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Europa Games and Military History

Month: October 2012

Advice from a veteran player

Yay – we have a breadcrumb navigation now, thanks to a small php project that I was able to use. Three cheers for open source!

In even more exiting news, Rich Velay has agreed to the Generalstab publishing his recent thoughts on the defense of Sicily in Second Front. Rich, apart from being a regular contributor of well-crafted posts to the Europa Mailing List, is the guy who knows Second Front better than any other player, and his advice is as usual clear and sound. Frankly his contribution is an article that would most likely ended up being published in TEM – as did a lot of the game reports we have in our archive. But since the last issue was published some years ago and new ones don’t seem to be forthcoming, we from the Generalstab are happy to step in. So for those who missed his series of posts on the mailing list, here’s the article.

Carrying on with Nuts and Bolts

Previously I discussed how although a 3:1 was a very good attack for the Allies when amphibiously assaulting a port, I noted that a 2:1 was only a 50/50 proposition. However, a 2:1 attack is only a 50/50 proposition IF the Allies win the EX and HX – if they don’t then they only win the attack on a dr of 6.

To win an EX/HX the attacker must have a printed attack strength which equals or exceeds the printed defence strength of the defender. [Note that the attacker always wins ties, when it comes to printed strength.]

Note well the sequence involved in apportioning losses and performing retreats – the loser of the EX/HX always takes their losses [and performs any retreats] BEFORE the winner does. This means that in equal exchange of losses the loser will have no units in the hex BEFORE the winner takes their losses – thus the winner of the EX/HX ALWAYS gains sole ownership of the hex, regardless of any losses the winner of the EX/HX is required to take.

For example, assuming my suggested strength for defending a port of 17 DS; if the Allies have at least 17 printed strength points participating in the combat, then they will gain ownership of the hex even on an EX result wherein they have to lose their entire force of 16 strength points to match the losses of the defender. Even if the hex is left entirely empty by the combat, the Allies will have been the last to occupy it and thus gain ownership of it. If the Axis want to better protect their ports, at a reasonable cost in troops then they should keep these mechanics in mind. There are two totally different ways to approach the problem of losing EX/HXs – one related to strength and one related to ZOCs.

With regards to strength, if the defender exceed the printed strength of the attacker, then the defender wins the EX/HX. Our good Allied stack, outlined in a previous post, had an effective combat strength of 5, but a printed att str of 18 – thus vs a DS of 17, those 18 printed str pts would suffice to win the EX/HX.

So adding a few def str pts at particularly important ports won’t cost you too much, but can insure that the attacker loses the EX/HX due to the defender having the greater printed def str. While having 20 printed def str won’t change the odds any vs the Allied 48 att str pt attack, it will insure that the Allies are the ones eliminated by any EX/HX. Note that this effectively changes a 2:1 att into a 1:1 attack, since the possible results are the same, i.e. if the Allies lose the EX/HX then they can only win the combat on a dr of 6 – exactly the same as at 1:1 odds. Pretty good bang for the buck…

The other way to deal with the question EX/HX combats and hex ownership is to recall that an uncontested ZOC gains ownership of any hex which is not enemy-occupied nor in an enemy ZOC. So for example, if the Allies have landed at a port and won the combat through an EX which eliminated their entire force [as well as eliminating the defending force of course], the hex is unoccupied but Allied owned. However if there is an Axis XX adjacent to the hex, then its ZOC [being uncontested] will take ownership of the hex.

So simply having a XX adjacent to a port hex protects the port in the case of Exchanges which totally eliminates both sides. Given the vagaries of the dice this effect may never come into play of course [and how many cases of total elimination of both sides do you encounter] BUT it is a concept worth keeping in mind for those particularly valuable ports.

I’d like to talk a little bit about placing forts to aid in the defence of Sicily. Assuming that you as the Axis are committed to defending Sicily, then obviously you want to get the most bang for your buck with regards to managing your various resources. You should NOT place a fort in a port hex if you intend to defend that port with a unit or stack which is 1/7th or more AECD. Ever. Let’s look at the effects of a fort – it modifies the combat dr by -1 and prevents the use of AEC, which means BOTH AECA and AECD. However any attack on the hex in which 1/7th or more Cbt Eng REs participate will be modified by +1 – negating the fort’s DRM. So it is a very simple thing for the Allies to negate the DRM from a fort by simply including an RE of Cbt Engs in any attack on a hex containing a fort. From the Axis point of view, the expenditure of the resource pt to get the fort has lost a lot of its value, since the fort can be eliminated as a concern in the combat, so easily.

Now if we had a PzGr XX in the hex without a fort, it’s half AECD would modify the combat by -2 [for half or more AECD] and the Allies, having no amphibious armor at this point in time, could not negate or even effect that DRM in any way. So if you intend to defend Sicily, and intend to commit Armor units to its defence, then think long and hard about placing forts in port hexes you intend to defend with AEC capable units. In a fort, that PzGr XX losses a LOT of its punch; in the fort, the combat is going to have a +/-0 DRM – without the fort, the combat will have a -2 DRM.
Obviously, as the defender, getting a -2 DRM is vastly superior to getting a 0 DRM.

