FOW – Bathtub Sidi Rezegh
A couple of weeks ago the guys were wanting to break out the North Africa WWII collections, so I put together a Flames of War scenario based on a bathtub version of the second day at Sidi Rezegh (November 22, 1941) during Operation Crusader.
I was able to find some good OOBs and used those to scale the forces involved back to a level appropriate for a FOW game. Historically, the British were occupying the ridge north of the airfield with a motor rifle battalion (the King’s Royal Rifle Corp) and an attached company of of the 2nd Rifle Brigade. The airfield was occupied by various other elements of the 7th Support Group, including 25 pdrs of the 60th Regiment, Royal Artillery and 4th Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery and 2 pdr portees of the 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery. Finally, the remnants ot the 7th Armored Brigade, comprising only some 22 A10, A13, and A15 Crusader tanks, was attached to 7th Support Group. In overall command was acting Brigadier Jock Campbell. The 22nd and 4th Armoured Brigades were nearby and would play a role in the battle. For this scenario, I shrank all of the commands by approximately one level, representing battalions with companies. The 1/KRRC was represented as an infantry company (at full strength of four platoons). Each of the two regiments of artillery present were represented by a 4 gun battery of 25 pdrs, while the 3rd Royal Horse Artillery was represented with a couple of platoons of 2 pdr portees. The depleted 7th Armoured Brigade was represented by a platoon each of A10s and A13s. The support group (with attached platoons from 7th Armoured Brigade) was organized as a company and given an CO and 2iC. Finally, the 22nd Armoured Brigade (Crusaders) and 4th Armoured Brigade (Honeys) were each represented by tank companies, with their strength proportional to 7th Armoured based on the actual British tank strength. Because of the critical role Jock Campbell personally played in the historical battle (he won a Victoria Cross for his leadership at Sidi Rezegh this day), we wanted to include him and created a FOW Warrior to represent him and his impact.
The Germans historically attacked with two battalions of infantry from the 104th Schützen Regiment and two battalions of Panzers from the 5th Panzer Regiment. The German units in the Afrika Korp were almost always short of manpower and armor, so these battalions were each represented with an understrength company. Each of the Panzer companies had an HQ of Pz IIIs plus a platoon each of Pz IIIs and Pz IVs. Some recon assets and a battery of 88mm guns rounded out the panzers. Historically the German attack had been supported by three battalions of the Afrika Corp’s heavy siege artillery, so the Germans received three batteries of off table artillery, plus a section to represent the division artillery attached to the panzers.
The battlefield was put together to give a representation of the battlefield, with the escarpment and ridge north of the airfield running the length of the table and the airfield itself in the SW corner. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my desert buildings, so we didn’t have the shrine or any of the airfield buildings represented. We added a few random wadis and some low rises to break up what was otherwise a very flat battlefield. The British deployment required that the KRRC deploy on or adjacent to the ridge, the 7th support group east of the airfield, and the 7th Armoured Brigade west of the airfield. The British made a linear deployment along the ridge and deployed the guns with good arcs of fire to the east where the raod allowed vehicles access past the escapment in front of the ridge.
The German armor was pretty much limited to approaching up the road, as the escarpment was impassable to vehicles. My company of grenadiers deployed one platoon with attached MGs and PaK36’s as a covering force to try and pin down as many British as possible along the top of the ridge. My other platoon formed up to attack the eastern most end of the ridge close to the point where the tanks would move up. Our plan was to seize a point on the ridge so that we could establish artillery observation over the 7th support group for our large number off-table artillery batteries. We’d then soften up the 25 pdrs before moving in for the kill with the massed panzers. The second infantry company and some of the tanks would roll up the ridge from east to west.
Our attack got off to something of a rocky start. The British infantry were veterans, so proved very difficult for the artillery observers to range in on with the guns. It took us a couple of turns to pin down the unit on the extreme east end of the field, during which the platoon demonstrating top the front took a severe beating and eventually withdrew. However, they had done their job, as most of the British remained on the ridge for the first few turns. The German grenadiers launched their assault on the pinned platoon at the end of the line only to be thrown back when the platoon scored 5 hits on 5 dice. Casualties were light however and the British platoon failed to unpin, allowing the German infantry to seize the end of the ridge. Artillery and gun fire had done heavy damage to the second platoon of British on the ridge as well and soon the eastern third was in German hands. The observers moved up and we launched phase two.
As the panzers swarmed onto the field from the northeast, the 25 pdrs opened up with indirect fire, killing a couple of tanks right away. The British 2 pdr portees moved off to establish an enfilading fire position behind a small hill to the south while Bob decided to gamble with the notoriously unreliable suspension of his British cruisers. The A10’s set off at double time, only to have all three throw their tracks (Bob rolled three 1’s in a row for the unreliable test), taking them out of the battle. Having seen their mate’s misfortune, the slower A13’s set off at a more leisurely pace. The German armor continued to mass on the plain east of the airfield, suffering bombardments from the 25 pdrs but staying out of direct fire range for now. The gun line of eight 25 pdrs was definitely more firepower than the panzers wnated to face in a straight up fight.
As soon as the artillery observers were in place, things began to turn against the British. The Germans were placing 3-4 templates each turn and the unprotected gun crews (they were not in prepared positions and had been firing constantly since turn 1) began dropping like flies. As the number of guns on the line dropped, the panzers began rolling forward and engaging with direct fire.
As the British gun line withered, Jock Campbell moved up to try and hold the platoons together and even manned a gun to keep it firing. The Crusaders of the 22nd Armoured Brigade had arrived at this point in the south east and were making their way toward the battle area. After the first platoon that tried moving at the double lost two of three tanks to running gear failures, the rest were forced to advance more cautiously, giving the Germans time to bring their tanks on line. When the Crusaders moved to within firing distance, they were able to bag a German tank or two, but took heavy return casualties. A flanking maneuver by the 22nd Brigade’s attached armoured cars aimed to reach and destroy the 88mm battery while still limbered, but that advance was cut off by some panzers and the armored cars forced back
At this point, we ran out of time and had to end the battle. The KKRC had lost about half of it’s strength but was reforming a defensive line between the airfield and the ridge. However, a fresh german infantry unit was moving up the north side of the ridge with little to stop them from outflanking this new British line. The British still had another unit of tanks off table, but it was a smaller unit than the 22nd Brigade and the German panzers were still at good strength and supported by the now deployed 88mm battery, so it is unlikely those new tanks would have turned the tide. However, historically the last desperate charge of the 4th Armoured Brigade did turn back the panzers, so who knows. Definitely the battle to that point was a clear German victory.
The game was perhaps a little large, but it did seem to be a pretty good representation of the historical battle and we had a lot of fun with it. There were lots of crazy moments like the strings of 1’s that wrecked Bob’s A10 platoon. Jock Campbell lived up to the citation for his Victoria Cross, helping to man the last British 25 pdr and keeping it firing despite artillery fire crashing in on the position. I don’t normally have an itch to replay scenarios, but I think I’d like to set this one up again and see how it plays out with different actions by the players.