Legio Wargames

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By smacdowall, Sep 18 2017 06:45PM

My historical wargames interests are set firmly in the time before firearms become effective.

Some time ago I dabbled for a bit with Cold War micro-armour but the last WWII game I fought was decades ago.

It was on my childhood bedroom floor with unpainted Airfix HO 8th Army and Africa Korps — the original 1960s sets.

Shortly after watching the film Dunkirk, I was inspired to break the mould by an invitation to play the German commander in a 'what if' Operation Seelöwe game. The scenario imagined a German landing on the beaches of southeastern England on 14 July 1940. The British would have been licking their wounds after Dunkirk while the Germans would have been feeling the wind behind their sails.

I was given a rough map with even rougher intelligence. From this I had to select 4 beach squares, on each of which I could land an infantry regiment of 3 battalions, which would arrive in three waves. I also had two parachute regiments and could select three adjacent squares for each of the regiment’s battalions to land. Following on from my decisions and those of the British commander, a tactical game would be played to see what happened next.

I decided to concentrate my attack on Folkestone with a diversionary attack on Deal. The blue circles A-D were the beaches I selected and the maroon circles 1-6 were the parachute landings. Hythe and Deal had small harbours which would allow me to land infantry reinforcements while Folkestone and Dover had proper ports where I could land heavier troops. If I captured the airfields of Hawkinge (maroon circle 4) or Lyminge (maroon circle 1) then I had the possibility of bringing in further reinforcements by air.

Dover had a better port than Folkestone and would allow me to bring in more reinforcements. I decided, however, not to attack there as it seemed like too hard a nut to crack. I felt that if I took Folkestone, Hythe and the two airfields then I could concentrate my forces in a relatively tight area with good opportunities for landing follow-on troops and supplies.

I allocated the vast majority of my air resources to achieve air superiority, leaving some air assets to provide cover for my landing craft and ships. I also ordered a naval bombardment of the beaches north of Dover to hopefully divert British attention there.

The view of the table from Lyminge looking south-east towards Hythe
The view of the table from Lyminge looking south-east towards Hythe

The tactical tabletop game which followed was played out in 1:300 scale on a 16 x 6 foot table covering the area from RAF Lyminge in the west to the beaches northeast of Folkestone. The rules we used were Spearhead. I had no experience of these or any other WWII rules before. I found they worked rather well. They are relatively simple and do not get bogged down into fine detail. The mechanisms are easy to remember and give enough tactical nuance to make close actions interesting while keeping the game at the grand tactical level.

The para-drops drifted a bit and did not land exactly where I had wished. Those aiming for RAF Lyminge had a bit of a hike to get to their target and by the time they reached the airfield, British infantry reinforcements were already arriving form the west.

The British defences at Hawkinge
The British defences at Hawkinge

It was easier at RAF Hawkinge and after hard fighting my paratroopers were able to overcome the defenders to take the airfield. As soon as they had they done this, the1st London Rifles arrived from the north to launch a counter-attack. After fierce fighting both sides were so worn down that the survivors dispersed leaving Hawkinge airfield unoccupied.

German paratroopers cut the rail junction above Folkestone
German paratroopers cut the rail junction above Folkestone

One of the parachute battalions from the regiment assaulting Hawkinge was tasked with cutting the rail junction above Folkestone (maroon circle 6) and then support the infantry attack on Folkestone. It took the attached engineers an inordinate amount of time to blow the rail lines (thanks to low die rolls) but when they finally did, their support of the attack on Folkestone proved invaluable.

The first wave lands between Folkstone and Sandgate
The first wave lands between Folkstone and Sandgate

The initial landings on the beaches met little initial resistance but as soon as the German infantry approached Hythe and Folkestone they ran into a determined defence which more or less wiped out the first wave of attackers in house to house fighting.

Close quarter fighting in Folkestone
Close quarter fighting in Folkestone

It was hard going and it took supporting attacks from the paratroopers before they finally managed to clear the defenders from the built up areas. An ad-hoc battalion of British sharpshooters from the nearby School of Small Arms were particularly annoying.

The first wave lands below Hythe
The first wave lands below Hythe

My troops managed to take Hythe in tact but just as Folkestone was about to fall into my hands the defending stevedores blew up the port facilities rendering it useless for landing much needed reinforcements.

British reinforcements hold up the paratroopers attacking Lyminge
British reinforcements hold up the paratroopers attacking Lyminge

I re-occupied Hawkinge airfield with infantry from the third wave but the RAF Regiment defending Lyminge grimly held on to the last man, inflicting heavy casualties on the paratroopers who finally captured it.

As daylight began to fade I started to set up defensive perimeters, anticipating a fierce counter-attack, especially from the direction of Dover. When I moved troops towards the village of West Hougham to take up a position dominating the road to Dover they came under fire from the Home Guard. They had been reinforced by British regulars who had fled Folkestone along with a heavy machine gun.

The home guard at West Hougham hold up the German advance
The home guard at West Hougham hold up the German advance

Despite repeated artillery bombardments the defenders of West Hougham kept up a withering fire on my men, taking out a 50mm anti-tank gun and several platoons of infantry. They held up my advance for 4 hours and it took paratroopers reinforced by 2 tanks to finally clear the village so I could establish my defensive perimeter.

