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10th August 1940

Orders from the battalion commander had reached Capitano Trouhet an hour before the noon. As the point of spearhead, he was expecting to meet the enemy at some point, but a prepared position came as a surprise: "Advance to the village of Las Khoreh. Envelop the enemy and destroy or capture them. It is imperative that they do not stay operational, as this is the main supply route for us. Avanti! Avanti!" Enemy was expected to be Somaliland militia, but some recon reports spoke of regular Commonwealth troops.

By the midday, the first company of bersaglieri and their supporting tanks had cleared way through yet another dummy minefield and navigated the wadi bottom so that the opposing side was visible. Recon teams had confirmed that the wadi wall held at least two enemy bunkers, one with a machine gun, one with a probable AT weapon. Team on the left side was still trying to find a way through the rockier part of the dry riverbed, so a frontal attack commenced with a cry of "Avanti! Savoia!". The 1st Platoon under Tenente Frederico would lead the main thrust at the right flank, while the autoblindas would probe at the left, with tanks at reserve. Capitano Trouhet would himself oversee the covering heavy weapons and join the fray later. As expected the opening stonk went wide, but the attack commenced anyways.

Italians advance towards the side of wadi, only two sandbagged bunkers in sight. Camouflage of the bunkers worked reasonably well, try to spot both of them. Yellow sand for the seaside where wheeled vehicles could get stuck. Suspected minefield in the middle of the road. Stonk was supposed to hit the hill on the far side, but went miles over it. Very luckily, as we will later see.

Italians advance towards the side of wadi, only two sandbagged bunkers in sight. Camouflage of the bunkers worked reasonably well, try to spot both of them. Yellow sand for the seaside where wheeled vehicles could get stuck. Suspected minefield in the middle of the road. Stonk was supposed to hit the hill on the far side, but went miles over it. Very luckily, as we will later see.

After the first dash, 1st Platoon got pinned by a single shot from unseen sniper, men taking cover in the rough terrain. That gave the British FO ample time to radio for a mortar round or two and soon the 1st Platoon was truly pinned by 3" mortar section and sniper. If the first "fire for effect" had hit the mark, effects would have been truly horrific for the brave attacker, but now first salvo went wide and most sections got to at least some cover. Even then, this badly delayed the 1st Platoon and cost the attacker quite a few men. It was nice to see that even a section of 3" mortars had quite an effect when used skilfully.

Sniper opens fire, 3" mortars with dark orange marker go wide at top right

Sniper opens fire, 3" mortars with dark orange marker go wide at top right

Meanwhile on the Italian left flank a truly lopsided firefight was ongoing. Three autoblindas and a section of 45mm AT guns were trying to smoke a lone Somali militia ATR from his bunker. They would pour everything they had at the feeble sandbagged bunker and after a moment of silence a whiplash bang would announce that the Boyes rifle was still functional. The ATR was also always firing under a "poor fire discipline" card, so miles out of range. And close to the bunker, a well camouflaged and dug in Vickers team was waiting for prey. As soon as the autoblindas would advance, they would present a flank to these predators. The terrain was quite open but multiple small rough patches meant that a defender could hide anywhere.

The unfair gunfight. Vickers hiding in the green brush by the white dice.

The unfair gunfight. Vickers hiding in the green brush by the white dice.

At this point, the second platoon, led by Tenente Massimo, took the lead and passed the pinned first at a brisk jog. Their attack only stalled for a moment after someone noticed that the 4th squads from both platoons were still sipping their coffee around the jump-off line (the Italian player was used to having only three squads to a platoon!).  A moment of hand waving and yelling remedied the situation, and soon the 2nd Platoon was safely hugging the hill guarding British left/Italian right flank.

2nd Platoon advances, first squad reaches the hill

2nd Platoon advances, first squad reaches the hill

At this point Capitano Trouhet decided that it was time to join the attacking infantry. As soon as he took few steps to open, sniper fired again and to the horror of the Italians, the brave Capitano fell. Cheers from the British lines were short lived, as he would soon roll over and hide behind a large rock (Pinned and lots of shock does not a Big Man faze). He would spend several minutes there before a passing machine gunner from support platoon stopped by to inquire if Capitano wanted help.

