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GrogHeads Reviews the CMBN Vehicle Pack

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Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy Vehicle Pack, Developed and Published by Battlefront Inc.

A screenshot review by Boggit, 21 November 2014

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to field some of the rarely seen specialist Allied vehicles, or scratch built German armoured groups that fought in Normandy? Well now you can. Drawing heavily upon Hobart’s “Funnies” of 79th Armoured Division and the “Ersatz” units created by Major Alfred Becker – a rather unique engineer – for 21st Panzer Division – Battlefront have introduced a vehicle pack that brings new vehicles and weapons into the mix for their Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy game.

A Churchill AVRE supported by infantry advances in spite of nearby mortar fire. It also carries a breach team for when a 290mm round is just overkill. Reloading the Petard mortar on the AVRE is slow, but historically correct.

A Churchill AVRE supported by infantry advances in spite of nearby mortar fire. It also carries a breach team for when a 290mm round is just overkill. Reloading the Petard mortar on the AVRE is slow, but historically correct.

The vehicle pack requires the installation of the version 3.0 game engine, which is separately available from Battlefront. V3.0 brings Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy up to the same level of development as Combat Mission: Red Thunder, which provides a lot of improvements. You can check out some of these described in my Red Thunder review here .

The drive for specialist vehicles in the British/Commonwealth army stemmed in part from the painful experiences of the Dieppe landing in 1942, where tanks and infantry had struggled hard against fortifications during an amphibious operation. Led by Major-General Percy Hobart – an engineer, and armour specialist, the British formed 79th (Experimental) Armoured Division Royal Engineers. This “Division” would never fight as a discrete unit, but had its sub-units farmed out in much the same way, as with other Royal Engineer formations – on the basis of operational need.

Prior to D-Day, Hobart recommended the specialist tanks to Eisenhower, offering him a third of the inventory. Eisenhower accepted the Duplex-Drive (DD) tanks, but left the decision on the others to Bradley. Bradley didn’t take up many of the vehicles, just a few Sherman Crab mine-clearing tanks, which were mainly used in the St Lo battle. Given the success of the “Funnies” on Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches, one can only speculate on how many lives would have been saved on Omaha beach if the Americans had taken up Hobart’s offer?

Later on, the Americans had wised up to the advantages of the “Funnies”, with elements of 79th Armoured supporting US formations. A classic example being Operation Clipper in 1945, with Sherman Crab’s, AVRE’s, and Churchill Croc’s supporting the 84th Infantry Division around Geilenkirchen. Unfortunately, I know of no way to mix Allied formations in Quick Battles at the present time.

A Churchill Crocodile advances up a road. Note the fuel bowser for the flamethrower. Things could get nasty if that got hit by a shell.

A Churchill Crocodile advances up a road. Note the fuel bowser for the flamethrower. Things could get nasty if that got hit by a shell.

There are no scenarios for the vehicle pack, you are just provided with the vehicles, flamethrower squads, and new bunker types. Formations in the editor and the Quick Battles system have been updated to take them into account. The new units in the vehicle pack are easily accessible for quick battles, but you’ll need to either edit existing scenarios to add them, or download scenarios with them in from Battlefront’s scenario repository as they become available.

Protected by infantry, a Grille, and several Möbelwagen’s, a Hummel battery relocates along a bocage screened road.

Protected by infantry, a Grille, and several Möbelwagen’s, a Hummel battery relocates along a bocage screened road.

The German use of “Ersatz” vehicles was not unknown, but Major Alfred Becker of 21st Panzer Division took things to new heights as a marvel of recycling, and on an industrial scale too, at the Hotchkiss plant near Paris – becoming known as Baukommando Becker. In Tunisia, May 1943, the vaunted 21st Panzer Division of the Afrika Korps had ceased to exist. It was reconstituted as Schnell Brigade West in France during June 1943, but had nothing to start with other than a few troops. Becker transformed it using captured French halftracks and light tanks, which he armoured and upgunned. The Schnell Brigade was expanded and renamed the 21st Panzer Division. Becker was promoted to command Sturmgeschütz Abteilung 200, which was part of 21st Panzer.

Biter bit! A Canadian AT gun team brew up a Flammpanzer Char B-2(f) that was coming for them. Note the very exposed commander sitting on the back of the following Char B turret

Biter bit! A Canadian AT gun team brew up a Flammpanzer Char B-2(f) that was coming for them. Note the very exposed commander sitting on the back of the following Char B turret

By the time D-Day arrived, Becker had produced some 1800 vehicles at Baukommando Becker, and the units of the division were in many cases overstrength due to his conversion efforts. Ironically, in May 1944 the division had its first transfer of “standard tanks” – 17 Mark III’s and 14 Mark IV’s! The 21st Panzer was definitely a division that used its initiative. Ironically, there was little leadership from the top. The Divisional Commander, Edgar Feuchtinger, was completely disinterested in commanding his division, and basically left it to others to make the decisions whilst he stayed as far from the fighting as he could. Fortunately he had excellent subordinate leaders like Alfred Becker, and Hans von Luck to step in.

