Saturday, December 19, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Armoured Probe at Sidi Nsir

 German and French negotiators stared at each other with mutual distrust.  Eau de Cologne clouds had reached Geneva Convention violation levels and for their part the Germans literally oozed suspicion (Suspicion for Men by Hugo Boss).  Outside the hot sun of Tunisia bathed the guards in their own sweat although the atmosphere was still probably preferable to the indoors.

The French general stared up at the hard eyed German negotiator.

"If we let you into Tunisia," he announced, "I must insist on one thing.  We have no objection to surrendering our arms to German soldiers but there must be no question of the Italians involved."

The German negotiator, in the happy position of a pathological liar being able to tell the truth, nodded in agreement.

"You have my word Herr General.  This will be an agreement between the two great nations of Germany and France.  No Italians in Tunisia."  At that moment a German staff officer entered the room, gasped, choked, saluted and presented his report.

"The Italians have landed in Tunisia!"

The German negotiator stared in horror before turning to the Frenchman babbling words of apology but it was too late.  His moustache quivering with outrage the French general drew himself up to his full three foot nine and flung out a heavily bemedalled finger.

"J'accuse!" he bellowed.  "Perfide!" And a lot of other melodramatic French words (which let's face it, is most of them).

The German negotiator was almost in tears, "I had no idea Herr General, you must believe me!"

"You will receive my answer on the battlefield," replied the French general before turning on his heel and leaving.

The German negotiator slumped back into his seat while the staff officer opened a window.

"What does 'you shall receive my answer on the battlefield?' mean," asked the staff officer.

"With the French it could mean either a mass surrender or a fight to the death."

It is Tunisia late in 1942 and for possibly the last time Mussolini has managed to toss a handful of grit into the gears of the German war machine.  With Rommel retreating from El Alamein and the Allies securely ensconsed in Algeria Tunisia took on great importance as the only part of North Africa left.  The Germans moved in to occupy it and much to the annoyance of literally everyone so did the Italians.  Then it was time to push the suddenly irritated French out of the positions they held before they could be reinforced.

This is scenario FT239 - Armoured Probe at Sidi Nsir which pits a small group of German assault engineers and a somewhat larger group of Italian troops backed by self propelled guns trying to capture some hills from the soon to be no longer Vichy French.  The French troops were equipped for a war in 1940 which was convenient as the Italians had just caught up.

I, naturally, am commanding the brave Italians (with some German hangers on) looking to capture (and hold) one of the two forward hills from Dave Wilson's French.  To do this I have four squads of German assault engineers with a pair of lmgs an atr and a DC.  I also have seven squad equivalents of elite Italians with two light machine guns, a heavy machine gun and a 45mm mortar.  The whole infantry force has to enter mounted on trucks.  Supporting them are six self propelled guns, two little SMV L40s and four quite respectable SMV M41s.  I scoured the OB for a single L3 but found nought, I should have known then that I was doomed.

On the defence Dave has a plethora of superannuated firepower to call upon.  Up front he has six first line squads garrisoning the vital hills with a pair of lmgs.  Each hill must have at least two squads and one lmg.  Somewhat to the rear are another ten more first line squads with a pair of medium machine guns, a 60mm mortar, a light machine gun and a 25mm AT gun.  He also has a pair of only just armoured cars sporting a short barrelled 37mm and a 47mm AT gun with its own truck to haul it around.

On the second turn he receives reinforcements in the shape of two D1 tanks which move at about the same speed as a snail with arthritis.  On turn three he gets a pair of somewhat better armoured cars carrying a 12.7mm machine gun and a wholly unarmoured truck carrying a 75mm artillery piece.

At start, as you can see I have decided to go for the top hill

Above is Dave's set up.  I decided to ignore the bottom hill and concentrate my forces against the top one.  It was my intention to throw enough force at it to overrun the hill early and then challenge Dave's no doubt demoralised troops to try and recapture it.  In the centre I planned to put sufficient of a flank guarding force to prevent Dave's troops on the other hill from successfully intervening.

The first turn didn't go too badly for me although I did make one mistake that would rapidly come back to haunt me.  I sneaked my Germans and a number of Italians behind the woods near the hill I wanted and dispatched no fewer than four semovente to prepare the way by climbing the hill and beating up its defenders.  In the centre I sent one SMV L40 and one M41 forward to ward off the big concealment stacks which were his guns and armoured cars while a bunch of Italians (including the mortar and the hmg) formed a defensive line in the woods.


First turn and things are going not too bad-ish

The one silly thing I did was race a SMV right up to the hedge where it could take on the French.  I had forgotten about the 47mm gun which could tear any of the armour I had to scrap.  I was more sensible with the little SMV L40 which I parked in a reasonably secure location.  The L40 would survive for several more turns while the M75 would go down in the first French turn.

