Today Richard reports on a recent MW Fog of War game.
Major Giles Fotheringham put his field glasses up to his face and surveyed the shimmering desert sands stretching westwards, across which he soon expected to see German tanks approaching.
He and his company sized force had been sent by Brigade HQ out into the blue to oppose the relentless advance of Rommels Afrika Korps following the disastrous defeat at Gazala. the problem was that in the confusion caused by the retreat and with atmospheric conditions being particularly poor Fotheringham’s contact with HQ was distinctly problematic.
The last message he’d got from HQ “take a couple of platoons, round up stragglers and set up a position at map reference JY2346 and we’ll be in touch”. Fotheringham rounded up 2 platoons from his own A Company, 1st Rifles, and scrounged up a couple of platoons from a Company of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) who were passing through the laager at the time. Brigade had also sent him two troops of 25pdrs from 2nd Royal Horse Artillery, and a battery of 6pdrs, both of which provided some reassuring anti- tank punch, less usefully they’d also sent him two mortar sections from S Company 1st Rifles, what use they’d be against the panzers he expected to meet was anyone’s guess.
On it’s way up to the map reference, Fotheringham’s column had picked up a troop from the 56th Light AA Regiment and a couple of scout carrier sections from the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) fleeing the encirclement of 50th Division on the Gazala Line, tanks they weren’t but at least they gave Fotheringham’s force a modicum of mobility, also hoovered up was a RAF forward controller with a radio netted to a Hurribomber squadron at Mersah Matruh, if the atmospherics improved then maybe the mixed bag of units would get some air cover too.
On reaching the map reference, which turned out to be a small oasis with a railhead, a number of dilapidated houses and palm groves overlooked by a couple of large dunes, Fotheringham had put a troop of 25pdrs to the right rear, around a small village, protected by the 6pdrs and the KRRC Riflemen, whilst his own Riflemen held the centre and left. the second troop of 25pdrs had been directed into a commanding central position by one of the carriers sections whilst they were scouting ahead. the second carrier section provided advance cover on the right. the AA gunners also provided some additional support to both RHA batteries from a central position. The mortars Fotheringham deployed in the palm groves, maybe they would be useful if the Germans had infantry in support of their tank columns. It wasn’t an ideal deployment but he was still unaware exactly what it was that HQ wanted him to do.
Right on cue, the radio burst into life “FothForce is to secure and evacuate a supply depot of packing crates marked “Top Secret”, believed at your map reference, over”
Fotheringham had already been told of the boxes by the subaltern commanding the AA troop and so was able to respond quickly
“Brigade, objective secured, FothForce out”
Fotheringham hoped that they’d quickly receive the recall but as he passed the handset back and raised his field glasses once more, just as he’d expected the glasses picked up the squat silhouettes of German armour moving forward, they must have spotted his collection of units too, as they spread out to cover the horizon, he also noticed the glint of shovels and dust in the air as the Germans threw up some hasty emplacements, Focussing his glasses to where this work was taking place Fotheringham was shocked to see the familiar outlines of British 25pdrs, any thought that these were friendly troops were quickly dispelled by the equally familiar, but unwelcome site of two dreaded 88 mm AA guns also being frantically surrounded by sandbags.
“Brigade calling again Sir”, this voice of Signalmen Jarvis cut through Fotheringham’s reverie, and he took the handset from Jarvis.
“We need you to prevent a camouflaged fuel cache falling into Jerry hands Fothers old chap, problem is the cavalry boys have lost the map and we’re not exactly sure where it is” came the voice of Brigade intelligence officer Major Harry Warner over the crackling airwaves.
Fotheringham scanned the desert again and this time picked out the low humps of what could be a camouflaged depot about 350 yards in front of the central 25pdr battery, in the middle of the German artillery’s killing zone
“Right, they know we’re here boys, so no point in hanging about” he called out, and the first ranging shots from the 25pdr battery in the rear rang out and accurately picked out the German guns, turning to the RAF officer Fotheringham asked him for any assistance in the area and was delighted to here the muffled vocals from the radio indicating two Hurribombers were inbound, shortly they passed over head cannons blazing and a German panzer erupted in flame and smoke as it crested the dunes to Fotheringhams left.
