Well, having missed the chance to have a game on the centenary of the first French tank operation, and having got some extra French WW1 troops painted, I didn’t really want to pass up the chance to get some of the new stuff into a game! So I arranged a game with my long-time wargaming opponent John, but with a bit of a difference to fit it into a couple of hours.
The date is July 1918! The German spring offensive has run out of steam and the Allies are counterattacking!
By this stage in the war, French tank tactics had improved a lot! In this game, the Germans have pulled back to the village of Wappy and established a rearguard position to protect their withdrawal. The French decide to mount an attack to capture the village and keep the Germans on the run, so tanks have been allocated to support the operation. Wappy is some distance behind the old front line, so before this action it had not suffered too much damage. Because tanks are to be involved in the attack, the French opt for a short but heavy bombardment on the village itself, followed by a smoke screen laid down by the artillery to mask the approach of the tanks! German reinforcements were to be deterred by a barrage of mustard gas shells dropped well to the rear of the village. As the smoke screen starts to clear, the real fight for Wappy begins . . .
I set up a small village with ruined buildings, rubble, open defence positions and some barbed wire. Because the setting was meant to represent an area that hadn’t been ravaged by trench warfare and endless artillery bombardments, I used a green game cloth for the ground. Across the front of the village I laid out some 4 inch diameter grey card circles to represent the smoke screen – these represent the area of each smoke round, but don’t look particularly inspiring, so I covered each card circle with kapok small animal bedding material and that looked surprisingly effective (no small animals were harmed during this game)! At the start of each game turn a dice was rolled for each smoke marker to see if the smoke had cleared, with the number required reducing for each turn the smoke remained.
I noted down the positions of the German units defending, since these would only be revealed if they fired or the French got within 12 inches of them. The French had the option to start quite close to the smoke screen, but any tank passing through the smoke ran the risk of getting stuck on an unseen terrain feature!
The French forces, commanded by Commandante Pierre Arriviste, consisted of an Artillerie Speciale battery (three Schneider CA tanks) supported by an infantry battalion (14 figures, including a Chauchat machine gun team). For the game, each Schneider was directly supported by a group of four or five infantry, each tank/infantry group counting as a single unit. Two of these groups started on the French right flank, clear of the smoke screen but opposite barbed wire obstructions, whilst the third Schneider, accompanied by Commandante Arriviste and the Chauchat team, approached the German positions under cover of the smoke.
Major Hans Hupp, in charge of the German defenders, had quite limited resources and no permanent defensive works. French shelling had cratered the village and Hupp’s men had dug some connecting slit trenches, prepared some gun positions and strung barbed wire across the front of the position (although the centre of the line remained unwired). A 77mm gun covered the right flank, a 75mm infantry gun covered the left flank and an artillery observer had set up an observation post upstairs in the cottage adjacent to the road junction. A Maxim 08 machine gun team covered the centre and right flank, whilst two Maxim 08/15 light machine gun teams provided some mobile firepower. Finally, struggling their way through the French gas barrage sealing off the rear of the village, a 13mm T-Gewehr (anti tank rifle) team arrived after the French attack had started and dug themselves into a vacant gun position.
As the French attack started, the smoke was slow to clear! The two Schneider groups on the French left broke through the wire, their infantry staying close behind. The German 77mm gun had been covering the road, well hidden behind a ruined barn, but the close proximity of the two Schneiders forced the crew to swing the gun round and engage the tanks at close range. The German gunners got several rounds on target, but with surprisingly little effect, and once the Schneiders got onto the road their combined firepower quickly overcame the plucky defenders!
On the French right the smoke lingered and the remaining Schneider bogged down at the wire. As the smoke started to clear, the German 75mm infantry gun loosed off a round at the stranded Schneider, but to little effect, and return fire from the tank swiftly silenced the gun. Through the clearing smoke the German artillery observer finally spotted the advancing tanks, but he was unlucky enough to be killed by the Chauchat LMG team, the latter having advanced on their own accord, refusing to wait any longer for the bogged-down tank to get moving! This was probably the luckiest break for the French, since indirect 105mm howitzer fire could have seriously hampered the attack!
The German machine gunners were putting down quite a lot of fire, inflicting some casualties amongst the French infantry on both flanks, but combined fire from the French soon eliminated the Maxim teams on the German left flank and centre. The bogged-down Schneider refused to budge, but its crew shot up anything in sight, while its supporting infantry pushed on into the village. On the French left flank the two Schneiders destroyed the last Maxim crew, leaving only the T-Gewehr team offering any resistance. Well protected in a gun pit, the German gunner hit two of the tanks, although even this failed to spur the crew of the bogged-down Schneider into getting their vehicle moving! A near miss from a 13mm projectile infuriated the Chauchat team and they put several long bursts of fire down on the T-Gewehr position, killing the last of the defenders! The village was in French hands at last!
It was good game, although the delay in the smoke clearing and the early loss of the German artillery observer made it shorter than expected! Using only a small number of units also kept it moving along, and combining the tanks and infantry worked well! I haven’t got round to playing many late WW1 games yet, but the more mobile warfare at the end of the war should make for some interesting games in the future.
I wish that Schneider crew would hurry up and get their tank unstuck – I need to put the game stuff away!