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Subject: Scenario 2 - Operation Blucher rss

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Chris Montgomery
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After Action Report
Scenario 2: Operation Blucher
(French Victory)
Played on June 05, 2009 and June 12, 2009

Introduction and Background

Author's Note: This is an AAR of a live game, but all images were created using Cyberboard for clear, crisp images.

I have posted two other AARs of the introductory scenario (Scenario 1). The first one I played the French and lost. The second one, I played the French and won. These AARs can be found here, for the first game, and here for the redux.

Our next game was (this one) Scenario 2.

Marne 1918 Friedensturm ("Marne 1918") simulates the German offensives near Paris at the end of World War I in mid-1918. This period was the beginning of the end of the war, and during this period the German high command had--for the first time since 1914--mustered superior manpower against the Entente thanks to the defeat of Russia and the communist revolution. Germany's eastern divisions were quickly sent by road, rail, and foot to the western front resulting in a significant numerical advantage for Germany. Even so, internal pressures within Germany demanded an aggressive course of action: the population was at near-starvation levels and the government was bankrupt. Moreover, the United States had entered the war after the sinking of the Lusitania and its first un-European-like over-sized divisions were arriving to the western front in short order.

So it was, Germany needed a quick end to the war. The 1918 offensives were designed by the German High Command to end the war by (hopefully) capturing Paris, breaking the French national will, and forcing France to surrender. The goal was to end the war in a matter of months. Failure in these offensives likely meant failure for Germany.

The Kaiser's high command launched two offensives - Operation Michael, and Operation Blucher (pronounced BLOO-ker). Operation Michael was launched in the extreme northern reaches of France and had been fought primarily against the combined forces of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French Army. Operation Blucher was launched along the German trench lines from Soissons to Reims, with the general goal of breaking the French army and hopefully obtaining a breakthrough to Paris and ending the war.

Due to these offensives, the trench deadlock was broken and the eastern front reverted to original status as a "mobile war."

After the first two scenarios in which Joe and I each enjoyed a win, we decided to flip-flop sides to give me a chance to run an offensive and give him a chance to play the defender. Consequently, I played the overall commander of the 1st and 7th German armies. Joe played the overall commander of the 6th and 4th French armies, as well as the 10th army, once it arrived.

Set-Up and Initial Strategies

The original set up has the Germans poised to strike with several elite divisions against the French trench lines. Historically, this area of the front had been quiet for much of the war. In fact, the British units on the map actually represent elements of the BEF that had just finished fierce fighting in the north of France. Due to their depleted state, they have reduced combat effectiveness (morale) values.

Here is an image of the starting locations:

The objective, for the Germans is to capture hexes worth a total of 15 victory points. If they capture 14 by the end of the game, the game is a draw. If they capture less than 14 the Entente wins.

Here is a view of the VP objectives and their values. Note the rich concentration of VPs around Chateau-Thierry and the Marne. Most of the VPs within easy striking distance are not valuable.

The initial strategy for the Germans is relatively straight-forward. They want to smash the French lines and race toward any available VP hexes. The hard part, of course, is keeping an offensive line so that the Entente doesn't make any breakaways through the line and envelop a couple divisions:

For the French, the initial strategy is a little more complex. Just as in the other scenarios, the German offensive will likely obliterate, or mostly obliterate, the trench lines with few casualties against the Germans. This will leave a huge, gaping hole that the French player must attempt to fill with his reinforcing units. Failing that, the French player must try to keep hold of Crepy en Valois in the west and the territory around Reims to the east. These two locations will be the hinges upon which the arriving reinforcements will swing.

Special Note: This scenario as one of the army HQs and an army artillery unit located "out of bounds" in Reims. These two units cannot be attacked, but the army artillery unit can be used to support attacks by Allied divisions.

Here is a look at the French strategy. The map is a little messy, but so is the French position:

Turn 1, Administrative Sequence

Per the scenario instructions, the German player must declare an offensive, and receives several offensive bonuses, including Bruchmueller's bombardment skills (+3 to artillery die rolls), as well as a +3 offensive modifier to combat rolls within the radius off offensive artillery. Because an offensive has been declared, this turn will be composed of three operational sequences, simulating lots of movement over the course of the next several days (three days to a game turn).

All units begin the scenario in supply.

