Session 4 – Eindhoven Sector, 101st Airborne Division
Happy Independence Day!
Quick re-cap from last session – Franklin was killed in a heroic attempt to save Amherst’s life, by jumping on a grenade. Amherst warned command that a German attack was imminent. Together, Smith and Amherst turn the tide of the German assault – Smith with his heavy machinegun rolling back the enemy line and Amherst directing mortar fire to blast them to pieces. Franklin’s player takes over Sgt. Barnes, their squad leader. Franklin and Amherst are both awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Clusters and Franklin is awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters and Valor Device.
Day 1 – 17 September 1944 – 1802 hrs.
A Mad Scramble
After the German attack is repulsed, 2nd Lt. Fogarty, formerly the not-yet-introduced mortar platoon leader takes over command of the weapons company because he is now the senior officer. S/Sgt. “Papa Bear” gets bumped up to Company XO and commands the mobile reserve, about platoon strength. Sgt. Barnes takes over the static defenses of the bridge with about 60 men, including a heavy machinegun commanded by Pfc. Smith (which is presently out of ammo), 3 serviceable light machineguns, and a German light machinegun (also out of ammo).
Barnes is convinced that the farmhouse is key to the bridge defense. Recall that previously, M/Sgt. Franklin and Cpl. Amherst destroyed the farmhouse and the nearby barn with the Flak gun they miraculously lived to capture and turn on the enemy. To this end, Barnes orders Smith’s HMG, the captured German LMG, and one other LMG to be redeployed to the farmhouse. The crews hop-to and hump their guns the 200 yds to the farmhouse. Fogarty gets to work organizing logistics
At this point, the boys have zero supply. That means that Smith, with his move heavy weapon that allows him to spend 1-supply to get a heavy weapon for the engagement, has no way to pay for the HMG. Lucky for him that no one’s going to take the weapon from him – the gun alone weighs 84 lbs.; the tripod almost another 45 lbs. – the position is under harassing enemy fire, ammo for the gun is beyond scarce, and there are no vehicles in the immediate area to facilitate transfer. But, the move requires 1-supply, so, unless they can make a different move to get it they can’t use it until they have 1-supply to spend. We’ve already established in the fiction that the supply of.50 BMG ammo is scarce, so the reason they can’t use the HMG right now is because they have no ammo, at present, for the gun and the 1-supply expense represents the distorted value of the HMG ammo. This prompts many, many follow-up moves to get some ammo for the gun.
I broke the downtime into three segments, spanning a period of about three hours. At the end of each time segment, I synched up what the characters were doing and gave them a chance to think out their next moves. During this period, the characters made scrounging moves, petition moves, and others. I asked them lots of questions, offered suggestions, and asked them what they wanted to do. In summary, they collected ammo, sited their weapons, and prepared their defensive position.
The squad gets their HMG fed with ammo, for now, and fabricates some ammo belts for the Kraut machinegun too. The machineguns are trained toward the hedge 200 yds. away that probably conceals the German attackers. No one can tell whether the enemy is there in force or not because the sun is setting: the sky is red-orange and the earth is jet black – they can’t see a damn thing. Then the shooting starts.
The Germans probe the allied positions with machinegun fire. The Farmhouse, even in its ruined state, is still a salient feature. The Germans have already sited their guns on it. Now they fire on it to see if they provoke a reaction. Incidental fire all around… and again and again as the troops coordinate a response. Smith looks for the muzzle flashes of the quick-firing German machineguns, assessing the situation. His first shot at this was a 7-9 on assess and a 10+ on fight the enemy. He zeroes in on a gun and puts it out of action. In doing so, he and the others that returned fire, alert the enemy to a strong presence in the farmhouse. They begin to shift their assets…
Several other enemy machineguns are in operation; some fire at the farmhouse. More incidental fire is spread around. Now the boys are starting to sweat – stress and, to a lesser extent, wounds are piling up. Again, Smith wants to pinpoint the sources of enemy machinegun fire, so he assesses the situation. This time 10+, 3 questions. He wants to know where three enemy machineguns are, if he can. Sure, I say. I tell Smith that he watches for their fire and boresights their position. Then he pulls out his grease pencil and marks the azimuth and elevation of the enemy guns on his tripod, 1, 2, 3. Then I have him make three fight the enemy rolls, back to back, one for each enemy gun. Every roll was a hit – I think two of them were 10+. We changed the suppress tag so that it just always means that when you use the weapon against the enemy, you suppress them. So, basically, Smith suppresses, pins, and deals harm to all three of the nearby enemy machineguns. He knocks two of them out of action.
