Friday, March 4, 2011

Audet Takes His Hill: First Game With Platoon Forward

Troops of Le Régiment de la Chaudière move through Beny-sur-Mer on D-Day - more on the Chauds on D-Day here.

The following is an imagined account of a fictitious battle fought using the Platoon Forward campaign generator and the Troops, Weapons and Tactics rules by TFL, written with the greatest respect to the historical units mentioned.

Lt. Denis Audet ran a comb through his brilliantined black hair and then replaced his helmet at what he assumed was a jaunty angle. He glanced at his notes again from the Company O Group and then walked over to where his NCOs sat under a tree in one corner of the shell scarred orchard where D Coy made its home. His two youngest section commanders, Yergeau and Côté, stood up first, followed by Matthieu and then, finally, by the oldest man present, Beaulieu, the platoon warrant. Audet noticed the way Beaulieu leisurely lit a cigarette before standing up, but decided to ignore the gesture.

"Right, boys. D Coy hasn't seen any action since we landed yesterday, but that's going to change. We've got orders to push our sector of the line out eastwards and tie in better with the North Novas. Major Charpentier wants us in these woods on the far side of this hill, anchored by the little orchard here and the farm here. We got a tank from the Fort Garry Horse assigned to us, plus a 2" mortar from Coy and a Vickers HMG from Regiment, so we shouldn't have any trouble handling Jerry."

Côté looked worried. "Sir, I heard that it was tanks that hit A Coy last night. We going up against tanks?"

"No. IntO says it was guys in halftracks from 21st Panzer Division but they're over to our left. We're facing the same lousy infantry we pushed off the beaches yesterday. We saw them in the POW cages as we moved inland, remember? Should be no problem."

Beaulieu looked unimpressed. It wasn't us who cleared the beaches, he thought, it was the Queen's Own, and they paid for it. "We got artillery, sir?"

"Just the 2 inch is all. Regiment wants this attack done by 16:00. No time to tee up artillery. OK, Matthieu, your section moves on this hill, covered by the Vickers. Yergeau, to the right of the hill, covered by smoke from the mortar. I'll give you the tank since the Garrys are Anglo and you can talk to them. Côté, work your way up that little stream and use it to cover your approach to the farm. Beaulieu, you help them coordinate on the right, I'll stay with Matthieus' boys. We go at 14:00 so make sure your boys are ready. I want to show the Major that we're the best in D Company."

As Audet moved off, Beaulieu flicked away his cigarette. "Watch out for Clark Gable, boys. He wants his medal fast. Keep your heads down and look out for your boys."

Audet's force. Infantry are a mix of Revell, Raventhorpe and Valiant. The Sherman is a Corgi diecast. I assume that Canadians are average troops, since they are well trained rookies. Hopefully they'll get better. To reflect the fact that the Canadians are fresh and eager to fight, I gave them the Commonwealth Rally card.

Left side of the table as generated by PF. A swamp on the Canadian left, fields in the centre and a small orchard on the German right. Germans have an A blind behind the hedge visible to the left of the hill, a B blind ieach in the orchard and in the woods in their table centre.

Centre and right side of the table as generated by PF. Hill in table centre, woods beyond it in the German centre, farm on the German left side, small stream on table left. Farm has a German B and C blind, wood has a German B and C blind.

At 14:30 hours, Sgt. Beaulieu watched Yergeau give the signal for his rifle team to follow him towards the wheatfield to his front. The Sherman from the Garrys roared into life reassuringly behind them, while Yergeau's Bren team covered the wheatfield. At the same time, the 2" crew chugged out three smoke bombs to begin covering Yergeau's advance. "Too far in", he told the 2" crew, "bring it back 100 yards."

At this point I began checking the German blinds, using the Platoon Forward system. The Germans had an A blind each on the hill and in the wheatfield. Since they are in effective range as soon as the Canadians step off, they are checked and revealed. The hill has a German LMG team, which I assume is dug in. The wheatfield has a full squad, with the German platoon commander, who turns out to be a Type 3 Big Man, Leutnant Mittner. I decide the German force is from the 716th Infantry Division, which has been roughly handled since the invasion began 36 hours ago, and so the Germans are just average troops.

