Friday, 31 July 2020

Bir el Gubi

Ah, Bir el Gubi. I first came across a decent account of this battle in FM Lord Carvers 'Tobruk' in the late 1970s while I was eagerly waiting for the release of AHGCs boardgame of the same name. Tobruk the game turned out to be a dice rolling disappointment, and also didn't cover any of Operation Crusader at all, but I remained interested in Bir el Gubi as an asymmetrical engagement.

My first efforts at scenario design for it were for HPS Simulations computer game 'Panthers in the Shadows' back in the mid 90s, and as we are trawling through the western desert again during lockdown, it would have been rude not to have 22nd Armoured Brigade have a tangle with Ariete.

This scenario is based on the one in Frank Chadwicks very fine 'Benghazi Handicap'. I've no idea if the real terrain at Bir El Gubi is really like this, but it makes for a good game and explains why Ariete chose to make a stand at this otherwise unremarkable junction of desert tracks.

The terrain ended up looking like this. The odd orientation (with North at the bottom) is to best suit the webcam angle. Up in the top right is a depression with an escarpment around its eastern and northern edges. I don't think anyone will be going down there.

22nd Armoured Brigade. Front row is 3 and 4 CLY in Crusaders, back row is 4 RHA (25pdrs), 2 RGH (Royal Gloucester Hussars) also in Crusaders and finally B Co, 1KRRC with attached 2pdrs and Bofors guns.

Most of Ariete. Front row are the mixed Bersaglieri infantry/AT/weapons companies the Italians used to man the forward strongpoints, next row back is another Bersaglieri battalion in trucks, Regimental HQ and the regimental recce Co with motorcyclists and AB41 armoured cars. Finally at the back is he artillery, a battalion of 75s a (Corps) battalion of 105s and MILMART, 102mm naval guns mounted on the back of lorries with a few 90mm AA guns too. In the top right corner are two battalions of M13/40 tanks from 132 Armoured Regiment.

Numbers were slightly down on this one, so we had John, Richard and Graham as the British, with Tim G, Simon and Martin S as the Italians with a newly returned Diego as an observer. Unfortunately we had  fews comms problems at the start, issues with sound due to my dodgy internet connection, and I'd cleverly managed to connect the wrong Skype account up for Diego.

As usual, the players had spent a few days plotting and planning, and I had sent me their deployments beforehand. Unlike Fort Capuzzo, I put the Italians on table at start as there was a lot of stuff to keep track of. I told the players that 11th Hussars had been scouting around again.

View from the east. The Italian strongpoints on Hills 169 and 194, and a great mass of transport and guns lurking in and around the wadi.

The Bersaglieri on Hill 169. In the distance (some 2 and a half miles away) a big clump British tanks are moving into view. 4 City of London Yeomanry in CRusaders.

The wadi near Bir el Gubi. The 75s are deployed in  the wadi itself, the reserve Bersaglieri battalion and RHQ on the road ot El Adem. The recce company are over in E7 and MILMART is daringly deployed to dash forward with its 90mm and 102mm autocanone.

Bir el Gubi itself. A rater dubious looking well in the desert, attended by a couple of Arabs from my WW1 Mesopotamia collection. Feel free to drink from the  well if you wish! It is an Irregular shellhole with some rather murky water painted in.

Over in the south, Bir el Belchon is similarly set up. Over in A2 are 3 CLY, another regiment of Crusaders.

The escarpment. I piled up two layers of Hexon to produce the cliff effect, and various 'boulders' from the driveway are scattered around the base. I don't expect anyone will be going down here anytime soon.

4 CLY can dimly discern Italian positions in the distance.

As are 3 CLY. I was slight short of Crusaders for this, so I used A13s as the RHQ squadrons. Over a webcam they all look fairly similar. The bases were originally done for Megablitz, so I'd already helpfully got labels for the various regiments of 22nd AB on some of the models.

MILMART. 90mm AA in the front, 102mm naval guns in the rear. I slightly bodged this as in the original scenario the 90mm guns were attached to the 75s, but a single autocanone unit seemed to make more sense, and was more fun to play with.

The action opened with a headlong charge by the leading British armoured regiments. I would expect nothing less. In fact, faced with a load of dug in Italian infantry and guns and a tank heavy force, there wasn't much else the British could do. The 2pdr armed Crusaders were more effective over-running the Italians than shooting at them. 4 CLY got stuck into Hill 169, just as in real life.

