Partir, c’est mourir un peu
(or how the French didn’t surrender after all, with a major twist at the end)
The second game in what (spoilers?) now probably will be a series based on https://www.1940lafrancecontinue.org. An report of this game can be found at https://milmud.clwg.org/2020/06/france-fights-on-for-now.
A quick recap of what went before: the French cabinet meets on June 16, 1940, in Bordeaux to discuss a proposal by the British Government to merge Britain and France into one state (or, alternatively, whether to ask the Germans for an armistice). Historically, after this meeting, Reynaud resigned, Marshal Pétain was able to form a government and ‘negotiate’ an armistice; in the game, despite opposition from Pétain and Chautemps, the government decided, despite politely refusing the British offer of a union, to continue the war.
So, naturally, the sequel was about actually fighting that war. There were five players:
- the Prime Minister (Paul Reynaud);
- the Undersecretary for National Defence (an obscure brigadier by the name of Charles de Gaulle);
- the Minister for Armaments (Raoul Dautry);
- the Commander-in-Chief of the Army (determined to be Benoît Besson at this point, Weygand having resigned)
- the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy (François Darlan)
The starting situation (sadly I forgot to save the map at this point as an image) was more or less the real situation on June 16; Paris is taken, the Germans have crossed the Seine at most points, but the armies in the east behind the Maginot Line are mostly untouched, as is the Armée des Alpes facing the Italians.
The game starts
After an initial recap of the situation, Cabinet discussion very quickly moved to concrete actions to take. Evacuating the Jean Bart and the Richelieu, new battleships under construction, to safe Oran was an easy decision. After this, the principle of withdrawing the army to a defensible line more to the south was quickly established; there was some discussion about what to do with Brittany and Saint Nazaire, but in the end de Gaulle’s proposal was accepted to have a final defense line from Rochefort, along the Charente and its affluents, the north edge of the Massif Central to the Jura.
(There was also some talk of conducting fake negotiations with the Germans to try and figure out their intentions, but this never really went anywhere).
I’d decided to have a die roll every ‘turn’ to determine whether 1) the Germans stop to get their logistics in order and 2) the Italians join the war. On the first turn, this would happen on a 1, and unsurprisingly neither thing happened the first time around. The Germans followed up on the French withdrawal, being held up by a delay line Le Havre-Orléans-Nevers-Pontarlier where the French Fourth and Sixth Army sacrificed themselves to delay the German advance. All other armies made it to the fortified line (roughly from Saint Nazaire across to Geneva, with the Tenth Army going into Brittany) more or less unmolested; the Second Army Group withdrew from the Maginot Line without incident. The transfer of men (evacuated through Dunkirk) from the UK to North Africa also started.
During the second turn, the Minister for Armaments came back from an inspection trip and started implementing a strategy for evacuating strategically important industrial plants; as a first step, the aviation and tank industry was shut down and moved to North Africa insofar as possible. It was decided to keep munitions, anti-tank and anti-air production going because shutting this down would very negatively impact the fighting ability of the remaining armies.
On the instigation of de Gaulle, it was also determined a counterattack should be launched somewhere, just to show Germany, France, and the world that France was still fighting on. After a bit of discussion, this task fell to Gen. Altmayer’s Tenth Army (and, for political reasons, Gen. Hering’s Armée de Paris). The Navy also set up a plan to bombard Oostende and Zeebrugge, using the old battleships Courbet and Paris (falsely reported by me as pre-dreadnoughts, when in fact they were La Royale’s first dreadnoughts – still pre-First World War vintage, though).
At the end of the turn, the Italians still did not join the war, but I did roll a 2, so the Germans decided to stop for some logistics just as the Tenth Army was launching their attack. As a result, the attack was actually a massive success, causing quite a bit of damage to the German side.
(For the bombardment of Belgium, I just decided to roll a die to see how many battleships would become casualties – of course I rolled a 6, which seemed a bit too much, but I did report that two British battleships and the two French battleships were heavily damaged and limping back to Britain).
In the last turn, the big decision to make was about long-term plans: do we try to defend (a part of) France, or do we evacuate to North Africa (and attack Libya)? Jim made the good point that the automatic instinct of any hindsight-equipped 21st century player is to go for the African solution, because the North African campaign is so famous and preventing the Afrikakorps from happening is such a natural thing to do.
Another, less important, decision was to also try and defend Brittany – a task that fell to the glorious Tenth Army, supported by a British expeditionary force – I judged that the British Government would perhaps have an interest in keeping a toehold in Brittany if possible.
But this government decided to do something else, and try to defend the Resistance Line as far as possible, even moving the evacuated troops back to France. It’s possibly a more historical decision, because leaving metropolitan France is not an easy decision for any government.
And so, the perfect cliffhanger for the third game in this series: the German assault on what I think we can now call the De Gaulle Line.
If it happens. Another good point made by Jim in the post-game discussion was that in this situation, the German High Command is in a very interesting situation. Hitler expects a quick victory, but now finds himself with neither France nor Britain having surrendered despite being defeated, and what he really wants to do is attack the Soviet Union. And the German Army really doesn’t want to fight a long war, especially not against a depleted but more experienced French army, in more defensible terrain.
So, the second-and-a-halfth game in the series will come first: the game where the German High Command decides what to do now…Carpet eating will probably ensue.
As for game design, I don’t think that we learned a lot, other than that Conceptboard is a really useful tool for putting up games without needing a lot of preparation. And that (at least at CLWG) you can put up games like this without having to think a lot about the rules – players are active and knowledgeable enough that winging it just works. But that is not a conclusion that will be a massive surprise to regular readers of these pages…