Friday, July 27, 2018

Portmanteau war games - continued.

I should subtitle this: It seemed a good idea at the time.  Continuing the narrative - rather briefly - of my Tebaga Gap action, I should point out here that I used a heavily modified form of Bob Cordery's 'playing card' method of activating units for solo play.  Just quickly to recap: One side is designated 'Black' and other 'Red'; on each side, half the number of its units is called the 'median point', and cards are allocated -1, = and +1 this median to vary the number of units that may be activated for one side.  The whole is shuffled together into a single pack, and the cards drawn.  
8th Armoured Brigade, drawn up along its start line.

 On the whole I preferred to split the packs into Black and Red and, for each pair of turns, roll a die to see who went first.  This obviated a run of three or more 'Blacks' or 'Reds' turning up with the other side unable effectively to respond, but it did leave open the chance of getting in two turns in a row..  But my major modification was simply to do away with the cards altogether and roll a pair of dice - 1 die determined who went first (Odds = Allies; Evens = Axis) the other to determine how many units it could activate.  Once that side had moved, then the number of units activated was rolled for the second side.  In this determination: 1-2 = 'median'-1 units; 3-4 = 'median' units, 5-6 = 'median' +1 units.
New Zealand Division, ready to go.

 That seemed to work OK.  You may recall from last time, though, that I had split the Allies into two commands.  This I think is appropriate for Allied commands that are for some reason out of communication with each other, but on this occasion, I believe it was a mistaken policy.  Some of the reasons for this view emerged during the action. 

German defenders along the main road north

The best plan - and I think this was the one adopted (more or less) historically - would have been to clear the heights of the Matmata spur before committing the armour to force the passage along the valley floor.  Owing to the activation method I adopted, the New Zealand Division attack - unmotorised as the infantry battalions were - was fairly slow to develop; and the 8th Armoured Brigade get into action rather too soon.  
Looking east along the German defence line.  The PaK
company was placed in a very bad position and never
saw action all day.  The Allies simply did not get past the
infantry to their front.
 I'm still not sure how to handle the artillery in this scale of action.  I regarded all Axis units as invisible until they developed their position by fire or movement, or the Allies got close enough - one hex only intervening if the Germans were dug in (and, by implication, camouflaged).  As it happened, the German MG units on the southwestern slopes of Matmata rather hastily let rip against 24th (NZ) Battalion, and laid low half its strength at once.  Retribution was swift and terminal.  The three 25pr regiments brought down fire upon the luckless machine-gunners and obliterated their position.  Not a good exchange from the German point of view, and it meant that the New Zealanders approaching would have a clear run - give or take barbed wire and mines - all the way to the crest of the spur.
Having disclosed their position prematurely, the MGs
are quickly eliminated by artillery fire.

So it proved.  The Germans simply had to wait.  By the way, while I think of it, I permitted the German defending units to occupy two grid areas, by placing them astride the boundary between the two.  This derives from Bob Cordery's Hexblitz system, but see no reason why it could not work as well in the Portable Wargame system.
New Zealanders advancing on Matmata Ridge.
By this time, 8th Armoured Brigade was already heavily engaged with the panzergrenadiers dug in west of the main road, and even managed to whittle back some of its strength.  But the Germans proved hard to shift.  The supporting fire from the 8.8cm FlaK was soon reinforced by the Panzers and Marders.  Falling back to recover left the defending infantry free to recover their aplomb, and to reorganise.  That is to say, they could 'unpin'.  In the pictures you will observe the occasional yellow counter.  That indicated a 'pinned' unit.  Pined units were unable to initiate close combat, nor might they 'unpin' if in close contact with an enemy.  
The entire New Zealand Divisional artillery moves up to
close the range...

 And that brings me to something that involves a little bit of Boolean Algebra, characterised by the operators AND and OR. The order in which one prioritises the application these operators is usually determined in the Algebra by brackets, or some other method of linking.  For example, A OR (B AND C) means something different from (A OR B) AND C.  As a result of effective fire, a unit might be in a position in which it must retreat OR take a loss.

The wording goes: " ... Unit must retreat one grid area or lose 1 SP and become pinned.' Now, I think the pin is applied only if it is decided that the unit will take the loss.  A unit that retreats remains unpinned.  But this is by no means certain, and I am the type of guy who, faced with an ambiguity - which I can spot a mile off, by the way - will inevitably take the wrong intended meaning.   At any rate I went with what I thought was right.

Overlooking the German left flank...

Another issue raised itself, one I remembered from a previous occasion I looked at the pinning rules.  This is what happened to the Staffordshire Yeomanry.  Close assaulting the the trench line - probably not the smartest method of clearing out the enemy for armour - the Staffs took a hit and became pinned.  It could not move, and could not initiate a close assault.  I presumed, even though directly in front of and adjacent to the enemy, the Staffs could still shoot, but what can you do when you're looking for 5s or 6s, but you have to subtract 1 for the pin, and a further 1 for the enemy protected by fortifications or cover?  