This was a very bloody fight indeed. The Italians eventually succumbed but fought to the last man and took half the British tanks with them. It turned out that trying to winkle infantry out of trenches with 2pdrs was a nasty business.

Over on the other flank, 3CLY replicated that same type of assault. They swept though Bir Belchon and only Hill 194. Another close range fight ensued, at a slightly more sedate pace this time as the Crusaders drove around trying shoot up the trenches an the Italians kept hiding and popping out again.

MILMART had set themselves up on a low rise nearby and plinked away at targets of opportunity. A 4 hex range was really quite useful.

The fight dragged on with losses mounting on both sides.

Over in the centre the Italian recce company got close enough to the British main body to call down some artillery fire, but rapidly discovered that a platoon of AB41s was no match for a regiment of Crusaders. Boom!

The Italian recce fell back to the RHQ at Bir el Gubi, but was pursued by the remains of 4 CLY who crashed into them in another magnificent cavalry charge on tracks.

Another bloody melee ensued. The Italians survived their morale test of 'tank shock' (no doubt steeled by the presence of the regimental commander), but the FOO for the 105s had had enough and routed back to join the 75s in the wadi.

4 RHA had now got the range of MILMART and was dropped shells around their positions. The Italian CB fire scattered wide.

The British main  body pushed up. 1KRRC skirted Hill 169 and 2 RGH advanced past the burning AB41s. MILMART managed to pick off a few Crusaders with long range AT fire.

At this point the first Italian tanks from 132 Armoured Regiment put in an appearance, trundling on via Bir Belchon in the direction of Hill 194. The reserve Bersaglieri deployed in front of the 75s, ready to defend the Bir.

At this point we called it a night. The crisis of the battle was approaching fast as the British armour had lost around a third of its strength but was now firmly embedded in the Italian position. The Italians had lost around half their infantry, but the artillery was completely intact and the 'cavalry' were beginning to arrive. 2 RGH was within charge distance of MILMART, so really it was a question of who go to attack first. Everything to play for!

We all rolled up promptly the next day, and Diego managed to join us successfully this time. Over on Hill 194 the Italian infantry finally succumbed to the mass of Crusaders and settled down to hide in their trenches but not before kocking more tanks out. Tims M13/40s tried to take advantage of the situation with a close assault and managed to roll a magnificent '1' for their morale and fell back in disorder.

Back at Bir el Gubi, 2 RGH also failed their morale test trying to assault MILMART, while 4CLY came under AT fire from all directions and ominous columns of black smoke rose up into the desert air. 4 RHA managed to get some rounds on target and some of MILMARTs lorries went up in smoke.

The Italian RHQ and motorcyclists voluntarily failed their morale and retreated from the mass of British tanks.

The last Crusaders at the Bir were finished off by the 75s firing over open sights and the 47mm AT guns with the reserve Bersaglieri battalion. 1KRRC moved up to the crossroads among the wreckage.

Meanwhile up on Hill 194 things went from bad to worse as 3 CLY became disorganised trying to overrun the Italian infantry and AT guns.  

Meanwhile Tim reorganised his M13/40 battalion, and the remains of MILMART took the advantage of the confusion in the British ranks to fall back and join the Italian tanks. A second battalion of M13/40s rolled up from the south.

Brigadier Scott-Cockburn moved up to rally 2RGH. irl he was sent home after the battle and ended up commanding the Military Records Office in High Barnet. Lt Colonel Birley, CO of 2RGH was wounded in the battle and was awarded the DSO as he continued to direct his regiment from the back of tank with his arm in a sling.

3CLY met a fiery end, surrounded by Italian tanks, artillery and AT guns.

2RGH rallied and  exchanged fire with the Italian tankers. Meanwhile Scott-Cockburn headed off to inspire the KRRC.

Tims recalcitrant tankers managed to fail their morale again and fell back towards Bir Belchon. 4RHA even manged to damage some with 25pdr artillery fire.

1KRRC and the Brigadier assaulted the Bersaglieri next to the crossroads, but the Italian infantry was far more numerous and the survivors fell back in disorder

Meanwhile back up the road, the long range gunnery duel between 2RGH and the M13/40s on the rise was chipping away at both sides but neither was willing to risk a dangerous assault.

The Italian motorcylists rallied, roared up the road to assault the KRRC and promptly failed their morale and withdrew again! The Italian 105mm FOO managed to call in a duff barrage with landed right next to his OP (the shell burst in the foreground). By now 1KRRC were completely disordered, and down to a platoon of infantry with a handful of guns and with another turn to go, the British conceded at that point and withdrew.

