HASL9 - Black Day in Hatten


My next game was taking the forces of evil defending Hatten. One of the stand alone scenarios from the Hatten in Flames campaign module. 
It is January 1945 and the Germans have launched Nordwind in the snow which really helped shorten the war in the Allies favour but equally ensured more Soviet dominance in Europe post-war. Meh, says a lot about Adolf’s mental processes either way.
Anyway the Germans are currently occupying a quaint village with some of the 35th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division. The U.S 42nd ‘Rainbow’ Division are about to launch a small counterattack of their 242nd Infantry Regiment (C Company led by a Leiutenant Duffy) supported by B Company of the 827th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Lieutenant Jones)

Conditions are not particularly pleasant for combat (when are they) as can be seen from this account of the initial German attack on Hatten by a member of the Regiment
The Helmet: A miracle of survival
Glenn E. Schmidt
   Pfc. Glenn E. Schmidt of Folsom, Calif., is a veteran of the 242nd Infantry Regiment of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division.
©2001, 2008 Glenn E. Schmidt
    On the night of January 8, 1945, I was occupying a foxhole adjacent to a narrow road on the east side of Hatten. This road led into a wooded area along the banks of the Rhine River, which separated France and Germany. Because I was armed with a B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle), the position gave a good field of fire for anything approaching up the road, which had been heavily mined the day before. A tank destroyer was dug in on the opposite side of the road.
    The weather was very cold with a light snow falling. Earlier in the day the cloud cover was high enough that some flying could be done. It was that day we saw an ME-262 twin jet fighter fly over our positions. I am certain now it was on a reconnaissance mission to determine our positions and strength. It flew so fast, disappearing in seconds, that none of us had an opportunity to fire at it. During the course of the day, we had seen our own artillery spotter aircraft over the area.
    Early in the evening my squad was summoned into the nearby bunker for a briefing. A soft glow of candles lit the room and it seemed so comforting from the bitter cold outside. We were handed some mail which had arrived a short time before. The only letter I recall receiving was from my father, who must have sensed we were in a combat zone as he quoted Psalm 91:7 — “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.” Little did we know that within the next few hours and the days beyond we were to prove these words true as I am sure they were sent as a prayer for my protection.
    After stuffing the letter in my pocket and watching some of the fellows open delayed Christmas packages, we were told to get a full load of ammunition and hook on two hand grenades. We were to assist the Third Platoon to reestablish a listening post out front of pillbox No. 9. Theirs had apparently been driven back earlier by intense enemy fire with casualties.
    Before setting out, I asked the fellows if we could have a moment of prayer. We doffed our helmets and gathered in a circle in the gloom of shadows cast by the few candles in the room. I do not remember what I prayed, but it was a petition for protection in what was to ensue. Every infantryman knows the fear and apprehension of the unknown in a combat situation.
    We set off in what I thought was a northwesterly direction and through an orchard someone said was apple. About halfway there, an 88mm shell from the German lines slammed into the earth about 100 yards ahead. I knew they had our positions quite well scouted. I don’t know why we were not bracketed by a second round.
    After arriving at the Third Platoon position, we were briefed again as to terrain, distance, time of patrol and possible enemy action. We then set out in front of the pillbox, which was a huge concrete structure built in the late 1930s as part of the French Maginot Line. This one was entered from the west side over a small metal bridge through a thick steel door. Facing the east side toward the Rhine, it was built up with a sloping grade of soil to be virtually indistinguishable from a distance. Although of only one main level, it had several rooms and could accommodate a platoon for a length of time. Air vents and a single turret were exposed above it. A large-caliber gun had long since been removed from the turret, which was accessed by a steel ladder embedded in the concrete walls. It was from this turret that my Third Platoon buddy Bill Smith was killed by a direct 88mm hit 24 hours later and my Company Commander, Capt. William A. Corson, was severely wounded. He lost his right eye and received multiple shrapnel wounds to his head, face, right shoulder and arm.
    It seemed like it was about 2100 hours we set out single file in front of this pillbox. We passed several foxholes manned by shivering men of the Third Platoon and members of the Weapons Platoon. There were ten of us led by Pfc. Harold L. Finley of St. Clairsville, Ohio. I was the second man. With the rest of the squad behind me was my assistant ammo carrier, a boy from New York. Bringing up the rear was our Platoon Leader, Jim Beers, who on this mission was shot in one heel.
    To our left about one mile away was the village of Buhl. The 79th Division artillery was firing on it and had set at least one house on fire by using 105mm white phosphorous shells. This gave enough light that we in our olive drab uniforms could be made out against the falling snow, which was then about 12 inches deep. I was cold and miserable, but the situation was about to get worse. We were spotted by the Germans and they opened up on us. We hit the snow on our bellies and continued to crawl forward, inching our way along. Although a German soldier called out several times, we did not answer or fire for fear of revealing our position. Then I was aware of some enemy on the opposite side of the creek to our left, which may have been but 50 or 75 feet away. A small road on our right crossed the creek over a bridge no more than 100 feet ahead in direct line with the town of Buhl.
