This was a 1,000 point historical scenario for an engagement between 51 RTR and Kampfgruppe Kleeberg of the Herman Goering division during operation Ochsenkopf, north Tunisia, 1943.
The situation is that Kleeberg’s battlegroup has broken through gap in the British lines and is advancing on the town of El Aroussa, which is the location of the HQ and main supply route of Y Division (an ad-hoc British formation). To prevent Y Division becoming cut-off, elements of 51 RTR were diverted to intercept the Germans, at a low ridge some 4 miles north of town, which they called ‘the Spot’. Here, the Churchill tanks and their support would halt the German advance, if they made it there in time.
They did, just, reaching the Spot just ahead of the panzers and a furious engagement resulted… that would be our refight. Here are the two forces.
German Forces from Kampfgruppe Kleeberg, ‘Herman Goering’ Division
BR: 72 Officers 6 Scouts 4
Aufklarungs Force from 2nd Jaeger Battalion ‘Herman Goering’ Division
1 Recce command in SdKfz 222 2-v BR (Officer, Scout, Artillery Spotter)
1 SdKfz 222 1-r BR (Scout, Mortar Spotter)
2 Armoured Infantry Patrols 6-v BR (Scout, Mortar Spotter)
each 4 men with MG-42 in SdKfz 250/1
1 Assault Pioneer Squad 4-v BR (Assault Troops, Engineers)
7 men with flamethrower, anti-tank grenades and 2 demolition charges
in captured M3 halftrack
1 Light Bridging Unit 2-r BR (Bridging)
6 men in SdKfz 251/7
Medium truck with 20mm AA gun 1-r BR
Main Force from Kampfegruppe Kleeberg
Forward HQ 3-v BR (Senior Officer, Artillery spotter)
3 men in SdKfz 250/3
Luftwaffe Air Liaison Officer 1-r BR (Officer, Air Spotter 4+)
3 men with Radio Van
Forward Signals Unit 1-r BR (Comms)
Medium Radio Truck
Platoon from II Co. 2nd Jaeger Battalion ‘Herman Goering’ (formerly 5th Fallschirmjager Regiment)
1 Jaeger Platoon HQ 15-v BR (Officer, Mortar spotter)
6 men in a Heavy Car
3 Jaeger Squads - 5 men with MG42 in medium truck
3 MG Teams - 3 men with MG42
HMG Team - 3 men with sMG42 1-v BR
in medium truck
Medium Mortar Team 1-v BR
3 men and loader team with 80mm mortar in a heavy car
Anti-Tank Gun 2-v BR
PaK-38 AT gun with 3 crew and SdKfz 6 tow
Additional Jaeger Squad 4-v BR
5 men with MG42 and AT grenades in a medium truck
MG Team - 3 men with MG42
Panzer III Platoon 15-r (1 Officer, Mortar Spotter)
Panzer IV Platoon 12-r (1 Officer, Mortar Spotter)
4 Pz-IV F2
Supply Column 1-i BR (Resupply)
2 medium trucks
Off Table Support
Battery of 2 80mm mortars 0 BR
1 1st Priority Artillery Request 0 BR 2+
1 Counter Battery Fire Mission 0 BR 4+
British Forces from Y Division
BR: 60 +1D6 Officers 6 Scout 5
Delaying Force from 56 Reconnaissance squadron, ‘Derbyshire Yeomanry’
Armoured Car command 1-r BR (Officer, Scout, Artillery Spotter)
2 Daimler Mk.I Armoured Car 2-r BR (Scout, Mortar Spotter)
1 Carrier Section 6-r BR
3 men in Bren Carrier (Officer, Mortar Spotter)
3 men with Bren, in Bren Carrier
3 men with 2" mortar, in Bren Carrier
2 Infantry Foot Patrols 4-r BR (Scout, Bren Team)
each with 8 men with Bren LMG
40mm Bofors AA gun 1-r BR
with 3 crew medium with truck tow
Battery of two 3" mortars - off table 0 BR
Main Force from 51 RTR
True Grit +1D6 BR
Forward HQ 3-r BR (Senior Officer, Artillery Spotter)
3 men in M5 halftrack
Forward Signals Unit 1-r BR (Comms)
Medium Wireless truck
Forward Observer Team 1-i BR (Artillery Spotter)
2 men in Bren Carrier
1 Infantry Platoons from ‘Faughs’ Royal Irish Rifles - consists of:
Platoon HQ 9-r BR (Officer, Mortar Spotter)
5 men in light truck
3 Rifle sections
- 8 men with Bren in medium truck
1 light mortar team
- 2 men with 2" mortar
3” Mortar team - 3 men 1-r BR
Vickers HMG team - 3 men 1-r BR
Anti-Tank Gun 2-r BR
2lb gun, 3 crew and light truck tow
Churchill Tank Troop 12-r (1 Officer)
4 Mk III or IVs
Churchill Tank Troop 12-r (1 Officer)
4 Mk III or IVs
1 Mk I Churchill Tank 3-r BR (Unreliable)
Supply Column 1-i BR
2 Medium Trucks
2 x 1st Priority Artillery Requests 0 BR 3+
We started with 6 turns, the max, of a recce only phase, in which my Aufklarung did well, lost a 222 to a Daimler’s 2 pdr shot and a 250/1 to a mortar stonk, but in general their MGs and return mortars kept the British well pinned down and secured 2 objectives, including the important road bridge over the rocky ‘nullah’, an overgrown ditch/ravine at the base of the ridge. By turn 6, the German’s repeated MG suppressing fire and mortars (including one stonk that rolled four 6s for 4 direct hits!), had the British in a mess, one infantry foot patrol had been wiped out, the other pinned, the carrier section was gone, their rides withdrawing and a Daimler armoured car was smoking on the road, the Bofors was dragged forwards as emergency AT cover, but later withdrew, not needed… the Germans were well ahead on counters by the time the main forces arrived.
