Time for something a bit different from the normal rabbit horse and musket era gaming habits. Last weekend David K. invited several gamers to his Long Beach residence for a little “over the top and through wheat fields to the Hun’s woody hill we go” scenario gaming. David arranged a scenario called the Franco-American assault on Hill 142, near the famous U.S. Marines Belleau Woods battle several days later. The rules of play were the OOP Warhammer “The Great War” and “Over the Top” supplement plus David’s painted 28mm WWI miniature collection.
A brief overview of the historical action from quick source Wikipedia… and YouTube link LionHeart FilmWorks production: Belleau Woods 1918 LionHeart FilmWorks.
Attack on Hill 142
At 03:45 on 6 June, the Allies launched an attack on the German forces, who were preparing their own advance. The French 167th Division attacked to the left of the American Marine line, while the Marines attacked Hill 142 directly to prevent flanking fire against the French. As part of the second phase, the U.S. 2nd Division were to capture the ridge overlooking Torcy and Belleau Wood, as well as occupying Belleau Wood. However, the Marines failed to scout the woods and, as a consequence, they missed a regiment of German infantry dug in, with a network of machine gun nests and artillery.
At dawn, the Marine 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, commanded by Major Julius Turrill, was to attack Hill 142, but only two companies were in position. The Marines advanced in waves with bayonets fixed across an open wheat field that was swept with German machine gun and light artillery (mortar) fire, and many Marines were cut down. Captain Crowther commanding the 67th Company was killed almost immediately. Captain Hamilton and the 49th Company fought from tree to tree, fighting the entrenched Germans and overrunning their primary hill objective. At this point, Hamilton had lost all five junior officers, while the 67th had only one commissioned officer alive. Hamilton reorganized the two companies, establishing strong points and a defensive line against the German counter-attack.
In the German counter-attack, then-Gunnery Sergeant Ernest A. Janson, who was serving under the name Charles Hoffman, repelled an advance of 12 German soldiers, killing two with his bayonet before the others fled; for this action he became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in World War I. Also cited for advancing through enemy fire during the counter-attack was then-Marine Gunner Henry Hulbert.
The rest of the battalion now arrived and went into action. Turrill’s flanks lay unprotected and the Marines were rapidly exhausting their ammunition. By the afternoon, however, the Marines had captured Hill 142, at a cost of nine officers and most of the 325 men of the 1st/5th Marine battalion.
So, how does David’s Hill 142 scenario play out? Well, bloody in the short eleven turns of play but followed the historical action. The U.S. Marine correspondent, W. R., crawling back from the new front lines, filed his photographic report below.
The warm morning of June 6th, a date known for another famous U.S. & Allies beach landing, saw the lines of U.S. Marines and French poilus advancing from their dirt road start line. Their plan was to mass on the left side of the scenario table and rush the wooded hill. Simple WWI tactical planning it seemed. but did place two German platoons, and their HMG team, out of position till they marched over from the German left flank later in the scenario. Germans pre-deployed their forces using a map drawn hidden placement system. WR also elected to have two platoons and their Company command group held in reserve. Several improvised positions were available for WR to place anywhere within the German lines. These positions gave +1 saving roll for defenders behind the protective cover.
The German player can decide if the platoon starts on the tabletop (hidden) or roll for arrival. Each turn, starting with turn two, roll d6. If a six rolled the entire reserve has arrived and can march in from tabletop edge anywhere along the German rear zone. If roll failed, next turn a 5 or 6 for arrival…. then 4, 5, or 6 progressive steps till roll made.
Turn One not much happened… just nervous Marines and seasoned Frenchmen glancing ahead to the dark woods. The Allied infantry finished their 1st turn of movement when the sound of a distant Hun emplaced machine gun sent bullets overhead… they missed their visibility roll.
Every platoon or weapon team, except mortars, firing from the woods or into the dark woods requires a visibility roll of two d6 dice times 3 (2x6dx3). So a roll of seven means the platoon can see and engage 21 inches (7×3=21) into or out of the woods. As we played the scenario, we later changed the roll to be times 3 (3x) for firing from the woods but only times 2 (x2) for firing into or within the woods thus making it harder to spot the enemy in the woods. Easy to see the infantry in open ground but against the dark mass of the woods the visibility should be less.
Turn Two had Allied infantry knowing the Huns see them coming. They grip their rifles for the next German action… rat a rat tat…. The Hun MG crew open fire again and rip into a U.S. Marine platoon. Men fall into the tall wheat then the unthinkable… the platoon bolts for the rear hearing the Marine Major cussing his lungs out.
Turn Three has more infantry advance by the Allies. The walk advance is becoming a bit ragged with the WH dice movement system. Several U.S. Marines with their “wonderful” platoon issued Chauchat LMG get lucky and pin down the German HMG crew.
Chauchat information link for a WWI lowest equipment bidder “work of art”.
The German reply was moot for the turn, the HMG crew pushed their dead crew member aside and loaded the MG belts. The German reinforcement roll was made and two platoons entered from the German rear lines. The light mortar team opened fire on the right flank U.S. Marine platoon, sending their rounds short of target.
The movement with WH Great War is simple. Infantry move 6″ in flat open ground and no d6 rolls. When in the wheat fields or shelled earth they roll three d6 and use the highest rolled number on any of the three dice rolled as their movement distance that turn. In the woods the Germans roll two d6 to determine the available distance, again using the dice with the highest number. All movement and infantry charges follow this system. HMG, mortars and other equipment teams always roll two d6 for movement, even on open ground.
