“Clear the ramp, thirty seconds, God be with you!”.Unnamed Coxswain, Saving Private Ryan
Today Lee looks at the US Forces hitting the beaches on D-Day; the Rangers, Assault Company and Veteran Assault Company.
A relatively small formation this one, but it contains the best US assault troops of the book.
The HQ is joined by two Ranger platoons and a share (or all of) the Battalion’s 81mm mortars. Whilst the small formation size won’t matter in the D-Day landing scenarios (where troops are recycled and company breaking points are ignored) it probably makes it, at best a support formation unless you take multiple formations to represent a full battalion.
The Rangers themselves are as hard hitting as you’d expect. Not only are they veterans but they are ‘deadly’ ones at that, hitting on 2’s in assaults! They are also fearless which should allow a reliable “follow me” to better close up the distance and get the knives in. They also rally on 2’s so a long burst of MG42 is unlikely to persuade them to stay on the beach. Finally “lead the way” allows the Rangers to cross an impassable cliff or mountain face at terrain dash so long as they pass a skill check – very useful if assaulting a certain peninsula!
The platoon itself is relatively small at only eight teams but is quite versatile as it can swap out its mortar for another Garand team, or up to two Garand teams for bazookas. The Bazookas still hit on 3’s in assault so they could make for some especially nasty tank hunters in close terrain.
The mortar platoon can bring two to four tubes of 81mm mortars which provides some use for smoke and suppression. Its main use is going to be in bolstering the small formation size so it doesn’t break too early.
Its worth noting that the Ranger’s self-propelled 75mm halftracks that joined them for the advance to Brest are not present in the book. That’s a shame as it not only deprives the rangers of some useful fire support but also would have helped make the Rangers a bit more of a core formation. I also think, on balance, that I prefer the old v3 method of having the “Companies” be “platoons” and the “Battalion” act as the “company” or formation as it lends itself better to making a Ranger force.
Overall, the Rangers provide a hard hitting but somewhat fragile formation to literally “lead the way” for a US force. I’d be inclined to almost treat them as a disposable support formation rather than the core of a force.
The “Blues and Greys” of the 29th Infantry Division has been raised from the National Guard and find their first actions storming the well defended beaches of Omaha. Needless to say this was something of a baptism of fire but ultimately the division’s 116th Regimental Combat Team was, along with the Rangers and the “Big red one”, able to fight its way off the beach.
The Assault Company is somewhat different to a normal Rifle Company, to reflect both its mission (storming enemy fortifications) and its means of arrival (an LCA or LCVP). The size of the landing craft, plus the need to divide the support assets evenly to ensure a level of redundancy in getting to the beach means that the Rifle, HMG and Mortar platoons we would normally see are exchange for two new units, the Assault Boat Section and the Support Boat Section.
The Assault Boat Section is the part that will take the fight to the enemy. It has five pioneer Garand teams to cross obstacles and close with the enemy, a flame thrower to burn them out of their foxholes, a pair of bazookas to bunker bust, plus a 60mm mortar and optional LMG to suppress resistance. Its perfectly crafted for fighting a way off the beach. It’s Confident Trained Aggressive stats are bolstered by an improved 3+ rally which should keep them moving off the beach, but one has to expect casualties to mount with the ‘aggressive’ rating leading to a 3+ to hit.
The Support Boat section is smaller, with just four pioneer Garand teams, but also packs a M1917 HMG and 81mm mortar to help with suppression or to lay down a small smoke screen.
The force can have quite a large infantry component with up to six Assault and four Support sections but is also has all the components to represent the battalion in the days immediately after the landings. The Assault Boat sections remain, but two of the support sections are replaced by dedicated HMG and 81mm mortar platoons whilst the other two Support Sections can be replaced by the excellent 57mm Anti-tank gun.
The 57mm is the US version of the British 6pdr. It packs a decent mid ranged punch and is the perfect ambush or point defence gun to back up harder hitting 76mm or 3” anti-tank options. Being able to field two platoons of up to three guns provides a broad coverage over the table, or allow one ambushing platoon to bushwhack the flanks of an enemy Panzer Zug trying to deal with the other platoon frontally.
