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Merville Battery, June 6, 1944

INTRODUCTION

British intelligence estimated 4 150mm guns were sited at a fortified battery position at Merville.  These guns could have caused massive casualties on Sword Beach only 3 miles away.  Given the heavily fortified position, it was not clear if aerial or naval bombardment would be effective in taking out these guns.  The task to destroy them was therefore given to the 650 men of 9th Para battalion, 3rd Para brigade.under Lt Col Terence Otway.  1st Canadian Para battalion was assigned the task of securing 9th Para's dropzone and flanks during the attack.

In addition to the fortified gun positions, the entire battery was ringed with barbed wire and mines.  Clear lanes through these obstacles were to be secured by an advance (Trowbridge) party dropped earlier and working under cover of darkness.  The German defenders were estimated at approximately 160 gunners, some of whom would be given the task of securing the perimeter defences.  20 machine gun pits were identified, together with 3 20mm AA gun positions.  In the event, only 2 MG pits and 1 AA gun position was manned at the time of the attack.

From Carl Shilleto's Pegasus Bridge, Merville Battery

To aid the assault, a coup de main party of Engineers and part of 'A' coy 9th Para were to land their gliders right in the midst of the gun positions.  If by 5am, no success signal was received, HMS Arethusa had been ordered to open fire on Merville before the D-Day landings took place.

However, things did not go according to plan.  The Trowbridge party landed and did its job.  But 9th Para's drop was widely dispersed.  And by the appointed time - 2.50am, only 150 men had gathered at the RV.  None of the battalion's heavy weapons had arrived, except for one Vickers MG.  Otway had no choice but to push on to the objective.  By 4am, he reached his "firm base" at the southern end of the battery and was ready to begin the assault.

The 2 gliders of 'A' Company's coup de main force also did not make it.  However, the paras had the element of surprise and the darkness worked in their favour.  At the Battery the gaps were blown in the wire and the men stormed straight in, firing from the hip. The diversion party attacked towards the main gate. It was 4.30am. Utter chaos reigned, as hand-to-hand fighting went on. The carnage continued for 20 minutes until the defenders finally gave in.  The Paras entered the casemates and found 100mm Field guns. The main armament had not yet been fitted.  Without the necessary explosives, the Paras did what they could to put the guns out of action.  Only 75 men were still on their feet. 22 prisoners had been taken. Wounded were lying about getting wounded again by German shells.  Many of the Battalion's casualties were dragged out on wooden ammunition sledges to a Calvary Cross which stood at a crossroads about 700 yards to the south, along the road to Breville. Here, the remnants of the Battalion had a brief respite before setting off for their next objective.

Click here for a fuller account of the Merville raid, and some nice maps and pics of the surrounding area.

Order of Battle

Paras

4 platoons small arms only
1 Vickers MMG
1 Section elite (Trowbridge Party/Pathfinders)

Optional:

Glider Infantry: roll 2D6. 1 additional platoon may join for each 5-6 result. Dice for this anytime after the assault has begun since Ottway has no way of knowing whether the gliders will make it.

Germans

2 MG Positions
(an additional 2-3 MGs may be given to the defenders at the umpire's discretion.  These are to be set up hidden on the board.  Roll 1D6 to determine if each position is manned at the beginning of the action.  A '6' result means that the position is manned.)

1 20mm AA Gun
1 Coy Gunners (dispersed - small arms only)

And, of course, the 4 gun casemates.

Objective

The British must destroy all 3 out of 4 gun positions within 8 turns.  Otherwise, the German wins.

How it went

The British manage to land a glider inside the battery position.

The assault begins.  The British overrun one MG pit.

Paras pressing home their assault.

2 gun positions have been blown.

The second MG position is taken.

Paras charging and firing from the hip.

3 gun positions have been blown.  The Germans holding onto the final gun position decide to surrender.

   
 

POST MORTEM

This was our second game using our own house rules which combine Squad Leader's movement and morale system with Crossfire's simple combat resolution system.  We decided on this hybrid set of rules to capitalise on both system's strengths and to correct their weaknesses.  After playing numerous CF games, we found that CF tended to bog down into static firefights with 2 lines of troops facing off since pin and suppression results on moving units are quite easy to achieve.  Armour in CF is also poorly handled.  On the other hand, SL encouraged tactical movement since suppression and pins were not automatic, but the result of a failed morale die roll.  But SL failed on the combat resolution side, since the constant totalling up of firepower factors and cross-referencing charts was extremely time consuming, especially in a hotly contested area.  The CF 3-4D6 system was a quick and easy way of resolving combat.

The results of our hybrid rules in 2 games so far - Noville and Merville - were quite encouraging.  We managed to preserve the maneuver element in WW2 combat, with a fast combat resolution system.  This provides an enjoyable, fast paced game without sacrificing too much realism.  The basic rule system is in place, nevertheless, more testing is required before we can refine the rules fully.

Report by SL/CF Hybrid Rule Designer Dominic