The staffs were stuck, and could not be unstuck until the enemy left their position, voluntarily or by force.  The intervention of the Buffs Motor battalion didn't improve things, neither, as they fetched up pinned and under fire.  I was imagining the German battalion ending up with the entire 8th Armoured parked in fromt of their position, pinned, immodile, and as good a protection as they could hope to obtain against anything but artillery.

Frustrating though that is, there were ways to deal with the situation e.g. to call upon the New Zealand Div artillery.  There was plenty of it!  I feel like suggesting an amendment to the existing rule that a pinned unit may move one grid area but with these restrictions:  1. a pinned unit in a grid area adjacent to a grid area containing an unpinned enemy unit can not move; 2. any move must take the pinned unit further from the enemy than it is already; 3. the pinned unit choosing to move remains pinned, until a move is spent 'unpinning' 4. a unit being 'unpinned' may not move. Current restriction on 'unpinning' continue to apply.

III PzGr Battalion positions carried and overrun.
 As it happened, the ponderous New Zealand attack rolled forward to bring the hill defenders under heavy infantry attack.  Twenty-third Battalion took a loss passing though a minefield (the engineers hadn't come up); and was later to dash itself to pieces frontally assaulting the III PzGr Battalion.  Under cover of this attack, the Vickers platoons of 27th MG Battalion fetched up in an enfilade position on the German left, whilst 21st and 28th (Maori) Battalions launched their own attack.  A counter-attack by II PzGr Battalion looked for a moment as though it might overwhelm the 28th, but a timely intervention by the artillery came to the aid the Maoris.  II PzGr Battalion, within an hour reduced to remnants, was written out of the German order of battle.
The battles in the centre.  In the distance the 21st and 28th
battalions advancing to cut the road.  Time Jerry pilled out!

Although attack and counter-attack were leaving the German defences undented on the valley floor, the final clearing of the Matmata Spur was enough to unhinge the German position.  The elimination of III PzGr Bn brought the Germans below their exhaustion level: further counter-attacks were out of the question.  For their part, although 8th Armoured Brigade still retained all their units in action, it too had reached the end of its tether.  Only the New Zealanders retained the capacity for further attacks.  However, if I counted the 8th Armoured as exhausted, together with the losses the New Zealanders had taken, the whole came to just over half the total Allied force in SPs.  I decided then that the Allies had had enough and called the battle there. 

The Germans had stopped the Allies, but, badly hurt themselves, abandoned the position overnight to a fallback position protecting the coast road.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Portmanteau War Game

Second New Zealand Corps on their start line, facing
north into the Tebaga Gap.
For some eighteen months now, most of my war gaming focus has been upon grid war games and operations level actions, especially for my World War Two games.  I have to admit, though, that the plethora of game systems that have come my way - Bob Cordery, Tim Gow, Chris Kemp, Neil Thomas and Martin Rapier; all playable and attractive - have tended to contribute to a certain desire to amalgamate the whole lot into something flexible and playable at almost any scale from battalion level on up.  Hence the title of this posting: Portmanteau War Games.
Same scene, viewed from the south-east.

A couple of weeks ago I set up the following scenario to be fought, in the first instance, as a solo game, using Bob Cordery's 'Developing' game system.  The set up was based rather loosely upon the forcing of the Tebaga Gap in Tunisia, March 1943.  I didn't trouble to research it overmuch, as the thing was simply intended as a generic operation of this type.

The narrative ran that with the failure to force the Mareth Line on the Mediterranean coast, Field Marshal Montgomery dispatched the New Zealand Division, less its 4th Brigade (then detached and training up as an armoured Brigade), but with the addition of 8th (Light) Armoured Brigade, in a wide sweep around the Matmata Massif to force the gap between it and Djebel Tebaga into the rear of Panzer Armee Afrika.  The hope and expectation was that, cut off and surrounded, the Axis forces in southern Tunisia would be forced to lay down its arms.  Unfortunately for this plan, the Germans were able to respond betimes with a force sufficient to contest the passage

The action was to be fought over comprised a flat tract of country, dotted with a few ridges and hills, together with here and there thick patches of dry scrub and brush.  Constricting the plain, however, was a spur of the Matmata Hills thrusting westwards to form a bottleneck.  A good road passed up the floor of the valley, leading towards the coast, and the New Zealand Division objective.

