Friday, 14 December 2018

Battle of the Bulge 1944

Starting today, 15th December, this blog is following on a day-by-day basis, the last German major offensive in the west, surprising the Allies in the heavily wooded Ardennes region.


We will be using the Bitter Woods boardgame, designed by Randy Heller and currently published by Compass Games (previously published by Avalon Hill, Multi-Man Publishing and L2 Designs.



Two game turns represent a full day, so each day, two turns will be played and the action will be posted here until the campaign concludes on 26th December. Each new daily content will be added to the bottom of this post to preserve the chronology of events and allowing readers to come back at anytime and just pick up where they left off.


In preparation of this game, I have enjoyed Anthony Beevor’s book ‘Ardennes’, highly readable, with a level of details that is immersive.



Today is the eve of battle and three German armies with offensive capability have managed to position themselves under the Allied collective noses, in the Ardennes sector, without the Allied intelligence or high command collectively appreciating the situation.


The Ardennes region, considered a quiet sector, was being used by the Americans as a place to rotate units that had recently been in combat and that needed rest and replacements. Additionally, the troops that were there, were spread thinly - too thinly for effective defence.


The Allied drive on Germany was running out of steam after intensive and continuous campaigning since the summer. The supply chain was stretched and readily available manpower reserves were starting to look inadequate. The Allied focus was on crossing the Rhine and winning the war by Christmas, so much so, that their minds were closed to other possibilities - such as the Germans having the capability to launch a major offensive in the west.


Internal rivalry between the Allied commanders saw Montgomery (British) wanting a large slice of the limited supply to go to his drive north of the Ardennes, while Patton and Hodges (American) wanted that same supply to support their thrust into Germany, from below the Ardennes. They saw and interpreted any reported German activity as being at most, preparations for a spoiling attack against those ambitions. They totally missed that German intention (itself unrealistic) was a large scale offensive with much greater goals of dividing the Allies, seizing their supply hub (Antwerp) and forcing a peace settlement.


The Allied mindset can be summed up with a few choice observations noted by Beevor;


Early September, G-2 intelligence at SHAEF “The August battles have done it and the enemy in the west has had it” (Beevor page 5).


15th December, Montgomery asks for leave the following week to visit the U.K. for Christmas (Beevor page 108).


Though Colonel Dickinson, G-2 1st Army, interpreted his available intelligence to suggest that a German attack would be made in the Ardennes, this report was ignored (Beevor page 104).


Tomorrow will bring a rude awakening to this peaceful Ardennes landscape.

For the rest of this post, please use the 'read more' tab



16th December 1944


At 0520, just 10 minutes before zero hour, the artillery of Sep Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army opened fire ..... (Beevor page 111).


All along the front, the thunderous roar of artillery, followed by German infiltration and frontal assaults, took the thinly held American line by surprise. Despite this, a robust defence held back the initial German attacks on both flanks, with 7th Army held up on the left at Vianden and 6th Panzer Army on the right, just below Monschau, though 277th Infantry managed to fight their way into Rocherath - Krinkelt, an important step forward in the drive towards the Elsenborn district on the right.



Against the backdrop of those opening disappointments, the attack at Hosingen (near Clervaux) in the centre, by contrast, had a most spectacular success, attacking across the Our River, where the bridge had recently been blown. The attack, spearheaded by 26th Division, resulted in the 110th being pushed back, beyond Clervaux, itself a natural stronghold, with its 12th Century Monastery carved out of solid rock and the town astride a prominent ridge above the Clerf River. With the town falling so quickly into German hands, the allies had lost an important defensive position that was also an important gateway to the road to Bastogne, but until the River Our could be bridged, the vital armoured units needed to exploit the break-through would be held up.


As rumour of the Clervaux break through filtered back to Bastogne, Middleton appealed to Hodges over on his left flank to provide some support. Hodges, not being fully aware of what was developing in his own sector, agreed to pull Devine’s 14th Armoured Cavalry Regiment out of the line and send it across to Middleton, having full confidence that his reliable 2nd Infantry Division would be able to contain any German local attacks. Hodges ordered a re-adjustment and shortening of the line.


As dusk approached, the Allied commanders still struggled to appreciate the scale of the German attack, though it was becoming clearer that their defences were too thin to do much more than slow any attack down by denying the major roads and their hubs.



Above - On the German left, there was frustration by the determined resistance of 109th Regiment of the 28th, who were still blocking the river crossing at Vianden.


Midnight saw Hodges’ promised 14th cavalry Group arriving at Noville, near to Bastogne, but their orders were confused and they were unsure whether to press on to Bastogne or to move southwest to block the Bastogne - Clervaux road. They decided to take up a blocking position, moving down through Longvilly and then on to Allerborn.


Historical notes on this day - It was late afternoon before SHAEF understood that the Germans had broken the lines in five places - though Bradley still saw this as just a spoiling attack to disrupt Patton’s own offensive.


Game notes - The Allies have limited movement allowances on the AM turn and there are German restrictions due to traffic jams.


17th December 1944
Becoming increasingly aware of the crisis that was developing in the Clervaux sector, Allied command allocated half of the planned air sorties to interdicting the Clervaux road, back to the river crossing. That, together with the general congestion in the area, caused Manteuffel with most of Lehr, to turn ninety degrees and move south towards Ettlebruck, with a view to then turning west and advance on Bastogne (in effect swinging the advance out towards the left and then driving back up the board).


The considerable detour brought them into contact with the Shermans of 9 CCA (see yesterdays photo) that had been ordered to take up blocking positions at Diekirch and which were already partly engaged by 7th Army units, the coincidental arrival of Lehr assured the removal of the Sherman threat.


Around the same time, Vianden, just below Diekirck eventually fell, having successfully blocked the path of 7th Army for 36 hours. The capture of Vianden and Diekirch essentially opened up the German left flank all the way to Bastogne.



Above - On the right, Skorzey’s 150th Panzer Brigade had attempted to by-pass the 393rd at Ambléve. Skorzeny had some of his Panther tanks disguised as American M10’s, but a vigilant platoon leader spotted the deceit and ‘all Hell broke loose’.


Just a couple of miles to their left, Peiper in his typical aggressive style of prosecution of the attack, had pushed past St. Vith, going deeper into enemy territory without regard for his flanks, chancing upon VIII Corps artillery, he overran it and pushed on to within just a couple of miles short of Vielsalm. He did not know it yet, but Peiper was within 15 miles of two separate large allied fuel dumps.


St. Vith was surrounded and fell with relative ease, but things were tougher over on the right at Elsenborn, where Dietrich had been bringing increasing numbers of troops and artillery in to deal with the stubborn defenders of 23rd Regiment (2nd Division). His artillery, being horse drawn, had been slow to keep up with the advance in the difficult terrain. Once properly emplaced, the guns, supported by Nebelwerfers, gave Dietrich the edge and the position was finally broken. The town was taken and the Americans were forced to re-align their defences along a more east - west axis to prevent being out-flanked and also to protect Eupen, the gateway to Liége.


At Schnee Eifel, now far behind the front line, 422nd Regiment (106th) had been isolated since the fighting first broke and was now facing four German infantry regiments with artillery support. Their situation desperate, they decide they had pinned down Germans long enough and started to fight their way out of the containment, but in such an uneven battle, their losses predictably became too high to justify further action and they surrendered.


With light fading fast on one of the shortest days of the year, Manteuffel continued his advance on Bastogne via the far left flank, determined that it should fall before nightfall. A single assault with everything he had at hand into the south west quarter of the town caught the defenders by surprise. In a short action, the town fell and was made secure with his regiment of Panther tanks pursuing the defenders to beyond Senonchamps.


Manteuffel had ensured that the whole of Lehr had prime access to the Clervaux - Ettlebruck - Bastogne road, giving them enough speed to get to Bastogne in enough strength to deter an early counter-attack from 10 CCA / CCB / CCR, an American reinforcement that had just arrived from the south, which instead waited at Martelange for further instruction.      


Perhaps tomorrow, the fuel dumps will find themselves in the front line.
   
Historical notes on this day - SHAEF orders 82nd and 101st Airborne to make for Bastogne. They were in Reims, resting following the Market Garden battles. This was to be a race to get to Bastogne before the Germans.


Game notes - Peiper gets some movement benefits on the 17AM turn, hence the unit was able to skirt past St. Vith and press on. Allied 10 CCA / CCB / CCR could have struck Bastogne, but the attack odds would have been low and in the next turn, they would likely have been surrounded and heavily mauled. Holding back at Martelange was the sensible option.


18th December
Overnight, German commandos had taken up position in the town of Manhay. Their task was to sow confusion, alter road signs and generally cause chaos with allied traffic.



Above - The map shows the extent of the German advance over the previous two days. The three towns marked in red are campaign objectives for the Germans, together with the need to exit supplied mechanised forces across the Meuse River. The two triangle symbols show the locality of significant Allied fuel dumps.


The news of the arrival of 10th Armored in the south and 7th Armoured in the north, appearing on the German flanks, had brought a sense of caution to German plans and Field Marshal von Rundstedt decided that while today's operations should still have an overall objective to drive towards the Meuse River, emphasis should be given to destroying localised American capacity on the battlefield and in seizing the fuel dumps. In addition, the weakest army, 7th Army, tasked with providing security to the left flank of the offensive, had largely stretched itself as far as it could, while still remaining effective. To that end, orders for the day were;


7th Army to consolidate, cover bridges and towns and dig in.


5th Panzer Army to secure Bastogne against attacks from the south, secure the major road junctions above Bastogne in the direction of Marche and to locate the fuel dump in the area of Samrée.


6th Panzer Army to engage and destroy allied formations in front of Eupen, capture the fuel dump in the area of Francorchamps and close the distance to Liége. Reinforcements would be released to support these objectives.


Allied orders still lacked an overall cohesive nature. In part the aim was simply to bring as many reinforcements into the area as possible and for those already present on the battlefield, to give ground slowly, covering important road junctions, but not committing to battle that would involved high casualties, unless doing so would cause significant delay in the German advance. The fuel dumps were to be destroyed if compromised. The main worry for the Allies was that their centre was hugely exposed to exploitation and there was nothing between the lead German units and the Meuse! Reinforcements were desperately needed.


6th Panzer Army on the right did not get the decisive actions they sought, U.S. troops managed to trade space and stay largely intact. Worse, 30th Infantry Division arrived and deployed above 6th Pz. Army, so that the Germans were forced into a series of frontal assaults. They did reach Francochamps, only to hear the tremendous explosions as engineers from 1st Division blew the dump!


Peiper had been held up at Trios Ponts by 7 CCA, but the Shermans found themselves trapped, between forrest, the river and Falschirmjager troops, forcing them to engage with Peiper’s King Tigers, an unequal engagement that was never going to end well.



Above - the 28th (110) with Middleton, who had been chased out of Bastogne the previous evening, was now surrounded as Mechanised Infantry from Lehr closed in. The blocking position was critical to the Allies, as the 82nd and 101st Airborne were still on the march and too far away to secure this gap. The 110th put up an amazing show of defiance, but they were in an unsustainable position and fearing a collapse here, the Americans were forced to release 10th Armoured from the south of Bastogne, to move above Middleton’s position.


Manteuffel faced a difficult choice, as a narrow gap still existed giving an open path to Marche, but if he took it, the assembling American forces, particularly the Airborne, might cut the lead force off. There were simply not enough forces on hand to guard against that. As it turned out, the option was never actually something he could act upon, as 110th’s blocking action and then a counter-attack by 10th Armored with artillery support, kept him busy all day. Additionally, the fuel dump at Samrée was blown. With both dumps now blown and the chance to capture fuel lost, the German’s own fuel supply shortages would soon start to impact on operations.


10th Armored’s counter-attack near Ortheuville came too late to save 110 or Middleton, who numbered amongst the captured, but it did stun the German lead units, as they were reminded just how well equipped their enemy was. Both sides took heavy casualties, but held their respective ground. This was a fight that both needed to win and neither would be waiting for full light before resuming the action.


Historical notes on this day - 705th Tank destroyer Battalion arrives at Bastogne. General Hodge abandons his Headquarters at Spa.


Game notes - We enter a couple of mud turns now and these increase mechanised and artillery movement costs in the clear. A Random Event roll brought in the German Commando capability.


19th December
Temperatures were plummeting and there was heavy snow, neither side was going to see any air  support this day, or for the next few days if the weather reports were to be believed.


The engagement with 10th Armored at Ortheuville renewed at first light, but the Shermans were roughly handled and as the morning progressed, 10th CCA was left pretty beaten up, while just a few miles away at Samrée, 9th CCB, out manoeuvred and isolated by the Lehr Division, was also lost. These were devastating losses for the Allies and the rest of 10th Armored started pulling back.


Down at Eupen (bottom right of the game board), the Germans were finding progress to be a tough grind. Their horse draw artillery could not easily keep up and any artillery support had to come from the more mobile Nebelwerfer batteries.



Above - Eupen at midday. Dietrich and elements of 1st SS Panzer Corps can be see in the top left of the picture. Just out of shot to the lower left, the powerful 2nd SS Panzer Corps, just released that morning were on the way to join the fight.


By late afternoon, the two SS Panzer Corps working side-by-side had brought the American line under extreme pressure and it was clear that the position would be forced wide open if the defenders tried to hold and that Eupen would be cut-off. To avoid further loss, the order was given for a total abandonment of the Manhay to Eupen line, a front of some 40 miles, that had included Spa and Stoumont. Regiments were pulled back, in some cases by several miles, to form a new line amongst the difficult terrain between Werbomont and Verviers. Little was now standing between the Panzer Corps and Liége.


As the day trundled on, over at 10th Armored’s position (German left), the situation was deteriorating. Manteufell had personally directed a movement of units from the Samrée area to the hamlet of Champion, near to Ortheuville. The advance was bold and not without risk, but it managed to catch 10th CCB as it attempted to disengage from the previous action at Ortheuville and after a running battle lasting several hours, 10th CCB was lost.


The day’s losses to American armour had been huge in this sector, at a stroke removing any attack capability. 10th Armoured, intended to have been used as a reserve, had just lost 2/3 of its strength, without any appreciable gain.


Genuine alarm gripped Allied Headquarters. There was no time to discuss blame, the Allied position in just a few hours had changed from being quietly confident in holding back the German advance, to now only just being able to cover the various routes the attackers would choose and just a solitary glider regiment at Rochefort was all that the allies could claim to call their reserve.


Liége (on the right), was the nearest crossing point of the Meuse for the Germans and it looked vulnerable. In the centre, it was thought certain that the Germans would re-new their advance towards Marche in the morning.


Historical notes on this day - The southern edge of Elsenborn Ridge stubbornly resisted repeated German attacks. Two regiments from U.S. 106th got cut off and following rough handling from artillery on three sides, surrendered. Germans were pushing defenders at Wiltz towards the centre of the town.


Game notes - Start testing at the start of each turn for German fuel shortages.


20th December


6th Panzer Army continued to press in front of Liége, forcing American units to drop back and re-position to prevent becoming isolated. 102nd Armored Cavalry Regiment bravely embedded themselves into Verviers, to act as a rearguard and cover the retreat in that sector. They faced over-whelming odds, but their selflessness bought precious time in holding back the Panzer Corps’ for 12 hours.



To the great relief of Allied commanders, elements of 3rd armour arrived in Liége, moving through the town and taking up positions on the rough ground in front of it. This backstop position was hoped sufficient to ensure the safety of Liége for at least a couple of more days.


In the centre, the final reserve available to block the advances of 5th Panzer, the 325th Glider Regiment, was moved down from Rochefort to Marche in an effort to slow Manteufell’s thrust, though it was now the case that there was a 14 mile gaping hole in the Allied line between Marche and St. Hubert.


If Allied Command was nervous about Liége, they were deeply anxious at the dramatic developments in front of 5th Panzer, as it reached the outskirts of Marche. Their lead units (not motorised) had reached as far as Rochefort, just 18 miles away from Dinant and the Meuse crossings. The Allies did not have any immediate solution to this second point of crisis, as available reinforcements were still too far away and the air force could not operate in the severe weather conditions. There was a deep sense of despondency amongst the Allied Chiefs of Staff.


