The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Author: Phil Mason

December – Getting Those Italians out of the War

Historical – everyone dozed

The Axis batten down the hatches anticipating imminent Italian surrender. Nothing to be seen moving except the air forces. It isn’t too much of an ask for the Brits to muscle into Bastia – very heavy top cover keeps the DAS away, and its 6:1 (-3) so Corsica falls, though port capacity will be a problem for the next couple of turns. Finally, the Americans administer the coup de grâce on the Lipari island defenders and Sicily is conquered.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if Derek-dice had coerced the Italians to stay, but they do the decent thing and decide to opt out of this war. We spend an age calculating the resultant German gains and my new garrison requirements, and the armies use that as a reason to rest, refit and have a Christmas holiday. Apart from gratuitous Derek vandalism, things are very quiet on the Southern Front.

November 1943- The Corsican Assault and Street fighting in Messina

Historical – French Expeditionary Corps starts landing for the mountain campaign

The Mud DOES arrive this turn (phew !!), and with the compulsory armoured withdrawals, the Axis attack in Corsica is now toothless. Both sides breathe a huge sigh of relief as the Air Cycle restarts. The month starts with, basically, an Axis Air Phase – trying to blow the Bonifacio port come what may – which they do, at a cost. Air supply flutters onto the beleaguered troops on Corsica. It’s also a fairly quiet fortnight for the Allies – a combined assault on Messina comes to nought, and only another Italian pest division succumbs on Corsica – the rest are herded further northwards. However, the build-up is inexorable – though slowed with only 4 LCs available with the rough seas.

With the back of the Axis anti-shipping force broken, Derek then has another low-activity turn to conserve his ARPs. The attrition of the air war is starting to tell – both the Axis and the Americans have 20+ planes to repair, but the Brits are in 100% health. Derek is only flying intercepts which target the Yankee fliers. By calling up the Strat fighters one last time, he does manage to air-drop more supply into the Corsican hill-country with ½ his air force while the other half try to bomb out Bonifacio again, but to minimal effect (13 AA).

In the south, the Americans assemble 157 pts in 4 stacks surrounding Messina (42 pts), and with all 5 Med Task Forces getting past the coast defences, get to 5:1 (-3) with %-odds. The resulting Exchange clears Messina, but devastates the engineering corps with compulsory losses.
In Corsica, the Commonwealth troops make short work of Ajaccio, & the Indian, British and French mountain troops take out the central spine’s defenders. An AA brigade exploits into Calvi to leave just a bombed out Bastia to capture. All in all, a relatively satisfactory turn.

Oct 1943 Revised – Invasion Corsica

October 1943 Revised – Invasion Corsica

Historical – MUD, Germans fall back to the Gustav line & Allies slowly get to Naples and Foggia

The Brits, this time, land in southern Corsica (1003 & 1103). Nearly 2 divisions of paras descend on an unsupported German regiment in 1004 trying to overrun it, but only the tiny Italian-American battalion lands undisrupted. All 5 Task Forces and the last call-up of the Carrier Group heavily support the invasion. The northern Regiamarina intercepts but the Albacore fails to spot the ships sailing right under its nose! The Roma sinks an HQ (of course) and several regiments & marine brigades. Heavy air support and NGS help the Brits get ashore – though the Mulligan chip changes hands again when a ‘AS’ comes up on 4:1(-1) with a 90% chance of rolling up to 5:1 – Sod’s Law! At least the port of Bonifacio falls intact.

As mentioned elsewhere, 108pts of GIs storm Mt Etna (18pts) in a bloody assault (EX) and the bombers leave no airbase or port access in Corsica.
Mud does NOT roll up as hoped in the ‘D Zone’ – which is a major headache with a panzer division sitting on Corsica, suddenly a -3 modifier in the rough yawns out to +2. The night bombers saturate Bonifacio, but the Mosquitoes and abysmal Axis dice means that not a single hit is scored. This is important, because when the para stack (26pts) is attacked by the panzers (and half the LW bomber force) out of Ajaccio at 3:2 (+2) and takes an exchange, they aren’t isolated – phew, THAT was close- uurrrgggghhh!!

