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The Well at Sheik al Fak – Chain of Command Campaign Game Three

2014-01-01 10.40.24With two games under our belt the British have dominated no-mans-land and driven in the German outposts. Now they plan to attack the main German positions with Lieutenant Viljoen’s platoon being tasked with seizing the well at Sheik al Fak. Since the campaign began the young Free-Stater’s platoon has changed somewhat in composition. The unfortunate death of Platoon Sergeant Vic Churchill and the capture of Corporal Seth Ramsbottom has caused the platoon morale to drop badly. Of the three original section leaders only Ed “Kiwi” Harris remains in his role. Lieutenant Viljoen has been fortunate in that the C.O. is looking on his favourably and has allowed him to hand Corporal Robertson his third stripe. This is a risky move; Fred Robertson was a Company Sergeant Major in the DLI in the first lot and a long service regular, but drink has seen him lose stripes as quickly as he gains them. However, in this situation Viljoen is ready to place his trust in the strapping six-footer from the North East.

No.1 Section, formerly Seth Ramsbottom’s section, is now led by Corporal Jerry Williams, a 23 year old former bus driver from Birmingham, whilst N0.2 section is now led by Horace Sewell, a 22 year old agricultural worker from Worcester. Both men have been promoted from Lance Corporal so are relatively experienced soldiers in their own rights. What is good news is that Corporal Harris was put in for the Military Medal after the last game and the Colonel has apparently backed up the application. So the platoon live in hope.

Leutnant von Kleist’s platoon is rather more settled. Both Otto Mueller and Gottfried Liebermann still command the 1st and 2nd squads, whilst Dieter Reinhardt has been promoted to acting Feldwebel. Gunter Ulrich now had his old third squad. The problem for both sides is how to deal with the loses they have suffered. The British have lost seven men dead, but they still have three men receiving medical care, so they are ten men down for this next mission. The Germans have lost fewer, just six men dead, but they too have a couple of men in hospital so are eight men down. One of the issues a campaign presents you with far better than any stand-alone scenario is how to deal with losses such as these. How they structure their platoons will potentially depend on the mission they face.

Before we begin our game we roll for support. As they British are attacking they roll 2D6 for this Attack & Defend Scenario. They roll a total of 7, allowing them to choose support up to List Seven and restricting the Germans to half of that, rounded down) so just three. However, because the British C.O. is impressed with Viljoen he intervenes to bring the British total to List 8. The British decide to take a pair of Universal carriers from List 5 and a single Universal carrier from list 3, giving them a complete section of three. These they arm with two Brens and one with a 2″ mortar. The Germans elect to take entrenchments (sangars in this desert environment) for three Teams. The German player is unaware what support the British player has chosen (and vice versa). The German player elects to field two full strength squads with the third squad made up of Gefreiter Ulrich with three man and the AT rifle. This sees him reinforce the AT rifle to a large team with Junior Leader but sacrifice his third MG34 altogether. Potentially risky, but he knows that a complete squad may lose out on firepower but is a more resilient unit than smaller individual MG teams.

The British re-organise completely. Three Bren teams of three men each are combined into one fire section under the command of the Platoon Sergeant and Corporal Sewell. Two independent rifle teams are made up of six and five men respectively under Corporals Williams and Harris. It’s a drastic re-organisation, but my plan is for the carriers to do the hard work and allow my men the luxury of letting someone else do the hard fighting.

