Capitano Ugo Furtha turned around to address his troops to find himself looking at an empty square.
"Get back here," he shouted. His men, half of whom had already ditched their rifles and changed into civilian dress shambled self consciously back into the square. A number of them had managed to procure large white flags.
"What is this?" demanded Furtha. "Defeatism? We can't surrender yet lads, we haven't done any fighting."
"Best time," came a voice from the rear, Furtha recognised it as belonging to his most reliable sergeant.
"Do you see this crossroads?" said Furtha, pointing out the inoffensive transport link in case anyone had missed it. "This crossroads will go down in history. Here the Americans will be stopped! Here they will be driven back into the sea! Here we will forge a legend of heroism and fanatical determination! The name Mobile Group G will be remembered by all Italians."
One of his men raised a hand, "We're actually Mobile Group B," he said apologetically.
Furtha blinked, "Are we?"
"Pretty sure," said the man, his comrades gave supporting nods.
"OK well, whoever we are we shall be remembered." Furtha attempted to get back into his stride, "and to support us in this stern task our finest armour has been committed to our support."
Right on cue vehicle engines reverberated down the dusty street and Furtha threw out an arm in a dramatic gesture and said,
"What the fuck is that?"
A corporal examined a plate on the side of the newly arrived tank.
"It says, 'Product of France. Good for one blitzkrieg or one humiliating surrender which ever comes first. Non returnable.'"
Furtha sighed, "Look just get your damned rifles and hide in foxholes and buildings and stuff."
As his men moved somewhat reluctantly to their positions Furtha grabbed the arm of his sergeant.
"You got that white flag handy?"
So Mike Sexton asked what I would like to play and I said "Something with Italians in it" because I always do. Then Mike suggested I pick a scenario and this one was literally the first Italian one I came to. Mike said that was fine. Basically, this is all Mike's fault.
So we settled down to play FrF14, Patton Breaks Loose. Here a small group of Italians backed by a couple of second hand French tanks attempt to defend a crossroads from an onrushing horde of Americans. By this time Italian strategy consisted of posting whatever forces hadn't deserted yet in the path of the onrushing Americans and hoping for the best. I would take command of the gallant men and rusting tanks of Mobile Group G, sorry, B and do my best to persuade the US 3rd infantry division commanded by Mike to find another crossroads. Even on Sicily this was hardly likely to be the only one.
To defend what is apparently the only irreplaceable 50 square metres of territory in Sicily I had three elite squads, nine first line squads with three officers (led by a 9-1) and the usual collection of breakdown prone Italian support weapons. My real punch (to give it a term it doesn't deserve) consists of a pair of 75mm artillery pieces and a pair of MR-35 light tanks, built by the French, captured by the Germans, borrowed by the Italians and destroyed by the Americans.
Mike commands thirteen first line American squads with similar leadership to my own. Entering on (or after) turn 1 was a T30 75mm HMC and four jeeps carrying or towing between them a pair of 37mm anti tank guns and a pair of 60mm mortars. To win Mike has to ensure there are no Italian MMC on or adjacent to a road stretching from the south edge of the board to the next. The terrain is split between a village in the north and open(ish) countryside in the south. I placed the bulk of my troops behind those reassuringly strong stone walls and hoped for the best. With morale of 6 and ELR of 1 I was hoping to survive morale checks by not taking many.
But we couldn't all hide in the village. The guns had to set up in the south of the map and it seemed appropriate to give them a little protection as well. Plus Mike's reinforcements came on from the south. A motor howitzer, two mortars and two antitank guns seemed like a significant augmentation to force and it would be up to my, no doubt, heroic gun crews to stop them. In what would be a significant move I placed one 75 on a hill covering the entry area of Mike's reinforcements. A squad, lmg and a 7-0 would go into a foxhole nearby.
