Friday 14 June 2024

Normandy 8th - 9th June 1944, 'Operation Perch', Advance Inland - 'O' Group.

Summer has officially arrived here in 'Blighty', though you might not have guessed it given the rather disappointing weather consisting of a continuation of the April spring showers mixed in with temperatures that don't exactly encourage the shorts and T-shirts.

This summer, I and longstanding wargaming pals made the pilgrimage to Chez-Chas in deepest darkest North Devon to play yet another major clash of arms that are the headlines of historical human conflict, that has over the years been occasionally interspersed with the odd bit of classical Tolkienian fantasy, as well as to enjoy some convivial relaxed banter and the occasional beverage to wet the whistle.

A Blast from the Past - Previous Summer Games at Chez-Chaz.
JJ's Wargames, 2013 - Battle of Balaclava
JJ's Wargames, 2014 - Deus Vult, March to Tiberius
JJ's Wargames, 2015 - Battle of the Imjin River 1951 - Chain of Command
JJ's Wargames, 2017 - Battle of Numistro 210BC
JJ's Wargames, 2022 - The First Battle of Tannenberg or Battle of Grunwald 1410 - Swordpoint

However in this, the eightieth anniversary year of D-Day, it would have been remiss of us not to celebrate the achievements of 'The Greatest Generation' by turning the pages back to the dark days of 1944 when hope was beginning to rise that the nightmare of an Axis victory was fading beyond sight and that the Blue Birds would indeed fly over the white cliffs of Dover once again at the dawn of a new world free from tyranny.

Operation Perch was a British offensive during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy which took place from the 7th to the 14th of June 1944. The operation was intended to encircle and seize the German occupied city of Caen, which was a D-Day objective for the British 3rd Infantry Division in the early phases of Operation Overlord.

Original plan for the Perch Operation in June 1944 before it has been changed - Map by MattMoissa
Note our game battle area just north of Tilly-sur-Seulles.

German units were rushed to Normandy to contain the invasion. The I SS-Panzer Corps consisted of the Panzer-Lehr-Division, one of the strongest divisions in the German army, the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and the 21st Panzer Division.

The leading elements of the Panzer-Lehr Division arrived during the night of 9 June at Tilly-sur-Seulles, having lost up to 200 vehicles to aerial attacks during its 90 mi (140 km) drive from Chartres, having been diverted from facing the British I Corps north of Caen due to the success of the 50th Northumbrian Division. Parts of the 12th SS-Panzer Division, the 21st Panzer Division and the remains of the 716th Static Infantry Division were moved to Caen, facing I Corps. 

Our battle area in detail with the River Seulles to the west table edge

Our game was designed to represent the advance on Villers-Bocage. In particular points 102 and 103.

View of the battle area from the south east on the German side of the table

Game Set Up
The table will be 12' x 5 '. Allies will set up on North table edge (12' length). Germans South table edge.

Victory Conditions
Allies are attackers.
Game length, until one side orders a withdraw (4 FUBAR) for each table.
Victor is the side that collects most victory points.

A similar view from the German side of the table but from the south west beyond the River Seulles and the village of Chouain held by remnants of the 352nd Division

Allies will consist of four players.
Player 1, C-in-C, (Chas), in overall command. Dice for orders and allocates orders. 
Also responsible for allocating reinforcement and artillery support.

Player 2, (Andy), Battalion Commander, DLI Left side (East). 
Player 3, (John), Battalion Commander, Dorsets Right side (West). 
Player 4, (JJ), Reconnaissance and Tank Commander, 4/7 Dragoon Guards & 21st Lancers. 

British Forces

8th Durham Light Infantry with 61st Reconnaissance and 21st Lancers. (West Table)

1st Dorset Regiment with 4/7 Dragoon Guards (East Table)

Divisional Reserves (2 HQ Orders)

Germans will consist of three players
Player 1, C-in- C, (Vince), in overall command. Dice for orders and allocates orders.
Also responsible for allocating reinforcement and artillery support. In addition will control Tank force.

Player 2, (Steve M.), Battalion Commander, Panzer Lehr and 352nd Inf, Division, Left side (West).
Player 3, (Clive), Battalion Commander 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer Division, Right side (East).

