Sunday, 18 November 2018

Attack on the Hajez Railway at Al Tafilah , 25th January 1918 - Chain of Command

Our club is fortunate to have several collections of 28mm miniatures and a good selection of terrain, suitable for battles set in the Middle East during the First World War; so we decided to put on a Lawrence of Arabia themed game. The scenario envisioned an attack by combined Anglo-Arab forces onto an important part of the Hajez Railway. The rules used were Chain of Command, by Too Fat Lardies, along with ideas borrowed from the various supplements they have published.

Order of Battle
The Anglo-Arab force was divided into three, Bedouin tribesmen under Prince Feisal, regular Hashemite Arab troops under Prince Abdullah and the 91st Punjabi Light Infantry under Subadar Khan. The Bedouin force was a large and zealous infantry and cavalry force, but without much in the way of support weapons; to make them zealous any adverse morale results were halved. The Hashemites were a balanced force of infantry with some support elements. The Punjabis were well supplied with support weapons and some cavalry but under strict orders not to incur many casualties; any adverse morale result were doubled. Lawrence was present in his Rolls-Royce “Blue Mist” and escorted by another armoured-car. Lawrence’s roll was more as an influencer on the two Arab forces and had no effect on the Indian troops.

The defending Turkish force was infantry based with limited entrenchments, poorly maintained wire and some support weapons. The Turks also had some doubtful Arab auxiliaries, both infantry and cavalry. At the end of each turn, a unit of Arabs would skedaddle, unless a chain of command dice was played to stop this. And finally there was one section of die-hard German infantry in the town, but not under Turkish command.

The Attack
The attack started with the Arab infantry deploying onto the table, followed by Turks manning their entrenchments. The Arab infantry took considerable punishment from the Turks until the Anglo-Arabic support units began to slowly knock-out Turkish units. The Punjabis’ contented themselves with laying down heavy support fire for the Arabs, but not much else. With the Arab losses mounting, Lawrence decided to enter the fray. The two vehicles under his command drove over to the Hashemite troops to urge them on, but it was almost a disaster. The Turks had cleverly concealed a 77mm gun which opened fire on the escorting armoured car. The first shell must have been a dud, as the target was struck but not damaged. The Turks didn’t make the same mistake again and knocked out the armoured car with a second shell. Blue Mist swerved away, but not before the Turkish gun got off a third shot wounding Lawrence.

But by now Turkish fire was slackening due to increasing casualties from British support weapons and Arab infantry made it up to and then crossed the wire. The Hashemites were now to face another danger as it became clear that the Turks had turned the mosque and its walled compound into a strong defensive position. Accurate rifle fire betrayed the presence of German infantry within the complex. Suddenly the gates opened as a unit of auxiliary Arab cavalry charged out. A few saddles were emptied but not before the cavalry hit a unit of Hashimites, which recoiled, but did not break. The next phase saw most of the auxiliary cavalry shot down. By now the Bedouins had brought up a huge force of mounted troops ready to charge into the town and finish the matter. Subadar Khan seeing the battle swing in favour of the Arabs ordered his men to fix bayonets and advanced. All this was too much for the Turks and their auxiliaries, who abandoned their positions and made the best of whatever escape they could. Some made it to the mosque compound but most just melted away.

But what of Lawrence himself I hear you asking? Well Lawrence had become distracted by the discovery of an abandoned German BMW motor cycle. At that moment he was smitten by the exhilaration of motorised two wheal transport – with tragic future consequences. By the time Lawrence regained his concentration on the matter in hand, it was pretty well all over. Lawrence drove over to the mosque complex in Blue Mist, identified himself as a British officer and called on the German troops to surrender. With the town full of wild Arabs, the Germans politely declined the offer, feeling safer inside the mosque walls. Two days later, after Lawrence and his Arabs had departed, a platoon from the 39th Battalion (Zion Legion) The Royal Fusiliers, marched into town. The German officer was pleased to surrender to one Sergeant Ben Gurion.

A view of the battle from the 'other side of the hill' with a captured report taken from a Turkish officer.

Please find below a report on the action at At-Tafilah, 25th January 1918:

Army intelligence reports pointed to a large Anglo-Arab force moving into Tafileh Province, In consequence, the fortification of our line was ordered, including my position at At-Tafilah . Consequently a number of emplacements were constructed on the edge of the town, to reinforce the single line barbed wire enclosure.

At first light on the 25th January, reports were received of enemy units being sighted on the ridgeline half a kilometre to the East of the town. Immediate orders were given to deploy a platoon from the 2nd company, 1st battalion, 47th Infantry regiment and a supporting HMG section, to the redoubts and surrounding buildings.

