Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chateau Thierry: An AAR

A few weeks ago, my younger sons and I were able to participate in a WWI game of Trenchline, put on by the author of the rules and hosted by Alex from the club. I and Brent had helped cut out and assemble the foam trenchlines and no man's land, while Alex and Brent finished it all off, including making wire entanglements. The Germans had 5 divisions, the French had a small division, and the Americans, under Gen. Pershing (me), had 4 divisions. Each side had a specific objective to take, which also required making sure it was secure from an enemy counter-attack. I commanded the US/French side, with Brent as the French commander. My sons Fionn and Liam each commanded a brigade of US Infantry, Aidan was a US Infantry Division commander (tasked to closely support the French) and then two gents from the Bay Area were each given command of a division of infantry (one being elite US Marines who were the most elite force on the table). I've forgotten the Bay Area gents' names (I am very very very bad at remembering names, but will add them as I am reminded of who attended). A view of the landscape; Germans to the left, Americans and French to the right. Far in the distance, to the left is Chateau Thierry, the American objective. The French-held German objective. This is about as close as the Germans saw it.
Several individuals, not including myself, took pictures of the game, from start to finish, but I have not received the ones showing the German attack, unfortunately.

Here is one pic of the German assault from the Trenchline Yahoo Group. Thanks to Manny for the photo.
So, a quick summary of the German assault on their objective is that they kicked it off during the first turn. Only to receive heavy artillery fire from the Allies (2 D8s per turn). While in the trenches, the troops were fairly okay, but in the open, they suffered greatly. After about three turns of advancing, the Germans dropped smoke and gas to cover their assault, but this was in the midst of a rain squall, so the effectiveness was very poor.
This meant that the French, although suffering some losses, were able to maintain their hold on the objective, in spite of being outnumbered 2 to 1.
Meanwhile, I commanded the off-board artillery assets and I shifted my fire from anti-wire activities (more on that in a moment) to direct support of the French. Two small batteries and one large battery were able to place their rounds in a very fortunate fashion, even after scattering, and the poor Germans were thrown in disarray and the two attacking divisions retreated.
The way fire works under these rules is that every fire roll is countered by a cover roll. In the case of artillery, US fired D8 and German fired D10. In the trenches, the cover roll was a D10, but in the open it was a mere D4. Each side's commander had to make a choice of how the artillery was to be utilized before the battle, and I choose "All out effort" which gave my side 2xD8s per turn, per German battalion. The German commander's choice gave him a single D10 per turn, per Allied battalion.
If cover die ever came up as a "1", then that battalion lost its leader and also any one attachment to that battalion (armored car, tank, infantry gun, mortar, machinegun).
As each battalion took a hit, these were indicated by small d6 placed next to the unit. If 10 hits by fire were taken in a single turn, the unit was removed. If a unit, after the morale phase, had 14 hits on it still, it was removed. A unit could take 0,1,2, or 3 hits from a single die, depending on the difference between the attacking and cover die. If you had 6 or more hits, you were pinned in place; having to recover to 5 or less before being able to move again.
A battalion could recover hits by being in a trench, having a leader, being veteran, being elite, and not moving, cumulative. So, under the best conditions, a unit could remove 5 hits in a turn.
This worked fairly well, keeping the pace of the game at a good clip, but it meant everyone was rolling all the time. Also, once each day phase (a 2 hour segment of the day) off-board artillery landed and each battalion was diced for. We also had direct support artillery, which was still off map (unless deployed on the table for direct fire) which could land every turn, but had to be plotted, checked for scatter, and could only be shifted every other turn).
At the beginning of the game, there were about 30 wire entanglements in no man's land, of which 6 were directly in the way of our advancing to the Chateau and had to be removed. If my artillery did three hits in a single round of fire, the wire was taken off the table. It took me 3 1/2 turns to clear these obstacles.
While the Germans began the show early, I had given my division commanders the order to wait for MY signal. When "I" blew the whistle, they were to go and go fast, no stopping, no walking, but at the double quick and towards the chateau. I did this because it would take about 3 turns for a battalion to move through a wire entanglement, but this did not remove the wire. Each turn in the open was another turn the German artillery would pound our troops and I wanted to avoid free kills as much as possible. This proved to be one of the most important decisions I made during the course of the game.
