17 August 2022
Words and photos by Jon Sutherland & Joe Dever
Each Command Decision aims to offer a series of playable options in timeless military scenarios. Command Decision is designed so you can read the situation and figure out your own command decisions if you were leading the troops on the ground. You can either work through the various options or use the mechanics to create the precise circumstances of the tabletop engagement. The scenarios may have particular historical themes and settings, but you can easily adapt the mechanics to suit your own preferences and collections. This game can be used as a follow up from last month’s Falaise Conundrum.
The Canadian 4th Armored Division under Major General George Kitching have been ordered to take Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive and with it the only way out of the Falaise Pocket for the encircled Germans.
ROLE & COMMAND
You are Major David V. Currie, commanding C Company and reinforced by infantry companies B and C of the Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. You also have the support of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment (10th Infantry Brigade). You begin your attack on August 18, but run into immediate mortar fire and decide to halt for the night short of your objective. The following morning you resume your assault aiming for the bridges across the Dive knowing that their capture will seal the pocket.
WARGAMING THE BATTLE
Our battle is focused around the capture (or the commanding of the approaches) to the two bridges crossing the Dives at the southern end of the village of Saint Lambert-sur-Dives. The map shows you what the table should look like with the two bridges in the bottom right hand corner of the photo-map. The Germans are attempting to cross the Dives at these two points from the direction of the road that enters the table from the bottom right hand corner, through the village and exiting on the opposite side of the table half way up. The Canadians can enter the table from either one or both of the roads in the north of the table from the direction of the northern part of the village and Trun (which was their jump-off point).
This battle would work well with larger scale rulesets such as Rapid Fire or Flames of War. Outline orders of battle have been included to provide guidance regarding the units.
The roads should be hedged and the fields separated with line of sight blocking high hedge rows interspersed with trees. A handful of buildings scattered around the road network should suffice to represent the village, but add walled or hedged gardens to provide extra cover. The two small bridges are capable of taking armour, but if a tank is knocked out on either of them the road is considered blocked for 1d6 turns. If another vehicle – something other than a tank – is knocked out on one of the bridges, then half 1d6 turns are needed to remove the obstacle.
The bridges are precisely located on the photo-map just before the first side road marked l’Eglise and just before the actual church.
Vehicles may only cross the river using the bridges. Infantry may cross the river at any point, but must take a full turn to do so.
TIMING & OBJECTIVES
This game relies on a series of timed events and gradual build-up of forces to create a tense and demanding action for both sides. Whilst the Germans are not necessarily encouraged to be over aggressive, the key problem for them is to keep the road running from the bottom left of the map to the mid-point on the right free for the escape of a number of unarmed units. Not only that, they really need to keep the road free of direct fire from the Allies. There is no way to avoid the off-table artillery (unless the Allies cannot actually see a target with one of their named radio contact units).
In the play-tested games, the Germans managed one draw and two fairly crushing defeats, largely on account of advancing their armour too far north to engage the Shermans and having them picked off by hidden anti-tank guns. The Germans should engage if the Allies have pushed their Shermans too far south without cover; the temptation for the Allies is to make a quick grab for one of the bridges and hope that they can hold it long enough for reinforcements to arrive. This will rarely work given the distance that the reinforcements will have to cover.
The German player may start the game with the Pz Grenadier HQ and two of the platoons, the MG34 platoon along with the scratch Pz IV platoon. He can place these units anywhere on the table: note that they may be in cover and the infantry can be dug in if in the open or inside buildings in the village if desired.
The German player receives the remaining infantry on turn three along with the mortars. The Tigers arrive on the table on turn four. All of these units must enter the table using the road in the bottom south west corner of the table.
After turn 5, the German player may bring on to the table one or more of the unarmed bonus units. They too arrive on the road at the bottom right of the table. They must proceed up the road, over the two bridges and attempt to exit using the road on the eastern side of the table. The German player may commit any number of the bonus units at a time.
The German player will gain 3 Victory Points for each bonus vehicle unit that manages to exit the table and 5 VPs for each infantry unit (reflecting how long the road needs to be kept open for the slower units to escape). Some 65 victory points are available.
The German bonus vehicle units may move at their normal road speed or may move cross country, but must seek cover if they come under direct fire from the Allies. They may move again next turn. They may not pick up bonus wounded infantry units, they may not return fire. Any bonus vehicle, regardless of the model being used, is considered to be out of ammunition.
The bonus German wounded units can take any route they wish across the table, but must exit using the road on the right hand side of the table. They are considered non-combatants and have no fire power. They must seek cover if they come under indirect or direct fire from the enemy. Once in cover, they must wait for one turn before moving again.
If either type of German bonus unit comes within 6” of an Allied unit it will automatically surrender and will be removed from the table. These units cannot be regained by the German player.
Currie must commit one of his Sherman squadrons and one rifle company on turn one; these can enter via either of the northern roads. They can be placed on the same road if required. Currie must then commit his second Sherman squadron on turn two on other northern road. On turn three he may deploy his second rifle company onto either road. The Vickers teams arrive with the second rifle company. On turn four he may bring on his anti-tank platoon on either on the roads.
Currie’s off-table artillery may fire every other turn at a target that has been spotted by either a tank, one of the rifle company HQs or the anti-tank platoon.
ORDERS OF BATTLE
These are suggested orders of battle, the Germans will be seriously outnumbered at the beginning of the game, but the arrivals schedule will place increasing pressure on the Canadians as it did in 1944.
This is a typical holding action with a scratch force attempting to hold a crucial choke point to allow the rest of the army to escape encirclement. This would work for the American Revolutionary period with a force of rebels attempting to hold back the British to allow the rest of the army to escape (e.g., Rhode Island). You could set the game in France again, but in the 1870s as the French army attempts to hold back the Prussians as they try to encircle them. The American Civil War could offer other alternatives, notably the battle of Monocracy Junction, where a scratch Union force held up Early’s Confederates for sufficient time for men to be rushed to the depleted defences around Washington in 1864. Later conflicts could include the VC in Vietnam holding off a determined search and destroy mission on one of their key supply routes.
SAINT-LAMBERT-SUR-DIVE: FACT CHECK
The Canadians approached the village and two of their tanks were knocked out by anti-tank fire. They were held off about 1km from the village by heavy fire. Currie pressed on sometimes engaging the Germans at close quarters. As more and more Germans flooded in the village to break out of the pocket, the pressure intensified. In the morning of August 20, the Germans launched a determined attack to the west of the village; Currie mustered his depleted forces and held them off until elements of the 5th Anti-Tank Regiment arrived to reinforce him. By now the Canadians were struggling to guard the huge numbers of German prisoners.
By the time fighting died down and those German troops approaching the village simply wanted to surrender, Currie had barely 70 men left across his two infantry companies. He had managed to bag 2,100 prisoners and knocked out nearly 50 tanks and vehicles. Immediate German losses on the field were around 300 dead and 500 wounded. The pocket was finally sealed.
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