In the ground between the two German army fronts, the Americans were holding out at Manhay and Soy, while not particularly significant of itself, it would become a strategic factor later in the day when German Command was considering diverting some forces from the 6th Pz Army to the 5th Pz Army to help exploit Manteufell’s new opportunity of a significant breakthrough, something that Dietrich understandably opposed and he used the Manhay argument, that any troops he sent would have to fight their way across to Manteufell, to support his case.


Historical notes - On this day, Americans, cut off at Noville, manage to pull out under the cover of fog. Bastogne is surrounded. The twin villages of rocherath-Krinkelt and Wirtzfeld in the Elsenborn region, continue to bar the German advance.


Game notes - German Victory conditions are based around the possession of St. Vith, Bastogne and Marche, together with a crossing of the Meuse by mech units. If sufficient force gets over the Meuse and exits the map, the Germans will instantly win a sudden death victory, hence the current situation is giving so much cause for concern to the Allies.


21st December
The severe weather was playing havoc with German fuel supplies, just outside Spa, Führer Begleit Brigade of Gross Deutchland Division (GD/ FuhES ) with its contingent of Panzer IV’s and StuG’s, spent the whole morning halted, waiting for the fuel trucks. The failure to capture the two allied fuel dumps was being felt, as long supply lines through the snowed filled roads was creating supply problems.



Above - the blue line shows the extent of the German advance as of this morning.


In the centre, with the way ahead open, 156th Panzergrenadier Regiment (116th Division), pushed on through Rochefort and Celles, reaching the eastern banks of the Meuse outside Dinant by midday. The rest of 5th Panzer Army was forming around Marche, while units were sent out to various important road junctions and towns to act as flank guards. Manteufell complained that it was difficult to control all of the captured area, while still being asked to make forward progress with the forces he had at hand. Inevitably as the morning wore on, the situation for the American defenders at Marche became more desperate and within hours it inevitably fell.


6th Panzer Army on the right continued to make steady progress, but every mile was hard fought for. Harve was taken, which allowed the Germans to straighten their line and concentrate forces further forward.


84th Infantry Division arrived behind Liége, but with the city safe for the moment, they were ordered to continue west towards Celles, with a view to disrupting German supply between Marche and Dinant.


Manteufell’s concerns about the strength of his force deepened when 2nd Panzer Division had to cease operations while waiting for fuel and essential supplies.

The Americans were making some local counter-attacks, the most notable being just outside Recogne, where 10 CCR and two regiments of 101st Airborne attacked a Lehr Panzergrenadier regiment (below photo). The attack faltered as both side fought each other to a standstill, a disappointing and dangerous outcome for the Americans, as they expected to succeed with this well coordinated attack, but they will likely now be out-manoeuvred by a German counter-attack from nearby units.



116th reported to Manteufell that Allied tanks, believed to be British, were moving into position opposite their Dinant bridgehead.


At Liége, the Allies continued to fall back and once again managed to keep their line intact, despite heavy losses, but now the Germans were dangerously close to the city. 36th Armored Infantry of 3rd Armored Division blew the first of the approach bridges to the city. It had only been the arrival of 3rd Amored Division the previous day that had raised the prospect of the Allies being able to hold this city at all.  



It was the coldest weather in years, with heavy snow grounding the respective air forces and making all movement, especially that of supplies an arduous task. Over the recent days with much of the fighting starting at 3 AM each day, men were becoming exhausted.


Historical notes - On this day St. Vith falls to the Germans. The Germans also capture Samrée and find 25,000 gallons of fuel, allowing units that had been halted due to lack of fuel, to resume their advance.


Game notes - The American attack against the Lehr Panzergrenadier regiment had unfortunately resulted in a stand off on the CRT. In most instances, the attack would have forced a defender retreat result which would have removed it from play. Also as of ‘today’, if the CRT has an asterisked result, this means that one full strength attacking mech unit that has been in action for at least 10 turns (5 days) must also take a step loss for attrition .... ouch!


22nd December
At the opening of the campaign, 5th Panzer Army had been tasked with providing flank security for 6th Panzer Army, but it had exceeded expectations by lead elements reaching and crossing the Meuse, yet Manteufell felt unable to exploit this success with the forces that he had at his disposal.

To make matters worse, 2nd Panzer Division for a second day was still stranded, waiting for fuel and a good proportion of Manteufell's infantry were dispersed to cover a variety of road junctions and towns for the security of the spear head. He was at Marche, an important road hub and his springboard from which to support the bridgehead at the Meuse with his remaining reserve.


In recognition of his achievement and more importantly, needs, Field Marshall Model released 11th Panzer Division to him from the strategic reserve, but they would take almost 48 hours to reach the Meuse.


On the right, 6th Panzer Army continued in their slow grinding advance on Liége. The British were just arriving and taking up their positions on the far bank of the Meuse above Liége, while several American artillery regiments had located in the city for cover, so as not to get caught in the open by the advancing Germans. This concentration of artillery firepower was slowing the German advance while giving Allied forces opportunities to fall back to prevent encirclement.


With German focus being obsessed on the Meuse, they were taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of Patton’s lead Divisions on the left flank at Martelange, just 10 miles south of Bastogne. Some elements of German 7th army were in the area, having build improved positions to screen 5th Panzer Army, but they were not equipped to deal with a serious tank threat.  

Patton cleared Martelange and pushed on towards Bastogne, but was halted by dug in remnants of 293rd Infantry regiment near Viller La Bonne-eau.



The just released 11th Panzer Division on the way to Marche, but presently just below Bastogne, was immediately re-directed to Bastogne. If it were not for them, the German left flank would have been in a mess, something Manteufell was acutely aware of, but remained quiet about, as he was ultimately responsible for the security of Bastogne.


At Liége, 1st SS Panzer Division had run out of fuel and had to wait patiently until nightfall for the supply trucks to get through. 6th Panzer Army had reached the River Ourthe, the final defensive line for the Americans, before the city itself. A series of German attacks during the afternoon forced the Americans to pull back, but the new positions where thinly held and it was only a short matter of time before the Germans would be fighting their way into Liége.



Above - Liége, note that the American forces have pulled back from the Ourthe River, but the new line has a gap between Ouffet and the large woods. Please click on the photograph for closer inspection.


In the centre, with the light fading, it was obvious that the Panzergrenadier spearhead up at Dinant could not yet be reinforced sufficiently to exploit their success and they were recalled, ordered to pull back directly to Rochefort.

U.S. 75th Infantry Division, together with British Armoured and 84th Infantry Division had arrived and moved to ‘cap’ the 5th Panzer Army spearhead. British Cromwells of 11/29 crossed the Meuse at 2 PM, halting at Celles.


On the German left, the American attack that had started yesterday around Recogne was coming to an end, with a heavy defeat of U.S. forces, losing an Airborne Regiment and the last Regimental Combat Team from 10th armour. Further east, Patton was moving closer to Bastogne, but his 26th Infantry Division had become tied up fighting Germans at the bridge over the River Sure.

Patton needed to be cautious (itself a contradiction between character and purpose!), 5th Panzer Army was vulnerable while over-extended, but with them now pulling back from the Meuse and concentrating, their capability was returning, while there was not yet sufficient overall resilience amongst Allied forces, who so far had taken significant losses, to attack anywhere with confidence.

With the first signs of German activity at 5th Panzer Army being curtailed, the day closed with both sides having both hope and fear of what tomorrow might bring.


Historical notes on this day - The Commander at Bastogne declines the German offer to surrender. The last major German effort against Elsenborn Ridge is made. Very heavy snow falls.


Game notes - none


23rd December
For the first time in days, the Skies were clear, allowing the Allies to bring a little more influence to the battlefield.

2nd Panzer once again were out of fuel, having only received a partial supply of their intended quota the previous day. This could not have come at a worse time for Mantuefell, who was trying to re-organise the emphasis of his operations from driving towards the Meuse to instead holding the two important road hubs of Bastogne and Marche.


