Air Assault on Paddlesworth…22 September, 1940

Perhaps the greatest ‘what if’ of the Second World War, Operation Sealion, was the subject of our latest ‘big’ game. Six players and a trial of the new Bolt Action (second edition) rules would put to the test the German Fallschirmjager of Kampfgruppe Stenzler vs the Home Guard and remnant British army.

Preparations for play was done using our own Operation Seelowe (Sealion) Bolt Action campaign supplement with the game slated as a ‘blind’ action Attack/Defend scenario using about 2700pts of troops divided into three platoons, from the two force lists appropriate for each side…so army composition for both sides were not known beyond the type of army each was to face…British Army vs Fallschirmjager!

In our group we posit two Operation Sealion scenarios – a July scenario or September scenario. Our game today would revolve around a September scenario.

We’ll touch on a few points in the post action debrief and also include some thoughts on the new Bolt Action rules as well.

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…the plan…

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Planned Area of Attack south of Folkestone. Our game would focus on the air landed elements of the 7th Fliegerdivision.

 

 

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Closer detail of area of operations of Fallschirmjager forces, NNE of Hythe.

 

 

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Detail of force dispositions around Paddlesworth for our game. The FJ forces would advance from the west (from Lyminge) with the objective being Paddlesworth and its vital intersecting road network. Control of this would contain any British army movement toward the beachhead of Folkstone from the north.

British forces were initially deployed forward in St. Oswald’s church as well as in and around Paddlesworth centred on the Red Lion pub and adjoining buildings as well as the back street hedge lined lanes of the village.

 

…game on…

 

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Here you can see the table layout, looking from the north i.e. the FJs would come on from the right hand side of the table. You can see the Red Lion pub (white building) with Cole Farm in the distance further to the south. Paddlesworth was the objective.

The German commander’s plan to take the small village of Paddlesworth was three fold. In the long distance (right flank) a platoon would take the light infantry gun and heavy weapons mortars and provide a firebase. In addition they were to clear out Cole Farm and provide fire support to the centre and left force platoons who would conduct the main assault.

The centre platoon would push forward toward Paddlesworth, interdict any British reinforcements toward the town approaching from the south along the Upper Arpinge road as well as provide fixed base machine gun fire support for the assault sections on their left.

The Left flank platoon would move as quickly as possible toward Paddlesworth and attempt to seize the town and hang on, driving away any subsequent British counter attacks before night fall whereby reinforcement by Heer forces overnight from the Folkestone beachhead would secure the village.

…all these plans were put in place with no intel on enemy forces or dispositions…the Germans were moving as quickly as they could and knew not what enemy was before them. Critically, the Germans had very little anti-armour capability…a major factor in the upcoming action.

 

The British plan was simple – defend Paddlesworth and feed in reinforcements from the south, east and north as soon as they became available!

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Paddlesworth – Home Guard forces behind the building are in fact inside the Red Lion manning the windows facing the German approach which they can see from the first floor windows. Some forces are placed in reserve behind the town on the Upper Arpinge road (left of picture).

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Also forming part of the defence was a Bison armoured pillbox. This unusual vehicle  is covered in concrete for armour!

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Looking west, a British Lanchester armoured car deployed forward along Aerodrome road to block the approaches to the town, being supported by some Home Guard led by a ‘brave’ officer a little further back!

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….first moves…

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The opening moves sees a general advance along the line by the German forces. Whilst not yet fully deployed the near ground show the left flank assault force, in the centre ground the light weapons platoon with the MMGs and in the distance the heavy weapons platoon assaulting Cole Farm. The closest squad has already taken fire from an enemy armoured car.

Note the use of the blue markers. We do not use Bolt Action dice but rather just draw these chits. The nominating player declares his order intention and places the marker. If he was to go Down then it is flipped over to the reverse side (brown) and if in Ambush we put a rock or bit of scrub on them to show that order. This makes the table look a little less cluttered without the dice.

 

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…looking down Aerodrome road…

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Looking from behind the British position. This burnt out building is the St. Oswald church, recently burnt to the ground supposedly by the vicar who was making a cup of tea and fell asleep setting the timber work alight! Some say he is a Nazi sympathiser. Regardless, in the tower is a bren gunner supported by some Home Guard manning the white wall facing Cole Farm as a second line of defence.

 

 

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It turns out that there was also a ‘spook’ vehicle of some description in the St. Oswald church. None of the Home Guard knew quite what to make of it so left it well alone thinking it might be some sort of Aux Unit special ops vehicle or something…

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More Home Guard push up to the defence of the town. These chaps are well presented, no doubt hearing the church bells and getting the invasion password… ‘Cromwell‘… with plenty of notice.