Now obviously this doesn’t apply to hexes which are already “No AEC”, like Palermo [Maj City] and Catania/Messina [Dot Cities] where a fort is a good investment. But then these cities should also NOT be defended with AEC capable units anyway – use non-AEC capable units in hexes that don’t allow AEC, and use AEC capable units in hexes where AEC IS allowed. That’s a general rule of course, there may be situations where using a Pz XX, say, in a hex with “No AEC” makes perfect sense; but as a general rule it stands. One may suggest that by not including a fort in this port hex defended by the PzGr XX, you are costing yourself a level of CD, which otherwise could have an impact on any invasion against this port.

Well… no. Not having the fort will have at best a negligible effect on things, and more often than not, no effect whatsoever. Let’s look at the situation. Syracusa, for example, is a Mediterranean minor port, so it has one level of CD intrinsically. A fort has one level of intrinsic CD itself, so adding a fort to the Syracusa hex will increase the level of CD in the hex to two levels. Now unless you have *more* than four levels of CD in a hex, it isn’t going to be a big issue, at the best of times. CD is an irritant – it isn’t something that is going to even regularly inconvenience the Allies, let alone stop them.

Let’s look at the situation of the Allies dealing a hex with one level of CD and their dealing with a hex with two levels of CD. The one lvl situation first. An Allied combat NG consisting of two Br 16 pt TFs arrives adjacent to Syracusa at night having expended it’s last night MP, then enters the Syracusa hex in daylight, thereby entering the combat zone of the CD and initiating a round of naval combat. The Allied player declares that both of his TFs are in the TF body – he has no main body. Now the Axis player has to make a decision – put his single lvl of CD into the general group or into the reserve group. Putting it into the general group means that the Allied fire on the Naval Gunnery Table [NGT] will NOT have a -1 DRM, but the Axis CD CAN fire back at the TF body. If he places his single lvl of CD into the reserve group, then the Allies will fire with a -1 DRM on the NGT, but the CD will NOT be able to fire on anything [since CD str in the reserve group only fires on the main body – and the Allies have no main body.]

Considering that the Allies should, given average luck, inflict two firing hits on the CD regardless, the Axis player declares his single lvl of CD to be in the general group. Now we exchange fire. the CD fires with it’s single lvl with a +1 DRM – it has a 1/3d chance of inflicting a pt of damage on one of the Allied TFs. The Allies return fire, allocating their str pts to 3 firings at a str of 10, and 1 firing with strengths of 2. However, the first two firings with 10 str pts are guaranteed to automatically get a firing hit each, thus reducing the CD to 0 lvls and ending the round of combat.

But what if the Axis DID choose to put his lvl of CD into the reserve group? Well, now the lvl of CD faces Allied fire, at a -1 DRM, and with no chance to fire in return. With 32 str pts available, even with the -1 DRM, the Allies should be able to achieve two firing hits on the CD. But what if they don’t, through atrocious luck? Well, the combat NG backs out of the hex, re-enters it and begins a new round of naval combat with the CD. Repeat as needed.
Note that if the Axis player places his lvl of CD in the reserve group he is still going to see his CD reduced by one lvl [to zero] eventually, but he will not have any chance to inflict any damage on the Allies. Thus placing his lvl of CD in the reserve group seems pretty pointless.

Now the two lvl CD example. The Allied combat NG arrives in a hex adjacent to Syracusa by expending one MP in the daytime. The two lvl CD in Syracusa has a combat zone consisting of its own hex and all adjacent hexes, thus the Allied NG has entered its combat zone in moving adjacent, and thus naval combat is triggered. Once again, the Allies declare that both of their TFs are in the TF body – he has no main body. And again the Axis has to decide how to allocate his two lvls of CD. However, a CD’s gunnery str is halved when firing into an adjacent hex, unlike the gunnery str of TFs. So the CD has a str of one gunnery pt which can either be in the general group or the reserve group. As we just saw, placing gunnery str into the reserve group is pretty pointless when no main body is present in the naval combat, So the Axis player places his single gunnery str pt into the general group.

So we exchange fire: The Axis CD fires its single gunnery str pt on the Allied TFs and has a 1/3d chance of getting a hit. The Allies fire with their 32 str pts, divided up as they wish. Let’s assume that they fire twice with 10 str, twice with 5 str and twice at 1 str – they would be guaranteed two firing hits [reducing the CD by 1 lvl], 2 shots with a 50% chance each of inflicting a firing hit and two shots with 16% chance each of inflicting a firing hit. So that’s a better than 50% chance of inflicting two more firing hits, reducing the CD by another lvl, reducing it to zero lvls. But the Allies could miss with all four non-10 pt firing attacks, leaving the Axis CD with a single lvl. In that case, the combat NG pushes on into the Syracusa hex [since the CD only has one lvl, its combat zone is only present in its hex now] to trigger another round of naval combat. The CD will have another 1/3d chance of inflicting a hit and is guaranteed to be reduced to zero lvl by the end of the exchange of firings.

The Axis CD will be reduced to zero level and given average luck the Allies will escape without taking any losses, regardless of whether the Syracusa hex has one lvl or two lvls of CD to begin with. Yes, having two lvls of CD gives the Axis a [small] chance of being able to fire with a str of one twice rather than once, but only if they survive the first exchange of fire, which is an iffy proposition, but yes, could happen.

