Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bir Hacheim - Memoir 44 scenario playtest.

It was reading Martin Rapier's recent account of a 'Bir Hakeim' action played under the Memoir '44 game system, with add-ons, supplements and adjustments, that inspired this belated, and rather divergent, posting.  As such it was something of an experiment and the article as much a review of the game system and the success (or otherwise) of the modifications Martin had in mind (see here).
Scenario set up.  The dotted bits represent minefields, for
which I used AT obstacles.  Blue arrows are exit points fpr
Axis units breaking through; the grey stars
strong-point objectives.

 Reading this, I wondered just how the scenario would go with the basic Normandy game system - completely unaltered.  Mapping out the scenario from the photographs, I had to guess the number of command cards and 'victory points' for each side.

The Axis went first; both sides got 6 command cards.  The Allies got Victory Points by destroying enemy units.  The Axis get them by {a} destroying Allied units, {b} by occupying strong points held by the 'Free French' near Bir Hacheim' (grey stars) and {c} by exiting units from either of the two exit points marked with blue arrows on the map.

For this action, I used anti-tank obstacles to represent minefields, with no rules adjustment.  All the same, as the action developed, it became clear that the action would concentrate upon the less protected positions outside the fortified perimeter.  Partly this was due to the preponderance of sector orders to the right and centre.  Very few group orders turned up, an observation that Martin Rapier dilated upon.
Rough notion of how events unfolded.  The arrival of 2/3
of the Ariete Division tanks and the 'Armour Assault;
card led to almost the entire Indian Bde being overrun.
For quite a while, it looked as though the Axis were not going to flank the Gazala line at all - through Bir Hacheim, or around it.  Fighting was never more than desultory around the Bir Hacheim 'box' itself - such as there was being as much to turn over the cards as to inflict losses.  The defences were discouraging enough, but none too many sector order cards came up for this part of the field.

Between the ridges, the fighting was a deal more brisk, and the defenders were giving a pretty good account of themselves.  Early on, the Axis paused to bring up the artillery just one hex, to a more effective range of the dug in line.  Even so, the early Stuka raid (Air Strike card) and heavy artillery strike a few turns thereafter (Barrage card) were welcome to the Axis to keep up the pressure in what amounted to a battle of attrition.  A couple of tank units from 'Ariete' Division were called over - to reinforce what had become the main attack, but also to turn over a 'left sector 'Probe' card.

What sealed the deal for the Axis was the arrival of an 'Armour Assault' card, just as the Ariete Division was set to intervene effectively.  With it, the four tank units still available thundered into close assault, effecting a couple of overrun attacks and swept the Allied line - infantry and guns - from right to left.  Only the remnant still occupying the rise on the left flank survived.

Of course, the tank units of the 4th Armoured Brigade counter-attacked, and inflicted some loss.  The left hand unit even reoccupied some positions earlier held by the infantry.  But after their massed attack, the momentum rested with the Axis.  Soon the entire available Allied armour were wrecks littering the darkling desert.  Five Allied units destroyed and one Axis Panzer unit exited, to two Axis units destroyed (though at least a couple of others were down to a single element) it was a great Axis victory; 6-2 based on VPs.

The turning point was certainly sudden, and the Allies didn't get much in the way of group cards to help things along.  Still, for mine, a fascinating exercise, interesting scenario even under the basic Memoir '44 system... and ... a candidate game for The Portable Wargame!


  1. Nice battle report. Memoir 44 is a great little game and made to be expanded to the miniatures table.

    1. I agree with you view of Memoir '44. Great buy it was, second hand. A friend got the east Front expansion, which gives us a lot more variety.

  2. The vast majority of the Memoir 44 scenarios are available online from the website or buried in the (free) PDFs of the rules. Bir Hakeim is from the Desert War expansion set. I lightly modified it in light of the general suggestions on the Memoir 44 Fanatic website around the issues with attacking sides having too much artillery which can reduce the scenario to a boring plinkfest.

