Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tournament Report: Centauro in Tunisia

Last weekend, I participated in a Flames of War Mid-War tournament.  This was an unusual tournament, in that it limited the forces to 1750 point lists from the new North Africa book, and specifically from those force lists from the Tunisian campaign.  Fortunately for me, the new Italian Bersaglieri list is the same in both North Africa and Tunisia, so with a few modifications, I took my 1000 point list from the Fall-In doubles tourney and added 750 points.

Battaglione Bersaglieri (North Africa and Tunisia)
Command: 30
Bers. Company (6 Rifle/Mg Teams, 3 HMG teams, 3  47mm AT gun teams, Command team): 320
Bers. Company (6 Rifle/Mg Teams, 3 HMG teams, 3  47mm AT gun teams, Command team): 320

Howitzer battery(4 100/17guns, w/spotter) : 225 
Semovente 75 (4 guns, 1 carro commando, 3 AA MG): 335
Lancia da 90/53 (2): 220
5 M14/41 tanks:  300
Total: 1750

Due to the new "Immobile Legions" rule in the North Africa book, I was almost certain to be the defender in any "Defensive Battle" mission.  The "Immobile Legions" rule states that, due to their lack of transport, the Italian forces attacked with tanks, and the infantry usually defended.  While that statement is probably not strictly true historically,  I understand where they are coming from with this rule.  Fortunately for me, this makes the Bersaglieri list easier to compose as I know I will most likely be defending.  

With that rule in mind, I created my list to provide a good balance of objective defenders, artillery support, heavy anti-tank assets, and mobile reserves.  The Bers. companies are large and very versatile.  On the defense, they are quite hard to push off an objective.  The Italians have randomized training and morale due to the "8 Million Bayonets" rule, but in general the odds are Bersaglieri will be Confident Veterans or better.  As such, when dug-in they are very hard defenders.  In addition, people tend to forget that the 47mm AT guns are very effective against light armor, and are very nice in an assault. With AT 7 and FP 4+, they can wreck the side armor on many tanks.  In fact, they can threaten even a Sherman tank's frontal armor at short range.  With the "Avanti!" rule allowing 4" of additional movement if they do not shoot, the Bers. can also move to the attack.    For heavy AT, I took the Lancia da 90s and the Semovente 75s.  The Semos are good against almost anything in Tunisia excepting Churchills (a very hard target) and Tigers (almost impossible to hurt).  The Lancias, however, can kill anything in-theater.  They are fragile, however, so I plan on ambushing with them and I expect them to be one-shot wonders for the most part.  The 100/17 howitzers are excellent artillery, and in a pinch can perform direct anti-tank fire, as well.

On an historical note everything in this force, with the possible exception of the Lancia da 90s, was actually fielded by the Centauro armored division in Tunisia.

The tournament lasted for three rounds.  In round one, I faced a British Indian Motor Company (coincidentally several Indian Motor Brigades fought against the Italians quite often in the desert battles) with mostly infantry supported by Indian pattern carriers, some Churchills, and artillery.  I fought as the defender in the "Fighting Withdrawal" scenario.  In sum, the Indians had a very hard time advancing on foot against my entrenched troops.  My Lancia ambush was fairly successful, killing two out of three Churchills.  The Indian infantry was essentially massacred by the HMG and MG fire of the Bersaglieri platoons.  I lost the Lancias, but otherwise my army was basically unscathed.  I eliminated 3 platoons of Indian infantry and one Indian Pattern Carrier platoon.  Result: 5-2 victory.

Here, the Indians advance on a strong line of entrenched Bersaglieri.  In the foreground, the Lancias burn, shortly after unleashing an ambush on the Churchills.  

On the left, in front of the foremost objective marker, Indian Pattern Carriers fell victim to the unexpected punch of 47mm "Elefantino" guns.  

A lone Churchill harasses the entrenched infantry, but can't quite break through.    The M14s are hiding behind a ridge to avoid attracting artillery fire, after seeing off last of the Indian infantry as they advanced on the Italian objective on the right.  