However, the remainder of the Axis bomber fleet takes out Bonifacio later in the turn leaving the Corsican landing unsupplied. The Brits land the Indian 4th and British 52nd Mountain divisions, with the HQs that weren’t able to land last turn. Both sides’ bomber fleets take a pounding this turn – the Axis anti-shipping force is wiped out, and the Allied port bombers are blown out the sky by 190’s (finally loaded with ammo). A 5:1 (-2) forces an Italian division out of 1002 leaving the Brits occupying the 10xx hexrow. A massive airlift brings in enough tea for the boys on their 1-capacity cricket pitch, just in time for the quadrangular tournament between the English, the Indians, South African pilots and West Indian construction engineers. The Canadians look on, bemused…

October 1943 – Invasion Italy

Historical – MUD, Germans fall back to the Gustav line & Allies slowly get to Naples and Foggia

A mega Axis stack builds up in front of Messina: (1st SS, HG and 16th Pzr) which forces an HX on the northern US stack (44pts). With Sicily now an American airbase, air support isn’t a factor (despite another LW Strat Call-up), but that’s now 6 US divisions cadred or lost in the past 2 turns!!

Seeing the imminent arrival of Mud looming, the Allies have plotted a desperate assault on the narrow neck of the Calabria peninsula. (Actually, truth be said, they had an abortive double invasion of Elba & Gaeta, but the losses were so bad, we rebooted from start!) The Brits land on both the northern (3619, 3720) and southern coast (3719). They are heavily supported by all 5 Task Forces, and the last call-up of the Carrier Group, which proves its worth: The southern Regiamarina intercepts South Force, and the Albacore deals out 4 hits and the US fleets finish the job. However, Roma sinks several LCs (no NTs of course – that would be too easy!!)

Elsewhere, 108pts of GIs storm Mt Etna (18pts) in a bloody assault (EX) and the British planes leave only 2 REs of port access in Corsica. Quite a few Axis units are now out of supply in Sicily/Calabria and Corsica and both sides’ air forces have been heavily battered. Let’s hope there’s enough Allied air power to hold up the British landings.

Mud arrives in Oct II. The Germans call up their Strat fighters and cover the British landing hexes with aircraft – as do the Allies. Obviously, the stakes are high here. I do expect to lose one stack – sinking those LCs had a huge impact in getting the follow up waves on the beach. In a bold move, Derek decides to throw it all at two hexes – to open the supply lines to the, not inconsiderable, panzer forces in Calabria; most surprisingly he targets the biggest stack of Poms – 28 points with 13 AA. With 30+ air battles over the hexes there is surprisingly little debris – but then the FlaK and ack-ack open up – and pieces of planes fly off in all directions! As expected, the small stack falls (with an EX), but in an all-too-familiar theme now, against slim odds, so does the main British stack – to a DR thru ZOC result! The Queen is not amused. How the hell can we redeem this disaster!?!!?!

With only 6 LCs now left undamaged, amphib invasions are cancelled, as the dilemma is now do we throw more Poms into the grinder, or pull the survivors out? It’s only getting harder – mud, then rough seas will arrive; the SS corps will garrison Messina against all-comers, so we throw more boyo’s in. The landings are unopposed, but AGAIN the LCs lose half their complement to damage on friendly beaches! All the TFs are deployed to support the attack across the mountains into 3819. An EX is rolled – not ideal, but it puts Calabria back out of supply again. With four LCs remaining only a paltry reinforcement can bolster the lads.

Elsewhere, the Corsican ports have been hit by bombing missions – there’s only 2REs of capacity left, and the NFs are patrolling Ajaccio airfield (Bastia was bombed out). The Yanks grind into Milazzo – there’s only the cape hex and Messina itself now held by the Germans. Derek is playing well – most losses are coming off the Germans, and disbanding all the Italian artillery is keeping a shallow Replacement Pool. But it looks grim for the Calabrian British: probably a game-losing amount of losses could happen next turn – although we can pile virtually 80% of the Allied fighter complement over their hexes. Hmmmmm…..

OK, giving Derek the moral victory, I agree that the Calabria debacle is right up there with Gallipoli on the Very Stupid Ideas scale. So after a couple of hours fiddling, we rewind the situation back to the end of the German Oct I turn to replay the British half of the Allied turns.

Sep 1943 – Race for Messina and Return to Malta

Historical – Reggio/Salerno landings, Italian armistice; Corsica evacuated. British land in undefended Taranto

After a stupid oversight, in attempting to cut off the Germans, I have left the 1st Armoured isolated and unsupplied. The armour replacements aren’t the concern – it’s the potential 32 Victory Points I’d be giving away. Derek has noticed this and moves heaven and earth to nobble it.

