Ginkel Heath – Propaganda and Reality in MARKET-GARDEN

It has been very quite from this side over the last six months. Mainly due to loads and loads of work I haven´t had the time to write anything. There´s however, one article which was published some time ago on Armchairgeneral.com and which I didn´t re-post here.

Ginkel Heath – Propaganda and Reality in MARKET-GARDEN

During the afternoon of September 18th, 1944—day two of Operation Market-Garden, the Allied airborne attempt to seize bridges at Arnhem, Holland—a cameraman of Propaganda Kompanie Benchter runs for cover in the woods adjoining SS-Captain Helle’s battalion headquarters. From his position, overlooking Ginkel Heath—Drop-Zone Y for the incoming Allied paratroopers—he films the hotly contested landing of the British 4th Parachute Brigade.
That unexpected air-landing and a perfectly timed counterattack by the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers during the engagement proved a serious setback to the German effort to destroy the Allies’ attempt to establish a bridgehead north of the Rhine Rive. This, however, is not what the German propaganda department wanted Herrenvolk on the homefront to believe
The German Propaganda department used images shot by the aforementioned cameraman quite extensively in their weekly newsreel from the front, Die Deutsche Wochenschau.

It is interesting to see how events around the cameraman unfold, and how the images he shot were used to create a fictional interpretation of the Arnhem battle. The scenes in this particular newsreel were very rare this late in the war: German units in action, Allied planes burning and crash-landing, and paratroopers descending amidst German tracers and bursts of shrapnel.
These may have been the first pictures of success that could be used by the German propaganda department following the disaster in Normandy and the headlong retreat to the border of the Reich. It’s no surprise, therefore, this footage was fully exploited in order to keep up the sagging German morale. A narrator described the hotly contested Allied landings in the Arnhem region by saying, “hundreds of paratroopers are killed before they reach the ground” and “thousands have been killed near the landing zones.” This interpretation of events is, however, in stark contrast with what really happened at Ginkel Heath.

So, what do we really see in this newsreel?
First of all, what we witness are not the initial landings on September 17th but those of the second wave on the 18th. The drop-zone (DZ) was under direct fire, but the Germans did not control the entire perimeter as suggested by the narrator. Brigadier John W. Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade, numbering 2.000, jumped into a hail of fire and suffered considerable casualties, but again, not as crippling as suggested. Neither was the battle for Ginkel Heath a victory for the Germans; it was in fact, almost a disaster. In short, everything about the narrator’s story is wrong.
After the initial landings in the afternoon of September 17th a division- sized Kampfgruppen, Division von Tettau, was scraped together from the units stationed west of Arnhem. Their mission was to contain the threat and close the drop zones (DZs) and landing zones (LZs). At dawn the next day six battalions—SS-guard, SS-training, Luftwaffe, Kreigsmarine and Wehrmacht units—advanced from Wageningen in the direction of Oosterbeek and Arnhem beyond. After initial failure, the DZ at Ginkel Heath was re-captured and those to the south threatened, with the British troops pushed back over a five-mile front. By early afternoon most of Ginkel Heath, rather flat and completely open terrain surrounded by woods to the south and west, had been cleared. SS-Wachbattalion III Nordwest, commanded by SS-Captain Helle, formed up to chase the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers (7 KOSB) from the eastern treeline and their last foothold on the heath. In the midst of these preparations, at 1500 hours, a buzzing sound filled the sky: the aerial armada bringing in the second wave of Major General Robert Urquhart’s 1st Airborne Division was approaching. This was the signal the British on the ground had been waiting for. As the German cameraman ran and Helle’s NordwestSS-battalion watched in awe, the 7 KOSB attacked to sweep clean Drop-Zone Y just prior to the landing.

