The crew of the medium machine gun hunkered a little further down in the trench in a futile attempt to shelter from the Sun and watched the feldwebel with polite interest. He was alternately thumping the radio with his fist and screaming into it. A stream of Italian issued from the radio but the feldwebel didn't seem satisfied.
"Does anyone know the Italian for spotting round?" he demanded. The machine gun crew disavowed such knowledge.
"I thought you spoke Italian," replied one.
"I was a tour guide. I can direct Italians to the sights of Berlin, help them with their hotel bookings and liaise with the police if their wallet gets stolen. Bringing down an artillery concentration isn't what the best tourists do in a new city."
One of the other soldiers jerked a thumb at an Italian gun position further down the trench.
"Why not ask them."
The feldwebel hesitated but, desperate times...
"All right, lets go meet the allies."
The meeting between the two sets of comrades in arms didn't get off to the best start when the Germans pointblank refused to accept the Italian's surrender but eventually the feldwebel was able to communicate his request for assistance. The sergente who appeared to be in charge seemed sympathetic but shook his head.
"I'm sorry feldwebel but I was transferred from the transport corps yesterday. I don't even know how that thing works," he jerked a thumb at the 47mm antitank gun nearby.
"What about the others?"
The sergente rattled off a quick question in Italian. He was roundly ignored by the troops with the exception of one who raised a tentative hand.
"Arturo there thinks he knows how to spell the word artillery," the sergente's eyes conveyed doubt that this was in fact the case.
"Where are your officers?"
"When are they due back?"
"April. Assuming they don't go back for seconds."
There was a sudden shout from an Italian manning a mortar a little further away. The feldwebel peered in the direction he was pointing. It was difficult to see through the heat haze but groups of men were definitely approaching from the direction of the British lines.
"Crap," muttered the sergente, "I knew we shouldn't have shot at that staff car."
"Why did you?"
"We thought it was our CO."
So this is the upgraded ASL 267 - Cutting Out A Strongpoint a scenario which I have wanted to play for quite a while. Richard Weilly was happy to pander to my Italian predilection and took command of the attacking British (with South African armoured support). Richard's troops are attempting to take out a small but well armed position of Italian and German troops which have been making a mild nuisance of themselves. The Axis (that's me) have to set up within a trench system surrounded by a ring of antitank mines. Richard wins if there are no unbroken Axis infantry/AFV with functioning MA within the strongpoint at game end. As long as the Axis do not amass 16 or greater CVP.
I don't have many men to defend this strongpoint. In fact it almost looks like I have more weapons than troops. I have a single Italian first line squad, two crews and an 8-0 officer. Between them they have to man a medium machine gun, a light machine gun, a 47mm atg and an 81mm mortar. The German contingent consists of a single second line halfsquad and an 8-0 officer. They have a medium machine gun and a (German) radio to connect them to (Italian offboard artillery). Language difficulties would present themselves when trying to dial in my fire support.
Rolling to the assistance of this hopelessly outnumbered bastion is armour support in the form of a captured British Matilda tank (crewed by Germans) and, following like ducklings in its wake, four L3 tankettes (crewed by Italians because let's face it no one else would).
Richard's force consists of three first line squads, two half squads and three officers led by a 9-1. They have three light machine guns, an antitank rifle and a 51mm mortar. Turning up in somewhat belated support are a pair of 2 pounder guns carried en portee on the back of trucks and three Marmon Herrington armoured cars of the 6th South African armoured car regiment. The sun beats down on the desert sand and intense heat haze is in effect. Richard and I tried very hard to figure out if dust was involved but eventually agreed that since the environmental conditions didn't say so there wasn't any.
|End of the British first turn. There wouldn't be any shooting for several turns while Richard worked his way into position.|
It has to be said that the game started rather slowly as Richard gradually eased his forces towards my little strongpoint. For my part I saw little value in firing at concealed units through an extreme heat haze. I waited patiently for targets to present themselves. The silence was broken only the tramp of desert boots over the sunbaked earth and the hysterical cursing of a German feldwebel as he tried and failed to make radio contact with some Italian artillery who appeared to have taken the afternoon off. Not too far away an Italian sergente was studying a 47mm gun trying to figure out which end the shell came out of.
Finally Richard was ready but targets didn't present themselves, instead smoke did. Having the advantage of speaking the same language as his fire support allowed Richard to bathe his chosen approach area with thick clouds of smoke. Suddenly I had an even better reason for not opening fire.
|Smoke, smoke and more smoke. The British are out there somewhere|
With smoke proving a more than adequate substitute for the heat haze my guys relapsed into immobility as the British took advantage to push forward. With only a tiny handful of troops I just had to wait until the British emerged from the smoke and then hope for the best. Then to my absolute astonishment the best arrived.