With the LW Strat forces again summoned, a ginormous air battle breaks out over the division as the Allies desperately try and redeem their mistake. Both sides throw 25+ fighters in to cover their respective half dozen Ground Support planes. In an atrocious display in the art of air combat the Focke-Wulf’s are upstaged by the Italians. Even a P-400 shoots an Fw-190 down!! In the end, everyone’s ground support gets through, but the Axis are left wondering how they lost a 1 on 1 battle in the air. Four German panzer divisions have been sucked across the Messina Straits for this battle. The odds are 5:1 at -2, the only bad result for the Axis is a ‘1’.

What do you know? The Mulligan chip changes hands as that ‘1’ duly comes up, but the 1st Armoured succumbs at the 2nd attempt. The Allies show a similar display of aerial incompetence as the fragile Cagliari port is closed with 4 hits in the face of 5 Spitfires. The Axis turn ends with 3 x 25pt armoured stacks across the Mt Etna-3726 line.

Bloody hell; lost the First Armoured and now the Commonwealth forces in Sardinia are all out of supply & isolated. They shamble their way through the harassment fire and mop up the north-western ports & exploit up to the north-eastern ports.

Being the last Allied turn before Victory Points are calculated, all effort is put into clearing Syracuse and taking Palermo. With more than enough strength in Sardinia (there were actually more REs in Sardinia than in Sicily, against half the force), Commonwealth forces land in Trapani and the west to assault Palermo. After the Battle of Messina, the remaining Luftwaffe has been gutted, so is very quiet and the 15pts of Palermo defenders fall to a 5:1 (at -2) Anglo-American assault. The exploit phase ends with 4 x 20pt stacks up close and personal with the Axis ‘Etna Line’.

In response, the Axis step back to cover Messina. Two panzer stacks are parked in 3824 (45pts) and on Etna (25pts – urrggh!). LSSAH leads the attack off Etna into the US 2nd Armoured’s stack and gets an HX. That’s 2-0 to the SS vs. the US Armour.

In reply, the Allies pile 6 divisions up against the 14th Panzer Corps in 3824. With huge naval and air support, the 2:1 rolls an AS. Yet again, the Germans get away – DARN! Another big effort is put in Sardinia, where the Canadians lead a successful final assault – into La Maddalena. Sardinia is secured with no losses to the Commonwealth ground forces – those Canadian artillery brigades are brilliant!
Finally the planned invasions of Pantelleria and Malta go ahead using marines and the newly arrived 101st Airborne. With unerring accuracy the E-boats of the Maltese Danger Zone evade the covering Task Force and sink 2 of the 4 Marines’ Transports, but the islands are overrun and, finally, the Allied Danger Zones revert to more ‘reasonable levels’.

It was a full-on air campaign this month. In the first half, the Germans were taking 1:1 losses, but got their own back in the latter half dealing out about 5:2 losses. There are now a LOT of American aircraft wrecks lying over Sicily and Calabria. (memo to self – they’ll be worth a fortune to Warbirds societies 50 years hence)

August 1943 – the Empire strikes back

Historical: Messina falls, Sicily occupied

To my, semi-concealed, delight the LSSAH division pops into existence in Palermo – up to full strength with the plethora of Armour RPs saved from destruction in Africa. Carrying on the Axis strategy of “hitting ’em on the beaches”, it and an Italian tank regiment (with the help of the Strat reserve fighter cover) burst through the egg-shell defence covering Trapani (at 3532) vaping another infantry division, then run amok through the “little people” building the airfields and repairing the ports. OK, so this wasn’t part of the Allied Cunning Plan, but if we were able to cut off Leibstandarte’s retreat, it would be a great scalp to get. Derek had even done the decent thing and broken it down into bite-size portions in the exploit phase.

However, the Allied turn was a disappointment. Deliberately looking for the exchanges with low-odds attacks, we ‘unluckily’ rolled high and they escaped with DRs. Further consolidation secures the beachheads from all but the heaviest Axis attack.

But the focus has shifted again and by early August, the Brits, bolstered by heavy reinforcements from England, are ready to rumble again. Sardinia is only lightly held, and with heavy fighter top-cover, the landings proceeded like clockwork. Beachheads are established to the east (2008) and west (2010, 2111 & Sant’Antiocho) of Cagliari, just beyond its Danger Zone. This is not to say there wasn’t opposition – indeed the Axis flew a lot of missions, but consequently, ° of their invaluable anti-shipping bombers are now out of action.

