The Belgian Resistance
Panzer Campaigns Scheldt '44 , for the first time introduces resistance fighters into the series. Mike Prucha took time out of his busy schedule to write this blog post on the rarely covered, but fascinating Belgian Resistance movement.
The Belgian Resistance consisted of many organizations, some local and some national, with competing ideologies and goals and therefore cannot be thought of as a singular entity or movement. Due to sharp political divisions, efforts to unify the various organizations under a single command failed and the Belgian Resistance always remained fractured. Though the various organizations were divided politically, they shared many of the same short goals, adopted similar methods, and engaged in many of the same activities. Resistance activities can be divided into two broad categories: passive or civil resistance and active or military resistance. While some resistance groups focused on one or the other, most major Belgian resistance organizations engaged in both.
Major Resistance Organizations
The major armed resistance organizations which participated in the liberation battles are described below. Organizations devoted to strictly civil resistance or which were very small or specialized are omitted.
Armée secrete/Geheim Leger (AS/GL)
The Armée secrète/Geheim Leger was by far the largest and most capable resistance group in Belgium during the liberation. The AS/GL’s origins date to late 1940 with the formation of the Légion belge and the Armée belge reconstituée. These two organizations, both led by veterans of the 1940 campaign and dedicated to the continuation of the war, merged in 1941 and, after a couple of name changes and significant reorganization, became the AS/GL in early 1944. The AS/GL was a strictly military organization dedicated to preparing for a guerrilla war. True to its name, the AS/GL was to remain largely invisible until ordered into action.
The AS/GL was not politically affiliated and much of its membership had no political agenda other than the overthrow of the occupiers, but it always remained associated with the far right, royalist politics of one of its predecessor Légion belge. Due to its perceived support of the monarchy, a certain mistrust always existed between the Belgian parliament in London and AS/GL. Nonetheless, British military authorities recognized that the AS/GL was the organization most capable of taking military action and chose to support it.
The AS/GL was divided into five zones, each zone was further divided into sectors, and each sector command controlled one or more “shelters” (réfuges or schuiloorden). Each shelter was a secure, hidden location where AS/GL members stockpiled arms and trained. When the order to mobilize was issued, the men would report to their designated shelters where they were to be issued arms and organized into companies. Company strength varied from a few dozen to about 150 men. Most shelters mobilized a single company, but some mobilized two or more. One of the largest shelters, Schuiloord Overpelt, mobilized nine companies totaling 1200 men. The AS/GL headquarters in Brussels controlled additional assets, including signals, transport, engineer, and mobile reserve units. On the eve of liberation, the AS/GL numbered somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 men.
(All images can be clicked for full-size where applicable)[caption id="attachment_2148" align="alignnone" width="640"] An AS/GL squad posing with a German prisoner[/caption]
The AS/GL relied on supply drops from the SOE for weapons and equipment. Drops typically included STEN guns, rifles, hand grenades, and demolition materials. For most of 1944, the SOE strongly prioritized the FFI and relatively few supply drops were conducted in the Low Countries. As a result, only a fraction of the AS/GL had been armed by September 1st. The armament that had been received was not evenly distributed across the country. The AS/GL in around Mechelen, for example, was lavishly equipped with a high proportion of automatic weapons in each company while armament in the Brasschaat sector was “non-existent.” The lack of arms seriously hampered AS/GL efforts in the early days of the campaign. Of the 400 men who reported for duty at the Mosthuis shelter (near Leopoldsburg), 300 had to be sent home due to a lack of weapons. The deficiency was gradually overcome during the liberation battles as advancing Allied columns distributed weapons and resistance fighters inherited captured German arms. Concerned that its members might be treated as francs-tireurs by the Germans, the AS/GL adopted an official uniform consisting of a white (or off-white) jumpsuit and black beret. A patch with the Belgian lion and an armband with the colors of the Belgian flag were worn on the left sleeve. Photographic evidence suggests that some members chose to retain the bonnet de police of the 1940 army in place of the beret.