Lt. Mittner's troops rise from concealment and open fire on the rifle team of Yergeau's first section. Figures are AB Miniatures. Their first shot is lucky, just 1 kill but a roll of a 1 on 1d6 says it is a Big Man. The hapless LSgt Yergeau goes down, and another roll says its fatal.

Beaulieu was watching through his field glasses as Yergeau began motioning to his riflemen to take cover, then pitched over on his back. "Tabernacle!" the old sergeant cursed. Yergeau's men were taking fire from the hill as well, and he heard the ripping sheet sound of the German LMG up there, a more terrible noise than the rattling of the MGs he remembered from the trenches. The tank commander had already ducked down into his turret, and an HE round exploded in the wheatfield, followed by the tank's coax MG. Beaulieu had only the faintest idea where the Germans were in the wheat. Yergeau's Bren team was silent, gazing in surprise.

German LMG team on the hill. Models are old ESCI figures cut in half to appear dug in. They've already a taken a hit and a wound from the Vickers, and soon will be KOed.

The 2" crew had switched to HE bombs and was dropping them on the edge of the wheatfield. Beaulieu could hear the Vickers thudding away, but the LMG on the hill had fallen silent. He could see green figures now in the wheatfield, flitting back into the smoke which was now covering them. Yergeau's Bren team was still silent, his riflemen prone. To his right he couldn't see Matthieu's second section since they too had gone to ground. The old sergeant ran forward in a crouch, beckoning the Bren team to follow. Only a few shots went past him as he arrived at 1 Section to find Yergeau lying prone, his chest torn with MG42 fire. "He's dead, Sergeant" said Private Therriault, his face shocked. "F'n right he's dead. Forget him and f'n do your job. Look to your f'n front."

Platoon Sergeant Beaulieu rallies first section.

Lt. Mittner decides to use the Tommy smoke to cover his retreat to the farm on the German right where there is good cover and some more German blinds. Beaulieu with 1st section and Matthieu with third resume the advance. The Fort Garry Horse tank commander, being a rookie, advances into the wheatfield just ahead of 1st section, and is now visible from the wood at the German centre. I check the B blind there and it is an AT gun, which fires twice and misses. The Sherman's card comes up, he spots the gun and misses his return shot. After the next Tea Break card, the AT gets its card first, fires, and neatly brews up the Sherman. No more armour support for Audet!

Heavily camouflaged German AT gun prepares to fire - gun and figures from the old Matchbox kit w the Opel Blitz truck.

Audet was satisfied that the MG42 on the hill was silenced. He motioned Côté to bring two section forward and rush the hill, but they had only taken a few steps before they met rifle fire from a hedge to the left. He ordered the Vickers to shift fire and a moment later heard Côté's Bren team join in. Within a minute the German fire had noticeably slackened. To his right he could see his other two sections moving forward in rushes, despite black smoke beginning to rise from the tank. Audet sensed that this was the time to move. After ordering the Vickers to continue spraying the hedge, he ran to where 2 section's rifle team was lying and pointed to the hill, "A l'assaut les boys!" The troops began to rise. They were actuallly following him, just like in the movies!

Audet had a good run of Tactical Initiative Cards and good dice which put him, his signaller, and two section's rifle team on the hill. I had given Audet the TW&T Heroic Commander card to reflect his bold and ambitious nature. This card soon came up and I decided Audet would use it to throw grenades down on the German section to his left, at the risk of an increased chance of him being hit on any return fire kills. Fortunately the German section had no Big Man, and after a few turns of being raked by rifle, Bren and Vickers fire the survivors accumulated enough wounds that they broke and ran.

Audet bravely but rashly throws a grenade at the German section below him. Revell figure.

Leutnant Mittner's section had gained the farm and lined the hedge, tying in with the HMG team stationed there. He could see two Tommy sections advancing on him, moving warily as the HMG and his LMG team opened up. Pretty soon return fire from the Tommy Bren guns was lashing the hedgerown, and one of his LMG team was down. Mittner cursed as the Tommy mortar bombs began to fall in the paddock, and threw himself down when one exploded 10 metres away. When he looked up, two of his HMG crew were moaning on the ground and the tripod was knocked over. This was bad. He sent his rife team back to the farm buildings, directing the fire of the LMG to cover him. Sparing a glance to his right, he could see the PAK team hauling the gun into the woods towards the waiting truck. His light mortar in the wood was firing sporadically at the hill, which meant Tommies were there, which explained the PAK pulling out. Time to go.