Smith is now the biggest target on the battlefield. In recounting this tale to John on Wednesday – by the way, we got together, drank some beers and did some serious revision – John pointed out that this is totally a GM move, so stay tuned! Right, so when you are the biggest target on the battlefield, the enemy will do something about it. I decide to turn Smith’s move back on him. In the Regiment, the enemy are proactive: they take the initiative, same as the players. So, adding consequences to a Player’s actions, even if they hit on a move with a 10+, is not just OK, it’s expected. So the German’s zero-in on Smith’s position, because he’s burning through ammo like crazy. A sniper gets Smith’s silhouette in his sights and pulls the trigger.
Smith takes 3-harm concentrated and goes wounds critical. He’s knocked off the gun and falls to the floor. Barnes rushes over to help. I ask him what he does and Barns says he tries to put pressure on the wounds and he calls out for a medic. I ask him what he looks like from outside the farmhouse. Barnes says, I guess I look like I step behind the gun… The sniper, who already has the range, takes a second shot. Barnes goes down too after taking 3-harm concentrated. Smith calls out for help and Pvt. Jacobs, his trusty loader, tries to answer the call, though there’s not a lot he can do. He just takes the stress and fires blind, moving the traverse and elevation, manipulating the tripod from cover in a vain attempt to fend off the enemy.
A runner is sent out for a medic. Smith and Barnes are gingerly moved down into the root cellar below. The medic returns and I have Smith and Barnes roll +profile for the NPC medic to treat them. They both get 7-9 hits and they spend 1-gear to stabilize. They blow off some steam and recover 1-wound each over a smoke. With Barnes out of action, Amherst is now in charge and he’s not liking it. Command is not his thing and he’s now their ranking officer… as a corporal.
Cutting their Losses
The situation is dire. The HMG is out of ammo, the German LMG is out of ammo, and the Browning LMG is damn near out of ammo. Barnes starts ordering Amherst to abandon the position because it’s hopeless and Amherst resists because he doesn’t want to leave Smith and Barnes behind to die.
Barnes and Smith both want to get out of the root cellar, albeit, for different reasons. Barnes wants to be propped up with the last active LMG and fend off the enemy while the rest of the able-bodied soldiers retreat. Barnes hits on pushing himself, so they drag him up to the gun and he continues to bark orders at them. Smith, on the other hand, wants to get the fuck out of this death trap and get some real medical treatment. When he rolls to push himself, he blows it with a 6 or less. I tell him, when they pick him up, he starts drowning in his own blood and convulses. He takes 1-wound and his handlers set him back down as gently as they can and ultimately abandon him there.
Amherst has a crisis of conscience. This is not something I can retell in any meaningful way. Amherst’s Player was having a crisis of conscience and this is when it started to feel real, as in this is not just a game, but a sympathetic experience. Amherst would not take Barnes’ order to bug out, so Barnes imposed his will. With that move, the PCs have a choice; but, Jerry, Amherst’s consummate player, embraced Barnes’ success and, with a heavy heart, led the ambulatory troops out of the farmhouse, leaving Smith and Barnes to their fate. Amherst and the others relocate to the bridge.
The Last Hurrah!
Barnes’ plan is to provide covering fire using the last belt in the last gun in the farmhouse. So, he pops off rounds here and there in an attempt to fool the enemy into thinking the farmhouse is still fully occupied. Successful or no, the enemy is on the move – heading in their direction.
Smith recognizes, as he stares up at the ceiling of this damn root cellar, that if he stays here, he’s going to die. So he musters his last strength. I call him with a push yourself move, which he succeeds. OK, I say, the first challenge is the stairs; you make it. Barnes is there, propped up with his gun at a hole in the wall that now qualifies as a window. You gonna leave him behind? Yep. Smith wants to crawl the 30 yds. back to the hedge where he’s pretty sure friendly troops are still holding the line. Cool, sounds like you’re pushing yourself, I say. I hear Smith’s character pick up his virtual dice from 2000+ miles away – we’re all in different states (sometimes different countries); but, the tension is no less real. Success! Smith crawls from certain death to friendly lines where he is recovered. You can read his epilogue below.
Barnes runs out of machinegun ammo. He can hear Germans moving in the root cellar below, so he pops a grenade and chucks it down there through one of the many gaping holes in the floor. Blast. He hears screams and groaning below. Then he hears the leaden bounce of an enemy grenade thrown through the window. Barnes says he wants to try to throw the grenade back outside at the attackers. Cool, I say, roll for act under fire. He fails miserably. You grasp around for the grenade but you don’t find it in time. Barnes is already a hair’s breadth from death, so when the grenade detonates, it’s over. The Germans capture the key farmhouse position and Barnes’ player loses his second character in as many sessions.
