Ross Kearns submitted a battle report for the Allied Dee Sector. All words are Ross’s.
Here’s the Allied battle report for Dee sector. Like a dutiful officer, I wrote it before getting any shut-eye on the night of the operation and filed it to the ops commander. Reminded me of that episode of Band of Brothers where Winters is trying to type up his AAR and figure out how to explain the craziness of what went down.
Setting: Allied Dee [Easy-Fox-Six] Sector, River Mühlbach, early 1945, Operation Crossfire
- The battlefield is on a 6’ x 4’ table (the northern edge is where the Hun’s pink beer sits).
- A river ford takes up the first foot of the western board edge.
- Country roads lead from the centre of the board in two directions: to the east and to the south east. Although the roads peter out as they near the ford, there is a clear line down the centre of the table where the merged road would have continued (this being the route that any traffic using the ford might use).
- The lower slopes of a major hill lie to the north [The hill featured in the sector to the north of ours, and so we wanted to put an impression of it here, with the land starting to rise. Neither player used it during the game, but it was a good reminder of what was happening nearby.]
- A generally rural area with lots of out-of-season fields (beige or brown) leading off the roads. Plenty of woodland (green). A few areas of rough ground (very dark or dotted with lichen).
- Walls, fences and hedges line much of the road and several of the fields.
High command is keen to construct a new bridge over the river, and want the area at Easy-Six surveyed by pioneers. The river is wide there and shallow, with a gravel bed, and it may be possible to cross there immediately (albeit a bit slowly), but even if it isn’t, there are now British engineer teams with bridging equipment only a little to the rear which could advance and create a pontoon bridge very quickly. High Command is keen on this idea, because there are retreating Germans to the west of your map that could be cut off if a large armoured column could get across the Mühlbach by this evening. The bridges in the towns in this area are old stone bridges and not suited to very large armoured columns, and may be in uncertain hands and are in built-up areas which constrict movement.
- Find and eliminate the enemy AA position: 30 minutes
- Eliminate all enemy elements with line-of-sight to the ford: 45 minutes
- Survey the ford: 30 minutes
- Establish defensive positions on the east bank of the Ford:15 minutes
Dee Sunray – Starting Forces
- 1 x Infantry Company (Regular)
- 1 x CC(+1)
- 3 x Platoons: PC(+1); 3 x Rifle Sections (one with PIAT)
- 1 x Pioneer Company (Green) in trucks
- 1 x Platoon: PC(+1); 2 x Rifle Sections
- 1 x Platoon: PC(+2); 2 x Rifle Sections
- 2 x HMG
- 1 x FO for an off-board medium mortar (8 Fire Missions HE, 4 Smoke)
The German player has forces unknown, which may deploy hidden anywhere in the western 4½ feet of table.
The Allied player may deploy some or all of his forces anywhere in the eastern one foot of table. Forces left off-table can be brought on the eastern edge of the table.
- Writer’s out-of-character notes in this AAR are in italics.
- This AAR is purely from the Allied perspective of Dee Sunray.
- For clarity, I have broken the battle up into four distinct phases and provided a troop movement diagram at the end of each phase as a re-cap of what has just happened.
- All models used were Airfix. Allied infantry wear green, pioneers wear brown* and reinforcements wear tan. Just like in the movies, all Germans wear grey**.
* okay, the boat and crew pictured are green. I didn’t have any brown ones. Lloyd pointed out I could have got commandos in canoes. Airfix always have the answer if you look hard enough.
** the pioneers’ trucks are also grey. Hey, I was just pleased to get to use my trucks! Lloyd gave me a few days’ notice to build them, for which, reading others’ reports, I was very grateful.
Dee Sunray – After Action Report
[communication times are exact, all other times are approximate]
Phase 1 – ‘The Initial Advance’
12:05 First Company arrive from the east [the side furthest from the river]: First and Third Platoon to the south of the road, Second Platoon to the north. Pioneers remain [off-table] in reserve.
12:10 Sticking to the cover of the trees, First Company move west, parallel to the road, hunting for the AAG, covering the first quarter of the distance to the ford without encountering resistance. As they take each feature, they try to keep their line relatively straight across the battlefield.
12:15 First contact – having held fire while the rest of First Platoon moved up to within striking distance of the SE road, an HMG ahead of them (on the road itself) tries to take out the PC, but fails to hit.
12:18 Fired up for the mission and figuring that if the enemy HMG behind the wall were accompanied, far more of them would have reactively fired, the PC of First Platoon orders a close assault. Success would mean taking a strategic road section and denying the Germans a valuable asset. It proves to be flawed logic and a costly mistake. A whole German platoon lies in wait. First Platoon is pinned in the open.
12:25 The Germans take advantage and pour fire on First Platoon, who start taking casualties.
