Sunday, 23 July 2017

South African Border War - Battle of Cuito Cuanavale

Operation Hooper was an SADF & UNITA attempt to destroy FPLA forces guarding the approaches to Cuito Cuanavale in Angola. On the 13th January 1988 FPLA 59th Brigade pushed UNITA back and occupied their positions. The following morning SADF units counterattacked 59th Brigade, whilst UNITA forces put in diversionary attacks on adjacent sections of the Angolan army line, to prevent them being able to support 59th Brigade. With 59th Brigade forced to withdraw, Cuban tanks and mech infantry pushed up to prevent 59th Brigades destruction, by turning the SADF flank.

Comrade Chas really likes to get into character when he plays Cuban

Battle of Cuito Cuanavale

We played using my SADF and Chas's FPLA & Cubans in 15mm, to "Cold war Commander" rules.
These are fast play rules, with an emphasis on command and control. Each vehicle or stand of troops
represents a platoon and commanders give orders to platoons or groups. Whether these orders are acted on, is determined by a die roll that must be under or equal to the commanders rating to succeed.

The game opened with my Oliphant tank company (think Centurion 105s) and Ratel 20 battalion
pushing up through the centre, supported by an SP AT company (Eland & Ratel 90s) and a battery of
Ystervark AAA. This provoked an aggressive response from the FPLA, with a T55 company and two
companies of infantry pushing out of their positions and moving towards the SADF making good use
of cover.

The SADF now had some command and control problems, which led to a halt in their advance and
the SP company failed to act on orders to move and bring the T55s under fire. Grasping the seriousness of the situation, the commander sent the Oliphants to take a position in scrub on a low
rise, to protect the flank of the SADF attack.

With the Ratels back on the move, the SP AT company brought the FPLA shell scrape trenches under
fire. This drew a vicious response from the BM 21 batteries, with the FAO calling in accurate fire on
the Elands, forcing them to fall back and inflicting casualties.

Not to be out done the SADF FAO called deadly fire down on the FPLA trenches from two batteries of G6 SP artillery.

Seeing their allies suffering, a company of Cuban T55s and a battalion of mech infantry tried to flank
the SADF attack. Taking fire from the Oliphants, the Cubans sought to use cover and redirected their
APCs to directly support the FPLA trenches. The Cuban commander sought to order the nearest FPLA unit to follow him. They considered the instruction and shot him dead.

With the FPLA FAO suppressed, the Ratels moved up to cover on a ridge and brought the FPLA under more fire. A mortar company now joined in and things looked bleak for the FPLA, as the supporting Cuban APCs and FPLA tanks were suppressed and taking casualties from the G6 barrage.

Rallying his suppressed T 55s, the FPLA commander threw caution to the wind and sent them racing
across open ground towards the Ratels, only to cross the Oliphant gun line. The Oliphants were given the order to engage, only to fail to respond and the opportunity was missed. The SADF commander reacted and the FAO called down 155mm fire on the T55s. Bad time for a blunder and a worse one to call fire on your own position. Having suppressed himself, the FAO took cover.

As the T55s fired on the Ratels, the SADF lost a platoon of IFVs. Things looked bad, but Karl Gustav fire from infantry deployed by the Ratels, knocked out a number of tanks and the G6 fire suppressed the rest.

With Cuban T 55s moving up, mounting SADF casualties caused their commander to order the
Oliphants to cover the Brigade's withdrawal.

A good game, played in good spirit, with more "blunder rolls" than I have seen in ages. The result
was historical, with the FPLA getting mullered, the Cubans taking casualties, but rising SADF losses
forcing a withdrawal. Naturally both sides claimed victory.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Dark Age Dust Up - Crusader

This was the first outing of Nick’s newly reconstituted Romano British and Saxons and very nice they are too.

The game set up with the Brits on the top of the hill guarding two exits. It was up to the Saxons to attempt to use one of these exits to get off the table and so win.

On the Brit left Dave set his troops up behind some very convenient walls and waited for hell to be

Steve M had the middle/right with troops which were obviously very hard core and also waited. There was a lot of waiting.

The Saxons countered this by putting a holding force of three Levy Warband’s opposite Steve M’s really, really very good troops. This should be emphasised. These troops were commanded by Steve L.

Steve H (not to be confused with Mr Steve) had the Saxon right with the bulk of the Saxon forces.
His job was to force an exit at the best possible speed and win the game for the good guys.

