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Operation Dauntless A Photographic Battlefield Tour


Text and photos by Vincent Lefavrais Commentary and formatting by Mark Mokszycki.

In late November, 2010, Vincent Lefavrais took a self-guided tour of the Operation Dauntless
(aka Operation Martlet) battlefield, where the British 49th Polar Bears Division faced off against elements of the German Panzer Lehr and 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer Divisions in June of 1944. During his tour, Vincent took numerous photographs and made extensive notes, which he then kindly posted at the Operation Dauntless forum at consimworld (link below). For those who dont already know, the area in question is Normandy countryside just west of Caen. The kick-off date for the operation was June 25th. The British goal was to seize the village of Fontenay, then push onward to take the hilltop woods near Tessel, and ultimately the high ground near Rauray. This last objective, the Rauray spur, was vital because it overlooked the lower, flatter region to the east, where the larger Operation Epsom was to be launched the following morning. Epsom was an ambitious attempt to outflank Caen from the west. While it ultimately failed, it succeeded in tying down large numbers of powerful panzer divisions. This undoubtedly helped the Allies to break out from the other beach heads. Below: Inspecting a knocked out Mark IV panzer.

As I collected data, I realized that I needed help in researching the rivers and streams of the region. These waterways presented one of the last big unknowns for the game Operation Dauntless. Id thus far been unable to locate reliable data on the width and depth of the waterways, and therefore their effects on the movement of infantry and vehicles was still a best guess. Many historical accounts mention steep slopes that made crossing difficult or impossible for the British tanks, even while the waterways were not particularly wide or deep. But other than this, details were sparse. Enter Vincent! He gathered up his notes, a camera, and a copy of a playtest game map, and set out for the battlefield to do research the old fashioned way with a pair of boots, a map, and a walking stick!

The following material has been pieced together from the excellent posts by Vincent Lefavrais at the Operation Dauntless forum at consimworld. Those wishing to view the original posts and links to original, larger, photos should go here: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@581.bCkgbM8lPJb.44@.1dd4856a/186

3 Finally, Id like to thank Vincent for all his efforts. This kind of information is incredibly valuable to a game designer. Clearly, no book or website can provide the kind of detail seen here. So thank you, Vincent, for all your hard work! -Mark Mokszycki (Designer, Operation Dauntless) Below: Early playtest map of the battlefield by Michael Evans. This is not the final game map. Mark Mahaffey is working on a new playtest map based on actual aerial recon photography from just prior to Operation Dauntless.

4 Below: Vincents markup of the map, showing his locations for the various photos that follow.

Vincent Lefavrais - Dec 1, 2010 (originally posted on Consimworld, Operation Dauntless forum)

The Seulles River


Honor to whom honor is due, let's start with the Seulles, the only watercourse on the Operation Dauntless map that deserves to be called a "river".

Seulles River

The Seulles River at la Ferme du Pont Roch (Spot A) Just off the north map edge, the Seulles is about 10-meter wide at this point.

The Seulles River at the *other* Ferme du Pont Roch (Spot B) The tree line in the middle of the pic is running along the Seulles. This is typical of the watercourses in this area of Normandy; trees, brushes, shrubs, thorns, etc. are growing on the banks of the streams and rivers. In the background, an imposing farm with several big, sturdy buildings. Others like this one can be found throughout the region, and were put to good use by the defending Germans during Operation Dauntless, as shown at the St-Nicolas farm south-east of Fontenay-le-Pesnel, for instance.

The Ruisseau du Pont Saint-Esprit near Bucels (Spot C) This stream, a Seulles affluent, is about 2-meter wide, with a strong current, doubtless strengthened by the recent rainfall. Note the somewhat steep banks (about a half-meter drop) and the ever-present vegetation. It must be something like a half-meter deep.

The Seulles in the northern part of Tilly-sur-Seulles (Spot D) Three pics from the very eastern bank of the Seulles. At this point it is something like 6- or 7-meter wide, with a strong current. The banks drop 1 meter to the water.

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The Seulles at the bridge of Tilly-sur-Seulles (Spot E) The first pic shows gentler banks to the south, and steeper ones to the north (second pic). The third pic shows the typical treeline along the river (to the south).

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The Seulles between Tilly and Juvigny (Spot F) Pic 1: A badly cobbled-together panorama of the Seulles winding snaking the country.

Pics 2-3: An unexpected encounter! I was kneeling down, jotting down notes on my notepad, when I heard a muffled sound; raising up my head, here's what I saw trotting up toward me... At this moment I must have been almost hidden behind the low stone wall running along the trail I was on, itself overgrown with vegetation, but he still saw (or felt?) me!

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The Seulles between Tilly and Juvigny (Spot F) (bis) Better views of the Seulles as I walk down the trail toward the river.

