Thursday, 1 January 2009

Action at Mechilli, January 24th 1941

I always find historical scenarios fun and satisfying to play. The problem is finding the information you need for a historical re-fight, and having the right miniatures available. Hence, the 12 ready made scenarios in Benghazi Handicap, by Frank Chadwick, are of great interest if, like me, you wargame the Western Desert campaign. The scenarios are well worked out with detailed forces and generally cover small actions or smallish parts of bigger battles, which means the forces involved are of a reasonable size, and are easy to field if you already wargame the period. They are designed to go with the Command Decision - Test of Battle rules, but these use the same basic level of play (one figure base or vehicle = one platoon) as the set I use, Blitzkrieg Commander. With this in mind, I expected the adaption to BKC to be straightforward, and was keen to try out some of the actions described. For my first re-fight, I chose scenario 3, 'First Batlle of Mechilli'. I had two sources of my own to refer to for this battle, Barrie Pitt's Wavells Offensive and Ian Walker's Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts. Reading them gave me confidence that Frank had the overall feel of the action correct.

Deciding the basic opposing forces was indeed easy enough, and they are shown below. Terrain needed a bit more thought, but not too much more. With 6mm miniatures, I thought the battle could be set successfully on a 4' x 4' table, and this seemed to work out OK. The wadis were an obvious problem; rather than gouge out the appropriate furrows in my TSS tiles, I cut out some shapes from light brown felt which could be placed in the right position. There were gaps between the shapes which allowed the passage of troops, in line with Frank's concept of 'broken banks'. They could have some scenic scatter on top to improve their appearance.

The main problem was understanding scenario concepts like deployment, objectives and victory conditions from a rule set I didn't have, and which consequently I didn't fully appreciate. Thanks to the guys on the CD - TOB forum for sorting out a few basic points. It was, of course, important to get these things right. Setting up the opposing forces on the terrain and having at it wouldn't replicate the historical action. Units need to be deployed correctly in time and space and have the right objectives.

Getting all this sorted took a week or so of part-time thought and tinkering (I don't have the quickest brain in the world for this sort of thing), and culminated in a solo run through to see if the scenario worked. As I thought, it turned out to be an uphill struggle for the Brits, and a bit of further tinkering was needed. Readers will see the forces and set up below, but basically the Italians out-gun the British, and this needs to be balanced by reflecting the greater training and battle skills that the British had. To do this, I raised the Command Values of the British formations above their normal level to give them a really significant advantage in issuing orders for movement and firing.

One or two minor compromises in equipment were needed to cater for models which I didn't have (like the SP 75mm gun and FIAT armoured cars of the Italians). I also 'lost' one of the Italian 47mm anti-tank guns, partly because I only had 2 models and partly to reduce the Italian firepower advantage slightly. I don't want this to be an essay on BKC, but some further points might be of interest to those familiar with these rules. Firstly, of course, it is necessary to use the 'Fixed Formations' optional rule for a historical re-fight. Secondly, the 'Brigade Troops' from the original Benghazi Handicap scenario were mixed down into the formations, so that the battlegroup CO commanded the most important formation on each side and any Brigade level units were attached to formations as I saw fit. Also, the special rule for the defence of Mechilli had to be adapted for BKC, as did the rules for actually capturing a BUA (in the absence of any infantry on the British side). Finally, Ian Walker's book gave me a finish time for the original action of 1330 (a time not provided in Mr Chadwick's book). This would give a game length of 11 turns in BKC (up to 30 minutes a turn). With the modest forces involved, I felt it unlikely the game would ever get to that number of turns. As there was also plenty of daylight left when the original battle ended, there seemed no point in setting a turn limit. In the end, the scenario and forces using Blitzkrieg Commander came out like this:


‘Benghazi Handicap’ scenario adapted for BKC. Table size 4’ x 4’


Initial Troops: Advanced Guard, 4th Armoured Brigade:

7th Hussars + D Battery, 3rd RHA: HQ (CV9), 7xMkVI, 1xA9, 2x2pdr portee

F Battery, 4th RHA: FAO (CV8), 1x25pdr unit (off table), 3 assets

Reinforcements: Main Body, 4th Armoured Brigade:

2nd RTR: CO (CV9), 3xMkVI, 3xA13, 2xA9, 1xA10, 1xRR a/c (ATR, recce)

B Squadron, 11th Hussars: HQ (CV9), 1xRR a/c (mg), 2xRR a/c (ATR)

25% - 6 units; 50% & Breakpoint - 12 units; Points - 1050

Initial troops deploy up to 10cm from baseline. Reinforcements deploy in same way on move 4 (command phase). 11th Hussars may use flank deployment in first two thirds of table, but on the left flank only.


