16 déc. 2010

[M44] Winter Wars - Battle of the Bulge

Winter Wars – Battle of the Bulge

For all my M44 online partners from Australia, USA, Canada, Indonesia, UK, Norway, Russia, Poland, Germany, etc., I publish this article in English. Sorry in advance for my poor knowlege of Shakespeare's language. I didn't translate the pictures, neither the scenarios names, but the links are OK. A special "ping" to my belgium partners from the Bulge: Mecket and Vangoce.







66 years ago, on December 16th, 1944, the German Army launched a massive counter-offensive on the Western Front, the Operation Wacht am Rhein, known as the Battle of the Bulge. Days of Wonder just released a new expansion of the Memoir’44 system which simulates the events that occurred in Winter ‘44.

History

In Eastern Europe, the military balance of power had reached a terrific 7 to 1 in favor of the soviet Red Army, leaving no doubt on the resolution of this front. The situation was more complex in the West. In September, Montgomery had stabilized the northern continental Europe area after the difficult Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. In the meantime, the first motherland German city was captured by the Allied forces: Aachen. The American troops, led by Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, were holding the “southern sector”, that is the French Ligne Maginot, Luxembourg and Belgium. After Saverne’s Gap, the French Second Armored Division (2e DB) of General Leclerc entered Strasbourg on November 23rd. Six months after the Normandy landings, the Allied troops were preparing further assaults in January, after Christmas. Patton was targeting Frankfurt. After the bloody battles around Bitche in December, 100% of the Belgium territory was held by the Allied troops. Victory in the west seemed close, and Eisenhower was more involved in his promotion and Soviet progress than operational maneuvers on the battlefield.

The Belgium/Luxemburg/German border looked quiet, and the Ardennes forests (“the Bulge”) were once more considered as impassable by an armored army. This point was under control of the 106. D.I.U.S., actually inexperienced recruits. Germans stopped their ground recons, a signal not so easy to understand as the announcement of an offensive, since air recons were still in place. They were actually hiding the noise made by tanks and artillery tractors engines crossing the forests.

This is where (and more in the south) the V. and VI. German Armored Armies rushed in, led by Fieldmarshall Model, Sepp Dietrich and the famous Joachim Peiper at the head of brand new Tigers units, also known for his responsibility in the massacre of Malmedy. At the IIIrd Reich headquarters, Hitler himself was managing all the operations. Marshall von Rundstedt pretended to use the archive of the Fall Gelb plan, invasion of France ’40… archives which had been destroyed for a while by bombardments over Germany.

Hitler’s ambitions were huge: break through the enemy lines, cross the river Meuse at Dinant, bypass Bruxelles, reach the port of Antwerpen, thus cutting the Allied British and American forces in two groups, capturing the former. Similarities with the Fall Gelb plan are amazing: same objectives toward Sedan, then Antwerpen ’44 was Abbeville in ’40, Rotterdam was Dunkirk. Hitler expected a negotiation of peace with the Allies after having reached his objectives, then planned to turn back to the east in order to save what could still be, while the Russians were progressing in Hungary, at heavy human costs, targeting Vienna before threatening the German border, and Berlin. Aware of the risk related to the river Meuse crossing, Model had warned the Führer and proposed an alternative plan. Surprisingly, he was heard, but his proposal finally rejected. Wehrmacht and SS divisions would definitely go to Antwerpen.






Fortunately Patton was there…

Operation Wacht am Rhein never reached the objectives, but making the choice to counter-attack in the West, there’s no doubt that Hitler decided who would reach Berlin first. He really thought he could still win on the western front.


Time to play!


After 4000 scenarios already published, M’44 Winter Wars expansion proposes 5 new “simple” maps, 4 breaktroughs and one overlord, Firefight in Neffe, presented above. As usual, DOW’s packaging is just perfect, and the game box quite heavy.