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The Seulles between Tilly and Juvigny (Spot G) As I continue walking South toward Juvigny, the trail comes upon the Seulles. At this point, the river is 7- or 8-meter wide, with a strong current but somewhat gentle banks.

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The Seulles meets the Bordel "River" (Spot H) At this point, the Seulles is a bit narrower (about 5- or 6-meter wide) and a bit more sluggish. A little log bridge crosses the Bordel "river", a 2-meter wide, half-meter deep stream with a very strong current. (We'll follow the Bordel once I'm done with the Seulles.) Third pic, taken from afar, shows as best as possible the soggy nature of the terrain at the bottom of the Seulles valley; the nearest body of water on the photograph is not the river, but water stagnating above the soaked ground which is unable to absorb it. Bocage is a wet terrain type by nature; when heavy rains fall, low grounds can quickly turn into a kind of "marshland".

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The Seulles at Juvigny-sur-Seulles (Spot I) The Seulles at the Juvigny bridges. It's about 7- or 8-meter wide at this point. The third pic (to the South) shows the water-soaked fields bordering the river and its winding, tree-lined course.

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The Seulles at Pont Blanc (Spot J) Pic 2 shows another, better example of the soggy fields bordering the river. Note the ever-present vegetation on the banks. The Seulles is only 5- or 6-meter wide at this point.

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And that's all for the Seulles... Regarding its effects on the game, I'd confidently say that vehicles shouldn't be allowed to cross it except at a bridge. Concerning infantry; now, I obviously didn't try to wade across, but given the Seulles size, I'd say that along the section I surveyed it would be at a really bare minimum 1-meter deep, and often deeper. Coupled with its strong currents, I'd say that this should be quite an obstacle to infantry. Maybe enough to prevent infantry units from crossing it except at bridges, like vehicles? Also, the rain of June 1944 might well have made the terrain worse than what is shown here...

Comments by Mark Mokszycki: While crossing may seem difficult for a lone man, my guess is that the royal engineers can probably make most of these streams easily fordable for a company sized unit, given about thirty minutes to do their job. It's also quite possible to make crude bridges from logs and cables etc. Given the width of the rivers, which are not very wide, 90 minute game turns, and the ingenuity of the British, I don't think infantry should be limited to crossing at "official" bridge hexsides only. I do think there should be some MP penalty, though. At the low extreme, this could be a simple +1 or +2 MPs of their 5 available MPs. Another option might be to require an engineer unit present (but I don't like this option for reasons I won't get into now). A more extreme method would be to have them start their move adjacent to the stream to cross, but I was never 100% keen on this crossing method in other wargames I've played because if you stagger your moves just so, you can move right up to a waterway using your full movement, then cross it the following turn with no slow down. Finally, the most extreme penalty would be to have the infantry unit expend its entire movement to cross. I'm leaning towards the simple +1 or +2 MPs for the reasons outlined above. More playtesting should bear out the best method.

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I agree that the steep banks and soggy ground would seem to make crossing impossible, apart from at bridges. And yet we know that the Brits did ford the waterways using their duplex drive tanks, with mixed results. Currently, this option appears in the play book as an optional rule- 21.10 Mechanized River Crossings. I'll have to spend some time with playtesting it to determine whether it earns its inclusion in the game. In the meantime, I think the standard rule should be that waterways remain unfordable to vehicles except at bridges.

Above: Sherman duplex drive amphibious tank.

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The Streams of the Battlefield


Next, let's have a look at the other watercourses present on the Operation Dauntless map. You'll see that the Seulles is in a class of its own, and that the others should really be called "streams."

Streams

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The Rhne at Pont du Rhne (Spot K) As you can (barely) see, this stream is about 2-meter wide, tops, and a half-meter deep, at most. What make it something of an obstacle are its steep banks overrun with brambles.

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The Rhne West of Vendes (Spot L) Here, the stream is at most 1.5-meter wide and only a few centimer deep. But (and the pics do not show it very well) the bank on which I am standing is about 1.5-meter above the stream and very steep, almost vertical. And the brambles and trees are quite inextricable here.

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The Rhne at Vendes (Spot M) Pic 1 isn't very good, as I couldn't get a better angle (darn %*#@!? trees!) on the stream just before it disappeared under the road... from which it doesnt come out on the other side! The pic doesn't show it well, but as it reaches its end, the Rhne is only 1-meter wide and a few centimeters deep.

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Pic 2 shows the Rhne (its course betrayed by the brush and brambles) crossing a field about 20-meter from the road. At this point, I guess an infantryman could simply jump over it while a tank wouldn't even notice it...

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Unnamed Stream (Spots K & N) Pic 1 shows this unnamed stream at Spot K, where it meets the Rhne. Like it, this stream is about 2meter wide and very shallow.

