Sunday, 27 May 2018

THE BATTLE OF STEAMROLLER FARM

A 'Battlegroup Torch' historical re-fight game. The scenario (written by my brother) was based on the combat report of 51 RTR, whose Churchill tanks supported the Coldstream Guards infantry in the fight, on February 28th, 1943, as the British fought against Operation Ochsenkopf. The small farm, on a hilltop, dominated a stretch of road between El Arousa and Medjez El Bab, and had been captured the day before by troops of the Herman Goring division, including Fallschirmjager, from British commandoes. The Germans had dug-in overnight.

This game would be part of the British counter-attack, which advanced along the road as far as Steamroller Farm (named after abandoned steamroller close by), where the British battlegroup, led by Derbyshire Yeomanry armoured cars, with the Coldstream Guards and A Squadron, 51 RTR, in support, reached the farm area.

The terrain, based on the 51 RTR map and a ‘Google Earth’ image (below), was the road, alongside which ran a ‘nullah’ - a gulley, heavily wooded and steep on the far side (dangerous terrain for vehicles). In the very centre is the hilltop farm - two buildings (house and goat shed). Beyond that was the farms’ groves and orchards, and another shallow valley leading up to another ridge. We placed 3 objectives: the farmhouse (obviously), the road junction where the lane leads off up the steep hill to the farm, and a point on the far ridge. The Germans would hold all three to start with, whilst the attacking British force would out-scout the Germans.


 The area today, not much changed


My force, pre-picked from what the report listed as knocked-out and captured, was a platoon of Fallschirmjager, mostly in foxhole around the farm, with an 80m mortar and 50mm PaK and tow in support. Along with a foot patrol (useful extra mortar spotter). A battery of two 80mm mortars in pits (back on the far ridge), an 88 (at the road junction, covering up the road on ambush fore), and a PaK-40 with its tow.

My reinforcements would be a platoon of panzer grenadiers in 4 trucks, supported by another 80mm mortar team and PaK-38 with tow. Also, 2 Panzer III Ls, my only armour. I also had a Forward HQ, signal relay team to keep those mortars firing, and a 20mm Flak for AA defence. Beyond the (many) mortars I had 2 timed Stuka strikes, which on the day actual knocked out several Churchills. They’d be hitting on turns 3 and 4, along the El Arousa road. I’d be mixing my Fallschirmjager and DAK forces for this battle… I like Tunisia for this ‘anything goes’ aspect!

The Brits were, well, infantry, some combat engineers (mine sweeping the road), a carrier section, 3 Churchill IIIs, 1 Sherman (standing in for another Churchill we don’t have, but still treated as a Sherman - not a Churchill!), a FOO in Bren Carrier, with a big 4 gun battery of 25 pdrs to call-in, a 3” mortar team and 2 Daimler armoured cars of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, which did the first recce up the road on the day.

I deployed with 2 Fallschirmjager squads and MGs at the farm, in foxholes, along with the forward air controller with good lines of sight should I pull an aircraft chit (about time!). The mortars were well back, with the Platoon HQ spotting from behind the orchard’s stone wall, behind the farm. With the 88 on the road on my left, the Pak-40 covered the open ground on my right, on ambush fire, hidden in the olive grove at the back, with tow close behind, ready to move it if required. The other Pak-38 was on reserve move, ready to speed to where to was most needed from the farm.

Game on…

I won’t go into too much detail, as my opponent (my brother - author of the scenario, mainly because our grandfather fought with 51 RTR in Tunisia and may well have been there that day, in his Churchill - but he never said).

The game started slowly and built (like many BG games) the British first wave, mostly with their infantry moving up the gulley, under sporadic mortar fire. The FOO got into place, dismounted from his carrier, to get a view of the farm. The first big barrage hit, but only caused pinning, that heavy-weight bombardment was going to hurt as the turns passed… but cost a lot of orders… the only small saving grace.

The first Daimler edged up the road, and the ambush fire of my 88 boomed… hit - one very dead armoured car… first blood.

The British mortar was set up and tried to return fire on the 88, causing more pinning, but I used tactical co-ordination to get it back on ambush fire, anything up that road would face its big AP shells - I dare you!.