It didn’t take long for Fotheringham to realise that it was the left which was going to be the target for the German attack, half a dozen panzers moved from right to left across his field of vision to join the half dozen or so that were rapidly closing with the riflemen, mortars and carriers which represented the British left, spraying the dug in Riflemen with machine gun fire as they came. There wasn’t much firing from the German guns, clearly the bombardment had encouraged them to keep their heads down, however a well directed 25pdr shell on a flat trajectory went straight through the breach mechanism of one of it’s British counterparts.
The mortars now joined the 25pdrs in shelling the German gun positions, whilst Fotheringham pressed the air controller to bring the Hurribombers round for a second pass at the German panzers now grouping around the palm groves whilst their crews assessed the damage from the first pass, sadly the only answer that came back from the radio was the sibilant sound of static.
Things quietened down whilst the German panzers on the British left slowly edged forward and Fotheringham was able to take stock of his position, which on the whole wasn’t rosy. Whilst his artillery had finally started to obtain effective hits on their opposite numbers, his forward 25pdr battery was now having to duel the 2 remaining captured 25pdrs, the 88s and 3 German panzers who had stopped off to support the carronade, whilst the outgunned Horse Artillerymen were scoring hits on the panzers from time to time they didn’t seem to be having any discernible effect, but this duel also prevented Fotheringham moving the guns to protect his very weak left flank, and neither could he move infantry forward to secure the supply dump, as this would give the lurking Panzers a free run.
His worries were compounded when 3 german tanks, probably Mark 3s, crashed into the palm groves on the left where one of the mortar sections was deployed and overran them with ease, the carrier crews from the DLI courageously tried to get flank shots with their Boys rifles but the oversized rifle bullets just ricocheted of the panzers tough hides. the German crews were incredibly skilled at manoeuvring their vehicles through the grove. At the same time another 3 tanks made an assault with machine guns blazing, on the platoon of Rifles supporting the left of the 25pdrs, this time however the Germans came of worse, their crews weren’t as skilled and at least one vehicle got stuck in the undergrowth and a vigorous counterattack managed to brew it up along with one of it’s compatriots, however a combination of machine gun fire and hand to hand combat had seriously depleted the tenacious Riflemen.
“get on that blasted radio and get those fly boys back here sharpish” Fotheringham yelled at the forward air controller, “it’s going to be quite dicey if they don’t turn up soon”
Again the only sound from the radio netted to the RAF frequency was static, but to compounded Fotheringhams problems the Brigade net came back on line, and he was instructed that the Royal Army Ordnance Corps liaison at HQ had requested FothForce recover one of their supply dumps which had been hastily buried over near the ramshackle village on the British right.
“Just what I need with Jerry breathing down our necks…….Roger that Brigade, Foth Force out”
Clearly the crisis for the British was on the left so Fotheringham ordered the artillerymen manning the 6pdrs to begin the laborious task of prolonging their guns over to support the battered Infantry and beleaguered 25pdrs, realising that the second DLI carrier platoon would be little use against the Panzers he sent a short message to the Corporal leading the section to hurry over and see if they could recover the RAOC dump. At least the 25pdrs had turntables so the Germans wouldn’t have a free run if they swept around between the palm groves.
The rear 25pdr battery continued to target the German artillery and heavy AA, however the Germans had dug in effectively and the fire was seemingly having less and less effect, but at least the left flank went quiet again as the Mark 3s regrouped after their assaults. Fotheringham ordered the DLI carriers to seek cover behind the palm groves.
“Sir, the DLI carriers on the right have reported they’ve uncovered the RAOC dump”, Jarvis the ever present radioman reported
“err, Sir, it’s not altogether clear on the radio, but it seems it’s the Brigade HQ mess’ whisky supply, the Corporal says they’ll take it somewhere safe”
Well this really wasn’t looking good mused Fotheringham, constantly being asked to shift his priorities and unable to raise his air support, things really couldn’t get much worse. Actually he couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Brigade radio net sprang to life again, Jenkins reported that apparently in addition to the fuel at the dump theer were some RAF spares too that needed to be secured
“tell Brigade that I have Jerry all over me like a bad rash, and if they want the RAF spares those fly boys out at Mersah better exdigitate and send some support”
Fotheringhams anger must have been translated quite well by his signalman, very shortly afterwards the RAF radio sprang to life – “FothForce, 2 birds inbound with cannon, Tally Ho” exclaimed the slightly muffled but hugely welcome voice of the Hurribomber section lead
Flashing low overhead with wings seemingly spitting fire the planes opened up a fusillade at the panzers supporting the German artillery, dust rose around the vehicles, and Fotheringham raise his field glasses expectantly as the planes peeled off and banked away. the dust settled, muzzle flashes leapt from all three tanks and the shells fell around the hard pressed 25pdr crews. The Hurribombers had missed.
