Recently Eddie and Lee joined a bunch of their friends in the Sussex wargames community for a large D-Day game “The Big Barn Splash” hosted at Mike Everest’s barn. Let’s see how it went.
Way back in 2020, Mike set out to build a huge Beach landing attachment to his board to support a 11 vs 11 Beach landing game. On June 4th 2022 we finally got to play that game! This article will look at some of the preparation that went into organising this game, plus the game itself.
What follows is a loose recounting of the battles, drawn from my notes and recollections and the photographs that were taken, all written up a month after the event. There may be some errors or omissions for which I can only apologise.
Mike had already done the hard work by building a beach so it was really down to the rest of us to provide the landing craft and fortifications that make up the other part of an opposed beach landing! Thankfully our group has been playing this game since v1 so we already had a relatively large collection but, still, we all dug around the dark recesses of our collection to find any half finished 5cm nests or Landing Craft Assault we could ready for the game.
My contribution to the D-Day painting effort – Author’s own
Mike had also picked up a new true 1:100 scale Pegasus Bridge and Horsa gliders from Frontline Terrain. Mike set about painting the bridge and Eddie helped with the gliders. Mike also found he needed to make a new canal to match the larger bridge!
The need for a Pegasus Bridge came about because early on we decided we wanted to have two games on the day; a airborne landing in the morning to play whilst everyone arrived and set up for the afternoon’s beach landing. Players would each take a platoon allowing them to do their bit, then wander back to their cases to keep taking stuff out!
We held a smaller test run of the landing mission a few weeks before. This allowed those of us already familiar with v4 to get to grips with the peculiarities of the beach landing mission and fortifications. We realised three things:
- We wanted to bring back “floating artillery”; firing self propelled howitzers from the landing craft. We agreed to use the v3 rules, namely that it would tie up a boat and could not repeat fire or Time on Target.
- We wanted to bring back proper MG pillboxes. It actually surprised us that the book nests were not sustained fire MG states, nor were there concrete positions. Nathan drafted up some rules making them the same non-weapon stats as an anti-tank bunker, but with the weapon stats of a HMG team. They cost 5pts each. A HMG Nest (nest stats but HMG weapon stats) was 3pts. The three types of MG position (along with the Tobruk) could be taken in the same box, taking the place of one Tobruk. We also added a PaK-40 pillbox, costing 10pts.
- One of the things we observed was the tendency for the attackers to assault one bunker but then capture a number of them as they had been positioned for mutual delf-defence but couldn’t retreat from the assault. That didn’t feel right so we ruled that a bunker had to have been in contact with an enemy team to be destroyed by not being able to fall back.
From the skies!
The Airlanding “warm-up” game was played with 100pts of my British Airlanding (with Centaurs and Shermans arriving from the beach) versus Nathan’s beach defenders and 21st Pz.
Mike had done a fantastic job on the table set-up but we quickly found one thing – a true scale bridge and canal takes up quite a bit of real estate!
For the first time ever, all the Gliders made it to the ground, though all of them seemed to go the max landing run-distance.
The Airborne forces started crossing the canal bridge, This turned out to be something of a chokepoint given its length (quite long) and width (not as wide as you might think once bases were allowed for). The German OP were able to range in the mortars and Nebelwerfer and inflict some early casualties though the motivated infantry were able to keep advancing to the buildings at the head of the bridge.
The lead two Airlanding platoons were reduced to a handful of men but managed to take up positions in the café and nearby building. The Germans assaulted the café building but, whilst inflicting casualties, could not unseat the HQ and accompanying platoon. The arrival of reinforcements from 21st Panzer, especially the Panzers put renewed pressure on the position but the arrival of the last two platoons of British airlanding across the bridge helped shore up the lines, despite the loss of the first platoon.
The Germans mounted one last assault, pushing right up to the bridge, but couldn’t keep the momentum going in the face of reserves arriving from Sword Beach. The surviving stand of the German platoon attempted to keep the game going but the Brits were able to off them and end the game by having no attacking teams within range of the objective after turn 6.
The game was fun and helped the new chaps get up to speed with movement orders, hit allocations and the change in morale. Nathan and I are still unsatisfied with the scenario as a replication of the bridge assault and may try writing our own for the next “Big Barn Splash”
The Main Event
Let’s start by looking at the riders and runners. We had six allied players and five German players. We tried to make sure we had a good mix of skill-sets on each side. Everyone had played Flames of War but some of the players were a couple editions or so out of practice!
The silver fox – Dave Madigan and I looked after Craig, Simon and Iain (who had played a good few games of v4). Simon and I took the 352nd vs the US beaches whilst Dave led Simon and Iain in defence of the British and Canadian beaches.
On the allied side, Tom (whom the author faced), Eddie and Chris formed the US beaches, the two Mikes looked after the British beaches and Nathan took the role of the Canadians.
The opening salvo
The allied players selected their initial wave and the boats made their way to shore. Here the allied players were mixed in their luck. Tom’s opening wave mostly found the beach (and he kept his Shermans loaded all the way to the sand). By contrast, Mike E ended up with one boat of infantry and a Sherman! Those allies that did find the beach, unloaded and moved up, before hitting the deck as the axis opened up.
