A man who doesn’t do things by halves, Rob had put five years of research, painting and preparation into the game. Rob’s Sword Beach (and it was unmistakably Rob’s achievement) included 1,000 Allied and 200 German figures, 200 vehicles, 48 buildings, 13 sections of strongpoints, 320 beach obstacles, 10 feet of sea wall, and 60 actual feet of barbed wire lovingly painted or constructed, not to mention terrain features, 36 landing craft, ships, aircraft, and 1,000 individually made sandbags. He had also visited Sword Beach in person, and appeared to have to committed its features to memory!
TERRAIN AND PARAMETERS
The 23ft x 6ft table looked magnificent, with the attention to detail worthy of the most meticulous railway enthusiast – but considerably cooler. The Germans were hugely outnumbered but occupied numerous strong defensive positions, from west to east: Trout, the Chateau, Cod, Morris, WN18, Hillman, Sole, Daimler, and the Riva Bella outside Ouistreham town. These typically had at least one line of barbed wire and minefields in their vicinity, and sported infantry, MG positions, artillery, AT guns, and/or tobruks (turrets), bunkers, and trenches.
Rob had made almost everything, including the beach and sea-shore sections, with figures and terrain finished to the highest standard, after in-depth research into the local geography, the plans and course of the historical assaults, orders of battle, and uniforms.
His intention was to simulate the difficulties faced by the British, with each turn representing 5 minutes of historical time, and wargamers having to make decisions as their units arrived and faced unexpected problems or succumbed to German fire.
The Germans were not expected to defeat the assault, but rather delay and inflict as many casualties as possible, choosing their targets and timing their attacks as effectively as possible.
The British players nominated Juan as C-in-C. Besides a landing force, Juan controlled the naval support fire, with 9 destroyers and 4 light cruisers (as well as battleships and monitors) to be allocated targets every turn or every other turn respectively.
Each sector of the beaches being assaulted was to accommodate 15 successive waves of attackers and support troops: in Phase 1: waves 1-3; Phase 2: waves 4-6; Phase 3: waves 7-9; and Phase 4: waves 10-15.
We had to land a combination of infantry, tanks, and support teams (including bulldozers, flail tanks, bridge-layers, fascine-carriers, bobbin-tanks, and mine-clearers on foot, as well as engineers and demolition teams). The beaches had to be cleared (while new waves landed!), and the sea wall next to the main strongpoint (Cod) either breached or surmounted with fascines and bridges for the infantry, tanks and other vehicles to reach the German defences.
In total, the British on Sword Beach had two infantry brigades (3 btns each), two tank btns, an assault regiment of Funnies, a beach group of three battalions, four companies of attached engineers, and three Field Artillery Regiments (each of 3 btns), to exclude the Commandos. The Germans had just two weak battalions (only one company at Cod), plus support weapons and the strongpoints themselves.
DAY ONE: FRIDAY 3 JUNE 2022
A decision was made to focus naval gunfire on off-board German assets. Before the game began, the Paras (off-table) captured Merville battery. The naval bombardment was generally trained on the German off-table heavy artillery throughout the game, as well as telephone lines, and successfully managed to prevent the former targeting the attackers. After the landings, naval guns could change targets.
In terms of the main assault, facing land – to the south – the British players were arranged from west to east along two beaches. On day one, furthest west, I was responsible for Queen White Beach (West), Jonathan – to my left – was in charge of Queen White Beach (East). Next along was Juan on the adjacent Queen Red Beach (West), while beside Juan, Simon and Mark took charge of Queen Red Beach (East), with Mark controlling Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade (Commandos). The two German players were: Trevor (HQ, East and Eastern Central – Casino, Riva Bella, Flak Tower, WN18, Daimler, Morris, Hillman); and Brian (West and Centre – Cod, Trout, and Chateau).
After several turns of naval bombardment, the DD tanks landed in the first wave: a few were delayed and one was sunk. Their arrival prompted several wry jokes about the need for them to ‘drop skirts’. The DDs moved for 5 turns at 4” per turn. One of Jonathan’s tanks was destroyed by a German PAK40 AT-gun.
It all started to go awry in the second wave, however, as the landing craft arrived. Bad dice rolls led to a few being suppressed with units onboard unable to disembark. The Royal Marines on Queen Red Beach had difficulties with landing armour as a result; a destroyed bulldozer blocked a landing craft ramp. Meanwhile German infantry fired from ambush.
One of my big landing craft sank before landing (writing off several specialist tanks) and another landed with all units aboard suppressed, and therefore delayed. Other craft landed as expected, spewing out flail tanks, assault engineers, and a bulldozer. Unfortunately, Juan also lost a large landing craft sunk. Both Juan and Mark also landed craft, but were suppressed.
