Last session, we concluded the tale of the US 101st Airborne Division in Eindhoven Sector. The campaign is moving along the historical timeline there, so that means a long fight ahead for the British 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem, which is the focus of our next story arc.
The Cast of (Player) Characters
We introduce a new cast of characters. These characters will form the core of 2nd Platoon, A Coy, 2nd PARA, 1st Parachute Brigade, British 1st Airborne Division. Their objective is the brass ring, Arnhem Road Bridge.
First Lieutenant Reginald “Roger” Kingsley IV [Officer] (formerly Pfc. Smith) – a volunteered lawyer from London. He joined during the Blitz, and was passed over for Captain a few times – he turned the promotion down at least once himself to stay with his outfit. Weapon: Sten [SMG]
Corporal Tom Rhys [Soldier] (formerly M/Sgt. Franklin / Sgt. Barnes) – he “volunteered” – was offered military service or prison: he chose the army and did well. Weapon: Lee Enfield [Battle Rifle]
Lance Corporal Robert “Bobby” Wickersham [Medic] (formerly Cpl. Amherst) – a drafted artist, sent to airborne school to “be toughened up.” First jump. Weapon: SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) [Carbine]
Day 1 – 17 September 1944 – 1500 hrs.
The Best Laid Plans
The 1st Parachute Brigade lands in LZ X starting around 1400 hours and assembles, marching out at 1500 hours. 1st PARA (Parachute Battalion) will advance on Arnhem Road Bridge along the railway via Wolfheze. Along the same route, the 1st Recce (Reconnaissance) Sqn. (Squadron), equipped with twin-Vickers Jeeps, will race ahead to the bridge and form a mobile reserve once relieved by the infantry. 3rd PARA will take the northern road route through Oosterbeek to Arnhem road bridge.
2nd PARA, our characters’ battalion, will head south toward Heveadorp and follow along the river road along the southern end of Oosterbeek to Arnhem Road Bridge. 2nd PARA C Coy will attempt to secure Arnhem Rail Bridge and then proceed along the south bank of the lower Rhine to the Arnhem Road Bridge. 2nd PARA B Coy will attempt to capture and restore the pontoon bridge, the center span of which is known to be dismantled. 2nd PARA A Coy along with battalion staff and weapons, will proceed directly to and attempt to secure the north end of Arnhem Road Bridge.
Meanwhile, 1st Airborne headquarters lands at LZ Z and moves into Oosterbeek. 1st Airlanding Brigade lands at LZ S and secures the dropzones around Wolfheze and Ginkel for the second wave on day 2.
Once all the elements of 1st Parachute Brigade link up at Arnhem Road Bridge, they will form a defensive pocket and await relief from XXX Corps, which is expected on the morning of 18 September, day 2. The rest of the British 1st Airborne Division will also arrive on 18 September to secure the area and the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade will follow on 19 September to secure the southern bank of the lower Rhine.
Well, that’s the plan…
The distance 2nd PARA must traverse to reach Arnhem Road Bridge is over 8 miles. They must do so with their heavy packs, their support weapons, and their baggage train.
I’ve worked up a map, based on the historical progression of 2nd PARA en route to the bridge, shown below. For the most part, 2nd PARA’s historical progress could be summed up as mostly 10+ results, with a couple 7-9’s.
I have 1st Lt. Kingsley roll an engagement move for each leg of the journey. The first leg is from LZ X to the road between Heveadorp and Oosterbeek. He gets a 7-9. I tell him 3rd PARA, maybe 1st, is under fire to the north of you. We have been re-writing the engagement moves, so if you’re looking at a released move sheet, this won’t make sense. The basic 6 or less, 7-9, and 10+ still holds, so bear with. To be clear, 1st Lt. Kingsley is rolling on behalf of A Coy. On the 7-9, I offer that they can join the fight with 3rd PARA and probably flank the enemy near Wolfheze or they can proceed without making contact with the enemy. Kingsley is dedicated to the capture of the bridge, so they press on. He bases his decision on the best available intel, which he rolled for and failed, so he got the historical digest, which says – the Germans are in complete disarray; they are in shambles and cannot muster a credible fighting force; they have no armor. This intel is complete horse shit and with a wink and a nod, I tell the players that their characters just jumped on top of Army Group B’s headquarters; the part about 2nd Panzer Corps will come up later. At this point, they are essentially on schedule.
