Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Saar Offensive, September 1939 - a BKCII AAR

One of my all time favourite military history books is 'Blitzkreig' by Len Deighton. I picked this up by chance from my library shelf as a bit of light Sunday morning reading: I haven't put it down since. It is simply superb. Whilst reading it it reminded me a plan I had a few years ago to do a 'what if?' campaign based upon the French Saar Offensive in September 1939. Sadly like many of my plans it has yet to see the light of day.

However I decided to knock up a quick game based upon possible British involvement in the offensive, purely to see how it would play out. Sadly there is little information on this part of the War, but enough to allow me to make a stab coming up with a plausible (to me at least) scenario.

Scenario Details
Advance units of the BEF have been sent forward to support the French left flank near Luxembourg border. In front of the British are some Landwehr units in hastily prepared positions in front of the main Siegfried Line. Their role is purely to slow down the advance as much as possible, withdrawing to the main line of resistance once the pressure becomes too much.

Objective - for the British to take control of the town and the railway crossing as soon as possible. They have a maximum of 8 Turns to achieve objective.

Scenario Specific Rules.
The British are not able to directly target the town (no bombing or shelling due to it being private property) to reflect the attitude in place at this stage of the War.
The usual house rules of auto-suppression from mortar or artillery fire and hits stay on are in play.
The British deploy using mobile deployment and may use flank deployment.

British OOB
1 x CO
2 x HQ
1 x FAO
1 x Recce Unit A/C
12 x Regular Infantry
4 x Carrier Infantry
2 x MG
1 x 3" Mortar
3 x Vickers MkVI
2 x A10
3 x Matilda I
1 x 18pdr +tow
1 x 25pdr Artillery Unit
1 x Smoke Asset

German OOB
1 x CO
2 x HQ
9 x Green Infantry (Landwehr)
3 x MG
1 x Pak 35/36
1 x 80mm Mortar
1 x Infantry Gun
2 x Artillery Support + 1 x tow
5 x Trenches
2 x Gun Pits
2 x Wire
1 x Marked Minefield

Set Up
The terrain is largely flat and open, with little cover other than some woods and the odd pieces of small hedgerow. The Germans are deployed in and around the town.

An overview of the table, with the German positions in the Northern half of the table, to the left of the river. The British deploy along the Southern end of the table, with the armoured units deploying via the Eastern table edge.

The Landwehr dug-in behind barbed wire.

Other units dug-in behind the minefield or deployed in the wood.

The CO and his reserve company are deployed in the town.

A view towards the British positions.

The German right flank has pretty much uninterrupted views.

The British right flank and a view towards the armoured units who would deploy on via the Eastern edge.

The armoured flanking force.

Turn 1
The British attack started with a smoke barrage, followed by some impressive moves right across the board. The Germans having little to shoot at due to the smoke, nevertheless manage to destroy one infantry unit and suppress two others.

The British positions at the end of Turn 1.

The left flank has advanced, trying to make the most of the available cover.

The British centre and right flank have come under effective fire.

The right flank seeking what cover is available.

The armoured flanking force has pushed on, seeking cover from the hill and woods.

The smoke screen effectively masking some of the British advance.

Turn 2
The British got off to an iffy start, with the left flank stalling and the centre seeking cover. However the right flank advanced to contact, with both sides exchanging fire. The Germans caused hits but failed to suppress any units. To aid the advance, the FAO called in his 25 pdr battery, which deviated onto the town, suppressing all the units including the German CO. 
The German response was largely ineffective, due to the CO being suppressed and the left flank blundering, leaving the HQ to retreat towards their own table edge. British opportunity fore resulted in the loss on one German artillery support unit.

The British artillery has a devastating impact on the Germans in the town.

The overall position at the end of Turn 2.

The stalled British left flank.

The right flank taking cover.

The British armour takes the attack to the Germans. The carrier borne infantry have yet to de-bus.

The view from the German left flank of the British armoured attack.

Turn 3
The British attack continues, but finds it hard to cause much damage to the dug-in German units. In contrast, the German right flank plays a blinder, with multiple command rolls seeing the loss of a British artillery support unit and three infantry units. Ouch! The German left flank was not as effective as they failed to hit anything.

The end of Turn 3.

The British right flank has taken a real hammering.

The centre and right flank struggle to move forward.

The armour continue to push forward, but are hampered by a complete lack of HE shells.

The German lines still largely intact.

Turn 4
The British armoured force continue to be the only real threat to the Germans, as the FAO, centre and CO fail. Initiative fire followed by a string of command rolls sees the German infantry in the woods destroyed and the carrier borne infantry advance into their vacated positions.
In response the Germans continue to whittle down the British, but the armour starts taking lots of hits, resulting on the loss of one MkVI and two other suppressed.

Things are hotting up by the end of Turn 4.

The left flank still stuck trading fire with the Germans in their trenches.

The right flank still failing to move forward.

As the British sweep forward, their armour starts taking hits.

