After Action Report: John Butterfield’s Battle of the Bulge
AFTER ACTION REPORT: John Butterfield’s Battle of the Bulge
by Ros Hermans (Allies) and David Hoeft (Axis)
Surprise Attack, 12/16
Axis - It’s crucial to attack aggressively now and throughout the 16th of December because of the combat bonus. That first day bonus, coupled with the artillery bonus, means most of my attacks will be successful.
The destruction of Allied units is the best outcome, but retreats help as well as I try to crack open the front and set the stage for further attacks on the 17th.
I have decided to push hard for the Meuse at Liege in this game and to practically ignore the southern half of the map. This is not the only way to successfully manage the Axis, but it’s what I’ll go with this time. Even if I cannot get across the Meuse, if I get adjacent to it quickly I will gain the OKW reserve reinforcements, which will be a big help in the middle game and the end game.
Allies - What a lovely evening! Christmas will be here soon. Uncle Joe is beating back the Krauts. Life is good, if a bit chilly and overcast, in Ardennes. Wait– what was that? Bright flashes and loud booms? Seems like an odd time for a thunderstorm. Huh, the Germans are ATTACKING?! Uh-oh. Better grab some ammo and make friends with your fox holes fellas!
There is not much to do now other than see how the pre-dawn attacks shake out. No plan survives first contact so let’s see where the assault takes us.
Axis - The pre-dawn attacks went pretty well and there were no outright failures (the Allies holding a position with no loss).
I continue to try to break open the Allied front so as to gain access first to the wooded areas in the center (Malmedy & Trois Ponts) which otherwise can serve to anchor an Allied defensive line.
I continue to attack aggressively, because of the combat bonus throughout the 16th.
I’m going to be shifting my armor northwards rather than being distracted by Bastogne.
If I’m lucky, my advances will destroy or hem in the big infantry units in Elsenborn and Monschau, which will make the advance on Liege/Verviers easier.
Allies - The Axis’s pre-dawn attack were pretty standard for the game. The German artillery and surprise bonus turn mere Volkgrenadiers into super human attacking machines. The token force on the map is usually crushed quickly. Sometimes units will either retreat or hold but usually those attacks in a cloud of smoke and wrecked Shermans.
The morning actually treated me fairly well. I’ve played enough to know not to get my hopes up in the predawn attacks. I was able to get my smaller armor units in place in Bastogne and Houffalize. Even better, the first large panzer engagement ended bouncing off the 99th Infantry in Elsenborn. This doesn’t happen often.
Now that I have made all of my possible moves for the day, the pass-fest, that is the 16th, for Allied player commences.
Armor advances and concentrates in preparation for the next day and the infantry slog forward.
By day’s end I manage to secure Malmedy and have an open road ahead towards Spa and Liege.
Allies - Lots of passing and watching the Germans organize their units. With some retreats the CCB and 99th Infantry, both have retreated. This is not a good thing – more on that to come later.
Axis - A key battle will be when I attack Elsenborn into Eupen. Again, my whole effort will be towards the Meuse at Liege.
Despite that, I do have to keep my eye on what Ros’s Allies are doing – which units can interfere with my supply line (not critical, strictly speaking, at this time because the Germans don’t do supply checks till the 19th – but if he gets one or more powerful units behind me, he can force me to divert units that should be rushing the Meuse). It’s always important to keep in mind the movement rules, especially armor and strategic movement capabilities, the special rules about crossing rivers into enemy-occupied areas and the rules limiting movement from contested to enemy-controlled areas. Being aware of the options and limitations to movement those rules provide is critical for planning how, where and when to move.
Allies - So normally when a unit retreats and is not destroyed, it is a good thing. Most generals would be overjoyed that the brave men of the 99th Infantry held back the might of the elite 1st SS Panzer Division; me, not so much. The token force that now sits in Eupen is too small to take full advantage of the terrain. I know the first move that is coming tomorrow and there is nothing I can do about it. You see, Eupen is normally the northern should of the “bulge”. Woe is the German general who gets bogged down in the hills and woods. An elite infantry there can be a tough nut to crack. In this game, though, it is not to be…
The infantry in Malmedy separate, one going to Trois Ponts to secure it so that the trailing armor can strategically move into the area, the other moving into Eupen to hopefully pin the Allied units.
Armor advances from St. Vith to Trois Ponts, setting the stage for further advances on the 18th.
The remainder of the day is spent bringing the infantry forward. I am concerned that I’m stretched so thin along the flanks, but so far will accept the risk and continue the armored thrust for the river, in hope for an early victory.
Allies - … the first action of the day smashed the units in Eupen to a finely ground pulp. The worst part is advance after combat. If the CCB and 99th had died in place and not retreated to Eupen, the panzers would not be in Spa at this point. One space ahead in the Race to the Meuse is a LLLLOOOONNNNGGG way.
