Saturday, December 22, 2018

Battleaxe II

On the morning of 15 June, 1941, the long awaited and eagerly anticipated Operation Battleaxe rolled into motion.  Eleventh Indian Brigade and 4th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) advanced along the escarpment toward the vital Halfaya Pass, defended by 7th Bersagliere backed by anti-tank guns.  Also under 4th Indian Division command, the Guards Brigade, accompanied by 7th RTR, pushed on towards Point 206, overlooking the frontier wire.
Unfortunately a staff error (for which no satisfactory explanation was ever forthcoming, apart from the inability, twice demonstrated, of a certain general staff officer to count up to three) led to the Buffs and 2 Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders failing to appear on the start lines.  The absence of one third of the infantry rather compromised Eighth Army's chances of success in this operation (and rather discouraged the writing of this After Action Report, truth be told).  But it was a fairly involving battle all the same, and it was only when starting to write this article that I discovered the 'General Staff's' snafu.

Priority being given to the capture of Halfaya Pass, the Indian infantry attacked from above (Mahratta)  and below (Rajputana) the escarpment, led by the Central India Horse (CIH) armoured cars to spy out the defenders, and the Scots Guards and 4th Royal Tanks advancing on the left of the Indian infantry.  Supporting this attack was half the Division's artillery.

The attack upon Pt 206 was left to the Coldstream Guards and 7th Royal Tanks, supported by the balance of the Div Artillery.  (Just as an aside, here, to give the recon units a role, I enacted that the first attack against enemy in 'D' (Defence) mode required double-5 or double-6 to score hits, but subsequent attacks required only a '6'.  Nippy little recon units being capable of rapid movement to get themselves out of trouble, could afford to take the loss without being destroyed, even at the loss of all their strength points (SPs).  This allowed the troops with more heft a better chance of doing some damage before the erosion of their own strength became too severe).  According to this scheme, the CIH took its lumps and vanished behind the advancing troops.  Not that it availed much: three infantry battalions, a tank regiment and a regiment of artillery battered the Halfaya Pass position, and although what remained of the anti-tank units had to pull out, the Bersagliere seemed disinclined to follow.
 The much lighter attack on Pt206 seemed to promise better success, although 7th Royal Tanks also took heavy losses.
Meanwhile, the 7th Armoured Brigade and its support group, led by the 11th Hussars, crossed the Frontier Wire without opposition and advanced rapidly towards Hafid Ridge, the capture of which feature was deemed vital to the success of the Operation.  The position was held by a panzergrenadier battalion, a reconnaissance unit, a detachment of 8.8cm FlaK guns in anti-tank role, and a battalion from 8th Panzer Regiment.  As the main body of the British formation drove north, they left a screen of 2-pounder anti-tank guns not far distant due west of Point 206, by way of a link, or liaison, between the two wings of the Allied push.

The first real Allied success came from the extreme left of the line, with the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) and the Rifle 'Brigade' forcing 33rd Recon Unit off the western end of Hafid Ridge.  Following up this success, the infantry, with support from 2nd Royal Tanks rolled up half the remainder of the ridge, leaving the '88s' clinging precariously to the eastern end.  Meanwhile, 6th Royal Tanks swung to the right, where a counter-attack by the panzers and gepanzert infantry seemed to be developing, a few miles north of Pt 206.  The I/8th Panzer that had begun the day on Pt 208 had dropped to the desert floor to join its sister battalion for a united blow.

By mid-afternoon, the attack on Halfaya had been repulsed, and 11th Brigade was back on its start line.  The assault on Pt 206 was still ongoing, but barely. 
Aware that the defenders were as much exhausted as they themselves were, the Coldstream Guards made one final effort late in the afternoon that swept the panzergrenadiers off the feature, whence they fell back along the Wire towards Sollum..

As night drew in, Eighth Army had cleared Pt 206 and most of Hafid Ridge.  But Afrika Korps retained the hold of the rest of the eminence, and, more importantly, the Italians were still in possession of Halfaya Pass.

Of course, the action was to continue through to the second day.  In common with the usual 8th Army practice, the units in contact (i.e. in adjacent grid areas) fell back to laager overnight.  The Axis troops were allowed to remain 'in situ'.  Both sides could replenish SP losses at a rate of 50% overall, and 50% by type, halves rounded up or down in accordance with the overall total rounded up once only.  Destroyed units were not counted in the restoration.

