Some worrying accounts are reaching Rommel, Axis forces need to press this attack on all fronts!
Battle 2 Christian Sorensen reports
“Dearest Lu: it is with a spring in my step and an excited anticipation in my heart that I write to you on the eve of what shall be our greatest triumph to date in this colossal contest of arms! By the time you read this no doubt the newsreels and papers will be full of tales of the exploits of our brave German soldiers in the forbidden wastelands of Africa. I can tell you that without their heart, determination, and unwavering commitment to the glory of Germany our cause would have been lost several times over as they have surmounted one mountainous obstacle after another! Today we close on this campaign’s objective, the fortress city of Tobruk. Our close-knit band has out-manoeuvred the Britischers and is in position to strike whilst the bulk of their forces are committed elsewhere! We shall begin with a pinpoint insertion of Hauptmann Keilh’s pioneers to blast open a gap in the minefields and fortifications, supported by our field artillery, the indomitable Luftwaffe, and our legendary mobile panzerjager!. Yours in eternity, Erwin”
* Excerpt from documents found near the burned-out wreckage of a German field car destroyed inside the Tobruk perimeter near King’s Cross.
Last Sunday I invited Tom Richards to join me for another game in the Firestorm: Gazala campaign, and he insisted on fielding the British defending Tobruk
Naturally, the battlefield was barren with the two ridgelines representing the escarpments as the Coastal Road passes through them near King’s Cross.
My German forces represented Rommel’s Kampfstaffel, with elements of 3.Aufklaurungs-abteilung from 21. Panzer-Div, 33.Pioniere-bataillon and 33.Artillerie-regiment (mot) from 15. Panzer-Div, 605.Panzerjager-abteilung, I./18. Luftwaffe Flak-regiment, and 2./606 Heer Fla-abteilung (sfl.) along with a flight from III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 3! The force used the Afrika Korps book as a base with an Armoured Car Company and Dianas, 10.5cm Artillery, an 88, a pair of Sdkfz 10/4, and a platoon of Panzerjager I from the community card. Added to this was a Pioneer Company from Iron Cross, including a medium Grenadier platoon, a large Assault Pioneer platoon, 6-strong Mortars and 4-strong heavy Machine-Guns.
Tom’s forces clearly represented the last rearguard of the 8th Army as it tried to hold open the port of Tobruk to evacuate their troops!: He had just a single full formation of Guards Motor Infantry and a mess of support, including a short Indian rifle platoon, Grant, Honey and Humber troops, a second 6 pounder unit as support, a flight of Hurricanes and the Firestorm bonus of a 25 pounder battery and another Grant troop.
Tom chose to Defend, and Rommel’s forces chose to Attack, we ended up with Bridgehead! Tom’s main tank teams including the Grant and Honey troops, plus his Motor Company HQ, the Vickers MMG and the Hurricane flight were all safely tucked away in reserve.
The Humbers closed off the right-hand spearhead zone for the Germans by positioning themselves behind a low dune.
Minefields and barbed wire completely closed off the gap between the escarpments. He has one full 6 pounder platoon in ambush, the other in the centre covering the escarpment gap. On his right are the Indian rifles, and the Motor Infantry is echeloned from behind the wire all the way into the RHA positions.
On seeing this deployment, the Germans decided to conduct a two-pronged pincer attack!
Or, as Erwin said, “Squeeze them like a pimple until zee pus bursts!” On the right, the Assault pioneer have been issued their SMG, extra hand grenades and flamethrowers and are preparing to charge through the flimsy armoured car screen directly into the Indian rifles, most of whom are hidden behind the escarpment.
The crafty spah-truppen have found their way along the flanks of the British position, and are preparing to envelop them, supported by the schwere machinen-gewehr and panzerjäger
As I check the range of the 88mm Flak the RHA gunners nervously await the coming storm.
Top of T1 the Stukas arrive to harass the RHA, pinning them and catching a Motor Infantry MG team unaware.
The Assault Pioneers rush towards the Humbers, supported by the armoured cars, but the on-rushing troops mask the fire of the Diana’s and Tom’s cars escape unscathed, even from jets of Flame!
On the left my veteran Panzerjager I zug blitzes onto the ridge to blast away at British tanks (Universal carriers) getting one and bailing two. Meanwhile, the Grenadier pioneers infiltrate along the escarpment towards the centre. The pioneer mortars range in on Tom’s central 6 pounders, eliminating one right away, and pinning down neighbouring motor platoon. The 10.5cm Artillery pins down the Indians behind the right-hand escarpment so as to discourage Tom from deploying his ambush there.
Seeing both flanks being rapidly encroached upon, Tom decided to deploy his 6 pounder ambush smack dab in the centre, in the middle of his own minefield! From there he intended to defend both objectives but had to split their facings to both sides to avoid moving during the movement phase and triggering mines. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for the Assault Pioneers to use their flame-throwers on Tom’s Humbers, as they seemed to take it personally! In retaliation, they scooted around the side of the advancing SMG troops, pouring in Machine-gun fire and assaulting them! Already reduced by four teams, my Pioneers refused to counter-attack…
On the left Tom’s two surviving Universal Carrier remounted, and their leader scaled the escarpment to machine-gun my Grenadiers. Tom used the RHA to lay down a protective smokescreen for them whilst he awaited reinforcements. Fire from the Carriers and 6 pounders sniped a team from the advancing German unit.
As Rommel was on the radio non-stop to the Luftwaffe another flight of Stukas showed up to bomb the RHA, this time bagging a 25 pounder! With clever German “blitz” tactics, the armoured cars advanced through the smokescreen to catch the Universal Carriers in the open, whilst their Formation Commander car nestled up on the ridge beside the resting Panzerjagers. The Grenadiers were poised to assault the cheeky Carrier but were unable to once smoke started pouring from it.
Frustratingly, on the right the Assault Pioneers refused to unpin, instead they show their skill with a shovel by digging in on a “2”. Leaving nothing to chance, Rommel directed all available guns to exact revenge on the Humbers, most of whom were accounted for by the careful shooting of the 605.Panzerjager Dianas. In the meantime, the Aufklaurung Afrika Rifle platoon dashed along the side with their eyes on assaulting the Indian infantry next turn.
Tom’ British received no reinforcements on T2 either, perhaps the Grant troop’s radio operators were too busy brewing tea to decode their w/t messages? Tom’s 6 pounders turned to shoot up the armoured cars, and miraculously one survived!
The top of T3 was time to get the ball rolling on both flanks! The Stukas answered the call again, bombing the RHA and accounting for a pair of Motor Infantry teams. The 10.5cm guns laid down a barrage of smoke and the Pioneer mortars repeated against the British 6 pounders and the forward Motor Infantry, killing a team from the forward platoon. The Panzerjagers unleashed their guns at extreme range against the British 25 pounder on the back table edge, but the Tommies stood fast.
On the right flank, the Pioneer “Assault” platoon preferred to improve their freshly dug foxholes rather than join in the assaults. Instead, the Aufklaurungs Afrika Rifles moved up against the Indian infantry, supported by machine-gun and cannon fire from their armoured cars.
On the left the assaults were successful, killing more motor infantry teams and a 6 pounder. The Grenadier pioniere consolidated inside the smokescreen, contesting the objective.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well on the right! The Afrika rifles assault went through, but instead of wiping out the Indian infantry, three stands fell to their Kukri knives against only two Indian losses, Lacking support from their Formation Commander, the Germans lost heart and retreated.
Tom’s Britischer infantry failed to unpin at the bottom of T3, so he was forced to dig them into their positions instead of counter-attacking. With a newly arrived Grant platoon, Tom chose to keep it out of sight of the Dianas, Panzerjagers and 88mm AT and support his beloved Indian infantry instead. The Grants knocked out one of the 8-rads on the escarpment lip and the Indian infantry rifles whittled the German infantry down to one stand. His advanced 6 pounder unit pulled a gutsy move: they risked their own minefields to redeploy to better defend the right-hand objective, and managed to shoot up and bail an armoured car in the process!
Although our plastic and metal armies may be bitter foes, us players remembered to take time out for a hamburger lunch!
From Tom’s perspective, he was holding on well against a diminishing threat, despite losing the first 6 pounder platoon to a failed last stand roll. He only needed the rest of his tank troops to arrive to set everything right!
