We Fight and Die Here No. 5 – Ring of Steel

The game clock ticks from D4 2359 to D5 0000, and a magical thing happens.

Snow! Blanketing the battlefield, slowing down movement. It’s a good turn. By this point, my lines have assumed some semblance of stability. My artillery battalions northwest of Oberweywertz are still out on an island, and I have less security for my supply lines than I might like. (One of the points through which supply enters sits at the end of the road which runs west-southwest off the map through Waimes.) That said, I don’t have a lot of room to maneuver right now, having just gotten everything stabilized. If I had more time, and if the Germans weren’t still pressuring 1st battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment in Schoppen, I might have set them up in a defensive line from Oberweywertz to Waimes (with B and C Companies of the 26th Infantry Regiment and the 18th Infantry headquarters adding some length), but their odd advanced position will have to do for now.

C Company, 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, which was on the hunt for German armored vehicles behind the line yesterday, has moved into Bütgenbach to serve as a reserve, a luxury I haven’t yet had today. 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry’s still there, too, but I detached two of its companies and one of its attached motorized units to join the defense of Dom. Bütgenbach. The massed German units in the woods to the southeast worry me.

As 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry starts to pull back into line with 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, some German infantry units stumble into it. They eventually manage to get into their new positions, after some mortar support pushes the Germans back.

E Company, 18th Infantry has taken the brunt of the fighting, but there’s not much I can do. If the 18th Infantry’s 3rd Battalion was on my list of reinforcements, I would have brought them in to relieve 2nd Battalion, but it was not to be. E Company is holding, at least, and I have some units I can move forward to take its place if I have to. This must be what having a reserve feels like. It’s not something I have a lot of experience with.

At around sunrise, I’m filled with a sense of relief: the game delivers dozens of messages to me, saying that supply has reached my front-line units, and that none of the transport columns between the supply dumps and the combat units took any damage. I think I’ve finally dealt with my infiltrators problem.

The day rolls on, and there’s not a lot to say. The German units massing southeast of Dom. Bütgenbach did indeed make an attack, and artillery broke it up. The fighting east of Bütgenbach remained heavy, and 1st Company, 16th Infantry repelled a few more minor attacks. If I had been thinking ahead and if I had some time to spare, I might have directed 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry to take 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry’s places north of Dom. Bütgenbach; fresher units over there might have been nice.

At 6:00pm on December 22nd (day 5), I win a decisive victory. The game-end screen provides one or two interesting points. One: although Axis and Allied losses to anti-armor gunfire came to about 100 per side, we Americans knocked out forty-six German AFVs (a classification which includes things like fighting halftracks as well as tanks) with bazookas. Five hundred of the German troops who made it behind our lines ended up surrendering; out of supply and tired, I can see why that would be. I probably would have had a harder time at it if the Germans had more artillery to lead their attacks with; as it was, the sheer weight of them got close to ruining things. It was only by good fortune that I had anything in front of the attack through the forest on December 21st, and only by a double helping of good fortune that the Germans hadn’t pinned Task Force Davisson down. (I suppose 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry played a part in preventing that.) Anyway, here’s the game-end map.

I did this entry backward for a reason: in reality, as in my game, not a ton happened on the 22nd. The Germans attacked again, but they made less progress than they had on the 21st, and as the Americans dug in further, they had to face the thought that they had failed. As with many of their failures in the Battle of the Bulge (and indeed many failures in warfare throughout history), it wasn’t entirely their fault. American logistics were the turning point during the critical 21st.

[…] American artillery in support of the 2d Battalion, 26th Infantry, fired more than ten thousand rounds in an awesome display of firepower. it was no wonder that not a single SS-Panzergrenadier or paratrooper got past the line of foxholes. Yet the artillery would have been of little consequence had not intrepid infantrymen and antitank crewmen held their ground with incredible courage and pertinacity. [Daniel’s men] had made one of the truly epic stands against the big German offensive.

Four American infantry divisions—the 2nd, the 99th, the 9th, and our own Big Red One—held the line from Monschau in the north, down to the Elsenborn Ridge and Domäne Bütgenbach, then west most of the way to Malmédy. Among the infantry, the rumor went that the artillery behind them was parked hub to hub, and MacDonald says that was ‘almost literally the case.’ 348 guns of various types fired in support of four divisions, which held a solid front of about fifteen miles. If they all fired simultaneously, their targets evenly spread over that entire front, the shells would hit about seventy yards apart—a curtain of shrapnel fifteen miles long. That amount of firepower, concentrated on German attacks, stopped them before they started. As MacDonald writes: “Nobody was going to get through the ring of steel those artillery pieces were capable of laying down.” And that’s about the size of it: the Americans had the men and the guns in the right place, and—just as importantly—they had the trucks to keep those guns delivering their deadly payload.

This entry was posted in We Fight and Die Here, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply