Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sittangbad Revisited (2)

Looking eastwards down the coast road towards the
approaching Allied advance guard.
My apologies for taking so long bringing this account of World War Two Sittangbad to you, and the fact is, the action is still ongoing - barely begun withal.  Need batteries for my camera.  The ones you see here are from my Smart phone. 

The leading picture shows the field of battle, facing east down the coast road in Libya, somewhere between Agedabia and Wadi Zem Zem.  Apart from the palm groves, the greenery depict in the middle distance an impassible stretch of marshy country; and closer to the line of the Wadi Wasir.  The lateral dark line in the distance is the edge of the battlefield.
Congestion on the Sittangbad bridge and in the main street
as truck loads of essential equipment and supplies are
being withdrawn - one vehicle per turn.
These early picture were taken after the Allied first turn. They turned a RED 10 for allocating movement.  There were a number of options here.  To begin with, the Allies begin 'off-table'. The first turn brought the troops and vehicles onto the first row of squares only, to count as a full move, but with units allowed to shoot at targets in the open.  Elements of the 4th Light Armoured Brigade advanced on the right flank, over the Djebel Isen: the tanks of the Royal Scots Greys (RSG), a company of Kings Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), and an armoured car squadron from the Royal Dragoon Regiment (RDR).
Kampfgruppe Herzog.  The infantry and heavy machine guns
 of the garrison proved a hard nut to crack.
The left flank of the advancing Allies comprised the 23rd New Zealand Battalion.  The lead elements were A and C companies, flanked on their right by the battalion's carrier platoon, and on the left by the Vickers MMG platoon.  Flung out on the left flank, D company pushed its way through the fringes of a palm grove.
Elements of 4th Light Armoured Brigade swarm over the
high ground.
The medium squadrons of the Royal Scots Greys fired at the Pz III company, for a 'force back' or 'retreat' result. The infantry companies found the light armoured car company within range, but their fire was ineffective. I did consider using the 25pr field guns off table, but of course the Allies will need somebody present on the field to direct their fire. That option is not yet out of court.
21st New Zealand Battalion, advancing up the coast road,
are about to run into some stiff opposition.

Bir Isen.
Elements of Kampfgruppe Herzog were placed in and around the small village of Bir Isen. the Machine Gun Company north of the road, #1 Schutzen Company south of it, facing eastward down the road. Perhaps rather arbitrarily I decided the other 4 units of that command should be placed on a square orthogonally adjacent to the village. The second Schutzen company and the Panzer squadron we so placed to switch to the north to confront whatever might appear over the Djebel Isen, the Marder company was then to protect the northern flank of the village, whilst the Armoured Car company covered the southern flank.

In the coming narrative, I became aware of certain features of the Portable Wargame, as developed in Developing the PW (short title), that might not work so well in a card-moderated solo game.  The first of these was the preliminary artillery fire that opens each given turn.  This is independent of determining which side goes first in the subsequent actions for that turn.  To incorporate that into a card moderated game, one would have to remember that so many units fired in the artillery phase.

I played this once, and then abandoned it, yet I like the idea in principle.  It allows an attacker to 'shoot in' an assault; or a defender to try to break up an attack.  Something to think about in battles in future.  The other points I'll touch on in the subsequent narrative...

To be continued...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sittangbad revisited...

  • II NZ Corps in pursuit: elements of 4th Light Armoured Brigade
    with 23rd NZ Battalion supported by 3 batteries
     of the 4th (NZ) Field Regiment
    The Allied pursuit, after Alamein, across the deserts of North Africa, was, if not speedy, at least relentless.  Almost nowhere could the Panzerarmee Afrika establish itself for a protracted defence.  Pulling back from El Aghiela, in the southeast corner of the Gulf of Sirte, Feldmarschall Rommel found, at the end of December, 1942,  that a bottleneck had developed at the small town of Sittangbad.  A great deal of equipment and fuel had been accumulated there, and, as a brief overnight deluge of rain left in spate the Wadi Wazir, that crossed the road west of the town, the bridge over it was the only route available in that direction.

