Wednesday, 15 March 2017

NEAPOLITAN ICE: The afternoon battle at Sidi Rezegh 21st November 1941

The following scenario is loosely based on the afternoon battle that flared up above the 3rd escarpment at Sidi Rezegh on 21st November 1941. 

We will use my 15mm 1941 collection to fight this battle, most of which is Battlefront FoW, with a few Command Decision 15mm pieces (the A13s) and one or two bits by Peter Pig. All were painted by some bloke.

We will use Blitzkrieg Commander II rules, with some home brew additions and one or two of the new ideas from a pre-publication reading copy of Blitzkrieg Commander III.

In essence, it's a straight up encounter battle, with off table reserves for both sides, spiced up with some background context and 'secret' briefing fog of war. 



The main sources used for this scenario were The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941 by Agar-Hamilton and Turner, Operation Crusader by Richard Humble, Operation Crusader by Ken Ford (Osprey) and Benghazi Handicap by Frank Chadwick. 

The Agar-Hamilton & Turner book (out of print) is one the most useful history books I've ever come across and is worth the book price (usually £35 - £45 with shipping) for the maps alone (see black and white maps below - the book also contains some larger, detailed, maps of the campaign area that are more general in nature, with the terrain only).  An absolutely must have book for war gaming Operation Crusader.

Frank Chadwick' s book is a godsend for anyone gaming the actions in the Western Desert up to, and including, Operation Crusader. It was written for Command Decision rules. It has a formation OOB for just about everything you will need, including the Italians (at a scale of 1 stand to a platoon, or equivalent) and much more besides. Highly recommended for BKC players. 

On 21st of November 1941 neither side was in full possession of all of the facts and the situation was extremely fluid, indeed Rommel was only reluctantly becoming aware that he was facing a major British offensive to relieve Tobruk. Because of the fluid situation both sides have separate 'secret' briefing notes. It is VERY important, for the scenario to work properly, that the players do not read the other side's briefing notes or scenario design notes prior to fighting the battle. 

On your marks, get set................

I can see the pub from 'ere! 
(The observation tower is wire and thin card 
mounted on a  spare Morris AA tractor).
GENERAL BRIEFING FOR BOTH PLAYERS:

The date is 21st November 1941.

The battle starts at 1400 [turn1]. Each turn is 30 minutes. The sun will begin to set at 17.30 [start of turn 8], the battle may continue in the dark for a further two turns thereafter but only for units within 18" of the enemy: On turn 9 and 10 movement rates are halved; all saves are +2; all units without an enemy within 18" will go dormant.  

The weather is overcast and cold. Recent rainy weather has largely reduced any desert dust to a minimum.

For the purposes of this scenario no units count as concealed at the start of the game. 

The northern edge of the table is dominated by the third escarpment. The scarp slope cannot be traversed by vehicles except at its eastern end where the scarp slope is less steep or via the two wadi re-entrants. The scarp slope provides partial cover, to any troops just below its edge, to fire from the dip slope. Except when at the lip of the escarpment, there is no line of sight from one escarpment to the other (except from Point 178).

Point 178 is high ground. 

Both wadis are shallow. They are dense terrain to enter or leave (except at their ends); dense terrain to cross; normal terrain for troops going along them; normal terrain for troops entering or leaving at their ends.

Hareifet en Nbeidat will provide partial cover for up to one occupying infantry stand (my model is much bigger than it should be, and I'm not exactly sure what Hareifet en Nbeidat was anyway - some named places were little more than cairns). 

Desert tracks were only useful for navigation purposes.


S Coy 2RB holding the eastern end of the third escarpment
All British infantry platoons start the game in sangars: These count as full cover and +1 to saves. This definition replaces the normal BKC II rule.

All British artillery pieces are in shallow gun pits: These count as partial cover and +1 to saves. This definition replaces the normal BKC II rule.

All infantry can spend one activation 'going to ground': This provides +1 to saves.