2010 was definitely the year of breakthrough format, much better than overlord in my opinion. Winter Wars provides the highly expected set of breakthrough special cards. Tested by myself on the first map, Peiper at Stoumont (6792), then Marvie and Last offensive, they revealed a very satisfying balance of gameplay and efficiency. Recons, Probes and Attacks allow moving additional units after the standard activations: mobility is the key factor of success in breakthrough. Some Tactic cards were updated and improved. But I leave some place to your curiosity…


This is the breakthrough format!


As usual, game and expansion rules can be downloaded click here.

New units
Winter Wars brings three significant new weapons and units, or let’s even say three major improvements: HMG (that Squad leader and ASL grognards have been waiting for so long), Anti-tank armored units and Heavy anti-tank 88 mm guns.

A terrible weather
Applying Winter weather and Reduced visibility rules, the new Tank destroyers provide interesting combinations of move and fight, appreciated in the difficult battlefield of the Ardennes. A real good point. A bit weak when fired at, which they are often, they do not seem “too strong”, just the right balance. Moved with skill, they can even become the key-units of any defensive position, able to bring the very last medal toward victory. On the other hand, regardless their additional fire power, they wouldn’t succeed as main attacking pieces. Congratulations to the designers.


Where are the planes?
The breakthrough card set contains only one Air strike and no Air sortie. Furthermore, according to the rulebook and scenarios, Winter rules are in effect throughout the campaign duration. This is a bit strange, since Allies actually made a lot of air sorties (5000) in order to stop Model’s Panzer. Fog actually vanished on December 23rd, new weather conditions that Patton immediately used to launch his first counter-offensive. The battlefield is likely to allow very efficient Ground Interdiction missions, that Air Pack adepts – which I am – will have to forget at the moment.


The trooper is back
These new rules definitely reinforce the role of the infantry. Winter Combat cards, borrowed from Battle Map #3 Stalingrad and adapted to forest lands, deliver the same message. To sum up: the ambiance is intense, battles are full of uncertainty, scenarios all complex. For sure, Winter Wars is able to renew the M44 system (like Pacific Theater did few years ago).


Where are the Tigers?
Nevertheless, it’s still hard to explain why Tigers disappeared from the Bulge. Happy Battle Map #2 owners are free to replace Elite armor units by Tigers, reminding that Tigers units are roughly technically equivalent to a virtual 5-fig. armor unit, and on the historical point of view, where rather deployed in the northern sector of the Bulge, under Peiper’s command (e.g. refer to the breakthrough scenario Stoumont).


Mobility is the key-point
The bad weather reduces the fire power of all units, except in close assault. Also, Armor unit are slower in the snow. All these factors converge toward a better cohesion between types of troops (Infantry + Armor + Artillery supply). Combined assaults are more efficient using the amazing amount of beautiful winter road hex. If the setup is a bit longer, the gameplay is all the more satisfying.


Conclusion
Winter War is a very good expansion and even justified that I open my books of WWII history. We dive in a terrible ambiance of steel an cold, and this article is a simple tribute, that all players can share. Beginners often wonder how to get started at M44, which expansions to get first. Winter Wars allows a new and interesting arrangement focused on the western front: M44 basic set + Breakthrough + Winter/Desert board + Winter Wars.


Praxeo Service Plus

Here are my goodies and simple contribution to M44 adventure: all the good scenarios of the Bulge on a single map.

Blue-inked: Official Days of Wonder scenarios.
Purple-inked: scenarios from the Front.


On this map (click to enlarge), you’ll find the unique IDs of Official an Front scenarios in the Bulge. I retained all Officials, plus Front ones which I found “interesting”, well designed, obviously tested, with Battle Reports recorded. I might have forgotten some good ones. Feel free to tell me (abeuve@wanadoo.fr or directly here on the blog). Also, remind that you’re on a blog. I’ll reply to All posts.


