Assault of the Pontville Bridge – A Crossfire Battle Report

Anders Christian Böss sent through an after action report for his Crossfire game “Assault of the Pontville Bridge”. All words and photos by Anders.


Pontville-sur-Mere

Pontville-sur-Mere, a quiet Norman hamlet, just a few miles inland from the Channel coast. An idyllic spot, surrounded by little fields and hedgerows, and a narrow stretch of water, crossed by a single bridge. In the big picture, not a very significant place, until the axis occupying forces decided to flood the lowlands, and turning every bridge and causeway into a bottleneck for anybody trying to leave or reach the coast.

Pontville-sur-Mere

Pontville-sur-Mere


June 6th, 1944

At 0045 hours, the first allied planes are entering axis occupied territory, dropping paratroopers at a number of locations in Normandy. In Pontville, the tension rises, as the garrison receives numerous reports of allied airlandings in the surrounding area. Is this the invasion everyone has been talking endlessly about? Is it a diversion before the big attack on Calais, or just minor raids?

Flak

Flak

Flak

Flak

At 0500 hours, a group of enemy aircraft make an overpass at low altitude, surprising the Flak-batteries, that only get to fire at the stars. Parachutes are seen descending south of Pontville. The garrison of two platoons is alerted, and they take up position in the houses by the brook.

At the same time, the sounds of huge explosions reach Pontville from the north. In the next hour, the volume increases, and the individual booms, turn into a constant thundering.

Then, at 0620, 5 enemy bombers attack Pontville. This time, however, the gun crews are ready, and manage to break up the bomber formation, so none of the bombs reach their intended target, the bridge. Instead three houses are destroyed, with several civilian casualties as the result.

Allied bombers target Pontville Bridge

Allied bombers target Pontville Bridge

Now reports are coming in about enemy landings on the beach. At first, it seems like a fruitless attempt, but enemy troops keep pouring in from the sea. Inland, there are now reports of several large scale attacks by paratroopers on positions guarding the routes to the sea. Then, at 0745, the first enemy breakthrough is made at Colleville-sur-Mere, but the OKW still believes this is just a diversion, and have not released the 21st Panzerdivision, stationed further inland.
The enemy advance continues. During the next hours, contact is lost with several positions to the north. The company commander therefore gives orders to block the road into the town with hedgehogs and barbed wire, and deploys the reserve platoon on both sides of the road.

Road blocked with hedgehogs and barbed wire

Road blocked with hedgehogs and barbed wire

The garrison in Pontville is now in the uncomfortable situation of knowing that an attack is imminent, but not knowing from which direction, or with which kind of troops. Reinforcements are summoned, but it will take hours before they can arrive, with the sky filled with allied fighter bombers.

The dice decided, that the allied first attack would be made by the paratroopers, who landed earlier.

Landscape prepared for a defence in depth

Landscape prepared for a defence in depth

The American paratroopers approach Pontville from the south, in a landscape already prepared for a defence in depth. However, the paratroopers, leapfrogging from one hedgerow to the next, only find empty trenches, and reach the south bank of the stream unopposed.

American paratroopers approach Pontville

American paratroopers approach Pontville

The initial plan is to sweep around the town to the west under the cover of smoke, and capture the 88mm anti-aircraft gun, which would open a route into the town for the armor approaching from the north.

This plan is immediately thwarted, when the first squad of paratroopers attempting to cross the tiny footbridge, come under mg-fire from a half-way destroyed two-story building in the center of the town.

Paratroopers attempt to cross the tiny footbridge

Paratroopers attempt to cross the tiny footbridge

German MG fires from a half-destroyed building

German MG fires from a half-destroyed building

The axis commander quickly responds, by sending a squad to block the western flank.

German squad blocks western flank

German squad blocks western flank

Any hope of a quick victory is lost. From here on, there is only hard street fighting.

A flanking attack through the courtyard is met by fire from the main building, which pins the airborne assault squad pinned behind the stonewall surrounding the vegetable garden. The 88mm then swings around, and starts firing through the courtyard, but hitting nothing but the barn door.