Thus, in a hex which the Axis intend to defend with an AECD capable stack there is nothing that I can see which justifies placing a fort therein. Not only do you WORSEN your chances in ground combat, but the benefit you get for doing so is marginal in the extreme.

On the other hand, placing a fort in a hex where the Axis are NOT going to be defending with an AECD capable stack makes sense both in terms of the ground combat AND the naval combat.

Economy of Forces

As I’ve no doubt made abundantly clear, I don’t consider a port adequately defended unless its def str can prevent a 3:1 attack. If the defence str allows a 3:1 then, as both an Allied player and an Axis player, I’d consider that port minimally defended, if not *undefended*. As I’ve explained, I believe that if you are going to use resources to accomplish a goal then you should use enough of those resources to have a VERY good chance to accomplish that goal – if you can’t, then don’t waste the resources. For me, that means if you can’t adequately defend a port, then what is the point in putting troops there at all? If they are not adequately defending the port, then they are serving no purpose in that hex and would be better off deployed elsewhere where they DO perform some useful function.

Let’s look at the numbers. I seem fixated on Syracusa for some reason, so let’s continue to use it as an example. As the Axis we have decided, or been forced through circumstance to accept, that we can NOT put 17 or more def str pts in the hex, nor can we surround it with non-OVable stacks in all adjacent hexes. [To further make the point concerning the necessity of surrounding defended ports with non-OVable units in each hex, let’s look at an example. The Allies have an invasion planned to assault Syracusa, with forces landing in the port hex and at Avola west of Syracusa, while an airborne drop is planned for the hex immediately NW of Syracusa. When the Allies made the plan, Syracusa was unoccupied – ripe pickings!

However, now the hex is occupied by the redoubtable LSSAH, a 20-10 Pz XX. Not even a fort in the hex! How will our invasion fare? We will be using what I have previously defined as a “good” US stack for each of the invasion hexes, i.e. a 4-8, 4x 3-8 and 2x 1-X amph units. Total of 10 grnd str, 49 NGS and 36 GS. For the airdrop we are using the 82nd Airborne [4-5, 3-5 and 2-5] along with 2 US air-droppable battalions and the Fr 2-8 Abn Cmdo. That’s 13 grnd str. For the example, we’ll assume all land disrupted – none healthy and none badly disrupted. Fair enough for argument’s sake. Thus they generate 6.5 att str and can be assisted by 24 NGS and 18 GS. So our total strength for the combat is 10 amphibious and 6.5 airborne str pts, 73 NGS and 54 GS, for a combined total of 143.5 att str. Compared to the LSSAH’s 20 def str. Which means we have a bit over a 7:1, with a -2 DRM. So how fares our assault?

Well, the Allies are GUARANTEED to take the hex, will reduce the Pz XX to cadre 4 times out of 6 and only have a 1 in 6 chance to take ANY losses, those being limited to 10 printed str pts worth of non-specialist units. So long LSSAH… and up to 3 months worth of German Arm repls…. if the Allies are smart and occupy Augusta BEFORE resolving this attack – thus denying LSSAH any retreat route, otherwise the Axis *only* lose two months worth of Arm repls…

Now let’s imagine the same situation, but with an additional two 1 str pt units added to the defense, one each located in each of the hexes adjacent to Syracusa. Now the Allies can muster no more than 48 att str vs. LSSAH’s 20 def str, or 2:1 -2 [assuming that Augusta is defended, of course]. Now the Allies are eliminated 6 times out of 6, the only saving grace the fact that they will cadre LSSAH 1 in 6 times. Regardless of the dr, the Axis retain ownership of the port hex.

Pretty impressive what two 1 str pt units in the right hexes can do, eh?

Moving on. Having decided the Axis won’t be putting 17 [or more] def str in the hex, nor surrounding it with a non-OVable screen, what SHOULD we put in Syracusa, and why? Well, if not 17 def str pts, then I would suggest 1 def str pt. Putting any more in the hex is simply a waste of resources. Against the 15-10 HG XX, the Allies get a 9:1 from three hexes, and a 6:1 from only two hexes. And a very do-able 3:1 from only ONE hex. Anything less than 17 screened def str pts and more than 1 str pts is simply pointless – its just giving the Allies free kills while not preventing them from taking the hex. A hex defended by a 5-7-6 Inf XX means you lose the hex AND the division, while not defending the hex means you lose it BUT not the 5-7-6. Wouldn’t that 5-7-6 ALWAYS be worth more in the hex adjacent to the port, say, rather than in that same hex, but now reduced to cadre?

But what about Ex losses, Disastrous Losses and VPs – don’t they matter? Well yes – but not so much. The Allies “basic” US two hex frontage invasion of 95 att str pts can get a 5: -2 vs even a 16-10 Pz XX. Now that AS scares me, in that it represents a 40 VP loss, but hey, no guts no glory. The EX gets me the port at a cost of 32 VPs, while the HX gets me the port at a cost of 16 VPs. All costly results, no question. However, first of all why would the Allies make a two hex frontage attack when the Axis is not employing screens? Make the three hex frontage attack [an 8:1 in this case] and accomplish your goal, getting the port, with no risk at all. Secondly, is even losing those 40 VPs on a dr of 1 at 5:1 -2 something catastrophic? It probably seems so when it happens, but given how the VP chart works, is it REALLY something that the Allies can’t recover from over time? I’d say no. However I’m planning on addressing VPs more completely in my concluding post, so I’ll move on.

