Saturday, August 13, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Holes in the Desert

At some point during the Second World War Mussolini looked around and realised he didn't have any paratroops.  Paratroops were way cool and he didn't have any.  No wonder noone took the Italian army seriously.  In a voice that shook the walls of the Palazzo Veneto Mussolini bellowed, "Give me paratroops!"

The call went out and soon eager, bright eyed Italian soldiers were strapping terrifyingly badly designed parachutes to their backs and throwing themselves out of disturbingly rickety Italian aircraft.  At this point its difficult to escape the conclusion that the whole thing was a plot to weed the suicidally insane out of the Italian army.  Nevertheless those that survived the training were rolled into the Folgore parachute division and were promptly sent to occupy holes in the desert.  In case they proved to be less than enthusiastic about this the holes were surrounded with land mines.

Equally unimpressed with the land mines were the British who saw them as rather homicidal speed bumps on the road to victory.  To deal with the land mines the British had devised something called a flail tank.  This rather resembled a metal octopus having an epileptic fit while two of its tentacles were stuck in a large steel box.  On first seeing them the Italians weren't sure whether to open fire or release them back into the sea.

This is ASL Scenario MM 99BRVb, The Mines of February.  Here the British are attempting to get the battle of El Alamein off to a good start by clearing a path through a massive minefield code named "February".  The Italian defenders are basically trying to get through the night without being run over by tanks.  I, naturally, shall command the Italian paratroopers heroically defending their holes in the desert while the role of metal octopus tormentor falls to Richard Weilly.

To win Richard needs to push through three very impressive minefields and amass a minimum of eleven squad equivalents in my rear.  Each armoured vehicle (of which he has seven) counts as one squad.  At his disposal Richard has twelve squads of first line infantry, four elite half squads of sappers (mines, for the clearing of) three small mortars, three light machine guns, three antitank rifles (why neither of us could work out), four officers and four bren carriers of various stripes.  In addition he had three old matilda tanks with rotating drums attached to thump and pound their way through the minefields.  He also had a radio connecting him with some 80mm offboard artillery.

To defend my apparently precious holes in the desert I have three minefields which stretch the width of the board, no outflanking here Richard will have to go through them.  I have eleven elite squads of paratroops (with special rules making them somewhat less inclined to surrender than the normal run of Italian troops), a trio of officers, two 47mm antitank guns (value against the matildas; nil), a medium machine gun, two lights and an antitank rifle of my own (for slightly better reason) and a mass of foxholes and trenches to hide them all in.  Since the scenario takes place at night (just) I can set up a quarter of my force hidden and the remainder concealed.  I have a telephone connecting me to my own 80mm artillery support.

It seems that I start every AAR by saying "I made a horrible mistake".  Anyway, I made a horrible mistake.  I had misread the setup requirements so my carefully thought out plan turned out to be absolute rubbish.  I cobbled together a desperate expedient of the fly and offered up a prayer to any gods who might want to look after the careless and foolish.  One minefield I placed well forward to delay Richard's progress a little, I set up a small out post of troops lurking in foxholes on my front left to act as speedbumps.  Further back I placed the other two minefields with the bulk of my defenders in three strongpoints between the two.  There was a strongpoint on each flank based around one of the 47mm guns and third in the middle containing the medium machine gun, my best officer and another officer clutching the field phone for dear life.

My plan involved ignoring the flail tanks completely, I would need outrageous luck to do them any harm at all and they only amounted to three squads worth of victory points.  Instead I would concentrate on the infantry and the carriers.  My 47mm guns might be useless against the matildas but they were monsters of death if they hit a carrier.

Richard wisely decided to keep some of his powder dry and held back his carriers and some of his infantry for a turn or two.  He came on in two forces, a small group headed by a flail tank rolled down my left hand flank and a much more powerful looking force spearheaded by two flails assailed me on the right.

