15 August 2011

Cracking Fortress Holland

Regular readers will be aware that I recently announced the scenarios lists for the Canadian ASL Open (CASLO) in September. One of the fellows who registered for the “Purple Heart” Mini tournament was astonished to learn that he did not own a single scenario on the list.1 I was not surprised. 
Most—but not all—of scenarios on the scenario lists have been published within the past 18 months. Indeed, to my knowledge, none of the scenarios on these lists have been featured at a previous CASLO. 
The primary rationale behind the scenario selection was to create lists that would offer players an opportunity to play something strikingly new, unusual, and most of all fun. The downside of selecting recently published material is that some attendees will be unfamiliar with the scenarios, which brings me to the subject of this post.
The point
I think that it is fair to say that many of those who have registered for the Mini tourney are unlikely to own even a handful of the publications on the scenario list. More to the point, those who are attending the CASLO for the first time may be uncomfortable with “unofficial” or third-party scenarios. I understand completely.2
It occurred to me that the more familiar folks are with a scenario, the more likely they are to consider playing it. To this end I have decided to trial a series of posts describing some of the scenarios in the Mini tourney. My hope is that these descriptions will alleviate any trepidation, and generate anticipation instead. 
$10 in KitShop
To battle by air
I decided to kick the series off with “Cracking Fortress Holland” from the first round. This early-war scenario recreates an infantry skirmish in the heart of Rotterdam. Despite its small size, the scenario presents players with an interesting tactical situation wherein neither side can simply sit tight. To win, each side must jockey for position. Manoeuvring is compounded by the nature of the terrain. All in all a good puzzle for each player to solve.
The scenario was designed and published by George Kelln of Lone Canuck Publishing, the sponsor of the Mini.3 “Cracking Fortress Holland” is one of six scenarios in To Battle by Air 2, a scenario pack published in 2008. The common thread in the pack is that the troops of one side initially entered the battle from the air. Four of the scenarios have paratroopers, although none enter play via Air Drop [E9.1]. Gliders are, however, used in one late-war scenario. The Germans in “Cracking Fortress Holland” used neither method. Before I spill the beans, let me set the stage. 

Vesting Holland
With Denmark occupied and Norway all but defeated, the Germans turned their attention to France, and the Low Countries. By May 1940, German plans called for the defeat and occupation of neutral Netherlands.4 
The Dutch army was relatively weak, and ill-equipped to withstand a concerted attack by Germany. In fact, the defence of the Netherlands was predicated less on the effectiveness of the Dutch military than on the effectiveness of certain natural defensive measures. There were a number of defensive lines, of which the Grebbe Line is likely the most familiar to ASL players.5 However, the Dutch government had pinned much of its hope on what is known in English as the Dutch Waterline (Hollandsche Waterlinie). In the event of an enemy invasion, the Dutch would open the sluices of this centuries old defensive line. Water from nearby lakes and rivers would flood a vast area of land stretching from the IJssel lake in the north to the river Maas in the south. The Line was defended along its length by forts and fortified towns. The area west of the Waterline was referred to as Vesting Holland, or Fortress Holland.
Fortified town on Water Line
The Dutch government had been confident that its armed forces could hold Fortress Holland for some time, or at least until another power could come to its aid. But the invasions of Denmark and Norway in April had highlighted vulnerabilities of the Dutch heartland to a widespread strike by German airborne forces. In response, the Dutch deployed infantry battalions to the major seaports and aerodromes of the Fortress. The third battalion of 39e Regiment Infanterie (III/39RI) was tasked with providing local security in Rotterdam. Approximately 450 Royal Dutch Marines were also in the city, although almost half were still in basic training during the spring of 1940. Apart from a sprinkling of anti-aircraft units, the remainder of soldiers, sailors and airmen in the port were support troops with no combat function.
To battle by air
The Germans were indeed planning to seize a number of key bridges and airfields by an airborne coup de main. But given that the attack on the Netherlands represented only a small part of a more general invasion of France and Belgium, the resources allocated to reducing Fortress Holland were modest. Of approximately 3500 Fallschirmjäger, or paratroops, of the 7. Flieger Division available for operations in the Netherlands, only 700 could be committed to an attack on Rotterdam, the country’s second largest city. Granted the paratroopers were to be reinforced by Infanterie Regiment 16 (IR 16) of 22. Luftlande-Division (Air Landing Division). However, before reinforcements could arrive, the paratroops first would have to secure the military airfield at Waalhaven. The airfield lay some distance south of the city centre, on the island of IJssel. The infantry companies of III/39RI stationed on IJssel were bound to interfere with German plans. Together, the men of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 1 (FJ1) and IR 16 were to secure the bridges at Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Moerdijk. In the event that the Dutch continued to resist, the airborne forces could be relieved by 9. Panzer Division advancing from the south.
The Rotterdam Drop and Landing Zones