The other reason that one might defend a port without sufficient force [as I define it, i.e. less than 17 def str and/or without a screen] is to have SOME unit or units there to allow other units to react into the hex, to augment the def str of the port. [Note that you can NOT react into an enemy occupied hex unless it is also friendly occupied.]

This raises the question of just why one would set up their defence relying upon the HOPE of a favorable reaction dr, when they could avoid the dr by simply placing the unit they hope to get to the hex, in the hex in the first place? If you intend to have some C/M XX, for example, roll for reaction into X port anyway, what’s the rationale for not just placing it there to begin with?

I simply can’t see the point in defending a hex with say, a 10-10 PzGr XX, when the Allies can, without any strain, get a 6:1 or better attack against the hex, automatically take it AND as a bonus have a chance to cadre the XX in the process. Sure, losing those 20 VPs on the EX vs the 10-10 will hurt, but if they have been lost taking a port and getting a foothold on Sicily, then however regrettable their loss, they have been spent in a good cause and their loss is justified by the position they gain for the Allies.

The Axis simply can NOT afford to waste troops by defending ports insufficiently. If you can not prevent a 3:1 at a port, then it isn’t worth defending AT ALL. The Allies have enough advantages in the game without the Axis giving them even more, by throwing away their own troops for no purpose.

Attacking Sicily

Moving on to the “guts” of the issue at hand. First off, my philosophy regarding combat odds and invasions – these considerations will effect all of the following. As an Allied player I would consider a 3:1 flat [i.e. no DRMs] attack as a sure thing. Regardless of the 1 in 6 chance for the devastating and disastrous AS on a die roll of one, I would always run this risk to grab a port.

As an Allied player I would consider a 2:1 flat attack as VERY risky, considering that it has a 50% chance of ending in disaster, on a dr of one through three – this is an attack that I might make, if I felt I had to, but 50/50 is not the sorts of odds I like when facing isolated losses [and note well that virtually ALL losses occurring during amphibious invasions will be, for the Allies, isolated losses. So given a chance to get ashore at 3:1 or better I’ll grab that opportunity, while having to risk 2:1 attacks will give me great pause.

As an Axis player I want to prevent ANY 3:1 attacks on a port during an invasion. I accept the risk of “only” defending with enough strength to prevent 3:1’s, and not 2:1’s, because I don’t believe it is remotely possible to defend EVERY port 2:1’s – and I believe it’s better and more economical to defend as many ports against 3:1 attacks, rather than defend some ports against 2:1’s and thereby leave some other ports [in the same basic geographical location] vulnerable to a greater than 3:1 attack.

Consider, Sicily has ten ports – thus to defend Sicily against an Allied invasion the Axis must prevent 3:1 attacks at ALL ten of these ports, lest the Allies guess wisely and get ashore at some under-defended port on “the cheap”. This would be a disaster, but for the Axis, not the Allies. Some simple math; you need 17 defense strength to prevent a 3:1 attack on a Med port during the Jul-Aug time period. A good Allied attack [not the best, but good] can generate 48 att str, for a US invasion that’s a 4-8 Inf III, 2x 3-8 Inf III, 2x 3-8 Cbt Eng III and 2x 1-8 Mar Cmmdo II. That’s 16 att str quartered [=4] and 2 att str halved [=1] for a total of 5 att str from ground units. NGS can provide a maximum of 25 additional Art str pts [4 per RE of non-Art units [6x 4 = 24] plus one additional pt which is rounded down to one pt, or a total of 25 att str. We now have 30 att str total.

With 6 REs participating in the attack, we can use up to 6 air units to assist the attack as GS. Our best air units right now have 3 TBFs each, so 6 REs worth of 3 TBF air units is 18 factors of GS which we can add to our attack – thus we now have 5 ground + 25 NGS + 18 TBFs of GS, for a total combat strength of 48. Given our att str of 48, any Axis position held by 16 or less DS [Defence Strength] can be attacked at 3:1 at least. Defending with forces which allow an Allied 3:1 attack upon landing means you are gambling your entire defence upon a 1 in 6 chance for an AS on a dr of one – some Axis players might take that gamble, I wouldn’t. Even the Allies’ “Amphibious Killer Wad” stack of all CW Mar Cmdos with a ground strength against non-Major city, non-coastal cliff hexes of 8 att str + 25 NGS + 18 GS or 51 total att str can still only muster a 3:1 vs a hex defended by 17 DS. Given that Palermo can be defended with only 13 DS [because, as a Major City it halves again all non-Eng, non-Art att str and GS], we can easily see that the Axis need 166 DS just to defend the ten port hexes – 9 ports requiring 17 DS [153 DS] and one port requiring 13 DS for a total of 157 DS.

Now, one could argue that Messina, because of it’s location, might be safe with a few fewer DS, but if our intention as the Axis is to defend Sicily, then we have to defend Sicily and that means accepting that the Allies will accept a 3:1 attack to get a port and thus we have to defend Sicily with enough strength to force the Allies to risk a 2:1 attack, at every port.

