Sunday, June 16, 2024

 No Hope of Retreat

Cassel, 27-29 May 1940

145th Brigade encircled

As the German panzers curled around the back of the Allied forces retreating from Belgium, the British threw divisions in the paths of the tanks to buy time. The 2nd Division was one of the first to redeploy and was slowly ground down, being largely destroyed in detail at St Venant, Paradis and La Bassee. This sacrifice bought time for a second delay line to be developed further north by the 48th Division. One of the Division's brigades, the 145th under Brigadier Nigel Fitzroy Somerset, was tasked with defending Cassel as a strong point. Of Sommerset's three infantry battalions, the 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, was detached to defend Hazebrouck, leaving him with, 2nd Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment and 4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was reinforced with anti-tank guns from 209th Battery, Queens Own Worcester Yeomanry, 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment, 48th Infantry Division, Battery, a battery from 140th Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Artillery, 48th Infantry Division, and a squadron of cavalry from 1st East Riding Yeomanry.

The hill-top town of Cassel had been a military objective for many centuries. In the flat and open terrain of Northern France, it stood out as a significant vantage point. It was also a major junction of key routes, including roads that the Germans would need for their advance to Dunkirk.

The board for this game is 4m x 2m representing 8km x 4km.

The board is a little difficult to take all in with one photo. This shows the whole board looking west with the town of Cassel in the centre mid-ground.

This shows the western end of the board looking north. The town of Zuytpeene is in the left mid-ground and the town of Bavinchove is right mid-ground.

The centre of the board looking north. The town of Bavinchove is left mid-ground, the village of Oxelaere centre mid ground, and the town of Cassel is left far-ground. 

The right-hand end of the board looking north. In the foreground is the town of St Marie-Cappel, directly north of that town is the woods on Mt des Recollets and to the west of the woods is Cassel.

The right-hand end of the board, this time looking south over Mt des Recollets and Cassel

The centre of the board looking south. Cassel is on the right, midground. with Oxelaere centre farground and Bavinchove left, farground. For those interested in windmills (and who isn't?), a windmill is on the western edge of Cassel where two are shown on the contemporary survey map. Visitors to Cassel will nowadays find a windmill in the centre of town but that one was moved there in 1947. Now you know.

The lefthand end of the board looking south. The town of Wemaers-Cappel is in the forground with Bavinchove left farground and Zuytpeene right midground.

The British force is a reasonably good, combined arms force. There are two 25mm anti-tank guns from the 145th Brigade anti-tank company and three 2 pounders from 209th Battery of the Divisional anti-tank regiment. Three 25 pounders are on the board from 140th Battery.

The 2nd Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment (The Glosters) and 4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The Ox and Bucks) are standard British Infantry battalions. 

There is also a squadron of cavalry from 1st East Riding Yeomanry. All of the British force are Territorials so are rated as Experienced; Morale 8.

The 145th have several days to prepare Cassel for defence so Brigadier Sommerset and his staff consider the options carefully.

The Glosters are tasked to deploy one of their companies forward to Zuytpeene. Major Percy-Hardman's A Company takes two platoons forward and fortifies the village.

His third platoon under 2LT Cresswell is deployed some distance away in a partly completed blockhouse to the north of Cassel.

B Company under CAPT Wilson defends the western end of Cassel orientated to the north and west. The roads into town are barricaded.

While C Company under CAPT Lynn-Allen defends the southern approach in the western part of Cassel.

D Company of the Glosters under CAPT Cholmondeley defends the western approaches to Cassel on a forested spur and in the windmill.

D Company has the rather handy addition of a machine gun platoon from 4th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment, and also a mortar detachment.

The Ox and Bucks defend the eastern half of Cassel, but they also have to put a company forward. D Company under CAPT Clutsom draws the short straw and assumes the defence of Bavinchove.

CAPT Lord Rathcreedan's A Company defends the southern approach at the eastern end of Cassel. One of his platoons defends the cemetery, no doubt eliciting some black humour from the lads.

B Company under CAPT Falkiner is next to A Company on the southern approach

while MAJ Graham's C Company defends the northern approach and the road barricade

The 1st East Riding Yeomanry are secluded in the woods on top of Mt des Recollets.

The gunners are well forward, able to fire direct or indirect depending on the circumstance.

All is set. Now, where are the Germans?

The Germans have a superb all-arms force from 6th Panzer Division. The first kampfgruppe is commanded by Oberst Richard Koll, the commander of 11th Panzer Regiment, and consists mainly of I Panzer Battalion and I Battalion of the 4th Motorised Infantry Regiment.

The second gruppe is commanded by Oberst Johann von Ravensten, commander of 4th Motorised Regiment. It consists of the II Panzer Battalion and the II Battalion of 4th Motorised Infantry Battalion.

But wait, there's more! From Turn 4 a bombing run from Ju 88s is available, plus a Heavy Battery from 76th Light Anti-Aircraft Battalion, another infantry battalion, I Battalion, 90th Infantry Regiment, 20th Motorised Infantry Division, and the engineer battalion from 20th Motorised Division. Plentiful artillery is available as well, supported by two Hs 126 Spotter Aircraft.

The game begins. The German's primary objective is to seize Cassel in 14 turns. Koll's kampgruppe enters on the SE corner. The first light company skirts St Marie-Cappel to its west and heads straight for Cassel. A 2 pounder takes a long range shot at the lead Pz II but misses. 

6th Panzer Division, the only division equipped with the 35t, had been converted from 1st Light Division between the Polish and French campaign. In many ways it was the easiest of the conversions as 1st Light had had a regiment's worth of tanks in Poland and had all of the 35ts. Each light company had its full complement of 35t, so they were comparably powerful light companies. 

The medium company of I Battalion, followed by the battalion HQ, pass through St Marie-Cappel. 

The second light company of I Battalion passes east of St Marie-Capel.

I Battalion advancing towards Cassel. The British only move on Turn 1 is to occupy the eastern most urban areas of Cassel towards Mt des Recollets. The light company that was fired on by the 2 pounder reacts rather poorly and is Pinned.

Two Hs 126 observation aircraft arrive on Turn 1. They will have a slim chance of observing the British artillery if it fires, and an even slimmer chance of spotting anti-tank guns that fire, but their presence overhead adds to the British sense of approaching drama.

Turn 2

The second kampgruppe enters and heads for the outlying villages defended by the British. The third light company, II Battalion, and the battalion HQ, heads for Zuytpeene.

The fourth light company and the second medium company head for Bavinchove.

Koll's RHQ heads for Oxelaere in the centre.

On the right flank the medium company of I Battalion and the BHQ push forwards from St Marie-Cappel towards Cassel.

The second light company of I Battalion spreads out into line anticipating trouble in the woods from the British cavalry. It receives some harassing mortar fire. The British for their part hold firm during Turn 2

Turn 3

The second light company of I Battalion probes the woods and contacts the British cavalry. A scout carrier with a Boyes antitank rifle takes a desperation shot at the 35t in front of it and manages to destroy it. In exchange a 35t destroys a Mk VI light tank.

I motorised infantry battalion moves on, expecting to have to clear Mt des Recollets.

The first light company is moving again after being Pinned. It decides to move east and join the second company. It will also avoid the engagement area of the unlocated 2 ponder anti-tank gun.

The medium company moves up to isolate the cavalry in Mt des Recollets from the rest of Cassell. It also hopes to try and reduce the morale of the British infantry in Cassel itself.

Koll's RHQ makes itself comfortable in Oxeleare. The observation team should have a good view of Cassel.

On the other flank the medium company and fourth light company from II Battalion begin to menace Bavinchove. The first infantry race forward and dismount for a quick attack.

The third light company on the far left flank approach Zuytpeene.

On the right flank a scout carrier dares to take on a Pz IV frontally and sends it back. The second Pz IV dispatches the plucky carrier crew.

The remnants of the 1st East Riding Yeomanry flee from the woods on Mt des Recollets, thoroughly Demoralised.

An overview of the left flank's advance on Zuytpeene and Bavinchove at the end of Turn 3.

A similar overhead shot of the right flank's advance on Mt des Recollets and the eastern edge of Cassel.

