Home Forums WWI Somme Enchanted Evening, 1916

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  • #150442
    JozisTinMan
    Participant

    Yet another Trench Hammer battle report as I tinker with Ivan on a version 2. Enjoy!

    https://jozistinman.blogspot.com/2021/02/somme-enchanted-evening-trench-hammer.html

    http://jozistinman.blogspot.com/

    #150449
    kyoteblue
    Participant

    Thanks for posting this.

    #150579
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    JozisTinMan,

    In your Blog post, you mention that the scenario authors included historical details of the game in ‘Play the Game’. The French-Canadian contingent in the Canadian Corps was 22nd Brigade. Is this correct? Do the authors provide the date of the original action that the scenario is based on? Thanks.

    Robert

    #150655
    JozisTinMan
    Participant

    Thanks Kyote!  I am trying to get a couple of games in a month.  I am using the Hammer of Democracy version of assault where the attacker takes a point of damage automatically.  I really like that, you have to decide if you keep pushing your assault troops or do you stop and regroup.

     

    Robert: I encourage you to get the Too Fat Lardies play the game supplement, it is a HUGE value for the price at > 175 pages of scenarios, campaigns, and various bits and bobs.

    This particular action is from 15 September 1916, featuring the French Canadians of the 22nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.  The Wilkipedia article on the battle is here, this scenario is just a microcosm: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Flers%E2%80%93Courcelette

    The original article includes some great quotes from Charles Roberts Canada in Flanders

     

    http://jozistinman.blogspot.com/

    #150904
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    Thank you for the confirmation, JozisTinMan. The details of 22nd Infantry Battalion’s attack are very interesting, both from the Canadian and German perspectives. What follows is based on both sets of accounts. It highlights some of the challenges in creating scenarios at this tactical level in WW1. The assault on Courcelette was part of the much larger Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The Canadians were operating on the left flank of this battle. The villages of Courcelette and Martinpuich were key objectives on that flank. 2nd Canadian Division had the task of taking Courcelette. The task was divided into two separate assaults. The first was launched in the morning of 15 September 1916. The German first line trenches were captured, along with the ruins of the sugar factory just south of Courcelette. The sugar factory was the location of German Reserve Infantry Regiment 211 headquarters. The battle for the ruins is commemorated in a famous painting:

    Courcelette sugar factory

    A standing barrage was maintained on the southern outskirts of Courcelette after the first phase of the attack was completed. The barrage was in place at 1815 hours, i.e. the late afternoon of 15 September. 25th and 22nd Infantry Battalions were not involved in the first wave attacks but made their way forwards through German barrages to the vicinity of the sugar factory. The assault on Courcelette was then launched at the same time as the barrage starting creeping forwards again:

    Courcelette map

    The above map shows the sugar factory (labelled ‘Chimney’) and the route taken by 22nd Battalion into the right side of Courcelette (blue-dotted line). The standing barrage is marked with a heavy purple line. The one minute lifts are marked with semi-transparent purple lines. The precise formation adopted by 22nd Battalion is not recorded but it likely followed that of its sister battalions, including 25th Battalion on the immediate left. 25th Battalion assaulted the remaining two-thirds of the village. It took casualties from a group of German infantry, including an MG08 team, located near the building furthest south and just outside the standing barrage. 25th Battalion charged these defenders, who were in Reserve Infantry Regiment 210.

    The map shows how the elements of 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion crossed approximately 1400 yards of open ground before entering Courcelette. This move started at 1815 hours; 22nd Battalion was on all objectives and consolidating at 1900 hours. The movement of the creeping barrage shows how this rapid movement was achieved. The barrage threw up huge clouds of dust and smoke; FOOs reported seeing 22nd and 25th Battalions jumping off but then they disappeared from sight. Both battalions were each followed by two companies of 26th Battalion. It was these companies that were responsible for mopping up the dazed defenders in the numerous cellars and dugouts within the village.

    Based on the formation adopted by 25th Battalion, I have illustrated the approximate width of 4 infantry sections in 22nd Battalion using the semi-transparent blue lines, one of which goes through the village to the furthest northern objective line and the other goes through and then right to the cemetery. In practice there would have been 4 such lines progressing abreast of each other in the first wave, followed by a second wave about 100 yards or more behind. The left hand line in the map above crosses a trench line and then two sets of buildings before reaching the remnants of a wooded area on the northern side of Courcelette in that sector.

