Advanced Guard 1914

The Advanced Guard scenario pitches two advanced guard forces against each other in a purely fictional action that might have occured during the 'Race for the Sea' in 1914. The BEF forces, lead by some of Allenby's cavalry, must help sieze some high ground, and hold out while the slower infantry follows more slowly behind. The after action report was filed by Mike Hennessy in 2006 and was played using Mike's 10mm armies created using Pendraken figures. The scenario can be found here.


My eldest son and I spent an enjoyable afternoon grappling over the hills and plains of northern France playing the Advanced Guard scenario. My son as ever decided to command the feldgrau and I the spiffing BEF. We could only muster a 6'x4' playing surface, so we chopped off a little from the map to the north and the south, but we left the OOBs unaltered. With the slightly smaller playing area however we did decide that the two 'late' BEF brigades would come on in turn 6 rather than turn 8.

And so we began. I decided that it was vital to seize one of the two centre hills as soon as possible (the two objectives were two hills in the middle of the board, separated by a plain itself dominated from the north by a hill and a small village). The western hill was slightly wooded at its western edge and was called Hill A or Alistair throughout; the other (unwooded) hill was called Hill B or Bertie throughout. I plumped for Alistair. I moved my two cavalry regiments up to seize the eastern end, backed by the RHA batteries. My only infantry, a Brigade, moved up in support. Once the hill was seized, the infantry would occupy it in strength and allow the cavalry to harass the other hill (and seize it if possible) prior to the arrival of my two brigades which would make sure of its remaining in British hands. Simple really!

Of course, the Hun opted for Bertie Hill - en masse. One of the delights of the scenario is that the BEF has to make do with only a small force for the first part of the game while the Germans have everything (except some later arriving artillery) on board from the beginning (if they so choose). Over the course of the whole game the Brits have a slight numerical advantage, while the Germans have perhaps a slight advantage in artillery.
So Alistair Hill fell easily into BEF hands - by turn three the infantry brigade was mounting its slopes and the cavalry who siezed it were uneasily contemplating harassing what appeared to be a whole division of German infantry beginning to climb Bertie Hill. We needed an order change - the cavalry would have to sit back for a while and let some artillery do its thing and the late Brits arrive before it could achieve anything without endangering its very existence.
My heavies failed to be called in, as his Germans mounted the crest of Bertie Hill - obviously playing croquet or at tea! However, my 18 pounders did a tremedous job casting clouds of shuddering shrapnel over the western end of Hill B, over one of his advancing infantry regiments. The next turn this withering fire continued - seven companies lost already, and the remaining Germans now halted. My heavies finally woke up when the German divisional cavalry raced over Bertie and began to approach them ominously - they caught the heavies' FO and over open sights the 60 pounders smashed one of the squadrons into yesterday (or was it tomorrow?). Perhaps not the BEST use of a fire mission, in hindsight. Meanwhile the German artillery fire was light: some directed at my heavies and some at my infantry digging themselves in with entrenching tools on Hill A.
As turn 6 dawned and my two fresh brigades of BEF infantry marched on due south of Hill B I have to say I felt optimistic. If my artillery continued to soften up his Germans, and then I advanced into rifle range, my mad minute would drive him from the summit and I could smash his retreating flanks with my cavalry and drive him into rout across the northward plain, seizing the second hill and victory. All seemed sweet when his western-most regiment, after suffering more than 50% casualties (including its regimental command stand) dispersed to the north and vanished. I could not fit my grin through the door without turning my head sideways. My eldest son, Joseph, looked unimpressed.

But it was not to be!!

The German artillery suddenly came alive. Hailstorms of shrapnel descended on my advancing BEF - his heavies dropped shells the size of small houses on my foremost battalions. My HLI were wiped out in one savage howitzer bombardment. My horse artillery, unlimbering to strike the south east of Hill A, came under fire and were destroyed. My own artillery were suddenly less responsive, and once he had halted on the summit, far less effective. I lost a heavy battery to his heavies. I needed to do something.


Again I decided to change orders. Race my cavalry across now to the western flank of Hill B - from where his regiment had been driven - and move two battalions from the brigade on Hill A to support that attack on Hill B. Sadly unimaginative.

His artillery, ever responsive, dropped shrapnel on my cavalry to devastating effect. He reconfigured his remaining regiment on Hill B: my BEF, one brigade now understrength by about 40%, reached rifle range and began to exchange volleys and machine gun fire with the Germans. And I was being worsted. Mad minute or no mad minute I was taking greater casualties - German machine guns are deadly, his artillery was too effective, and my succouring cavalry and Hill A battalions were being doused with shell.

I thought I would let existing orders run for another turn to see if the wind changed. It didn't: half my cavalry was smashed, one of the two supporting battalions was under half strength; of the two brigades approaching Hill B one was under half strength, the other near that level. I had one heavy artillery fire mission left and one field artillery fire mission left.

I decided to call it all off - for the first time my orders did not get through. The carnage continued.Trying to keep up their fire on the Germans, one of my two late brigades broke. My cavalry - down to two squadrons out of eight (and the command squadron destroyed) somehow pressed home the attack and drove through two German infantry companies before annihilation. My last artillery barrages were risible.

Finally, the order change got through and the attack was aborted. No cavalry left, one brigade eliminated, one brigade down by more than 50%, and the first brigade on the field, conquerors of empty Hill A, down by about 30%. Field artillery untouched, half of my heavies lost and all of my horse artillery destroyed.

In terms of objectives, the game was a draw. Psychologically, the BEF suffered a massive defeat. The Germans went for a  draw and got one. We went for victory and almost tasted complete defeat on the field as well as in terms of morale.


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