In the closing months of 1944, Allied armies were closing in on the Third Reich from all sides. British, American, and Canadian troops had broken out of the Normandy beachhead, destroyed the bulk of von Kluge’s army group, and were already pushing up against the Siegfried Line in the West; in the South, Rome had fallen months earlier to the Americans, commanded by General Mark Clark; soon after, the Allied armies had resumed their northern advance up the Italian Peninsula. The news was just as bad from the Russian Front: there another entire German Army Group, under Field Marshal Busch, had been shattered by the Russian Summer Offensive, “Operation Bagration.” Only the speed and depth of the Russian advance, and the length of the new Russian supply lines had allowed the Wehrmacht to restore some semblance of a front. Despite these multiple catastrophes, Hitler poured over his maps frantically searching for one last offensive opportunity that might reverse the recent string of German defeats: a battlefield victory that could retrieve the Third Reich’s fortunes long enough for the new German “wonder” weapons to make an impact on the war. At the forested section of the German frontier that bordered Belgium and Luxembourg — site of the Germans’ brilliant surprise offensive of 1940 — Hitler finally decided that he had found it. The German Führer would attempt to repeat his earlier military triumph by again attacking through the Ardennes. This desperate military “throw of the dice” would be Hitler’s last major effort to turn the tide of battle in the west. The code name selected for this, Germany’s last winter offensive, was ‘Wacht am Rhein’ which, when translated, meant “Watch on the Rhine.”
Hitler’s ‘Wacht am Rhein’ offensive jumped off, as planned, at 5:30 am on 16 December 1944, with a violent, hour-long artillery bombardment along eighty-five miles of the Allied front line in the Ardennes region of Belgium. As soon as the barrage lifted, the 250,000 men and 1,100 tanks of Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B smashed into the dazed defenders of this thinly held section of the American line. The German offensive that would later come to be called the “Battle of the Bulge” had begun. The German plan was simple: tear a wide hole in the American front and then to rush powerful panzer forces through the newly-formed gap. The panzers, once they had achieved freedom of maneuver, were to force a crossing of the Meuse River, and were then to pivot northwest to seize the port city of Antwerp before the Allied High Command had an opportunity to react. The German seizure of this important Allied supply center would isolate the substantial British, Canadian, and American forces north of Aachen. Hitler hoped this might finally force the Western Allies to accept a separate, negotiated peace with the Third Reich.
‘WACHT AM RHEIN’: The Battle of the Bulge, 16 Dec 44 – 2 Jan 45 is a two-player historical simulation, at the grand tactical (regiment/battalion/company) level, of the surprise German offensive against the American forces deployed along the German frontier in winter of 1944. The game is played using an AM and PM daylight turn, and a Night turn for each day (24 hours) of the battle; players may also choose, if they feel that the advantages outweigh the costs, to conduct operations during a Night Bonus Game Turn. A typical game turn begins with a set of joint player operations all of which are conducted during the AM game turns only. These include the Weather Determination Phase (U.S. player rolls for the day’s weather); the Mutual Air Allocation Stage (both players allocate their air missions for the day), and the Surrender Stage (both players roll to see if any of their isolated (I-2) units surrender). The U.S. player acts first, but both the Allied and German player turns follow an identical sequence of player actions: Mutual Supply Determination Phase; Movement Phase; Bridge Blowing and Bridge Building Phase; and Combat Phase. Following the end of both player turns, there is a Mutual Fatigue Reduction Stage. At the conclusion of the regular Night Game Turn, but before the start of the next day’s AM turn, the U.S. player first, and then the German player may opt to conduct a Night Bonus Game Turn.
‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ offers four standard scenarios. The first two use only a portion of the game’s counters, a single map section, and are a useful means of introducing players to different aspects of the game system. These two introductory games include the Bastogne Scenario (Map Section D), and the Kampfgrüppe Peiper Scenario (Map Section C). The last two game situations use the complete counter mix, all four map sections, and cover the entire ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ battle area. These are: the December 21 – The Race for the Meuse Scenario (which begins play at the “high water” mark of the German offensive); and the Campaign Scenario (which begins on December 16, and covers the entire battle through January 2, 1945). In addition, players may opt to experiment with a number of different optional rules. These include special rules for, among other things: Mechanized Infantry Movement, German Artillery, German “Truppeneinheit” (Commando) units, Von Der Heytde’s Parachute Drop, the 150th Panzer Brigade, Additional Green Units, German Westwall Fortifications, German Free Set Up (bad news for the Allies), and a rule assuming an “All-Out” (maximum) German Effort (really bad news for the Allies).
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ is not a simple game, and it is certainly not a good choice for the casual gamer. However, many serious players with a strong interest in military history have persuasively argued to me that examining specific combat actions at the tactical (company) or grand tactical (battalion) level provides a level of accuracy and information almost never contained in other types of simulations. In short, they contend that this title, Frank Chadwick’s AVALANCHE, and “Red” Jack Radey’s design, KORSUN POCKET, together provide the most complete and “intuitively” accurate narrative currently available on the operational dynamics of individual World War II battles. For my own part, I cannot say one way or the other when it comes to this title because, regrettably, ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ is one of the very few Monster games that I never actually had the opportunity personally to play. None-the-less, players whose judgment I trust have assured me that it is, quite possibly, the best historical simulation of the “Battle of the Bulge” ever published. After examining the game and its components, I am inclined to believe them.
- Time Scale: 4½ hours per AM or PM daylight game turn; 15 hours per night game turn
- Map Scale: 1 mile per hex
- Unit Size: company/battalion/regiment
- Unit Types: infantry, glider infantry, parachute infantry, mechanized infantry/panzergrenadier, reconnaissance, ranger/commando, engineer, towed artillery, airborne artillery, self-propelled artillery, rocket, anti-tank gun, armor/panzer/tank destroyer/assault gun, headquarters, and information markers
- Number of Players: two or more (teams highly recommended)
- Complexity: above average/high
- Solitaire Suitability: average (if pushing around 1,500+ unit counters doesn’t bother you)
- Average Playing Time: 6 + hours (assuming experienced teams and depending on the scenario; for the fifty-five turn Campaign Game, think in terms of months, not hours)
- Four 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Terrain Key and Abbreviated Sequence of Play incorporated)
- 1600 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ Rules Booklet (with scenario instructions and American Battalion Breakdown Table incorporated)
- Two identical back-printed 11” x 14” combined Game Charts and Tables (with Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Artillery Effects Table, Weather Table, Supply and Fatigue Effects Summary, Truppeneinheit Table, March Mode Interdiction Table, Green Unit Table, and German parachute Drop Table included)
- One 11” x 17” Axis Turn Record/Reinforcement Track (with German Air Mission Control Display, Weather Track, and Ground Track incorporated)
- One 11” x 17” Allied Turn Record/Reinforcement Track (with U.S. Air Mission Control Display incorporated)
- One small six-sided Die
- Two SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Boxes (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic box with Title Sheets
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of most of these titles; all six of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU