By Chris Thompson
Summer 1944 and the battle for Normandy is not going well for the allies. Continual storms in the channel have seriously delayed the arrival of men and supplies and grounded the combined air forces for much of the campaign, allowing the Germans to move the panzer divisions up to the front without hindrance. The German defence has been stiff and has taken a heavy toll on the divisions so far employed. Monty’s first three big operations; Aintree, Haydock and Duffelcoat have all failed to take Caen. The Canadians enjoyed some success with operation Finalize and got over the river Odon to threaten the city from the South West. With the clearing weather fresh divisions have landed and the German defences are finally being stretched to the limit. Now Monty sees the chance of taking Caen from the rear and launches operation Bona.
The British throw two armoured divisions into the attack but the Guards are stopped at Etrangleur de Taupe, by a hastily formed screen of panzer grenadiers with a couple of batteries of 88’s in support. Fortunately the 11th cut through the German lines and raced at top speed to find a way over the river Orne. Aerial reconnaissance photos show the bridge at Pantoufle de bain to be intact, if only they can get there in time.
The British are attacking down the main road and its adjoining fields towards the town of Pantoufle de bain. They are preceded by a rolling artillery barrage, which hopefully should destroy or suppress any remaining German resistance. Unknown to them the local French resistance has risen to liberate themselves from the Nazi yoke and settle a few old scores with the Gestapo.
What little remains of the town’s garrison is commanded by Hauptman Mönch-Gewohnheit. Most of his troops have been stripped to shore up the problems in the line earlier. His former command post was the small old chateau on the edge of Pantoufle de bain, but this has now become the Gestapo HQ for the region, all part of the overall decline as he sees it. It is from here that the notorious von Klopgeist, and his wife Zsa Zsa, have terrorised the local inhabitants for the last 6 months. The pair refused to leave earlier as they were entertaining some suspected resistance leaders in the basement, their screams echoing up from the depths. The prisoners have been none too quiet either. Now his fast car waits to take them to safety but they need to force some more information out of their guests first. The only forces available to the Germans to defend the town are a platoon of grenadiers plus a good selection of support weapons, a squad of engineers who are trying to destroy the bridge and some feldgendarmes with orders to stop any troops attempting to retreat before the bridge is prepared for demolition, and to help the Gestapo to keep the Maquis at bay. A second platoon of grenadiers is deployed 300 metres up the road in prepared defensive positions hoping to delay the British as long as possible. Unfortunately this is exactly where the British barrage is falling, so whatever is left isn’t likely to put up much of a fight for too long. The only armour consists of a couple of Stug III’s lying in ambush for the expected enemy tanks to arrive.
Reinforcements can be expected at any time as elements of the 12th SS are in the vicinity and, to confuse the situation, they have orders to counter-attack any enemy breakthrough and re-establish the front line so will require the bridge to be kept intact. Other than them, the only help likely to arrive will be stragglers from other units and the odd rear echelon element.
In the scramble to capture an intact bridge several units of the 11th Armoured are trying to get down the same road. The Inns of court armoured car regt have become mixed up with the 3rd RTR, its Capt Jules was arguing who had precedence over the other with a Lieut Sand of the RTR, when the 2nd Northamptonshire yeomanry were seen careering over the adjacent fields in a cloud of dust, narrowly missing getting caught in the preceding barrage. With many a cry of “tally ho!” and one of “Ain’t they bold?” over the radio, both units set off in hot pursuit, leaving the supporting infantry in their dust. A company of the 1st Battalion Herefordshire Regt leads the infantry assault on the town desperately trying to keep up with the tanks
.Artillery will not be able to give much support after the initial barrage for fear of hitting the bridge. As the weather has cleared air cover will be possible but it’s important to keep the Air Force informed of the extent of the advance to prevent them targetting friendly forces.
Resistance chief Reynard La Spoon has spent years putting the Maquis forces together in Pantoufle de bain. Most of the town are either in or are helping the resistance, including the Sisters of Cuisse-Blanche who have been invaluable as spies. He now lies in the basement of the chateau probably at the tender mercies of Zsa Zsa Klopgeist and her evil husband. It will only be a matter of time before he is forced to talk and reveal the names of many of the town’s leading figures. This, coupled with the expected arrival of the British or Canadians, has forced the hand of the rest of the Maquis to rise up and destroy the detested boche. Unknown to the Germans, the local group has been contacted by SOE and supplied with quite an arsenal of weapons, including a couple of bazookas. All German movement around the town has been noted and observers are keeping an eye on preparations to blow the bridge. They must prevent the bridge’s destruction and also free the hostages in the chateau. In a bold move they plan to seize the end of the bridge that has the demolition cables leading from it, and sever them before the Germans can react. Surely the Germans can’t blow the bridge while they still have so many men on other bank? The town also seems to be swarming with police and high-ranking officers have been seen in the Route d’Etaing de Boules. Bagging some of these will put their group on the map.
As you will have noticed my version of events is slightly at odds with the accepted history of the Battle for Normandy and the first person on the day to come up with all 10 references to a well-known 1960’s radio comedy show will win a prize.
Most of the figures are by BAM, with some Artisan, Westwind and Foundry, all painted by Albionminiatures. Vehicles are fron BAM, Chieften and S&S, all painted by Neil Burt of Troop of Shewe.Terrain is by Realistic modelling and buildings by Grand Manner.