Time for another trip to Operation Compass. This time it is January 1941 and the Italian 10th Army has fallen back to the Derna/Mechili line. While the Australians deal with Derna, 4th Armoured Brigade is trying to turn the desert flank at Mechili. Unknown to them the Italian Special Armoured Brigade is on the way...
Friday, 13 May 2022
Battlefield from the south. Mechili is the little town at the road junction in the centre left. There are some deep wadis with areas of rough ground beside them plus a few low rises, and a network of desert tracks. This is a long way from the coastal highway. The British are trying to clear the road network to the northwest, while the Italians are trying to stop them (and ideally cut the roads leading east).
As ever, the scenario is taken from the excellent "Benghazi Handicap".
Advanced guard, 4th Armoured Brigade. 7th Hussars supported by a RHA 2pdr portees battery. John, Mark and Simon played the British. John was Brigadier Scott Coburn, while Mark had 7th Hussars. Simon had 2nd RTR who would arrive later. The British had cross attached cruisers to each armoured regiment to support the Vickers Lights. Curiously A9s were attached to 7H, whereas some A13s might have been more sensible. Oh well.
The Mechili garrison, drawn from elements of 60th Sabratha Div. The Italians were commanded by Tim, who commanded all the brigade level support. Pete and Russell had the manouvre battalions.
The Mechili garrison had a lot of heavy weapons, but was seriously demoralised. If they were not closely supported by their own armour, they would retreat.
Russell commanded the Advanced Guard of the Special Armoured Brigade. A battalion each of L3 light tanks and M13 mediums. The M13s were a step up from the M11s the Italians had used previously.
There was some randomised air support as I'd painted the planes. The British had some Hurricanes flying CAP.
And the Italians had some CR42s flying top cover.
The impetuous fighter pilots immediately got stuck in, and unsurprisingly the Italians came off worst and burning biplanes littered the desert. First blood to the RAF.
The British took are fairly directly approach and just piled everything up the central track, which fired the deep wadi. Tanks in front, AT guns bringing up the rear. The central wadi is a significant obstacle, but not much of a problem for the veteran British tankers to negotiate.
Russell's tanks edged forwards to the north of Mechili. The 47mm AT guns in the town opened fire and knocked out some Vickers Lights. The Italian gunners were rather better quality than their infantry pals.
The British parked their cruisers up to provide covering fire while the Vickers closed in on the town. The 2pdrs took up firing positions in the wadi. The Italians were content to just fire and the AT gunners knocked out some more light tanks.
At this point the rest of the Italian Armoured Briagde rolled up. A battalion of 75mm field guns set up on the northern rise, while some Tripoli armoured cars rolled down the road, very slowly. There were only half a dozen of these irl, old WW1 armoured bodies mounted on Lancia light truck chassis.
And coming up the road from the south, Petes Bersaglieri battalion reinforced with 47mm AT guns, and another battalion of M13s. This route was constrained by the wadi and rocky ground, so the motorcycles, trucks and tanks stuck to the track through the bad going.
The artillery were joined by Colonel Tivoli, who directed proceedings.
Amazingly both sides managed to roll up some more random fighter cover. This time a Hurricane faced off against a Fiat G.50.
And the G.50 was victorious!
Simons 2nd RTR rolled on down the road past the burning wreckage of the Hurricanes. This regiment had a higher proportion of cruisers, although still a mix of A9s and A13s so the unit was slowed to the speed of the A9s.
The RHA had an amazingly good shoot and knocked out half of Russells M13s. The M13s and L3s pulled back a bit, and the Italian 75s started shelling the portee 2pdrs who had perhaps unwisely moved into the open.
With the main body of 4th Armoured here, 25pdrs were available which started shelling Mechli. 7th Hussars parked up outside the town and began brassing it up, and the combination of artillery fire and massed 0.5" BESA fire inflicted some losses on the defenders. The Bersaglieri moved up to support the towns southern flank.
Petes M13s were stuck in a bit of a traffic jam as they tried to leave the bad ground around the wadi, and at this juncture the Rolls Royce armoured cars of 11th Hussars rolled up from the south and parked up to observe the Italian motorcyclists.
A flight of Fiat Br.20 Cicognes now turned up, escorted by the victorious G.50.
And from the east a flight of RAF Blenheims arrived.
The G.50 intercepted the the British bombers.
The Blenheim gunners downed the pesky fighters, but were forced to abort their bomb run in the dog fight and try again next turn.
The Cicognes scattered bombs rather ineffectively around 2RTR and 4th Armoured Brigade HQ and flew off. No losses were sustained and the armour passed its morale check.