The Die is Cast
The players have done all that they can, so I zoom out in terms of scope and time and describe the changing tides of battle. I have Amherst roll +profile and use 6 or less as the enemy gains advantage, 7-9 as enemy gain –or– stalemate with a cost, and a 10+ as the friendlies gain advantage. That exposed the need for a new GM move, which we are now working on. Remember, the GM has narrative control over the situation. Sometimes it’s best to exercise this control to dictate the outcome of a battle and sometimes it’s better to leave it to dice.
I decided to have Amherst continue to roll until the situation is completely resolved. The first roll was a 7-9. I have them spend their last supply to continue to fight it out at the bridge. Next roll was a miss, the German attack is a decisive success and they recapture the bridge during the night, driving the paratroopers into Son Forest. I tell Amherst that the next opportunity to recapture the bridge is at first light. Amherst rolls a 7-9 for the counterattack; stalemate.
The Germans’ goal in recapturing the bridge is to destroy it, denying it to their enemy. They had time to wire it with explosives over night and the stalemate in the morning means it is still in their control. I have time and opportunity to advance my agenda without interference, so I make a hard move. The Germans blow Best Bridge.
Historically, the German’s blew both Son and Best bridges before the 101st could capture them, denying a crossing over the Wilhelmina Canal. Conversely, the 101st captured the bridges at St. Oedenrode and Veghel intact. XXX Corps build a pontoon bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son during the night of 18-19 September, arriving in the Nijmegen sector (US 82nd Airborne territory) on the morning of September 19, day 3.
In our version, the same things ultimately happened. The players’ actions had a significant effect on the strategic situation with the capture of Best Bridge intact; but, their actions surrounding the Germans’ night attack changed their unit’s posture from secure to threatened, which led to the dice rolls that sealed their fate. The British paratroopers in Arnhem, expecting XXX to arrive on the morning of September 18, day 2, will now have to wait until at least the evening of September 19, day 3.
The campaign is on-track historically in the Eindhoven Sector, so we conclude our story of the 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne Division and focus now on the British 1st Airborne Division in the Arnhem Sector.
Private First Class Smith is awarded the Purple Heart for life threatening injuries sustained in combat with an armed enemy of the United States near Best, Netherlands on the night of 17-18 September 1944.
Sergeant Barnes is awarded the Purple Heart (posthumously) for fatal injuries sustained in combat with an armed enemy of the United States near Best, Netherlands on the night of 17-18 September 1944.
Lost in the Shuffle
Sgt. Barnes gave his life in a heroic act to save others. But, in the confusion and heavy fighting during the struggle for Best Bridge, Barnes’ story is lost in the severed chain of command. By the end of Operation Market Garden and the near-catastrophe of the Battle of the Bulge, corroborating witnesses are lost in battle or sent home and dispersed. Barnes’ sacrifice, like that of so many other worthy soldiers, goes unsung; but, is not forgotten by those who lived on.
Since we drew this story arc to a close, I asked the players to write epilogues for their characters. This is what they had to say.
Having sustained a collapsed right lung and a broken rib, Smith was constrained to the field medical tent until the arrival of XXX Corps. After the end of Operation Market Garden, Smith was evacuated to the rear and sent to a field hospital in France for proper treatment. After having his broken rib reset and his lung re-inflated Smith spent the rest of the war in Britain going through bouts of pneumonia. Eventually Smith was in good enough condition to make it back to Chicago. Upon return Smith got married and had 2 kids, returning to his mechanic job. However, the pneumonia kept returning and his breathing was never right. He eventually died at the age of 35 succumbing to the illness and injuries that had plagued him for so long.
Cpl. Amherst showed repeated signs of battle fatigue, eventually coming to the attention of a doctor in his platoon’s field hospital, who rotated him out of combat duty. He was re-posted to a clerical detail in London. After the war, he returned to his barbershop in Levittown, Pennsylvania. He never could forgive himself for abandoning Sergeant Barnes in the farmhouse outside Eindhoven. He turned to drink, and eventually lost his business. He was last seen after being released from jail in Pittsburgh in 1951, after being arrested for vagrancy.
Although Sergeant Barnes’ son was too young to remember his father before he went to war, he would always remember the day his mother received notification of his father’s death. Sergeant Barnes’ widow never remarried.