The Panthers of 2nd Panzer were out in front, having been en route to support the Dinant bridgehead on the Meuse and needed to pull back to a less exposed position now that Allied units were increasing their presence in front of the army. But with fuel so low and the Allied air units interdicting the bridge over the River Lesse behind them, 2nd Panzer only made it as far as the river crossing before being attacked. Fortunately for them they were able to make a fighting withdrawal over the bridge and fall back towards Rochefort (below photo, 2nd Panzer is under the Out of Supply marker).



The German defence around Bastogne had drawn in significant support and it was clear to Patton that it was presently too dangerous to advance on the town with his small force. Instead, he set about mopping up the locality and seizing important roads and junctions that he would need when manoeuvring against Bastogne in the coming days.


10th SS Panzer Division was released from the strategic reserve to keep up the pressure at Liége.



Above - Not wanting the Americans to think they had him on the back foot, Manteuffel made a daring attack along the Durbury to Ouffet line, out on his right flank, which while only partially successful, did destroy 7 CCB, though Panzer Lehr, which had now been in continuous action since the offensive opened, had lost a number of its tanks through breakdowns. However, the object of the exercise was realised in making the Allies think twice about offensive operations in that sector.


Over at Liége, the Germans, having crossed the abandoned Ourthe River, were now in position for their initial assault on the eastern end of the city and also to close on its southern side. Maximum effort was made in four separate attacks, fully supported by artillery and air strikes. The fighting was very intense, with the defenders bringing in huge volumes of artillery fire and enjoying good air support. The Americans now had the equivalent of six artillery regiments in and around Liége.


Frustratingly for the Germans, three out of the four main assaults that were fully expected to take parts of the city, did not make any headway at all. It seemed like momentum had been lost and that the Allies were able to use that opportunity to rotate depleted units out of the line and bring newly arrived reinforcements to take their place.  This was a significant set back for 6th Panzer Army.


Generalfeld-marshall Model knew that a tipping point had already been reached and that Liége was probably too strongly held to be taken. Several bridges had been blown, preventing his heavy tanks such as the King Tigers and Panthers from getting across the water obstacles. These were vital vehicles for the intended drive towards Antwerp.

His options were reducing, but he was told by Von Rundstedt that breaking off the assault at this stage could not possibly be sanctioned and that Dietrich must be told to press on.


Historical notes - On this day the skies clear and the Allies dominate the air and half the sorties attack the head of the German advance, due to fears of them reaching the Meuse. The Germans take Rochefort. Night temperatures drop to -17.


Game notes - The ‘SU’ result (basically a stand off) is not a common combat result within the range of possible outcomes and in this instance, the Germans were very unlucky to get three out of four of their attack results at Liége as ‘SU’, though this did in part reflect the sheer amount of allied artillery that was available to support the defence. Had the attacks gone the German way, the situation would have been most serious for the Allies.


The reference to Lehr having lost tanks to breakdowns is part of the attrition rule that falls from any asterisked CRT results as mentioned yesterday.


24th December
With improving weather, the number of Allied air sorties significantly increased, while the Luftwaffe by comparison, much to the complaint of the ground troops, were not seen in any great number.


With further encouragement from Model, repeating that the eyes of the Führer were on Liége, Dietrich made another fully committed attack on the city. Two thirds of Liége fell, though attrition was high amongst the panzer units, city fighting was a dangerous business for tanks.


With growing alarm at SHAEF at the prospect of a German breakout at Liége, Eisenhower and Bradley agreed that the British should abandon most of their positions further along the Meuse, as that area looked relatively safe with U.S. Airborne screening the front of 5th Panzer Army, instead, moving them down towards Liége to primarily beat the Germans in the numbers game and then with the situation stabilised, have the American Army make a limited attack to create a safe buffer in front of the city.


Having the U.S. army advancing out of the city and then holding at the Ourthe River would give the Allies the breathing space they needed to prepare for a counter-offensive. Eisenhower informed Montgomery of his decision and there followed the usual ‘alternative’ ideas by Monty, but the situation was too precarious and losses too high from American units for Eisenhower to be swayed on the matter.


Elsewhere on the battlefield, both at Bastogne and Marche, the Allies did not have enough troops at hand to conduct major operations - everything depended on upon the successful defence of Liége.



Above - as a distraction, Patton was ordered to ‘demonstrate’ against Bastogne, but while this initially started well, Patton pressed too hard and found himself fully engaged!


At 1100 hours, American and British forces launched a massive counter-attack in Liége, with such an excess of artillery support that German veterans thought the fighting seemed worse than anything witnessed on the eastern front! They re-took around a third of the city. Dietrich was certain that Liége was now too strongly defended to be taken and with Model’s authority, he pulled his forces back out from the city, with the intention of fighting the Americans in more open terrain.


The disengagement was not without difficulty, though it did surprise the Allies, who did not immediately follow up with continued attacks. Instead they cautiously took the time to reorganize the lead units to properly prepare for the next stage of the attack.

Fuel shortages continued to hinder German plans, with 9th SS Panzer Division running out of fuel, though they were fortunately in a relatively safe position to await re-supply. For the German heavy tanks, stuck on the wrong side of the waterways at Liége, blown bridges created additional problems and they found themselves involved in some rather fancy foot-work to get to viable crossings.

8th Panzergrenadiers (attached to 2nd SS Panzer Corps) were ordered to cover the main remaining bridge out of the city, acting as rearguard, they were as surprised as any (and grateful!) not to witness a follow-up American attack.


Further east on the German left flank, below Bastogne, where 7th Army had dug in to offer flank protection, 80th and 5th Infantry Divisions from Patton’s army had arrived and they were putting the forward elements of 7th Army under pressure, taking Mersch and then surrounding two infantry regiments along the River Alzette. The action was intended to deter 7th Army from moving up to assist the defences at Bastogne and they were effective in that aim.


When senior Allied commanders met at midnight to plan for the following day, their fortunes were somewhat mixed and the situation still worrying, but they had good reason to at least be thankful that in the last 24 hours, they had averted disaster. They hoped that the high water-mark of the German offensive had been reached and that a period of containment would now follow.


Of course, 6th Panzer Army remained a capable fighting force and Dietrich, Manteufell and Model were themselves burning the midnight oil, discussing ways to keep the Allies on the back-foot, with an emphasis of inflicting further losses to Allied formations, while keeping their own lines of communication secure.


Goodwill to all men would be a difficult sentiment to find on this particular Christmas Eve battlefield!


Historical notes for this day - Lead elements of 2nd Panzer get close to Celles, but the troops are starving, low on ammunition and fuel, even-so, the Allies are fearful that they will reach Dinant and the Meuse.


Game notes - the Allied artillery is much more capable than that of the Germans. It can both move and fire in a player turn and can be used in each player turn. The Germans can only use their artillery once per game turn and if the horse drawn Corps artillery moves, it cannot fire in the same turn. It would be fair to say that it has been the concentration of artillery that saved the Allies at Liége over the last few turns.


Patton becoming ‘engaged’ at Bastogne rather than just demonstrating, was an innocent combat result. It appropriately reflected his 'go for it' mindset and in this instance it has locked his armour into a continued fight, which will no doubt have the effect of pulling more units into that fight.


25th December
What a difference a day makes!


SHAEF had been justified in its view that 6th Panzer Army might make a snap counter-attack. At first light, they again attacked the east end of Liége, while also moving against a number of regiments that were outside the city, in the area surrounding Nandrin. The attack into the city failed, but those made around Nandrin were very successful.


The Allies then made a rash attack in the centre against Rochefort, in an effort to open up the front and expose Marche, but the attack was a disaster. Four allied regiments, that were unsupported by artillery (too much of it had been sucked into the Liége sector) attacked two well embedded Panzergrenadier regiments, which essentially destroyed the attacking force. In a matter of just a few hours, between this defeat and the losses around Nandrin, the Allies had thrown away their screen that stood between the Meuse and the Germans.


