Tuesday, 18 June 2013

On the road to Monte Sole: a Bolt Action game

For the most recent Saturday meet of the Peninsula Wargames Group, I was involved in a 1500pt Bolt Action game, depicting a typical encounter between advanced elements of the SA 6th Armoured Division and a mixed force of Heer and SS defenders in the foothills of the Apennines in late 1944/early 1945.

I was looking forward to the game, as it was the first time I could field most of my South African force, the first time I had 1500pts under my command, and the first time both forces on the table had been drawn from the appropriate theatre selectors in the "Armies of..." books, as opposed to the abbreviated rulebook lists.

The official history of the Natal Mounted Rifles includes the full text of a 1944 report to divisional HQ, describing the methods of, and challenges facing, the dedicated reconnaissance unit as they picked their way carefully through successive layers of German defences. Based on the report, I put together a representative force: two reinforced platoons of 2 sections plus command each; medics; the ubiquitous FO; support weapons (2 mortars, 2 sniper teams, a Vickers MG, a PIAT and a towed QF 6-pdr) and transports (a 15-cwt truck and a Jeep). Armoured elements consisted of a Stuart Recce tank, a Sherman V 75mm and two Universal carriers in the recce role. With all selected as regulars, the list generated 21 order dice.

Facing the South Africans was a mix of Heer regulars and Waffen SS veterans (with the fanatic upgrade and all the relevant toys - a flamethrower, an MG42 in sustained fire mode, assault rifles, panzerfausts, panzerschreks etc) and supported by a PzKPfw IV, an Sd.Kfz 251/1 and a 120mm mortar team. Being expensive units, they generated 16 order dice.

Looking East. Objective top centre.
Looking West. Objective center of frame. In foreground is the village, through which the South African planned to attack.

The scenario was "Hold Until Relieved", with Germans set as the defenders and the objective set as a pair of ruined buildings on the crest of a hill, overlooking a village to the east and an road intersection to the west. A hedged-lined road ran parallel to the North (German) table edge.

The German commander deployed a Veteran SS section and an MMG into the objective. Assuming an armoured counter-attack, I deployed a platoon on the west flank of the table to act as a stopper group and firebase, and another platoon in the village, tasked to attack the objective through the village. The scenario dictates that all the attacker's armour is kept in reserve, and I specified that a Stuart recce and a Carrier would enter from the South (Allied table edge), the A/T gun from the West, and a Sherman and the second carrier from the East, supporting the main attack.

A PIAT team keeps an eye out for Gerry armour, while the rest of the platoon advances eastwards.

Bolt Action has its detractors, but once again the rule set produced a tense and enjoyable game, with lots of ebb and flow of fortune as the game unfolded.

Initial successes by the South Africans in pinning and reducing the defenders on the objective were matched by successful counter-battery fire by the German mortar team. The South African HQ called for an artillery strike to support their attack, and disaster struck - a miscalculation by the FO brought the strike down on his own troops in the village - killing the platoon HQ and pinning the advancing sections. Exploiting the opportunity, the German commander called in his SS Panzergrenadiers and Panzer IV from reserve, and the shellshocked and leaderless South Africans in the village collapsed in the face of determined German attacks.

Heer regulars call for support as they advance to contest the village...
... which arrives in the form of a Panzer IV Special.

Despite coming under small-arms fire, Heer mortarmen stick to their task, while their armour is pinned by accurate but ineffective a/t fire.

I attempted to reorganise the attack from the west flank, and the South Africans succeeded in briefly occupying one of the buildings on the objective, but the SS veterans immediately counter-attacked from the village to reclaim the hill. Despite sustained suppressive fire from the SA armour, and the loss of the Panzer IV to the Springbok 6-pdr, the fanatical Waffen SS held their ground and beat off all the South African assaults. With the game going into the 7th turn, the South Africans were lacking viable infantry units to contest, and the game was conceded. By my reckoning it had taken between 4 and 5 hours to play out.

Regimental HQ co-ordinating the ill-fated attack on the objective.

Too late... the Sprinkbok armour arrives after the primary infantry attack had already failed and the village had been lost.
An NMR Stuart Recce brews up, hit by a panzerscheck round at maximum range...

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