Of course, the above all hinges upon the Allies being forced to attack their desired port/s from a single hex, i.e. the port hex itself, where they disembark. If they can attack from even just two hexes, our required port defence strength is significantly increased. Assuming two identical US stacks as outlined above, the Allies can make a two hex frontage attack with 10 ground str, 49 NGS [6x 4 x 2, + the one additional Art str pt] and 2x 18 GS [36] for a total of 95 att str. Thus, against a two hex frontage invasion, the Axis would require 32 DS to prevent a 3:1 attack.

If you allow an attack on a port hex to be mounted from three hexes, then the Allies can throw in at least another 4.5 ground str, 24 more pts of NGS and another 18 TBFs of GS – now the Allies muster an att str of 141.5 – enough that it would require 48 Axis DS to prevent a 3:1…. and on and on. The lesson is simple – if you want to have ANY realistic chance to prevent a 3:1 attack on a port, you must limit the attack frontage to that single hex. Which the Axis can do. Around those 10 ports there are 23 hexes which are adjacent to one or more ports AND are allowable hexes for airborne and/or amphibious landings. If we put enough DS into each of these hexes, such that they are NOT susceptible to airborne or amphibious overrun, then we can force any Allied landing in these hexes to attack ONLY that hex itself, and be unavailable to assist any attack into a hex adjacent to the hex the Allied units landed in.

Now we know that the best possible Allied amphibious overrun [at this stage of the campaign] is 4 att str – this is the “Killer Wad” of 4x 3-8 Mar Cmdo X and 4x 1-X Mar Cmdo II. That’s 16 att str, halved for invading to 8 att str and halved again for lack of support [note well that NGS can NOT be fired during a movement phase, when overruns of any type occur and amphibious landings have to occur], thus 4 att str. So against an amphibious overrun, even an unsupported 1 DS unit, worth .5 DS, is strong enough to prevent an amphibious OV.

We also know that the best possible airborne OV would consist of 1x 4-5 Gldr X, a 4-5 Para III, a 3-5 Para X, a 3-5 Para III, a 2-5 Para X and a 2-5 Gldr III. That’s a total of 18 att str, all halved for lack of support, thus 9 att str pts IF [and this is a big IF when landing atop enemy units] not one of the airborne units is disrupted, or worse. But even if all airborne units land safely, they can still only generate 9 att str, which means 1 DS is sufficient to prevent the airborne OV. So either one supported DS or two unsupported DS is sufficient to prevent the airborne OV.

So, 23 hexes must be defended with at least 1 DS each to prevent a multiple hex attack against any of our ports. In a perfect world that would be 23x 1 supported DS units – however the Axis don’t have 23 self-supported 1 DS units available on or near Sicily. Being generous to the Axis, however, let’s stipulate that they can defend all of these 23 hexes with only 33 DS worth of units [since at least some hexes will require two unsupported DS…]. Thus, to minimally defend Sicily against an Allied invasion which we wish to prevent, we will require, at a minimum, 166 DS to protect the ports themselves from single hex attacks of 3:1 and require another 33 DS to set up an anti-airborne and anti-amphibious screen around each port to insure that no port on Sicily can be attacked from more than one hex.

166 + 33 is 199 DS. The Axis player, it should be noted, has a maximum total of Axis initial set-up units on Sicily worth 34 DS [the 1-2-10 PzGr II having converted to a 5-10 PzGr X] for the Germans, and 53 DS for the Italians for a total DS of 87 pts. [and note that again I am being generous, since I am assuming that ALL of the unsupported units are counted as being supported, even though that is highly unlikely.] Therefor, the Axis are short a minimum of 199 – 87 or 112 DS worth of units to defend Sicily adequately. Given that it is virtually impossible for the Axis to get an additional 112 DS to Sicily [recall the discussion of movement limitations above] by the beginning of the Allied Jul I player turn, it follows that it is virtually impossible for the Axis to adequately defend Sicily on the first turn of the game – if ever.

However, the sad news for the Axis doesn’t end here…oh no. To defend Sicily adequately, we also have to prevent it becoming cut off and isolated from Axis sources of supply – moreover we have to protect our reinforcement and escape route to and from Sicily. This requires, at an absolute minimum that we defend the two “toe” ports and Crotone [from which the Allies can supply an advance cutting off the entire “toe”]. That’s an additional 16 DS per three ports, or 48 DS and an additional four hexes adjacent to one or more of these ports, or 4 DS, thus a total of 52 MORE DS required just to protect the supply and rail/overland connections to Sicily.

Let that sink in – if one is serious about defending Sicily AND it’s communication links with the mainland, a conservative estimate of what that will require is 164 DS IN ADDITION to what the Axis set up on Sicily. It may be instructive at this point to note that the ENTIRE Italian army setting up in mainland Italy is only worth 129 DS; again being very generous in counting all unsupported units as supported… somehow.]

Getting there and getting away

For the Allies, getting to Sicily is pretty straight forward – you have 20 LCs for invasions, a number of Marine-Commandos which are intrinsically amphibious [and thus don’t require LCs], a significant air transport capability and airborne forces. There are a total of 10 ports to capture and put to use by your 70 pts of Naval Transports – and the whole operation can be conducted under an air umbrella of significant strength.