Things on the Saxon left started as a lot of games do with an awful lot of nothing but a few arrows
being shot. I suspect that Steve M could not believe that we would be dumb enough to face him
with such a small force and was obviously laughing fit to burst that he forgot that he might be able
to come off the hill and give me a right royal shafting. No he wasn't laughing he was waiting.

Meanwhile on the Saxon right Steve H started his assault up the hill into the teeth of a ferocious
defence be put up by Dave and his very plucky Brits. Saxon warband’s are point in the right direction
and let them go and as long as it is straight ahead you have half a chance of them doing some damage.

Steve’s warbands went at the walls hacking and yelling and gradually started to push the Brits back.
The Saxons were now joined by their allies, the Irish. The ferocious little beggars went at everything
in sight and, along with the Saxons were winning their way through.

Meanwhile up comes turn 4. The moment Steve M was waiting for. Ian’s cavalry arrives, good they
are too, straight into the left flank of a warband. Mayhem. I think it was Napoleons heavy cavalry
suited and booted and transported back in time. Anyway these guy’s put the warband to rout and
now comes a whole series of rout’s forcing the Saxons back to the mass and their leader who is
waiting to try and rally them.

We now got into a problem with the rules as we could not see how the routing units could continue
to fight normally but we could not see where this was covered in the rules perhaps someone could
point us in the right direction.

To try and hold the Brit cavalry the Saxons committed their Noble Cavalry but as it was only a small
unit, all it could do was enable the routing warbands to fall back to the commander who managed,
temporarily, to rally them. The Brits were relentless though and eventually wiped out the Noble
cavalry and then tried to attack the Saxon Noble infantry.

Steve M having waited, and seen where the attack was going decided not to impede Ian’s cavalry,
turned to his left and marched off to add his weight and support to Dave’s plucky Brits. Steve H has by this time almost pushed Dave off the table but had nothing left to deal with Steve M’s
troops as well.

As much as I was goading Nick by telling him I was going to write this up as a crushing win to the Saxons, I have, with all honesty and gritted teeth, to admit that it was in reality a decisive Romano/British victory.

Despite our few issues with the rules it did move quite quickly and very bloodily and I think everyone enjoyed the game.

Our thanks to Nick for allowing us to use his nice figures, although I believe he now is going to
replace some of the figures because he doesn't like them. By the way the only breakage was by Nick
himself as he was putting them away.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Operation Goodwood - Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier

British tanks and infantry on the start line for Operation Goodwood

This month, seventy-three years ago on the 18th July 1944 saw massive British and American bombing attacks on German positions south west of Caen that heralded the beginning of Operation Goodwood spearheaded by three British Armoured Divisions 7th, 11th and Guards as General Bernard Montgomery attempted to use his tanks to overwhelm the German defences and break out on to the Bourguebus Ridge behind the city.

Operation Goodwood
Steve Uden's Scenario - Goodwood2

The controversy over this battle has raged ever since the attack came to a close on the 20th July 1944 with one side declaring the operation a massive failure when considering the aspirations of the attack to breakout from the Caen area and the territory gained for the amount of bombs dropped and the tanks and their crews lost in the battle.

The opposite view would point to the liberation of Caen, the considerably fewer British casualties when compared to the huge losses in infantrymen suffered during the previous Epsom campaign at a time when tanks were easily replaced in days, but when Britain was straining to maintain the strength of its infantry divisions after five years of war.

In addition the supporters would point to the fact that the attack continued to hold the remaining German armour front and centre around Caen and indeed caused significant damage to the reserve formation 1. SS Leibstandarte; allowing the success of Operations Cobra and Bluecoat to be the campaign turning battles that they were, once the limited German armour on those fronts were overcome and indeed the three British armoured divisions would be in the forefront of the Bluecoat offensive.

Ian Dalglish's book is a great read for those interested in this battle

The fact is that General Montgomery, a rather polarising individual, attracted as many opponents as he did supporters and his pronouncements about his aims for this attack and the gains made were always likely to be a subject for much dispute in an era when the egos of the commanding generals were often much bigger than the conflict itself.

From a personal perspective Goodwood holds memories of my father's involvement in the battle as a 19 year old OP sergeant in the 55th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, Guards Armoured Division and many holiday trips to France and Belgium in the 70's.

He recounted the memories of moving out through the fields of high standing wheat and using the machine guns on the OP tank to check out the closed terrain for pockets of enemy troops.

The few accounts from my Dad were brought to life in 2005 by the late Ian Dalglish's book, Over the Battlefield, Operation Goodwood, which marries the accounts of those involved with the aerial reconnaissance photographs taken at the time as the battle raged below.