Unperturbed the British armour rolled across the wadi, accompanied by the Brigade HQ.
7th Hussars were really getting shot up quite badly. I'm not sure why they were butting up against the defended town instead of taking on the Italian tanks. The 25pdrs shifted their fire to the Bersaglieri, who took a few losses and were pinned down by the shell fire.
Before they became pinned, the Italian AT gunners brewed up some of the Rolls Royces, the survivors slipped around their flank to the south.
The Italian armour was now massed north of the town, with both battalions of M13s in front and the L3s on the rise behind.
Up in the far north, the Tripolis were probing to find a way across the wadi. At least someone had read their briefing!
We broke for the night at this point. The British are now more concentrated but the Italians have their full force massed and are looking to be in quite a good position.
2nd RTR kept rolling up the road, but the Italian 75s knocked out one of the Portees, who were still pinned down in the open by the artillery fire.
The Blenheim came in for another run, looking for motorised road columns but missed the M13/40s by miles.
The AT gunners in Mechili picked off some more British tanks and 7th Hussars was now below half strength, but their morale held.
The Italian Airforce put in another appearance in the form of a flight of SM 79s.
While the Tripoli armoured cars continued their rear area rampage, the remaining Portees fell back the wadi, and into some cover.
In the centre. both battalions of M13s rolled forwards in a steel wave. 2nd RTR took up the challenge and charged headlong into close combat, to give the Vickers 0.5" MGs a chance as they were completely outranged by the Italian 47mm guns.
In the bloody close range fighting, the British suffered a few losses, but Petes M13 battalion was badly shot up and fell below half strength and remaining Italian tanks fell back disorganised. The superior quality of the British crews was decisive. That was a bit of a turn up as things had been looking a bit sticky for the British.
The Italian bombers weighed in at the point, but missed completely, with the bombs landing right on Mechili! Fortunately they didn't inflict any losses. Some tactical lessons about level bombers and mobile armoured battles there I think.
Realising how much better their crews were, the British pressed home their advantage and pursued the retreating M13s. Another close range battle ensued and the remaining Italian tanks were dispersed.
Back south of Mechili, more 7th Hussar tanks went up in flames as they attempted to overrun the Bersaglieri. It was too little, too late and the regiment became disorganised in the face of the interlocked Italian AT defences. Maybe if they had tried that a few turns earlier...
2nd RTR was now wedged in the middle of both Russells tank battalions and the M13s turned to engage their flanks. Some more British tanks were destroyed reducing the regiment to below 50% strength.
This didn't seem to unduly dampen their spirits and they first annihilated the remaining M13s with gunfire, then charged the L3s on the rise. The tankettes, without any effective AT weapons, withdrew in disorder leaving some burning vehicles behind.
The Mechili garrison was now unsupported by any Italian armour within a mile, and also withdrew in disorder back to the wadi. The remaining armoured cars of 11th Hussars took the opportunity to drive in amongst the fleeing Italians shooting them up, just like Lawrence of Arabia.
To add insult to injury, some more Blenheims turned up and bombed the Bersaglieri, but without effect.
2nd RTR pursued the L3s up the rise but came under direct fire from the Italian 75mm guns, knocking out some Cruisers. The tankers decided discretion was the better part of valour and took cover.
South of Mechili the fighting petered out. The handful of armoured cars were unable to inflict significant losses on the Italian infantry, and the disordered remnants of 7th Hussars withdrew to reorganise. The Bersaglieri were left south of town under desultory 25pdr fire.
2nd RTR had pretty much shot its bolt as well, and although the Italian position was thoroughly smashed up, the British had failed in their objective of clearing the roads to the northwest as they were still strongly held by the Italian field guns.
While in the rear, the Italian armoured cars were having lots of fun cutting the roads eastwards. Which was a marginal Italian victory, despite their heavy losses.
Well that one went right down to the wire. I thought the British had completely blown it putting their light tanks up against a defended BUA with no infantry support, but late in the day they suddenly discovered their effectiveness in tank combat. The Italians deployed their forces very effectively, maximising their strengths, and it was a very bold move to infiltrate the armoured cars. Ultimately the British didn't have an answer to that and it cost them the game.
I'd tried out some modifications to this, mainly to have fewer morale tests but make them harder to pass with the test conditions encouraging either flank attacks or that defenders were suppressed. In the end it didn't make a huge amount of difference, although it made the Italians a bit cautious about closing. The RTR were quite gung ho, but in the end paid the price for conducting a series of frontal assaults. I'll try the mods in a few more games and see how we get on.
It was also nice to get the planes out, although they ended up just being a random buggeration factor, and hopefully not too overwhelming.