Sergeant Hank Marvin eased his section of carriers into a patch of scrubby palms and rocks on a low hill overlooking the main highway, if you could call this barely-metalled track a highway, and peered at the scene before him. The road cut a diagonal ribbon over the hot scrub. A branch near his left, maybe 500 yards away, led to a small fort, his map suggested this was Perdu Encore. It hadn't been missed by the navy however, its few buildings now bare rubble, the old walls and small tower still proud. Further on, across a low ridge, more clumps of palm as the road wound towards Tunis.
"Fue", cried Corporal Privet, sat astride the portee, neatly hidden in rocks across the road. Shells spattered Marvin's carrier, the last creased his fender: it wouldn't move without some effort now.
Capitaine Luc Besson surveyed his defences, now in action for the first time in three years of war. His main line was an entrenched platoon position on the main, left-hand hill. An MG bunker and 25mm anti tank gun at its centre. To his right, his reserve platoon with a second 47mm gun, dug in in trees. His 3rd platoon, under the brave Lt. Cocteau, was emplaced in the fort and its ruins. The tower of which was converted into a second MG bunker. Near him Lt. Boyer, his guns registered on the small hills, wound the phone calling his battery of elderly 75mm's into action.
A splattering fire from the fort hit Marvin's men as they quickly debussed, one man lying limp by the track. The heavily armed scouts spread out, searching for targets, spotting a forward section in a walled courtyard to their front.
As the rest of Team Charlie arrived, a vicious firefight ensued. Marvin's men poured fire at the visible French but only slowly whittled their men down. The tracks aimed at the tower but were both immobilised by the gun on the hill. The rest of Captain Douglas's men probed cautiously the left of the fort, behind a low, wooded hill. As the heat haze danced before him Besson realised that a tank section was moving across this flank, "Well let them", he thought, "there are solutions to these things!"
Sadly the US also had solutions and a roaming aircraft from the invasion force dived on Privet's position, obliterating the truck and its men in a cloud of fire and dust! The Yanks, still cautious, called for artillery and worked their way forward, seemingly mesmerised by the force at the fort. As they dismounted another two squads into the central trees and edged their tanks forward, the MG bunker opened up forcing the infantry to ground. Caught in a cross fire from the fort, the Army Air Force arrived again, demolishing the tower and the MG.
Two Shermans and two Stuarts rumbled closer to the trench line but realised that the ground in front was ripe for a mine field. They sought out the bunker with devastating fire, chipping the concrete in chunks despite ferocious fire from the nearby 25mm, led by young Delon. His fire pinged off the lighter Stuarts, stunning one, but a long sea voyage and Bilko's unhealthy disregard for maintenance, had silenced a Sherman with engine failure and a poor mix put paid to the fuel line in one of the Stuarts.
As Marvin raised his head to move his men he just as quickly ducked as a salvo of 75mm shells hit his position. Spurts of sand and rock caused few casualties but prevented onward movement. His men just continued to fire between bursts. He too shouted on the radio for his promised support, a battery of 105mm's some 1/2 mile away.
Besson called his Ace in as the crew of Delon's gun hit both of the support carriers. Return fire shattered their sandbags but miraculously caused no injuries! His Ace, a troop of four H-39's crawled carefully down the road to the fort, not spotted until almost there. Sadly for Corporal Annuad in the rearmost tank a shell from the broken down Sherman blew out his engine then another took off the turret, his flaming chassis stuttering to a halt at the rear of his column.
With two infantry teams grounded by fire, Douglas was relying on his armour to even the battle for him. The superior guns of the Shermans attacking resistance as they moved to counter this new threat. The French tanks, with no communications, tried to line up shots, their overworked commanders kicking with frustration. A snap shot from a Sherman hit another and a third, its turret jammed, saw its crew leave for cover. This threat was enough to hold up any infantry advance as was the appearance of a third anti tank gun on 3rd platoons, as yet undisclosed, position.
Cocteau rallied his men but realised that ranging shells spelt disaster. He moved back to a gully leaving his 3rd section in the fort.
Time now pressing, his carriers all wrecked and with three tanks immobile, Douglas' conversation with the Colonel was brief and colourful. Given the stark choice of spending the war as latrine officer or taking his chances he ordered forward his last section under covering fire from the tank. A carrier rushed to the fort's ruins, its men spilling out as the French opponents rose and let fly. Despite the armour and machine gun fire his men slunk back carrying two bodies. It was a short moment of elation for Cocteau's men as Marvin's two squads rose and rushed forward. In a hard fight they won the moment and pushed the survivors out of the ruins.
At that point we finished. Clive played the US and I have to say, his methodical use of armour, a surprise with such an aggressive player, worked well. The Sherman, in 1942, is devastating, particularly against rather elderly French equipment. Saying that the Frogs were phenomenal. They held off his attack and even if they were to be forced from the position, any attempt for rapid pursuit was undone. Some by poor maintenance, I must admit.
The US Air support was important, although we find it a mixed blessing in our games, but the whole thing was great fun. Good for us that Kev was let out of nappy slavery (Ed.'s Note: as in baby nappies not Napoleonics!) for the evening too: he chose to umpire and did a cracking job. We called it a draw as the French really were likely to be undone eventually.
The biggest surprise, however, despite all of this action, was the lack of casualties. Clive lost about ten men and I about twice that number, a lot for me, to ground attack aircraft and direct tank fire. Despite this the two sides were letting fly and the effect of the munitions support for the average US squad is incredible, thank goodness at this stage we faced greenhorns!
Great to get a bit of IABSM in though!