    In an instant a machine gun opened up directly in front of us, perhaps 150 feet ahead. Three men came up on the bridge carrying a tripod-mounted machine gun. I didn’t immediately see them but heard the noise. While lying in the snow, I swung to the left front and opened up with a short burst of about eight rounds. All three fell and as I swung back straight ahead two more men came up on the bridge and were able to get the weapon firing. I was able to knock them both down but their gun must have been set on automatic or one was able to continue firing toward us. The gun seemed to be bouncing around as tracers were going everywhere. They ricocheted off the steel railing of the bridge. (I showed the holes, nicks and scrapes of those bullets to my family in 1962.)
    I also realized there were enemy in the creek, possibly as cold or worse off than we. My hands were too cold to wrap around a grenade which I wanted to toss in the creek and under the bridge. At that time one or more machine guns directly in front opened up on us. I could see tracers coming right at me. I could also feel them hitting the snow beside me. I turned my head to see them ricochet up into the air above the pillbox way behind me. I was directly behind Finley, who I determined had been killed in the fusillade.
    Within seconds a bullet grazed my chin and another hit my helmet on the left side, knocking it off and losing my wool knit cap. I removed my wool knit gloves also, which were soaked from the snow and the warm barrel of the gun, thinking I could get a better grip on things. It was not to be.
    Deciding my future in that position was hopeless, I began crawling backwards after tugging on Finley, who did not move. Then I thought of the helmet which saved my life once — it just might again! As I reached for it, more bullets came at me. Placing it on my head, it was now too large without the knit cap. I began carrying it while cradling the B.A.R. in my arms. Most of the fellows who were behind me had left the area already, having been recalled by Sgt. Beers. Because we were so strung out and due to the heavy firing, some of us up front did not hear his command to evacuate and return.
    As they arrived back at the pillbox, the men told of the heavy barrage going on just a couple of hundred yards in front. With that information, Third Platoon Sgt. Al Cahoon ordered the Weapons Platoon mortars and machine guns to open up in that area. The objective was to blow the bridge and keep the enemy from closing in on us with armor. It was about that time that mortar rounds and what I thought were grenades began exploding around me. White phosphorous lit the area and fragments seemed to engulf me. I felt a hot burning on my back and turned over to scrape snow into the area. It wasn’t until I arrived back into the pillbox that I found portions of my field jacket, belt and trousers had small burn holes and flesh burns on my lower back and spinal area.
    Some of the events from this moment on are contained in my diary that I kept as a Prisoner of War. Some may be continued in the future. All of the action is documented in two outstanding books: “Winter Storm, War in Northern Alsace, November 1944-March 1945,” by Lise Pommois; specifically pages 246-280, and Richard Engler’s “Final Crisis.” We were assaulted by members of the 21st Panzergrenadier Division.
    In August 1962 while serving as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, I was transferred from Castle AFB in California to Phalsbourg Air Base in France. This was just a few miles from Strasbourg and a few more to Hatten. A chaplain friend, Paul Pike, of Olympia, Wash., returned with me to visit a few of the battle areas of World War II. We saw Hatten and the two bunkers. Later, after my family arrived, we returned to Hatten. Showing them around Pillbox No. 9, my two boys ventured inside before I could prevent them. Bruce, my youngest, brought out a grenade which I gingerly placed deep into a gopher hole. Lonnie, my oldest son who was born when I was at Camp Kilmer, N.J., on my way overseas in November 1944, came out with my helmet. It was left there when we were surrendered on the night of January 9. It was unmistakably mine — the Pfc. stripe is painted off-center and the two bullet holes on the left side are entering from the front, exiting from the rear. I believe now that I was hit when directly behind Finley.
    After many years of reflection, I regret to this day being unable to evacuate Finley from that murderous ambush. It is very possible that if I had, you would not be reading this story and the two of us would be lying in that field. All the enemy that night were wearing white capes, pillow cases on their helmets and whitewashed boots. They were virtually invisible a few feet away. We in our olive drab were easy targets at a distance, especially due to the fires in Buhl.
    Portions of this story are retold in the fascinating book “Final Crisis,” referenced above.
   — Pfc. Glenn E. Schmidt./ 1st Squad, 1st Platoon/ Co. A, 242nd Infantry Regiment/ 42nd “Rainbow” Division
Setup
So to the game! The US have a very strong force but a limited time to get through to all the required victory hexes. The Germans have decent enough infantry and a small force of sub-standard 2nd line troops that arrive half way through. I am taking the Germans. My defence has its Alamo in the last building which is screened from the start with the infantry gun and the MG43 with a squad and officer.
A half squad has been placed in the steeple of the church to work on concealment prevention duties. A squad and a half has also been placed amongst the mass of front line dummies. With the US high WP factor in the first two rounds I expect a lot of these to disappear but equally don’t want any easy victory hex gains first turn. The rest of the forces are covering the central section of the village. I am hoping the US moves through the open ground allowing me to swing back in the stone locations. This will probably not happen but I can hope.
The Game
The Americans started cautiously trying to reveal units by fire and only pushing forward a couple of half squads. One of these was pinned and the other jumped into non-combat with some dummies. Elsewhere one of the mortars managed to break a concealed squad with a lucky WP shot. Turn two was more of the same and time could be a U.S issue soon. 
The game progressed well in one way but extremely badly in another. The U.S troops were hesitant to take initial risks – which I was quite happy with as the game is all about how much risk you are willing to take in the pursuit of your objectives  and so were moving slowly but those risks they did take were fabulously successful.