Eighth Army lost 33SP overall: 7 tanks, 22 infantry, 4 reconnaissance, though 2 of the latter (11 Hussars) counted as destroyed when struck by enemy armour after having been reduced to 0SP.  They recovered 4 tank, 11 infantry and 1 recon SP overnight.  Not having the Axis figures (I think they lost about 16SP all up during the day), I can not comment upon their recovery, but it did mean that as far as Halfaya Pass was concerned, it would be all to do again on the morrow.
Worse news was the arrival of elements of Afrika Korps's 5th Light Division, a long column travelling along the Via Balbia towards Bardia.  Lt-Genl Cruewell ordered this formation to leave the road, and counterattack on the line west of the Hafid Ridge, where the battle was once again raging.
Seventh Armoured Division had there seized the initiative (low sequence numbers) and attempted to take that part of Hafid Ridge they had captured the day before.  In this they were less successful.  True, they overran some of the high ground once more, but were unable to sustain themselves there, and KRRC found themselves perforce driven off with heavy losses and forced back towards the wire.
German counter-attacks developed soon from the east end of Hafid, from a battalion each of panzers and gepanzert infantry.  Within a few hours, 5th Light Division was to join in the attacks.

A somewhat revitalised 4th Indian Division began its assault upon Halfaya Pass, bringing in all the resources that could be brought to bear, save 3rd Coldstream Guards occupying Pt 206.  That stout battalion had to be left to its own devices, though, as it turned out, they were not seriously attacked throughout the day.  By this concerted effort, the Bersagliere were gradually levered out of their dug in positions, and fell back towards the Sollum-Fort Capuzzo line. It was an exiguous Indian Brigade that occupied the hard-won Pass.

That was to be Eighth Army's sole achievement of the day.

At this point 'Jacko' (Paul Jackson, playing the Axis role) had to leave for a mid-afternoon commitment.  Although it was fairly plain already that 8th Army had achieved all it was going to achieve, there was still two-thirds of the second day remaining.  I decided to play it out solo.

Most of the remainder of the action now took place west of the Wire, as Afrika Korps settled upon the destruction of 7th Armoured Division. 

Driven off the Hafid Ridge feature, 4th Armoured Brigade and 7th Support Group formed a defensive line facing towards the northeast.  The German panzer and gepanzert elements had meanwhile withdrawn for the time being around the east end of Hafid Ridge.  Beyond the ridge, where it petered out into the desert floor, KRRC riflemen could descry the dust clouds that heralded the approach of 5th Light Division.

Seventh Armoured were not long left in suspense.  DAK recon elements soon discovered the British defence line, whereat 5th Light attacked from the north, with 15th Panzer Div infantry joining in supported by their artillery.  The 15th Div panzers carried out, meanwhile, a direct attack upon the 2-pounder portee gun line - a costly charge as it turned out.  Barely half the panzers survived to overrun the guns, but overrun them, they did.
The real denouement was being enacted some five to ten miles to the west.  Fifth Light Division developed an attack against the flank of the 7th Armoured Division line, whilst the panzergrenadiers of 15th Panzer Division attacked the centre, where 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade occupied a shallow salient.

The King's Royal Rifle Corps was soon overrun by tanks, after which a considerable battle raged all over the desert floor between Hafid Ridge and the Wire.  Almost from the start, the British defences began to crumble, though the Germans were taking heavy losses as well.  As the late afternoon light began to fade, the Rifle Brigade was in turn driven in.  The rest of 7th Armoured - what remained of the tanks and the artillery - gave up the struggle and retreated, back over the Wire.....
There ended the two-day Operation Battleaxe battle.  Its only successes were the capture of Point 206, and carrying of the Halfaya Pass position - though they were sufficient for Lt-Gen Beresford-Pierse to claim a victory.  If victory it was, it cost a great deal in manpower and equipment, especially armour.  
Unfortunately, my own cock-up with the missing battalions deprived this action of much of its interest.  It must have been a much closer thing had they been present.  In the real operation, the Guards Brigade carried Fort Capuzzo. That was never going to happen in this action.  For all that, it remained an involving battle as it stood.  This has to be on the 'Must Redo' list.


  1. Despite the missing troops, it still looks an intense and hard fought battle. Bravo! As I recall when Ive played it, taking Halfaya is really hard and 7th Armoured is regularly obliterated by DAK. Adding in a it more infantry to be overrun by panzers won't affect the outcome that much.

    1. Thanks, Martin. The game seems to work quite well, so far. Soon I'll have to write it all down 'on paper'. Halfaya Pass was certainly a tough nut, and cost probably 3 times the SPs of the garrison.

  2. Ion,
    As always a gripping battle report which reads like an account in an Official History rather than a war game.
    I'll confine my OoB comments to a couple of things:
    4th Indian
    Also had the support of 6" howitzer battalion.
    CIH were elsewhere, recce were 3x sqns from what was left of Indian 3rd Motor Brigade (2x PAVO 1x 2 Lancers) so truck mtd inf rather than a/cars.

    On which note, should be Marmon Harrington or possibly even still Rolls Royce for 11 Hussars (who also had a sqn from Royals)

    The "gepanzert" btn if anywhere should be in 5 Leicte as they had an MG btn remaining (the other was chewed up at Tobruck) which had 10 half tracks, no one else had them until later aside from hqs.

    Technical note; how many turns per day? 6 (x2 hour turns)?
    How long to play in real life?


    1. Thanks for your comment on my writing style. One of the reasons it takes several days to get these AAR narratives out is that it is so hard getting started! A story begins with the first word - but that first word is the hardest to set down.

