After Action Report: Command Ops: Highway to the Reich
Operation Market Garden is about to commence and it is up to the 82nd Airborne and British XXX Corps to capture and move up a series of bridges into Germany. Will they prevail?
Highway to the Reich revisited - a Battles from the Bulge Expansion Pack
"This is a tale to tell your grandchildren... and mighty bored they'll be." So said Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks at the briefing to his XXX Corps on 16th September 1944. Two days later XXX Corps, led by the Irish Guards Group, were off at the start of the "Garden" part of "Market Garden".
In this AAR I will be commanding the 82nd Airborne "All American" and elements of the British XXX Corps against the German AI in one of the scenarios to be found in Panther Games new Highway to the Reich expansion pack for Battles from the Bulge. And I promise you will not be bored... well, hopefully at least you won't be "mighty bored." But first a word or two about what you can expect, whether you are new to the "pauseable real-time" genre of the Panther Games lineup, or a crusty old veteran of the original HTTR game. I was introduced to the Panther Games series back in 2005 when I purchased Highway to the Reich prior to a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium. As sophisticated as the game felt back then, these reworked scenarios played on the Command Ops engine have been a real treat.
The HTTR expansion Pack is a set of 13 scenarios covering all of the major actions that took place during the Market Garden Campaign in Holland, September 17-26 1944. The project began in 2006 with the conversion of the HTTR maps for mixed-mode movement. As we dug into the map conversion we discovered more and more issues that needed attention. Many parts of the maps had to be re-worked since minor and major river terrain had wiped out mechanized road movement wherever the roads were drawn too close to the river (like almost everywhere) and many new crossings were added where these roads crossed the rivers. Numerous other historical accuracy checks and revisions were made using veteran accounts, period aerial photographs and digital topography.
We also expanded the Eindhoven map and scenario start time to include the Irish Guard's probe into Aalst on the morning of September 18th. But the big-ticket item included in the pack is the melding together of the Nijmegen and Arnhem Campaigns into one 10-day long mega scenario. The Map is 27 Km wide and covers the battlefield from south of Grave to 15 Km north of Arnhem. Developed, playtested and balanced by Panther Games beta testing team, this scenario promises to provide an experience like nothing you have ever seen before in real-time strategy wargaming.
Every scenario had to be designed to incorporate all of the new features that have been introduced into the series through Conquest of the Aegean and Battles from the Bulge including the new supply mechanics, supply entry points, and exit victory conditions.
The German and Allied OOB's for the Market Garden Campaign had to be reconstructed with the new BFTB estabs, unit by unit. All of the historical bios and unit histories were transferred over from HTTR and many new ones added that were missing in the original. Both the German and the British OOB's have been extensively reworked for historical accuracy based on new information, most of which has become available only after HTTR was released. Guards Armoured Division, 107th Panzer Brigade, Korps Feldt, 406th Infantry Division, Kampfgruppe Walther all got closely reviewed and many revisions and corrections were made based on historical research. But that's enough of that. If you are a wargamer and a fan of the Western front in 1944 you will not be disappointed, especially at Panther Games where, as they say, realism counts.
The All American over Nijmegen
Nijmegen Sector - September 17, 1944: 1300 hrs
Historical Scenario. Duration: 4 Days, 10 Hours
The 82nd Airborne was tasked with securing the biggest of all the crossings along Hell's Highway, the road and rail bridges spanning the Waal River at Nijmegen. It was also responsible for securing the highway crossings at Grave and Honinghutje and seven other bridges across the Maas and the Maas-Waal Canal, not to mention securing the 10km of the Groesbeek Heights that overlook the Reichswald from which, General Gavin knew, the inevitable German counterattack would come. Unlike Gavin who, under Browning's direction, delayed the immediate capture of Nijmegen in favor of securing the Heights, I will try to make a grab for Nijmegen with 3 battalions from the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) on the first day. I know from history and experience that the 10 SS will be sending down reinforcements from the North and the sooner I block the crossings on the Waal the better the chance I will have securing Nijmegen. On the other hand, I also know that Korps Feldt will sortie from the Reichswald but I hope to have XXX Corps on hand to help out before my SEP on Groesbeek Heights gets overrun. The rest of my strategy will follow more or less historical lines - secure the bridges over the Maas, Waal, and the Canal before pushing on to Arnhem.
Situation at 13:30 hours, showing my plan: Lots to do with little to do it with.
Sitrep: - September 17, 1944: 24:00 hrs
Well, the good news is I made it into Nijmegen with 3 Battalions from the 508th PIR relatively unscathed. As night fell I observed SS troopers crossing the Waal into Nijmegen so tomorrow we should see some heavy street fighting. That's fine as long as I can hold out until XXX Corps arrives and at least contest the city. Usually (not always) your objective is also the enemy's objective so if you cant overwhelm and clear them out you should at least try to contest it and deny your opponent victory points. The bad news is the Germans blew the bridge at Grave so I have to capture and hold the Mook rail bridge if Im going to get XXX Corps into Nijmegen in a timely manner. Luckily I am able to secure this bridge by nightfall but with my main effort far to the north in Nijmegen I have little left to guard this crossing and the Groesbeek Heights against the German counterattack out of the Reichswald.
