Monday, January 22, 2018

Sidi Rezegh - A Portable Wargame scenario.

Halfway through the battle.  In the foreground, 4th Armoured
Brigade and 15th Panzer Division duke it out.
A while back, I set out a scenario based upon the Sidi Rezegh battle of 20 November 1941. an episode during Operation Crusader - the attempt by 8th Army to relieve the siege of Tobruk.  Unable to make my mind up what rule set to use, I decided to play it as two games.  

The battlefield, looking west.  The design of the escarpment
features might need to be rethought.

The first game was played as a Portable Wargame but with the ground scale stretched to the point that the only 'ranged' fire was by the artillery. One hex represented an area about half a mile across. Tank and infantry fire took place at adjacent grid-areas (hexes) only. The thing seemed seemed to work OK, but I now think that AT fire could have stretched to the second hex.
The battlefield looking northwest towards Tobruk (off
the map).  Features identified are referred to in the text.

The action opens with 7th Armoured Brigade, having captured the airfield above Sidi Rezegh, then  pushed on towards Tobruk in the hope of easing the break-out by the Tobruk garrison, and perhaps even securing a breach.  Accompanying the Armoured Brigade is the 7th Support Group, comprising a couple of infantry battalions, together with a regiment of 25pr artillery, and portee-mounted 2pr anti-tank guns in similar strength.  The infantry and anti-tank guns are lined up facing north along the escarpment about the Belhamed ridge.  The supporting artillery is close by the Sidi Rezegh mosque.
The action opens...

The primary German objective was to maintain the siege of Tobruk.  That would be achieved if the Allies failed to break through the German lines to the northwest. A breakthough could be said to have been effected if the Allies could occupy and hold northern edge hexes west of the Bypass road. However, the German object was more ambitious that merely to hold.  The plan was to drive 7th Armoured altogether from the area.  It would have been sufficient to capture the airfield above Sidi Rezegh to carry out their instructions.

You will observe at the outset the Hexblitz order chits.  I began with the idea of playing that rule set, but quickly switched to the Developing the Portable Wargame WW2 set.  The game was later replayed as Hexblitz.
361st Motorised Infantry advancing into action.  The 'order'
chits were to be abandoned as I was using a different rule set.
The early action brought the Afrika Regiment up against the positions held by 2 Rifle Brigade (2RB), the leading battalion of 21 Pz Div (I/104) against the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) , and I/8 Pz Bn clashed with the armoured cars of 11 Hussars and the Crusader tanks of 7th Hussars.  Though the early exchanges favoured the panzers, that was not to last.

Some mislabelling I overlooked on the German side
The 'Afrika' Div Artillery is actually 155th Artillery of
21st Pz Div.  The unlabelled art'y belonged to 'Afrika' Division.
The brunt of the fighting fell upon 2RB, outnumbered about 3 to 1 (actually 12 to 5 in SPs, both sides augmented by artillery support at 2 SP each).  It was none too long before the Rifle Brigade found the pressure too heavy and the incoming fire too hot.  They soon abandoned the escarpment position, and fell back upon the supporting artillery about Sidi Rezegh.  Surging over the escarpment, III Afrika Battalion followed up.

22nd Armoured Brigade advancing to the rescue.

This opened the right flank of the KRRC holding on to Belhamed.  Even so, it was to be a long time before they could be levered off that feature.  The portee anti-tank to their left helped, that particular unit scarcely coming under attack all day.
Arrival of 15th Pz the 4th Armoured.
The early German successes looked as though they might continue with a rush with the arrival of 15th Pz Div from east of Zaafran.  But hard upon the heels of that arrival, the eastern dustclouds heralded the arriving Stuarts of 4th Armoured Bde coming down the Trigh Capuzzo.  Better placed to intervene betimes on the 7th Armoured Division's east flank, they soon brought II/8th Pz Bn and the I/115th Infantry into action.
15th Panzer's rearguard action against 4th Armoured.
The battle between 8th Hussars and the 115th German motorised infantry ground into a stand-off that was to last the rest of the day; but the armoured battle between the County of London Yeomanry (3 and 4 CLY) and 8th Panzer was to develop into a running fight that took them almost as far as Sidi Rezegh.
361 Rgt forces 2 Rifle Bde from the escarpment
Meanwhile, close by Ed Duda and Belhamed, the II battalions of the 5th Pz and 104th Schutzen Regiments had arrived. 7th Hussars drew back, leaving most it its tanks on fire and littering the battlefield.  Into the gap surged the leading tanks of 22 Armoured Brigade.  This fresh enemy drove back the 39th PaK unit, and added to the discomfiture of the panzers as well.  Even so, they pulled back only a short distance before once more presenting a front against the British armour.
I/8Pz Rgt still distant from 15Pz Div's battle.
Honours were shared in the early exchanges between 4th Armoured and 8 Pz Rgt, both losing a portion of the strength in the exchange of fire.  I/8th Pz Bn was still a mile distant toiling up the wadi close by the Zaafran feature.  [A note here about the terrain.  I made the escarpment hex-sides uncrossable by tanks (and only for convenience crossable by the vehicles integral to motorised infantry - a matter that might require revisiting some time).  Tanks could still move as if in good going into and along escarpment hexes, just so long as they crossed no scarp hex side.  The effect of this was, for I/8 Pz Bn that it had a rather tortuous route by which to ascend the 'wadi' to join II Bn in its fight just west of Sciuearat.]
21st Pz Div pull back for a breather.