This square grid map has been adapted from the hex-grid map for the same scenario in Bob Cordery's Developing the Portable Wargame book.  This has included the field works and barbed wire as added there.  However, I have added in the small rise east of the salt marsh that existed in the original Young and Lawford book, Charge!  

Leaving Hauptmann Johann von Herzog to supervise the withdrawal and rearguard, the Feldmarschall retired westwards along the via Balbia. The hauptmann was none too pleased with his assignment. His battlegroup, drawn from the exiguous remnants of 21st Panzer Division lay drying out after the overnight rainstorm about the hamlet of Bir Isen, a kilometre or so east of Sittangbad.  The town itself was garrisoned by a small group from the same Division, under the command of Captain Sapten.  Further to the east the leading elements of the pursuing force, from the recently constituted 2nd New Zealand Corps, lay not too far distant - possibly only three or four kilometres.

How Herzog would have preferred a hasty withdrawal out of Sittangbad, across the Wadi and to blow the bridge behind him.  A single hour's respite from pursuit would have been welcome.  But first had to be evacuated the tonnes of fuel, ammunition and equipment before any thought could be given to organising the retreat of his command.  Oberleutnant Fuchs, who had reported the situation to Herzog at his HQ in one of the less demolished hovels in Bir Isen, was rather glad to take the ride back into town whilst Herzog, in no serene state of mind, grimly issued his orders.

Orders of Battle:


Battlegroup: Elements of 21st Panzer Division (Haupt. J von Herzog SP=6)

  • Coy/ 5th Panzer Regiment, Panzer III L medium tank, SP=3
  • Coy/ 200th Assault Gun Unit, Marder III 'medium' AFV, SP=2
  • #1 and #2 Coys, I Bn, 104th Schutzen Regiment, e@ SP=4, total SP = 8
  • 4th MG Company, 104th Rgt SP=2
  • Armoured Car Coy, Sdkfz222, 3rd Reconnaissance Unit, SP=2

    Total Strength Points, incl command = 23
    Rearguard elements of 21st Panzer Division
Sittangbad Garrison: (Kapitan Sapten)
  • #3 coy, I Bn, 104 Schutzen Rgt SP=4
  • PaK Coy, PaK38, 50mm AT gun, 8 MG Battalion SP=2
  • Mortar Coy, 8cm mortar, 8 MG Bn SP=2
  • Infantry Gun Coy, 7.5cm light infantry gun, 8 MG Bn, SP=2
  • Pioneer Coy, 200th Pionier Bn, SP=3.

    Total Strength Points = 13 ..
    Further elements of 21st Pz Div make up the garrison.
Field Defences:
  • 5 squares of field works: SP=5
  • 6 sections of barbed wire: SP=6

    Total Stregth Points = 11
Total Strength Points = 47.
Number of units, including command: 12
Card median = 6


Elements of 2nd NZ Corps (Commanded by Lt-Col Greenlees Corncobb SP=6):..
21st NZ Battalion at the top of the picture; to the lower right,
tanks of the Royal Scots Greys, an armoured car squadron from the Royal Dragoons,
and a motor company of the KRRC.  Lower left is the 4th NZ Field regiment.

Elements, 4th light Armoured Brigade:
    Royal Scots Greys (Armoured Regiment)
         A Sqn - M3 Honey light tank: SP=3
         B Sqn - M4 Sherman medium tank: SP=3
         C Sqn - A15 Crusader III medium tank: SP=3
     A Coy, King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) motor battalion: SP=4
     B Sqn, Royal Dragoons, Daimler II armoured car: SP=2

Elements, 2nd NZ Division, 5th Brigade:
     23rd NZ Battalion
         HQ Coy: 
             Mortar platoon: 3" mortar with carrier: SP=2
             Vickers platoon: MMG: SP=2
             Carrier platoon: SP=2
             AT Gun troop (Attached from 7th AT Rgt), 6pr portee: SP=2
         A, B, C, D Coys, each SP=4.  Total, SP=16
     4th Field Regiment:
             3 Batteries (A,B,C) 25pr field artillery @ SP=2:  SP=6
     7th Engineer Coy: SP=3

Total Strength Points: 54
Number of units, including command = 18
Card median = 9

Allied forces begin off table and may enter only as allowed by the activation cards.
Elements of II NZ Corps in pursuit of DAK, December, 1942.

