December 29, 2014 by crew
The campaign continues! Once more I team up with Beast of War community members Gladesrunner and Amphibiousmonster, continuing our commemorative wargame and article series for the Battle of the Bulge’s 70th anniversary. If you need to catch up on what’s happened so far, the series begins HERE, but for now let’s climb back in the turret and see what happens next.
ENGAGEMENT SIX: THE LAST STAND OF KAMPFGRUPPE PEIPER – DEC 23, 1944
Originally earmarked to be the spearhead of the whole Ardennes Offensive, the 4,800 men of Kampfgruppe Peiper (SS Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, commanding) had reached the end of their rope. Constantly delayed by stubborn American resistance and blown bridges, Peiper now hit the one obstacle even his elite battle group couldn’t overcome…lack of fuel. Frankly he’d never had enough for his 117 tanks and hundreds of other vehicles, from the outset his whole battle plan had relied upon capturing stockpiles of American fuel along the way. Now, with only a fraction of his force still running, Peiper was forced to give up his toehold in Stoumont (see Engagement 03 in Part Two of our series) and fall back to the next Belgian village of La Gleize.
The American First Army (General Courtney Hodges), however, was already pushing back against the faltering German advance. This included the powerful US 3rd Armoured Division, which came down from the north to join the 30th Infantry Division (“Old Hickory”), already stalling this sector of the German drive. With the 30th Infantry holding the Germans in place, two task forces of the 3rd Armoured moved against Kampfgruppe Peiper in La Gleize, while a third task force pushed farther to the east to block any German reinforcements or relief. Now cut off, the Germans in La Gleize were subjected to artillery barrages, long-range tank fire, and limited local attacks, but the Americans dreaded launching a full-scale storming of La Gleize. Peiper’s men, meanwhile, just held on and hoped help would somehow reach them.
While our game was a bloodbath (see the caption for the image below), historically the outcome at La Gleize was very different. Although Peiper took heavy losses to American artillery and tank fire, he eventually made up his mind to pull out on his own when he realized help would never reach him. With his tanks all out of fuel, he blew up as many as he could and his survivors made their way back to German lines on foot. To this day, one of Peiper’s Königtigers (Number 213, Obersturmführer Dollinger) remains right where he left it, beside the La Gleize Museum.
In any event, it was the end of the road for Kampfgruppe Peiper. He’d driven into the Ardennes with about 4,800 men, he walked out with less than 800. But Peiper’s battle group would be back, in Operation Frühlingserwachen (Spring Awakening) offensive against the Soviets in Hungary (March, 1945). Yes, there were powerful German offensives after the Bulge, despite its usual description as “Germany’s last gamble.”
ENGAGEMENT SEVEN: THE FINAL DRIVE TO THE MEUSE – DEC 24, 1944
Although Kampfgruppe Peiper marked the furthest westward advance by the 6th Panzer Army, already the 5th Panzer Army to the south was doing much better. Even though they could never take Bastogne, their lead corps (the XLVII Panzer) surrounded the town, bypassed it, and pushed far beyond it. Their immediate aim was a bridge over the Meuse River, the biggest obstacle between them and Antwerp, their ultimate objective. This last German drive toward the Meuse, and the Allied moves to check this advance, would see some of the most dramatic actions of the Ardennes campaign. For our seventh Bulge game, we see leading elements of the Panzer Lehr Division, having swept south of Bastogne, now driving toward the Meuse via the crossroads town of Rochefort. Here they run into a delaying action by units of the US 84th Infantry Division (“The Railsplitters”).
Interestingly, this was a night battle, where Panzer Lehr’s “Kampfgruppe von Fallois” and elements of the 902nd Kampfgruppe led the assault on Rochefort in the wee hours of the morning. Ranges were reduced to 12 inches, regardless of a weapon’s actual reach. The one exception to this was if the Americans (335th Infantry Regiment of the 84th Infantry, played by Gladesrunner) used one of her 81mm mortar sections to fire illumination rounds over the Germans. Gladesrunner did this to great effect, firing these flares over designated German units that could then be engaged at any range. Her 76mm antitank guns thus wrought deadly work on my JgPz IV/70s, “Luchs” reconnaissance tanks, and Mark IVs of the Panzer Lehr’s 130th Panzer Regiment.
Nevertheless, this was a delaying action. The 84th Division couldn’t hold Rochefort historically, although they significantly slowed the Germans advance. In our game, we decided that if the Germans got their first combat unit through the town and across the bridge on Turn 7, the game was a minor American victory (Turn 8 or later would be a major victory). But I got one of my halftracks across on Turn 5, resulting in a major German victory—at least until Gladesrunner blew it up. I had to cross the bridge again on Turn 6 with a JgPz IV and a Lynx light tank, resulting in only a minor, and hard-fought, German victory.