The left flank battle descends into long range sniping:  the Italians have eliminated several spotter teams on the crest of these hills.

My next game was against long-time opponent and good friend Consul Scipio.  The Consul fielded an army I had "dared" him to take.  After he amassed a large collection of Churchill tanks I challenged him to use them in this tournament.  He took the bait and fielded a Churchill company of 8 tanks in total, supported by Commandos and artillery.  I was quite afraid of this army going into the battle.  We played the "No Retreat" mission: No Retreat Mission  Because these tables were 5x5, he started practically on top of foot closer than the usually 6x4 setup using the long edges for deployment.  I was nervous about this, as well...

The Consul poses with his trademark Churchill:

Opening setup:  The table was thick with difficult area terrain.  This made things more complicated for an assaulting tank force, but also severely restricted my lines of sight.  I deployed an entrenched Bersaglieri company to cover the objective and the 100/17 howitzers on the ridge to provide support.


The Churchills advanced rapidly in the early stages of the game.  I sprang my ambush of Lanica da 90s from concealing terrain, only to choke on my firepower rolls, and kill just a single Churchill.  I quickly lost a Lancia in return.  Massed MG fire from the Churchills and barrages started to take a toll on "A" Company of the Bersaglieri. On my left, the commandos encroached on my lines, using the ruins for cover.  

The Churchills continued their implacable advance on the objective.  At one point, I dropped a perfect 100/17 barrage on the rightmost Churchill platoon, and the Consul failed two armor saves.  I then proceeeded to blow the firepower rolls, only bailing them out!  With their protected ammo, they remounted without a problem.  AARGH!  It looked grim for the Italians as the big tanks rolled in.  On my left, the Commandos assaulted and destroyed the remaining Lancia.  The tanks assaulted the Bersaglieri and the commandos also attacked from the ruins to the left.  The Bersaglieri survived, and a lone Churchill burned after bogging down in the assault.  The Semoventes have moved up to defend the objective but could not yet participate.

The final push by the Churchills was repulsed by the timely arrival of the Semovente 75s.  When the Churchills assaulted the infantry holding the objective once again, the Semoventes were able to contribute defensive fire, destroying another Churchill.  On the left, only one platoon of commandos remained, after the other platoon was repulsed by the Bersaglieri and mopped up by off-camera M14s.   The Consul could not take an objective in time, and was down two platoons, losing a platoon of Churchills and Commandos.  Once again the Lancias were my sacrificial victim.  Result:  5-2 victory.

In the final game, I faced another Blue player.  Evidently, the Axis had fared well at this tournament and it was time to see which Axis player would take top honors.  My opponent had a Panzer Kompanie consisting of two mixed platoons of Pz-IV and Pz-III,  a PZ-II recon platoon, a Panzergrenadier platoon, and also a Nebelwerfer battery.  The CO and 2IC were in  PZ-IV short-barreled tanks.  My opponent did not make a Kampfgruppe, so he had just 5 platoons.  He also had Priority Air support from Me-109s.

The scenario was a "Free For All" where we both had two objectives to protect and could win by seizing one of the opponent's side objectives, or breaking the enemy force.  This was the first time I was not automatically a defender in the tournament.

German setup on my left.  Note the armor is concentrated on this flank.

German setup on my right (up to the table edge):

My setup on the left. I responded to the armor concentration with all my heavy AT, although there wa sthe option to redeploy...

My setup on the right.  The Bersaglieri prepare to dig in, backed by light armor.