12:30 Weather: drizzle.
12:31 Third Platoon move up to support First Platoon, trying to cut through further up the SE road and flank the German platoon. They are met by heavy fire from the triangular field at the intersection of the two roads and are unable to take their intended supporting position. However, on the far side of the SE road, they spot their primary mission objective: the dug-in AAG position.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. AAG spotted. 2 platoons spotted at corner of 2 roads. Minimal casualties so far. 1 Allied platoon pinned in open. Out.
12:36 HE fire from the mortar proves ineffectual and there is nowhere to put down smoke to allow First Platoon to retreat to safety. Those that can, ground hug in the open.
12:40 To the north, Second Platoon continues its advance as far as the woods by the zigzag fence, keeping well north of the east road. They spot another German platoon lying in wait, who were set up to defend against a more central line of approach. Their defensive wall is useless from this angle, while the allies can attack from the cover of the trees. The Germans take their first casualties.
Unable to eliminate AAG within 30 min time limit. Proceeding regardless. Enemy taking casualties. Position looking okay.
[Not sure it did look okay, actually.]
12:50 Second Platoon, with their attached HMG, are able to bring down the full force of their fire against the German platoon near the zigzag fence, before rushing them in close assault. They take the German PC captive, in hope that information can be gleaned from his interrogation. [This was not a mission objective, but there was talk about prisoners before the mission and it seemed like a good idea…]
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Enemy PC captured for questioning. Over.
13:00 The last surviving German squad near the zigzag fence makes it to the other side of the hedge and onto the east road. Realising that they need to bring their numbers to bear and the east road seems safe, the first truck is called up and a 2-section platoon of pioneers disembarks. The German squad has no cover from them and whilst trying to fire upon them, it is close assaulted by Second Platoon and killed.
Phase 1 re-cap – ‘The Initial Advance’
Phase 2: ‘Surveying the Ford’
13:02 Weather: rain with heavy cloud.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. 1 platoon of 3 enemy killed. Enemy still has HMG and 2 rifle squads in LOS of ford. Objective deadline now passed. Moving up on ford. Out.
[This message wasn’t as clear as it could have been. In my defence, I was thrilled to have achieved something after First Platoon’s disastrous first contact and eager to report it. As we’re about to see, I also had my objective time and total mission time mixed up, and the deadline hadn’t in fact passed at all!]
13:10 The first stand-off is reached: the German platoon at the intersection could potentially be caught in the open, but only if Second Platoon can move up to the wall overlooking the intersection, which they cannot. The whole platoon is pinned in the attempt.
13:14 The second truck arrives. The FO, who had been sticking with First Platoon, retreats back almost to the start line and, spotting past the trucks, calls down smoke on the intersection.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Time confusion. Not reached deadline for clearing LOS to ford yet. 25 mins left until it. Out.
13:20 The smoke allows Second Platoon to move up to the wall overlooking the intersection. As soon as it clears, the whole German platoon, CC and HMG will be sitting ducks. Unfortunately, the Germans use the same smoke as cover to retreat behind a wall of their own. The stalemate is re-established in a new position.
13:25 Unable to see any safe route through for the pioneers to the ford, the Allies desperately try to break the enemy, but without luck. The last of First Platoon is destroyed and most of Third Platoon, the PC and the last section falling back to safety. The situation looks unbearably grim.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Tide is turning against us. Have lost numerical superiority. Pioneers cannot get through to ford yet. Air support? Reinforcements? New orders? Over.
13:35 The Allied FO moves up behind Third platoon to call in HE, but it’s not enough to stop the Germans, who, with control of the south of the battle zone, are able to get their entire force lined up behind the long wall alongside the SE road. [It took me a while to realise, but this was a huge tactical error for the Germans, on which I would later try to capitalise.] They have the AAG completely protected and no route to the ford is safe. [This was less good…]
OFFA to DEE SUNRAY. Maintain contact with enemy, but pull HQ back to start-line. Advise when they have arrived. Out.
[This really confused me. Clearly my C-in-C had decided this was a lost cause and wanted to claw back some troops from this battle to reinforce elsewhere. What did he mean by ‘HQ’ though? Surely not just the CC – what use would that be? Maybe he meant the trucks, which was where the pioneers had to report back to. Best find out quickly…]
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Please confirm – pull back trucks & pioneers (all intact), or pull back CC, or pull back all? Over.
13:53 Weather: torrential downpour. (Visibility severely reduced).
13:54 [Suddenly, there was an opportunity! With the visibility severely reduced, if the pioneers stuck to the north, they now had a clear route all the way through to the ford. Only problem was that my C-in-C had ordered a retreat. What to do…?]
OFFA to DEE SUNRAY. If you can get your HQ back to the start line, without leaving a big hole for the enemy, then just those.
