Monday 15 November 2010

Beer and Lard Day 13 November 2010: “A Greenhouse in a Hailstorm”

I drove up to Burton-on-Trent this Saturday for a full day of gaming with Richard Clarke, Rob Avery and other TwoFatLardies enthusiasts. I was running a game of “Through the Mud and the Blood”, with Richard joining me for the journey to run through a few games of “Terrible Sharpe Sword”, the American Civil War follow up to “Sharpe Practice”. Simon Gaudin from Burton had organised the games in the local Salvation Army Hall (which fortunately had heating on a cold morning!) and had invited about twenty or so of his friends drawn from across the Midlands and North of England.

What followed was a really excellent day of gaming. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to umpire a game of “Mud and Blood” with new players and had the chance for a quick trip around Burton and a visit to a great hobby games shop, Spirit Games on Station Street in Burton (, as well as taking part and looking in on the other games being played on the day.

“A Greenhouse in a Hailstorm”

I brought up 6 of my terrain boards to run a scenario loosely based on some actions in first couple of days of the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. I’d called the scenario “A Greenhouse in a Hailstorm”, the quotation taken from the letter of a tank crewman who was attacking Bourlon village with one of the British tank battalions. It does not take much to imagine how he arrived at that description, with his tank being peppered by armour-piercing ammunition on the slow trundle up to the enemy held buildings in Bourlon village.

I wanted to try an recreate some of the fighting which was seen in villages like Fontaine, Bourlon and Flesquieres in the early stages of the battle and which is vividly described in Bryn Hammond’s excellent book “Cambrai 1917”. Rather than pushing the tanks into the village without the support of infantry forces (which ended fairly disastrously on 23 November at Fontaine for the forces of “B” battalion of the Tank Corps), I allowed the attacking British forces a couple of standard British platoons in close support of a section of Mark IV tanks, two of which were Male and one Female.

The British players, Craig and Mike, were given a couple of rounds of opening bombardment to try and catch the defending German forces and dislocate the defences before the assault began in earnest.

The defending German player, Simon, was given a platoon of stellungsbattalion troops, with a reinforcing platoon of stosstruppen following close behind. His stellungsbattalion platoon was equipped with a maxim MG08 heavy machine gun with armour piercing ammunition, an anti-tank rifle, a sniper and two grenade throwing granatenwerfer 16s. His reinforcements were more potently equipped with two MG08/15 light machine gun teams, a couple of two-man flammwerfers and a tank attacking gruppe of 7 men led by a Feldwebel and equipped with concentration charges for use against the British tanks in close quarter fighting. All in all, an even match, I felt. I had thought about adding a 77mm field gun on the German side, but was worried that this might have unbalanced the scenario owing to the effect of such a field gun’s firing on British tanks under the “Mud and Blood” rules generally being fairly terminal once a hit is achieved.

The initial British bombardment damaged or destroyed much of the defensive wire and saturated the front line trench.

However, the Germans had already (as historically) evacuated the forward trench in anticipation of the barrage, preferring to make their stand in the cellars and shell-shattered remnants of the village. The German stellungsbattalion platoon held the British up for about 45 minutes of game time, doggedly defending the entrance to the village, fighting through damaged buildings and wrecked concrete bunkers.

The Germans were assisted by one of the British tanks, 'Century', bogging down on crossing the front line trench, but not before until all three tanks had unleashed a hurricane of 6 pdr case shot on the same game turn against the foremost defended building, literally blasting the stellungsbattalion troops out of their fortified position.

The same punishing treatment was handed out by the remaining British tanks to each strongpoint or building which they encountered, although the German defenders were extracting a heavy toll of the attacking British infantry.

By this time, German reinforcements had started seeping into the support trench, threatening to advance into the village and turn the British crawl into a stalemate.

Seeing this, the British players concentrated all their efforts on outflanking the village and pressing urgently down a communications trench to break the flow of enemy reinforcements. A vicious fire-fight ensued in the trenches outside the village, in which the greater British firepower triumphed, driving the first arriving of the stosstruppen gruppe back by sheer weight of fire.

Although more Germans were steadily pushing into the village, including the tank hunting gruppe and the flammwerfers, the British tanks continued to put down a withering close quarter fire on the German defensive positions, the Lewis guns of the Female tank being particularly (and perhaps surprisingly) effective. An additional British bombardment boxed off the support line trench running to the rear of the village from more of the advancing German stosstruppen and further threatened to dislocate the defenders’ communications.

