Wargame Wednesday: Battle of the Bulge 18th and 62nd Volksgrenadier Divisions, 14th Armored Group and the 106th Infantry Division

Wednesday , 26, December 2018 2 Comments

Starting Positions

Introduction for this series here. This post discusses the terrain, some items considered during scenario design and a Q&A with the scenario designer.

The 18th Volksgrenadier (VG) Division holds my right flank and was opposed by the 14th Armored Group (AG) and the 422nd Regiment of the ill-fated 106th Infantry Division (ID).  The 62nd VG Division is on my left and their jumping off positions are west of the German town of Prum. The armored Führerbegleit Brigade (Führer Escort) is in reserve behind the 18th VG Division, ready to exploit weaknesses in the American line.

Link to a map showing the initial attacks on the 106th ID from Hugh M. Cole’s The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge.

The image above uses satellite imagery to show the importance of the Losheim Gap on the course of the battle.  A larger image, discussion on the starting positions and reason for the blue line are available by clicking on the image or here.

More after the jump.

Terrain

Hugh Cole discusses the battlefield and I’ve selected some of his text for context.

Page 43.  The road network:

“The road net in 1944 was far richer than the population and the economic activity of the Ardennes would seem to warrant. This was not the result of military planning, as in the case of the Eifel rail lines, but rather of Belgian and Luxemburgian recognition of the value of automobile tourisme just prior to World War II. All of the main roads had hard surfaces, generally of macadam. Although the road builders tried to follow the more level stretches of the ridge lines or wider valley floors, in many cases the roads twisted sharply and turned on steep grades down into a deep ravine and out again on the opposite side. The bridges were normally built of stone.”

“The normal settlement in the Ardennes was the small village with stone houses and very narrow, winding streets. These villages often constricted the through road to single-lane traffic. Another military feature was the lone farmstead or inn which gave its name to the crossroads at which it stood.”

Pg 46. Geography:

“The geography of the Ardennes leads inevitably to the channelization of large troop movements east to west, will tend to force larger units to “pile up” on each other, and restricts freedom of maneuver once the direction of attack and order of battle are fixed. To a marked degree the military problem posed by the terrain is that of movement control rather than maneuver in the classic sense.”

“What the German planners saw in 1944 was this: the Ardennes could be traversed by large forces even when these were heavily mechanized. An attack from east to west across the massif would encounter initially the greatest obstacles of terrain, but these obstacles would decrease in number as an advance neared the Meuse.”

“This is mountainous country, with much rainfall, deep snows in winter, and raw, harsh winds sweeping across the plateaus. The heaviest rains come in November and December. The mists are frequent and heavy, lasting well into late morning before they break. Precise predictions by the military meteorologist, however, are difficult because the Ardennes lies directly on the boundary between the northwestern and central European climatic regions and thus is affected by the conjuncture of weather moving east from the British Isles and the Atlantic with that moving westward out of Russia. At Stavelot freezing weather averages 112 days a year, at Bastogne 145 days. The structure of the soil will permit tank movement when the ground is frozen, but turns readily to a clayey mire in time of rain. Snowfall often attains a depth of ten to twelve inches in a 24-hour period. Snow lingers for a long time in the Ardennes but-and this is important in recounting the events of 1944-the deep snows come late.”

Game Design Considerations

The Campaign Series game engine allows a change of visibility on a turn by turn basis. In practice, most designers keep visibility the same for the whole scenario but in this scenario,  visibility changes on a daily basis (every 6 turns).  My preference would be greater granularity of visibility throughout the six turn day (e.g. fog in the mornings) but fog can be localized, especially in valleys and gullies but visibility settings are universal across the map.

Changing road and field conditions are harder to emulate. In this scenario, snow covers the ground throughout the game but conditions during the battle changed from mud to snow to frozen ground and back to mud. It is possible to change the ground conditions but that would require every player to manually update a game file. In the interests of playability, snow stays on the ground throughout.