German Force

Panzer Lehr (II/902 Panzer Grenadiers), Elements Kampfgruppe
Meyer (352nd Division). (West Table)

12 SS Recce Btn and III/26SS Panzer Grenadiers. (East Table)

Divisional Reserves (2 HQ Orders)

With the briefing complete, time to look at the terrain before gathering into O-Group meetings to discuss and agree the plans of attack and defence.

So our game set up is as you see above and we gave ourselves a full day to play, with a quick pre-game briefing about the objectives and game house-keeping before we separated off into our respective teams to discuss the plan, with me joining Andy and John in the British O-Group and my role to provide armoured support to effectively shoot the infantry I was supporting onto their respective targets.

The British plan drawn up with first phase line and objectives together with battalion and company boundaries.

As the map above shows we sorted out the respective battalion boundaries and the first phase line to be achieved and a plan to push forward a strong line of forward patrols including recce groups for the 21st Lancers with their supporting Bren carrier teams and Daimler and Humber armoured cars to add a bit of stiffening out on the right flank beyond the River Seulles, which Andy leading the Durham Light Infantry intended to use to refuse the right flank and focus on taking Hill 103.

First things first as the various company headquarters units get set up prior to the placement of forward patrols.

Only too well aware of the vulnerability of the Sherman to just about any German anti-tank capability I made it quite clear to my infantry colonels that my 'tankies' would not be expected to press on towards cover without it being adequately controlled by forward patrols, and that such cover once controlled would be vital for my armour to take up a secure position from which to bring their fire to bear on enemy points of resistance as they were encountered.

With company HQ's positioned the two sides start to mark out their forward line of advance as the first patrol groups are pushed forward 

So the methodical game that O-Group produces began as the British and German screens met in the wake of the British pre-assault artillery barrage that left the German 12SS Panzergrenadier company of the German right hesitant in the first turn and the German force less one platoon to use in the upcoming battle.

Sherman tanks of the 4/7 Dragoon Guards like debutants at their coming out ball, cautiously advance onto the table in the wake of the infantry and recce patrol groups.

Slowly but surely the British forward patrols supported by their closest infantry and eventually my tanks and armoured cars pushed the German forward line back and the first strongpoints containing their infantry and heavy weapons began to reveal themselves, all this against a back drop of continuous German sniper attacks that attempted to stymie the British advance on key terrain features.

German patrols move out to meet their British counterparts providing potential jump off points for deploying main force units.

The game O-Group produces is very evocative of the British infantry attacks recounted in the histories of the fighting in Normandy with the 'Tommies' leaning in to their creeping artillery barrage hoping to get onto their phase line objectives and take advantage of any German disruption, whilst the tanks hover in the background taking out tough resistance points and heavy machine guns; with both sides popping away with snipers and mortars, all against a bigger backdrop of getting the initiative and maintaining it particularly at those critical moments when units are in position to make a final assault but needing to get the jump off ahead of any enemy pre-emptive action to stop it, usually in the next turn of play.

With British briefing making it clear that any ground beyond six inches onto the table had to be assumed to be hostile the approach towards features such as woods was made carefully, with the tanks here waiting for the trees ahead to be scouted out for potential ambush groups.

Little moments of drama highlighted the play as on the German right flank they revealed their teeth against the British supporting tanks taking out two troops of Shermans in rapid succession as the attack went in against Le Hamel and Panzerschreck and PaK 40 fire left multiple burning hulks around the hamlet, but seeing the Dorsets move into the buildings and mopping up the final pockets of resistance to use the village as a jump off point for the push on towards Christot.
As the first objectives were reached on the battalion phase lines, platoon sized groups started to deploy in preparation for the assault, however snipers and machineguns took their toll as the markers indicate.

Suddenly as the British tanks pressed their support to shoot the infantry onto the first target, the village of Le Hamel, an SS Pak 40 team opened fire from the hedgerows out on the company boundary.

In the centre, the age old lesson for the infantry of not getting close to tanks, which inevitably draw German artillery barrages was proven to good effect, as German 105mm howitzers pummelled a platoon of Durhams, a squadron of Dragoon Guards Shermans and a company command post too closely grouped around covering terrain, which left everyone somewhat chastened and much wiser in the need to spread out.

First blood to the Pak crew

The 'tankies' were soon drawing fire as German forward units attempted to denude the 'Tommies' of their armoured support.

The SS infantry in Le Hamel fought doggedly to resist the attack of the Dorsets, taking out another Dragoon Guard tank with a Panzerschreck deployed in the hamlet ahead.