With the British threatening to outflank the entire German position, the German commander withdrew his forces swiftly using the communication tunnels which had been prepared through the village. Bloodied, but not broken, the British forces were left in possession of the village.

The game was certainly close and exciting, being played in a great spirit by all three players. Simon, the German player, certainly had the worse of the draw of the “Mud & Blood” cards, with a number of German reinforcements being delayed when their presence may have contributed to turning the game. The British advance was relentless, however, making me wonder if the composition of forces had perhaps slightly favoured the British forces from the outset.

For those who are interested, I’ll try and get the scenario posted here a little later this week.

Justice T Lovetrain saves the day

Meanwhile, on the “Terrible Sharpe Sword” table, Richard was in speed-freak-umpire mode, managing about three games in the time it was taking me to umpire just one. The scenario varied slightly with each game, but saw Confederates defending a Southern mansion against rampaging Yankees. The terrain looked great, the rules seemed to be working very smoothly and there was a good stream of cheers and groans from that table throughout the day.

It’s Anzio, no its Malaya, no its Calais..

Also in top-notch form was Rob Avery with a series of smoothly umpired World War Two games in 15mm, ranging from Calais 1940, to Malaya 1942 and on to Anzio in 1943. The sheer globe-trotting dash of three different scenarios in three locations was pretty awesome, and again the punters looked well pleased with the action.

So, all in all an excellent day’s gaming. Sadly, it was my son’s 4th birthday party yesterday, so I could not stay over, but there’s already talk of a return visit next year. Consider me signed up!


  1. Great M&B table and game!! And yes please publish the OOBs and scenario features. Just a question: how far away were thetrenches from the tanks entry point. We played a few weeks ago with a 6" long table and the trenches half way but the tanks are so paaaiiiinfully slow that were left behind by the infantry.

  2. Inspirational WW1 terrain. Outstanding work.

  3. Many thanks Anibal and Ashley, I really appreciate the comments.

    Normally, we start with the tanks about 24 - 30 inches from the front line trench. It takes a long time for the tanks to get to the front line trench. At best, it would be four game turns (at 6 inches per turn), but would almost certainly take longer. We don't generally use any unifying card for a tank section in a Great War game such as a “Blitzkrieg” card in World War II games. This replicates the lack of radios in the Mark IVs and difficulty of the section commanders co-ordinating the different tanks in each section. Accordingly, having the tanks move on each turn as a section instead of as individual tanks is not possible. That being said, the Tank Corps Early attempts at co-ordination of tanks in action is one point we have been looking at, so watch this space!!

    During the advance to the front line trench there is a real risk of the infantry out-pacing the tanks, as historically did happen. Of course, the British commander can hold the tanks back, but that makes them vulnerable in the event that Germans gain the use of anti-tank weapons in the game (especially a field gun), such as through reinforcements, at a time when the tanks are exposed.

    In this game, I only brought a small number of boards to Burton and therefore the tanks started only about 16 inches away from the front line trenches. This certainly helped the tanks play an important part in the battle and enabled them to bring the 6 pdr guns on the Mark IV into play at close range, which in turn made a difference when blasting the German defenders out of their positions.

  4. Delighted to come across this and see that 'Cambrai 1917' had been useful for your scenario, which just goes to show how the fighting at Fontaine could have gone either way.
    Great stuff!
    Best wishes
    Bryn Hammond

  5. Bryn,

    Thank you so much for the comment. Your book has been really useful in stimulating quite a few wargamers try and recreate the actions at Cambrai (one of who I know is Benito - posting as 'Anibal Invictus' in the first comment above). Flicking through "Cambrai 1917" at the game on Saturday, together with Ian Verrinder's and William Moore's books, really gave the players a sense of the terrain and the conditions under which the fighting took place. I only hope we can to do justice to your work.

    Very best wishes,


  6. Agree with you Sidney, Prof Hammond's book is probably the most inspiring work for any wargamer. On a different matter, I'll replay this scenario next Sunday in our local club. I'll post and AAR probably next week in my blog too. An additional question: how do you rate the village's buildings, as medium or as heavy cover?

  7. cenario replayed this morning in our local club; inconclusive but highly enjoyable indeed. Just keft an AAR in my blog. Greart game, Sidney.

  8. Excellent layout...alot of time invested there, real, real nice


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