June 8, 2015 by crew
Recently two Beasts of War members (Chris Goddard/@chrisg and James Johnson/@oriskany) got the bright idea to run a “Worldwide D-Day Challenge” (WWDDC), a campaign where players could recreate a small part of the historic D-Day landings in Normandy, France. For an introduction to this project, and a quick overview of the historical background of this “Longest Day,” please see Part One of our article series below…
As you’ll see, things started innocently enough. We envisioned perhaps eight to twelve vaguely historical wargames in a variety of systems and scales, a nod to the veterans, maybe some light connections between the games to form a loose “Normandy campaign” structure.
What fools we were. Now with nineteen games (we could have more by the time you read this), this project threatens to grow beyond our ability to give each game the attention it deserves. Nevertheless, here are just some of the highlights of the planning, preparation, game construction, and campaign coordination that turned this grand idea into a grander reality.
Assembling The Invasion
Our first article was subtitled: “Planning the Invasion.” Well, as we all know, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” and the WWDDC has proven no exception.
When the Beasts of War team featured a WWDDC “Pegasus Bridge” game during their recent Bolt Action Boot Camp, our months of WWDDC planning were quickly (and happily) knocked into a cocked hat. Not only did Marc (@wendren) WIN with the Germans at Pegasus Bridge (setting a big part of our campaign down a fascinating trail of “alternate history”), but the positive exposure practically doubled the number of groups signed up for the WWDDC almost overnight.
Needless to say, the dramatically different outcome at Pegasus Bridge has had the most immediate impact on nearby battlefields of “Sword” Beach.
Perhaps the closest game to Pegasus Bridge would be run by our WWDDC coordinator Chris Goddard and his wife Victoria. Using the Rapid Fire system, he’s recreated the British 13th Parachute Battalion’s defence of Ranville against German counterattacks.
But with nearby Pegasus Bridge still in German hands, the 21st Panzer Division will enjoy better operational communications with which to coordinate such counterattacks, and Chris created a quick-fix system by which additional German armour might enter his game.
We’re also joined by Simon and John (@skeld1980 and @johnp) who are using Bolt Action to see if other British Paras can capture or destroy smaller bridges over the Dives River. Perhaps with Pegasus now in German hands, these new bridges will take on a sharply-heightened importance?
But the biggest “Pegasus Impact” would probably be felt by Daniel (@pedmore) who, together with his friends Steve and Rob, would be mounting what has to be one of the biggest Flames of War games ever. Putting 5,000 points of British against 4,500 points of Germans, they must now contend with the possibility of more German armoured units entering the Sword Beach battle area from the east, thanks to the Germans holding that crucial bridge.
Meanwhile, Nick (@lateo) was busy building his Bolt Action game representing 9th Parachute Battalion’s assault on the fortified German gun battery at Merville, a few miles northeast of Pegasus.
As one of our earliest and most historically detailed submissions, Nick’s Bolt Action game consisted of a carefully-crafted scenario including rules for night action, RAF bombardment, shelling from the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Arethusa, a truly great rule on landing gliders. There are even rules for German attack dogs on the perimeter.
Fortunately for us, however, Merville was taking place at almost the exact same time as Pegasus Bridge, so the Pegasus results didn’t require Nick to significantly change his game.
Working our way west, the next beach is Juno, where the Canadian 3rd Division landed. Taking a big step up in scale, I built this game in a modified version of Avalon Hill’s “Panzer Leader,” where a 1” hex measures 150 meters across (think 1/6000 scale). Because the game doesn’t rely on expensive or time-consuming miniatures, we’re free to build a truly historically detailed game that represents what was actually there.
Because each counter represents a troop of four tanks or platoon of 50 men, we could build virtually the ENTIRE Canadian 3rd Infantry against four battalions of the 716th Static Infantry Division. In short, our game board will measure four miles on a side and pit about 7,750 Canadians against about 3,200 Germans.
Of course, Juno Beach will still be getting some “miniatures” coverage, thanks to Derek (@hauptmanncanuk) and Kris, who will be taking a closer, more visceral view of the landings through the eyes of Bolt Action. Historically Juno Beach was the bloodiest of the three “Commonwealth” assault zones, a fact we’re sure to see recreated in both of these games.
The next battlefield over is “Gold” Beach, assaulted by reinforced elements of the 50th Northumbrian Division. Here we have no less than three games in play, starting with Sven (@neves1789). A veteran of Bolt Action Boot Camp (where he played his Japanese army), Sven is no stranger to taking heavy casualties. This may well come into play when his British Flames of War army hits King Green sector of Gold Beach, pushing up toward the heavy guns of Mont Fleury.
