Thursday, 9 April 2020

Breakout Normandy - Vassal

Continuing our further adventures into the world of boardgaming over the internet using Vassal as part of our exercise in not allowing COVID-19 to interfere with out regular weekly meet ups, Steve M and I got together this week to sit down and play a favourite game, Breakout Normandy (BKN) for which we both have hard copies of the original Avalon Hill version of the game.

I think this is one game in my collection that I have played many times and one that I never grow bored off, as the mechanism of play recreating the first few days of the Allied landing in Normandy and race to steak out a bridgehead before the Germans can reinforce the front is well modeled; and gets to the crux of the fighting of this campaign, in that if the German army failed to stop the Allies getting inland from the beaches whilst linking them up in that time, they would inevitably lose the three month campaign, as indeed they did.

Perhaps one of the best books I have read that captures this element of the build up battle of D-Day captured in BKN is Robert J. Kershaw's 'D-Day, Percing the Atlantic Wall' which uses a mixture of first hand accounts from Allied and German sources to illustrate the critical ten first days of the campaign that set the course of the battle that would end in August in the bloody fields and lanes around Falaise.

Interestingly a new version of BKN has been developed by L2 Design Group, and I found the module for this version on Vassal and was immediately taken with the brighter graphics for the units and likewise relieved that not too much had been changed from the original with summaries out there listing those modest changes making it very easy for Steve and I to get going with this version in our game.

If on seeing this, you are interested in playing the same version I attach a link to the Vassal site. Just download the 2nd Edition module 27-01-2016.

To start our game Steve and I simply rolled a d6 on the system to determine sides with the highest going allies, which ended up as me.

BKN starts the game with a D-Day landing phase of play with the Allied paratroops set up and able to launch their coup-de-main attacks on the German gun batteries within their set up areas together with being able to automatically grab key bridges in anticipation of reinforcements arriving from the beaches.

I followed one of the General magazine guided suggestions on key Allied objectives and the forces to be used during this phase.

In my experience of playing BKN, the landing phase is fairly critical and a strong or poor landing can set the agenda from the get go.

I tend to err on the side of trying to make sure the allies get ashore by clearing as many beaches as possible or with any German defenders in such a state as their ability to interfere with subsequent landings are minimised which tends towards a conservative assault with chancy attempts to break inland early limited because of that focus.

The map below is the overall situation where we left the game on the eve of D+1 with the landings completed and German forces moved up and reorganised and with their reinforcements deployed in off map zones together with the next Allied forces in the landing boxes or dropped in by air to their respective landing zones.

For a closer look, simply click on the pictures to get the fully sized map from the Vassal module that we saved.

From the situation close up below the Allies made a solid landing with none of my 2d6 rolls coming in at 6 or less which meant that beaches and landing zones were either cleared or with most German defenders and gun positions disrupted.

British 50th and Canadian 3rd Divisions cleared Gold and Juno beaches and the gun batteries on Sword and in Merville were left disrupted following the landings.

Likewise the Americans achieved a solid landing with the Big Red One and the two Ranger battalions practically clearing Omaha, with just a gun emplacement left disordered and with other German units falling back into neighbouring zones in preparation to resist the push-out.

Similarly the Ivy division had a strong landing at Utah clearing the beach but with plenty to do on the next day and, as with Omaha, German gun emplacements still active on the flanks able to interdict followup forces on the way into the beach.

Steve's German defenders came back strongly in the latter part of the day with seven turns of play alternating and with the weather turning overcast towards the end allowing an increased German supply rate to reorganise all units and leave fifteen points in the bank against the eleven carried over by the Allies.

As can be seen the longish overcast D-Day also allowed Steve to push more units closer to the beaches with 21st Panzer creating a stronghold in front of Caen, key bridges blown in front of Juno and Gold, although 50th Division and its tank brigade managed to capture the key bridge into Bayeux.

So all to play for on our next meet up next week.

Next up, we're 'All at Sea' as three new British named frigates roll down the slipway and are now fitted out to join the fleet.

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