The game initial set up then saw me deploy four Patrol Markers and move four times before we tested for force moral. The Germans roll and begin the game with a Force Morale of 9. My force morale is lessened as my men are unhappy with the significant losses they suffered in the last game, and I begin with a Force Moral of 8. So the Germans move their Patrol Marker first. Let’s see how that game played out.
2014-01-01 10.45.212014-01-01 10.47.152014-01-01 10.49.012014-01-01 10.50.152014-01-01 10.52.24Actually this pre-game stage was a bit cat and mouse. Nick started off going for the left whereas I went for the right. To the degree that it looked like I would be able to wrong-foot the Germans and force some of their jump-off points right out on the table edge. Nick was wise to this and shifted his centre of gravity in order to end up with his Jump-Off points in each of the three buildings and in some scrub off to his left. You can see them marked in blue on this picture.
2014-01-01 10.57.06My jump-off points were, fairly predictably, behind the low ridge, but I did manage to push forward one into a forward semi-flanking position. It was that key small gain which I now plan to exploit. The ridge isn’t easy to see here – it really is low – but I have marked it on this image along with my jump-off points in red.
2014-01-01 10.57.22I often get messages from people asking how long this pre-game patrol phase takes. As I upload these images I can see that the first photo and the last photo of this process are three minutes apart, and that includes my taking snaps. So you can see that this is a very quick phase which then results in getting your forces to the point of first contact with the enemy pretty rapidly. A real time saver in games such as club evenings, but it also gives each scenario its own unique situation from the outset.

Now we move on to Turn One. The British get the first phase as they are attacking.

Phase 1. British, 65322. I add 2+2 and bring on the command carrier. At the moment I am content to start with a relatively slow build up, putting the right blocks in place before I move on to the next one. As a result I don’t use my other dice in this phase.
2014-01-01 11.00.14Phase 2. German 55531. The Germans are never going to show their hand this early in the game. but they are glad of the three Chain of Command points. Always handy to have up your sleeve when defending, they want complete Chain of Command Dice as soon as possible.

Phase 3. British 66641. The 2″ mortar deploys behind the ridge and the command carrier moves up. With three 6’s rolled the turn ends.

TURN TWO
Phase 1. British 44331. Carrier 2 arrives. Corporal Sewell deploys with the gun section and Sergeant Robertson puts them all on overwatch. Both the 2″ mortar and the command carrier deploy smoke.
2014-01-01 11.08.03Phase 2. German 54321. They do nothing.

Phase 3. British 65421. The command carrier fires smoke as does the 2″ mortar. Carrier two is ordered to deploy forward which it does into a hull-down position behind the shallow ridge.
2014-01-01 11.08.252014-01-01 12.02.07Phase 4. German 44321. The Germans do nothing. Players note from Nick. I am quite happy to sit and allow Rich to do whatever he’s doing. His smoke screen is looking pretty effective at stopping me from firing at him, but I know that he is going to have to come and get me at some point, until them I am sitting tight.

Phase 5. British 64322. The command carrier deploys smoke. carrier 3 arrives. The platoon Sergeant (operating on 2+2) gets the 2″ mortar to fire smoke.
2014-01-01 12.05.19Phase 6. German 54411. I do nothing. I could deploy my AT rifle, but with the carrier behind that ridge and it being a small and low profile target it would be a very lucky shot. I wait.

Phase 7. British 33332. A great roll! Carrier 3 moves up at speed. Harris and Williams deploy with the assault teams. Carrier 2 goes on overwatch.
2014-01-01 12.12.362014-01-01 12.13.06Phase 8. German 54322. I do nothing but I end the turn with my now full Chain of Command dice. That removes the smoke and ends all overwatch.

TURN THREE
Phase 1. British 53211. Both rifle teams move tactically towards the cover of some scrub. Carrier 3 advances to support them.
2014-01-01 12.46.47Phase 2. German 55431. Nick says: I feel like my hand is being forced here. I need to do something and now the British Brens are not on overwatch is a good time. However, they will be firing soon enough so I deploy squad 1 off to the side in a sangar from where they can fire on one of the rifle teams. They do so and with terrible dice have no effect.
2014-01-01 12.46.17Phase 3. British 44311. The two rifle groups move tactically into cover. Carrier 3 advances.
2014-01-01 12.53.19Phase 4. German 54422. Leutnant von Kleist deploys and controls the fire of the MG in squad 1. The rest of the squad fire as well. No kills, but they cause shock.
2014-01-01 12.56.15Phase 5. British 64431. Sergeant puts the Brens on overwatch. Viljoen arrives to take command of the rifle teams in the assault group. Harris moves forward tactically and carrier 3 moves up firing on squad 1, shocking the MG team.
2014-01-01 13.01.162014-01-01 13.01.08Phase 6. German 66411. The Germans see the opportunity and deploy squad 2, firing on Harris. He is saved by being tactical so just takes shock. The British gun group on overwatch fire and kill one of the German MG team. Now von Kleist rallies squad 1 and gets it to fire, killing one of William’s men.
2014-01-01 13.06.28Phase 7. German 65311. Squad 1 fire again and Williams is knocked down wounded. Squad 2 fires at Harris’s group who lose one man dead and are close to being pinned.
2014-01-01 13.06.38Phase 8. British 44321. The Sergeant gets the gun group to fire on squad 2 as does carrier 3. Another man from the MG team is killed and the rifle team are taking a lot of shock. Lieutenant Viljoen runs forward and rallies Harris’ men. Carrier 2 advances and fires.
2014-01-01 13.21.50Phase 9. German 55432. Squad 2 rallies some shock and fires, shocking Harris’ team. Squad 1 fires and shocks and pins Williams’ team.

