Back in April 2019, it was a simpler time… and by that, I mean that Mid-War was largely done, the four horsemen of Mid-War all had lists and we all gazed longingly towards Late War. The screaming into the void regarding options was ongoing but we had what we had.
However, I wanted more.
Now we sit in 2022, and we have come full circle and returned to North Africa and this time those wonderful Semovente’s are an option. I understand that the Mid-War Monsters are not everyone’s ‘cuppa cha’ but these low riding Italian assault guns did see service – mostly with German forces in Italy, admittedly, but they did feel the heat of combat!
Italian Spam Hoch
So, where to begin? I mean, I knew it began in Afrika, but with what force and how to get those delightful beute StuGs in the list?
Last time out in 2019, I shared the curated list of all units that had been gathered and distributed on the Flames of War website and one had always stuck with me; (44.) Reichsgrenadier-Division Hoch und Deutschmeister, so where better to start my Mid-War monsters journey than there!
Austrian Anschluss Origins
The 44th Infantry Division of the Wehrmacht was actually formed in April 1938 in Vienna, about two weeks after the Anschluss of Austria but its Infanterie Regiment 134 was the direct descendant of the Imperial Austrian Infanterie Regiment 4, known as the Infanterie-Regiment Hoch- und Deutschmeister, and could trace that lineage back centuries.
The 44th Infantry Division fought in Poland and in part of the campaign in France before serving a 9-month coastal garrison duty and being reassigned to the eastern front. As part of Army Group South, it took part in Operation Barbarossa and was part of the infamous 6th Army that was destroyed in the bitter fighting in and around Stalingrad.
Rebuilt as Reichsgrenadier-Division Hoch- und Deutschmeister in Belgium, it was at fighting strength again by the summer of 1943 and sent to Italy, where it was in the thick of the fighting around Monte Cassino and back up the spine of the country towards Germany before the final defence of the soft underbelly at the Gothic line.
Its final act was to be pulled from the line, sent for refit and then assigned to the 6th SS Panzer Army in the attempted relief of Budapest where it was finally destroyed again around Lake Balaton, the battered remnants retreating into Austria before finally surrendering to the Americans near the town of Linz.
Our focus will be on that period in 1943/44 that the division was assigned and fighting in Italy.
But wait I hear you cry! That isn’t Mid-War!
When is Mid-War not Mid-War?
Now, I accept that the North Afrika book only covers the Mid-War period but Italy was always a bit of a slow burner in terms of equipment and organisation – there were still Panzer III operating in Italy until quite late on – so I don’t feel bad using this book to create a Late War analogue. I would have to check with Lee to see if the British list could be used to give you an opposing force [you can – see my Appendix below! – Lee], as I am fairly sure that you can use the US list minus things like M3 Lee tanks to create a US opponent.
As the 44. Reichsgrenadier-Division Hoch- und Deutschmeister was an infantry formation, I started by creating an infantry formation built around an Afrika Korps rifle company. These small units will represent the division taking an absolute beating!
The 132 Infantry Regiment had been particularly hard hit in the defence of the Rapido valley, and the hills behind it. Its battalions had been ‘bled white’ and were sometimes down to platoon strength. For example, when relieved the I/132 had only a dozen men in each company left and no company officers, the only officers in the whole battalion were the battalion commander and his adjutant. The 8/132, when relieved by a paratrooper unit on the Cassino Massif was down to only 9 men. Von Senger noted that battalions in the front line were led by very young officers commanding around 100 men.
I think that works nicely to show the attrition that eats away at the division’s combat strength but you could use a Grenadier company from Iron Cross too.
131. Grenadier-Regiment (Afrika Rifle Company)
- Africa Rifle Company – 2 x MP40
- Africa Rifle Platoon – 4 x MG34, 1 x 2.8cm AT Rifle, 1 x HMG
- Africa Rifle Platoon – 4 x MG34, 1 x 2.8cm AT Rifle
- Africa Rifle Platoon – 4 x MG34, 1 x 2.8cm AT Rifle
- 5cm Tank-Hunter Platoon – 3 x 5cm AT guns
- 5cm Tank-Hunter Platoon – 3 x 5cm AT guns
This gives us a nice core to base our defence of Italy on. The 5cm gun is flagging at this point in the war but can at least keep Sherman’s honest and provide some point defence for the infantry.
46. Panzerjäger Abteilung (Allied Italian M14/41 Company)
- M14/41 (47mm) – 1 x M14/41 (47mm)
- Semovente (long) SP Battery – 4 x Semovente (long 7.5cm)
- Semovente (short) SP Battery – 5 x Semovente (short)
Ok, this is where it gets a bit more… funky… you can ally in an M14/41 company and use the Semovente instead of the M14/41. The command vehicle could just be an M14/41 or you can try and get your hands on a 47mm armed Semovente 47/32 and use that instead.
