Kicking Off Cobra

The guys wanted to play Flames of War this week, so I organized a scenario based loosely around the attacks by the 30th Infantry Division to clear the way for Operation Cobra. The Americans would be attacking through the bocage against the German main line of resistance, manned by elements of the German 275th Infantry Division.

The Americans had a couple of Confident Veteran rifle companies, with the battalion 81mm mortars, the regimental Ammo and Pioneer platoon, a artillery support. The artillery support consisted of a Field Artillery battery in direct support (i.e. regular FOW artillery support) and the rest of the division artillery in general support, which I represented by a dice pool similar to air support that allowed the US to reinforce an artillery shoot with additional batteries. The idea of this was to reflect the very flexible US artillery doctrine better than the standard FOW US artillery. In addition, the American players could request additional support from division. They were given a platoon of Shermans, a platoon of combat engineers, and the regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon.

The Germans had a Confident Trained grenadier company of the 275th Infantry Division on the table. The company was assigned some 5cm AT guns, HMGs, and 120mm mortars in support. A platoon of Luftwaffe 88mm guns was deployed in their defensive zone and a Panzer IV company from Panzer Lehr was in reserve. The Germans requested additional artillery and AT support from division and were given an off-table battery of 10.5 cm howitzers and a platoon of Marder III’s, as well as a TIger.

The Germans began the game in hidden positions with only the command teams deployed. The also received a number of extra command bases as decoys and had a couple of platoons in ambush. They deployed the infantry company forward, with the HMGs attached out. The Luftawaffe guns were placed in the rear near the village, the two AT platoons were in ambush and their allotted three points for pre-registered fire from the mortars chosen. With their preparations made, the Germans sat back to await the American attack.

The American plan of attack was to mass on one side, sweep down onto the objectives on that side with overwhelming force, then swing across the table to seize the remainder. A classic attack for a “normal” FOW game on a “normal” FOW table. However, this plan fails to account for the terrain in play – the hedgerows. I advised the Americans that the terrain was going to be too constricting to allow that plan to work, but they chose to try it anyway. They also decided to hold back half of their infantry, presumably to come in behind the leading company in their main push. However, they placed their only reconnaissance asset (the regimental I&R platoon) off on the flank away from the main axis of attack. With the forces set, the attack started.

After only one or two turns of movement, the Americans realized the magnitude of the effect the terrain would have on movement. Their infantry was proceeding slowly and even the one company in front had trouble finding room to get all of their troops forward. The dozer tank from the engineering platoon and the two tanks of the tank platoon equipped with Cullen devices began clearing gaps in the hedge, but going was still slow. The Americans decided to bring their 2nd infantry company onto the table on their open right side, however they were now a couple of turns behind the main attack. However they did have the I&R platoon out front and these made first contact with the Germans. Unfortunately the platoon wandered right under one of the German mortar pre-registration points and was promptly blown to pieces.

On the American left the tanks got out in front of their main line of attack, keeping pace with some hard charging infantry on the extreme left. As the tanks broke into the center of the table they were ambushed by a light AT gun platoon equipped with 5cm PaK38s. One of the guns had been lost in the preliminary bombardment, but the other two fired away… and failed to dent the Shermans. An exchange of fire over the next couple of turns saw the PaK38s eliminated and the German main line identified by the attackers. The Shermans edged up to the hedge on which the German MLR was established, but an ambush by the Marder’s from the next hedgerow back wiped out the dozer Sherman and the tank platoon retreated to wait for the infantry support to catch up. The infantry was being slowed though by repeated artillery and mortar attacks. The American units were jammed close together so that a single attack could pin down multiple platoons. These attacks caused some casualties, but the resulting delay as troops went to ground was more damaging to the American attack.

As the Americans slowly pushed forward, the panzers from Panzer Lehr began to trickle onto the table. The two days of heavy bombardment had taken their toll and about half of the German tanks were lost before even seeing the battlefield. One platoon was reduced to a single runner. However, a platoon of three Panzer IVHs arrived in the nick of time to occupy a defensive position and turn back the American platoon moving up the American left. Another Sherman was lost in exchange for a platoon of two Panzer IV’s.

In the nd the Americans were able to get in position to launch one assault against a portion of the German line, but German strength was still high and the reserves had arrived as daylight was beginning to wain. The Germans had held the line and Operation Cobra would have to wait another day. But their would be a fresh American battalion in place tomorrow and no replacements for the the men and material lost by the Germans… The Germans won a decisive victory, gaining points for holding two objectives outright along with bonus points for having held off the Americans as long as they did. The Americans gained some points for contesting two of the objectives at the end and a bonus for having inflicted more platoon losses than they sustained.

A fun and interesting game for me as the GM. I had tried to add a lot of historical flavor with scenario rules for things not normally seen in “standard” Flames of War game and I thought the game had a good feel. The fighting in the bocage has always interested me, as it’s such a unique terrain environment and one that is very suited to the scale of Flames of War, as every battle boiled down to company actions over small areas of hedgerows. I was driving the game pretty hard, encouraging player to make decisions and keep moving, but we were able to play 11 turns in a 6-player game with two companies on each side. The table looked pretty good, although it took every single shrub- or hedge-like bit in my terrain collection to do the 6′ x 6′ of hedgerows!. I wish I’d have had a couple of dozen more craters to really give the table that “carpet bombed” look… Thanks to Scott for providing half the forces used and to all the guys for a good game.

The Americans decision to attack on a narrow front and to hold back the second company was ultimately their undoing. The hedgerows really slow down and channel movement, so it’s hard to plan anything that requires intricate or quick movement. It’s very different from the usual table that a player will likely encounter in a pick-up game at the Friendly Local Gaming Store. The Americans eventually put their second company into the attack on their right, utilizing the whole table, but with that company being delayed, it gave the Germans two advantages – they had more time for their reserves to arrive and they were able to focus their two artillery assets to pin down the leading company, then shift them to the trailing company as they came up. the Americans also suffered a bit from some bad luck with their artillery, as they did not make a single firepower test to destroy a dug-in German team all night.

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One response to “Kicking Off Cobra”

  1. Rob W. says :

    The American players should review period tactics to improve performance. Those recon scouts should be the advance unit, in the vanguard. Seek and find, and deny enemy ambush units to opportunity.

    I thought those Shermans were toast, too bad the Germans whiffed the dice on x2 PaK 38s in ambush.

    US should never let their tanks get so far ahead of infantry. Combined arms teams is the way to go. Keep the infantry in line and tie platoons together for mutual support. Look for the holes in the German line and penetrate, then roll-them-up in assaults. Plunging head-on in bocage country is a recipe for failure, as proven in Normandy.

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