So on to our game which saw us marrying a scenario by Steve Uden (see the link above for a PDF of the scenario) with the rules we chose to try out, namely the third edition of Dave Brown's "Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier" rules.

Most of the time we tend to play at a lower level for WWII, namely "I Aint Been Shot Mum" and "Chain of Command" for Company and Platoon level games, but this scenario demanded a higher level set and so we decided to give these a go.

The table below is our interpretation of the map for the scenario which sees the spearhead armoured group from 11th Armoured Division, 2nd Fife and Forfarshire Yeomanry with its three squadrons of Sherman tanks supported by a 25lbr RHA field artillery battery and a company of armoured infantry.

The orders were straight forward enough, make a rapid advance though the German rear areas between the villages of Cagny and Grentheville and exit the armour of the southern table edge. Opposition was expected to be light given that the German line had been rapidly penetrated after the allied air-forces had done their stuff and it was important to consolidate well into the German rear area.

Our table looking south from the British start line - Prieure to the left and Le Mesnil Frementel dead ahead and the gap beyond between Cagny and Grentheville on the Caen railway line.

Of course the German defenders were by no means defeated or a 'light opposition' and the Fife and Forfars could expect significant opposition from 125th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, 21st Panzer Division with three kompanie's of panzer grenadiers supported by three kompanies of 'Becker' converted assault guns, lightly armoured but packing formidable fire-power with the Pak 40 75mm guns and 105mm howitzers. There mission, simply to knock out British armour.

In addition we chose to include, though there is much doubt as to them being there, the battery of 88mm Flak guns directed to bring their guns to bear on the British tanks by Major Hans von Luck himself, threatening their commander under gun point to follow his directions immediately. Whatever the truth, it makes a great story.

The view from German lines - British start line to the left, Grentheville centre front, Cagny centre back
So with the table and troops all sorted we were off with the first two squadrons of British tanks entering the table with A Squadron moving into the bombed out ruins of Prieure to provide overwatch on B squadron as it advanced towards Le Mesnil Frementel.

As the British tanks cautiously approached the French village, German infantry were observed scurrying about among the buildings attracting a 'brassing up' from the tanks as they approached.

However the arrival of the British armour had not gone unnoticed and a serious 'stonk' on Prieure confirmed the fact to any doubters, with several tanks suffering light damage under the barrage of 'moaning minnies' and causing hatches to go buttoned.

A Squadron 2nd F&F Yeomanry enter the bombed out remains of Le Prieure

With radio messages going between the two lead squadrons about the German infantry in Le Mesnil, the decision was made to bypass the village and press on to the railway leaving the area to be mopped up by the infantry behind.

I think we have been spotted! A Squadron amid the shell bursts and bomb craters
 As B Squadron advanced A  Squadron drove across their rear to support with a call out to the reconnaissance troop and their faster Stuart light tanks to press on up the road the Grentheville and alert the following sabre squadrons to any trouble up ahead.

As A Squadron get a pasting, B Squadron enter centre right
The movement of the British tanks towards their right flank on to the Gentheville road caused a certain amount of congestion as two squadrons and a reconnaissance troop sought to press forward with tanks brassing up Le Mesnil as they passed by.

The view from German lines as the British tanks rumble on to table
The congestion only attracted another nebelwerfer attack and the lighter tanks suffered considerably more damage postponing any rapid move up the road ahead.

A 75mm 'Becker' conversion was a formidable weapon in the open fields around Caen. These vehicles were converted French tanks modified by a Major Becker to add urgent armoured fire-power to the 21st Panzer Division after it was destroyed in North Africa.

Then to add to the woes of the British tank crews, as the lead troop of B Squadron edged past Le Mesnil a kompanie of 'Beckers' made their presence known by opening up on the flank of the British tanks.

B Squadron move past Le Mesnil as the Becker kompanie open fire

The leading tanks erupted in flashes of flame and billowing smoke as crew fell from the sides of their vehicles into the wheat.

All was confusion as the radio crackled for a situation report, only to be answered by an ominous hiss.

Suddenly a chaos of burning tanks as the lead elements are hit from the flank
With the killing zone entered, yet more German guns opened fire, with the infantry in Le Mesnil launching a desperate panzerfaust attack to get in on the battle.

The command were keen to have up to date progress on the attack with regular overflights
Major von Luck drove into Cagny just as his grenadiers opened their battle with Fife & Forfars  B Squadron and by simply unbuttoning the flap on his Walther pistol holster, the Flak battery were about their business sending 88mm shells in among the British tanks.

