Sunday 3 September 2017

Western Egyptian Desert, June 1942

Desert game this weekend, mostly using BG: Tobruk rules, with a few added units for a game during the first battle of El Alamein. With the DAK advancing onwards towards Alexandria and threatening the Suez canal, the retreating British have to put up a mobile defence in the desert with whatever stragglers they can muster and desperately hold long enough for the defensive position at El Alamein to be established.

It would be a straight attack/counter-attack scenario, at 600 pts. My British armoured forces would be trying to halt the eastward advance of the DAK, itself already running beyond their supply lines and struggling for tank numbers. Two almost exhausted forces still battering away at each other.

Here was my force list:

FHQ -  3 men in staff car  

FSU - Dorchester ACV  
Low on Fuel                 
Motor Platoon      
in 4 light trucks

3 x Crusader IIs  
3 x M3 Grants

2 x 3” mortars (off-table)

Recce Command - Dingo
Sniper + Observer        

Repair Truck          
Carrier Platoon    
3 x 3 men in 3 Bren carriers

Bofors AA gun + truck tow
Timed 6” barrage        
1st Priority Request   

Totals                601 pts    41BR    6 officers, 2 scouts

The Germans had, roughly something like this;

FHQ in PzI Befehlswagen
Infantry Platoon in Trucks
AT Rifle Team
75mm Infantry Gun + tow
Pz III G Platoon
Arty Observer in SdKfz 254
SdKfz 231 armoured car
Recce Command in SdKfz 221
Panzerjager I
‘Diana’ with Russian 76.2mm gun
Captured Bren Carrier with Pak36 combo
K18 100mm cannon + loader team and tow
Supply Truck

Timed Stuka air strike

Totals: 599 pts    41 BR, 4 officers, 2 scouts

Both side’s initial scouts deployed, my recce commander in his Dingo getting his mortars firing early… if not to much effect, but he did a good job all game of harras fire. The German arrived swiftly (as ever), Pz IIIs and their Pz IV leading the way, with truck mounted infantry and supporting tank hunters behind. At the back, a huge 100mm cannon deployed and started to hit a PRTP close to my board corner (though the loader team were pretty lazy all game). I moved swiftly forwards to keep away from it, but some of motor platoon got pinned by the sporadic arrival of 100mm HE shells.

A good roll for my early reserves saw me match the Germans and we were quickly into the meat of the engagement, nothing cagey here. My plan was to secure my two objectives with infantry sections, supported by the Grants, using their long range respectable 75mm HE to harass and pin the Germans. The Crusaders and Carrier Platoon would attack the take the central objective, with the remaining motor infantry following up to secure it. The attack would be launched using lots of reserve movement and only after the 6” howitzer bombardment had smashed down on the objective and got the Germans well-pinned. It sort of worked, but as ever, the best laid plans oft go pear-shaped…

The early long range sparring resulted in a few pins, but nothing else. My Crusaders deployed and got onto reserve move ready to go, and after most of my motor infantry had dismounted, my carriers moved up into striking range of the central objective, but then 2 got pinned by accurate (irritating) suppressing fire from a 75mm light howitzer. This untimely event left the 6” barrage hitting but I then lacked infantry to support the lightning advance.. put hell, all ahead full and damn the torpedoes (incoming 50mm AP rounds in this case). My Crusaders went for it… only for one to be immediately hit a random mine strike counter and blown up (my repair truck got to it but it was beyond their help after 3 tries). The 6” barrage destroyed the close-by Pz IV and pinned the ad hoc ‘capture carrier and 37mm anti-tank combo’ (it later had a mortar shell land right in it and was destroyed), so the Crusaders could claim the objective, also nailing a Pz III as they did so… the Germans were rocked by the British aggression, and found the charging Crusaders a rude surprise, resisting their return AT shots (and the lurking Diana kept missing - phew!).