    Here is an aerial photograph of Courcelette taken after the map was drawn and around the day of the attack:

    Courcelette aerial photograph

    I have marked up some of the key features related to 22nd Battalion’s attack, as well as the approximate location of RIR 210’s force outside the barrage in 25th Battalion’s sector.

    During the assault, it is reported that 22nd Battalion engaged in about 10 minutes of bayonet fighting within the built-up area but the clearing out the village itself was carried out by 26th Battalion. 22nd Battalion’s major fights were against the multiple counter-attacks throughout the night and early morning of 16 September, which were carried out by Reserve Infantry Regiment 212 and remnants of RIR 210 and 211.

    Robert

    #150922
    JozisTinMan
    Participant

    WOW!  This is a lot of info and I will take some time to digest it.  I really do appreciate you sharing, I will go through this as soon as I have the opportunity to do it justice.

    My scenario (and the TFL original) are probably better called “inspired by actual events” as they say in the movies.

    At first pass, based on the map with a 4 section width, it looks like the built-up area needs to be much deeper.  I have just set up another scenario on my table, but I will do a redo of this one at some point, and see if I can get a better approximation of the terrain.  I may need to 3d print some more buildings


    @Robert
    , what are your opinions on gaming tactical level WW1?  I am right now focused on petite tactics at the platoon-ish level, but I know there are actions better recreated at a higher level of command, say Company or Battalion.  Do you have any thoughts on rules that take things up a level or two?  The rules landscape right now seems to skip that middle levels and jumps right up to making you a Division to Corps commander (ie Great War Spearhead or Square Bashing)

    http://jozistinman.blogspot.com/

    #150932
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    I totally understand your point about ‘inspired by actual events’, JozisTinMan. Here is an attempt to represent what an historical scale table might look like for the advance of a platoon. This example is based on the presumed path of the left flank platoon of 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion during the final assault on Courcelette:

    Platoon advance on Courcelette

    The church and other buildings can be presumed to have cellars and dugouts. Bear in mind that 26th Canadian Infantry Battalion was responsible for mopping these up, so 22nd Battalion likely only engaged those few German defenders who tried to emerge as soon as the creeping barrage passed over. The men of 22nd Battalion followed close behind the barrage once they reached it, suffering a few casualties as a result according to one secondary source.

    I will comment on your question about company- or battalion-level actions separately.

    Robert

    #150957
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    In relation to company- and battalion-size actions, there is a major problem that needs to be taken into consideration. WW1 saw wider dispersion of troops compared with Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian War battles for example but still significantly more compressed than WW2, by an order of magnitude. Here is a map illustrating the point, with overlapping battles from the three eras that involved roughly the same number of combatants in each case:

    Comparison of frontages

    The ‘table-top’ example above illustrates the point. The platoon advanced on a very narrow front and over a long distance. I included the approximate location of the German force just south of Courcelette because the single MG in this vicinity could have easily wiped out the 22nd Battalion platoon anywhere en route from the jump-off point to the line of the standing barrage. Based on the table scale, the MG model would have been more than 5 table widths away. Furthermore, if the platoon was the only unit to attack then every German defensive unit within a huge radius would bring converging fire to bear.

    The same type of problem impacts on company- and battalion-size games too. The success of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette is that it took place over a frontage of 5.6 km and involved multiple divisions. Some of the narrow frontage battles in 1915 illustrated how the Germans could defeat such attacks with heavy concentrations of artillery firing from three sides – the front and both flanks. Wider frontage battles meant that the German defensive capabilities were diluted, driven by the need to cover the entire width of the attack. Only the outer flanks could be defended with converging fire but only from the front and one side, compared with the three sides mentioned above. Special considerations were needed to manage these flanks from an attacking perspective. These considerations fell to the Canadian Corps on the left flank, specifically to 2nd Canadian Infantry Division as Courcelette lay on the outer limits of the whole British attack scheme.

    The Canadian plans for the attacks on Courcelette and Martinpuich benefitted from lessons learned after 1st July 1916. This was the fateful first day of the Battle of the Somme, which was the largest frontage attack ever attempted by the British Army to that point in the war. Two of the British Corps involved on 1 July (XIII and XV) made significant progress on that day. They captured Montauban and Mametz, as well as forced the Germans to abandon Fricourt that night. It is interesting to note, however, that these successes were marred by high casualty rates in some battalions. In some cases, whole companies were virtually wiped within minutes by MGs firing in enfilade from distances of 1000 m plus. These were well off-table from a company- or even a battalion-size game perspective.