My first Stuka dropped in, siren wailing, bombing the nullah and causing a lot of pinning, even the British HQ had to dive for cover. The British 2nd wave arrived, the tanks and carrier section. Two headed up the road, two around the nullah and up the steep bank, engines gunning, to face the first 75mm AP shells from my Pak-40 from the distant olive grove. Misses, but the duel was on. I raced my Pak-38 round to the walled orchard to help vs those Churchills. It unhitched and crashed into action, and immediately bounced a shell off a Churchill’s front armour - the crew cared not! This duel would continue for the rest of the game, the Churchills braving the AP shells to close over the open ground, up hill, towards the farm. My Pak-40 couldn’t hit, and the Pak-38 could, but just glanced off… repeatedly. The Churchills living up to their reputation.

My second Stuka strike hit the road, scoring a direct hit on the Churchill and blowing it up… a very historical result. The British artillery wasn’t so effective, lacking orders, they were only shooting half the battery… and my foxholes proved ace…passing most covers saves. 

Pressure along the road and nullah built, my Fallschirmjager recce patrol defending the 88 with MG-34, rifles and called in mortar fire, pinning approaching British infantry (the woods in the nullah were dense, those not in the nullah only light, so not blocking line of site but providing a soft cover save). Return 2” mortar fire pinned my MG team… drat!

It had broken into 2 battles, one along the road, one towards the farm. My mortars kept firing, adding to the pining in the nullah. So far the Germans had edged it, about 8 chits to 4.

In the fight up the road, the Sherman came forwards to lead the attack, risking the 88 fire - it dared! The 88 missed and the Sherman charged up the road (historically a Churchill tank rammed an 88 here). This time, Sherman MGs sprayed the gun crew and sent them running. Fortunately, just behind, my first Pz III had arrived from reserve, it swung around the curve in the road, face to face with the Sherman, and put a 50mm AP shell clean through it at point blank range - one burning Sherman! Now parked on the objective, my panzer sat there and machine gunned the infantry in the nullah, to keep them off. They, lacking any AT shots, had no answer and that objective was secure(ish). The fight here petered out in stalemate, fine by me! 

My other reinforcements arrived, but a repeated lack of orders kept there advance slow. The Pz III pressed across the valley and to the farm, to engage the Churchills. It arrived on resreve move and then score 2 hits, both bounced and a return 6 pdr shell knocked it out. Hmmm… the tide had turned, the British were coming back.

The main fight was now the attack on the farm. The two Churchills repeated fired to pin my anti-tank guns, which kept having too be unpinned, then did get some shots off, both bounced AP hits off the front glacis of the Churchills… argh! I cannot roll an AP dice above about 6! With BESAs blazing, the Churchills boldly (and slowly) pressed on. On the hilltop the 25 pdrs eventually found their mark… it had to happen, and wiped away the defending infantry foxholes with direct hits. The British carriers charged, led by the last Daimler, pressing for the farmhouse objective. They dismounted and got to the house, but my last infantry prevent the British from claim it. I was hanging on just. My panzer grenadiers had now dismounted their too slow and vulnerable trucks, abandoning them across the hillsides, to charge the farm from the other side, counter-attack and drive the British out. The Pak-38 unhitched and its fire, from close range, destroyed the Daimler in the farmyard, where it had been co-axing away at the goat shed, now full of grenadiers.

The struggle for the farmhouse would see the British hold firm, pass a lot of cover saves and morale tests and keep my grenadiers at bay, They even fought off my close assault attempts, heroic stuff. My Pak-40 final hit and knocked out a Churchill, then ran out of ammo on a special counter! The other Churchill broken down on the hillside, and immobilised was a sitting duck for my Pak-38, which hit and failed to penetrate again and again… I counted maybe 7-8 hits on the it, and the crew fought on, still ‘BESAing' back (I invented a new verb there). 

Both sides had a stack of counters, I was on 49 BR from 55, just 6 away. The next British counter draw was an aircraft counter (his third pulled).  This time it arrived, a Hurri-bomber buzzing low (a turn after my long waiting 20mm cannon had been knocked out by Vickers MG fire). The Hurribomber swept in low, lined up my Pak-38 in the orchard and let rip with its many autocannons… knocking it out. 2 counters for me, under air attack and a lost unit. A 2 and a 5… that broke me. The arrival of the RAF was enough for the Germans at Steamroller Farm… they pulled back. A historically result, a very hard fight and a narrow British win… great fight though - phew! 4.5 hours of hard gaming, a good historical scenario of personal interest.