Compounding matters was the need to secure a bridgehead over the main channel of the Maas River before the Dutch could react, seal off the gateway into the city centre, and counterattack the airfield. Unfortunately for the Germans, the nearest practical, albeit tiny, drop zone was the Feyenoord soccer stadium, some two kilometres south of the Willemsbrug traffic bridge, and the nearby railway span. If the Germans wanted to exploit the element of surprise they would need to find a way to insert troops closer to the Willemsbrug. The attack was set for 10 May 1940.
The railway bridge and Willemsbrug circa 1935
Maas Panic
During the wee hours of Friday morning, bewildered early-risers of Rotterdam witnessed a curious spectacle unfold on the Maas River. Some thought it was a military exercise. Others, pointing to the smoke rising over Waalhaven, concluded that the war had begun. Floatplanes, a dozen in all, alighted on the Maas. Soldiers emerged, and cast off for the shore in rubber dinghies. 
The Heinkel HE59 floatplane had a crew of three
The strangers in the morning gloom were specially trained volunteers of 22. Pionier Battaillon and 11. Kompanie III/IR 16.6 They were tasked with seizing the four spans of the Willemsbrug and the railway bridge to the east. The “airborne amphibians” quickly secured the bridges. A detachment of Royal Dutch Marines in the nearby Maas Hotel resisted, but were soon overwhelmed. Finding no explosives on the bridges, the Germans began to press into the heart of the city. It was not long, however, before elements of III/39RI began to close on the enemy bridgehead from the north.
The scenario
“Cracking Fortress Holland” commences with the Dutch marines hunkered down near the waterfront, the Germans deployed around the northern end of the Willemsbrug, and elements of III/39RI moving south to counterattack.7 In an interesting twist, the Dutch set up and move first. The German player needs to keep this in mind during set up. And both players need to plan for the entry of the German reinforcements on Turn 3. Victory Conditions are straightforward. The Germans win if there are no unbroken Dutch MMC less than or equal to two hexes of, and with Line of Sight (LOS) to, hex 8I4 at game end. Essentially, this means that the Germans have to keep the area bounded by the red perimeter on the map below clear of unbroken Dutch squads and half-squads. Locking Dutchmen down in Melee will not work; they need to be broken. Let’s take a look at what each side brings to the table.
A Virtual ASL (VASL) map of the scenario
Home town advantage
The Dutch have a number of things going for them in this scenario. To begin with, they outnumber the Germans both in terms of sheer numbers, and firepower (FP). Admittedly four Dutch squads are Green, but the Dutch Experience Level Rating (ELR) is a respectable three. The prospect of a host of Disrupted “greenies” is therefore diminished. Moreover, the Dutch conceivably can bring 48 FP to bear on the hapless Germans. This does not take into account the possibility of the medium machine gun (MMG) maintaining rate of fire. 
Speaking of the MMG, the Dutch will be tempted to pair the 8-1 leader with the best support weapon (SW) on the battlefield. The Dutch are on the attack, however, and should anticipate a fair number of “brokies.” More often than not Dutch leaders will have their hands full of desperate Dutchmen. 
The Dutch Sniper Activation Number, while low, remains a serious threat. Considering the low counter density, an attack on the German 9-1 leader is quite probable over the course of six turns, especially if the German player does not take sensible countermeasures. 
More worrisome from the German perspective are the marines. They have superior morale and may set up concealed on the German flank. The four concealment counters provided in the Dutch order of battle (OB) are more than adequate to conceal these elite troops. Indeed there is room for the Dutch player to employ enough subterfuge to keep the German player off balance. 
But perhaps the greatest advantage enjoyed by the Dutch is time. With six turns at their disposal, the Dutch can methodically tighten the noose around the shallow German bridgehead, and perhaps split the German position in half. The Dutch will undoubtedly take casualties while pressing forward. However, they have plenty of “blind” areas where their leaders can establish effective rally points. Employed prudently, Dutch infantry can be “recycled” time and again during the course of the scenario. Coupled with the fact that the Dutch have the initiative, there is plenty to give the Germans pause for concern.
Battlefield landmarks noted in the text