On turn 1 the German player goes first. On turn 1 the German player may count all troops as acting on initiative (for movement only) - This attack will start on time!

BRITISH 'SECRET' BRIEFING:
Yesterday, 7th Armoured Brigade and 7th Support (Pivot) Group arrived, according to plan, on the escarpments above Sidi Rezegh in preparation for linking with the sortie from Tobruk at Ed Duda. 4th Armoured Brigade Group, along with tanks from 22nd Armoured Brigade engaged 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions about Gabr Saleh.



The morning battle. 
Today at 0830, 1st Kings Royal Rifle Corps (1KRRC) with A coy 2nd Rifle Brigade (A coy 2RB) attacked to take a two mile stretch of the second escarpment overlooking Trig Cappuzzo and El Duda in a brilliantly successful, hard fought action. 

6th Royal Tanks (6RTR) less A Squadron struck out towards Ed Duda shortly afterwards. The tanks of 6RTR descending the escarpment were roughly handled by enemy AT units (AA3) and forced back to their start positions on the second escarpment. The attack could have been more strongly supported but for the untimely, and unexpected, arrival of DAK from the SE.

At 0805 4th South African Armoured Cars (4SAAC) reported 150 tanks and 250 motor transport vehicles of DAK approaching, at speed, Sidi Rezegh from the south east. 

At 0830 7th Hussars, with support from 2nd Royal Tanks, S company 2RB and guns of Pivot Group engaged in a furious tank battle at the brink of the third escarpment.

At around midday, when the enemy tanks withdrew to Abiar en Nbiedat to replenish, the battle died down. 7th Hussars had been annihilated and several guns of support group had been destroyed in the action for seemingly very little material cost to the enemy.

It is now 14.00 and 4SAAC is reporting enemy infantry, estimated at two battalions (one in front of S Coy 2RB and one some distance away to the enemy battalion's right rear), debussed and concentrating for an attack. This infantry concentration is backed by 80 – 100 tanks. The attack seems to be aimed at the third escarpment between the position of S coy 2RB and Point 178.

YOUR MISSION:
Destroy the enemy above the third escarpment. Hold the third escarpment between its eastern end (position held by S coy 2RB) and Point 178.



FORCES IMMEDIATELY AT YOUR DISPOSAL:
  • 7th Armoured Brigade Group Command: One command stand.
  • 2nd Royal Tanks: One command stand with nine A13s.
  • F (sphinx) Battery 4th Royal Horse Artillery: One command stand with two 25pdr QF. 
  • C Battery 4th Royal Horse Artillery: Command as per F Battery with two 25pdr QF (no transport). Note this unit may be used Vs targets on the third escarpment (at ranges greater than 24" only) as a 'requested' indirect fire asset. Use the command element for the position of the FAO.
  • S Company (reinforced) 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade: One Battalion command stand with two motor rifle platoons (in sangars) and three carrier platoons. 
  • B & C Squadron 4th South African Armoured Cars: One command stand with two squadrons each of three Marmon Herringtons.
  • Air cover: The British start the first turn with one Hurricane flying air superiority over the battlefield.
The A13s of 2RTR with the high ground at point 178 and Brigadier Davy's 7th Armoured Brigade HQ to their left. B Squadron 4SAAC can be seen top left.
REINFORCEMENTS TURN 2: Arrive at the eastern wadi as indicated on the deployment map. The entry move will be an initiative move.The entry move will be an initiative move.
  • 6th Royal Tanks (depleted): One command stand with six Crusader Mk1s.
The Marmon Herringtons of C Squadron 4SAAC and the guns of 4RHA. The buildings are Hareifet Nbeidat.

REINFORCEMENTS TURN 5: Arrive via the S and W corner table edges indicated on the deployment map. The entry move will be an initiative move.
  • 22nd Armoured Brigade Group command: One command stand.
  • 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars (depleted): One command stand with six A15 Crusader Mk1s.
  • 3rd County of London Yeomanry (depleted): One command stand with six A15 Crusader Mk1s.
  • 4th County of London Yeomanry (depleted): One command stand with six A15 Crusader Mk1s.
AIR COVER: At any point during the turn the British can dice to request air cover. Roll 2d6 twice. For each result of six or less one Hurricane fighter bomber is made available. It can be used for ground attack vs any target or air superiority versus enemy aircraft arriving in the German player's next turn. 



