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Sunday, 11 October 2015

D-Day, Pouppeville - Utah Beach, Exit Causeway One.


This month saw normal service resumed at the Devon Wargames Group as the October gathering sported four games during the day, this following our absence last month due to the majority of club members away at shows and celebrating a club members birthday with a game or two and a few beverages in bonnie Scotland.

The little village of Pouppeville formed the stage and backdrop to our little "I Aint Been Shot Mum" (IABSM) scenario developed from one of the collection of D-Day scenarios put together by Richard Clark et al back in 2006.

On June 6th 1944, Pouppeville found itself in the front row seats of arguably the greatest amphibious landing in history when during D-Day the US forces tasked with landing at the bottom of the Cherbourg Peninsular found themselves landed on the wrong beach, codename "Utah", and in the best traditions of "making do" decided to start the war in North West Europe from there.


The German defences in this area were not as extensive or complete as along the other landing beaches but did have some significant obstacles created by the defenders with the principle obstacle being an extensively flooded area behind the beaches that restricted access inland to several distinct causeways that led across the flooded lowland.

The first of these causeways led from Utah beach via a small village called Poupeville which was held by a small garrison of German troops determined to deny the invaders access further inland as both sides sought to win the build up race to reinforce or seal off the allied landing zone.

The US forces were only too aware of the importance of winning this race and of clearing potential blocks to their progress as quickly as possible and to this end members of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped in the areas behind Utah beach to help in the clearing and securing of the area prior to the lading of the seaborne troops

US aerial photo after the war showing the village of Poupeville, its road pattern and the outlying fields.
The original scenario used a 6' x 5' playing area so I had to make an adjustment for my 6' x 4' mat and decided to produce my own map of the set up with a grid reference to aid play and set up.

In addition the original scenario gives the basic parameters of the forces and their objectives, but given the nature of this battle being a very one sided affair in terms of numbers, the German defenders will be cleared out in time, thus the victory conditions needed to be more defined around the time objective, in that the German commander would fulfil his objective by denying the US forces control of the village for a set number of turns. I decided on setting that number at ten turns of a blank card in the IABSM card deck, but with the added spice of variability at setting the game to last 30 "time pips" with the roll of a d6 deciding on how may pips had passed at the turning of the blank card. In that way the scenario could last from five to thirty turns with the average set at ten.

My map based reconfigured to my 6' x 4' mat
I followed the briefing notes for the umpire by giving the German commander the distinct impression he should expect the first US troops to challenge his hold of the village to arrive from the direction of Utah Beach and looked on with pleasure as the German blinds were set up accordingly.

That pleasure was only increased with the look on the German commander's face as following his deployments US blinds were placed on the table from the exact opposite end from that which they were expected and on the cry of "foul play" from said German commander, pointed out in the briefing document the warning about US Fallschirmjagers landing in the area and the need to take precautions against them.

Poupeville looking east towards Utah beach with US blinds moving into the western edges of the village and the blue German blinds relocating to prepare to meet the threat
The German briefing and force orbat was:

"The Americans are landing on the beaches just up the road. Your position in the village of Poupeville is critical to our plan of defence as it blocks the most southerly causeway through the flooded countryside that comes from the beach. Whilst the enemy is confined to the beach our artillery can destroy them as they disembark, if they are allowed to advance inland then there can be no certainty that we have sufficient forces to oppose them.

Your force, a reduced strength company of the 3rd Battalion 1058th Grenadier Regiment, part of the 91st Luftlande Division. Until now you have been stationed just to the south of the village, but now that the invasion has begun you have moved into the buildings and gardens. Unfortunately you have not yet loopholed or prepared your new positions, the tools are not available here, and the countryside is teeming with American fallschirmjagers."

Your force is as follows:
Big Men
Leutnant Fritz Siegelmier (Level III)
Feldwebel Albert Innsbruch (Level II)
Company Headquarters
Two MMGs (3 crew each)
One Panzerschreck (2 crew)
One sniper
Platoon One to Two
Three rifle Zugs (8 men each) 2x Panzerfaust 30’s per Zug – Rating 4
Mortar Platoon
Three 50mm mortars (2 crew each) Roll 1d6-1 for Ammo limit which reduces by one for each “6” rolled during firing

Objective
Hold Pouppeville, do not allow the enemy to move inland from the beaches.