    My interest is in higher level games predominantly. The challenges posed by the much more compressed nature of the battlefield are better addressed at division, corps or even army levels IMHO. It is definitely the case that WW2 rules cannot be adapted as a ‘lift and shift’ process for WW1. I have seen examples where WW1 variants of WW2 rule sets have grossly over-estimated the frontages. For example, one Mons scenario had a British infantry battalion defending ten times the frontage of its historical counter-part.

    I will post some more thoughts and experiences soon.

    Robert

    #150989
    JozisTinMan
    Participant

    Thank you Robert!  I know that TFL’s address some of this in their small scale scenarios with off table machine guns, and I think our miniature rules tend to miss the multitude of historical examples (throughout the 20th century) where a single, well-sighted machine gun can hold up an entire advance.

    My other current interest is the Korean War, and reading about some of the 1950-51 battles, the advance of an entire division might be made over only a few roads, so a regiment might be held up because the lead company is fighting a company-sized action and is pinned down by a few well-sited guns.

    The idea of a multiple division attack on a 5.6 km frontage boggles my mind.  My personal experience is from the late cold war, where a Soviet MRD might attack on a 4km frontage, and I rarely see that density in battle reports. taking that up an order of magnitude amazes me.  I find the sheer scale of the Great War staggering.

    I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

    http://jozistinman.blogspot.com/

    #151019
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    It is hard to conceptualise a multi-division attack along a several kilometres front. Here is an example, which illustrates about half of the total length of the Somme battlefield on 1 July 1916:

    Somme battlefield (north)

    To give some idea of the scale, you can probably just make out some of the brown colour stands in the bottom right of the photo. Each stand is an infantry company. If you mentally zoom in to that level and then think how each stand would represent 4 platoons and each platoon represents 4 squads then it puts the whole squad-level skirmish game into a different perspective, at least so far as WW1 is concerned.

    Robert

    #151020
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    The terrain appears flat in the ‘aerial’ photograph above but it was possible to reproduce the rolling terrain features of the entire battlefield. This is the area around Thièpval:

    View of Thièpval

    And a wider angle view along the Ancre river valley, with Thièpval on the right:

    Ancre valley

    Robert

    #151021
    MartinR
    Participant

    “The idea of a multiple division attack on a 5.6 km frontage boggles my mind. ”

    WW2 battles could also be quite dense. Goodwood is perhaps an extreme example but the armoured division frontages were only 1000m, similarly at Kursk, some of the frontages allocated to entire Panzer Corps were only a few km.

    In WW1 an assault frontage of 1 to 2km or less per division was common, and textbook defensive frontage of 3km was regarded as ideal. Pretty much the same as a NATO battalion in the 1980s…

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #151041
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    Here is a German photograph of Courcelette village prior to the September attack. The caption says 1916 but probably before June 1916. The village was hammered heavily before 15 September:

    Courcelette village

    Robert

    #151067
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    I have been going through the German regimental histories again (Reserve-Infantry-Regiments 210, 211 and 212, as well as Reserve Fieldartillery Regiment 45) to piece together as many details about the defence of Courcelette from a German perspective. The histories are very good but, not surprisingly, the information is not complete. RIR 210 was responsible for the Courcelette sector. It had two battalions forward, I. and II. The third battalion was in reserve, at least 2-3 km from Courcelette.

    From what I can deduce (I. and II. Battalions took very heavy casualties), II. Battalion was defending Kollmann- and Hammer Switch trenches. Hammer Switch lay in the direct path of the left half of 2nd Canadian Division’s attack in the morning, as did the eastern end of Kollmann Switch. 6th, 7th, and 8th Companies all took heavy casualties in the morning. They amalgamated together eventually, maintaining the defense against the outer flank of 2nd Canadian Division. 5./210 RIR was defending the sugar factory. It appears to have been destroyed completely by the attack there.