On the following turn, my fascine and Bobbin tanks, and two flail tanks, began to move inland. In a comic touch, Rob now deployed the ‘French mayor (of Ouistreham)’ and the ‘Fat German’ models, inspired by characters from The Longest Day, who gave morale bonuses to their respective sides. But German fire now began to take its toll of the arriving British infantry and tanks, whereas Allied fire seemed to bounce off: with the Tobruk emplacements needing a 11-12 roll on 2d6 to suppress (two suppressions to a kill).
The third wave began on turn 15, with a lot of infantry landing on the beaches. No landing craft were sunk but a few were delayed, and more progress was being made. We had to re-use landing craft models after each wave. More tanks, and Churchill AVREs arrived on my beach, along with additional landing craft full of demolition and mine clearance teams.
The Beach Group of men on foot began mine clearing in earnest (laying down area templates of acetate paper each turn). My orders stipulated than the entire beach had to be swept (easier said than done as the shore became increasingly crowded). Jonathan’s infantry, without a point of egress from the beach, were being targetted by German MG positions – particularly by one mounted on the sea wall.
More positively, some progress was made in preparing the assault on Cod. This huge complex including an 88 bunker, multiple trenches, multiple MG turrets, dug in artillery, and was ringed with two lines of barbed wire, mine fields, and hedges all round. I placed a fascine next to the sea wall before Cod, and placed a bridge across the same wall using a Churchill bridging tank, close by. A couple of Centaur tanks arrived from a large landing craft ahead of the Commando attack I was meant to launch on the Trout position later in the game. I had a success in blowing up a German MG bunker using my AVRE Bobbin tank, which had finished laying its carpet: the first German casualty of the game.
I now realised, not for the last time, that I had been doing something wrongly: using small not large acetate templates to mark the progress of my flail tanks clearing mines. I quickly swapped the templates around using the benefit of hindsight! (I also continued to ignore the demolition teams through most of the game, assuming they were all mine-clearers… this oversight did not help with the Cod assault!)
Most of our bulldozers had been destroyed by German fire: what were they for, again? Under pressure of successive waves, we had little time to plan and coordinate. The Germans suddenly realised they had more 81mm mortars than they’d been firing: Adolf was blamed. Several attempts to delay the next wave had all failed, which meant the forces were piling up relentlessly.
At the end of play on Friday (just before 11pm) it was 7.55am in historical terms. The British had established footholds on both main beaches. On Queen Red, wire had been cleared, but not for the first time in the game, players wished to push on in a direction forbidden by the scenario orders. Unfortunately, we had lost two large landing craft sunk, which meant a loss of 8 AVREs and four Sherman flail tanks, and after poor dice-rolling had many craft suppressed (meaning each onboard unit had to roll to unsuppress to move – impossible if the leading unit was immobile due to suppression), with less progress than expected. We had completed three of 15 waves, and I had established points of entry into Cod on Queen White Beach (West).
It seemed this D-Day lark wasn’t as easy as the movies made out!
DAY TWO: SATURDAY 4 JUNE 2022
Day two of the game saw some changes in personnel. While I remained on Queen White (West), Francis took over from Jonathan next to me on Queen White (East). Juan was still in charge of Queen Red (West), but Doug (East Yorkshire Infantry) took over from Simon - who now commanded Mark's Commandos on Queen Red (East), assisted by Theo. The German players remained the same, but Neil took over command of the East sector (Casino, Riva Bella, Flak Tower) from Trevor (who remained in control of WN18, Daimler, Morris, Hillman, and HQ).
Saturday began with WAVE 4, as tanks and infantry began to move across the western end of the sea wall in front of Cod. My mine clearers fanned out on foot and were making good progress, but I lost a Churchill tank to 88 fire from the Cod position. This inconveniently blocked one route of attack, with armour accumulating in this sector. To add insult to injury, both my Churchill flail tanks were blown up on the beach. More positively, Francis’s infantry occupied a ruined building beyond the sea wall close to Cod, from where they could mass for an assault.
On Queen Red, a German pillbox was destroyed, and while Juan attacked the eastern end of the Cod position, Doug mounted the sea road and moved inland with his infantry. Theo’s French Commandos, supported by tanks, moved cautiously towards the Riva Bella stronghold, but were taking casualties from the defenders.
The French Mayor of Ouistreham was still punch-drunk and cycling near the allied lines. While I rhetorically encouraged my side to cheat, the German commander, Trevor, declared that the Fuehrer had decreed the Allied attack was only a feint, with the main attack to be on the Pas de Calais. I divulged ironically that the main attack was actually being launched at Bordeaux.
With WAVE 5 came four large landing craft carrying Shermans earmarked for the attack on Cod. Several other craft were delayed, and one sunk. One of my Centaurs was blown up by German artillery. Francis began to lay down mortar fire on Cod, but it had no effect. His infantry was being blasted and eliminated by an MG42 turret at Cod. My remaining Centaur tank managed to fire and suppress the Trout bunker momentarily, but was also destroyed shortly afterwards.
