Monday, April 23, 2012

der Kampf von verdrehtem Fluss

Frederick the Great and Charles of Austria squared off recently in a battle using our regular Final Argument of Kings by Dean West and five players.  The Prussians had twenty-one battalions, composed of four grenadier, eight musketeer, four fusilier and five Freikorps.  Cavalry featured two cuirassier regiments, four dragoon, two hussar and a Freikorps unit.  Six batteries (five medium and one heavy) rounded out the army.  The opposition was largely Russian though the overall command was deferred to Austria.  Sixteen Russian battalions were present.  Four grenadier, three Pandour and nine musketeer.  Five batteries (one heavy, three medium, one light) were arrayed in support.  Two cuirassier regiments, two horse grenadiers and two hussar regiments were present.  The Austrians fielded three grenadier, three musketeer, one j√¶ger and one Croat battalion.  Two fine cuirassier regiments, one of dragoons and one of hussars along with two medium batteries completed the allied army.  So numbers were on the Austro-Russian side, with quality on the Prussian.

We tried the optional grand tactical rule, whereby 2d6 are rolled and the initiative rating of the commander is added (or subtracted).  High score gets to make a double move unless they come within 18" of the enemy.  If that criteria isn't met, you roll again.  A substitute for a move could be a formation change, etc.  Fire and charges are never allowed.  Once one side comes within 18" of the opponent, a single reaction move is allowed.  So guns may unlimber, formations changed, facings altered and so forth.  This is to allow for the possibility of the flank march at Leuthen on the game table.  But enough talk, on to the game.
Looking towards the Russian left

Russian right and center

Frederick huddles up with Seydlitz and von Kleist

After grand tactical as the battle begins
As the battle developed, the Prussians from left to right had the cuirassiers and dragoons behind the fusilier brigade, the Freikorps brigade, two musketeer brigades, the grenadier brigade and on the far right the light cavalry.  The allied army had from left to right, an infantry brigade with two of the Pandour battalions, a line brigade, the heavy cavalry, two more brigades, the Austrian infantry and Austrian cavalry.
Prussians closing with enemy on their left
The centers clash
Freikorps vs. Austrians
Losses taken, units shaken, stroke and counter stroke
In the center the Russian cavalry found life difficult as three Prussian batteries were able to fire upon them.  Given the choice of being slowly shot to pieces or charging, they gallantly charged but failed to close.  This gave the Prussian infantry a free hand.
Control of a two level hill see-sawed back and forth
The Austrians drive away the Freikorps, unmasking the cavalry
Breakthrough in the center!

Russian left advances as the Prussian lights relocate
After defeating their opposite numbers, the Prussian cavalry on the Austro-Russian right charged disordered across the shallow river with predictable results.  The Austrian musketeers, already weakened were swept away though the grenadiers stalled the advance.  Until the relocating Prussian lights slammed into their flank.   Everything began to collapse as the Russian left became the rear-guard for the retreating army.  The Prussians were so battered that only a modest pursuit was probable.
Seeing off the Austrian cuirassiers
Prussian dragoons stalled by grenadiers
Left wing, now rear guard moves to cover
We have had many interesting and hard-fought battles with Final Argument of Kings but this has to be once of the closest and fiercest.  Both sides maneuvered effectively tactically to attack and counter attack.  Each side had their charges and tactical coups so it ended with everyone satisfied and handshakes all around. 

We played eight turns in the afternoon game with a decisive result and time to chat afterwards.  Most satisfactory.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Massacre at Tobruk book review

So while I convalesce from having my gall bladder removed in what was anything but a routine operation, I've had time to read and wanted to share my views on what was for me a new and unique raid during WWII.

Like many of us 50-somethings, we grew up watching movies like Tobruk with Rock Hudson and George Peppard.  At the time, even I thought it was just fantasy, too outrageous to be taken seriously.  Then I came across Peter C. Smith's book, "Massacre at Tobruk." 

In September of 1942, at the urging of Churchill a series of daring raids were planned on Axis supply ports and centers, utilizing the LRDG, commandos, marines and other Commonwealth troops.  Much like in the movie maligned by me earlier, a group of anti-Nazi Germans were recruited to try to enter Tobruk as a column of POWs.  Once in they were to assist with the destruction of supply dumps.  Who knew?  The movie glosses over the main raid of course, interjecting extra characters and a "healthy" dose of antisemitism.  Still, the movie accurately reflects that overall the raid (and most of the related ones) was a failure with a huge loss of life and little or nothing to show for it.

The book goes into great detail about the background of the raid.  How is was discussed back in 1940 and rejected as impractical even with greater forces available, and how poor was the security.  While it is a myth that the Axis forces were waiting for the raid, it seems at times as if the planners were doing everything possible to tip off the defenders. 

In the end the Royal Navy lost an AA light cruiser and two good destroyers, along with numerous MTBs and light craft.  Essentially all the forces that landed were killed or rounded up.  Again, little was accomplished by the raiders, unlike in the movie where Rommel losses all his fuel reserves.  Interestingly, all the comments from the survivors spoke very highly of the treatment from the Germans, while the Italians were often brutal, having endured insults for years.

The book is well illustrated with a wealth of previously unknown pictures, maps and illustrations.  It also has a nice bibliography.  On the downside, the proof-reading is weak.  The farther into the book I went, the more simple errors there were.  Typically the simple things spell-checker won't catch but it got annoying at times.  Perhaps the proof-reader lost their interest as the book progressed. 

This book filled in a gap in the history of the fighting in North Africa for me.  Even restored a bit of my faith in Hollywood since they managed to get many things right.  Unfortunately it did little to improve my opinion of long-range planning and ability to learn from their mistakes for the British.  The fiasco at Dieppe had already occurred, but the same mistakes were repeated.   While it is a tragic fact that in war men will be placed in danger and losses will occur, in this case the brave men who executed the raid had the deck massively stacked against them.

Worth the read and it offers many ideas for wargame scenarios.