Last night British tanks poured over the Egyptian/Libyan border to try and relieve the siege of Tobruk. Yes…Tom Garnett ran the first of his Operation Crusader scenarios. He is aiming to create an entire scenario book on the topic. The battle was titled, ‘Trial by Combat’ and has a company of tanks (Crusaders) assaulting a company of dug in Bersaglieri with tank support and (as always) is based directly on an historical engagement.
The Italians were hunkered down in their ‘hedgehog’ fortifications when twelve British tanks drove in over some undulating ground. As this was still pre-El Alamein, the Brit tanks came on in a true cavalry charge without any infantry support…although they did have a forward observer in a scout car to call in some 25lb barrages.
The British (a company from the 22nd Armored Brigade, 7th Armored Division) did not have much time so they needed to move right at the Italians. Exiting six tanks off of the Italian board edge was required for victory. A new rule was used where a Company Leader can move several tank platoons as one unit, there by minimizing the amount of opportunity fire but limiting flexibility of movement. Following on the heels of the artillery barrage the British tank formation dove right into the Italians. Anti-tank guns opened up but the shots went wide and some Close Support Crusaders drove right over a hedgehog.
Armed only with grenades (and from the look of it …faulty ones) the Italian infantry was not able to do much to the charging steel monsters. They were forced to take refuge in their bunkers. It looked like it would be a ‘piece of cake’ for the Desert Rats…but an anti-tank gun got a solid hit and the first British tank was stopped. Then…a platoon of Italian M13/40 moved onto the board to back up the hard-pressed Bersaglieri.
A tank fight broken out and tanks from both sides began to brew up. For the moment the impetus of the British charge was broken. Interestingly, the first thing that happened was the British tank formation broke up and fight became much more of a melee. (That seemed to be a good effect of the formation rule.)
It wasn’t looking great for the Brits and although their permanent initiative chip had given them an advantage the Italian used their one-use chip to try and get an edge in the tank on tank fight. But alas the Dice-Gods were not kind to the Italian tankers (played by Mark Stricker) and all of their shots went wide. (Mark even made one of his fellow player move to the other side of the room to prevent bad dice karma…it did not help.) Although the Italians were putting up a good fight the weight of numbers started to tell and eventually the M13/40 fell one by one. but they did take a hefty toll.
Finally, the last Anti-tank gun was put out of action and the British just managed to exit six tanks claiming victory…but losing 8 tanks in the process. A pyrrhic victory.
Overall it was a very fun scenario ..a real tank fest! The new Tank Leader rules worked very well and I think they are going to make the tank combat something unique. We will be doing more… so stay tuned!