I'm back, albeit in a limited capacity. Three weeks into this, wife and baby are doing well, but we're all tired and there's not much time for wargaming. Having said that, I've been on the lookout for something to do small, quick games, and I may have found an answer in the new skirmish rules "Five Men in Normandy." I've had them for a couple weeks now, and last night I resolved to wake up early (whilst the wife and three kids were hopefully still sleeping) and sneak upstairs to get in a game or three, which is exactly what I did.
I played the rules twice as written, then tweaked a couple things: one to speed the game up a bit, and another to make the morale system act a little more to my liking. The first two games were okay, and the third not only went great (a sound trouncing of the Germans!), but felt right. So, what was I doing?
I resurrected my "All Americans" campaign; not a full-blown deal, but something I already had lying around, ready to go, in order to allow me to playtest the rules. After the three playtest games today I've decided I'd like to playtest three more games. Today was nothing but pure infantry vs. infantry, and for my next three I'd like to go US armor vs. German infantry, German armor vs US infantry, and US armor vs German armor. These are skirmish rules, so I'm not looking for massive, armor slugfests, I'm just taking about one vehicle against none or one vehicle. I hope to get to that next weekend. So, let's get back to the story.
Following the fight in Sicily, the 499th PIR readied itself again for combat, and on 14 Sept 1943 it jumped near Paestum in Italy, in support of the floundering invasion beaches at Salerno. The regiment had a great drop, and was able to quickly form up and move into the line. What followed was much boredom, preparing for German counterattacks that didn't materialize. After much digging in, marching, counter-marching, and digging in again, the invasion beaches were secure enough for the 499th to begin its move on Naples. The regiment moved out on foot, encountering very limited resistance on its way to Naples, which it entered on 1 Oct 1943. Several days later the regiment began pushing further inland, which is where this batrep picks up.
It's 4 October 1943 and the regiment has been on the move for a couple days. They found themselves near the town of Villa Literno, searching for river crossing over the nearby river of the same name, when they ran into German forces in strength. German infantry and anti-tank weapons occupied nearby (fictional) Hill 113. 1st Battalion drew up plans to clear the hill, with Able and Baker companies in the assault, HQ Company (with its machine guns and mortars) in support, and Charlie Company in reserve. Able was on the right, with Baker tacking the hill head-on and Able working its right flank, where the German position was anchored on a bombed out house.
The assault kicked off with a massive artillery barrage provided by nearby British 25-pounders, and the attack kicked off with 1st Platoon in the assault, 2nd Platoon in support, and 3rd Platoon in reserve. 3rd Platoon layed about in a defile, reading letters, smoking cigarettes, and eating C-rations, while 2nd Platoon poured fire into the house from dug-in positions. 1st Platoon left its jump-off positions at 0615, right on schedule, in a platoon wedge formation, with 1st Squad on the left, 2nd Squad leading in the center, and 3rd Squad on the right. About 200 yards from the objective the platoon began receiving heavy fire from a machine gun in the enemy-held house, and everyone went to ground. Lt Shepherd, SSgt Ford, and the squad leaders immediately set about kicking the troopers' asses into getting back into the fight, and squad fire and maneuver was begun.
2nd and 3rd Squads, as well as 2nd Platoon and the company machine guns and mortars, laid down fire on the house as 1st Squad bolted forward. They hit the ground and began firing as 3rd Squad made its bound, then 2nd, as the platoon slowly worked its way forward under heavy fire. Along the way, one of the 60mm mortars scored a perfect hit, silencing the enemy machine gun, though a handful of enemy riflemen remained.
The squad rushed continued, drawing the platoon ever closer to the objective. Both enemy troops and paratroopers continued to fall as the fighting neared its climax; one more bound and the objective would be theirs! As luck would have it, 2nd Squad, led by Corporal Keepers, found itself in the final assault position, and with a bellow of "Follow me!" Keepers led several members of his squad to their feet and at the enemy position. What he didn't know was that the German platoon commander had noticed his faltering left flank and was leading a small group of men to aid their comrades in the house.
Then the Germans roll another scurry! This is certainly a lot more maneuver than fire, but hey, it's not the rules' fault, it's my terrible dice-rolling!
Thing are starting to look up, right? Negative...
So, the attack failed... 1st Platoon fell back under harassing fire, while the HQ Company's mortars and machine guns pounded the house. Forty-five minutes later 3rd Platoon mounted up and took the hill, which was occupied only by two wounded Germans left behind to cover the withdrawal of their comrades.
The boys didn't do so well. Three perfectly healthy men ran for their lives, while Keepers, Everson, and Longwood went down. I played it that Keepers was dragged off by Alston, and that Everson managed to drag himself off, but Longwood was wounded and captured by the Germans. I rolled on the 'out of action' table: Cpl Keepers was lightly wounded, out for 8 days. However, for Cpl Everson the war is over; he was hit bad enough to be evacuated back to the States. PFC Alston was recommended for another Bronze Star for saving Keepers' ass!
The Germans suffered one KIA (I didn't roll, I just count downed bad guys as KIA), and their Lieutenant that run was caught and executed (that is from a roll on a table in the rules).
I was pretty happy with the rules, though not perfectly happy. The big problem I have is with the 'morale' system, and it's not really a problem with the rules, just a problem with the small scale of the game and table I'm using. In the rules there's a decent chance your guy will get scared and run 12" in fear. Well, my table is only 24 inches by 24 inches, so not a lot of leeway. Additionally, I feel like there should be more of a lead up to running, rather than just running away the first time a guy is shot at. I favor a more incremental approach, i.e., hit the deck-pin-suppress-fall back, with a small but possible chance to progress through them very quickly.
Hope you liked it, I did. What you saw in this write-up, with the lead-in explanation of the surrounding events is my intent for a campaign with these rules. As I don't have much time, I want to play short, sharp fights with a handful of guys per side, maybe a vehicle on one of them, but representing much larger fights. I'm not 'bath-tubbing' them, I'm simply on playing the final 50 yards of the assault, where a handful of men face off in close combat. I'm a little concerned that it may become repetitive, but I'm hoping that I can have a suitable campaign background where I get familiar with and attached to the characters (as I've done with All Americans and In Country) so that it doesn't matter. That brings up the other feature of the campaign: I'm not going to follow one squad through the campaign, I'm going to follow a whole rifle company. I'm not going to follow every single soldier, only the (as the Lardies call them) "Big Men," i.e., the leadership. So we'd be following a British rifle company, with the named characters being: 1 Company Commander, 1 Sergeant Major, 3-4 Lieutenants, 3-4 Platoon Sergeants, and 9-12 Corporals (squad leaders). One or two of them will lead each fight, with a number of 'unnamed' rifleman (Lance Corporals and Privates). So, as an example, the above fight could have had a Platoon Leader (leading from the front), a Squad Leader, and five 'unnamed' privates, and the next fight could have the Company Commander, a Squad Leader, and six 'unnamed' privates. Again, the idea being that a company assault is taking place, but we're picking up the action in the last 50 yards, after all the supporting fires and large-scale maneuvering has already occurred. I'd really like to call it "At the Sharp End," but the Lardies already used it! I suppose I'll go with, "The Last Fifty Yards."