Breaking Fortress Holland No. 1

Welcome to this year’s wintertime wargame Let’s Play. It’s an audience-participation AAR of Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge and a scenario pack called Brabant Breakthrough. Authored by Matrix Games forum user tukker, it comprises three scenarios covering the mad dash from the German border to the city of Rotterdam in 1940, prior to the invasion of France. They’re loosely continuous, with the option to fiddle with reinforcement and supply schedules to make performances in one scenario affect the next, and we’ll be playing through all three.

I say we, and here’s what I mean. Every eight hours of time on the game clock, or whenever something happens to disrupt previous plans, I’ll post an update, and we’ll decide democratically what to do next. You’ll get to choose among three strategic directions to take for the next eight hours, or until the next major upset to our plans. To simplify things, I’ll distill the full spectrum of potential actions into three options, roughly corresponding to the command personalities of three German generals. To vote, reply to the post with the name of the general: Guderian, von Rundstedt, or Paulus.

Your options in detail

1. Friedrich Paulus
A longtime staff officer and noted battle planner for many years before the war, Paulus has a fine grasp of deception and a distaste for throwing away the lives of his men. He prefers testing the enemy and striking at his weak points. Will his more measured approach cost too much time in this fast-paced operation?

2. Heinz Guderian
A pioneer of motorized tactics, Guderian tends toward breakthrough and exploitation, no bad thing in an invasion. The divisions we have to work with move almost entirely on foot, though. Will his experience with mechanized forces bog down when applied to our infantry-heavy force?

3. Gerd von Rundstedt
A long-serving officer with a history in command reaching back to the Great War, von Rundstedt favors grand plans: vast flanking maneuvers and encirclements covering the whole of the field of battle. He lacks a sense for the finer details of his battle plans, though. Will the battlefield turn into a slaughterhouse as it did in von Rundstedt’s last war?

Spoiler for Unfamiliar with Command Ops?

Here’s the short version: it’s an operational-level wargame, which means you command forces ranging in size from a few battalions to a few divisions, in scenarios ranging from a day to two weeks. Its major shtick is that command concerns usually glossed over in wargames are major gameplay elements: orders take a while to reach your subordinates, and more time again to be executed. Nor can you control every unit on the map directly: you can only issue so many individual orders before your staff gets overloaded, and frequently, those orders have to go to larger formations: battalions, or alternately, task forces of several companies to several battalions, to free up your staff capacity to issue orders elsewhere.

I’ve previously written a few AARs about it. Have a look:

Return to St. Vith chronicles my playthrough of the tutorial scenario. As such, it goes into more depth on the mechanics of the game, and it would be a good place to go if you’re looking to come to grips with the minutiae of playing.

The Battered Bastards of Bastogne and We Fight and Die Here cover two scenarios from the Battle of the Bulge, combined with passages from A Time for Trumpets, a history of the battle. Learn the real story through anecdotes from men who were actually there, and see how I fare comparatively.

On to the first scenario!

Scenario briefing wrote:

On 10 May 1940, the Wehrmacht started “Fall Gelb”, the attack on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The 18th Army formed the northern wing of the attacking forces, tasked with breaking through Dutch defenses. The focal point of the 18th Army was its XXVI Army Corps. It consisted of two infantry divisions (the 254. Infanterie Division and the 256. Infanterie-Division) and a Panzer division (the 9. Panzer Division) in its first echelon, and three more i nits second echelon.

The Dutch defenses consisted of two lines: a forward line on the River Maas, only a few kilometers from the German border, and a main line in the marshy area of the Peel, the so-called Pell-Raamstelling.

The Germans had landed airborne troops in the Rotterdam-Dordrecht area [ed. We’ll be headed there in the third scenario], so it was imperative that the Dutch resistance be broekn quickly. In order to achieve this, the Germans concocted an original and daring plan. A special force called the Bau-Lehrbattalion 800 (later known as the Brandenburg Battalion) was to attack the bridges across the Maas dressed in Dutch uniforms and assisted by Dutch Nazis. As soon as the bridges were secure, armored trains carrying regular infantry were to cross the driver and drive through the Peel-Raamstelling, unloading the troops beyond the Dutch lines.

