My regular opponent, Neil, and I played our first battle of 2011 today. Taken from the Operation Compass scenario book, the action concerns the exploits of the 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion in the original assault on the Italian stronghold of Tobruk on 21st January 1941. Click on the pictures to see them full size.
The 2/8th Battalion has already successfully cleared the central area of the stronghold, and is regrouping in and amongst a series of Italian trenches in the south-east corner of the table. North and west of the trenches are areas where the Italians have been seeking to extend their fortifications i.e. the equivalent of building sites. Visibility is poor due to the smoke and swirling sand kicked up by the wind: spotting and shooting is limited to within 24".
Casualties amongst the 2/8th have been high, so Companies A, B, C and D have just been amalgamated into A/B and C/D Companies: in game terms, three four-section platoons. Orders have just come through to continue the advance towards Fort Pilastrino when an Italian counter-attack is sited coming in from the north-west corner of the table: two platoons of M13/40 tanks (seven in all) supported by two platoons of infantry.
Through the smoke and whirling debris, the Aussies spotted that the Italian attack was three pronged. One Italian infantry platoon headed south for the building site there, setting up a firing line on the edge nearest the Aussie positions. One Italian infantry platoon headed slowly up the centre, the unwilling Italian footsloggers 'enjoying' the benefits of two Hesitant Troops cards. Finally, the seven Italian tanks headed towards the northernmost building site, now being occupied by the Aussie 1st Platoon along with two anti-tank rifles (ATRs) from the Company HQ. The rest of the Aussie infantry sat still under Blinds: seven tanks, even crappy two-dice Italian ones, are quite formidable opposition. Besides, support had been called for: Sergeant Burgess had gone off after an abandoned Italian AT gun, and the Turn Card had already come out twice!
The Italians hesitated, seemingly unable to decide where to put their attack in. Gradually the Aussies were spotted, but this didn't seem to help Capitano Cavolfiore's decision making process! Finally, the lead Italian M13/40 pushed forward and started area firing HE into the northern building site and Australian 1st Platoon. The tank was met by a hail of ATR fire, none of which did more than chip its paint at that range, but then broke down and was promptly abandoned!
Sergeant Russell returned at that point, dragging a Breda 47/32, and an improvised crew was quickly put together. Several shells were sent flying towards the Italian tanks that had now moved into a more central position but, again, all that suffered was the Italian paintwork. The Italian counter-attack had ground to a halt at this point, and although their tanks were still either area firing or machine-gunning 1st Aussie Platoon, the effects were minimal.
Meanwhile, on the southern flank, Lieutenant Russell and 3rd Aussie Platoon had decided that it was time to get their attack moving again. Emerging from the Italian trenches, all four sections advanced in rushes towards the Italians positioned along the edge of the southern building site, taking a few casualties but doing a lot more. One section from 2nd Platoon joined them, although these brave Aussies soon found themselves exposed to flank fire from other Italian troops and would eventually be suppressed, but not before doing a surprising amount of damage to their enemy.
The first set of Commonwealth reinforcements then arrived: two Bofors 37mm AT guns from 3rd RHA which were quickly manhandled forward into a firing position in the centre of the Australian line. They would continue to hold the Italian tanks at bay, gradually advancing forward, but without actually doing any damage. The Italian armour had, at this point, suffered badly from Vehicle Breakdown: three of their tanks were now permanently immobilised, with the two forward ones abandoned as well.
The Australian 1st Platoon then saw the Italians start to move their second infantry platoon from the centre towards the southern building site. Hearing that their second set of reinforcements had arrived, two Matildas from 7RTR (armour 9!), they advanced west out of their building site and charged up and over a hill towards where the Italian infantry were. A whole platoon of Aussies smashed into two squads of poor quality Italians supported by two tanks. Unbelievably, the poor-quality Italians turned out to be amazing hand-to-hand fighters: the first round of the combat was drawn despite the Aussies rolling 49 dice to the Italian 14! The melee continued, and this time the Aussies pulled out their collective finger, dispatching both enemy squads and tanks.
The Heroic Commander card then appeared, so the Aussie 1st Platoon followed Lieutenant Gately forward into melee with another three Italian tanks! Two were dispatched, their crews abandoning them after minor forms of damage had been done, but the third caused heavy casualties with its machine guns, with more casualties being caused by other nearby Italians.
Aussie 1st Platoon had done the job though: the Italian left flank was utterly broken. Their right flank was also just about to give way: as the two Matildas trundled up into machine gun range, with 2nd Aussie Platoon moving forward to threaten an assault, the Italian white flags broke out. A glorious victory for the Australian infantry, who never really needed the reinforcing AT guns and tanks.
For the record, the game took about three hours from start to finish, and almost exactly followed its historical counterpart except for the fact that the damage to the Italian tanks historically was done by the AT guns rather than by the Aussie infantry. A great fun battle…a great start to the wargaming year.