Mouvement national belge/Belgisch National Beweging (MNB/BNB)
Belgian National Movement
Founded in 1940, the MNB/BNB was strongly associated with the center-right Bloc Catholique Belge party and closely aligned with the Belgian government-in-exile. The MNB/BNB involved itself in a wide array of resistance activities, both civil and military. At the height of its operations, it maintained and extensive intelligence network which passed on information to London and ran the Belgian portion of the Comet Line which helped to exfiltrate downed Allied airman. In addition, the MNB/BNB printed the clandestine newspaper Le Voix des Belges and its members hid Jews and other threatened people and conducted acts of sabotage.
Like the AS/GL, the MNB/BNB divided the country into Zones which roughly corresponded to the Belgian provinces. Each zone was subdivided into sectors, and each sector command controlled several local “brigade” commands. Unfortunately, a precise reconstruction of the MNB/BNB’s entire organization is not possible.
In February 1944, the MNB/BNB was compromised, and mass arrests crippled its national leadership. Though it was not dissolved, the organization largely collapsed and was incapable of further coordinated action. In Limburg Province the local MNB/BNB commands were absorbed by the AS/GL. By September, MNB/BNB activities were mostly restricted to the western portions of Hainaut and Flanders where the organization maintained close ties to the FFI. Though only a shadow of its former self, MNB/BNB members were among the first resistance fighters to greet the Allies.
Front de l’indépendence/Onafhankelijkheidsfront (FI/OF)
Founded in 1941, the FI/OF represented the communist resistance in Belgium. Though officially a national organization, it was strongest in Hainaut, Namur, Brussels, and the major cities in Flanders. It maintained only a limited presence in Limburg and the eastern portions of the country. Like the MNB/BNB, it involved itself in both civil and military resistance, including the sheltering of Jews, clandestine press, forgery, intelligence gathering, and sabotage. The armed wing of the FI/OF was the Armée belge des partisans or Partisans armés (armed partisans). Many other left or far left sub-organizations existed within the FI/OF, among them the Milices patriotiques (patriotic militias), a communist youth movement.
On paper, the Partisans armés (PA) maintained a strict hierarchical organization. Sector commands controlled several corps which in turn were divided into battalions and companies, each with a prescribed allotment of personnel. In practice, PA organization was more flexible, especially during the liberation. Though the Belgian government did not recognize the FI/OF, PA, and other communist organizations, the SOE maintained contact with the partisans and provided them with some equipment.
Mouvement national royaliste/Nationale Koninklijke Beweging (MNR/NKB)
National Royalist Movement
The MNR/NKB was as far right on the political spectrum as the FI/OF was left. Founded by university students in Aarschot, the MNR/NKB was explicitly anti-democratic and held that Belgium’s 1940 defeat was the direct result of a democratically elected, divided, and impotent parliament. The MNR/NKB leadership’s vision for post-occupation Belgium was of an authoritarian, militarized state ruled by King Leopold III. Though its fascist politics bore some similarity to collaborationist parties like the VNV and DeVlag, the MNR/NKB was nationalist, monarchist, opposed to Flemish separatism, and thoroughly anti-German. The MNR/NKB’s activities mirrored those of other organizations – MNR/NKB members sheltered Jews, published clandestine newspapers, committed acts of sabotage, and prepared for a military campaign against the occupiers.
The internal organization is unknown, but it likely resembled other organizations. Though officially a nationwide movement, the MNR/NKB was practically non-existent in Wallonia. Its strength lay in Antwerp, Ghent, Mechelen, Leuven, and Brussels. Prominent local chapters are also known to have existed in Sint-Niklaas and Turnhout. The Bruges NKB organization was shut down after mass arrests in 1943.[caption id="attachment_2158" align="alignnone" width="481"] Antwerp MNR/NKB Fighters[/caption]
Witte-Brigade Fidelio was founded in Antwerp by Marcel Louette, a veteran of both 1914-18 and 1940. Louette’s group was particularly active during the occupation, involving itself in both passive and active resistance. Witte Brigade-Fidelio disseminated anti-German propaganda, hid Jews, and other vulnerable people, maintained a list of collaborators, gathered intelligence about German Flak defenses and troop movements, and conducted several high-profile acts of sabotage and vandalism. It was the only major resistance movement headquartered in Flanders and it was particularly active in the Flemish region, though it also had a limited presence in Wallonia.