Turn 1, Operational Sequence 1
May 27, 1918

Per the scenario, the weather is morning fog for the first operational sequence. This allows the German player to subtract some hits, as well as grounding all planes from flying any missions.

The first day of the offensive kicked off with salvo after salvo of army artillery and corp artillery batteries hammering the French trenches. The bombardment lasts several hours, but softens up all the main locations for the offensive. There were six individual battles found along the front.

The first battle pitted the elite 6th and 5th German regiments in the vicinity of Coucy le Chateau, just south of the Foret de Saint-Gobain against the 61st French division. The artillery bombardment caused many casualties against the 61st (step loss and disorganization), and by morning, the 61st surrendered without much of a fight.

Simultaneously, the 113th and the elite 14th German Division along with the 37th regiment of the 147th assaulted the French 21st just west and north of the Chemin des Dames, an area that would be filled with hard fighting all day. Similar to the fighting around Coucy le Chateau, Bruchmueller had done his job well. The 21st had been bled out prior to the attack (step loss) and after some fighting, the 21st Division retreated in good order towards it corp artillery batteries which provided covering fire and stalled the German advance. The German 37th regiment, which led the assault, took heavy casualties (step loss and disorganized).

Off to the east along the Chemin des Dames, the French 22nd fared worse. After receiving the initial artillery bombardment (taking a step loss), the assault came across the cratered Chemin des Dames with German 4th Regiment of the 1st Guard division leading the advance up a steep slope where French machine guns provided withering fire. After a few hours of fighting in which the 4th Foot sustained such heavy casualties they were never put back into service during the course of the operation (eliminated). The 22nd French division, suffering from poor tactical coordination, decides to fight instead of retreating, and took on enough casualties, they surrendered by the early afternoon (eliminated).

The British 50th and 8th divisions, fresh off of the front lines to the north in which they sustained heavy casualties, received the German 10th Reserves, 5th Guards, and 28th divisions, as well as the 50th elite, 103rd division, and 52nd elite. These units had been sent to the Chemin des Dames around the Pleateau de Californie and Craonne because that part of the front was traditionally quiet. Instead, they found themselves in the thick of a German offensive to end the war. The British 50th and 8th, long veterans of artillery bombardments, weathered the artillery attack well (disorganized only), but could not withstand the German numbers. The 50th and 8th surrendered by early afternoon (eliminated), but due to poor German coordination with the advance, the divisions formed a choke point, and stalled the advance.

Finally, off to the French right, the 21st French division, fought a fighting retreat toward Reims.

The Germans successfully exploited several positions of the line, and by early afternoon the elite 1st Guards had secured the surrender of the 21st French division and captured its corps artillery guns. The 25th French division positioned behind the trenches along the Aisne, took heavy casualties (step loss), as the elite German 52nd division attacked across the river. The French gave as good as they got, causing one of the 52nd elite regiments to surrender (eliminated).

After the 1st German Operational Sequence (including exploitation and reserve movement), the map looked like this:

As you can see, the French lines are pretty much in tatters all along the center, but the flanks, which weren't the subject of any attacks, held steady.

During the French operational sequence, they made several strategic moves and blew the bridges over the river Aisne leading into Soissons. Though both players could now use planes during the afternoon, neither player opted to use planes during the French sequence.

Here is the map after the French movement (they had no combat).

Turn 1, Operational Sequence 2
May 28, 1918

The weather cleared up during the evening of May 27, 1918, and it was predicted to be clear skies and fair weather. This allowed both sides to now use their air units.

The Germans sent Air Gruppe II to observe the 39th division on the south side of the Aisne, just a few miles east of Soissons, but the group was intercepted by Frequant's squadrons. Gruppe I was sent to observe the British 25th Division on the south side of the Aisne south west of Berry au Bac along the French right.

Several other German divisions pressed forward, while still others were loaded onto trucks to attempt to make use of the hole in the French line (placed about 8 units in reserve, which gave them more movement points later in the turn).

Here is the map after the German movement phase:

The 50th German division forced the 25th British Division to surrender before noon--a well-timed artillery barrage caught the division out of cover and concentrated, resulting in losses so severe, the commander surrendered without gunplay.