Whilst on the British right flank the Sherman tank showed what an excellent gun it had in the short 75mm for dealing with German infantry as a similar squadron closed in on two platoons of 352nd infantry supported by HMG's lining the River Seulle attempting to flank fire on the Durhams assaulting Hill 103, to find themselves quickly decimated by direct high explosive fire.

Meanwhile on the British extreme right, the 21st Lancers reconnaissance teams were battling with elements of the 352nd Infantry Division as they attempted to pin enemy units on that side of the river as the DLI advanced on Hill 103; and their Bren carriers and Daimler armoured cars were kept very busy laying down suppressive fire.

By lunch time the British had just about got control of their first phase line leaving all to play for in the afternoon session as both sides pushed or resisted to secure a final victory.

The fighting was a grinding battle of attrition with British pressure forcing German infantry and their attached assets to deploy to try and push the attacks back, with no 'big cats' encountered as the British fed in their armour to shoot the infantry forward.

The Durhams were now in a position to launch an attack on Hill 103 using their artillery support to wear down Panzer Lehr hunkered down on its crest and in the tree line below, whilst 352nd Infantry attempted to intervene with harassing fire from Chouain and Le Pont Roc bridging the River Seulles.

Panzer Lehr grenadiers were prompted to deploy into the tree line at the foot of Hill 103 as the Durhams with tank support closed in taking heavy German artillery fire on the approach.

The Dorsets were also ready in their acquired jump of point at Le Hamel to push up the road to Cristot with supporting armour, but with much caution in the British camp that the Germans had still not had to call on any armour support themselves.

With the fall of Le Hamel in the afternoon, the British were able to use the village as a forward jump off point to press the attack up the road towards Christot, a key objective for the operation. British forward armour has just been dispatched by a Panther in ambush, forcing the deployment of yet more armoured reserves to counter it including a firefly troop.

When the Panzers made their debut it was with some gusto as a 12th SS Panther platoon deployed in bocage to the right of Christot and quickly dispatched two troops of Dragoon Guard Shermans as the remains of the SS infantry fell back towards the edge of the town.

The forward units of British armour finally provoked an anticipated response as the reeling SS Panzer Grenadiers were covered in their withdrawal by a Panther that took appropriate action to stymie British advances

It was at this point that I had to make my apologies and head home, but fear not, for I was later updated on the final stages of our big-battle.

The attack on Christot was somewhat stymied by the 12th SS Panther zug, but to compensate for this setback the Dorsets pushed on nearer the centre to liberate the village of Audrieu under cover of a smoke barrage, taking out an MMG and capturing prisoners.

A big cat, by no means the biggest, makes its presence felt, as the approaches to Christot is littered with burning Sherman tanks.

On the British right flank the Durhams continued to batter Panzer Lehr taking out two platoons of grenadiers in quick succession and with a forward platoon of Durhams managing to liberate Le Haut d'Audrieu, taking punishment for their temerity but holding on and taking prisoners.

In the final analysis, despite dogged and determined German resistance and with the capture of the villages mentioned, together with accumulated FUBARs and prisoners taken, the British managed to secure enough victory points to claim overall victory, which is just as it should be for a D-Day eightieth anniversary game.

I really enjoyed playing O-Group, with this only the second time I have played them since taking part in a playtest reported about here on JJ's, and they have a large following in the Devon Wargames Group and it is easy to see why as Dave Brown has produced a solid set of rules that nicely capture the feel of a WWII land battle at this level of command. 

However the best outcome from our game was the day we enjoyed regressing from the old-codgers quite a few of us are now, to the boys we once were, simply enjoying a day with the toys on the table and celebrating what's so good about our hobby, namely good fellowship, good times wrapped up in a respect for history and the endeavours of others less fortunate than us.

I have tried to capture what it's like to participate in a game like this and the relaxed style of play that characterises the way our games go, and present some video clips from our day to better illustrate the play we had using O-Group. 

Thank you to Chas and Clive, who did the heavy lifting in pulling our game together and to them and Vince, Steve M, Andy and John for creating all the fun, and another game to add to our North Devon catalogue.

Sunday 9 June 2024

All at Sea, Battle of Camperdown - Project Build, Part Twelve, The Small Ships (2).