Ready to go for the bridge and city center tomorrow... but I'm wondering if this was a good idea.
Sitrep: - September 18, 1944: 12:00 hrs
With the bridge at Grave blown I don't really need the bridges along the Maas-Waal Canal (except for the VPs) so I pulled the 1/504 out of Heumen to help the 505th defend the southern flank just before the German attack hit with very significant drives into the Heights from the southeast. To make matters worse, the 508th is now surrounded and cutoff inside Nijmegen while German reinforcements are slipping by over the Nijmegen Rail Bridge apparently. I am really feeling the pressure here and XXX Corps is still a full day away from reaching my sector -- and they will have to travel on minor roads and tracks through polder-country to get to the Mook rail bridge (if its still in my possession when they get there) instead of the nice highway through Grave and Honinghutje. Although XXX Corps should be able to rebuild the Grave Bridge before game-end it may be too late to have any effect on the outcome except to give me a few more VP's.
Pressure on all fronts - you'd think they didn't want us landing here.
Sitrep: - September 18, 1944: 24:00 hrs
September 18 (D2) is a day I would rather forget about. I feel like I have lost the initiative and the 82nd is now simply responding to the enemy's actions. I have called off all attacks inside Nijmegen to consolidate and conserve ammo (not the red boxes on the units, representing supply lines cut) until XXX Corps arrives. Although the Germans didn't get very far in their counterattack from the southeast they have infiltrated far past my pickets. They are indeed a menacing presence and will likely force me to commit some of the British armor to help fight them off. Meanwhile I still hold the crossings over the Maas River at Mook so I'm looking ahead with high hopes for regaining the initiative on the 19th.
The 508th isolated in Nijmegen. But that's what being in the Airborne is all about right?
Sitrep: - September 19, 1944: 12:00 hrs
XXX Corps arrives at last, led in the early morning by B Squadron, 2nd Household Cavalry (I love those British unit names...) and other support troops clearing the way for the Engineers to get to work on repairing the Grave Bridge. The bulk of the Grenadier Guards makes good time to Mook, rolling through Molenhoek on the road to Nijmegen just before noon. I did detach one of the combined arms battalions from Grenadier Guards to help clear out the Heights northeast of Mook, while the other battalion pushes north. Coldstream Guards will be following on shortly and I plan to send that entire group into Nijmegen. Im feeling a little more comfort level now, although there's still over 2 days of hard fighting left before time is up.
Shermans from the Grenadier Guards and .50 cal Halftracks from the Motor Battalion pushing North toward Nijmegen.
Sitrep: - September 19, 1944: 24:00 hrs
The British Engineers make quick work of repairing the Grave bridge, just in time for the tanks and motorized elements of the Coldstream Guards to make good use of it, crossing over the polder land and reaching the Honinghutje Bridge west of Nijmegen by nightfall. With the Coldstream coming from the west and the Grenadier coming from the south and the Welsh arriving on the scene tomorrow I should have enough to clear a path through the city and hopefully form a solid bridgehead on the north bank of the Waal.
The Guards take over - I'm pulling the Airborne out of Nijmegen to get some rest, bread, and bullets.
Sitrep: - September 20, 1944: 24:00 hrs
With the bulk of the Guards Armoured Division now within the Nijmegen vicinity I plan to make the big push across the Waal north tomorrow after a few hours of rest. Fatigue levels are not too bad but I want them fresh and ready to go come morning time so I wont push them through the night. I am behind on VP's and to win this I need to either kill a lot of Germans tomorrow or exit a few armoured brigades off the north map to Arnhem (note this difference from the original HTTR where there were no exit VP's so once you got across the river from Nijmegen you just skulked about Lent until time ran out). The 82nd Airborne is exhausted and will not be of much use for the remainder of the game, except to hold where they are. Its up to the British now.
Ready to make a run for the rail bridge tomorrow - looks easy don't it?
Sitrep: - End Game September 21, 1944: 23:00 hrs
Result: Marginal Defeat
Boy that was a tough nut. While I managed to get across the Waal in nearly brigade strength I was not able to push past the Kampfgruppe Henke holding the north bank. Even if I broke through at Lent and Fort van Holland the 22nd Panzergrenadiers would have been waiting for me. The German AI established a nice rear area defense in-depth with its artillery and some mobile reserves which is rather impressive.
Although for a while there I was feeling good about at least getting a minor victory, my inability to secure Nijmegen or even Groesbeek and also whip up some casualties on the enemy eventually took its toll 37 - lousy VP's. Getting the Grave Bridge blown in my face was maybe not as damaging to my plan as I thought, but then again it would have got me into Nijmegen quicker that's for sure.
OK so I feel bad about leaving the Red Devils to their fate in Arnhem. I think I will play the "Red Devils over Arnhem" next to hopefully relieve some of my survivors guilt.
The end game - too little and too late. Survivors Guilt sets in as the Red Devils wither away to the north in Arnhem
AAR written by: Richard Simonitch, Contributor