SS-Wachbattalion III Nordwest was a small unit of six guard companies and one heavy-weapons platoon, 400–600 strong. It had been formed in 1942 to guard the concentration camps spread throughout Holland and was composed of collaborating Dutch volunteers wishing to avoid the Arbeiteinsatz (forced labor), along with Ukrainians and recuperating German wounded. Even by the low standards of the garrison of Holland, the members of the battalion were physically unfit and lacked the training, equipment and morale necessary for front-line duty. Nevertheless, on the 17th, they had been close to the drop-zones west of Arnhem and thus formed a part of Division von Tettau. Their initial actions showed their lack of training as they attacked down a road in column, suffering heavy casualties. A subsequent concerted attack with neighboring units in the early afternoon had more success and swept the 7 KOSB from Ginkel Heath, though suffering heavy casualties yet again. It was these six bloodied companies that now found themselves seriously outnumbered and assailed from the front and from the sky.

Victory turns into Defeat
As the Propaganda Kompanies‘ cameraman was filming the action Batallion Nordwest fell apart. Most companies fled right away. Only two companies (3rd and 4th) and Hauptscharfuhrer (Sergeant-major) Einenkel’s heavy-weapons platoon formed “hedgehogs” and something of a coherent, all-round defense. SS-Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Paul A. Helle panicked, ran out the back door of his headquarters and fled northwards. Many of his troops did the same and fled or surrendered even before the last of the paratroopers had landed on the heath. The cameraman had a good view of the Dakota transport planes overhead, some of which had been hit by flak, and the subsequent descent of the paratroopers. Even though it was not as murderous as Die Deutsche Wochenschau wished those watching its newsreel to believe, for the paratroopers it still must have been hell to descend into the small-arms fire of 3rd and 4th company intermixed with 20mm flak and mortar and machine-gun fire from the heavy-weapons platoon.
Leonard Derek Moss, 4th Parachute Brigade, remembered his jump into this cauldron of fire: Bullets whizzed past from the ground and anti-aircraft shells continued to explode all around. The ground was rushing upwards quickly. 400 feet … It was chaos below. Men ran all over the place avoiding enemy fire. Mortar shells exploded throwing up clouds of smoke and dirt while fires burned out of control … Paratroopers were landing all around. It was chaos as heavy machine gun fire raked the area from concealed German positions in the woods. Men were being hit, wounded, killed. Gunfire exploded nearby, ripping into the ground, throwing up puffs of dirt. The air was alive with flying lead.
Trying to fight off attacks from all sides, the remnants of Nordwest‘s 3rd and 4th company and Einekel’s platoon gave up their position and attempted a haphazard fighting withdrawal to the north. The cameraman must have joined them after he had shot several minutes of footage—showing much more courage then most soldiers of SS-Battalion Nordwest had shown. He managed to capture unique material, and a full minute of his footage was used in that week’s Wochenschau to show those at home images of German soldiers fighting valorously, tenaciously—and victoriously, something far from the reality of what was actually happening during the time the cameraman was filming.

The Aftermath
It was all over in a matter of minutes. Had the 7th KOSB not counterattacked as the second wave of paratroopers arrived, the German propaganda might well have been right. General Hackett thanked the 7 KOSB “for getting the paratroopers such a good landing.” Still, during the landing, the 4th Parachute brigade lost over 200 soldiers, 10% of its strength. The 7 KOSB and 4th Parachute Brigade never reached their intended target, the Arnhem bridges, and were pushed back into the Oosterbeek perimeter along with most of the 1st British Airborne Division. Relief would come too late and most of them had to surrender.
SS-Wachbatallion Nordwest had ceased to be an effective unit, losing over half its number, either killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Helle’s adjutant: SS-Untersturmf├╝hrer Albert Naumann, gathered what was left. Incorporated into an experienced SS-regiment, the battalion suffered heavy casualties yet again on the 22nd and was subsequently withdrawn from combat.
The battle for Ginkel Heath had only been a side note to the much larger spectacle at Oosterbeek and Arnhem, but a minute of historic footage remains to remind us of this bloody fight—which was not what the German propaganda purported it to be.