The gateway to the upper part of the Meuse was once again open, though in truth, Manteufell’s 5th Panzer Army did not have the resources at hand to both exploit that opportunity and protect the flanks and the town of Marche. Worse, Manteufell’s prime instrument for break-through, 2nd Panzer Division, was once again without fuel. However, with Liége successfully screened off, 6th Panzer Army had some spare capacity that could join Manteufell in a shared drive towards the Meuse higher up beyond Celles.


For the Allies, the consequences of their losses were all too obvious, the Meuse was gravely exposed. British units were immediately recalled from the Liége sector to move back up along the river and cover the various upper crossings along the Meuse, something that would take 24 hours to do properly. Montgomery was not slow in saying ‘I told you so’!


The removal of the British from Liége left the remaining American forces there just about adequate for the task of short term defence, but any thoughts of offensive action for now at least, was a none starter.   


Against a pretty gloomy day for SHAEF, there was some very good news emerging from Bastogne.



Above - Patton’s engagement there had become ever more involved and the Germans made a catastrophic decision to counter-attack out of the town using 11th Panzer Division - there really was no sensible basis for doing so. They were repulsed so badly, that they were pushed back through the town of Bastogne and out of the other side. Patton suddenly found himself the proud and surprised new occupier of the town, which he was still holding at nightfall, despite a strong German counter-attack.



Above, by the end of the day, the German front-line (the green hash) shows that Liége is largely screened off, but that the German left flank is under pressure from Patton’s army. Bastogne has fallen and further east, 5th and 80th Infantry Divisions are pinning the 7th Army and successfully advancing towards Ettlebruck. The Germans had been slow in sending support to this area to deal with something that had been developing for a couple of days and was always likely to become a point of crisis.


At the respective Headquarters that night, neither side had a particularly good understanding of each others intent.

Allied Command was convinced that the Germans would again try and force Liége the following morning, while also probing other points along the Meuse. Their own sense of vulnerability to this served to draw them further into believing this to be the sole German purpose. They were content that Bastogne was taking care of itself ...  for now.


German Command, however, was ready to give up on the Liége objective. They were becoming increasingly concerned by events on their left, with 7th Army straining to cope and in particular, with the loss of the Bastogne road hub and they wanted to restore that situation as a priority.


Historical notes for this day - Bloody and repeated German assaults against Bastogne come close to breaking into the town, but are repulsed with both sides exhausted. St. Vith is flattened by American B-26 bombers.


Game notes - none.

26th December
Both Manteuffel and Dietrich are each directed to send a divisions worth of troops to Bastogne.

Manteuffel’s 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr have throughout the campaign been the work horse of 5th Panzer Army and keeping them supplied has been difficult. Now it is the turn of Lehr to become stranded for want of fuel. Without them, Manteuffel cannot both assist Bastogne and move up to the Meuse, so he complies with his most recent order to support Bastogne, his greater threat, with a division and puts movement towards the Meuse on hold. Elsewhere in his sector he consolidates his gains and strengthens the positions around Marche.

Manteuffel has notably gone over to a defensive stance.

On the right, Dietrich had been preparing to assemble three Divisions worth of troops to join 5th Panzer’s advance westward towards the Meuse, however since 5th Panzer Army would not likely be making that advance today, he decided instead to keep up the pressure at the lower end of Liége, while sending a single Division to Bastogne as directed.

Bastogne was drawing in increasing numbers of troops from both sides and in the morning, 11th Panzer Division successfully recaptured the town, but an immediate counter-attack brought it back into American hands.

By late afternoon the two additional German divisions had arrived and a number of attacks were set up to pin and assault the American positions in and around the town. There was some limited success, but Bastogne itself remained firmly in American hands, their position strengthened further by the arrival of 6th Armored from the south.


Above - In addition to their success at Bastogne, further east (i.e. below Bastogne), 80th and 5th Infantry Divisions reached the important road hub at Ettlebruck. The whole German left flank was now under increasing pressure and about to gain greater focus in the shaping of the campaign.

Game note and conclusions - Well with the conclusion of 26th December, that is where we must end this particular scenario. The Germans failed to get their victory combination of controlling the three towns of St. Vith, Bastogne and Marche, while also getting units across the Meuse (and) or even better, off the map edge after having crossed the Meuse.

Since they now hold only two out of the three important towns and do not have units presently over the Meuse, what they do end up with is classed as a draw (historical result).

Finally the number of casualties inflicted on the other side can move the victory level one position up or down if the casualty count reaches a given level. In this instance, the Germans just about removed enough Allied units from play (a lot) to be able to push this result up from a draw to a German Tactical Victory. I think considering the current general poor shape of the Allied forces, leaving them unable to prosecute a vigorous counter-attack to erase the Bulge, at this point in time, that is a fair game result.

If we could play into the 27th, what we essentially have is a German army that has now switched over to the defensive and an Allied army that does not have the strength to do much more than contain.

Of all the Bulge games I have played, this one has kept the Germans more ‘in the game’ for longer. At some points I questioned that, especially since often in other games, I do not even get as far as Celles, the historical high point, but overall I liked the fact that the Allies had a genuine sense of threat for much of the game, which I feel is a realistic emotional involvement for the Allied player and the Germans do get a chance to get to put the Meuse under serious threat and their units do have punch, which is necessary for continued threat.

The designer mentioned recently on CSW that players need to ‘learn’ how best to use the Allies and that once understood, they can be considered to have the edge. In this replay, the Allies suffered a huge number of casualties and in this system, this mainly comes from being surrounded and then being removed for not being able to retreat after combat. Retreats are a very common combat result, so perhaps learning how best to give ground, not get surrounded and preserving some force would help, though falling back too quickly looks like a recipe for disaster!

The German had a quick early boost when an American regiment suffered a Retreat 4 hexes result, having them retreat right through Clervaux and out the other side, allowing the Germans to follow up and occupy Clervaux without the fight that would normally have caused some delay.

This single factor allowed the German advance to become so fast that they were quickly in Bastogne and there was no chance for the Airborne to reach the town and defend it as historically the case. I don’t know whether my play was typical, or whether in an average game, the paratroopers will arrive while Bastogne is still in American hands.

6th Panzer Army is very strong and there is a realistic prospect that the Germans may be able to exit troops across the Meuse at Liége, making the city a much more significant feature than I have found in other games. The hard slog took place there, rather than further down the map at the Elsenborne sector and the threat was so real that is was only that one turn of unlucky failed German attacks that I think saved the city from a real crisis. Plus of course, 3rd armor arrived in the nick of time to strengthen the city.

The threat on Liége also created the problem that as reinforcements arrived there, they were sucked into the city, rather than moving out towards the middle of the map. In particular an unusually large concentration of Allied artillery regiments occurred in the city. I am not sure whether that is a realistic potential outcome, but their weight of fire and the advantages that allied artillery enjoys certainly contributed to them being able to hold the city, but at the cost of them being in other parts of the battlefield to help units being attacked there.

There were two notable moments towards the end that would make a player recoil at a decision taken and neither of which needed to happen. One was the pretty reckless and needless attack by 11th Panzer against Patton, that cost them Bastogne, or rather gifted it to Patton! The German force did look vulnerable to attack due to lack of strength, but by attacking first with that same lack of strength, was just a gamble that paid up its just desserts.

Equally stupid, was the Allied attack against Rochefort, in which they threw away their blocking forces. One gets so used to the Combat Table throwing up relatively ‘safe’ retreat results, that to suddenly get an ‘Attacker Eliminated’ or ‘Defender Eliminated’ result can be quite a shock.

I quite like the CRT, because it does throw up, stand-offs, continuing engagements and heavy casualty results, plus those eliminations. Another interesting rule concerns those combat results that are asterisked. If you get one of these and you have mech attacking, who have been in play for 5 days (10 turns) or more, then one attacking mech unit must also flip to its weaker side to represent attrition. Getting one of these results leaves you feeling like you have just been given a parking fine :-)

Anyway, I had a fun time with Bitter Woods. It is a big game for my small gaming space, so keeping it set up has been something of a treat type of game, that can only be done when the playing space can be secured for the time needed.