At the top of T4, my Grenadiers contesting the objective refused to unpin, even after using the “Pure Luck” card to force a re-roll. The Assault Pioneers finally unpinned to get in on the action and moved to secure the right-hand objective. The Stukas arrived yet again, but I could only target one Grant due to their proximity to my bailed Armoured car. However, this time the planes missed their targets anyway. The 10.5cm repeated the bombardment on the marker laid down when they fired smoke, killing yet another Motor Rifle team and reducing Tom’s rear platoon to just two stands. The mortars honed in on Tom’s freshly moved 6-pounders, but only managed to pin the unit down. As well, I moved up the heavy machine-guns from the left to provide support and left the Panzerjagers and Dianas in position to await the arrival of Tom’s tanks.
Of course, at the bottom of T4 Tom’s other Grant troop arrived to assault my MG and Grenadier teams. Although my losses were thankfully light, I was pushed back up the escarpment and out of contesting range of his objective.
On his right flank, Tom dug in his 6 pounders and shot up more armoured cars, whilst craftily moving his first Grant troop to cover the objective but stay out of sight to all but my teams on the escarpment edge.
For once the Stukas forgot to show up, so it was the turn of the Panzerjagers to shine! These veterans who arrived in Libya in February 1941 with their venerable self-propelled guns unleashed fury on the Grants, and managed to destroy two! The Grenadiers rallied and charged the surviving Grant, bringing the assault home and forcing the lone survivor back. The left-hand objective was being contested again! On the right, the plan was for the assault pioneers to wipe out the 6 pounders whilst the Dianas moved up to support an attack against the Grants currently hiding behind the escarpment. My armoured car unit was on its last legs, however, as the remaining Afrika rifles team joined the 8-rads and the first light AC unit in the destroyed column. Unfortunately, the prep fire with mortars and flame-throwers against Tom’s 6 pounders was too effective, and the Pioneers were out of position to assault the survivors…
The Grant tank which retreated from my Grenadier assault decided to keep going and left the table entirely. He was replaced by a troop of Honeys and a platoon of Vickers MMG, who zoomed up from the table corner to mercilessly machine-gun my Grenadiers. Not a single one survived. Tom had moved up the Indian infantry and his Motor platoon survivors to support an assault that turned out not to be necessary, and two of the other troop’s Grants joined them to help hold the objective. His 6 pounders didn’t unpin, but they fired against the Dianas and sent one up in smoke. We were clearly in a battle of attrition now, but unfortunately, the Germans weren’t going to be reinforced!
The ever-reliable Luftwaffe arrived again on T6, targeting the RHA and Tom’s infantry and killing a pair of teams, leaving the Indians with one survivor. Again, the Panzerjagers struck, this time destroying a Honey and bailing another in concert with a 10.5cm repeat bombardment. My 88 and the Dianas shot up the Grants, killing one, in preparation for my Assault Pioneers attack against the 6 pounders. Although both 6 pounders were destroyed and the surviving Grant and infantry forced back down the escarpment, it was costly, as two Pioneer and one HQ stand were lost in the back and forth. At least an objective was still being contested!
Tom’s absent Motor Infantry HQ finally arrived and moved underneath the escarpment to regroup his men. The Grants successfully blitzed up the slope and fired upon the remaining two Dianas, flaming both. The Vickers and Stuart .30 cals reduced the rest of my Heavy Machine-gun unit to one stand. My forces were disappearing!
By T7 Rommel was getting extremely impatient! Shouting at the rest of his troops, he ordered them to finish off the Britischers in one final assault, even without the help of the Luftwaffe. The Armoured Car HQ finally left the table, after the last bailed car on the right-hand ridge refused to remount and ran away. My 10.5cm bombardments and Panzerjager I firing finally eliminated the Honeys, and the 10/4 Army self-propelled Flak moved up to support my Assault Pioneers under cover of one last Smoke bombardment. Alas, the newly motivated Guards Motor Rifles and Grants did not give way and the Grants killed another two precious Assault Pioneers and consolidated back under the escarpment. Tom got notice that his Hurricane Tank Buster flight arrived from Reserve, but naturally, they declined to show up. Nevertheless, Tom just bided his time, digging in the HQ and letting his Grants shoot up one of the impertinent sp Flak guns at the edge of the escarpment.