I was fortunate in my choice of target as Dave had expected me to go for the other hill and had set his defences accordingly.  This meant his 25mm gun spent the first two turns being laboriously pushed into a position where it might be effective.  Dave revealed his mortar team which promptly broke a squad and a half of Italians in the woods but when he tried to follow it up with an lmg shot I had the most effective result of the game.  Line of sight was actually blocked and Dave rolled a snake eyes which was my sniper number.  I fatally wounded his best officer in charge of an mmg in a foxhole.  The squad manning the mmg failed their LLMC and for a while I was free of that concern at least.  On the target hill Dave largely forwent firing in order to maintain concealment and hope to live a little longer.

End of French turn 1

The "hope to live a little longer" theory didn't hold much water as my second turn saw me clear the hill of unbroken French (except for one very significant squad, see below) and the death of a couple of them for failure to rout.  This was probably the high point of my game, I invite readers to note that this is turn two of a six turn game.  I did however manage to break the MA of another of my semovente and a six on the subsequent repair roll sent it limping towards the rear.  My infantry, happy now most of the French were gone, were climbing the victory hill while in the centre I actually managed to rally a squad and started assembling support weapons.

Down in the centre one of Dave's armoured cars had been banging away at my little SMV without success so I decided to return the favour, and broke the MA.  Meanwhile up on the hill Dave's sole remaining squad threw caution to the wind and charged into CC with another of my M75s and tore it apart with their bare hands.  At the end of the second turn I had precisely two functional AFV.  Dave's D1 tanks turned up and started making their slow and painful way towards the battlefield.

End of French turn 2. Things are not going well for the Italian armour

Despite the mutilation of my armoured force I did have one consolation.  I had the hill and Dave had to take it back in order to win.  Unfortunately he did have the forces to do so especially now that a significant amount of my firepower had been destroyed.  Still my German troops had entered the battlefield and even my Italians were pushing forward, snuggling into French foxholes.  I sent a pair of squads from my centre forward to occupy the next patch of woods to provide some more flank guards.  This worked for a little while and a couple of French squads from the unmolested hill were broken trying to push forward.  Unfortunately his other medium machine gun took these squads under long range fire.  A two flat shot broke one squad but that didn't worry me as I pushed its comrade forward in its place.  The next two flat generated a morale check which I passed with my only snake eyes of the game.  Heat of Battle, with Italians.  The subsequent roll was an eleven and they broke and disrupted.  So much for my flank guard.

Dave's armoured cars turned up and rolled towards the battlefield while his gun truck found a convenient hill to climb.  Back on the target hill he had pushed a pair of squads forward from the rear to challenge my Germans but surely eight morale troops, led by a 9-1 could hold their own?  Nope.  Dave was getting very bold now that most of my armoured force was gone, he rolled his two tanks and both his armoured cars forward against my lone SMV L40 with the busted MA, once that was gone he could carve up my infantry in the woods at leisure.  He had also pushed forward more troops from the other hill.  My hmg broke a squad but as an encore broke itself thus leaving me a little short of firepower.

Things are getting worse

In desperation I attempted to repair the MA on my SMV and actually succeeded.  I felt a trickle of hope.  Dave's tanks were in motion so possibly not best placed to shoot and it would take a good roll from the 37mm on the armoured cars to actually kill the SMV.  So Dave got a good roll and the newly repaired semovente went to the vehicle graveyard in the sky.  At this point desperation does not adequately describe my feelings.  I had sent my other little semovente looping around towards Dave's mortar team as much in the hopes of scaring them as anything else but having a 47mm gun on the high ground could still be an advantage.  Particularly since it was overlooking Dave's two reinforcing armoured cars which he had sent along to support his troops (who were happily carving up my assault engineers without any help).  Dave's response was to drive both armoured cars up and park in front of me.  I missed the pointblank defensive fire shot and Dave promptly got a critical hit in the advancing fire phase.
OK, I'm going home now


At that point I conceded.  My force wasn't entirely broken but I was.  The simple fact was Dave now had a mass of firepower to help shoot his troops forward to the hill and I had a single SMV41 left to support such of my troops as had survived.  It was a six turn game but I only lasted four turns.  Not it has to be admitted particularly impressive.  Thanks to Dave for the game and the lacerations on my soul.  If the therapy is successful we shall return again next week.

The German negotiator looked up as his staff officer entered.

"Well," he asked without much hope, "how did the Italians do?"

"It's difficult to tell," replied the other, "there aren't any left to ask."

"I don't suppose we could persuade the French that there aren't any Italians left in Tunisia now could we?"

"Doubtful, do you want some dinner?  I know a good pasta restaurant."

"In Tunisia?  When did that open?"


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