An artillery observer calls in four fire missions from the ships in the channel, to destroy the Germans on the extreme western flank, but their shells only tear up the surrounding farmland.

The airborne troops then make a dash across the stream, on the eastern side of the bridge, and occupy the little orchard (the orchard has turned out to be a centre piece of every battle yet fought, though it is extremely unfit for gaming). They are just about to assault the half-way destroyed house, when a German soldier, clumsily pops his head out of the window on the bottom floor, revealing, that the house is better defended than expected. Instead the squad in the orchard opens fire with their browning and bazooka, and manage to eliminate the shooters on the top floor, covering the road from the bridge.

Paratroopers deploy across the road under the cover of smoke

Paratroopers deploy across the road under the cover of smoke

Under the cover of smoke, the paratroopers deploy across the road, in preparation for an assault on the town square. The houses in the square, are out of reach of the flame throwers, but a few bazooka rounds decimate the fortified troops. The garrison commander calls the troops stationed by the road leading north to his aid, but they become suppressed as they attempt to cross the town square.

Just as it seems, that the battle will now turn in favour of the Americans, a rumbling noise from the south reveals, that parts of the 21st Panzer Division has finally arrived. Two platoons of German elite troops, supported by 2 PzIVs, a Panther and 3 SPGs approach from the south-eastern road. They quickly run over the American mortar positions, which had effectively covered the advance so far.

21st Panzer Division has finally arrived

21st Panzer Division has finally arrived

The troops in the column, have not expected to meet enemy troops south of Pontville, though, and stop to deploy an infantry screen when they meet a squad of riflemen in the middle of the road! The paratroopers fire at the Germans, leaving their transport, and manage to suppress one stand.

The paratroopers in the town are quite aware of the fact, that they are lying in the middle of the road, caught between the garrisoned houses surrounding the town square, and the Panzer approaching from the south. They desperately fire everything at the houses, even their few precious bazooka rounds, just to get out of the way of the tanks. Meanwhile, the German tanks start to fire across the stream, at the troops on the bank, with no cover but their helmets.

German tanks start to fire across the stream

German tanks start to fire across the stream

However, the Germans hesitate to approach the bridge, they seem stunned by the feeble resistance put up by the single rifle squad in the middle of the road. They take great pains deploying smoke cover, and advancing with infantry on the flanks, but they do not engage the rear of the paratroopers.

Germans take great pains deploying smoke cover

Germans take great pains deploying smoke cover

German infantry advancing on the flanks

German infantry advancing on the flanks

Instead they start bombarding the paratroopers in the town with medium mortars, but the shells land among the ruins without causing any harm. HE-shells from mortars and artillery had absolutely no effect on this game.

Finally, the Panzergrenadiers engage the squad defending the south end of the bridge with both a Pz IV and V, but even though they are allowed to crossfire with a halftrack and an infantry squad (special house rule for vehicles attached to infantry as support weapons), they all misfire, and the American paratroopers get to live for another 30 minutes.
The paratrooper’s CC decides, that since he and his men will all soon be killed anyway, they might as well make a final attempt at capturing one of the houses. But the air above his head, is too dense with bullets coming from the German troops across the stream, so he stays pinned. His second in command tries to take over the assault, but he gets suppressed.

The Panzers finally manage to eliminate the squad defending the bridge, but still hesitate to cross the bridge. Instead they try to cross the stream to the east of the bridge, but a halftrack gets stuck in the mud, and the initiative shifts again.

The clock moves another 15 minutes, and at 1745 the American troops who have until now been engaged at Colleville-sur-Mere, arrive from the north. 3 Mustangs swoop down from the sky, attacking the German tank column, but have to break off their attack, when they are met with fire from the Flakvierling.

American troops arrive from the north

American troops arrive from the north

The tanks are in able to attack the 88mm gun from the rear, since it is still trying to destroy the troops in the courtyard, without any luck.

GIs storm and capture the Flakvierling

GIs storm and capture the Flakvierling

To the east of the village, the GIs storm and capture the Flakvierling, still pointed at the sky. With only a single stand being pinned by reactive fire from a nearby building, the PC assembles his men, and head for the rear of the large house, dominating the town square.