 I must play more historical re-fights. I actually like not picking the force I want, but fighting with what you are given. In all, it was about 750 points. Very close to history too. many lost Churchills, 2 lost Panzer IIIs. Here is a link to a short film taken after the real battle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0I7DRxUUdw

Lots of pics of the afternoon’s action…

My brother's blog will have the battle from the British side, and more details of the scenario he worked up.



 The farm

The road, the nullah and its steep left bank

The far ridge, covered in scrub. I need more trees! One tree marked the objective. 

Foxholes at the farm

The farm and its surrounding groves. Open ground across the British would boldly attack. 

Covered by my Pak-40 on ambush fire

Mortar positions on the far ridge (back corner)

My roadblock, 88 and recce Fallshirmjager patrol for close defence and mortar support.  
Road junction also an objective. 

Pak-38 and tow at the farm, my mobile anti-tank reinforcements.

 
Daimler creeps up the road, first to arrive.

and his partner, climbing out of the nullah. 

Guardsmen, working their way forwards along the nullah. Radio van is in place. 

Royal artillery 25pdrs having their first say... ouch

The groves behind the farm, open ground well covered. 

Stuka! Bombing the nullah.

Infantry getting well-pinned down by the raining bombs.

Peeking, hull-down from the nullah, calling in 3" mortar shells.

First armour up the El Arousa road. 

Sherman passes the forward HQ, overtaking manoeuvre on the slower Churchill!

Second Stuka attack on the road. 

Kaboom! Smoking Churchill and pinned carrier.  

Hermann Goring tanks reinforcements

 
Around the end of the nullah and up the slope, the other Churches break cover for the farm.

 My Pak-38 redeploys at speed into the walled orchard

 First panzer grenadier transports arrive on the far ridge.

Long shot of the Churchill advance. 

Pak-38 into action, with its rubber shells! Platoon HQ behind, spotting for their mortar.

Infantry reinforcements on the way to the farm... hideous lack of orders to move them. 

88 lost... 

Pz III to the rescue... end of Sherman tank.

20mm Flak still on ambush fire, in case the RAF shows up.

It's partner reaches the farm's goat-shed, en route to meet the Churchills

Lining up his target from the hilltop. 

Hmmm... outclassed by a 6 pdr. Pz III is knocked out by the Churchill's return fire.

First grenadiers disembark into the goat shed. 

The British rush the hilltop and make it, 25 pdrs having cleared the way. 
Daimler leads the way! 

Until overtaken by the Bren Carrier.

The reinforcements platoon's Pak-38 arrives to deploy to help at the farm...

...and nails the Daimler in the courtyard.  

My grenadiers, all out... and up the hill to retake the farm house. 

Still hammering away, safe at the back, view from the mortar battery.

 My grenadiers assault the house, and are thrown back... drat the hard cover save. 
There are Brits still inside.

The valley strewn with German trucks, which I can't withdraw (scenario special rule). 
On the day, 25 German trucks were reported as knocked out when Churchills found the German truck park, must have been a mess!  

 Finale... the RAF show up and a Hurricane buzzes the hilltop, before swing round on his strafing run, cannons blazing. OK, that's enough for the Germans for today. Time to go...
































Monday, 30 April 2018

HOLDING THE WALHAUSEN MINE, A FOTR AAR

With my German Defenders of the Reich prepared for the fight, the scenario chosen was High Ground, and I even got the extra defences for free (bunker, minefield, trench).

I’m going to keep this brief, because the game was. I deployed as per my pre-battle plan, with the Volkssturm in their foxholes and behind barricades, my Pantherturm was front and centre with a perfect and dominant view across the river and open field (soggy flood plains all counting as difficult ground for all vehicles), it could not have been better sited.

