Thursday, 21 December 2017

Letting Le Cateau-t of the bag

We had another all day affair with our friend from the West Country recently. At his special request we did some more Op14. I took this as an opportunity to blood my 6mm Baccus 1914 BEF, and put on the Battle of Le Cateau. The scenario and map were provided by Martin Rapier of The Games We Play. Martin is a good man for Great War stuff, and I've been struggling with this scenario for a few months at least and couldn't crack it.


The British are to the right, defending the ridge line. Germans are left to top centre, trying to turn the position. There's a German corps in the middle, pinning the BEF in place, and eventually another Corps will turn up on the left of the picture, to complete the envelopment started by the German Cavalry Corps on the side of the hill.


This is the view from behind the German left flank. Lots if woods to cover the advance.


I took the BEF and Richard, our West Country friend, took the Boche. He immediately saw the importance of outflanking my right, and so pushed on at high speed through the woods. Either that or he read the briefing. In the centre and on my left he was more cautious, so the attack developed more slowly. Still, his very presence was pinning my line in place, so that probably achieved his main aim at this point of the game.


I really needed to strengthen my right rear, which was guarded by half the BEF's Cavalry Division. I decided to reinforce it by transferring the other half from my left, but alas this was frustrated by me drawing a Spade. In August 1914 BEF units may not advance if the draw a Spade, due to the inferior quality of their staff work. This was my idea, so I was truly hoist by my own petard.

Richard started to winkle out the French holding Cambrai on the left, and inflicted damage on my Soixante Quinzes deployed on the hill.


We were now three turns into the game, and Phil had arrived with the German Third Reserve Corps, whose task it was to roll up my left flank. My massed artillery was doing a fine job of discouraging Richard from advancing into the valley in the centre.


The action was all happening out on the flanks. Out on my left a brigade of Uhlans overran my French gunline, but then got somewhat stranded on the hill top. On my right my cavalry brigades finally united and deployed as the Hunnic Hordes spread out to envelope them. Fortunately for me the German artillery had paused to shell Le Cateau (centre right of the board), so these attacks would go in without fire support. All along my main line my chaps had been busy with the entrenching tool, and thrown up hasty earthworks.


I drove the Uhlans off the hill on my left, as the Germans deployed in force to attack the French dismounted cavalry in Cambrai. This looked nasty for my brave allies, but in fact it was eating up lots of time, and slowing the German envelopment.


My cavalry were putting up a stout defence, and had given the Huns a bloody nose. It was looking a bit sticky, however, as their flanks were turned.


In the centre the Germans kept advancing into the valley, then retiring the moment they got shelled by my artillery. Le Cateau was starting to take a pounding (note the shell crater) but elsewhere I was relatively unscathed.


Half way through the day, and a quick over view picture. Everything is holding, whilst the Germans mass on my flanks.


The Germans finally storm into Cambrai, driving the French cavalry back into the same square as the British infantry covering their rear.


On my right the cavalry have been driven from their defensive position and have fallen back to the river line. You will note that out on my right some German artillery has finally limbered up and is moving in support of the flank attack.


My cavalry are now back behind the river, getting ready for one last stand.


On my left the French cavalry and the British 10th Brigade have had to fall back behind the crest line to get out of the way of the German shelling.


Le Cateau is now in flames, as the Germans form up to attack across the river. I may need to start to pull back to stop being completely encircled


On my left the Germans have exited Cambrai, only to be surprised by allied forces dug in on the reverse slope.


The final turn. Illuminated by the flames engulfing Le Cateau the Germans finally attack the front line. The shelling has caused much damage to the defenders, but they are able to manage a fighting withdrawal. The German flanking forces have a failure of staff work and are unable to cross the river in the gathering gloom. A heroic performance by the British cavalry is rewarded with their escape from certain death.

Unable to exploit their success the Germans allow my flank guards to slip away. I will need to leave a brigade as a rearguard, but the rest of the army will get clean away.


And there we have it. As historically the Germans were unable to perform the double envelopment, mainly because they ran out of time. The BEF has kept its lines of retreat open and will fall back under the cover of darkness. Whether the famous "Stopping Blow" has been delivered is a moot point. The reason I've taken so few casualties and inflicted not many too is because the Germans didn't come to grips in the middle. My artillery did a good job of pinning them down, and they wouldn't press forward. Le Cateau absorbed most of their artillery fire, and despite the defenders being in a bad way when finally attacked still managed to hold the position. Under the Op14 system you don't know what damage you have actually done to concealed targets until they move or are attacked.

The game played well, with everyone enjoying themselves. It is frustrating for the Germans. They really do need to get on with it and not lose any time at all in order to envelope the position. In fact on the British left it might not be possible at all in the time available, unless the British player bottles it. On the right I think there's enough time. Against a more experienced player I would have come unstuck quite badly, and I should have thinned my front line to shore up this wing.

So a good first showing for the 6mm BEF, and a demand for future games. Excellent.

8 comments:

  1. Trebian
    Regarding your COW 2018 conundrum, would Op14 fit the bill? it certainly appeals to me - WWI, figures and, naturally, a grid. Don't know whether it's been previously demonstrated.

    Cheers
    Andrew

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  2. Great looking game report- makes for a tempting little project as I'm looking to do more in 6mm.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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    1. 6mm is the perfect size for WW1. The battles are so vast that using bigger figures seems to diminish them. With 6mm you get a feeling of the vast scale of it all without having to hire a warehouse to play in.

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  3. Nicc AAR, glad to see the Brits and French hold 'em off. I can see real opportunity now for the Allies to march into Berlin before the leaves fall :)

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    1. Yes. On to the Battle of the Aisne and Neuve Chappelle. Although I think I need some Indian troops for those.

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  4. 6mm is a very good fit for large action WWI actions. I like the look of this game very much.

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    Replies
    1. It's worth a try if you haven't had a go with Op14. As it is square based the figure scale and basing is unimportant. I used 15mm figures on 30mm square bases for later in the war.

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