On Easter Monday, Alan and Koen came over to Zemst to play my April ‘big game’ (I try to organise one big scenario game each month - so far March’s game was Holowczyn and now April’s was this) which is the Battle of Saint Clair radar station, a semi-historical scenario covering a British para drop during D-Day, June 6 1944. The British paras must, as part of the larger airborne operations on the day, capture and disable the German long range Wassermann radar at Saint Clair and then retreat westwards, preferably blowing up the bridge across the Dives river behind them. For those knowledgable about D-Day, the semi-historical part of the scenario is to be found in the fact that I moved the radar station over to the other side of the Orne river and adjusted the opposing forces to match my collection of figures.
Alan and Koen took on the role of British para commanders while I played a dual role as umpire and German commander. Alan took 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (1PARA) under command, while Koen played 2PARA and 1st Parachute Brigade Regimental HQ and AT attachments (two troops of 6 Pdr guns). The following photo shows the British commanders working out their plan before the game (as unlikely as it may seem, this photo was not staged :) ):
1PARA, landing between Saint-Clair and the radar station north of it, decided to profit from the surprise of the drop to rush the radar station. An action in true paratrooper fashion, to be sure, but perhaps not the wisest one, given that the station was defended by, among others, a deadly quad 20mm AA gun. But perhaps the daring paras might be able to storm the station while the gun crew was still waking up?
While 1PARA was dashing to glory, 2PARA rushed the town of Saint-Clair. The paras quickly defeated the company sized German garrison of the town, taking only light casualties in doing so. The AT guns which had landed in the same area as 2PARA were hitched to their jeeps and started off across the fields in the direction of the main road and bridge west of town. So far, D-Day was going well for the Red Devils.
The German defenders meanwhile, except for the unfortunates in Saint-Clair itself, were fairly slow in manning their guns (they had after all only just settled in, having spent most of the night on alert) so 1PARA succeeded in dashing a company straight through the gates and up to the entrance to the bunker complex under the radar station before the first defenders were seen in the gun pits of the complex.
Late to the party the Germans might have been, but they were just in time. Before long, the battalion of paras attacking the now fully alerted defenses of the radar station was smashed to pieces. Between the fire of a 75mm AT gun, a company in the trenches outside the bunker complex and especially the deadly quad 20mm AA gun, 1PARA was quickly reduced to a single company in cover behind some hedges, with just a few scattered survivors of the rest remaining. 1PARA had effectively seized to exist as a fighting unit. The high tide of the advance was the charge of an unnamed sergeant, the last remaining survivor of the company that had made the intrepid dash to the bunker complex, who managed to reach the main radar control bunker. A VC was definitely in the making there, but fate intervened when the Germans inside the bunker came out on top in the ensueing struggle.
Clearly, 2PARA would have to fulfill the mission now. And that it did. Undaunted by the fate of its sister battalion, 2PARA mounted a company in some German trucks captured in Saint-Clair and rushed them down to the radar station. There, supported by fire from their battalion mortars and a troop of pack howitzers from the divisional artillery, they were able to suppress the crew of the AA gun with accurate small arms fire. Profiting from the lack of heavy return fire resulting from this, they then made short work of the German company in the trenches. This disheartened the defenders of the radar station to such an extent that they decided discretion was the better part of valour and surrendered themselves and the radar station. The primary task of the mission was completed!
There now remained the secondary task. The paratrooper force needed to relocate to Bricqueville, west of the Dives river and in closer contact with the rest of their division. The bridge over the Dives they would cross on the way there also needed to be blown up to deny its use to the Germans. At this point, they had 2PARA virtually completely unscathed, with two companies passing through Saint-Clair on foot and a third mounted on German trucks in the radar station. 1PARA, with about one and a half to two companies (out of five) of effectives remaining was regrouping between the radar station and Saint-Clair and the AT guns were deploying on a small rise overlooking the road to Bricqueville. German resistance in the area had stopped after the surrender of the station garrison.
Just then however, a column of German trucks was spotted arriving from the direction of Bricqueville which wasted no time in dismounting a company of what seemed to be Fallschirmjäger in some woods by the road. It seemed that the small staff car the paras had spotted racing west earlier in the day had alerted German reinforcements. Clearly, the fighting was not over yet.
While the AT guns, which were now the closest to the enemy the British had, started exchanging fire with the newly arrived German troops, the paratroopers on foot started redeploying to counterattack the German reinforcements. The Germans, who over time were reinforced until a small battalion of Fallschirmjäger blocked their British counterparts’ progress towards Bricqueville, scored a major victory when they managed to eliminate the crew of the British AT guns. This would prove to have serious consequences soon.
Some time later the British were getting the upper hand in the fighting against the German reinforcements when an ominous clanking and creaking was heard from the west. Two platoons of PzIV tanks from 21st Panzer division had arrived, and the British were out of AT guns. Things did not look well.
The Panzers went to work immediately, one platoon advancing along the road and the other swinging out on the flank and wrecking some French farmer’s fields to outflank the British paras along the road and in Saint-Clair. With the AT guns out of action, it fell to the PIATs in the parachute battalions to deal with the tanks. Another opportunity for a VC presented itself. However, when the first PIAT team dashed into range of the Panzer IV on the road, missed it and was mercilessly machine gunned afterwards, the British quickly decided to change tack.
Given that they were mostly powerless to do anything about the roving panzers, the British quickly redeployed and set about getting as many of their men as possible across the river towards Bricqueville. Again showing great resourcefulness the paras set up a relay of jeeps, Bren carriers and captured German trucks to organise a veritable taxi service through the fields westwards. With the exception of a company in Saint-Clair besieged by panzers and a second company dispersed after running into one of the panzers in the fields, most of the remaining British managed to make it to safety. When the final paratrooper set the fuse on the demolition charges on the bridge, the secondary task of the mission was also accomplished. The final photo shows the final few paratroopers marching across the bridge escorting a number of German prisoners:
It was a major British victory, though at great cost. Out of an original 10 companies of paratroopers that dropped, only an estimated three companies’ worth plus brigade assets made it across the Dives river to Bricqueville.