Friday, 1 March 2013

Wargaming the Battle of Bir Hacheim

The battle of BIR HACHEIM was the opening round of Rommel's offensive on TOBRUK. In a wide southern sweep, Rommel's three armoured divisions (15Pz, 21Pz, Ariete) and Trieste the motorised infantry division drove around the desert flank of Ritchie's Eighth Army. 90th Light division accompanied the force on the far southern flank of the attacking panzers.

Players were given an edited version of the map above with the enemy dispositions and movement airbrushed out. The orbats were printed off and put into the relevant boxes. As usual, players had fun reconciling what the orbat said with the models that were actually there in the boxes (real life logistics intervening without the need for written rules!) The British were particularly hard-pressed in this respect as their doctrine at this stage of the war dictated that infantry and tank brigades fought separate battles, wheras the Axis forces were much more closely integrated.

The battlefield from the south with the 3Ind box on the right and 1FF to the left

Trieste was supposed to skirt the Southern flank of BIR HACHEIM but swung east too soon. I allowed for the possibility of them navigating accurately in the game (25% chance) and Ariete going astray (10%), assuming that the DAK would navigate accurately. Trieste was true to form and happily swung in to attack 150th Infantry Brigade from 50th Northumbrian Division (150Inf) hitting them square on from the west.

When picking the box out, I inadvertently gave Trebian the Littorio box, so he had more tanks than expected. I expect payback will come when Rommel calls for Littorio and gets Trieste. Fog of war and all that!

Trieste attack 15th Infantry Brigade north of BIR HACHEIM

Ariete drove around to the south of BIR HACHEIM and hit 3rd Indian Motorised Brigade (3Ind), believing them to be the Free French (1FF).

Ariete drive east. Don't they look splendid!

3Ind were not dug in at the time they were contacted, so were counted as being in the open, whereas 1FF were counted as fully dug-in. Additionally, 3Ind had only half its complement of 2pdr anti-tank guns and no 6pdrs. They did not last long and were overrun, with a third of the brigade escaping to the southeast. This success put Ariete into high spirits as they reorganised ready to move northwest to attack 1FF.

3rd Indian Motorised Brigade about to be overrun

Meanwhile, 15Pz and 21Pz had hooked east then north around the 3Ind position to seek out supposed supply dumps. What they found instead was 4th Armoured Brigade (4Tk) in fighting mood.

15Pz at the top of the picture and 21Pz in the foreground become aware of the first few tanks of 4Tk on the ridge to the top right

4Tk charge furiously into 15Pz as it swings east to engage the enemy

Initially, the battle went 4Tk's way with 15Pz being driven off to the south with heavy tank losses (75%), but as 21Pz counterattacked from the west, the British Crusaders and Honeys soon went up in flames, leaving the shattered remnants of the brigade to make its escape to the south with morale intact.

21Pz finds the flank of 4Tk and engages it. Casualties mount on both sides.

Burning panzer IIIs from 15Pz dominate the centre of the battle as 15Pz retires southeast and 4Tk retires southwest.

The survivors of 4Tk may prove to be as few as 10 heavies when they pause to reorganise.

Here we ended the game for the night after two and a half hours of play, with at least half an hour of tea drinking and associated chocolate munching. Biscuits may have been dunked too.

At this stage of the battle, 15Pz and 21Pz were in possession of the field but low on fuel, having scattered the  first attack against them. Rommel (aka Trebian) professed himself inclined to ignore 1FF in BIR HACHEIM and press north. Ritchie (played by me as umpire) was trying to marshall 7th Support Group (7Mot), and 4th and 22nd tank brigades (4Tk, 22Tk) to make a concerted attack to reinforce 150Inf. These attacks would be arriving from widely different directions and might prove difficult to coordinate . 1st and 32nd army tank brigades (1Tk, 32Tk) were making their way south too.

Off table in the north, Italian XXI Corps was attacking the front of 1st South African Division.

The crew of a Honey take a break from the battle. Time for a brew!

What the Umpire learned:

It is time to start grouping the British troops into brigade boxes.
Don't hand players the wrong boxes!
You cannot have too many minefield and barbed wire markers.
There is a LOT more painting still to do.

What the Players learned:

The key to success is all-arms action.
Pins should be handled with care!
Dug-in infantry with a full complement of anti-tank and field guns can be formidable but troops caught in the open cannot hold their own against armour.

What we discussed in the tea breaks:

The course of the historical battle.
Bases on tanks.
When am I ever going to finish painting stuff and be more like Trebian? As if ...!
Scholiosis and Richard the Third.
How little detail can be seen on models at battle distances.

Assumptions made:

We counted all tank units as medium, except the Grants, 50mm Atk and 6pdr Atk, who fired as heavy.
Troops counted as light, unless dug in, when they defended as Heavy but fired as light.

1 comment:

  1. There is no need to be more like me, - excpt to say "When it's done, it's done" and don't go back and re-paint.

    More pictures at: