Friday, 6 September 2019

Firestorm Kursk: Game 5 - The Panthers are burning!

This was the fifth game in our Firestorm Kursk campaign, where we have played two games for each day of battle, representing action on both the Northern and Southern fronts. So this was the first game of Day 3 – 7th July 1943. So far the campaign has run fairly historically, with stout Soviet defences eventually, gradually being penetrated by the German onslaught, with the last game reflecting the first German inroads into the Soviet second line of defence.
The Germans: Colin (L) and Peter
Could they repeat that performance again and increase offensive momentum?

Peter designed the scenario based on the Counter attack scenario. The terrain was suitably historical for the northern sector – rolling hills, interspersed with small, open copses, the odd watercourse, and centered on a village. 

His German force was built around 3 Panthers – you don’t get much more than that with 60 points, with his infantry commander Colin bringing his usual versatile mix of armoured Panzer Grenadiers and a variety of half-track borne guns and mortars – all surprisingly effective.

I had prepared a list for Bryan of the usual suspects – T34’s and T34-57s backed up by SU-76s, but he had been working feverishly to build a Scouting force actually centred on 3 ‘lend-lease’ Churchill tanks – their guns were no better than on the trusty Tridsadverika, but their armour was impressive! And the scout platoons had an impressive amount of firepower with their PPSh’s, albeit of short range, and he had enough points remaining for a battery of ZIS-3 AT guns, so useful in ambush. 

Since Bryan had sorted himself out, instead of the Hero Rifle Bn I was expecting to bring, I adopted the force I had prepared for Bryan. So the two Soviet formations between them had a fair amount of armour for 120 points.

A close reading of the Spearhead rules nixed our original cunning plan of spearheading a scout platoon onto one of the objectives in no-man’s-land. D'oh!

A great plan - spearhead onto the objective - but completely illegal!
With the Panthers dominating the terrain right from the start, our defensive deployment was, well, very defensive!

We settled for hunkering down around our own objective and hiding everything else behind hills! 

The German deployment seemed to suggest they were going to concentrate on the objective out in the open in no-man’s-land, leaving only some Marders and Mortars to cover our objective.

The Germans duly opened with a drive toward the open objective, the mighty Panthers creating a 40inch wide forcefield around them from which T-34s scattered and hid. 

Somewhat rattled, on our first move we sprang the ZIS-3 ambush, which accounted for a couple of half-tracks and disrupted the German Panzer Grenadier advance on the objective slightly. 

Similarly the opening salvo from my SU-76s after they moved up to the crest of the ridge they had been hiding behind brewed a Marder and bailed another. 

My reinforcement roll brought in a platoon of T-34-76s to join the formation commander...

and these scurried to the cover of a convenient copse, allowing them to add their fire to that laid down on the Panzer Grenadiers resolutely advancing on the objective.

With the Panthers moving swiftly around on the deep flank of the objective, Bryan’s next reinforcement roll rather handily brought on his Churchill troop not too far away from the Panther’s flank and a shot at their vulnerable side armour...

With impressive results - no matter what the outcome, Bryan and I were going home happy! However the Germans soon got their revenge on our right flank, the remaining Marders and AT half tracks soon finding the range of my SU-76 Sukas...little bitches indeed!

Similarly on our left flank Peter's sole remaining Panther commander lost no time in extracting a terrible revenge for the loss of his command:

By this time the Panzer Grenadiers were closing on the objective in the open, so despite the Panther on the loose, desperate measures were called for to get them off the objective...

T34's on one side, and on the other:

An infantry assault!

However, the resolute Pz Grenadiers, whilst taking heavy casualties, could not be forced entirely off the objective - it was still constented.

Back over on our left flank, things werent going too well either - my Sukas were no more, and an assault was shaping up on our infantry holding the objective...

And, pinned by heavy fire, our heroic infantry defenders of the Motherland fought to the last man - game over, another painful gain by the invader!

This game was thrilling right to the end, and could have gone either way right up until about move 5 – the victory conditions come into play at move 6. 

Despite losing, I was pleased that the outcome reflected the historical drift of the actual battle – the Germans are now starting to gain some traction against the grudgingly retreating Soviet defence – but its hardly the heady days of blitzkrieg! 

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The Suicide Mission - 9th Armoured Brigade at El Alamein

'This is just suicide!' Lt. Col Sir Peter Farquhar, CO 3rd King's Own Hussars.
On Sunday, the Wollongong Wargamers used Flames of War rules to recreate the action of the 9th Armoured Brigade at El Alamein during Operation Supercharge.