In May 1944, the Gestapo arrested most of the Antwerp membership, including Louette, and Witte Brigade-Fidelio was decapitated. Once among the most significant resistance groups in Antwerp, Witte Brigade-Fidelio could muster just twenty men to participate in the battle for the liberation of the city, all of whom were placed under the command of local FI/OF and PA leader Edouard Pilaet. Though the national organization was crippled, and the Witte Brigade had been largely rooted out of Antwerp, some local chapters continued to thrive[caption id="attachment_2157" align="alignnone" width="900"] Witte Brigade-Fidelio members[/caption]
Some confusion exists concerning Witte Brigade-Fidelio. The terms witte brigade and brigade blanche were used as generic terms for the entire Belgian resistance and were also adopted by some local groups that had no national affiliation. Witte Brigade-Fidelio was a specific, and rather small, organization. “Fidelio” was Louette’s codename and was added to the national organization’s name post-liberation to distinguish it from other groups. Allied officers would have been largely ignorant of the distinction between the various resistance groups and war diaries routinely use “white brigade” or “white army” in the generic sense. This use of “white brigade” has trickled down into secondary sources, and English-language historians seldom take time to differentiate between the various resistance organizations or clarify that “white brigade” does not necessarily mean Witte Brigade-Fidelio. This had led less discriminating online sources (Wikipedia, among others) to misattribute certain acts of resistance to Witte Brigade-Fidelio.
Belgian Military Resistance Organization
Like the AS/GL, OMBR was dedicated to military resistance and relied on veterans of the 1940 campaign, however it never achieved the same national prominence as the AS/GL nor the backing of London. Like the MNR/NKB, the OMBR was associated with far-right politics and support for the monarchy. Though one of the smaller groups overall, OMBR had local significance in Brussels and Ghent. The acronym “OMBR” was intentionally selected to resemble the French word ombre, meaning “shadow.”
Kempisch Legioen (KL)
The KL was a local resistance movement dedicated to the liberation of the Campine region (Dutch: De Kempen) through military means including sabotage and guerilla warfare. The KL was organized into nine platoons, each responsible for a different section of the Campine. In theory, each of these platoons was to have between 250 and 300 men. In practice the numbers were much lower and during the liberation the platoons had no more than a few dozen to a hundred men. Much of the KL’s leadership was arrested in the spring of 1944 but the platoons continued to operate, working closely with the AS/GL and MNR/NKB.
Armée de la libération (AL)
Although it played no role in the battles covered in Scheldt ’44, a discussion of the armed Belgian resistance groups would not be complete without mention of the Armée de la libération. The AL was associated with the Christian Democratic movement and its activities resembled those of other resistance groups. It was centered around Liège and its members played a role in the liberation of that city.
The Belgian Resistance in Action
It is difficult the assess the strength of the armed Belgian resistance on the eve of the liberation. Strength estimates for the largest organization, Armée secrète/Geheim Leger, range from 45,000 to 60,000 effectives nationwide. The second largest militarized group, the Partisans armés, had a recognized membership of about 13,000, though this figure represents total members from 1941 to 1944, not the actual strength during the liberation battles. Estimating the strength of the PA is further complicated by the large number of milices patriotiques and other FI/OF personnel which fought with the PA in September that were not necessarily recognized as PA members. The other organizations would have contributed several hundred or a few thousand fighters, likely bringing the total strength of Belgian armed resistance movements to at least 70,000, probably more.
