The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: November 2011

Interlude: On the Eve of Torch

There’s been a good amount of work done on crafting, improving, and correcting the initial draft of a WW/WitD update of Frank Watson’s original Desert Cauldron (DC) Battle Scenario (for the original GDW Western Desert war game) found in Europa Magazine #36. The initial draft of the DC revision was used as the OB of the current abbreviated WW Western Desert/Cauldron scenario used in the Game Reports to the EA. This DC reviser is thankful he didn’t dash off to the EA what he had at the very start of the war game reports, as he has done some useful corrections and necessary alterations of a couple of particular details of the Allied at start OB that were caught only by looking ahead in the Allied OB from the scenario’s May II 42 start. It seems relatively easy to revise the DC at start set-up from the old WD maps 18 & 19 to the newer WitD maps 18A & 19A, but refiguring the old WD Axis and Allied OB’s to the newer WitD OB’s is quite tricky, especially regarding the new ground units found in the WitD OB for the period. Where should a DC scenario reviser put them? Should some be eliminated? When comparing the original WD to WitD, one notices that there’s also been some OB date shifting around of some important Allied armored conversions which did not become apparent in the DC revision labor until their WitD changes were stumbled upon as the current WD/Cauldron scenario progressed.

Frank Watson’s “End of the Beginning” El Alamein battle scenario, beginning on the Oct II 42 Allied turn and found in Europa magazine #63, helped with crafting the revised DC at start OB in regards to the new WitD units. It also helped regarding the locations of the revised DC at-start airfields and will undoubtedly help a lot in determining the current WW WD/Cauldron scenario’s end-of-game victory point tallies, if that point is in fact reached for the game being played for the game reports to the EA. Perhaps both the DC and the “End of the Beginning” El Alamein battle scenarios raise the WW II strategic issue of an optimal post “fall of Tobruk epoch” Axis Western Desert strategy in the context of the the Afrika Korps inevitably finding itself at the end of 1942 trapped in between Montgomery’s strengthened Allied 8th Army and Eisenhower’s massive Torch invasion of French NW Africa. In his designer notes I think Watson admits that the “End of the Beginning” at-start set up puts “…Panzerarmee Afrika in a relatively untenable position and being asked to hold it.” He also says that “Montgomery’s plan [at Alamein] was to win the offensive battle using defensive tactics. At this he succeeded and the Axis [‘Europa as History’ Oct II 42 Axis counterattack at El Alamein] AH models this well.” One thing a WW WD/Cauldron campaign game does is, for one thing, allow the Axis player to explore alternative Axis strategies for a mid ’42 invasion of Egypt besides dashing itself against Motgomery’s El Alamein prepared defensive line, which of course is only part of what the “End of the Beginning” battle scenario is about. To a certain degree this “post fall of Tobruk epoch” Axis invasion of Egypt alternative strategy is what the EA game report WW WD/Cauldron campaign scenario has been a lot about. However, at this point in the DC discussion this desert war gamer must take the time to admit to the EA that the “fall of Tobruk” in Watson’s DC is no “done deal” at all, and that this “cardboard armchair Rommel” considers himself downright lucky in the current WD/Cauldron scenario that Tobruk in fact fell onto his lap “on the cheap,” thanks to the perhaps hasty and untimely Jul II 42 Allied turn “Crusader style” attack against the Tobruk Axis besiegers at 18A:4918. The combat die roll of 1 and the 3 to 1, -1 AR result only then in fact made the fall of Tobruk a “done deal,” whereas just prior to the attack the Axis player was seriously worried that he might not ever be able to capture the heavily defended improved fortress in the WW WD/Cauldron scenario with a relatively powerful Allied defensive force (relative to what Wavell had on hand in Egypt in the mid ’41 siege of Tobruk) just east of the Libya-Egyptian border. Watson says “Desert Cauldron can be a real slugfest” in his DC designer notes, and also that “…the Battle of Gazala hung on the brink.” Perhaps he tries to appease those influential desert gamers who might insist to him that Rommel’s capture of Tobruk must be a “done deal” (because it’s “historical!”) each and every DC battle scenario game by offering a “Tobruk in Disrepair” Optional Rule which, as he admits “…obviously tilts play balance in favor of the Axis player.” In real life the ’42 fall of Tobruk was perhaps a risky war battle gamble, and as such may well be what one writer (Samuel W. Mitcham) has called “Rommel’s greatest victory.”