Most of the attacks failed, but at Gennep the Germans secured the bridge, the train rode across it, and a battalion of German infantry was unloaded west of the German positions. This was achieved before 5:00 a.m., which is when the scenario starts.

Map and Objectives

Spoiler for Map

This is the field of battle. It’s ten kilometers tall, and twenty-two kilometers from east to west. The terrain is mainly flat and clear, with some patches of woodland and a good deal of polder—land enclosed by dikes. Good roads run in between the Maas River and the Defensiekanaal, the two watercourses which cut the map into rough thirds north and south. There are three quick paths between the river and the canal: the Gennep-Mill road and rail line, which run through the town of Haps (the road cuts through the Peel-Raam line further to the south, past St. Hubert), the northern roads, which run from Cuijk through Beers to Mill, and the southern roads, from Beugen on the Maas’s west bank through Rijkevoort and Ham to St. Hubert.

The grid squares visible on this map are 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer. (Black lines signify 10km squares.) At standard march pace, infantry move at about three kilometers per hour on good roads. (Motorized troops, of which we have very few, move at about 12 kilometers per hour.)

All of the objectives which involve holding territory are scored based on time held; there are no extra points granted for occupying territory at the end of the scenario. We have from right now (Day 1, 5:00 a.m.) to noon tomorrow (Day 2, 12:00pm).

0. Destroy the Enemy (21 pts): needs no explanation.
1-2. Mill Rail Bridge, Mill (11 pts): this town and its rail bridge sit in the middle of the Peel-Raam line. Control of Mill yields control of the major roads from the northern part of the map to the southern around the Defensiekanaal, which will be important, as you’ll see in a bit.
3-4. Gennep Rail Bridge, Gennep crossing point (5 pts, 4 pts): as you can tell from the green outline on the objective marker at Gennep Rail Bridge, we’ve already captured it. Our forces, on the east bank of the Maas, will need to hold crossing points, ferries, and bridges for resupply and reinforcement.
5. St. Agatha crossing point (4 pts): the crossing point at St. Agatha, between Cuijk and Gennep, is a secondary objective. The map says ‘Ferry’, which represents assault crossings as the German infantry historically made.
6-7. Peel-Raam 1 and 2 (4 pts): these two objectives sit on road bridges north and south of Mill. Peel-Raam 2 is important, as you’ll see in a bit.
8. Cuijk Bridge (11 pts): the Cuijk bridge is a primary objective. It will carry supplies and forces across the river, and after this scenario ends, it plays an important role in pushing from Mill toward Rotterdam. Late activation.
9-10. Exit troops toward Schaijk and Volkel (21 pts): get troops to these exit points, on the west edge of the map, at the middle and toward the southwestern corner, then clear the exit points and exit troops off the map to continue the operation further west. Late activation.

Forces and Reinforcements

Spoiler for Map

At present, we have elements of two divisions on the map. Neither division has all its elements present; another seven infantry battalions will be joining us, along with some miscellaneous support units. The last arrive at 2 p.m. on Day 1. The first arrive starting at 7:00 a.m., with the bulk arriving between 11:00 and 12:00.

The 256. Infanterie Division occupies positions east of Gennep. Two battalions of infantry from the 481st Infanterie Regiment are lined up facing the Gennep crossings, while the 481st’s third battalion is past the Peel-Raam line near Mill, having taken the armored train over.

The 254. Infanterie Division is well below full strength. Its headquarters, and the headquarters of its subordinate the 454th Infanterie Regiment, occupy positions opposite Cuijk. Only one battalion from the 454th is currently on-map and ready to rumble.

That brings you up to speed. Voting has closed.

At the Maas
Guderian – 2
Paulus – 1
von Rundstedt – 1

We’ll attack the the north and central crossings with as much force as we can manage.

Beyond the Peel-Raam line
Paulus/von Rundstedt – 3
Guderian – 1

The battalion beyond the Peel-Raam line will attack the road bridge south of Mill.

I’ll be playing the first seven hours of the scenario today, ending at noon, Day 1. I’m traveling on Tuesday, so it might be Wednesday or Thursday before I have a result.

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