The Allies have ample resources to go to Sicily, to reinforce Sicily once they have gone there and forward bases, both naval and air, to assist the land forces which have gone there. For example, given Allied air bases on Cap Bon [27:3407], Pantelleria and Malta, every port on Sicily, save Messina and Milazo, can be reached by 10 range Spitfires. So for the Allies, once they have decided to get to Sicily, it’s really just a question of mechanics – using your significant resources to move your forces in the most economical and advantageous manner. Certainly, the Axis can TRY to interfere with your mechanics, but their ability to do so is limited, due to your significant advantages over them with regards to naval and air power.

For the Axis, the situation is quite different. Their ability to get to, and off of, Sicily is quite limited AND subject to significant interference by the Allies. The Axis have four means of getting to, or away from Sicily, i.e. by rail, via the narrow straits, by air transport or by naval transport, let’s examine each of these in turn.

Air transport’s biggest limitation is that, except for the Me323D, air transports can’t carry Heavy Equipment. Thus to lift in a division, it must be able to break down [limiting your choices] and you have to get the HQ to the other BD components to assemble the division. Although there are a great number of non-divisional units w/o HE, their utility is limited by questions of support and stacking. In addition, air transport requires air bases to transport ground units to with some minimal capacity which the Allies should be bombing out. The transports also, of course, have to fly TO the air base and this can be interfered with by the Allies through CAP, interception and patrol attacks. Note well that flying at night is no panacea – you can’t escort night missions and the Allies have a number of long range Night Fighters with which to fly CAP, interception or patrol attacks too. Air transport can be a useful adjunct to your other transportation methods, but it is limited by a number of considerations and will not be decisive.

The Axis situation with regards to Naval Transport is even worse. Given that Sicily is entirely within an anti-Axis Danger Zone, any Axis naval movement to ports or beaches on Sicily is virtually suicidal. To say nothing of the Allied air forces which can interfere with your naval movement. The Axis have only one German LC and fifteen Italian NTs to use for all of their shipping needs and a limited number of Naval repls with which to replace any losses [and note that the Axis begin the game with losses already…] Yes, some NTs might slip through past the Allies air power, naval forces AND DZs, but it isn’t something you can rely upon, nor plan a campaign on. If something does happen to get from Naples to Messina or Palermo, rejoice! But don’t count on it.

The Axis have two rail connections with the mainland, linking Messina with Reggio and Messina with Villa san Giovanni. This is a tenuous link at best and one which can interfere with quite effectively. First of all, note that the Rail Ferries are Low Capacity rail lines for all purposes. This means that any unit crossing them counts for twice its RE size against capacity limits. And note also that all Combat Motorized already count double for RE size by virtue of being C/M. Thus a Pz XX crossing the straits would count as 12 REs of capacity against bot the Mainland Italian rail net AND the Sicilian rail net. Given that the Mainland Italian net has a capacity of only 40, and the Sicilian net has a capacity of only 10, railing even one Pz XX per turn is a significant drain on the Axis rail capacity. Given that the Sicilian net has only 10 REs worth of capacity, while the Pz XX costs as 12 REs worth of capacity, it’s obvious that to move even one Pz XX to Sicily will require that the Axis temporarily increase the capacity of the Sicilian net. The Axis can increase a net’s capacity by a maximum of 50% of its current capacity at a cost of 1 resource pt for each 10 REs of capacity, or fraction thereof. So, if the current capacity is 10 REs, the Axis can increase the capacity for the player turn by a maximum of 5 REs, at a cost of one resource pt. This would give them enough capacity to get that Pz XX to Sicily by rail, with 3 REs of rail cap left over.

However, this ignores the Allied air force. Each Railway Marshaling Yard hit decreases a rail net’s capacity by 2 REs and the Allies have four targets for RMY bombing missions on Sicily. Palermo, as a Major City can have two hits placed there, while Catania and Messina can each have one RMY hit applied to them.

Let’s imagine that the Allies achieve two RMY hits against Palermo. Each hit reduces the Sicilian rail cap by 2 REs, so with two hits the net’s capacity has decreased from 10 REs to 6 REs. For one resource pt, this player turn, the Axis can increase their Sicilian rail cap by up to 50% of current capacity – which is 6 REs. So 50% of 6 is 3, so 6 + 3 = 9, which is not enough capacity to move even one Pz XX on the net, or across the rail ferry. So even just two RMY hits on the Sicilian net will prevent the Axis from moving ANY C/M XXs on the net that turn. Given that your Med Strat Air Forces have virtually nothing else worthwhile to do in ’43 other than RMY missions, it’s axiomatic that this should be their only mission. Throughout Jul and Aug you have one Br Wing which can fly one RMY and one US Wing which can fly three RMY missions – per turn! This virtually guarantees you two hits, and probably more, per turn – using an asset which has little to do anyway.

But, you say, the Axis can permanently increase the rail capacity of the Sicilian net by “buying” rail cap with resource pts. True enough – on the very first turn even, the Axis could choose to spend up to 12 resource pts, increasing the permanent capacity by 4 REs. So now the capacity is 14 REs. Assuming 4 RMY hits by the Allies on Jul I ’43 [quite possible, even probable really] this new capacity of 14 is reduced by 8 REs to 6 REs… and we have the same problem still, no C/M XX can move on, or onto, the net. Even if the Axis spend the maximum one resource pt to temporarily increase the current 6 cap to 9 cap, they still can’t move even a single C/M XX on or onto the net.