Of course, first the axis players had to suffer the preliminary bombardment. I was relatively lucky, I lost a Nebelwerfer and a stand of infantry, pinning one of my two infantry platoons. Other players took more a beating but generally, the dice were relatively kind to the axis.
It was clear that, either by luck of judgment, Tom and Eddie had managed to land the bulk of their wave 1 troops at the point where Simon and I’s commands met and where are defences were thinnest. The one saving grace was that the tanks would need to travel quite a way to get to a sea wall.
Its worth noting at this point that Tom was using a standard rifle list, hence the big platoons! Given he’d put a lot of effort in painting them, it seemed only fair, plus it gave a nice target for my Nebs!
The axis used their first turns to pour on the fire and try and keep the enemy pinned on the beach. Chris, who had managed to get his tanks to the beach in the first turn, took a hard salvo from anti-tank bunkers as his tanks tried to breach the sea wall exit, two of them brewing up and allowing him to put his excellent and somewhat dramatic destroyed tank markers to good use!
Nathan decided that the Sea Wall exit was for chumps and made his won by bringing an assault bridge to the party!
The Turning Tide
On the beach front, the allied infantry made progress. First to the asphalted sea wall, then to the cliffs, then to the obstacles behind them.
On my flank, Tom had spent the first few turns largely pinned and struggling to move in the face of the fire from the bunkers (even with one MG bunker staying pinned for most the game after a hail of small arms fire in the vision slit!). Eventually his Sherman managed to pick their way across the sand and shingle of the beach and start putting supporting fire on the bunkers, allowing his infantry to move up and start clearing the barbed wire and minefields that were blocking his way.
In the meantime, Eddie’s flame thrower in his boat section was going on a one man bunker demolition course, proving that rerolling firepower doesn’t matter when you are firepower “auto”.
Chris’ rangers were also having a bloody fight. One stand managed to fight its way through German lines, dodging pzIV, destroying bunkers, before finally succumbing to artillery but ultimately making the job easier for the fresh platoon that arrived the next turn.
Things were pretty much the same in the British sector. Mike S’ Desert Rat Cromwell cleared a path off the beach but paid a heavy price in doing so.
The axis reserves started arriving and StuG and Panzer IV started approaching the beaches. It was now that the allied secret weapon made its mark as the Three-T’s “Thunderbolts, Typhoon and USS Texas” opened up in the axis rear areas, to try and slow the reserves down. The two platoons of my StuG battery arrived and had started engaging Tom’s Shermans but bad luck had seen a couple bailed by the return fire. Eddie’s Thunderbolts (who, till now, had been a little underwhelming) dived on the two platoons and succeeded in bailing more and killing one. Then the AOP directed the heavy guns of USS Texas on the beleaguered StuG and killed more by double bailing them, if not killing them outright.
The survivors nerve broke and both platoons were removed from the table in my next turn. That turn then saw my infantry reserve, doubling up the road to reinforce Simon, machine gunned by the returning Thunderbolts, taking out half the stands and leaving the survivors pinned and unable to reinforce Simon.
As we approached turn 9, the allies were holding two of the four objectives, not enough to win the game early. It was going to have to go on to turn 12.
All along the table, spent allied troops were pulled off to be replaced by fresh troops from the boats, whilst others grimly held onto their gains in the face of German counter attacks. The Axis, without unlimited reserves, were starting to run out of man power to hold ground, especially as more of the bunkers were overwhelmed by enemy infantry assaults.
As turn 12 approached it looked like the allies were on course for a major victory. But then Dave’s Germans launched a last assault versus Nathan’s battered Canadians. The fighting was bitter but the axis were able to push the Canadians back to ensure the game ended with three of four objectives in allied hands.
The allies would have to settle for a minor victory, but it was was a victory none the less…
What a bloody game! It was really quite an achievement:
- Everyone turned up with a fully painted force, including bunkers and landing craft. Along with Mike’s efforts on the terrain, the game looked fantastic as I hope mine and, especially, Mike’s photos attest to.
- Despite a varying degree of player experience, we managed to get all 12 turns done and within our original estimate of how much time it would take. It helps that we have a lot of experience of running big games, so we knew we could maintain a good pace.
- The game was played in exactly the right spirit. There were no arguments on minor rules and players knew to take the “big picture” on massed dice rolls and assaults to keep the game moving rather than get buried in the minuta.
- Of course, it helps to have a friend with a large barn and an enthusiasm for having a bunch of his wargaming friends over to throw dice! Thanks again to Mike for hosting!
- A final big thanks to Nathan for doing his normal fine work in helping with the organisation and running of the games. Thanks also to Mike S for taking so many great photos (the ones here just scrape the iceberg), Chris for bring a veritable armada of landing craft including his awesome LCT, Eddie for using his ability to paint things really quickly so long as its the night before the event to crack out the Horsa for the airborne game, and all the rest of the players for helping to make such a cracking game.
Inevitably there is room for improvement both in the running (though that did largely go to plan!), the understanding of the rules (I think everyone forgot that tanks are independent teams until they leave the beach) and even in my own tactics (Eddie pointed out that I should have the infantry forward and the bunkers supporting and I think he’s right given how the bunkers got swallowed up in assaults.
I’ll finish up with a few more shots from Mike’s camera. Hopefully this will be a regular occurrence and we will a Big Barn Splash 2023!
Photo gallery courtesy of Mike South Photography