Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Battle of Qabr al Ahmar

Time once again to take a break from the Seven Year's War and dabble with my 6mm Desert War collection, using Blitzkrieg Commander II as the rules. 

As with most of my recent desert games I am taking inspiration from Frank Chadwick's book Benghazi Handicap, and the scenarios therein. This time I have chosen the first scenario given, the Battle of Qabr al Ahmar, which took place on August 5th 1940. Supposedly this was the first real tank battle of the desert campaign, and featured a number of the much derided M11/39 tanks on the Italian side:

It is sad to relate that the GHQ M11/39 tank models I needed for this battle were bought at Colours 2010, and have languished in their blister packs ever since. How time flies! But one of the conveniences of this scale that  you can assemble and paint, to a reasonable standard, 5 tanks from a pack in an hour or two. And so only very little effort was required to get the forces I needed ready.

Those of you who have the book might have noticed that the battle is called Gabr el Ahmar by Frank. There is almost nothing on this battle on the net or in any of my reference books, but one thing I think I have established is that it should be Qabr not Gabr, and al not el. Qabr translates as tomb (gabr doesn't translate as anything), so we can have a small building as the centrepiece of the terrain, really for decoration only. Here is the map from the book:

As usual, a 4' x 4' table is perfect for 6mm models, and the terrain is easily set up. Forces are also modest. These are the Brits from the book...

...which I have transposed for BKC into:

7th Armoured Brigade, plus Supports. CO, CV8

Initial Troops 

8th Hussars (+). HQ CV8
1 A9
1 37mm portee
2 Rolls Royce armoured cars (recce)


6th RTR. HQ CV8
3 A9

'A' Company, 1st Battalion KRRC. HQ CV8
3 infantry units in light trucks (veteran, ATR upgrade)
1 37mm ATG with tow
1 scout carrier (recce)

'F' Battery, 4th RHA (off table). FAO CV7
2 25pdr artillery units

BP = 9.  25% = 5

Reinforcements arrive move 3. May use flank deployment. CO arrives with reinforcements.

For the Italians the book gives...

...which I transpose as:

Raggruppamento Aresca. CO CV8

Initial Troops

1st Medium Tank Battalion. HQ CV7
5 M11/39

Motorcycle company, 201st Bersaglieri. HQ CV7
2 m/c infantry units (regular)
1 m/c mg unit (regular)


2nd Medium Tank Battalion (+). HQ CV7
5 M11/39
1 47mm ATG with tow

9th Light Tank Battalion (+). HQ CV7
5 L3/35
1 47mm ATG with tow

2nd Battalion, 201st Artillery Regiment (on table). HQ CV7
2 75mm artillery support units with tows (veteran)

BP = 11.  25% = 6

Reinforcements arrive turn 4. May use flank deployment. CO arrives with reinforcements.

I have separated the Italian initial forces into 2 commands, as I think it will be handy and fun to have the infantry available to go their own way. For the British initial forces, I have folded the Rolls Royces into 8th Hussars, reasoning they were supposed to act as a recce force for the tanks. This is obviously just personal choice.

2 pdrs will have to stand in for the 37mm ATGs of the Brits, as I don't have the correct models, but they will fight as 37mms, the stats being different. There are only 2 guns in the Italian artillery formation as I only have 2 suitable models, but I think this will be enough to represent their role. The Libyan-manned 47mm ATGs of the Italians have been added to the tank battalions.

The book states that reinforcements for both sides can enter 'from the north or south edge', which doesn't fit in with the map orientation (north being up, as usual). I have taken this as a misprint, having encountered something similar in one of the other scenarios, assuming it should read 'east or west edge'.

I have made my own assessments of troop quality, guided by Mr. Chadwick. The British infantry get veteran status. It is not normal with BKC to give veteran status to support units, but as the Italian gunners were famous for their resolve, they get the higher rating as well.

The game will be fought as a standard BKC encounter scenario, except that I have no idea whether the forces have equal points (and I don't intend to check!).

The Battle

Shallow wadis are represented by brown felt shapes: these are treated as high area terrain for movement purposes. Units in a shallow wadi can claim partial cover but do not get a save value. The rough ground (shown by the fine gravel seen in the bottom right hand corner) attracts the dense terrain modifier but offers no cover. Moving on Qabr al Ahmer also means a modifier for dense terrain.

