By Ian Underwood
As soon as I’d read the ‘Normandy Royal Marine Commando Troop‘ article and accompanying list published on the Warlord website last year I knew that my second Bolt Action army would be a force that represented the Royal Marines in the North-Western theatres post D-Day.
With MOAB (Mother of All Battles) tournament in October 2017 as a goal, I planned to build a force based on RM 46 Commando‘s successful assault on the villages of Le Hamel and Rots five days after landing on D-Day, (a different Le Hamel to the village at Gold Beach). Here 46 Commando, with support from RM Centaur tanks and Canadian Shermans, fought and forced back a highly organised and dug-in SS Panzer Grenadier company supported by Panthers from 12th SS Panzer Regiment – an impressive feat of arms!
But as I researched further my proposed new army transitioned from a Normandy force into one that would represent the amphibious assault on the heavily fortified island of Walcheren by RM Commandos. The final operation in the Battle for the Scheldt, in which the port of Antwerp was opened up to allied shipping.
Read on to discover the historical inspiration behind this new army.
Although the Allies had captured the vital Belgian port of Antwerp largely intact in early September 1944, the German’s still controlled key areas of the vast Scheldt estuary – a vast waterway running 50 miles from the North Sea to Antwerp. At this stage the Allied lines of supply were stretched hundreds of miles from the ports on the Normandy coast to the front lines and the establishment of more northerly ports was a high priority. The northern French ports of Calais and Dunkirk had yet to be captured, despite being under heavy siege.
After the failure of Operation Market Garden in September, and at the urging of American high command, Montgomery made securing the the Scheldt estuary a priority above all other operations under his command. It took 5 weeks of hard fighting in the daunting, waterlogged coastal terrain against tenacious and highly-organised German defenders to complete the objective.
The final phase of the Battle for the Scheldt was Operation Infatuate – the assault on the heavily fortified island of Walcheren by Royal Marine and Inter-Allied Commandos from the sea, and Canadian and Scottish forces plus French Inter-Allied Commandos from the mainland.
Walcheren was a partially reclaimed island at the mouth of the estuary. It was connected to the mainland by a narrow but long causeway and was defended by approximately 10,000 German troops. The approaches to Antwerp from the sea were dominated by a series of formidable German gun emplacements. Nothing could enter the Scheldt without first passing these batteries. In fact the island was one of the strongest fortified sections of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’.
As the majority of the island’s interior was below sea level, a plan was hatched for air bombardment to breach the sea walls and flood the entire interior of the island, thus keeping the defenders pinned to the external dunes and without meaningful resupply. The Commandos would assault the coast in amphibious craft, that would also allow complete freedom of movement within the flooded island if required.
On the 1st of November 4th Commando Brigade (41, 47 & 48 Commando plus a small force of Belgian & Norwegian Inter-Allied Commandos) assaulted the island from the sea. In stark contrast to Normandy, most of the Brigade landed in amphibious Buffaloes, disgorged by LCTs (Landing Craft Tank). The commandos landed at Westkapelle with 47 & 48 Commando branching south towards Flushing whilst 41 Commando and No 10 Inter-Allied Commando branched north towards Domberg. Their objectives were to capture all of the German coastal and anti-aircraft batteries and radar installations along the dunes, hold them against potential counter-attacks and link up with the allies assaulting from the mainland.
After three days of hard fighting along the dunes, with all objectives secured or destroyed, the RM Commandos linked up with the Allied forces who had assaulted the island from the East and South – and the Battle for Walcheren Island was over.
Within hours of the capture of the last shore battery, minesweepers were in the Scheldt sweeping for the hundreds of mines that lay along its length. By the end of the month Allied shipping was unloading in Antwerp and the lines of supply were dramatically reduced.
Creating The Bolt Action Force
Creating a Walcheren RM Commando force for Bolt Action is somewhat limiting when compared to the options available in most generic and theatre lists. Only 41 Commando landed with armoured support, namely Churchill AVREs and Sherman Crab anti-mine tanks from the 79 Amoured Division. 47 & 48 Commando landed with essentially what their Buffaloes and support craft could carry – 3 inch mortars being their heaviest ordinance.
Much like D-Day however, the commandos relied heavily on Naval bombardments from the 15 inch guns of HMS Warspite and two Royal Navy monitors, which pounded the German positions. 25 support landing craft also steamed in close exchanging fire with the shore batteries. (The bravery of these support craft, coming close inshore greatly factored in the relatively light casualties the assaulting Commandos. The cost to the support land craft was heavier, as only 4 out of the 25 was still operational at the end of the day!).
If anyone complains about the free arty observer for my list I’ll point them to the HMS Warspite, sitting 50 metres over the road lobbing 15″ shells onto the board. 😉
No theatre selector from the Armies of Great Britain book adequately fits the Commandos at Walcheren as the ‘Normandy RM Commando Troop list contains no Buffaloes – so I’ve had to use the Generic Reinforced Platoon selector.
First draft 1250 Point MOAB List
First Lieutenant (Veteran)
7 man Commando Section #1
1 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun
7 man Commando Section #2
1 SMG / 1 Vickers K Gun
7 man Commando Section #3
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun
7 man Commando Section #3
1 SMG / 1 Bren Gun
Medium Mortar (Regular)
PIAT Team (Regular)
LVT Buffalo # 1 (Regular)
LVT Buffalo # 2 (Regular)
Extra hull mounted MMG
Sherman V (Regular)
Free Forward Observer (Regular)
National Characteristic Blood curdling charge
This list pretty accurately represents a 41 Commando force as it assaulted Westkapelle and Domberg to the north of the island. I’ve opted for a PIAT team to compensate for a lack of Anti Tank options aside from the Sherman V, although I’m reconsidering the PIAT in favour of spamming anti-tank grenades on all my commandos.
What are your thoughts?
Everything’s being assembled and painted now, stay tuned for more updates.