Saturday, May 2, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Play Ball Part 1

Capitaine Phillippe Le Gastainc stared atmospherically out of the window at the North African scenery.  Neither the pencil thin moustache nor the gauloises smouldering between his fingers was an affectation, he had been born with them.  The door to his commander's office opened and he stepped inside.

"The Allies have landed in North Africa," announced the colonel from behind the safety of a thick white moustache.  Le Gastainc quivered with outrage (and possibly typhoid) before drawing himself up into stock heroic pose number three.

"It will be a pleasure to lead my men against the hated British," he announced.  "I would happily interrupt breakfast to fight the British."

"Calm down capitaine, you go too far."

Le Gastainc acknowledged the deserved rebuke.

"Besides," continued the colonel, "it is not the British you will be fighting.  It is the Americans."


"Admiral Darlan's orders."

"Since when does that saltwater midget command the army?"

The colonel sighed and shrugged simultaneously, "since now, apparently.  He has ordered resistance and I have selected you, my most expendable officer, to lead the Gesture of Heroic Futility."

La Gastainc nodded, the Gesture of Heroic Futility was a standard French tactic, they trained for it extensively.

"I shall lead my troops to their doom," he promised.  "Where are the Americans?"

The colonel pointed vaguely out the window, "Over there somewhere."

"With the reconnaissance complete I shall attack at once."  Le Gastainc saluted smartly inadvertantly driving his Gauloises deep into his eye.  However with little more than a hysterical moan of agony he turned and left to find his men.

"Soldiers," announced Le Gastainc in terms of thrilling heroism while tears leaked from his eye.  "Today is the day we have all waited for.  Today is when we die for France."  His largely Moroccan audience smiled politely and measured the distance to the exits.  Le Gastainc warmed to his theme,

"In days to come your parent's inevitable poverty and desperation will be made easier by knowing that their sons are buried somewhere in an unmarked grave having died for no good reason in the service of a deeply unpleasant cause.  The enemy awaits mes enfants; forward, to defeat!  Oh and try not to kill anybody who looks like Humphrey Bogart."

As they shook out (partly preparing to attack but mostly because of the fleas) one of the Moroccan tirailleurs turned to a friend and asked,

"What does enfants mean?"

"Dunno," replied his companion, "sounds terrible."

I've wanted to play ASL scenario 80 - Play Ball for a long time now but its a bit long to get done in one face to face session.  Now Mike Sexton and I have divided it up into handy bite sized pieces to play on line.  Mike also told me that the scenario has been modified and slight changes have been made.  I'm familiar with this sort of thing, drug companies do it all the time when the patent on their pharmaceuticals is about to run out.  Mike gave me the details and we settled down to play.

Being American (albeit via Japan and Singapore) it was only appropriate that Mike take command of the US forces, green as grass and somewhat lost as they blunder about the more ocean convenient parts of Morocco.  I lead the Moroccans who are serving the Vichy French who are commanded by a diminutive admiral who is under the thumb of the Nazi Germans.  It made sense at the time.  Mike has the equivalent of eighteen squads of second line Americans equipped with a pair of medium machine guns, a heavy machine gun and a couple of mortars.  He also has three early model bazookas.  Mike's job is to defend a bunch of stone buildings or, alternatively, run away.  However the running away can't start until eight turns into a ten turn game so it would be helpful if the "French" weren't in a position to impede said running.

As the person on the wrong side of history I command a cheerfully adhoc group of colonial troops.  On turn one I get nine first line squads with a mmg and an lmg, these charmers are lead by a pair of officers including a 9-1.  On turn two I get the second division forces comprising three more first line squads and five green ones led by a couple of less impressive officers and hauling an mmg, lmg and a mortar.  Come turn four three more squads and an officer turn up looking for the fighting (or possibly a McDonalds), they are accompanied by four halftracks two of which are hauling 75mm guns.  Finally on turn six three Renault tanks turn up to provide the Americans with some justification for including bazookas in their OB.  In addition to all of the above some poor bastard is clinging to the top of a telephone pole sighting for some 70mm offboard artillery.  To win I either have to capture five stone buildings by turn eight or amass thirty CVP by the end of the game.

The French have an impressive force but it comes on piecemeal and is actually outnumbered by the defending Americans.  The Americans are shaky with poor morale but they still have firepower to burn.  A lot will depend on the French "toys"; artillery, tanks, guns.  Below is the end of turn one.  It started poorly with my artillery drawing a red chit and going back to sleep.  Deprived of support I've made a dash for the nearest stone protection with the bulk of my force while a modest group go in the other direction.  Mike has, naturally, got his hmg set up on the rooftop of a convenient building and has already started to inflict casualties before I can really reply.