GERMAN 'SECRET' BRIEFING:

Yesterday afternoon 15th and 21st Panzer divisions engaged in a confused action with a large British tank force, believed to be 4th and 22nd  Armoured Brigades, about Gabr Saleh. As the light faded both divisions broke off the engagement and leaguered, somewhat apart from each other, west of that position.

As the sun set intelligence indicated that the British were behind them at Sidi Rezegh with a considerable force and the Tobruk garrison was making a sally towards them. 

General Cruewell conferred with Rommel and it was decided that 21st Panzer should move at night to link with 15th Panzer in preparation for concerted action against the flank and rear of the intruders at Sidi Rezegh.

At 0630 21st November, the Panzer divisions extricated themselves from contact with British 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades and made their way towards the airfield at Sidi Rezegh, 21st Panzer on the right and 15th Panzer on the left, with the British armour in pursuit.

At Sidi Rezegh, the British have managed to gain a foot hold on the second escarpment but further progress to El Duda has been prevented by the timely intervention of the 8.8cm guns of AA3.

At 0830 contact was made with enemy armour and guns on the third escarpment west of Sidi Rezegh and a furious tank battle ensued. The enemy tank force was destroyed but at around midday, due to a shortage of ammunition, the attack was called off and the tanks of 15th and 21st Panzer withdrew to Abiar en Nbiedat to replenish. 21st Panzer complained that there was an insufficiency of ammunition available to completely resupply.
15th Kradschutzen Battalion plus attachments.
Following replenishment 15th Panzer began to regroup for a renewal of the attack on the enemy forces now known to be on and above the third escarpment. 

1st Battalion 8th Panzer Regiment plus attachments.
The main attack will comprise 8th Panzer Regiment and 15th Kradschutzen Battalion Elements of Regiment (IR155) have been ordered to attack from the west.The link point for the forces is planned to be Point 178.

It is now 14.00 and the elements of 15th Panzer are in their attack positions. 

YOUR MISSION:
Destroy the enemy above the third escarpment. Take the third escarpment between its eastern end (position currently held by S coy 2RB) and Point 178.




FORCES IMMEDIATELY AT YOUR DISPOSAL:
  • 15th Kradschutzen Battalion (reinforced): 200th Infantry Regt HQ: One command stand. One command stand with nine Kradschutzen platoons, one 3.7cm PaK36 platoon, one 7.5cm IG platoon. One SP 15cm IG. One company of assault engineers comprising three platoons.
  • 8th Panzer Regiment (reinforced): 8th Panzer Regt HQ: One command stand. 1st Battalion 8th Panzer Regiment: One command stand with three Panzer II, four Panzer IIIH, two Panzer IVD. One AT company comprising 2 3.7cm PaK36 and one 5cm Pak38. One command of one 8.8cm FlaK36. 
  • Off board artillery (firing from the SE: Zones have a SW - NE axis) dedicated to IR200: One FAO, two 15cm s.FH-36 of general support battalion. Two smoke scheduled assets per firing battery - the German player should indicate the centre point of the screens and arrival times on his deployment map prior to the start of the game. 
General Neumann-Silkow (15th Panzer Division) consults with Rommel prior to the attack.
REINFORCEMENTS TURN 2: Arrive behind 1st Battalion 8th Panzer Regiment indicated on the deployment map. The entry move will be an initiative move.
  • 15th Panzer Division HQ: One command stand.
  • 2nd Battalion 8th Panzer Regiment: One Battalion command stand with two Panzer II, five Panzer IIIH, two Panzer IVD. One armoured assault engineer company of three platoons. 
  • Off board artillery (firing from the SE: Zones have a SW - NE axis) dedicated to 8th Pz Regt: One FAO, one 15cm s.FH-36 of general support battalion, three 10.5cm le.FH-18 of 1st direct support battalion.
REINFORCEMENTS TURN 5: Arrive at the NW table edge indicated on the deployment map. The entry move must be diced for with a -2 modifier.
  • 1st Battalion 155th Infantry regiment: One command stand with nine infantry platoons, 1 3.7cm PaK36.
REINFORCEMENTS TURN 6: Arrive at the NE table edge indicated on the deployment map. The entry move will be an initiative move.
  • Elements of 21st Panzer Division: One Command stand with four - eight mixed Panzers Mk II - IV. (This command will comprise one Pz II, three Pz III G plus casualties from the battle - actual numbers and mix will be depend on availability and player choice).
Historical Note: This is the force that eventually cleared 