End of German 2, more skulking on my part and you can see how the position was badly compromised by the American half squads heroic attacks in E11 and L10

My problem now was that a lot of my remaining defenders were dummies. My turn involved more skulking to try and retain an illusion of strength and an attempt to run a solitary officer with demolition charge to ‘draw fire’ from my other concealed stacks. He almost made it but was broken along with another defending squad. In U.S Turn three the pressure was ramped up further as my F9 defensive formation were all broken by fire and the central village almost entirely run over by American infantry. One of the right flank tank destroyers broke its main armament but fixed it next turn, all the dice were going the US way.. On the left flank one of the tank destroyers rumbled forward to take up a dangerous flanking position at B5. 



Thankfully for my game chances things changed briefly back in my favour. The aggressive Tank Destroyer was within range of a low odds shot from my Panzershrek in E7 so I took the shot and it hit and blazed up with no survivors. My shooting still sucked but the officer in F9 rallied and then he rallied the squad with him. From having no right flank things had stabilised.
The Americans then tried to rush the North end of the village but this went less well. A squad and officer were broken by fire but a green squad was pushed into combat with my first liner in L7 and one of those vicious half squads tried to repeat its feat and engaged my other 5-4-8 with light machine gun in melee. This did not go the same way with the half squad being wiped for no German loss and the two full squads remained in melee. We stopped for a couple of weeks here (Christmas and all that) but this had stabilised the village and left an American squad with bazooka at point blank range to the now unengaged machine gun armed squad with a full potential 16 up 2.


End of US turn 4. From the previous screenshot you can see how the Americans push in the central village has been thrown back (or at least weakened) with
only the western outskirts seriously threatened. Not that the Germans can do much to retake the rest of the village.

On restart things did not go swimmingly. My broken officer refused to rally (he and the squads with him actually refused to rally for the entire rest of the game). My point blank shot failed to break the US squad in J8 so I had to use other squads and it took all of those to eventually break them. Finally I revealed a 2nd line squad in I4 and their half strength, long range prep shot broke I9 as well. To try and regain some control of the main village I moved up some of the reserves (squad and officer plus light machine gun) and the half squad from the church and took two advance fire shots into the melee. The US troops were one morale less and I figured it was a chance worth taking. It failed. My squad pinned and the American’s were apparently oblivious to the fire. This left me with a nasty decision as to how to deal with that combat so in the end I advanced a half squad in and moved the rest to shore up the village defences. It proved the correct decision as was moving to hand to hand as I killed the U.S defenders and only lost the half squad in return.
My burst of defensive shooting had left a lot of troops exposed and this was taken advantage of. A hail of fire came back my way and I ended with my lynch pin squad and officer in G9 broken by a critical hit from the Tank Destroyer. Worse still a pin shot against my medium machine gun in G6 was passed with a 3 – the American sniper who promptly rolled a 1 moved to that exact square executing the officer expertly and the squad then failed its leader loss morale check and broke as well. Ack ick ick.

End of German 5, this is the start position for the American final push. They need one more building to win out of I4, K5 and L7 The MMG on G6 is ontop of a broken unit so is 
not relevant, E4 is a dummy and K5 a 2nd line squad.
It was now time for the final American push. This was unusual. The Americans initially tried to draw fire with squads assault moving to K9 and L9 perhaps under the assumption that the German defenders would take the first fire shot allowing the Tank Destroyer to bypass freeze a defender and allow someone to run down the M9 road. Since no-one in those hexes was threatening a victory hex there was no need for those shot so I didn’t take them. Then the decent officer and squad moved to K7. This was a risk as he could easily get into the relevant victory hex with a good chance of ambush or lucky combat win. My first defensive shot from K8 at 16 up 2 failed  miserably. I then tried L7 and this succeeded the officer pinned and the squad broke. The most dangerous attack had been blocked.
It was now ‘last chance saloon’ time and the central tank destroyer rolled forward to bypass freeze I4. The defenders laid down residual as the Destroyer moved past I5 then was locked in combat.  Then came the rush of troops to try and get past my remaining fire options (G7, H4 and K5). As it involved a lot of running in the open and too many squares for the TD to lay covering smoke down this failed with too many negative shots to get past.  The U.S assault had stalled at the last hurdle.

The Hatten end positions. You can see the mass of (all) brokies in I6

Phew, that was close. It was a fun scenario actually with the standard insane ASL events occurring all over the place. The scenario is one of the ones were the U.S player has to decide on whether he wants a safe but slow approach relying on firepower or a more risky early massed assault that will take more casualties but has more opportunity to expose weaknesses in the German defensive lines. Oh and the map is lovely. I do love playing on campaign maps…



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