Backs against the wall
It is August 1914, and the boys of the BEF have been marching hard through the dust of the hot French summer to find the invaders. Finally their chance has come to prove themselves on European batlefields. Little did they know it at the start, but they would be fighting with their backs against the wall.
This game was created using the Great War Spearhead Scenario Generation System. It was fought between Nick and Robin Sutton in Christchurch, New Zealand in January 2010.
The game was set in August 1914, and the system set a weakened BEF Division in the defence against an attacking a German Corps. The German corps had two infantry divisions to which Army command had allocated a regiment of Corps 210mm howitzers.
The BEF infantry division had the assets available to the division. A Regiment of 60 pounders had also been allocated in support.
The armies were all composed of 20mm figures and guns from several manufacturers, but most were HaT/Airfix figures. The table was set up using 6mm scale buildings in village and town sectors to ensure that the sectors were in scale with the table top. We found that the mis-match with the figure scale was visually acceptable.
Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of each photo.
The battlefield as seen from the German right, British left. The two circled areas were the deployment zones for the two on table British Brigades. The Third brigade was kept off table in reserve.
The initial German attack was launched with Regiments following the arrows coming on from the left of the photo. The German Plan was to sieze objectives on their right and centre, while maintaining pressure on the British right preventing reinforcements from being drawn from this area to support their left.
First contact occured on the German left, as German divisional cavalry 'bumped' into several companies of defenders. The cavalry reconnaissance was quickly dispersed by the defenders but their positions had been revealed.
A fierce fight developed in the British centre where the main weight of the initial German attack fell. British infantry clung tenaciously to several villages, engaging the German attackers in ferocious fire fights. British artillery was soon in action, dropping 4.5" and 60pdr shells in the midst of the attackers.
The weight of British defensive fire eventually took its toll and the attackers withdrew their remaining troops from in front of the British defenders. However all was not well for the British commander. The German left wing had been tasked with holding the defenders in place, and the commander had (optimistically he had thought at the time) given them an attack arrow that went through the defensive positions.
The German left wing regiments pushed forward into good fire positions and then began to engage the BEF defenders in a sustained fire fight. On this wing the attackers had the better of the fire fight, with plenty of artillery support with which to batter the defenders.
The German attack plan still revolved around its right wing. A regiment arrived deep on the BEF left flank.
Seeing the German flank march arrive, the British commander now figured that he had a good enough understanding of the German attack plan to commit his reserves. The reserve Brigade was committed towards the British left to support the centre Brigade and repel the obviously developing threat to the british left. The bridge must be held!!
At this stage disaster struck for the British commander. The sustained battle on the right had gradually whittled away the strength of the British right wing brigade which now failed a morale check. The entire British right wing was exposed. The British commander could only hope that the attackers would be slow in exploiting the gap. Withdrawal across the bridge looked like the only option.
Just to add to the mounting pressure on the British, the German commander committed the last of his reserves as another Regiment began its advance to renew the pressure on the British centre. Nick (the German commnader) clearly had his foot on my throat, and he wasn't going to let me off. The tension across the 'gaming table was palpable at this stage.
However time was running out, and Nick still needed another objective in order to secure the win, so he launched an assault against the town sector that had been the bulwark of the British defensive position on their left.
German 210 mm guns began to bombard the town, and succeeded in suppressing the defenders at just the right moment. However there were enough defenders still in the town, and the attack was repelled after fierce close quarter fighting.
The game ended as time had expired. We had actually fought for four and a half hours, when we should have called time a little earlier. We were however keen to see if the German attack could succeed.
The game was a minor victory to the BEF by a margin of 1 victory point. This had been a very tense game; Nick had applied pressure at the right times, planned and co-ordinated his attacks well, with plenty of artillery support, and been prepared to take casualties to get the job done.
Our assessment of the actual tactical situation however was that the British position was no longer tenable. As the game ended the German attackers were moving across the British right, and were close to attacking the British centre on its exposed right flank. The attackers were visible to the British troops in the centre, and they had been able to redeploy to meet the threat, but their strength was waning. Withdrawal across the bridge was the only realistic option, although disengaging from the attackers would be very risky.
Nick had succeeded in unhinging the entire British position, and so the long retreat had started.