Saturday 13 September 2014

'Operation Husky' Sicily 1943

After reading my friend Keiths' Breakout scenario AAR on his Blog, it occured to me that I hadn't had a game of BKCII in absolutely ages. I had played this scenario a few times before, each time with the Defenders being soundly beaten. I quickly resolved to give this another, albeit, solo run out at the earliest opportunity. After some thought I decided to give my Italians and Brits a chance to get on the table, as neither had seen the light of day for some time.

Despite successful landings on Sicily, the British XIII Corps was meeting determined resistance from both Italian and German units inland. The British 5th Infantry Division under Major-General Horatio Pettus Mackintosh Berney-Ficklin (I kid you not) however was able to make some inroads onto the Catania Plain, with the 13th Infantry Brigade in the lead. The scale and speed of the advance led to elements of the Italian 'Napoli' Division becoming encircled by the British forces.

In the vanguard of these was the 2nd Battalion, the Wiltshire Regiment, who had reached a small village, situated at an important crossing over the Ficuzza river. Here they were ordered to halt, to prevent the withdrawl of the encircled Italian units. Unbeknown to them, the Italians had managed to organise a simultaneous attack, with the encircled Italians trying to breakout at the same time as a relief force attacked the British in the rear.

The background 'fluff' has some basis in fact. The 'Napoli'Division performed very well, often in conjuction with the German Kampfgruppe Schmalz. They performed a very good delaying action throughout the Sicilian campaign, often giving the Allies a 'bloody nose'. Italian armoured units did breakthrough the 2nd Battalion, the Wiltshire Regiment's defensive line in their attempt to breakthrough to the coast. So the stereotypical view of the fighting qualities of the Italian soldier is not always true.

Scenario 9. Break-out 
The scenario was played as written in terms of deployment, forces etc. Our usual 'house rules' regarding automatic suppression, hits stay on etc were used. I made the following tweaks to reflect it being a solo game:
  • I divided the British deployment zone into six areas. Each of these areas was randomly given a number between 1-6. When the Italians used their pre-planned assets, whether air or artillery, I would roll a D6 and the attack would be centred on the relevant area. This way I could deploy my British without knowing exactly where the Italian strikes would land.
  • For the British registered targets, I did the same, chosing only two areas. Again, I would not know until I called in the strike where it would land. 
  • I found that this simple system worked really, really well and so will be using it in future games where relevant.

Orders of Battle
For the forces, I took some artistic liberties, mainly to reflect the miniatures at my disposal, which I've listed below:
  • I started with the Brits, which I initially rated as 'veteran' for the infantry. However this left me with too few units and a very low breakpoint, so I made them 'regular' instead. I felt with too low a breakpoint, the game would be too easy for the Italians.
  • I had two Shermans to start with, but changed one for a Honey, as I felt two Shermans might be too powerful. Also I wanted to field the Honey as it rarely gets a look in.
  • The British force came to around 1,400 pts. This meant that the Italians would have 2,800 pts at their disposal.
  • With so many points to play with, I had to rate the Italian infantry as 'veteran', which soaked up points but also reflected their performance in the battles for Sicily.
  • For the Command units, it was a similar case of soaking up points, reflecting their leadership during the campaign and also making the game flow better.
  • In reality the Italians had few tank units on the island, mainly consisting of captured French R-35s. As I had none painted up, I chose to use my Semoventes instead, which I've wanted to get on the table for ages.
  • The L3/35 tankettes were more than likely not present on the island, but I cannot be sure. However I needed to gain some extra armour to add some punch to the Italian forces as well as to use up points. I love these tankettes so was happy to allow artistic licence to dictate force choice. The same was true of the flamethrower variant.
  •  At the start of the campaign, the Allies had limited air support as they had no bases to operate from on Sicily, whereas the Axis could fly the short distance from the Italian mainland. To reflect this I ignored the air superiority rules and thus allowed the German and Italian planes unmolested attacks. This seemed to reflect the situation in the air quite well I thought.

2nd Battalion The Wiltshire Regt, 13th Infantry Brigade,  5th Infantry Division
1 x CO (CV9)
1 x HQ (CV8)
1 x FAO (CV8)
1 x FAC (CV8)
9 x Regular Infantry (3 with PIAT upgrade)
2 x MG
1 x 3" Mortar
1 x 6 pdr AT gun
'A' Squadron 1st 'Royal' Dragoons
1 x Honey Light Tank
1 x Sherman Medium Tank
91st Field Regt Royal Artillery
3 x Batteries 25 pdrs (with 1 x registered target)
253 Squadron RAF
1 x Hurricane ground attack

76th Infantry Regt & 173rd 'Blackshirts' Legion, 54th 'Napoli' Infantry Division 
1 x CO (CV8)
4 x HQ (CV8)
1 x FAO (CV8)
2 x Infantry Recce
18 x Veteran Infantry (6 with ATR upgrade)
4 x MG
2 x ATG
2 x Mortar
Battlegroup 'D'
3 x Semovente 75/18
3 x L3/35
1 x L3/35 flamethrower
54th Artillery Regt
 3 x 75mm artillery (with 3 smoke and 3 HE assets)
Air Support
1 x Bomber (with asset)
1 x Stuka (with asset)

The British deployed in the central 1/3 of the table, as per the scenario. Given that they could not take any field defences, they naturally chose the buildings and Roman ruins. The Italians used mobile deployment, with the breakout force (173rd 'Blackshirts' Legion) on the right and the break in force (76th Infantry Regt) on the left.

The Italians in their jump off positions.

The majority of the British troops deployed in and around the two buildings by the road junction.

The remainder in the Roman temple ruins, with a lone Sherman in reserve.

Turn 1
The attack started with a smoke barrage, that landed on the ruins and stretched back towards the small farmhouse, effectively blinding a large amount of the 2nd Wiltshires. Out of the early dawn comes the sound of a bomber as its attack lands by the small farmhouse, resulting in two suppressed infantry units. Smoke and BUA prevent any AA fire. The Italian troops then leave their jump off points and all move onto the table, which by the end of thei trun leaves them in a good position.

With the smoke preventing the FAO from seeing any targets, the FAC calls in a Hurricane to attack the advancing 'Blackshirts', only for AA fire to drive it off, barely avoiding being shot down. The 2nd Wiltshire left flank fails their command roll, probably because they have so much smoke in their eyes. On the right, the CO orders the Honey to move into the orchard to get a better shot at the advancing Semovente, whilst mortar fire suppresse and mg unit.

The smoke barrage arrives, courtesy of the 54th artillery regiment.

The Italian airforce makes a suprise, but welcome attack.

Heading towards its target.

The Italian advance in full swing.

The RAF arrive, only to flee the intense ack-ack.

The Italian forces are already in a great position at the end of Turn 1. Only 11 more to go...

Turn 2
The Italian 54th artillery regiment once again delivers a barrage, this time of HE, centred on the small farmhouse. Despite it being a barrage and the 2nd Wilstshire in BUAs, it results in 2 infantry units, 1 mg unit, the Sherman and CO being suppressed! To add insult to injury, the Luftwaffe come to the party in the form of a Stuka, that attacks the same farmhouse, with another unit suppressed and one destroyed.

The breakout force stutters a bit as the right flank of the'Blackshirts' fails its command roll. However the left flank moves and shoots with the Semovente and ATG supressing the Honey in the orchard. The CO not to be outdone advances the L3/35s forward but Blunders, which results in them moving to the edge of the cornfield, which is just what he intended.

The 76th infantry regiment, buoyed up by the artillery and aistrike no doubt, advance forward on both flanks. The left advance into the cornfield ready to threaten the Sherman that is so far blissfully unaware of their presence. On the right the Semoventes and L3/35 flamethrower move into the cornfield and prepare to attack the famrhouse. Unsuprisingly the flamethrower makes short work of a Wiltshires infantry unit.

With the smoke gone, the FAO calls in a concentration on the'Blackshirts' Semovente. With 18 die being rolled, it could get bloody, which it does. The ATG, an infantry unit and Semovente all succumb to the bombardment. However, the HQ that is also caught in the fire, receives not one hit! Miffed at the amount of ack-ack last turn, the RAF return to add their weight to the defensive fire, only to see all his attacks miss, despite the unit being fully in the open. With the 2nd Wiltshires CO supressed and few targets in view for the infantry, the only result is a suppressed 'Blackshirts' mg unit.