    They do indeed make ideal Portable Wargame scenarios, and that is one of the reasons I like all the Command and Colours games - I can set up a good looking game on my hexon terrain with very little thought required, although I can rarely resist the chance to fiddle.

    1. I had two reasons for trying this action. One was that, as you presented it, it looked like a good one to try out! The other was simply to see how the thing would play using the basic, unexpanded Memoir '44 game set. I like the think 'as is' and (for the moment) reluctant to go the expansion route.

      I'm not overfond of resisting temptation, so that resolve might well erode over time... :-D

  3. Always impresses me that games like this which "factor" in so much can deliver such good results on a fairly consistent basis.

    1. That game was played solo, but, win lose or solo, I don't think I have had an un-fun M44 game. Considering its 'beer and pretzels' simplicity of concept and design, I reckon there is considerable depth to the game system.

  4. If you re-run it, it is worth trying an assault on 1st FF. If the Germans help out (one of their units motorised engineers) then the Axis have a very good chance of breaking into the box. Destroying the four French units and taking the two bunker hexes would give them the six flags needed for victory.

    What you don't do is attack 3rd Indian with 21st Panzer while attacking 1st FF with Ariete. Like I did. An interesting demonstration of the fragility of armour!

    1. Thanks - I'll give that a go. It was the card distribution as much as the formidable looking defences that led to the main attack being delivered on the Allied left. I did detail a couple of infantry and a tank unit to amuse the French, but stayed outside the box to exchange shots here and there.

      What i found interesting was the the sudden 'give' in the Allied defences, which had been holding out for so long. I have read accounts of games in which the action seems to bog down into a static battle of attrition and mutual immobility. The thing is, if a collapse does happen (by arrangement or simply the action of time) it be sudden and dramatic. Makes for a fine narrative!

  5. Ion,
    Another stimulating report. Memoir 44 is another one on my list as a possible operational game, even though it seems to have been designed for a much lower level. It helps having the hex mats required. Did you play it with your normal 20mm?

    1. I find the M44 game kind of scale-less. Generally speaking, though it looks to be between Divisional and Corps level overall. The units might be companies, but are as likely to be battalions or even brigades.

      In this action, 'Ariete Division' seemed to get 3 Tank and 2 Infantry units. It seemed reasonable to think of them as battalions. '21st Panzer' got 4 panzer, 3 infantry, 2 artillery units. The infantry and guns seemed about battalion sized, but maybe the tanks were more 'half-battalions' unless we were to suppose 15th Panzer was present as well with its two tank battalions.

      I played this game with the standard M44 board and pieces. But I am considering adapting it to a table game - Portable Wargame or Hexblitz or Megablitz or something similar.

    2. Neil -
      I forgot to say that the 4 infantry units and 1 artillery seemed about right for 3 India Brigade (4 rifle battalions and artillery regiment). The Free french Brigade was similarly composed. The two armoured elements might have been a couple of regiments from 4th Armoured Brigade.

      The ground scale might indicate a battle area some 13 to 26 kilometers of front, and 9 to 18 km in depth.

  6. Thanks Ion.
    Of course if you look at Bob Cordery's site you can see his attempts to marry M44 with other rules.
    I'm inclined to try it more or less straight but with the temptation to include various rules from the supplements.
    The basic game seems too simplistic; that may be from comparison with Richard Borg's other rules.

    1. Cheers, Neil -
      Possibly my present reluctance to carry the M44 thing further than I have so far is due to my interest in the other grid and non-grid Operations level games, for which I have loads of kit (when I tell you I have sixteen Panthers, you start to get the picture). At this point, I'd rather M44 be an alternative to the other forms, rather than a substitute.

      As things now stand, I am for the moment close to being satisfied with the version of Hexblitz that I have come up with. The Suomussalmi action went, for mine, very well - exciting, not too one-sided (though the best the Soviets could ever hope for was a draw, such a result turned out to be very likely), and although the 'motti' weren't quite realised (only one appeared), the thing was satisfyingly close enough to history.

      I might give Bir Hakeim (I'm used to spelling it Hacheim) a crack using Hexblitz and a version of Megablitz as well.

      Some time...