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
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 DecemberOvernight, 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 DecemberTemperatures 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.
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.
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!
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 DecemberFor 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 DecemberWith 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.
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.
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.
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