The second scenario in our Chain of Command campaign The Winged Horse, following the exploits of the Allied 6th Airborne Division on and immediately after D-Day, took us west of the Orne Canal to the village of Varaville.
Elements of the 1st Battalion, 1st Canadian Parachute Regiment, under the command of Major Murray McLeod, were tasked with neutralising a 75mm gun located at a fortified château on the outskirts of the village.
This scenario is the second from ‘Red Devils in the Night’, and is called ‘Ex Coelis Chateau’.
I must admit, as I started reading some of the accounts of this encounter, I found some of the aspects of the history increasingly at odds with the way that the scenario had been put together. I will discuss these concerns at the end of the Battle Report.
The Allied player has a force of 15 paratroopers, led by a Senior Leader (Major McLeod) and including a second Senior Leader (Lt. Walker), a PIAT Team and 12 Paras armed with a mix of Lee Enfield Rifles and Sten SMGs.
Some further troops appear later in the game – a third Senior Leader (Capt Hanson), a Bren Gun team and a Mortar Team.
The Germans have a force of 3 squads of sentries, 2 half-squads of HQ staff, and Pak 40 gun, some vehicles (parked in front of the château) and a single Senior Leader. It’s worth noting that the Germans do not have any hand grenades available, and only have a single MG42 (which happens to be mounted on an SdKfz 251 half-track)
This was the scenario map:
Which looked like this on the table:
The action (according to the scenario) takes place at 01:40 on 6th June, so night rules are in effect. Also, many of the troops are asleep, so the German player has limited Command Dice at the start of the game (we decided that this should be 2 dice, as two German squads are awake at the start of the game).
This time, we decided to play the game as the Chain of Command scenario 6: Attack on an Objective, and so we played an initial patrol phase to place jump-off points, rather than the British player simply deploying at the end of the road.
The Patrol phase ended up like this:
and resulted in the following JOPs:
For the British, one is place at the end of the road, a second is place on the bottom centre-right of the picture, behind the second wood, whilst a third is placed in the wood on the opposite side of the table.
The Germans ended up with all their JOPS in the château complex, with a fourth in the main chateau building.
Time to roll force morale. The Paras once again scored a maximum of 11, whilst the Germans ended up with 8
As they game began, the Paras deployed their entire force from the JOP in the wood on German right flank. The troops advanced under the cover of darkness
The Germans then deployed a squad of sentries on their right flank, next to the château outbuildings. When we discussed this after the game, Dave was very surprised that I deployed this unit here. However, I was basically following the scenario instructions that a single squad was patrolling the grounds, so I thought I’d place them where they could quickly raise the alarm.
The British Paras quickly advanced (yes, Dave rolled consecutive phases, again)
The moved cautiously into range and engaged the sentries with a burst of sub-machine gun fire, killing a sentry and causing some confusion (2 shock). However, with the burst of weapons fire, the alarm was raised and those sleeping Germans began to stir…
The time was ripe for a swift and devastating return of fire. Unfortunately, the Command Dice weren’t co-operating, and my roll (only three dice as it was the first after the alarm)
The Paras, not believing their luck at the lack of return fire, move to point blank range, and opened up on the German sentries with everything they had. (yes, Dave again rolled consecutive phases, enabling the Paras to first move with 6″, and then fire at full effect)
6 Paras with Rifles and 8 with Stens at less than 6″ range throw a heck of a lot of dice…
Nineteen hits in total left the German Sentries with 3 dead and a further 6 points of shock. Unsurprisingly, the unit was pinned down by the volume of fire.
At this point, the Paras reinforcements turned up, obviously attracted to the scene by the sound of gunfire…
The Germans finally seemed to wake up. The remaining sentries returned fire, though probably due to the fact that they had been severely mauled in the last phase, their fire was wild of the target.
