The Battle for Brettevillette ~ An AAR
After Action Report for JTS’s Panzer Battles: Normandy ~
Boggit, 30 January 2016
John Tiller Software has released yet another Panzer Battles game – the first being Kursk: The Southern Front last year. From my perspective I find it a fascinating period, and the game not only looks extremely pretty, but has the usual wealth of historical research and elegant gameplay that players can expect as standard from John Tiller Software. The computer opponent is certainly much better than I’ve seen in some older John Tiller titles, and it is a very rewarding game for a single player. That said I suspect – as with other John Tiller titles – that the optimal opponent is another human. Play by email is fully supported, and from experience I will add that it’s an easy system to use multiplayer.
The Normandy campaign can in some ways get understated given the scale of what was happening at the time on the Eastern Front with Operation Bagration, but don’t lose sight of the fact that during this campaign more German troops became casualties, or surrendered than at the better known Battle of Stalingrad. The Normandy campaign led to the near total collapse of German forces on the Western front for nearly a month, during which France and much of Belgium were liberated. To give you a flavour of what is being offered, here are some screenshots and an AAR from the Brettevillette scenario, a historical action set during 28th June 1944 (mid-way through the Normandy campaign). Enjoy.
Here is the starting situation for the British (played by me). I overlook a valley and have the benefit of a squadron of Shermans, an infantry battalion, some AT and artillery assets. I expect to be facing a mixed force of Panthers and infantry. I need 200 victory points to win a major victory, and the Germans already hold 100 points in the form of the village of Brettevillette. I’ll recce and then garrison the village as I am led to believe it is unoccupied. To give me the best chance of netting another100 victory points in this encounter battle I need to get things going in my favour, so I’ll try to set up an ambush, a robust defence, then a counterattack if possible.
I’m expecting the axis of the German attack from the southwest part of the map. My Stuarts prove that the village is clear, but they need to get out of sight. They are useful as support against infantry, but are just target practice for the Panthers! I garrison Tessel with infantry and four 17pdrs to secure my flank (17pdrs are pretty good AT guns being roughly comparable against tanks as the German 88mm). I also move to garrison Brettevillette where I’ll put half my infantry. My tank destroyers and four 17pdr AT guns go to the ridge in the centre to deploy on the crests overlooking the valley. All their destination hexes will benefit them with a wall or hedgerow to hide behind, and the tank destroyers will even benefit from hiding in orchards! I send the balance of the Shermans down south with another four 17Pdrs where they can engage any Germans at relatively short range, which will give them a better chance against the Panthers. In my rush to get into position, I’ve taken a risk by putting a lot of units into travel mode. I just hope I don’t get caught in transit…
At the end of turn one things have gone more or less as expected. I was hoping to be further into position before contact, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt. I need to adjust my defence in the centre with more infantry as while my Achilles and M10 3”GMC tank destroyers can deal death to the Panthers, they are vulnerable to infantry in close – and the Germans are sending infantry my way. On the plus side most of the Panther platoons seem to be in travel mode, so it’s time to get my AT fire under way, and try to pin his infantry with artillery.
My off map, and on-map artillery cause a wave of carnage, and I manage to re-inforce Brettevillette to a full company of infantry losing just one man in the transit. Elsewhere two Panthers on the ridge are burning. In the south a platoon of Shermans are disrupted by fire from the Panthers behind the hedgerow.
All hell lets loose – relatively few dead, but lots of fatigue hits, which act as a type of suppression grinding the effectiveness of units down. I realise I’ve left my Stuarts in travel mode, and when a Panther platoon fires at it they are lucky to escape. The Germans move closer and I’m hoping to gain advantage from my better positions now they are in my kill zones.
At the end of my turn Jerry’s lead units in the north and centre have disrupted (disrupted units are outlined in yellow), which will hamper his attack. The AT ambush has paid off with five vehicles in flames. I haven’t lost any vehicles yet, but that is probably luck so far.
I don’t have long to wait. The German artillery barrage puts paid to a Sherman, as well as a number of troops. There is a massive firefight and the Germans lose 3 more vehicles, as well as infantry. They take another disrupt, as do I. Disrupts make a unit very vulnerable to assault, so it is a serious thing. My problem is it’s the company defending Brettevillette, which is worth 100VPs!
Desperate times! I pull back the Brettevillette garrison, and bring up an understrength company. My Tessel garrison AT and infantry are both disrupted, so I bring up my reserve – the pioneer platoon – and fire back at the Germans. It is a mistake as I cause one casualty, but get several more myself from triggered opportunity fire. In the meantime, I have finished off one of the Panther platoons from AT fire, but took a hit on one of my M10’s. A pretty intense turn!
The Germans are now in position to assault Brettevillette, although many of their front line units are disrupted, but not all. Again my Brettevillette garrison is disrupted, so I’ll have to see what if anything I can do to retrieve the situation. Certainly the forming up assault force will be a candidate for artillery fire. It is also clear that my flank at Tessel is not a target, although tell that to the pioneer platoon which have taken almost 40% casualties in coming to the aid of the garrison.
The firefight continues and I lose another Sherman to German 75mm AT fire, while my 17pdrs take down another Panther. At Brettevillette, I fire with the garrison, but the fearsome opportunity fire makes me reconsider a second attempt. In the meantime, I attack German infantry with fire from my Shermans, but again fire from their Panzerfausts and ‘Schrecks is intense, and I pull back. The original garrison at Brettevillette is reinforced with the earlier garrison and I keep my fingers crossed. The downside is that overstacked hexes attract a higher rate of casualties. At least I am uphill of the likely assault group.
At the start of my turn things are still desperate. One German company has moved into the village hex adjacent to Brettevillette and is undisrupted. A successful assault by them could seriously unhinge my chances for victory, despite the fact that I have inflicted significantly more casualties than they have.
My turn sees the AT garrison in Tessel wiped out, although I take comfort in the fact that all the Panthers are wrecked. I reinforce the Brettevillette garrison with the Stuarts – rushing them through a hedgerow and leaving them vulnerable, but the situation’s desperate. To the south of Brettevillette the SS company that had penetrated to the village hex next to Brettevillette are assaulted by 7 tanks of the 4-7 Royal Dragoon Guards, and a platoon of the Tyneside Scottish forcing them out of the village and down the ridge. Will it be enough? It’s my last turn and the pressure has been on for the last three turns in particular. It’s my last turn so it’s time to find out.
I survive although the SS Das Reich kampfgruppe give Brettevillette a final assault, taking 14 casualties to my 7. It has been a tense battle, and despite holding the sole victory hex and having inflicted over twice the infantry losses and six times the vehicle losses all I have achieved is a minor victory! Hopefully someone will tell me where I went wrong…
All in all this was a very enjoyable scenario. It is evenly balanced in terms of troops, but you have to take risks to obtain an advantage. Whoever controls Brettevillette is likely to win providing they are not otherwise annihilated. By holding onto Brettevillette I was able to adopt the luxury of fighting defensively, as attacking Panthers is definitely not recommended unless you have numbers on your side. The firefights that were going on were pretty intense and I’m not so sure that I only deserved a minor victory, but there it is.
The scenario for this AAR is representative of an actual historical battle, which in its way was quite bloody, if not as bloody as experienced in this AAR. I take comfort that my pixel soldiers are not real, but it makes you think about the sacrifices made to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
An account of the battle is provided by the North East War Memorials Project here.