Click here to view a BBC animated map of the battle for Arnhem.


1942, Invasion-Malta Board game

Last week I found an unexpected copy of the World at War magazine in my postbox. Now I don't mind getting magazines for free so I quickly scanned through the contents of this WWII-themed magazine and my interest was soon caught by an article about the Axis Invasion of Malta, 1942; an invasion which never took place. “The war in Europe might've been much different had the Axis 'pulled the trigger' on their detailed plan to conquer Malta.”

Not only was the detailed article an interesting read, it made me think of the possibilities of transforming this very interesting 'what-if' scenario into a board game. Using the British august '42 situation on Malta and the Axis plans for Operation C3, as the plan was named by the Italian high-command, it is possible to form a surprisingly interesting scenario. What would have happened if the Axis had actually pulled the trigger? Well, give it a try!

Axis forces:
  • 5 Italian infantry divisions (sea-borne)
  • 80 artillery pieces (sea-borne)
  • A few dozen Italian assault-guns (sea-borne)
  • An Italian assault-swim battalion (sea-borne)
  • An Italian Marine regiment (sea-borne)
  • 2 Italian para-regiments (sea-borne)
  • 3 German Flieger regiments (air-borne)
  • 2 German Panzer companies (sea-borne)
British forces: 
  • 14 infantry battalions
  • 11 tanks 
  • 2 artillery regiments
The 'what-if'
From 1:00pm on the night of august 15th 1942 the first of two Italian regiments of paratroopers would descend from the sky, soon three German regiments would follow and attempt to set up a perimeter before their seaborne comrades would come ashore. They did not know what to expect when they landed, in fact had the original plan been carried out they had landed on top of the British reserve-brigade. But will the British player position his reserve-brigade on the same spot and where will the Axis player land his airborne-troops.
The same might take place on the “beaches” if Axis intel fails as it historically did. If an Italian division comes ashore directly in front of Fort Campbell on the northern shore of Malta it will be slaughtered.

Axis intelligence on the British troops defending Malta and its position were not very accurate. Thus gathering intelligence on the British strength and disposition can be an interesting addition to the game. Will your paratroopers land on top of a British brigade and be shattered?

But will it be an interesting board game to play? 
As the invasion never took place and so neither of the players is 'in the knows' about what the other will do. As neither side held a decided advantage and there were many aspects which could lead to failure or disaster for either side the game can hang in the balance for quite a long period. The initial invasion might be successful, resulting in a strong bridgehead for the Axis player  but if the Italian navy lives up to its reputation, and scampers after taking a beating, and fails to resupply the ground-forces it might all go awry just as well. Just as well the game might be decided early on for either side by a stroke of luck.

The Royal Navy was not lord and master on the Mediterranean sea, as they would be from '43 onwards, yet. Both players have to decide how to use their naval assets, the Axis has to deter the Royal Navy, stationed in Alexandria, from interfere but will need to support the landings as well.
The British fleet, although much weaker then their Italian counterpart, had two decided advantages, supply and morale. The Italians had to ration fuel and would thus be unable to use their capital-ships much more then a few days, choices will have to be made. Another fragile asset for the Axis player will be the morale of the Italian navy; a series of defeats and their fleet will withdraw to the safety of its harbours.

Malta is a very rugged little island. Landing 100.000+ troops on its rocky shores, as Operation C3 called for, would have been a hazardous and possibly disastrous undertaking. Let alone bringing ashore the German panzers and Italian self-propelled artillery necessary to bring the invasion to a successful end.
Which brings us to another difficult problem for the Axis player: supply. Not only fuel, food and ammunition but water will be in short supply from D-day +1.

