Friday, 11 January 2019

Bolt Action Campaign Market-Garden. Hell's Highway: The Road To The Reich

Scenario 20: Breakout From Neerpelt

     Intro: Back to Operation Market Garden for the first batrep for 2019. Our previous battles in this campaign have involved the Airborne pathfinders successfully marking a drop zone, an unfortunate platoon of the Airlanding Brigade landing in the wrong place and attempting to fight their way out as well as a small patrol that devolved into an inconclusive firefight. This time around it's the turn of the ground forces as a reinforced platoon from the Guards Division of XXX Corps attempt to smash a way through to Arnhem along a single road in the face of stiffening German resistance.
     I was particularly looking forward to this one as it had given me an excuse, if ever one were needed, to put together the particular force outlined in the scenario, too whit; a troop of three Sherman Vs and a Sherman Firefly and two full strength platoons of armoured infantry.

    The Forces:  In the book, the entry for the British forces, unlike that of the Germans, is a bit vague. It doesn't say what quality the various troops should be so, for the spearhead of the XXX Corps advance, as it was supposed to be the Irish Guards we agreed I should take two platoons of the three Veteran 8 man sections each with two LMGs in each ( I think I could've have justified taking 10 men per section but I thought that might weigh things in the British favour a bit too much; boy, how wrong was I) Each had a platoon commander and runner. Each platoon had a section on the back of a Sherman, a section and platoon HQ in one of the two M5 half tracks whilst their third sections were transported by truck. As all infantry units had to have transports, two of the sections were allowed to travel on the back of two of the Shermans (something they are allowed to do in this book. It does stipulate that they are not Tank Riders, they are merely hitching a lift).
     I had also attached a captain to the force, a medic, and a Forward Artillery Observer in a Daimler Dingo (we just treat this as command vehicle of sorts as I wasn't splashing out on another M3 halftrack just for a bloody artillery officer and his Ack Ops!!) and a 6 pounder towed by a Universal Carrier.
     All the infantry we rated as Veteran, the other units were rated as Regular.The keen eyed among you will no doubt spot Tam O'Shanter wearing troops amongst the ranks of the Irish Guards sections and wonder at this anomaly. This was due to a man power shortage in the Irish Guards and the British Army in general at that point in the war. A few men of the 1st Glendarroch Highlanders were drafted in to the Guards to fill out the gaps in their ranks; indeed Sgt Amos Grouse of the Glendarrochs led the point platoon of the spearhead.
     Intending to blunt the spearhead were four 10 man Waffen SS squads with 2 LMGs  and two medium anti tank guns led by the very experienced Leutnant Helmut Schiener.. The four squads could be split down into 5 man units, each with an LMG and a panzerfaust. This Richie, my opponent, decided to do and quite rightly too.

     Scenario Specific Rules: There were a couple of scenario specific rules. The British preliminary bombardment was (potentially) very powerful as it came in twice.
     Though the terrain was fairly open, infantry units in lining the edge of the road count as being in a drainage ditch and also count as being in hard cover.
     One German PAK that fired at a target continued to be Hidden till it fired it's next shot but only if it has hit it's first target..
     Any British infantry section reduced to 50% of it's starting strength was counted as having shot it's bolt and was removed from the table. However, it could be replaced by a fresh section in the next turn. (As I didn't have vehicles to carry on fresh troops each time a squad was taken out of battle, we decided they had dismounted from their transports off table and came on on foot)
     Finally, any German unit that had suffered only 1 pin from the preliminary bombardment(s) received a "free" orders check.

     The scenario called for this spearhead British force to advance along a single track road into the unknown. The troops on the ground knew the Jerries were in hiding up ahead but had no idea where
     The Boche meanwhile, though thin on the ground, were dug in and hidden; intending to hold up the British for a long as possible.

The battlefield. The British would advance down the road
from the right. The Germans were scattered about, unseen, in
the wooded ground on the left. This wasn't going to be a pleasant
Sunday drive along the club route

     Applying their dictum of using steel rather than flesh to get the job done, the British preceded their advance with an intense bombardment......

      Crouching in a shallow slit trench in the woods, Leutnant Helmut Scheiner took a last, swift look around his platoon's position. It wasn't much of a position for his men and their guns, a few hastily dug foxholes backing up two PAK38s, which were somewhat better dug in, but all the same, he only had these two to stop the Tommies and once their ammo was gone they would be disabled and left behind; all the regiments transport having been either destroyed or left behind in the retreat from France. 
     "Achtung! Panzers!!" shouted one of his men just as the sound of the approaching armour reached his ears. Scheiner picked up his binoculars and looked down the road in front; the only road that could bear the Allied advance, and saw sure enough, the large,ugly outline of a Sherman tank, swathed in blue exhaust smoke, advancing down the road, with yet more tanks and half tracks following on behind. He opened his mouth to issue an order to stand by for action but swiftly changed it to a bellowed "Take cover" as the air overhead reverberated to the sound of an incoming artillery barrage.  
Germans dug in either side of the road. They start the game
hidden and the British are given not one but two preliminary
barrages at the start of the game. Naturally I rolled a 1 for
the second barrage....bloody artillery!