AIR COVER: At any point during the turn the Germans can dice to request air cover. Roll 2d6 twice. For each result of six or less one Stuka dive bomber or one (max) FW190 is made available. Stukas can be used to dive bomb any ground target. FW190 can be used for air superiority versus enemy aircraft arriving in the British player's next turn.


DESIGNER NOTES 

Neapolitan Ice:
The scenario name "Neapolitan Ice" is a quote from The British Official History in describing the unique grand tactical situation that existed on 21st November 1941: "Over twenty or so miles from the front of the Tobruk sortie to the open desert to the south-east of Sidi Rezegh airfield, the forces of both sides were sandwiched like layers of Neapolitan Ice". 

Indeed, the disposition of the forces resembled a layered cake. From NW to SE it ran:

  1. British 70th Division (Tobruk garrison) fighting towards El Duda against
  2. Bologna Division and Afrika Division, the latter facing north and south to simultaneously fight off 
  3. half of 7th Armoured Brigade and Support Group, whose southern half was reversed to face 
  4. 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions attacking from the open desert whilst maintaining a strong rear guard to fend off
  5. 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades tardily pursuing from the direction of Gabr Saleh.
Turn 1. The Germans drop their smoke barrage in front of F battery 4RHA

The strategic importance of the Sidi Rezegh escarpments
As escarpments go, the three escarpments at Sidi Rezegh are not very high and not especially steep - they are not like the escarpment cliffs at the coast. However, they are steep and rugged enough to pose a problem to the under-powered vehicles of WW2 vintage. They run east to west and form something of a barrier to traffic moving north south. From Abiar el Amar on the first escarpment to Abiar en Nbeidat they rise a mere 120 feet in ten miles. 

Turn 3: The RAF is ever present in the first three turns . The 8.8cm is living up to its reputation as a tank killer. It is accounting for at least one A13 each turn. (Note: The red arrow indicator points north).

From bottom to top, the three escarpments are the Belhamed - El Duda escarpment (overlooking the approaches from Tobruk and traversed by Trigh Capuzzo), the Sidi Rezegh escarpment (on which the landing ground lies), and the third escarpment (on which the principal feature is the slight rise of Point 178).

Turn three: 15th Kradschutzen has cleared F battery out of its gun pits; it has taken heavy casualties from 4SAAC and has come under fire from C battery. S Coy 2RB has bugged out of its position on the third escarpment and its position has been taken by the tanks of 6RTR.
Strategically they are important because: "in conjuction with the gap between Ed Duda and Belhamed the area provides easy access from the level of Tobruk to the plain above the third escarpment, and from Abiar el Amar, west of Sidi's tomb, to Abiar en Nbeidat eastward, the ground rises in a broad even slope some 2 - 3 miles wide, up which an armoured force could move in formation." [from The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941]. 
Turn 3: 8th Panzer Regiment about to pass the support elements of 15th Kradschuten. In the distance, the remnants of 2RTR are fighting an unequal battle.

