Allied Turn

This time the Allied player rolls a 6 on the weather die roll, so it’s mud in the E weather zone with rough seas in the Western Desert map group used in the game. Here this includes the Djebel Akhdar rough terrain region of the Cyreaniacan “bulge” region, Sicily & Malta on map 18A, Crete on 19A, and Cyprus & Rhodes on Near East map group map 20A. And that’s not all. Desert storms occur per the Allied player’s second die roll (for rolling a 6) and per the subsequent damage hit die rolls for each side’s unmaintained temporary airfields (per Advanced Rule 36D2-Desert Storms and Temporary Airfields) the Allied player gets “sanded in” with no less than 11 hits of airfield damage at many of his numerous Egyptian temporary airfields between 19A:1119 (by Matruh) & 2120 (by El Alamein). The way we play the rule is that only the airfield sustains the desert storm damage and any air unit based there is not aborted, just maybe inoperative later in the same initial phase per Rule 16C1-Air Activities: Initial Phase. In our case the Allied player has six such inoperative air units, one B type and 5 F types, at sanded-in temporary airfields mostly at Egyptian coast road/rail hexes at Matruh and thence eastward. The Axis player suffers only one damage hit at the Cauldron at-start 1-cap temporary airfield at Misurata (18A:1022), which was vacant. In the reinforcement phase the Allied player rebuilds the Br 1-10 lt tnk II 1DG in the replacement pool from an earlier current game battle loss at a remote Western Desert battlefield, perhaps anticipating its Dec I 42 Allied turn OB strength upgrade. Late in the initial phase the Axis player mulls over his harassment air missions in the context of the mud in the Djebel Akhdar region of the Cyranacia and mets out 5 harassment hits each to the Gazala hex 4518 and the important adjacent coast road fork hex at 4417. However, the numerous Stukas based in the Bengazi vicinity can only carry mud weather affected half loads of bombs and inflict 2-21/2 harassment hits to hexes 4019 (Mechili), 3921, 4122, & 4123. Ju884s and the SM 84 score 3 harassment hits to hexes 4317, 4521, & 4620.

As usual, the Allied player sea transports 8 gsp’s to Malta (they all make it, including two from the very busy West Med Gibraltar hex) and two to Cyprus. A resource point at Alexandria is sea transported in the East Med to Bardia, where it ends the turn with the Br 1-8 MG II 1RNF and the 0-8 lt AA II 12. At Matruh is the Br 1-8 MG II 2 Ch, 5 steps of attack supply, a resource point, a 3-cap temporary airfield with one hit of sandstorm damage, and the Hurri 2D and a Hurri 2C. In far western Egypt right by the Libyan border the Br eng X 8 builds a 3-cap temporary airfield at Halfaya Pass (0419). The 64RPC const X builds a 2-cap airfield at coast road hex 0519 and the 66RPC const X builds a 2-cap airfield at 0420, one hex south of Halfaya Pass. From these new bases three Wellingtons and the Aus Halfx 2 bomber do a big night bombing mission on Bengazi’s port capacity, but fail to make any hits and the Well 2 is aborted by the port’s Ger mot hv flk III. By the turn’s end the airfield at 0519 has two Br A-30s, at 0420 is a Br P-40K and the Aus Halfx-2 bomber, and at Halfaya Pass are the two Well 1Cs and the long-ranging Bftr 6F fighter. There are no Allied air units or airfields in Libya, but the Allied player’s big pause of his const/eng units at the Libyan-Egyptian border to build a cluster of airfields there and the subsequently enabled big night air bombing raid of Bengazi harbor serves notice to the Axis player that the Allies are back. At the Sidi Baraini 3-cap temporary airfield (no hits) is a Hurri 2, a Hurri 2C, and a Spit 5, along with a step of attack supply. Scattered between the Matruh vicinity and Alexandria are 12 other air units (including two transport air units), 6 of which are inoperative due to the big sand storm damage to temporary airfields. The two air transports are at Alexandria and at the 3-cap permanent airfield at rail/coast road hex 19A:2218 are two US B 24D5s (HB types). Also available in the zone is an A-30 and at least three good fighters.

