Patton's Best - The Ballad of the Spring Chicken - Part Two
Way back in December 2014, I wrote an AAR based on a play of Avalon Hill's 1987 classic Patton's Best, designed by Bruce C. Shelley (one of the designers of B-17 Queen of the Skies, who would later go on to even bigger things with computer games like Civilization and Age of Empires). Here it is if you want to go read it.
We left off with the crew of "The Spring Chicken" having just finished their first day of fighting in France at the start of the Operation Cobra breakout. After an exciting start to the liberation of France, the crew was hoping for a little R & R but the 4th Armored Division is very busy these days and the crew reports for a briefing in the cool pre-dawn summer air on July 28th. The Spring Chicken will be part of a task force advancing on Coutances, a town in northern France.
|4th Armored Division spearheads an attack towards Coutances - July 28, 1944|
Our brave M-4 Sherman crew members are:
1. Sgt Ben Franklin - Tank Commander
2. Cpl. Mozart - Gunner
3. Pvt. John Lennon - Loader
4. Pvt. Bill Shakespeare - Driver
5. Pvt. Al Capone - Assistant Driver
"Ben, I bet you a hundred dollars that today's gonna be a tough one," Al said as he gave The Spring Chicken a final once-over. Franklin wiped clean his glasses and nodded slowly as he swung his legs down into the commander's hatch. Capone completed his checklist and watched as four deuce and a halfs trundled down the road in their direction, full of fresh-faced infantry ready to continue the fight that began yesterday.
Lennon was fast asleep in the loader's seat and jolted awake as the tank's 400 hp engine fired up in the darkness. The other crewmembers laughed at the young man who had been up all night drinking and carousing with the locals and who was now regretting it immensely. Franklin could only smile to keep himself from admonishing Lennon with his favorite quote about "early to bed and early to rise".
The Spring Chicken had been slowly advancing along with its task force since dawn. Radio reports from other companies revealed heavy fighting in the sector just to their south. The priority for the force was to get beyond the heavy resistance areas and penetrate as deeply as possible into enemy territory. Using advancing fire, the task force swung east along a dirt road. The overcast skies began to spill out their contents on the land below, turning fields into unforgiving mud. Some of the trucks got stuck here and there and they were simply abandoned. The men climbed into half-tracks that were already overloaded. It was a miserable start to the day.
There was no sign of the enemy until the men heard the now-familiar PING sound of machine gun fire raking the tanks and vehicles around them. Somewhere straight ahead, a couple of light weapons teams and a machine-gun crew were shooting at the task force. Friendly artillery support managed to eliminate one of the light weapon squads.
|Battle! 2 x Light Weapons teams in the woods ahead and an MG team off to the right.|
Mozart had already lined up his shot at the other light weapons teams in the woods. He orchestrated his fire together with Franklin, who looked at where the gun was aimed and helped direct fire. "Wolfie! Two degrees right!" he shouted down into the tank. "Fire!"
The HE round slammed into the woods in front and the area around the treeline lit up. There was no more incoming fire from the woods in front. Meanwhile, the German MG team was moving out in the open behind the task force, presumably running for another line of prepared defenses. The tank to The Spring Chicken's right turned its turret and fired as Franklin swung the .50 around. The shot from the tank was right on target and left a smoking crater where the Germans were only moments ago.
There was no time to celebrate as the task force commander ordered the men to get moving again.
By 0830, the task force commander was moving south, keeping to the dirt roads and avoiding much of the mud. Traveling in column formation like this was plain dangerous but it was the only way to keep things moving. The rain continued to flow down and by now the floor of the The Spring Chicken resembled a small lake. At some point, Ben merely gave up on keeping his spectacles dry and just peered over them. Tense and nervous, no one said a thing.
|The Task Force makes good progress south.|
Everyone was secretly relieved when no resistance was found in the next two sectors. A couple of French farmers came out in the rain to thank the Americans and offer a chicken or a bottle of wine, which were gladly accepted. 1100hrs rolled around and it looked like the task force might make it to their objective without losing anyone.
At 1200hrs, everyone was amazed at their luck. It seemed Al's predictions were not to come true as the task force reached the exit area. Some of the men started to talk about lunch. That's when all hell broke loose. A German AT somewhere to the right knocked out the American lead tank. Voices on the radio shouted and artillery rained down on two reported German MG nests nearby. The task force was frozen in panic for 10 minutes as everyone finally got their wits about them again and command was established.
Ben looked out into the expanse of woods and fields before him and managed to get a glimpse of movement on a hill several hundred meters away. Squinting through the lenses, he made out the shape of a Pak 40 and then got on the radio to report it. The Spring Chicken's turret snapped right and slipped off a shot at the Pak but it went wide. Another shot went too high. Franklin saw a small flash from the barrel of the Pak and an instant later he was sure he heard the swoosh of its round as it flew by his head. Two M4s lined up their turrets and fired at the Pak, knocking it out.
As the task force prepared to keep moving, reports of enemy reinforcements arriving in the sector were heard over the radio. No one could seem to spot them and the scouts lost track of their position. Eventually, the task force was ordered to reverse. The second Pak 40 announced its presence by knocking out an American tank. It brewed up and spit out its ammunition in explosive spurts. Capone popped out of his hatch and let off a smoke round while Mozart swung the turret left and fired. His aim was off and the shot missed, earning only the attention of the Pak crew, which fired back and nearly hit the tank.
|The Pak is back!|
German artillery started landing next, killing two infantry squads out maneuvering towards the AT gun. Over the radio, the men in the task force started to panic. The Spring Chicken fired again at the Pak and missed. The AT gun fired at the task force lead tank and knocked it out next - its crew scrambling out of the disabled tank and hopping aboard the nearest half-track. "Whoever was out there, they were good," Franklin thought. When the men had landed in France, they hadn't much respect for the Krauts but now it was plain to see they were facing a very capable enemy.
Capable - but not invincible. A team of American infantry and tanks scrambled up along the flank and engaged the Pak 40 crew in a short firefight. German artillery came in again and managed to eliminate an American infantry squad. A few minutes later, Franklin heard the radio reports that the Pak crew and a German forward observer had surrendered and there was no more resistance to be found in the sector.
With several hours of daylight left, the task force commander decided to clear a couple more enemy sectors before calling it a day. The rain finally stopped in the early afternoon though it was small relief to the men in the task force, all of whom were soaked to the bone. Around 1500hrs, the commander finally got the fight he was looking for as someone reported sighting a self-propelled gun in the woods to their front. A light weapons team and a machine gun team both opened up on the task force, peppering the light vehicles to the rear of the tanks. But Franklin was more focused on the SPG. "It's cleanup time!" Load up on AP!" he yelled down to John. As he removed the HE round from the breach, Lennon grumbled in his hungover state. "I don't want to be a soldier," is all that ran through his disgruntled mind.
American artillery slammed into the area to their right and silenced the nearby German machine gun. A squad of Germans to the left opened up on a bazooka team that was trying to sneak up on the SPG. The Americans fell. US artillery responded by landing with deadly accuracy on the SPG before Mozart could fire another shot. The German squad began its advance around the flank of the main task force and Franklin, horrified and angry, brought the .50 to bear on the Germans. The heavy machine-gun spit out its rounds and the group of Germans all lay dead a few seconds later.
|"Ja! It is time to roast zat pesky Spring Chicken!"|
With the sector under US control, the task force commander ordered everyone back to the exit area. The Americans tended to their wounded, interrogated prisoners, and silently mourned their dead as the sun came down. The sound of distant gunfire and artillery served as a requiem for the day's losses. Another day of combat had ended for the men of The Spring Chicken. Shakespeare sat on the turret and looked out at the mid-summer sunset. He felt like he was in a dream. Franklin wandered over to the tank and pulled on a dry shirt.
"Well, Bill," he said. "How was it?"
Shakespeare thought about it for a moment. "We came, we saw, we overcame," he said without any hint of satisfaction.
Ben nodded and looked out at the sunset too. "Say Bill...can I borrow a hundred bucks? I gotta pay off a bet."