      As usual, you have provided more detailed information than I have been able to find elsewhere. I went by a OOB I found on the internet, that I don't recall seeing mention of the medium artillery. At that I had one 25pr representing 2 regiments, which may be on the skimpy side.

      Equipment - fair points, but until recently I had only Humber and a Daimler armoured car. Maybe I should scratchbuild a Rolls Royce - I have the template. I did briefly consider using carriers for recon, though. You might observe that one of the 'I' tanks was a Valentine, standing in for a Matilda 'Jacko' forgot to bring along. On the German side, I very nearly made them all truck mounted. Not that it made any material difference: I gave the German infantry all the same SPs.

      Turns per day. I had not thought about that, but I think I did stay with the 2-hour time scale per turn (it should have been more like 4). At it was near the summer solstice I allowed for 16 hours of daylight, so 8 turns per day. I know we played 2 turns of the 'second day' before Paul had to leave at around 3 o'clock - about 4 hours after we started (which included setting up, and a half-hour or so wandering off to the local Burger King for a bite). I finished the game off in maybe a couple of hours (at a pretty leisurely pace). I think the elapsed time would have been 6 hours perhaps for the 16 turns overall. I took my time clearing it all away!


  3. RE last post
    CIH were present, but were equipped with a mix of trucks and carriers.

    The heavy artillery were in regimental strength.

    The Italian contribution were the infantry from Trento, not the Bersaglieri. They had given up their trucks on arrival to ease the supply situation.

    Halfaya pass was garrisoned by a btn from 104 Infantry (German) under the Reverend Major Bach (he was a Lutheran pastor). They had some ex-French heavy artillery.

    On the frontier were also 15 Kradscutzen and at least one of the Oasis btns (German static inf).

    Some links:

    It's inspiring me to get my finger out with my own North Africa project.


    1. As far as I could determine, the 7th Bersagliere was a 'Trento' Division battalion, and indications from what I have read were that they formed at least part of the garrison at Halfaya. I know there were Germans present, and I subsumed them in the anti-tank unit. The German battalion I placed upon Point 206. My reading didn't make altogether clear which German infantry units were where, though.

      There were some small units I left out - the engineer companies from both Allied Divisions, for example. Having said that, I appreciate your sending these links. I'm not sure I want to subscribe to scribd - something to think about. But the Bob McKenzie links are certainly informative. Still and all, I'm not too displeased with what I made of the operation, given the haste with which I put it together!


  4. I managed to get the Megablitz Battleaxe oob as a pdf from somewhere (as well as ones for Graziani's offensive and Compass) the author seems to like multiple infantry. If you'd like a copy drop me an email (
    Battleaxe is a difficult one on the axis side as the divisions were split up into various forces. I've seen mention of a Bersaglieri coy at Halfaya, but it was really Rev Bach's I/104.

  5. Hi Duke,
    Enjoyed the battle report and pictures. The troops and terrain look great. I hope to try your scenario later this week, initially as a solo game. I have an idea I want incorporate although others may have tried it before. Strenght points will be marked with different colours of dice.
    Light armour and AT guns will have blue and hit each other as normal, but at a -1 on dice against medium armour.
    Mediuum armour and AT units a red dice and hit each other as normal but get +1 on dice against blue armour.
    Heavy armour or AT get a green, only the 88mm, in this battle But get a +2 against blue or a +1 against red armour.
    Don't know if I am over doing with this, but I'll try it and see.
    Final point, I agree with you about using what you have got to represent what you need. I have over 100 vehicles in my 8th Army, but sometimes I don't have the exact model needed. I find it makes no difference if you've got the SPs right. Keep up the good work

    1. Hi Howard -
      Thanks for your comment. Pity it has taken me more than a month to find it (and that only fortuitously). I'm intrigued by your colour-coding by weight of armour and anti-tank. Something perhaps for me to look into further! I've tried looking up your profile, but not a lot of info there...?

  6. Sorry Duke, just spent an hour trying to post a comment here.

  7. Hi Duke,
    Thanks for reply. you probably gathered from my attempts to comment that I am not very computer literate. I am over 70 live in Lancashire England and been wargaming since the late 1960s Probably my favourite period is WW2 for which I have several armies. I didn't get to game Battleaxe but my Hex mat arrived last week so its systems go. I'm just wondering should I start small and do operation Brevity or should I go for broke and do Battleaxe.

    1. I don't really have a reply to that question, Howard. I'm thinking of 'doing' Brevity, myself, some time soon. I reckon just go with what you feel like - perhaps a couple of small 'shake down' exercises (actions) to begin with to familiarise with the game mechanics - then into something, like Brevity or Battleaxe.

      I did have some idea of 'doing' Operation Crusader, but I reckon my hex-table needs to be at least half as long again for that to work. I do have an ungridded 6ft x 4ft table though...

    2. You might be interested in this scenario:
      The other two articles on this action can be seen later that same month (January 2018).