The Axis Aug II turn is pretty quiet – there is little to be done about the landings in Sardinia, and with the Americans well ensconced in Sicily, the Axis forces fall back to the northern coast railroad, keeping Palermo supplied. In their turn, the Americans overrun a small Italian stack near Caltanissetta (3929) and strike out eastward. A bit of luck and some hefty ground support pushes the defenders out of Catania, whose fall signals the death knell for Italian Malta – it’s now unsupplied without access to the east coast supply run. The LSSAH regiments have again hidden themselves well, in fully armoured stacks in the rough. 1st Armoured swings north-east smashing through some Italians to hook round Mt Etna and haul up beside Messina and the cadred HG. This cuts the coastal railroad, but it needs a Big Effort from the remaining Allied bombers to close the Palermo port down and leave the LSSAH assets out of supply.

In Sardinia, despite harassment from Marseilles bombers, the Canadians and Brits surround Cagliari. With engineers and NGS thrown in, a 5:1 isn’t too much of a stretch, and the city falls. Monty breathes a sigh of relief as regular supply floods in through the liberated port. A major construction program already has 4 airfields in the Sardinian south, so the island looks well secured, as long as we can prevent the units in the north escaping from the battered minor ports.

Throughout the adventures in the Med, the dozen fighters left in Britain, combined with the partisans and the ETO Strat forces have been leaving their marks all over north and central France. Only a third of the original forces are left in England now.

July 1944 – Sicily Invasion and Counterattack

July 1944 – Sicily Invasion and Counterattack

Historical: Sicily invaded by US (south coast) & British (east coast); Mussolini ousted

With Derek leaving the west basically empty, and with a Jagdgeschwader based out of Messina, Operation Husky opened with a lone Dakota air-dropping the 509th Para battalion into an empty Marsala. But, still inexperienced, they land heavily and failed to take the port – DRAT! Inauspicious omens! This, of course, immediately set of the alarm bells in Palermo, and the garrison quickly fell out to bolster the defences around Messina and Palermo.

After first shooing off the 109s in Messina, the US invasion fleets hove into view. The two areas selected for invasion were the western tip centred on Trapani, and the southern coast around Agrigento and Licata. Because of the lack of range of good fighter cover, these were the only viable options without slipping within range of the Axis submarines. The Axis threw every bomber they could at the fleets, and despite the fighter and carrier cover, a good half-dozen hits were inflicted – including an irritating trend of singling out the divisional HQs for special treatment (3 out of 5 units hit over the next few turns were on the HQs!). However, despite that, the boys got ashore, pushed aside the coastal defenders with the assistance of the other para drops and established nominal 15pt+ beachheads.

Meanwhile, the Brits formed outside of Tripoli with their full strength and gave them ‘what for’. The dice gods played along, and gave us our 50:50 roll, forcing an impossible retreat from the city. This released the Poms for their Med duties, though they had to scamper north for 2 turns by plane, train or boat to get to any usable ports. The Med timetable being behind schedule was the last straw needed to cancel plans for a major ’43 invasion of northern France. Thus Britain started being emptied of any troops of consequence – including the (ex) Home Fleets.

Reasoning that the best chance to get at the Allies is before they can build up their shore-strength, Derek assembles a large stack in Sicily built around the Hermann Göring division. Getting a long run-up from Messina, it slams into the unarmoured flank of the Americans at Licata for an HX, cadreing the HG and (with the aid of a pesky coastal division) destroying the 3rd Division lock, stock and 2 smoking barrels. Also, despite solid Allied CAP over the southern ports, 2 of the remaining 3 are bombed out. A Palermo Pest division scuttles out to isolate the southern coast forces from the one remaining supply port at Trapani.

In the July II Allied turn, the laborious build-up proceeds: the 2nd Armoured, and rebuilt 1st Armoured HQ land and assist with re-opening the link between Trapani, Marsala and Agrigento – better to be safe, with un-isolated troops, than to push on to disaster. (I wish I could heed that advice later!!)

Second Front-Preperations

Now we get into the big map re-shuffle to set up SF. It’s our first bash at this game, so there’s a steep learning curve, but a few basic ideas come out after poring over the strategy notes of the Europa cognoscente. The southern beaches of Sicily are undefended – I prefer to hold the eastern cities. Sardinia is also virtually empty, though one of my first mines is dropped in Cagliari harbour. I’d like to keep Corsica, and I ship a panzer division over there as early as possible and keep the island under strong air cover. The navy is deployed in Brindisi and near Elba, and the Air Forces only fly into the south in July – the fighters to Calabrian airfields and the bombers in Naples, Foggia and Rome with 10+ heavy FlaK cover as soon as possible. I’ve managed to evacuate from Africa an extra dozen or so ants (mainly light FlaK and construction) as well as the very handy Ramcke brigade and the whole 164th (le) Afrika division.