Special rules:

1. The German pionier company are held by the bridge where they will be assumed to be preparing charges.  They may,. however, be 'activated' for some other task.  To resume this primary task,  they have to return to the bridge, and be 'activated' to begin.

2.  The fuel and ammo supplies supposed to be evacuated will be loaded on trucks that will be lined up, in pairs, along the main road beginning with the exit square.  At the end of each German turn, 1 vehicle will be removed as having driven off.  Spending ONE 'activation point' will allow one further vehicle to be exited.  To simulate the column inching along a crowded highway, the vehicles will be removed from the rear.

3.  The Allies begin the action 'off table', and are brought on only as activated.

4.  The German rearguard begin the action in any of the eight squares indicated in the second map.

5.  The Sittangbad garrison begin the action in any of the 10 squares indicated in the map, with the pioneer company on the bridge square.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Aux Portes de Moscou...

Last evening Jacko (Painting Little Soldiers) and I got together for our fist head-to-head battles with the Memoir '44 game system. Following on from my purchase of the box game at the Club bring-n-buy at the beginning of the month, Jacko had looked into what extensions, additions and accessories that might be available. He got the Eastern Front extension.
Operation Luettich August, 1944.  The German forces represent
4 Panzer and 4 Infantry Divisions.  One of the infantry units
are panzer-grenadiers.

Reasonably quick to set up and play, we had two games, one from the basic Memoir '44 set - Northern Europe, 1944 - and one from the Russian Front. I took the Allies both times; I was defending both times.

The first game was the German counter-offensive at Mortain, Operation Luettich, 7 August, 1944. One of the striking things about this game system is that the scale of each battle is indicated only by the game map. The Luettich game map represents probably 16km, or 10 miles of front, a depth of roughly 11km or 7 miles, bearing in mind distortions to 'fit' the hex-grid board. The German offensive, comprising 6 Panzer (2 of them 'special') and 7 infantry units represents 4 Panzer Divisions and as many Infantry formations. Of the Americans, the defences comprised the 30th Infantry Division together with elements of 4th, 9th and 35th Infantry Divisions. In the north-west corner [the long axis of the board being roughly north (Cherance)- south (Mortain)], stand what I infer to be elements of 3rd Armoured Division.

(Note:  The scenario mentions the Panzer Lehr Division's involvement, but none of the sources I have found confirms that formation was present at all. Nor, indeed, does the set-up clearly suggest the presence of a fifth Panzer Division.)

Germans quickly opted for a major thrust down the Mortain axis.
Hill 317 (barely in the picture on the right) was not to be held
for much longer!

I won't bore you with a blow by blow account, but mention a few incidents in the action. One was the difficulty both sides had getting their northern flanks into action. In fact, as the American commander, I never did get to move the units about Le Mesnil Adelee, which remained in situ the entire action. The German units north of the River See made scarcely more impact.

The German thrust in the central sector took a major
setback with the destruction of one of the SS Panzer
units.  But near Mortain, there is not much standing between
German panzers and their objective at St-Hilaire

What broke the back of the historical German offensive was the air power at the Allied command. This was represented by 'Recon' cards being used as 'Air Power' cards whilst a unit still held one of the Hill 317 hexes. They certainly did some execution whilst they lasted, drawing - and using - one Recon and one Air Power early in the battle. One of the SS (special) tank units took such damage that it was destroyed fairly easily later on. I did draw a second 'Recon' card, but never got to use it. As a 'section' card, it implied that the air strike had to be in the section - left, centre, right - indicated. The situation on the right flank was too urgent. Even so I was unable to prevent a panzer thrust that finally took St-Hilaire and won the action for the Germans.
Sure enough, the panzers brush aside the feeble
resistance and seize the town for a close-fought victory.

