Ken and I finished a play testing of Scenario 1 of the Advance to the Moselle TOCS Module at the Nor’Easter tournament in Fairhaven MA, during March 21-24. The playtest utilized the VASSAL prototype developed earlier that allowed us to achieve and prove out the double-blind combat system known as TOCS/MASL. This highly interactive game system, now known as TOCS (Tactical Operations Command System), was initially designed as an ASL scenario generator, but has grown into a game system of its own that can resolve combats using its own CRT or as limited intelligence dynamically generated unique ASL scenarios. At the Nor’Easter we were play testing the TOCS systems and resolving combats with the CRT. What follows are my thoughts, plans and intentions while playing the American side in the scenario.
Advance to the Moselle
As the American Commanding Officer of the 80ID (80th Infantry Division), I was ordered by the 12 Corps Commanding Officer to advance from the Meuse River bridgehead to the Moselle River near Nancy France and ordered to establish a bridgehead so that the advance to the Rhine could continue. For two weeks, Patton’s 3rd Army stood stationary at the Meuse River building up supplies from an overextended Red Ball Express that traced 450 miles back to the Normandy Beaches. Now with enough supplies to reach the Rhine, the race across France was expected to continue. I received Field Order #10, 31 August 1944, and jump off was scheduled for 1200, 4 September 1944.
Leading with the 80th Reconnaissance Battalion, the enemy was encountered along the highway leading to Pont-a-Mousson, near the town of Bernecourt. Here I ran into a combination of minefields and entrenched infantry. As the reconnaissance battalion probed the flanks, the 702 Tank Battalion raced ahead to secure a front line, followed shortly by the first of the Infantry Regiments, the 317th. The logistics of moving an Infantry Division echeloned along miles of roads leading back to the Meuse, resulted in traffic jams as units tried to maintain unit boundaries and to remain in Command and Control ranges of their HQs.
The Infantry went into action in the Bernecourt area resulting in some ground being taken, but discovering that the area was concentrated with minefields and improved positions. Aggressive reconnaissance, however, discovered that that the German defenses a few miles to the North were weaker. A combination of pushing the 318th Infantry Regiment with tank support in a series of leapfrogging battles, succeeded in pushing the German right flank back. Feeding success, all resources were allocated to the 80 ID’s left flank, a move that caused the German right flank to collapse with an advance of about 3 miles in 3 hours. Here, the American left flank eventually ran out of steam.
The battle then shifted to securing these gains by extending the penetration south to cut in behind Bernecourt, but this ran into a hastily created German defensive line that had been brought up to cover, what I was to believe, an exposed gap. The battle then shifted back and forth between ‘picking the lock’ at Bernecourt and continuing the advance to the Moselle along our left flank, which was reached late on Sept 5th just above Pont-a-Mousson. Capturing or denying the bridge at Pont-a-Mousson meant that the Germans would need to rely on the bridges north of Nancy as a path of egress.
The Bernecourt lock was finally picked with a combination of Aerial Bombardments and a uniquely American National Capability known as the TOT (Time on Target) bombardment, especially when used in conjunction with proximity fuses. This alone caused most of the German casualties in this area, especially those defending woods or open areas without improved positions. For example, during the night of Sept 4/5 the German line in the Bernecourt area was serenaded by multiple TOT bombardments that raked the line. Early the next morning the Engineering Companies breached the minefield and the advance continued… until we ran into the German 2nd line of defense. Now with our newly learned skills, this line was overcome quicker.
We called the play test over during the morning of Sept 6th after it appeared the Americans had caused significant attrition to the Germans in the areas west of Pont-a-Mousson that would have put the German 2nd line of defense to flight towards Nancy. At least that is what the situation appeared as, at 80ID Divisional HQ. We then revealed the map for analysis and some interesting lessons were learned.
AMR Lesson 1: The Americans entered on too small of frontage that led to road congestion and inadequate unit boundary frontages. For example, it was difficult to maneuver the 319th Infantry Regiment into the line, with the 317th and 318th heavily engaged. Disengaging elements of 317/318 to insert the 319th had increased logistical costs that could have been avoided through better planning.
AMR Lesson 2: Minefields are not impervious, they simply have a delaying effect, unless they are manned. The artillery (TOT) was an effective way to deal with manned minefields, but it takes time to attrition the defenders to the point that they decide to abandon their positions or are eliminated.
AMR Lesson 3: Save OP points during bad weather and fog, because the movement costs are much higher. Wait for the weather to clear and spend them from the OP Pool to do a much bigger move.
AMR Lesson 4: Use the armored cars and light tanks of the Reconnaissance Battalion and Tank Battalion to drive back the German picket line that are utilizing extended deployment, which allows the infantry to effectively close on the enemy.
AMR Lesson 5: Be aggressive with tanks by driving through the sticky-ZOCs, as this can create real problems in the enemy rear areas.
AMR Lesson 6: Mass the aircraft into fewer air missions, because the weather is so poor that it is hit or miss if they will even arrive. But if they do, it will be a big attack. During the battle I had more than one mission canceled because of fog over the target area and when air missions involved fewer aircraft the German AA defenses caused many missions to abort or take casualties.
AMR Lesson 7: Be aggressive after battles are resolved when Pursuit and Exploitation are available, by pursuing the enemy into their retreated hexes and exploiting into other hexes. However, in one battle I pursued a retreating enemy company into an unknown minefield. This unit then had to perform a Withdrawal the next impulse to get out of that dangerous predicament.
AMR Lesson 8: American losses were high, but due to the replacement pool and the field hospital and repair facility the Americans made good most of their losses when the units refit. Unlike the German forces that cannot replace their losses as easily. This meant that I could have pushed the issue harder, perhaps with even better results if I were willing to accept more losses. In the back of my mind I was thinking this whole thing could break open if I just pushed the issue, followed by the fact that I should then, “push the issue”.
AMR Lesson 9: The Reconnaissance Battalion as the eyes on the ground performed wonderfully, keeping in close contact with the enemy and providing a reasonable understanding of the enemy front line. Some long range patrols reached back through gaps in the enemy line upwards to a mile, providing insight as to what was behind the front.
AMR Lesson 10: The Americans logistically became OP starved, and to an extent, so did the Germans. Some minor tweaks (micro adjustments) in the game system and scenario rules resolved this.
AMR Lesson 11: Focus on combined arms (Column Shifts) and not total combat strength. Give the troops the logistical support (the tools) needed to get the job done, instead of throwing bodies at searching for a solution. The American toolkit on the offensive provides many ways to overcome almost any situation, when combined in the most effective sequences.
In general, the play test was as successful as we expected it to be, seeing that the system is well established and has been played for years. The pace was fun, and the limited intelligence occurred throughout the entire campaign. Entire sections of my flanks were covered by no more than jeep recon units, knowing that the Germans could not launch a major attack without sacrificing in other areas. Keeping the pressure on the Germans is the best way to keep them from doing anything more than a local counterattack. Keep advancing on the objectives and spend your OPs wisely.