June 1941. A most unlikely conflict has broken out between two former Allies. Vichy French airfields in the Levant have been used by the Lufwaffe to support an uprising in Iraq, and Britain has decided that enough is enough. A task force has been assembled to move north into the Lebanon and Syria to take control of the area for the Free French and safeguard British oil supplies. Unexpectedly Vichy forces resist strongly, fighting for the honour of France.
That’s the introduction to the game of IABSM that Bevan and I played on Sunday evening. An unusual game featuring Australians versus French in the desert.
The terrain was as seen in the photos: 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.
As I was convinced that the Aussies would have a very hard time of it, I gave Bevan the choice of which force to take (having first voiced my concerns!), but he suggested we roll for it. A die was duly rolled, and I ended up with the Aussies!
The Aussies began the action by bringing as many Blinds onto the table as possible down the road running off to the south-east. I led with a couple of dummy Blinds, then my tanks and carriers, then an infantry platoon.
Things got interesting very quickly, as I sent a dummy Blind up the hill to my right to make sure that flank was properly clear. It made immediate contact with a platoon of French infantry (3ieme Platoon, three squads) which, as the person running the game, came as quite a shock to me, as I knew the French briefing said that they couldn’t deploy south of the olive grove!
[Why, if I knew that, did I send scouts up there anyway? Well, because my troops didn’t know it, and it was therefore the right thing to do.]
I pointed this out to Bevan, who re-read his briefing and realised that I was right. It was too late to worry about it, however, so I suggested we just carry on and put the mistake down to the fog of war.
Meanwhile, the French had their binoculars out, and had spotted all my Blinds. They had also called in their 60mm mortars…one of which scored a direct hit on one of my light tanks, causing it to bounce up and down enough to disrupt its next Activation.
Even worse, they then called in their off-table 75’s: which arrived extremely quickly and accurately right in the middle of my recce vehicles. One MMG carrier was destroyed by another direct hit, and the others all losing Activations.
Two could play at that game, however. My FOO and CinC called in my artillery, which also arrived quickly and, even if not so accurately as the French artillery, started causing 3ieme Platoon all sorts of problems.
Meanwhile my other two infantry platoons, still on Blinds, and the non-MMG carriers, began bypassing my artillery-stricken armour.
I now realised that Bevan’s accidental placement of 3ieme platoon gave me a great opportunity to destroy a third of his force in isolation. I decided to ignore the French artillery as much as possible, and just use my artillery (firing twice as fast as their French counterparts), the three HMGs on my tanks, my remaining MMG carrier, and 3rd Platoon to pulverise the 3ieme.
All this, however, took time, and before I knew it, a rather ominous French Blind had appeared north of Ras Begus.
No matter, there wasn’t anything I could do about it for the moment, so it was time to investigate the French Blind on the hillside just north of the olive trees.
This turned out to be the 2ieme French platoon…also, it appeared, quite isolated: although the French MMGs, led by the French company commander, had by now moved forwards into the wadi.
Meanwhile things had got petty critical for 3ieme platoon: to the stage where their commander used the French's Heroic Commander card to charge two MkVI tanks on his own!
As 3ieme Platoon were just about done for, my FOO and the Aussie company commander shifted my artillery onto 2ieme platoon. At the same time, a platoon of Aussie infantry took up good cover positions in amongst the olive trees and began exchanging fire with the 2ieme, with a tank moving up to add the weight of its HMG to the fled flying towards the French.
To counter this threat, the lead French MMG team climbed up the side of the wadi and took up positions on its lip, and prepared to pour fire into the olive grove at point blank range.
The French were obviously on a roll, as their tanks then de-cloaked from their Blind, charging forwards (well as charging as an R-35 can do!) to engage my light tanks.
Everything then happened very quickly.
Firstly, the final Aussie infantry platoon, still on a Blind, jumped down into the wadi and charged the first French MMG team, which was now facing the wrong way. The platoon’s ATR team also climbed the opposite side of the wadi and began shooting into the lead R-35 from a distance of about 25 yards. They couldn’t miss, and despite its thick armour (AC5), the R-35 started accumulating a shock very quickly…especially when the light tanks and ATR rifle from the platoon that had by now dispersed the 3ieme joined in as well. Before it could do anything, really, the R-35 crew abandoned ship, running off towards the town…followed by the other two R-35s who obviously didn’t relish any sort of stand up fight!
The French 2ieme platoon also crumbled: continually hit by artillery fire, the HMG on a light tank, the Bren on a carrier, and some very fine shooting from the Aussies in the olives.
The French were now pinned into Ras Begus itself, with the final French Blind revealed as their final infantry platoon, now reinforced with the two R-35s and the only remaining MMG. The French were also about to lose two Big Men: both the 3ieme’s commander and the company commander were swept away by the Aussie platoon emerging from the wadi as they retreated towards the village.
Up came the British FOO’s card, and I announced that I was shifting the fire of my artillery again: this time onto Ras Begus itself. That was it: the single French platoon, with two tanks and the MMG, now faced three still-strong Aussie platoons, three tanks and three carriers. That meant they couldn’t really take the fight to the Aussies, but had to sit in Ras begus and wait for their enemy to attack. The problem, of course, was that I now didn’t need to attack: all I had to do was watch my artillery turn the village into rubble, then move in and mop up what was left. Although I like to think that the French downed their rifles and surrendered, given the quality of their troops, they probably managed to successfully retreat off the table with only a handful more casualties.
Much to my surprise, victory was mine.
Discussing the game afterwards, Bevan and I concluded that the French had positioned their three infantry platoons too far apart to give proper support to each other. This enabled me to focus on each platoon in turn, using a combined arms approach (artillery, infantry, armour) to hammer each one flat one by one.
I thought the three French tanks would be a deciding factor in the French’s favour (I just couldn’t see how I was going to deal with AC5 armour with ATRs and HMGs/MMGs), but the French hurled them forwards and let me get up close to their flanks with multiple weapons. After the first tank’s crew had bailed, the others spent all their remaining time retreating out of danger, leaving me clear to use my armour on the French infantry with impunity.
Whatever the result, it had been a great game…one that we will be re-fighting in the very near future.