Crabs lead the way! They’re pretty good against mines, but not so good against top turret hits. On the far left you can see a Stuart Kangaroo Recce vehicle.

Crabs lead the way! They’re pretty good against mines, but not so good against top turret hits. On the far left you can see a Stuart Kangaroo Recce vehicle.

 

So what do you actually get with the pack? Quite a bit really, although I was surprised and disappointed not to see the infamous Bren Carrier MkII Wasp included – surely it was an oversight? Specifically, the following vehicles and weapons have been added:

British Forces

  • Churchill MkX LT
  • Churchill Crocodile
  • Churchlll AVRE
  • Sherman Crab

Commonwealth Forces

  • Priest Kangaroo
  • Stuart Kangaroo
  • Stuart III Recce
  • 6pdr AT Bunker
  • Portable Flamethrower Mk 2
Becker’s foresight pays off as Geschützwagen 39H(f)’s with 75mm guns take cover behind a hedge just before they do battle with an advancing British Sherman Troop.

Becker’s foresight pays off as Geschützwagen 39H(f)’s with 75mm guns take cover behind a hedge just before they do battle with an advancing British Sherman Troop.

American Forces

  • Sherman Crab
  • M12 GMC – The 155mm Long Tom
  • 57mm AT Bunker
  • Flamethrower M1A1
The ‘Rhino’ breaks through the hedge and is followed up by GI’s. A Long Tom and 37mm AA halftrack are in support.

The ‘Rhino’ breaks through the hedge and is followed up by GI’s. A Long Tom and 37mm AA halftrack are in support.

The Croc strikes! Bye, bye bunker!

The Croc strikes! Bye, bye bunker!

German Forces

  • Geschützwagen 39H(f) 75mm
  • Geschützwagen 39H(f) 105mm
  • Grille (early)
  • SPW 251/16 Ausf. D – Flammpanzerwagen (a halftrack flamethrower)
  • SdKfz 135/1 150mm – A Marder I chassis design adapted to use a 150mm howitzer as self-propelled artillery piece.
  • Panzerkampfwagen R-35 731(f) – captured French Renault 35 light tanks, lightly modified by the Germans
  • Flammpanzer Char B-2(f) – captured French Char B-1’s converted to flamethrower tanks.
  • Flakpanzer 38(t)
  • Halftrack U304(f) captured unarmed French U304 halftracks refitted with armour and weapons for 21st Panzer Division
  • Flammenwerfer 41 pack flamethrower
  • AT gun bunkers – German bunkers can now be equipped with the Pak38 50mm, Pak40 75 mm, or Pak36r 76 mm anti-tank guns.
  • Hummel – a 150mm self-propelled howitzer
Flailing around in a minefield! The Crab turns its turret to the rear to avoid flail damage to the gun, as was done historically. The program makes the tank do this automatically when flailing a minefield, which is a nice piece of historical accuracy.

Flailing around in a minefield! The Crab turns its turret to the rear to avoid flail damage to the gun, as was done historically. The program makes the tank do this automatically when flailing a minefield, which is a nice piece of historical accuracy.

21st Panzer Artillery deploys for action. Note the converted Geschützwagen 39H(f)’s with 105mm howitzers, and U304(f) halftracks

21st Panzer Artillery deploys for action. Note the converted Geschützwagen 39H(f)’s with 105mm howitzers, and U304(f) halftracks

All in all the vehicle pack provides some nice additions to the unit mix for Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy. There are two what-if thoughts sparked from the pack. I’d have liked to have seen the Bren Carrier MkII Wasp included, as it was produced in good numbers (over a 1,000 made), and saw a fair bit of action. I’d also have liked to explore the usage of the “Funnies” more with the US forces, by way of an option in the Quick Battles allowing Commonwealth formations to be attached to the US main force. You never know, but I’d like to see those in a future update to the system.

The Grumpy Grog says “Variety is the spice of life, and the vehicle pack brings some exotic choices to the units in Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy.”

A closer shot of the U304(f). It has a similar look to the SPW 250/1, but is still distinctively different.

A closer shot of the U304(f). It has a similar look to the SPW 250/1, but is still distinctively different.


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One Response to GrogHeads Reviews the CMBN Vehicle Pack

  1. d--h.info says:

    Throwing Digital Sheep

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