Progress continues to complete the small ships for both fleets at Camperdown with work moving on to the next group, looking at the Dutch 32-gun frigate Heldin and the four British cutters, Rose, King George, Active and Diligent following my showcasing the two Dutch corvettes Minerva and Waakzamheid and the British frigates Circe and Beaulieu, link below. 

JJ's Wargames - All at Sea, Battle of Camperdown - Project Build, Part Eleven, The Small Ships (1)

The up-to-date planner below shows the work remaining to complete the project, ready for bringing both fleets to the table, that leaves another seven models, two British and five Dutch to be completed with my intention to look at some scratch building and adding some more printed options to better resemble these particular ships.

My planner brought up to date with these latest additions showing just another seven models to be added to complete the project build.

As usual I will take a look at the history of these ships and the models I've chosen to use to illustrate them which in the case of Camperdown produces lots of fun challenges with issues surrounding scarcity of data, particularly around the Dutch ships, appearing in English sources, my Dutch being a bit rusty these days, and the best models to use for both sides that has seen me change previous decisions in light of better representations becoming available or my own ideas to simply adopt, adapt and improve ones already around.

So without further ado I will start here with the Batavian Dutch 32-gun, some say 28-gun frigate, which is often confused with other ships captured later by the British and renamed 'Helder' as was the Heldin, such as the Dutch brig 'Active', captured about the same time and taken into the Royal Navy, with a caveat, due to my fallibility for being all too mortal, here to my Dutch readers especially, to correct me for any errors in the comments below.

The Batavian-Dutch 32-gun frigate Heldin (Heroine in English) was built in 1796 at the Amsterdam ship yard by R. Dorsman.

Her general characteristics were:
Tons burthen 636 tons (bm)
Length of gundeck 130 Amsterdam feet, (Imp). Approx. 147 feet (Imp)
Beam 36 Amsterdam feet, Approx. 41 feet (Imp)
Depth of hold 151 Amsterdam feet, Approx. 6 feet (Imp)

Drawings made of the Heldin, post capture - RMG

Her armament consisted of:
Gundeck: 24 x 12-pounder long guns
Quarterdeck & Forecastle: 6 (QD) & 2 (Fc) x 6-pounders long guns.

Figurehead of the Heldin

At Camperdown she was under the command of Kapitein ter Zee Johan Ferdinand Dumesnil de l'Estrille and would have been in the second line of the Batavian Dutch fleet, but from my research I cannot be certain exactly where, and any assumption would be towards the front of the line given the prior squadron arrangements planned by Admiral de Winter, which listed the following vessels in her (Blue) squadron:

The Batavian-Dutch battle line at Camperdown shows the leading ships of the squadron Heldin was attached to, hence my planner above sees her in the second line as it shows. Note the Brutus, Blue Squadron flagship, failed to get into the correct position with her squadron and so fell into line from where she found herself.

Gelijkheid, Berschermer, Brutus, Hercules, Adm. de Vries, and frigates Embuscade, Heldin and the brig Ajax.

A chart of the main Dutch anchorage at the Texel.

The Heldin would escape the battle and I can find no record of casualties if any, suffered but she would be captured by the British on the 28th August 1799 in the Texel anchorage when she was discovered unmanned and boarded in the Nieuwediep and taken into the Royal Navy as HMS Helder.

Surrender of the Dutch Fleet in the Texel, 30th August 1799.

My depiction of the Heldin uses the Warlord 32-gun HMS Surprise model, suitably adapted and should allow this smaller fifth-rate to stand out from her larger cousins Embuscade 36-guns and the Monnikendam with 44-guns, and obviously more imposing than the two corvettes featured in the previous post.

Heldin (left) alongside the larger Embuscade (right)

I have two of these models with the purposeful intention of turning one into the Heldin, with the other retaining her original stern gallery and name plate for 'Surprise', which for this conversion was simply filed off.

This is a very nice rendition of a typical 32-gun, 12-pounder frigate, noticeably smaller and more compact than the Warlord generic 36 or 38-gun 18-pounder fifth rate, as seen in the comparison above, and given her heritage as the French Unité, would easily convert to a French 32-gunner, similarly adapted as here.

The Hired Armed Cutters Rose, King George, Active and Diligent.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Royal Navy made use of a considerable number of hired armed vessels, generally smaller vessels, often cutters and luggers, that the Navy used for duties ranging from carrying despatches and passengers to convoy escort, particularly in British coastal waters, and reconnaissance.