Believe it or not, a couple more turns of this back and forth ensued, and Rommel was heard shouting into the radio demanding that the Stuka pilots land near the objective, dismount and join the assault! Tom’s infantry was ground down to a sole HQ team survivor, but a last-ditch assault against it on the top of T9 with my two remaining teams failed, leaving a sole Flamethrower team on top of the escarpment. Tom brutally machine-gunned them next turn with the Vickers MMG, and the last German formation was destroyed! 6-3 Victory for the British!
Battle 3 – Brent
Axis: Italian tank company and Italian paracadutisti company
Allied: British infantry formation.
Mission: Killing Ground
By the beginning of June 1942, the British and Free French forces at the fortified supply depot near Bir Hachem had been cut off from Allied lines. Erwin Rommel’s German and Italian forces had blitzed past them, sweeping around the southern flank towards Tobruk. As Rommel consolidated his gains, however, the forces at Bir Hachem knew they would soon come under attack. So they shored up their defences and prepared for the inevitable strike.
In the early hours of June 2, it came.
The Italian Ariete tank division (Low on Fuel) and XX infantry division, supported by infantry elements from the German 200th and Italian 27th Brescia, attacked through the town and crossroads.
On the western flank, fields of Allied barbed wire and mines, as well as carefully placed AT guns left few avenues for the Italian approach. On the eastern flank, the river and mines on the bridge made the armoured approach difficult.
German and Italian infantry moved up both flanks, while Axis and Allied artillery traded fire with limited effect.
The Arrival of the thickly armoured British Churchills on the eastern approach made it impossible for Italian armour to approach. But, as Italian Semoventes retreated from the bridge, British Crusaders arrived at the defending centre and joined British AT in pounding the thinly armoured Italian tanks.
Italian and German infantry, having arrived at the heavily fortified western flank, prepared to assault. German infantry led the charge and valiantly attempted to silence British AT. But after destroying only a single gun, they were killed to a man. Then, just as Italian infantry prepared to move in, the combined fire broke the Italian tank formation.
Although an Italian infantry formation remained intact, with no tank support, they were outmatched by the gathering Crusaders, the largely untouched British and French MG and AA guns, and the approach of a platoon of Stuarts. All this, in addition to the minefields and barbed wire and the approach of nightfall (it was getting very late), caused the Italians to withdraw and concede defeat.
Score: 8-1 for the British.
Battle 4 – Christian Sorensen reports.
The desert wastelands surrounding the 150th Brigade Box (aka The Cauldron) is the site of last Saturday’s battle at Apple Valley Empire. Steven Lawless and I are fighting Battle 4 of Campaign Turn 3, a British Counter-Attack. Importantly the Italians are Out of Supply so the British expect to roll over light resistance and get a huge bag of prisoners…
For this battle, we chose to make the shell holes flat, and the two smaller cream dunes are low, not tall. The two large Battlefront dunes are the only tall terrain on the battlefield. For our forces stance, we both chose “Maneuver” and we ended up with the new mission “Breakout”.
My attacking force’s Firestorm troops are a 5pt Crusader II troop as well as an 18pt Matilda II troop. The force represents a three-pronged attack by 201st Guards Motor Infantry, 22nd Armoured Brigade, and 32nd Army Tank Brigade. The Infantry tank brigade actually had more Valentines than Matildas at this point, so I’ve brought a company of those (2pdr only of course) and used the “Charge!” card with all of them to represent their enthusiastic spirit (especially against Italians). All of the troops of the Crusader Squadron have the “Cavalry Commander” card, and one even has “Roll Over Them” to show how enthusiastic these chaps are at facing Italians. The Motor Infantry naturally use the “Guards Motor Infantry” card, and the 6 pounders they have brought along for the ride use the “Portees” card
Steven Lawless is using a force with a Bersaglieri Rifle Company backed up with a Tank Company made up of Semovente Assault Guns. His Firestorm troops consist of one Bersaglieri Rifle Platoon and a flight of Luftwaffe Stukas. The infantry supposedly comes from the Italian Trieste division, but Steven is convinced that this formation’s actual troops are overrated using Battlefront’s ratings and so considered them to be drawn from the Raggruppamento GGFF (Young Fascists) that was an initially uncommitted Army reserve at Gazala. Although his troops may be well-trained and well-motivated, they have been left in the lurch by the insatiable demands of Rommel’s fuel-and-ammo hungry Afrika Korps. Of course, Steven rolled a “5” on the ammo table and so will have to check each time he fires a unit that it may run low, only being able to use moving rate of fire and unable to bombard thereafter.