The 197th German division, along with the elite 6th and 5th divisions, pressed the attack against the French 39th division. Though they were attacking across the Aisne river, it was a night attack, the French, due to misunderstood orders, had not been notified that the German 5th division had crossed the Aisne off its right flank. The 39th surrendered after less than an hour of fighting.

Here is the map after the German attacks. You can see that the first German divisions are crossing the Aisne, now, about a day behind their historical counterparts.

The Germans again were able to exploit the French weaknesses, and by the morning of May 29, 1918, Soissons was surrounded, and several more divisions were preparing pontoon bridges to cross the Aisne river all along the German center.

The French retreated the VI Armee toward Dormants, and the 157th Division, composed of both French and American companies, attempted to disengage from its position in Fismes, but the Germans caught them in mid evacuation and dealt no little amount of casualties (step loss).

Additionally, the 10th Armee arrived near Villers-Cotterets (the extreme French left), along with the 43rd and 1st divisions. The rest of the French divisions along the right flank retreated in an arc toward Reims, attempting to come within the protective radius of the army artillery located there.

Here is the map after the French turn--there was no combat:

At this point, things are looking pretty dire for the French, but Joe knows that reinforcements are coming, and he is simply trying to bide his time until they can arrive.

Turn 1, Operational Sequence 3
May 29, 1918

The weather holds clear, and the German high command orders Air Gruppe I to fly an observation mission over Soisson.

The Germans have a general advance, surrounding the 157th Division (the half-French half-American division), several divisions cross the Aisne, and Soissons is surrounded.

Here is the map after the German movement phase:

There is a general German attack against Soissons, which crushes the defenders--the 74th French division--within a matter of hours. Soissons falls into German hands right on schedule with their historical counterparts.

North of Soissons, the French 151st continues to hold out against an advancing wave of German divisions. The 9th Bavarian Reserves, the 9th Division, and the 64th Regiment of the elite 6th Division attack the 151st's position along a prominence. The steep slopes created a difficult line of attack, causing casualties against the 151st DI (step loss and disorganized), but the French dealt right back, wrecking mayhem with machine gun platoons. The 6th Bavarian took a severe beating (step loss), and the elite German 64th Regiment advanced too far, ended up being surrounded by a clever French tactical maneuver, and surrendered (eliminated).

The 157th American-French Division was surrounded by 5 German divisions (three of them elites), and surrendered to the attackers within an hour of first engagement (eliminated).

Here is the map after the German movement and combat phase:

Note the casualties at the top of the map--they are starting to stack up for both sides.

Again, the Germans are able to quickly reorganize after the Soissons assault and advance.

After German exploitation movement and reserve movement, here's the map:

The French turn, the cavalry finally arrives.

The German elite 5th Division had advanced too far outside the German offensive line (off to the French left, near Villers-Cotterets, and found itself surrounded by three French divisions, including a tank regiment (reinforcements that arrived on the map and swarmed my vulnerable elites!).

The French 4th, 131st, 20th, and elite 10th Colonials arrived near Chateau-Thierry and quickly began to establish a defensive line along the Marne River by forced march (causing disorganization). Since Soissons had fallen and the Aisne had been crossed, the Marne was the only realistic line of defense remaining along the French center.

The French right continued to gradually pull back toward Reims.

After French movement:

The French divisions near Villers-Cotterets, having heard word of the merciless onslaught of the German offensive, wasted no time in cutting the German 5th division to ribbons. After suffering severe casualties, the 5th Division fought its way out of the encirclement and retreated six miles back toward Soisson to reorganize, leaving the 6th elite division to slow the French counter-attack.

Here is the map after the French counter-attack and exploitation movement, in which the 5th division narrowly escaped elimination:

Turn 1 finally concluded.

Turn Summary

At the end of Turn 1, the Germans had captured the Chemin des Dames, Soissons, and several 1 VP hexes to give them a total of 9 earned VPs.

They also had 2 more VPs within easy reach: Oulchy le Chateau and La Fere en Tardenois (hexes 2820 and 3220). Even with those, that would be 11 VPs, so the Germans would need to capture at least 4 more VPs.

Turn 2, Administrative Sequence

The Germans again declare a offensive, which is mandatory per the scenario.

The French 151, still perched upon its promontory north of Soissons is out of supply, and ammunition begins to dwindle.

