The Bulge is among us now. It lives. We have it and… I’m feeling meh.
The Bulge era isn’t really my jam, but I get that Königstigers, Sturmtigers, Jagdpanthers and Front Armour 10 Panthers are all tantalising. However, for me, the Ardennes Offensive of December 1944 is a footnote in a war that was sliding away from the uncertainty of earlier campaigns; it was truly that last, reckless attempt to convince an entrenched Allied leadership that a separate peace was the only way out of this five-year existential struggle for survival. It was the beginning of the Nazi leaderships Götterdämmerung and all that led to a bit of ambivalence on my part.
Controversial I know.
But it does let me dream of the third incarnation of the 21st Panzer and their participation in Operation Nordwind; the other Battle of the Bulge. Historically overshadowed by the major Wacht am Rhein Offensive in Luxembourg and Belgium it was no less bloody or brutal a fight for the very door to the Third Reich.
The Northwind Blows
Even as Wacht Am Rhein‘s momentum was bleeding away in the snow and, now clear, skies over Belgium and Luxembourg, south of Frankfurt-am-Main, in the Pfalz region of Germany, the Germans were building up for their second thrust; this time into the region around the southern French border with Germany in Alsace and Lorraine.
Whereas Wacht Am Rhein had the very clear if ludicrous, strategic objective of taking the port facilities of Antwerp and denying this convenient logistical hub to the Allies, the objective of Nord-wind was the clear but slightly limited objective of bleeding the Allied war machine white.
“This attack [Nordwind] has a very clear objective, namely the destruction of the enemy forces. There is not a matter of prestige involved here. It is a matter of destroying and exterminating the enemy forces wherever we find them. The question of liberating all of Alsace at this time is not involved, either. That would be very nice; the impression on the German people would be immeasurable, the impression on the world decisive, terrific psychologically, the impression on the French people would be depressing. But that is not important. It is more important, as I said before, to destroy his manpower.”
With Lt.Gen George S. Patton’s Third Army already diverted its fighting strength to counter the major thrust of Wacht Am Rhein, not only to blunt it but to smash it to smithereens, the area around Strasbourg and the Saverne Gap was thinly defended by Lt.Gen Alexander McCarrell Patch and the US 7th Army. Covering some 126 miles, the six divisions of Patch’s command were strung out, with each battalion covering some two miles of front.
Arrayed against this screen of US troops were the forces of Army Group G; XIII SS Corps, XC Corps, and LXXXIX Corps including the divisions of the 25th Panzergrenadier and the 21st Panzer. The plan for Nordwind was set and kick-off was New Year’s Eve 1944.
The Return of the 21st Panzer
At the angle where the French and German borders intersected sat the 25th Panzergrendadier and 21st Panzer Division, their fighting strength bolstered by a company of enormous Jadgtigers. The fighting around the villages of Herrlisheim, Hatten, Rittershoffen, Drusenheim and in and around the Haguenau forest was as bitter as the cold that snapped at both sides.
“It was bitterly cold and snowing. Then one could see the dark monsters [the bunkers] looming up out of the snow. We knew that we had to cut through barbed-wire entanglements and clear mines. For this only a few engineers were available and young replacements, soldiers of 16 and 17.”Colonel Hans von Luck,
The 21st Panzer, by this late stage of the war, was a shell of the formation that had driven Monty so hard in North Africa, or even that which had repelled the Guard Division in Normandy during Operation Goodwood. Reconstituted for the third time, the men and material of Panzer Regiment 22 were in decent shape. 38 Panthers and 34 Panzer IV formed the backbone of the regiment with Mobilewagens and Wirbelwinds ready to fight an uneven battle against allied airpower.
The real issue came in the form of the divisions’ infantry compliment in Panzergrenadier-Regiment 125 and Panzergrenadier-Regiment 192. Operating with the fulfilment of 70% and 56%* respectfully, they were seriously understrength and with an assortment of secondhand or obsolete kit. Panzergrenadier-Regiment 125 had even resorted to using civilian type medium and heavy cars for transport as they lack so many SdKfz 251 half-tracks.
They were also completely devoid of an Infantry Gun Company and an Engineer Company and both regiments still had French P107 half-tracks in operation five years since they fell into German hands after the Battle of France.
*These numbers are correct as of 30 December 1944
Flames of War
This unique force offers us some intriguing possibilities, probably more skewed towards modelling than gameplay, but nevertheless an excellent looking and entirely playable force.
Let’s look at recreating Panzergrenadier-Regiment 125… and creative we are going to have to be!
The 125 had fifteen P107 half-tracks and nothing more so we are going to start with the compulsory sections:
- Panzergrenadier Company HQ – 5pts (1 x P107)
- Short Panzergrenadier Platoon – 11pts (3 x P107)
- Short Panzergrenadier Platoon – 11pts (3 x P107)
That is a teeny, tiny force but as we have noted earlier manpower is an issue for the 21st Panzer overall, so short platoons feel right. The third platoon is going to be of tanks and it’s a choice of Panthers or Panzer IVs.
- 3 x Panther (Late) Tank Platoon – 35pts
And with that, a decent chunk of points have gone. The next choice is a bit of a creative licence but I think it works.
- 3 x Grille (Late) 15cm Gun Platoon – 8pts
The 125th had one 15cm Lorraine Schlepper so I would model this unit as one of those with two Grilles. I know that the regiment is lacking infantry guns so this will be my only gun barrage unit. Next up let’s compensate for having small Panzergrenadier platoons:
- 4 x sMG34 HMG – 6pts
- Softskin transports – 1pt
Now, including the softskins is insane as for one point more you can normally have two SdKfz 251 halftracks (which are just better) but, as we know, there is a shortage of those.
I think 3D printing might be your friend here – it would be amazing to have a real hodge-podge of random civilian vehicles here.
Finally the last in-formation unit I’m going to plump for is the good old, reliable 7.5cm Tank Hunters from Panzerjäger-Abteilung 200:
- 3 x 7.5cm gun – 11pts
Nothing fancy here just a decent ambush gun. And that leaves us 12pts of our 100pts list… not a lot of wiggle room there… so we’ll add some high end AT and AA from Heeres Flak-Artillerie-Abteilung 305:
- 4 x 8.8cm AA gun – 12pts
And that is the list! The points really don’t go far but it’s certainly playable and already I’m thinking about what models I can pull in…
I’ll be back soon with a cup of single-origin, cold brew flat white artisan coffee with more thoughts from the hipster’s beard.