For all the EA postings related to a 1942 Axis amphibious invasion of Malta done earlier this summer and early fall, I don’t think any brought up the fact that in Watson’s additional DC Axis OB for using Cauldron as a starting point for the older WD “War in the Desert” campaign game, he calls for an Axis planned at-start special operation against Malta for the Jul II 42 Axis turn involving “all units in the Axis Special Forces Pools.” In his DC designer notes he says “historically, the special operation planned against Malta for Jul II 42 involved all units in the Axis Special Forces Pool except for one Italian 3-6 infantry division, which was planned for an amphibious operation against Gozo…on the same turn.” This self-styled “DC reviser” confesses to deleting this original stipulation in the present WW WD/Cauldron scenario done for the EA game reports because at the time he believed it to be an unwanted “chain hobble” that was doomed to failure if attempted, and thus limited the Axis player in attempting other possible special ops in the second half of ’42 WW WD/Cauldron time frame: specifically using the Ju 52s for supply and reinforcement cargo carrying from mainland Europe to Libya, or else perhaps for a daring and admittedly risky air op against Cyprus for the purpose of gaining airfields closer to the Suez Canal in order to more readily strat bomb it for Axis VP’s, or else to perhaps augment Axis air drops at Tunisian hexes on the Nov I, Nov II, and/or the Dec I 42 turns (using the Folgore para IIIs and/or the Nov I and Nov II 42 Axis WitD OB Lw para IIIs for the Torch scenario) in order to better initially secure the Axis Tunisian bridgehead. Perhaps someday, if a worthy DC revision is ever posted/published, a Europa desert game aficionado can demonstrate to the EA or the Europa magazine “how to do it.” This labor can clear the air if in fact the WW rules actually allow for these sort of dramatic but complex sp ops to actually occur or if the rules are in fact one way or another “broken” and little more than useless window dressing whose main purpose is to maybe fool and deceive war game buyers into thinking they’ve bought a fascinating product enabling them to explore such genuine WW II possibilities. The 1942 Axis amphibious/air drop Malta operation is evidently no idle and silly table talk, as the real historical existence of the It Folgore para XX, the It air lndg XX 80 LS, and the Lw para X Ramcke (regardless of its wretched permanent supported status in the current WitD OB) is no joke or deception. Their otherwise pointless existence in late 1942 can probably only be explained in the context of the abandoned mid ’42 Malta amphibious/air drop mission.

One problem that’s becoming evident to us here while playing the WW WD/Cauldron scenario is that the Jan II 43 game end and the western edge of map 18A in effect puts the WW Western Desert campaign in a vacuum: the world in North Africa becomes flat and its westernmost edge is a few miles west of Tripoli. That’s one reason why we’re using the more severe Axis Reinforcements OB found in Watson’s “End of the Beginning” scenario. I think what the Western Desert scenario really needs is a map 25A add-on (or at least the eastern half of it) and then a skillfully crafted rework of Rick Gayler’s Kasserine Crisis II, found in Europa magazine #37, perhaps with the ultimate hope in the Western Desert scenarios of allowing the Axis and Allied players to play out the initial Axis occupation of Tunisia and its early battles there with the eastward advancing Allied Torch ground units entering the zone in the Nov I 42 to Jan II 43 time frame, with the WW WD scenario still ending on the Jan II 43 game turn. This idea is not my own and I first heard of it from Victor Hauser at least 25 years ago. Even though the current Axis final VP situation appears somewhat favorable in the WW WD/Cauldron game being reported to the EA, it’s the belief of both players right now that in terms of Axis world war strategy and assuming the existence of a Tunisian Axis bridgehead, the Afrika Korps needs to be largely west of Tripoli at least by the end of January 1943, lest the Tunisian bridgehead be prematurely encircled by the Allied Torch invaders and the Axis end in North Africa ultimately being played out around two diminishing Axis enclaves centered at its remaining major port standard supply sources: Tunis and Tripoli. The implication here is a successful Allied eviction of the Axis in North Africa possibly well before the historical May I 43 game turn. This should perhaps somehow affect Italy’s continued participation as a German ally in Second Front. In the larger context of a WW North African or War in the Desert campaign scenario, the Allied player should perhaps be allowed an additional fairly substantial amphibious capability against the Axis in late 42 and early 43 in both the Tunisian and the Libyan war zones. Watson maybe has the beginnings of this concept in mind with his Allied Amphibious Capability optional rule found in his “End of the Beginning” scenario. Second Front players need to ponder how to link WitD to SF and then figure out how the Axis can economize their losses in North Africa for eventual use in defending Italy from a Husky type Allied invasion and also how the Allies can hasten the end of the Axis presence in North Africa, perhaps using the aforementioned enhanced amphibious assault concept in western Libya or in Tunisia around perhaps Sfax or Sousse. Maybe a future SF game will need to include a super-bloated Herman Goering 25-10 Pz XX for use in Sicily, assuming elements of it were never sent to Tunisia to be subsequently destroyed.