In north-western Europe, every coastal hex from the Scheldt to Caen is occupied – ports have at least a 5-7-6 and PortFort. Small units in the ports only lightly hold the Biscay coast. Risk is low, as England is soon drained of troops, and every Allied ship is operating in the Med.

Speaking of which, I’d like to keep the Italians in the campaign for a decent run. If I’m going to stop the Allies, it’ll be on the beaches. All ports below the 20xx hexrow have 13+ defence, (with a fort and mine in the major ports for good measure, as soon as available) and 4+ in adjacent hexes. Most of the initial Resource Points are allotted to forts. I’m also defending Taranto, Foggia & the ‘heel’ strongly – don’t want that minefield disappearing before I’m ready for it. There are armoured corps waiting behind Rome and Naples – only a train-ride away from the action. To keep the Italians in the war I used four strategies:

  • disband all the hi attack/low defence artillery units for their Inf RPs to buy back all those 2-3-5 XX’s etc
  • roll for early activation of all the armoured divisions, to give the Italians an armoured reserve – this worked, only 2 arrived cadred, and none were lost outright
  • get the 3RE units out of danger points (like Corsica & Sardinia) and replace them with 1 RE Germans where possible – this didn’t succeed quite as well
  • buy back eliminated planes preferentially to aborted planes, as they count toward the 50RE loss condition

P

M: With the whole Allied African campaign running behind schedule, the Brits have a lot of units that have to start in the Replacement Pool, and not available from the outset. The Desert Air Force, though at full strength, has very few airfields to base at – particularly in the Cape Bon area, as the engineers were tasked with also frantically repairing the devastated African ports (despite our link rules). With the Axis still holding Malta and Pantelleria, their Danger Zones will severely limit the Allies’ invasion options, essentially putting eastern Sicily out of bounds (by being both in Danger Zones and out of fighter range).

Just Desert

The early game had closely followed the historical pattern – firstly the Italians fell back, then the Brits, as the DAK arrive, and then a standoff across the Cyrenaica shoulder. However, in mid-’42, things started veering off from the historical path. After the continuous attention of nearly all the Axis planes that couldn’t carry torpedoes, in a bold Abwehr operation, Axis special forces seized Malta.

Although the supply situation was greatly eased, the DAK had already had their head handed to them by the Allies on the Alamein Line. So a Mexican stand-off developed – the Allies sheltered in their fort line, gradually extending it a hexrow at a time; while the DAK waited around Halfaya Pass (just out of encirclement range) to pounce on any Brit stupid enough to stick his head out too far – and there were some good pay-offs here. This containment also allowed a good defensive fort line to be constructed around El Agheila, in anticipation of the Torch landing retreat.

The landings duly came. The Allies stormed across Morocco, then trudged, painfully slowly, through the Algerian mud. The mountains and mud made an excellent defence, but it was compromised, strangely enough, by most of the Axis African forces being absent – successfully bottling Monty up hundreds of miles away to the east, in front of El Agheila.

However, a couple of key breaks in the weather allowed the Americans to storm across the Tunisian border, and bear down on Bizerte and Tunis. I remembered just in time to garrison Pantelleria (with the amazingly useful Ramcke brigade) – in April ’43 Allied sky-bandits grabbed Lampedusa in an audacious long-range jump. Despite all I could do to interdict it, a small Allied airfield soon popped up, like an unwelcome toadstool.

The Americans finished off the Tunisian campaign in May taking Tunis and Bizerte, and went into rest and recovery mode in preparation for the forthcoming Husky operations. The Brits cut across to Gabes to isolate the DAK retreating to Tripoli. But the ‘surgical strikes’ of ’43 had meant minimal losses, and ample reserves were available to leave judder bar units to hinder the British advance (although the DAK had been caught in one such strike and got isolated and starved into surrender near Agedabia).

In anticipation of the new game, most of my air force was operating out of Sardinia and Sicily – I made no attempt to support Tripoli, and flew only enough operations to keep the ports open. The late campaign reinforcements weren’t needed and kept in Europe – the DAK was doing a good enough delaying action around Tripoli for me as I to tried to evacuate as much as possible from the battered Tunisian ports, under skies full of Allied aircraft.

So as the curtain falls on WitD, the Yanks are at full strength and loaded and ready in their Landing Craft. The Brits have herded the remaining Axis troops into Tripoli, which has been in fine form: I’ve sent sufficient Armour RPs across to rebuild some small units as full-AECD judder bars. With no time to refit before operations are scheduled to start in the Med, the British forces are not in particularly good shape – over ½ of their infantry divisions are cadred or in the ‘Pool – and they still face a 50:50 battle to take Tripoli in July I.