View from the Italian RHQ. A great mass of burning tanks in the foreground. By now the barrels of the Italian 75s in the wadi were white hot as they'd been firing continuously for most of the game.

Meanwhile back with 4 RHA, all they could see was lot of smoke in the distance.

I was very pleased with that, it mirrored the real battle closely. IRL the British overran Hill 169 early on, but in the absence of any infantry to take them prisoner, the Italians just remanned  their trenches and guns when the Crusaders moved off. The British tankers ended up milling around deep in the Italian position under a cross fire from all directions, and the counterattack by 132 Armoured Regiment was the last straw and 22nd Armoured Brigade withdrew having lost about 50 tanks. It was a proper Pakfront, which was how the Italians had designed the defences, it was only missing some deep minefields.

The game itself was very see-saw, the Italians looked like they'd had it after the first couple of hours fighting, but gradually the attrition of constant AT fire wore the British down and they suddenly collapsed.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

QRF 15mm M13/40

As I was getting some L6/40s, I thought I might as well get some M13s too. I'm far less likely to use these, but I've come across some actions in Tunisia for which they might be suitable and they might see some action in German service.

I got two of them along with the L6s. Obviously built by the same sculptor, these had a bit more flash but nothing serious. The tracks were one sided and like the L6s, very finely detailed.

I thought one of them deserved a commander, this is a slightly bodged PSC Russian tank commander with a bit of gentle filing to make him look more Italian.

Quite a complex engine deck, and really quite a lot going on for such a small tank. Its Vickers design heritage is very obvious here.

View from the side. The single sided tracks had a spacer moulded along the top so they sit at the right angle, what a clever idea, much better than locating pins or whatever.

I did these in sand with mid green disruptive camo which was very common for M13s. Some of the ones which served (briefly) in the Balkans were green, as were early ones shipped to the desert, but the sand/green is good for most theatres and most of the war. Topped off with mud, dust and an ink wash which blended it all in.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Nachod - Portable Wargame

Ah, Nachod, how may times have I done this battle? It is one of my favourite battles of the Austro-Prussian War as Steinmetz's overextended Corps fends of Von Ramming with the 'cavalry' on the way to the rescue in the form of his second division. It is a perfect size to test Corps level rules, and an interesting scenario as the arrival of reinforcements on both sides swings the force ratios, while the extreme asymmetries of the Prussian and Austrian weaponry and tactical doctrine require very different tactics from each side.

My last outing was reported here:

John decided to put this on using an early version of Bobs Nineteenth Century Portable Wargame for one of our weekly Skype games. We had even more players than for Operation Goodwood, making it one of the biggest games we've tried so far, but this version used the 'playing card per unit' activation system so hopefully OK for multiplayer.

The scenario was based on the one in Neil Thomas's 'Nineteenth Century Wargaming' book although I usually use the version the Wyre Forest gamers did for their APW variant of Fire and Fury. The latter has detailed victory point scores for doing various things (mainly capturing particular geographic features) while Thomas's scenario doesn't apprarently have any obvious victory conditions at all apart from his usual one of beating the enemy through exhaustion. We had a further injunction to to lose our guns (something the Prussians had a particular horror of in 1866), but putting them at the back of our 50km march column kept them quite safe I thought!

The general situation. Unfortunately a bit hard to make out on the monitor. There is  a wooded hill in the bottom right defended by half of Tims Prussians. The rest of the Prussians are coming on from the northeast. Bad Austrians are coming up from the southwest.

The first Austrian brigade faces off against the Prussians. Our chaps have needle guns with a range of 1 square, while the Austrians very unfairly have muzzle loading rifles with a range of 2. The slightly odd geometry rules mean that our guys can only fire orthogonally while the Austrians can shoot all around.

I have no great problem playing with squares but it is this sort of thing which drives me nuts. I usually allow ranges measured on square tables to include a single diagonal (thank you Peter Pig) which eliminates such silliness and means units can engage at range 1 all around.

More Austrians are appearing and the Prussian cavalry turn up and promptly charge the flank of some Austrians. Again, more square related issues. Neil Thomas very wisely rules that you can't flank charge unless you already start behind a flank, but we rapidly found that flank charging was the way to go as there were no restrictions to stop you just marching past an enemy unit, wheeling and getting stuck in. We were probably too spread out.

The genuine remote gaming experience! The 'hand of god' moves stuff on the table.

