The Pass at Al’am Hayfa – Chain of Command Campaign Game 4
With the Germans on the back foot, I, playing the British have a serious decision to make. I have achieved my red line objective of breaking into and capturing the enemy;’s main defensive positions at Sheik al Fak, this in itself in not an inconsiderable victory and I have the option of consolidating on this position which will lead to it being relatively impregnable (in theory) for this campaign. However, to do so would be to allow the enemy a breathing space in which he could reorganise and reinforce, potentially making my life harder in the next game.
The alternative is to push on and try to keep the pressure on him and keep catching him on the bounce, pushing him right back towards my main yellow line objective; the Oasis at Kharmal. There are good arguments for both, but in my favour is the fact that the Colonel is looking favourably on me, so my support option is enhanced and the fact that my men are in good spirits. Th Jerries took a real spanking in the last game, more by luck than judgement, so I know that for the next game they will not only have their losses but they will also have men being treated and not yet fit to return to their unit. If I delay they will be back and my numerical advantage much reduced. The answer is there; I am going for it!
I roll for support and that allows me List 8 for this game, so the Jerries will get List 4. However, the Colonel loves me so I can go with List 9. Okay. There are two things I want: speed and to disorder the enemy. I don’t have a lot of men, I am eight men down for this game, so I need to protect them as much as I can. I am going to go with my Daimler Scout car from List 3, the FOO with his battery of 3″ mortars from List 4 and finally a pe-game bombardment from List 2. I am hoping that the bombardment will spoil the German deployment and allow the scout car to gain some ground. I will push up rapidly with my infantry and if I hit trouble the 3″ mortars should obliterate anything in my path. That’s the plan anyway. Organisation is a difficult one. The gun group and assault group worked relatively well for the assault on a defended position, but I am not convinced that it is right for a more fluid battle such as this one – specifically fighting a German rearguard. I am going to go with two rifle sections of eight men plus and NCO and create a single three man Bren team under Harris which can provide some additional firepower where it is needed. Harris has been doing a fine job leading from the front, I want to allow him a bit of a rest this time. My 2″ mortar and Boys AT rifle teams are as standard.
I am actually playing this game solo, but to keep an element of surprise I have asked Nick to select his support option or options and I will text him when the game is underway to see what he has chosen. It does make it a bit more interesting and keeps me worried. He had told me that his objective is to inflict maximum damage before pulling off with his force intact, thereby gaining a losing draw. At this point in time this is as much as he can realistically hope for. In the last campaign with Sandy St Clair operating in Normandy his wily opponent played by Paul the Panda inflicted a real bloody nose on his British pursuers which turned the campaign. The question here was could the Hun do the same?
Here’s a shot of the table from the British end. I set it up with the Germans retreating down the valley and with a dominant central ridge and a valley either side. You can see the contours, approximately, here:
THE PATROL PHASE
The Patrol Phase in this scenario is one of the most interesting as the pursuer ends up with one jump off point close to his base line which reflects his point of exit. He can choose where that is once the Patrol Phase is ended. The key here is to deploying his other jump-off points so as best to defend that exit point and make it impossible for the British to reach it.
In our game we had a real cat and mouse Patrol game, in some ways playing solo makes this phase even more interesting as you cannot have a fixed plan and run with that as, clearly, your “opponent” knows what you are up to. So, rather like fencing, you have to reconsider your options at each and every move of the markers, striking here, parrying there.
In the end the Germans deployed top defend the smaller valley, whilst the British had two jump-off points confined to their base line (in open terrain this is not unusual) but did succeed in moving one jump-off point round onto the shoulder of the right hand valley. This was, they hoped, the key to unlock the German position.
Phase 1. British 64432. My first move is to bring on the Daimler as its speed will be key. I elected to use a wheeled AFV as they are faster and more nimble. As the bombardment on the Jerry positions had just ended I wanted to move fast. On the high ground on the right sergeant Robertson deployed with Corporal Williams and No.1 section.
Phase 2. German. 44441. A dreadful roll for the Germans, especially as I now find out their organisation. Nick has elected to go for maximum firepower and has organised his men into three five-man LMG teams, each under a junior Leader. The AT rifle team he reinforces up to three men in strength. His support option was to be a tripod mounted LMG team to really beef up his firepower. The Germans now try to deploy one MG team but the preliminary bombardment means they are not available.
Phase 3. British 65432. The Daimler advances down the valley at speed. Corporal Sewell and No.2 section deploy to join No.1 section Sergeant Robertson puts the Bren teams on overwatch and then advances at the run with No.1 rifle team.
Phase 4. German 65221. Due to Nick’s choice of organisation 2’s are redundant, all of his units being teams with, normally, an NCO. He successfully deploys Obergefreiter Mueller with his LMG team on the 1 and they open fire on Robertson’s men. The big Sergeant is lucky that the line of sight is broken by the Daimler but three men go down dead (as in hors de combat for this game – we find out if they are actually brown bread at the end of the game) and they take two points of shock. This is not good, especially as the Brens on overwatch fire back with no effect.
Phase 5. British 44421. The Daimler sees what is happening and slows down to walking pace. Sergeant Robertson rallies his men and, in a manoeuvre not to be found in any drill manual, they move alongside the little scout car, using it as cover. Up on the shoulder of the valley Lieutenant Viljoen deploys and controls the fire of No.1 section’s Bren team and No.2 section. Some accurate shooting kills two men and shocks the remaining men in the team.
Phase 6. German 44321. Feldwebel Reinhardt deploys and rallies the shock on Mueller’s team and they return fire killing one British rifleman from No.2 section. The AT rifle deploys and fires on the Daimler, missing. A shame as it was on the flank and could have really spoilt the British day.