Turn 2, Operational Sequence 1
May 30, 1918

The weather remained fair, but since there were no major attacks planned, the Germans and French kept their planes grounded. The Germans advanced on the French right to begin forming the semblance of an offensive-defensive line about ten miles west and south of Reims. Several of the German elite divisions had long ago outpaced the artillery batteries, and they raced across the French countryside madly dashing toward the Marne.

The French 151st was finally dislodged from its position north of Soisson along the French left (eliminated), but again it dealt heavy casualties to the assaulting Germans (both the 13th Landwehr and the 6th Bavarian took step losses)

South and east of Villers-Cotterets, the elite French 7th Regiment of the 1st Division of Marines successfully fought a fighting retreat against the elite German 14th Reserve division, eliminating a Stosstrupen company and causing havoc with casualties (step loss).

The German 10th Division and 4th Guard Division reached the Marne by afternoon, just north and east of Chateau-Thierry.

Here is the map after the German movement and combat phases. You can see the Marne and the Chateau dangerously undermanned, but Joe had reinforcements coming, so he wasn't that worried. I hadn't made it across the Marne, and now he had a good chance of stopping me.

The French received additional reinforcements, and this time, the elite German 6th Division was surrounded by the arriving reinforcements (again, running too far out in front of the line). The first American divisions arrived on the scene and they were pumped into Chateau-Thierry to form a solid Allied defensive line looping southwest from Reims, along the Marne, all the way to the Chateau. There was a small pocket of unprotected French countryside, but it held only one VP space with a French division on it. More Allied divisions arrived around the extreme southeast, near Epernay to fill in the gaps.

Here is the map after the arrival of French units and the encirclement of the 6th Division:

All of the French fighting occurred around Villers-Cotterets.

While the 5th Division the day before had narrowly escaped with few losses, one of the regiments of the 6th Division led the assault attempt to break the encirclement. The French bombarded the 6th Division with a newly arrived Army Battery of artillery and some corps artillery units. While two of the German regiments did breakthrough, the last regiment in the column surrendered after a brief firefight (eliminated). The rest of the 6th Division escaped in disorder. The French finished the combat relatively unscathed (step loss on lead unit).

Additionally, the 8th Zouaves Regiment of the French 1st Division de Marine attacked the 14th Reserve Division, only to find themselves cut to ribbons and forced to surrender to the Germans (eliminated).

Turn 2, Operational Sequence 2
May 31, 1918

The Germans established a loose line along the northern bank of the Marne and maneuvered divisions in place to attack Chateau-Thierry. Other than an attack on the Chateau to cause attrition, no other German attacks occurred this round.

Joe was very good about "cycling out" his unit around the Chateau, and maneuvered brilliantly around Villers-Cotterets so that no German attacks made any sense for this sequence.

The French continued to fine-tune their defensive lines and made a few attacks on the extreme left, but nothing of note occurred.

Here is the map after the French operational sequence:

It should be kind of clear from the stagnant nature of this map that the German offensive, for whatever reason (mainly Allied reinforcements) was beginning to bog down.

Turn 2, Operational Sequence 3
June 01 and 02, 1918

The Germans made a gamble to punch a hole in the French line at a weak point north of the Marne - the French 154th Division (hex 4125), in a plan to race toward Epernay (worth 8 VPs!). More regiments arrived in and around Chateau-Thierry, but the by-now multiple-day slog of fighting, was wearing the Allies down, and the Germans, too. The arrival of fresh units kept the fighting going, though several German regiments fell into disorder.

Here is the map after all the German fighting and exploitation movement. If you look at the extreme lower right of the map, you can see that several elite German divisions have broken through and pontooned the Marne:

The French used their movement to entrap the elite units that crossed the Marne. Also, the French received additional reinforcements, including the 47th Mountaineers elite division, which surrounded the German 37th Division south of Villers-Cotterets, and this time, the third encirclement in as many days, the German general panicked and surrendered (Joe rolled REALLY great, getting 10 hits against the regiment and suffering none).

The 45th French Division which had trapped the runaway German elites near Epernnay attacked, causing several casualties (step loss), but not enough to slow the German advance.

Here is the map after the French operational sequence:

Author's Note: My play notes are somewhat scant, here, as I began to grow tired of the tedium of keeping them. So, much of the narrative for this operational sequence was streamlined. My apologies.