"A Cutter Passing Astern of a Frigate." Painting by Thomas Luny. National Maritime Museum.

Rose, of 96 89⁄94 tons (bm) and ten 4-pounder guns, was hired on the 22nd November 1794.

On the 11th October 1797 Rose, under the command of Lieutenant Joseph Brodie, participated in the Battle of Camperdown. 

The Battle of Camperdown by Thomas Whitcombe
HMAC Rose is depicted astern of the Dutch 64, Hercules, burning fiercely on her quarterdeck.

Before the battle she scouted the Texel and brought back intelligence to Admiral Duncan on the Dutch fleet. During the battle she served to repeat signals. After the battle, Admiral Duncan despatched her to London to bring the first word of the successful outcome of the battle.

The Royal Navy used several vessels that were described as His Majesty's hired armed cutter King George. Some of these may have been the same vessel on repeat contract.

King George was a cutter of 128 15⁄94 tons bm, carrying twelve 4-pounder guns, and was in  service from the 24th June 1796 to 1799. 

In 1797 she was under the command of Lieutenant James Rains, and in May of that year saw her participating in the capture of the French privateer Adolphe, together with Nautilus and Seagull. King George had led the chase with Nautilus, sloop of 16-guns, and Seagull, brig of 18-guns, joining in for another four hours before Nautilus succeeded in capturing Adolpe which was pierced for 12 guns but had thrown some overboard during the chase. When the British captured her, Adolphe had five guns, eight swivels, and a crew of 35 and was new, being just nine days out of Boulogne on her first cruise and had not taken any prizes.

On the 2nd of July Nautilus, Seagull, King George and the hired armed cutter Fox, twelve 9-pounder guns, captured the Dutch privateer Klyne Sperwer which was armed with six 3-pounder guns, swivel guns, and muskets, and had a crew of 28 men, 20 of whom escaped in boats, she having been out a month from Amsterdam but had taken nothing.

The four British cutters Rose, King George, Active and Diligent are depicted hovering around in the rear and keeping well out of the way of the big ships as the two battle lines close.

Three weeks later, on the 23rd July, after a three-hour chase, King George and Seagull captured the French privateer Captain Thurot a small French privateer cutter armed with two brass 6-pounders and four swivels, with a crew of 22, near Christiansand. She had already captured the ship Tom, of Liverpool, from Riga, with timber, and the brig Bachelor, of Saltcoats in Scotland. 

On the 9th of October King George sailed from Yarmouth for the Texel and on the 11th October participated in the Battle of Camperdown.

The hired armed cutter Active signalled the approach of the Dutch fleet to Admiral Duncan before his victory at Camperdown

Active served the Royal Navy from the 12th of May 1794 to the 22nd of November 1800 and was 71 2⁄94 tons bm, carrying ten 3-pounder guns.

In 1795 Active served as Royal Escort for Princess Caroline of Brunswick.

Duncan Receiving the Surrender of de Winter at the Battle of Camperdown, 11 October 1797 - Daniel Orme. 
Lieutenant Hamilton of the cutter 'Active', 12 guns is depicted, circled behind Admiral Duncan and Active likewise is shown in the centre of the picture.

Under her commander, Lieutenant John Hamilton, Active's next noteworthy appearance occurred when she signalled the approach of the Dutch fleet to Admiral Adam Duncan before his victory at Camperdown on the 11th of October 1797, and Hamilton was on the deck of Venerable when Vice-Admiral Jan de Winter surrendered his sword.

His Majesty's hired armed cutter Diligent served from 27 February 1793 to 1 November 1801, and was a small vessel, of 44 tons bm, armed with six 2-pounder guns.

Diligent recaptured the merchantman Myrmidon that had been sailing from Newcastle with a cargo of lumber when a privateer captured her, sending her into Sheerness, where she arrived around the 14th of July 1797.

Under the command of Lieutenant T. Dawson, Diligent was in the fleet under Admiral Lord Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown on the 11th of October, and her role was to stand off the larboard or lee division and repeat signals. 

These four cutters are from the Warlord box set and serve perfectly for a generic armed cutter which I have slightly modified with the addition of a boat carried on stern davits and all four flying colours for their commander Admiral of the Blue, Adam Duncan.

The project continues with a look at His Majesty's Armed Lugger Speculator.

More anon