Monday, 9 July 2012

"Breaking the D-Q Line": After Action Report, Bovington 2012



The smoke-blurry and gas-smeared eyes could hardly pick them out. The dense smoke of the shelling and the fire from the burning village made the task even harder. The ears could not register them above the constant drone and whine of the “Big Ack” FK8 contact patrol aircraft flying above the main defences of the Hindenburg Line seeking their prey.

From all of their impaired and battered senses, the German defenders of Etaing first felt the arrival of “B” Battalion of the Tank Corps in Etaing on a damp September morning in 1918. A deep, very low, seismic, dull rumble of the earth. A cup of ersatz coffee shaking on an ammunition box. Shivers of soil falling from a leaking sandbag.

Long before they were seen or heard, the tanks were felt on the front trench of the Dorcourt-Queant Line.


The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;

‘We’re sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!’

I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,

Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home, sweet Home’,
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.











FIRST BLOOD 

(Letter from First Lieutenant Charles Kimpton, Section Commander, “B” Battalion, Tank Corps)

"Dear Father,

By the time you read this, you’ll have had all the news in the Daily Sketch, no doubt. I’m sure they’ll be saying that it was a splendid victory, that we smashed into their lines without too much fuss and how we’ll be in Berlin before October. But on the front line, it certainly doesn’t seem that way. We had a very tough spat with the Hun today. I can’t say where exactly of course, but it was a Big Show.




We had our battalion commander (no less) spectating while we drove our buses into the Hun line – quite unnerving as you can imagine, trying to keep a parade ground angle while the spall from Fritz’s maxims is splashing up on the inside of the bus all around us. The fire was so hot outside the bus that I swear the pigeons didn’t want to fly out.


It wasn’t really that cosy on the inside either. I’ve ended up with what seems like the riches of the Orient in “Belladonna” – drums of engine oil and grease, 33,000 rounds of SAA ammunition, thirty tins of food, 16 loaves, a spare machine gun and four barrels, your two bottles of malt we’ve been saving for when we get to Germany – and then the pigeons. Oh, and the other 7 members of the crew. Things would not be so bad without the Hun trying to kill me whenever he sees us – we can’t see much when we’re moving, we can’t hear anything on the inside of the tank and the atmosphere inside is like a Limehouse opium den with the petrol, exhaust fumes and the cordite fumes when we start fighting. Still, its far better than being outside. I just think of my pals in the infantry and its difficult to complain.



We crumpled the Hun wire fairly easily despite him putting up a terrific fire. He tried to box us in with a few coal-boxes and Jack Johnsons at one point – it was like looking and driving into the mouth of a furnace, but we pressed on.


When we finally got to their main trench we found a grim faced party of our bombers had got their first! Of all the cheek, you may well say – but to be honest, they were welcome to it!



We gave them good support, hammering a party of the Hun who were trying to fight and pressing them back into the village. We caught one group right on the hop, scurrying away up a trench and I let fly. They ran off as if the Devil was on their coat tails, and I can’t blame ‘em!



We had a deal more fighting in the village, which is less than good racing ground for a bus as big as ours. Another lesson I’ve now learned! 

Your loving son,

Charlie"

The Fatherland Calls

Hauptmann Ulrich von Bek could taste little except the ashes from the burning buildings in his mouth, which seemed to be flavoured with the familiar, coarse, unsubtle stench of a day-old battlefield.  So many battlefields in this war, and yet no end in sight as the Enemy pressed forward relentlessly to the Fatherland.



He turned to the ashen faced, emaciated Fähnrich by his side, his question about the telephone lines answered with a sheepish shake of the head. Communications down! He would have to fight the enemy out of the fortified village alone – again.

The Forward Observer, positioned precariously in the damaged Church tower had called down that tanks had been sighted through the smoke, lingering gas and general murk of the damp French morning.




Von Bek had deployed his troops in s standard formation, leaving few men in the foremost trenches but the bulk of his command in counter-attacking groups, waiting to engage the British infantry and their tanks at close quarters.  It had worked before, with teams from the regimental stosstrupp wedging their concentration charges under the tracks of the advancing tanks. But von Bek knew it was desperate, a vicious last throw of the dice. 



He placed more faith in the field artillery battery positioned in the town, the cold dead eyes of the OberGefreiter in charge of the small battery a testament to a bad war spent staring into the abyss. 




And then there were the other light weapons – an anti-tank rifle carried by a madman named Krueger, a Maxim MG 08 team sweating heavily despite the September damp as they manhandled their weapon forward and a small, shifty sniper who’d ghosted into the position in the early hours of the morning and who said very little.




Von Bek had little time to convey orders to his forces, let alone wish them well or emphasise how much they needed to hold the village and kick the Tommies back to Amiens.  By now, all of the men had heard the same speech before, from von Bek or from some other Kampftruppenkommandeur tasked with the impossible. 