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Pics 2 (to the North) and 3 (to the South) shows this stream at Spot N, where it runs under the road. It sure looks like not much of an obstacle to infantry, but a vehicle trying to cross it at the south of the road might get in trouble, given the soggy ground...

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The Salbey North of Grainville-sur-Odon (Spot O) Pics 1-3 shows the Salbey to the East...

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... and Pic 4 shows it to the West. At this point (and indeed, farther East as well) it is only 1-meter wide, with the tell-tale trees and brambles lining it to the East. To the West it's almost a ditch with a trickle of water at the bottom...

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Well, it's time for me to hit the sack as it's getting pretty late here and I need the sleep... Beside, I guess that's enough pictures of pitiful rivers for now. I'll post the last batch tomorrow, showing the Bordel, the stream running in the middle of the Operation Dauntless battleground.

Below: British troops advance through Normandy bocage country.

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I also took a few pics of NON-river things. So, as an interlude of sort, before I go back to the Bordel "river", here are a few other pics which might be of interest.

The West Riding Memorial


On the road between Fontenay-le-Pesnel and Rauray stands the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division Memorial. You can see the polar bear divisional insignia on the front of the monument. (I should have taken the time to take a closer pic at the time, but as the daylight was fast decreasing and I had other locations to visit, I was in a kind of a hurry...)

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The Fontenay-le-Pesnel Commonwealth War Cemetery


Facing the memorial, a few hundred meters on the other side of the road, is the Fontenay-le-Pesnel war cemetery. 520 Commonwealth soldiers rest in peace in this place.

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The Streams of the Battlefield (Part II)


Well, I kept the "big" stream for the end: the Bordel. Officially named the "Bordel River", you'll see that it's mostly on par with the other streams I showed you yesterday; it is slightly more imposing in some places but comes nowhere near the Seulles as far as width and depth are concerned. I checked it in many places because of its special spot in Operation Dauntless, as it is running smack in the middle of the battlefield.

Bordel River

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The Bordel meets the Seulles (Spot H) Remember the confluence between the Seulles and the Bordel (the log bridge)? Here's how the Bordel looks at this place. About 2-meter wide, 0.5-meter deep, with a very strong current. It is flowing fast down from Spot P (see below), along a small, wooded, shallow "valley".

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The Bordel West of Fontenay-le-Pesnel, Part I (Spot P) Here the Bordel runs West under a small stone bridge into the small wooded valley for its final run to the Seulles (Pic 1). To the east (Pic 2), it flows through relatively "open" country (at least, as far as bocage is concerned). It is about 2-meter wide and 0.5-meter deep at this point.

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The Bordel West of Fontenay-le-Pesnel, Part II (Spot Q) This cobbled-together panoramic shot shows the Bordel (the "ditch" in the middle of the field) as it runs its course to the East in "open" terrain. Note that the telltale shrubs and brambles are much less present along its course, probably because the field's owner saw to the upkeep of the banks with more care than those of the land plots I posted yesterday.

The Bordel at Les Monts (Spot R) The Bordel's width varies greatly as we near Fontenay; at this spot, it is about 2-meter wide, but shrinks to about 1-meter in some places. It is very shallow, 0.5-meter at most, and will stay this way up to the last place where I checked (Spot X). So it's the last time I'll mention its depth.

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The Bordel at St-Martin, Part I (Spot S) Another stone bridge here (a minor road, not shown on the playtest map) allows a good view of the stream. The Bordel is wider here, about 3 meters, with somewhat steep banks.

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The Bordel at St-Martin, Part II (Spot T) Still 3-meter wide, here the stream has gentler, but thickly wooded banks. Pictures 2-4 are to the North, Pictures 1 and 5 to the South.

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The Bordel at Fontenay-le-Pesnel (Spot U) The Bordel is a bit narrower here, only about 2-meter wide. On Pic 1, the treeline in the background follows the river bed. Pic 3 shows the steep banks at this point; about a half-meter drop to the water.

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The Bordel at Tessel (Spot V) Pics 2-3 show the stream and its tree-lined bed to the North, Pics 1 and 4 the same, but to the South. Except for the small pond just under the bridge (Pic 1), the Bordel is about 2-meter wide in this area.

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The Bordel at La Londe (Spot W) To the North of this small stone bridge (Pic 1), the Bordel's width is slightly larger than on the rest of its course, varying between roughly 2 and 5 meters. To the south (Pic 2), it doesn't exceed 1.5 meter, and is frequently less. Its banks are thickly wooded and steep (Pic 3).

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The Bordel at Le Bordel (Spot X) Finally, the Bordel runs through its eponymous hamlet. Here it is again 1.5- to 2-meter wide, with wooded banks.

