In the shadow of steel, where the air choked on the fumes of war, lay the industrial heart of Colombelles, France. Beneath the gaze of the Société Métallurgique de Normandie (Metallurgic Company of Normandy), a hulking giant of industry, the ground trembled with the rhythm of battle. The smokestacks, once testaments to human ingenuity, now served as monstrous sentinels for the German enemy, their outpost eyes piercing the battlefield haze.
General Bernard Law Montgomery, a man who understood the power of both strategy and spectacle, saw in these stacks not just a symbol of enemy dominance, but a crucial vulnerability. He conceived a plan, audacious and bold, to silence these towering giants and wrest control of the battlefield. Operation STACK, he christened it, a name as sharp and unwavering as the steel it sought to subdue.
Under the smoky veil of Colombelles, men would clash, not in the open fields, but in the very crucible of industry itself. The fate of the battlefield hung in the balance, and the smokestacks, once silent witnesses to human progress, were poised to become silent tombs.
The Steelworks is an Advanced Squad Leader historical module from Lone Canuck Publishing. This module, focusing on the battle for the factory and its smokestacks, features the following:
- one 35″ x 27″ map with one inches hexes
- one countersheet with 140 x 1/2″ counters
- The Steelworks Special Rules including for Luftwaffen troops and British Pipers
- five ASL scenarios
- StW 1 – Secure the Crossroads: To provide a foothold from which to launch the attack into the Steelworks, the 5th Black Watch was tasked with conducting a night attack to capture the crossroads northeast of the factory.
- StW 2 – “Hunt the Hun”: While the 5th Black Watch was securing the crossroads, to the west the 1st Gordons were fighting their way through Colombelles, clearing the town in the face of stiffening German resistance.
- StW 3 – Tiger Attack: By first light, the 5th Black Watch had secured the train garages and gained a foothold in the northern perimeter of the factory grounds. Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of “moaning minnies” and out of the factory rumbled Tiger tanks!
- StW 4 – Knock them Down! A large scenario featuring the entire map. With Monty himself directing the smokestacks of the Colombelles Steelworks to be knocked down, the plan called for the British 153rd Brigade to dart in, blow up the stacks, and be back by lunch. This plan couldn’t have turned out worse. Watch the full AAR here.
- StW 5 – Securing the Steelworks: The Canadians’ part of Operation GOODWOOD was known as ATLANTIC and it involved the capturing of the Steelworks that had thwarted the British a week earlier. Late in the afternoon, just as a rain shower began, the Canadian 8th Brigade stepped off and headed for the towering smokestacks of the factory.
The map for The Steelworks features the bombed-out steel factory complex and train yards. Just to the north are the buildings on the outskirts of Collombelles, and the two enormous smokestacks that the Germans were using as observation posts are featured in the lower half of the map.
Using my internet archeological skills I’ve managed to dig up a couple maps/photos that reflect the layout of the steel factory at the time. Within the scale of the ASL system, it appears The Steelworks map is relatively accurate to the battlefield in July 1944. The artwork used isn’t particularly eye-popping but is spartan and functionally utilitarian.
Grain and plowed fields dominate the northeast and southeast quadrants of the map. To the left of the map is the Orne River, isolating about 15% of the map from the rest of the action. Upstream on the Orne is of course Pegasus Bridge (which crosses a canal that runs adjacent to the river).
Colombelles was a strategic location during World War II because it housed a large steelworks factory that produced iron and steel for the German war effort. The factory also had tall smokestacks that served as observation posts for the German artillery and air force. The Allies wanted to destroy the factory and the chimneys to disrupt the German supply lines and reduce their ability to spot Allied movements. The Caen and Colombelles area was also a key point in the German defensive line known as the Atlantic Wall, which stretched along the coast of France and other occupied countries. The Allies had to break through this line to liberate France and advance into Germany.
Two days before Operation Stack, Colombelles was also the target of a major air raid by the Royal Air Force on July 9, 1944. The raid involved 467 aircraft, including 346 Lancaster bombers, 101 Halifax bombers, and 20 Mosquito fighters. The raid targeted the factory area and the nearby bridges over the Orne River and the Caen Canal. The raid caused severe damage to the factory buildings and the railway lines but failed to destroy the stacks or the bridges. Unfortunately, the raid also killed about 200 French civilians and wounded many more. The raid was one of the most controversial Allied actions in Normandy, as it was seen as unnecessary and disproportionate by some critics.
Operation Stack involved two battalions of the 153rd Infantry Brigade, 51st Highland Infantry Division: the 1st Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, and the 5th Battalion, The Black Watch. They were supported by tanks from the 148th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps and the 6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars).
The British troops faced fierce resistance from the German defenders, which included elements of the 21st Panzer Division and the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503, equipped with the new Tiger II tanks. The British managed to reach the outskirts of Colombelles but were unable to secure the village or the factory area. They suffered heavy casualties and had to withdraw under German counterattacks. The operation failed to achieve its objective of blowing up the smokestacks, which remained standing until the end of the war.
.END OF BRIEFING.
ASL Map Spotlights are meant to be quick history lessons on available historical Advanced Squad Leader actions. These short articles are meant to highlight both a short history of the battle portrayed for players unfamiliar with the setting, as well as show the ASL map on which it plays out.
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