The scenario orbats were amended to IABSM v3

Poupeville on the narrow road inland from Utah
The US briefing and orbat was:

"Due to the Germans flooding much of the country just in from the coast of Normandy the Allies were obliged to plan carefully where and how they could exit from the beaches. At Utah they selected four exit routes where the elevated roads formed causeways running from the beach inland. At 09.00 on the morning of D-Day troops from the 1st Battalion of the 501st, part of the 101st Airborne, began clearing the German defenders out of the village of Pouppeville that stood at the western end of Exit one. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Julian Ewell a party of around sixty men had been ordered by Major General Maxwell Taylor to clear the village that was held by elements of the 1058th Grenadier Regiment of the 91st Luftlande Division."

The General has ordered us to advance east from the drop zone and clear the village of Poupeville which commands Exit 1 at the southern end of Utah beach. The drop last night was chaotic, and the men under your command are a mixture of many different units, from both the 101st and 82nd. You have organised them as best you can into platoons, and put the most likely looking men in command.
You must clear Poupeville to enable the troops landing on Utah beach to move inland."

Your force is as follows:
Big Men
Lieutenant Colonel Julian J. Ewell (Level IV Dynamic Commander)
Lieutenant John W. Atkinson (Level III)
Platoon One
Sergeant Henry Beall (Level II)
Three carbine squads (10 men) - Rating 4
Platoon Two
Sergeant William Burns (Level II)
Three carbine squads (10 men) - Rating 4

Objective
Clear Poupeville, and clear it fast.

"Achtung Ami Fallschirmjagers raus!!

Umpire initiated US reinforcements which I decided to randomise in terms of the actual force that showed up - confused landing and all that!:

Turn Five. Arriving on the western end of the main road.
Platoon Three
Two rifle squads (10 men each) - Rating 3
Two 0.30 cal MMGs (3 crew each)

Turn Eight. Arriving on the eastern end of the main road (from the beach)
Armour One
Three Sherman M4 tanks - Rating 3
Platoon Four
Three rifle squads - Rating 3
One Bazooka team (2 crew)


These represent the lead elements of the 70th tank battalion and Company E of the 8th Infantry who are advancing from the causeway inland.

The staccato of small arms fire erupts as Colonel Ewell's men enter town
So how did our game play out?

After getting over his surprise at getting reports from his 50mm mortar platoon commander, based in the orchard on the western edge of the village, that they were taking small arms fire from US Paratroops, Lieutenant Fritz Siegelmier moved swiftly to counter the sudden threat to his positions. Ordering Feldwebel Innsbruch to bring the 1st and 2nd zugs to the western edge of the village he ordered the mortar section to hold its position and await the reinforcements whilst detailing Schmidt the Kompanie sniper to move to the west of the village and attempt to slow the Amis down whilst he redeployed the men.

Colonel Ewell and Lieutenant Atkinson observed the western outskirts of Pouppeville carefully as they formulated their plan of attack. Time was of the essence and it seemed the German garrison were well aware of their presence as small arms fire broke out from the orchard at grid reference (gr15) south of the first crossroads.

"Lieutenant, I need your boys to clear that house, gr14 to act as a fire base whilst Sergeant Beall swings his platoon in through that orchard gr15 to press in on the eastern crossroads at gr11. I don't need to remind you that we need to get going, the boys on Utah are relying on us to get this place cleared, let's move."
Sergeant Henry Beall leads his combined platoon of 82nd and 101st Paras into the western outskirts of Poupeville
Beall's men closed in on the the large house and quickly shot, bayoneted and grenaded their way into it as the German infantry fell back shocked and dazed from the aggressive assault. However the German response quickly followed with a devastating mortar stonk from the 60mm mortar section based in the southern orchard that caught one of Beall's squads in the open on the crossroads and killed six of its men, sending the survivors reeling back into the cover of a nearby field. That would prove to be the only mortar attack that afternoon as the section expended all its ammunition and throwing the mortars aside reverted to being infantrymen.

The three moves leading up to this initial clash had slowed the US attack up with the German commander managing to roll a 6, 6 and 5 on the time pips immediately reducing the time allowance from 30 to 13 pips and putting the pressure right back on the Americans.