Turn 4

The promised Luftwaffe strike is delayed so Koll's kampfgruppe on the right flank brings its infantry forward through the Mt des Recollets woods to prepare for an assault on the eastern edge of Cassel.

On the left flank, the fourth light company bypasses Bavinchove and heads straight up the main road towards Cassel.

The infantry of II Battalion spread out for an attack on D Company of the Ox and Bucks in Bavinchove.

The infantry enters the village, supported by the tanks of the medium company. CAPT Clutsome prepares to fight for as long as his company can hold out.

The third light company surrounds A Company of the Glosters in Zuytpene.

Turn 5

At the start of Turn 5 a special treat for the British. Ju 88s area bomb Cassel.

These Ju88 are 1:144 models by Crown. Are they even made anymore - these must be at least 40 years old.

They cause no major damage in Cassel but will affect morale.

The build up for the attack on the eastern flank. The first infantry emerge from the woods.

On the left flank the fourth light company heads up the road to the western approach to Cassel. The infantry of D Company, The Glosters under CAPT Cholmondeley lie low and do not fire.

D Company, The Ox and Bucks, under CAPT Clutsom succumbs quickly to the tanks and infantry at Bavinchove.

It's the same story for A Company of the Glosters in Zuytpene. MAJ Percy-Hardman's men collapse under the relentless fire of tanks and infantry.

Turn 6

The infantry and tanks jostle for position on the eastern approach to Cassel. A Company of the Ox and Bucks under CAPT Lord Rathcreedan falls back from the edge of the urban area but hold their line. LTCOL Geoffrey Walsham Kennedy, the CO of the Ox and Bucks, finds himself momentarily in the front line but holds his nerve.

A view of the advancing German tanks to the west of Cassel. The medium company is racing forward to join the fourth light company.

The third light company and the battalion headquarters push forward from the quick victory at Zuytpeene. The infantry also start the long march forward from Zuytpeene.

A 2 pounder anti-tank gun fires from Cassel and destroys a lead 35t from the fourth light company. A Pz IV from the medium company takes a long shot back at the anti-tank gun and miraculously destroys the gun crew.

The motorised infantry have mopped up C Company of the Ox and Bucks at Bavinchove and now also start the march forward to Cassel.

The left flank can look forward to the slow grind the eastern flank is experiencing as it tries to break in against A Company of the Ox and Bucks.

Turn 7

The infantry move forward from Bavinchove. In the far distance can be seen the light trucks of the battalion from 20th Motorised Infantry Battalion that have raced around the flank, ready for an assault on the western flank of Cassel. They pause in Wemaers-Cappel until an initial break in is achieved.

On the eastern flank the medium company swings around to the south to try and provide angled fire across the assaulting infantry. The first urban area is occupied by the Germans as LTCOL Kennedy pulls his BHQ back.

The second light company swings right around Mt des Recollets and threatens the northern approach to Cassel. One of their tanks will find another 2 pounder anti-tank gun the hard way.

The third light company on the left flank surges forward, straight through the artillery echelon as the Germans attempt to isolate Cassel.

The medium company supporting the infantry on the eastern approach to Cassel is fired at by a 25 pounder and by a 25mm antitank gun. Both Pz IVs are sent back as is the crew of the 25 pounder. The bren carrier platoon stands ready to help A Company of the Ox and Bucks break clean from the German assault.

On the western approach the tanks assume fire support positions. The British infantry hug the urban terrain and wait.

Halfway through the game and the Brigade commander, BRIG Nigel Fitzroy Somerset remains supremely confident, directing the defence with his pipe and walking stick. So far the British have had to do little but wait. They had hoped that the forward defence might have held out a little longer at Bavinchove and Zuytpeene, but the game is about the defence of Cassel itself. The anti-tank guns have already claimed two German tanks. 
For the Germans the advance has gone well so far. The outer defences were taken in stride and they now have two pincers closing on the eastern and western approaches to Cassel. A motorised battalion is waiting to the west and the engineer battalion is still off board, also waiting to be committed at the optimal time. A slow grind ahead for the rest of the game.

Turn 8

The second light company on the right flank approaches Cassel from the NE but loses another 35t to a 2 pounder anti-tank gun.