Besides, the British artillery was shelling the village, the remnants of the village hotel being hit first, the beams crashing from what was left of the roof into the wine cellars below.  It seemed a lifetime since he had drunk a fine Haut-Medoc in De Witte Lelie hotel with the box of cigars his brother had sent from Hamburg  – a lifetime, all passed in the space of a week.




As he watched the troops preparing and moving forward in the support trenches von Bek dropped his cap on the redundant field telephone, grabbed his Stallhelm and moved swiftly along the communications trench to join the pioneer section.  If this was to be a last throw of the dice, he wanted it to be from his hand.  The Fatherland had called – in the end, only he could answer.




Sniped on the Hindenburg Line

“My experience of the Hindenberg Line is that it is bloody awful. One of our tanks that did come back shined like hell from the bullets but the bloke inside was mad” Lieutenant Henry Williamson, Letter 17 April 1917

Being sniped was never pleasant.  Being sniped when trying to attach the ditching gear to the tracks of a mark V tank was, Second Lieutenant Rupert Lamerwood decided, very much less desirable than “never pleasant”.  In the five minutes since “Banshee” had ditched in a shellhole before the main trench of the Drocourt-Quéant Line, she had refused all attempts to un-bog and move freely.  Three long minutes with the whine, scrape and clang of maxim bullets hitting the outside of the tank with alarming regularity.  In the end, there was only one thing to do to get  “Banshee” moving and that was to fix the heavy, steel-shod railway sleeper used as a ditching beam to the tracks of the tank to help claw her out of the mud. 



A reasonably tricky task in broad daylight in the tank-o-drome near Amiens.  A near impossible task in the full storm of enemy fire on the Hindenburg line.  Undeterred, Lamerwood scrambled up the rear of the tank, bullets whinnying away from the side of the tank as he crawled to the heavy chains attaching the beam.  He cursed as his fingers slipped on the greased chains, eventually attaching them to the track before an agonising pain in his hand seared up his arm.  The bullet had passed clean through.  He slid off the roof, the job done, his blood slickly oozing a trail across the top of the cab.  In this war, everything felt personal, but somehow he knew he’d been sniped.  To Rupert Lamerwood, it simply just felt that way - and for the rest of his long life, no one could tell him otherwise.

****

So, there you have it.  It’s not easy doing an After Action Report when you’ve been umpiring a game at what always seems like breakneck speed.  You forget the start (spent explaining the rules, the characters, the victory conditions), you have an idea of the broad flow but most other things flash by.  The only things I tend to remember are odd snatches of action – and the ones above were mine from umpiring the Too Fat Lardies game of “Breaking the DQ Line” at the Wargames South show at Bovington yesterday.

So you have the impressive assault of section leader First Lieutenant Charles Kimpton’s tank, “Belladonna” into the German trenches, the desperate co-ordination of the defence of Etaing village by the German commander Hauptmann Ulrich von Bek (no doubt a descendent of Michael Moorcroft's famous Krieghund) and the cinematic moments of the crew of “Banshee” trying to fix their ditching beam under accurate, and very personal, sniper fire.  All of the accounts are fictional, although the quote from the letter by Lieutenant Henry Williamson (from John Glanfield's excellent "The Devil's Chariots"), and the superb poem by Siegfried Sassoon, “Blighters”, are very real.

A huge thank you to everyone who came by over the weekend to say hello, chat, share ideas for games and wargaming, and of course who played the participation game at the Bovington show.  It was fantastic to meet you all.  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did !! 

40 comments:

  1. Amazing! Really inspiring stuff, both in text and photographs - well done!

    Great War project added to list...

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    1. Really pleased you liked the AAR. I read your Boer Report earlier yesterday, and that gave me the idea for the fictional letter - so thank you also! I would really like to see what you do with the Great War as a period.

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  2. WOW. Brilliant stuff, Sidney. I really liked your narrative - very evocative and a great way of setting the scene for the scenario. Of course, and it almost goes without saying, your figures and terrain are gorgeous. First rate all around. I only wish I could have seen it first-hand. Bravo!

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    1. Thanks very much, Curt. I've been thinking of ways to try and immerse players, and viewers, into the games we play. "Hooks" if you like. I'm trying various things at present, but there's more to come - I've got a lot of inspiration in this regards from other bloggers and work that RPG players have been doing on the internet. Thanks so much again for the kind comments - hopefully one day we can meet up and you can see it all in person!

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  3. The whole set up and the story...just brilliant!
    Cheers
    Paul
    PS..the planes take about 6 hours give or take an hour..but there´s lots of breaks for paint/glue, to dry, time to do other stuff, so a weekend would do for one.

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    1. Thanks Paul! And thanks very much for the heads-up about the aircraft kits. I'm going to be using your guide when I'm building some over the summer!

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  4. By George sir! Some of the best blogging I seen and read in many a long while.