The rest of the front had meanwhile separated, the initial German attacks against Belhamed having been repulsed - though not without heavy loss to KRRC, down to about 40% of effectives still in action.  The armoured units near Ed Duda eyed each other balefully, whilst deciding their next course of action.  

4th Armoured Bde vs 15th Panzer Div.  Honours so far even.
At last the I Bn 8th Pz Rgt arrived and at once made its presence felt.  Quite shortly, the CLY tanks deemed it wise to draw back a little, leaving a third of their tanks burning.  But 8th Panzer had, for their part,  lost a quarter their own strength.  
The heat getting a bit much for them, 3rd and 4th CLY break off
(as an alternative to taking hits). 

Seventh Support Group and cruisers of 7th Armoured Brigade
coalesce about Sidi Rezegh.
The withdrawal of 2RB had permitted the Afrika infantry to seize a good mile and a half of escarpment, leaving the Sidi Rezegh position badly exposed.  Seeking to exploit the eagerly beckoning opportunity, General Cruewell ordered 8th Panzer to drive off or destroy 2nd RTR that was then covering the right flank of 7th Support Group.  The Afrika infantry I Battalion was to strike along the escaprment onto the flank of KRRC, whilst the other two battalions overran - it was hoped - what was left of the Rifle brigade.  104th Infantry was to attack up the Belhamed feature.  The combined attacks, it was hoped, would bring about a general collapse of the British position.
A bold move by 8 Pz Rgt to join the attack on Sidi Rezegh.
with 4th Armoured Brigade tanks still very much in action
to their rear.
Greatly daring, for it left two active enemy tank regiments in their rear, 8th Panzer did as they were bid. But for one relatively minor success, the whole thing was a frost.  KRRC remained as obdurate in defence as ever, I/361 made no progress, and 8th Panzer were stopped cold, I Bn losing more of its tanks for scant reward.  The sole success was the elimination of 2RB, its scattered remnants becoming POW, or straggling as best they might away from the battle (in short: it took a hit, was unable to retreat, and removed from the table).
The demise of 2RB.  But KRRC still clings on to Belhamed
The above picture presents an apparently dismal scene, only 2RTR between Sidi Rezegh and masses of German infantry and tanks.  But looks are deceiving.  Sixth RTR has yet to join the action, and out of the frame are two Stuart regiments about to recover their umpty-poo and rejoin the action.
Lead elements of 22nd Arm'd Bde strike at I/5th Pz Rgt.

Around Ed Duda, apart from some desultory bickering, something of a lull descended upon this part of the battlefield.