The Russian would lead off their attack with their infantry riding on the ISU-152 heavies, ploughing forwards across the river and wet-fields. Before they set-off, turn 1 for the attackers began with a artillery bombardment, 2 timed strikes from 122 howitzers and a PE-2 dive bombing. Well, rarely has a bombardment worked so well. The first 122s score 4 direct hits (from 8 dice!) and my Volkssturm were blown away (hard covers saves can’t withstand multiple direct hits). One squad gone, the bunker was hit and the MMG team inside were gone, the PE-2 then scored 2 direct hits in the Pantherturm and it was blown up… I had taken 5 counters already. A terrible start (things would not be getting much better). My front line just collapsed under the Russian bombardment and the Russian attack rolled forwards under some harassing mortar fire, which did little to the armoured vehicles. Any last survivors I pulled back to around the mine and awaited my reserves… the Jagdpanther, flak gun (it wasn’t here to shoot at the PE-2 - drat!), my underground counter-attack - come-on!. So, the next turns were quick the Russian simply ploughed across the wet flooded fields, I fired mortars, put some units on reserve move and ambush fire and waited. Russian reinforcements arrived and pressed on as second wave, as his first wave climbed out of the river valley into the woods. Here my timed 105 barrage hit (I judged it right!) and scored a few infantry kills and pins. My artillery priority checks failed… no supporting fire from the FOO on top of the mine’s winding gear tower. Oh well, so far I had take 6 counters (with 4s and 3s) and the Russian had taken just 1, from unpinning… I was being steam rolled.

The Russian moved up again, gathering for the push against the village and mine. The real battle would be on. Just in time my reserves rolled in, the Jadgpanther got into place and onto ambush fire, and the ISU-152s et al paused, awaiting enough orders to all attack together (he'd had a few dicey turns for orders). This gave me some much needed time to get off one artillery request, and, feeling desperate, I went for (and got) some Corps 150mm Nebelwerfers. The shrieking rockets smashed down right on his attack force and caused mass pinning, and blew up a White scout car and its recce team passengers. With over half their attack force pinned the Russians paused again to regroup and unpin for the assault. I was waiting on ambush fire. When the Russian infantry, now all disembarked did come, my Fallschirmjager MGs did good work re-pinning them, and the last Volkssturm rifle fire added a few casualties. One Russian squad broke, finally my defence was doing something. Then, disaster (again), in a deviating 120mm mortar barrage a single direct hit was on the Jagdpanther, still awaiting those ISUs to emerge to open fire. Yep, the penetration roll as an 11… kaboom, my panzer aces’ career came to an end. Now, of course, the ISU-152s emerged, safe from my potent AT fire, and pounded the village. My Hitler Youth squad had just climbed up from the mine tunnels into one village building and they took a direct hit from the 152 shell, destroying them all as the building came down on them! Ouch! A flanking T-34 rushed out, disembarked its tank riders, who immediately assaulted the next building, being assault engineers their merciless assault wiped out the last Volkssturm squad and a flamethrower attack would follow.

Well, that was that, my defenders broke… it has been a one-sided steam-rolling by the Red Army. His dice had been red hot… mine not so, and my chit pulling was so bad, 4s, 5s, 3s… my guys just where not up for this fight - screw the Fuhrer, we’re off!. The last Fallschirmjager pulled back (ran-off) leaving the mine uncontested and Red Army one step closer to Berlin.

It was a Red Army smack down… a total disaster of a game for me. So much for that plan… the Russians had not even reached half their BR total. Hey, it’s 1945… the Red tide seems unstoppable (it was). It was all over in under 2 hours of play… time for a brew, a biccy and a chat…

 Pantherturm in waiting... it can see everything from the edge of the slope

Red Army pounding begins with 122mm howitzer shells smashing my front line


On table 120mm mortar battery thickening the bombardment


PE-2 dives in, and destroys the Pantherturm without a shot fired. 

 Now the Russians get moving to the river and across flooded fields



View from the mine tower to the river

The mine, held by veteran Fallschimjager - perhaps these guys had seen too much fighting, because they were not up for anymore today. 

Nebelwerfer impact, the German highlight, it gave the Russian a pause in their relentless march to Berlin.

Heavies climbing up for the assault on the mine and village

My panzer ace killer awaits on ambush fire.  

 FOO, busy, but with only 80mm mortars to lob. 

 Oh come on! ... the Jagdpanther is unluckily knocked out, again without a shot fired... sometimes it ain't your day! Let's just forgot this ever happened and never speak of it again!