My single free carrier and infantry dismounts rushed to the tanks aid, weathering inevitable MG fire as they did. The dismounted carrier Bren team had a fully loaded Opel Blitz at short range and machine gunned it into wreckage… pinning 2 infantry squads as they jumped clear. The other carriers later got unpinned and raced up behind them next turn.

The tank duel was going my way, a second Pz III was hit in the side and destroyed, for the loss of my second cruiser, but the M3 Grants (now out of 75mm ammo and using 37mm HE shells to suppressing fire - hopeless!), were untouched and rolling steady forwards in support. With harassing mortar fire and a big 25pdr stonk, the Germans were well pinned and their last Panzer III was out of all ammo.

The Germans boldly took 2 chits to unpin, rolled well, and were straight back in the fight. Another special counter draw saw one of my M3 Grants immobilised by a ‘Breakdown’, and 2 Luftwaffe air attacks counters also helped the German’s cause (neither turned up, but a timed Stuka strike did cause me a extra chit - if no losses - as the ambush fire of my Bofors awaiting it missed - rubbish!).

With troops unpinned the Germans pressed to get the centre objective back. Heavy infantry and MG fire flayed the rocks hiding my infantry (who made great cover saves), but the carrier section command squad was wiped out, then the 2” mortar team (3 man teams are easy chits). One carrier also went up in smoke, hit by a Panzerjager I 47mm shell. Chits mounted too quickly, and it was obvious there would be more if I didn’t  pullback. My last carrier team jumped into its carrier and sped away to safety (relative safety), and my infantry section survivors (2 men with their Bren) ran back too. Just the last Crusader remained to contest the objective… and avoid the Germans just having it and the chit. His bold stand lasted about 2 minutes, when the 'Diana' finally hit and turned it into a flaming hulk (but not before a 2 pdr AP shell wrecked the German supply truck which had had to come forwards). The lost Crusader’s chit draw put me on 41! Equal to my BR score isn’t over it, so I could fight on, and did… hanging on for another 2 turns. The Germans had stopped unpinning, so must also be close to breaking. It might be all on the next counter…

Tension was very high. Then I had to draw a counter when a Bedford MWD was machine gunned up (I should have withdrawn it, but hey, my command and control rolls were not great all game). That counter should break me, but no, it was an air attack counter which I used as ‘Low on Fuel’ (special rule). Played on his little Panzer I HQ tank… which was abandoned! 2 counters for that, this would surely end it… but no, a Confusion counter was drawn and played on my pinned (and staying that way) Carrier Bren team. Their morale test was a rolled 1 and they ran for it… that next counter did end it.

Oh, so close, so very, very close. The Germans were on 39, also from 41. Argh! But a great game again. I loved the rag-tag feel of the two forces and the game had a real air of desperation towards the end. My bold counter-attack had almost worked - but not quite… but it was fun trying. Oh, if only 1 of those German special counters had been a number, it could have been a win. Not that its matters, a great game is a win for both sides.

Here are a few snaps of the battle, using my phone camera which is utter rubbish, so sorry for that, lesson learnt. Camera required.

Overwatch at the back, Bofors AA on ambush covers my force from the expected arrival of the Luftwaffe.

First to arrive, M3 and motor infantry in column, still well out of range, except for the 100mm shelling. 

 Forward HQ, here for the re-roll on the arrival of Reserves... very useful against Panzer Marsching Germans.

German recce keeping an eye-out from a distant hull down position, as the others move past. It fired 16 of 18 20mm rounds down range (mostly for suppression).

Infantry and M3 hold an objective (large white rocks). 

Crusader bursts passed the other M3s on reserve move, with Grants doing a stand-in artillery role. First Crusader hits a random mine - kaboom!

 The hotly contested central objective, taken, lost and retaken by the Germans. Here my two Crusaders have claimed it, carriers arriving in support, as the tanks duel it out (Crusader win in that fight). This was hot on the heels of the big 6" stonk that wrecked the Pz IV. All arms attack... artillery, tanks and infantry in perfect (ish) co-ordination...