It has been different to my experiences with most other Bulge games that I have played, which in truth have brought me to expect the sudden mid game arrival of a U.S. military juggernaut that pretty much closes the German advance right down and the game becomes pretty much decided and one sided at that point - so I enjoyed exploring the wider dynamics thrown up by this game. I would need to play it again to properly evaluate how the flow of play and the various elements of the game come together to reflect my own perceptions of the Bulge or at least the various capabilities that should typically fall from this campaign.

But many thousands of gaming hours have been spent on this design by an army of owners and enthusiasts and it has be re-published several times, so I think it is safe to say that it does its job well and it is I who simply needs to become more experienced in its nuances and perhaps to become better read on the subject matter.

This game will be making it back to the table at some point. Thanks to everyone who made it this far and stayed with the narrative. It became a bigger job of recording than I first envisaged, but to get something like this under one's belt every now and then, feels like a thing worth doing.

Historical notes on this day - Kampfgruppe Holtmeyer en route to support the attack at Celles is devastated by a rocket armed Typhoon attack. St. Vith is bombed again, this time by the RAF.

Resource Section.
COMMANDERS is my sister webspace, that is a bit more ‘snippet’ based than here. Link


Another players experience with the game - a BoardGameGeek entry. Link


An unboxing video of Bitter Woods. Link

101 comments:

  1. Interesting - what are the German victory conditions in this game? There would seem to be a tension between the (pretty impossible) real objectives and the making of a fair game.

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    1. Essenialy the German victory conditions are to control the three towns of St. Vith, Bastogne and Marche, while also getting units across the Meuse (and) or even better, off the map edge after having crossed the Meuse. The timetable and pace that this is posssible seems to be what sets Bulge games apart. In the playing of many Bulge systems, I never get a cross the Meuse and seldom reach the historical furthest point of advance (Celles), before an Allied jugernaught counter-attacks and closes down German aspiratins early in the game The most unsatisfying games are those that do this too soon.

      I tend to feel that a game suceeds if it gives an emmotionally connects the player to the game, so here I want the Germans to feel frustrated that their timetable is slipping and for the Allies to feel the shock of the German attack and to feel vulnerable to exploitation.

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    1. I hope it manages to entertain, your campaign sets the benchmark :-)

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  3. Looking forward to the daily updates :)

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  4. Really looking forward to seeing how this unfolds Norm:). I was given Beevor's book this Autumn so may start reading this as I follow your campaign.

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    1. Thanks Steve, a good read definitely enhances a game.

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  5. I liked Beevor's past work, but his Bulge book was a big disappointment. Seems 1/3 of book is background information leading up to the opening guns. If you're into that, then OK. Otherwise, too much anticipation for too little return.

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    1. I liked the book and the pre-amble helps explain the relationships within the allied command. His writing style can leave me despairing of behaviour and suffering that falls out of war, but I think a bit of that is a positive thing from time-to-time, helping wargamers remain respectful towards their subjects.

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    2. I like the way the book puts the German offensive within the context of the war at that point. So far really enjoying it.

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    3. I'm with Randy; I was disappointed by Beevor's book in comparison with his previous works. It all seemed a wasted opportunity with very little analysis and no depth of explanation.

      I do like innovative wargaming with a thoughtful extra angle so will be looking in on progress!

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  6. Hello Norm,

    I will live voraciously through your updates. Somehow I have ended up with about a dozen BoTB boardgames collected during the 80s and 90s. I think I managed to stop about the time Bitter Woods came out. I have always wanted to play one of them day by day in December but other priorities get in the way. So I will be looking forward to your game!

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    1. Hi Shaun, too many Bulge and Gettysburg games mark us out as Grognards :-)

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  7. I, too, will be following with interest. Thanks for posting, Norm. Any TaM games taking place in the Ardennes in the offing?

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  8. Hi Steve, doubtful, only because I have a queue of things to do, but I would like to weave a tactical game of some sort into the narrative.

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  9. Well you know I'll be following daily and then probably sit down for a total bonus binge of the whole narrative afterwards.
    To the Strongest has just arrived and is being put away for Christmas - looks great.

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  10. Hi Mike, looking forward to a ‘To The Strongest’ outing.

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  11. Looking forward to this one Norm!
    Bulge games were my first themed collection of games.
    Good memories
    Dave

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    1. Dave, I first played this as the Avalon Hill original, though those hexes seemed particularly small.

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  12. I have seen this game in all of its iterations over the years but have neither owned nor played any of them.

    My latest entries into the Battle of Bulge genre are MMP's Beyond the Rhine OCS game and MMP's Last Blitzkrieg BCS game. Have yet to try either of these but both look superb.

    I will be following your exploits with this one.

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  13. Both those seem quite meaty games, I remember you saying that you liked OCS. I think the only other Bulge game I have now is Bulge from issue 3 of World at War magazine, which has these potentially huge movement rates that really keeps the allied player on the edge of their seats as they work to cut off all avenues to the Meuse. I also have the Celles game from Revolution Games, which zooms into the localised action at the peak of the German advance.

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    1. You have a good memory, Norm! OCS is my favorite operational WWII system by far. Although I have yet to try the BCS series, it is touted as a slimmed down OCS. I really should get a BCS game onto the table to see for myself.

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  14. A nice idea and I will be following with interest.

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  15. Thanks Peter, It has been a looong time since I last played this, but from what Ican remember, my hopes are high of a good entertaining game.

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  16. What an interesting idea for a project. How long does a turn take? Can you nip off on Christmas for a 3 hour turn? 😀
    I’m unfamiliar with this game so I’ll have to learn as we go.

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  17. Turn length varies, but it is generally taking me a couple of hours to play a day, do the write-up and photography etc. There is a tournament scenario of 6 turns (3 days) that they say can be played in a few hours, I would read that as say a 3 hour session between competent players.

    Because this is a two mapper, I am at a table that I can stand at for bad back reasons and so for those same reasons, I find myself coming back to it in short half hour bursts.

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  18. A very iconic battle which would be interesting to game. Love the box art too!

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  19. Box art (and the rear panel) is an interesting thing, years ago when we didn’t have the internet and did have game stores, these things were an essential part of the marketing machine, the company would want you to buy THEIR game and not one of the others on the shelves. These days one might assume that to be less important, yet box art and rear panels continue to have the highest standards.

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    1. Box art even in the days of Internet is an attention-getter for me. Some of the artworks on the boxes are truly art in my mind. I have my favorite wargame box covers and I am sure you do too!

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  20. Interesting post,I shall follow along, haven't read Beevors book,only his one on Stalingrad which was excellent!
    Best Iain

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  21. Thanks Iain, just something a bit different. I usually try to do a big post for Christmas Day, which is traditionally quiet on the internet, so that anyone with spare time on heir hands has a source of entertainment - the hope is that that by that time, this post will be able to serve that purpose, let's hope the story remains interesting! One never knows with Bulge games, when that flip between German threat and Allied material superiority will kick in.

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  22. Blimey, the Germans have taken Bastogne! On to Antwerp then...

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  23. I know! I'm pretty sure this is a significant consequence falling from that original attack at Hosingen (near Clervaux) in the centre on 16th (AM), which saw the Allies pushed back beyond Clervaux, which should in most cases be a natural choke point for any advance. Steve, this is a big divergence from your current reading material :-)

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  24. I've just been reading about how the muddy 'roads' really impacted the German's ability to advance, alongside the increased use of fuel it caused. So it will be interesting to see how the 'muddy turns' affect the game. All good stuff and keep up the good work:)

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  25. Thanks Steve. The mud increases movement costs in the clear, though it is quite a congested map, with not a lot of clear terrain, where it is open though, it will encourage the players to use the roads and the nuances will kick in here and there as either side may not have enough movement points left to get that 'perfect' positioning.

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  26. Norm, an interesting game to follow from my armchair. Very enjoyable. Manteuffels held a long military tradition. One Manteuffel commanded an infantry brigade under Frederick at Zorndorf. One of my buddies taught a Manteuffel in High School.

