The Worldwide D-Day Challenge Part One – Planning The Invasion

June 1, 2015 by crew

About two months ago a discussion ignited on the Historical and Hobby forums, initially centred between men and women of the Beasts of War community who’d put in some time with their nation’s armed services. The commentary quickly shifted, however, instead focusing on the men who played a part in the historic “D-Day” landings in Normandy, France.

Planning The Assault

Perhaps just in passing, someone made the suggestion that we coordinate a series of simultaneous commemorative wargames themed on D-Day. These could be held all around the world on the upcoming June 6th anniversary of the event, with each gaming group recreating its own part of that “Longest Day” in 1944.

That suggestion was made by Chris Goddard, @chrisg here on Beasts of War. Almost immediately he was named chief of the project and in true military style, he went right to work. I couldn’t let a fellow veteran, gamer, and Beasts of War community member suffer alone like that so I offered to help organize the project and write this series of the articles. The Worldwide D-Day Challenge (WWDDC) was born.

The D-Day Plan

Put most simply, the WWDDC invites gaming groups from all around the world to select a particular engagement, battle, skirmish, or assault that took place on June 6, 1944. Any rules system or scale was acceptable, just so long as the game remained at least somewhat historical and respectful to the veterans (Nazi zombies and werewolves need not apply).

These games would be coordinated and planned beforehand, and everyone would play their games on or about June 6th, 2015. Results would be sent to Mr. Goddard, who would plug these results into the “big picture” command centre he’d set up where his living room used to be. Now while most gamers’ “better halves” would take sharp exception to losing their living room to a global wargame collective, Mr. Goddard’s wife Victoria happily pitched in and helped him coordinate his D-Day project.

In effect, we’d be playing one titanic wargame, with the “fate” of the Normandy landings in the balance.

The Minds Behind It

The Historic Event

To start, perhaps we should take a very quick overview of the D-Day landings. Near the beginning of World War II France had been invaded and occupied by the Germans during the summer of 1940. France then endured German subjugation for four years until a massive Allied invasion (code-named “Overlord”) was mounted by sea and air to liberate France and eventually all of western Europe.

The first landings were made in Normandy on June 6th, 1944 (D-Day), in one of the largest, most complex, and risky operations undertaken in the history of warfare. Had it failed, the Soviets would have defeated the Third Reich alone, resulting in a post-war Europe completely dominated by Stalin. Imagine the Iron Curtain running not through Germany, but perhaps the English Channel.

Beach Assault

There were five main invasion beaches, each with a code name. American divisions would land on “Utah” and “Omaha Beach” in the west. To the east, British troops would land on “Gold” and “Sword,” while Canadians would land on “Juno” Beach. Commandos from France, Great Britain, and other countries would assist with the landings on Sword.

Additionally, on the night before the seaborne invasion, one British and two American airborne divisions would land on key targets in advance of the main force. The Germans were certainly outnumbered, but airborne and amphibious attacks are always extremely dangerous, and these Germans had been fortifying their defence for two years. Additionally, powerful German panzer divisions lurked further back from the coast, ready to strike wherever the Allies landed.

In all, some 200,000 men would engage on that first day, fighting on a series of beaches and battlefields stretched across fifty miles of the French coast.

The Battle List

Once it got started, the WWDDC Project quickly gathered steam. Soon we had Beasts of War members lined up from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the United States. Systems included Flames of War, Bolt Action, Battlegroup, Rapid Fire, GMT’s Combat Commander, Panzer Leader, and Axis and Allies 15mm miniatures. Scales would run from 1/56 (28mm) to 1/6,000 (where a 1-inch hex = 150 meters).

Units represented would include the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the US 29th Infantry, the British 50th Northumbrian and 3rd Infantry Divisions, the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, and of course the British 6th Airborne Division of Pegasus Bridge fame. The Germans would have all three of their initially-deployed infantry divisions represented (709th, 716th, and the dreaded 352nd), as well as their first panzer division to enter the fray, the famous 21st Panzer.

Personally, I was very glad to have at least one game planned for each of the five invasion beaches, ensuring a representative cross-section of all the action on that decisive day.

Planned Assaults

The Generals Prepare

Here’s a quick overview of the games we CURRENTLY have scheduled to run WWDDC games on June 6th, 2015. Starting in the British sectors, we have Sven (@neves1789) who will use 15mm Flames of War to put troops of the 50th Northumbrian Division ashore at Gold Beach. Also in the “Gold” assault sector, @piers (on the staff of Battlegroup) will use Battlegroup 20mm to recreate the afternoon counterattack of “Kampfgruppe Meyer” against British troops advancing inland.