The Guerilla War
The AS/GL’s planned guerilla campaign never materialized in the western half of the country. London only ordered the AS/GL to mobilize on September 1st, the day before Allied troops entered Belgium. This did not provide enough time for AS/GL fighters to report to their designated shelters and organize. Furthermore, the AS/GL and other groups were not uniformly well-armed. In East and West Flanders, the Resistance was particularly hampered by a lack of weapons. The lack of warning coupled with the fact that the Germans were in full retreat by the time the war returned to Belgium meant that large swaths of the country were liberated with little Resistance involvement. In the eastern half the country, especially in Limburg province and the Ardennes, the Resistance was more successful in conducting guerilla operations, partly because the terrain was more favorable and partly because they had more time to organize in the east prior to the arrival of Allies. Guerrilla attacks mostly targeted small groups of retreating or demoralized Germans, but sometimes involved hit and run attacks on better organized columns. Even outfits that were poorly armed found ways to hinder German movement. The badly armed KL, for instance, hindered laying nails and abatis on the roads, removing road signs, cutting wires, and sabotaging bridges.
The crowning achievement of the Belgian Resistance was the certain capture of the Antwerp port. In late August, members of a company sized MNR/NKB group under Eugène Colson, codenamed “Harry,” disabled demolition charges in the Antwerp port in late August. On September 1st, the Antwerp resistance received a message from London indicating a state of general alert. A second message arrived on the second ordering them to distribute arms and ready themselves for battle. On the night of the 3rd, the Antwerp resistance was ordered to go into action the following day. Early on the 4th Colson’s NKBers went into action, first seizing the old Bonaparte Dock and then fighting their way to the northwest, eventually seizing the Kruisschans Lock on September 7th. Meanwhile other AS/GL, PA, and MNR/NKB groups fought for the interior of the city and provided flank guards and guides for the approaching 11th Armoured Division. The Resistance continued to operate around Antwerp over the coming weeks, clearing the left bank of the Scheldt between September 9th and 20th (and suffering heavy losses in fighting at Kallo and Fort Sint-Marie) and executing a successful offensive to capture Wilmarsdonck.
The Role of Coordinating Committees
While the Belgian Resistance could not be unified at the national level, local cooperation did occur. Committees were established in important cities and towns to direct the actions of local resistance groups. The best-known of these committees was the Comité de Coordination in Antwerp, led by Lt. Urbain Reniers of the AS/GL and Edouard Pileat of the FI/OF. The Bevrijdingscomité (“Liberation Committee”) in Ghent, chaired by OMBR Maj. Carlier, coordinated the actions of all non-AS/GL groups in the city. Other coordinating committees were known to have existed in Turnhout and Sint-Niklaas.
Local cooperation was not always possible. Near Tongeren, the AS/GL disarmed and imprisoned the local partisans, while efforts to consolidate KL and PA commands around Geel ended in the dismissal of the partisans due to their alleged participation in looting.[caption id="attachment_2164" align="alignnone" width="550"] Lt. Urbain Reniers of the AS/GL (center) co-chaired the Antwerp Coordinating Committee[/caption]
Retribution Against Collaborators
As in France and Netherlands, the Belgian resistance often dealt harshly with collaborators. Both Witte Brigade-Fidelio and the MNB/BNB maintained extensive lists of known collaborators who were to be arrested after the liberation. FI/OF and MNR/NKB propaganda urged its readers to show no mercy. A 1943 edition of Vrij Volk, an MNR/NKB publication, minced no words: “[Collaborators] will be given the choice of the bullet or the noose.” Collaborators who did not flee to Germany were often seized and subjected to public humiliation or even summary execution. Noel Cerfont, author of L’armée secrète : historique de la zone II, labeled such acts “unpatriotic.” Cerfont places the blame for these acts on the Witte Brigade, the communists, and other “amateurs.”
Cooperation with the Allies in the Liberation Battles
In liberated areas the AS/GL and other groups fell under Allied command. Individual resistance fighters were embedded into Allied formations as guides and interpreters while larger platoon, company, and even battalion sized formations acted as flank guards, conducted patrols and raids, and guarded sensitive areas in the rear. While most resistance groups stayed “close to home” and only operated locally, the Brussels and Mechelen organizations dispatched units across the country. From Mechelen, a battalion under Major Vansighem joined 7th Armoured Division during its fight in East Flanders and participated in the liberation of Sint-Niklaas, a company under De Meester reinforced the Antwerp resistance, and another company was sent to Turnhout. Groupement Gonze, formed from four companies from the Brussels suburbs, together with Escadron Brumagne, part of the AS/GL mobile reserve, reinforced the Allies at Antwerp. Other AS/GL mobile reserve units were dispatched from Brussels to the Ardennes.
