Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Commemorating the D Day Landings: Replaying the Normandy Invasion

D Day: The Amphibious Landings

Allied ground forces were slated to land on a series of five "beaches" (actually sections of three separate areas of beachfront on the Norman coast). The invasion force for each named beach had specific units, specific conditions to land under, specific goals to achieve, and an overall mission to accomplish.

The US Beaches

Utah Beach, on the east side of the Cotentin Peninsula, would receive the US 4th Infantry Division, with support form the 70th Tank Battalion, 18 warships of the combined Allied fleet, and 300 B-26 bombers of IX Bomber Command. Landing inland from the beach were the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions; they would try to ensure that the critical causeways leading inland from the beaches through flooded ground were secured. In addition, they would block German counterattacks and attempts to relieve the defenders of the immediate beach area.
American troops landing on Utah Beach. (Wikipedia)
In the event, currents pushed the first wave of landing craft south along the coast from their intended destination. The general officer accompanying the first wave decided that this area actually looked more suitable for landing than the planned beach and directed that follow-on forces reinforce this position. Enemy resistance was relatively light, so engineers and specially equipped tanks began clearing obstacles while infantry and armor began pressing inland to link up with the airborne troops. Fewer than 200 men were killed or wounded in the landings at Utah.

Omaha, known afterwards as Bloody Omaha, was a different matter. The terrain was more defensible in this area than at Utah; allied bombers and naval gunfire did much less damage to the defenses; and German forces that the Americans expected to encounter further inland proved to have been shifted forward to supplement the first line of defense.

Six battalions of infantry and two of tanks constituted the first wave. While the tanks had been fitted with flotation equipment to be amphibious, the strong waves in the area that morning swamped many of them before they got to shore, and later groups, brought closer to shore before being landed, were knocked out by German guns as soon as they began maneuvering on the beach. Infantry and engineers were swept away from their assigned landing zones, as at Utah; but at Omaha, this simply caused confusion and gridlock, as fresh troops landed in areas already filled with men and machines (some destroyed, some functioning). Eventually troops on the beach regrouped and fought their way through the German defenses, but not before taking nearly 3,000 casualties.

Between Utah and Omaha Beaches were the bluffs of Pointe du Hoc, a 100 foot cliff topped by heavy concrete casements for 155mm cannon that posed a serious threat to the Utah and Omaha landing forces. The initial force of three Ranger companies landed, scaled the cliffs under covering fire from US and UK destroyers, and captured the casements. The guns, which had been removed, were found nearby and neutralized. An additional force of Rangers, originally held as a reserve in case the initial force could not capture the guns, was diverted to Omaha Beach, where it proved of great value in effecting the breakout.

The Commonwealth Beaches

The British 50th Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade encountered fierce resistance at Gold Beach. Most of the beach area ran up to rocky cliffs; only about a quarter of the broad stretch of sand proved practical as a landing zone. Supported by bombers and gunfire from Royal Navy cruisers, the British forces still found it difficult to make progress in the face of well-positioned artillery pieces in strong bunkers and German troops well fortified in towns near the beach. Only after heavy fighting and the arrival of tanks delayed by rough seas were British troops able to move off the beaches and begin linking up with their allies. Arromanches, one of the British objectives, was captured in the afternoon, but Bayeux and Port-en-Bessin, the other objectives, were not captured until June 7th.

Royal Canadian Navy Commandos on Mike sector of Juno Beach. (Wikipedia)
East of Gold along the same stretch of shoreline was Juno Beach, the responsibility of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Bombers of the Royal Canadian Air Force proved less than effective at knocking out German beach defenses, but direct attacks by rocket-armed Hawker Typhoon aircraft and bombardment by Canadian, British, and French warships proved more effective.

Again, rough seas and high tides prevented armoured forces from providing as much support to infantry landings as planners had hoped they would. And as at Omaha, slow progress by first-wave troops created traffic jams as later waves arrived on the crowded beaches. Nonetheless, by the end of the day, though they had not captured all of their objectives (Carpiquet Airfield outside Caen was still under Axis control), Canadian forces had advanced further inland than any other Allied troops.