II/115 infantry launches its assault on Belhamed.
For their part, the panzers were inclined to wait upon the events around Belhamed, in the hope of broadening the overall attack.  The same possibility had as an inhibiting effect upon their adversaries. (Aside: Actually, if memory serves, I was using a unit activation system based on Bob Cordery's card method.  Both sides having 15 units (including commanders), they were given a 'median' of 8.  Rather than cards (bit of a nuisance, in some respects) I rolled a D6 for each side in turn with 1,2 subtracting 1 from the 8 and 5,6 adding 1, to determine the number of units to be moved.  Although I took it strictly in turns, beginning with the Germans, it is possible top randomise the turn sequence from the strict IGo-UGo regime, with a die being rolled every odd move to determine who plays, with the opponent responding on the even moves.  That means it will be possible for one or other side to get two turns in a row.  But after that, only the OTHER side can get the benefit.  At any rate, the action died down around Ed Duda for a considerable time, as the Germans strove to carry the Sidi Rezegh position, against determined British resistance.)
Trouble for 8 Pz Rgt!
The failure of 8th Panzer at once to chase off 2RTR was not merely a setback, but a reverse that might well have led to disaster.  Two regiments raced up and struck II/8 Pz Bn in the rear.  In the confused fighting that ensued, the panzers held up magnificently.  A swirling fight developed with 2 RTR and 3 and 4 CLY, with the advantages of numbers and position, quite failed to eliminate either battalion of 8 Panzer.
II/8 Pz looks to about to take a mauling.
To be sure, I/8 Pz took some losses from 2RTR, and, when they could, drew back to reorganise,  For some time that left II/8 Panzer completely surrounded and down to half strength.  Their chances of survival looked very slender.  Here seeemed an opportunity for the 6 RTR to intervene, but they were quickly prevented from doing so by the  Afrika Regiment.

Distant view of the action.  Tobruk looks far away...
III/361 Regiment actually reached the 7th Support Group gun line but, despite doing considerable damage to the crews and guns, were pretty much stopped before they could drive off the whole unit.
I/ 8Pz pulls back.  II/8 has no such option.  Fortunately
British tank shooting is even more dismal than the German

361st Infantry pressing home their attacks.

Stand-off at Ed Duda

Stand-off at Zaafran
Somehow, reduced to a quarter of their original strength, II/8 Panzer survived long enough to drive off 2 RTR with the help of the returning I/Bn.  All this time 4th Armoured even with 4 to 1 odds seemed quite unable to finish of the II/8 Bn.  That survival was as decisive, finally, as the Germans' final attack on Belhamed.  At last they prised the KRRC fingers loose from the escarpment, overran the ridge and brought what was left of the Rifles 'into the cage'. 
2RTR falls back to avoid losses...
 It was about this point that I thought to check on the states of the two forces.  Losses had been heavy on both sides.  All three Afrika Korps formations were much reduced in strength, just 31 SPs surviving out of 52.  Seventh Armoured Division had given almost as good as it had taken - but only almost.  Seventh Support Group infantry had borne the brunt on the side of 8th Army, losing all 10 SPs.  Of the whole group, but 3SPs remained out of 14.  Only 22nd Armoured Brigade had got off fairly lightly.  The result was, however, conclusive: having lost 24 from 48 SPs, 7th Armoured Division had reached the point of exhaustion.  The whole formation might have gone on grimly to prevent German capture of the airfield above Sidi Rezegh, but its commander instead conceded the palm and evacuated as best he could the smoking battlefield.
Belhamed falls at last!
That was the battle according to a slightly modified Portable Wargames game system.  The modification lay in the gunnery ranges, due to the scale of the battlefield, one 4-inch hex representing an area a half-mile across.  Using the same scale, I was to repeat the action using the Hexblitz game system.

17 comments:

  1. very cool game, nice kit too

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers, Al. The kit is about an eclectic collection as can be imagined: Airfix, Matchbox, ESCI, Armourfast and a couple of 'magazine' ready-made tanks (the PzIVF1s). The German Art'y was Revell, and the PzIIF is I think Japanese kitset. The transport for KRRC and 2RB are resin cabs, the rest entirely scratchbuilt from cardboard and balsa. The 2pr and its portee are both scratchbuilt.

      Having recently built a metal 2pr that I found in my inventory (I think I picked it up 11 months ago) I might be forced to build a portee for that one, and all...

      Delete
  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    The test of a good battle report is how it reads ... and this reads like a section from an official history. It has a realistic feel to it and i would loved to have been there and seen it.

    Funnily enough I have been thinking about modifying my PW rules so that they could be used to fight operational-level battles, and I seem to be thinking along similar lines to you.

    I look forward to seeing your next battle report.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am forced to admit that, having set the thing up to play Hexblitz, I ended up playing an ad hoc version of the PWD game instead. Somehow it worked.

      Having allowed myself a while to think about it I played the Hexblitz game (of which I'll give an abbreviated account shortly), allocating the move-order chits by formation. That worked surprisingly well.

      Meanwhile I'll have to go back through all these postings (and the comments!) to collate the ideas and issues that came to mind.

      One thing: I am becoming more and more attached to these multi-based units or formations comme ca NQM. I haven't figured out yet how to marry up the idea with the Megablitz/Hexblitz method of SP allocation.

