The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 10-12 March 1915


 

Neuve Chapelle was the first significant British assault on the Western front in 1915, planned to assist the French in their major offensive in the Lens/Vimy/Arras area. The plan was to threaten the German supply lines from the north with a break through at Aubers Ridge, which required the capture of the salient of Neuve Chapelle.

The game was played in Christchurch, New Zealand in July 2005. The players were Robert Dunlop and Adrian Powell (commanding the British forces) and Keith McNelly and Robin Sutton (commanding the German forces). The figures come from the 20mm collections of Andy Gorman and Robin Sutton.  Figure availability meant that Turkish figures had to be used to represent the Indian Division that took part in the attack, while ANZACs appeared in lieu of one of the British Divisions.


Three of the protagonists enjoy the game. Left to right: Robin, Adrian and Robert. Keith and Robert discuss a tactical point during the game.

The table set up with the initial dispositions for the game. The view is from the south, with the British and Indian forces to the left of the photograph (Indian troops nearest the camera), and the Germans to the right. The extent to which the German troops defending the front line are thinly stretched can be clearly seen. Neuve Chapelle is represented in Spearhead terms by a village outskirts, and is seen here on the table as the white building in the upper right of the photograph. A German MMG detachment is deployed in Neuve Chapelle, along with the Corps command stand, a choice that was made to improve suppression recovery, but which was to have fatal effects later in the game. Crescent Redoubt can be seen in the lower centre of the picture.
23 Brigade reaches the wire: no one had told them that the wire in front of them was uncut, and they began to take casualties from the Jager manning the trenches in front of them. The 23 Brigade figures are the HaT ANZACs, but we were short of 1915 British, so these guys found themselves pressed into service on the Western Front. The Jager conversion is described below. The scenario required the British forces to follow compulsory attack arrows until they reached Layes Brook, when the players could roll for order changes to develop the attack further. Therefore there was no choice for Robert in these early stages: he had to cross the wire.
The initial attack of the 23 Brigade (8 Division) British can be seen coming across the uncut wire that was to the front of the German Jager defending the line opposite Neuve Chapelle itself (seen here at the very bottom of the photograph). This was the one area of the attack frontage in which the wire had not been cut sufficiently by the British hurricane bombardment to allow easy passage for the attacking troops. The hurricane bombardment had been the British answer to a severe shell shortage, but British command later took the wrong lesson from it: they assumed that longer preparatory bombardments would be even better. It took a year and a half for the British command to relearn the lesson.
Neuve Chapelle was occupied initially by a German MMG detachment, and the Corps headquarters. The area came under a heavy British pre-planned bombardment (those 60 pounders really hurt!!), and the MMG detachment can be seen here to the right with a  suppression marker. The German dispositions, initially thought to be a great idea (as a means of helping to remove suppressions and keep stands fighting) proved to be not so wise: the Corps HQ was knocked out by the bombardment!!!!!
Here the Indian 41st Dogras attack the German line (the crescent Redoubt is just to the left of this photo. The first of the attacks were stopped at the trench line and repelled several times, but the Indian Division commander (Adrian Powell) was a little more persistent than that, and managed to eventually make the breakthrough required of his forces.
23 Brigade makes progress against the Jager, swamping their line. Here the remaining Jager stand and its supporting MMG stand can be seen suppressed as 23 Brigade breaks through the trench line. The Jager were a simple conversion of the HaT Germans: the top of the Pickelhaube was cut off, to create a flat top, and the figures were painted a slightly greener field gray, with lighter green piping.
The German 16th Regiment has broken after four turns of valiant resistance.... Robin blamed the dice, others knew better!!! The entire German left flank has opened up, but the Indians seem to be distracted by the Distillery down the road (bottom right of the photo). Adrian spent several turns trying to roll for an order change in order to get the advancing brigades to shift their axis back towards the Bois de Biez. They took the distillery at which point Adrian successfully rolled for that order change. They were quick to change their axis and advance towards their correct objective: the Bois de Biez. This picture gives a good view of my second 'iteration' of trench scenery: nope, still not right.
Here 23 Brigade attacks the 'Nameless Cottages'. This position was supported by the first German reinforcements: the two remaining companies of the 11th Jager who took up positions in the redoubts previously established at Maquisart and the Layes Brook bridge. The Germans here held off the attackers briefly: Keith's  command had lasted a little bit longer than Robin's..... but it too eventually gave way.
The first of the significant German counter-attacking forces arrive in the Bois de Biez, but the Indian advance has made it almost impossible for the two reinforcing battalions to take and hold the position. An intense fire fight develops as troops from both sides jostle for position amongst the trees, but the Indian forces are already established in the wood in too great a numbers.

23 Brigade makes its way to Layes Brook where its advance stops. Leading units have come under fire from the German Reinforcements from 56th and 57th Infantry regiments, and one British stand has already been suppressed. However it is not enough and the day ends with a resounding British victory: British forces are secure on the western end of Aubers Ridge in the Bois de Biez, and are digging in behind Layes Brook, with Neuve Chapelle safely in British hands.

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