Like Gold Beach, much of Sword Beach's nominal expanse was obstructed, in this case by shallow reefs just off the shoreline. The British 3rd Infantry Division stormed ashore supported by the 27th Armoured Brigade and the 1st Special Service Brigade (Royal Marine Commandos). While Omaha, Gold, and Juno had been defended both by the German 352nd Infantry Division, a regular line infantry unit at full strength, Sword was defended only by the 716th Static Division, an understrength unit made up of reservists and non-German conscripts. One regiment of the 716th had been detached to support the 352nd, leaving only a single infantry regiment and an artillery regiment.

However, behind Sword in the city of Caen (one of the 3rd Division's objectives) was the 21st Panzer Division, the only German armoured unit that participated in the fighting on D Day. Though the Germans were not able to drive the British back into the sea, they did penetrate at one point as far as one section of the landing beaches. The attack prevented the British at Sword from linking up with Juno's Canadians, and it prevented the British from achieving their goal of capturing or even fully screening the city of Caen.

Normandy '44 Replay

Like the airborne landings, the beach landings are resolved using a series of die rolls. In each beach landing hex, the Allied player rolls for the assault troops and, separately, for any of the amphibious (Duplex Drive or DD) armoured units slated for that beach. At Utah Beach and Sword Beach there is one assault beach each; likewise there is one attack at Pointe du Hoc; at Omaha, Sword, and Juno, there are two assault beaches each.

Since the initial landing forces and beach defenders are set and the supporting air and naval forces are assumed to be operating according to the invasion plan, the only factor other than Fate that determines the outcome is which landing point is being attacked. In every case but one, the defenders will be eliminated--the question is how much damage will they inflict on the attacker. Utah Beach has the least chance of the attacker taking damage. Omaha Beach is the exception; a very unlucky attacker there can take losses, do no damage to the enemy, and be forced to make another landing attempt.

So, working from west to east:

Utah Beach: 4, A1/D1, Adv 2. US troops take one step loss but get to advance past the beach into the hinterland. DD Tanks: 1, -1 step. The surf is heavy...

Pointe du Hoc: 6, D1, Adv 2. The Rangers scale the cliffs and easily overrun the battery, moving inland. 5th Rangers: 1, the 5th Battalion land with their Ranger brothers at Pointe du Hoc.

Omaha, Charlie and Dog Beaches: 4, A1/D1, Adv 1. Some losses, but not as bad as it could be. DD Tanks; 6, NE. Tanks swim ashore.

Omaha, Easy and Fox Beaches: 4, A1/D1, Adv 1. The invasion is not as brutal as some officers had feared... DD Tanks: 3, -1 step.

Gold, Jig Beach: 4, A1/D1, Adv 1. The Dorsets and Hampshires make it to land. DD Tanks: 3, -1 step.

Gold, King Beach: 4, A1/D1, Adv 1. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. DD Tanks: 6, NE. The waves seem to have died down.

Juno, Mike Beach: 6, D1, Adv 2. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles storm ashore to find RCAF rockets have cleared most of the pillboxes on the beach. DD Tanks: 3, -1 step. The 1st Hussars lose some brave lads.

Juno, Nan Beach: 5, A1/D1, Adv 2. The Canadians are living up to their historical record of making the biggest gains on the first day. DD Tanks: 3, -1 step. An 88mm emplacement near Bernières takes out several tanks of the Fort Garry Horse.

Sword, Queen Beach: D1, Adv 2. Lion sur Mer is full of Yorkshiremen. DD Tanks: 3, -1 step. Choppy seas swamp some 13th/18th Hussars Shermans.

That's tremendously better results than the historical landings. The Allies are ashore with a firm foothold here. Let's see what Jerry does next.

The game after the airborne and beach landings.
Next: German Turn 1. Some restriction of German movement: German Ost units (made up of conscripts and volunteers from USSR territories), some units of the 711th Division (the defenders of the Cabourg/Deauville area), and the units of the Cherbourg garrison cannot move on Turn 1, and the 21st Panzer Division has reduced movement on that turn.

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