Then came the game that inspired the title of this posting: Operation Typhoon: the Gates of Moscow.  Same game board, using some of the Eastern front terrain tiles, the map represented a front of some 200 miles! - from Rzhev in the north to south of Orel.  So rather than Divisions, we're talking armies, here. On the German side, 2nd, 4th and 3rd Panzer Amries, and (possibly) 4th Army; on the Soviet side, maybe a dozen armies. Each infantry figure must have represented a whole army on the Soviet side.

Operation Typhoon.  Aptly named!  The map represents at least 200 miles of front.
It's a big action, too: once all the German forces were laid out, there was hardly anything left in the box.  Now, there is a special rule anent the Soviets, concerning the institution of commissars at this stage of the war.  The Soviet player (myself) had to select his order card the move previous to playing it.  This proved quite a challenge.  At one point, whilst still holding the ridge line west of Vyazma in some force, I issued a 'Close Assault' card that would have enable me to cause damage to four enemy units.  By the time the turn came around, only two such units remained to be so attacked.  Disappointing, but no real surprise.

Well into the operation.  The Sovier defence line west of Vyazma
is crumbling, though the isolated artillery element would
hold out for a surprisingly long time.

The Germans took enormous losses in armour forcing the main defence line, but eventually broke through. With the 'Medal' score standing 5-4 in his favour, an understrength (2 tanks) panzer unit seized the undefended bridge objective south of Kaluga. In passing, they wiped out (lucky shot this) a two-tank unit to the west. The two medals obtained in one turn completed a hard-won victory to the Reich.

What happened to the light quality (a bit of a puzzle)?  Soviet armour has recaptured
part of the ridge line, but a quick thrust down the south bank of the river near Kaluga
captures the river bridge (a major objective), and takes out a 2-tank unit
that was about to attack the Germans occupying that end of the ridge.  

I was curious as to losses in this game. A count determined that the Russians lost 19 infantry figures, 3 tank and 2 artillery. The Germans lost 16 panzers (wow!) and 9 infantry. Part of the reason for this investigation was a notion that occurred to me, inspired by the 'Medics and Mechanics' order Jacko played in the middle of the game. His five dice yielded not one recovered vehicle for the selected depleted panzer unit. Bad luck, but it didn't affect the overall outcome.

But suppose the battle were part of a campaign? We would want to recover some of our losses. What would happen if, after the battle, a die were rolled for each unit lost? Suppose we allowed the return of the appropriate figure were a soldier or tank to appear, with the player's choice for each star (to recover lost artillery, say). So I tried it out.

The Germans recovered 8 panzers and 9 infantry for a net loss of 8 panzers - a serious dent, in campaign terms, to their amour inventory (but bear in mind: Moscow has fallen!). The Russians recover all 3 tanks lost, 10 infantry and both artillery figures for a net loss of 9 infantry. Note that one may not recover more units of a particular type than one began. Well, it's an idea...

My thanks to Jacko for an enjoyable evening, even though we are now living under the yoke of global Nazism... 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Encirclement or Breakout

To conclude - for the time being - this series of articles on the Byzantine and Bulgars, I thought I would try a proper battle, but with a certain extra something. From the Grant and Asquith Scenarios For All Ages (a.k.a. The Red Book {of Scenarios}), I thought Number 4, from which the title of this posting has been taken. The lead picture sets up the situation.
The pursuing Byzantine force.  
"It came to pass that in the first year of Emperor Dementius, the Bulgars along the border invaded the Theme of Thessaloniki, raided several towns and villages, burned a number of farms and caused an uproar throughout the region.  Gathering as many of his thematic troops as he could, together with some Imperial kavallarioi, the local Strategos, one Dmitrios Manikos, set off in pursuit of the miscreants.  Heavily laden with loot as the raiders were, Manikos anticipated overhauling them well before they reached the Bulgarian border.  The Bulgar Kavkhan of Sofia, Attishu, was well aware that the Byzantines could be relied upon to react and retaliate, and had prepared accordingly.

