Wargames, for those who don't play them, are often a mystery. They are thought of as long, as having unfathomable rule sets beset by exceptions to exceptions, and to take a commitment in time and effort far beyond that of more mainstream and common boardgames.
Why then are there those who are devoted to them? Do they love self punishment? Do they love war? No, of course not. The real reason is "story". We love a story. No other type of board game can draw you in and make you part of a drama like a wargame.
This report, then, is an attempt to retell the story I will be told and that I will be a part of as I play The Devil's Cauldron by MMP.
How will it end? I've no idea.
The first thing we need to understand is a bit of the history, the back story if you will, to what is about to happen.
In the fall of 1944 the Allied advance across Europe had stalled. The most important reason for this was they had gone so far so fast that getting needed supplies to the front lines became increasingly difficult, near impossible.
Two generals were clamoring to be given priority for those supplies that could get through. Patton in the South and Montgomery in the North.
Montgomery wanted those supplies. Even thought he suffered from a reputation of being slow and methodical, he did the unexpected. He came up with a plan that his supporters called "audacious" but which others would have called "risky" and what still others would have called "downright crazy". If he were to be given the supplies, he claimed, he would use them to drive an armored corps over the Rhine, into the heavily industrialized Ruhr Valley of Germany and destroy their ability to make war. The boys might even get home before Christmas.
He would do this by dropping Airborne units behind enemy lines to seize a singe road, and the bridges along it, that led from the Allied front lines all the way across the Rhine at a place called Arnhem.
The two keys to success were to be surprise and speed.
The operation was code named Market-Garden
Here we see the final bridge necessary for the plan. The bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem. A nice bridge. A well built bridge. A happy bridge. The British 1st Airborne was given the simple task of taking the defenders of this bridge by surprise and holding it for...oh...I dunno...a day or so....certainly no more than two. By then, XXX Corps, the armored division would be there, cross the bridge into Germany and BOOM war over. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. No problem. Well not many problems...a few really but don't you worry about them....they'll be taken care of.
The first big problem...
There was a lot of road and other bridges between the jump off point and Arnhem. A lot of room.... a lot of room for shenanigans. And if there is one thing the German people are known for, it's their love of shenanigans.
(The game only shows the northern half of the battle field. It was actually quite a bit farther to the jump off than shown)
September 17th, 1944 - 15:00 hours
The second problem? Oh, uhm, well nothing to get excited about really but, there just aren't enough planes. Now don't get excited. Nothing to be done. We'll make do. It's just going to take a few drops to get ALL the paratroopers on the ground. Your buddies will be there no later than tomorrow. They're just sort of gravy anyway. I mean...old men...school children...that's what the German's are using for soldiers these days...push overs if you ask me. You guys can handle that can't you. Oh...did I mention how far from the bridge you'll be dropped?
The first units of British 1st Airborne arrive west of Arnhem around 3:00pm. Already there are problems. One whole section of glider troops under Hicks (blue) has a terrible landing. Many of the gliders dig nose first into the soft ground of the landing zone causing them to go "ass over tea kettle". The result is there are many casualties and the fighting ability of a third of Hicks units are reduced before things even get rolling.
Far to the South, the American 82nd Airborne division is given the task of taking the bridges between Grave and Nijmegen. The 2/504 PIR is given the job of taking the bridge at Grave and the one at Mook to the east. Apparently one of the transport plane pilots got a bit edgy and hit the "jump" light too soon for the guys of Easy Company (No..not the Easy from Band of Brothers...they were farther south). They've landed on the far side of the river.
Well no problem...just a couple Anti-aircraft units between them and the bridge. Old men...school children....besides those guns are meant for shooting planes...they wouldn't use them on infantry...don't worry.
Away to the east, the rest of the 504th land just outside the town of Groesbeek. Nijmegen is off to the north past some heavy woods.
Remember. Speed and Surprise. Surprise and Speed. Old men...school children..piece of cake...home by Christmas. What could possibly go wrong?