More Austrians and Prussians roll up. One issue with the geometry of this battle is it is fought Northwest to Southeast, which doesn't work very well with a square grid where you can only face north, south, east or west. Whichever way units turned, they always ended up exposing a flank. Tim C decided the way around this was the standard boardgamers 'table edge creep' and his guys crept along row 1 right at the bottom. I guess re-orienting the map so we fought along the grain might have been a solution.

The action is becoming general as the Austrian Corps artillery and Simons brigade engage the Prussians from the northwest. One thing which was working OK was the melee rules. One thing I've always thought a bit odd was the way in the PW it is more effective to fire (if you are stationary you hit on 4+) whereas the basic to hit in melee is 5+. With the flank attack modifiers, melees usually got a 4+ from the flank while the defenders only hit back on a 6. This encouraged flank attacks and discouraged frontal ones. Very clever and I'd missed this design feature in our WW2 playings. 

My chaps (the red ones) are all coming on now. After a staff conference we decided to attack in the north, while hard pressed Tim fell back in the south. Shortening the front was the only way to counter the superior Austrian numbers.

My guys piled due west, joined by one of Tims regiments and we got stuck into Simons brigade and the  Austrian Corps artillery. I put my General in the middle supporting all the orthogonally adjacent units. The close range needle gun bonus and General bonus all helped, and the Austrians hadn't figured out that stacking their Generals with each unit just meant they died faster so we rapidly obliterated them 

More of this went on for a while. I sent a couple of units to hold up the Austrians moving from the south but we mainly turned our attention to the Austrians sitting in the open to the northwest, concentrating on their weaker units with the war winning move/fire/charge plus general bonus combo.  

After a few more turns of this the Austrians became exhausted and the game was over. The Prussians still had two exhaustion points in hand, so it was very much like the real thing with the Austrians beaten but the Prussians in need of a bit of reorg before marching off to link up with the rest of 2nd Armee.

That all went pretty well I thought, and some of geometrical oddities are easy enough to fix and common to all square grid games. I do like the exhaustion point mechanism in PW, it stops sides fighting to utter destruction (a downside of some of the Neil Thomas rules) although in both cases they are just a means to an end. I'm not convinced about the quality differences in PW though. One of the interesting things in the APW are the asymmetries in infantry tactics and weaponry, and the Prussians generally inflicted a 4:1 loss ratio in infantry combat, which didn't really come across here. Conversely the Austrian artillery was vastly better (and numerous), which again wasn't really reflected, although their guns did actually managed to fire in the game, unlike the Prussians who just tried to stay out of trouble.

If you want to try the scenario yourself, JOhn has posted it on the Portable Wargames io group:

I'm tempted to try another APW or FPW scenario using the published Portable Wargame rules,although I recently picked up a copy of Bobs 'Portable Napoleonic Wargame' and the Corps rules look like they may work OK for this period. Something to mull over anyway.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

QRF 15mm L6

As I've been building up my 15mm collection I thought it might be useful to have some more Italian stuff with a view to the Italian 8th Army in Russia and possibly some adventures in Tunisia. I already have some L3s which have seen sterling service in the Spanish Civil War, and the poor old Italians in Russia never had anything heavier than light tanks. They did have their L3s replaced with shiny new L6/40s though, and I thought it would be fun to get some of those.

Ah, the mighty L6. The Italian answer to the T60. The 20mm autocannon wasn't a bad armament for a light tank and would have been hot stuff in 1936, sadly these arrived at the front in 1942.

These are exquisite castings, a different sculptor to the French tanks I think, a bit more delicate.

These are very small indeed. Essentially they are an L3 with a turret. You can just see some of the fine detail in this shot. The models are very simple, hull, turret and double sided tracks. The only thing to watch is that the 20mm barrels are very thin, if concerned about heavy handling, they might be better replaced with wire but I'll only do that if I need to.

A rather fuzzy three quarter view.

You can see the nice suspension here, it is also sits very well as a model and looks like it is raring to go. 
I wondered quite a while what colour to paint them, my L3s are in grey green with red brown disruptive camo and the early Italian vehicles for continental service were generally grey green. However, according to Zaloga the L6s were originally intended for use in the desert, and were shipped to Russia in their khaki sand scheme and the crews then daubed mud all over them to make them blend in. That seemed like a good way to go as it meant they would also do for Tunisia. So sand basecoat, brown mud disruptive and then a brown ink wash and light tan drybrush.