This was an early play-test battle for Tunisia. The game was set during Operation Supercharge II, just outside El Hamma in the Tebaga Gap. Here 1st Armoured Division’s breakthrough attempt, to outflank the Mareth Line, was met by a counter-attack by 15th Panzer. I’d take the Panzerwaffe, getting to use some of my uprated DAK with longer guns for the first time. It was supposed to be a tank-brawl, so true to the scenario, I just took tanks, a mis-mash of IIs, various marks of IIIs, 2 IVs (E and an F2) supported by a Marder and the Luftwaffe’s aid, with a forward air controller (come to me those Air Attack counters) and a timed Stuka strike too…
The Brits were tank heavy too, but had some infantry, a whole Bren section (woo-hoo). They had 6 Shermans - eek! and a HQ command Grant. They also had off-table arty from 25 pdrs and the RAF’s forward air tentacle - both of us were expecting some air support.
It was a straight meeting engagement, a stand-up fight and both sides reinforcements were keen for the fight (no Panzer-Marsch for me though in 1943). I had a few more tanks, but was generally outclassed (except for my 1 Pz IV F2).
The battle began with tanks exchanging fire in the centre, close to the farm houses, with some pinning with HE and little else. My Marder sat at the low rise at the very back corner and sniped away, needing 6s to hit, but scored few (all glances) over the turns, but pinning the crews, useful (and a highly irritating gun). The ammo truck crew were very busy shifting fresh shells to it most turns (ammo 3!).
My Pz IIs and the Pz IV E were a small diversion/demonstration force, designed to take the objective on my right and draw some British tanks away from my main push on the left (up the centre would be too risky, getting fire from all sides). They raced forwards through the orchard (oranges most likely) and started harassing the Shermans with 20mm cannon fire, little real threat but pinning is pinning regardless of gun… they then got some falling 25 pdr fire in return and quickly lost a tank to a direct hit. Those 25 pdrs were likely to wreck all my light tanks. No answer to that.
My Stuka timed strike arrived in the very centre, exactly where 2 Shermans had rolled up behind a low stone wall. A direct hit by its large bomb destroyed one Sherman (very dead!) and a second direct hit only pinned the other, so close! Good return on those points and 2 counters for the Brits (should have been 3).
Meanwhile, the main tank fight at long range was using up ammo and scoring a few pins but little else, until my only Pz IIIL took an incoming 75mm AP hit that destroyed it (losing an officer in the process). Honours even so far.
My right flank Pz IIs had their objective and kept up the annoying suppressing fire, with 20mm ammo to burn, and as both sides took chits to unpin their tanks, the piles were growing evenly… about 5-6 each.
My F2 was the target of much 75mm HE and kept getting pinned and re-pinned, so it couldn’t have the killer effect I’d hoped… my last Pz III reinforcements (all lacklustre Gs) joined the push on the left and added their HE to the suppressing fire volleys… the three Shermans ahead were suffering too, always 1 or 2 were pinned. Once pinned, AP shots followed, so even glances (lots of them) could cause crews to abandon ship. It didn’t work, except for the British HQ Grant, who, pinned by the Pz IV ‘Stump’s’ HE, bailed as 20mm cannon fire rattled off the front glacis. 2 chits, and the stalemate was starting to break… the Brits had lost their senior officer, to a Panzer II… tee-hee.
This small British disaster was soon followed by another, when the Luftwaffe showed up, an Air Attack counter (yeah, I knew I was due) and my FAC was in business. In the Ju-87D came, sirens wailing, to bomb those Shermans and… bombed wild - missing everything, rubbish!. He’d be back to strafe next turn… erm, but what? The British infantry team were just sitting tight in the farm house objective with little to contribute. Just spotting them would be hard. He might have just use suppressing fire and shoot the place up.
Ammo was now the big issue for both sides. The Shermans last volley of fire blew another Pz III sky high, and the others started to pull back to rearm, my supply truck rushing across the sand to meet them halfway. The British BR total must be close. But he unpinned (maybe not that close then!), but got his own Air Attack counter. The incoming RAF ‘Kittyhawk’ bombed my Marder's nice sniper position, scored a direct hit and my Marder was gone…kaboom! Glad the ammo truck had just moved, otherwise that hit would have been on it and my tanks would have been stranded ammo-less.
The resulting 5 BR chit (argh!) put me 1 from my break point… (double argh!). My next turn saw my Pz IV F2 finally get a shot (well 2), and score a kill, another Sherman brewed up - serious gun-power there. This chit must do it… but no! The British must have pulled chits well, because they didn’t look too concerned (or good poker-face). I figured the next turn would end it for me. Anything pinned would be out of the game. One chit would do it.
Except, surprisingly, the British conceded… pulling his last 3 rolling Shermans back, remounting in Bren Carriers and scarpering the way they had come. Perplexed, I asked why?. No AT shots left in the entire army. Literally not one shot that could damage a tank, no HE left either, and no resupply truck for the last 3 Shermans. He had one 2” mortar to fight off 5-6 tanks! The Brits were just 4 points from breaking, but couldn’t see how to get any more chits off me. One would have done it… but he didn’t know that.
Strange end, but the oft-debated ammo rule had decided it… my tanks would all be back, fully armed up in the next turn or two. Out of ammo to fight with, the British tankers had no choice to to concede the ground. Narrow (very narrow) German win… on a technicality, but I’ll take it.
I’d lost 6 AFVs (2 Pz IIs, 3 Pz IIIs and the Marder). The British had lost 4 (3 Shermans and the abandoned Grant, we could put that back in service). An even fight I’d say.
As a test it was good; much food for thought on German armour… I really like the rag-tag mix of anything that rolls in Tunisia, from Pz I to Tiger and everything inbetween. On reflection, I’d want infantry in as well though, Tunisia fighting feels more like western Europe, so the infantry restriction will be back in I think. It ain’t the open deserts anymore.
A few snaps from the game…
The field of battle, from German corner, open desert to the farm an its fields and orchard
The farm, an objective
From British side
First Pz IIIs move up
Marder covering from way back
F2 in support, before becoming pinned many times
Shermans face up and engage, end of that wall is my Stuka's pre-picked location
Meanhile Pz IIs through the orchard on the right
Pz IV E will help out with HE suppressing fire
Ammo, truck brings up the Marder's constant supply. Luftwaffe spotter has moved in next door.
Pushing on towards the left
Pz IIs enfilading the British tanks, the Grant moves round to engage.
Stuka strike! Good shot!
Last reserves arrive, the Gs... meh!
Ausf L up in smoke leading the way.
Firing line formed, with the oh-so pinned F2... soon he will get a shot off.
But a Kittyhawks spins in - tally-ho! Bombs away!
Ouch - Marder catches one.
Re-arming the panzers, one over-worked re-supply truck today.