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Defenders of Brest

Defenders of Brest
with Alexander Costantino

The battle for the fortress city of Brest is a testament to the use of fortifications in the Second World War and their effectiveness when directly confronted. The mauled remnants of the 2nd Fallschirmjager, 343rd, and 266th Infanterie Divisions successfully held off a determined American advance on the city for 39 days. On the adjacent Crozon Peninsula portions of the 343rd Infanterie held out just as long, denying the use of it as a vantage point from which to bombard the city.

Before the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944 the city of Brest had long since been a French fortified port with a string of outer forts, and thick city walls dating back centuries. During the construction of the Atlantic Wall the fortifications around Brest were improved and integrated. Adding to its importance strategically the port was home to a U-boat base. The longer the Germans could hold the Brest the longer U-boats could operate and strike Allied shipping in the Atlantic.

When trying to model the armies that would of fought in this battle there are two Forces in D-Day: German that are appropriate, the Beach Defense Grenadier Company, and the Fallschirmjager Company.

The Beach Defense Grenadier Company would represent the mangled troops of the 343rd Infanterie Division and the remnants of the 266th Infanterie Division. Both of these divisions after having initially held their positions in Brittany to prevent a second allied landing were rushed to the front where they were mauled by the US advance during and after Operation Cobra. The 266th Infanterie was cut off from the other German defenders by the US 6th Armored Division and only isolated groups and stragglers managed to escape complete encirclement to eventually take part in the defense of Brest.

Defenders of Brest

Both of these Divisions were formed as static second line Divisions responsible for defending a certain area of occupied France. The soldiers in these divisions were mostly older men as well as former Russian and Eastern European POWs. The subpar quality and morale of these troops is why they suffer a poorer last Stand rating when compared to normal Grenadiers. The green skill rating is also an accurate rating for these troops as very few of them had combat experience or were especially well trained. They spent the majority of their time in France reinforcing the fortifications making up the Atlantic Wall versus training.

Defenders of Brest

In this roughly 100 point list you get a robust infantry core with plenty of dug in supporting fire. Despite having the advantage due to their fortified positions these grenadiers had a crucial disadvantage in terms of heavy machine guns, and anti-tank guns due to the equipment constraints facing the second line Wehrmacht troops in 1944, as well as the hasty withdrawals many of these units made during the retreat from Normandy. The one thing the defenders of Brest did have an abundance of was artillery. The artillery in many of these static second line divisions was mostly captured Russian and French guns. In order to model this one of the artillery batteries is using captured Russian 76mm guns. The other one is fielding 10.5cm German howitzers that can be modelled as the French 10.5cm howitzer that the Grenadiers were actually equipped with during the battle. In addition to having a strong artillery component the Grenadiers can also rely on numerous anti-aircraft emplacements. The positions on strategically important hills 105 and 90 around Brest were centered on these flak emplacements and gave the defenders a strong base of fire.

Defenders of Brest

The elite paratroopers of the 2nd Fallschirmjager Division can be modeled using the Fallschirmjager Company. The historical accuracy of this Force is further enhanced when using the Defense of Brest Command Card that allows the company to take a Beach Defense Grenadier Platoon instead of a Fallschirmjager Platoon, as well as granting the Fallschirmjager Platoons making up the company the ability to use the spearhead rule during deployment.

The 2nd Fallschirmjager Division had been in France recovering from the heavy combat they had faced on the Eastern Front. Add to that the casualties sustained during the Normandy battles and it is not surprising that by the time that the division had retreated to Brest it was critically low on manpower. Realising this, German commanders integrated platoons from the Grenadier Divisions as well as the Kriegsmarine fortress troops into Fallschirmjager Companies. Hence why the command card allows you to take a platoon of Beach Defense Grenadiers. Despite the critically low strength of the Division the paratroopers fought aggressively and even raided American outposts and in the process captured ammunition, weapons, and even combat vehicles. Many of these captured vehicles were used during Lepkowski’s infamous prison break. The aggressive nature of these troops despite their tenuous situation is why the command card grants the Fallschirmjager Platoons the ability to use the spearhead rule.

Defenders of Brest

This 100 point force could be used to represent the defenders of Brest as the Americans closed in on the city and they ran into stiffening resistance from the worn down but still resilient Fallschirmjager strongpoints. Low on manpower but still bristling with heavy machine guns and panzerfausts these troops turned the streets of Brest into killing zones that forced the Americans to blow out the walls of houses in order to advance versus trying to fight their way up the narrow streets that the defenders had hoped to use as funnels. After raids on recuperating and reorganizing US troops these men now have captured enemy vehicles they can use as some of their only armored support. Just as with the Grenadier list these troops would have been supported with plenty of artillery culminating in huge naval guns firing from well behind the front lines. In addition to their already formidable defenses they also have the Old Minefields command card which simulates the huge amounts of minefields and booby traps that were put in place to slow the American advance.

Defenders of Brest

 All things considered Brest was a very unique engagement that pitted understrength, and undersupplied German defenders against a well-equipped and mostly well supplied American VIII Corps determined to take an intact deep water port. By the end of the battle though both sides failed to meet their primary objectives. On 19 September 39 days after the beginning of the battle the Germans finally surrendered and lost one of their last operating U-boat bases with direct access to the Atlantic. The extensive German demolitions and battle damage rendered the port useless to the allies for the rest of the war. Due to the heavy losses in terms of men, time and equipment no other fortified city was ever attacked head on by the Americans again throughout the rest of the war, making this battle along with the attacks on Cherbourg, and St. Malo stand out from the more dynamic and mobile battles that took places elsewhere in France between the Germans and Americans. In these fortified port battles fortifications dating back before gunpowder had even been invented were integrated with modern concrete pillboxes and gun casemates that turned the normally quick, high pitched battles into long, slow, and grueling campaigns that often times only ended when one side ran out of ammunition or water. D-Day: German gives you a chance to model some of these battles and fight it out between entrenched German defenders and the American troops trying to dislodge them from their well-prepared positions.
~Alexander


Last Updated On Thursday, October 24, 2019 by Luke at Battlefront