Saturday, 3 June 2023

Holidays in the Sun, Sicily 1943

 I've been interested in the Sicilian campaign for many years, and the battle of Agira (west of Etna) is one of my standard WW2 rule test scenarios for divisional level games. Some years ago I was fortunate enough to take part in Tims huge 'Race to Messina' Megablitz game which featured both the US drive along the north coast and Eighth Armies drive up the east coast simultaneously.

An operation which was a precursor to the main Sicilian campaign took place a few days after the invasion however, when Montgomery attempted to bounce the German defences on the east side of the island with parachute and commando landings to sieze key bridges, followed up by a land attack to drive over the bridges, capture Catania and then crack on to take Messina and cut off all the Axis forces on the island. 

This later became famous as the Battle of Primasole Bridge, but I wanted to do the whole campaign as it had a real 'Market Garden' vibe to it, and was manageable enough with the figures and player numbers I had available and perfect fit for a Corps level Megablitz game. 

So here we are on the coast of sunny Sicily in mid July 1943. South is nearest the camera, and XIII Corps is advancing North from the Allied beaches near Syracuse. The small port of Augusta is just visible in the mid right at the end of the bay and in the distance is Catania and the lower slops of Mount Etna. The whole battlefield is roughly 30km x 75km.

The Axis frontline is held by these suspicious grey ovals. Underneath them are three Italian Fortress Regiments, essentially just speedbumps and KG Heilmann aka 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Regiment, flown in the previous day and motoring south in some 'liberated' lorries. The port of Augusta is fortified and held by one of the Italian regiments.

Russell commanded KG Heilmann, but in the event was too ill to attend so Tim took over.

The bridges over the Lentini River and Simieto River. The main highway runs over the bridges at Malati and Primasole (labelled on the map). Apologies for the green roads, but it was the only roll of Masking Tape in my game bag which still worked!

The coast is dotted with pillboxes, which I treated as 1SP static units.

Off to the west is Fallschirm Panzer Division 'Herman Goering' commanded by Pete. HG was heavily reinforced up to Corps strength, and detached a division sized Kampfgruppe to intervene at Lentini, known as KG Schwalbe. The core elements being 115th Panzergrenadier Regiment (aka '15th Panzer Division') and 382nd Panzergrenadier Regiment of dubious provenance supported by the HG Stug battalion and various other bits of 15th Panzer Div.

They will arrive in due course.

In the far north is the city of Catania and Catania airfield. The airfield is heavily fortified with bunkers, wire, trenches etc and a strong Flak element. 1st FJ Division is flying in more elements, 1st FJ Engineer and MG battalions have just arrived, as has the divisional recce company. The division has cobbled together an ad-hoc artillery regiment from local resources. There are also various HQ and logistic elements, including the HQ of XIV Panzer Korps (Generalleutnent Hube), which had overall command of this sector. 

Tim commanded 1st FJ Division and the Corps overall.

The main Allied ground element was XII Corps under Sir Miles Dempsey (John). The Corps consisted of 50th and 5th Divisions, reinforced with 4th Armoured Brigade. The 50th were desert veterans but I rated 5th Div as somewhat lower quality. Lloyd took 50th Div and Tom the 5th. 

50th Div massed on the main highway, reinforced with 4th Armoured, but John removed an infantry brigade to act as Corps reserve.

5th Division was over in the east, their initial objective was to take Augusta. The Allied units had a reasonable amount of supply with them, but the road where choked with traffic and the beaches were still chaos, so there wasn't any resupply available from the rear (an issue in the original battle was lack of transport). 

Taking Augusta would open up a sea supply route, and I was was planning on gaming several days, supply would become increasingly important.

The Germans pretty much just had what supplies with them that they started with, although they did get a minimal amount via the road leading north from Catania each day.

HG Division would enter at some point on one or both of the side roads. As with the Allies, it supply situation would be complicated by all these rivers. 

The action opened before dawn on the 14th with the rumble of marine diesel engines. Commandos landed on the coast northwest of Augusta! There were a few navigation problems on the way in, but they managed to avoid the coastal defences and set off inland towards the Malati Bridge.

At Primasole, 1st Parachute Brigade conducted a night para drop! On the way in they were engaged by both the entire Allied fleet, as well as the German Flak at Catania. Night drops are fairly risky at the best of times, and dropping too close to the bridge risked landing in the water, which would be very bad. In the event, the brigade mainly ended up a few km south of the bridge. The element which ended up closest (landed by glider) was the brigade supply column which ended up perilously close to the river.

As the Dakotas flew away, the Parachute battalions spent the rest of the night sorting themselves out, but it was a nice clean drop. 

Dawn on the 14th opened with a bomber raid of Catania. The first outing for my diecast Bristol Beaufort. Yes it is a torpedo bomber, but it looks nice. This raid mainly added more rubble to the already damaged highway.

Back in the south, after some preliminary recce, 50th Div assaulted the Axis positions. For the main assault they committed an infantry brigade supported by the entire Tank Brigade and all the divisional artillery. The also despatched a flying column of a lorried infantry brigade and the divisional AT battalion around the left flank, preceded by a recce screen, which soon found that the Italian interval troops were just surrendering or running away.

The guys in the trenches were made of sterner stuff and repelled the first assault.

5th Div committed two infantry brigades to the assault in its front, while the Recce Regiment flowed around the flanks

Meanwhile back at Primasole, 1st Parachute Brigade made their way towards the bridge, but not before the 1st FJ recce company had got there on their Kettenkrads. The other FJ set off marching South from the airfield.

In the south fighting continued on both the raods, but the 50th Div flying column made it as far as Lentini well in the Axis rear.

5th Div finally overcame the defenders in the trenches.

It was now mid afternoon and the first elements of KG Schmalz began to motor on from the west. 115th PG Regiment turned south, while the 382nd turned north. Yes, that is a Tiger you can see, 2/504th Tiger Bn which had 21 Tigers in Sicily. I added it as there were a couple of Tigers at Primasole and it is fun, it was either the Tigers or a boring battalion of Panzer IIIs - accounts of the tank support for Schmalz are a bit contradictory. The SP rating of both is similar, so it didn't affect the overall strength of the formation.  

First contact at Lentini. The recce elements of Schmalz and 50th Div meet as night falls. 50th Div is rolling up the highway in a huge phalanx, and I don't think a few German armoured cars will hold them up for long.

Meanwhile the 3rd FJ Regiment drive away from XIII Corps and instead take on the Commandos at Malati Bridge, pursued by recce units from 5th Div.

5th Div pushes its reserve lorried brigade forwards as fast as possible to link up with the Commandos.

Back at Primasole scattered elements of 1st FJ form a line along the river as 1st Parachute Brigade lines the southern bank. Stukas and artillery shell the British paras and the 1st FJ Recce Ko succeed in demolishing the bridge. 1st Para digs in for a fight.

The rear elements of KG Schmalz are on now, artillery, engineers, HQs etc plus a special supply column dedicated solely to keeping the Tigers in action.

115th PGR masses menacingly near Malati Bridge. The Commandos are in trouble now.

While the 382nd and Stug Bn are close to locking down the bridge west of Primasole and preserving the tenuous German supply line leading south.

At nightfall 50th Div laagers for the night and the German recce units withdraw to refuel.

XIII Corps HQ marches on, which includes medical and repair units to replace losses. They've also got a column load of supplies. Supply is a real issue for the Allies, as with two infantry divisions, four artillery regiments and a whole tank brigade in action, they are burning seven LOG points a day. They've only got 20 LOG points on transport in total, so will run out of supplies in three days unless they sort out some resupply.

Meanwhile 5th Div sorts itself out for a dawn assault on Augusta with two infantry brigades.

At dawn on the 15th 5th Div assaults Augusta while another brigade pushes north to try and relieve the Commandos.

Sadly it is too late, the Commandos are overrun at dawn by KG Heilmann and 115th PGR, who then withdraw back over the Lentini River. 50th Div follows up to the river line as the Germans pull back.

At Primasole, 382nd PGR and the Stugs prepare to assault 1st Para Brigade while 3rd FJR retreats northwards. 4th FJR flew into Catania overnight and is now deployed at Primasole Bridge.

Late in the morning, both FJR and the Panzergrenadiers attack the British Paras. Although they inflict some losses, 1st Para rolls some hideous dice and the brigade largely disappears in a single turn of combat! Ooops. That wasn't in the plan.

50th Div tries to force the Lentini, but the Germans blow the demo charges. The nearer bridge is destroyed, while the Malati bridge is damaged which prevents tracked vehicles crossing.

Over on the coast, 5th Div captures Augusta and begins clearing rubble from the port as its infantry close on the river.

The infantry push across the river and form a bridgehead, behind which the Engineers start to build a bridge. Very cunning! The Germans are content to just probe the British infantry with recce units.

50th Div glares at KG Schmalz on the opposite bank. Lloyd wanted to wait until Tom had finished the bridge before attacking. It also saved on fuel and ammo.

3rd and 4th FJR start to dig in along the Semiento River as night falls on the 15th.

Having built a soft vehicle bridge, 5th and 50th Divs attack across the Lentini at dawn on the 16th, focussing on 115th PGR at Malati. Both sides commit fighter and dive bombers to the bitter fighting, but 5th Div is able to push two more brigades over the river.

With Augusta now open, the Allies are able to ship in four LOG points per day via Landing Craft sailing up from Syracuse, which greatly eases the Allied supply position. 

Overnight the XIII Corps HQ set up at Lentini and the medical and repair units set about dealing with casualties and repairing damaged tanks. This allowed the British to replace some losses, a luxury not afforded to the Germans. 

Back at Catania the only relief for the Germans was the 1st FJ anti-tank battalion, which flew in overnight to the airfield and moved up to support the growing defences on the Simieto.

Things were pretty busy around the airfield, but repeated Allied bombing raids had choked the roads around Catania with rubble.

