Published historical author, Chris Brown continues his series of articles to cover both the history of Operation Market Garden, and offer some tips on how to bring the action to life upon the tabletop battlefield!
For me, it’s a life-long interest which stems from a family connection. My father was a parachute regiment officer in the early 1950s and a considerable number of the prominent (and less prominent) personalities were still serving – hardly surprising since so many of them were career soldiers and the battle was just six or seven years in the past. Arnhem is one of those battles which has attracted a great deal of attention from historians and is a firm, traditional favourite with wargamers. There are several reasons for this. One is the breathtakingly-large amount of eye-witness material which is readily available. These range from the account of the commander of the Airborne Division, Major-General R.E. (‘Roy’) Urquhart to that of private soldiers like James Sim who served in the Mortar Platoon of 2nd battalion the Parachute Regiment and was therefore one of the defenders of the eponymous bridge in ‘A Bridge Too Far’. The force at the Bridge was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost, who wrote his own account in his book ‘A Drop Too Many’
Shooting a scene from ‘A Bridge Too Far’
The film itself is, of course, another reason for the fame of the battle. Although it follows the course of the whole Market Garden operation, there is more focus on the actions at Arnhem than anywhere else. In part this is a product of the dramatic nature of the ferocious action at the Bridge, but it is also due to the aims of the operation as a whole; without the final bridge the operation was a complete failure.
For wargamers, the Arnhem battle has a lot to commend it. It’s dramatic and exciting, the players get to commit elite forces in a dash to the objective or in a last-ditch defence. For the Germans there’s the challenge of using what were initially surprisingly small forces to prevent the British reaching their objective and then, once that has been achieved – which was not the foregone conclusion that it might seem – the hefty task of winkling the British out of the buildings and cellars of Arnhem and Oosterbeek.
‘Gallipoli II’, a 6-pdr anti-tank gun of No. 26 Anti-Tank Platoon, 1st Border Regiment, 1st Airborne Division, in action in Oosterbeek, 20 September 1944. The gun was at this moment engaging a German PzKpfw B2 (f) Flammpanzer tank of Panzer-Kompanie 224 and successfully knocked it out. BU 1109 Part of WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit Smith (Sgt)
In terms of game management there are several attractive features.
Most of the actions took place in relatively small areas which are fairly straightforward to represent on the size of table-top that most of us can aspire to. Admittedly, if you really want to model the bridge in 28mm you’re going to need a table the length of a tennis-court, but actually, you really don”t need to have very much of the bridge at all, just the ramp area and the surrounding buildings which is a rather less daunting proposition (alternatively, you could always make use of the Warlord Games Pegasus Bridge as a stand in!).
Since almost all of the actual engagements were rather small, you don’t need to acquire a large number of figures – though some of us do and there’ll be more about that in the next article. Even if you were to play out the entirety of the battle at the bridge you really would not need to do all of it at once, just a platoon or two in a few buildings can make for a great game. Better yet, there are plenty of photos, maps and sketches showing not only the buildings around the bridge, but the dispositions of the troops; you can even find them on the web without much effort so you don’t need to buy a book! As if that wasn’t good enough, the website www.pegasusarchive.org has an incredible wealth of material including the war diaries of all of the units in 1st Airborne Division. There’s enough to provide you with scenarios forever, so do the decent thing and make a contribution to the site – it’s free to use, but not free to run!
The young lieutenant flew a Horsa containing elements of the Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery into Landing Zone Z northwest of Arnhem (near Wolfheze). During the fighting at Oosterbeek he was wounded, taken prisoner, then escaped, and for his heroism was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
So what do you need for gaming Arnhem?
Naturally you’ll need some airborne infantry. Paratroops and Glider troops were nearly indistinguishable; it’s a matter of whether or not you apply the tiny parachute wing decals. Personally I don’t bother. Life’s too short for me to wrestle with decals that small, also I want my figures to be Paras or Glider infantry or whatever depending on the scenario and there are several contemporary photos in which there’s no sign of a unit flash on a soldier’s shoulder or sleeve. Almost anything else you might want for your airborne force is readily available from Warlord Games. Mortars, Vickers guns, jeeps that can be built for any variant (except for RAMC) 6-pounder and 17-pounder anti-tank guns, 75mm howitzers and suitable drivers and crews in Denison smocks. The only other things I can think of would be supply canisters and panniers and that mainstay of airborne transport, the platoon handcart and I’m told that even they may be in the offing one day.
The Germans present no problems either – My wife’s Panzer IVs, Stugs and armoured cars all came form Warlord. This is a battle where you can use any and all German infantry – classic feldgrau and camo-smocks can be seen in any number of battle photos.
If you’re not too fussy about the scale of buildings (in our house we actually prefer 20mm buildings with 28mm figures) several iconic locations including the Hartenstein, Vrewijk and Tafelberg hotels can represented with Sarissa or 4Ground terrain, but for the most part generic European buildings will do the trick nicely and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if somebody were to start making the Hartenstein in MDF (hint hint). Bolt Action lends itself to this sort of thing very well. Beyond that you’ll need stuff that you’ve undoubtedly already got – trees, hedges, low hills and such like, though you may want to invest in some wire fences about shoulder-height. These were common around Dutch homes and were something of an impediment to movement.
Bolt Action lends itself well to the small size of the individual engagements and the generally constricted combat areas; you’re seldom, if ever, going to stage a game that has more than a company in attack with perhaps a bit of artillery or mortar prep and MG support. My wife (Pat) and I are Arnhem junkies. We’ve played many Bolt Action games in two significant battlefield locations; one is in Arnhem itself and the other is in Oosterbeek, which is where most of the fighting took place.
We’re hopefully going to add a third location when we go back there in July – we’ll keep you posted.