After a short rest, the lead squad of 2nd Platoon climbed the hill to take a peek around. They found the first British platoon well hidden and dug in on the reverse slope and never truly recovered from the initial warm greeting! This saw the beginning of a prolonged firefight: the Sikhs were well dug in and veterans, whereas Italians had a 4:1 numeric advantage and given the protection of the hill, could flank the defenders. Even then, Italians had to commit their medium tanks as two Sikh squads proved to be quite a challenge to a full Italian platoon and several machine guns. The Italians were quite lucky: their initial pre-battle stonk went badly wide, but hit the hidden defenders, destroying 2" mortar, ATR and attached LMG team. These might have actually turned the tables.

Sikhs open fire

Sikhs open fire

Defender is flanked, enter tanks. Red for shock, black for pin/suppression.

Defender is flanked, enter tanks. Red for shock, black for pin/suppression.

Meanwhile on the other flank the ATR bunker had finally fallen silent (with Italians suspecting a trap), so autoblinda platoon went forward. Only to be ambushed by the hidden Vickers. Initial burst took out the lead armoured card. Remaining two autoblindas returned fire, but it was soon obvious that the five Sikhs and their MMG were more than a match for the armoured cars, even when they were able to present frontal armour. They were not outright destroyed, but slowly shocked into oblivion while their guns and engines deteriorated sharply.

The stalemate at the Italian right flank was finally broken when a platoon of M13/39 tanks entered. They were greeted by a lone 2-pounder and the Sikh reserve platoon, with the fire from both sides reaching a crescendo. The turret front of the lead tank held, but Tenente Roma of the support platoon was not as lucky, his chest pierced by a well-placed rifle round. The first Sikh squad just refused to die, returning fire with only few men remaining, shielding other squads. The 2-pounder was well dug in and out of the reach for most infantry, so the few MGs able to target it were not having much effect - the situation started to look grim for the attacker.

Rest of the defenders reveal themselves. 2 pounder fires and dies.

Rest of the defenders reveal themselves. 2 pounder fires and dies.

Until one of the Bredas manning the crest of the hill finally saw something through the 2" smoke and a lucky burst took out the 2 pounder. The dice were truly against the Italians for most of the game, but a lucky "17" arrived just when it was needed. At this point the tanks had free reign and British commander gave order to fall back:  the remaining troops from the mauled 1st Sikh platoon would cover the retreat, others got out intact.

Conclusion

This was somewhat larger game than before, with a well supported Italian company against two platoons of Sikhs and their support. Neither of the players had actually played IABSM before, but learned the ropes quickly enough. Both committed to their plans early on and were able to play accordingly, even when situations changed rapidly. British defence was a classic reverse slope, somewhat hampered by the fact that the attacker came from unexpected direction. And attacker refused one flank with mobile troops, commanded the centre with heavy support weapons (as the Brit guessed, thus reverse slope) and them put all his weight on one flank. A nail-biter of a game, once again. Tactically an Italian victory, whereas for the campaign probably a draw: Italians won, but lost one of the precious armoured (in the loosest possible sense of the word) units and Brits were able to withdraw at least some assets, even if valuable Vickers and 2-pounder had to be abandoned.

Also, being part of a campaign, neither player knew what the other was bringing to play. Attacker actually had quite good recon, but most of that was lost in the chain of command, so only knew to expect maybe two infantry platoons, who were not supposed to have any heavy support, instead of knowing the rough location of the ATG and main line of defence. And defender knew roughly a battalion of motorized infantry was heading their way, with tanks leading. For most of the game, attacker had no idea what to expect, as trap upon a trap was sprung.

Brave attackers (some armoured cars borrowed from Brits, as somehow local supplier thinks 1940 Italian armoured cars should not normally be available off the shelf)

Brave attackers (some armoured cars borrowed from Brits, as somehow local supplier thinks 1940 Italian armoured cars should not normally be available off the shelf)

The whole defending force

The whole defending force

 

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