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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.