The new North Afrika book allows you to mix the 75mm (short) and (long) Semovente which is perfect as the Reichsgrenadier Division Hoch und Deutschmeister, 46. Panzerjäger Abteilung had 1 company of StuG M42 75/18 and on of the long 75/34.
- Support) Sd Kfz 221 & 222 Light Scout Troop – 2x Sd Kfz 222 (2cm), 1x Sd Kfz 221 (MG)
To round out this force we can add in some 221 and 222 reconnaissance from the Aufklärungs-Abteilung to provide some access to Spearhead should we need it.
And that rounds out our standard force – whilst I don’t think it is an absolute d*** kicker of a list I think it certainly has a bit of everything and can be competitive. You have templates if you need them as well as doubling up as AT8 and AT10 respectively anti-armour threats. The infantry will need to coordinate with their AT guns to make sure that they don’t just get run over and smooshed but will still need some shifting.
Hopefully, this has been a nice little jaunt through getting some of the less… out there… Mid-War monsters on the tabletop and in games. I’ll be back soon with a cup of single-origin, cold brew flat white artisan coffee with more thoughts from the hipster’s beard
Appendix – Brits in Italy, 1944 using North Africa – Lee
The 8th Army in Italy being somewhat overlooked for new equipment actually helps us when it comes to fielding the British to take on Duncan’s force.
British, New Zealand, Canadian and South African Armoured units all operated in Italy; all equipped with various marks of the Sherman. 17pdr and 76mm examples (the only ones used by the British) would become available late in 1944, but the majority of the year will see only the 75mm armed examples present; perfect for an MW list!
To represent these, we can use the mid-war Sherman Armoured Squadron. However, we will not be fielding any Grants or Crusaders in the unit and the Honey Stuarts, if present, should be using the Scout tank card as they were used to provide regimental HQ with its own recce. Whilst Churchill is present in Italy, I wouldn’t include it in the formation.
The Churchill had sat out Sicily due to Monty’s dislike of the tank, but they quickly came back into their own in Italy with two brigades (21st and 25th) supporting the infantry from April ’44. The units were equipped with the 6pdr equipped Mk.III and IV they had used in Tunisia, later receiving 75mm armed NA75 and up-armoured VII models but that’s outside the scope of this article. Some units also used Shermans to bolster numbers.
We can use the Churchill Armoured Squadron (which should really be a Tank squadron, being Infantry Tanks) to good effect here with no modification as it even has the option of having Sherman Troops in-formation.
We need to focus on the regular forces here as Commandos and Airborne troops had largely been recalled ready for D-Day. Thankfully Italy was nothing if not an Infantry campaign with multiple British divisions joined by Indian, New Zealand, Canadian and South African infantry.
Both Rifle and Motor formations are useable pretty much unchanged. The Boyes had been ditched in favour of the PIAT so feel free to break that card out of the command pack. I’d also recommend using the “white knees” (for fresh units), ANZAC (for New Zealand but also representing the aggressive Canadian troops) and Indian Cards. The South African downgrade card could be used but the South Africans were a lot more committed to the war effort by this point; certainly, v3 book, Road to Rome, treated them as Confident.
Whilst not strictly allowed by the card, the Canadians, New Zealanders and South Africans all operated Motor infantry so, with opponents permission, use the ANZAC (and South African card if you go that way) with Motor formations to represent those units, as well as the British ones present in the armoured divisions.
The force support elements all work, save the airborne support units (75mm howitzers, recce and 6pdr) which had been withdrawn after the early invasion of Italy.
Priest SP Howitzers would eventually be withdrawn from use as the 105mm artillery supply issues really bit and the US were prioritised but were still in use in 1944. Needless to say, 25pdr were plentiful!
The 17/25pdr would have been replaced by the 17pdr so feel free to use that model. Ideally, the AT should be higher as the early AP ammo had long been replaced by Armour Piercing Ballistic Capped ammo but we’ll have to put up with AT12!
Armoured Cars should be Daimler I and Dingos though Humbers were used by the Infantry Recce squadron and a Humber LRC could stand-in for a Dingo.
Kittyhawks and Hurricanes were still common in the skies over Italy so they work well, whilst the Bofors still guards the ground against anything in the air.
M10, with the original 3″ gun, do start making an appearance in the second half of ’44 and an allied US M10 platoon works as a stand-in there,
Hope that provides some food for thought. No doubt my Brits will see some action once Duncan has his German Beutes painted!