 

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The right flank Fallschirmjager platoon advances on Cole Farm.  The IG40 infantry gun moves up to the hedge line to bring fire to bear on the Lanchester and Paddlesworth. The FJ kublewagon was lost during the air landings so a Lyminge postal service van was pressed into service!  In rear the mortar troop start engaging the enemy with indirect fire whilst the FJ squads move on the farmhouse.

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A wide sweep view. Lots of uncontested ground but one can see the left flank FJs first problem – a Rolls Royce armoured car holding a position on School road which has already begun to engage them. It now becomes readily apparent that the FJs are up against a heavily supported Home Guard force…the count is now three armoured vehicles and the German paratroopers don’t have much in the way of heavy equipment to take them out.

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More Home Guard troops arrive to shore up the defence.

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As soon as the central support platoon hit the first hedgeline an artillery barrage was called in after they had moved. The MMG teams are placed along this feature so there was a good chance they weren’t going anywhere…the infantry however are more mobile…will the barrage arrive before they move off?

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…the assault platoon continues to move up. The combined move by Stenzler (a +4 ‘Major’ leader) allows for a nice coordinated move using the new “you men, snap to action” rule. We all agree that this rule works nicely in the game….feels much more ‘authentic’..

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‘Men of Mons’ veterans brace themselves for the German attack.

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The threat of a massed infantry attack by veteran paratroopers forces the Rolls-Royce armoured car commander to move off. He drives further toward Paddlesworth, blocking the German’s advance.

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More reinforcements turn up. These ones are dressed in mid-east issue clothing which must be from left over stores from British forces dispatched to the Western Desert.

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A good view of St. Oswald’s church to the right and Cole Farm in the distance. The British have good fields of fire and multiple support lines in depth…not a bad position at all. In the distance the Germans press the assault on the farm building.

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Clearly heartened by their superior position these Home Guard roll for being ‘Green’ and are rated Regular, morale 9 for this battle i.e. not inexperience but regular. They must be BEF ‘veterans’…still plenty of fight in them!

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Looking at the central Paddelsworth area you can see that the British have now been reinforced by not one, but two Matilda 1 tanks! The place is crawling with armour! What’s more the Matilda is the perfect weapon to take on these lightly equipped paras. If that was not enough, another Home Guard platoon in the small outhouse area takes up position on the wall. The defence of Paddlesworth is thickening up very fast.

Realising that some of this armour needs to be taken out Stenzler calls in a Stuka attack on the town (the red dot on the back of the Matilda) in the hope off weakening the defenders superior mechanised capability.

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Emboldened by the stiffening of the line the British bring on more motorised reinforcements. Pointing the way, the commander in his Armadillo directs his driver and lewis gunner toward the enemy…

 

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…ride of the Valkyries…another Armadillo and now a Standard Beaverette also moves on. Driving straight for Cole Farm the British now have 8 armoured vehicles on table, two of which are heavy tanks, and the German paras have little more than an anti-tank rifle and an infantry gun to contest their presence….looks like the FJ brought a knife to a gun fight! Things are starting to look ominous for the Fallschirmjager…still, they stay focused on their mission of seizing Paddlesworth.

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…unveiling yet another British secret weapon, these sheep with helmets look very suspicious!…decoy sheep!

 

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The Stuka attack, full of hope and promise for the Germans as the buzz of whistling death descends from the sky, were horrified to see that the planned attack on the Matilda fails dismally as the attack is directed at them…dunkoff! ( a 1 was rolled causing the dive bomber to strafe his own troops). The attack, a strafing run, is directed at the Flamethrower near the armoured car and needless to say the attack causes his instant demise…boom!

Not deterred the Germans now press the attack and whilst failing with one assault, they succeed with the next against the Rolls Royce a/c and finally the vehicle is taken out with stick grenades…a valiant defence by the crew we all agree and maybe a VC in it for the crew.

With that the FJ’s press forward and the way is clearing forward and the advance can continue on toward the village…

 

 

Interregnum

A short pause in the photo taking skipped a bit of the action. Touching on a few of the high points of what happened we saw a brisk action at Cole Farm ensuing with the paras seizing the farm complex but losing a man to an enemy sniper on ambush who shot a victorious advancing FJ force….job done however and the farmhouse is secure.

In St. Oswald’s church the Lewis gunner in the tower was causing all manner of havoc causing a slow and steady trickle of casualties as well as adding further to the dicomforture of the Germans. He to fell to an artillery strike on the building so things were getting better for the Germans.

The assault platoon, shying away from the Matilda tank who was peppering them with MMG fire, forced them toward the location of the Rolls Royce armoured car which having been assaulted and destroyed, now provided an avenue of advance.

