Maggiore Sonni de Bono was lingering over the fifth course of breakfast when his adjutant interrupted his leisurely perusal of his mistress.
"Sir, the men need you."
de Bono blinked, "What men?"
"Your men, the soldiers under your command."
"Oh them, what's their problem?"
"I think you'd better see for yourself sir."
Ever the professional soldier de Bono departed for the front lines as soon as his breakfast was finished. He even rushed the coffee. On arrival he noticed a bunch of figures in tattered Summer uniforms cringing in the snow. Good, his men were still in position. Just yesterday he had given them a rousing speech pointing out the hopelessness of their position, the inevitability of Greek vengeance and the need for all of them to die for the greater glory of Rome. They had been so inspired that not all of them had deserted. At least they hadn't when he had left them to have dinner and catch an opera performance in Tirana. Now, however, those remaining stared towards the front with fear in their eyes. de Bono peered in that direction and ice settled over his soul.
It wasn't the masses of Greek horsemen plodding through the snow that chilled him nor the wagons very slowly hauling artillery pieces forward. There, on the right were not one, not two but three small, boxy shapes clattering and groaning through the slush. de Bono stared in horror, surely they couldn't be...
"L3s!" It was a dismal howl from one of the soldiers. "The Greeks have L3s, our cause is doomed."
This was the moment when an officer proves his worth. Covering his own terror de Bono spoke, soothing the fears of his men.
"Stand fast brave soldiers of Italy! Yes they have L3s but fear not for our reinforcements are coming." Hastily de Bono searched his memory, he had sent that memo hadn't he? He was pretty sure he had.
"That's right boys, reinforcements are on their way and they're bringing, wait for it, another 45mm mortar. That means we have two and can laugh the Greeks to scorn. To your foxholes, fight hard in the certainty of victory and let me know how you get on."
With his men thus encouraged de Bono flagged down a passing taxi; it was almost time for brunch.
So this is ASL Scenario 90 - Pride and Joy. Here I shall command a somewhat desperate bunch of Italians huddled in possibly the only Greek village they managed to capture as a combination of cavalry, wagon hauled artillery and, yes, imported L3s spearhead the Greek attempts to explain why invading their country was a really stupid idea.
Mike Sexton's Greeks have to hold more buildings than the Italians and also make sure that no good order Italian troops are on or adjacent to only road leading out of this one horse burg. Mike has twenty four squads (sixteen elite) mounted on horses and commanded by no fewer than five officers a couple of whom are reasonably good. Packed into their saddle bags are a heavy machine gun, two medium machine guns, three light machine guns and an antitank rifle (the Greeks are the only ones with armour in this scenario but whatever). Struggling slowly through the snow are wagons hauling three 75mm guns which may or may not turn up in time to cause a difference and rolling on in support are three L3 light tanks. The L3s might not be a triumph of Italian industry but persuading the Greeks to buy them was certainly a triumph of Italian salesmanship.
Determined that this little corner of Greece remain forever Italian are my noble troops. I have sixteen squads split evenly between elite and bersaglieri. They are guided by four officers one of whom as at the upper end of mediocre and one of whom is at the bottom end of useless. Support is not lacking as I have a heavy machine gun, two medium machine guns, four light machine guns, a fearsome 45mm mortar and a somewhat better quality antitank rifle than the crap the Greeks are stuck with. Providing a little extra punch is a single 65mm artillery piece. Between them sixteen squads have managed to dig eight foxholes. In case this seems inadequate on turn five another seven first line squads turn up with a couple of officers, a pair of machine guns and another 45mm mortar.
It's all about delay and making rational decisions as to what parts of your force are expendable. I decided my bersaglieri were expendable and set them up forward guarding the hilltops that loomed over Mike's entry area. I hoped I might be able to shoot a few Greeks off their horses and generally slow down forward movement for a couple of turns. To help this forlorn hope survive the first shots they got most of the foxholes. The only support weapons I wasted on them were a pair of light machine guns one for each squad on the far flanks. While the others were to die in place it was my hope that these guys might be able to make a fighting withdrawal delaying Mike further. In the centre were the remainder of my bersaglieri and a couple of elite squads manning useful looking buildings and hoping to get machine gun or atr shots at his tanks. All of this was intended to delay the time it took Mike's forces to get the village proper which I stuffed full of elite squads, an mmg, the hmg and the only officer who could get his men's attention. The 65mm gun was hidden in some woods just out the front. This was my last stand position in as far as I hoped by the time Mike had captured it my reinforcements would hold the road and he would be out of time to drive them off.
The first couple of turns would be good for me. Men riding horses around in the snow proved to be a target even Italian soldiers can hit and Mike lost a full squad and a half killed while the others pulled hard on the reins and tried to find slightly less exposed paths forward. Of course when I say "good for me" I'm speaking holistically. It certainly wasn't good for the hapless bersaglieri who, having shot a few Greeks now found themselves ground zero for an immense number of furious men and largely disinterested horses. Two turns was all it took for my front line to be slaughtered but it was two turns Mike wouldn't get back. On the flanks my lmg teams did indeed manage to sneak away from the carnage heading towards the rear. Meanwhile three sledges hauling guns inched slowly forward behind Mike's line to derisive comments from both Italians and Greeks.
|A couple of turns in. Mike has overrun my forward defenders and look on the left. The L3s approach
Over the course of the next couple of turns Mike swarmed forward with a jingle of harness and crunching of hooves. He was helped in this by the fact that I wasn't really trying to stop him too much. My men waited, crouching beneath their concealment counters for the horsemen to get close. Having had to disperse his men to take out my initial defenders on the hilltops Mike now found difficulty in concentrating them again. Greek soldiers were spread all over the map. Mike was a little concerned about this even though the general trend was forward. Despite the lack of concentration Mike was definitely covering ground and on the right he pushed through my exiguous defences to threaten a serious flanking movement.
