Sunday 31 October 2021

Albuera 1811

 As I wasn't ready to put my planned game on, John instead ran the Battle of Albuera using his squared version of Brown Bess. Although I've read about Albuera, it isn't a battle I've gamed before so I was looking forward to it.

The Allies were Tim C (Beresford and the British), me (the Portuguese) and Russell (Blake and the Spanish. The wicked French were Tim G (Soult), Simon and Jerry.

It is quite a complex battlefield, bisected with many rivers, which in this case, were all fordable. We had a nice ridge to stand on and in the historical setup Beresford positioned his troops to cover the main road and crossings. Blake had just arrived and set up on the flank. 

Wily Soult conducted extensive recce and the poorly concealed Allied dispositions were blindingly obvious, so he mounted a demonstration against the town while putting the bulk of his troops around the Allied right against the the Spanish.

This is where we picked up.

On the first turn, the French pushed forward on their left, and shuffled across a bit on their right. They seemed very nervous of the Allied guns behind Albuera. The Allies meanwhile started shifting their reserves across to their right. In my case that meant shuffling Coles mixed British/Portuguese onto the road and forming up in match column.

Things hotted up a bit next turn as the leading French columns tore into Blake. My chaps speeded up their march along the road, preceded by the British cavalry. Over on my left Jerrys cavalry demonstrated north of Albuera and the Portuguese cavalry engaged them. So far the Spanish were hanging on.

By the end of turn three one of the Spanish divisions had routed and the French were thoroughly in control of the south end of the ridge. They had sustained considerable disorganisation however and the Soult ran around helping the troops to rally. Jerry had meanwhile got the better of the Portuguese cavalry who fell back behind their infantry to reorganise.

The Allied reserves were now in position and deploying behind Blake.


The resucitated French now attacked along the entire line. The French diversion piled into the Albuera position and the defenders responded. Unfortunately Jerry managed to slip his Polish Lancers in and overran the Allied gun line from a flank. 

Over on the French left, things got a bit sticky as they ran into the British and Portuguese units. The British cavalry were routed, but so were one of the French cavalry and an Infantry brigade. The impudent Lancers were surrounded an annihilated, but Jerry's last cavalry unit overran a Portuguese infantry unit in line. The French infantry trying to attack Albuera suffered brutally and a brigade was routed. 

The French diversionary force was completely routed, and Beresfords redcoats routed another French infantry brigade. Jerrys cavalry were still rampaging north of Albuera, but like the Lancers, they were now surrounded and engaged by the revived Portuguese cavalry.

We called it a day at that point as the French attack had run out of steam despite heavy Allied losses. By and large it replicated the historical result. Soult gave up for the day and withdrew, while Beresford wrote a gloomy despatch to Wellington, who responded "This will not do. Write me a victory".

That all went fine and we've played BB plenty of times. I'm a little uneasy about the squared version as it produces some oddities in Napoleonic warfare - units which melee also get to magically enter the enemy square and appear on the flank of any supporting units without any ability to respond, and the unit facing is very all-or-nothing. On the tabletop version these issues don't arise as the physical location of the units is very obvious and units can deploy obliquely. I don't really know how to fix it without a ton more rules about geometry and the squares work fine for linear warfare. It is just the more fluid Napoleonics which have a problem. I suppose you could let units face 45 degrees, but that would add a whole load of other issues. Anyway, it is good enough for now.

Friday 22 October 2021

Turning Point Teruel - Part 2

 After the Republicans captured Teruel, Franco cancelled the Gualajara offensive and moved large numbers of troops to the Aragon front to regain the lost ground. The counter offensive started in February 1937, and within a few days the Republican front had been pushed back. The Republican high command committed the International Brigades to the defence of the city, while General Varela led the attack with elements of the Army of Africa supported by Condor Legion bombers.