Finally, the platoon had more organic indirect firepower in the form of the 105mm cannon battery. This platoon can field 2-6 105mm pack howitzers that may lack the range, direct AT and gun-shield of their divisional cousins, but still pack the same 105mm HE shell to dig out the enemy. It’s a great support asset to have, in formation.
Whilst the formation is at its best in a beach landing mission, it still has a lot to consider as a day-to-day force, mainly due to the presence of a 60mm mortar and flame thrower. However, I would probably be more inclined to field the force in its Rifle form, with its larger platoons, as we will discuss in the next article.
Veteran Assault Company
The Veteran Assault Company of the Big Red One follows all the same beats as its non-veteran counterpart but increases the “to hit” to “Cautious” (4+) and loses the 3+ rally.
However, it doesn’t change the skill to “veteran”, only increases the “Tactical” to 3+. This is still of some benefit to the infantry component but lacks the true benefits of improved artillery co-ordination and hitting in assaults whilst taking a not-insignificant increase in cost.
Personally, I think I’d rather go with a core of the Confident Trained, backed by a Ranger support formation, or a supporting paratroop platoon, for the heavy hitting. The 3+ rally is just too good to give up, even for being hit on 4’s.
All of which brings us to putting that above into practice…
Hitting the Beach
Before we look at the force, lets talk about the changes to the rules that the beach landing mission introduces.
Firstly, all formations are effectively merged into one formation with multiple HQ.
Secondly, the formation won’t break as it would normally do when down to its last unit.
Thirdly, Infantry units will recycle when destroyed.
Finally, losing units doesn’t affect the scale of victory as it normally would, instead its how quickly we seize the objectives.
All very thematic. The enemy will have half the points of the attacker, but will have some extra points for fortifications as well as minefields and barbed wire.
Knowing all this I opted for the following 75pt force:
Two full Ranger Platoons, each swapping the 60mm for an extra Garand stand and two Garand stands for Bazooka stands.
This gives me my punch to clear out and dug in infantry. Hitting on 2s means the initial assault will be swift and deal and will clear the way for:
Three Assault Boat Sections, each swapping one bazooka for a LMG
These guys will follow up behind the Rangers and clear out the pillboxes and any minefields that may block the sea wall exit.
4 DD Sherman tanks – This is a normal Sherman platoon, upgraded with the DD tanks command card. DD tanks lose their hull MG (RoF drops to 3) but gain the ability to treat impassable water as difficult. The platoon still needs to be allocated a landing craft slot, but launch in the surf zone, freeing up a landing craft straight away to take another platoon next turn. The trade off is that the tanks have a 1/6 chance of sinking! Once in the surf zone, they can sit there, firing, or move onto the beach.
Thunderbolt flight – This gives me a way of harassing the enemy reinforcements as they arrive.
Dutch Cota – another card, this time representing the influence of the 29th Infantry’s Assistant Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Norman ‘Dutch’ Cota in keeping his forces moving. Platoons from the formation he is in (notionally the Rifle platoon but now the Rangers too as they fight as one formation) that are stopped from an assault by defensive fire, they take an immediate motivation check. If they pass, they unpin but must repeat the charge into contact. This should help the units land their punch in an assault, but probably at the cost of higher casualties.
I did think about taking the Naval Gunfire card. This works much like an aircraft strike (call it in on a 4+) but with a devastating AT 4, Firepower “Auto”! Certainly if I was playing 100pts I’d be inclined to add the card, an additional Sherman DD tank and an additional boat section.
The game plan is to send the Rangers and Shermans in the first wave, then the Assault sections follow. The Rangers move to punch a hole that the Assault section can exploit whilst also clearing obstacles. The force then makes for the rear areas to seize the objectives.
Of course, that’s all very easy to say and the result on the day may be very different!
That’s the beach secured. In the next article we’ll look at moving inland.