Back on the Lentini, 5 Div had staked out a large bridghead, watched warily by German armoured cars. The Allied recce had gone in very hard early in the game and was now weakened and cautious of further losses.

The 5 Div rear area was looking rather orderly now.

50 Div was in a huge mass south of the river, and as night fell, 115th PGR was overcome at Malati Bridge.

Overnight on the 16th, 5 Div put all of its infantry over the river into a large bridgehead.

While 50th Div had been largely static all day apart from one brigade committed to support 5th Div, so its LOG expenditure was minimal.

KG Schmalz was left with the 382nd PGR covering the demolished bridge over the Lentini but with a secure supply route north.

Back at Catania the FJ engineers had been busy building fortifications along the river line.

On the 17th July 5th Div continued its advance, and KG Schmalz conducted a delaying action, screened by its recce battalion.

50th Div engineers repaired the damaged bridge on the main highway and the tank brigade crossed to follow the dismounted infantry who had forded the river. The rest of the division formed up to cross the river.

1st FJR concentrated at Primasole Bridge as KG Schmalz fell back over the central bridge, pursued by 5 Div.

4th FJR occupied the lower slope of Etna as the mass of vehicles fell back over the Simieto.

50 Div was well over the Lentini now and advancing with dismounted infantry in the lead through the close country.

KG Schmalz demolished the upper bridge on the Simieto and positioned 382 PGR to cover the central bridge.

50 Div continued its slow advance. I do wonder if they might have been better putting the tanks out front at this stage.

Meanwhile 5 Div had closed with the river.

Which was looking quite strongly held!

The German rear area was now packed with artillery, Flak, HQ and logistic units as might fell on the 17th.

We did debate doing another day, but having advanced 50km in four days, the British had largely shot their logistic bolt as they could only fully supply one division a day, not enough to take on the whole of 1st FJ Div and the remaining troops of KG Schmalz. We all agreed that the British could probably force the river, at huge cost, but it was now virtually impossible to take Catania as fighting in a major BUA consumes 1 LOG point per turn.

So, the British advance halted on the Simieto, just as it did in real life. It was just 'a bridge too far'. I'm sure Monty won't make that mistake again.

That went really well and it was great to get my old 20mm Megablitz stuff out again. The campaign followed the broadly historical course (although irl 1st Para Bde wasn't completely wiped out before 50 Div arrived!) and I greatly enjoyed running the combined air, sea and land elements. The players were all kept very busy, sufficiently so that they made various mistakes under pressure, which is entirely reasonable.

Having finally scratched that particular itch, I think it is time to say goodbye to my 20mm WW2 stuff. It takes up huge amounts of space (ten A4 box files of ready use stuff, let alone all the rest in the loft) and hardly gets used. My plan is to standardise on my favourite WW2 scales, 6mm and 15mm, and in fact I've got enough stuff in both those scales to game this battle twice over.


  1. Nice mats!
    Also nice to see a Megablitz game.
    While I understand the logic of your decision to part with the 20mm toys, it's still a sad one as 20mm seems inextricably linked to Megablitz.

    1. The mats are Cigar Box (arid grassland and steppe iirc). Tim whetted my appetite for MB again with our recent AiW game, and tbh, I've played as many Megablitz games in 6mm as I have 20mm. The larger scale does have a certain grandeur to it, but it is pointless duplication having the same units in three different scales.

  2. "It is pointless duplication having the same units in three different scales" . Since when has it stopped wargamers from doing just that.....? ☺
    It seems to be a common affliction; way back when, I had pretty much standardised on 15mm. Never got on with 6mm / 1:300 / 1:285 despite admiring GHQ and Adler.
    My only 28mm were skirmish and some legacy SYW armies. Everything else from ancients to WW2 were 15mm. Post 1945 were 20mm and 1:87.
    Common scale, common scenery etc.
    Then I worked for Foundry briefly.....the lure of free and discounted figures.
    My justification is different rules with different basing. I'm aware you use a common system, so this doesn't arise.

    1. Some of these units are 25 years old and some of the individual vehicles and figures are 50 years old. 15mm offerings have improved in range and quality since 1973, and it is just a scale I prefer as I always had a soft spot for Roco. I blame Charles Grant.

  3. Very interesting scenario. Might we see it at COW sometime?

    1. It took five and a half hours to play, so I doubt it would work for COW. I could do it far quicker with Panzergruppe, so I could certainly do the scenario again, just with different rules.

  4. Hello Martin

    Good stuff - another of you excellent scenarios. Well enjoyed reding the report. It seemed to be intense the whole way through!

    If I could do WW2 all over again, I would choose only 15mm (I think we have have this similar view in various forums over the years). However I have so much 20mm (and some 6mm) but no 15mm, so 20mm it seems will be my go to size until I can game no more :-) Also I have fond memories of it that would make it hard to let go, around a third of the kit is from before 1980.

    1. Thanks Shaun. I also have certain pangs about letting it go, but I'm in post retirement "clear the decks mode" at the moment. I've sold tons of militaria too. Who knew old canvas tents sold for so much?