The different aspects and phases of a Malta Invasion board game:
  • August 13, 14, 15 Axis intelligence gathering of British troop disposition 
  • August 13, 14, 15 British intelligence gathering of Axis intentions
  • August 13th British-player troop disposition
  • August 15th Axis-player chooses landing beaches
  • August 14 to August 30, Naval Warfare
  • August 15th the battle commences
  • An Italian Navy morale chart
  • Surprise factors for the Axis side
  • Terrain factors because of the rugged terrain

The question: make or not to make?
A bit of research turns up Invasion of Malta: 1942, a small bonus game to Avalon Hill's 1977-title  Air Assault On Crete. It seems however, detail is lacking (Fort Campbell is not on the map) as are many of the important side-aspects of Operation C3. This and the fact it would be hard to find necessitate a new Invasion-Malta board game; I would love to play it for sure.
Avalon Hill's Invasion of Malta: 1942

John Bell Hood and the Struggle for Atlanta

This book might be a nice little read if you just visited the Atlanta battlefields and want to know a litte more about them, just a little that is.
However, there's not much on Hood's fascinating character and why he made the descisions he made and fought the battles he fought to be found in this book. This makes me advice someone who wants to know more about Hood to read a full biography of the man, even if you want to know more about the Atlanta campaign as there's not a whole lot about these battles in this book either. 

After just a hundred pages there are 50 pages of OOB which might be in other books but are of no use in this, they just fill blank space. Almost a third of the hundred pages of the text on Hood and Atlanta is taken up by short biographies of the generals who took part in the battles, I guess there are more then thirty of these one page biographies. What is left is not much actually.

If you would like to read about Hood, get this book.

- John Bell Hood and the Struggle for Atlanta, best to be avoided: 2/5


King Arthur: the Druids Expansion; a Preview-AAR

I have just started writing an AAR about this soon to be released expansion for the RPG-RTS King Arthur. The game is a bit like the Total War games (as it has epic battles) set in a medieval-fantasy period. It far surpasses the TW series in several aspects: its well-made campaign map, number of units, very good Arthurian story and best of all the RPG-elements; units mature, heroes learn skills an abilities and your king decides to go on the path of good or evil and gain access to new units, skills and spells.

As said, I am writing an AAR about it which can be found here. Hope you will enjoy.


WITE and another Beta-AAR

After two month of being quiet due to some RL-issues which had to be handled I finally have some time to dedicate to my hobbies. At the moment I am franticaly trying to bring Operation Barbarossa to a good end with Gary Grisby's: War In The East which was released about a month ago. To be frank I already made a mess of things with my first attempt as the Axis and are currently being beaten back by the Soviets. The first winter is a brutal experience.
I will continue my current Grand Campaign but am already devising plans for a second attempt.

Shifting von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group, all the way to the south, close to the Black Sea, I will develop a new stagin area for an offensive in the second or third week of Brabarossa. With ample German infantry support von Kleist will drive deep into the Ukrain, bypassing Odessa, with the goal to reach the Dnepr as soon as possible without having to come to grips with the main Russian forces around Kiev.
At the same time, Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group, reinforced by an extra corps from the 3rd, will strike for the Dnepr east of Minsk and then turn south. The plan is thus to create a giant pocket around Kiev. Once this is cleared by the infantry, and it will take some time, I will drive for the Don-basin instead of Moscow. Botht he Soviet capital and Leningrad will thus be seriously neglected until at least early September. We'll see if it works.

Last month was also the time I wrote a new preview-After Action Report with the Beta of the game Cities in Motion. The small Finnish developping company performed a great feat if you ask me. I have always loved games like, and especially, Transport Tycoon. Being over ten years old the graphics are so-so. Thus I was more then happy when I saw the first screenshots of Cities in Motion. This game looks fantastic.

Moreover, it is huge fun as well. Altough there is a lot of room for further expansions and add-ons in the future the game will be stable and well worked out. Here you can find my complete AAR with as many as 20 chapter and (as I write this) 19,000 views. Apart from tons of screenshots I have also made a couple of short in-game videos. I admit it has nothing to do with military strategy and warfare but I hope you'll enjoy them.

The videos->