Richard's attack a small force on my left (top) and a more powerful one on my right
There wasn't too much violence in the first turn or so as I had difficulty seeing him and wasn't keen to drop my own concealment to go shooting at cloaked units.  Because of this Richard swiftly plowed through the first minefield at extreme edges of the board, to my surprise using infantry to clear the way rather than the flails.  Flushed with success his troops moved forward and I realised uneasily that if I didn't start shooting at something this might be a rather short game.  Fortunately the night visibility range was long (and was extending all the time) and my forward troops started firing at his left hand units with, it must be admitted, modest success but at least it slowed them down a little.  For the next several turns these two groups would fight their own private war regardless of what else was going on.  Despite taking some casualties my guys proved that being in foxholes is much better than being out in the open even at night.  I eventually managed to shoot the force to pieces apart from the tank of course which rolled on in splendid isolation and flailed its way through the second minefield.

But the real action was on my right where Richard was clearing hexes using both tanks and infantry.  I tried some shots without success and Richard called up his artillery to drop a spotting round where he thought it would do some good.  Still not seeing much I let my own artillerymen sleep a little longer.  Richard brought on his carriers and remaining infantry on the right flank as well for what was obviously going to be a major push down that side of the board.  I revealed one of my 47s and started shooting at carriers and learned that while a 47mm gun may well be able to kill a carrier if it hit one actually hitting something so small and speedy in the dark was rather problematic.  A lucky shot stunned one carrier and sent it yelping for the rear but the remainder seemed untouchable.

Still I knew where Richard's main effort was coming now and I started shooting (ineffectively) at cloaking counters and sent a wake up call to my artillery, dropping my own spotting round into his path.  Whereupon Richard brought down a concentration of smoke from his own artillery which covered my closest defenders and completely blocked the view of my artillery observer.  Cursing I repositioned my own spotting round further back where I could see it but further away from incipient harm to Richard's troops.  In his next fire phase he moved his FFE and dropped more smoke effectively blanketing half the board in a smokescreen.  Underneath that smokescreen sappers cleared mines and flail tanks clanked slowly forward but I could hardly see anyone to shoot at.

Possibly the brightest decision I made during the game was switching the fire of my 47mms from carriers to infantry.  The counter may say "Anti Tank" but with an IFE of 4 and a ROF of 3 the 47mm is actually the most kickarse medium machine gun around.  I started shooting at infantry, picking off some laggards but the bulk of Richard's force was safely in smoke.  At which point the god of the foolish and careless did me a solid.  Richard had lost battery access and in trying to regain it drew his second red chit.  Suddenly he was bereft of artillery and as the smoke dispersed and night turned into day his was was revealed to my forces in all its terribly vulnerable glory.

It wasn't a moment too soon as Richard had got through the second minefield and had his flail tanks up at the third while his infantry was massed to follow.  Now however I had two 47mm guns, a medium machine gun and a fair number of squads and all of them with eyes on the enemy.  Then I managed to dial in my own artillery.  Richard had advanced to the point where my previously located spotting round was quite well positioned to stop him.
Carry on but now without smoke

Richard was in a bind, he was absolutely committed to his right flank rush and even without smoke he had to send his troops into to a cloud of metal and hope for the best.  My rapid fire 47s were cheerfully chopping up groups of infantry and it all came down to the best of his force advancing under the cover of one of his matildas through my artillery fire.  It didn't go well.  The matildas, of course made it through but the infantry were gutted.  As the end of the game approached Richard's infantry was a mass of wreckage that not even getting all the surviving carriers and matildas into my rear could compensate for.  At this point Richard conceded.  Honesty compels me to admit that the victory largely turned on his bad luck in losing his smoke cover just when he needed his infantry to start stepping out.  Pride prevents me from admitting that this is the only reason I won.  Thanks to Richard for the game and cheers to my brave Italian paratroops who endured everything Richard could throw at them with the added handicap of having me as a commander.
Near the end, my paratroops have somehow won the day.

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