Defense of Tobruk
Location: Essington Catholic Church
Game: Flames of War 3000+ points
Scenario: British relief of Tobruk.
Objective: The British must get as many troops off of the Axis side of the board as possible.
The Germans were running 3 platoons of 3 Pz III’s and captured Matildas. Supported by 3 platoons of infantry and a couple of 3.7cm AT guns.
The Italians were running a similar number of Italians, Tanks being 4.7cm Sermonettes and M13 Tanks.
The British were running about 8 platoons of Indian infantry, 17 or so Cruiser tanks, 10 armored cars, 10 universal carriers, with 14 Grants in reserve.
Both sides had one battery of artillery.
The board terrain was dominated by 2 ridge lines, both running north to south. One ridgeline was near center, but just on the Axis side of the board. The other was about a foot from the Axis edge of the board. Small villages dotted the board. The important villages were on the Axis side North and South edge with the largest one in the center of the board but still on the Axis side. There were some hills in the area, but none had any real effect on the game and will be ignored in this narrative. The effect of this was, that no matter where the British attacked, he would have to first take a defended ridge line, then clean out a village, then face the final ridgeline.
All the villages were small. The North and South ones were not able to provide cover to even one full platoon of infantry. The center village could, but only just.
The Germans deployed almost on the board edge behind the final ridgeline. 1 platoon each of foot and armor on the “North”, Center, and “South” edge. The Italians were deployed largely forward positions, mainly behind the first ridge line. Two thirds of the Italian armor was placed near the center village, the remainder near the south village. The Italians fully occupied the southern village. The Germans were determined to fight to the last Italian.
The British deployed all their Cruiser Tanks, backed by two companies of Indian Foot for an attack on the north edge of the map. The south edge had a force of foot as well. The centerline was dominated by the Universal Carriers and the Armored Cars.
At this point I tried to predict how the battle would flow. I envisioned a victory in the south, with the British stalling in the north. Then repositioning of the Axis mobile assets to roll up the British line south to north.
North: The British leapt to the attack first hosing down the Italians on the ridgeline with MG fire, then assaulting two platoons. The results were not a clear win. The Italian 8.8cm gun managed to pick off a tank on the assault, another tank bogged on the ridge, and a 3rd tank bailed. When the dust settled, one Italian platoon fell back from the ridge line while the other held firm, capturing two of the Cruisers. The German infantry on that side “double-timed” to get close to the Northern Village, while the German Panzers stayed behind the furthers ridge, to act as the final blocking force.
Center: The British Armored Cars and Universal Carriers marched diagonally south, thus ignoring the center village, focusing their efforts on a southern attack. Opening shots only succeeded in pinning a platoon of Italian infantry in the open, just north of the Southern Village.
German infantry and armor “double-timed” it to set up firing positions from center village.
South: The Southern Village was the closest village to the Axis edge of the board, and the most heavily defended. The British were approaching but did not enter effective range. The Germans marched a platoon of foot to the already packed village, but still managed to find a spot for the 3.7cm AT gun. German armor found spots on the armored firing line among the M13 tanks. This all provided a nice concentration of force, but would be ruined if the British 25 pounders looked their way.
North: The British Cruisers ignored their losses, and kept on hammering the now helpless Italians, destroying one platoon, and reformed next to the village which was overrun by German troops.
Center. Trying to avoid a repeat of the early success of the Italian 8.8cm gun, the British laid smoke on it. This had a collateral effect of also smoking most of the Axis armored forces in the vicinity. Requiring them to move if they wanted to shoot. This allowed the British to complete their Center to South redeployment with minimal harassment.
South. In rolled the British Light Armored forces. Hosing the Italians in the village with MG fire without any effect. In return, the Axis antitank fire, which was mostly at long range, did not score much. The net result was a pinned Armored Car platoon, and a fleeing Recon platoon. Then the Italians showed their mettle, and launched an attack of 5 M13’s into the Armored Car flank. It was a brave move, but futile. Smoke rained down on any supporting troops, while the M-13’s were pommeled by 25 pounders, flanked by Cruisers, and engaged by Infantry and Armored Cars. Soon there was nothing but wrecks. To make matters worse, the British reserves had trundled on the south edge of the board, 14 Grant Tanks started already in firing range of the Axis southern flank. So much for the battle plan surviving contact with the enemy!
North: In the Northern Village, the Cruisers systematically destroyed all German foot that was not under cover. Setting the stage for attack by the Indians. Wave after wave they assaulted, and twice bloodily repelled. Weakened and exposed, the Indians were then subjected to flanking fire from Axis armor forces redeployed from the center, to which the company failed its command checks, and dissipated. But it was the last great act of defiance for the German Infantry Platoon. Hammered by 25 pounders, surrounded by Cruisers, it too failed morale and surrendered.
But this left the Cruiser Tanks unsupported, facing the Axis blocking force, hull down, behind the final ridgeline frontally, with the dust trails of announcing two armored platoons would soon be arriving on their flank.
Center: Maneuvering from the smoke the Panzer Platoon pulled forward, and supported by a couple AT guns, managed to knock out the two remaining Cruiser tanks in the area. Then using “Storm Trooper”, the Panzers pulled back under cover of the center village, for redeployment to the north. Seeing no threat, the German Infantry in the center village began to fan out, and lined up their sights on the remainder of the 4th Divisions Indian Infantry. The remaining M-13’s, having no targets, looked towards the Grants to the south, and saw the 10 foot tall, double firing monsters, and turned north to stop the Cruiser penetration.
South: The British Armored Cars and Universal Carriers took a shellacking from the stationary Axis armor. The newly arrived Grant Tanks arrived well concentrated, and 5 were caught by an artillery barrage. 1 was destroyed, 2 were bailed, the company commander fled. It would be two turns before they would start rolling again. Arrayed against them were 3 platoons of foot, all either dug in or in buildings, and backed by Sermonettes, Panzer III’s, and a battery of artillery. The Grant’s only cover was smoke from the burning hulks of their own Armored Cars. At long range the exchange went, with neither side scoring any advantage.
At this point the British player called off the attack. What companies he had on the field were only one hit from being cracked. The Axis had held Tobruk!