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.


  1. I look forward to reading more ! The hex board looks quite appropriate and I am very tempted to make my own version to play around with and get ready for games etc.

    1. They do make war games easier to prepare, that's for sure. The recent very light spray of grey in my view makes the surface good for all seasons.

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  3. Just saw your comments re Op Crusader on Bob Cordery's blog.
    Have lots of info; it's worth flagging up that 2 of the Italian inf divisions were still on the old AS1940 organization, Brescia and Savona.