Sunday, 16 June 2013

'Operazione Mareleone' - The Battle of Pratt's Bottom

My wargaming has been extremely limited of late, but this is fairly normal for this time of year, as with the long summer evenings I prefer to spend as much time out of doors as I can, given that I'm cooped up in a workshop for most of the working week. Also I just haven't been in the mood to do any painting of late, largely due to the reasons outlined above.
However with an iffy weekend forecast on the weather front and with the Muse not upon me on the painting front, I thought I'd try and get a solo game in. So it was then a case of what to play? Given that I would have limited time for the game (see below for more on this) I settled for BKCII. With this sorted it was onto what period?
Now for many years I have been interested in wargaming Operation Seelowe, in large part due to these Airfix magazine articles as well as the excellent "Invasion" by Kenneth Macksey. 
My problem has always been not having the right forces painted up to game this 'what if?' period of WWII. Now I'm not one to let such trifling issues get in the way, so I set about figuring out what forces I could cobble together for an 'Operation Seelowe' inspired game. Having recently finished Skymen by Robert Kershaw, my mind turned to whether or not I could use my Italian troops for this, as there was some interesting information on the early Italian attempts at creating paratroopers in Libya. The more I thought about this the more I liked the idea of Italian troops taking part in the Axis invasion of Britain in the summer of 1940, so I quickly set about coming up with some background fluff for the scenario. 
The British Expeditionary Force has been destroyed at Dunkirk, leaving Britain open to invasion. However the cost to the Wehrmacht is high and the continued operations in Southern France have further reduced the combat effectiveness of the German forces. To mount 'Operation Seelowe' effectively, outside help is required. Despite many reservations from the German high command, they have been 'forced' to accept Italian offers of assistance, in large part due to Hitlers personal intervention on behalf of his old friend Mussolini.

As King Cnut proved on the coast of East Anglia, the tide waits for no man and with weather conditions in the English Channel variable to say the least, the Axis forces have a limited window of opportunity to mount an invasion before the weather starts to turn in late summer. So a modified plan of attack including Italian assistance is presented to the Fuhrer, who finally gives his seal of approval.
Italian Forces
After the success of the German 22nd Luftlande Division in Holland, Mussolini ordered that an Italian equivalent be created. This led to the formation of the IX 'Falcone'  Divisione Ariasbarco, formed from existing Italian infantry divisions. Training was rudimentary to say the least but the Division was ready for action by the end of May, no mean feat given the short time avaialbe to them.

The Italian forces consisted of:
  • CO (CV8)
2 Battalions each of:
  •  2 x HQ (CV 8 & 7)
  •  9 x Regular infantry
  • 2 x MG
  • 1 x ATG
  • 1 x Mortar
Support was provided by:
  • 2 x Scheduled air support in the form of Henschel HS123 A dive bombers.
British Forces
With the loss of the BEF on the Dunkirk beaches, the defence of Britain, and England in particular, fell on the shoulders of the few regular Divisions left, but largely on those of the first line Terratorial Army units based in and around London and the South East.

The 5th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment, was one such unit and had been deployed on the Eastern edge of the South Downs, to guard the approaches to London. The Battalion was supported by elements of the 65th Field Artillery Regiment, with attached elements of the Westminster Dragoons as a rapid reaction force.

The British force consisted of:
  • CO (CV8)
  • 2 x HQ (CV8 & 7)
  •  1 x FAO (CV6)
  • 12 x Green infantry (to reflect the TA status)
  • 2 x MG
  • 1 x Mortar
  • 3 x Vickers MKVI light tanks (Westminster Dragoons)
  • 1 x 18pdr Field Battery
Field defences consisted of:
  • 1 x Pillbox (to hold 1 x MG unit)
  • 6 x Trench sections
  • 2 x Lengths of barbed wire
  • 1 x Command post
Scenario Details
Well not wishing to over complicate things I went with pretty much as straight forward Scenario 11. Airborne Assault from the rulebook. In keeping with my ideas for the action I decided to deploy only 1 Company on the objective with an MG unit in the pillbox and with an HQ and FAO also deployed. The other units would be held in reserve and come onto the table from one of the 4 roads on a random die roll.

For the Italian units they would deploy as per the scenario, rather than using the more fun dropping marked bits of paper onto the table route. This was simply to help speed things up, but I do prefer the dropped paper route as it does produce a nice random element to the deployment.

The British units deployed in an all round defensive posture on the bridge, with barbed wire deployed to the South to face the expected route of a land based attack.
The village of Pratt's Bottom to the South of the river, with Pratt's Folly to the North West and Home Farm just North of the bridge.
The defensive positions viewed from the East.
The view from the West, with the command post in the form of the telephone box in plain view.
Turn 1
The Italian airborne assault was preceded by targeted dive bomber attacks by the Luftwaffe. The Henschel HS 123 attacks succeeded in supressing the British command  and mortar unit in the defensive cordon. Following on behind the Ju-52s arrived and dropped their cargo with admirable accuracy North and South of the river.