A scenario designer always has to weigh the trade offs between realism, playability and the constraints of the game engine. Changes to one aspect can have second or third order effects on the others. For this scenario, the designer has come up with the following compromises:

Realism

  • Changing visibility on a day by day basis, an improvement over fog throughout the entire game.
  • 6 turns per day.  Lots of controversy in the Campaign Series world over how much time one turn represents. Over the years I have developed the following rule of thumb in that for smaller scenarios (up to the battalion level) each turn can account for a smaller period of time, even down to 20 to 30 minutes but for larger scenarios, 6 to 8 turns can equal the historical pace of an offensive. Without getting into a long discussion the bottom line is many daylight hours are spent in coordination, resupply, regrouping, taking cover, etc. Some days it takes a while to motivate oneself to go job. Imagine the time needed to motivate a squad or platoon to charge a machine gun nest. A good argument for 6 to 8 turns per day in this scenario is the blue driving route line from the Google map.  A modern driver can expect a 30 – 40 minute drive from the scenario starting point at Weckerath to St. Vith.  In a battle that saw the decisive defeat of the 106 ID, it took the Germans three days to reach the outskirts of St. Vith.

Playability

  • Elected to keep the terrain as snow throughout.  Not very historical but by changing movement rates any game balance achieved in this version will be thrown off.
  • Scenario start at first light.  A lot of dramatic action was missed (initial German artillery bombardment; German searchlights illuminating the battlefield by reflection from low lying clouds;  some Volksgrenadiers caught advancing in the open because of that illumination, and initial engagement with the 14th Armored Group at Krewinke) but the way night combat is simulated by the game engine was unsatisfactory.
  • Subject for next week’s post and the OOBs but the organizations are pared down a little.  Example, battalion level HQs are not included in the game along with smaller caliber mortars (especially the American 61mm mortar which doesn’t make the trade off between game management and effectiveness).

 

Q&A with the Scenario Designer

Scott Cole: How long have  you been working on this scenario?

Von Earlmann: I guess about 10 years or so to include my first modding attempts on the original East Front.

 

SC:  How long did it take to create the map?

VE: The map was a long process as I started with a smaller version and kept adding to it as the scenario grew in my mind.

 

SC: What was your process for map creation (e.g. which sources did you use)?

VE: I actually found a complete set of battle maps for the whole Ardennes offensive at a lawn sale years ago which was what gave me the initial idea for this monster scenario as it had one map just for the V Panzer AOR (of course, I made the mistake of lending them to someone and they are now long gone). Also, used a lot of the maps and descriptions from the book “A Time for Trumpets“. The last expansion came from maps that Huib (Note: another master scenario designer) sent me from the actual area. I used them for a lot of the terrain and distances. I never did have topographic maps with the elevations so had to wing that but, figured it was the same map for both sides and does depict the toughness of the area to fight in.

 

SC: What was your philosophy for the OOBs?

VE: The main thing with OOB’s in a large scenario is reducing the number of HQs for smoother supply purposes. I simply eliminated most of the battalion HQs and have the entire regiment trace to regimental HQ by moving the platoons directly under regimental or brigade HQs (note: this is done in a separate OOB file unique to the scenario).  It takes a lot of renaming but makes for better command and control and smoother supply.

I usually take out a lot of the smaller indirect fire units such as infantry guns, 81mm mortars and lower and things like machine gun sections. There is nothing that will ruin any large scenario more than watching replays with all those small units firing (Note: usually to no effect, though a direct hit from 81mm mortars can quickly change your plans for the day).  In each scenario there is more than enough artillery to make it realistic, especially in this scenario as the Americans have plenty of artillery units (Note: I can attest to that….).

 

SC: What does this scenario start? I’m guessing after the pre-dawn night combat.  For example, the 18th VG Regiment starts west of Krewinkle.

VE: Again, I used some poetic license to place units at start positions. It was a bit easier with the Germans as their forces divide up well over the three map sections. The Americans were a bit tougher as one of the divisions was spread over two sectors (Note: the 106th has some platoons in the center sector). Doing this represents how thin the Americans were spread across the front line.

The scenario beings with actions from 16 through 31 December. I used that time frame to seat weather, reinforcements, unit releases, etc. The basis is one day equals six turns. I know the game is supposed to be 6 minute turns but that is a discussion for another time and seems to work in this scenario.

 

Next Week

I’ll go over the OOBs for all units mentioned in today’s post and also will discuss the fighting at Krewinkle as the scenario starts after this engagement.

 

References and Links

The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge Hugh M. Cole

14th Cavalry in the Losheim Gap

Project 1944. Military historians practicing “living history”.

 

Index

Intro Bulge Series Post.

Weather chart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments
  • Paul Torres says:

    What mapboards do I use? Do I through in the whole divisions?

    • Scott Cole says:

      The map file is unique to the scenario. If you have a copy of John Tiller’s Campaign Series you can play this particular sector by starting the 1st Chronicles scenario.

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