ENGAGEMENT EIGHT: HIGH WATER MARK AT CELLES – DEC 25, 1944
In some of his discussions about the upcoming “Tank Week” on Beasts of War, Warren has mentioned ideas for a Bolt Action battle featuring British and American tanks converging on a “wedge” of German armour in the middle. Upon realizing the sheer scope of the Battle of the Bulge, he half-lamented that British and American forces would probably never converge on a scale small enough to work for such a game. Fear not, Warren! Although this would be true 99 out of 100 times, there’s always an exception that proves the rule. Here at Celles, we see forward elements of the 2nd Panzer Division, strung-out and low on fuel, trying to cling to the furthest westward positions achieved by the Germans during the Ardennes offensive…only to be hit by Combat Command B of the 2nd Armoured Division (“Hell on Wheels”) and the vanguard of the British 29th Armoured Brigade.
Again I took command of the Germans, while Amphibiousmonster took charge of the combined British and American counterattack. I’ll admit I had the upper hand at first, taking advantage of a road left open to send a whole battalion of Panthers into the British flank and almost annihilate the entire 29th in a horrific holocaust. But British and American artillery, infantry, and sheer numbers of Shermans eventually turned the tide. In particular, Amphibiousmonster made some textbook Panzer Leader assaults into Foy-Notre Dame with artillery (called in the turn before), followed by long-ranged tank fire, followed finally by infantry close assault.
Soon enough I lost the 2nd Panzer’s forward positions at Foy-Notre Dame, leaving the rest of the division to prepare for the worst in their positions further east. But the Allies had lost too much equipment and worse…too much time…regaining control of the situation in the west. My eastern positions remained secure, handing the Germans a narrow and gore-soaked victory. Historically, the Germans didn’t fare quite as well. Their positions around Celles were either destroyed or surrounded, resulting in a pocket that was ground into submission over the next several days. Gone forever was any chance of the Germans reaching the Meuse River, and thus Antwerp. At that moment, the Ardennes offensive had finally and unmistakably failed.
ENGAGEMENT NINE: THE PUSHBACK BEGINS “HELL ON WHEELS” – DEC 26, 1944
Our ninth Battle of the Bulge game again features the 2nd Armoured “Hell on Wheels” Division, but this time in 15mm Axis and Allies miniatures. Also, these are different units of the 2nd Armoured, part of Combat Command A (CCA), attacking the northern shoulder of the German “bulge.” This was part of a much larger operation involving several divisions (perhaps up to 100,000 men deployed over dozens of miles) with the ultimate aim of pushing down into the German bulge, there to link up with a similar operation mounted by General Patton’s Third Army pushing up from the south. If successful, the forward half of the German bulge would be “bitten off,” and all their most powerful mechanized and armoured formations cut off and forced to surrender.
This was a strange battle to research. On paper, Humain-Hargimont should have been a colossal tank engagement, since the Americans threw in a big piece of one of their most powerful tank divisions (2nd and 3rd Armoured were the only US divisions to retain an older 1942-model order of battle that gave them 232 tanks instead of the standard 186). Their opponents were the 9th Panzer Division, just committed from Army Group B reserves and still possessing practically all its tank strength. Yet the engagement doesn’t get a lot of ink. Could it be because they never really came to grips in a dramatic fashion? Such was not the case on our table top, where the two forces all but annihilated each other until Gladesrunner squeaked out a narrow victory.
Incidentally, this American counterattack along the northern German shoulder is where some more “Bulge controversy” comes in. The overall US formation involved was General Bradley’s 12th Army Group, which had been essentially split by the German offensive. Because Bradley himself was headquartered to the south in Luxembourg, he couldn’t communicate well with the northern parts of his army group at this critical moment. So the overall Allied commander, General Eisenhower, had given command of these northern units temporarily to British Field Marshal Montgomery.
This caused an uproar in American circles, which “Monty” may not have helped by his orders to voluntarily withdrawal from hard-fought positions like St. Vith and his reluctance to follow up counterattacks like this one launched by 2nd Armoured Division. Others contend that Monty was a careful and meticulous commander, and that these reserved moves represented the best options amidst the chaos along First US Army’s northern wing. The debate continues to this day, and perhaps in the comments below as well.
In our next part of the Battle of the Bulge series, we’ll take a look at Patton’s famous drive from the south, lift the siege of Bastogne, and take a look at other supporting German offensive operations like “Nordwind.” So stay tuned, because “The Bulge” isn’t over yet!
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"Peiper now hit the one obstacle even his elite battle group couldn’t overcome...lack of fuel"
"Amphibiousmonster made some textbook Panzer Leader assaults into Foy-Notre Dame with artillery..."