Soon after, British artillery batteries and HMGs could be seen setting up on the ridge, with hordes of
Bedouin tribesmen and British trained Arab infantry moving towards our position. We engaged the infantry and came under heavy fire from the artillery and machineguns on the high ground. The Bedouin infantry were cut down and forced back by our accurate fire, whilst the Arab infantry suffered severe losses, which slowed their advance to a crawl.

Our own casualties to British heavy weapons were starting to mount and so another platoon of infantry was deployed, together with some tribal infantry, to stiffen the line.

At this point, the British spy Lawrence, in an armoured motor car, arrived to encourage his men forward. In support he brought a Lanchester armoured car, which the coward used to shield himself
from our fire.

In view of the danger, our field piece was deployed and quickly knocked out the Lanchester, but attracted heavy fire from the ridge in return.

With enemy troops nearing the barbed wire, a section from the German mission took up position in buildings and fired on those at the wire, forcing a unit back. Our last two reserve sections were deployed to the streets, ready for hand to hand combat.

At this point more Bedouin infantry breached the wire on our left, whilst the Arab infantry moved into the streets on our right. As the situation was critical, our tribal horse charged the Arab troops and forced them back. Their retreat left the cavalry exposed to murderous artillery and HMG fire and they routed.

With casualties caused by British heavy weapons rising to 50%, the morale of the platoon on our left
of our line was at a dangerously low level and sections started to fall back. At this point a large number of Bedouin cavalry and camelry reinforcements crested the ridge and moved on the town.
As we were now heavily outnumbered, the position was untenable. In consequence a general withdrawal was ordered, to prevent our force being surrounded.

I remain Sir, your obedient servant,
Bimbashi Erdem Cakmak

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Stopping the Gap - I Aint Been Shot Mum (IABSM)

For one of our three games this month, Ian wheeled out his 15mm Normandy collection to stage a small fictitious battle from a free scenario designed by Richard Clarke using IABSM.

The scenario recreates what must have been one of many similar struggles going on in the closing days of the Normandy campaign in late summer of 1944 as the allies fought hard to close what became known to history as the 'Falaise Pocket'.

The briefing and our table set up sets the scene and the map below is based on the one I quickly scribbled together noting the opening positions of the German troops and with the red arrows indicating the likely path of the oncoming Tommies.

As the German commander of this scratch force the situation could only be described as a 'last man, last bullet' one with really the only objective to fight for as long as possible, causing as much damage and delay to the advancing British column before likely being overwhelmed.

The one possible hope of seriously damaging the British advance lay in the 105mm battery in support of my position in a similarly parlous state having lost its transport in the retreat and now resigned to delivering as much of its remaining ammunition in our support.

The picture below is seen from the eastern end (British) of the table with blinds laid and the card deck arranged ready to start.

The British blinds are placed on table ready to begin the British advance

As the British and German blinds became active, the usual pre-battle routine of spot the enemy began and Zug 2 together with the attached MMG under Obst.Fh. Christiansen got the drop on a British platoon advancing across fields to its front among a small group of houses at the front of the village.

Deploying off their blind, not placed on table as they were occupying heavy cover, the MG42 let fly with a long burst supported with additional rapid rifle fire from Zug 2 shredding the lead British section and sending it reeling back into the middle of the field.

Zug 2 and the MMG team open fire on the British in the next field

As the staccato of rapid small arms and machine-gun fire erupted on the German left flank, the unmistakable clanking and labouring engine noises from tanks were soon heard before being seen by Zug 1 occupying a shattered French cottage on the right flank beside the road and the hastily marked out dummy minefield.

Hopefully the appearance of mines across the road and the nearby ditches might hold the Tommies up long enough whilst they attempted to investigate it to allow the artillery observer to telephone back a fire mission.

Shock and casualties, the result of the German fire from the buildings beyond the hedges

The British tanks were soon identified as the lighter American Stuart types and understandably in such close terrain they were advancing in a cautious manner with supporting infantry either side of the road.

Unfortunately for Unst. Fh. Spielplatz and Zug 2 with their attention very much focused towards the road and the approaching tanks, they failed to observe the Tommy infantry moving in on their position on the extreme right through the hedgerows that allowed them to put in an immediate close assault that was beaten off but not without losing halve the men in the section.

The British tanks are soon spotted advancing cautiously up the hill road

With the battle well and truly under way, the British platoon caught in the field before Zug 1 rapidly fanned out attempting to get into cover behind the thick banked hedgerows as the 'plop, plop' puffs of mortar smoke rounds dropped in front of the German position severely restricting the visibility.

Meanwhile the centre British platoon coming abreast of their position opened up a lively fire on Christiansen's position and Zug 1 took early casualties, convincing their commander that now might be the time to pull back to another stop point, leaving the MMG team to cover the withdrawal.