The Germans try to spread their Panzers out to form a defensive line along the stream, and only fire at the paratroopers from a distance. They soon lose their turn, and another air strike is attempted. This time a Panzer IV is destroyed.

Allied airstrike destroys Panzer IV

Allied airstrike destroys Panzer IV

To the north, two squad leaders are pinned by reactive fire, but the PC continues the attack on the large house in the town square with a squad of smg-armed troopers, and a few riflemen.

GIs attack rear of large house in the town square

GIs attack rear of large house in the town square

The house is occupied by the German garrison commander (CC) and 2 thirds of a squad with two Panzerfausts. The force is divided inside the building complex. The GIs attack the part of the building occupied by the CC and the squad leader armed with an smg (the attack is made through the rear of the building, while the defenders are engaged in a firefight at the front, therefore no reactive fire). This, however, proves to be a fatal mistake. All the GIs are wiped out.

The house is occupied by the German CC and 2 thirds of a squad

The house is occupied by the German CC and 2 thirds of a squad

The Germans us their initiative to move as many tanks as possible into the trees, where they cannot be seen from above.
On the next American initiative, another attempt is made to clear the large house, but with the same bloody result.

The third attack is made against the small group of riflemen on the bottom floor, which is soundly defeated, and the GIs control one half of the building. A Sherman tank moves in, to assist in the attack on the other half of the building, but is hit by the Panther tank, firing across the bridge, and across the central square.

Panther destroys a Sherman

Panther destroys a Sherman

The German commander then counterattacks from his half, and annihilates the 2 American squads, bringing his kill count up to almost one and a half platoon! He is left to fight for himself, though, as the Panzer commander is too worried about the fighter bombers circling above, to risk coming to his heroic comrade’s aid. Then the bazookas engage the rear of the building, suppressing the squad leader.

German commander counterattacks

German commander counterattacks

Meanwhile on the western flank, the American armor is slowly making its way into the town. The combined fire from a Stuart and a Sherman take care of the PAK38 in the town square, and two other Shermans engage the troops garrisoned in the big farm house. The American tanks are organized into tank platoons of two tanks each, enabling them to move and fire as a group.

Allied armour advances

Allied armour advances

After suppressing the Germans in the farm house, the CC moves in with a squad, and clears out all remaining resistance. The paratroopers in the vegetable garden, can finally take their heads out of the cabbage.

American CC clears out all remaining resistance

American CC clears out all remaining resistance

The CC then takes his squad across the road, to attack the house dominating the central square. The garrison commander makes a bold last stand, but is finally defeated.

A single Stug, moves into position to engage the American armor, but gets blown away by reactive fire from a Sherman tank.

Sherman reactive fire destroys StuG

Sherman reactive fire destroys StuG

As the sun sets, nothing can stop the American troops, though soundly decimated by the courageous garrison commander, from clearing out the rest of Pontville. The victory is not complete, though, as the Americans are too weakened by their losses to engage the Panzers and form a bridgehead across the stream. It is agreed to call the game a tie, one with a great Windsor knot, and both a Knight’s Cross and a silver star pinned to it!

Americans clear the rest of Pontville

Americans clear the rest of Pontville


Some afterthoughts

We played another initiative, off the record, to see what might have happened, if the Panther had charged across the bridge. It just went straight over the pinned paratroopers, without being hit by bazooka fire, and then destroyed a Sherman tank. Had the Germans made a move across the bridge in force, it would have undoubtedly been the end of the paratroopers, and would have been a serious threat to the reinforcement troops, even with their captured German AT weaponry. The German C-in-C admitted to be too unwilling to accept casualties.

The greatest asset of the fighter bombers proved not to be their attack, they only destroyed one tank and a rifle stand, but their ability to hover above the battlefield, threatening to drop bombs on the thin roof armor of tanks, or strafing infantry with machine gun fire.

Artillery and mortar fire was completely useless in this game. In our last game, the heavy artillery was the main cause of death to the Americans. The Germans advanced behind an effective, but slow creeping barrage, which might then have encouraged a slow advance, which, both now and then, cost them the victory.