It’s also pretty clear by this point that the town of Bastogne will be spared its historical fate. Everyone is looking to head up for Liege. Risky, but with two barely dinged Panzer Divisions across the Ourthe in the north is one hell of a start.
My best shot is going to be to take my small concentration of armor in Houffalize to find a way to harass the ever growing flank. That, and find more virgins to sacrifice to the dice gods.
Axis - My commandos activated this turn, and I decided to pin the big armor unit in Verviers.
Difficult decisions are to be made about how best to advance and what to do about the exposed flanks.
I send one panzer unit out of Spa to Herve, both to contact the river and to hopefully prevent the units in Verviers from helping in the defense of Liege. I feel I have to leave one panzer unit in Spa, however, to prevent an advance by Ros into Spa, which would endanger my line of supply. I send the panzers from Trois Ponts to Ouffet, from which I hope they’ll have options to either cross the river, support the panzers in Herve, or head into the open terrain of Huy.
Ros counters by attacking out of Verviers into Herve- not much damage but it gives him the possibility next turn of reinforcing Liege out of Herve.
I continue to move my infantry forward, with the primary goal being support of the onrushing panzers and prevention of spoiler advances elsewhere by Ros’ Allies.
Allies - The hits just keep on coming. The Commando’s role comes in and my best counter punch for the day is stuck in neutral, asking every one at every checkpoint who won the 1936 World Series. Once the Panzers hit the Meuse in the north, I have no choice but to try to kick them out. Waking the OKH beast is not on my to do list. Sadly, the 9th and Big Red One are not up to the task at hand.
The one thing that is going my way are some time rolls. The day is flying by. Maybe that trend will get me an exposed flank to strike.
Axis - There is some careful passing and watchful waiting before the Allies make some moves around Bastogne. It is looking like the decision of the battle will hinge on whether I can keep my forward most panzers in supply – and the Allies will be doing everything they can to cut off the salient that is up to the Meuse. If that happens, I’ll have to fight like mad to break through, or else lose several leading armored units (and likely the game).
There’s a fine balance in these first few days of too much vs. not enough aggressiveness for the Axis…
Allies - With all of my southern armor intact and most of the Panzers into the salient, I figure now is the time to act. With a few maneuvers attempting to hold Houffalize (great defensive terrain) I shoot my armor down hoping to kill a German Infantry Division in poor defensive terrain and exploit back up toward St. Vith. Again, not to be fooled. What results is only a retreat, which denies me the exploit move I so desperately need.
The airborne is in place for some heroics now, and that is about all that can save me.
Side note: This time, I do not realize that is the case. I have forgotten that a supplied unit across the Meuse on 19th is an auto-win. This doesn’t happen often and I’m still thinking if I can gum up the works enough I can hold out for Monty to save the day. Plus he’s not scoring Liege, Verviers, or Bastogne, so it’s still 50/50 in my head. Oops.
Axis - Panzer Lehr crosses the Meuse at first light – now to see if they can hold on and maintain control of Wanze, and if the rest of the Axis forces can keep the supply lines open.
In case Lehr gets destroyed, I need to prepare to carry on the battle past the 19th, too.
Allies - As expected, Lehr crosses to Wanze. I’d go over the rest of my thinking here, but as previously noted, it was extremely flawed. It came down to two attacks. The 82nd drew a short straw and had to cross the Meuse to deal with Lehr. They did some damage, though at a terrible cost. Guess it’s up to the 30th…
Axis - Lehr is holding out so far, though took unexpectedly heavy losses in combat against the 82nd Airborne. I expect the 30th Infantry in Liege to attack soon, as the last hope the Allies have of eliminating Lehr.
I continued to move up my armor in case that occurs, and if the game goes on, will push on westward and try the crossings at Hingeon and Namur.
Allies - Nope, 30th failed to push them out. There were some more shuffling on my part, but it turned out to be shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.
Victory for the Axis for having a unit in control of an area across the Meuse!
I think that there were 3 keys to victory from the Axis’s perspective:
1) Ignore Bastogne and push everything possible towards Liege
2) The victory in Eupen on the 17th, which allowed breakthrough movement into Spa, setting the stage for…
3) The move into Ouffet and Herve, which set me up to jump across the river AND cut off the large forces in Verviers, keeping them from interfering with the crossing.
Allies - That was a fun game, even in a loss. I wasn’t expecting the northern full court press. It can work with a right combination of moves and rolls. It is a high-risk high-reward plan. While not seen in this AAR, the supply rules can end a promising thrust to Antwerp rather abruptly. Had my armor been a bit more effective (and less confused) this one may have gone longer. This time though, I ran into an astute opposing general capable of exploiting the opportunities afforded him.
Great game, Dave. I’m looking forward to next one.