With the wire to our front gone, I then shifted one big gun and two smaller guns to support the French. At that time, I expected the French to be pushed out of their position, but I hoped the Germans would be weakened enough that the American reinforcements behind the French position would be able to retake the objective.
As it turned out, once those two German divisions routed, that side of the table was done. Apart from continuing to pound the retreating Germans (Aidan did a great job with spotting and rolling casualties), the French were content to sit in place as the Germans beat feet towards their own trenches.
Opposite the Chateau, my three division commanders knew what was expected of them. The Marine Division was in reserve, but I specifically gave that division all the additional assets I had and it move out once the divisions in front of it advanced.
The Marine commander adjusts his lads in the trench as they prepare to move out. The other two divisions are already on the way.
I am in the back, giving the French commander a quick brief on my plans for the artillery. In the background, towards the right, you can see a yellow ring. This was for one of the large gun batteries, with two green rings for the smaller guns. You can see another yellow ring in the foreground. This was placed to pound the trenches behind our objective. Any Germans leaving their trenches here would be in a world of hurt...or so I hoped.
Note: There are Germans in the Chateau. This was due to a communication error involving the German commander and the Umpire at the beginning of the game and this was not resolved until after we'd advanced for two turns. This was a huge error on the part of the Germans and it cost them dearly. Small arms fire range was 12". With the Germans behind the objective, they lost precious ground and time that they would have had, like we did on the other side of the table. By the time they got defenders into the Chateau, we had our troops just entering it as well. With a maximum of 10 battalions, regardless of side, who could enter the Chateau, the Allies were lucky to get in more troops than the Germans. The view from the American side; two infantry divisions advancing, with the Marine Division ready to jump off.
Even with taking advantage of the German error, and the fortuitous effectiveness of our artillery, it was still a close run thing. The Germans were able to rout one of our attacking battalions out of the Chateau and we did very little in return.
Yet, some good results from artillery and air bombing on the area immediately behind the Chateau, further German reinforcements were not forthcoming. AND, we had a very good round of fire with poor German cover rolls, followed by a VERY poor round of German fire. This resulted in a German battalion breaking, causing a general rout amongst the erstwhile defenders.
With the better part of two American divisions in the Chateau or directly supporting it, and with an intact division of elite Marines only a couple of turns away from assaulting the German trenches (meaning those Germans couldn't defend themselves and also attack the Chateau), the German players conceded.
 3 US divisions on the attack.
I do wish the other gents who had taken pictures had gotten them to me. There are a number of shots which show the American advance on the Chateau and the positions of the defenders there, but alas, not all has gone according to plan.
The game was fun. However, to be quite honest, it became obvious that early on, two of the German players' morale was shot. The combination of their utter failure to even threaten their primary objective, followed by turn after turn of punishing artillery, and with the realization that they'd not used the terrain to their best advantage, it was evident to my entire team that we had the morale victory early.
This is not to say our opponents were bad or were quitters. No, we very nearly did not win as they were able to scramble at the last second and nearly forced a draw (which was only lost because a single turn of awful die rolls). However, it is interesting to see the process of personality dynamics in play as a team endures repeated blows. I would not have wanted to be in their shoes, that day, and it goes to show their high level of gamesmanship for sticking it out as long as they did.The Germans have been kicked out and the Americans victories. The two green and one purple ring in the left foreground were German artillery and aerial bombing plots.
It was a good game and I appreciate being able to face off against such talented players. They each did their best with what they had. Group photo. Dave B. is missing, as he had already headed home by this time. He played as one of the Germans and his artillery played havoc with one of the assaulting US divisions.

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