When the German MG42 ceased fire, Matthieu's three section rushed the hedge to cover the paddock. They'd lost a man approaching the farm when the HMG first opened up, but were otherwise ok. Beaulieu could now see two section on the hill, and noticed no fire from the wood beyond it. One section's Bren team appeared to have silenced or driven off the German mortar, and the Jerry infantry was now in the farm buildings. Perhaps they'd gone? He moved up the hedge with one section's rifle team, at right angles to Matthieu's section, only to receive MG42 fire from the hayloft of the little barn. One of his boys was down, clutching his stomach. Too hot here. Beaulieu had the riflelmen drag their comrade back into the wheatfield, where they were sheltered from the LMG and could observe the wood and the farmhouse.

Canadians envelop the farm but sensibly do not try to rush it. Beaulieu on the left with 1 section's rifle team, Matthieu on the right with 3 section. The black dice indicate number of kills suffered.

Lt. Mittner had had enough. He had one intact section, and the Tommies had cut him from the rest of his platoon. It was up to the SS and the Panzer boys to win now. His landsers were going to fall back, find what was left of battalion, and regroup. The Germans slipped away from the farm. On the hill, Audet watched his riflemen move into the wood and wave that it was clear. From the farm to the right, Audet saw Beaulieu wave in indication that the farm was secure. Audet turned to his signaller. "Send to Company that we're on the objective."

"Farmhouse is clear, Sgt", Matthieu reported. "Found some wine and a couple of fat chickens, too. Shall we keep that intelligence to ourselves?"

"F'n right", Bealieu replied.

Audet watches as 2 Section's rifle team approaches the wood. LSgt. Côté provides overwatch with the Bren team.

The Canadian entry into the wood on the German centre was the end of the game. The Germans had two C blinds, but rolled poorly on both. There was also a B blind in orchard which turned out to be a third German section, but without a Big Man to lead them. I determined they would only engage OK to Good targets in close range on the Tea Break card, but that circumstance never happened, and seeing their second section near the hill chewed up and the survivors passing through their position in flight, they retreated as well.

End of game, Audet has a successful first engagement under his belt. He can report to Maj. Charpentier of D Coy that he's secured his part of the company objective. Pity abut the tank, but that was the green crew commander's fault, getting ahead of his supports. Otherwise losses are light. Too bad about Yergeau, he was a good man and well liked by his section. One killed and one wounded in 1 Section, one man wounded in two section. Not bad. He wished someone of influence had seen his heroics with the grenade on the hill. Tant pis. All in all, the war was off to a good start for Denis Audet.

Next post will describe the aftermath of the battle according to Platoon Forward, plus a recap of how some real players fared in the same encounter.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Platoon Forward Gets the Mad Padre Blessing

Kudos to Joseph Legan for writing Platoon Forward (PF), and kudos to Richard Clarke of Too Fat Lardies for publishing it. Briefly, PF is a companion package that would work for many small-unit WW2 wargames, allowing you to generate characters, generate tabletop encounters, and tie them together into a campaign. As I've seen several other folks say online, there's nothing new here - it is reminiscent of RPG systems going back to GDW's Traveller (hands up if you're old enough to remember that game) but Joseph was the first to sit down, write it, and make it work.

I got sold on PF for two reasons. First, I totally suck at coming up with scenarios. I sit looking at an empty table and all my toys stuck in boxes, and despair of thinking up something balanced and interesting. PF solves that problem neatly. Second, it offers a very nice solution for players who, like myself, don't have wargames opponents close by and have to resort to solitaire gaming. PF allows a series of solitaire games to be strung into a campaign where charachters can, if they are lucky, survive and gain skills from battle to battle. Joseph's own blog, where he describes the adventures of one his little soldiers, Sgt. Buffo Bustamanti, showed me how much fun it could be.