Assessment of the Resistance in the Liberation Battles
As previously mentioned, the AS/GL’s guerilla war was never fully realized due to a lack of weaponry and insufficient warning from the Allies. The guerilla operations that did occur in Limburg and the Ardennes certainly represented a persistent nuisance, but likely were not a decisive factor in the campaign. Sabotage was easily repaired, abatis easily cleared, and most direct attacks were on a small scale against already disorganized opposition. Nonetheless, the presence of the Resistance in the German rear areas surely had a demoralizing effect. So long as the Resistance was active, the German soldiers knew they were in unfriendly territory and no German who strayed from an organized unit could consider himself safe. The Resistance fighters were perhaps most successful when cooperating directly with the Allies as flank guards or guides. Commonwealth war diaries and divisional histories frequently reference utility of the Belgian Resistance in these roles. The actions of the Antwerp Resistance were critical not only to the liberation of Belgium but to the larger Allied war effort. Had the Belgians not captured the port intact; it is likely that the Germans would have destroyed the harbor facilities and Allied supply woes could have dragged on much longer than they did.
The Belgian Resistance in the Scheldt Campaign
While most all of Belgium was liberated by late September, elements of the Belgian Resistance continued to operate with the Allies throughout October in the battles to open the Scheldt River.
The Ghent Resistance formed two company-sized combat groups to fight with the Allies in Zeelandic Flanders: Kolonne Tito, formed from volunteers from the Ghent FI/OF and PA, and Mobiele Groep “La Sarcelle,” formed from volunteers from the AS/GL shelters La Sarcelle and Le Héron. The La Sarcelle group was assigned to Polish 1st Armoured Division from September 12th to the 22nd and participated in the fighting on the Axel-Hulst Canal. On the 23rd it was assigned to the 4th Canadian Armoured Division where it was positioned on the perimeter of the Breskens Pocket between Sint-Laureins and Ede. With the arrival of the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the night of October 5th-6th, the La Sarcelle group was relocated to the Moerkerke sector. The group was demobilized on October 26th having lost nineteen dead and additional wounded during the campaign. Kolonne Tito fought with the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade for the duration of its existence, first participating in the Canadian push toward Philippine and Terneuzen in mid-September and later holding a section of the front behind the Leopold Canal. Kolonne Tito helped to liberate Watervliet, Sint-Margriet, and Waterland Oudeman before it was demobilized.
The Belgian elements under 2nd Canadian Infantry in October were designated “Belgium Force.” Belgium Force’s organization seems to have been flexible and it is impossible to be certain about all changes to its composition during the campaign. At the beginning of the month, it was likely divided into two principal commands. The first, under FI/OF leader Edouard Pileat, consisted of about 180 or 200 fighters, mostly from the PA. The second was Groupement Gonze. Dispatched to Antwerp in mid-September, Groupement Gonze initially consisted of four AS/GL companies raised in the Brussels suburbs. On October 2nd it had additionally taken command of about 80 men from the Antwerp AS/GL, an AS/GL company from Mechelen, a detachment from the AS/GL reserve Escadron Brumagne, and Eugène Colson’s MNR/NKB company.