But…but… The Axis can permanently increase the capacity again in the Aug I ’43 turn, that will bring the permanent capacity up to 18 REs, meaning if I temporarily lose 8 REs of capacity, I still have 10 REs of current capacity, and for another resource pt I can temporarily increase THAT current capacity to 15 REs, allowing me to move that single Pz XX on and/or onto the Sicilian net!

Yes – the Axis can expend virtually their entire resource pt allotment for two months, to alleviate their rail cap problems on the Sicilian net. The Axis only get 12 resource pts from the Germans, and 2 resource pts from the Italians, per MONTH. Have the Axis no other pressing needs for resource pts at this time? Is there no Atlantic Wall to build? No defence lines or port defences in Italy to construct? No air bases to build, no TFs that might wish to put to sea? No other rail nets that might need temporary increases [to get all of those units TO Sicily…]?

So yes, the Axis COULD spend virtually their entire production of resource pts for two months on the Sicilian rail net, but is it worth it? Given that if the Allies want to take Sicily – they will. Given that there are so many other more valuable [and longer lasting] investments the Axis could be making with those resource pts. This is one of those cost-benefit questions that one has to make for themselves. I’ll just say that as an Allied player, I can’t think of anything I’d like the Axis to spend resource pts on than Sicilian rail cap – I’d consider it a gift from my opponent.

In addition to all of this, the rail ferries also depend upon their terminal ports being functioning. So bombing out the ports at Reggio, V’ s’ Giovanni and/or Messina is worthwhile, since the Axis will not only have to repair any rail hits in the hex, but also repair the port to at least one less pt of damage than maximum damage, to allow the rail ferry to be used at all. Note well that if you can’t use the rail ferry for movement, then you can’t use it for tracing a rail element of supply either – thus you tie down at least four construction capable units every turn, and more if you run maximum harassment against the hexes they occupy. [With two harassment hits, any cons unit in, say, Messina, would have to expend 4 MPs to take a hit off of the port, and expend 2 MPs just for being in the hex. So you would need another cons unit to also repair the rail hit in the hex – and do the same in at least one of the Calabrian ports as well]. So that’s at least 4 cons units, per turn, tied down, not fixing rail lines elsewhere, not building forts or air bases elsewhere. Just another cost of remaining on Sicily. Not a huge cost, but its another example of assets being used in one place, that could be used elsewhere, potentially to more benefit to the Axis.

Finally, we come to the narrow straits. This is a transportation asset that the Allies can NOT shut down, but they certainly CAN interfere with it. The Allies weapon here is harassment bombing. Let’s imagine maximum harassment bombing covering both Calabrian ports as well as Messina. Crossing from Calabria to Sicily will cost 2 MPs for entering Messina [a Rough hex], two MPs for the narrow straits [+2] and 2 MPs for the harassment, for a total of 6 MPs to move from a Calabrian “Toe” port to Messina. To exit the Messina hex would require the expenditure of at least another one MP [to enter an adjacent Road hex] and two more MPs for the harassment in Messina, so three MPs to exit the hex, added to the six MPs expended to enter the Messina hex, for a grand total of NINE MPs to move to a Road hex adjacent to Messina from a Calabrian port.

Clearly, no one is going very far, or very fast, across these straits, IF the Allies expend some effort to interfere with the Axis here. And of course the Allies SHOULD interfere with the Axis here. Harassment is second only to the RMY missions in importance here. Note also that a C/M XX which begins the game deployed in France [even in Nice] can not even get to Sicily on the first turn, if the Allies do what they should do. During the pre-game phase, get your four RMY hits on Sicily [this is THE priority mission if you think the Axis want to stay on Sicily… or if you think that they want to get off of Sicily.] As shown above, the Sicilian rail net now has insufficient capacity to allow a C/M XX to rail onto or on that net – that means that the Axis can not use Strat Rail to move a C/M XX to Sicily – they don’t have the capacity required.

During the Axis Initial Phase of Jul I, the Allies get at least two harassment hits in the “toe” ports – the priority air mission for this player turn. Now trace the movement of a C/M XX from Nice to Sicily. Assuming NO rail hits between Nice and either of the “toe” ports [not a great assumption], the C/M XX expends 40 MPs [the maximum possible – if it uses Strat Rail to move further, then it can’t move in the Exploitation Phase] to get to 26:2920 [the first coastal Cliff hex south of Salerno.]Now in the Exploitation Phase, it can move to 26:3821 – one hex away from V’ s’ Giovanni. And there it sits throughout the Allied player turn – not defending an important hex, not on Sicily at all and given further harassment on the Jul II Axis player turn, most probably not even able to effectively intervene once it DOES get to Sicily… And remember that all of this works in reverse as well, when the Axis have to try to get OFF of Sicily – nothing but headaches.

To sum up, the Allies have a very powerful weapon in air power with which to frustrate and bedevil the Axis trying to defend [or evacuate] Sicily and it should be used to full effect. Prioritize your use of this asset – during the pre-game phase, Mission #1 is the RMY attacks on Sicily, mission #2 is rail hits at and near the straits [primarily on the mainland side], mission #3 is port hits at at least one of the three straits ports. As many hits as possible, given what you have left to work with.