During the North Africa campaign, the Brigade was commanded by Brigadier J.C. Currie and fought at the Second Battle of El Alamein as part of the 2nd NZ DIV. Its regiments and support were:

Historical Order of Battle, 9th Armoured Brigade, 2 November 1942

3rd King’s Own Hussars (3KOH)
Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (RWY)
Warwickshire Yeomanry (Warwicks)
9 Grant tanks
14 Grant tanks
14 Grant tanks
12 Shermans
10 Shermans
10 Shermans
16 Crusaders
13 Crusaders
17 Crusaders

26th New Zealand Infantry Battalion
4th New Zealand Field Regiment (24 x 25pdrs)
5th New Zealand Field Regiment (24 x 25pdrs)

Historical Summary, 9th Armoured Brigade, 2 November 1942

At 0615 Hrs, behind a rolling barrage, 9th Armoured split into 3 groups and took over the advance towards the Rahman track, aiming to prise open the final German defences. Monty had told Brig. Currie he was prepared to take 100% casualties, but the Brigade had to get onto the Rahman Track, basis of a strong German AT screen. The CO of the KOH protested that on the featureless terrain ‘this was just suicide’, but Monty insisted. 
The advance by the KOH is recognized as one of the greatest armoured regimental actions of the war.

9th Armoured Brigade was forced to make its attack silhouetted by the early daylight. As dawn came on 2 November, tank after tank was hit by the German 88 mm guns that kept firing through seven air attacks. The 9th never reached their objective. In fact, they took 75 percent casualties and lost 102 of their 128 tanks. Nevertheless, they breached the gun line and the 1st Armoured Division was now able to engage.

After the Brigade's action, Brigadier Gentry of the 6th New Zealand Brigade went ahead to survey the scene. On seeing Brigadier Currie asleep on a stretcher, he approached him saying, 'Sorry to wake you John, but I'd like to know where your tanks are?' Currie waved his hand at a group of tanks around him, replying 'There they are.' Gentry was puzzled. 'I don't mean your headquarters tanks, I mean your armoured regiments. Where are they?' Currie waved his arm and again replied, 'There are my armoured regiments, Bill.’  Just 24 tanks out of 94 survived.

Nevertheless, the assault had drawn in both Littorio, 15th, and 21st Panzer Divisions, with the result that there was a wide gap in the Axis lines to the south west. Through this gap, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery, commander of 8th Army, pushed the remainder of his armour, breaking the Afrika Korps line and pushing westwards into its rear areas and supply lines. 

In an account of the battle published to mark its 25th anniversary, Montgomery wrote:

I must mention the magnificent fight put up by 9th Armoured Brigade - 3rd Hussars, Wiltshire Yeomanry, Warwickshire Yeomanry.... If the British armour owed any debt to the infantry of 8th army, the debt was paid on 2 November by 9th Armoured Brigade in heroism and blood....

The Scenario: Modified Hasty Attack:

· No Ambush
· Dawn rules in force.
· Attacker lays 3 objective and removes one.
· Deployment zones and objective zones size increased by 1/3rd.
· Limited Supply. Each Axis vehicle unit secretly rolls and sums 2xd6 at the start of the
Game: This is the amount of moves that unit can make in the game. This includes guns moved by prime movers.


Defending: Germans: Additional player and Daniel. 2 x 80 Point Formations, one of which is to include 32 points of Italian Armour, as follows: M14/41 tank platoon of 5 @ 12 points, Semovente platoon of 5 @20 points. Total 160 points

Attacking: British/NZ: The idea is to allow players to build their formations to reflect the balance of armour in each regimental battle group above: ideally 3KOH emphasising Shermans; RWY -Grants; and Warwicks - Crusaders. 80 points per formation. 
Total 240 points


12 x 6 Table – Key terrain feature is the Rahman track with low berm running the length of it out to 6 inches to the East, providing short terrain cover and concealment. 
Now I confess that when it comes to organising wargames, I am a meglomaniac - the bigger the table the better, crammed with as many toys as possible. The downside to this can often be unsightly tank scrums - the 'tank carpark' syndrome that those who have only a fleeting understanding of relative ground scale are critical of, or, worse, frustrating and stalemated games with no result. However, for a number of reasons, few of which I can take credit for, these negatives did not occur in this game and I'd like to share what I think are the reasons with you. Perhaps the most obvious is the terrain - open and uniform throughout, the only two features being the Rahman track and the ditch to its flank, so no obvious lines of approach and no chokepoints. I also limited each formation to 80 points rather than 100.