In this scenario there are minefields, and all the Italian immediate reserves come on the board edge BEHIND the attackers. Steven has placed one 88mmAT gun in ambush, the other to cover the right flank which he’d also sealed off with minefields. In reserve are the M14/41 HQ and two units of Semoventes, one with 5 and the other with 6 vehicles, presumably diverted from shelling Bir Hakeim.
Most of the 32nd Army Tanks (including some re-borrowed lend-lease Matildas) are waiting for the Eyetye armour.
201st Guards are set up to rush the minefields,
and 22nd Armoured are crying “Tally Ho” as they spot some sport in the near distance…
T1 The Tally Ho boys move in to assault the completely defenceless Italian infantry but find out that instead of running away, they counterattack using nothing but grenades and pasta pots!
The 2iC was bailed on the way in by the AB41 OP, and an additional Crusader crew found themselves double-bailed, then failed re-rolled motivation! Eventually, the surviving Italians ran off to let the Crusaders consolidate in peace.
On my right flank, I moved both Motor Rifle platoons and a Valentine troop up under cover of a smoke bombardment, hoping to lift mines. The section mortars and furious machine-gun fire from everyone with a gun kept the infantry’s heads low: four of his platoons were pinned down! Meanwhile, the rest of my 32nd Army Tank troops moved up to create a welcome party for Steve’s Semovente reinforcements.
Bottom of T1 Steven rallied 3 of the 4 pinned platoons and dropped his 88mmAT gun ambush behind his infantry to shoot at the menacing Crusaders. No reinforcements nor German Stukas showed up so it was up to the forces he had on board. Stevens mortars ranged in on my Bofors in the back, got 3 hits but only pinned the unit, then realized they were out of ammo! Steven also risked Rifle bullets running out by shooting up the Motor Infantry lifting mines in the Smoke barrage, but failed to score any kills.
Although the 88mm ambush whiffed, the 75/27 guns did a great job and killed 3 Crusaders, bailing another!
The Guards Motor Rifles unpinned from the machine-gun fire, lifted the minefields in front of them and moved up to assault Giovanni Fascisti behind a 3″ mortar smoke bombardment. Although the support of machine-gun fire from Carriers and Valentines pinned the enemy and allowed the assault to go through, the Italians counter-assaulted yet the British did not. At least everyone was behind a line of smoke now My RHA sighted the enemy artillery and began bombarding them and the infantry in the centre, although with little effect at first
On the left flank, the Crusaders rallied, stuck around and vowed to press home the attack with a stiff upper lip! The Crusader HQ used up my last Smoke Bombardment to screen the Squadron from the ferocious Italian guns, and consequently, the Italians on my left flank fled against the British armoured onslaught.
Bottom of T2 a unit of 6 x Semovente appear out of nowhere at the other edge of the board and attempt to shoot up the Valentines, scoring 3 hits but only bailing 2 surprised Valentine crews.
The Luftwaffe makes an appearance and line up to bomb the Portees and CS tanks, but one is shot down by the Bofors! The remaining Boche terror weapon destroys both CS tanks but misses the 6-pounder portees.
Screened by smoke from shooting at more useful targets, Steven decides to unleash the Breda MG on my Motor Company HQ, who dies but takes over another team, however, the Bredas run out of ammo! Then his 75/27 guns, similarly deprived of useful targets, blast away at the Carriers on the hill, killing two, but then also run out of ammunition themselves!
Top of T3 the 32nd Army Tank Valentines remount and fire against the Semovente battery, with the Matildas and HQ Valentines firing on the move to join them. Unfazed by the attention of the Luftwaffe, the Portees join in, pouring on the 6 pounder fire. However, when the cordite fumes dissipated all that had resulted was one Semovente bailed out!
