Previously on The Battle of Cambrai… we’ve bulldozed two holes in the German defensive line with an impressive saturation of our Mk. IV tanks, now we have to push further and yet consolidate these lanes of victory to keep them open.
To get you in the mood, watch the first moments in Battlefield 1’s single player Campaign, where you get to drive a Mk. V tank through Ribecourt towards Cambrai in 1918.
I realise it’s not historically accurate, I doubt the landships moved at that pace, or had 360 degree zoomable sniper scope sights on both the Lewis machine guns nor the 6 pounders, but it does give you a feel for the chaos (especially when I’m playing it so badly) and the majesty of these first tanks.
Through the Mud and the Blood, to the Green fields beyond!
In Turn 1, I made a mistake. I labelled up the Situation Briefing shots as Brief Brief and Full Briefing, but I got them the wrong way round. The smaller windowed Brief Brief is actually the first part of a multi-boxed dialogue set, with left/right arrows to step through the other more in-depth information.
Ok, so on with Turn 2.
Here is the situation briefing (the “brief brief”), 16 turns left, we’re 70% proficient and our supply looks pretty good.
Victory scores are calculated based on what Victory positions you hold, what losses you have sustained, and can even include Victory Events coded in by the scenario developer. At the moment we’re not that far into it, so the state is currently a draw. But it’s only Turn 2. Chin up soldier!
At the beginning of every new Turn you get a News Summary. Nothing much to report here, but our shock bonuses return to normal, now that the element of surprise has gone.
So here is the state of play at the beginning of Turn 2. We’re just shy of moving into Bourlon Wood in our Northern breakthrough, and we’re just shy of moving troops into Masnieres in the South.
Checking our supply levels, it is pretty good amongst the tightly packed frontlines, with only drop off in the breakthrough areas surrounded by enemy. I think enemy zones of control (ZOC) and terrain both have an effect on supply levels, plus distance away from supply depots or units. We’re just over half supply in Flesquires.
Taking in the overview of our Air power, we have a slight air superiority strength and we’re exerting a 2% interdiction level on the enemy. That doesn’t sound all that effective, but it is WW1.
Interesting to look at the expected reinforcements listed, and to keep track of the turns that they arrive. What is worrying is that on Turn 6 we have units scheduled for Withdrawal!!! The 36th Division is going to be pulling out by the 25th November 1917! Holy Moly I hadn’t expected loss of troops due to withdrawal. Might have to pay closer attention to this sort of thing.
This very turn we’ve had some reinforcements arrive and luckily there is a report window for recent comings and goings. The 40th Division with its HQ, Artillery and supporting Infantry Brigades have shown up on the western edge of the map.
So my first decision follows my obsession with getting units into Bourlon Woods. To give us a foothold commanding the road from Cambrai going westwards, and to look towards taking the high ground at Bourlon itself. I decide its time to ride my fresh Cavalry forward and settle them into the cover of the woods.
More Cavalry support pouring through the corridor made by the Mk IV’s. This time feathering out to hopefully add impetus to any future pushes on Bourlon itself. I should mention that recently reading the history of this battle, the Cavalry push was found lacking around Bourlon Woods, so my decisions are not totally uninformed. Perhaps I’m righting a misstep in history in the hope that the mistakes of the past will serve me well in this game?
The last of my Cav move up as far as their movement allows. I’m keenly aware of the fragility of my forward units here, so whatever I can muster I try to move up.
Finally those fresh troops from the 40th Division move into the front line.
Now its time to bolster the Masnieres vanguard with a HQ, Artillery and some supporting infantry. I need to slowly edge my back line forward a little to give the forward troops the best chance of supply and over-reaching barrages.
You can see my 9 hex stack directly facing the Masnieres defense.
Its at this point that I lose my mind. My train of thought is hijacked with widening the front to provide more troops in adjacent hexes for any attack on Masnieres. I think its partly because an attack from a single direction just feels wrong. And it’s partly because I saw a weakly defended (defense: 8) chit – even in its fortified state – and I wanted to punch that hole wider. Force the enemy back, so I can roll more support forward.
I set up the attack with select units so as not to push the round requirements over 1 round, even though the losses are heavy and my chance of success is said to be pretty poor (I’m becoming a bit nonchalant about the planner’s predictions).
I also set up a couple of supporting bombardments around Bourlon Wood.
Now I decide its time to take stock of what I have stationed both North and South.
Checking the units stationed outside Bourlon, in the Woods, I have a Cavalry Brigade and a Tank Company.
Adjacent to that I have 3 Cavalry Brigades and 2 Tank companies.
Behind the vanguard, I have 2 Cavalry Brigades, 1 Infantry Brigade and a Tank Company.
Finally holding the northern “neck” open, I have a Command HQ, Artillery Brigade, 3 Infantry brigades and a tank company.
The Masnieres vanguard has a HQ, Arty, 2 Infantry Brigades and 4 Tank Companies. Acutely aware that they are surrounded by the enemy on four sides.
