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Rearguard on the Mechilli Road, 1941


The Second World War, Battlegroup Panzergrenadier, 12mm

Its been a long time since I had my 12mm tanks out, hence this small game set in the Western Desert in April 1941, played on a 7×5 foot table. The premise is that the British are being chased out of Libya by Rommel, and the road you see above you leads north towards Mechili. The bulk of the British are withdrawing eastwards, but a small rearguard has been left behind to delay the Germans, and to cover the withdrawal. Their aim is to escape off the eastern table edge, in the direction of the small track, which bypasses Mechili, which is reportedly knee-deep in Germans. The small rearguard consists of two platoons of the Rifle Brigade, supported by a mixed squadron of cruiser tanks, and a small battery of 2-pdr. anti-tank guns. The Germans – well, they have loads of kit, but apart from the leading tank column (two companies) the rest filter on during the course of the game – some of it on the western (German) table edge, and some on the flanks. The British win if they get half of their force off the table. The Germans are out to stop them.desert-002The scenario was loosely adapted from “The Rearguard”, from  Scenarios for All Ages, by Charles S. Grant and Stuart Asquith (1996). Charles usually does a pretty mean scenario. Of course we adapted it slightly, to reflect the forces of a modern age, and added off-board artillery and aircraft. however, the basing balance of forces, terrain layout and victory conditions are pretty much the same.desert-003The game began with the Germans advancing cautiously towards the southern of two small ridges – the likely place for the British to establish their rearguard. At this stage they didn’t know where the enemy was, and probed their way forward. The British let rip with a 2-pdr. AT gun, and the battle began. Soon more 2-pdrs on portee mounts were joining in from the south side of the ridge, but the German shooting was excellent, and soon these two portees plus the original AT gun were all knocked out. The German player played it safe, and advanced cautiously, which gave the British time to pull back their infantry and mount their trucks. Soon the defenders of both the north and the south ridge had scarpered, and the trucks were heading east as fast as they could go (which wasn’t very fast in the stony desert).desert-004In Battlegroup Panzergrenadier both sides roll for their command points, and the more you get the better everything flows. The British were consistently out-rolled by the Germans, which meant that not only could the Germans activate everything they wanted each turn, but they also had the initiative, and got to move first. This proved crucial. First they picked on the small knot of British tanks – three cruisers and a Mk. VI light tank. This started with a Stuka attack, which failed to do more than damage or suppress their targets. Then came the German panzers, who moved up and began firing at pretty close range. . One by one the British tanks were either destroyed or suppressed, and this allowed the other company of German panzers to crest the northern ridge. They now had a clear, unobstructed view of the battlefield – and a satisfying choice of targets. To their left were the battered British tank squadron, in the centre and right were British trucks, driving as fast as they could to get away.desert-006Actually, that wasn’t very fast at all, as the British players kept rolling lousy command dice, and most of the time they could only move one of their two groups of trucks. They started to be picked off, and any surviving infantry were unceremoniously turfed out beside their wrecked transport. With all but one of the British tanks gone there was little the British could do. Artillery failed to stop the panzers, and soon they were circling around an isolated British rifle platoon. The plucky infantrymen destroyed one Panzer III – the only German casualty of the game – but the end was inevitable. As the last of the British were either surrounded or forced to flee off the table edge the came was brought to a close. Less than a fifth of the British units actually made it to safety – the rest were either destroyed or surrounded. It was a sorry end to a fight which might well have gone the other way, if the British players had a bit more luck, and timed their withdrawal a bit better.desert-007Still, the game rolled along pretty smoothly, and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. I umpired, as this was the first Battlegroup Panzergrenadier game for all three of the players. In fact, for one of them it was their first ever wargame, and I’m sure he’ll be back for more. I’ve said it before – Dave Brown’s Battlegroup Panzergrenadier are a good set of rules, marred only by the name.desert-011

 

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