    I. Battalion appears to have been responsible for the defence of Courcelette. The regimental history shows the battalion headquarters in the village itself. 2nd Company, two platoons of 3rd Company, and ‘part’ of 4th Company (not more than 2 platoons) were assigned to hold Sachsenriegel (see the map above). There is no mention of 1st Company, which was most likely destroyed trying to hold Bayernreigel. The defenders of Sachensriegel took heavy casualties before the combined Canadian assault on Courcelette itself. The defenders lost contact with neighbouring 212 RIR, due to the enfilade fire by the Canadians along Bayernreigel. The losses were so great that, just before the assaults by 22nd and 25th Canadian Battalions went in, the commander of I. Battalion ordered forward all orderlies, ration carriers, and construction company personnel to dig in along the southern edge of Courcelette. They were joined by the two remaining platoons of 4th Company. All communications were lost and the next thing that the Regiment HQ learned was that Courcelette was captured. There are no details of the fighting within the village, almost certainly because all of the German defenders were either killed or captured (22nd Canadian Battalion was credited with capturing 200 prisoners for example). There is reference to a stout defence on the northern edge of Courcelette by orderlies, etc, preventing the Canadians from going beyond Courcelette. This is nonsense because the edge of Courcelette was the objective limit of the Canadian advance.

    The MG Company of 210 RIR suffered heavily. Almost all MGs were knocked out. There is mention of one MG that operated near the village, perhaps the one that fired on 25th Canadian Battalion. The MG cooling jacket was perforated multiple times and two of the gunners then managed to escape. They managed to join II. Battalion, which suggests they might have been further to the southeast and therefore a different team.

    Based on these details, I think it is possible to estimate the strength of the German force defending against 22nd Canadian Battalion. It will then be possible to work out what was facing our single platoon in the example above.

    Robert

    #151112
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    Here is the map from RIR 210 history. Kollmann- and Hammer Switch (“Riegel”) trenches are marked on this map. The battalion HQ is ‘Batl. Gef. St.’, which was in 25th Canadian Infantry Battalion’s sector. ‘R.Pi.P’ (top right) is the dump of supplies for the pioneers, located in the quarry. ‘Zuckerfabrik’ is the sugar factory:

    RIR 210 map

    Robert

    #151233
    Robert Dunlop
    Participant

    Returning to the question about company- or battalion-level actions, my preference is to use Crossfire (see website here). Although it was designed as a WW2 game, there is no need for rulers or measuring anything. This makes the ground-scale totally flexible, so Crossfire does not get caught in the trap of assigning WW2 frontage distances to equivalent strength WW1 units.

    Crossfire is dependent on terrain-dense battlefields. Line of sight and targeting of enemy units can occur along the whole length of a wargames table if there is no intervening terrain feature that provides concealment. In practice, the potential for this feature fits with trying to play games that mimic the very long open lines of sight in battles like the Somme (on 1 July 1916 for example, units of XV Corps near Fricourt were taken in enfilade by MGs firing from Fricourt on one side and La Boisselle on the other flank over distances of more than 1,000 yards). Games that are based on these types of battles are either not very satisfying or not very realistic when the line of sight issue is abstracted out of the game to make it workable.

    At one level, it doesn’t matter if a rule set abstracts out some of these things. If the game is fun then the main goal is achieved. What follows, therefore, is a personal view only. Many weapons systems in WW1 had very long lethal zones, stretching well beyond a conventional wargames tabletop for a company- or battalion-size game. A company would occupy a frontage of around 125 yds for example, which sets the approximate width of a table for WW1. Rifles, machine guns and artillery could reach out well beyond this sort of distance. The challenge is to find scenarios that legitimately obstruct line of sight by providing plenty of concealment and/or cover.

    Here is a first example. It is a fictional encounter, though based on the engagement battles that took place in the final stages of the Race to the Sea in late 1914. The battlefield is based on the terrain that existed near Ypres prior to the war, with farms and fields associated with hedgerows that have been cleared post-war. The table features a small village with four sets of farm buildings (apologies for the French spellings, which use the wrong gender for the colour adjectives). The buildings were supplied by Crescent Root:

    Action near Gheluvelt

    Another view of the battlefield:

    Battlefield from the north

    In this view, the British advance guard (a mix of infantry supported by a squadron of dismounted cavalry, an MG, and an 18 pounder field gun) is advancing in the foreground:

    British advance guard

    Here is the squadron of German dismounted dragoons advancing to contact near White Farm. The German force also included a company of infantry supported by an MG and by a field gun:

    German dragoons

    And a photograph of the see-saw action that took place near White Farm as the encounter battle unfolded:

    Fighting near White Farm

    Battles of this nature took place throughout the first 3 months of the war on the Western Front, during the German retreat to the Hindenberg Line in early 1917, and during the last months of the war for example. There are ways to utilise the mechanics of Crossfire for other types of battles during the more static ‘trench warfare’ periods.

    Robert

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