Command Ops: Molenhoek Counter-Attack AAR

Field Marshal Model is scrambling to respond to the Allied Airborne invasion of Holland.  On the eastern side of the vital XXX Corps corridor near the Heumen bridge, he has formed two Kampgruppe's to counter-attack against the dug-in positions of the 82nd airborne around Molenhoek and Mook.

The scenario "Molenhoek Counter-Attack" in Command Ops: Highway to the Reich simulates this critical moment in Operation Market Garden.  This scenario is setup to play as the Axis but I chose to play as the Allies because I am relatively new to the game and thought it might be easier to defend instead of attacking.  

As the Allied commander you have two regiments of the 82nd Airborne at your disposal (the 508th and the 505th) and two battalions of the Coldstream Guards from XXX Corps which reinforce you on the 2nd day.  The scenario simulates almost 3 full days of combat and the Allied force wins if it can hold onto at least 4 of the 8 objectives by the end of day 3 and keep it's casualty total relatively low.  

At the start of the scenario, the game designers present you with a what-if option for the Axis with Model concentrating his forces to drive from the Riethorst along the river towards Mook instead of spreading them out.  I chose this option (an adjustment of reinforcements to Favor the Axis).

Midday on Day 2.  All of my forces are fully deployed.  I've used a battalion of the Coldstream Guards to reinforce the 505th east of Mook and to beat back a counter-attack in the center on the Popenberg, a rocky forested height dominating the battlefield.
The AI for both sides is very competent.  It usually has excellent pathfinding abilities though at times it can be frustrating because it isn't obvious from the terrain map why a unit has moved a certain way.  If you zoom in though you can see that contour line you missed or impassable cliff.

The AI also makes very sensible moves in response to your opponent.  Initially I separated the Coldstream Guards battalions to respond to two areas of concern.  I left a gap though in between the Popenberg and Oostberg objectives.  Two German infantry companies penetrated there and I lost sight of them in the woods.  I moved a squadron of tanks back to deal with them but that wasn't enough.  The Coldstream Guards AI commander sensibly stepped in and concentrated both battalions to close the gap.

An example of pathfinding by the AI.  In response to a German concentration along this section of line, I decided to move a company of the 508th to the west to plug a gap.  The AI re-routed the move outside of an area under bombardment.

The German ability to fight in ad-hoc Kampgruppe formations has been well documented.  The screenshot above shows one such formation with Parachute infantry, motorised infantry, engineers, artillery and mortar platoons.  

I found the German commander to be very methodical.  Attacks were presaged by a concentration of artillery, a subsequent bombardment and then a push forward.  In the south the German forces bombarded my two battalions of Coldstream Guards for 24 hours before launching a series of desperate attacks on the 3rd and final day of the scenario.

This screenshot shows the Coldstream Guards under bombardment.  The Mooker Schans penetration by two German infantry companies can also be seen.  I lost them frequently in the woods east of the bridges.  The 82nd airborne battery  highlighted here did a very effective job bombarding German forces as they concentrated for attack.

The center of this battlefield is very interesting.  For much of the game possession of the height seemed to be more of a deterrent to the German advance than a battalion of parachute infantry.  They very rarely tried to fight uphill towards the Popenberg.  German inaction here allowed me to hold the center thinly after the 1st day, though I did do some reinforcement whenever I saw the Germans moving forces in this direction (shown below).

On the 3rd day however, just after midnight the Germans launched an attack with a battalion of infantry supported by self-propelled artillery.

I had to scramble my forces and strip away elements of the 508th, 505th and the Coldstream Guards to plug the hole here.  I lost total control of the objective and put the battle dangerously in the balance.

A surprise German attack on the Popenberg drove my units backward.  The screenshot above shows some of my initial moves to restore some balance there.  With the German build-up in the south though it seems unlikely that I will be able to regain this objective before D3 1700 hours.
The German midnight attack on the Popenberg in the thinly held center sector took me by surprise after 2 days of inaction there.
While the Germans seized the Popenberg, attacks were launched around Oostberg to the south along the road to Mook and in the north at Groesbeek.

The screenshot below shows the German concentration before the attack in an around Groesbeek.

I never had full control of the northern sector of the map but the Germans also never seriously threatened cutting the line here like they did on the Popenberg.
The fiercest fighting in the final hours of the battle occurred around Oostberg.  I was able to concentrate my artillery to support the Coldstream Guards advancing on the German forces dug in throughout the woods east of Oostberg.

I took heavy losses from the fighting around Mook and the Oostberg.  During the last hour of the battle I launched a counterattack that pushed the Germans back onto the Keikberg and in the direction of the Reichswald.
The final stats show a different battle then the one I thought I was fighting.  Because I am new to the game I wasn't sure how to track casualties.  I was stunned to see the heavy losses I took in vehicles and AFVs nevermind the 1,000+ casualties in men.

Montgomery was apparently not happy with me but I kept the Germans from seizing the Heumen bridge or taking any of the positions that would have allowed them to shell the crossing.  I held onto four of the objectives and pushed the German commander back into the woods around the Reichswald.

Apparently I am in danger of being cashiered by the flamboyant Montgomery.  My efforts resulted in a draw but I felt victorious after holding the thin corridor from repeated attacks.
I thoroughly enjoyed this scenario and can't wait to choose another.  I finally feel like I understand why so many people love this game.  I know I barely scratched the surface in the tactical depth this game offers which makes the next time I play even more interesting for me because I have a lot to learn.  After three days of fighting (which took me about the same time in real world time because of family obligations) I actually feel like I earned this draw.


Doug Miller said…
So many good games, so little time...

I'm obsessed with Scourge of War right now, but Command Ops tempts me so!
Chris said…
Hi Doug. I agree. I was on a Histwar kick for most of the summer and broke out APOS in August and now I can't get enough of World War 2. Up until about a week ago I had never really invested any time into Command Ops. I knew it was good but the learning curve seemed steep. I am almost done with my second Operation Market Garden scenario (Joe's Bridge) and really enjoying it.

Are you playing the new Brandy Station campaign for SOW?

Doug Miller said…
I have Brandy Station, but have yet to play any scenarios. I'm mostly playing Antietam scenarios, since I'm planning a trip to the battlefield in a couple of weeks.
Chris said…
Ahh very cool Doug. I've been to that battlefield and I really enjoyed my trip there.

I think the Antietam SOW scenarios are tougher than the Gettysburg one.

I've not played Chancellorsville yet. Pipe Creek is very cool also as a what-if.
Fatih Baş said…
Finally back home from my trip to the good old US of A.

Doug, as I have already said on your blog, I hope you have a great time in Antietam like I did a couple of weeks ago.

Great AAR Chris. Just like you, I own Command Ops for a couple of years now but I never really invested any time in it. The tutorial videos were very good but still I couldn't get a grasp of the game itself. I think, after reading your AAR, I will give it a shot very soon.


Doug Miller said…
I don't play enough of this excellent wargame. I really enjoy how this game (like Scourge of War) really allows you to function in the role of a commander, and not in god mode having to move every single counter every turn. That's what's tough to get your head around, but once you do it makes it so much harder to go back to traditional games.