Groupement Gonze participated in the Battle of Merksem, attacking with 4th CIB on October 2nd. The Belgians suffered heavy losses at Merksem and were withdrawn from combat after Canadian officers expressed concern that the Groupement’s female medics were in being placed in harm’s way. Belgium Force continued operating with 4th CIB during the advance north from Antwerp and, from October 5th, cooperated with 6th CIB in holding 2nd CID’s long right flank. “Saint Force,” formed for an attack on Kalmthout on October 8th, included a detachment from Belgium Force, probably some of Pilaet’s partisans. On October 14th, the Belgians were recalled to Antwerp for reorganization – the resistance forces were being demobilized and transitioned to a regular army. It is unclear to what extent this recall was carried out, but there is a period from October 15th-19th in which the Belgians do are not mentioned the war diaries of 2nd CID or its subordinate brigades. On October 20th, 6th CIB was reinforced by 450 Belgians, “well-equipped, dressed as Cdn soldiers, and armed with [Canadian] weapons.” The 2nd CID war diary makes it clear that these were part of Groupement Gonze. The Gonze group continued to fight with the Canadians for another eight days, participating in the final assault on Woensdrecht and Operation Vitality. The Belgians were withdrawn for good on October 28th and elements of Belgium Force later formed the 13e bataillon de fusiliers.
The UK I Corps was also supported by a group of Belgians. This group, about the size of a weak battalion, was commanded by Major Van Nyen and consisted of five companies drawn from various resistance organizations: 1st Coy Brussels PA; 2nd Turnhout MNR/NKB; 3rd Turnhout AS/GL; 4th Turnhout KL; 5th Mechelen AS/GL. In early October Van Nyen’s companies were principally used as flank guards. Two of his companies were deployed between Ravels and Arendonck as part of “Eyckynforce,” which filled the gap between I Corps and XII Corps. On October 23rd, prior to Operation Thruster, the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade operational orders mention two Belgian companies under its command. These likely correspond to Groep Van Nyen. Like Groupement Gonze, Van Nyen’s unit may have undergone reorganization and rearmament prior to the later stage of the Scheldt Campaign. The Van Nyen group was withdrawn to Belgium on October 28th.
Disarmament and Regularization
Concerned over unruly behavior by resistance groups in the interior of the country, in early October the Belgian government ordered all groups not actively cooperating with the Allies at the front or deemed essential to rear-area security to turn in their weapons. Resistance fighters were to return to civilian life or enlist in the regular Belgian Army. Though the British had previously promised to train and equip a Belgian Army Corps of two divisions, Belgium first had to meet the requirements imposed by SHAEF. This included providing personnel for fifty LoC defense battalions plus additional engineer, transport, and commando units. The Belgians were exclusively issued British kit. While principally engaged in guard duties in the rear areas, two Belgian fusilier battalions participated in combat during the Battle of the Bulge and others saw action in the Netherlands and Germany.
Representation in Scheldt ‘44
Order of Battle
As mentioned in the previous blogpost, Scheldt ’44 includes five order of battle files, and the representation of Belgian forces varies from OOB to OOB. In the early September OOB, most Belgian resistance forces are grouped separately from the 21st Army Group. Because not all resistance groups are well-documented and resistance forces were inherently flexible in their organization and composition, it is not possible to construct a precise or complete order of battle. We have attempted to reflect the internal structure of the various organizations, though this is not always possible beyond the highest command echelons due to a lack of documentation. Where possible, individual units are named after actual companies or after local resistance leaders. Where this is not possible, they are simply named after the local town or village in which they were based. We’ve usually erred on the side of underrepresentation rather than overrepresentation of the Belgian Resistance, only including units that correspond to known resistance companies or cells and using unit strengths that are the lower end of what might be a reasonable estimate. In later period OOBs, fewer Belgian resistance units are included and more of them are placed under the direct command of Allied divisions or corps.[caption id="attachment_2165" align="alignnone" width="517"] Belgian Resistance in the Early September OOB[/caption][caption id="attachment_2166" align="alignnone" width="482"] Belgian forces under I Corp in early October[/caption]
Most resistance units are represented as Irregulars. This new troop type was created for First World War Campaigns Serbia ’14 and will make its Panzer Campaigns debut in Scheldt ’44. Irregulars are never out of supply and can move from enemy ZoC to ZoC, however they do not exert their own ZoC. Two variants of unit values are used for resistance irregulars, one representing more poorly armed groups (and especially those operating in the German rear areas) and one representing better armed groups. Some resistance units from the Late October Order of Battle are represented as infantry rather than as irregulars.[caption id="attachment_2167" align="alignnone" width="370"] Irregulars Unit Values[/caption]
Resistance Uprising in Antwerp