The away team
At first blush, the Germans do not appear to have much in their favour. German squads do have a slight edge in range, more so over Inexperienced Dutch squads. But given the restricted LOS, opportunities to capitalize on this advantage will be limited. That said, if German reinforcements are denied unfettered use of the bridge, they can provide some useful support from the south bank. In another respect, the short ranges involved make the prospect of ELR failure less of an issue for the Germans. The short distances inside the German perimeter also help make the Germans positions on either side of the I-row more mutually supportive. 
The tight perimeter is another factor in the Germans’ favour. Anchored as it is on the river, the German perimeter is difficult to outflank, and doubly difficult to encircle. The small perimeter also allows the Germans to shift and concentrate their forces quickly, and where the threat is greatest. 
A more important German advantage is that unlike the Dutch, the Germans do not need to risk as much, or move as far, during the game. The Dutch, in contrast, must brave Open Ground in order to reach their objectives. Only the marine squads are capable of placing Smoke. The rest of the Dutch are at the mercy of negative dice-roll modifiers (DRM). Their predicament is compounded by the fact that they must pass through one or more choke points during the first couple of turns.
The Germans have a couple of other advantages. Because the majority of the Dutch OB enters from off-board, there are certain to be opportunities for the Germans to gain concealment before play commences. But arguably the most important factor in the Axis favour is that the Germans have the last turn. This gives the German player one final chance to break or eliminate enemy MMC within the victory area. The Dutch cannot “skulk” their way out this; they must stand and take it on their chins.
A Landser of IR 16 with Fallschirmjäger of FJR 1
The riflemen of 11. Kompanie slowly gave ground until they were bottled up in the National Life Insurance Company building opposite the north end of the Willemsbrug. The Fallschirmjäger platoon8 that had parachuted into the soccer stadium eventually reached the bridge by hopping a tram for the last part of the journey. In spite of these reinforcements, the Germans were unable to expand their bridgehead on the north bank. As the day wore on, more and more Dutch soldiers closed on the bridge, including marines who retook the Maas Hotel, and signalmen fighting as infantry. 
The fighting was fierce. The Dutch hauled machine guns onto the upper floors of The White House (Het Witte Huis) a few hundred metres north of the Maas bridges. This ten-storey building positively dominated its environs.9 Fire from this vantage point made it exceedingly difficult for reinforcements to reach the forward German line, let alone improve the German positions. Although the balance of the air-landing battalion of IR 16 and numerous paratroopers were pushed forward into the bridgehead, the German attack stalled. But the Dutch were likewise unable to make any progress and the situation essentially remained unchanged until the Dutch government surrendered four days latter.
The airborne assault on Rotterdam was one of the more successful operations conducted by 7. Flieger Division and 22. Luftlande-Division in the Netherlands. The operation nevertheless fell short of German expectations. Despite the great determination and bravery exhibited by both sides, neither could break the deadlock at Willemsbrug.