XXX Corps' spearhead. I was a bit too cautious in my
approach and should have pushed down the road as far
as possible in the first turn
      Standing in the back of the halftrack and keeping a low profile, Sgt Amos Grouse peered over the front of the vehicle. The vehicle was shaking so much as it followed the troop laden Shermans in front that it was an exercise in pointlessness to attempt to use his binoculars to spot for possible enemy positions. So he peered instead but this too seemed just as pointless, the Jerries could be hiding in any one of a dozen places up ahead. No doubt they would soon find out and most likely it's be those poor buggers in that lead tank who would be the first to find out. 
     Puffing on an American cigarette, one of a packet he had received from Captain Farrell, the Irish Guards company commander, he considered the recent events that had led to him and 20 or so of his fellow Glendarrochs being sent to fill out the gaps in the Irish Guards ranks and, more ominously, his being placed in temporary command of the point platoon; a dubious honour indeed, and one that some of the Irish Guards were none too happy about. However Grouse had been the nearest and, indeed, only available person of any rank to take over the platoon after their young platoon commander had tripped over his Sten Gun sling and shot himself in the foot, just moments before mounting their vehicles. The young officer was carried back in tears, remonstrating and demanding to be allowed to stay with his men. 
      Still staring absently toward the treeline, he saw a flash that was instantly followed by the crack of a high velocity shell and an explosion. From beneath the leafy canopy machine gun and rifle fire erupted in concert with the anti tank gun. Up ahead the column juddered to a halt as the lead tank started spewing smoke, it's crew scrambling out and the men travelling on it's back jumped towards the drainage ditch by the road side as tracer rounds zipped around them, chewing up the road surface and ricocheting skywards off of the tank.. Most of the section made it to the drainage ditch however two figures lay sprawled out on the road; inert, crumpled heaps of khaki. 
     "Driver; steer right" called out Grouse as the second of the Shermans turned right off the road. He held on tightly as the driver responded to his order. It wasn't a nice thing to contemplate but if he could keep the tank between him and the German fire, particularly the anti tank gun, he might have a chance to get to grips with the square-headed swine in the trees up ahead..    

The Germans get ready to spring the trap

With all eyes straining and stomachs knotted tight with tension,
the Guards Armoured force heads for Arnhem

The ambush is sprung! Though not destroyed, the leading Sherman
soon catches fire and the crew wisely abandons it. The infantry
riding on it's back dismount rapidly into the cover of the road side 
drainage ditch

The Guards advance stalls momentarily before their training
 kicks in

Lacking air ground communications, the RAF can only look on 
     Schiener had moved to the rear of the anti tank gun's position. His body ached and his left shoulder had been peppered by some small pieces of shrapnel. He could feel the blood trickling from the wounds down his side. Behind him, his own foxhole lay obliterated by the artillery bombardment. In the former foxhole lay the pulped body of his platoon runner, Schutze Gunther Fuchs. Rising, shaken and wounded from the bombardment, Schiener had groaned at the sight that met his eyes. Fuchs was an old comrade and had served with him on the Eastern Front and, more recently, in Normandy. Putting any thought of Fuchs to the back of his mind, he had moved forward towards the gun position to see how the battle was developing. Already the Germans had engaged the armoured column and the first of the Tommy Cookers was living up to it's nickname and was burning fiercely in the middle of the road. The British were now doing the predictable thing and beginning to deploy either side of that road in an attempt to over run his position. He and his men had been ordered to keep them for as long as possible and Scchiener was grimly determined they would do just that.
The British leave the road in an attempt to clear out the Germans

Sgt Grouse and his platoon deploy and prepare to try and
winkle the Germans out of their position...

