Friday, 15 March 2013

Wargaming the Battle of Bir Hacheim - Pt 3

Last week saw the hard-pressed 21Pz wondering if it would be able to fend off concerted British armour attacks for long enough for Rommel to be able to find a supply route through the British minefields around the 150Bde defended box.

21Pz in the centre of a boiling Cauldron. 15Pz are at top left. North is to the right of the picture.

Rommels' woes were compounded by the stubborn resistance of 1FF in BIR HACHEIM, the complete absence of 90Lt  or Littorio on the battlefield, and the German inability to find anything resembling a supply dump. It wasn't for lack of trying, but fuel was now hampering the movement of DAK away from its tenuous supply lines hooking around the south of 1FF, or the yet-to-be established line through the minefields.

1FF being assaulted by Littorio and Ariete. The green rubber trucks represent the supply line.

IFF hung on doggedly as the attack developed between Ariete and Littorio, even counterattacking to drive infantry penetrations back out of the perimeter .

1FF are in no mood to be evicted from BIR HACHEIM.

90Lt appeared to the northeast of 1Tk. An attack was put in by the British, but 90Lt veered south and escaped back towards BIR HACHEIM, fighting a spirited rearguard action that caused 1Tk to break contact, congratulating itself that it had "driven off the enemy".Some confusion was evident in that 90Lt were driving captured British Matador trucks and were towing at least one captured 6pdr.

They look a bit too professional to be ours Sir! Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013.

21Pz successfully withdrew west, followed by the remnants of 22Tk and 32Tk, who kept enough contact to prevent 21Pz from reorganising.

Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013.

150Bde was on its last legs however, finally succumbing to a ruthlessly pressed-home assault from 15Pz, supported by Trieste. As in the historical battle, 150Bde collapsed before relief arrived, giving DAK time to reorganise itself to face down the British armour.

At the end of the battle, the Allies had done rather better than they did historically and the Axis powers slightly worse. This state of affairs can be laid at the door of the umpire, with the usual provisio that it could have been worse for both sides had waves of useful dice not been rolled when needed. The battle was tense and swayed to and fro with no clear winner being evident even at the end. The Germans had come very close to capturing two supply dumps - they were the hollow rocky outcrops out of an Army Men playset. This concluded the battle, leaving only a mass rush of troops as they were put back into boxes and ruminations on how the game went.

See also Trebians Battle report on Wargaming for Grownups

Things to make and paint before the next battle :

Minefield/barbed wire markers.
Defended brigade boxes
More British infantry (Guards and Gurkhas).
RMP and Feldpolizei traffic control markers.
Minefield gap markers.
Some of 1FF's heavier equipment.
More trucks and command cars!
Command markers (for recording orders)
Caualty Markers (for recording hits)
Logistics markers (for recording supply)

Post game Ruminations :

The battle followed the course of history closely, without being slavish. This was partly becouse the information fed to the players was narrative driven, and partly because the confines of the table caused space to be compressed dramatically. Even so, the play-through with a lot of the complexity stripped away helped my understanding of a confused series of manoevres that do not always come out clearly in the historical accounts.

Air support was absent. I had the models available, but so much was going on that I felt it better to leave air out this time round. Phil remarked that 1FF might not have held on so well if the usual waves of NQM Stukas had been pounding the position to soften it up. Hubert Pölz was grumpy as he didn't take to the air in his new Stuka.

I am going to need a wider variety of markers if I plan to hide things in plain sight in future. Players won't be fooled twice

Players were focussed on winning the battles because that was the way they had been led. I am going to have to encourage wider thinking next time so that recce is thrown out wider and more speculatively, rather than being drawn into the Cauldron as extra light dice. If players want to do something, my instinct is to allow them unless there are good narrative reasons not to.

Players quickly lost track of unit boundaries, resulting in impromptu atts and dets. This is how it should be, but I took on board a useful suggestion to go back to using stands that were unit markers with a hit point track to keep up with ammo and red and black pips. This is something that we used to do for the really big games and then abandoned. the paper chits were impromptu unit markers that had become necessary to keep track of which unit was where.

The next time that this game is run, player briefs will be more complete and 6 players should easily manage the game with minimal need for umpire intervention. That should allow more logistics to be inserted. Even with ruthless simplification, this game took us 8 hours of play time and involved 6 Axis divisions and 7 Allied  brigades

Units were running on bare-bones orders of battle, with a lot of the logistics and command stands, FOOs etc being absent.  There is stilll a lot of modelling to do, so I shall probably take a break and head back to the Eastern Front for a while after Easter.

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