Northern Ardennes

16-17 Dec. [Officiel WW] Bataille du Schnee Eifel (6760 FR, EN)
17-18 Dec. [Officiel M44/AP] Villages jumeaux (0021 FR, EN/3787)
18 Dec. [Front Bakoun] Dernière chance à Cheneux (6418 FR)
19 Dec. [Officiel WW] Fusillade à Neffe overlord (6780 FR)
19-20 Dec. [Officiel WW] Peiper à Stoumont breakthrough (6792 FR, EN)
20-22 Dec. [Officiel M44/AP] Saint-Vith (0020 FR, EN)
20-23 Dec. [Officiel M44] Baraque de Fraiture (1363 FR, EN)
20-23 Dec. [Officiel WW] Baraque de Fraiture (6775 FR, EN)
20-23 Dec. [Front jdrommel] Baraque de Fraiture (2817 FR, EN)
21 Dec. [Front Mammuthka] Battle of Malmedy (1746 FR, EN)
21-22 Dec. [Officiel M44/AP/WW] Au secours de « Peiper » (1242 FR, EN/3684 FR, EN/6783 FR, EN)
23 Dec. [Officiel WW] La fuite de Salmchâteau breakthrough (6777 FR, EN)


Southern Ardennes

16-18 Dec. [Front 50th] The Bulge pushes out (7090 EN)
16-17 Dec. [Officiel WW] Clervaux – La route de Bastogne (6783 FR, EN)
17 Dec. [Officiel Open de France 2009] Fort Alamo à Clervaux (5523 FR, EN)
19 Dec. [Officiel M44/WW] Le piège de Longvilly team Cherry (1310 FR, EN/6782 FR, EN)
19 Dec. [Front Mithir] Ardennes - team Cherry (1551 FR, EN)
19 Dec. [Officiel WW] Wardin team team O’Hara (6766 FR, EN)
19 Dec. [Front Brummbär44] Hellcat – Race to Noville (6314 FR, EN)
20 Dec. [Officiel BT] Repli vers Foy breakthrough (6380 FR, EN)
23-24 Dec. [Officiel WW] Résistance à Marvie breakthrough (6776 FR, EN)
30 Dec. [Officiel M44/AP] Corridor ouest de Bastogne (1252 FR, EN/3685 FR, EN)
30 Dec. [Officiel M44/AP] Corridor est de Bastogne (1253 FR, EN/3686 FR, EN)
30 Dec. [Officiel WW] La contre-attaque finale breakthrough (6794 FR, EN)


Bastogne

20-25 Dec. [Front CORSAIR91] Défendre Bastogne breakthrough (6800 FR, EN)
20-27 Dec. [Front nstanley69] Siege of Bastogne (6788 FR, EN)
20-27 Dec. [Front player guy] Siege of Bastogne (6057 FR, EN)
23 Dec. [Front nemesszili] Bastogne (5742 FR, EN)
25 Dec. [Front nemesszili] Christmas of the Eagles - Breakthrough to Bastogne (6409 FR, EN)
25 Dec. [Front WARPLAYER] Bastogne (1104 FR, EN)
30 Dec. [Officiel M44] Bastogne overlord (1254 FR, EN)


Western Ardennes

Surprisingly, no scenario published for the moment.
Who will be the first one?


Operational scale (big map)

16-23 Dec. [Front 50th] Battle of the Bulge breakthrough (6736 FR, EN)
16-23 Dec. [Front 50th] Battle of the Bulge overlord (5896 FR, EN)

Of course, you're free to customize all previous Ardennes scenarios with Winter Wars rules and artefacts.

My private request to Brummbär44, 50th, nemesszili, player guy, nstanley69, Mammuthka: will you customize your creations with Winter War rules?



Links

Days of Wonder - Winter Wars

Battle of the Bulge on Wikipedia (français, English)

Fortress Australia Outpost
(some excellent videos and comments – in English)

Praxeo : pages des jeux de société
(All my articles about Mémoire 44)

Mémoire 44 online(Play Saint-Vith in the Ardennes)

Technique : Anti-tanks (Forum M44 FR)
WW Weather an Tigers (Forum M44 FR)


Alexis Beuve
(c) Praxeo 2010

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