The Italian 1st Medium Tank Battalion moved quickly to centre table, watching with bemusement the antics of the British initial forces (who suffered 2 command blunders in 4 moves)

Combat was limited until the arrival of the reinforcements. The Italians managed to get themselves sorted out into a reasonably balanced deployment.

The Italian 9th Light Tank Battalion have their moment of glory, cresting the rise of Qabr al Ahmar and machine gunning the KRRC company. They would soon be driven off by the British light tanks (see 'House Rules and Other Stuff' below).

Half the Italian artillery failed to arrive on table (another command blunder), but the half that did set themselves up on a rise to the east of the road and did some useful shelling.

The Italians didn't fancy flank deployment (with their low CVs), but 6th RTR managed a delayed flank deployment which brought them right under the barrels of the Italian 2nd Medium Tank Battalion.

A determined slugging match went on for several moves, which the Italians eventually lost.

Qabr al Ahmar was the focus of the fighting. The Italian 1st Tank Battalion suffered a command blunder which saw them recklessly charging forward into a hornet's nest of British fire, which was to lead to their destruction.

A cloud of smoke hangs over the battlefield as the game ends. British light tanks have also suffered, but victory was with the British who knocked out a large number of Italian units in the last couple of moves, taking the Italians well beyond their breakpoint whilst themselves only losing 6/9.

House Rules and Other Stuff
BKC2 doesn't give the British Vickers Light Tank MkVI an AT value, but the vehicle had a heavy machine gun (Vickers 0.50" or Besa 15mm) supplied with armour piercing rounds and designed for anti-armour fire. Hence I give these tanks 1/20 for their AT value, and they were able to drive the Italian L3/35s off Qabr al Ahmar during the game with no trouble.
The M11/39s fought nobly but in a firefight their limited traverse and AT value of 1/40 puts them at a real disadvantage. If anyone knows why their main armament gets only 1 attack rather than the 2 attacks of other 37mm/40mm weapons of this period, I would be glad to hear from you. For the moment I'll just go with the rules.

There is an interesting article by David Brown in the latest Battlegames (Issue 26) arguing that the Warmaster system makes command and control subject to rather too much luck. He makes a number of interesting points, and this battle might be seen to support some of them - there were a large number of command blunders which screwed up the plans of both sides for no apparent reason. I am happy to accept these as a bit of fun, but I can understand the reservations of some gamers. In BKC2 there is a rule allowing the CO to re-order units that failed to receive any orders from their HQ. This is a good and simple adaption which means players can bring some command focus to bear via a well placed commanding officer.

Paul rang the changes by bringing round some beer. This meant drinking Speckled Hen from cans, but then (as they say) war is hell!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Battle of Burndt

Now what Horse and Musket wargamer could come across this map and not want to fight out the battle? Not that I'm blowing my own trumpet here: the map comes from the 'Lead Gardens' blog which I have recently discovered and which I highly recommend (see Favourite Links). The map depicts the set-up for the fictional battle of Burnt Commons (September 1642), during the English Civil War campaign created by Littlejohn on his blog.

Not much imagination is needed to translate this into a SYW battle using Black Powder. The village of Burnt acquires a 'd' to make it sound Germanic, and we use the following forces:

Austria (Newcastle/Royalists)

C-in-C (SR8)

Infantry Brigade (Brigade Commander SR8)
4 line infantry battalions
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade (Brigade Commander SR8)
2 cuirassier regiments
2 dragoon regiments
1 hussar regiment
1 light infantry battalion

Prussia (Essex/Parliamentarians)

C-in-C (SR9)

Infantry Brigade (Brigade Commander SR9)
2 grenadier infantry battalions
3 line infantry battalions
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade (Brigade Commander SR9)
1 cuirassier regiment
1 dragoon regiment
1 hussar regiment
1 jager detachment

I resisted the obvious temptation to make the side marked in blue on the map the Prussians. That hill position looked too much like a typical Austrian defensive set-up, with the Prussians set to do the attacking. Therefore the Prussians have a couple of grenadier regiments included, and with their cavalry outnumbered it looks like they will be relying on their well-drilled infantry to carry the burden, as so often in real life. The Prussian infantry will be using the enhanced stats outlined in my post of 5th March, so we will see how they work. 
The dismounted dragoons on the right flank of both armies have been replaced by light infantry as I have no appropriate figures for dragoons on foot. The light infantry and hussars on both sides will use the 'marauder' rule, the hussars being set down where the isolated cavalry units are shown on the map.
Two brigades a side is a small battle for BP, so I will be using one of my alternative Brigade Morale house rules. For this battle, units will count as lost for brigade morale only if they have been destroyed or have left the table and cannot return. That should avoid the action being over too soon. 
The first side to have both its brigades broken will lose. If the winning side then has no brigades broken, they have scored an outstanding victory. If they have one brigade broken, they have had a hard fight and only score a minor victory.
Original table size was 8' x 5', but the original battle featured 40mm figures. Therefore I chose a 6' x 4' table which would give about the same amount of room for my 30mm soldiers.