[Argh! Still no explanation of what he meant by HQ!]
Need confirmation as to what you mean by HQ. Remaining: CC, FO (1/2 ammo), 2 trucks with undamaged pioneer platoons, rifle platoon (2 squads left), rifle platoon (1 squad left). Enemy has 2 full strength platoons, 2 HMG & FO. Can get the pioneers to river in low vis. Will attempt unless you say otherwise.
[I strongly suspected I wouldn’t get a reply to this (which turned out to be the case) and without clear orders on the retreat, I was going to go for it while the rain fell.]
14:00 The pioneers leave the trucks on the east road and head across country in the north, through the driving rain. They get all the way to the ford and start setting up their boats, launching two quickly. The enemy focus their fire on Second Platoon.
14:05 The third and fourth boats are constructed and put to water. Two of the divers manage to find out what they need to about the state of the ford.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Pioneers successfully dived and checked out ford. Observed far bank. On their way back to trucks. Out.
[This was the one message I forgot to copy in to the event organiser, so anything the pioneers might have spotted on the far bank sadly came to naught.]
Phase 2 re-cap – ‘Surveying the ford’
Phase 3 – ‘Flanking the German Line’
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Pioneers have completed their mission – radioed back from trucks the state of the ford. [25 mins] Early. Further orders? Limited ability to defend against possible armour. No PIATs left. Over.
14:16 The trucks leave the table, but the pioneers remain to help defend the ford. The remnants of Third Platoon manage to advance again in the south and set up in rough ground on the flank of the long line of defending Germans, dealing immediate casualties. [Note that the beige feature is an out-of-season field, which gives the flanked Germans no cover]). With only one rifle squad, the effort, while valiant, surely cannot last long.
14:23 Weather: the rain eases off. Visibility improves.
14:24 Now back in LOS (thanks to the visibility), the Allied FO is suppressed as soon as he moves; The Allied CC tries to move to rally him, but is suppressed himself. The FO is killed. The rest of the battle will have to be waged without indirect fire.
OFFA to DEE SUNRAY. I have released four sections of infantry (one with PIATs) and an HMG from reserve. They are available at your Fox-6 start line. Spend 30 minutes consolidating your position at the ford.
14:30 The newly arrived reinforcements are able to move up and relieve Third Platoon on the German south flank. With HMG support, they tear into the German line, killing half the rifle squads, two officers and both the HMGs. The Germans finally manage to lay smoke down to allow the CC and a couple of squads to dive into woods, while another retreats to the AAG.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Time has run out. Enemy forces greatly depleted. Some defence of bank, but PIAT well back. Firefight continues.
Phase 3 re-cap – ‘Flanking the German Line’
Phase 4 – ‘The Final Assault’
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Pioneers holding bank. Remaining allies: 8 rifle stands, 4 PC, CC. Remaining Axis: AAG, 3 rifle stands, PC, CC, FO. Caught in deadlock – unlikely to change much soon. He has advantage of platoon coherency. Out.
15:30 The Allied CC is killed. [Turned out it was an Axis mission objective to capture my CC, but I never sent him close enough. At this point, he gave up and shot him instead.] The second pioneer platoon try to relocate to a better position, but blunder into a minefield, losing a section. The first pioneer platoon (who had been assigned to hold the river bank) are called back to the battle. They close assault the AAG from behind.
AAG seized under our control. 19m30 over time.
[N.B. I was referring to the time over my total 2 hours on the chess clock here. I was 1h49m past the time for this objective. Probably should have made this clearer.]
15:40 The first pioneer platoon continues on, successfully close assaulting the squad near the AAG.
Enemy down to 2 rifle squads and CC. Victory may be at hand.
15:55 The first pioneer platoon, buoyed by their successes, charge across the open into a suppressed squad, killing that too. However, they are then left in the open [didn’t think to ground hug] with the remaining CC and squad unsuppressed and in cover. [This was when I realised I’d made a terrible mistake. I should have held the AAG and poured fire on the squads until they were both suppressed or dead – I had the objective, there was no need to risk it to wipe out the stragglers.]
16:00 Cornered, the last German squad manages to kill the valiant pioneers and single-handedly re-take the AAG.
16:05 The Allies have just enough troops to suppress and then close assault the last squad and CC with Second Platoon.
16:08 [The final whistle blows, with the German CC engaged in close combat, but the dice not yet rolled.]
16:10 The German CC [the last Axis unit on the table] is killed by Second Platoon and the AAG re-taken by the allies. Surviving Allies: 5 PCs, 2 rifle sections.