In a small but probably important addition to the revised DC at start Allied OB, the Br Colonial 0-1-4 const X 43 RPC has been included and placed in “Syria or Lebanon” along with the 0-1-4 const X 61 RPC and the 0-4 const X 54 RPC. All three const Xs are busy building the Haifia-Tripoli RR and will be released on the Jan I 43 Allied turn. Per the WitD OB, the 43 RPC const unit is “historically” removed from the Allied ME replacement pool on the Jun I 41 turn. But I currently believe its inclusion is needed afterwards in WW to make game sense out of the WW Haifia-Tripoli RR construction requirement and also to provide the Allied player with a third const/eng unit in the Western Desert in the second half of ’42, which both myself and my opponent believe the Allies then need to make a good go of it. I’ll admit, however, that Watson evidently excludes the 43 RPC const unit in his “End of the Beginning” Allied OB.

Oct II 42

Allied Turn

The weather die roll is a 1, and so the weather remains calm in the Western Desert. But next turn there’s a 2 in 6 chance of mud in the Djebel Akhdar region in the Cyrenaican “bulge,” which throws a new factor of instability into the Western Desert war zone. In the initial phase the Allied player still does no ground unit replacement builds, evidently keeping his inf and arm RP’s either for quick rebuilds of important offensive units after big attacks or else maybe for VP’s at the end of the game, which in the WW Western Desert scenario occurs at the end of the Jan II 43 game turn. Near the end of the initial phase the Axis player sends out eleven B, D, and F (the RE 2001 CB) type air units on the harassment mission to possibly completely protect his desert front line from any Allied ground attacks. They fly the harassment missions to Egyptian hexes 0519-0520-0521, 0419 (Halfaya Pass)-0420-0421-0422, and 0320-0321.

At the start of the movement phase the Allied player gets all his gsp’s to Malta without any ntp losses due to the Axis anti-shipping Cent Med die rolls. He also sea transports two gsp’s to Cyprus to supply the Ind 2-8 inf X 7 and the British Colonial 1-2-8 inf X SDF defending the East Med island. The 8th Army’s 1-2-8 eng X moves westwards from Matruh, builds a 3-cap temporary airfield at 1119, and ends its movement phase at 1018. The 0-1-4 const X 64 RPC builds a 2-cap temporary airfield at 1319, and the 0-1-4 const X 66 RPC moves form 1519 to the newly built airfield at 1119. At the first opportunity in the Allied movement phase the Axis player does a non-phasing air transfer of all five Ju 52s based in the Tripoli vicinity back to the Mainland Europe off-map holding box.

Then, in the most aggressive 8th Army action of late, the Allied player advances up to within two hexes of the Axis desert front line “shield” at Bardia, 19A:0218, and 18A:5119, and ends his turn’s movement with his powerful desert front line stacks at 0421, 0420 (just south of Halfaya Pass), and at the fine overlooking ridge defensive position at 0520. Intermediate flanking stacks are at Sidi Barrani, 0721, and 0922; and the Ind 1-2-10* anti tnk X is the southern flanking lynch pin at 1024. When asked why he does no port bombing night missions against Tobruk, Derna, or Bengazi, the Allied player says that this would only be aiding the Axis player’s westward retreat “to do” list of facility damage. By the same token the Allied player has for some time declined utilize Rule 37F-Allied Raiding Forces and do any “desert rat” attacks on Axis airfields by doing the appropriate die rolls on the Success Table. Evidently this turn’s thick wall of harassment just east of the Egypt-Libyan border has saved the Axis desert front line from ground attacks during another Allied combat phase. But the Axis defensive “house of cards” becomes harder to balance each turn, and as he retreats the availability of Axis airfields for the numerous air units needed for the desert defense becomes a critical factor. Moreover, proclaiming themselves True Believers in the pursuit of a genuine “historically accurate” WW II WW WD/Cauldron scenario, both Europa war game players think the right thing to do is to use Frank Watson’s “Axis Reinforcements” OB for the Western Desert scenario found in his “End of the Beginning” El Alamein battle scenario published in Europa Magazine #63, which calls for some additional Axis Western Desert scenario withdrawals than specifically called for in the WitD Axis OB. Perhaps more later on the “hard road” in WW desert games in the second half of 1942.