The Italian 1st Battalion landed in and around Pratt's Folly, with the main assault team quickly setting off towards the bridge. The support team was a bit slow off the mark but did manage to assemble their ATG and mortar.

The Italian 3rd Battalion landed to the West of Pratt's Bottom, again with the assault team quickly moving into action, with them suppressing the British troops South of the bridge and setting up a flanking manouevre into the village. The support team was a bit disorganised having landed in and around the wood to the South West of the village.

With the HQ unit still reeling from the dive bomber attack, there was not a lot the British could do at the bridge. The FAO failed to make contact with his Field Artillery battery, so it was now a case of awaiting the arrival of the rest of the Battalion and the Westminster Dragoons. 

The die was rolled and they were to arrive on the road at the Southern end of the table. The Battalion HQ failed but the CO arrived with the Vickers light tanks, which proceeded to advance with all speed towards the sound of gunfire. They caught the Italian ATG in the open and proceded to suppress it with a hail of MG fire, giving them a real edge as the Italian troops had no AT rifles.

The first dive bomber attack which caused the suppression of the HQ and mortar.
The second attack was less successful.
The result of the first attack.
The 'Tante Ju' arrives bringing with it the 3rd Battalion.
The 1st Battalion arrives.
The 3rd Battalion deploys on arrival.
Some units are suppressed having landed in the wood.
The 1st Battalion arrives, but has units suppressed in the river and the rocky hill.
The view towards their objective.
They deploy in all round defence in case of attack.
The 1st Battalion assault team quickly moves towards the British defensive perimeter.
The 3rd Battalion assault team takes the attack to the British.
"Marching to the sound of gunfire". The Westminster Dragoons arrive to attack the recently landed Italians.
An overview of the battle field.
Turn 2
Suprised by the speedy arrival of the British armour, the 3rd Battalions' support team moves into cover of the woods where possible. Meanwhile the 3rd Battalion assault team ignores the threat to their rear and conrinues to attack the British, finishing off the dug-in infantry unit South of the river.

The 1st Battalion has an attack of the nerves, with both HQs failing to get their orders through. However the CO steps in and things soon get moving with both the assault and support teams moving into position for the attack.

The Westminster Dragoons initiative fire into the Italian ATG, quickly finishing it off, which is a major blow for the Italians. However the Battalion reinforcements fail to show up again, so there is little progress on this front.

Things hot up at the bridge, despite the FAO once again failing to get through. However combined fire from the infantry and mortar and pillbox see an MG unit nearly destroyed and an infantry unit suppressed in the village.

The CO steps in to get the 1st Battalion into position. Things are not looking too rosy for the British at the bridge.
The Italians take hits as they finish off one unit South of the bridge.
The Vickers light tanks make quick work of dispatching the Italian ATG.
End of play Turn 2.
Turn 3
In a suprise move, the Italian support team sends an infantry unit to assault the Westminster Dragoons. Blind to the attack on their right flank, the tank succumbs to the assault and the Italian infantry retreat into the woods before the British really know what has hit them. Unfortunately the HQ fails to capitalise on this show of bravado, leaving things precariously balanced. The 3rd Battalion assault team rashly advance, only to be suppressed by MG fire from the pillbox.

The 1st Battalion starts to get a bit edgy at the prospect of attacking the dug-in British, despite overwhelmingly superior numbers and fire power. The CO has to step in once again, but hits have started to mount on the British mortar team.

Once gain the British FAO fails, as does the HQ at the bridge, despite operating from his command post. However things look up on the other front with the arrival of the Battalion reinforcements, who advance with all speed towards the woods and the Italian infantry. The Vickers light tanks fire into said woods, but fail to hit anything, most likely blinded by the smoke from their burning comrades tank. The infantry attached to the CO have better luck, causing hits on the Italians but taking hits in return.
The Italian assault of the Westminster Dragoons...
... and the suprising result.
The 3rd Battalion moves to attack the bridge, but takes fire from the pillbox.
The 1st Battalion really just can't get moving.
The arrival of the Battalion reinforcements.
The firefight by the woods.
End of play Turn 3.

Turn 4
The 1st Battalion support team initiative assaults the British mortar, who only succumb to the inevitable after two turns of close combat. The rest of the Battalion pours fire into the British position, but to no effect.

The 3rd Battalion assault team wisely decidedes that discretion is the better part of valour and startsd to move back from assaulting the bridge. With the threat to their rear increasing, they decided to leave it to the 1st Battalion to take the objective. The firefight in the woods by the support team continues, but again to little effect.

The British FAO finally manages to get through to his Field Battery of 18pdrs, but the rounds deviate, only managing to supress the 3rd Battalion assault team HQ and one infantry unit. There is no action at the bridge, but the Battalion reinforcements continue their advance towards the edge of the cornfield, so as to be in a position to support the Westminster Dragoons. The infantry and Westminster Dragoons pour fire into the wood, finishing off one infantry unit and supressing two others.
The 3rd Battalion assault team start to retreat from attacking the bridge.
With the mortar team gone and Italian units on two sides, things are looking grim for the Brisitsh.
The attacks continue at the wood.
The Brisith infantry arrive to lend weight to the attack, but is this a case of "too little, too late?"
End of Turn 4.
End of Game
By the end of Turn 4 it was obvious that the game was all but up for the British. It was only a matter of time before the Italians would overwhelm the defences at the bridge, giving them the objective and the game. Even if I had decided to carry on, the British forces would not be strong enough to clear the Italian 3rd Battalion from in and around Pratt's Bottom, despite having armoured support, talk less of moving on to re-take the bridge. So I wisely called it a day and gave victory to the Italians.

Only a matter of time for the beleagured British.

Post Match Analysis
I was suprised at how quickly the game turned in favour of the Italians. To be honest I thought they would have a tough job gaining the objective. So why did the Italians win so quickly? Well a few thoughts below might explain things:
  • I decided to try a 'historical' deployment and only have a company defending the bridge. In hindsight this was simply not enough to withstand the Italians for any meaningful length of time. I should have deployed at least a 1/3 of my infantry and the MG guns, to give me good all round defence. You live and learn as they say.
  • The Italians were very quick off the mark, much more so than in other games I've played with them, so were able to close with the British more-or-less by Turn 1. Combine this with how close they were able to deploy to the objective, and potentially you have a game winning situation.
  • Having the British re-inforcements come on a random road didn't help the British. They would have been better off coming on from one of the roads North of the river, which would have severely hampered the Italian 1st Battalion. However being a solo game it worked as the Italians did not know where the British would arrive and so I had to play a careful game to start with.
  • With the British being Green troops, they simply did not have the firepower of the Italians, plus the extra die for suppression would have counted towards them in the long run. However it felt right for the scenario, but didn't help the game. But for a series of linked scenarios, I think it would be appropriate.
  • If I had deployed all of the British on the objective, I'm not sure whether the Italians would have been able to have a chance of taking the objective. Even with auto-suppression and hits staying on, dug-in troops are hard cookies to shift. I would need to re-gig the forces for both sides to play the scenario this way.
Well I learnt a lot from this scenario, as it's the first time I've played this. I will take the lessons outlined above for the next time I attempt an airborne assault. You live and learn as they say.

Lack of Gaming Time
As an aside to the game itself, I have often wondered why I simply don't get more games in, whether solo or with my friends. I thought about this as I was setting up the game, and so have jotted down a few thoughts below:
  • Like many gamers I do not have a dedicated games room. I play my games in the dining room. This means I have to find time when I can set things up and not get in the way of the family.
  • I do not have dedicated storage space. My figures, scenery etc are spread across the house, in the attic and the garage. Getting everything together takes time. I roughly timed myself whilst setting the game up and I took around 2 hours to get the table set. This is as long as a normal game!
  • At the end of a game I have to put everything away. Add on another hour.
  • Coming up with a scenario, sorting out army lists etc takes time. As a rough estimate this takes me over an hour, longer for a solo game as I have to do both sides. This tends to be thoughts out over a few days, but it still takes time. It is something I like to do as it adds flavour to a game, which is much more fun than two sides line up for an encounter type game.
  • Writing up an AAR. I enjoy this, but making notes during the game, taking pictures etc, then editing them and writing up the report take time. I reckon this AAR has taken me 4 hours or more, which is not unusual. Again it is spread over a few days, but it takes time.
  • So the game itself only takes up a 1/4 of the time involved in actually getting to play a game. No wonder I get to play so little! 
  • This is one reason that I have got into DBA 2.2 and Dux Bellorum, apart from being fun games to play, they take up so little time to set up, that I can actually spend more time playing games, which is what it's all about at the end of the day. 
So all I really need to do to overcome the issues outlined above is to get myself a dedicated games room. Now how do I broach the subject with SWMBO ...?


  1. Great looking game even given the effort to put on, I have found boxing all my collections into "period" boxes so I can get to items of choice quicker, depending whats popular depends on where I hide it in the house.

  2. A late comment here... I was concentrating on the battle report and missed the bit about lack of gaming time. A good summary, which applies to me, as well as an awful lot of gamers I reckon. Oh for the luxury of a dedicated wargames room!

    I see from your recent comment on my blog that the wargames muse has left you for the moment - I know the feeling. It will return, as I have found recently. A bit of painting and writing at my digs has made being being away from home more bearable of late.

    Cheers, Keith.

  3. I'm with you on the time issue. See my blog for post after post on this. I just commented on someone elses blog about their fast game they set up. It was a simple scenario on a simple board. About 20 minutes to set up.

    Thing is, I have a room i can use, but it's still hard to get down there to do it.

    And the AARs - they're awesome, but we'll get along without them, or to a smaller degree if it means you get more games in.

    But keep on playing and keep 'em coming.

    ps I've tried some ancient gaming, Kings of War "Ancients" and Impetus (like it) - but I don't get much enjoyment out of the era or style of game that is produced from ancients play. Too static i guess.

    I've also tried civil war, but again, not enough interest...and I just fizzle out on it.

    So, I guess WWII it is then. I have board wargames to play if I need a change of pace...while they set up faster and provide an unlimited number of scenarios, they can still take a while to play.