"Splitting his raiding force in three, he took the main body on the raiding expedition, leaving the other two forces - with promises of a share of the loot - flanking the return road at a distance, ready to entrap the pursuing Imperialists. Overconfident and heedless, Manikos caught up with the raiders not far from the frontier..."  Michael Psellophanes The Dementiad.

The game was played out on the 13x7 Memoir '44 hex board - none too roomy, as it happened, for the forces I chose.  The troops were laid out as in the leading picture. The forces were as follows:


  • Strategos, Dmitrios Manikos @ 6 SP = 6SP
  • 3 Kavallarioi Units, heavy cavalry, lance/bow, sword, shield @ 3 SP = 9SP (Note: Manikos remained with one of these units, which was classed as ELITE)
  • 1 Procoursatores Light Horse, lance/bow, sword, shield @ 2 SP = 2SP
  • 2 Skoutatoi Heavy Infantry, spear/bow, sword, shield @ 4 SP = 8SP
  • 1 Peltastoi Heavy Infanrty, spear, javelin, sword, shield @ 4 SP = 4SP
  • 1 Akonstai Light infantry, javelins, shield @ 2 SP = 2SP
  • Sphendonitai Light Infantry, sling, @ 2 SP = 2SP
Totals: 9 units; 33 SP, exhaustion point, 11 SP.  Except where stated, all troops are rated AVERAGE.


Main Raiding Force ('Force Two' in the original scenario):

Bulgar raiding force.
  • Kavkhan Attishu @ 6 SP = 6SP
  • 2 Bulgar Noble units, Heavy Cavalry, javelins, bow, shield (One of these was led by Attishu himself and is classed as ELITE) @ 3 SP = 6SP
  • 2 Horse Archer units, Light Cavalry, javelins, bow, shield @ 2 SP = 4SP
  • 2 Slav Spearman units, Heavy Infantry, Spear, shield @ 4 SP = 8SP
Total 6 units, 24 SP.  All except one heavy cavalry are rated AVERAGE.  Possibly to balance the scenario more, the spearment could have been rated poor, but it seemed to me only the more reliable troops would have been taken on such an expedition - quite apart from the motivation in respect of whatever loot they might have been carrying.

'Force One' - the flanking Bulgar force.
Flanking force (Force One in the original):
  • 1 Heavy Cavalry unit @3 SP 
  • 1 Horse Archer unit @ 2SP
  • 2 Slav Spearmen units @ 4SP
Total: 4 units, 13SP, all classed as AVERAGE

'Force Three' - ready to slam the door shut behind the
 Trapping Force (Force Three in the original):

  • 1 Heavy Cavalry unit @ 3SP
  • 2 Horse Archer unit @ 2 SP = 4SP
  • 2 Slav Spearmen units @ 4SP = 8SP
  • 2 Slav Archer ubnits @ 2SP = 4SP
Total: 7 units, 19SP, all classed as AVERAGE.

Now, there was but one Bulgar commander in an overall force of 17 units, 56 Strength points. Something I overlooked, but would certainly consider a second time, would have been to apply the Exhaustion Points to each of the three Bulgarian forces separately. That would have given the separate forces Exhaustion points of 8 (Attishu's), 5 (Force One) and 7 (Force Three) respectively.

First move won by the Byzantines ( a die roll) - they drew a 6.
The original scenario forces being translated to the Mediaeval period, it remained to transpose the map onto my Memoir '44 board. The tiles came in handy, here, and worked quite well, but addition of the trees gave it a more '3D' look.

