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Posted on May 17, 2004 in Armchair Reading

Bonus Game: Omaha–Battle for the Beach

By Mark H. Walker

Getting Battle for the Beach

Grab the free bonus game Battle for the Beach (by Mark H. Walker, artwork by Nicolas Eskubi) using this link. You will need to enter the username of "omaha" and the password is the "download key" found on P. 63 of the July 2004 issue of Armchair General magazine. This game comes in the form of a PDF file and is a hex-based tabletop wargame. You will need to print the map and units (counters) before you can play the game.

Missed the issue?  Missed the game?  Try Mark H. Walker’s website for an expanded version of this game.  Click here!

Introduction

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The successful invasion of Normandy was a forgone conclusion. The weight of the Allied navy, airforce, and army was a hefty hammer, and the German beach defenses no more than an egg. A thick-shelled egg to be sure, but an egg none the less.

Yet despite the inevitable success of the invasion of Normandy, the American’s struggle for Omaha Beach on June 6th, 1944, was a tough, bloody battle. There, on the north coast of Normandy, a combination of rough weather, ineffectual air support, tough terrain, and aggressive German defenders, stalled the American assault, and almost threw the men and machines of the U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions back into the English Channel.

Despite it’s momentous repercussions, the battle for Omaha Beach wasn’t a large battle. Eight companies of American infantry stormed ashore at 6:30 in the morning. The seas had tossed them, the currents pulled them off course, and the intense naval and air bombardment had done little more than alert the beach’s Wehrmacht defenders. When the landing craft ramps fell, the GIs were greeted with a hail of rifle and machinegun fire.

Most of the first wave was decimated as they ran from the landing craft. The survivors sought cover behind the anti-tank obstacles that covered the shallows or ran across the beach, and flattened themselves against the sea wall. Two battalions of duplex-drive, or DD, Sherman Tanks were to provide armor support for the infantrymen. Unfortunately, heavy seas swamped all but a handful of the 742nd Battalion’s Shermans. Luckily, the coxswains piloting the LCTs ferrying the 743rd Battalion’s tanks drove to shore and deposited their cargo directly on the beach. The firepower of the Shermans’ 75mm guns, coupled with small groups of courageous American soldiers began to whittle away at the German defenders.

Demolition teams blasted gaps through the German beach defense, soldiers worked their way up the draws, and U.S, Navy destroyers steamed dangerously close to shore, raking the German strongpoint with murderous fire. Still a concerted counterattack by the Germans might have halted the American’s advance. But the Germans, believing they had defeated the landing, diverted their reserves to counterattack the British pushing inland at Gold Beach.

By noon the outcome was no longer in question. The follow up regiments (115th, 18th, and 26th) waded ashore, and by the end of D-Day the Americans had pressed inland. It was a precarious beachhead – two thousand American soldiers had died that day, and only 100 tons of a scheduled 2,400 tons of supplied had landed. But the German coastal defenses had cracked, and the Allies had a toehold in Europe.

The Game
Omaha: The Battle for the Beach covers only a slice of the Omaha landings. It’s a Dog and Charlie beach-sized slice to be exact. This is an important decision, perhaps the most important decision in the game. We like flavorful games, games that are more concerned with the feel of a battle than tomes of analysis, and to capture that feel, you must get personal – design the game on a scale that truly shows the frustrations, fears, and challenges that the soldiers felt that smoky morning sixty years ago. We felt a tactical platoon level does just that.

We also wanted to break away from the infantrymen-slogging-across-the-beach stereotype personified in movies and games about the Omaha landings. Yes, the infantry spent plenty of time slogging across this beach, and plenty more cowering behind the seawall, wondering if they had been abandoned to die. But as Americans have always done, they hitched up their suspenders and got to work. Working alongside them were the Shermans of the 743rd Tank Battalion. And that’s what we wanted to show.

We wanted a game with combined arms – Sherman tanks, Rangers, work-a-day grunts, German 88’s, and the unexpected appearance of German armor or a lone Messerschmitt strafing the gray-sand beach. And we think we have it. Omaha: The Battle for the Beach, is not a static encounter, but rather a fluid battle of phases. The Americans struggle mightily in the early going, the German guns wrecking havoc as the Yanks cross the beach. But The Shermans’ guns, destroyer’s shells, and Allied airpower punch holes in the German’s defenses, and slowly the Allies will advance up Les Moulins and Vierville draw.