In the Antwerp scenario, resistance units start in the reinforcement dialogue and will gradually be added to the map as infiltration-type reinforcements. This unique scenario will provide a distinct challenge for the German player – as British tanks barrel toward the mainline of defense, the German rear will be increasingly threatened by an ever-growing resistance presence in the city.[caption id="attachment_2168" align="alignnone" width="527"] The Antwerp Resistance as infiltration reinforcements[/caption]
The Guerilla War in Limburg
Though the AS/GL’s guerilla war was not as widespread or effective as envisioned, the guerilla activities in Limburg demanded some representation in the Herbsturm and Albert Canal scenarios. We struggled with how best to represent this. The Partisan units didn’t seem to fit the situation very well. Partisan type units would be spotted, released, and free to go after valuable rear area objectives. Furthermore, the presence of visible units in the German rear was likely to unduly distract the German player. The solution we chose was to utilize Panzer Campaigns’ Deception Mechanic. Though not designed with resistance forces in mind, it seemed to fit our needs very well. Certain Belgian units have been flagged as “Deception Units.” These are deployed in the German rear areas. While deployed, they cannot move, cannot spot for the Allies, and are invisible to the Germans. There is a slight a chance that a deployed deception unit will disrupt a nearby German unit moving in travel mode, though this chance is negated by patrolling German units if the new “Extended Patrolling” optional rule is in use.
(click for full size)[caption id="attachment_2173" align="alignnone" width="1164"] Resistance Irregulars Deployed as Deception Units in the Albert Canal Scenario[/caption]
The Effectiveness of Irregulars in Scheldt ‘44
Irregulars are generally ineffective when used in direct combat with the Germans, especially the smaller and more poorly armed units that are prevalent in the earlier scenarios. Larger, better-armed units that appear in later scenarios can be used a bit more effectively in combat but are still at a distinct disadvantage against regular German infantry. The value of the Belgian irregulars is not so much that they are good at fighting the Germans but that they free up regular Allied infantry for other tasks. As flank guards, irregulars allow Allied infantry to concentrate on a narrower front, thereby increasing their offensive effectiveness.
While Irregulars principal contribution is in the role of flank guards, several others uses were found for them in playtesting. The ability to move from ZoC to ZoC is particularly valuable in the tight confines of the Antwerp port and, when regular infantry isn’t available or have lagged behind, they can be paired with armor to counteract the Combined Arms penalty. Because of frequent periods of limited visibility, utilizing Patrolling capabilities is essential for keeping tabs on the enemy. A tactic that proved successful was to stack patrolling irregular units with regular Allied infantry. By turning over patrolling duties to Belgian or Dutch irregulars, Allied infantry are not subjected to the movement, assault, or fire penalties associated with patrolling.
The French and Dutch Resistance in Scheldt ‘44
The Belgian resistance is the focus of this blog, but brief mention will be made of the French and Dutch resistance forces in represented in Scheldt ‘44.
The Dutch emphasized passive or civil forms of resistance, and the armed resistance organizations were relatively small and constrained. The three most important armed resistance organizations were the Ordedienst (OD – “Order Service”), Raad van Verzet (RvV – “Council of Resistance”, and Landelijke Knokploegen (LKP or KP – “National Fighting Teams”). The OD was the largest of the three groups, though it was also the least active. The OD was not dedicated to active military resistance, but instead its mission was to impose order in recently liberated areas. The RvV and KP took more aggressive measures against the Germans, but they were also very small. Both organizations numbered just a few hundred men nationwide prior to September, but both expanded dramatically after September 5th (Dolle Dinsdag or “Mad Tuesday”). Also, of note is Partizanen Actie Nederland (PAN – Partisan Action Netherlands), an Eindhoven-based group with ties to the KP. The OD, RvV, and KP were unified under a single command, the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten (BS) or “Interior Forces,” in early September but continued to operate largely independently over the next two months. The BS was quick to organize resistance fighters in liberated areas into more regularized units, forming the Stoottroepen (“shock troops”) and Bewakingstroepen (“security troops”) even before Market Garden had concluded. Some OD, RvV, and KP are represented in Scheldt ’44, but their role is appropriately limited. OD forces are typically omitted unless it is known that the OD played an active combat role in a given area. While most Stoottroepen companies didn’t see action until after the events covered by Scheldt ’44, the few companies that were sent to the front in October are placed under Allied corps or divisional command. The Bewakingstroepen are not represented.[caption id="attachment_2170" align="alignnone" width="509"] The BS in the late September OOB[/caption]
The FFI in the Channel Ports Campaign
An exhaustive discussion of the FFI is not pertinent to Scheldt '44 beyond the small, and typically overlooked, role that it played in the Channel Ports campaign. Below is a description of the French forces involved in the fighting at Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkerque.
The Canadians authorized the formation of three combat groups to aid in the reduction of the coastal fortresses of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Corps franc de Montreuil reinforced the Cameron Highlander of Ottawa and participated in a secondary attack up the Liane Valley on September 18th. The Montreuil group was disbanded after Operation Wellhit. Corps franc de la Capelle was assigned to 8th CIB and also went into action on September 18th, advancing up the Le Wimereux valley while the North Shore Regiment advanced to the north. Led by Lt. Isabelle Nacry, who taken command only a week before, the La Capelle group aided in the reduction of the fortified position near Wimille. For her actions at Wimille, Nacry received the croix de guerre with the following citation: "demonstrating great courage, cool reason, and pure patriotism, she was adored by her men and never stopped commanding." After Wellhit, Nacry and her men moved north for Operation Undergo, the assault on Calais. Corps franc de la Capelle patrolled the perimeter of the Calais fortress and spotted for the Allied artillery. Corps franc de St.-Omer, under Georges Bonhomme, patrolled the eastern perimeter of the Calais fortress and aided in the liberation of Marck.[caption id="attachment_2172" align="alignnone" width="993"] Lt. Isabelle Nacry and members of Corps franc de la Capelle[/caption]
The French played a larger role in the siege of Dunkerque. From early September the FFI harassed the Germans around the perimeter of the Dunkerque fortress and, on September 5th, all FFI elements around Dunkerque were declared to constitute Bataillon Jean-Bart (or Dewulf). Over the coming weeks Bataillon Jean-Bart was organized and strengthened. A second battalion, Bataillon Dunkerque (or Bienassis), formed from the Lille FFI, arrived on September 23rd. The two battalions were placed under the command of Colonel Lehagre’s Zone terrioriale de Dunkerque. From October 7th, Lehagre’s command was subordinated to Dunkirk Force, led by Czech general Alois Liška. They were issued French uniforms liberated from a depot at Troyes sometime in late September or October and redesignated the first and second battalions of the 110e régiment d’infanterie on October 15th. Additional French infantry and artillery assets reinforced Lehagre’s group in December, and the Zone territoriale de Dunkerque was renamed 51e régiment d’infanterie in January. Concerned about the state of the French troops under his command, particularly in regards to their lack of modern weapons and adequate clothing, Liška made repeated requests to 21st AG for the 51e RI to be rearmed and organized according to the standards of a British brigade. His requests were partially granted in the spring of ’45 with the distribution of British uniforms and at least some weaponry.
Some other screenshots:[caption id="attachment_2178" align="alignnone" width="556"] The various OOBs account for the gradual rearmament of Resistance forces. The top row shows units from the Early October OOB, and the bottom from the Late October OOB[/caption]
(click for full size)[caption id="attachment_2177" align="alignnone" width="1294"] Belgium Force holds 2nd CID's right flank in the Hoogerheide scenario[/caption]
(click for full size)[caption id="attachment_2176" align="alignnone" width="2030"] Irregulars around Dunirk, October 1st[/caption]
A big thank you to Mike for this exhaustive write-up. This is the kind of research that has gone into the title and we hope you enjoy some of these new additions to the game system.