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The Mortain counter-attack: defence of Hill 314.


US, British and Canadian armies landed on the Normandy beaches on 6th June 1944 ('D-day'). Over the next two months they fought their way inland and expanded their beach-heads. The bulk of German forces were concentrated against the British Empire armies because these were closest to the German line of retreat and therefore the most dangerous threat. This enabled the Americans to make faster progress in Western Normandy and eventually to break out of the Cotentin peninsular, swinging West into Brittany and South towards Orleans.




At this point, Hitler ordered a counter-attack towards Avranches with a view to pinching off the breakthrough. Although theoretically a good idea, the German armies lacked the resources to carry it out, as the generals on the spot knew but dare not say.



1948 map of Mortain. Positions marked in yellow are, from North to South, companies K, G and E of the US 120th Infantry Regiment on Hill 314.

Events at Hill 314

The attack got under way at 0100 hours on 7 August. German troops supported by tanks quickly penetrated into the town of Mortain, bypassing Hill 314 just to the East of the town. Hill 314 was defended by companies K, G and E of the 120th Infantry Regiment plus anti-tank platoons and artillery spotters. G Company was the first to be attacked at 0200 hours by small groups of Germans  infiltrating the positions. These were eliminated at dawn. At 0800 hours, the mist cleared to reveal dense columns of German infantry and armour advancing westward to the South of Mortain. These were plastered with American artillery fire.

 By 1000, the Germans had realised what was causing them so much grief and had launched an attack against K and E companies, preceded by an artillery bombardment and a rare appearance of 5 Luftwaffe ground attack aircraft. At 1400, the Germans attacked G company from Mortain itself. During the nights of 7/8 August and 8/9th, both sides sent out patrols, but there were no further major attacks until 2015 on 9th. The Germans overran E company positions until the commander called down heavy defensive fire on his own position, which effectively put an end to German attacks on Hill 314. The 120th remained surrounded, however, until relieved on 12th August. RAF Typhoon tank busters were called in to attack the German armoured columns, causing the destruction of surprisingly few tanks but causing many to be abandoned, to disperse or to take cover.

Forces engaged

On the American side, 3 rifle companies occupied the hill, supported by the battalion anti-tank platoon and by an attached platoon of 76mm anti-tank guns. There was also an artillery observation team with radio able to call on the whole of 30th Division's artillery. There were no tanks. Ground-attack aircraft provided almost continuous cover during daylight hours and supply-drop aircraft were deployed at times.

On the German side, it is unclear exactly what units were committed. According to Antony Beevor, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Kampfgruppe (formerly Division but now much depleted) formed the troops surrounding Hill 314. For wargame purposes, it is probably well to assume that an attack on any American company would require a mixed but under-strength battlegroup of several tanks plus a company or two of armoured infantry with support from heavy weapons platoons and artillery batteries. Five ground-attack planes put in a brief appearance.

eRules set-up

To download a game file with all necessary weapons and assets, click here and save to the eRules game folder (normally C://Users/Public/eRules/Game Files). The weapons and assets included are as follows.


Direct fire weapons

Infantry platoon: SLR group; LMG group; Sniper element

Additional for Weapons Platoon: SMGwR group; SFMG team; AA HMG; RIAT; 60mm mortar.

Additional for Company HQ: SLRwR group; FAOwR.

Additional for Battalion Anti-tank Platoon: 57mm L52 anti-tank gun.

Additional for attached Tank Destroyer Platoon: 76mm L55 anti-tank gun.

Indirect fire weapons

24 105mm howitzers in Direct Support

12 155mm howitzers in General Support

Air Support

10 preparatory fireblow missions each by four fighter-bombers, starting at bound 2 and repeating every other bound. (eRules allows a maximum of 10 air support missions, so this is the best that can be done to represent several hours of continuous air cover.)

Interception strength is Overwhelming

FACwR group



Direct fire weapons

Rifle Platoon: R+DIAT group; R+RGr+DIAT group; GPMG group.

Heavy Platoon: MFCwR group; SFMG group.

Panzer Grenadier Company HQ: SMG group; SMG+DIATwR group; RIAT.


Panther tank, Panzer IV, Stug III, SdKfz 251/10, SdKfz 234/1 (20mm Flak), SdKfz 234/3 (75mm L24),

PzBW3M FAO tank with radio.

Indirect fire weapons

81mm mortar; 75mm infantry gun;

18 Wespe 105mm howitzers (S/P) in Direct Support plus 20-minute fireblow starting in bound 1

Air support

Programmed fireblow by 4 fighter-bombers arriving in bound 1 at 10.00am

Interception strength is Weak.


The wargame


Hill 314 from the South. Companies K and E are shown dug in on the hill, while German infantry mass to the South and East, supported by a few Panzer IVs and Vs and self-propelled mortar platoons.

A company of panzer-grenadiers supported by five Panzer IVs and three Sturmgeschutz prepare to assault E Company’s position from the East.

E Company’s position, facing South-East.

Fw190 fighter-bombers arrive at 10.00 hours to begin the German attack, but are immediately intercepted by USAF fighters.

eRules determines that one of the Fw190s has been shot down, leaving three to sustain the attack.

Miles behind the front, a battery of Wespe self-propelled 105mm howitzers opens a barrage against US positions, while German infantry advance.

E Company seems about to be overrun, but Thunderbolt P47D fighter-bombers continue to give the German armour a hard time. How will this battle end? Try it yourself. Download the game file here and start playing now.

The image below is the present-day appearance of the battlefield from Google Earth. This fits onto a table roughly 1.7m long by 1.7m wide. Registered targets are marked with code words. German codes are shown red, US ones blue. eRules gives the corresponding grid references in millimetres from the bottom left corner of this image. German artillery fires a rolling barrage from a position to the North-East; US artillery fires from positions due West of Mortain. The town as it is today is partially visible on the West edge of this image. Since 1944, the terrain has become more built up, more wooded, but with fewer orchards.

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