German Turn

In the initial phase the Axis player rebuilds the aborted Ger Ju88A4 bomber, the only Ger air unit in the Axis Med/NA replacement pool, leaving a net of 2 Ger ARPs. He also rebuilds an eliminated It MC 200 and the aborted CR 42 to be withdrawn the next Axis turn, leaving 1 It ARP. Near the end of the initial phase the non-phasing Allied player sends harassment to 19A:0223, 0323, 0324, & 0423 in order to hopefully prevent the Axis this turn from sweeping around his desert front line at 0421-0420-0520 and attacking. The harassment missions to hexes 0223 & 0323 are within interception range of two Axis fighters at 19A:0218 (the Me 109G2 and a MC 202) and the Allied player sends some fighters as escort along with each bombing mission. But once again the Axis player declines to intercept the Allied harassment missions. He has no intention of risking possibly bloody ground battle clashes (with maybe EX or HX results) at this time and place and doesn’t want to risk losing any good fighters now for the sake of attrition combat alone. Anyway, the Allied player has 12 remaining ARPs. He feels he needs every available Axis fighter and strong front line ground unit in the upcoming Nov I 42 Allied turn in order to face down potential Allied ground attacks and thereby continue a little longer his slow but steady strategic retreat westwards. To be sure, there is perhaps at least one more game turn and likely one more geographical zone on map 18A where the Axis player may choose to take a stand and risk a desert clash ground battle die roll.

At the start of the movement phase the Axis player sends out the He 111H4 at Tripoli on a Malta Status night bombing mission and scores a hit, upping the Malta Status to 5. The Heinkel bomber successfully lands at Tripoli. Then for the second time the Axis player attempts to sea transport the It air lndg XX HQ unit across the Cent Med and rolls 11, but the subsequent die roll on the Shipping Results Table results in a NE (no effect), and the air lndg XX HQ unit safely disembarks at Tripoli harbor (18A:0121) and later moves to the airfield just south of the port at 18A:0122. Using three Ju 52s, the Axis player airlifts another step of attack supply from mainland Europe to the 3-cap permanent airfield at 18A:0122. Two other Ju 52s airlift one of the It 1-6 air lndg IIIs and one Ger inf RE & one It inf RE from mainland Europe to the Tripoli airfield at 0121. Using the remainder of his 3 RE on-map Cent Med shipping ability, the Axis player then safely coastal ships one Ger arm RE from Bengazi to the Tripoli harbor.

The Ger 0-8 const III Afr at coast hex 19A:0217 moves to Tobruk (18A:4817), where it does another hit of port damage, bringing the port hit total there to three, and ends its movement at adjacent coast road hex 18A:4118 (where there’s also a 3-cap temporary airfield), along with the It 2-3-8 art III 16C, the Ger 2-8 inf III 382, and the It 0-8 lt AA II 83. The It 0-6 const III 10A at Bengazi, having completed the two turn fort there, admin moves southwards to road hex 3427, adjacent to Agedabia. The It 0-6 const III 5A at nearby hex 18A:3228 moves to the 1-cap permanent airfield at El Agheila (2930), where it spends its remaining MP’s, upping it to a 2-cap.

The Afrika Korps continues its westwards strategic retreat and creates a new desert front line shield beginning at Tobruk and going due south to 4818 & 4819, with a short close-in southern flanking defensive line angling SW at 4720 & 4620. The large stony desert hex region south of Tobruk probably aids the Axis front line defense against Allied mobile units, at least for the next Allied turn. Covering the southern flank farther westwards are two It 3-6 inf XXs at 4320 (in an at-start Cauldron fort) & 4021. At Tobruk are 18 defense factors with half ATEC and three flack factors. The Tobruk stack includes two It arm XXs, an It hv AA II, the It aslt eng II 31G, and the Lw 4-8* para X Ramcke. At 4818 are 20 defense factors with full AECD/ATEC, seven flack factors, and the stack includes the 21st pz XX. The stack at 4819 (where there’s also a 3-cap temporary airfield) has the 15th pz XX, 19 defense factors with full AECD/ATEC, and five flack factors. The third It arm XX is at 4720. Nearly every Axis B, D, and F type air unit is in the Derna-El Mechili-Tobruk triangle (a total of 23 Axis air units in this zone) except for the He 111H4 at Tripoli and the G 50bis at Bengazi. In the triangle’s rearward hexes are the Ger 4-3-8 art 221 and the 2-10 mot inf III SV 288, both poised for their Nov I 42 conversions. At Bengazi the It 136 GF HQ and inf III units are stacked for their 2-8 inf XX conversion. To the south in the central Cyrenaica, south of the stony desert region below Tobruk, at hex 18A:4525, is an It mobile force stack of five defense factors acting as a blocking force in case the Allies attempt a large westward sweep-around of the Afrika Korps in their direction. It is comprised of two 2-10 mot inf IIIs (one supported, a breakdown of the 5-8 inf XX 102 Trn) and the 1-8 mot art III 2AC. Although the It mobile force is placed there with the hopeful intention of ultimately surviving, the Allied player certainly might attempt to encircle it with zoc’s in his Nov I exploitation phase with the intention of eventually running it down and eliminating it on his Nov II 42 turn. Of course, in order to help protect the new Axis desert front line shield now only five hexes away from the Allied desert front line, a large amount of Axis harassment will need to be sent out in the initial phase of the upcoming Nov I 42 Allied turn.