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Mission Command: Normandy - Pushing in a German Outpost 2

This post is a session report for Mission Command: Normandy, our WW2 miniatures ruleset. However, it is deliberately incomplete, as I don't want to give away too much about the Intro Scenario, in case readers decide to play it.

Saturday 4 May 2024 was an opportunity to stage a quick Mission Command: Normandy 'training' game with a couple of players, John and Lloyd, because no-one had arranged one of our Big Games at the Frome Abbeywood Irregulars meet. My idea was to do a slow, methodical, and small game in order to teach the mechanics a bit more than usual, rather than having to focus on keeping a large game moving. MC:N is an umpired game, so I acted as teacher and umpire.

I ran a modified version of the MC:N Intro Scenario - modified so that the Germans have some substantive decisions for our German player (Lloyd) to make, as well as a British player (John), rather than the Germans being purely umpire-driven. It was also an opportunity to use my 6mm stuff, rather than the 15mm models more commonly favoured in our Frome group.

British Tank Regiment with their Infantry Regiment to the top left of the picture. All 6mm.

This scenario is supposed to be a straightforward one, and it is, even with some extra German shenanigans that is NOT in the published Intro Scenario. Basically, the British have a tank regiment and an infantry regiment (note: both battalion sized, because they're Brits!) and are attempting to push forward over a German outpost a couple of miles in front of the main German position to the south. The German outpost consists of a company or so of Panzergrenadiers with supports. For this version, and unbeknownst to the British, the Germans are intending to use this position as an assembly area for a substantive counter-attack, so they're sending some reinforcements to hold it. In addition, as so often happened in Normandy, only the British tank HQ has arrived by the 7 am start time, the rest were delayed by overnight traffic. This delay was mechanically implemented by the simple expedient of rolling a d10 for each missing tank company at the start of each round and adding +1 per round, requiring 9 or 10 for success. The German reinforcements were due to arrive an hour or so after the start of the British attack.

For this version, I made it a little more historical, by specifying the Germans as 12 SS Panzer Division. This meant swapping out Stugs for Panzer IVs, because 12SS had no Stugs. It's in line with the fire brigade ops that 12SS did in June and July before the fall of Caen.


Terrain: total area is 1.5km by 2km. Designed to give some variation of terrain types. Note: no bocage, as that gets complicated. The British objective is the village.

The British will enter from the north (bottom of the pic), after briefing and planning.

I briefed both players together on the mechanics, covering such things as IGO/UGO sequence of play, group structures, two actions per turn per element, but only one if suppressed; movement rates (5cm for a single move for infantry, 15cm for tanks); hot and cold situations (a group is cold if outside 25cm from known enemy, otherwise hot; if cold, you can double movement but effectively halve the amount of comms), combat, and so on. However, my main stress is on the different doctrines: for the British, planning and execution is by phases, and groups have to pause and report after each phase has been completed. Germans have a bit more flexibility (using auftragstaktic), but are more restricted in defence because Hitler doesn't like retreats (even from outposts). Also, the British have no explicit way to co-ordinate their armour and infantry well, whereas the German reinforcements will be able to do so. See here for the rules.

As befits an experienced player, John constructed a good British plan. Despite the delay in the arrival of the tanks, he decided to jump off straight away with the attack, especially as one squadron of tanks arrived on turn 1 fortuitously; the others would just have to catch up.

I provided Lloyd with the pre-plotted German plan from the Intro Scenario - it saves time, though he was free to modify it; but really, there wasn't time to construct a new defence. I think he was fairly content, though he indicated he was not particularly happy about certain parts of it. Of course, as a proper player, he could and did act during the game! We both felt that the German positions could have been better in this variant (the Intro Scenario is designed for a single British team to 'discover' the weaknesses).

The British Plan; thanks for permission from John to photo this.

The British Plan aimed to take the village (that's the primary victory condition). Phase 1 pushes onto the North and West Ridges with a company of infantry and squadron of tanks each. The western attack has the 6 pounders for support, in order to put AT fire onto the East Ridge. The Stuarts recce forward in the centre. With those ridge lines solid, phase 2 then takes the East Ridge and Woods. Phase 3 takes the Village. Note that reserves are also indicated, pretty sizeable for B Company in the centre against the North Ridge.