The Stuka comes down, Jericho sirens screaming, to add his weight of fire to that already achieved by the artillery.

The Italians are now in a very good position...

He shoots ..... He misses!

Turn 3
With all the assets used up, the Italian FAO calls in concentrated fire on the farmhouse, resulting in the suppression of all the occupants, which are 2 infantry units, an mg unit and the FAC. The 'Blackshirts' right and left flanks fail their command rolls, but the CO then shows them how to do it. The L3/35 tankettes and mortar unit combine their fire, resulting in the Honey brewing up, an mg unit destroyed, with an infantry unit suppressed and then retreating into the CO, suppressing him! Who said tankettes were useless?

Not to be outdone, the 76th infantry regiment left flank advances and destroys the Sherman with ATR fire, with the infantry and mortar units destroying an infantry unit in the small farmhouse, which they then proceed to occupy. On the right flank, the armour and infantry advance, only to fail their command roll at a crucial point.

Hmmm, things are NOT looking good for the Wiltshires at this point. Their FAO has no target, the FAC is supressed, the CO is supressed and the left flank fails its command rolls. It couldn't get much worse than that could it? Well they are close to their breakpoint now...
The Italians are pressing the British on all fronts.

The Italian armour makes its presence felt.

The 76th infantry regiment after destroying the Sherman, advance into the BUA.

Turn 4
The Italian FAO has no targets, so it is up to the infantry to finish things off. The 'Blackshirt' right flank finally gets moving and moves into the woods to avoid the British FAO and his potentially game changing artillery fire. More combined fire from the mortar and tankettes sees the destruction of another infantry unit, with the tankettes then overunning the FAC, who somehow manages to survive the assault...

... but only to move into the path of the L3/35 flamethrower, who does, unsurprisingly, finish him off. The Semoventes see the end of the British mortar unit in the orchard, with only the CO left their with nothing to command a apart from a lone infantry unit in the next building.

The weight of Italian fire has put the British on a breaktest, who despite being a -1 to the command roll pass it. However it is obvious that the Italians have won convincingly and so the British concede at this point.

The Italian armour end all hopes of resistance by the 2nd Wiltshires

The Italian victory is obvious.

Post Game Thoughts
Well once again the defenders in the scenario were well and truly beaten, this I think in record time. In reality the game was over by Turn 3, but I carried on just in case the British FAO could cause significant casualties with some concentrated artillery fire on the 'Blackshirts' Break Out force. This may have been enough to reduce the margin of victory for the Italians or, more improbably, have gained them a minor victory.

So why does this scenario seem to be so hard for the defender to win, or even gain a draw? A few thoughts in no particular order:
  • The defender has no access to any form of field defences. This really limits his ability to deploy his forces, as they will be very vulnerable when faced with artillery fire etc. unless in a BUA. I think the Defender should have the ability to be dug-in, hitting them say on a 5 or 6 with no save. 
  • Barbed wire could be made available, or even marked minefields, limited to one per 'Battalion'. 
  • The Italian assets proved to be very useful, smoke especially so. I could have had more, but it didn't feel right to me. I know that in this game, the HE and air attacks caused hits more than in other that I've played. 
  • "He who throws more die wins". I know that this is an old adage, but it is more often than not true. The Italians simply had more troops than the Brits and I was struggling to make up the numbers, even with my extra armour. I think the Italians were still shy some 200 pts, which could have bought more artillery or troops. They outnumbered the Brits by so much than I knew it was going to be a tough call for them. The same would be true of the Germans in '41 against hordes of Russians. Maybe the points difference between the two sides needs to be reduced.
  • The British artillery could have been a game changer. If the FAO had been able to get a good view of the exposed Break Out force, things could have been different. I don;t think ti would have affected the outcome, but it would have made things a lot closer.
  • Upping the Italian CVs to 8 certainly made the game flow, but I felt didn't unduly affect the game. In truth they made their command rolls easily, even if they had been at CV7. Afterall they still had 8 more turns in the game if they required.
  • If this game had been played on a 6'x4' table, I felt it would have been no contest. The defender simply has too much ground to cover, or if he delpoys say two Battalions, will face overwhelming odds on two fronts.
  • Flamethrowing tanks are lethal. Enough said.
  • The 6 pdr ATG has limited use without any HE ability at this point in the war. I forgot this and as a result it was useless for the whole game.
Despite all of the above, it was great to be playing BKCII again. I must reolve to try and play more, even on a 4'x4' table, which still gives a challenging game, albeit with smaller forces. I did enjoy having the Semoventes and L3/35 tankettes out on the table again. I must admit I have a soft spot for my Italians and am always happy when they win, even though I was the 'Defender' this time. So I'm not sure what to play next, but hopefully it won't be too long before I can get another game in.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Lion Rampant - more detailed info

