FOW – British Cruisers Attack!
I haven’t posted a Flames of War report lately, but not because we haven’t been playing, but more because I keep forgeting my camera. It’s all about the eye candy. A couple of the guys in our group have recently gotten their North Africa collections to a game ready point, so we’ve been doing some North Africa games set around the time of Operation Crusader. At some point (probably during the 8 hours driving to and from Fall In!) we were talking about ways to get the feel for the desert war on a game table. Since wargamers are seldom going to emulate the tactics of the British voluntarily, I decided to try and write a scenario that might capture some of the feel of the British tanks attacks. A feature of the British armoured forces during this period was that they tended to operate in tank heavy battlegroups with very little infantry and no artillery. Another feature was their disturbing tendency to wander into German anti-tank gun traps. So I set out to put together a scenario to capture the feel of the British tank attacks I’ve read about.
One of the things I like about FOW is that the points system can be used for good as well as evil. Points systems get bashed for allowing all kinds of ahistorical power gaming, but if the players in your group are willing to work within historical boundries, it can be very helpful in terms of ‘distributed scenario design’. For this game I asked Bob (who owns the Brits) and Tom (who owns the DAK) to each assemble companies from their collections to fit the scenario criteria. I don’t have to keep careful track of what everyone in the group owns to make the senario – I simply give them a point value and restrictions and they do the OOB work. In this case I wanted to have a strong British tank force with armored cars for recon and with one of the little British motor companies following along behind to secure ground seized by the tankers and hold it against counterattacks. I asked Bob to provide a couple of companies of crusiers tanks (with only organic assets, no divisional support stuff), a company of armored cars, and a motor rifle company. I asked Tom to provide us with a panzergrenadier company for the initial defense and a fairly hefty panzer company for a counterattacking force. The Germans would be able to place as many of their panzergrenadier platoons as desired into ambush (although since we were using a 6′ x 10′ table they were required to specify a table section to deploy into).
Both sides had some air assets they could distribute between various missions. Neither side chose any aerial reconnaissance – both sides would be blind. The Germans Air Superiority took control of the skies and would be able to intercept many of the British attempts to provide close air support. The Germans initially chose to place only a platoon in the town (along with some imbedded ATGs). That allowed the British armored cars to deploy far forward and to swarm ahead across the open ground on the south side of the battlefield. The two tank companies followed behind the armored cars.
As the game opened, the British armored car platoon decided to aggressively move forward, attempting to block off potential ambush sites and to seize forward objectives. For this game I made the number of dice rolled to receive reserves dependent on the British VP level. By storming forward, the armored cars captured a lot of VP, resulting in release of the British motor rifles from reserve very early. Unfortunately for the British, this also lit a fire under the Germans HQ and their panzer company was quickly marshalled and made ready to advance.
On the north of the battlefield, Andy swarmed his company of Honey Stuarts over the rocky ridge and approached the town. Undeterred by the Pak36’s, the Lend Lease tanks roared in and opened up with a torrent of machine gun fire pinning down the Germans. Although the guns unpinned and bagged a tank or two, Andy’s boys were ready for a rumble and with a blast of MG fire, pinned down and assaulted the extended panzergrenadier platoon all along their line. A couple of the tanks were lost, but the forward Germans positions were smashed with heavy casualties. As the survivors pulled back into town, Andy attacked any teams unable to reach a building (such as the attached PaKs) and eventually routed the defending platoon and killed the company commander. The Stuarts rolled seized the objective in town and rolled through to take up new firing positions for their next bound.
The Crusader company rolled in behind the armored cars, looking to move around the town and utilize the open ground to move onto the German positions covering the third pair of objectives. The motor rifle company with trucked infantry and scout carrier patrols moved in behind them. As these units rolled forward, they began to come under heavy attack by Stukas of the Luftwaffe and by 105mm artillery fire. Although these attacks were not devastating, the British forces were picking up the occasional casualty, made worse by the fact that Brett’s troops adamantly refused to recrew their tanks after being bailed out.
The Germans deployed their remaining infantry platoons (with PaK38 support) on the ridge to the rear, protecting the objective there and began rolling on the panzers. A fortunate strike by Hurribombers destroyed on platoon of panzers, but in the SW corner a juggernaut was approaching in the form of 3 Panzer IV Es and a pair of 88mm FlaK guns. The recon armored cars there tried to duck into protective cover of some scrub, but that did them no good as the PzIV’s gutted two of them. The remaining amored cars began to disengage and redirect through the newly captured town to positions where they could provide MG support to the Honeys.
The air forces of both sides finally exhausted themselves with a couple of more destroyed vehicles. The 88’s posed a significant problem for the British and their Crusader Close Support tanks were not in range yet to bombard the guns, so the Bob’s carrier platoon passed through and charged at the guns, blazing away with 0.30 cal and 0.50 cal machine guns. One FlaK gun was taken out and the other pinned down. Unfortunately, the Panzer IV’s were proving to be a real problem for the Crusaders, whose thin armor and 2 pounder gun were no match for the heavier panzers.
Andy made one dash at the German line, but failed to pin down the defending German platoon and lost a couple of Stuarts. Attrition was starting to wear his tank force down while on the other side the Crusaders had lost much of their strength to continuous artillery, air attacks, and the Panzer IVs. Unfortunately we ran out of playing time before we ran out of scenario turns, but then end was getting fairly close. The British players were content to fall back into defensive position to hold the two objectives in the table’s center. Although the DAK had decent tank strength remaining, they would still be hard pressed to knock the British of of their positions with the time remaining. I declared it a British victory, although it would have been close in the end.
The game was a blast and achieved the goals. The British players definitely were in favor of a combined arms approach and missed having some artillery with which to reach out and soften up the Germans. The early rush by the British combined with Andy’s aggressive use of the Stuarts against the infantry in the town allowed them to seize the center of the table and negate much of the German superiority in terms of anti-tanks capability. We had quite a bit of maneuver and the large table allowed us to make good use of double moves, trucks, etc. and to have a lot of vehicles (there were 39 British tanks and 13 armored cars) without it looking entirely like a parking lot. Definitely need to make some sort of dust clouds though to place behind the moving vehicles and complete the desert look.