Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pegasus Bridge - Battlegroup Overlord

Yesterday at the Devon Wargames Group, I was able to do one of those "must do before I die" games.

Until yesterday I had never gamed the Pegasus Bridge, and a combination of the fact that the action took place three days previously, sixty nine years ago and an opportunity to play another game of Battlegroup Overlord just added to the memory of what turned out to be a very enjoyable afternoons gaming.

 Pegasus Bridge, at the Devon Wargames Group
This post is intended as an addition to my after action report posted on the Devon Wargames Group Blog .

As mentioned on the blog I put together a scenario based on one written by Richard Clarke of the Too Fat Lardies for "I Aint Been Shot Mum" (IABSM). As Richard pointed out in his article on the battle, the one sided nature of the action can make it a rather boring game to model if following the historical performances of both sides and the set ups. The challenge for the scenario designer is how to make this battle interesting for both sides.

As a scenario gamer by nature, I love this kind of challenge and so set about tweaking some of his ideas based on my own reading on the battle and offer my suggestions here for you dear reader.

I should say this battle has a few, be it small, connections to myself for two reasons. Firstly the battle preparations leading up to June the 5th required extensive training on a bridge similar to the one in Normandy. After a massive search throughout the UK, the unit finally came to base itself near Exeter in Devon, to practise on the Countess Wear Bridge. A plaque commemorates this fact today. The bridges at Exeter, because there are two, one stone bridge over the River Exe and the swing bridge pictured below over the Exeter canal, closely resembled the two bridges in France.
The swing bridge, Countess Wear, Exeter
The people of Exeter in early 1944 were treated to the bangs and pyrotechnics of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry as they practised again and again to get their drills perfect for the night itself.
I always remember to say a silent thank you to the heroes of Pegasus Bridge each time I use the Countess Wear bridge.
The other link I have to this battle is that on a June day in the early nineties my wife and I paid a visit to Pegasus Bridge when the veterans were there to celebrate the anniversary. We were walking over the actual bridge, which has now been replaced by a modern version, when I noticed an elderly gentleman walking towards us who seemed familiar.

Major John Howard
It suddenly dawned on me that it was John Howard, heading towards the Gondree Café, probably for a well earned coffee. I introduced myself and my wife, and I engaged him in a short conversation about his war service and his time in Devon practising for the battle. He was the perfect gentleman, and I treasure the anecdotes he shared with us that day.

Major Howard in later years
 So to our game.

Richard Clarke's map of the positions

The battle itself is well documented and so I will briefly run through the orbats and set ups with the tweaks I ran.

The table set up was as per the map with the wire perimeter surrounding a pedestal 50mm fortress gun, an HMG bunker guarding the approach road, and trenches on both banks of the canal. A light railway line ran parallel to the canal on the café bank.

Point A marks the landing point of the first glider, B the second and the third slightly behind off table. We ran this as per the night itself, having the first glider penetrating the wire.

The contending forces consisted of an Airlanding Company of three platoons with a section of Airborne Engineers with the defenders being a platoon of infantry spread about the defences, mostly asleep.

The original scenario has the defenders sleeping soundly with sentries patrolling the bridge. I modelled them with the two snipers in the orbat. The British player was unaware that his landing was not detected and that the German sentries would only spot his men when they closed within four inches. The German commander would roll a die after each turn of shooting requiring a 5 or 6 to wake a section on the first shots moving to a 4, 5 or 6 on subsequent firings.

The British player was informed that one of his sections was an Engineer unit tasked with checking the bridge for explosives, requiring a turn on the bridge to complete. There were in fact no operational charges, but the British didn't know this and so I forced our players to spend time in the open under fire checking this out. In addition, his men carried satchel charges for knocking out the MG bunker near the road.

Once the bridge and its perimeter was in British control, the defenders could prepare their perimeter by positioning the sections anywhere within plus occupying the nearest buildings to the bridge. I allowed them to place d6 sections on ambush.

To simulate the eventual arrival of reinforcements from the Paras landing in nearby drop zones we had a dice clock. The game was set to last for 30 pips. Each turn we rolled a d6 and crossed off that number of pips, thus making each turn variable in time duration and giving the game an average length of 10 moves. If the bridge and its perimeter were in British hands at game end then the victory would be complete. If it was contested then the British commander had failed in his mission.

Once the perimeter was in British control I allowed the Germans to roll for reinforcements. In the original IABSM scenario, Richard suggests rolling a 5 or 6 to release the arrival of a section of German Infantry. I changed this to a small recon battle group from 21st Panzer Division.

I told the German commander that their arrival was dice controlled but in fact I decided when they would appear, as the German infantry were able to put up quite a fight on their own, once they were awake, and so I let the two sides battle it out for about seven turns before the German force morale broke.

The British player was then allowed to set up his defence after which I announced the noise of tracks could be heard approaching. The German player then rolled a d6 and that was the number of turns remaining for him to get through to the bridge. If he was contesting it at game end he would have succeeded in preventing the British mission. In our game the Germans rolled a 2 and were thus forced to charge towards the bridge. With six failed PIAT shots, they actually made it and the British commander could see himself snatching a defeat from the jaws of victory. That moment alone makes this game for me unforgettable.

As you can see I played this scenario with a lot of built in flexibility. I wasn't sure if I had the balance correct, and based on yesterdays game I think I would play it this way again as the battle swung throughout the afternoon. Both my player commanders seemed happy with the format and as an umpire you can often get away with a lot of flexibility, especially when playing these kind of raid/coup de main scenarios.

Anyway that concludes my suggestions on putting together a well known action and making it fun to play. If you have a go yourself please do drop me a comment as I would love to hear how your game went, after all that's what this hobby is all about.


  1. I offered Ambrose's account of Pegasus Bridge as a summer reading option for the students I teach. Everything about the operation is remarkable, from the courage and resilience displayed by the glider troops, to Howard's admirable leadership, to the meticulous planning that went into the raid. There's a lot to be learned from studying the first significant action of D-Day.

    You've done a commendable job of representing the raid on the tabletop. It looks like a good representation of the challenges both sides faced on that night. Sounds like your players had a good time as well.

    And I'm insanely jealous that you got to meet Maj. Howard!

  2. Nice account and anecdotes - but just to point out that here and on the Devon blog, you cite TooFatLardies as TwoFatLardies...

    1. Thanks for the spot, just goes to show no matter how much you try to check these things, something slips through!!