The Game

"So is this battle going to be good for business?"
The tavern in Burndt before the game
The set-up. I was able to be pretty faithful to the scenario map.

On the Austrian right the Croats keep a close eye on some of my recently painted sheep. These troops remained unengaged for the entire battle

Prussians eye-view of the Austrian infantry position.

The game gets under way. The Austrians were sprightly and aggressive from the word go. They moved off the hill and formed all their infantry battalions into a single line. The Prussians edged forward to meet them, intending to give them a taste of Prussian volley fire.

On the Prussian left, their cuirassiers (foreground) decided to take the opportunity to charge their Austrian opposite numbers, as the second Austrian heavy cavalry regiment had headed off into the fields.  With an uncanny foresight that was to be a feature of Austrian tactics for the rest of the battle, the Austrians didn't countercharge but rested on their numerous supports. Despite the Prussians' charging advantage casualties were equal in the melee, and so the support bonuses saw the Prussians driven back through their own supporting dragoons. The subsequent Austrian 'sweeping advance' then destroyed the dragoons, leaving the situation as seen in the above photo. 

In the next turn the Austrians pressed home their advantage on the disordered Prussian cuirassiers. The result was predictable - the Prussian left wing cavalry had now been wiped out, and the cavalry brigade as a whole was broken. In the background the infantry firefight continues.

The Prussian infantry commander swings his second line to counter the unopposed Austrian cavalry...

...but the Austrians are on a roll. The leading cuirassiers get 3 orders and set off to cause mayhem in the Prussian rear (right background). Note the Prussian hussars pushed into the far corner of the table by their compulsory retire moves (extreme background). The Austrian dragoons prepare to charge the nearest Prussian infantry battalion in front and flank.

The Austrian command rolls continued to go well. The Prussian infantry battalion was driven back through the unit to its rear (centre background), although the doughty Prussians saw off one of the dragoon regiments with closing fire and shook the other in the melee. The marauding Austrian cuirassiers charged and destroyed the Prussian artillery battery: they are seen reforming on the left of the photo. 
Now the Prussian infantry were enveloped and under the most severe pressure. Austrian fire had already despatched the left hand infantry battalion of the Prussian first line: now the neighbouring grenadier battalion was destroyed. Under the revised brigade morale rules the brigade was technically still in being, but with 2 other Prussian infantry battalions shaken, the Prussian commander (myself) decided to call it a day.

On the Prussian right flank the Austrian hussars had moved aggressively against the farm, hoping to push out the jagers. (We had decided that the farm would not count as a built up area, in keeping with what we saw as the spirit of the original scenario. The walls were cover, the building counted as decoration).

The jager were affected by the breaking of the Austrian cavalry brigade and had to give way to the approaching hussars. They were then charged in the final move of the game, surprisingly holding their own. 
But this made no difference to the final result. The Prussian infantry were obviously about to be broken, whilst both Austrian brigades were intact. Therefore, the Austrians (curse them) had scored an outstanding victory.

In Conclusion
We had completed 5 moves in a leisurely 2 hours of gaming. The Austrian command rolls had rarely failed them and they ended up running rings around the Prussians, an unusual experience for Frederick's men. The rules had produced a typically sprightly and incident-packed game.
The increased firing stats of the Prussian infantry didn't seem to give them an unfair advantage, and I will continue to use them. In accordance with tradition, we had consistently forgotten the -1 to command rolls when within 8" of the enemy (12" in the original rules). We always seem to forget the equivalent rule when playing Blitzkrieg Commander! Still, it was the same for both sides. Another rule we often forget is that firing dice rolls of 6 cause disorder. Why this important rule consistently slips our minds is a mystery. But the game was most enjoyable anyway. Paul's excellent bottle of Berberana Rioja simply added to the pleasure!