The umpire called the game as night fell on 14 July 1940. I held two salients around Folkestone and Hythe and controlled the airfields of Hawkinge and Lyminge. My lines were stretched and I would need further reinforcements if I was to hold out against a determined British counter-attack.

We will continue the campaign some time in the future, picking up where we left off.

By smacdowall, Nov 9 2015 02:20PM

Looking for a relatively quick but interesting two-player game I thought it might be fun to do a follow-on action from the Battle of Ardes.

The Battle of Ardes a semi-historical scenario set in June 1657

This scenario would see Colonel Thomas Blague of Horringer in Suffolk, volunteering to lead a delaying force to buy time for the defeated Spanish army to make a clean break from the pursuing French. After the Duke of York's capture and the inaction of the British Royalist foot at Ardes, Colonel Blague -- a historical character who commanded the King's Own English Regiment for Charles II in exile -- is anxious to restore the reputation of British arms.

Don Juan de Austria, commanding the Spanish forces in Picardy and Flanders has been hampered in his retreat by bad weather, baggage and guns. He has reinforced Blague and has promised to send an extraction force to help Blague's men withdraw once they have succeeded in holding up the enemy sufficiently for the main Spanish force to outdistance pursuit. Blague's delaying force consists of 2 regiments of British Royalist foot, a troop of British horse, 2 companies of Spanish dragoons, 3 companies of German arquebusiers and a battery of light guns.

Commanding the French advance guard is the Comte de Schomberg who distinguished himeself at Ardes. He learns that the small village of Blancard is being held against him but his orders are to press on, sweep away the opposition and not to let the Spanish get away. He has under his command 7 battalions of foot and 12 squadrons of horse. Marshal Turenne has promised 2 companies of Gendarmes from the main battle to help in the attack.

Bad weather has reduced visibility to a mere 120 yards, the ground is sodden and the going slow. Schomberg has to deploy without being able to see any of Thomas Blague's positions. Assuming the village would be strongly held he decides to bypass it with his cavalry on the right, supported by a forlorn hope of musketeers and most of his foot on the left.

What the French did not know was that Blague had left the village unoccupied. He deployed his British troops, supported by the guns, to the left of of Blancard. Two small groups of detached musketeers held some hasty field fortifications with the Kings Own English Regiment and the Duke of York's Irish holding the gaps.

This came as no small surprise to the French who had thought that their cavalry would sweep past the village on this flank. Instead they were met by a hail of shot and had no option other than to engage Blague's men with pistols -- an exchange they inevitably got the worst of.

On the opposite flank, the majority of the French foot advanced towards the ploughed fields which turned out to be a sodden muddy mess and quite difficult going. Although he was not aware of the state of the fields until his troops got there, Schomberg had susupected that the bad weather may have turned them to a quagmire and this was the reason he deployed his cavalry on the other flank.

Trudging through the muddy fields the French foot found them to be lightly held by dismounted dragoons and mounted arquebusiers. Moving into close range the French succeeded in driving the enemy back. However by this time the Spanish extraction force, consisting of 2 companies of cuirassiers, 3 companies of arquebusiers, and a tercio of foot had begun to arrive onto the field and block further progress.

On the French right Schomberg's horse could make no headway against the British foot. He sent 3 squadrons around the flank under the command of the Marquis de Varennes but they were stopped by the British Royalist horse and after a fierce, protracted melee, Varennes was killed and the French cavalry driven off.

The only hope of a breakthrough was in the centre which Blague had left undefended. With the Gendarmes coming up in support, the valiant Schomberg personally led the Regiment Espagny (which later became Nettancourt and then Guyenne) through the village and into the attack. Their way was blocked by the Spanish tercio which had just come onto the field to help extract Blague's force. If Espagny could break through the tercio the way would be clear for the Gendarmes to follow through the attack, cut off Blague's men and continue the close pursuit.

It was a near run thing but the Spanish held their ground. There would be no French breakthrough and Blague was in position to safely withdraw most of his men having imposed sufficient delay to count as a clear victory. Casualties were relatively light on both side as Colonel Blague had taken advantage of the poor visibility and slow going to cleverly deployed his troops so that it was very hard for the French to come to grips. The only significant casualties came from the prolonged engagement bewteen the British and French horse in which the Marquis de Varennes was killed.

By smacdowall, Oct 10 2013 08:07PM

A very brief trip to Canada allowed me to meet up with my old friend and long time wargames opponent Ross Mcfarlane. Apart from catching up on old times we also found ourselves on the same side in a wargame for the first time in 40 years! In a game hosted by Ron Porter we played a CS Grant scenario (Reinforcing a defence or something like that) using Battle Cry on a hex based table set loosely in the second Afghan War.

My plucky Afghans holding a line of hills against a British attack while Ross’s men finish off a pipe or two of opium in the village before coming out to help.

It was a near run thing until the very end when Ron’s British, Indians and Ghurkas vapourised most of my remaining troops and seized the heights. Ross’s reinforcements were coming up on the left flank but it was too little, too late to save me.

The game was great fun and a very interesting departure from my usual sort of wargame.

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