The 88's open a devastating fire from the outskirts of Cagny
With B Squadron practically gutted by the initial German attack, A Squadron moved through the smoke of burning tanks to open fire on the enemy vehicles observed in Le Mesnil.

Von Luck issues orders to his kompanie commander.
 As the two Beckers tried to relocate, the lead vehicle exploded as it took hits from a Sherman 75mm.

The Cagny road was marked by a line of burning British tanks
 The Flak guns did their best to cover the Becker's in their retreat and poured on the fire from Cagny.

That house has a rather large shrubbery in the front garden!
Now fully aware of the hold up in Le Mesnil and Cagny Colonel Scott commanding Fife and Forfars issued immediate orders to take the pressure off his leading squadrons.

The OP for the 13th Horse Artillery battery was ordered to get eyes on Cagny and deal with the 88's, with C Squadrons to be sent forward in support.

A Squadron start to move through the wrecked B Squadron tanks 
Meanwhile A squadron were ordered to take the lead from B Squadron, neutralise the Beckers in Le Mesnil and close on the railway an Gretheville.

The final order went to F Company, 8th Rifle brigade to send forward their mortar OP to bombard Le Mesnil and deal with the German infantry observed earlier, whilst standing by to support C Squadron tanks.

The first Becker gets 'marked down' in Le Mesnil

The Becker conversions, a typical German 'make do' option to support their infantry in Normandy, saw the bringing together of excellent German guns with lightly armoured early war French chassis captured in the Blitzkrieg.

The combination provided a mobile anti-tank/artillery support for the panzer grenadiers in the rebuilt 21st Panzer Division.

Each zug would have a 105mm conversion, seen here, to add high explosive fire support to the anti-tank capability

With the threat by the following British tanks to push on through Grentheville the next kompanie of Becker's revealed themselves on the outskirts of the village.

However the British tankers were on full alert to the threat and it was the German crews that took the first hits with the 105mm zug dispersed from the field.

Beckers reveal themselves in Grentheville
Then the fire from the remaining 75mm zugs started to hit A Squadron as it pressed forward.

The OP tank gets eyes on Cagny and radios in the coordinates
Some respite was granted when the 25lbr shells from the Royal Horse Artillery fell, right on target, as their OP directed the fire on the 88mm Flak guns observed on the edge of Cagny.

This was supported by C Squadron moving through Prieure and dispatching the last Becker left in Le Mesnil

The fire from Grentheville holds the advance at the railway
Taking full advantage of the threat removed from Cagny, C Squadron pressed on towards the village putting more fire on Le Mesnil as it passed.

The Beckers in Le Mesnil are neutralised as C Squadron move in towards Cagny

Finally the first elements of the 8th Rifle Brigade moved up in support as the 3" Mortar OP drove forward to get a view of Le Mesnil.

The Rifles bring forward their mortar OP to deal with the remaining resistance in Le Mesnil
With two hours of battle completed the British armoured attack was stymied on the railway line jousting with the remaining Becker kompanie in Grentheville.

The 'High Water Mark' for the attack by the 2nd Fire and Forfar
Then just as C Squadron of the Fife and Forfars moved on towards Cagny the rear tanks were struck from behind as another Becker kompanie moved into Prieure in the wake of the British tanks.

C Squadron come under attack from the rear at La Prieure as the Rifles move into the village to deal with the threat
The German attack was the last straw as far as the British attack was concerned and although the Rifles company coming up through Prieure took out a Becker with PIAT fire and threatened to overwhelm the others, the damage to the British armour had done enough, just as the third line of defence opened fire with two Pak 40's deployed in and around Le Poirer on the German base line.

Our table-top battle played out very much as the accounts seem to portray the actual thing, with the British tanks getting pummelled in the so called "good tank country" that typified the open cornfields south west of Caen. That said, once the German positions were identified then, with all that armour on hand, retribution could also be swift and permanent with the Royal Horse guns particularly useful in dealing with the threat from Cagny.

Looking at the damage sustained I reckon the Fife and Forfars could have probably got a couple of squadrons together with a bit of a recovery period to bring up crew replacements and deal with damaged but running vehicles, but were struggling to press their attack much further over the rail line right there and then as their orders required.

The rules played smoothly without too much looking up and, with experienced gamers around the table, very often confirmed what we had already thought should happen which was a good sign. This higher scale of game is not what I would normally play for WWII, preferring the lower level sets, but I like these for the larger game and am sure we will give them another go.

Thanks to Bob, Nathan, Mike and Si for a very entertaining game and it was nice to get my toys out for a change of period.