Phase 10. British 65543. The gun group fires and squad 2 along with carriers 2 and 3. The concentrated fire kills one man and shocks the whole squad. They are close to being pinned.
2014-01-01 13.23.19Phase 11. German 66632. Squad 2 rallies and fires on Williams’ team, breaking their morale, they run. Squad 1 start to move into the village to form a second line of defence. The Turn ends with Williams’ team routing from the table, but Williams recovers from being stunned to find himself alone.
2014-01-01 13.30.27TURN FOUR
Phase 1 German. Squad 2 rallies and fires on Harris. A truly terrible roll sees just two hits on men in the open and both of them turn out to be a near miss. That was really unlucky, an average roll would have seen a couple of dead and a couple of shock, a good roll would have seen them running. Squad 1 move up ready to take over from squad 2 who are nearly at 50% losses.

Phase 2. British 32211. With the 3+1 Viljoen rallies Harris’ men. 2+2 sees the commander of the carrier section get carriers 2 and 3 to fire while he uses his 2″ mortar to drop HE. They kill two men from squad 2. Harris gets his men to fire and shocks squad 2.

Phase 3. German 65321. Squad 2 is reduced to just five men and withdraws, allowing squad 1 to take their place. The AT rifle deploys and fires on carrier two. A partial penetration sees the carrier back off somewhat.
2014-01-01 14.24.572014-01-01 14.25.20Phase 4. British 66332. Carriers 2 and 3 combine their fire with the gun group killing two riflemen and knocking out Mueller.
2014-01-01 14.25.10Phase 5. British 54332. The gun group fire under the Sergeant’s direction and kill one LMG crewman and one rifleman. The two carriers fire and kill a further rifleman. The handover of a position in the face of the enemy has been a disaster for Nick. Squad 1 have just lost four men dead in thirty seconds. It’s a big blow and in the campaign setting Nick uses his next phase to declare he is pulling off.

Thus endeth the game. We’ll be back shortly with some thoughts and the campaign results thus far. The third battle is a key moment in the campaign, so we will find out how our forces are feeling.

2014-01-01 14.26.50That was a hard fought game with Nick being somewhat unlucky with one key hand of dice which could have hit the British force morale badly. However, the British used their supports welland their use of a large machine gun section under the Sergeant paid dividends. I certainly felt that pushing Harris forward had to result in the Germans showing themselves and then once the firefight began I was confident that with a good base of fire I could outshoot the Germans. As it was Nick certainly showed that the Germans are tough men. We discussed his secondary plan which was to deploy his men in the rear of the village and oblige me to push on and turf them out at the point of a bayonet. However, in a campaign situation there is potential to lose one’s entire force in such a close quarter fight, and he felt that discretion was the better part of valour. Probably very wisely.

As it was the German actual dead (as opposed to men out of action) was five men, bringing the German losses thus far to 11 men. For the next game Nick will also have three men away receiving medical attention which makes his platoon 14 men down. He needs to seriously consider whether now is the time to receive his one inject of reinforcements available in this campaign. Remarkably the British only lost one man dead, making a total of 8 thus far. Not a whole lot better, but the fact that they have no men in hospital makes them significantly stronger.