Both sides had 4 platoons + vehicles to deploy, which, at this scale, corresponds to 4 companies in vanilla Crossfire. This made it quite a long game of 7 hours. As both players were new to the game, and the vehicle rules were brand new, this may have stretched the game for about an hour. The game can probably be scaled down, but it has to end with a large body of reinforcements that come to save the day.

The extensive Axis briefing, was every bit as confusing as intended. The garrison commander had to spread his lines thin, to be prepared for attacks from two directions. With better smoke emplacement and a bit of luck, the paratroopers’ flank attack could have worked, and the battle would have gone differently. The coin toss to decide from which side the Americans would attack, makes it possible to play the game again, because the German command still cannot know, where the first attack will come from.


Game setup

A town situated on the bank of a river. One road bridge crosses the river in the town, and two foot bridges cross the river outside of the town. South of the river, three acces roads are joined in a crossroads. North of the river, outside of the town, there are two AA emplacements.

The German commander has two platoons to deploy. He is given an extensive string of situation reports, coming in from every direction, to give hints about where an attack may come from, and with which kind of troops. He is give two opportunities to deploy his troops and some obstacles.

The American commander tosses a coin, to decide from which direction he will be attacking. Paratroopers from the south and regular infantry from the north. His initial force also consists of two platoons.

To decide when reinforcements will arrive, both players roll 4 d6. The highest and the lowest dice are removed, and the remaining dice are added up, to determine in how many initiatives reinforcements will arrive (number of eyes times 15 minutes). The hour of arrival is written down, and is not shown to the other player until the time when reinforcements arrive. If an umpire is present, the arrival time of each player’s reinforcements may also be a secret!


Special rules

Figure to man ratio

One stand of 2 figures, represents a fire team of 3-4 soldiers. So 3 fire teams make a squad. So figurewise, the scale is really 1:2, but in terms of organization, it works like 1:1, since one mg stand represents one mg, one tank is one tank etc.

Fighter bombers

Fighter bombers may make
– 2 attack runs with bombs on infantry, trucks, halftracks or tanks in the open (not in woods or buildings) with 5d6 and EFF: 2sq. Attacks against halftracks or armoured vehicles have ACC: -1, PEN: +1. Air strikes always target the weakest armor.
– 2 attack runs with .50cal mg.

Flak

Antiaircraft guns may fire once per initiative at one attacking plane. The Flakvierling shoots with 3d6 and the 88mm shoots with 2d6. 1 hit=nothing, 2hits=plane breaks off attack, 3 hits=shoots down plane. The dice may combinedm so the batteries fire with 5 dice at one target.
The Flakvierling may fire once per initiative at ground troops and light vehicles as well. Against infantry it fires with 4d6. Against soft vehicles, it fires 5d6.

Clock

The clock moves 15 minutes on a roll of 3-6.

Vehicles

Extensive rules were made for vehicles, some of these were:

  • Bog down. Vehicles risk getting bogged down in difficult terrain. Tracked vehicles have a lower risk.
  • Vehicle organization. Vehicles can either be organized as individual platoons, or as support weapons. In the support role, they act just like attached support weapons to infantry, so they can crossfire and move (while giving cover) to infantry squads. The number of attached vehicles should be limited to 3 per platoon. We had no such limit, which made the combined platoons too powerful. Vehicles organized into platoons, act very much like an infantry platoon. The American 2-tank platoons were a very flexible force for flanking.
  • Main gun and mgs. Tanks can use all their machine guns to fire, or they can use the hull- and coaxial machine gun, and their main gun once. This way, the tanks were quite powerful, even against buildings, and the risk of losing initiative was reduced. Big platoons of 5 tanks, are an extremely powerful force in the open, but has difficulty manoeuvring in dense bocage or built up areas.
  • Vehicles have a minimum of 3 moves per initiative, depending on their agility. Cars and trucks move faster, tracked vehicles are slower and harder to manoeuver. This makes them vulnerable in street fighting.

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