Richard had pushed into the smoke with an lmg squad commanded by his best leader. Seizing an unoccupied trench at the edge of the smoke the interior of the strongpoint and my scanty defenders lay open to him. Then my feldwebel temporarily solved his language difficulties and dropped a 70mm artillery concentration right on top of them. Snake eyes gave me a critical hit and both squad and leader died in a hail of Italian made (but German guided) shrapnel. To add icing to my smoke laden cake another British squad emerged from
the smoke to be sent packing in a hail of Italian machine gun fire.
|Somewhere underneath all that smoke are the remains of a 9-1 and a British squad; not very big remains.|
All this was gratifying but didn't alter my fundamental position which was a small heavily outnumbered force shrouded in smoke while a larger British force pulled itself together to try again. But fear not gentle reader for my tanks are coming.
My tanks rolled onto the board but their immediate impact was, shall we say, muted. L3s aren't exactly the speediest vehicles on earth and the Matilda made the L3s look like mechanical cheetahs. In the meantime my strongpoint defenders twiddled their thumbs, choked on smoke and gazed nervously as Richard reorganised his attackers and pushed forward once again.
With the smoke shrouding his movements Richard once again pushed forward into the trenches closest to my defenders. His moment of glory done my feldwebel had broken the radio and 47mm shots into the smoke produced acquisition counters but no damage to the newly emboldened attackers.
|My tanks are trundling to the rescue, they might arrive by Christmas|
To make matters worse Richard's 40mm portees turned up and proved much speedier at rolling through the desert than my armour. They positioned themselves where they could deal with my approaching tanks. The Matilda might not be too concerned but the L3 crews examined the rivets on their armour and trembled for their life expectancy.
In the strongpoint itself Richard had braved the 47mm fire and plunged into close combat with the guncrew wiping it out in some brutal close combat. It was at this point that I did the smartest move I made during the entire game. I didn't realise it at the time but in retrospect it was genius.
My sole Italian squad, burdened by machine guns was sitting in a trench next to Richard's newly acquired 47mm. Taking advantage of the smoke I moved behind the British attackers and put a hexes worth of distance between us. Since Richard has to take out each Axis MMC in the strongpoint he now had the choice of doubling back or splitting his surviving troops. Leaving an officer to mind the 47mm he doubled back and soon another melee was raging. His armoured cars arrived and moved to where they could intercept my armour (which still hadn't got anywhere useful) while his portees gained acquisition on approaching L3s.
|Another close combat rages I would lose this one too|
Richard did indeed manage to wipe out my Italian squad (and leader) in close combat but while he was doing so the crew of my 81mm mortar who had so far done nothing took the opportunity to advance into CC with the 8-0 Richard had left to guard the 47mm. They killed it and reclaimed the gun for its rightful owners.
Finally, finally my armour had arrived. Armour isn't exactly my speciality in fact I suck using armour but the fact that it didn't matter if none of it survived was rather freeing. Cheerfully I sent the L3s forward to take on the portees while my Matilda inched slowly closer to his armoured cars. Luck was on my side and bounding fire from an L3 broke a portee crew. Meanwhile Richard declined to wait for my Matilda to arrive and sent forward an armoured car to work around behind it. Braving a blizzard of L3 fire (I got rate multiple times just to prove how ineffectual the L3 was as a tank killer) his car rolled forward but as it approached the Matilda it showed the L3s how it was done drilling a 40mm hole through the Marmon Herrington.
All this was nice but the strongpoint was the vital ground and having dispatched my Italian squad Richard's British moved forward for the third time against the 47mm and its fresh crew. The 47mm fired at pointblank range and shattered two squads and his surviving leader with a single shot. At that point Richard conceded. He didn't have the time left to patch his troops back together again for a fourth attempt while outside the strongpoint he was down a car and a portee with no loss to my armoured forces.
To be fair it was two lucky rolls that won the game for me. The critical hit with the artillery and that final shot with the 47mm. Between them they broke or killed three of Richard's four squad equivalents and two leaders. Richard was entitled to blame the dice (his proved lousy trying to take out my L3s which aren't exactly invulnerable) but wins against Richard are few and far between so I'll milk it for all it's worth.
"They're leaving," the feldwebel punched the air in excitement and waved across at the sergente just visible through the smoke.
"Nice artillery direction," shouted the sergente. "That was amazing."
"What about you," replied the feldwebel. "First day on a 47mm and you're carving them up. It's going to be Iron Crosses all round after this."
"My officer will definitely get a medal," agreed the sergente.
"Him? He's not even here."
"Does that matter?"