      Delete
  3. Great report- thanks for posting.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree with Bob that the write-up reads like an account of a real battle, with an almost historical result to boot!
    How much is down to your literary skills I wonder? Or are you describing the actions of the game?
    As we discussed previously, the OoB is a bit off (361 Afrika only had 2 btns and was further east where it faced off the NZ division brigades), but it's debatable whether it's better to aim for a 100% accurate recreation or a "what if"; most of the units were in the area, just never made it due to circumstances. Recreations of real battles often need considerable effort to obtain "realistic" results; often stretching most rules to breaking point, or being so one-sided as to be a poor game. The nature of conflict being as it is, if a general has done his work properly, the latter result is in any case the most likely outcome to a real battle!
    While you seem unhappy with them, your escarpment features have prompted a seed in my mind, as these features are currently exercising my thoughts. While a raised board would probably be the best, I was looking at the solution suggested by Frank Chadwick, Battlefront and Ilkley lad; that is a raised cliff edge which tapers to the board level. Looking at your features what I like is the way they appear as a series of "Vs" on the apex (?) Of the hex, giving a sort of zig-zag.
    I'm currently on an "on and off" sort of vibe with Rommel. While it says you can use hexes, the rules are written for squares and it doesn't really give any detail on how to adapt them. Squares present real problems with terrain modelling, unless you plonk a piece in there and rule it's all that terrain. Problem with Rommel is there are no "hills" as such, only mountains. The escarpment is represented by a chain of mountains (as are ridges) which is just a bit odd. Added to which is the fact that the 3 units to a formation presents real difficulties for armour, unless unbased or where big squares are used. As I'm thinking of based armour and a dining room table, this either means micro armour or less than 3 models to a formation. Once you start playing about with the fundamental aspects of a set of rules, you may as well look at a set which is more elastic.
    I note you are running several sets into one in some of your games. The danger here is (like Ross Mac) forgetting which set or variation you are playing. I note he seems to spend a lot of time thinking about this and your other issue, aesthetics.
    I'll admit it's something I'm struggling with myself, achieving a balance between functionality (board game piece) and aesthetics (what "looks good") in a very personal way with these operational games.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your remarks, Neil. These after action reports fairly reliably (I think) describe the action, though I'll add the odd bit of 'atmosphere' (e.g. Cruewell's order for 8th Panzer to leave off 4th Armoured and attack 2RTR - that was me thinking that it might just work...). The asides are of 'out of character' to touch on the play rather than the action.

      I based the game on a scenario someone had set up for the Rommel game in the 'Honour Forun' (which I really must visit a deal more often than I do now). I halved the elements (roughly), but added a few extras and translated his 12x8 square grid to my hex-grid table.

      Most of my researches actually went into the terrain, but I had to look into the OOBs as well. That the 22nd Armoured in my action comprised 2 Crusaders and 1 A13 I suspect was a mistake: they ought all (I think!) have been Crusaders. Pity: I have just the three - Crusader IIIs at that - in my inventory.

      On the matter of play balance, I don't worry overmuch about that, provided it's not a matter of one side being set up simply to be overrun.

      That is why I like campaigns. I recall years ago in a friend's campaign finding myself in action against what proved to be a greatly superior enemy. thrown onto the defensive, my guys fought like demons, handing out a fair few licks, but as the enemy built up, it became clear we would have to draw off. Perhaps I left it too late, for whilst the main strength of my army drew off to the west, a sizeable portion, including the Archduke Commanding (no, it wasn't Piccolo) was forced to take to the north road.

      I was never going to win that battle, and the end result was not ideal, but, man I had fun handing out a bloody nose to the enemy! A strategic defeat, possibly (future events would have told us) but a considerable tactical success insofar dishing out more hurt than we took. Pity that campaign came to an end with the terminal illness of Barry, who was running it.

      I'll end this reply here, and begin another to talk about the terrain.

      Delete
    2. The three-hex-side escarpment features look to me OK: the two-hex-side ones less so, and frankly I've no idea how satisfactory to design single hex-side scarps. I may also have to think of how to do wadi that looks like wadi.

      The FC suggestion was really what I had in mind, but that would work best, I think, on a 'free' (non-gridded) table. It has just occured to be that my two-hex-side scarps would work OK on a 4" square grid placing it so that the apex slightly overlaps one side. The straight lines would at least present a zigzaggy crinkly look... The 3-hex-side ones could be placed diagonally for changes of direction.