Initial Troops: Elements of 80th Sabratha Division + Advanced Guard, Special Armoured Brigade:

III Battalion, 42nd Artillery Regt: HQ (CV7), 3xinfantry units, 1xmortar unit, 1x47mm ATG + tow, 1x20mm AA + tow

III Medium Tank Battalion: HQ (CV7), 4x M13/40

LX Light Tank Battalion: HQ (CV7), 4 L3/35

Reinforcements: Main Body, Special Armoured Brigade:

V Medium Tank Battalion: CO (CV8), 6xM13/40, 1xAB40 (recce)

Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company (+): HQ (CV7), 2xm/c units, 1xm/c unit (mmg), 1x47mm ATG + tow

II Battalion, 12th Artillery Regt: FAO/HQ (CV7), 2x75mm gun units + tows (on table)

Initial Troops: 42nd Artillery deploy in Mechilli or within 10cm of the BUA. May be dug in. Other formations deploy anywhere up to 25cm from baseline. Reinforcements arrive on move 3 (command phase) and deploy up to 10cm from baseline. No flank deployment allowed.

25% - 7; 50% & Breakpoint - 14; Points - 1030

Other Game Conditions.
Initial troops deployment: Deploy opposing formations one at a time, Italians first. British play first.
Defence of Mechilli special rule: If at the end of any turn there are unsuppressed British AFVs within 10cm of Mechilli, but no unsuppressed Italian AFVs within the same radius, each Italian unit in or within 10cm of Mechilli dices for fallback. Throw 1 dice for each British unsuppressed AFV within the radius.
Capturing Mechilli: the British have no infantry, so to capture Mechilli there must be no Italian units within the BUA, and more unsuppressed British units than unsuppressed Italian units within 10cm of Mechilli
Terrain: Wadis are impassable except at gaps. Rough ground counts as dense terrain to all vehicle units.
Victory conditions: No turn limit. Italian minor objective is to have 25% of their units on the far side of the Wadi el Ramla. Major objective is to have 50% of their units on the far side of the wadi.
British minor objectives are to capture Mechilli and to exit 25% of units off Italian baseline. Major objective is to exit 50% of units off Italian baseline. Achieving both minor objectives counts as achieving a major objective.
Breaking your opponent’s battlegroup will end the game, but you will only win if you have achieved at least one of your objectives.
Combined HQ/FAO: command unit may act as one or the other using normal rules, but may not act as both in the same turn.
Special Rules: Units of Italian III Battalion, 42nd Artillery are counted as 'fragile' and 'reluctant'.

Finally, a picture of the terrain as used for the solo run-through. Owners of the Benghazi Handicap book will see I have simplified the pattern of tracks, but they are really only there for visual effect. Italian baseline to left, British baseline to right. The Wadi el Ramla runs from centre top to bottom right. Mechilli is at the junction of the tracks. The hill near the Italian baseline was called the Ras el Mechilli. The scenic scatter made of tiny stones represents areas of rough ground. TSS tiles and hills, felt tracks and wadis, GHQ buildings.

Watch this space for the full refight of the scenario. Battle takes place Friday 23rd January.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

You should take up writing BC scenario's for a living 'cos that was brilliant...! :o)

There's a lot to take away from that post - will definitely save for a later game myself. Have also stored those book recommendations - the "Iron Hulls" book looks very interesting..

Looking forward to the re-fight now..

Keith Flint said...

Thanks Steve. Would definitely recommend the 'Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts' book. Lots of new information about the operations of Italian armour in the desert and Tunisia. The maps are a bit home made, but the text is very good and some decent photos as well.