It fell apart pretty quickly after that. as the DLI carriers on the right set about rescuing the higher commands scotch ration, the German tanks on the left swept round behind the 25pdr, sweeping aside the remaining infantry in a hail of machine gun fire, and causing the crews of two of the carriers to seek cover away from their vehicles. Despite firing at extreme range the combination of 88s, 25pdrs and German tanks was able to put a further 25pdr out of operation and as the panzers closed in to finish off the job the unnerved British gunners loaded and fired but not one shell found it’s target, and realising the game was up the gunners started to climb from their emplacements and raise their hands. The one remaining carrier crew on the left did likewise.
Fotheringham turned to Jarvis, “better tell the rest of the boys to scram Jarvis, and fetch the Morris, we better get cracking or we’ll end up in the pot”
Fotheringham made one last sweep of the battlefield with his glasses, wrecked guns and burning artillery pieces dominated his former position
“what a bloody shambles” he thought….”that bloody Geordie full screw better not drink all the whisky”………….
Mark wanted to try out the Fog of War scenario and his newly finished DAK, so I took 100 points worth of Brits down to play.
Personally I’m a bit ambivalent about British light tanks in the Desert Rats book, and my Grants aren’t yet finished so I took a two formation Infantry force consisting of
4 x full strength motor platoons
2 x mortar sections
1 x 3 gun 6pdr platoon
1 x 3 gun Bofors platoon
2 x 3 Carrier patrols with Anti-Tank Rifles
2 x 4 25pdr troops
2 x HQ Panzer 3 Short
4 x Panzer 3 Short
4 x Panzer 3 Short
4 x Panzer 4 Short
1 x Captured 25pdr battery (Command Card)
1 x 88mm battery of 3 guns.
Personally I found the scenario quite frustrating, the Fog of War cards I drew ended up not being as valuable as the ones that Mark, I placed my initial one at the rear, whilst Mark was offensive with his high value one, and later doubled down with the two objectives just in front of my 25pdrs (the fuel dump and RAF stores in the narrative) and so as well as being more mobile, he also gained an initiative from the cards. It also meant that being on the defensive so to speak. I was slightly less sure of where I should deploy than I would in a game with fixed objectives (this showed in the error I made over on the left where I gave Mark a blind spot to attack). Marks dice were also quite good and he was able to shrug off a number of hits I landed on him (his dice do tend to be either feast or famine, in one of our recent games he actually missed with all 9 dice needing 4s, so what goes around comes around). That being said as the scenario is called “Fog of War” it does do what it says on the tin, and it could quite easily have dealt me the good cards – as a beer and pretzels scenario I think it has a great deal of merit, as a fairly serious competition player though I’d be worried if it started to appear at tournaments as I think it’s far too random but this is only 1 run through and I have to accept that there is a learning curve.
This was my first MW game with my new DAK force and I must say I quite enjoyed it. I never would have touched German tanks in V3 MW because IMHO they were massively overcosted. However here I could 14 proper tanks down with some support which was nice. The game followed well and was pretty fast, especially considering the rule changes.
I certainly benefited from the mobility of my force, allowing me to capture objectives and apply force where needed. On the other hand Rich had little that could really reach out and threaten me. After the game we discussed combining a Brit infantry and Honey Stuart formation for good effect.
What you didn’t see in the write up is that I also had a Fog of War objective to kill his Mortar pltns. Each one I got gained me a point and I killed 2. That stacked with the capture objectives to win the game.
I have a slightly different view to Rich. I think, as long as its know in advance, the Fog of War could be a really interesting replacement of a scenario at a tournament. It would also further encourage a balanced list and tough choices.
As you can see I’ve written this up in a different style to the usual after action report format of “Turn 1 I did this and then Mark did that”, it would therefore be good to hear what you think about the style, not saying we’ll write everything up like this but if it’s well received then we can certainly do some more in the future.