No 7th Hussars, no more old cruisers
In the morning battle 7th Hussars was almost completely wiped out. When the battle died down at midday it had 10 tanks remaining (out of 57), and several of these had been hit. They withdrew eastward and took no further part in the day's events. This formation was made up of old cruisers (A9s and A10s) and Crusader tanks - although one or two old cruisers fought until the end of the operation, this is the last time they were seen, in numbers, in theatre. 

Turn 3: Another shot of 15th Kradschutzen's attack on the position of F Battery 4RHA. (Note: the ambulance on the extreme right is the command element for 6RTR).

Composition of S Company 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade 
There is some confusion about the composition of S Company 2RB. It is not a support company because these did not exist at this date. It certainly held up the advance of 15th Kradschutzen Battalion, pinning it down with 'heavy machine gun fire'. 
Turn 3: The carrier platoons attached to S Coy 2RB shifting position climb the wadi east of Point 178. In the distance, the Crusader tanks of 6RTR take up hull down positions.
Several ideas about its OOB have been put forward, the best of which being that it was an ordinary motor rifle company supported by the carrier platoons of B and C company (A company having been detached for other duties prior to the start of Operation Crusader). This fits well with 'heavy machine gun fire', so that is what I have gone with. 

Turn 3: Stuka attack!
One other point of unimportant note, the Rifle Brigade, in earlier times, was known as the 95th rifles (Sharpe's lot); and the Kings Royal Rifle Corps were the 60th Rifles (the 'Loyal Americans!'). I learn something new every day.

The rest of 7th Support (Pivot) Group?
There were several units of Pivot operating on the second escarpment but I have chosen to omit all but C Battery of 4RHA. I have done this because I can find no reference to them taking part in the action for the third escarpment. They all seem to have been busy in the defence of second escarpment - supporting 1KRRC and A coy 2RB on the second ridge, and in fending off the attacks of 21st Panzer Division from the east. 

Turn 3: Another shot of 8th Panzer being directed by General Neumann Silkow from the roof of his captured Dorchester. At the rear of 2nd Battalion, a company of engineers in Sd.Kfz 251 APCs provides the sole infantry support for Group Cramer. 15th Kradschutzen is part of Group Geissler. It is a common misconception (myth) that the Germans organised infantry and armour into the combined arms battle groups - the two arms co-operated much more efficiently than the British, but they had their own, separate command structures.
I have included the C Battery 4RHA because it was the farthest west of the field guns (away from the attention of 21st Pz), because it's sister battery is on the third escarpment, and because if IR 155 had made it to the field these guns would surely have seen action against it. 

I have no accurate information about the whereabouts of B and C companies of 2RB, though I would include them if I ever found that they were actually involved in the defence of the third escarpment. 

Numbers for 6th Royal Tanks
In this scenario 6th Royal Tanks comprises A Squadron and the remnants of B and C Squadrons 6RTR. When they crossed the second escarpment in their morning attack on El Duda they were met by the fire of German and Italian anti-tank guns that were personally sited and commanded by Rommel, who happened to be on the spot at the time. In the attack on El Duda in the morning B and C squadrons must have taken over 50% losses because 6RTR only had 28 runners left (out of 49) for the afternoon battle. 

The arrival of 22nd Armoured Brigade
I am totally confused as to the losses incurred by 22nd Armoured Brigade between the start of the operation and this point. This is probably because losses were mostly due to mechanical breakdown and, as the tanks were not suffering crew loss or battle damage, most were coming into service again relatively quickly. I have reduced their strength by about 33% for this action, which might be a little generous.

In this scenario 22nd Armoured Brigade actually arrives much earlier than it did historically. Historically, it was very late in arriving (close to dark) having been delayed by mechanical problems and not realising the urgency of the situation. Though it swept majestically across the battlefield, with the setting sun at its back, like the 7th Cavalry coming to the rescue of the settlers, by the time it arrived the Indians had gone leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. However, if all had gone to plan the 22nd would have arrived sometime in the mid afternoon: For the sake of the scenario as a game, I have it arriving in time to take a full part in the action. 

