AAR: RAID ON ST. NAZAIRE (AVALON HILL 1988): TURN 1.
“The lights came on in the harbor as the small flotilla approached. Leading signalman Pike had been trained for this job, and he now flashed the codenames of several German torpedo boats. For the next few minutes, the ruse seemed to work as the searchlights went off and the British force narrowed the gap to its objective.
Then a shot from shore rang out across the bow of the lead ship. Pike flashed back frantically. The German fire paused, but a real German force would have slowed. This flotilla gained speed. The bluff was wearing thin!
The searchlights came up again and Beattie on the Campbeltown gave the order to fire, as the German ensign was struck and the Union Jack hoisted up. It was 1:28 AM, March 28, 1942. The raid on St. Nazaire had begun.”
I am playing AH’s Raid on St. Nazaire using Vassal’s module, version 0.97b. Eventually, I plan to make a series of playthrough videos incorporating historical commentary and photos. For this AAR, I will use the historical objectives and will briefly narrate what happened. Don’t expect anything like the U-27 Schwertfish short story.
In game terms, the historic mission accumulated 53 game points. The game requires you to accumulate 70 points to be victorious.
The simulation commences with the Campbletown and the 17 motor launches already in the approach zone and with the harbor defense emplacements on alert. Ground units start waking up and becoming alert slowly. Since the Wehrmacht was in the town itself, the commandoes faced mostly dock workers and guards until several hours into the raid.
The game pieces include the name of each captain the was in charge of each boat and the name of the commando that lead each unit. That may be the reason why it feels more personal and stressful when you start taking casualties.
TURN 1: 01:28 AM
The turn starts with the Naval Attack Phase, where harbor defense guns fire on the boats in the approach zone (Harbor Defense). The flotilla gets to fire back (Covering Fire) and the dockside guns that have targets in their respective zones fire again (Dockside Defense). The boats that can, get to do Naval Movement (the Campbeltown is technically a ship but will be referred as a boat anyway). Commandos then unload/load followed by the random spawning of Strosstuppen, the number and unit quality of which increases every turn. You then have the Land Combat phase followed by the Demolition Phase and the End Phase, where remnant Strosstuppen can merge together to form more cohesive and stronger units.
The Naval Attack and Dockside Defense Phases proved horrendously deadly for the commandos this turn, who did not hit even one target during their Covering Fire phase.
The Campbeltown’s mission is to ram the Southern Casson in the Normandie Dock and explode, thus ensuring that the Tirpitz will never sail the Atlantic. It carries six commando teams that will disembark at the Southern Casson and proceed to their respective targets. This turn, it successfully moved into the East Jetty on its way to the Normandie Dock. However, it was promptly trapped under the beam of the searchlight in the West Jetty. Now an easy target, it suffered heavy casualties, losing almost half of its crew and one third of its guns. The Purdon demolition team inside the Campbeltown also suffered minor casualties.
Motor Gun Boat (“MGB”) 314, captained by Ryder, lost part of its movement factor (“MF”) as it attempted to evade enemy fire. It managed to move into the Old Mole and unload the Newman assault team. However, it lost half its crew and commandos in the process.
Torpedo Motor Launch (“TML”) 270, captained by Irwin, moved into the East Jetty and fired a torpedo at Sperrbrecher 137. The torpedo was ineffective.
Motor Launch (“ML”) 447, under the command of Capt. Platt, received so much damage that it is currently on fire. Heroically, Platt managed to reach the Old Mole suffering heavy casualties in the process. ML 447 unloaded the Byrne assault team. However, the casualties are such that one hit will sink ML 447 and one hit will pretty much wipe out the Byrne commandos as an effective unit.
ML 446/Falconar lost half of its MF in evasive maneuvers and still suffered heavy casualties. It entered the East Jetty but already lost half its crew and half of the Hodgson assault team that it carries.
ML 457/Collier was under such intense harbor defense fire that it was forced to turn away and could not enter St. Nazaire Harbor with the flotilla. In the process, it lost one third of its crew and one of its two guns. The Walton demolition team it carries has yet to suffer any casualties.
ML 307/Wallis was sunk by the harbor defense. All life was lost, including the Bradley demolition team.
ML 443/Horlock was sunk by the harbor defense. All life was lost, including the Wilson demolition team.
ML 306/Henderson and the Swayne demolition team made it intact to the Old Mole. The Swayne demolition team is currently on its way to its primary target, the swing bridge that connects Old Town to the northern part of the harbor (Area 321).
TML 160/Boyd burst aflame under the intense harbor defense fire, suffering a small number of casualties. It made it to the East Jetty, where it fired a torpedo at Sperrberecher 137. It damaged the aft part of the boat enough to destroy one of the two 20mm guns emplaced in that boat. Being on fire makes it a lot easier to be hit. I will try to withdraw them back to England but I doubt that they will make it.
ML 192/Stevens was sunk by the harbor defense. All life was lost, including the Burn assault team.
ML 262/Burt and the Woodcock demolition team made it intact to the Old Mole. The Woodcock team unloaded without issues and is on its way to its primary target, the swing bridge that connects Old Town to the Normandie Dock (Area 211).
ML 267/Beart was forced to turn away by the intense harbor defense fire and could not enter St. Nazaire Harbor with the flotilla. In the process, it suffered minor casualties and lost one of its two guns. The Moss assault team it carries has yet to suffer any casualties.
ML 268/Tillie and the Pennington demolition team made it safe to the Old Mole. The Pennington team is on its way to its primary target, the swing bridge that connects the Normandie Docks to the U-Boat Pens (Area 261).
TML 156/Fenton entered the East Jetty and fired a torpedo at Sperrbrecher 137. The damage was minor but still enough to disrupt the remaining 20mm gun. However, if the German team manning the gun acts diligently enough, it could be ready to fire as soon as the next turn begins.
TML 177/Rodier was sunk by the dockside defense fire. All life was lost, including most of the Haines assault team. No boat stopped to pick up the survivors of the Haines team. This means they will be swept away into the Atlantic, where they will drown.
ML 298/Nock made it safely to the Old Mole. If I had been a better commander, I would have realized that Nock had no commandos to unload and could have picked the Haines assault team survivors instead of speeding into the Old Mole. I feel a court martial on its way.
MTB 74/Wynn was sunk in the approach zone. All life was lost.
On the ground, the Swayne, Woodcock and Pennington demolition teams are intact and on their way to their historical targets. The Byrne assault team fired on the 37mm gun protecting the Old Mole and rendered it out of action. However, return fire killed the remaining commandos in the Byrne team. The Newman assault team, also heavily wounded, will try to reach the 37mm gun to destroy it with a grenade attack in the next turn.
German Strosstuppen are starting to appear from the Northern Reinforcement Area/2 Works Company and the Northern Reinforcement Area/4 Works Company.
Note: After Turn 1 was over, I realized I made a mistake with some of the boats. When the boats first enter from the Approach Zone, they have one less MF (besides whatever MFs they may have lost during Evades). I did not subtract that MF from some of the boats. This means that at least two of the boats that made it to the Old Mole and unloaded commandos should still be in the East Jetty with their commandos onboard. This mistake will not be made when we make the video series.