    I take my hat off to you (and the D-Q team)

    Regards

    Matt

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    1. Thanks Matt - very kind indeed. However, you are quite right - it is most definitely a team. Richard helped a huge amount with making (and particularly painting) the terrain boards, and without the rest of the club members to help out with the game at the shows, it'd be impossible to do everything. So, yes, indeed, hats off to the other members of my club!

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  5. No words to express my feelings. Simply you are the best, Sidney

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    1. Benito,thank you! I'm hardly the best - I can show you some real hobby heroes if you're interested!! As mentioned to Matt (above), it's a team effort. But, it does mean a huge amount that you'd say that - it's very kind indeed. Gracias!

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  6. Wonderful yet again Sidney! Great pics as usual and superb narrating!

    Christopher

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    1. Thank you Christopher, glad you enjoyed it!

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  7. A tour de force Sidney, if very respect! Not only did you have me hanging on every word, but I find myself constantly revisiting the photographs to drink in all the wonderfully details. A sumptuous piece Sir!

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    1. Michael, thank you very much. We tried hard with this game, and it went well. I felt that we had to do something special for the Tank Museum. So thank you very much indeed!

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  8. Stunning work and some amazing photo's. I'm gutted I didn't make it to Bovvie either for Tankfest the prior weekend or for the Battlegroup South show. I was hoping to extend a business trip to Southampton so that I was in the area over the weekend (its just too far to travel to Bovington and back in a day) but the meeting fell through and the opportunity was lost.

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    1. Lee, that's very kind. It's a great shame you didn't make it - but I completely understand. Don't worry, mate - I'm hoping to make it to the SELWG show later in the year, which is more local, so I really hope we can meet up there. Thanks so much for dropping by here and commenting - it means a great deal to me!

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  9. Awesome looking game and an excellent read. Thanks Sidney.

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    1. I hope you liked it Monty! Stay tuned, a lot more to come on the Great War this year.....a LOT more.

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  11. Replies
    1. Coming from you, Captain, that's very kind indeed. The thought is very mutual, Sir!

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  12. Wish I'd been able to get to Bovington.
    Terrain absolutely superb
    Great Figures, Tanks and field artillery to play with
    And the blog up to your usual awesome standards
    Mike

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    1. Mike, you'd have been very welcome indeed, at Bovington or anywhere else we game. Thank you for the kind comments and certainly hope to hook up at a show very soon.

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  13. Absolutely stunning table Sidney.
    Possibly not the right page to ask, but in M&B rules, can shock be removed on the turn of the 'Snifter' card?

    Thanks

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    1. Thanks Gary. No worries about asking any questions like that here. I think the answer is "no". On the Snifter card being turned, any group which has not yet had its card turned from the deck may act (but not move - except cavalry). Big Men cannot therefore act on a Snifter card (as they are not a "group"). As the only way of removing shock is through a Big Man using his initiative, or on the turn of a "Rally" card, there's no way to remove shock inflicted on a group on a Snifter card being turned. I hope that helps!

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  14. Thankyou very much Sidney, that has got me out of a whole pile of confusion.

    This is a fantastic blog by the way, so glad i found it, keep it coming ;)

    Cheers

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    1. Gary, you're welcome! Anything I can do to help, just mention it and I'll help out if I can. Thanks also very much for the kind comment!

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  15. Wow, I'm seriously impressed by the table and the report! Great stuff, I hope to meet you at Crisis in Antwerp one day!

    Cheers Sander

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    1. Thanks Sander! We shall certainly be in Antwerpen at Crisis in early November this year - so yes, it'll be great to meet up. I think we're putting on a Dark Ages game....

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  16. Our hobby doesn't get any better than this Sidney or should I say Rudyard.
    Superb pictures and verse, you certainly know how to set the scene.

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    1. Pat, thank you, but that's far too kind! I do what I can, but I'm no where near Mr Kipling's standard. But, all the same, thank you so much for mentioning it!!

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  17. I can only repeat what others have said. Brilliant stuff all around. Thanks so much for sharing. Definitely one of the true gems of the gaming blogosphere.

    Jason

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    1. Jason, thank you very much. I am really pleased you're enjoying it so far. Hope you enjoy what's coming over the Summer. Thanks again.

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  18. One of the best AAR I have ever seen! I know that all have been said, but...wonderful terrain, brilliant report, marvelous minis, and, once again, wonderful terrain!
    I'll come back, Sir!

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  19. Thank you Phil. I'm very glad you enjoyed it. We're planning more big Great War games in the Autumn, with more AARs, so stay tuned! Thanks again!

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  20. I marvel at your work every time I stop by. Your AAR is beautifully written and thought provoking. The story itself, with all your spectacular figures and battleboards, is beautifully shown. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. What a great AAR! Lovely photos of some lovely models, too.

    Cheers, Simon

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