As if he hasn’t already done enough damage to the Allied cause at Pegasus Bridge, Marc (@wendren) and his Bolt Action Germans will be at it again on Gold Beach’s “Jig” sector, playing against his friend Jason. Later in the day, we’ll also be looking at Beasts of War historian extraordinaire (and Battlegroup playtester) Piers, who’ll be taking his perfectly-painted 20mm Battlegroup armies into one of the engagements further inland.
His chosen engagement, Fresney le Crotteur, was the site of a powerful German counterattack against advancing spearheads of the British 69th Brigade, supported by 4th / 7th Dragoons. We’ll see if the Germans fare better in the WWDDC.
Finally we come to the American sectors of D-Day, starting with my Axis & Allies 15mm game at “Dog Green” sector of Omaha Beach. This was probably the single bloodiest sector of the single bloodiest beach (just watch the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” – this is that exact beach), and one of the few places where the outcome of the Normandy landings truly hung in doubt.
Here, the leading waves of the 116th Regimental Combat Team (29th Infantry Division) came up against hideous fire from the German 352nd Infantry, a very solid unit that will be putting down some serious grief on our board.
Further west, we come to Pointe du Hoc, the “American Pegasus Bridge.” For sheer courage and difficulty of the job at hand, it’s tough to beat what these men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion tackled that day. Building the very distinctive arrow-shaped cliffs that soar 150 feet almost straight out of the water, plus the huge German bunkers that had to be assaulted, sounded like too much of an gaming investment.
Thus, I was very happy to accept Russell’s (@naznarok) challenge to replay this assault using Combat Commander—a card-driven squad level game by GMT.
At last we come to the final beach, code-named “Utah.” Great planning, great execution, and great luck all helped make this the least costly of the five invasion beaches in 1944. What Utah might have lacked in hard fighting on the beach, it more than makes up for with the two American airborne divisions that landed behind the beach in the predawn darkness.
The WWDDC players were quick to zoom in on this aspect of the fighting where the small, furious, and close-range engagements made perfect material for Bolt Action games. Also, since these actions take place miles inland, players could build tables with “standard” 28mm European terrain without worrying about difficult beach boards.
First up we have Ollie and Callum (@olliep and @prosthetics). They’ll be playing none other than “Easy” Company of Band of Brothers fame, engaging playing some of the sharp firefights during that first chaotic night. Dennis (@Templar007) and his better half Beverly will be recreating similar, simultaneous actions fought by the 82nd Airborne Division near the famous village of Sainte-Mère-Église.
Then we get into the German counterattacks against the American paratroopers. One of these came at the tiny hamlet of La Fiere, where German infantry backed up by captured French tanks of all things managed to push troops of the 82nd Airborne back across a bloody causeway.
Another hard German counterstrike hit the 101st at the village of La Porte, where Scott (@smithsco) and friends will be trying to hold a bridge across the Douve River against German army and also “fallschirmjaeger” paratroopers. The game will be played in Bolt Action, but using 20mm scale to better represent the historical field.
Assuming the American paratroopers can hold these counterattacks, Mitch (@mc1gamer) will be fielding elements of the 4th US Infantry Division and 70th Tank Battalion, having just landed at Utah Beach. Pushing inland and trying to link up with the paratroopers, these Americans will run into elements 919th Grenadier Regiment, 709th Infantry Division, for a clash in Bolt Action.
With the Utah beachhead hopefully secure, it will be time for the Americans to start pushing eastward to link up with their comrades advancing inland from nearby Omaha. Here’s where we’ll see Scott and Steve (@Kiwiscott and @tigerfeet) take elements of the 506th Parachute infantry Regiment in one of the opening assaults on Sainte-Côme-du-Mont, using Bolt Action.
What Will The Outcome Be?
Of course, by the time this article posts, June 6th will have passed. Win, lose, or draw…the die has been cast and the outcome of our “alternative” D-Day has been decided. Players are now sending @chrisg and I battle reports, gaming photos, and heroic “cinematic moments” of their games. With nineteen games presents there is a lot of material to work through, so please bear with us as our dust settles.
If you’d like more up-to-date results, people are posting on the WWDDC Thread. Meanwhile, we’re feverishly working on the next two articles in the WWDDC series, in which we will jam-pack as much battle report material, as many photos, and as much pure Normandy awesome-ness as allowed by international law. And we may even bend a few of those regulations, as well!
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"Putting 5,000 points of British against 4,500 points of Germans, they must now contend with the possibility of more German armoured units entering the Sword Beach battle area from the east, thanks to the Germans holding that crucial bridge..."
"Players are now sending @chrisg and I battle reports, gaming photos, and heroic “cinematic moments” of their games. With nineteen games presents there is a lot of material to work through, so please bear with us as our dust settles..."