The Germans start to redelpoy their reserves in the town to face the threat to their flank.

Turn 5
Well the British had a poor set of command rolls, with only the centre able to attack and advance towards the Germans. In contrast, the Germans were able to put together some good rolls on their left flank, leading to the loss of the British A/C and two MkVI's.

An overall view at the end of Turn 5.

The left flank still stalled.

The right flank finally gets to advance.
The British armour going up in smoke.

Turn 6
The British really put the pressure on, wiping out the German left flank and over running the German HQ. The Germans can do little in response, but manage to pass their break test, but the British are only one point away from theirs...

The British relentless advance on their right can be seen as they try and roll up the German flank.

The British close in on the objective.

The Germans in their increasingly beleaguered position.

The Matilda I ready to advance into the town.

Turn 7
The end of the game came quickly, as Initiative Fire saw the loss of two more German units, resulting in them failing their Break Test.

The end of the game.

The objective open and ready for the British to seize it.

The armour and carrier infantry that won the game.

Post Game Thoughts
Well that was certainly a close run thing, with both sides having a chance to win it towards then end, which was good to see. So as always, in no particular order, some thoughts on the game, scenario etc:

  • In BKCII, troops in trenches are damned hard to shift. Now for well prepared defensive positions, this is right, but if you play 'hits come off at the end' as written, then based upon experience, it is nigh on impossible for the attacker. For this sort of game, Hasty Trenches, hit on 5+ and with a 6+ save, feel better. as for cost, I'm not sure, but will give these a try in a future game.
  • The open terrain proved very difficult for the British attackers. More smoke would have helped, but I feel it's always tricky to get a good balance of terrain for both attacker and defender.
  • The German minefield would have been better to have been place right next to the river, funneling and attacks into a killing zone of their choosing.
  • Currently it is all too easy to actually more or less cover the whole defensive line in marked minefields, which makes for a very, very dull game, believe you me. Some common sense is required, but a good rules of thumb from the BKC Forum is to limit one minefield per 1,000 points.
  • The British tanks really showed their ineffectiveness against infantry owing to their lack of HE shells. Basically I need to convert or add some additional Close Support Units to my Early War Brits.
  • The Carrier borne infantry worked well. It's always a matter of debate of how there were used, but I was happy with this.
  • I used the reduced template rules, which basically reduces the standard 20cm template, down to either 15cm or 10cm. Given the British battery was 12 guns, I went with the 15cm one.
  • At the end of the game I really did wonder whether the British and French would ever have been able to mount anything more than a token offensive such as the one undertaken in the Saar? I really doubt it given the command structure and doctrine of the French. The same could be said of the British. However I doubt this will stop me giving this a go as planned at some point in the future.

So what next? Hopefully another BKCII against Adam at some point soon. One thing I might try, inspired by a post by Norm on his Blog, is a small BKCII game on a 2' x 2' table that is largely formed of BUAs. this will give a nice tactical challenge and something rather different to the norm. I also have planned some Dragon Rampant or Lion Rampant games, but need to sort a few things first. Until next time.


  1. Lovely to see the 1940 order-of-battle on the table. I recently picked up Blitzkrieg by Lloyd Clark and GMT have their 1940 Panzer module boardgame coming out in the next few weeks, so a good bit of 1940 diversion for me. Will be very interested to see the compression of BKCII onto a 2' x 2'.

    1. Hi Norm,
      I'd highly recommend 'Dunkirk' by Sebag-Montefiore as a superb view of the French campaign. Highly informative and an excellent read to boot. I hope to have some 2' x 2' action soon, probably based around the Canadians in Normandy as that's my current reading.

  2. Looked like fun Steve, nice to see the Brits taking it to Jerry for a change.

    1. Yep, a fun game Stu and certainly the closest game for quite some time. At one point I thought the Germans might just pull if off. Having the British as the attackers does show up a lot of deficiencies in the equipment etc.

  3. Steve
    I have found the following house rules for defences work a little better. Doesn't fix everything - but does help.
    The table likely comes out jumbled a bit - but im sure you can work it out!
    Shell Scrape production is an order we let any infantry unit take as an action to improve their position - it takes a whole turn to complete with no other orders being allowed to be taken that turn (initiative is fine).
    In Hasty defence games - we only allow Hasty trenches per below.
    Note all defence costs have been revised here (generally uplifted from the BKCII rules as written)

    Direct & Indirect Fire Points Cost
    To Hit Save
    Shell Scrape +1 - -
    Hasty Trench / Fox Hole +1 6 10
    Fixed Trench 6 5 15
    Gun Pit +1 5 20
    AFV Pit +1 +1 30
    Dug Out - 4 20
    Pill Box 6 4 40
    Bunker 6 4 50
    Command Post - - 50


    1. Thanks Adam, very useful and will bear this in mind for future games.

  4. Excellent battle report

    Take care


  5. Very nice table set up btw.
    I particularly like the Gloucester Old Spots!

    1. Given where we live, it couldn't be anything other GOS really;)