How it played out

Sensibly, the British started with some smoke to shield the initial advances, though no initial HE bombardment. The Germans delivered a bit of fairly ineffective harassing artillery fire down the road, but otherwise waited.

As it happened, and not giving away too much (!), there were Germans dug in on the North Ridge. Although the British had a lot of fire support there (Stuarts, B Company, plus Bren Carriers), the initial attack was beaten off - B Company fell back to regroup. German AT shots whistled past the Stuarts (some very unlucky dice rolling there from Lloyd!), which took shelter behind North Ridge - they could give support there to B Company without being vulnerable. In the meantime, the British took West Ridge, and that British force went firm on their Phase 1 end line to await the capture of North Ridge.

More tanks arrived, so a squadron moved up to support the West Ridge, and another moved past the Stuarts and into the valley in front of the village. These latter were engaged by German tanks and took some losses. However, they hunkered down in the valley in overwatch, so that they could be in a position to respond to further fire.

British regroup for another attack on North Ridge.

A renewed attack by B Company, this time with artillery support and direct fire from the finally arriving C squadron of Shermans on their left, eventually succeeded in capturing the North Ridge. It was a hard fight winkling the Panzergrenadiers out, despite the overwhelming fire power. Part of C squadron in overwatch was also engaged by tank fire, but took out some Panzer IVs in return - the Fireflies are important in this game!

With Phase 1 lines secured, B Squadron moved forward past the south edge of the West Ridge without infantry support, only to be engaged across the valley from the East Ridge. This was accurate fire and the remains of B Squadron retreated quickly behind West Ridge.

At this point, nearly a couple of hours had elapsed, and in the Intro Scenario, the Germans would be expected to be in severe trouble, because the village would be subjected to direct fire and could be outflanked from the west. However in this version, the German reinforcements have arrived and are in positions to make it very uncomfortable for the British. The German reinforcements consist of a company of Panthers and a supporting heavy weapons Panzergrenadier company. These are an integrated joint group (the flexibility that is part of the German panzer division advantage), so their morale is basically the best of both companies. However, Lloyd was forced to split them in two, in order to defend against the attack from West Ridge, and the large forces in the centre ground.

Starting their phase 2 movement, B Squadron on the right resumed their advance. Before the infantry could join them, the tanks were hit by accurate PaK fire from the open woods, which stopped them. On this flank, things ground to halt for the rest of the game, partly because we ran out of time. In the centre, an element of Panthers opened fire to good effect on A Squadron. Although some Panthers were lost to the 17 pounder Fireflies, the rest of the Panther company remained and was able to dominate that area.

So by the end of the game, the British had been held at the West and North Ridges, but the Germans were reliant on a relatively small number of Panthers to keep the British in check. My feeling was that the game was in the balance and the British could still complete their mission if they made good with their heavier weight of artillery and remaining single element of Fireflies, coupled with the threat of 6 pounders if they could flank the Panthers. The German objective was to clear the ridges, which I think would have proved a tall order. I wonder if the British might withdraw soon, owing to their tank losses.

Some comments

I like to believe that Mission Command: Normandy portrays WW2 combat with a good dollop of historical realism for a tabletop game. We are able to do some of that because it's umpired. This scenario had 2 players and myself as an umpire, so we get 'fog of war' by revealing only what each side can see, when they can see it, and we get friction through player actions and delays to command decisions (also, friction and fog can be injected by the umpire). For example, this scenario starts with no Germans in sight, and they generally won't be spotted until they fire, because they are all in concealed positions - in our spotting rules, you'll only see the Germans when you're on top of them if they hold their fire, so when they do open fire, it's likely to be very effective. It means that neither side is exactly sure what they're up against, and we can introduce sudden reinforcements, or other surprises that might have happened historically.

