Rather than immediately clear away the rather nice set up for the For the Honour of France game played a couple of weeks ago (click here to read the AAR, opens in a new window), I decided to use the same scenario for a game that I was umpiring between John and Dave.

Quick background

Syria, 1941, Vichy French versus Australians. The village of Ras Begus nestles astride a road running through a region punctuated by rocky hills that hamper movement by reducing any dice rolled by one. On a nearby hilltop lurks the ruined Red Fort, south of the village is an olive farm. A wadi runs from the southern end of the table right up to the village, providing excellent cover to infantry within it. Tracked vehicles could risk the wadi, but were likely to bog down.

The French were defending the village with a force consisting of three platoons, one of four and two of three ten-man squads (100 total). Mr Clarke, who wrote the scenario, didn’t specify the stats for the French infantry, so as I already thought the scenario would be walkover for the French, I classified them as Good Troops starting on three Activation dice. In addition to the infantry, the French had three 60mm mortars, three MMGs and a forward observer in touch with a battery of three 75mm guns. In command were four decent quality Big Men, and there was an extra MMG team sited in the fort with a Poor Fire Discipline card. In reserve, arriving after a certain number of appearances of the Turn Card, were three R-35 tanks. Formidable.

The Aussies also had three platoons, but each was four sections of eight men each (total 96 men) along with a light mortar and an anti-tank rifle (ATR) per platoon. In support, they had a recce platoon of three MkVI light tanks, five recce carriers (two with MMGs, two with LMGs and one with an ATR) and, as proved very significant, an FOO connected to two 25-pounders sited just off table. The 25-pounders were very responsive: they had a Bonus Fire card in the deck. I decided that the Aussie’s would start on four Activation dice and get the Aggressive bonus in Close Combat.

In today's game, Jon would play the defending French, Dave would play the attacking Australians.

The Game

Unlike Bevan in the previous game, John had chosen to hang back and wait for the Aussie's to come to him. His Platoon 1, the big one, occupied the village, with Platoon 2 positioned along the edge of the wadi in front of the town. Platoon 3 was in reserve behind the town. 

What this meant was that the Aussies had almost a free hand to get onto the table and deploy...which they did, massing just behind the hill.

Being largely out in the open, the Aussie's were spotted fairly quickly. One infantry platoon had headed down into the wadi; their light tanks and carriers had headed straight up the road towards the town; and a couple of Blinds lurked at the back (the Blinds on the far left and far right in the picture below are Dave's other two infantry platoons).

For their part, the Aussie's had spotted the French in the wadi (one squad is still concealed on the other side of the road) and were aware of movement to the rear of the village: John was bringing his reserve platoon across to cover his left flank.

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A Mexican Stand-off then ensued. The French infantry crouching down at the bottom of the wadi were effectively immune from fire from the Aussie carriers and light tanks, but couldn't shoot back. The Aussies were unwilling to advance to edge of the wadi to shoot down at the French: they didn't want to risk getting a hail of grenades into their open-topped carriers.

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Something had to give...and it did: the Aussie FOO picked up his radio and contacted the two parked-off-table 25pdrs dedicated to support the attack and called in their fire. Direct hit on the wadi!

And now the French infantry's defensive position became a death trap. If they stayed where they were, the enemy artillery would just pulverise them; if they left the wadi, it would be to end up right under the guns of the Aussie carriers and light tanks.

A tricky situation!

To give himself time to think, John fired his light mortars into the mass of British vehicles in front of the wadi, luckily scoring a direct hit on one of the carriers: exit carrier!

This brought home to the Aussies the fact that they couldn't hang around out in the open for too long, so with the French machine gun team in the wadi forced to fall back through the damage done by the artillery and a bit of rifle fire, in went the Aussie platoon in the wadi: charging into the mass of Pinned French infantry from the flank.

In they go!

Bounced back!

Unbelievably (I mean seriously unbelievably) the French managed to bounce the Aussies back (largely due to their Big Man: the Level IV Sergeant-Chef Aubergine!) but had suffered serious casualties in doing so. One more round of rifle fire from the Aussies and the whole platoon evaporated, except for Aubergine, who merely fell back to the town to take charge of one of the infantry squads there.

This left the wadi in the possession of the Aussies, who promptly moved their slightly battered platoon forward to within striking range of the town, followed by a Blind concealing a second infantry platoon.

Now it was the turn of the Aussies to get stuck in the wadi. Yes, they were under cover from fire from the French units in the village but, just like the French moments ago, leaving the wadi in an assault would have led them straight into a devastating hail of fire. Stalemate again!

Meanwhile, the third Aussie platoon had moved along the hilltop on the right flank of the battlefield, catching up with the lead light tanks and carriers. As it was manoeuvring into position to attack the village, however, a French Blind appeared at the end of the nearby road and, with a couple of good dice rolls, was right on them almost immediately.

Automatic spotting revealed the Blind as the three R-35 tanks that formed the French reserve:

But had the French tanks advanced too far?

A fierce combat broke out between the tanks and the Australian infantry platoon, attacking from the flank. On top of that, the Aussie carriers and light tanks joined in too.

One French tank was forced to bail, bits were knocked off another, but the MGs on the third tank were reaping a terrible price from the Aussie infantry: one section being shot down to a man.

Whilst that battle was being fought out on the right hand side of the battlefield, the Aussies on the left, in the wadi, had decided that if they didn't get a move on, they'd spend the rest of the game crouched undercover.

Unfortunately, the British artillery, having done such sterling work earlier, had now gone incommunicado, so shifting its focus to the French troops in the village just wasn't happening. There was nothing for it: the village was going to have to be cleared the hard way.

Up popped the Aussie platoon on a Blind, and charged the back of the souk building. The French squad therein was evicted, but the Aussies had lost five men, and were now coming under fire from French troops elsewhere in the village.

The Aussies gathered themselves and cleared another house, but lost more men, and it soon became apparent that they just didn't have enough men to clear the village in the way that they were attempting to do. They really need to bring up their carriers and tanks...but they were still engaged with the two remaining French tanks, whose heavy (for this time of the war) armour was proving tough to crack.

At this point it became apparent that neither side were getting anywhere, and a draw was declared: they had fought each other out.

Aftermath

Both sides sat back and considered the battle.

The French agreed that they had been a bit too passive and reactive: they had given the initiative to the Aussies and then let them keep it. They had let their tanks, which should have been a game-changer, get embroiled with enemy infantry when a bit of distance would have led to the same outcome but no damage. 

On the other hand, however, from the French point of view, the Aussie's hadn't managed to take the town by the end of the game, and had been fought to a standstill.

The Aussies had been suitably aggressive, but had failed to co-ordinate properly between their armour, artillery and their infantry. At the start of the battle, their armour had advanced way forward of their infantry: something that would have been harshly punished if the French had had even one anti-tank gun. At the end, their infantry was forced to assault the town unsupported by either armour or artillery: a very costly way of doing things.

On the other hand, however, the French tanks were almost neutralised, and the Aussies were almost in a position to take the village...almost!

A great game and, as Dave said afterwards "something for everyone and some scary bits for both sides"!

Robert Avery