Both got off the slow start with that, rolling 1s, and so the tanks dribbled on. My plan was to push my Pz IIIs up to the nullah, close the range, and use a lot of HE to get some Churchills pinned, short 50mm guns would not be much use against their frontal armour. My Pz IV F2s would hang back and snipe up the ridge to get some long range kills with their better gun-power. As the tanks fought it out, I’d use my jaeger platoon and its support to push up the hill for the high ground objective, using the olive grove as cover.
The final part of the plan was to use my remaining recce troops to make a quick ‘feint’, the SdKfz 251/7 would bridge the nullah and the light armour race across to threaten the last objective on the ridge top (on my right). The Brits would have to react, drawing them away. I didn’t expect to take it, but if the British didn’t fight for it, I might just get all 4 objectives on the table, assuming the infantry push went well, but veteran FJ with MG-42s would take some stopping by his Royal Irish Rifles.
Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and so it went. The recce feint was ruined when the 251/7 was hit by a 4.5” artillery strike that destroyed it. No quick crossing of the nullah. My panzer IIIs moved up but found great numbers of Churchills (and 2 stand-in Shermans), coming the other way. Their return fire start to hit home, I lost 1 panzer, then the pinned platoon HQ tank abandoned his charge to another glancing hit. In return, I got 3 Churchills pinned with HE, good work, but it was an uneven fight, I needed the F2s quick. Finally, my forces started to arrive en-masse. The infantry trucks rolled up to the olive grove, disembarked their passenger and they headed off up the slope. Their mortar team set-up behind and platoon HQ found a position in the desert to look up the objective, to get shelling it.
The F2s moved out right to form a firing line and the first opened fire, missing. The battle was now on, the preliminaries over, both sides were fully committed. The battle raged for a few turns, my infantry did well, pinning his infantry, breaking one section and knocking out his 2” mortar team, the weight of my infantry attack, now at the top edge of the olive grove and blazing MG-42 fire up the slope, was winning. It looked unlikely he could hold the objective, with just 1 section and his platoon HQ left amidst the rocks and undergrowth, but a Churchill (Mk 1) had climbed up to aid them with close HE support.
Meanwhile, the tank fight was going badly. Very badly. Another Pz III burst into flames and my return 75mm fire was not penetrating any armour, just a few pins, but hey, better than nothing. Still, the Churchills pressed on, down the slope, moving slow and firing as they came. One, ‘Adventurous’, reached the road bridge and traded fire with a Pz III and close quarters, my shells hit and glanced off, his hit, and wrecked the panzer. I had 1 infantry squad left contesting that objective from the nullah. If they got pinned, he could claim it back.
The counters had stacked up, and it got worse, his second 4.5” barrage landed amidst my F2 firing line, where my FHQ’s 250 was moving to get the mortars back into action. One Panzer IV was destroyed as the shells thundered into the desert, and my FHQ and another panzer was pinned. That strike really was it, one more counter and I’d be done, I couldn’t unpin either, so my tanks were struggling to be effective against the weight of British fire. Next turn, another fusillade of 6 pdr fire saw another Pz III, the last, go up in smoke and that was it… Kampfgruppe Kleeberg had been roughly handled, 5 from 9 panzers were wrecks. I had killed, err… 0 British tanks (I counted them twice). I did fail every penetration roll I made this game, but those Churches had rolled over me. They, as was reported on the day ‘had me on toast’.
Good game, the British started badly but came roaring back when the Churches finally got into action. Tough nut for the Germans in 1943… boot very much on the the foot from late war battles. Still, our game had played out very much as it did on the day. El Aroussa was safe and the next day the British counter-attacked up the valley and road down which the Germans had come, which saw them reach Steamroller Farm (a previous game we re-played).
Here are some shots of the game in action.
|German recce arrive, with their borrowed M3.
|AA cover in place, but not needed today.
|The nullah bridge objective
|The forwad ridge slope under mortar fire, very accurate mortar fire.
|Carrier section come up, debuss and move forward on foot.
|Derbyshire Yeomanry armoured cars cover the road.
|German MG team finds rocky cover and gets busy.
|Recce on ambush fire at he top of the hill.
|Recce team reaches the nullah in their 250/1
|Ah... mortar hit...
|Two can play at the game... mortars pepper the ridge.
|First Brit armour, a slightly faster Sherman, to try and block the road
|'werfer strike... used it too soon I think. Patiences required.
|First Pz IIIs move up towards the nullah to engage.
|The hill climb up the ridge rear, first Churches roll in.
|Mortar team and loaders set-up and start shelling the hill top. All pinning welcome.
|Jaeger's PAK-38 tries to help out, and, well, outclassed by Churchill frontal armour.
|Pz IIIs suffering heavy losses...
|F2, not as good as you'd think, I found out to my cost.
|Infantry arrive to begin their attack.
|The "Faughs", Royal Irish Rifles (the brigade's other battalion was the Inniskillen Fusiliers "the Skins" - so, squaddie humour. In the trees and rocks on top of the hill.
|51 RTR pile onto the table, passing the empty infantry transports.
|Roll up the ridge.
|Jaegers de-buss at the olive grove to get moving up the hill - Raus! Raus!
|Close encounter at the bridge.
|Advancing to contact with the waiting British.
|Dingo hits a mine... probably one of their own.
|Adventurous live up to her name, and reaches the road bridge, dented but unscathed.
|51 RTR press on down the slope. The steel tide is unstoppable.
|Jaegers head for the hill top.
|The Mk I reaches the top in tie to lend a much needed hand. No answer to that.
|51 RTR's day...
|Not mine! On toast!