It is also worth mentioning that they arrive where they do due to historical bad map reading / using the wrong co-ordinates. They were actually ordered to attack 15th Panzer from the rear - the 22nd being out of position actually makes the scenario work much better, so I'm not complaining. 

What were the rest of 15th Panzer Division's infantry doing?
The British briefing mentions two battalions of German infantry forming up for the attack on the third escarpment. This is taken from the war diary of 4th SAAC and is a bit of detail that should add a little fog of war. The report from 4th SAAC was partly mistaken: Two battalions were seen deploying but one was not to be included in the attack. 

As far as I can gather, the Germans feared being caught in the rear by the British armour of 4th and  22nd Armoured Brigades so the rest of 200th Infantry Regiment, comprising 8th Machine Gun Battalion with strong AT support, is off table to the right rear of 15th Kradschutzen with orders to defend against a possible attack from the pursuing British armour. Likewise, 115th Infantry Regiment (not seen by 4SAAC at all) is posted south west of 8th Panzer Regiment. In consequence, 8th Machine Gun Battalion and 115th Regiment are not available to the German player for this action.

As mentioned earlier, 22nd Armoured Brigade didn't end up here, because it got lost. 4th Armoured Brigade ran into elements of 21st Panzer Division east of this particular action.

The inclusion of 155th Infantry Regiment
155th Infantry Regiment of Afrika Division ZBV (Africa Division For Special Duties wasn't named 90th Light Division until 27th November) didn't arrive at the battle at all on the 21st: It took point 178 the next day. However, on the 21st November, it was working its way east along the escarpment when it was aggressively engaged by B Squadron 4SAAC two miles west of point 178, and halted. 

To provide another layer to the cake I have introduced the possibility of its arrival into the mix. The negative command modifier for arrival has been used enhance the 'what if' nature of this intervention happening. Note: None of the infantry battalions in this division were motorised at this time.

Air Power
Aircraft of both sides were overflying this piece of desert, from dawn til dusk, attacking targets of opportunity. I have treated air power in a slightly different way than it is in BKC II. I can find no reference to there being any ground to air communication (for immediate air to ground response) and consequently the aircraft in this scenario can turn up and do stuff (without a FAC) as detailed in the player briefings. 

As a suggestion, when attacking ground targets both players should roll d6: If the aircraft dice is equal or higher it chooses its target and places the template (under no circumstances may an aircraft target an enemy unit within 12" of a friendly unit); if lower the enemy chooses the target and places the template; on a result of double 6 the aircraft will blunder and attack blue on blue - re-roll for target choice and template placement. 

11 comments:

NW Crew said...

Very interesting and great scenario. /Mattias

Chris Kemp said...

Nicely done indeed, Sir.

Regards, Chris.

Phil said...

MOst impressive terrain and maps...and I love your observation tower...

William Stewart said...

Inspirational! I finally broke down and ordered a used and slightly abused copy of Agar-Hamilton and Turner's Sidi Rezegh Battles through AbeBooks. Now, off to try and paint some A-13s in Caunter.

ColCampbell50 said...

Great write-up. We may have to try this scenario using our 6mm (1:285) GHW micro armor forces.

Jim

william krieg said...

Came over from your TMP link.
Wonderful looking game, scenario and AAR.

william krieg said...

Came over via your TMP link.
Wonderful game table, mins, scenario, and AAR.
...looking forward to more in the future.

Gonsalvo said...

Not my period but regardless looks great, and the situation is quite interesting!

Keith Flint said...

Now that's what I call a blog post! A very inspiring and absorbing read, and a wonderful approach to re-fighting the battle. I know it's a cliche, but the phrase 'thanks for posting' has never been more appropriate.

Captain Darling said...

Thanks for posting this scenario and the effort you've put into it!
I think we'll try it but with 6mm forces...

JAMES ROACH said...

Thank you very much for your kind words.

It's been some time since I spent this much time doing the blurb for a scenario. I'm not sure why but a little background, especially when it is different for both sides, really helps the 'mood' for a scenario.