Not unexpectedly, the Germans rapidly shifted to my right, apparently massing for an attack on the right side objective.  I rushed the Semoventes forward for some long-range shots on Panzers moving "at the double", but I failed to score any hits.  On his turn, he massed his armor in the center and fired everything at the Semoventes!  Despite the odds, he only managed to bail out the Carro Commando (MG) tank, so a slugfest began between our armor, with my Lancias tipping the balance in my favor after a hasty redeployment to the center.  Here we see some brewed up tanks, with Germans and Semoventes trading fire:

After losing the Carro Commando, the Semoventes produced an "Unknown Hero", giving the unit a 2+ motivation rating for the remainder of the game.  This marked the first time I had seen that rule actually do something!  As the tank slugging  match continued, I repulsed an assault on my right, wiping out the Panzergrenadiers and driving off a platoon of PZIIs with massed 47mm AT fire from the Bersaglieri and the M14s.  In the following photo, the M14s have brazenly advanced to fire into the flanks of the Panzers to some good effect.  The Semoventes have also crested the central hill in a bid to finish off the Panzers, but they could not quite pull it off.   Repeated pounding by the Axis air failed to make much of an impression on the entrenched Bersaglieri.

On the the extreme right, the German CO's tank was set ablaze, overcome by  47mm Elefantino fire!   The same 47mm crew had earlier bagged the personal halftrack of the Panzergrenadier command team.  Having destroyed the German CO,  a platoon of Panzer Grenadiers, and one tank platoon, the Italians attacked with gusto, knowing that the loss of one more platoon will break the Germans.  The M14s, the last Unknown Hero Semovente, and the artillery all took aim at the last PzIII of the remaining German Panzer platoon.  On the left, I belatedly unleashed the other Bersaglieri platoon to march on the opponent's objective, but they would not reach it in time to have an impact on the game.  

Unfortunately for the Italians, all of their fire failed to down the tank and force a platoon morale check.   The last Semovente was bailed out and unable to shoot, and the 100/17 barrrage failed to damage the PZII.  Here the M14s have flanked the Panzer but their 47mm guns could not finish the job!

Time ran out, with neither side winning the game by seizing an objective, or breaking the enemy force, although my Italians came close.  The Germans lost two platoons and their CO.  The Italians lost no platoons.  We both score on the loser's column.  Result:  2-1 "draw".

In the end, three players had 12 VPs total, so we rolled off using 3 dice each.  I won the roll with my often unlucky Italian dice rolling a lucky 13!

I won some free swag (picked up some Sherman tanks) and a spot at the FOW Nationals.  Wow!  Not a bad showing for the Italians.  This was a very interesting tournament because of the limitations on the army lists you could take.  In addition, the people who came concentrated mostly on "historical" armies. For example I expected, but did not see, a multi-Tiger tank force.  Yes, there were some in Tunisia but do we need to see them every battle?  Thankfully the players at this tournament thought to bring interesting and historically credible armies.  

Overall, the Italian list was pretty successful.  I exposed my Lancias a little too much in my first two games, as losing them preventing a 6-1 win in either.  But it could be argued that they served their purpose in those games, killing some heavy armor and drawing lots of fire from the rest of my army.  I learned a rather basic rule that I did not previously understand, that I could fire over my infantry if they are gone to ground as a result of not shooting in the same phase i fire over them.  Knowledge of that rule would have helped me employ the Lancias more effectively.  

Probably the most valuable part of my army, however, were the versatile and large Bersaglieri platoons, which are a real nightmare to dislodge when entrenched.  Thanks to the new "Immobile Legions" rule, they will usually be defending in a tournament setting, which allows the player to predict the army's role more easily, and offers the ability to ambush the opponent's best units with a powerful unit like the Lancias.  I doubt, however, that the North Africa Bersaglieri list would be as effective against a Soviet tank horde or other Mid-war lists outside of the Africa setting.  I am planning on attending another "North Africa" only tournament in February, however, and I think that I the Bersaglieri may have earned one more outing before I try my new Americans!  

Monday, November 16, 2009

Waffen SS Assault the Soviet Line!

Having procured some early/mid-war Panzergrenadiers at Fall-In, I converted my late war grenadiers to Waffen SS and painted up some Panthers to support. My flash was a little strong, but I hope that you enjoy the pics. PS-Half-tracks are pre-painted plastic by Point of Contact and a steal at $25 for 5 through!