Captain Farrell, Company Commander, rushes forward to
take control

     Lieutenant Harry Baum RA Forward Observation Officer, fought down the urge to order his armoured car into reverse and bugger off out of this hell. As a plume of smoke rose from the front of the column and the infantry and tanks of the column began to spill off the road into the fields either side and started taking the fight to the enemy he coolly ordered his driver to move their Dingo armoured car forward into the lee of the burning Sherman. As he did so, his eye caught the muzzle flash of the German anti tank gun as it roared again. "Stop here, Scott" he told his driver then  checked his map; the location of the anti tank gun was on one of his regiments pre-registered target codes. Baum spoke loudly into his radio mouth piece "Hullo, Golf  Two Niner, this is Golf One Fiver; target Hotel Nine Two, over..." A pause, then faintly through his earphones he heard "Golf Two Nine, target Hotel Nine Two, roger; over and out!" Baum poked his head above the lip of the Dingo, looking upwards and rearwards for the incoming shells before he realised the absurdity of his action. Don't be so daft he said to himself. As this thought was going through his head he heard the rumble of the incoming shells and turned to look towards the target area....
The FOO moves his Dingo forward onto cover

The staunch German defenders hold their ground against
overwhelming odds

An incredible though not rare occurrence for me was this
veteran 6 man section charging down half their number
and not inflicting one wound in combat. The German
gunners scored two wounds...By by Micks!! 
     "Christ almighty!!" Captain Farrell cursed beneath his breath. To his front he had watched in horror as the section he had sent forward to destroy the enemy anti tank gun was mown down. Bloody Boche! He looked around for the rest of the platoon, spotting the curious Cornish accented sergeant in the very Scottish Tam O'Shanter. He was running around like a man possessed getting fire down on the enemy and getting his men forward. Farrell knelt up to shout to the sergeant and felt a blow to his head and fell to the ground. His runner, Guardsman Donohue, dragged the wounded officer into a nearby crater and dressed the wound. A nasty graze on the temple which had knocked the officer out. 
     After applying a bandage to the unconscious officer, Donohue found a nearby discarded rifle and stuck it barrel first into the ground.then placed the captain's helmet on top. This done, he then checked the captain's pockets and, extracting a full packet of cigarettes, lit one, picked up his rifle and started crawling towards the German lines, hell bent on revenge.....

The Guards push forward into the German fire..


The German right flank, still hidden and still not committed
to battle

It's all or nothing for the Irish Guards

The troop's Firefly gets in on the act. Oh for a hull mounted
machine gun

Sgt Grouse leads the remains of his platoon forward. 
      Fitting a fresh clip of bullets into his KAR98, Sturmann Hellmann, loosed off a few more shots at the Tommies as they advanced alongside a Tommy Cooker. They were getting much closer now. He crawled backwards and to the side from the lip of the crater he had been firing from, looking for the panzer fausts they had been issued. Beside a shattered corpse he found one but a casual glance told him it was too damaged to use. Worming his way past the dead man he found a couple more, these undamaged. Cradling them in his arm he made his way back. The Sherman was even closer, almost on top of the German position. As he flattened himself onto the ground the tank let rip with a long burst from it's machine guns; shredding the branches and leaves of the trees around them. The firing stopped and the vehicle started to grind its way forward once more. Hellman quickly prepared the faust for firing and in one swift movement, he knelt up, tucking the launcher tube under his right arm, aimed and fired the panzerfaust. The effect was immediate; Hellman was sent reeling backwards as the British tank exploded. Blinded by the flash and deafened by the noise, Hellmann was dimly aware of the khaki clad figures pushing forward. Instinctively he searched for his rifle and finding it almost immediately, began to fire towards the enemy soldiers...

Sgt Grouse and Pte McKenzie 49 suppress the enemy gun position
     Shouting at the top of his voice, Sgt Grouse finally managed to gain the attention of the section commander near the burning hulk of the Sherman.  They crawled towards one another and Grouse shouted in the young Lance Sergeant's ear. "there's only a few of them left in the woods. Their firing has slackened off. Take your men down the other side of this here tank; the smoke is blowing towards the Square-Heads and it'll cover you. Listen for the grenades going off, that's your signal to get into them with the bayonet; understood" The section commander nodded "Down this side of the tank, in cover; Listen for grenades going off and in with the bayonet; yes?" Grouse gave him a thumbs up then scrambled back to the other side of the tank. Lying beside his platoon runner, Pte McKenzie 49, he checked what grenades they had; one apiece, that would have to do. "Right 49, you and me is going to create a diversion, see?" McKenzie 49 nodded, gulping as he did and wiping sweat from his brow. "Grouse continued "There ain't many Jerries left in that wood nor by that there gun. We's going to dash down to the edge o' their position, yelling like buggery; we's going to chuck these 'ere grendes at gthem as a thnak you then shoot them to buggery an all. Then Irish boys the other side of this tank is then going to go in and finish them off; got that lad?" McKenzie 49 nodded again and slipped a fresh clip of bullets into his Lee Enfield as Amos fitted a fresh magazine to his Sten. "Let's go then, 49;UP THE GLEN DARROCHS!!" and they were off running the longest 30 yards of their lives.
     Reaching the edge of the German position unscathed they threw themselves down into cover, drew the pins from their grenades and lobbed them at the German trenches. An eternity of seconds later they heard the crumb of the grenades exploding and knelt up firing into the enemy trenches. Seeing the Irish Guards section charging in from their left, Amos swung his Sten to he right, shouting at McKenzie 49 to do the same. McKenzie 49 did so as the Guardsmen threw themselves on the last of the Germans in the position. Grouse and McKenzie reloaded and started firing on the gun crew, Grouse screaming at the Guards section commander to move in on the gunners cowering behind the gun's trails. The section threw themselves forward once more, killing the crew before dropping into cover around the gun, their energy spent. 