I’m starting to have my doubts about the Southern attack.
I run the attack resolution.
My bombardments were a shambles. I lose, the enemy is defiant.
My land attack around Masnieres is better than predicted, and we do overrun the area and widen the southern front.
We take a toll on the defenders.
But we do exact a heavy cost for that gain. Because of our sheer numbers in the area, the percentages mask the real heavy losses we are taking. Comparatively, on every unit type we lose more.
You can see we have a lot of Artillery support, our tanks assault, but 2 Battallions break off, and only two manage to advance into the vacuum created by the enemy pulling back. Again the combat charts only show a certain number of rows of the action, and I forget to scroll down to show the full picture.
We’ve poked both “feet” into the door of the Southern advance.
It’s time to make my move in the North.
I want Bourlon.
Surely we’ve got the minerals?
Now normally I use the combat planner, and make everything explicit. On this occasion, rather than load up the planner, I right-clicked and just executed an attack in real time. You can, it seems, play TOAWIV fast and loose. Luckily the battle was favourable, and we overrun Bourlon and pushed some bold Cavalry into it.
The British 2nd Cavalry Division, 3/2 Brigade. A Mounted Rifle Squad (Early) – I have no idea what the “Early” signifies – but these stalwarts have galloped into my history books, for taking the high ground in the North!
Once again, I lose my marbles. I think it is the victory over Bourlon that spurs me on here. But in hindsight, I can’t see a real overarching strategy, other than “must widen our corridors” into the enemy backlines. So I plan a combat to open up the “neck” a bit more by attacking a hex with double the defense (16 points) of the Southern push.
I cherry pick the units I can afford to add to the battle, with the minimum amount of rounds burned being 3. Anything that has moved into place, pushes the rounds well over 3, so I have to take them out of the fight.
I’m still getting used to this “burning rounds” system, but it becomes evident that the more and more you try to do in between attack resolutions the more costly it becomes, and ultimately you’re trying to find the balance between being conservative enough (have enough rounds left to burn) to adapt to emerging situations mid-turn and expending what you can to make your main thrust effective enough.
It’s a sophisticated mechanic, that probably needs a LOT more experience with to master its nuances and subtleties. And it seems to fly directly against your natural (perhaps archaic) Operational Wargaming sensibilities.
Our Round 4 attack to widen the Northern “neck” were again successful but costly.
We thinned the German defense.
But also lost a similar if not greater amount of troops taking that spot. A spot I’m not entirely sure is critical for our success in the North, but one which provides a certain level of “comfort”. Operationally.
From the chart, you can see all the Arty support I mustered along with the Advance made by he Tank Battalions.
Here’s a Victory Points and territory possession view of the current state of play. We’ve certainly poked two fingers into the Northern and Southern breaches in the German defenses. Just like an Agincourt salute! Securing the Bourlon Woods and Bourlon itself has grabbed significant Victory Points (5 for woods, 10 for Bourlon).
You can see we have burned 4 pips or rounds, and have 6 remaining this turn.
I swap my chit indicators to Movement points, rather than Attack/Defense numbers, because it afford you a more informative view when you’re trying to decide which units still have a move in them.
I’m basking in the glory of taking Bourlon, and want to keep the back lines flooded, so I plan another push on the weakened area South of Bourlon Wood, I feel like I’m going to push the Bosh all the way back to Cambrai and beyond!
Selectively picking what I can to throw into this attack (mainly tank and cavalry), with quite a paltry amount of Artillery in support. The planner still shows heavy losses (but then when is that never the case on this front?) but gives my chances at this attack at fair. I’ve taken worse odds, I’m sure of it.
Time for a hot cuppa, before the push chaps!
It kicks off in Round 5. It’s a weak attack fuelled by strong tea. Our losses are heavier than before. But we still exert 29% enemy loss.
Weakening their rifle squads further and disabling a Medium MG.
We lose 4 Mk. IV females with another male and female couple disabled.
You can see that A, B and H Battalion manage to assault well enough to force an overrun and advance. We get some limited half-strength support (s/2) from other units.
We’ve done most of what we can this turn, time to flick the switch and see what the Bosh responds with.
Much to my chagrin, they managed to assault Bourlon itself and dislodge our defenders, they didn’t pour into the area – so the attack left the area without either side claiming the possession. We’ve been evicted with 23% losses.
Outside of Masnieres, we suffered a heavy loss of 39% in round 9, but gave back as much as we could.
Looking at the eviction at Bourlon, you can see that Bourlon has been reduced to ruins, and our defenders broke off and finally retreated.
The combat chart tells all around Round 8 and 9, with Limited attacks from the German regiments, but a final retreat of our Cavalry defenders.
And so we end Turn 2, with Bourlon unclaimed. The heady days of the early rounds when we took it and celebrated are gone.
It’s time to knuckle down, and find the gumption to re-take the dilapidated shelled out high ground.
Put on another brew, and join me for Turn 3..