The Inspiration for my Bolt Action Cancon Force: The Battle of Rots 1944

By Ian Underwood

Cancon is held annually in Canberra over the Australia Day weekend in January and is Australia’s largest gaming convention. This year’s Bolt Action event will be the largest tournament of its type held in Australia, having sold out 70 places a month before kick off. I attended Cancon for the first time last year and had a great time, so to be honest this is pretty exciting and in this post I discuss the force I’m taking and the historical inspiration behind it.

Cancon will be the second consecutive Bolt Action event where I’ll be taking a post-D-day Royal Marine Commando force. I attended MOAB in Sydney late last year with a force based on the amphibious assault of the Dutch island of Walcharen (see the earlier post here). Playing that elite, highly mobile force ended up being little beyond my experience level, and so for this tournament, I’ve gone for a more a generic army build…  but like all my recent Bolt Action forces, this one takes its inspiration from an actual historical engagement or action.

In this case the force is inspired by the desperate assault on the twin village of Rots and Le Hamel, in the Mue Valley to the North-West of Caen on the 11th June involving primarily 46 RM Commando and Canadian Shermans from the Fort Garry Horse

The Battle For Rots

“They fought like lions on both sides, so that the dead lay corpse by corpse. We searched every house, every courtyard to avoid ambush. And here is the confirmation of how ferocious last night’s battle must have been. The Commandos lie dead in rows beside the dead SS. Grenades are scattered all over the road and in the porches of houses. Here we see a Commando and an SS man, literally dead in each other’s arms, having slaughtered each other. There, a German and a Canadian tank have engaged each other to destruction, and are still smouldering, and from each blackened turret hangs the charred corpse of a machine gunner.”  – Regimental History, Régiment de la Chaudière.

On the 8th of June, two days after the Normandy landings, the elite 12th SS Panzer-Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ counter-attacked the Canadian positions to the North-West of Caen in an attempt to break the Allied bridgehead. After heavy and desperate fighting the the German’s were repulsed and the counter-attack stalled. The Canadians now however,  were left with a number of exposed forward positions in a salient around the towns of Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse and Norrey-en-Bessin.

Over the next few days, using the town of Rots as their base, the 1st Battalion of the 12th SS launched several assaults on both towns. Again the Canadians desperately repulsed the attackers. In one attack on Norrey-en-Bessin on the 9th June, seven Panthers were destroyed in a mad four minutes when they unwittingly presented their flanks to three troops of Shermans – including several Fireflys, who were arriving to reinforce the beleaguered defenders of the town.

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Troops from the 12th SS Panzer-Division drive thru the town of Rots after an attack on Norrey-en-Bessin, June 9th, 1944. The fatigue is evident.

These engagements showed the true character of the Canadian troops as they threw back virtually everything the men of the 12th SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ could hurl at them. Sadly it also brought out the true character of the 12th SS, as it was during this 3-day period that elements of the 12th SS captured over 60 men of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles in the neighbouring town of Putot-en-Bessin and later executed 45 them in the grounds of the Château d’Audrieu, where some officers were headquartered.

It also should be noted that the 12th SS were responsible for the April 1944 massacre of 86 Frenchmen from the village of Ascq during the division’s relocation to Normandy. They were also were responsible for the massacre of 18 Canadians soldiers in the grounds of the Abbaye d’Ardenne on the day after the actual D-Day landings.

The 12th SS were highly motivated fanatics who had, by their own standards, under performed in the battle of Normandy so far. They would be later criticised heavily by the German high command and no doubt would have been smarting from their lack of battlefield success.

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The Commando’s route down the Mue Valley and the twin assault on Rots and Le Hamel. Note the precarious position of the villages of Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse and Norrey-en-Bessin – which received much attention from the 12th SS  from their base at Rots.