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  27. Thanks Jonathan, there is still plenty of tension in the game and both sides still have that emotional connection with the game that reflect how their historical counterparts must have felt. If I could remember how to spell Manteuffel properly before always having to sort it out in the edit, I would be happier :-)

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  28. This is now getting really interesting! Will the mud and lack of fuel start to hamper the Germans? Really looking forward to seeing how it goes on the 20th:)

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  29. The fuel shortages randomly hit a different mech force at the start of each turn - you just know it will hit in the wrong place at the wrong time for the German player. Since the Allies are hurting everywhere, they will be just glad it is happening rather than having that much preference where it happens ..... though 2nd Panzer is causing them particular problems in the centre!

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  30. I’m very undecided on whether I want to see each development as it comes or wait until the end and read the whole thing. 🙃
    This is another nice series of gaming goodness.

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  31. It's getting very tense now, especially as the Germans may be able to snatch a sudden victory. Time for Monty to appear to save the Americans? ;) Looking forward to tomorrows match report.

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    1. You have been reading Beevor :-)

      Everything matters and that is a good result from the system.

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  32. Very interesting situation on the 21st. Waiting anxiously to see what is next.

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    1. Thanks for following. I have been lucky so far that the game has continued to unfold to give an interesting narrative, with different aspects of the battle being revealed.

      With Bulge games, generally you know there will come a point when the powerful Allies will effectively close down the offensive capability, but in this game, so far at least, the German side has had the scope and liberty to explore their operational objectives more freely than some systems allow.

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  33. It's great reading Beevor and alongside it seeing how the game is progressing. Fascinating stuff!

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  34. Thanks Steve, I have really enjoyed Beevor and was surprised to have come across a couple of detractors.

    I like the insight into the Commander issues at the army level and the story of the Occupied's experiences (just like in his Arnhem book) is indeed sad, making an important contribution to the full telling of the story.

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    1. I'm really enjoying the quite braod brush approach to the battle; enough detail to get an idea of what's going on, but not too much that you lose sight of the bigger picture. The info on the experiences of the civilian population is an eye opener, with neither side trusting them at times. Salutary reading.

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  35. Great narrative. It really is like getting a post from the front each day. The tensions still there too. Will it be a final push over the Meuse for the Germans or not? Will the Allies shore up enough to put a final stop to the advance?

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  36. Thanks Mike, the Daily Report for the 22nd has just been posted and I feel that game tension is still high, with both sides having hopes and fears.

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  37. Very exciting stuff, thanks for posting.

    One question about: "With German focus being obsessed on the Meuse, they were taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of Patton’s lead Divisions on the left flank at Martelange, just 10 miles south of Bastogne."
    Is the surprise here a "game"-thing i.e. there is a specific mechanism for it or is it a "narrative" thing?

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  38. Thanks, no there is not a 'surprise mechanism'. There is a fairly large order-of-battle at the start of play waiting to come onto the the table at various points. Despite me 'generally' knowing how Bulge games flow, I try to avoid looking ahead to see what will arrive and where, just so to remove any chess like certainty from my play, with one side setting up pre-blocking moves etc.

    More importantly in this case, I had 7th Army set up to defend the German flank and may have put too much trust in the effectiveness of that, plus I have become focused on the 'drive to the Meuse' by 5th Panzer Army, resulting in a genuine neglect of the Patton threat, so when it happened, I did get a 'yikes' moment and really was grateful of the almost accidental presence of 11th Panzer at that particular moment in time. If they had arrived a turn earlier, they no doubt would have been caught up in the excitement of getting to the Meuse by now. But then I could be over-reacting to the Patton threat :-)

    Interestingly, over on the right, I have been cautious of the right German flank and posted troops to guard it, yet to date, nothing is showing up there, for me it all gives a better narrative and play experience.

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  39. Hmmm, have the Germans reached the high tide of their advance? That's my gut feeling, with the arrival of Monty and Patton, talk less of the snow. If the weather clears...

    But it ain't over until the fat lady sings as they say!

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  40. The weather people are cautiously optimistic.

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  41. Well the Germans were rather unlucky in their attacks upon Liege! I feel the Allied advantage in men and materiel is now making its presence felt and that the tide has turned.

    Interesting to see the Germans advancing on much more of a broad front than they did historically, thus allowing themselves a bit more room for manouevre.

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  42. Steve, it is interesting that even at this late stage, if those 4 attacks at Liege had done better (i.e. dice rolls), the Allies would have had a real crisis on their hands.

    The issue for the Allies is not just one of objective based play, but that their casualties have been so high, they lack resilience in defence and effectiveness in attack. The lack of unit presence on the map is allowing the Germans some scope to roam and control the board and also to drive in and isolate units that are not sufficiently supported.

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  43. Fascinating but I think the momentum has turned as well.

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  44. Jonathan, I am close to thinking that, but there is still offensive capability in this German force and the Allied losses have been so high, that I am tempted to say turning rather than turned. Typically by this time in a Bulge game, I think we are used to the Americans counter-attacking in force, having the initiative and the Germans going onto the defensive and surviving as best they can, but in this particular replay, the high Allied losses means that the flip-flop point of that happening, is a bit more blurry.

    We have 3 more days of fighting, which is six 12 hour turns (3 more battle reports), the aspect that interests me now is at what point will it be recognisable that the Allies are going over onto the offensive and to what degree will the Allies be able to prosecute a counter-attack.

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    1. You make a good point about American losses. It is difficult to assess just high losses have been for both. Riveting narrative.

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  45. Another close run period of fighting at Liege. With Patton now engaged around Bastogne and the Allies secure (famous last words)at Liege, it will be interesting to see what the Germans do, or are able to do, next. As you say Norm, will the Allies have enough men and materiel to be able to prosecute a decent counter-attack, or will they contain the advance until such time as they are able to attack? Fascinating stuff!

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  46. Thanks Steve, I have enjoyed this playing simply because through-out, nothing can be taken for granted and I think that gives a better emotional feel for the subject, with both sides feeling the pressure, though question of how much capacity the Germans should have will no doubt be something that I will touch upon in the concluding post. This game has genuinely held surprises for me and given that ingredient of being excited enough to want to play the next turn to try and do the things that slipped from my fingers in the current turn - the 'just one more turn' effect. It has not felt like a 'run of the mill' Bulge game.

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  47. Just read through the last few day's posts. A very exciting read and excellent effort by yourself in writing these posts.

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  48. Thanks Peter, the campaign has thrown up several situations that have been fairly balanced and which would probably give some fun transferring them to the tabletop as the basis for a figures game scenario.

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  49. Your story continues to provide a gripping account of the battle. Great stuff and I am completely drawn in. Thanks!

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  50. Thanks Jonathan,I had worried that the advance might burn itself out much earlier in the game, but this seems to be the game that keeps on giving. We are probably nearly there now ...... one way or another!

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  51. Wow, I'm surprised/shocked about the goings on in and around Liege! Ditto the German actions at Bastogne. What a difference a day does indeed make. Having read some more of Beevor's book yesterday, it does highlight the fact that the Allies were at risk of counter-attacking too soon. See footnote to page 301:

    "It is worth noting that Generalmajor von Waldenburg of the 116th Panzer argued later that the Allied 'counter-attack started too early' and that this was what saved the German forces 'from total annihilation'".

    Now what will Boxing Day bring us? Yet more surprises? Maybe the Germans can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat...?

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  52. Steve, I have the thing in front of me .... and even I get surprises! it is certainly a game that keeps on giving. I did enjoy the Beevor read as an aid to the gaming. it was the text there drove the Montgomery references here.

    The whole game from the outset has been sprinkled with moments that have felt important.

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    1. It's nice to have a game/ruleset that will throw up surprises now and then, to keep all involved on their toes! When playing some of the Bloody Big Battles scenarios from the wars of 1866 & 1871, it was great to be able to read about them in Howard before, so that game made more sense and you could understand what happened and why historically. One of the pure joys of historical wargaming:)

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  53. Gripping stuff, Norm! The German left indeed appears in trouble with the loss of Bastogne. What prompted the 11 Pz to attack out of Bastogne? Did it believe the target was an easy pick and the possible reward worth the risk?

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  54. In part, this fell out from the ENGAGED result that the Americans got in their last attack. This compels them to make the same attack again in the following game, though they can reinforce the attack. So the German expectation was they would be attacked again at the same point by a stronger force.

