Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beda Fomm!

Yes, it is time for another battle report for this now-quarterly gaming blog. With the release of "Hellfire and Back!", the Early War North Africa book, the Consul and I got together for a big game using our British and Italian armies. Joining us was my friend Pete for a first ever meeting between my two gaming buds. We played the Flames of War Beda Fomm scenario from Wargames Illustrated issue 287, with larger forces (about 2700 points each) and a few other modifications. In this scenario, the Italian 10th Army is trying to break through the Combe Force roadblock preventing a retreat from Libya.

Actual battle info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Compass#Battle_of_Beda_Fomm

Actual battle map here: http://www.btinternet.com/~ian.a.paterson/Maps/bedafomm_battle_map.jpg

For FOW purposes, the Italians must seize an objective to achieve a breakout. The game continues for at least 8 turns in our setup (we used an 8' by 5' table so we increased the length from 6 to 8 turns), and if the Italians have no teams within 16" of an objective after turn 8 the British win. Both sides can win by breaking enemy morale, as well. In this scenario, the Italians do not break as a force if a single company breaks. This is to simulate their desperation to break the roadblock and save 10th Army from destruction. With two full companies on the table we decided not to use "8 Million Bayonets" and instead gave Italian infantry and artilley Confident Trained and all Italian armor "Fearless Trained" ratings. We used these rating to represent the 8th Bersaglieri and the Bambini brigade, which comprised the best of what 10th Army had to offer and fought hard to escape the trap at Beda Fomm. The Italian armor had in fact historically fought to the very last tank. The Brits retained all of their default ratings, ranging from Fearless Veteran Horse Artillery to Confident Veteran infantry to Confident Trained armor. The Consul took the Brits, Pete took the 8th Bersaglieri and I got the Bambini armored brigade.

Here are our lists. Note that we had to proxy some models, and for sticklers there were no actual M11/39s at the real battle, but the Consul indulged me as I wanted to try out a platoon.

"Combe Force" The blocking detachment at the roadblock in the south.

HQ - 35
2x Motor Platoons - 380
2x Scout Platoons - 230
4x Bofors RHA Portees (2pdr portees proxy) - 175
Royal Horse Artillery 8 Guns - 865
Breda Trucks AA - 65

Total - 1715

British Armoured Regiment (Ad Hoc) - These are the first on from the race to help encircle the Italians and support Combe Force. They come in as flanking Delayed Reserves from the northeast, just across form the Italian entry point..

HQ - 70 (2 A13s - Crusaders as proxies)
1x A13 Platoon (3 Crusaders as proxies)
1x A10 Platoon
1x A9 Platoon
1x Armoured Car Platoon - 1CS9 & 2 Rolls Royces (1 AEC & 2 Damlier Dingos proxying)

Total - 986

Grand Total: 2701

"10th Army"

8th Bersaglieri-The first wave to assault the roadblock-Bers. Company. they deploy in the north near the road.

Hq w/ Solothurn
2x Bers. Platoons (Full Strength)
Machine Gun Platoon
Mortar Platoon
Anti-Tank Platoon
5xM11/39 Platoon
Demolisher Platoon (Full Strength)
5x M13 Carri Platoon

Total: 1375

Bambini Brigade-The armored reserves of 10th Army-Compagnia Carri-They come in as Reserves from the road in the north.

Carri Command Tank M13
5x M13
5x M13
5x M13
4x L3 tankette
Cannon Battery Full Observer
Howitzer Battery Full Observer

Total 1480

Grand Total: 2855

We set up the starting forces:

The Italian infantry horde has a long way to go. Note the destroyed wrecks of the Italian convoy.

The British have dug in and are waiting. Sadly, the Italian road crews have failed to run the road all the way to Tunisia.

Here is a Brits' eye view of the approaching horde...

...and nice shot of the advancing Italian infantry.

For the first few turns, the Italians surged forward as the British subjected the Italian armor to a heavy barrage. Both M13 and M11 platoons took a few casualties but the Italians could be heard thanking Jupiter that the squishy infantry was spared the tender mercies of British artillery. The Bersaglieri and Guastatori (Demolisher Platoon) made good progress. Italian return fire could not effect the dug-in Brits but the RHA Portees failed to "Tip and Run" and were annihilated by return fire from the M13 and M11 platoons.

Light Italian casualties accrue on the approach.

Portees burn and smoke swirls as the Italian infantry approach British lines. A duel develops between Bren carriers and Italian HMGs in the foreground.

Early losses: British Portee platoon. Scattered Italian casualties.