The medium company moves back up to try and support the infantry to close with the main defensive position but loses a valuable Pz IV to a 25mm antitank gun.

On the other flank the third light company swings around to approach Cassel from the NW.

The motorised infantry battalion from 20th Motorised Division dismounts and moves forward to put more pressure on the British on the western approach.

CAPT Cholmondey's D Company is hanging on in the woods near the windmill but is now under attack from two directions.

On the northern approach the remnants of 1st East Riding Yeomanry is preparing to rejoin the fight while a gun platoon prepares to fire over open sights at the advancing German infantry.

The German infantry from II Battalion continue to advance from Bavinchove.

The remainder of II Battalion also pushes forward to rejoin near the windmill.

The motorised battalion from 20th Infantry Division had hoped to pass through a break in to Cassel and carry the main fight but are now committed themselves to achieve a break in.

The motorised infantry assault the wooded spur and force D Company of the Glosters back into Cassel.

CAPT Cholmondeley pulls the remnants of D Company back into Cassel.

Turn 9

The third light company of II Battalion menaces the northern approaches to Cassel. It successfully calls down artillery on the artillery troop on the outskirts and sends the crew scampering back into Cassel.

The eastern flank is having no luck at all. The second light company pulls back Shaken to be rallied by its battalion commander.

The 1st East Riding Yeomanry bravely pushes forward to confront the mass of German infantry. The German tanks are out of position, so the carriers and Mk VIs hammer the infantry with their machine guns.

Turn 10

The German 35ts reappear and quickly destroy the Yeomanry, but not before the latter have held up the Germans for another vital turn.

On the approach to Cassel, CAPT Lord Rathcreeden pulls A Company back in the nick of time and reestablishes its line on the far side of the road leading to Cassel itself. The Germans finally occupy the buildings and cemetery. Some MMGs form a base of fire for the very unappealing dash across the road.

On the western flank the Germans have a stroke of luck and manage to identify three previously unspotted stands on the southern approach. The medium company quickly moves into position to suppress.

The British are giving ground grudgingly and still hold most of Cassel. 

A broader shot at the end of Turn 10. The Germans still have four turns but have made no real inroads. The British morale is holding well everywhere.

Turn 11

While it looked like the first break in would be on the eastern flank, it is the western flank where a toehold is secured. A platoon pushes through the barricade.

On the eastern flank the British have pulled back, daring the Germans to come across the open road.

The western penetration. The brave British gunners have remanned their gun and fire direct at the hordes of advancing Germans.

The German tanks dispatch the bren gun carriers and the German machine guns suppress the British infantry on the eastern flank.

Turn 12

The German infantry take advantage and sprint across taking the first urban area in Cassel. The British fire back but are unable to repel this first toehold on the eastern flank.

On the western flank the Germans exploit the small penetration. The British fall back slowly.

Turn 13.

The British gunners are destroyed as the Germans move forward. The British form a new line in the centre of town.

German infantry cautiously approach on the eastern flank. An engineer company approaches from the north after dispatching 2LT Cresswell in his bunker.

A panorama of Cassel looking north.

The Germans advance slowly from the west.

An overhead shot showing the British compressed and attacked from all sides but still holding out at the end of the game. Looking at the victory conditions, the Germans controlled Zuytpeene and Bavinchove, had captured the blockhouse and had surrounded Cassel. Losses on both sides were about even with the British losing plenty of infantry but the Germans losing plenty of tanks. The British, however, held so much of Cassel that they achieved a Minor Victory.

Another thoroughly enjoyable game that went until the start of the last turn. The length of the game meant it was played over two weekends. It once again showed how well Command Decision captures all manner of fighting, although I do use the old urban fighting rules as they seem to suit 20mm better - and I'm old and have no intention of changing!

If you are interested, the scenario comes from my compendium of 50 scenarios featuring the BEF in 1940. 

By the way, I am playing the larger games from my scenario compendiums as much as I can - I am advised by GOC Home Command that we are going to down-size one day and I should not expect such an expansive man-cave for wargaming. So much for respecting veterans! Anyway, don't be put off by what may look like relatively elaborate games - in the compendiums there are plenty of smaller games.

Comments very welcome.