During the Axis Jul I Initial Phase, Harassment, Harassment, Harassment. At an absolute minimum, two hits covering the “toe” ports and two hits covering Messina – this is well within your capabilities and something you should be doing EACH turn until Sicily is entirely Allied owned. [ Note that the Mountain hex in 26:3922 is an excellent hex for a multi-hex Harassment mission. Twenty bombing factors here gets you a 2 level harassment hit in the hex and in all adjacent hexes – which covers both “toe” ports, as well as four other rail hexes in the “toe”. Certainly, the Allies first choice for harassment in the “toe”…] For Allied turns, first of all, the RMY hits and after that, as many rail hits and straits port hits as possible. Whats left over can go towards Ground Support to keep the offensive moving.

Assessing Sicily’s strategic value

The first question I’d like to address is “What is Sicily worth?”

Sicily is an unsinkable aircraft carrier for whomever owns it. This is a big issue for both the Axis and Allies, in terms of having this for themselves AND denying it to their opponent. Certainly the Allies are VERY interested in extending the reach of their air-power to Mainland Italy, while the Axis want to limit the range of Allied air-power as much as possible. Count out Spitfire or P-40 range from Messina as compared to Malta to see just how important Sicily is to the Allies. Count out Strat Wing range from 26:4026 [west of Catania] as compared to from North Africa, again quite significant.

While there is much less value for the Axis in having these air bases, there is great value in their denying them to the Allies. Sicily is by far the best place from which to launch an Allied invasion of southern Italy. We touched on the air-power considerations above, which are critical, but naval considerations are very important as well. Note that from the N.E. Sicilian ports the Allies can reach as far north as Salerno while moving at night [i.e. they won’t be moving in daylight until they enter the Salerno hex]. From Catania they can get adjacent to Crotone, again under the cover of night movement. This means that a large area of southern Italy is opened up to invasion where the Allies can approach the landing sites using ONLY night movement, denying the Axis the use of their air forces to bomb the Allied fleets while in transit. It also means that the Allies can fly their CAP to protect the fleet in just the invasion hex itself. This is a big bonus, since it means the Allies don’t have to hold back fighters to intercept Axis anti-shipping missions en route, they simply have to protect them once they reach the beaches themselves.

Of course Sicily is also a great place from which to get across the straits – a one hex passage to the mainland, again at night. And as soon as you are ashore here, the straits provide a ready-made supply and reinforcement route, freeing up the LCs immediately to threaten landings elsewhere.

Sicily is a surrender condition, which makes it VERY important to both the Axis and Allies. For the first surrender attempt, you need two conditions, so Sicily alone is worth 50% of what you need as the Allies. In effect, taking Sicily will put you half way to having Italy surrender. And it is a big deal – both for the Allies achieving it, and the Axis preventing it. Defending Italy without the Italians is a much, much more difficult proposition for the Axis than defending it WITH the Italians. Certainly, the Allies desire the surrender of Italy as quickly as possible.

Sicily is worth 6 VPs per quarter – either in terms of the Allies gaining these VPs, or the Axis denying them to the Allies. In a game lasting until May I ’45, this represents 48 VPs total – 6 VPs per each of 8 VP checks. While not a game breaking amount by any means, every VP the Allies gain IS important, if only to offset VP losses. And 48 VPs is not an insignificant number; it’s enough [or nearly enough] to shift the level of victory by one entire level in a campaign game.

So there are a number of considerations which make Sicily very important to both sides. I think we can agree on that – the question then is “What are you willing to pay to get these benefits of holding Sicily?”. Every decision in Second Front is, in the end, a cost-benefit analysis – “What am I risking to get this, and is the reward of having this worth the risk?”

A visit to CARL

Work load has picked up. Another website recommendation is online, nevertheless: Have a look at our review of CARL, the Combined Arms Research Library, or rather its online presence.

The CARL digital library

A recurring theme of pages listed under these bookmarks seems to be that their design somehow harks back to the late nineties, but their content is much richer than a first look would surmise. CARL contines this trend: benhind an awkard and slow interface lingers a host of historical documents. CARL is short for “Combined Arms Research Library” and describes the library on Fort Leavenworth, which is in turn not only one of the oldest forts in the US still operational, but also counts the United States Army Combined Arms Center amongst its tenants. Fort Leavenworth prides itself to be the “intellectual center” of the US Army, and the sheer volume of documents available online certainly dwarf the Army’s Historical Center (history.army.mil).

Amongst the documents hosted are essays and thesises prepared by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), but also a lot of operational reports, old field manuals and all kinds of other documents related to the military history of the US. In these the second world war features prominently, as is to be expected. Especially the After Action Reports from the divisional and corps level make an interesting reading for EUROPA afficinados.

The cumbersome interface of the website has been mentioned already, although the collections are searchible, the structure is unintuitive and purly organisatorical, the website responds slow and makes it close to impossible to get an overview about the hosted documents. An overhaul has been announced for some time now, but even now the uniqueness and historical wealth of the documents found place CARL amongst the first websites relevant for modern military history.

Date: October 19th, 2012

URL: http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/