…for now, the British line was holding strong, with a few cracks, and the Germans were having a hard time pressing forward.

…back to the pics…

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Breakthrough!

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In an instant the FJ infantry gun opens up and scores a direct hit against the Lanchester armoured car…boom! It to goes up in smoke. Things are starting to look better for the Green Devils!….if they can just clear a path and get their infantry into range of the enemy Home Guard they fancy their chances of lungeing forward into Paddlesworth and setting up a defence….the first line of defence is breached with one more to contend with.

 

 

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To cover the advance the mortar troop starts stoking a smoke screen…

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Concrete sentinel…the Bison stands guard…

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A good view of the German left flank attack. The left flank assault platoon has shifted to the right and is now pushing up through the centre. One smoke screen has been stoked whilst the other is still building up. Smoke in Bolt Action counts as Dense terrain and heavy cover so will prove very useful in this case.

The lead squads were hoping the smoke screen would be complete by this stage but not quite yet…they’ll have to advance in the open! If they can get close enough for a close assault then things will be in their favour.

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Luck’s a fortune! At last both smoke screens are stoked by the early activation of the mortars and the paras can move forward with some protection. Losses are mounting however and the FJs are feeling the heat. Fortunately Major Stenzler (+4) is keeping things going despite the pins on the para squads. Their firepower however is being reduced by the pins they are receiving which is really negating the main strength they have.

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The markers show the pins…yellow are two pins, red are three…

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This view show the much relieved FJ squad hidden from view of the Matilda by the smoke. To their flank another squad is also screened from the other Matilda and  their support infantry unit. If the paras can advance into the smoke and then close assault the tank things might work out. Given that smoke only dissipates on a die roll of 1 they feel confident.

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A look at the support platoons central sector.

They have driven off the British infantry to their front and are now pushing forward to secure the centre of the field and interdict the enemy reinforcements in and around St.Oswald’s church. For the most part the centre and right flank platoons have achieved their mission goal.

The left flank assault platoon are having the hardest time as they have run up against a wall of armour and have only small arms and stick grenades to deal with them….little did they know but things were about to get much worse…

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More enemy armour!! This picture shows the lead element of three Bren carriers racing down School road machine guns blazing! Two other carriers are off to their right flank firing and moving as well. The assault platoon is now caught between two fires…three Bren Carriers to their flank and two Matilda tanks to their front…all with machine guns…that’s 22 fire dice per turn to deal with by troops who are largely in the open…massed machine gun fire is starting to take its toll.

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British defensive line in front of the Red Lion – from left to right (just off screen)…Infantry squad-Matilda-Infantry squad-Matilda-Infantry squad- Bison…

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..wider view of the defensive line…

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..support platoon view of things…

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Throwing caution to the wind Stenzler, forces much depleted, makes a surge toward the Red Lion. Brandishing SMGs, grenades and a desperation to get out of their predicament they throw themselves at a hapless home guard unit behind a hedge.

The Green Devil’s make short work of them, not before a few go down fighting against the valiant homeland defenders. They breakthrough on the other side, their objective in sight. If they can just get a foothold in the Red Lion and then feed in some reinforcements they may yet achieve their mission.

This bouyant optimism however is not to last.

…to gruesome to show (no pic), the next series of activations see a unit of Home Guard in the Red Lion who, at point blank range, deliver a devastating ‘mad minute’ of fire. This fire is combined with the adjacent Matilda which unleashes its Vickers. The para squad is cut down to the man!!

..what seemed so promising was no more.

Stenzler, assessing the situation, realising he had lost an entire platoon, had his support platoon weakened and now was facing enemy armour to front and flank. Whilst the right flank paras had control of Cole Farm this was but an isolated outpost and would not be in a position to interdict the flow of British reinforcements as he had no heavy weapons to contest the enemy movement barring one infantry gun. Given the enemy had 11 armoured vehicles all with Vickers or Bren machine guns, he was unable to hold his ground…

….reluctantly he called off the attack and fell back to await reinforcements….ending the battle of Paddlesworth!

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Debrief

Before diving into the nitty-gritty it has to said a great time was had by all. Lots of banter and a great day out…a success alround.

So far as the scenario was concerned, the need to build up the Home Guard forces into three platoons meant that the sole player with the Home Guard forces used pretty much all the vehicles he had. Hence he fielded 11 armoured vehicles on table whilst the FJs had a single gun-model in the German player’s collection. This, to a large degree skewed the game as the forces were mismatched i.e. a totally infantry force vs a infantry-armour heavy force…a touch of Frost… at Arnhem!