That is where we pick up with part two of the campaign, following on from last week's post. As before, Tim G, John and Russell are the Nationals (Tim being Varela), while Tim C, Simon and Diego are the Republicans. This time the Republicans have XII and XIV International Brigades under Colonel Heredia. Heredia was rated as an average leader (so +1) while Varela was rated as good (+2). Heredia was still a Communist, so no pesky activation rolls for the Republicans.

The Republican defensive positions in and around the city. Varelas columns are massing to the north.

Teruel is held by three International Brigade (IB) battalions, supported by a light AT gun company.

On the left is a field gun gruppo, supported by another IB battalion.

On the right, two more battalions, supported by another artillery gruppo. Colonel Heredia is with the guns here, sited for direct fire across the river.

The Republicans have a company of T26 tanks in reserve on the road to Valencia. Ernest Hemingway is observing the scene from the heights. He obviously got up a bit earlier this time.

Varelas 1st and 2nd demi-brigades of Legionaries and Regulares, supported by an (elite) heavy artillery gruppo.

3rd Regiment (three battalions of Requetes) plus three more artillery gruppos including another heavy gun. In the far distance is a Condor Legion motorised AT company, and the column is led by a Legion Panzer I company (with 20mm autocannon), plus General Varela and Kim Philby eager to keep his readers up to date,

The Condor Legion. I think we saw these guys last time.

The Battle started with Varela ordering the bombers to plaster the defences in Teruel. Planes are more effective in 1938, and a torrent of bombs landed on the unfortunate town. As Russell observed, something for Picasso to paint. Hemingway was on hand to record events (he is standing next to the AT gun). 

This was rapidly followed by a full Regiment of Carlists marching straight up the road, accompanied by the Legion tank company and Kim Philby. The fearsome Nationalist artillery also rolled on and unlimbered in a continuous gun line. The Condor Legion AT company pushed their Pak 36s through the river. 

The Carlists column. Philby is up at the front. As before, the guns are limited to six shots. 

Over in the east, John's two Legion demi brigade columns came marching on. These guys were quite tough. 

The Nationalist guns opened fire over open sights at the city while the Carlists  flung themselves into a frontal assault to pin the defenders. The Republican guns laid down a defensive barrage and the first assaults were pinned down or repulsed. The AT gun drove the Panzer back (and apparently Hemingway is directing the defence!). In a shock development, Kim Philby was wounded in the exchange of fire. 

By now General Varela was personally directing the artillery fire. The Nationalists leadership advantage gave them an edge in managing the turn sequence. 

John's Legionaries now lined the river as the IB battalions moved up to contest the crossing. 

The Nationalists guns cleared the front of the town (the Republicans chose to retreat instead of taking hits) leaving just Hemingway to face a Carlists column rushing the bridge. The rest of the Carlists were pinned by artillery fire. 

The battered IB soldiers grimly hung on. The photos don't really capture the ebb and flow of the individual units as they advance and retreat - that is a feature of the PW I really like. 

The Legionaries waded into the river behind a barrage. 

While the Carlists and Panzer forced their way into the town. The Republican defenders and their supporting AT gun were pinned. Eagle eyed readers will note that I let tanks and guns stack with an infantry unit. Another modification, which I think is more realistic at this level of game. 

Some of the Regulares had been pinned by defensive fire, and the Republican tanks took the opportunity to assault them, driving right through the barrage. It was all very dramatic. I give tanks +2 assaulting unsupported infantry in the open. That is what tanks are for. 

More Carlists pushed into the town and eliminated the infantry/AT gun position. The Republicans were left just holding the southwest corner (apart from Hemingway) and their losses were now sufficient to exhaust them. 

The Republicans were managing to hold off the river assault, but the T26 company was forced to retire by the Nationalists guns. Now they were exhausted, that left them out of the fight. The Nationalists were now five hits away from their exhaustion point. 

The Republicans blazed away but only managed to chip another hit off the Nationalists. We'd pretty much run out of time by now and it is a shame we didn't have time for another turn or two. The Nationalists were only four hits from their breakpoint and still had to clear the last city hex, so it was very much undecided, however I think the odds were still with the attackers.