     Just beyond the gun position, SS Rottenfuhrer Winkler watched in anger as the Tommies charged the gun position. As they took possession of the gun, Winkler signalled his men  to prepare grenades. Once they were ready, Winkler and his men ran forward, tossing grenades and firing from the hip. Going to ground as the grenades landed, Winkler had his men up and charging the British soldiers the instant the grenades had gone off. Taken completely by surprise, the Guardsmen were wiped out and the Germans retook the now smashed gun position. But Winkler knew it was a gesture of defiance; their position was being overwhelmed and he began to look towards the planned withdrawl route. As he looked behind him, he saw Leutant Schiener, his uniform in tatters, lurching towards the rear. Forward of the German lines, the British advance appeared to have run out of steam and Winkler knew they had to make the most of this pause in the battle. "Right lads, let's get back; Krieger, Mueller go fetch the leutnant....Okay, let's pick it up, you lazy so and so's, we've got a way to go" and he started pushing his weary men towards the rear..

Post Script

     Well that was a belter. We've had loads of cracking games of Bolt Action but that must be one of, if not the best one yet. The whole scenario is great; genuinely tense. Richie held his fire almost to the last moment with his anti tank guns and made the most of the Ambush order. The Germans held on tenaciously and won the day as they still had units within range of the road at the end of turn 8 (the scenario lasts 6 turns. At the end of turn 6 you roll a die, on a 1 or 2 the British have shot their bolt and stop. On a 3+ the games go on for another turn. At the end of turn 7, if the Germans have still not been driven off, roll a die once more and this time it's a 5-6 to continue to turn 8...we were having so much fun we just kept going...I say fun but when my Guards section failed to inflict one wound on the SS Gunners I didn't laugh....well, not till later anyway ) 
    For my part I wish I had just been a bit more aggressive at the start of the game and had pushed my tanks as far forward as I could; that would have given me more of a chance to overwhelm the Germans before they were able to inflict to much damage on my force. A failed Preliminary Bombardment roll was atypical of me; still you have to try, don't you :oD
     Sgt Amos Grouse of the Glen Darrochs was definitely my Man Of The Match; using his You Men Snap To It to lead a section to over run two German positions. As courageous and effective as that was, I don't think his actions were witnessed by any officers so he might not get the Military Medal he deserves. C'est la Guerre. 
      Captain Farrell had also tried his luck at You Men Snap To It but, incredibly (well, not really) I was unable to inflict a single wound on the German gunners and they caused two in reply!! 'kin hells bells.But over all I am really chuffed with how that went. It was one of those games that you keep returning too and I'm sure Richie will  hear more about it in the future.
      That being said, we're already looking to our next battle on Hell's Highway; the next three scenarios in the book are crying out to get played, especially as it'd be great to see the Germans on the attack for a change.
       It'll be a couple of weeks till we get to fight any of them as I need to put in some time painting my last two groups for David Hunter's Sharp Practice extravaganza, A Most Despicable Place, down in Bristol in a couple of weeks time...pip pip

The General



  1. Good stuff friend! Even the presence of the Glenndaroch couldn’t help you this time 😁

  2. They did their best, Travis, they did their best. 👍🏻🇬🇧

  3. That really was a great fun game to play. Cinematic tension built as XXX Corps advanced and then........all hell let loose! Lead tanks brewed up and vehicles stacked up behind it in the firing line. The British did well at dismounting and organising an assault of the woodline but the delay had been caused already. Epic storytelling as well Jim, superb write up as ever. I'm really looking forward to carrying on down this road with the three further XXX Corps scenarios.

    1. Cheers Rich, it was great fun just getting this lot onto the table and into battle. The Irish Guards and their allies had it all to do and they acquitted themselves well....mostly...that gun crew! Ugh!

  4. Replies
    1. Cheers Laurence. Any sign of your Paras having a bash? You don't need a big force for the first couple of games


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