Suddenly, the Paras came under fire from the top floor of the château, as a second unit of Germans appeared in the windows
Their fire caused some shock, but no casualties
Finally, a third group of sentries emerged from the gatehouse, where the had been sleeping (scenario special rule), and rushed towards the château
The Paras once again unleashed a hail of bullets at the pinned down sentries – the result this time was devastating
The remaining sentry swiftly retreated, taking his injured leader with him – only just stopping short of routing completely from the board
The 2″ Mortar fired a round of HE into the château, killing one of the troops at the window
My Force Morale was reduced by 2 – 1 for the squad breaking, and 1 for the wounded Leader.
The Paras advanced out the arc of fire of the front of the château, even as the mortar fired again (this time with no effect) – yes, Dave had got another consecutive phase. Crucially, they were now within 4″ of a JOP, thus denying its use to the Germans.
Now was the time to strike swiftly for the Germans – if I could catch the Paras in the open at short range, I might be able to do some real damage. I rolled the Command Dice and could not believe it: I was unable to order a single unit.
The Paras advanced further, firing as they came. For once their fire went wide of the target.
As the Germans in the château rushed to defend the back of the building, a group of officers ran to the motor pool, intending on using the Hanomag with the MG42 to engage the enemy. The troops from the gatehouse moved closer to the chateau
a second group of HQ staff appeared along the hedge line, spraying the Paras with fire from their MP40s. They caused a couple of casualties and some shock, but most of the fire missed it’s target.
This was the critical point of the battle. Faced with an enemy at point blank range, the Paras engaged the German SMG squad with grenades and automatic weapons fire.
The result was one dead, and 7 shock on the unit
The PIAT Team jumped the hedge and seized the JOP.
At this point, Dave used a Chain of Command Dice to end the turn. The result was severe.
The JOP was lost, and the Junior Leader was routed from the table.
Force Morale dropped by 4 points! Even worse, I was forced to remove a JOP from the table.
As the battle moved into it’s final act, the exchange of fire between the Paras and the SMG group continued. More shock on the Paras and a single casualty…
The German squad was cut down, and routed from the able
With Force Morale reduced to a single point (and the Paras still on 11), I decided that there was little point in continuing the fight and the garrison in the château surrendered.
So where did it all go wrong? I really thought that with a reduced force the Paras would be really up against it, but this did not prove to be the case.
Using the Patrol Phase meant that the Paras could close the gap to the château quickly, and so were on the defences before they could be spotted by the sentries. The scenario hamstrings the Germans with the placement of the squads (I reasoned that because a sentry unit was deemed to be patrolling the grounds, I had to deploy them in the open – after all, they didn’t know the Paras were there!), and the amendments to the Command Dice that we introduced to represent surprise give the Germans little chance to react quickly, unless you roll dice well. At crucial times I was unable to order any troops at all, essentially giving Dave something like 5 or 6 unopposed phases to do what he liked. His reinforcements never got in the game – but they didn’t need to.
My use of the squad from the gate house was questionable. I reasoned that they would rush back to the château – towards the sound of gunfire – and not towards the Bren and Mortar teams (who were in a wood, in the dark, so I reasoned that they could not be seen from the road where the squad were). I could have used this squad to capture the Paras JOPs – two were undefended and within a couple of phases movement – but this, at least to me, seemed a bit ‘gamey’, and the fact that the unit was there at all was only a scenario special rule. In the end, this unit contributed nothing to the battle.
So, an overwhelming victory once again for the Paras.
As I mentioned at the start, I do have some issues with the scenario. If you read accounts of the battle on the internet, you can quickly ascertain that the defences around the château were, in reality, much greater than this scenario would suggest. There was a trench system and barbed wire in front of the chateau. Also, even a rudimentary search on Google reveals that the chateau at Varaville looks very different to the building layout depicted in the scenario, so I’m not 100% happy with the accuracy of this scenario.
However, we will have an opportunity to address this, as this is the one scenario that we will end up refighting later – two scenarios around this chateau are in the Red Devils of the Orne Skirmish Campaigns book. The maps for these look much closer to what is described in accounts of the battle, so it will be interesting so see what different (if any) the extra defences make – along with the fact that those engagements are fought in daylight (around 8am and 10am)