      I think you might be right about remembering which rule set I'm using, especially as in these actions I wasn't using either rule set completely 'per spec'.

      On the size of the equipments making up a formation, I too would prefer multiple models - especially AFVs - but it is not practical with HO figures on 4" cells. Rommel's 6" squares would be a deal more accommodating, of course.

      There are several reasons why I prefer multiple stands to represent a unit of formation - especially infantry. The first is that mu CD based elements simply get lost in a 4" cell unless deployed in multiples. The other is that the size of the stands, and their number (I have lots of these guys) prohibits the use of SP strength markers for all of them.

      I also like the idea of mixing foot and vehicle units - such as the motorised infantry with 4 stands and a lorry or half-track; or my Russian Tank Brigades with 1 Tank and 1 infantry stand with a single SP marker, say.

      I'll leave it here, as all sorts of ideas and thoughts are entering my head - far too many to discuss here.

      Cheers,
      Ion.

      Delete
  5. How did you reflect the different 'weights' of vehicles and tanks? In the PW rules this is primarily done by range and speed (so Heavy Tanks fire 5 and move 1, whilst Light Tanks fire 3 and move 3). But if everything fights are 1 hex range, the gun strengths can't be reflected that way. Dis you adjust the rules somehow?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You touch upon a matter that I have yet to resolve to my satisfaction, especially in this scale. I really didn't differentiate between speeds of vehicles, everything moving 2 hexes in one turn - in good going.. I allowed the motorised infantry the same rate of movement.

      The weight of gun and armour was subsumed in the strength points. Crusaders, PzIII and PzIV were rated at SP=4; A13s, and Honeys at SP=3 and PzIIs at SP=2. I'd probably be inclined to rate the Italian M13/40 tanks at SP=3; the L6s at SP=2 and the L3 at SP=1. British infantry tanks would be rated at SP=4.

      Note that that is the 'base rate'. There may be aspects of tactical doctrine, training, bellicosity and suchlike to throw into the mix.

      Delete
    2. Thanks. I wondered if that was how you'd have done it; it's probably the approach I would have taken as well. One of the challenges of the PW is trying to represent differences in a system with very little granularity (or learning to accept that one can't have those differences, which is the more difficult option).

      Delete
    3. My main difficulty is simply to represent the combat advantages (and disadvantages) of armour, and anti-tank, against other arms. This need not be represented by an advantage in the combat system, but perhaps by some other means, such as overrun capability, moral effects or something such. If I could square that, that would make the game system just what I want, I think.

      Delete
  6. One problem I have with the Honor forum, as well as the book it must be said, is the rather "sloppy" research for scenarios. I think the "top-down" approach encourages looking at very superficial general sources. As someone who has come from the CD / FC school I find myself getting annoyed at very basic errors in unit ID, let alone other details.
    FWIW, if you can track down a copy of Rommel cheaply (or bite the bullet) I think you may find stuff of interest. The unit and formation sizes would probably chime well with you.
    Combat (as shown on the website for free) uses a combat table. Tank shock, in open terrain squares only, gives a shift down for infantry. AT are subsumed unless using the optional massed AT rules from the website. Armour has a special rule for tank only battles, where the superior scores an extra hit if he scored any hits. Superior means higher AT rating. Armour also works on "lead" armour units in any tank v tank fight.
    Neil

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good thing I check out the 'spam' box now and then, or I would have missed this. One idea that has crossed my mind is to double the Tank SP against non-tank/non AT units in the open. Units in defence mode still have the edge, but it is much reduced. Another idea is that tanks may follow up retreating units, eliminating them if their SP=0 - in effect an overrun.

      As the SP value subsumes quality as well as quantity, then the superior equipment and/or superior training/tactical methods should be reflected in a higher SP value.

      There are other possibilities, but I'll have to think about those a bit more.

      As for Rommel, I am gradually going off the idea, mainly as likely to bring in a whole raft of new ideas into a mix that is already looking hard to unravel.
      Cheers,
      Ion

      Delete
  7. Ion,
    I wondered where it had gone!
    Like you I'm currently debating several sets: Megablitz/Hexblitz, Memoir 44, Rommel as well as others. I still hold out hope of FC's Road to Victory.
    I've concluded the best approach would seem to be to try each set and see which works best for me. Some seem more "tweakable" than others.
    I will be interested to see what comes out of your fusion of ideas.
    Neil

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's hope I don't add 'con' to the 'fusion'!

      Delete