The whole of the active portion of White Beach (West) had been cleared of mines. Meanwhile, on Queen Red, Doug’s swarming infantry were heading for position WN18; Theo advanced along the Queen Red (East) with his French commandos towards the Casino at Riva Bella; and Juan destroyed a Tobruk at Cod using three AVREs.
By WAVE 6, the Allies were finally inching forwards. The shore had been cleared of obstacles, facilitating landing craft approaches. WN18 was subjected to a fierce assault by a lot of Doug’s infantry. My Sherman column was crossing the sea wall, while Francis launched several close assaults on Cod with his South Lancashire infantry battalion, suffering heavy casualties, but destroying one MG Tobruk.
One of my AVRE Churchills brewed a Somua turret on the sea front. The tanks were by now supporting the assault on Cod, but there was little space for them to manoeuvre, making them sitting ducks or cosy spectators at a drive-thru movie. Dead tanks were soon littering the vicinity of Cod like fallen chips. During the game, we lost 8 destroyed and multiple temporarily suppressed/delayed by fire, barbed wire, or mines. The two German MG tobruks were dealing death like manic pushers on a troubled council estate: decimating Francis’s close assaulting infantry.
Meanwhile, back at WN18, Doug’s close assault succeeded, but the bunker did not surrender until a little later: this was the first Allied objective fully secured in the game.
At this point, the Allied players had a light-bulb moment: they realised that AVREs could destroy the sea wall (!). There was also some confusion about Forward Observation Officers or FOOs (how many, where were they, and how effective were they?). A tank blocking the entrance to Cod on the sea-wall was being moved by a recovery vehicle. We had previously ignored these seemingly irrelevant machines.
With WAVE 7, three large landing craft arrived at Queen White (West), bearing six Priest self-propelled guns. Another was delayed. My Commandos, destined for an all-out attack on the Trout position, had also finally arrived. I directed multiple mine-clearing squads to the far western end of the table towards Trout: even though the fort hadn’t been taken, these were the orders for the Beach Group.
Naval artillery called in by a FOO only managed to suppress Cod’s main defences; meanwhile Shermans firing on Cod, massed to its west, failed to roll the 11/12 needed to suppress. German MG positions on Cod were still raining brimstone onto the attacking British infantry, despite most allied fire being directed against them. Further Allied naval bombardments against Cod made no impact. Poor dice rolling was frustrating the Allies, with German player Brian so successful that he was seemingly rolling dodgy dice with some glee. Meanwhile, the Allies were puzzled about the number and location of their 9 naval FOOs (four were apparently on table at this point in the game)… what was going on??
Yet, despite mounting casualties, things had begun to turn. From Queen Red beach, making impressive progress, Doug’s infantry pushed on to Sole bunker. Juan destroyed a building at Cod with his AVRE tanks. And Francis, having marshalled infantry in a blind-spot behind the main bunker, now captured the main fort at Cod in a very close assault with his Suffolk Infantry (knocking out the swivelling 88 inside)! However, his South Lancashires failed a morale test and were forced to retire to the beach, taking their supporting troops with them. Still, masses of infantry were making their way to Cod and WN18, even though Theo’s advancing French commandos were taking heavy casualties from the Germans at Riva Bella and the Casino.
The Germans, unfazed, were still picking off Allied units however, with Trevor launching a successful fighter strafing run (the model being Josef 'Pips' Priller’s Focke Wulf FW190 from Longest Day) against three infantry platoons near Sole – killing one. The Trout AT gun also claimed one of my Shermans. An allied naval bombardment then opened up on Hillman.
By now I was rushing my Commandos to Trout along the sea-road, and set up four Priests behind them for fire support (only to be told later than they had to attack Cod instead). This deflating news virtually doomed the Commandos to a quick and sticky end, but the Allies had to stick strictly to their orders, even if they seemed illogical on the ground. I decided against assaulting Trout through its adjacent sea-wall (which would involve faffing around with explosives). It seemed at the time this was unlikely to succeed and probably a waste of time, but I was quite probably wrong about this – with hindsight.
By the time Francis left, he had taken and occupied Cod’s main gun position. This was a great achievement given that this was his first WWII game. Brian evacuated a defensive position in Cod, moving his infantry further east along the trench. But at Cod there were still two active MG turrets, the trenches manned with infantry, an anti-tank gun, two barbed wire lines, as well as the minefield to deal with, with hedges and marshes beyond! All this made a rapid exploitation or consolidation virtually impossible. Lots of infantry had been lost to assaulting the bunker and trenches, and the Germans were still resisting fiercely and effectively.