The Nationalist guns were down to their last couple of shots each, but that was still a potential eight barrages to hit the last Republican town hex. The Nationalists were far more aggressive with their guns than I'd been in playtesting, and their massed fire over open sights was decisive.

At game end, the Nationalists have a good hold on half the town and all the remaining Republican infantry are damaged and half of them pinned.

The river crossing is making slow progress as the attackers keep getting pinned down and suffering losses. Another couple of turns of that and the Nationalists will reach their breakpoint.

Shame we had to end when we did, as having written it up, I'm less convinced the Nationalists can take the city before their breakpoint is reached. It is almost worth setting up the situation again and playing it solo.

Anyway, as with Part 1 of the campaign, it all rattled along fine without any great problems. There are probably some more tweaks I could play around with (I'm still not very happy with how pins work) but it seems to work fine as is, so I'll probably leave it alone now. There was a fair amount of kit there (23 units excluding HQs etc), all operating independantly rather than as formations, and we got through it in an hour and a quarter. So pretty impressive really.



Saturday 16 October 2021

Turning Point Teruel - Part 1

 After playing around with the Portable SCW, I thought I'd inflict my modifications on my long suffering gaming group. I wanted to run the Turning Point mini campaign as two back to back battles, and as it so obviously based on the Teruel campaign I retrofitted the historical OBs onto the anonymous ones in the rules, and assigned the correct historical personages to the commanders. I'm not a huge fan of anonymous battles, I like to 'bring history to life'.

We had three players for each side, Tim G, Russell and John were the Nationalists, while Tim C, Simon and Diego took the Republicans. 

Battlefield from the south (I changed the map orientation to work better with the camera). Teruel in the centre with the Rivers Guadalaviar and Alfambra behind. It really is a very exposed position, but sits on two roads to Valencia. The ground should be covered in snow as it is December 1937, but I don't have any snowy Hexon, so arid will have to do.

The Nationalists garrison. A battalion each of Requetes, Guardia Civil and Regular Army supported by a mountain gun. Irl the garrison was commanded by Colonel Rey d'Harcourt. I'm using ammo limits for artillery or the game just degenerates into in a dull artillery duel. The units were rolled up as average except the Army unit which was poor. I rated the Colonel as average, which gives +1 on the initiative throw. This is an important mod as I let the winner of the initiative roll choose which side goes first as opposed to the winner going first automatically. 

The Nationalists had partial air superiority, so I dug out some of my old 6mm SCW planes and had this Rata and CR32 duelling away. 

Rather more substantial were the two Nationalist air strike markers. An SM79 and an early model He111, both in Nationalist markings. 

The Republicans. Historically this was Listers 11th Division, one of the best units in the Republican Army. Lister was also an excellent commander, so I rated him as good (+2 initiative). The rest of the troops are two Popular Army mixed brigades and a couple of artillery gruppos. Students of the original scenario will note the MG units are missing. I don't think they are appropriate in a brigade/division level game in this period, so instead I just add the extra six dice of firepower to the infantry battalions (so they shoot with two dice). This only applies to well armed units, so militia etc only get one dice. For battalion level games I'll keep the MG companies.

Being Popular Army troops led by a Communist commander, they also don't have to make any activation throws, which is one less thing for me to do. The Republican high command were keen for this to be an 'All Spanish' battle, so the International Brigades did not take part in the assault on the city.

The action opened with the Guardia sallying forth from the city to set up an observation post to spot the ridge. I restricted spotting and direct fire range to three hexes (as these are notionally 1km hexes). Another mod to stop artillery direct firing at stuff 12km away.

11th Div came on with its Mixed Brigades in inverted wedge formation. One artillery gruppo unlimbered for indirect fire accompanied by Listers HQ. Each artillery piece has enough ammo for six fire missions (shown by the little blue dice). 

Diegos brigade came on the other flank, supported by the other gun.  In the original scenario they set up in the hills, but I wanted the players to get the hang of movement. It is also really hard to coordinate complex unit setups beforehand in remote games as it relies on the player teams doing some advance planning and they don't always have time to do it. Easier to let them march their stuff on. 