Soldaat N.W. Boontjes (above) of 1/III-39 R.I was killed in the battle. He died while manning a Schwarzlose machine gun (above). He later received the Bronze Lion decoration for bravery in combat. The award was created in 1944. It is the second highest award for bravery in the Netherlands. He was but one of many who distinguished themselves on that fateful day in May 1940.
If you have any questions about this scenario, feel free to email me at: battleschool@rogers.com
1. Having paid his pre-registration fees, the gentleman in question was granted immediate access to a special CASLO URL. At this site, pre-registered attendees (only) can view an electronic version of any scenario card that they may be missing. In addition, we will make photocopies of scenario cards available to participants during the tournament, on an as required basis. All this is to say that prospective attendees need not worry. The tournament staff will ensure that everyone has equal access to the scenario cards on either tournament list.
2. Until 2006, I had only played scenarios published by Avalon Hill and MMP. When I attended a tournament in 2007, I initially was reluctant to play scenarios from other publishers. The differences in layout, terminology, graphics, and so forth was not only a bit confusing, but also a bit intimidating. However, I quickly learned that many entertaining “official” scenarios have been the work of talented and industrious third-party publishers. One only needs to look at the majority of the scenarios published in ASL Journal 8 and 9, as well as in Out of the Attic 2, to realize what I was missing all these years. 
3. If you own Out of the Attic 2, you already may have played a George Kelln design. “Panzers Forward!” (OA17), and “Parry and Strike” (OA18) were originally published in Lone Canuck’s Panzer Aces. This special scenario pack contains six scenarios featuring—you guessed it—panzer aces. More specifically, each scenario stars a German 9-2 armor leader. George does not sell this scenario pack. The only way to get your hands on a pack is to win one at a tournament. And as it happens, one lucky attendee at this year’s CASLO will go home with a copy. 
4. In fact, the Germans briefly considered ignoring the Netherlands, or at the very most arranging free passage of German military forces through the southern portion of the country. Even partial occupation was entertained. Fears that the Allies might use the Netherlands as a base for bombing the Ruhr, however, were raised, as were the advantages of having Dutch air bases in German hands. Geo-political reasons also played a role. For instance, it was felt by some German strategists that the defeat of the Netherlands might encourage Britain and France to reconsider Germany’s offer of a peace agreement. Truth be told, the Germans were not certain that they would be able to defeat France in short order. If France did not fall quickly, then the Netherlands would take on increasing importance. See for example the Dutch work Mei 1940: De Strijd op Nederlands grondgebied, published in 2005.
5. See, for example, J42 “Grebbe End” from ASL Journal 3. The first lines of defence coincided with natural barriers such as the IJssel and Maas rivers. These lines were manned by border battalions and only expected to delay an attacker. The main defensive lines, constructed in 1939, were the Grebbe Line, and to a lesser extent the Peel-Raam Position farther south. Although reinforced by pillboxes and other defensive works, the Grebbe Line was no where near as formidable as the hardened defensive works found along the Belgian and French borders. 
6. The assault force also included two heavy machine gun crews. These crews took up positions on the elevated tracks of the railway bridge mentioned in note 7 below.
7. For simplicity, the railway bridge is omitted from the scenario. Today, neither bridge remains. A fitness centre marks the northern pier of the old Willemsbrug. The new traffic bridge is located a few hundred metres upstream of the old bridge.
8. Coincidently, this platoon (dritte Zug) was part of 11. Kompanie, III/FJR1.
9. Completed in 1898, the White House was the first "skyscraper" in Europe.
One of many CASLO door prizes to be had
Further reading
One can find a good deal of information about this battle on the Internet, but it does take some digging. For instance, I found the operational map above online. I later noticed the original map in my copy of Bruce Quarrie’s German Airborne Divisions below. 
The Dutch work Mei 1940: De Strijd op Nederlands grondgebied (Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers, 2005) became available in English last year. It is extremely expensive. I would try a university library first.
Amersfoort, Herman, and Kamphuis, Piet, Eds. May 1940: The Battle for the Netherlands (2010). 
Quarrie, Bruce. German Airborne Divisions: Blitzkrieg 1940-41, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004).


Ian said...

I find Lone Canuck products to be very good, the scenarios often are good quality and fairly fast to play. I have yet to play a dog. Purple Heart Draw is a must have from LC for the campaign game fans.

Mike Rodgers said...

Talk about a scenario introduction and aftermath! I love this early war topic. It is easy to forget that despite their short war, many Allied Minor soldiers gave as good as the received. This scenario, and your background, highlight that.

Mark Morrison said...

Great read, thank's!