery barrages again claimed many German infantrymen's lives, and in the early afternoon 2nd Infantry Division ordered its troops to pull out as soon as darkness fell. Fighting died down as the Americans prepared to leave, and rather than press their advantage the battered Hitler Youth and Volksgrenadiers gladly let them go.
It’s a small space with a lot of troops involved, where the Germans have a mixed SS/Army force backed by tanks trying to eject an American tank-infantry force that sports better morale than they do and enormous artillery support. The Germans are in for a long day.
Crossroads: We Fight and Die Here
19 December 1944
Pulled out of the line after its failure at the twin villages, the Hitler Youth Division swung instead onto the road to the large farm known to the Americans as Dom Bütgenbach. At first they found easier going over routes cleared by 1st SS Panzer Division, and then they ran head on into the U.S. 1st Infantry Division. The SS recon battalion blundered into the Big Red One on the afternoon of the 18th and was badly shot up; by the time the rest of the SS division was ready to attack in the wee hours of the next morning, the Americans were primed and ready for them. "We fight and die here," Lt. Col. Derril Daniel told his 2nd Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment, a phrase his men would repeat to each other constantly over the next several days.
The Hitler Youth formed up just outside of American sighting range and then began a wild assault on the manor. But having been bounced by a good American division, they now found themselves facing a great one. The Americans lit up the night with illumination rounds, and then poured artillery fire on the advancing Germans. Three German tank destroyers actually made it to the farm, but were driven off by artillery fire and the threat of American bazooka teams. The remnants of the German force drew off into the night, and once again the Hitler Youth would have to dig a grossly outnumbered force out of a crossroads village. Daniel remained highly confident: with a Ph.D. in entomology from Clemson University, he was a recognized expert in the eradication of vermin.
I still love the last line of the conclusion. The scenario itself isn’t very big, but it is quite intense.
19 December 1944
German planners pinned most of their hopes on the 1st SS Panzer Division's Battle Group Peiper. This powerful force of tanks and infantry made outstanding progress for the first several days of the offensive against confused and scattered opposition; the greatest delays seemed to come from the constant pauses to murder Belgian civilians and American prisoners. But at the town of Stoumont, Hitler's SS ran into "Roosevelt's SS"; the National Guard's 30th Infantry Division, a veteran outfit so libeled by Nazi propagandist Axis Sally.
The Americans put up fierce resistance, but when the panzers reached the town and overran the last anti-tank guns, two of Lt. Col. Roy C. Fitzgerald's companies broke. The third company of North Carolina Guardsmen fought practically to the last man inside Stoumont, with only 24 men surviving. Lt. Walter Macht's tank company emerged from the fight with all of its Shermans and none of its ammunition. On the German side, the SS quailed until Maj. Werner Poetschke snatched up a Panzerfaust and stalked from tank to tank, threatening to use it on the reluctant crews himself if they did not advance on the Americans.
The SS are on the attack with tanks and infantry against an American tank-infantry force with a slight edge in numbers and a serious edge in armor support (including Royal Tiger tanks). The Americans have determination, and a whole lot of artillery.
19 December 1944
Expected to play a major role in the offensive, the 3rd Parachute Division failed to make much progress against very weak opposition. At one point, an entire regiment was held up for a day by a single American platoon, suffering hundreds of casualties. No longer "the best damn soldiers I ever saw" as one American colonel had called them six months earlier, the division dawdled along behind the SS panzers until ordered to resume attacking a newly-arrived American unit.
Third Parachute Division made only what the U.S. official history called "desultory attacks" on the American position, showing little enthusiasm. Massive casualties during the Normandy campaign had led to the division being rebuilt with an infusion of surplus Air Force ground crews and raw recruits, but nothing could replace the experienced junior officers who had been lost. The Big Red One's 16th Infantry Regiment easily fought off their attacks.
A mass of unwilling German airborne try to penetrate a pretty good distance into American positions held by the Big Red One. Even with all those numbers this is a really tough mission for the Germans, in the face of elite defenders backed by copious artillery.
Crossroads: Hunting Panthers
20 December 1944
After their repulse, the Hitler Youth pulled back and replenished fuel and ammunition while keeping up a slow but steady artillery bombardment of the American positions. The SS division's poor march discipline wasted hours while reinforcements made their way to the front and supplies finally reached their destinations. Not until midnight was the new assault ready to step off.
Once again, the German tank destroyers made it into the farm buildings, and once again the American artillery fire and infantry defense drove off all their supporting panzer grenadiers. American tank-hunting teams tracked down and destroyed all the German vehicles wandering through their positions, including several of the gigantic Hunting Panthers. Enraged, SS Gen. Hugo Kraas of the Hitler Youth division ordered a fresh attack a few hours later.
The Hunting Panthers might be a formidable foe if the Americans had any tanks, but against infantry they’re just like any other tank and vulnerable to close assault by the elite American foot soldiers. And then there are the guns. A rain of American shells will fall on any German advance.
Crossroads: Panzer Attack
20 December 1944
The Big Red One was adding to its huge list of battle honors, schooling the Hitler Youth in infantry anti-tank tactics. But as the officers of the 26th Infantry Regiment holding the manor farm took stock of their position, they found themselves almost out of anti-tank mines and bazooka rockets. If the Nazi tanks rolled forward again, it would be much harder to stop them.
The tired panzer grenadiers again suffered terrible casualties from American rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. Heavy fog limited visibility, making it easier for the veteran American infantry to stalk and destroy the tanks that once again broke into the farm without infantry support. The Hitler Youth fell back again, and though skirmishing continued throughout the day the battle seemed to have ended. But the 12th SS Division would not easily set aside its hard-won reputation for fanaticism.
We go back to the crossroads for an intense fight with lots of infantry and a handful of tanks on each side. This time the Germans have lined up some artillery of their own, but they have to face the stout infantry of the Big Red One.
And that’s the second set of Elsenborn Ridge scenarios.
here to order Elsenborn Ridge right
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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 over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.