The Assault on Rots

On the 11th June, 46 Commando was attached to the Canadian 8th Infantry Brigade and given the task of clearing the 12th SS from the Mue Valley, culminating in an assault on their stronghold in the twin villages of Rots and Le Hamel. Clearing the valley was a necessary prerequisite to the advance on Cheux, and securing of the town of Carpiquet and the adjacent airfield.

For this assault they would be supported by a Squadron of Shermans from the Canadian Fort Garry Horse, a troop of Royal Marine Centaurs, 25 pounders and a machine gun company.

The attack started with A & B troop (a commando troop is roughly 65 men) advancing on Rots whilst S & Y Troop attacked Le Hamel. The SS had situated 5 machine gun nests 100 yards in front of the village. Major Lee of 46 Commando takes up the narrative.

“They held their fire until Y and S Troops were 100 yards away and then let fly. Without hesitation the assaulting troops went in, firing their rifles, Brens and tommy guns from the hip. There were two hedgerow obstacles to cross, one of which was lightly wired, but the attack went on. While we were crossing the last obstacle, 30 yards from the enemy machine guns, the Bosche flung their grenades and turned and ran for the defended houses in the village. 

The Commandos then were engaged in fierce street fighting for two hours, the enemy were, according to Major Lee.

“well camouflaged, and obviously very well trained. They darted about from house to house, changing their positions all of the time. Except on one occasion when confronted by a Sherman they showed no inclination to surrender. Their moral was obviously very high.”

Eventually Le Hamel was taken with with two 88mm Guns captured. A & B Troops meanwhile, assaulted Rots – where the higher concentration of SS grenadiers and Panthers were located.  Desperate fighting ensued, a tank on tank battle was taking place in the main street – with the Shermans coming off the worse. At one point B troop was engaged from both flanks and the rear, taking heavy casualties until it was relieved by X and Z Troop and a Sherman Firefly.  

Eventually at 8 o’clock that evening the village was secured. The Canadians had lost six Shermans, whilst two SS Panthers had been destroyed. The Commando’s advance of 7 miles had outstripped that of friendly units on their flanks and they were ordered to pull back for the night.

The following morning,  a company from the Quebec-raised Le Régiment de la Chaudière reinforced the Commandos and the Fort Garry Shermans and managed to secure the whole area. The ‘Chauds’ buried 122 SS men in Rots, while the 46 Commando reported 17 killed, 9 wounded and 35 missing. 

Major General Keller of Commanding 3rd Canadian Infantry Division later wrote to the Royal Marine’s Brigadier Leicester.

“…I must ask you to congratulate for me Lieut-Colonel Hardy and his 46 Commandos, for their thorough dealing with the enemy in and along the river line (Rots and Rosel): my R. de Chauds buried 122 Bosch done in by your chaps.

Be assured we appreciate all this and will deem it an honour to be fighting alongside and preferably with the Royal Marine Commandos”.

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The Bolt Action Force

As discussed above my actual Bolt Action force is a fairly standard army build with 4 squads of infantry and two vehicles. My regular infantry squads represent the Canadian Le Régiment de la Chaudière who reinforced the Commandos. Their cheaper cost also allows me to fit in a fourth infantry squad, which at 1000 points (I’m told) is pretty essential for a novice player.  

There were no Daimler armoured cars at the Battle for Rots, but I had one new in a box and and so it was painted up and joins the fray alongside the Royal Marine Centaur tank.

1000 Points

First Lieutenant (Veteran)

8 Man Commando Section #1
3 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun

8 Man Commando Section #2
3 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun

8 Man Infantry Section (Regular) #1
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun

8 Man Infantry Section (Regular) #2
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun

Medium Mortar (Regular)
Observer

PIAT Team (Regular)

Centaur Close Support Tank (Regular)

Daimler Armoured Car (Regular)

Free Forward Observer (Regular)

National Characteristic: Up and At ‘Em.

Hopefully these guys will perform admirably, like their real life counterparts. We’ll see what the tournament brings.

 

 

 

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