A game of Battlegroup Tobruk, set in 1941. The randomly generated scenario was a recce screen, with 600 points aside. The Italian infantry division list would be used for a motorised column attempting to circumvent the British front lines near Mechili, via a narrow route through the Wadi Al Suluq. An ad-hoc British armoured battlegroup would be hastily dispatched to intercept them (that’s me).
The Italian force was led by its recce troops, a brand new AB41 armoured car, a sniper team and two Auto Saharian AS.37 trucks mounting 20mm Breda cannons (lots of firepower). The British recce, coming the other way, was a Vickers IVC and a Dingo, command armoured car, in touch with the off-table 3” mortar battery, ready to make the Italian advance uncomfortable from turn 1.
The first 6 (max) turns of the recce phase saw the armoured car and MarkIV trading ineffective long range shots, whilst the Dingo crew was on the radio calling in the mortars, which bracketed the the lead AS.37 and left it a smoking wreck - first blood. The Italians though had out scouted the British and seize two of the three objectives, so had the early lead in counters. One of those counters was an aircraft, and having taken the ‘Low on Fuel’ special rule against the Italians, I played it as a low fuel event on the armoured car. It had 1 move then would be immobilised. It did take its revenge, as the Mark IV moved in to get closer for its 15mm Besa, it bounced rounds of the AB and its return fire KO’d the Whippet. Drat! Win to the Auto Blinda.
The recce phase over the British reinforcements start to roll in, slowly, the fast, a A9 and Bedford MWD with a rifle section onboard. Ambush sniper fire from the lurking Italian marksman saw him hit and the MWD twice, right through the engine block! Dead light truck. The infantry piled out, pinned as they hit the deck from the accurate shooting. That sniper would have to be found. The A9 raked the high ground with MG fire to get him pinned first.
The Italians started their move up the wadi, lead by their old M11, the only ‘tank’ they had! (as well as 3 CV33 tankettes). Behind followed a long trail of various soft-skins, a mess of Fiat’s and Lancia trucks and cars and a ‘locally-sourced’ Benghazi bus! Ahead of them my first timed 25 pdr bombardment crashed in, but just some pinning was the total damage. No 6s!
As the Italian column paused with heavy artillery fire across its route down the wadi, more British A9s and the captured M40 (Beda Fomm prize) rolled in, behind followed the motorised infantry platoon in their trucks. The lead A9 miraculously spotted the lurking sniper and more MG fire saw him silenced. The battle was on, but then the dust cloud, no doubt from the repeated 25 pdr strikes thundering in, caused all the ranges to close and -1 to all spotting. Through the dust, my first infantry sections had scrambled up the slopes to take the high point objective - now the sniper as gone. One counter inflicted and just in time, the Italians had moved up to take the other (centre table) and would have had all three! The Tommy’s on the high ground set up their Vickers MG and began blazing down into the wadi at maximum range, pinning anything they could see moving. Down there were a lot of infantry debussing and running about, dragging 47mm anti-tank guns into place. The A9s traded shots with the M11 - a clash of garbage tanks, and rounds ricochetted off both side’s ‘armour’. The M11 was then KO’d by a direct hit from a 3” mortar bomb, leaving it smoking.
The Brits were all here now, just in time for the Regia Aeronautica to arrived and bomb them… the closest target to the PRTP, my forward HQ and his Tilly truck… whose driver dived into the rocks for cover - pinned. A close call for the boss, no damage. The Bofors gun was still on tow, not yet set-up, always good to have the AA ready one turn after the air strike hits! The Bofors would go on to suppressing fire role down the wadi, and did hit and KO a CV-33 with its 40mm AP rounds. Some redemption for the crew.
The Italian now had their FOO in place (he had to move up due to the dust cloud) and his early comms problems had been solved by the arrival of his radio van (known now as the ice-cream van). Their 100mm guns opened up, with much pinning of my carrier section, waiting in reserve to move-up and counter-attack the central objective, once the mortars and A9s had done their part and made it less of suicide mission. One A9 was lost to an unlucky mine strike, then another to a 47mm elephant gun hit. Drat! My captured tank was also in action now, trading fire with a second elephant gun it couldn’t hit, and it couldn’t hit him either. Meanwhile, I’d drawn another aircraft counter and used it for a CV-33 to run out of fuel. Real problem today for the Italians.
My mortars continued their harassment, the Dingo spotter now aided by the Dorchester comms truck to keep the fire falling on the Italians, with lots of soft-skins getting pinned and risking easy destruction. The Italians began to pull them all back down the wadi and about 5 got away, including the Benghazi bus service’s finest!
As we stopped for lunch, it was close. 10 counters on the Italians, 11 on me. I’d drawn 2 aircraft though, the enemy a mine strike…
Back at it after a pause for tea and a bacon butty.. very British tanker.
The resumption saw the Italians still hammering away with their 100s, but still failing to score any direct hit, thank god. My bren carriers moved up and added to the fire down the wadi with their, err, brens! This saw a 47mm gun crew flee as their loader team was cut down, then his FOO, lying in the rocks was pinned - good result. Unfortunately, his forward HQ just took over artillery spotting duties and the 100mm guns final hit something (it had to come), wrecking my Bofors gun and its tow in the big explosions. 2 counters taken, and I was now on 37 total from 39. 1 more chit would see it over for the Brits. No more unpinning then.
That was until my 3” mortars hit his deployed 75mm howitzer, and its crew also broke and ran for cover. The same mortar stonk pinned the last survivor in a 4 man LMG section, holding the centre objective and those 2 counters broke the Italians, now scoring 36 from a 35 total. Phew.. a narrow win… but so close.
It was a brilliant game, great fun with the early tanks. Man of the match was the Dingo crew mortar spotters, never failed a radio check! Those 3” mortars must be damn hot by now. The Italian column at Wadi Al Suluq can be reported as halted and in retreat. We might escape from Mechili after all.
Here are a few pics of the battle as it progressed. Next up, we’ve decided to do a WWII desert trilogy, so on to 1942 at Gazala, get out my M3s. Then, into Tunisia in ’43.
A -Italian main advance. B - Italian recce. C- British first attack.
D - British second attack, A9s and bren carriers.
British forces 3 -Dingo and Vicker's MkIV recce, and carrier section.
Vickers and AB41 exchange fire before both retreated out of sight.
Infantry take the high point, where the immobilised armoured car is a constant pain. Oh, for an anti-tank grenade! Vickers team did good work until the Breda cut them all down.
Last A9 opens fire across the wadi at the Italian armour. Hull down.
Italian 'armour' burning in the centre of the wadi. FOO team in the rocks, calling in the arty fire. Need to stop him, but in the dust cloud there is little hope of seeing him.
The result, 100mm shells wreck the Bofors gun and its truck tow.