Welcome back my friends to another musing, this time due to unprecedented demand we are looking at a Volksgrenadier formation from the Bulge German book – but not any formation, this is the rebirth of the 352nd Infantry Division from the Normandy landings, so let’s see how the Pegasus division reclaimed its wings.
Back at the Beach
You may remember the 352nd as the more experienced of the two divisions opposing the Allied invasion forces on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. Like many divisions committed to the Normandy fighting, it suffered terribly during the summer of 1944 and, by July 1944, the formation had essentially been ground out of existence by the Allies.
Like many infantry formations that had been smashed in the fighting of the first half of 1944, they were sent for refitting and replenishment. While refitting, the 352nd was once again called back into action to defend against an Allied invasion when they launched Market Garden. The division was attached to the 10th SS Division and the 363rd Infantry Division. They were part of the force that helped prevent the Allied XXX Corps from linking up with the British 1st Airborne Division, as well as engaging the U.S. 82nd Airborne at Nijmegen.
Again exhausted from fighting, and having had its refitting and replenishment interrupted in Holland, the 352nd Infantry Division was withdrawn to the Reich, southern Denmark, to be reborn as the 352nd Volksgrenadier Division.
The remnants of the 352nd Infantry Division were merged with the remnants of the 581st Infantry Division and a few Marine detachments, formerly coastal artillery, to form the new 352nd Volksgrenadier Division under the command of Oberst Erich Schmidt. This hodge-podge of men was committed to the Ardennes Offensive as part of the 7th Army, LXXXV Army Corps on the southern flank of the bulge sandwiched between the 5th Fallschirmjager Division and 276th Volksgrenadier Division.
Morale was high in the division on the eve of Operation Wacht Am Rhein but the lack of experience, especially in the non-commissioned officer ranks, would ultimately show itself in poor fighting and manoeuvring ability overall. What you will also see in the overall formation of the LXXXV Army Corps is that there is very little armoured support for this push toward Luxembourg, and even transportation is extremely lacking.
The 352d had full ranks, mostly from the Luftwaffe and Navy, but lackedThe Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge by Hugh M. Cole (1965)
training and veteran noncoms. Its artillery regiment contained four battalions, but was mostly horse-drawn and woefully short of radio equipment. There were only six assault guns in the divisional company…
LXXXV Corps Attack
The terrain in the area where the 352nd Volksgrenadier Division, and the rest of the 7th Army, were supposed to advance through really embodies the tough terrain of the Ardennes; rivers snaking their way through steep-sided ravines surrounded by deep, forested hills – this was not terrain suited to the Blitzkrieg and was always going to be tough going.
Opposing the 352nd was the 28th “Keystone” Infantry Division, a well-seasoned unit led by another Normandy veteran; General Norman “Dutch” Cota. Having been in action on the western front since July 1944, and commanded by General Cota since August, the division was well-motivated, well-led and, having been in-situ since November 1944, familiar with its surroundings and deployment. Moved here after the hellish fighting of the Hürtgen Forest to rest and refit in this quiet sector it was, however, strung out across 25 miles of front.
Just like the 5th Panzer Army in the north, the LXXXV Army Corps opened its offensive silently, with assault troops crossing the river in rubber boats early on 16 December. Covered by the darkness and the fog, this was accomplished without the Americans noticing anything. The offensive had started…
352nd Volksgrenadier Division in Flames of War
So now we have a bit of background on the 352nd and its reformation and commitment to the Ardennes Offensive of 1944 but what does that look like on the tabletop in a Flames of War game?
Well, we need to look a little closer at the Order of Battle to get a better idea:
- Grenadier-Regiment 914
- Grenadier-Regiment 915
- Grenadier-Regiment 916
- Artillery Regiment 1352
- Panzerjaeger-Abteilung 352
- Pioneer Bataillion 352
- Aufklarungs-Abteilung 26
Like the Panzer Brigades, the Volksgrenadier Divisions were stripped down and back in terms of their formations. What was deemed essential in 1939 is now jettisoned to streamline units and bulk up the forces defending the Reich. Part of the lunacy of all this was that these formations were conceived as defensive units and now they are being flung into the maelstrom of offensive operations in some of the most adverse conditions experienced by troops on the western front.
So, in terms of units in our formation, we are a little more constrained than previously when we have looked at Forces. That doesn’t mean that they are going to be plain and vanilla… no, no, no dear reader, not a jot of it.
We’ll start off with a company from 916 (I like the symmetry of the number and I’m contrary like that). Like all Volkgrenadier divisions there were only six battalions now in their formation rather than the nine that Infantry divisions started the war with. Overwhelming firepower was meant to compensate for this lack of manpower and anti-infantry firepower is definitely something that this formation has in spades.
352nd Volksgrenadier Division
This chunk of small arms-slinging death comes in at a mighty 66 points and brings some serious BOOM. With 8cm and 12cm mortars, combined with four 7.5cm paK-50 infantry guns, when forced to attack you can lay down quite a barrage of smoke and pinning covering fire. The HMGs are a cheap unit to bulk out the formation and add even more infantry killing power on the defensive whilst the three 7.5cm PaK40 guns give you a reasonable ambushing anti-tank unit.
