Fromelles - 1916

Background

On 1 July 1916 the Battle of the Somme had begun. The 5th Australian Division had transferred to France, and was in the line for the first time, opposite Fromelles, just south of Ypres,

The attack on Fromelles, conceived by Lt General Sir Richard Haking, was originally intended as a diversion designed to hold German reserves in place, preventing reinforcement of the defences on the Somme battlefield further south. Haking also had plans to eliminate the salient occupied by German forces.

The attack was to be made by the 5th Australian Division on the left, and the British 61st Division (also known as the 2nd South Midland Division) on the right, expecting to capture the German front line trenches, and then to proceed a further 400 metres to a secondary line.

Designer's notes

This attack would seem to have been doomed to failure from the start. The action takes place in daylight against an enemy well dug in on higher ground, especially on the 'sugar loaf', the high ground on the German left. There was an 11 hour preliminary bombardment, followed by the daylight assault. This scenario recreates the action after the preliminary bombardment.

So difficult was the task that this scenario certainly deserves its place on the 'tough as' Wargamer's Challenge list.

I first became aware of this battle when reading McMullin's biography of Brigadier Harold 'Pompey' Elliot (commander of 15th Brigade). These words are worth quoting here:

"I.. will always have before my eyes the picture of Pompey... the morning after Fromelles, tears streaming down his face, shaking hands with the pitiful remnants of his brigade." Page 224

He is reported to have said "Good God Bill, what's happened to my brigade?"

By coincidence, as I was reading this biography, an interesting story was breaking in Fromelles: "WWI 'grave' revives forgotten battle", as archaeologists uncovered what they believe is the grave of many Australian soldiers who died at Fromelles.

Objectives

Australian and British forces:

As the German defenders were VERY well aware of the impending allied attack the game objectives are stated on this front page for all to see .

The allied forces must capture and hold the 'Sugar Loaf' feature, and at least 2 contiguous feet of the German front line.

Any other result is a German victory.

The attack began at 6pm, with nightfall at 9.30pm. The game therefore lasts 7 turns. By mutual agreement players may play an additional 2 moves in darkness.

Deployment

Both players' forces are deployed according to the instructions given in their OOBs.

Usual reserve rules apply for both players, but flank marches are not permitted.

Terrain

image

Click on the Thumbnail for the full sized map. The grid squares on the map are 12" squares.

Thanks to Robert Dunlop for producing the map.

Here is a copy of a map drawn in 1918 showing the defensive positons on the Fromelles battlefield.

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OOBs

The OOBs for each commander can be downloaded as pdf files using the links below. I recommend that the OOBs are downloaded separately, as there are some variations that would best be kept to each player to provide an element of surprise for the opponent.

Australian/British OOB.

German OOB.

Special scenario notes

  1. The allied forces were supported by an 11 hour preliminary bombardment. This is represented by the slightly more powerful 1 day preliminary bombardment per GWSH rule 16.

  2. Only the artillery listed on the allied OOB may be used for the preliminary bombardment. The Corps artillery assets are only an estimate. The actual artillery preparation was relatively ineffective. To simulate this I have therefore restricted the amount of artillery available to the allied player.

  3. The fire missions used in the preliminary bombardment do NOT count towards the scenario ammunition limits.

  4. The German defenders gain the benefit of 'Defensive Artillery Fire' per GWSH rule 16.2

  5. All trenches are Level 2 entrenchments with wire.

  6. The allied forces attack from two trench lines. The map shows the position of the front line. The second (reserve) line must be at least 3" behind the front line.

  7. The Australian attackers that succeeded in capturing the German front line spent time searching in vain for the second German line that they had been assured was there. It was not and as a consequence they took significant additional casualties. Therefore German forces have NO second trench line.

  8. The allied attackers faced a well fortified position. Exact figures on the numbers of pillboxes and bunkers are difficult to find (some estimates range as high as 700 including observation bunkers). Based on my own views of playability, I have estimated the following: German forces receive 4 bunkers and 5 pillboxes, at least two of which must be deployed on the Sugar Loaf feature on the German left. It is important that I emphasise that this number is speculative. Additional information would be greatfully received.

Feedback on this scenario is welcomed.

References

  1. McMullin, R, "Pompey Elliot', Scribe Publications, 2002
  2. Lindsay, P, "Fromelles", Hardie Grant Books, 2007
  3. 'The Attack at Fromelles', on 'The Long, Long Trail', http://www.1914-1918.net/bat_fromelles.htm, last accessed 21 July 2008
  4. 'Battle of Fromelles', Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fromelles, last accessed 21 July 2008.