On my right flank, the Guards motor Rifles infiltrated along the side of the GGFF position and invited the Valentines to join them in the rough ground. Machine-gun fire pinned and then destroyed Steven’s linchpin 88, then each Motor Rifle platoon launched successive waves of assaults. Unfortunately for the Guards, accurate DF from the pinned Italians and the 75/27 which had suddenly found a turntable under its base threw them back. It was left to the Valentines, who navigated the rough terrain, survived 75mm DF, to panic the Italians into running away! The swivelling 75/27 was lost in the retreat, joining one that had died to the RHA repeat bombardment.
On my left flank, with the protective smoke bombardment gone, the surviving Crusaders resigned themselves to their fate and charged. This time they targeted the infantry guarding the other 88, which had been pinned by tank and Humber machine-gun fire. Although its last shot in defensive fire bagged my Crusader HQ, the doughty leader jumped into another tank and the assault continued. Alas for Steven, the Italians fled again, so his last 88 was captured!
At the bottom of T3 Steven’s 5-strong Semovente unit showed up and all the Italians shot at my Valentines, destroying one, bailing another and forcing them to run away. At least his large Semovente unit ran out of ammo in their efforts to brew up my Valentines!
Thankfully the remaining Stuka never showed up, and to defend the objectives Steven was left with two out-of-ammo 75/27, out-of-ammo Breda MG’s, out-of-ammo 81mm Mortars and three seriously depleted infantry platoons. Steve “turned” his guns around to face my Crusaders and hoped to blast them to smithereens, but whiffed. Worse, an assault against a bailed Valentine on my right flank went awry, with DF from one of its mates vaporizing the Italian team. On the plus side for him, withering fire from the Italian rifles and MGs destroyed one exposed Motor Rifle platoon and reduced the other to just one stand. Will my tanks be enough to carry the day?
At the top of T4 I was contesting both objectives, and his remaining guns were both in the sights of the RHA. But the British were shocked at how powerful the Semoventes were, suspecting they were really German tanks in disguise, and I knew this threat had to be neutralized. The 32nd Army Tank Bde moved the Matildas up against the line of Semovente to try for flank shots, and the HQ Valentines and Portees poured heavy fire into the mass of Italians. This time, when the smoke cleared again, only one Semovente was bailed!
On the other side of the board, both the Valentine and Crusader troops moved up to assault the Italians and push them off the objectives. But first, the RHA repeated their bombardment, and nailed both of Steven’s remaining 75/27!
Now it was up to the tanks, and the Valentines charged right in, squishing infantry underfoot, survived a counter-assault, but refused to continue. OK. Now for the Crusaders, who had the HQ to help them: their assault scared off the Italians who only just managed to keep contesting that objective by their fingernails.
Bottom of T4 two of Steven’s depleted infantry.and his ammo-less mortars ran away, and the rest were pinned, cowering near their objectives after digging in. Steve’s Formation commander moved to a central position in the deluded belief he could persuade his GGFF to counterattack the British tanks.
Steven’s last reinforcement, his M14/41 HQ tank, moved gamely on the board to attempt to use the Italian Superpower, “Tank MG Fire” against my Portees, but were unable to convert hits to kills as the soft-skins counted as being in bulletproof cover hiding behind the low rise. Again, the Luftwaffe ignored his plea for support so Steven was reduced to hoping his Semoventes could wipe out the Valentine HQ with direct fire to force that formation off the table. The unit of 5 stayed in place and hit 6 times, destroying one Val and bailing the other two. The out-of-ammo unit of 6 moved up to short-range, hit four times, but I bounced all their shots. The fat lady started warming up her hymnal…
In truth, I dragged out the top of T5 to prolong Steven’s pain and my lad’s satisfaction. Naturally, the Valentine HQ remounted and joined with the Portees, Matildas, Bofors, and even the RHA in letting the Italians have it. This time I did not whiff, and caused their HQ M14/41, three Semos from one unit and one from the other to go up in flames.
On the other end of the board, by the objectives, the Humbers wanted in on the kill and rushed up to assault his Breda MG unit, weathered all the DF, killed a few teams and ended up causing them to run, despite the screams from their Formation Commander. Then the Crusaders assaulted the lone Rifle/MG team guarding the left-hand objective and forced him to run away, again despite motivation rerolls. Not finished yet, the Valentines had their turn, and mercilessly ground down the teams defending the right-hand objective. Again the GGfF was unwilling to fight to the end and abandoned the last objective! 6-3 victory for the British, huzza!