Turn Summary

At the end of Turn 2, the Germans had captured, in addition to their previous VPs, the two additional VPs that lay within easy reach, and also the Bois de Belleau (hex 2625), giving them a total VP value of 12 - three VPs shy of victory.

Turn 3, Administrative Sequence

It was here that the German high command made a calculated risk. It determined to call the offensive off, but continue the attacks in and around Chateau-Thierry. The capture of the Chateau would spell victory for Operation Blucher. The Germans DID NOT declare an offensive.

Author's Note: At this point in the game, several things happened. First, I remembered and pointed out to Joe, that starting next turn, my regiments running toward Epernay would be out of supply. While that would have completely changed my entire strategy for the previous operational sequences as far at the French right was concerned, it was water under the bridge. The out of supply rules dictate that a unit OOS cannot move, except to regain supply--so Epernay was out. Additionally, I was worried that with all the reinforcements the French had now received, that I might lose some of my VP hexes on a counter-attack. So it was, that I decided to NOT declare an offensive on the last turn of the game.

After tallying the VPs, I knew that all I needed to do was capture the Chateau and hold it. Even better, it was only held by a reduced division. If I could capture and hold the Chateau, that would give me the three VPs needed for victory, and only give the Allied player one chance to take it back. With elite divisions in the city, I felt I would have to be very unlucky to lose.

So, I decided NOT to declare an offensive and take the chance.

The German regiments near Epernay were marked as out of supply.

Turn 3, Operational Sequence
June 03, 1918 to June 06, 1918

The weather was fair.

All focus was put toward the Chateau, as nothing else mattered at that point. If the Germans captured and held the Chateau, they won. If not, the Allies would win.

The German declared an attack upon the Chateau. The French army artillery opened up, causing a German regimental step loss and disorganization. The German attack roll was favorable at three to one odds (if I remember correctly).

The Germans caused massive casualties, causing the reduced 35th French Division to shatter and disperse.

The German high command was telegraphed that the Chateau had been captured, but two minutes later was informed that, in fact, due to a failure of tactical coordination, the German divisions failed to advance despite the full-blown retreat of the Entente forces (eliminated). You see, I rolled a NATURAL ONE on my tactical competence roll. Because of that, none of the German regiments could advance.

Here is a pic of the final board position. You can see that Chateau-Thierry is frustratingly empty.

Final Score = 12 VPs for Germany, a French/Allied Victory

Summary and Comments

To say I was crestfallen is an understatement. It's not entirely clear that I would have held the Chateau, but I think I easily would have. There were other places where Joe might be able to nab a point back and get a draw, but I doubted I would have lost the Chateau. The NATURAL ONE rule killed me. I hated that rule at that moment. Nine elite divisions, and they all just decided to sit still, eh? Well f$#k that! :-)

In all seriousness, though, I was pretty agitated and frustrated. We had just spent two days and 18 hours playing a game that was going to end in a loss because I rolled a 1? Geesh.

At the same time, I also have to say that Joe played an excellent game. It did get a little annoying having his reinforcements arrive every turn to surround and attack one of my elite divisions. And forgetting about the Out of Supply rules was also frustrating, because I had thought about simply moving my elite divisions to dormants and attempting an assault there.

I wondered afterward why the rules didn't just let the reinforcements come onto the map a turn early out of bounds and move into the play area. At least that way, I'd have some idea where they were coming from and how far they could move.

While there are several things I would have done differently, and if I ever replay this scenario will do differently, when all is said and done, I took a calculated risk, and lost. I could have declared an offensive and taken a longer-term risk over three operational sequences. But I didn't. I went for the win with what I felt were pretty great odds, and I got foiled by lady luck. Happens in real wars, too, I guess.

It does speak volumes about the game's balance, however, that it came down to a single roll.

Kudos to Joe, as I said, for a great game. He is a formidable opponent, and an excellent gamer.

Cheers. And Happy Gaming.

Chris Montgomery
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Björn Hansson
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Very nice AAR.
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Chris Montgomery
United States
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Dear Geek: Please insert the wittiest comment you can think of in this text pop-up. Then times it by seven.
The Coat of Arms of Clan Montgomery - Scotland. Yes, that's a woman with the head of a savage in her hand, and an anchor. No clue what it means, but it's cool.
Thanks. I like writing them. Glad you liked reading.

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