In my second turn my artillery graciously deigned to show up.  I aimed it at the hmg team on the rooftop and the spotting round strayed about as far as it could and remain in North Africa.  Despite this I have pushed forward and captured the stone building immediately in front of me.  It's not one of the victory buildings but with 60mm mortar and hmg fire raining down all around I'm just glad to get some solid stone between myself and the supposedly poor quality Americans.

Speaking of poor quality my first reinforcements have arrived.  They entered on the north edge of board 4 which is about as far from the fighting as you can possibly get and are now very slowly probing Mike's flank.  If Mike's troops there fall into a coma they may succeed.

End of French turn 2.
So far Mike had good reason to be pleased with his troops performance, yes the French were getting close in the centre but with the exception of one (soon repaired) mmg breakdown he had yet to take any serious losses.  Then my artillery finally got zeroed in and blew his hmg team off the roof of the building.  This was a decent result and Mike bewailed the loss of his machine gun but I'm not sure if it was the best use of my most potent weapon.  I may have been better served trying to crush the forces he has deployed in the wheatfields.

Still there's no time to worry about idiot command decisions now, the war moves on.  Only it hasn't apparently moved on very far.  Mike managed to beat up a sacrificial halfsquad and some of my troops inched, snail like a little closer to the enemy but my flankers on the left are still slowly flanking and the progress of my centre troops can best be described as glacial.  Nevertheless with Mike still openly mourning his machine gun crew I have finally managed to get some troops into a position where they can shoot at Americans and even (on the left) enter close combat with some.

Mike is finally taking casualties and the artillery is hampering his movement a bit.  Another black chit would see the artillery continue to paste the building and prevent access to the hmg on the roof (ok definitely a mistake) while the world's slowest flanking movement is starting to ooze molasses like past the American left flank.  Mike has been a little irritated at the poor performance of his mortars and in terms of casualties inflicted I can sympathise (not really).  They haven't inflicted any harm but the amount of frustration, nervousness and hesitation they have generated is in vast disproportion to the actual results so far. 

Although the game is only three turns old I'm starting to feel pressed for time.  The bulk of the American force is intact (although a halfsquad did make the ultimate sacrifice in CC) and the stone buildings are no less stony than they were at the start of the game.  I'm already starting to wonder whether I can possibly amass 30 CVP by game end if the building objective is beyond me.  Probably not if I don't pick up the pace. 

In turn four I got unarmoured half tracks towing guns and in exchange lost my artillery when I drew my second red chit.  The two halftracks towing guns move at about the same speed as continental drift.  They may arrive somewhere useful round about turn 45.  The other two halftracks proved a little speedier and I rolled each of them (carrying a squad) to augment the pair of half squads I was somewhat pathetically pretending were a threat to Mike's right.  Just in time as a misjudged close combat reduced the number of halfsquads to one making it even less of a threat.  In the centre I marched my Moroccan's feet bloody to get a squad, leader and lmg up to support the remainder of my forces who are trying to drive Mike's left flank out of the wheatfield.

Success in that endeavour has been mixed.  On the one hand the close combat for the building on the left was resolved in my favour but on the other hand another close combat went terribly wrong.  I pushed a halfsquad forward into CC with the full squad manning his mortar.  Somehow they survived but remained in melee.  I should have left it or reinforced the melee.  Instead I fired into the melee thinking my troops with seven morale would be better able to stand the fire than his with six.  I was wrong, the only thing that saved my suddenly broken warriors was the fact that Mike decided to withdraw from melee rather than dispatch his opponent.

Two close combats, both would end badly for me.  But check out the hero on the left

Still there are some good signs, I've built a kill stack in my stone building and have started to beat up on some of Mikes troops on the right, breaking the mortar team and killing outright a halfsquad sent to retrieve the mortar.  I've actually generated a Vichy French hero (was there such a thing?) on the left as the result of a morale check that went sadly awry for Mike and my slow moving flankers may arrive at their destination in time to collect their pension cheques.

The end of American turn four is as far as we've got so far.  Mike's withdrawal from melee turned out to be part of an overall tactical withdrawal which he accomplished without difficulty.  I have managed to kill two squad equivalents so far (out of the fifteen I need if I want to win by CVP) and have captured precisely none of the relevant stone buildings.  My artillery is gone and I think I am somewhat behind in time.  My options are narrowing and my only remaining reinforcements are the tanks.  There's a name for those who rely on R35s to save the day.  That name is "French".

End of Mike's turn 4 and I still have it all to do

 Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion to the greatest North African drama since Casablanca.


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