Capitano Luigi Sottovoce looked up from his task in horror.
"You've parked that damn semovente right over the mine store" he yelled.
"Do you think you could keep your voice down Sottovoce," demanded the maggiore in command of the "armour".
Sottovoce rolled his eyes and returned to the task at hand. A forty five millimetre mortar lay in pieces at his feet. He consulted the assembly instructions again while a small group of soldiers looked at him with increasing scepticism. Suddenly realisation dawned.
"That's it, I know what to do. Now, who's got the allen key?"
"That's an IKEA catalogue," pointed out one of the soldiers.
"Where do you think I ordered it from?"
"Why did you order a forty five millimetre mortar?"
"If you order ten you get a free L3."
The German liaison officer who had been watching these proceedings with increasing concern now stepped forward.
"Herr Capitano, our intelligence reports indicate that the British will be here in ten minutes."
"Don't worry," replied Sottovoce, "we're as ready as we'll ever be."
"That's what's worrying me."
After the previous weeks dicebot fuelled farce I decided to give Dave another chance to beat up my Italians. At his suggestion we dug out TAC55 - Dangerous Crossroads or Carrefour Dangereux if you prefer the original French. This pits a group of dubiously elite Italian troops supported by a trio of semovente self propelled guns and four squads of German spine stiffeners trying to hold an apparently dangerous crossroads in Tunisia from an armour heavy group of British trying to push through to Tunis before the Germans can properly organise a defence.
Control of the crossroads is apparently represented by a couple of nearby buildings, in Axis hands at the beginning of the game that the British need to capture. To do said capturing the British have seven first line squad equivalents toting mortars, antitank rifles and a single lmg. Accompanying them into battle are six carriers of various stripes, two with mortars, two with antitank rifles and two rather boring ones with only MG armament. The British also get five tanks, two Crusaders and three Valentines to provide somewhat more armoured than the carriers support. Lest this seem inadequate turn two provides them with reinforcements in the shape of six more squads, a 9-1 leader another antitank rifle (for a total of five including the carriers) and an lmg. Rolling along in support is a Crusader CS carrying a three inch howitzer.
Opposing this mobile museum of the inadequacies of British tank design I had a mixed German/Italian force that seemed impressive if you didn't look too closely. The Germans were represented by four squads of 838 assault engineers equipped with an antitank rifle, a demo charge, a light machine gun and a 9-1 leader. The bulk of the defensive duties, however, would fall on the Italians. They were represented by nine 447 "elite" squads, a pair of 45mm mortars, a light machine gun, a medium machine gun and twelve factors of anti personnel mines. They were led by a pair of leaders of stupefying mediocrity and supported, if that's the right word (spoiler alert; it isn't), by proof that the British were by no means the only ones who could bollocks up their armoured development programme. Three SMV-75 self propelled guns were supposed to give my less than eager troops the firepower to take on the British.
To be fair these semovente weren't bad, they were small and while their stubby 75mm gun wasn't an awesome tank killer their HEAT rounds certainly gave them a chance against the British armour. Killing vehicles is definitely what its about for the Italians because the British need to gain their objectives without losing 30CVP. A few tank kills would definitely put the Axis on the path towards a win.
There were two victory buildings; one down at ground level with a convenient nearby wall. I decided that my numerous and armour heavy Italians would guard that one. The other building was up on a hill behind a large olive grove (all woods are olive groves by SSR). It seemed to be the ideal spot for my scanty but high firepower, superbly motivated Germans. Below is my set up, see if you can spot the tiny error I made in my deployment.
|My set up|
As you can see my Germans are all set up on the hill where they don't have any vision of the British entering the board. The Italians are clustered in the centre which means that a British force could roar up the right hand board edge without hindrance. Guess what Dave did? To be fair he also sent troops up the middle to keep the Italians entertained.
The next picture is the end of British turn one when the sheer enormity of my cock up became apparent. Dave was tossing smoke about like a dragon with hiccoughs and a strong force of infantry and carriers were flanking my left (that would be your right). His Crusaders moved forward boldly to match points with my semovente while his Valentines shepherded his infantry right and left.
|Turn 1 and things could be better|
Still I wasn't completely downhearted. I had a handful of Italian squads in the olive groves which could sidestep across to at least delay the British while the rest of my Italians were sheltered in buildings and behind walls. I had the victory locations, the British would have to come to me. Despite being plastered with acquisition counters my semovente survived the British first turn and I looked forward to putting a HEAT round where it would do most good. In my next prep fire phase I discovered that that particular semovente didn't have any HEAT rounds. In the course of the game I would discover that neither of the other two did either. Not one sodding HEAT round!! I fired AP, actually scored a hit but naturally bounced it off the Crusaders quite respectable armour.