The scenario we played was slightly unbalanced in a normal Bolt Action set up sense in that the FJs arrived on-table on our 5′ deep table and the British players started rolling for reserves straightaway…essentially they were rolling for reserves on the first game turn, not the second as per a normal Bolt Action table layout attack/defence scenario…which generally balances the ‘points mismatch’ to enable a stronger attacker to push forward against a weaker defender, initially.

This is a just a point of scenario balance and not a criticism of Bolt Action in any way or the way the game played out…we just should have delayed the arrival of the Home Guard reserves for two turns, not one and then the Germans would have been able to push up a little more than they did before coming under fire and hence keeping the game a little ‘tighter’…which is good from the game balance perspective. From an historical perspective, there was nothing untoward with the way things played out.

Also, the table layout, which looked great, probably hurt the FJs by having the hedges slow their progress somewhat. We made them significant obstacles and they were historically less so. This was not a big deal by itself but combined with the early arrival of enemy reserves and the gun-toting armour forces the combination really put the Germans under the pump…C’est la vie..or whatever German is for that!

For all that the scenario played very well and was very thematic. Bolt Action delivered believable results of what was happening. Despite the criticism it often gets it generally delivers a believable result even if some mechanics seem a bit ‘gamey’. In the scheme of things, I consider these minor points.

The truth is, the FJs simply were unable to take on that much armour, and nor should they, as an infantry only force. They did the best with the combinations they had but a dug in opponent backed by armour was too much when combined with their mission objective . They achieved the initial stages of the plan quite well but were to light on for the assault as they ran straight into the main defensive strong point of the British forces.

The rules themselves played very well. We used a slightly varied dice-pull system to account for the many units in play and players involved (6 players, 25+ units per side…about 50-ish chits in the bag!). What we did is that each turn three chits (dice) were pulled and the side that had two chits of their colour pulled decided which of their players would activate. The opposing player that was not opposite the two activated platoons then activated.

Thus you had three platoons activating per chit-pull, the idea being at least half the players were doing something all the time. If two players were to interact with their platoons then they simply rolled off and the highest chose to go first or second. This all worked very smoothly and kept everyone involved with a bit of down time for the other players to watch, have a drink, chat, take photos, etc…not to much down time however!

On average this generated turns of around 45 mins to move, fire, fight with six Bolt Action armies on table. Given the shear quantity of figures in play and multiplayer nature of the game this seemed a reasonable time frame. Another option we did not try was to put a chit in the bag for each platoon. This would speed things up a bit but a lot of tactical nuance would be lost but for the sake of speeding things up so it might work out OK as a compromise. We did this once before in a big RCW game and it worked quite well..but the forces were much less varied or different within a platoon so it didn’t seem to matter. I think on balance that if we had started on-table a little further in for the FJ player and gone from there then things might have played out a little differently. We played through 5 turns.

The officer rules worked very well and we all liked that change. Artillery was fine though it seems a little less effective than it once was. We weren’t unhappy with the previous rules, though unit bunching was a problem and the new template rules address that to a large degree….that 4″ template for Heavy Artillery seems a tad small however.

All the other rules we encountered in our game we think are good changes and the extra dice for machine guns is appropriate and welcome.

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So ended out first game of Operation Sealion. We’re looking to focus on this period a bit to bring some interesting and varied early war actions into a setting that has lots of potential. It can deliver a-historical interesting clashes or some of the slightly more comical Dad’s Army variety of game when the mood takes us. The July vs September scenario also offers options of force composition to mix things up further. This will allow us to press into action all sorts of weird troop and vehicle types in the spirit of VBCW and the SCW, for which much of our current minis will do double-duty…Operation Sealion really does have a lot to offer.

 

 

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Bison…a face only a mother could love!

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Here is our Bolt Action Selector profile for the Bison Concrete Lorry in our game.

Bison concrete Lorry (Type 1 & 2)

Cost: 32pts (Inexp), 40pts (Reg)

Type: Mobile Pillbox

Weapons: 3 soldiers in pillbox, 1 soldier in cab, all with rifles. May only fire one rifle into forward arc

Damage Value: 7+ (all around)

Special Rules:

  • One soldier (in the pillbox) may have an LMG for +20pts whereby another soldier becomes the loader
  • Improvised vehicle: Vehicles move as a Slow vehicle on road and as a Pitifully Slow vehicle off road. Vehicle is unreliable (ie permanently breaks down on a 10+ when ordered to move.
  • Mobile Pillbox: If hit a damage table roll of 3 causes the vehicle to become immobile (instead of catching fire)
  • Treat as a bunker (p127) when fired at by small arms ie -4 to hit

 

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