At the end of the third game the British platoon are feeling a bit better about their leader. Their morale has recovered somewhat due to light casualties in their latest fight. The Colonel is very pleased with results and is still batting for your corner when it comes to providing support. Most importantly we are now able to discover the general mood of Lieutenant Viljoen and it seems that he is gaining a reputation with his men for being a sociable chap, an outlook which is having a positive effect on platoon morale.

On the other hand Leutnant von Kleist’s platoon are feeling pretty negative after that action, sufficiently so to see a reduction in morale. The Oberst is more patient, possibly because of the von Kleist family connections, but he is inclined to be more negative than positive after what has happened to date. What is worse is that the Leutnant is gaining a reputation as a worrier. Not sufficiently negative to reduce morale further, but another loss will not help matters at all.

So there we have it. Three games played and our characters are beginning to emerge. Sergeant Robertson performed well, albeit with limited responsibilities, so after two actions his third stripe looks secure for now. Let’s hope he keeps off the sauce!

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17 Responses

  1. Laffe says:

    Very interesting to follow this campaign. I take it that casualties on the battlefield are not all dead, right?

  2. Elias Champayne says:

    I must declare that this is most interesting. Quite the very thing.

  3. Big Rich says:

    Correct. They are either dead, wounded or somehow out of action. How many of the men you recover and how quickly they return are determined by various factors, such as who controls the battlefield at the end of the day and whether your opponent left the table in good order or not.

  4. Benito says:

    Very interesting game and campaign. Looking forward to having the campaign rules published soon

  5. acatcalled elvis says:

    Not sure what time period the campaign is based over – but would off field attrition also need to be taken onto account if a long enough length? The African campaign was a tough environment with more disease casualties than battle casualties. The allies had a better hospital system and got more men back to the front than the axis forces

  6. Maxamillian says:

    I enjoyed reading that, and also the campaign in general. The houses look effective too!

  7. Phil says:

    Sounds like a great game, and a great writeup, thanks! I can’t wait to get my hands on the campaign rules.

    WRT this game, I have a rules question not being familiar with the lists you are using. When you take 3 carriers does that mean you get a senior leader for them (the command carrier) or is it the command carrier because it is carrying your senior leader?

    If you take a senior leader with a group of 3 AFVs and the senior leader comes on first, do the others have to roll with a 50/50 chance of coming on like when you have your senior leader on table with a regular platoon?

  8. Big Rich says:

    Phil. When you elect to choose a full platoon of tanks or a full section of carriers you automatically get a Senior Leader to command them – no cost in terms of List value, they just turn up. The rules we were playing were an advanced option where AFVs with radios do not need to roll on the 50:50 chance, whereas AFVs without radios still would roll.

  9. Big Rich says:

    That’s a very good point. The campaign rules are generic for the whole war in all theatres. However, we are adding in options for reinforcements in various climates. You will find that attrition is more troublesome in extreme climates as you get fewer reinforcement options, part of which is reflecting the recyling of men by the medial services. That seemed to us to be a simpler way to reflect the general issue of attrition and replacements rather than write very specific rules for each campaign of the war.

  10. Pat Smith says:

    What a way to start the new year. A gripping report which had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Looking forward to seeing how this develops and the release of the campaign rules.

  11. Gary says:

    There was i sitting comfortably, wearing my new christmas slippers reading this AAR. The next minute i had my desert boots and tin helmet on hiding behind the sofa….Haha!! What a brilliant game. The Tommies did a great job crossing all that open ground.

  12. Tom Ballou says:

    Damn you Rich, your making me look at another theater to collect troops for. Hell, I could even splurge for 28mm for Western desert, as the terrain is fairly simple compared to NW Europe!

  13. Tom says:

    When Williams gets hit and KOed, shouldn’t the British take a wounded JL test?

  14. Big Rich says:

    They did indeed. Rolled a 1, no effect on the force morale.

  15. Phil says:

    Richard,

    do you have an estimated ETA for when the campaign system will be available? Can’t wait!

  16. Big Rich says:

    A couple of weeks now. Certainly in January.

  17. Bill Burnside says:

    another great report, I like the way the British put there Bren’s in one large group, lots of fire power lol

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