Simply because we don't happen to have a lot of desert toys - Yet! 
Thirdly, not only did I add an additional objective marker to account for the larger table, but it so happened that the British team, in choosing which objective to remove prior to deployment left an objective at each end of the table which, along with the German one in the centre, left the possibilities wide open. That said, their initial deployment suggested they were firmly going left flanking - against my (largely Italian) northern sector.

Now the way Daniel and I as the Axis players decided to interpret the 'Limited Supply' aspect was entirely historical - the Germans simply commandeered the entire Italian fuel supply and left both the Semovente and M13/40 platoons completely immobile:

This made my deployment on the left (Northern) half of the table problematic - whilst he who defends everything defends nothing, both my armoured platoons had to be deployed as they had no fuel, which meant leaving my 88s and PAK38s off table, and the northern most objectives in my sector defended entirely by an Afrika Rifle Platoon - and a smallish one at that:

With Dawn rules in force, the first few moves were in full darkness, which allowed the Brits to close confidently with the Kiwi infantry to the fore, closely supported by the fearsome Shermans:

It was a hard fought fight, but after a barrage from my Semoventes proved disappointing, the Kiwis closed in, took heavy casualties from closing fire, yet managed to withstand the first round of fighting and then seized the objective by turn 3:

In the central sector to the south Daniel, with no fuel worries, was much more proactive and aggressive with his tiny force of Panzer IIIs, using the cover of night to threaten the British objective:

As dawn rose over this steadily escalating tank duel, Daniel's Marders were able to chip in with long range fire to even the odds somewhat:

Such was the depth of his strike that the British were forced to emply their artillery in the direct AT role:

But some accurate shooting by the Grants of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry steadily whittled down the Panzer IIIs until there was just one stoic survivor:

However he kept holding out, surrounded by a circle of burning tanks:

Until the bitter end - a posthumous candidate for the Knight's Cross I would think:

At this stage of the battle the action was centered around the northern and central sectors, with my desperate attempts to recapture my lost objective with my remaining infantry platoon, and Daniel forced to accept his bid to derail the British objective had failed and it was time to consolidate on our remaining objectives:

It didn't help that the tremendous weight of British artillery (3 x 25Pdr batteries) had finally redeployed and ranged in on my dug-in Semoventes and were systematically  KO'ing them from left to right:

Just as I took consolation from the eventual arrival of my 88s from reserve, the Desert Air Force made an appearance:

However they were able to shoot down one of the Kittyhawks! 
Daniel came to my aid with his reinforcements - a troop of Pz IIIs and one of Pz IIs. 
The Panzer IIIs drew immeadiate Allied attention and were quickly despatched by a mix of Grants from one flank and Shermans from the other:

But the Panzer IIs proved surprisingly effective against the NZ infantry:

By which time my second Afrika Rifle Platoon was approaching from the centre of the table, to put in an assault:

Yet, despite the ravages of the Panzer IIs to their front and the DAK infantry on their flank, the tough Kiwi infantry fought off the assult and dug in around the objective. Technically the Allies had won, but for the sake of the game we agreed they needed to win another of the three to make it a convincing victory - the game was getting serious:

Unnoticed by me with my troubles on the northern sector, the sneaky Brits had sent the Warwickshire Yeomanry round the southern flank to threaten that objective. Fortunately Daniel's DAK infantry had a light AT gun and knew how to use it:

A couple of nailbiting assaults later, Daniel had beaten off a determined armoured attack to hold that objective:

The British focus now shifted to the remaining objective in the centre, held by my 5 M13/40s and a lone Pz III...

Oh, and some heavy duty long range sniper fire from the odd 88 able to snatch the occasional long range shot from the northern edge of the table:

The cunning Brits took their time and marshalled their forces, all the while whittling down my immobile M13s with their paper armour:

Until they gained an irresistible momentum and weight of armour to claim their second objective by move 9:

And so ended a terrific game that was a cliff hanger throughout, made good use of the large table, and was surprisingly historical in most aspects. I suppose the 2nd NZ Infantry Div played a larger part in this particular game than they did historically, but reflective of their gallant contribution across the Second Battle of Alamein as a whole!

Kiwi Infantry: Well Led - Well 'Ard!