On the left Mike's L3s threaded their way through obstacles and rolled forward to dominate the open ground in front of the village. Horsemen dismounted behind hedges and started assembling support weapons. I was starting to get seriously concerned, it looked like my sacrificial bersaglieri might have died in vain. My centre though decided to stand firm (apart from the mortar squad who broke without firing a shot). Mike knew things were getting serious when an lmg team on the left immobilised an L3 leaving him with two runners (walkers really) while on the right a pair of Italian squads in buildings were about to cover themselves in glory. Meanwhile, far to the rear, the gun sledges slowly struggled upwards through the snow.
|The Greeks are coming. Can my Italians hold?
By the end of turn four both Mike and I were starting to get seriously worried. Mike was concerned about the number of turns remaining to achieve his objectives and I was concerned about whether I would be able to hold out at all. Half my at start force were dead and on the right at least Mike was manoeuvring around the trees in what seemed like a menacing fashion. My 65mm gun popped up, took a shot at one of his squads and was promptly broken by his hmg team. That gun wouldn't fire another round all game.
Then time slowed down, or the game did at any rate. The pair of elite squads I had on the right held their positions against an increasing number of Greeks (admittedly one of the squads did have a medium machine gun) while on the left my troops managed to sneak away from the Greeks trying to encircle them. In the centre Mike had a pair of machine gun teams set up but no infantry conveniently placed to take advantage of any results they scored. Things didn't improve for Mike when my mmg heroes managed to vapourise a squad foolishly moving in the open. Meanwhile the gun sledges have pretty much reached the top of the hill and their teams are gasping purple faced from the effort.
|Things have slowed down a little
With, as he felt, the clock against him Mike marshalled his forces. He sent a squad on a long trip towards the end of the board, in anticipation of my reinforcements. Such was my confidence that I disdained to drop concealment by firing on him. Well it was either confidence or inattention. But Mike wasn't finished. In his hour of need he turned to his L3s and rolled them forward to menace the rear of my centre holdouts. There was no escape, the writing was on the wall and the only choice was to sell their lives as dearly as possible. On the left Mike was pushing forwards through the trees delayed only by a dummy stack while my real troops heading for the stone buildings as fast as their little legs could carry them. Up on the hill the gun sledges were still in the process of arriving, unloading, defibrillating and positioning.
|The centre is doomed
With my machine gun team in the centre doomed beyond all hope of redemption I decided to take matters into my own hands and charged them into close combat with some conveniently adjacent Greeks. We both survived to be locked in melee. Since, despite his losses, Mike had a considerably larger surviving force than I did I will leave it to you to judge how effective that was. The next turn Mike reinforced the melee but I survived again so Mike fired into it. My boys shrugged off the morale check but one of his squads and an 8-0 broke. A wounded 8-0 would limp away from the battlefield but honesty compels me to admit that his surviving squad finally took my heroes down. Over on the right my other centre holdout had been exchanging fire with three Greek squads for several turns for no result to either of us but it couldn't last and finally the last Italian defenders went down.
But Holy Mussolini's Ghost, by the time Mike was ready to assault the village my reinforcements had arrived. I didn't try anything heroic with them, they found the most defensible terrain they could as close to their entrance hex as possible and challenged Mike to throw them out. Except for one squad with an atr which charged forwards through the snow to reinforce the village. Mike promptly put a 75mm shell over their heads as they approached. It didn't hit them but suffice it to say that it wasn't only snow soaking their trousers when they arrived.
Mike was ready now and naturally at this moment of decision it all fell to the L3s. Forward they clattered, snow falling from their tracks, and as they turned my mmg managed to stun both of them. Terrified they fled yelping for the exit. Mike may have screamed in agony or I may have screamed in triumph, there was definitely screaming.
|Goodbye little L3s, you won't be missed
Mike's artillery had started to find the range now and despite the loss of his armour he pressed forward against the village. He tried to put on a brave face but his head was hanging low. We were playing on line so I couldn't see it but the lowness of his head made its way through the internet none the less. He did manage to fight his way in to the village but time was running out and my surviving troops clung to the remaining buildings for dear life. Eventually with one turn to go and my reinforcements barely touched he conceded.
|The end; too many Italians, not enough time.
The only casualty among my reinforcements was the gallant team who manned the 45mm mortar. Mike seemed to have a pathological fear of these weapons and went out of his way to kill those manning them at every opportunity. I felt like telling him not to bother but then I realised while he was doing that he wasn't shoot at more important stuff and I let him have his head. Much thanks to Mike for the game. Next time I shall be attacking and it will be my turn to bash my head against his, no doubt, sturdy defences.
Maggiore de Bono stretched and rose slowly from the sunbed. His mistress was standing there holding a letter.
"Congratulations," she said, "apparently your men fought off the Greek attack and held their ground with great courage."
"That's my boys," said de Bono vaguely, he'd actually forgotten their existence. Something dropped out of the envelope and his mistress caught it before it hit the floor.
"What's that?" asked de Bono without interest.
"It's for you," she replied, "apparently its the Silver Medal of Valour for your heroic defence."
"Nice, put it with the rest."