There aren't any restrictions on airstrikes in the Portable SCW, so Tim whistled up his bombers to pound the Republican guns while they were unlimbering. The SM79s failed to find their target and aborted. 

The Heinkels however rained death and destruction on these unfortunate gunners (two hits!). They took a hit, were pinned and also forced to retreat. I could have been unkind and said they couldn't retreat, but that seemed very mean. I've no idea if retreating artillery are treated as limbered or not. In this instance I decided they were, but I think that may be wrong as it means they can just move back again the same turn. 

The Nationalists shelled Diegos brigade, forcing one battalion back, who then retraced their steps when they were activated. The whole brigade now lined up along the ridge line. The Guardia also came under shell fire and hastily retired back into the city. 

Tims infantry did the same thing on the other ridge and moved up to line the edge. The Italian bombers once more failed to find any targets.

The Republicans started shelling the town in earnest now. The Carlists took a hit and were pinned, so Tims infantry closed in from the west behind the barrage. Their advancing fire was ineffective (moving and firing against a target in cover needed 6 to hit).

Diego outflanked the town from the east as well. The Guardia emerged once more and managed to hit and pin one of the Popular Army (EP) battalions. As these are battalions, I've dropped the direct fire ranges to two hexes for most things.

The Italians finally found their mark and completely missed, scattering bombs all over the countryside. It all looked very impressive, and the Times journalist covering the battle from the Nationalist side wrote about it very enthusiastically. This was one Kim Philby, who later became famous for rather different reasons.

The Republican gun which had earlier retreated now re-appeared, and was shelled as it moved into position. The Republicans closed in on the town from all sides and the Carlists succumbed to massed rifle and MG fire from an entire brigade. Pinned units are very vulnerable to damage in the PW as they can't retreat, and I'm not sure what I think about that for a game at this level.

Things are getting very sticky in the town as the Republicans close in. One battalion has even crossed the river and has brought the Nationalist artillery under direct fire. The Army battalion and Guardia are both pinned and have taken some losses, as has the mountain gun. To add insult to injury, Colonel d'Harcourt was wounded in the hail of gunfire. I use the leader risk mechanism from the Napoleonic set, as it seems more realistic than the standard SCW PW mechanism.

Republican artillery concentrates on the Army troops now, while the firefight continues around the town. Just visible across the river is Kim Philby in next to his reporters car. The Nationalists have reached their exhaustion level, but the Republicans have a way to go yet.

The Nationalist guns and the Army battalion are destroyed, just the Guardia left now. Just visible in the bottom left is the Republicans very own journalist, a certain Mr E Hemingway (who turned up in the middle of the battle with a couple of NYT reporters). He is sitting on the ridgeline no doubt nursing a hangover.

In a final flourish, Col d'Harcourt joins the Guardia Civil as the Republicans enter the town from the west. His leader bonus is enough to allow the Guardia to inflict another hit. These boys can really shoot.

The pinned Guardia finally collapse as an elite EP battalion assaults them, leaving the Colonel on his own. With that we called it a day (the Colonel was taken prisoner in the real battle).

Lister surveys the final position. The town has fallen, albeit with heavy losses as there are only two undamaged Republican units left. This was the 'Spanish Only' victory the high command wanted though, with none of those interfering foreigners from the International Brigades.

I've played this scenario four times and now, and I can't see any way the Nationalists can win it. It is just a question of how quickly they are destroyed (seven turns being the longest, five turns the shortest). The scenario as written says the campaign ends at this point, but irl the Nationalists dusted themselves off and mounted a huge counteroffensive in February 1938, so we will just go ahead and play the counterattack anyway.

That all played OK, we rattled through the whole thing in one hour and fifteen minutes. The rules all seemed to work fine, my only slight hesitation being how to treat retreating artillery (as limbered or unlimbered). On reflection, I think limbered, but it just can't move again on the turn it retreats if it has already fired.

Next instalment coming soon!