Friday, 27 June 2014
Russ, Mark and myself played another Spearhead battle last night. This time in the desert revisiting a classic scenario from the series of battles fought at Sidi Rezegh in November 1941. Commonwealth forces, attempting to relieve Tobruk, instigate a series of armoured battles designed to bleed Rommel's forces to death. However, the plan never survived contact, and although the Axis forces made a few blunders themselves, as Rommel would write, it was his side that committed the fewer mistakes. The British took a while to get 8th Army doctrine up to scratch and their failure to combine different arms and concentrate their superior numbers at the decisive point meant the British were always on the back foot tactically until Alamein in October 1942.
The British are holding an airfield to the south of the coast road running from Egypt to Tobruk. Two motorised battalions with two batteries of 25 pounders (7th Armoured Support Group) are dug in. Russ took the British and opted to keep his four regiments of tanks (Stuarts and Crusaders from 7th and 22nd Armoured brigade) in reserve off table.
Mark fielded two German motorised battalions, two Panzer battalions and a full panzerjaeger battalion (1x 88mm and 8x PAK38!) all from 21st Panzer Division, well supported by a battalion of 170mms and an Italian battalion of 100mms.
Mark went straight for the airfield with his infantry and the antitank guns split between the two infantry units. Sporadic artillery fire from the British took out a few infantry but on a double six wiped out the 88mm! Mark was starting to feel a little more cautious.
By turn four a furious assault had begun on the airfield and the British seemed to have the upper hand inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking Germans. However, glad that he had bolstered the strength of his infantry with the antitank guns, Mark made one more charge onto the airfield before he would need to do a morale check. The British defence collapsed under coordinated artillery and infantry attacks.
At this point Russ committed his tanks. One unit supported his beleaguered infantry around the airfield whilst another appeared on the following turn manoeuvring on a wide arc on the German right flank. Russ had cunningly used a conditional order allowing an easier change of orders at a given point which he ensured was away from any direct fire which kept Mark guessing as to when this unit would eventually turn (With a brigade or higher command attached this would be an excellent ruse for the Russians to use in a counterattack game!).
Mark had previously committed his on table tank battalion to attack the British tanks near the airfield and unable to change his orders (rolling alot of 1s) he was heading into a tactical trap. Use of dust also prevented proper spotting of the British and he was forced to gingerly move his anti tank guns on this flank to help cover the panzers.
Initially, Mark was able to work onto the flanks of the British tanks near the airfield and was inflicting some casualties. However, Russ was able to keep this force in play and with a battery of 25 pounders in support, the Germans were not getting it all their way. Russ successfully passed his conditional order and the flank force of Crusaders swept in onto the German flank. In addition, a further regiment of Stuarts advanced towards the airfield.
Mark decided his tanks had done enough and broke off from the fight. Dust screened their withdrawal and allowed his antitank guns to edge a little nearer. As dusk fell the PAK38s started to take their toll of the British tanks in the gathering gloom.
As night gathered, Russ also decided he was taking needless tank losses against the overwhelming PAK front that Mark was able to deploy on his flanks. So, under cover of darkness, Russ' last motorised infantry battalion, that had been entrenched to the south of the airfield, emerged from their dugouts in a final gamble to secure the airfield. Destroying machine gun nests that had been hastily set up by the Germans, the counter attack looked like it was well placed to succeed. On the final turn the British were well placed to put in a concerted charge when the Germans managed to wrest the initiative. Mark was able to charge out of the airfield and keep Russ away from his objective. With superior German indirect artillery support, several British units took the assault whilst suppressed and inevitably lost the ensuing close combats. Out of time and with nothing left Russ had to concede the battle.
This was a very well played game and both Mark and Russ showed their experience in having played this rule set over the last few weeks. The British tanks were the equals of the Germans in this game but the German antitank units were well handled and closed down any British success with their armour. Russ found it difficult to use his superiority in tanks to gain an advantage as Mark made few mistakes with his deployment. The German superiority in off table artillery gave them an advantage when assaulting with their infantry but nevertheless, the British came close to holding and then retaking the airfield with their infantry. As I said at the start, this is a classic scenario, well worth playing again.
Apologies for not having any photos of the actual game. I need training (and perhaps a camera!) in the use of photos for the blog.
In addition, Mark and I were going to fight a full desert campaign (Operation Battleaxe). I have already played this in the past and I have the rules and the units ready to go. We were going to play the campaign and see if anyone else would like to play the actual battles on a club night or weekend. Let me know if you have any interest.