The first exchanges of close up rapid fire starts causing casualties and shock. The big house that formed the centre of the German defence at gr14 is pictured right.
As the forces were starting to spot and deploy on to the table more cards were being added to the deck and the battle for control of the village quickly focused on the battle to advance from the house and crossroads at gr's 14 and 19 with both sides desperately rallying off shock to keep their troops fighting a battle of attrition with both giving as good as they got.

The US Paras with their strong squad numbers and added Bar's and 30 cal machine guns caused the German defenders to keep their heads down. The defenders in the house at gr10
For Lieutenant Siegelmier, the time couldn't tick off quickly enough as he sought to keep his men contesting for long enough, whilst Colonel Ewell sought for a way of breaking the resistance. As the firefight reached a crescendo around the house, Beall's third squad launched itself over the wall into the orchard at gr15 killing three German soldiers from the former mortar section and driving them back to the eastern crossroads at gr11 thus allowing them to bring more American fire to bear on the German stronghold in the big house at gr10.

The German MG42s returned the compliment of the US firepower. The first house taken by Beall's close assault
The clearing of the orchard by Sergeant Beall's third squad seemed to herald the big push by Ewell's men as by turn five and the arrival of tanks and infantry from Utah the possibility of deploying the second Para platoon under Sergeant Burns to drive at the German defenders and force them back to wards the US troops from Utah would enable the attackers to snatch a victory before game end.

Much needed reinforcements from Utah beach as the Sherman tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion crash into town and join the fight.
On the German side of the hill the situation was finely balanced with the infantry still firmly controlling the houses in grs 10 and 11 but with several sections carrying significant levels of shock which would require rallying off and now with the added concern of US armour and infantry moving into the village along the eastern road at gr3.

Schmidt the sniper was working his magic and caused two US attacks to falter with his well directed fire and at least the mortar section was not wiped out in the attack on the orchard so could still bring some extra fire to bear. The key German advantage was that with only 8 pips remaining on the clock, the action should be over in two more turns so they just needed to hold on by having an un-shocked squad in position in the village at game end.

German infantry set up to hold the eastern crossroads at the centre of the village
With what would happen and when being critical over the next two moves, the US got the first swing of the initiative in their direction, with the American tanks getting the first move followed up with an armour bonus move.

The US Sherman tanks crashed into the eastern orchard at gr8 and 12 machine-gunning their way in to wipe out the German mortar section on their way. Then the 75mm guns were brought to bear on the German infantry holding the house on the crossroads at gr11 leaving them reeling with multiple shock and casualties.

US Paras held up and stymied by determined German resistance 
Next up the US Paras brought up three squads in and around the house at gr14 and plastered the Germans opposite with massed small arms fire almost wiping out one squad and forcing another to vacate to the back of the house leaving a lone MG42 team to contest any US advance.

The battle at its height as US troops from Utah move in at the top of the picture
The German infantry replied as best they could and were able to repel the Paras attempts to close with and clear the buildings they were defending. Both Lieutenant Siegelmier and Feldwebel Innsbruch were occupied in moving to various units to rally off shock to keep their men in the fight.

The Paras regroup for another push forward
The clock ticked remorselessly on and with the German defence creaking under the strain, the seventh and final blank card appeared from the deck and with just 3 pips remaining the German commander rolled a 5 and closed out the game with two of his squads shock free and under command.

Those first three turns and the removal of 17 pips on the clock had been pivotal reducing the Americans time to clear the village by at least three more turns which would have most likely been more than enough with further US infantry set to arrive that turn.

The US Paras clear the western orchards and force the Germans back towards the US armour but is it too little too late?
On reflection the US Paras may have been better advised to have deployed from blinds earlier in the game allowing them to load the deck with more of their advantage based cards which should have allowed them to get more done with their troops in the time available. It would have also forced the Germans into deploying more of their units to counter the US move.

That said IABSM gave a very entertaining game which has lots of re-playability given the variables it offers. The US Paras were irresistible in the two hand to hand combats they initiated, but the German troops ensconced in their stone built Normandy strongholds proved a stubborn opposition that needed to winkled out one by one and the Sherman tank is quite a useful piece of kit for doing that.

Thanks to Nathan, Andy and Ian for a thoroughly entertaining afternoon of good banter and gaming, and if you would like to read some more about my pre game inspiration for this scenario and my trips to this part of France that fires my own interest in the battle for Normandy then pop over to JJ's Wargames where I have put together a post covering my thoughts and ideas.

http://jjwargames.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/preparation-for-pouppeville-devon.html