More importantly perhaps, we use as accurate as possible orders of battle (modified by circumstances) and elements of doctrine, so that players can get a feel for the limitations of their own side. For planning, I get each side to address their tactical problem through a set of questions (see the books!) that are key to that army's doctrine. For example, from the outset British planning is framed within a phased timetable identifying intermediate objectives leading towards the final one. In a multiplayer team, you may find that a British player focuses almost exclusively on their own individual tasks, without regard to the overall British objective, and we find a British team always very conscious of maintaining the security of their flanks, rather than taking the initiative and running greater risks.

In this game, the British paused at their phase 1 line on the West Ridge, as dictated by doctrine, rather than pushing onto their phase 2 and 3 objectives before their commander gave the nod. I should stress this is not wrong (Monty would have approved), because it means the commander has a 'grip' on the battle. It is a proper tactical method to await the achievement of all phase 1 objectives before pushing on to phase 2, so that fires, movement, and assaults can be co-ordinated. A German player might well (should?) have pushed on, in the light of little resistance, and knowing the details of the overall mission (of course, notifying their commander). In this case, the British would be able (later on) to support their advance with planned artillery strikes and fire from the North Ridge. The German player would have been perhaps more isolated, though a German attacker might have bypassed the North Ridge entirely, thereby isolating it.

The British suffered here from inferior tanks and AT guns, which was common in the Normandy campaign, and indeed up till around February 1945. The British manoeuvred well. For example, their 6 pounders and tanks were on hand to engage the German armour. But it was a shock when the 6 pounders could not successfully engage the reinforcing Panthers hull-down from the front. They would, realistically I feel, have to manoeuvre to the flanks by combining the firm position of the AT guns with the mobility of their remaining Shermans and protect their Fireflies at all costs, while simultaneously using their 25 pounder batteries in concentrations against known German targets as they were discovered. I know some folks believe the Sherman was the best tank of the war, but in combat it surely was not. This experience is similar to many Sherman crews' experiences in Normandy.

On the other hand, the Germans here have significant weaknesses. First, 12SS Panzer Division is on the defensive, which is not its primary role - it wants to be attacking (as it did on 7/8 June), but was mostly forced onto the defensive in the main line of resistance during the Normandy campaign owing to lack of any alternative units. Yes, it has many MGs and heavy weapons, as Panzergrenadier companies did have, it has some tank support, and it can use local counter-attacks. However, in this scenario, although the Germans lost probably less than half the number of tanks the British lost, they're not getting any replacements, whereas the British will be at full strength again within two or three days. In addition, it lost more irreplaceable infantry, and the allies have about 3 times the numbers in theatre at this stage. The German player chose to react to British attacks by moving a small number of elements from their prepared positions, in order to buy time for the reinforcements to arrive, and they have the flexibility to do this, taking advantage of the defensive. Again, that was not wrong, but it's more expensive in manpower, and in the long run of the campaign, it won't work. Importantly, despite the advantage of their greater familiarity with the terrain, and their skill with combined arms doctrine, being on the defensive and in fixed positions doesn't play to the strengths of the WW2 German army. And of course, the British would have had aircraft to make things a lot harder too. In effect, much of the German doctrinal advantage especially for its Panzer divisions is nullified in Normandy by being forced onto the defensive with inadequate resources, and because higher commands (corps and armies) tended to insist on employing panzer units on the defensive, or on immediate counter-attacks before necessary reconnaissance could be carried out or supports organised.

Regarding the reinforcements, I think the German side was exemplary here. They strengthened their weak left flank and moved up the Panthers to an excellent hull-down position to command each ridge and all British movement in the main valley. This gave them an opportunity to use their infantry to try to clear each ridge in turn while not risking their tanks. On the other hand, the British have consolidated very well and have opportunities for manoeuvre of their own, as long as they can co-ordinate all their arms together. I think the victory will go to the side that can best combine its forces in a single attack. Unfortunately we didn't have time to play another hour to see what would have happened.

The bottom line was that everyone had a fun game, and I think we got to grips with the mechanics of Mission Command: Normandy and illustrated some of the difficulties of both sides in a small engagement. We even had a bit of friendly fire, as a British artillery shoot deviated back onto A Company on the forward slope of the West Ridge; I always say you don't need special fog of war or friction rules, you just need players! Many thanks to John and Lloyd for their excellent contributions.


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