The forces available were:

New Zealand Corps: Lieut-General B. Freyberg (HQ SP=6
Built into this element was the 14th AA Rgt, just because)

5th Infantry Brigade:
    21st Battalion ... SP=4
    23rd Battalion ... SP=4
    28th (Maori) Battalion ... SP=4
6th Infantry Brigade:
    24th Battalion ... SP=4
    25th Battalion ... SP=4
    26th Battalion ... SP=4
Elements 27 MG Battalion ... 2 stands, light truck SP=2

Divisional Artillery:
    4th Field Regiment 25pr ... SP=2
    5th Field Regiment 25pr ... SP=2
    6rh Field Regiment 25pr ... SP=2
    7th Anti-tank Regiment 2pr portee ... SP=2 (Classed as light anti-tank)
Divisional Mortars ... 2 stands, light truck SP=2 
Divisional Engineers ... 4-7 Coys ... 2 stands, heavy lorry, SP=2

Totals: 14 units (Median 7), SP=44:  Exhaustion point, -15SP

Attached: 8th Armoured Brigade (HQ SP=6)
   3rd Royal Tank Regiment ... SP=3 Sherman   1st Nottinghamshire Yeomanry ... SP=3 Sherman
   1st Staffordshire Yeomanry ... SP=3 Sherman   1st Buffs Motor Battalion ... SP=4 
   73rd Anti-tank Regiment ... SP=2 (Classed as 'poor' medium AT)
Totals: 6 units (Median 3), SP=19: Exhaustion point, -7SP

Mid-morning, 21 March, 1943: the general
Dug in MMG companies - something of a 'trip-wire' on the
forward slip of the Matmata Spur, protected by barbed wire
and mine fields. 

Elements Afrika Korps: HQ SP=6
I PGr Battalion ... SP=4 Half-track
II PGr Battalion ... SP=4 Halftrack
III PGr Battalion ... SP=4 Halftrack
Forward MG coys ... SP=2
Rearward MG coys ... SP=2
Panzer Battalion ... SP=3 (Panzer III Special, classed as 'poor' medium tank)
Marder Abteilung ... SP=2 (assault gun, classed as medium anti-tank)
8.8. cm FlaK Abteilung in ground role ... SP=2 (classed as heavy anti-tank)
5.0 PaK ... SP=2 (classed as 'poor' medium anti-tank.  
7.5 cm Light Infantry gun coy ... SP=2 (begins off table)
8cm Mortar company ... SP=2 (begins off table)

Totals: 12 units (Median 6), SP=33; Exhaustion point, -11SP

Some explanatory points, as they come to mind.
1.  Readers well informed of the Portable War Game systems will observe that I split the Allied formations by adding an extra HQ, and separate activations (if using cards, the armour would get Red 2,3,4; the Kiwis Red  6,7,8.  Part of this was due to the number of units overall being 20.  As it happens I didn't use cards, merely rolling dice with 

1-2 = Median-1 units activated
3-4 = Median units activated
5-6 = Median + 1 units activated.

So I could have stayed with 20 units, Median 10; SP=63, Exhaustion Point -21SP.  The split system I chose led to my calling this a 'portmanteau' war game. We might be returning to this later on.

2.  Although the PW system classes 5cm anti-tank as light, I took the 'long' 50L60 anti-tank as medium, but gave it a 'poor' rating against the Sherman 75mm gun.  The Allied 6pr AT gun was treated in the same way.  On reflection, I could equally well have made them 'elite' light anti-tank, though really it was rhe AT range of the weapon that persuades me to the line I took.

3. I did not allow the artillery to come into action until the enemy were 'spotted', which meant their moving and or shooting with someone - anyone - having a clear line of sight.  That meant the III Panzer Grenadier Battalion, dug in on the rear slope was going to come under artillery fire until the crest of the Matmata spur had been reached OR the 8th Armoured were about due west of the position.

4. The patches of brush provided concealment but not protection, blocked line of sight, and represented bad going for tracked vehicles or troops on foot, and we impassible to wheeled vehicles.

5. The high ground also represented bad going for vehicles.

6.  As it happens, PW treats motor vehicles and other transport as separate units, with their own SPs, a point I had forgotten until I had completed my preliminary set up.  For this action I treated the trucks and halftracks as integral to the unit, with no function but to move troops around more quickly than they could move on foot.  As I can't really see motor vehicles fighting on equal terms with 'sharp end' troops, I'll have to give this one further thought.  The game as played worked quite well the way I played it, though.

7.  Ground and time scale.  As a tank  or a group of 4 infantry stands represented a battalion,  I figured on a grid-cell being 1 km (1100 yards) across the flats.  That represented a ground scale of 1:10,000.  This suggested to me a time scale of 1 move representing 100 minutes, say 8 moves (roughly) for an 8-hour equinoctial period of  daylight.  As it happened, the action did continue into a second day.   

8. Oh, yes, while I think of it:  the strength points of the infantry units is given by the number of 2-figure stands.  The tanks and guns are given by the SP-markers.