The next leg of the journey is through Oosterbeek to the Arnhem rail bridge. Oosterbeek is a lovely, well-to-do suburb of Arnhem. 2nd PARA hardly notices this as they press forward. Kingsley fails the engagement move roll. Delays. C Coy assembles for their assault on the rail bridge and that stops up traffic. Captain Robinson, A Company’s commander, tasked Kingsley (his 2nd in command) to make sure that the heavy weapons are brought to the front. Kingsley is working out what to do when a staff Major shows up and is about to throw a wrench into the machine by ordering C Coy to disperse. Kingsley petitions up the chain and tells the Major he’s wrong without actually telling him that he’s wrong. He gets a 7-9. It was a career-limiting move on Kingsley’s part, assuming either he or the Major live through this. So instead of setting everyone back further, Kingsley starts directing traffic and gets his platoon and the weapons on the move. C Coy scouts their objective and then marches on it. The road clears up.
At this point, more than a half hour has been lost and A Coy is way ahead of Kingsley’s platoon, battalion staff, and the heavy weapons. So they try to make up some time. I tell the medic, L/Cpl. Wickersham, that the heat and exertion appear to be wearing on the men. Their fighting ability is in question. He assesses the situation and blows it. I tell him that some of the mean look like they’ve just about had it and need a rest. Wickersham petitions up the chain to Kingsley and Kingsley tells Wickersham the ones in bad shape can have a rest; the rest will move on. More delays.
When Kingsley was directing traffic, I had him make the new (trial) officer move planning is everything, which is a specialized replacement for the old make a battle plan move. He succeeded, so he gets +1-forward to his next engagement move. This one takes him from the rail bridge near Oosterbeek to the western suburbs of Arnhem proper. He got a 7-9. Again, he chose to keep moving forward; but, a large explosion in the Oosterbeek area drew his attention and cost him some more time. The Germans blew the rail bridge as C Coy attempted to capture it. Casualties were light. A runner caught up with Kingsley and gave him the scoop. I ask Kingsley if he wants to stop and wait for C Coy or if he wants to press on. He chose to press on.
The final leg of the journey is from the suburbs to the bridge itself. This time, Kingsley gets a 10+ on his roll. He wants to get there – that’s one of his two choices for the move – for the other, I tell him he can wait for C Coy and make contact with the enemy from an advantageous position (note: B Coy is currently occupied with the pontoon bridge) or he can take the initiative and, leaving C Coy behind, press forward into Arnhem without making contact with the enemy. He chooses to press forward. They hear C Coy make contact with the enemy and a protracted fire fight ensues. Because of this decision, both B Coy and C Coy will be surrounded and destroyed by morning. Little does Kingsley know, they too are now completely surrounded and, by miles, cut off from reinforcements. This is a perfect example of how successfully achieving a tactical goal (i.e. a successful engagement move) can result in a strategic cluster fuck.
The Hand of Fate
Once at the bridge, Kingsley reports. Because he’s late, instead of 2nd PARA arriving during the exact 1 hour window where they could have secured the Arnhem Road Bridge virtually unopposed (as they did historically), they actually arrive about 1 hour late and meet with infantry in roughly battalion strength and an unknown mechanized force that has secured the bridge. It’s now just after 9 PM local time.
Here are the results of their first engagement with the enemy. Let me tell you how they got there.
Map Key: Blue are friendlies; red are enemies. Solid lines represent known positions; dashed lines represent suspected positions. Solid arrows represent movement; dashed arrows represent planned or suspected movement.
They started just west of where A Coy is shown, then, on Kingsley’s initiative, they pushed forward to where 2PLT is shown. 2PLT’s advance was stopped by a German patrol under the bridge to thier immediate east. The blue force presence shown under the bridge on the map was originally the opposition force’s position. Sgt. Willis’ recon squad was the first into the building and made contact. 1st Lt. Kingsley ordered Sgt. Powell’s assault squad to the building south of 2PLT’s position, where the large, blue arrow is shown.
Cpl. Rhys leads the charge. Powell’s plan is to have them pop smoke and then dash across. They pop the smoke; but, as the smoke canisters start to provide concealment, a German machinegun opens up from underneath the bridge. Rhys still wants to run across. Fine, act under fire I say. He does; 10+. He and the two others that follow in the first wave make it across, taking only incidental fire. The next wave is not so lucky. A move is failed and the three of them are gunned down: one dead, two in critical condition.
The cry for help reaches Wickersham. He successfully employs his inopportune target move to reach the wounded without taking fire. He asks if he needs to assess the situation to perform triage. I tell him no, the medic move, if he succeeds at it, will cover the successful treatment of the wounded solder – if he wants to treat the worse-off one first, no problem. He does, 7-9. Wickersham spends 1-gear to stabilize L/Cpl. Conner. Conner is now stable; but, is not ambulatory. Next, Wickersham treats the other solder. Again a 7-9. This soldier is not as badly wounded, so once he’s stabilized, he’s able to scuttle off to link up with Rhys. Left alone with a severely wounded soldier, smoke grenades running out of gas, Wickersham decides he’s going to throw Conner over his shoulder and hoof it over to Rhys. I tell him that he’s got to push himself first. He does. He gets Conner into the building with Rhys and the others and sets Conner down and the bottom of the stairs. Wickersham gives Conner a morphine tab and they bond. Then Wickersham dashes across the street under the fading smoke. He makes his inopportune target move with a 7-9, so I only fling incidental harm at him. He makes it back to 2PLT’s position and starts treating the wounded there.