A German platoon (3rd) joins the fray since their light mortar missed its target. German Mauser fire rips into the exposed Marines. Several fall but the platoon continues their advance.
Turn Four has the U.S. Marines peppering the woods seeking out the Huns in the woods. Firing volume increases with the Allies trying to engage their hidden foe.
The hidden Huns reply with more firepower. Their light mortar lands a direct hit on one unlucky U.S. Marine platoon. Several fall from the steel shrapnel. German Mauser fire drops more into the blood stained wheat. Then the HMG cuts loose… sending bullets into four Marine platoons, each loosing a miniature or two. U.S. Marine losses are mounting while the French are having an easy stroll across French countryside.
HMG firing can fire at a specific platoon with sustained fire (8xd6) or arc fire (3xd6 per platoon). Like the classic WH system a basic 4+ to hit, 4+ generally to wound, and saving throws omitted unless the unit hits the ground (6 save). Cover gives a plus one save, higher ground a plus one and if behind improvised cover another plus one save.
Turn Five has the Marines rushing faster towards the woods. “Woods or death in the wheat” mutter the ranks. Now within the advance rifle range (12″), their Springfield rifles, along with their favorite “chauchat” going pop..pop..pop, completely gut the Hun 3rd Platoon with heavy loss. The 3rd Platoon break into the depths of the hilly woods. The HMG alongside suffers crew loss and decamp for the rear.
Normal rifle range is 24″ but if the platoon unit moved the range is reduced to 12″. For comparison, the HMG has 36″ / 24″ (sustained / arc spread fire) range, the light mortar 30″, and finally the grenade launcher ranges 24″.
The Germanic reply is equally sharp. Grenade launcher sends shells downwind on the Marines as the replacement HMG team deploys atop the woody hill.
Turn Six has Marines entering the woods edge. Support platoons not far behind along with their battalion command teams. German targets are fleeting… but the Germans caution advance positions them for volumetric Mauser firepower.
Wasn’t a moment before the terrible Mausers, HMG and grenade launcher rounds rain down on the leading Marine platoons.
Turn Seven was a wicked Allied turn. They saw the recent arrival of the German platoon and the Marines and nearby Frenchmen sent bullets into the vegetation and grey uniforms. The platoon was completely wiped out except for the MG08 gunner… saving every hit. An Iron Cross recipient for sure as he passed all morale tests, calmly aiming his MG08 at the Marines.
Turn Eight has the Marines grimly advance uphill into the heavy German fire. The French start to swing their fresh platoon formations towards the deadly fire speckled hill.
Turn Nine has the death of the unknown MG08 Iron Cross gunner. His exposed position while machine-gunning the Marines, placed him in the gunsights of French soldiers. The leading foolhardy Marines climb the first hill level and crest the German improved position. Firing from the hip, their shots cut down the HMG team above. The grenade launcher team, spotted by the emplaced Marine HMG, was pulped several times over into oblivion.
The Germans are equally foolhardy. The reserve company command group jump their protective position and charge down the hill slope, crashing into the startled Marines. Pistols, bayonets , and entrenching shovels as the soldier grapple. The Hun Major occupies the former command post as sees his soldiers repulse the first Marine advance.
Winning their brawls, the 1st Platoon consolidates and returns quickly to their former uphill position. The surviving Captain remains behind and holds the forward improved position.
Turn Ten arrives with both sides battered and worn except for the French. Marines rally at the base of the hill, and with “fresh” platoons leading the way, storm into the blasted woods. French platoon files advance up the hill alongside the Marines. Close range rifle fire and grim bayonet work ahead.
Turn Eleven will be the final turn as the Germans are too few to retain the Hill 142 position. First the final Allied attack. The German senior command defend the final improved position. The Hun Major fires his pistol as grim-faced Marines storm the position and bayonet thrust deep everything in sight… Germans, wood deer, stray Frenchman (dressed in grey). The bloody melee between the bayonet locked platoons ends with the German 1st Platoon wiped out at cost of several more Marines.
Fun scenario David. With great gaming friends Matthew and Tim the warm afternoon passed quickly for an Allied win.
Scenario rosters for those interested and the hand drawn French plan of attack:
Players are always welcome to join WR in his 28mm WWI gaming at David’s, or maybe another era like WWI aerial (Wings of War or Glory), 28mm Napoleonics, Clash of Empires 28mm Ancients or 20mm Flames of War WWII. Just send an email or call via the contact information linked to the main page or just click on the blue WR below.
Not my era but nice report. Both of my grandfathers were marine sergeants by the end of WW1; most likely they missed this particular meat grinder!
WR tends to game the unusual for a break and change of pace Peter. Back to some French Republican gaming this weekend hopefully or conscripted (drafted) into finishing the bathroom (game den addition) remodel by “General Lady.”
Glad to hear your Grandfathers made it through the trench war. My family history had one death and one wounded from WWI. Grandfather was RFC pilot on Western front (1916 late), Middle East (1917-18) and then involved with the White army in southern Russia (awarded St George Cross for “fearless flying”) into 1919. His photos, and flying mementos / photos etc.. carefully stashed away in the same White Star Line steamer trunk which I travelled to USA back in 1959.
Great terrain layout! Loved the write up too, Mike!
Our family on mom’s dad’s side is from Sweden. One of her uncles came over to the US in 1911, got drafted to fight “over there” went to Europe, survived the war and came home. Really amazing. Born in neutral war-weary Sweden, he comes over to the US to join the family and ends up fighting in a war his native country didn’t believe in! But still he fought. 😉