9. Finally, I discovered subsequently that 8th Armoured had a highly idiosyncratic organisation of composite armoured battalions each comprising fair-sized squadrons of Shermans and Crusaders, a small troop of Grants, and a couple of troops of armoured cars (really nice war games units, actually).  The three companies of the Buffs Motor battalion were attached to the respective armoured regiments.  I could have orgaised the Brigade then, as 1 Sherman, 1 Crusader, 1 Armoured car, a Grant Tank as a brigade HQ, and the motor battalion.  The addition of 73rd Anti-tank was a little bit of historic license, that unit being attached to 1st Armoured division at about this time.

To be continued.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Napoleonic War Gaming for Fun - further nostalgia

Photos of the pages.  I've green tinted them as I
find the text easier to read that way than just
black on white. Seems sharper somehow.
My previous posting was intended as a one-off, but I could not resist adding just one more battle account.  Two reasons: the Borodino battle account had more to say about the set-up, the size of our battles (all 15mm scale, not one of them mine) bit also problems encountered during its course.  I do recall the unusually long time it took to play this particular game, for instance.
My hand drawn battle map of the action, as published
 in Southern Sortie, over 25 years ago.
One of the drawbacks of our adaptation of the Paddy Griffith rules was, in my view, the size and power of the artillery, especially in this action.  As can be seen in the battle map, the Russians erected two enormous batteries - one on either flank.  They proved a barrier we 'French' barely even approached, and our attacks were no feeble pinpricks, neither.
The Borodino battles was nearly the last of our refights, this article dating from the January 1993 edition of Southern Sortie.  I recall playing the part of Marshal Ney in the Lutzen battle, and I seem to recall there was a refight of Bautzen, but how far we got though the 1813 campaign I don't recall.
Speaking of Southern Sortie, this was the club magazine of the Christchurch Wargaming Society as it then was.  When it was first issued, I don't know, but I was, for a short time, one of its last editors - probably the last as a regular quarterly.  For most of its existence the mag was paid for out of club subscriptions and advertising revenue.  I do know that the editorial staff of the parvenu The New Zealand Wargamer tried during the 1980s  to persuade Southern Sortie to merge with it as a national magazine.  The Christchurch club members weren't having it, as I understand, and, on the whole, I think rightly (and thought so at the time, when I was living in Wellington, with no thought ever of moving to Christchurch!).

When the club ran into financial troubles (largely self-inflicted), its mag became an eventual casualty.  Its funding separated from the club subs, we discovered that what interest remained in its publication was not going to be enough to sustain it.  When the time came to determine the fate of Southern Sortie, as editor of the time, with much sorrow, I recommended it be discontinued.  I think one or two occasional issues were published subsequently, and then a more regular Southern Sitrep appeared for a while, with a certain John Moher as editor, but that ended about the time he moved to Auckland.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Napoleonic War Gaming for Fun

In a recent posting on his blog spot, Bob Cordery had a piece on the late Paddy Griffiths book, Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun, published, I think, in the late 1970s (see Bob's piece, here).  I never really did much with it - though I found the ideas interesting.  Somehow I permitted the book to go out of my possession.  Upon my move to Christchurch in late 1988, I found a whole bunch of guys (and a gal) using a version of the Divisional Game adapted for battles a whole deal more ambitious. 
Battle of Friedland AAR in Southern Sortie, January 1990
The orders of battle for these battles were diligently researched, on the whole, becoming more accurate (for a given value of 'accurate') as time went on.  Possibly we allowed for too many cannon in these battles.  I recall a later Borodino refight in which the Russians had two huge batteries, each a good eighteen inches to two foot long of 15mm scale cannon lined up hub to hub - one behind Borodino itself and the other behind Utitsa village.  Try bashing your way through that!  I think we needed, too, some method of breaking up combats along a large front, instead of subjecting the result to a single die roll.
My hand drawn map of the unfolding events of the refight.

At any rate, I got myself involved very quickly, my first battle being Jena, in which I played commander of a Division or maybe a small corps.  It was not long before I found myself  commanding the Allied armies.  Shown here, I hope sufficiently readable, is one of the AAR I submitted for the Club Magazine Southern Sortie.  

Although I was nominally commanding the Allies, I had also to play the role of Prince Bagration in this action, which allowed the Russian right wing commanders a very free hand.  That was probably just as well, for they did pretty well by all accounts.  I was so busy on the southern flank I could spare only the occasional glance at events on the north side of the mill stream.
These battles drew quite a large number of war gamers into the action, as the cast of characters in this one will attest.  Big battles, vast tables, simple rules easily understood - yep: they were a lot of fun. We probably got through maybe three or four of these games in a year. It seems a pity that after about ten years or so they petered out.  I miss them.