I’m making the trip down to the Tank Museum in Bovington this weekend for the Battlegroup South show with TooFatLardies. We’re putting on another of our participation games, this one being a game of “Through the Mud and the Blood” game set in 1918.
The Bovington show is a two day show, which should give us plenty of time to recreate the fighting along the Drocourt-Quéant Line in early September 1918, and in particular the attack by the British 4th Infantry Division on the German fortified village of Etaing. This was a far more mobile stage of the War than then the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele. However, the British Army’s ability to mould an effective “combined arms” force and its determination to “get the job done” in finishing the war was finely balanced against a German defence which utilised effective modern weaponry in well-sited defensive positions.
In time, I’ll post the full scenario here, together with a couple of special rules which we’ve been play-testing to attempt to simulate the increasingly brittle morale of German forces along the Hindenburg Line as the Great War neared its conclusion.
But for now, here’s a n extract from the hand-out for the game to be played at the show:
'Breaking the “D-Q Line”: Etaing, France, 2nd September 1918
“The War Cabinet would become anxious if we received heavy punishment in attacking the Hindenburg Line without success” Sir Henry Wilson to Haig, telegram 29 August 1918
During the last week of August and first week of September 1918 Sir Douglas Haig’s, First, Third and Fourth Armies became involved in a complex series of operations intended to advance their formations towards the formidable system of German field-defences called the 'Siegfried Stellung' – better known to the British as the Hindenburg Line. The Hindenburg Line was more a series of well-defended zones than a single line, and Haig was determined that these positions should and could be broken quickly as part of the on-going Allied offensive. However, despite the rapid advances made by the British and Allied forces in early August 1918, it was accepted that the imposing strength of the Hindenburg Line would pose the advancing British Armies with profound and unprecedented challenges.
The Drocourt-Quéant Line (also called the DQ-Line) was one of the most powerful sections of the wider Hindenburg Line. It consisted of a front and a support line, both abundantly provided with concrete shelters and machine-gun posts, and was protected by dense masses of barbed wire. The village of Etaing was incorporated in the Drocourt-Quéant Line and had been fortified by German forces. Fortified positions such as Etaing, and neighbouring villages such as Dury and Cagnicourt, also benefited from supporting rear positions which could providing enfilading machine gun fire and field artillery support (the latter frequently being deployed in an anti-tank role).
The actions from this period are characterised by complex combined attacks by British and Commonwealth infantry and Tank Corps forces well supported by carefully planned artillery and machine gun barrages. The losses suffered by the Tank Corps in the battle of Amiens in early August had led to a tendency not to use armour in advance of infantry troops unless definite resistance demanded their employment. Tank support was also comparatively meagre when judged against the very large number of tanks employed at the start of August 1918: two companies of Mark V tanks were allotted to each of the three attacking divisions of the Canadian Corps advancing on the Drocourt-Quéant Line, significantly less than were proportionately available at Amiens. Tanks were frequently led up to the starting assault positions during the night, the noise of their assembly being drowned by aeroplanes flying over the area. ...'
Backgrounds for Big Men in “Through the Mud and the Blood”
As I’m umpiring the games during the Sunday at the show (with Lard generalissimo Richard Clarke umpiring the games on Saturday), I’m also hoping to try out some rules designed to develop the backgrounds of Big Men in “Through the Mud and the Blood”.
I find that one of the really enjoyable things about “Through the Mud and the Blood” is the focus on the role of the ‘Big Man’. There’s an element of roleplaying which is just beneath the surface in how Big Men are used within these rules: they drive the action, they rally their troops and they lead the close combat assaults. I’ve thought for a while that developing the backgrounds for Big Men could add a lot to our games, perhaps dovetailing with the narrative running through a scenario.
I’ve written an article on creating such backgrounds in the TooFatLardies Summer Special, which should be appearing later this month. The aim of the article is to help an umpiring in quickly rolling-up some background details, physical descriptions and character traits for a game of “Through the Mud and the Blood”. It is certainly not an attempt to turn “Through the Mud and the Blood” into a roleplaying game – the colour of Corporal Limehouse’s eyes (hazel), or OberGefreiter Zeigler’s dexterity at leaping from high walls (not the best since he was wounded at Verdun) isn’t going to matter at all. Rather, the intention is to map out some of the personality aspects which possibly, just possibly, might change the course of a trench raid, a platoon assault, or even a bigger moment of military history.
With this in mind, I’ve also prepared a dozen or so backgrounds for the Big Men to be used in our game at Bovington this weekend. So, let me introduce you to some of the Big Men you might encounter in the game, all of whose backgrounds have been rolled-up using the article I’ve mentioned.
Second-Lieutenant Toby Lemsford, a Status II Big Man from No.4 Section, “B” Battalion, Tank Corps, commanding the Mark V tank “Black Prince II”. Second-Lieutenant Lemsford is a “toff”. Soldiering is in his blood. He’s a countryman, but he’s swapped his horse for a “Devil’s Chariot” on joining the Tank Corps. He’s xenophobic and patriotic (perhaps reflecting his sheltered outlook on life), and he is fresh to the battlefield. His is likeable enough – he’s generous with the food hampers from home, and gives out cigarettes like confetti. However, he hid a secret illness from the recruiting officers – he’s an asthmatic, and he has not shared this secret with his tank crew.
Gefreiter Hans Sturmer, a Status II Big Man from the Regimental Stosstrupp of 157th Reserve Infantry Regiment. Gefreiter Sturmer is a Verdunkämpfer, a grizzled survivor of the “Bone-mill on the Meuse”. He’s of average stature and is slim, although nothing that the regimental cook can’t fix (if only he can find something not ersatz…). Sturmer is likeable enough – he’s generous with the parcels sent from home amongst his section. Like many in the German Army in 1918, he’s worn-down with fighting. However, he is a skilled opponent, nicknamed “Krieghund” amongst his Stosstrupp and is armed with an MP18 Bergmann trench-broom.
Corporal Jack Beckton, a Staus I Big Man from 2nd Platoon, “A” Company, 9th Battalion, Duke of Welllington’s Regiment. Corporal Beckton signed up in 1915 into a Kitchener "Pals" Battalion. He volunteered with his mates from the local tramway depot where he worked. He’s of average build, but after three years of fighting is increasingly battle-ragged. Despite this he tries to be relentlessly cheerful at all times.
More teasers from the Drocourt-Quéant Line later this week, guys!