Mike's at start force begins on the hill to the east of the village and at the word of command a long line of olive green ploughed up the hill and towards the village. Three squads and a leader peeled off to the left to deal with my forces on the hill to the south while the remainder crested the hill and started swarming down towards my defenders in the village. First blood went to me when Mike brought on his T30 HMC as the first of his reinforcements. My gunners up on the hill dusted off their last HEAT round and wrecked the thing. Mike decided not to bring on the rest of his reinforcements for a bit. Up on the hill things hadn't been quite as rosy for me. He moved a squad into the LOS of my 9-1 guided hmg which went on a completely ineffectual rate tear. Mike's squad passed a 2MC, then a 1MC then a normal MC and created a hero in the process. My hmg overwhelmed with shame promptly broke down and then I destroyed it while trying to cajole it back into service.
|Turn 1 or thereabouts. After losing the HMC Mike's reinforcements decided absence was the better part of valour.|
Mechanical issues aside things weren't going too badly for me. Mike started pushing down towards the village and his casualties started mounting. An elite squad with an lmg that I had anchoring the northern end of my line beat up on some of his troops and one of my tanks shocked Mike as a glance at the scenario card made him think they were guns. Down in the south things went badly for Mike as his gun destruction unit suffered some destruction of their own. Eager to clear the path for his reinforcements Mike sent his troops forward regardless of losses. Two full squads were transformed into two broken half squads but (ominously) one squad had survived and was now peering into the foxhole occupied by my less than enthusiastic warriors.
In the centre of the line Mike pushed forwards taking some casualties but managed to advance in CC with a forward defender. I have to give a shout out to those guys, the ensuing melee lasted for three turns. Meanwhile as Mike closed his casualties mounted. Six morale troops are not the guys you want to assault stone buildings with as a general rule.
|Mike is edging closer |
My gallant machine gun team in the south ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Unable to take the kind of fire they had been dishing out they threw their hands up at Mike's first shot and he bagged some prisoners. This allowed his squad and the freshly rallied half squads to focus on my gun. Feeling a little confident he brought on a jeep towing an atr and slipped it, unharmed past my position on the hill (which only had about thirty seconds to live anyway). In the north Mike had reached a bit of an impasse. The melee raged on and the remainder of his troops were showing a worrying tendency to break. On my side with the hmg out of the game I brought up an mmg to replace it and sent other squads to the far north of the line which seemed the most threatened.
Which turned out to be silly as my boys up there held for another turn whereas Mike brought forward several squads a 9-1 and an hmg to the centre. Now was the moment for armoured glory. My second rather shop soiled renault sputtered forward and managed to break the hmg squad before it could do any harm. Despite this he had troops poised to break through and he lunged into close combat with a squad that had managed to retain concealment having foregone multiple fire opportunities in favour of simple self preservation.
|A jeep destroyed and a successful ambush! The gods smile this day.|
For possibly the first time in my experience a lax Italian squad managed to ambush its counterpart and cheerfully withdrew leaving Mike's squad in possession of no more ground than it stood on. Close combat wasn't my friend in the south where Mike's boys wiped out my gun crew and his jeeps rolled forward ignoring the spatter of rifle fire various unemployed Italian squads sent their way. Perhaps feeling the pinch of time Mike pushed the "taking risks with jeeps" meme a little too far. He rolled one past the patch of wood which held both my other 75mm gun and a 45mm mortar. The mortar blew the passengers out of the jeep which was fortunate for them as the 75 subsequently vaporised it and the 37mm gun it was towing.
One of Mike's other jeeps dropped off a mortar and its crew and they started pounding a convenient Italian squad but Mike was feeling the pinch. His men were breaking faster than he could rally them and he had made virtually no progress in the north. Things weren't helped when a bazooka rocket bounced off my renault's armour (although I did break the MA shortly afterwards).
|The red circle indicates the jeep sized hole in the atmosphere after I hit it with a 75mm shell|
With casualties mounting and little appreciable progress made towards the objectives Mike conceded at the end of Italian turn three. This one is tough on the Americans and I felt a little guilty when I looked at the win/loss record. I hadn't done Mike any favours with my choice of scenario. Still it's his choice next time so I can anticipate a total flogging. Thanks to Mike for the game and Viva Italia!
Capitano Furtha removed the steel helmet and several pillows from his head and peered cautiously out of the foxhole. The crossroads was still in their possession and the Americans were nowhere to be seen.
"We sort of won," explained his sergeant in an embarrassed voice.
"Buggered if I know. Can I interest you in a second hand jeep?"