Phase 4 re-cap – ‘The Final assault’
Thoughts on the battle
As the Allied player, I made a massive error of judgement in leading First Platoon in an assault on the no-fire German HMG after first contact. Trying to redeem the situation, I threw in Third Platoon, which just made a bad situation worse. It might seem that this was a rush to the head, like starting a marathon by sprinting off the line, and there was definitely an element of that, but my mistake came much earlier – in the meta game.
The day before the battle, I’d looked at the forces I would have, the objectives ahead and the guidance of my C in C. It all seemed to be set up for the Axis player to get an armoured counter-attack over the ford later in the game. From a game designer’s point of view, the only way I could see it being balanced was if I had numerical superiority early on for my assault. My C-in-C reinforced this by guiding not to over-commit and to keep forces in reserve ready for the counter attack. All this led me to underestimating the enemy’s number and pushing hard and fast from the start, thinking time my greatest enemy.
There were two key turning points later in the battle: first, the torrential rain which suddenly turned a seemingly hopeless task of getting the pioneers to the water into an eminently achievable one if I acted fast. Second – the arrival of reinforcements, which allowed me to take advantage of a perfect flanking position that was about to be lost. It was the latter that won me the battle in the end. Although, arguably, my opponent had the greater success by keeping control of the AAG until half an hour before the end. More on that later.
Thoughts on Operation Crossfire
The map and the battle plan were brilliantly conceived and I was thrilled to be taking part. We had a very strong sense throughout the entire battle that we were taking part in a much bigger operation and this added enormously to the pressure and tension. There was great satisfaction in reporting successes back to the C-in-C, and a huge disappointment when objectives were failed.
There was less communication back from our C-in-Cs than we had probably anticipated, but on reflection, fourteen battles was a lot to keep track of and we knew that there were four others with game-changing bridges on them and so ours was never going to be one of the most important. The interaction I did have under the circumstances was fascinating – the confusion of the meaning of my retreat order was frustrating, but added to the experience rather than detracted from it. I was put in the position of a lower ranking officer having to make decisions in changing circumstances which would put him in direct contravention of the orders he had already received and having to second guess what his C-in-C would do if he knew all.
I really enjoyed the hurried writing of e-mails whilst the clock was running, which felt very realistic. I did a little prep for this, learning a few radio communication protocols beforehand and setting up a shortcut in my mail program so only a couple of key presses were needed to insert ‘OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY.’ Which reminds me – many thanks to Steve for the unenviable task of being our Allied C-in-C.
Interactions between our table and others were not obvious to me at the time, and I feel foolish for not realising that the AAG was probably firing throughout. It was never mentioned in the briefings (I suppose it wasn’t firing then!), but having hunted for it as a hidden installation, and with no audio cue, it didn’t occur to me that it was firing already. It would have been good to know if there were planes flying overhead, especially if they were being shot down. I couldn’t have captured the AAG anything like within the 30 minute objective time, but if I’d realised that it was shooting down our aircraft or bombarding other tables, I would have prioritised it, despite the deadline passing and probably could have taken it a good half hour earlier than I did.
Getting the morale boost for a successful objective (I got to upgrade two platoons by one morale level) and later exhaustion effects (enemy could force re-rolls on 3 of my successful rally tests) were really good. For the former particularly, it would have been good to get that as soon as the objective was achieved (though it was still cool). Not sure how that would be achieved remotely besides a sealed envelope or an umpire. Things like delays in communications with the C-in-C were more justifiable in game terms and felt right. The reinforcements, when they did arrive, were so welcome and though I had earlier asked for them, unexpected. I don’t know whether they came from another table or from reserves held back since the start.
I would love to know whether the ford was viable, and if so, why neither side used it, especially as my pioneers had scouted it well in advance of the objective. What did they see on the far bank? Again, without an umpire or a sealed envelope, hard to give me that info in a timely fashion. I would also like to know what my C-in-C really meant by ‘Pull back HQ’. I found out after the battle that my opponent had an objective of capturing my CC, but I don’t see that my C-in-C would have known that. Interesting question though – if he did know, should the C-in-C have explained his reasons for ordering his withdrawal? If he had, I might have been more inclined to follow the order (it certainly would have helped understand it). I don’t suppose explanations often feature in military orders in battle though. It probably takes a different sort than me to just blindly follow them.
I’d fallen out of love with wargaming of late and this event didn’t just remind me what can be so great about it, it really inspired me with the scale and grandeur of what can be done with it – far beyond any ambitions I might have had myself. Lloyd was dead right to stick with this plan when others were trying to persuade him to go for a repeat of WCFD 2009, even though it meant having to put it back a bit until he got the numbers. I think I’ve read all there is to read online about WCFD and as amazing as it sounded, I really felt that this event surpassed it in every way (save, understandably, for the number of battles and countries represented). Lloyd – you have my genuine and heartfelt thanks for a brilliant and inspiring event.
OFFA, this is DEE SUNRAY. Out.