This turn the British reoccupy Tobruk, and by the turn’s end the war plagued North African port fortress is guarded by the NZ 2nd inf XX HQ unit, the NZ 2-8 inf X 6 and the Br lt AA II 37. Two hexes west of Tobruk at coast road hex 4618 are 7 steps of attack supply (all that the Allies now have in Libya) and the Br 2-8 inf X 132 and the Br anti-tnk II 95. One hex to the west at Gazala (4518) are the the Br inf XX’s 50 & 51 (a 7-8 & 8-8 respectively), the Ind 6-8* inf XX 10 and the NZ 3-8 inf X 5. As if being marched into exile, the FF 2-8 inf X 2FL is sent to occupy Giarabub in remote SE Libya. At the forefront of the advancing Br 8th Army are two tall and powerful stacks at Mechili (4019) and at the near by sand hex 4121. Each of these two hexes contain two Br arm XX’s plus other good mobile ground units. Fully armored capable intermediary stacks guard at 4218 & 4322, and a buffer of three Ind inf Xs and the Br 44th inf XX HQ unit block 4519-4520. The whole Allied forward formation between Mechili and Tobruk appears somewhat like a large crab or lobster claw pointing at the long but thin Axis front line desert shield ranging from 3730 southwards to 3726, and also at 3827. However, no Allied units venture into the Djebel Akhdar rough terrain region north of the E weather line. Derna is still Axis controlled at the end of the Allied turn as is the eastwards adjacent coast road hex 4216 and also westwards down the coast road to Bengazi and beyond it to Agedabia & Tripoli. But the Allies claim the coast road up to 4317 and the Cyrenaican interior road to stony desert hex 3921, only two hexes ahead of their westernmost position at Mechili, and thus have driven hard down the good weather central Cyrenaican interior road to threaten Axis held Bengazi from the south. The Axis player does some non-phasing air unit transfers throughout the Allied turn, including transferring two Ju 52s and a glider unit from the Tripoli vicinity to the mainland Europe off-map holding box, where in the initial phase of the Axis player’s next turn they will be deactivated and removed from the board. Two other Ju 52s transfer from the Tripoli vicinity and base at Agedabia and El Agheila. They are intending to maybe begin airlifting some meager Axis Western Desert forces back to mainland Europe, but the bad weather in E zone hampers this good intention. An MC 200 at El Agheila transfers to Tripoli. In a surprise move the Axis player transfers to a Sicilian airfield at 18A:0403 two Me 109Gs from the Bengazi vicinity and also an MC 202 from Agedabia. They base within patrol and interception range of the two Spit 5s at the Valletta hex airfield, but surprisingly the Allies decline the fighter mission.

To give us down here perhaps some needed late 1942 perspective enhancement to the current WW Western Desert/Cauldron game, we’ve provisionally tacked on Torch map 25A to the west edge of Western Desert map 18A and have tentatively retrofitted/revised Rick Gayler’s Kasserine Crisis II from Europa #37 into a kind of truncated “Race for Tunis/Kasserine Crisis subscenario” intended to be an unofficial and tentative add-on play test to the current 100% WW WD(/Cauldron) scenario project, all still ending on the Jan I or Jan II 43 turn, depending if we use the WW WD scenario rules end date or else maybe utilize Watson’s Jan I 43 end date found in the End of the Beginning El Alamein scenario from Europa #63. David Tinny’s Europa #78 Historical Background article entitled “The Torch Landings,” along with some history book referencing and some notes from a WW Torch scenario game we played a couple of years ago helped in backtracking Gayler’s Dec I 42 Axis turn start date (a clear weather turn in E zone, in his scenario) to around a possible subscenario at start date on the Nov I Axis turn or maybe the Nov II 42 Allied turn for a map 25A “Tunis/Kasserine Crisis subscenario link-up” for use in WW WD/ME scenario games. More later on the Tunisian project. Right now, when pondering the WW WD victory conditions within the framework of all the above in the current WW WD/Cauldron scenario, I’m wondering whether getting a certain measurable quanta of Axis ground and air units into western Libya (eg., western Libya on map 25A) by the Jan I 43 Axis turn equal to what is listed in the WitD Jan I 43 “Appears in Libya” Axis Torch OB is every bit as important as keeping Tripoli hex 18A:0121 Axis controlled by the end of the Jan II 43 Axis turn, which fetches Europa war gamers a big +200 VP’s in WW WD scenarios. What do other EA members think about the WW WD scenario endgame paradigm and victory conditions? What about Axis late ’42-early ’43 North African/Tunisian WWII/wargame strategy for both sides? Could the Allies have won the race for Tunis? Is all the Axis effort in Tunisia really worth it or are they actually little more than trapped rats in a large barrel, marching from one side to the other seeking perhaps a false safety in essentially maybe silly and no doubt tragic time delaying maneuvers: meaning a few more months in North Africa as an Axis soldier against overwhelming “killer” odds? What about an evacuation?