After buying PF as a .PDF download from the TFL site (no postage, no wait time, sweet!) it was easy to figure it out. Well written and edited. All I had to do was decide whatmodel kit I wanted to use it with. I have a lot of late war German and Commonwealth, less Russian. I'm Canadian so that was pretty simple. My platoon leader would be a young lieutenant newly arrived in Normandy. I was pretty sure that Mark Zuelkhe's book Holding Juno could flesh that out. Next, to decide on the Lt's unit. To make it interesting, I chose the only French Canadian regiment in the
Can 3rd Division, La Regiment de la Chaudiere. The Chauds were a crack prewar militia regiment from the Beauce, a rural region north of Quebec City, the only Canadian Frnacophone unit in the Normandy campaign and often overlooked next to the fabled VanDoos. Being in the Canadian Forces myself, I have lots of Franco names to draw on. Thus, Lt. Denis Audet was born.

Proceedng to the character generator in Part 1 of PF, I find that Audet's Personality is "Egotistical", which can be a disadvantage as the campaign continues since that makes him unlikable to other Non Player Characters (such as his company or regimental commander) who can influence his career. Making things worse, his Motivation is "Position". Since the Chauds were a Francophone unit, I thought I'd check to see if he knew English, making it a "likely" outcome on PF's "All Knowing" events table since Audet has been part of an Anglophone brigade and division for several years now. Surprisingly, the die roll said no, he's not fluent in English. Fortunately he rolled well as a soldier, a Level 3 Big Man in Too Fat Lardie terms. Finally, there was nothing remarkable about his family of origin back home.

I didn't warm to the idea of having this guy as my first character in PF, but after thinking about it, a personality came together. Audet is a handsome young man with some natural soldiering and athletic ability, the son of a modest small town business owner back home. Since he's from rural Quebec he never learned English and he's sensitive about the fact that languages don't come to him easily. His skill and aggressiveness on the regiment's hockey team helped him get a platoon command. He is fearless on the ice and doesn't shy away from hard hits, so he's brave enough. Audent has done well in the training years in England, though his vain and ambitious personality have won him few friends. No matter. He wants to do well in the war, earn some medals and promitions, go home to Beauce a hero, get ahead in business and maybe go into politics. Audet loves to go to American movies, thinking he looks like Clark Gable and wears his hair accordingly, even if he can't really follow the dialogue. Going to Normandy for the Invasion, Audet will command No 18 rifle platoon in D Coy of the Chauds.

Audet thinks he looks at least as handsome as this guy.

Now for the supporting cast in 18 Platoon. His platoon warrant officer is Jean Beaulieu, whose personality is Glum and his motivation is Hedonistic. He is a Level 2 Big Man. Those traits led me to imagine Beaulieu as an old soldier, a WW1 veteran who stayed in the militia and never expected to get called up into another war, hence his glum disposition. As for the hedonism, he likes a soldier's comforts as obtained and traded through his cronies in the Warrants and Sergeants mess. Beaulieu recognizes Audet's ambition and wants no part of it. He won't let himself or his boys get killed for this guy to get ahead.

Now for the three section leaders.

1 Section: Cpl. Francois Yergeau is Optimistic and his motivation is Engineering. He is a natural mechanic from keeping his father's tractor and baler running on the farm. He can speak enough English to get by. Level 1 Big Man.

2 Section: Sgt. Pierre Cote is Scholarly and his motivation is Position. He can speak English well - he learned it at seminary but when the the war came he left his studies to enlist. Now that he's seen the world, he would like to get ahead in it as something other than a priest. Level 2 Big Man.

3 Section: Sgt. Louis Matthieu also is Egotistical and his motivation is Wealth. He and Beaulieu are tight since he's a natural scrounger and trader and manages to get a lot of creature comforts for Beaulieu and his cronies. Francophone only. Is sure that there's a way to get rich out of the war. Level 2 Big Man.

So there's our cast of characters for a Platoon Forward campaign. A mixed bunch to be sure, but there's some human interest there. suddenly they're not just anonymous toy soldiers. Audet and his men are headed for Normandy and will be landing in the second echelon on D-Day. We'll see how they manage.

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