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So, this concludes our riparian tour of the battlefield. Now, I think it stands to reason, as Mark wondered last week, to consider at least two river categories for the game, with distinct effects: the Seulles on one hand, and the various streams on the other hands. If I may, I'd suggest for the Seulles to be uncrossable to vehicles and infantry except at bridges. As to the streams, well, I think they should be fordable by infantry for some extra MPs (and muddied boots and battledress ). Setting a rule for vehicles seems a tougher proposition; on the face of it, it looks like these water obstacles could be easily crossed by tracked vehicles (forget wheeled ones, though), but the rainfalls on the first days of the operation turned the surrounding terrain into marshy ground in places, potentially slowing or even preventing armored vehicles to go there. Georges BERNAGE, in La bataille de l'Odon (Heimdal Publishing, 2008) writes about the Salbey: "usually a starved rivulet but the profuse rains had caused it to swell and the whole surrounding sector had become swampy"; I don't have such quotations about all the streams in the battlefield area, but we could reasonably surmise that this applied to other streams. Food for thought. Well, now let's go back to our regular program!

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Comments by Mark Mokszycki: Waterways. Regarding types of waterways I agree that we need at least two types, possibly even three. I think it will be pretty simple to graphically indicate which are rivers (Seulles) vs. streams vs. even smaller soggy gullies (for lack of a better term at this time). Effects on movement would differ for the different types. Vincent has kindly agreed to help me organize a crude map markup which has differing symbols for the different general types of waterways, based on his notes and photos. After we categorize all the waterways on the map, we will pass our markup on to Mark Mahaffey. Mark is creating a new playtest map using actual aerial recon photography of the battlefield. You can see individual houses and even individual trees in orchards at the resolution of the recon photos. Marks map promises to be one of the loveliest and most accurate Normandy maps in any game to date! A final thought on the waterways. No one has really mentioned the fact that waterways can change over time, sometimes quite dramatically. We're not talking about the grand canyon here, but the soft fertile countryside would allow for a lot of shifting and (especially) gradual deepening of streams over 65 years. My guess is that many of these streams with steep, deep banks weren't quite as steep during Op Dauntless. Vincent's tour seems to confirm that the general course of the waterways is basically unchanged, or at least enough so that he could indicate his position using Mike's playtest map. Granted there may be a few new minor drainage streams. But the waterways seem to be generally unchanged, so that's good. No major meanders, etc. The undulating terrain probably doesn't allow for much variation in course over time. Vincent pointed out the extreme weather in June of '44. While the banks may not have been quite as steep in '44, the water was almost certainly deeper due to swelling, and the surrounding low countryside was very soggy. Historical texts seem to confirm this. It's also hard to know the impact of the intentional flooding by the Germans. Despite these unknowns, Vincent's photos give us an excellent starting point. Along with a small handful of historical narratives that mention the banks and depths at various points, I think we can start putting together an educated guess of the nature of the waterways in June '44. Elevation. We received some questions regarding elevation, and whether it will be modeled in the game. The earliest playtest map by Michael Evans does not show elevation. Elevation will be modeled in the final map version. The hills in this region are not very dramatic, or at least they are not really hills in the way Americans typically understand the word. "Gently rolling" might be a more apt description of the terrain. There are certainly a few notable spots, the Rauray spur and the hilltop wood near Tessel among them, that command a nice view of the surrounding countryside. A good example for those who have the Saunders book (Operation Epsom) can be seen in the photo on page 30-31. This photo shows the view from Rauray. You can see that it's not so much about pure elevation, but line of sight. All the undulations make LOS very limited in many parts of the battlefield. Add in all the orchards, tree lined roads and streams, and hedgerows and LOS gets really sticky! The key objectives are on relatively higher ground and they provide nice clear views of the surroundings. And yes, this will be modeled in the game. In game terms, true elevation will be graphically represented, as Mark Mahaffey's map includes a really nice underlayer which causes the terrain art to perfectly mesh with the underlying elevation, giving it a nice 3D effect (I'm sure he can explain this better than I can). This is mostly for graphical flair and added realism, as elevation is

66 only relevant to game play where slope hexsides are indicated on the map. fyi, elevation was not shown in the sample armor duel because the Mike Evans playtest map was a work in progress. I had handed him a crude markup which included slope hexsides, but he never got around to implementing them. Slope hexsides won't exist for all elevation changes- only for the more severe ones which impact combat or LOS. Obviously the historical hilltop objectives will qualify for slope hexsides. There will also be Victory Point costs associated with taking and holding these hilltop objectives. VP rewards aside, the open nature of the nearby terrain, such as the open fields to the east of Rauray, will make it pretty obvious to the players why they would want to hold these objectives. These hilltops offer nice reaction fire opportunities! Below: Typical Normandy bocage country.

Join us at the Operation Dauntless consimworld forum: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?50@741.PQqwa4zqVmP.758@.1dd4856a