Depending on the luck of the Action Card draw, a sharp battle between an anti-tank company of the German 352nd Infantry Division, and the American Shermans pushing through Les Moulins or Vierville may develop. Of course this isn’t Kursk; the farmland behind Omaha Beach would soon flow into the bocage that kept the Allies pinned for the better part of two months. We devised numerous schemes to depict the challenge tankers (and infantrymen) faced when fighting in this terrain. Some were clever, some weren’t, but they were all semi-rules intensive. So we settled on what we thought was the cleverest solution of all: you can’t shoot through more than two hexes of farmland. After all the object of a game is to play it, not waste your time learning complex rules. So, the battle between the Shermans and StuGs is more like a knife-fight than a long-range tank duel.

More often than not, the game’s third and final phase is the battle for Chateau de Vaumicel. It is here that the German troops of the 2/916th and the remaining StuGs of the 352nd’s anti-tank battalion usually chose to make a stand. What’s so important about the Chateau? Actually nothing, but it marks the deepest penetration behind Omaha Beach on D-Day. Hence, we thought it should be a victory location.

Inside the Game
It’s difficult to assign objective values to such an unobjective endeavor as war, but it needs doing if we are simulating a conflict. Some designers spend days pouring over data, others take a somewhat different approach. We fall under the latter category. We factor information about the weapons employed, the discipline of the troops using them, and our own perceptions of the conflict. Doing so led us to the following conclusions.

An American infantry platoon had more firepower than its German counterpart. True, German squads possessed the MG-42 – a machinegun on which we based our M-60, but the typical Wehrmacht rifleman lugged around the Kar 98K, bolt-action rifle. So, while the German labored over his rifle’s bolt action, his American counterpart squeezed off an 8-round clip from his M-1 Garand. It was no contest.

Accordingly we gave American platoons more firepower, but a shorter range. We figure you don’t want to tangle with the M-1 at a couple of hundred yards, but that the MG-42 would dominate a firefight at the longer ranges. Hence, the American rifle squad outguns it’s opponent 6-4 at two hexes, but is outgunned itself (4-3) at three or four hexes. The Rangers and paratroops posses more firepower than a rifle squad for different reasons. The Rangers were renowned for their marksmanship, hence the HE firepower of eight. The paratroopers had a ton of automatic weapons, such as the Grease Gun and Thompson Sub-machinegun, so we figured they could dish out some serious lead albeit at short range.

For the armor, we used the Sherman as our baseline value, and spun the other guns and armor piercing factors off it. Both the German’s 75mm AT gun and the StuG had a long-barreled version of the 75mm gun. It was a gun capable of flinging its shell further and harder than the Shermans’ short-barreled 75mm – but not radically further or harder. Accordingly, we bumped up both values a smidgen on the German weapons. That brings us to the 88mm. In reality a feared gun, and one that has reached almost mythical proportions among war gamers. It had to be able to reach out and touch some one from quite a distance, and touch them hard. We think it does that nicely.

And speaking of 88s… why can’t they – or any other gun battery for that matter – move? The answer is simple; because they didn’t. Yes, we have played Panzer Leader and Panzergrenadier too, and we know these guns can be repositioned by truck, tractor, or wagon. Yet although these guns could be moved, they weren’t moved on June 6. There was neither the time, trucks, nor freedom (Allied planes ruled the sky) to relocate a battery of guns. Place your guns well, because once placed they are stuck in position.

Some may think our tanks are slow. After all, a Sherman could reach 26 miles per hour, they ought to be able to cross the map in a single turn. The point is that they didn’t. When fighting, the tanks moved slower -searching for mines, looking for bad guys, and following the low ground. Finally, we assume that these beaches are mined, filled with obstacles and nothing like your favorite resort. That’s why it takes so long to cross them. You may move faster when walking over an engineer because the engineer has cleared the hex of obstructions.

Bottom line, we hope that we designed a game that challenges you as the soldiers were challenged, without the agony or a tome of rules. Good luck.

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