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The Bois de la Vauche, 1916


The Great War, Chain of Command, 28mm

We hadn’t played a Great War game in ages, so this week Campbell and I put that right. We fought a small platoon-level skirmish, set in the shattered remains of the Bois de Vauche in late February 1916. The wood lies outside Verdun, about a mile north of Fort Douaumont. The initial German attack came of 21 February was preceded by a concentrated artillery bombardment in that sector that lasted for days. When it was over the Germans went “over the top”, and cleared the wood over the next four days. It was eventually recaptured eleven blood-soaked months later. Our game is set after the initial assault, as both sides struggled to control what remained of the wood and the French reserve trench lines beyond it. The Germans started in what had been the French second line trench in the sector, skirting the high ground beyond the edge of the wood. The French were in their reserve or third trench line – the last defensive position before Fort Douaumont. to win the Germans had to capture the wood – the job of the French and Sengalese defenders was to hold on at all costs. The game was fought out on our Verdun terrain, built many years ago by Dougie Trail and I, for a Verdun game we put on at the Targe show in late 2006. Campbell had built a wood tile, although when we played the game he hadn’t blended it in yet, so it matched the other tiles. Still, it was a wood, which was exactly what we needed. In Chain of Command (or Cocking Up through the Mud and the Blood to give the Great War amendments their full title), you start by placing your patrol markers. This shows where your squads can enter play. It soon became clear that while both of us were covering the rest of the table, the main focal point was to be the blasted wood. Campbell went first, and deployed his Sengalese squads in the wood, and just behind it. I responded by putting mine in the German-occupied second line trench further to the west – my right. That led Campbell to stick his French down facing them, where the two trenches were joined by a single communications trench. He clearly thought this was going to be my avenue of attack. That’s when I deployed the last of my troops – including my two flamethrowers – in the trenches on my side of the wood. I got to go next, and my guys leaped forward, supported by the flamethrowers who began roasting the front-line Sengalese positions. There weren’t any trenches in the wood – just shell craters, so each one became a foxhole filled with Sengalese troops. this though, played into the hands of my flamethrower teams, who set about methodically squirting flame into each of the foxholes. When the defenders were driven out they were mown down by concentrated rifle fire from my supporting stormtroopers. So far so good. Over on my right I began filtering the other half of my force forward along the communications trench, supported by the overhead fire of machine guns, which were aimed at the French trench line facing them. I got lucky – Campbell tired to call down a defensive artillery bombardment on the communications trench, but he kept rolling badly, and the request didn’t reach the guns for three turns in a row. This was going well. Meanwhile, back in the wood the last of the Sengalese had been driven out of it, and were hiding in the shell holes between the wood and the French trench line. These two Sengalese squads were now to shattered to do anything other than hold on, and try to rally. So, the intermediate objective was in my hands. To achieve a total victory, what I had to do now was to gain a foothold in the French trenchline.That was when Campbell’s artillery fired their first salvo. it landed off target, but it warned me what was about to happen if I kept on going down the trench, clearing the obstacles the French had put in it to bar my way. So, someone blew a whistle and the two German squads scrambled over the right-hand edge of the communications trench, and running diagonally across the shell-pocked ground they tried to storm the French trench line. Fortunately my machine guns had just disordered the closest unit of defenders, and their defensive fire was pitiful. The next turn the Germans were in among them. For another turn the melee could have swung either way – both sides had a reserve squad heading to join the fray. However, it was the Germans who got there first, and together the two squads finally overwhelmed the French defenders.

So, the game ended in an emphatic German victory. On to Douaumont! The game worked pretty well, despite out lack of familiarity with the “Cocking Up” amendments. Next game will be faster, as we won’t have to keep looking things up like artillery bombardment rules, area fire for machine guns or the ability to launch flurries of close-quarter hand grenade attacks. For some inexplicable reason  Campbell prefers Bolt Action to Chain of Command, but he conceded that he enjoyed this game, despite being stuffed by the Boche. So, we might make a convert of him yet…

 

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