Meanwhile, Rhys and his assistant, Pvt. Rickman, head into the building south of 2PLT’s position, indicated with an arrow. It’s an apartment building. Narrow stairs lead up to flats on each floor; four floors in all. Rhys makes for the second floor, thinking it will give him the best vantage point for attacking the enemy machinegun. They kick down the door of the northeast flat to find a family of three huddled inside – mother, father, child. Panic and screaming ensues. Rhys, assuming they can’t speak English, motions them to stay down and then tells Rickman not to kill them; but, not to put them first either. I tell him to impose his will on them. He blows it. In English, the father replies “Please don’t hurt us!” The daughter breaks and runs out into the hall. The mother and then father follow. The noise alerts the Germans, who start shooting into the flat.
Undeterred, Rhys lobs a grenade out the window at the Germans. It has some effect; but, Rhys isn’t sure how badly he hit the machine gun crew. So, he and Rickman move to the window and pour rifle fire on them. The enemy machinegun team is wounded and they drag themselves to cover on the other side of one of the supporting columns under the bridge.
Back to Kingsley – he wants to put the enemy machinegun out of action ASAP, so I suggest that he could requisition a heavy weapon – a PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank – the British equivalent of the bazooka) perhaps? So he petitions up the chain and gets a 7-9 – cool, you get it – but you fuck someone else over. Somewhere, troops are now engaged with armored vehicles without an anti-tank weapon. He doesn’t want to waste gear on the weapon, so he waits to see how the situation with Rhys unfolds. The German MG stops firing for a while, so he sends his teams in a pincer move to envelope and destroy the enemy. I have him roll act under fire for the NPCs – using Op (Operational Effectiveness – formerly Profile). One’s a hit; one isn’t. The MG acts up again, so I give Kingsley the choice: his men can tough it out and assault it, or he can spend 1-supply and the PIAT gunner can neutralize the enemy. He spends the 1-supply and they gain the position under the bridge, fighting off the surviving Germans.
1st Lt. Kingsley heads over to battalion HQ and speaks with Lt. Col. Frost about the situation. He relays their successes and suggests that if the bulk of A Coy were to attack along the river toward the bridge that, perhaps, they could oust the Germans from the other side. Frost agrees with the plan and orders the attack, as shown with the dashed line from A Coy on the map.
That’s where we left it, 2133 hours on the night of 17-18 September. Next time we’ll see how A Coy’s attack pans out.
The Big Picture
In the last session, we established that XXX Corps will not reach Arnhem any sooner than the evening of 19 September, day 3. That means our boys will have to hold for at least 48 more hours. 1st Lt. Kingsley’s 2nd Platoon has already taken 15% casualties and the bridge remains in enemy hands.
Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart, commander of the British 1st Airborne Division is cutoff for several hours during a reconnaissance into Oosterbeek. The radios do not work – I played this up a number of times when Kingsley was trying to assess the situation. The motorized recce squadron sortied along the rail line but retires after briefly making contact. 1st and 3rd PARA are held up for a few hours by Kampfgruppe Krafft around Wolfheze. This delay allowed the Germans to form a defensive perimeter in West Arnhem (shortly after A Coy made it through), blocking further advance and splitting the 1st Parachute Brigade in two.
Historically, Arnhem Road Bridge was captured by 2nd PARA during a lucky window of opportunity prior to the arrival of KG Euling and KG Brinkmann. That opportunity was lost due to failed and mixed results rolls and follow-on decisions made by the players.
9th SS Panzer Division have cut off 2nd PARA from their division HQ in a bubble around the bridge. 9th SS has also formed a blocking line centered around Kampfgruppe Spindler that prevents 2nd PARA’s relief by 1st and 3rd PARA. From the west, Kampfgruppe von Tettau is poised to retake the landing zones. Overall, right now, the Germans in contact with the British outnumber them by about 3:2. This will change to 3:1 by morning. At Arnhem Bridge, 2nd PARA is already outnumbered 2:1 and it will be almost 5:1 by morning. By tomorrow night, if nothing changes, it will be 10:1. They face the lightly-equipped Kampfgruppe Euling to the northeast; the poorly equipped 3rd Coy, 21st Infantry Regiment to the east, and Kampfgruppe Brinkmann, 10th SS Panzer Division’s armored recce battalion on the bridge itself (and possibly also at the traffic circle junction to the north).