The real power in this formation is the infantry and scout platoons. The Rifle platoon gives you a steady unit to maintain coverage on an objective and even the Assault platoons can provide decent cover to an objective in conjunction with the HMG platoon. With so many AT11/12 Panzerfausts and Panzerschreks in the force almost any armoured assault to think twice before piling in.
Right, now we are into the gooooood stuff. Let’s deal with the obvious to start with, the Hetzers. The 352nd Volkgrenadiers had six Hetzers assigned to their Panzerjaeger-Abteilung.
That’s right. In a division where, on paper, it had a fighting strength of 10,000 men, you have six Hetzers to support them. I’m a little narked that I can only fit in four not the full complement but, beggars can’t be choosers, so in they go.
Next up we have the 10.5cm Artillery Battery… except it is not 10.5cm guns… no, no, no. Here comes some lovely captured kit! It seems as though the 352nd Volksgreandiers had a real mismatch of artillery.
General Bazing was additionally hampered by a shortage of ammunition for the hodgepodge of Italian, Russian, and German field pieces with which his 1352nd Artillery Regiment was equipped. Furthermore, most of these guns were horse-drawn and slow to maneuver in snow-covered terrain. More mobile were several batteries of trailer-mounted nebelwerfer rocket launchers, able to launch volleys of high-explosive projectiles and relocate before U.S. guns could respond.Flattening the Bulge; Patrick J. Chaisson is a retired military officer and historian based in Scotia, New York. https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/article/flattening-the-bulge/
So, I’m taking this opportunity to switch out the 10.5cm guns for Volks 7.5cm Artillery and not using the standard PAK40 guns here but captured Soviet 76mm ZiS-3 guns. This makes them visually stand out more than some more PAK40 guns.
Finally, we have the nerbelwerfers. Forget you pansy 15cm rockets though – we are bringing the big bang with the 30cm nebelwerfers curtesy of the command cards.
First of all: Yes, you lose smoke. Yes, you only have three shots. Yes, they do absolutely nothing after that. But… most of the time, in my experience, you only get two or three rounds of fire in before Danger Close becomes an issue. The added pop of Anti-tank 3 means that you can have a crack at large armoured formations should the opportunity arise. Last, but not least… it fits the historical bill and is perfect for inclusion in our army.
The push in the south to secure that flank of the Bulge, although stopped initially, managed to move again by the second week of the offensive and did pose a threat to Allied lines. On 23 December 1944, there was heavy fighting in Mezig, Luxembourg, and a large portion of the US 28th Division was captured or destroyed. Only when the U.S. 80th Infantry Division was committed with armour from the U.S. 702nd Tank Battalion and hit the 915th Regiment of the 352nd Volksgreandier Division in the flank on the Ettelbruck-Pratz road were the Germans halted, held and ultimately turned back.
This forced the regiment to abandon much of its heavy equipment. Eventually, the rest of the division was also forced to withdraw and they then went over to the defensive momentum, material and morale crushed. The Ardennes Offensive as a whole failed, and again, the 352nd was utterly decimated, losing men to casualties and capture; it would never again be reconstituted to decent fighting strength and finally surrendered in the area around Nuremberg.
Wayne at Battlefront has already given a great overview of the Volksgrenadier units that took part in the Ardennes Offensive here but I’m not sure about the suggested rating that he has given them or at least not for all of them.
The 352nd was lacking experienced non-commissioned officers, the workhorses of the German warmachine, and so to my mind their Skill and Is Hit On factors should suffer and be more 4+ and 3+ respectively. They are noted as being well motivated so I can see the rating of Confident with the Third Reich bonus being correct. I’ve therefore chosen to leave my 352nd force as straight out of the Bulge German book and not upgraded anything.
A nice compromise, only in a casual environment and with your opponent’s prior consent, would be to only allow the upgrading of the core Volksgrenadier Company and not any of the support weapons or associated assets in the formation itself. These were Marines and Luftwaffe crew that were pressed into action so should be of lesser quality. In an ideal world, we would have Command Cards for all the Volksgrenadier Divisions, similar to the Bulge US book but we live in an imperfect world and we make the best of what we can.
As for a tabletop force, what do I think of what we have pulled together? Well, that is an interesting thing to ponder.
The sheer number of decent, or better, templates you have access to means an opposing infantry force will suffer on the defensive – especially if they have to put 40% of their force in reserves. Five artillery barrages are nothing to be sniffed at and mean you can really soften up your opponent – even to the point of conducting counter-battery fire – before toy go in with the Assualt platoons.
Where you will suffer is against enemy armour, and Gott bewahre, facing enemy heavy armour. Your direct anti-tank tops out at 12 and 12 are not masses but it is enough to “punch down” on medium armour. AT12 still kicks Shermans, T-34 and Cromwells quite hard – the issue is that in a world of Jumbos, Churchills and IS-2 tanks is that enough?
In a historical, casual environment I think that this list could a) look awesome and b) do ok but I’m afraid in the current heavy-hitting competitive scene it might struggle… hey, when have I ever worried about that!
I’ll be back soon with a cup of single-origin, cold brew flat white artisan coffee (but for the love of all that is holy, not iced coffee! What the $£&* is that all about?!) with more thoughts from the hipster’s beard.