Phase 7. British 66642. This is a BAD roll for the British as it ends the first turn and the German deployment will now not be affected by the preliminary bombardment. However, Viljoen controls the base of fire on the ridge and put two shock on the AT rifle team and kill a further man on the LMG team. The turn ends.
Phase 1. British. The Daimler is very aware of the AT rifle on its flank and the driver puts the pedal to the metal and it begins to accelerate. The big Sergeant from Durham yells “run like f**k!” and remarkably for a fifty year old, he and his two remaining riflemen keep up with the accelerating car (helps when you roll 15 on 3D6!). On the ridge Viljoen uses the 2+2 to activate the base of fire he has established and in another round of remarkable shooting they wipe out the AT rifle team and the MG team, just Reinhardt and Mueller survive and they flee down into the valley to escape death.
Phase 2. German 44311. I am thinking of pulling off now. Especially as I am running Nick’s force on his behalf. But my plan now is to make the British come on to me. Once they try to come over the ridge I can deploy my LMGs and cut them down like wheat. Mueller and Reinhardt creep about a bit, but nothing else is deployed.
Phase 3. British 55551. This is an interesting roll as from having very few Chain of Command points this now puts me on 5. Another one and I have a full chain of command dice to use. In the meantime the rifle team from No.2 section advance tactically down the slope.
Phase 4. German 65542. Still lurking I do nothing. Once the British riflemen are further down in the valley itself, with no hope of escape I will deploy an LMG team and shoot them down. For now, nothing.
Phase 5. British, 54421. A full Chain of Command dice, so I can end the turn whenever I want. The Brens on the ridge go on overwatch and Viljoen advances to join the rifle team. The Daimler makes a dash for the German jump-off point but falls short by two inches due to moving over harder ground.
Phase 6. German 65542. Reinhardt and Mueller hurl grenades. A well placed grenade now could take out the Daimler. It’s a brave effort, but they miss. Not even close to tell the truth.
Phase 7. British 42111. It’s all over. The Daimler advances onto the Jump-off point (i.e. the German table exit point) and fires its Bren, killing acting Feldwebel Reinhardt. Vljoen and Roberts both run forward with their rifle teams in the hope of making a better photo for the press, but the Chain of Command dice ends the Turn, removes the German exit point and signals a German loss and a British victory.
With the battlefield in their control the British discover that of the four men who went down NONE are dead, but one needs medical attention which will mean he won’t be around for the next game. The Germans lost seven men plus Reinhardt. Of these three were dead or wounded abandoned on the battlefield. four were wounded of whom some will be walking wounded and easily treated, others more seriously wounded and absent for a while. Otto Mueller’s route of escape was cut off but he did manage to make his way back to his unit on the same day thanks to a local Arab trader.
In campaign terms the British Colonel is rather pleased with his resident “Yarpie”. The Borsetshires haven’t had many men from the Orange Free State in their ranks, and their history during the South African War meant that the young Afrikaner was viewed with some suspicion at the outset, but now they know he can use a knife and fork and have seen him lead from the front young Willem has done much to develop a good reputation. What’s more his men seem to be forgiving him for their losses in earlier battles. Certainly he is now described by his men as a popular leader. Their morale is good, they are well supported on missions, things are going well for the British.
Erwald von Kleist is not so lucky. His Oberst has now got an actively negative view of the young aristocrat and is unlikely to risk valuable resources supporting his ventures. His men are even more unhappy. There is talk about making an informal approach to the “Speiss” but nothing is done, yet. The Leutnant is best described by his men as irritable, understandably I suppose. Morale is poor now. To the extent that the German force morale will not be higher than 9 in any game until they can get some positive results.
As the British player I was glad to return to using full sections where possible; they are a much better balanced unit than the big gun team and big manoeuvre team (which looked not unlike the italian model) and I was very pleased with the results of my initial bombardment which did hamper the German deployment sufficiently for my fast moving recce vehicle to ruin their day. I never got to deploy the FOO team, I was very lucky with some of my shooting and that meant the mortars never got a look in.
For the Germans, the use of teams rather than squads was a bit of a disaster. I understand why Nick chose that option, in theory the firepower could have combined to blow me away. However, individual teams are less tactically flexible than squads, they do not provide mutual moral support like a complete squad does, and the bombardment really messed him up. At the end of the day it was the fact that two of his teams hadn’t been deployed onto the table that saved them and allowed them to get away. Like the British, his main support option never even deployed onto the table, so fast was the game. Indeed, this was a classic campaign game of the sort you’d prefer not to fight in reality, but that you need to fight to try to delay the enemy’s advance.
Another solo game much enjoyed. I am not a regular solo player; sure, I play through game mechanisms solo and work through situations hundreds of times, but it is a luxury to play a game for sheer fun. And this certainly was fun. The Command Dice make for a really interesting game of choices. What I like about them is that they restrict what you can do whilst at the same time offering you a combination of options you can select from to put together the best phase of play you can. This for me is what a good game is about. I have been asked why I simply did not just allow the players to roll 1D6 and that then determine how many command pips they could use to activate whichever units they wanted. The answer is that doing that always allows you to activate the most important unit first, and that is providing the gamer with far more control than his real life counterpart would have. On a noisy, dangerous battlefield you have limited abilities to command. The Command Dice tell you what the limits of your abilities are for the next ten seconds and you have to work with that to make things happen, Sometimes you can choose the best possible response to the immediate situation, other times you can only manage the best response possible, and there lies the rub. The choice of decisions to be made should not be easy or obvious, they SHOULD challenge. Otherwise where’s the challenge of the game?