In the middle rounds, Italian armor started arriving, but was positioned so far to the rear that they deployed to cover the flank instead of trying to advance on the distant objectives. In the center, the 8th Bersaglieri commander (Pete) executed a cleverly planned advance where he fired mortar smoke on the pinned Brit infantry platoon in order to shield his assaulting Bersaglieri. The assault was a great success (Pete rolled 6 hits out of 7 dice, needing 4 or better, as I recall) and the Brit infantry was broken! The first obstacle to Italian escape was no more.

Pete assaults under a smoke barrage, moved for convenience but in fact located directly on top of the entrenched Brit infantry.

(Look naysayers, real-life tactics in FOW!)

Smoke remains after the assault to provide concealment for the victorious Bersaglieri. What a concept!

Meanwhile, a huge fur-ball erupted in the rear as waves of British and Italian tanks arrived. Neither side had any fancy ideas and sought merely to destroy the enemy with heavy fire. The Italians took an early lead, destroying two platoons of British Cruisers but losing one of their own. Even the tiny L6 tankettes attempted to get in on the action! Two batteries of Italian guns arrive and deploy on the road.

The mid-game tank melee ensues.

Here's a panoramic view of the battlefield in the mid-game.

Mid game losses: British Portee platoon, British Infantry platoon, British A9 platoon and A10 platoon. Italian M13 platooon, assorted team losses.

In the later turns, the Italian infantry continued to surge forward, protected by cautious M11 and M13 support. The RHA 25-pounders were a huge threat to the tanks, and Pete was not interested in risking a direct engagement. Instead, the Bersaglieri and Guastatori headed for the hillside roadblock objective. In a desperate battle the Bersalgieri assaulted under smoke again, drove off half of the RHA battery and seized the hill, only to lose it to a Bren carrier counterattack in the following turn! Italian artillery was entirely ineffective.

The few survivors of 1st Bersaglieri Platoon bask in momentary glory. 

The courageous Bren carriers were in turn knocked out by M13 and M11 fire, leaving the objective open and also dropping Combe Force to below 50% of their starting platoons! They would need to make a platoon morale check at the start of Turn 9. Note the Bren carriers have lost their duel with the Italian HMGs!

To the north, the tank battle escalated and even more runners brewed up. The Italians lost another platoon of M13s and also the L3 tankettes, bringing the Bambini Brigade to exactly 50% of its initial strength. However, the weight of fire from the sole remaining M14 platoon and the two batteries of Italian artillery destroyed a third platoon of British tanks, causing another morale check for the British! 

The clash of tanks results in a maelstrom of fire and steel .

The Bambini Brigade commander surveys the wreckage of his platoons. 

At the top of turn 9, the British had two platoon morale checks to make. Both commands were "Confident" and needed a 4 or better to keep fighting. First up was the crucial blocking force, and the roll was a 3! In Flames of War, the basic rules for multi-company morale are that the entire force will retreat if one company fails a morale check. The British had broken! For posterity, we rolled for the British Armoured Company as well, and the roll was a 1! Clearly, the stiff upper lip had failed in this instance.

Final losses: British: 7 platoons. Italian: 4 platoons.

Victorious Italians swarm toward the south as British resistance crumbles. 

A massive graveyard of tanks remains after the clash of armor. 

The Italians open the road through Beda Fomm after taking heavy losses.

After the battle, we debriefed regarding the scenario. Overall, the players all felt it was fairly well-balanced and could have swung the other way given a few different choices and/or die rolls! The Italian players were a bit concerned that it would be fairly easy to swing a blocking force over to cover the entrance area for British reinforcements. However, we considered that the British could in response quite easily send their armor off to the south to break the Italian infantry, leaving the slow-moving M13s to play catch-up. Also, the Italians were a bit lucky in that the British artillery had chosen Italian armor as their target. Only the Italian infantry could really clear the roadblock while the eight 25-pounder guns were available to maul the Italian tanks. Finally, the Italian assaults had gone very well, even considering Pete's sound tactical employment of smoke to cover his assaulting troops.

Therefore, we concluded the scenario was solid and the force lists reasonably fair. This could be a convention game for 4 players and we might just do that at a future venue. In addition, although Flames of War is not a "simulation" this scenario provided an enjoyable game which preserved fairly well the historical flavor of the actual battle, albeit obtaining the opposite result! As always, I enjoyed the opportunity to put a lot of my Italian toys down on the table all at once.

Thanks for reading this report! Hopefully I can post another before next quarter...