My little 45mm mortars fired at vehicles more in the hope than the expectation. It is fair to say that they performed about as well as you might expect. Then I broke one and Dave covered the other with smoke. I kept firing it anyway, frankly the presence of smoke didn't really decrease its effectiveness much. Naturally Dave hit my semovente despite the wall it was hiding behind but to the surprise of both of us I got away with a possible shock result.
|There should be a caption here. Please insert one of your choosing|
I had managed to get a squad across to where it could fire on some of Dave's troops on the right so Dave dropped a smoke round onto it and jumped it in CC and killed it. However another Italian squad which had been coming up to assist decided instead to go into CC with a CX'ed 8-0 Dave had left behind and cheerfully killed it. My semovente recovered from its possible shock just in time to be killed by a Crusader but one of my surviving semovente managed to kill a carrier (my only "armour" kill of the game). On the right Dave was sidling up to the hill but the death of his 8-0 determined him to exact vengeance on the squad that caused it and he diverted no fewer than three squads to take them on in close combat. I cannot speak highly enough of these gallant Italians. For two full turns they survived three to one odds without a scratch and on the third turn they died and took two British squads down with them. Definitely the high point of my game (and isn't that a sad statement).
Meanwhile with one semovente down Dave got bold with his tanks and rolled them forward so the second semovente could also prove that it had no HEAT. Pretty chilly in those Italian SPGs. Over on the right Dave dropped yet more smoke and his tanks crawled up the hill. A speculative 2+1 shot at a concealed German squad naturally broke these 8 morale heroes and their flight was only hampered by the weight of urine in their boots. With the forward German squad gone Dave bulled a force of tanks and infantry up to the next defensive position consisting of a full squad and a halfsquad with a DC. Suddenly he was sitting on top of me and the halfsquad showed their courage by only pinning on a 2+1 shot thus putting their larger bretheren to shame.
|My Italians are getting monstered by tanks|
Naturally that couldn't last so in my next turn I decided to take a risk. Dave had boldly moved a squad adjacent to my full German squad. I would prep fire into these guys and then the half squad would try and place the DC on his tank. Anyway my 16+1 prep fire achieved no result and his tank proved it didn't need infantry support by rolling a snake eyes with is machine gun and killing the halfsquad before it could lift the DC in its trembling hands.
Down in Italian land Dave killed my second semovente and discovered my minefields. I had placed them in front of the victory building (one of them actually under one of my semovente). Unfortunately Dave discovered them with his Crusaders rather than with his infantry who were still lurking some distance away waiting for my defenders to die of smoke inhalation. Nevertheless one Crusader was immobilised which I was quite pleased about despite the fact that it was immobilised next door to the victory building. Only the billowing clouds of smoke prevented Dave from blasting my defenders out of there.
On the nice but meaningless side my sniper hit and recalled a carrier thus achieving as much with one shot as three semovente did all game. Speaking of semovente I had one left, and what I thought was a bright idea. I had this semovente based over on the left to prevent a flanking move round that direction. Dave had apparently completely ignored it and pushed most of his armour forward to hit the victory building. Deciding (even before this semovente proved to have no HEAT) that it wasn't going to be my day for killing tanks I decided to send it off hunting carriers. Bottom feeding I know but I was getting a little desperate. I skillfully maneuvred behind a carrier and then unskillfully failed to hit it. The damn thing scurried out of the way and Dave cranked the turret of his immobilised tank around and took a shot. No he didn't kill it but the writing was on the wall. My return fire proved the unavailability of HEAT and I looked at the acquisition counter and the swarming British tanks and gave up.
|Pretty much the end|
I was possibly a little premature. Neither victory location had fallen and the bulk of the Italian force was intact but I had no defence against the tanks and I had lost faith that the Germans would do anything at all. So far their greatest contribution was to burden the British player with some prisoners. Many thanks to Dave for the game which in retrospect I lost before it started with a flawed set up.
A group of cheerful Italian prisoners stopped excitedly discussing the possibilities of farm labour in Britain to pay attention to the disconsolate officer in their midst.
"What are you doing capitano?" asked the curious one.
Sottovoce looked up from the piece of paper he was holding.
"I'm writing a letter of complaint to IKEA. Have you seen their return policy? Anyone would think that place was run by a drunken Nazi?"