Over on Sword Beach, Daniel (@pedmore) and his mates will be landing elements of 3rd British Infantry Division using Flames of War, both as the British come out of the water and later in the day when they run into a counterattack mounted by 21st Panzer Division.

The Merville Battery

The WWDDC will also feature some of the famed exploits of the British 6th Airborne Division. First up, Nick (@lateo) will be using Bolt Action 28mm to land part of the 9th Para Battalion on Merville Battery, a dangerous series of German heavy gun. Our WWDDC organizer Chris Goddard will be using Rapid Fire rules to field 6th Division paras against another German counterattack at Ranville, a few kilometres south of Pegasus Bridge.

Airborne Assault

The whole Canadian 3rd Division, meanwhile, will be landing on Juno Beach, run by myself through Avalon Hill’s classic “Panzer Leader.” I’ll also have a 15mm Axis & Allies table built for the infamous bloodbath of Dog Green sector, Omaha Beach (made famous in the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”).

Teaming up with players at our local GXE gaming club, Jennifer (@gladesrunner) will be running elements of the US 2nd Ranger Battalion at the epic assault on Pointe do Hoc, using GMT’s Combat Commander. At Utah Beach, meanwhile, Ben (@amphibiousmonster) will be fielding elements of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne against a particularly bizarre German counterattack, supported by captured tanks left over from the conquest of France in 1940!

Lastly, Scott (@smithsco) will be playing Bolt Action in 20mm scale to see if a force of the 101st Airborne Division can hold a bridge over the River Douve at the tiny village of La Porte, thus protecting the rest of the division from a German counterattack in their southern flank.

Landing Craft

Pegasus Bridge

Perhaps our most publicised game, however, has already happened! As many Beast of War subscribers have doubtlessly seen, the famous British glider attack on Pegasus Bridge has already been recreated at the recent Bolt Action Boot Camp, where Rob (@commodorerob) and Marc (@wendren) battled it out over control of this vital bridge behind Sword Beach.

I’d like to personally thank Warren for his two video introductions of the WWDDC, Justin for helping out and shooting the video, Ben and Sam for the great post-battle write-ups, and “Tank God” John for the pin-point historical commentary after the battle. And of course, special thanks to Rob and Marc for donating some of their precious Boot Camp time to help us out with an explosive first game.

However, the fact that Marc (playing the Germans) won this game means that the British have FAILED to take Pegasus Bridge in our campaign. This immediately sets us off down a path of alternate history where things (at least in the vicinity of Sword Beach) may take a dramatically different turn from the well-known historical course of events.

Pegasus Bridge

Changing History?

In conclusion, the WWDDC is off and running to a great start. Our groups are busy preparing the games that will run on June 6th, building units and tables that will be put to the test on our own “Longest Day.” Will history repeat itself? Might our D-Day be even more successful than the historical event, or will the Germans hurl the Allies back into the sea as Rommel hoped? Once more, the Germans are off to a good start at Pegasus Bridge. We’ll see what happens next!

Gun Battery

Even in the midst of such preparation (not to mention the fun we will doubtlessly have on the day), part of the original focus of the WWDDC remains to commemorate the veterans who served that day, regardless of uniform or allegiance. By extension, we also wanted to recognise veterans who have served all our nations in the decades since, right up to the present. Accordingly, as part of our work with the WWDDC, Chris and Victoria Goddard are making a contribution to Combat Stress organization in the UK, while I’m making one to the Wounded Warrior Project here in the US.

The Cost

Of course groups are still joining up, and there’s still time for you and your group to join up as well. Reach out to myself (@oriskany) or Chris Goddard (@chrisg) if you fancy having a go at some Normandy action and participating in a top-notch project. Not sure where your available army miniatures might fit in the historical context? Just drop a note in the comments below or send me a PM and let me know what forces you have available, and I can almost certainly find a historical niche your miniatures can comfortably fulfil. We hope to hear from you!

James Johnson

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"Any rules system or scale was acceptable, just so long as the game remained at least somewhat historical and respectful to the veterans (Nazi zombies and werewolves need not apply)"

"Our groups are busy preparing the games that will run on June 6th, building units and tables that will be put to the test on our own “Longest Day.” Will history repeat itself?"