St Albans, England was the venue for the 2011 TooFatLardies Games Day yesterday as Lard Island welcomed over 20 gamers, friends old and new, for a series of games set in North Africa, January 1941.
In previous games days we have played Calais, 1940, Crete 1941, Stalingrad 1942 (a grind-fest which still makes me shudder 6 years later), Malaya 1942, Trafalgar 1805, Austerlitz 1805, Vietnam 1969 and D-Day 1944. This time it was the turn of Tobruk, 1941, with the British and Commonwealth assault on the Italian defences surrounding the town. The scale used was 15mm, the rules used being “I Ain’t Been Shot Mum” by TooFatLardies (of course!).
We had about 20 or so players for the day, with three umpires (Rich, Panda and myself) to ensure that the games linked in with each other and that they all moved along at the same rate. There were separate briefings for the Italian and the British/ Commonwealth teams, with the Umpires being given a brief note relating to how the morning’s game was to be arranged.
There was a wonderful bit of scene-setting courtesy of Panda bringing in his Grandfather’s pith helmet and official training manuals from 1941.
Panda's Grandfather had served in the Eighth Army in North Africa and was at Tobruk at the same action we were gaming. My photos can’t quite convey the excitement of having such a great piece of family history there on the day we were recreating the action.
The main aim for the morning’s session was to fight three sector actions on the same “L” shaped table, with the results of the actions affecting the lunchtime and afternoon games and even, perhaps, the results on other sectors.
For the British, the main aim was to engage the Italians and ensure that their defensive forces could not prevent the British armoured thrust from piercing through the defensive lines. The Italians had to slow the British armoured forces if possible, and if not to at least ensure that the British tanks suffered some casualties once they engaged the Italian anti-tank line to the rear of the Italian trenches on the “L” shaped table.
Morning game – Eastern Sector
I was umpiring the Eastern sector in the morning, with Rob and Elton fighting the Italians and Edward, Zippee and Gerard fighting the British. This was not the main British line of attack, but it was crucial for the British to tie down as many Italians as possible and prevent the Italians reinforcing other sectors through interior lines.
In this regard, the British forces scored a strategic victory, but at a heavy tactical cost as the well sited Italian defensive trenches and fortifications provided a very tough challenge for the British to assault. With supporting artillery and mortar fire being hard to come by for the British, the three platoons of the British company in the sector quick came under heavy fire and went to ground, a substantial number being pinned down in the desert with little sign of support of reinforcements.
Despite the casualties, the resilience of the British troops drew considerable admiration, as did the professionalism of a clearly tough detachment of Italian troops. I chalked up a fine tactical win for Rob and Elton, but a strategic win for the plucky British team.
Morning Game - Western Sector
Elsewhere on the front lines the British were having more success, particularly in the West where an outflanking manouevre had seen British and Australian troops penetrating the Italian trenches and driving the enemy back.
The Italian forces, heavily engaged by aggressive British commanders in the West and Central Sectors, could do little to prevent the British armoured thrust piercing the defensive line and driving hard against the Italian second line forces.
Lunchtime Game – “The Tobruk 2,000 Guineas”
Lunchtime saw a fun, quick game in which the British armoured column ran the gauntlet of a massed battery of Italian anti-tank guns.
In the end the British armoured forces managed to crunch the Italian guns...but at a cost. The results of the British cavalry charge were to have a significant impact on the afternoon’s games, as four Matildas were either destroyed or immobilised with a variety of mechanical problems.
It was fantastic to see our old chum Martin Kay skilfully managing the Italians in this game – a very welcome sight for all gamers after Martin’s bad car crash earlier this year. Continue getting back to full health, mate!
Afternoon Games – Around Tobruk
The afternoon games were a series of very hard fought engagements around Tobruk taken from Rob Avery’s top-notch “Operation Compass” supplement for IABSM. I umpired an engagement on 21 January 1941 in which the Australians were forced to defend against a well organised Italian counter-attack of nine medium tanks (M13/40s), backed up by a company sized force of hesitant Italian infantry. Egg and Joe joined me as the Italian players, with Gerard, Edward and Zippee returning as the British.
In a swirling dust storm and with smoke wreathing the field, visibility was low, allowing the Italian armoured thrust to advance significantly on the Australian line before being spotted. Once identified, a variety of anti-tank weapons, including a captured Italian 47/32 ATG, took a toll on the advancing Italian armour, aided by a single Matilda which had been allocated after the lunchtime game.
The game swung either way before ending in a stalemate as the Italian troops found it hard to press forward as, one after another their tank support was knocked out, immobilised or otherwise badly damaged. However, the Italians were also unable to claim the field, their own ability to advance being constrained by their single Matilda bogging in soft sand. The loss of the British tanks in the lunchtime game against the Italian guns was keenly felt.
In all, a fantastic days gaming played in a wonderful spirit and with some great moments. My only disappointment was not being able to keep a better track of what was happening on other tables, owing to being pretty busy umpiring on my own. There certainly seemed to be some hard fighting taking place, with Australians ripping into Italian L3 tankettes as if they were sardine cans....
My thanks to everyone taking part, old and new, and a very warm welcome to Joe Legan of Platoon Forward fame, playing his first game in England after being posted with the USAF for three years.
First of many, we hope, Joe!