Zug 1, their attention focused on the road about to be close assaulted by British infantry manning the hedges to their right

With an hour of battle already underway and British troops now clearly identified in front of the German position it became an immediate necessity to get some artillery support to reduce the pressure on the forward units and allow them to break off having caused initial casualties and now needing to relocate before becoming pinned and overwhelmed.

The British tank commanders nervously concentrating on scanning the nearby hedgerows with fingers firmly on the trigger

The British commanders were doing their best to stop the Germans identified to their front from escaping and feeling more confident that they had a better understanding as to where the initial threat was positioned brought the tanks forward to bolster the fire from the infantry with their 37mm guns firing small HE rounds at neighbouring buildings.

The British platoon rapidly reorganises after the shock of the first German attack issuing orders to the 2" mortar to lay smoke

The first attempt to call in artillery fire failed as did the second and thus both Zug commanders were forced to fall back as best they could without the cover of the German artillery and with the HQ in the village keen to keep the second MMG in reserve and undetected until the British closed in on the village itself.

 Obst.Fh. Christiansen leads the remains of Zug 2 back along the hedgerows having successfully broken contact

In the end both German infantry Zugs managed to break contact and start to work their way back into the village as best they could but not without casualties and the MMG team covering Zug 2 were wiped out in a close assault as the British infantry under cover of their smoke cleared the forward buildings on the German left.

As the British move up to the outskirts of the village the one remaining MMG team open up on the unsuspecting Tommy infantry

With both forward German positions cleared and with the minefield identified as a dummy the British troops together with their tanks advanced within site of the centre of the village aligned along the lane leading to the group of houses recently cleared.

As the British company commander assessed the situation and issued orders for the final assault to clear the small hamlet, the noise of battle was rent with the crashing and roar of high explosive as the German artillery battery finally joined in the fight.

With the forward German positions cleared and the minefield identified as dummy the British line closes in on the village

With the first marker round landing in the lane close to the British company HQ, the observer in the church spire called in 'fire for effect' and the British section closest to the fire lost six men and a nearby PIAT team was also killed, with the fire pinning the remaining troops.

If that wasn't bad enough a stay behind German sniper located in the rear most buildings vacated by Zug 2 attempted to take out the British company commander, missing the senior officer but killing two soldiers from a neighbouring section and leaving them in shock.

The British Company HQ sets up behind the lane just before first German spotting round lands in front of their position

Then to add final insult to injury the remaining German MMG team opened up on the infantry supporting the British tanks coming up the hill shredding another section and drawing HE fire from the tanks in response shocking the crew.

With two hours of battle completed the fight was entering the closing stages as the British reeling under artillery, sniper and MMG fire prepared to bring numbers to bear supported by their tanks with a section charging forward under fire to clear the MMG team after another softening up by the tanks.

With British troops manning the hedges and walls along the lane German artillery and a lone sniper firing from the roof on the right open up on the British and their command team

With the position under extreme pressure another barrage of artillery landed shredding the British platoon on the lane as the Panzerschreck team opened fire just as the British closed in on the nearby MMG team.

The German anti-tank round was devastating when it hit the Stuart dead centre causing a massive explosion in the vehicle as the ammunition and fuel 'cooked off' causing the neighbouring tank to test for shock from the explosion which effectively pinned it for the next turn.

However the explosion caused yet more casualties to the British infantry in and around the stricken tank.
As the British attempt to close on the village under German artillery and MMG fire, the Panzerschreck team open fire on the British tanks

With the MMG team lost and the Panzerschreck team about to share their fate the last shots were heard down on the German left as the sniper opened fire, again killing two men and shocking the section concerned.

Stmch. Fh. Fleischessen covering the extreem left flank and realising that no British tanks threatened his area ordered his men to ditch their antitank grenades and reverted to being riflemen opening up on the British section advancing through the orchards.

The final mini-battle saw one of Fleischessen's men killed with two Tommies killed in return, which pretty much seemed to sum up the day with the British set fare to clear the village but having been made to pay a heavy price in dead and wounded.

At the end of our game I couldn't help but think of the famous picture of Canadian Major David Curry VC, pictured at the close of a similarly seriously fought battle to clear the village of Saint Lambert-sur-Dives, blocking the final escape route of German troops out of the pocket.

Perhaps a fitting tribute of a game to the men who fought the Normandy campaign on this the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day.

Thanks to Ian for pulling our game together and to Dickie, and Andy for a fun afternoon.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Clotted Lard Support for Combat Stress

With next year's 'Clotted Lard' Lardy Day already booked into the club calendar we have just received a very appreciative acknowledgement from Combat Stress for the monies raised at this year's meeting.