German Turn

Early in his initial phase the Axis player deactivates two sp-op Ju 52 air units and a DFS 230 glider unit based in the mainland Europe off-map holding box that were brought on the Sep I 42 Axis initial phase. On the Western Desert map group are two more sp-op Ju 52 air units and another DFS 230 glider unit that will be deactivated on the Dec I 42 Axis initial phase. During the reinforcement/replacement segment of the initial phase the Axis player withdraws the It 2-10 mot inf X 10B per Watson’s End of the Beginning El Alamein scenario Axis Reinforcements OB found in Europa #63, which we are using in the current Western Desert/Cauldron scenario. An It 1-6 arm II is rebuilt from the Axis Med/NA replacement pool using ½ It arm RP from Bengazi and ½ It inf RP from Tripoli, and is brought on at Bengazi. This is done to help clean out the remaining It RPs at Bengazi before it is either very soon evacuated by the Axis or else captured/cut off and besieged by the Allies. In the naval movement segment at the beginning of the movement phase the Axis player safely sea transports via coastal shipping the last remaining 1½ It arm RPs at Bengazi to Tripoli.

Early in the movement phase the Axis player uses two Ju 52 air units to airlift a resource point at the 3-cap permanent airfield at Agedabia (18A:3327) back to mainland Europe. It will likely eventually be further broken down and used to repair a hit of damage at the permanent airfield at Erakleion (18A:4903) on Crete per Optional Rule 14A1l-Axis Repairs on Islands. At Tripoli in Libya, a Ju 52 air unit and the remaining on-map DFS 230 glider unit airlift two Ger inf RPs back to the mainland Europe off-map holding box. Miraculously, the glider unit does not crash land at mainland Europe. Both air transport missions “double up” on their cargo carrying due to the mud weather in the E weather zone. By the end of the Axis turn there are 4 It & 10 Ger arm RPs and 2 ½ It & 7 Ger inf RPs at Tripoli. At mainland Europe are 5 Ger inf and 5 Ger arm RPs. This admittedly tardy and feeble airlift of some of the trapped Afrika Korps (AK) forces in Libya is perhaps somewhat in conflict with what historically is simultaneously going on in Tunisia, where the Axis is attempting to secure a bridgehead at Tunis and Bizerte, but the Axis player thinks all the above mentioned actions may still make sense in terms of Axis world war strategy.

Evidently historically the Axis actually believed it could sustain its presence in North Africa at the Tunisian bridgehead. I believe after the Torch landings Doenitz dispatches 10 German U-boats from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea to aid in the defense of the Tunisian build-up. I believe all 10 are eventually sunk in the Mediterranean. Historically, the Axis attempts to use its air transport resources to simultaneously supply both the Tunisian bridgehead and the Stalingrad pocket. Historically, the later East Front drama/tragedy is just beginning this game turn in Russia. I believe near the end of the Tunisian disaster the Axis air transports in the central Mediterranean historically are largely squandered in fiery deaths against overwhelming Allied fighter superiority as they desperately try to supply the Axis defense of the Tunisian bridgehead in its death agony. The last quarter of ’42 and the first half of ’43 are certainly a quite disturbing and horrific epoch for the German and Italian Axis partners in WW II. In the Pacific the Japanese evacuate Guadalcanal after frightening force losses. Play a WW Torch scenario to relive the Axis disaster at Tunis.