After last nights first impressions post, it was pointed out to me that, quite rightly, I hadn't mentioned anything about the rules mechanics etc. Now rather than bore you all with my attempts to describe them, I refer you to Dan's Blog , which has all you really need to get an idea of how the game plays etc.

To get an idea of some of the contents of the book, as well as the overall look and feel, it is well worth checking out the Amazon preview, with their 'look inside' option. For some lovely AARs and figures, I'd recommend having a look at Dalauppror's Blog for some inspiration, if any is needed. It was his Blog that first got me interested in the whole Baltic Crusades malarky.

So I hope the above has been of use and I'm sure it gives more detail than I can at the present moment in time. With regards my own Retinues, I've decided to go down the 10mm route with my Pendraken miniatures that I bought earlier in the year for my Baltic Crusades project. I'm sure I've got eveything I need to start, so it is a case of sorting out what sort of Retinues I want to play and then what miniatures will fit. Happy Days! 

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Lion Rampant - first impressions

I had an unexpected, but pleasant, suprise today when I got home from work, as a complimentary copy of Lion Rampant, the new skirmish wargames rules from Dan Mersey,  were waiting for me. Sometime ago I had volunteered to help Dan to play test these new rules of his and, as a 'reward', we might receive a copy of the rules. Well it obviously was true!

So what are my first impressions? Well, they are...
  • The book is beautifully produced, as one would expect from Osprey Publishing. It has the usual amount of illustrations taken from the Osprey range as well as some lovely pics of miniatures from a variety of manufacturers.
  • It is very well laid out and as a result is easy to follow the rules, with a very useful flow diagram on page 14, for the Activation sequence. Other rulesets would benefit from something as simple and yet so useful as this.
  • "Games about knights should be fun". "Keep the rules simple". I think these quotes nicely sum up Dan's goals for the game and I think he has achieved them.
  • Figures are normally individually based, but there are guidelines on how to play with multibased figures.
  • There is a nice selection of sample Retinues at the end of the book; for the British Isles, Western Europe, Eastern europe and the Middle East & Spain. You can use these as is, or as a basis for your own. He has even added in classic Holywood ones for Robin Hood, King Arthur and Old School '70's Fantasy. So a pretty broad selection I think you'll agree.
  • There are 12 scenarios in all, with guides on how to link them together should you so wish to provide a sort of mini-campaign.
Having recently returned to skirmish wargaming with 'In Her Majesty's Name', I have been thinking of trying out some Medieval skirmish games using either 'Mordheim' or 'Lord of the Rings' rulesets. To be honset neither really grabbed me as being what I wanted. Ditto with 'Saga' and 'Dux Brittaniarum', both of which I felt trod over the same ground as 'Dux Bellorum', my go to ruleset for the 'Dark Ages'. Now with having 'Lion Rampant' in my hands, I think I have found the rules I've been looking for.
Now I have the task of deciding what figures to use as well as what Retinues to go for? The latter is easy given my 'Baltic Crusades' project, of which I already have plenty of 10mm figures to game with with 'Hail Caesar'. I can easily see these being used for 'A Game of Thrones' as well, as they  would certainly appeal to my kids, including my daughter (as long as I had a Tyrion Lannister character for her to play!) Time will tell on  this...
28mm is very tempting for the figures, especially given the wealth of 28mm plastic ranges available today. However this does raise the problem, as mentioned in my previous post, of figure and scenery storage. Given I have plenty to keep me occupied at present, I will mull over the figure 'problem' for a while before making a decision.

So all-in-all I heartily recommend these rules. I'm looking forward to giving these a run out in the future, so-much-so in fact that I may use my 'Dux Bellorum' warbands as a quick way to get my first game in.