I know club members will be very happy to see that the fun we had on the day has helped support a very worthwhile cause and one that has a growing need for continued public funding.

Here is to next year's day and an opportunity to raise yet more monies for this charity and once again thank you to everyone who contributed in 2018.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Chain of Command 1940

Leutnant Christoph von Rall looked up from his bowl of Erbswurst as shouts of alarm were heard. The Amis were attacking! He rushed over to his Panzer IIC and heard Oberleutnant Roth shouting to
advance and engage the enemy infantry. As the German infantry ran forward he ordered his driver to
advance. Gunfire came from the treeline ahead and German soldiers fell under a hail of machine gun

Following the release of the Chain of Command 1940 supplement I put on a game using the lists
from the book. The scenario was a meeting engagement. The Germans had a four squad platoon with a Pak 36 anti-tank gun in support, plus a mixed Panzer platoon of a Panzer 38t leading a Panzer IVC
and a Panzer IIC. To counter this the Allies had a French platoon of three squads with a Hotchkiss MG in support and a mixed Armoured platoon with a Char B1 in command, leading an R35 tank plus the British had sent along a Matilda II and a Morris CS9 armoured car. One major difference in the forces was that the German and British vehicles all had radios but the French did not, restricting the benefit of the French senior leader. I expected this to make a difference, but as things turned out it had little bearing on the game.

The French pushed all their infantry up on their right flank, relying on the armour to hold the left and
deal with any German tanks. The Germans deployed their forces evenly spread, with the Panzer IV
and Panzer II engaging the French infantry while the Pak gun and Panzer 38t engaged the tanks.

The Char B advanced in the middle of the table and was quickly engaged by the Panzer 38. The
German gunners aim was good, but the heavy armour of the Char deflected the shot. The French
tank commander then returned fire and the Czechoslovakian tank was no match for the French gun,
exploding in a ball of flame. First blood to the French and a significant loss of morale and command
for the German Panzer platoon. Meanwhile the Pak was firing at the R35 and Morris car on the
French left. The R35 shrugged off several hits but failed to return fire with any effect. The Morris was fired at once and promptly retreated behind a wood, where it stayed for the rest of the game. The
early loss of the German panzer senior leader completely wiped out their radio advantage. Oh well,
never mind.

On the French right things went well for the French initially. Sustained fire from two squads and the
Hotchkiss MG were effective in pinning two German squads as well as inflicting some casualties. The German infantry were struggling to get an effective response, until the Panzer II and IV arrived and started laying in accurate and effective fire. The two Panzers were very cautious of the Matilda II
loitering nearby, but managed to cause a significant amount of shock on the French infantry.

The fortune switched to the Germans when the Panzer commander decided to advance both his
tanks as fast as he could. The Matilda managed to hit the Panzer IV and kill its gunner, but the
Panzer II sped into the wood and drove straight over a French section. Despite only having three shock they failed to get out of the way and three men were crushed under its tracks. The Matilda II advanced and fired at the Panzer II, missing wildly. Then the Panzer drove off again, hitting another section of French infantry. These only had two shock on them, so surely they would get out of the way! Not so, a roll of '1' saw the French soldiers stand in amazement as they Panzer bore down on them, crushing a further six men under its tracks as it drove past the Matilda. A double '6' roll gave the Panzer another roll and it barrelled on towards a very battered unit. With too much shock to get moving these were also overrun and another four men fell.

The Matilda turned its turret and finally reacquired the Panzer II as it drove away. A beautiful rear
shot would put paid to the impudent little tank. Or not. the British gunner was obviously shaken by
the blood strewn sides of the Panzer and his shot missed, not by much but by just enough. The
Panzer II turned and fired back and, despite only have an AP strike of '3' against the Matilda's armour
of '7', he shot it through a vital spot and destroyed the British heavy tank.

On the left flank things were stationary as the Pak and R35 fired at each other while the Char B tried
to kill off the German infantry in the wood. All the focus, and most of the command dice, went on
the right flank.

The loss of so many men, including two junior leaders, from the French infantry platoon was enough to break their morale, so the Germans held and drove the Allies back in disarray. The Germans were
not unscathed with both platoons having lost several morale points, but the French had lost too
many to hold. The Panzer II was the overall champion of the battle with a Matilda II and seventeen Frenchmen falling to its mighty 2cm gun.

Thanks to Charlie, Chris, Colin and Ollie for playing in the spirit of the rules. Hopefully they enjoyed
it, I know I enjoyed umpiring and watching.

Christoph climbed out of his turret amazed that he had survived. As the infantry gathered around his
tank cheering he looked back along the path of his tank and saw the dead infantry next to the
smouldering British tank. Beyond that he could see his commanders shattered and burning Panzer
38. Who knows, maybe he would get promoted.