Now, for the card activation system. This time I wanted to test the separate Black and Red decks idea. The Bulgar unit total of 17 indicated a 'median' of 8, so they got the red 8, 9, 10s from 2 packs. The 9 Byzantine units indicated a 'median' of 5, so they got the black 4, 5, 6s. The roll for first draw (a die roll seems good enough) gave the nod to the Byzantines' first move. They drew their top card: a six. It seemed to me that carrying on with the pursuit would be no worse that many another action!
Bulgar's first draw: a ten!  Auspicious for them!
They got close enough to send a few arrows chasing after their quarry, but without much effect.  Then the Bulgars drew - a ten. Bad news for the Byzantines! Attishu promptly turned some of his men around to face the pursuers; Force One (bottom left in the picture ) sent one spear unit into the farm near the large wood whilst the remainder skirted the other side of the wood to flank the Byzantine infantry. The advance of Force Three was limited to the light troops only. Even so, there were already indications that must have been worrying for Dmitri Manikos.
Byzantine foot turn to face 'Force One'.
Still, a good draw, and Manikos detailed his infantry to deal with the flanking move by Force One, which had already put a dent in the slingers.  The archery from one of the skoutatoi units removed several Bulgar nobles from their saddles.
Under pressure from in front by the horse of 'Force One'
the Byzantine infantry find the light troops of 'Force Three'
closing on their rear.

Things look dire for Manikos's bodyguard, too.
The following sequence of pictures depict the developing battle, as the  Bulgars contain Byzantine attempts to break out of the encirclement, and tighten the squeeze. Considering the odds on the dice, it has been a feature of these that the shooting and close combat has tended to be fairly ineffectual. So it proved in this action. The bonus for lances moving into contact availed the Byzantines nothing, and thereafter, all three kavallarioi units remained locked in close combat with the Bulgar light and heavy horse.  

The light archers covering their rear having been dispersed,
 the peltastoi turn to face the approaching enemy light troops
with javelins.

Desperate fighting as Manikos and his horse try to break out.

Having driven off the Bulgar archers for the moment,
the peltastoi return to try to sweep aside 'Force One'....

Four units shooting - two with arrows, two with javelins -
with just one 'kill'.  And that was only because the Bulgar
heavies has no retreat!

The leaders facing off against each other.
Both their bodyguards have taken losses.

The Byzantines are practically surrounded now!

One of the Byzantine heavy horse units looks to be in serious trouble...
In view of the foregoing picture, I should make some comment about unit facing using the hex grid system. My preference is to call the direct front, and right and left flank front of a unit, all three, as frontal. An attack from any or all three hexes, I regard as a frontal attack.  The flank-rear hex grid areas are outflanking areas. An attack from either or both these areas constitute a flank attack. Finally, an attack only from the area directly to the rear counts as a rear attack.

In these two diagrams, you will see to Manikos's right a unit of cavalry taking on two spear units: one directly in front, the other to the left flank front.  But a short distance to the left is the real danger: a unit of Bulgar heavy horse about to charge into their left flank rear - a flank attack.
The danger of missile attacks from front and rear.  Having no
retreats possible, the Byzantine foot start losing heavily.

Desperation: All four command points go to trying to sweep
'Force One' aside!  The Bulgar spears are struck front and flank

Success! - at least a partial one.  the 'Force One' heavy
horse are destroyed, but despite their parlous situation,
the spears hold out.

The failure to destroy the spears is a a disaster for the
Byzantine foot as the Bulgar lights fall upon their rear...

... and losses mount alarmingly.

There is simply no shaking off the determined Bulgar assaults.

The Byzantine infantry line crumbles. 

It is all up with the Byzantine army.  Manikos escapes the
destruction of his body guard ('effect on commander' die roll:
a one); and the infantry is dying on its feet.
By this time, the Byzantine force had long since sunk past its 'exhaustion point'. Their chances of escape, then, had dwindled to almost nil.  With the loss of his bodyguard, with most of his remaining units standing on just one SP remaining, nothing but scattered remnants could possibly escape the disaster. It would be noticed from the above picture that 'Force One' (bottom right), having lost the heavy cavalry (3 SP) and one from the spears (1 SP) had reached the 'exhaustion point' of 4 SP lost. Although I did not consciously apply these individually, 'Force One' had been committed pretty much to a holding action from early on. Attishu's command had also lost 4 SP, not enough to tip it over the edge.   

The loss of 8 SP was little enough in the light of the Byzantine loss of 20 when the battle finally ended.