    They could have just sat on their hands and hoped that even the stronger attack would fail or be pro-active and put their own attack in before the American stacks got any stronger.

    They took the second option, but did not really have the strength for a more certain attack outcome or to boost the defence strength, so neither option was particularly great ..... even so, they now wish they had waited and taken their chance!

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    1. That makes sense to counterattack before the defender is reinforced. Thanks for the explanation.

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  55. This game is really making a gripping read! Really great stuff! Wonder what would have happened had those three German attacks in Liege succeeded.

    Thanks for sharing Norm!

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  56. Mike the thing about Liege is that the actual city itself, once you get past the barriers of rough ground and river, is only a cluster of 3 hexes and then you have the edge of the map.

    As leaving the map with mech is the thing that ensures victory and that 6th Panzer Army is chock full of mech and so easily able to make that small leap, then to say 'that' moment of three failed attacks averted disaster for the Allies is probably an understatement.

    At that moment, the Germans also controlled their three 'musts have' towns of Bastogne, St. Vith and Marche, which would mean that a map exit would provide a total victory.

    If ever a game could have been described as hanging on a few die rolls, that was pretty close to it.

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  57. Terrific post, Norm. I read and recognized some of these events - or variations of them - from my own experience with the game. It was great to see how the whole campaign played out. Thanks for all your efforts. Oh, and compliments of the season to you and yours, and have a super 2019.

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  58. Thanks Ellis (and to everyone who stayed with this), with the game being written up as it was played, it was interesting to me to see how the unfolding developments shaped the narrative. It kept me engaged and surprised in equal measure, which considering most of us have played a lot of Bulge games, says much. Bests wishes, 2019 is looking good :-)

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  59. Well that has been a thoroughly entertaining read Norm! Thankyou for your efforts which I, and I'm sure many others, really appreciate. The whole thing was enhanced by reading Beevor, which added greater understanding to each days events as they unfolded. So once again 'Thankyou!' and I hope you take a well earned rest before embarking on your next project.

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    1. Thanks Steve for supporting posts, both here and at the Pendraken Forum. The Beevor text did help and on that back of that, I have just picked up Lloyd Clark's Blitzkrieg in anticipation of the new 1940 module from the Panzer (GMT) series that is due out shortly..

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  60. Thanks Norm for what has become a labour of love

    It has been fascinating to follow the developments and I am glad you found the game interesting to the end

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    1. Thanks Paul, even though on day one I talked about playing through to the 26th, I did initially wonder whether by time the 22nd / 23rd came along, things would have settled into a less exciting game - but thankfully none of that! it played down to the last die roll, even Bastogne swapping hands more than once kept things tight.

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  61. Great write-up and interesting post game comments, thanks very much.

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  62. Thanks, I know you are a fan of 'the replay' post, I am just going through your Durrenstein 1805 post for the third time! :-)

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  63. All good things come to an end. A totally engrossing account. Being able to keep up the tension right to the end was incredible. Really liked the additional historical detail and your thoughts on each day's events. A major undertaking which deserves all our thanks.
    And so to Blenheim and more battlefields, old and new in the coming year. Cheers.

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    1. Thanks Mike, we have done a fair few Bulge games, but I think we could have a go at this and get something different from it. I take it you enjoyed the Blenheim package, one for an early listing I think.

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  64. What a pleasure this has been to follow, a splendid mix of wargaming and storytelling. I'm looking forward to what you will be cooking up in 2019!

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    1. Thanks Doug for the shout. There is just so much good stuff about, I'm sure 2019 holds some promise.

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  65. Norm, the battle ending on the 26th seemed anti-climactic but your post game review and analysis was energizing. The points brought out about tactical possibilities and missteps are fascinating as I envision how the game may have turned out differently. Your comparison against other Bulge games is very interesting especially about the importance of Liege in this one and not others. The lack of a mid-game arrival of an American juggernaut is equally interesting. What other Bulge games have you played and how does this version rank among them? What about Parker's Hitler's Last Gamble? I see Compass Games is re-releasing that one. Perhaps, I should pull one of the MMP games off the shelf and give this battle a try with either OCS or BCS?

    Great work, Norm, and very enjoyable replay.

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  66. Hi Jonathan, yes the entry for 26th read a bit strange with an almost abrupt ending. It reminded me of one of those old English lessons from my young school years, in which we used to have to write a story. You would do something that seemed very involved, the teacher would then say 'just 10 minutes left' and you would have to rush with something stupid like 'then the boat came and rescued them all .... the end'! :-) But of course the game did just end as a partly resolved cliff-hanger. As you say, the following notes were there to sort of pick that ending up.

    I have been doing boardgames for just on 40 years, so would not be able to recall even a fraction of what passed across the tabletop, especially for this battle as it seems we are treated to something new at least once a year. But collectively, Bulge games have left me with that expectation of a mid-game American counter-attacking juggernaut.

    For Sheer playability and my most played Bulge game, I did like the one mapper, The Last Blitzkrieg, by Michael Scott Smith and published in 1994 by 3W. Interestingly to me, as I have just looked it up, in 2002, it was being closely compared (i.e. similarities) to Bitter Woods, so perhaps that says much.

    I also liked the mechanism's, in Race to the Meuse, a magazine game from the WARGAMER magazine (run by Keith Poulter I think). That got a lot of play.

    At the time that the original Hitler's Last Gamble was released, I had started doing reviews for a now long defunct UK gaming magazine and they sent me HLG to review, the main thing I can remember is that back was ragging from just setting it up! I think I should have appreciated it more because of the Bulge Pedigree of Danny Parker, but I recall finding it hard going. I am guessing that the development on the new edition will put it into another league.

    The only two other Bulge games that I presently have are Celles by Revolution Games and The Bulge, issue 3 of the World at War magazine (Decision Games). The former is a nice tidy game that concentrates on part of the battlefield that I never seem to reach in other games and latter is interesting because Liege is possible due to the Germans having unusually large movement allowances, this drives the game to force the Allies into setting up blocking positions to prevent the Germans making really massive advances to cross the Meuse. The game becomes on of managing all the road network to make sure you have really closed it down. Form memory, the Allies can blow bridges if the Germans get within 3 hexes of them. Regardless of the opinion of those large movement allowances, they are in effect an abstract way that causes the Allied player to be almost over attentive to the possibility of breakthrough and in that regard, it is just another mechanism that puts the Allied players mindset into the important emotional states of fearing German breakthrough and it works, while the German player gets frustrated by avenues of advance being closed down to them - a fun game with an interesting feel.

    The perennial question seems to be 'do we need another Bulge game'? but the subject has interest and there are always clever designers to bring a new twist to play.

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    1. I see Race to Meuse often on eBay. Perhaps, I will keep an eye out for that one and the others.

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    2. I should say that RtM is narrower in focus as it picks up the campaign a little later, 22nd rather than 16th and concentrates on the operations of 5th Panzer Army alone.

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  67. Thank you Norm. I loved following this. I really appreciate the hard work you put in for everyone to enjoy. I raise a glass to you. Cheers!
    Dave

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    1. Thanks Dave, and likewise, I have appreciated all the positive comment that has fallen out of this replay.

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  68. Really entertaining and interesting read every day with tension kept up throughout,I totally enjoyed it and it seemed like you did too!
    Best Iain

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  69. Thanks Iain, I know it now looks a big chunk as a single entry, but broken down into a serialised account, the bite sized reports seemed to work rather well. In part, I found that after writing up a day's account, the process of turning that into narrative actually increased my enthusiasm to find out how the next day would unfold. The story telling and putting translation on what the dice results 'really meant' seems to intensify the gaming experience.

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  70. Thinking of Danny Parker, what about his Dark December with its day-glow dark green and orange map, but with some cracking ideas. Following this epic AAR+ and our recent experiences with Holland 44 made me wonder about getting the reprint of Ardennes 44 about to come out, but I honestly think that Bitter Woods gives a better and definitely more playable experience. The other that I want to return to is John Butterfield's Enemy Action: Ardennes to solo the Germans again and then try the ftf game with you.

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  71. I am now increasingly intrigued at wanting to look at different approaches to this battle by different and can better understand those who collect games on this subject alone.

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