Meanwhile, back on the Western Desert war game maps in the western Cyranacia war zone, the Axis player must decide what to do about Bengazi in the context of all the above. In the current WD/Cauldron scenario game Bengazi is an Axis standard supply source per the scenario’s at-start Axis OB. Maybe the conservative and wise Axis move would be to continue the methodical and steady paced westwards retreat towards Tripoli (and hence further westwards into Tunisia) with all the currently available Axis forces, hopefully sending some back to mainland Europe to be saved to fight another day and sending the rest to their certain death or captivity in the Tunis pocket. The point here is not a cruel joke but rather to keep the unfortunate Italian ally in the war as long as possible, keep an Axis pinch on the Allied sea route through the central Mediterranean as long as possible, and to protect the southern flank of Germany as long as possible using just the available Axis MTO forces and not drawing from other theaters. In real life the world war experience occurred only once, but on the Europa war game maps we can play and replay over and again the same historical event, tweaking, altering, and changing various pertinent details to see what might then happen without ever facing any real life responsibility (eg., hanging, prison, or firing squad) or consequential war horrors resulting from our war game decisions. Accordingly, this Axis player decides to maybe initially risk a bloody stand at Bengazi to see what happens in the context of a WW Western Desert scenario ending in a few turns from now, either on the Jan I or Jan II 43 turn, depending if we use the WW WD scenario rule or Watson’s End of the Beginning El Alamein scenario rule. If a strong enough force is kept in Bengazi and the weather remains mud in the Djebel Akhbar rough terrain region of the Cyrenaican “bulge” region, the Axis might be able to hold onto the Libyan major port till the end of the WW Western Desert scenario. To be sure, Tripoli would likely be the better place for the AK to take a stand in Libya, as it is also an Axis standard supply source and there is no by-pass road going around it (thereby blocking and stopping at Tripoli the Allied 8th Army’s westwards advance), as does Bengazi with the Cyranaican inland road route going through Msus and El Mechili. However, an Axis stand at Tripoli cannot be effectively attempted in a 100% WW Western Desert scenario game (which the current game more or less claims to be) as the Western Desert map 18A ends just west of the Tripoli hex, thereby hindering meaningful war game play around the port city of Tripoli. Therefore in this game Bengazi is chosen to be the scenario’s “Axis Alamo.”

The Axis does not need to immediately hole up in Bengazi, where a little earlier in the current game a fort was built, but for now can screen the port hex with a presumably nonoverrunable forward covering line running from 3220-3221-Soluch (3222)-3223. Behind it at Bengazi are the Ger 2-10 mot hv flk III 135, the It 133rd arm XX HQ unit, three attack supply counters (the third moved in this turn from Agedabia), two Me 109Gs, an MC 202 (these three air units transferred this turn from Sicily), and the It Ju 87B. The strongest elements of the AK form a stout and powerful blocking line at Agedabia-3427-3528. The It lt arm 2-1-8* III 3 guards sand hex 2530 and the It 1-8 mot art III 2AC stands at sand hex 2531 to protect the Axis desert front line shield from any possible Allied dash around the nearby Sebchet Ghenein salt marsh region to the east of the Axis main force.

Virtually all the remainder of the AK is retreating westwards in a long snake-like column on the Libyan coast road between 1627 and 2930 inclusive. The two It const Xs are at 2328 and 2428. The Ger 0-8 const III Afr is at coast road hex 1927, two hexes east of Sirte, but it will be withdrawn next turn per Watson’s End of the Beginning El Alamein scenario Axis Reinforcements OB. At Agedabia are three steps of attack supply, 19 full AECD/ATEC defense factors, the 21st pz XX & the 90 LE mot inf XX, a MC 202, the G 50bis, and the Me 110E. At 3427 are 25 full AECD/ATEC defense factors, the 15th pz XX, two Me 109F3s, and a MC 202. At 3528 are two It arm XX’s (the 131st and the 132nd), the It 5-8 mot inf XX 101 Trieste, and the Ger 3-10 mot inf III Afr. Most all the AK’s remaining D & B air units are at the three nearby coast road 3-cap airfields at El Agheila, 2829, and 2629. A Ju 88A4 remains at Sirte (18A:1727). On a lark the SM 84 and a MC 200 are transferred from Libya to Erakleion on Crete. At the end of his turn the Axis player wonders if the Allied player will immediately use his ground units to decisively cut off the Axis Bengazi force from the main AK force at Agedabia desert front line or if instead he’ll do a more cautious westward advance towards the split Axis forces. If he holds back somewhat this could allow another turn of Axis movement between their Bengazi and Agedabia force concentrations.