Fischfang At Farnborough
Taking advantage of being off work for a week, last night I travelled the many miles to the Farnborough Wargames Society (http://www.fwgs.org.uk/index.htm) to meet my regular opponent Neil for a game of IABSM. Neil had two friends from the Society, Jon and Steve, who had played Charlie Don't Surf, but now wanted to try IABSM as part of their gradual indoctrination into the ways of Lard.
The scenario played was #18 from the Anzio scenario pack, Wildcat to Whale, and involved an historical action that took place 16th February 1944 as part of Operation Fischfang, the German counter-attack on the Anzio beachhead. Here a strong company from the Parachute Demonstration Battalion attached to the Herman Goering Panzer Division would assault the American line at the point between the positions of the US 30th and 7th Infantry Regiments where careless deployment had allowed a gap to form.
The tabletop was typically flat, with the only cover available being natural folds in the ground. The US position was centred on a collection of three farmhouses near a road running east-west across the table, with two small platoons from the US 30th Regiment under cover in trenches to the west of the farmhouses and another two small platoons from the US 7th Regiment under cover in trenches to the east of the farmhouses: the gap being the farmhouses themselves.
The German Fallschirmjagers entered the table cautiously, beginning the game by pushing only two Blinds forward. These were quickly spotted by the Americans, and revealed as a single rifle squad and a platoon of two 81mm mortars. The American trenches proved hard to see, so the Germans pushed another couple of Blinds onto the table, both of which again were quickly spotted: revealed as a platoon three Panzer IV Hs and an infantry platoon. As all the US infantry had to use against the tanks were two bazookas, they called for reinforcements, and the Turn card went into the pack.
Meanwhile one US platoon had been spotted, 4th Platoon from 30th Infantry under command of Lieutenant Art Schmidt, in trenches just to the west of the farmhouses. The Americans opened fire, but a combination of the range, some tactically clever use of smoke from the mortars, and the fact that the Germans were advancing by rushes using the folds in the ground as cover, meant that almost no damage was done. The Germans returned fire: their squads using 5d6 (6d6 with a Big Man) due to their elite nature and two LMG teams!
The Germans continued bringing Blinds onto the table and eventually had all three of their infantry platoons advancing forward, again by rushes from fold in the ground to fold in the ground. They had concentrated on the centre and western side of the battlefield (their right), and brought their tanks forward as well. The Americans had revealed the two platoons to the west of the farmhouses, and the nearest platoon to the east of the farmhouses, and were laying down as much fire as possible, but were definitely getting the worst of things as the weight of German fire from numbers, equipment and skill levels significantly compensated for the American trenches.
As the Germans continued to storm forward, the Americans were gradually being whittled down, Lieutenant Schmidt's platoon in particular losing an attached MMG and almost the whole of one squad. The other squad kept firing however, and would play a key part in delaying the German advance throughout the rest of the game. In fact, when the battle eventually ended, Lieutenant Schmidt still held his position and had eight men left in his remaining squad (see picture, below).
Then the US artillery arrived: three off-table 105mm howitzers. Although initial ranging shots were poorly placed, they were rapidly zero-ed in by the American FOO from his position right at the western end of the US line (no Germans shot at him throughout the entire game despite the fact that he was in the only Jeep on the tabletop!) and landed first on the German Company HQ, taking out one MMG and suppressing the infantry squad; then on a platoon of Fallschirmjagers, effectively stopping them dead; and then on to the German mortars, taking one of them out. It is worth noting here that the artillery rules worked really well: there was a distinct and flavour-adding contrast between the much slower but observed American fire and the rapid but unobserved German 81mm mortar fire.
At this point the Germans were generally under 18" from the American line, with one of their platoons heading straight for the three empty farmhouses that were their objectives. The final American platoon to the far right (east) of their position had decided to move to reinforce the centre, but was spotted and caught out in the open by the German mortars, losing their attached Big Man and an MMG in a horribly effective stonk. The survivors quickly headed for a hedge that provided the only cover available, and effectively joined the US firing line but still leaving he farmhouses unoccupied.
Luckily for the Americans, however, their reinforcements now arrived: three Wolverines from the 191st Tank Destroyer battalion and another small platoon of infantry from 30th Regiment. They arrived right in the gap between the two American positions, with the tank destroyers immediately targeting the German tanks that had, so far, only managed one area fire shot at the US infantry: naturally targeting Lieutenant Schmidt's platoon, as every other German seemed to be, but to little effect.
Although one of the newly arrived American squads managed to occupy one farmhouse, the other got caught moving up and was forced to ground under heavy fire. This allowed the leading German squad to get into the northern-most farmhouse, although fire from the surrounding American troops rapidly reduced their numbers to four men and a dead Big Man.
The German tanks and US tank destroyers began a duel that would last the rest of the game, with large amounts of Italian scenery and German paint work being ruined as the American Wolverines could hit anything they aimed at but not penetrate, and the Germans just couldn't hit anything. Net result: one abandoned German Panzer IVH.
At this point the game ended as we were out of time. The Germans had failed to capture two farmhouses, so had only achieved half their victory conditions. The Americans had allowed the Germans to take one farmhouse so had failed their victory conditions. An honourable and extremely hard-fought draw was awarded to both sides.
Had the game continued, it could have gone either way. Probably the American tank destroyers would eventually have tipped the balance in their favour, as happened historically with the US .50 cals mounted on the Wolverines doing horrendous damage to the advancing Germans, but it would only have taken the armoured duel to go to the advantage of the Germans for victory to probably have been theirs. Certainly the superbly armed and trained German infantry were more than a match for the US footsloggers, although now that the ranges were coming right down, it would have been who fired first that really counted.
Hero of the day goes to the Lieutenant "Ironically" Schmidt of 7th Infantry, who held his position despite being under devastating fire for turn after turn. Loser of the day was the American sniper, who obviously had his telescopic sight on the wrong way round: multiple shots throughout the game, not a single hit! An excellent evening's gaming all round, however, and I look forward to running more games at Farnborough whenever life allows!