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The Derna Road, 1941


The Second World War, Battlegroup Panzergrenadier, 20mm

This week my pal Chris Henry brought in his 20mm Western Desert toys, and staged a game for us which involved a British probe against a well-defended Italian strongpoint, somewhere to the south-west of Tobruk. The British didn’t expect much opposition, and so their orders (capture the Italian senior officer) were a little over-ambitious. The advance began well enough, with a platoon of Rolls Royce armoured cars leading the drive down the main road while the infantry disembarked from their trucks and carriers. Then the Allied commander (er, me) rolled three “1’s” in a row for initiative, which meant the advance ground to a crawl. Then the armoured cars were brewed by Italian field guns. Wanting to make the most of our “initiative points”, we decided to bring up our mixed bag of armoured support – a pair of cruiser tanks, and a couple of Matildas.DSCF3430The Italians did the same, launching a two-pronged counter-attack using L33 tankettes and a pair of M13-40’s. The tankette attack was stopped by fire from the cruisers, but the Italian tanks proved a little tougher to deal with, especially when a couple of German Pz. III’s moved up to support them. Although the Axis armour couldn’t penetrate the armour of the Matildas (unless the Axis player threw a very lucky double “6”), they did manage to suppress the British infantry tanks, which prevented them from firing.DSCF3453By this time the British die rolling luck returned, and the advance resumed. Ignoring infantry and machine gun fire from their left flank, the British infantry moved forward to seize the first of the Italian artillery positions, while the cruiser tanks raced around the back of the Italian position. However, they were both halted by suppressing fire from the remaining Italian gun, and from the German panzers.DSCF3452By this time it was getting close to packing up time… and the pub was calling. It was clear that the British were in trouble – all their tanks were suppressed, which meant that while they weren’t actually knocked out, they couldn’t do much to hurt the enemy. The British infantry were doing a little better, and in a few more turns would have cleared the Italian askaris from the village.DSCF3451However, without aggressive tank support their position would have been untenable, as there were still an awful lot of Italian infantry in the area – grouped on the ridge to the south of the main road. Common sense demanded that the British pull back, conceding victory to the Italians.DSCF3456All in all it was a well-balanced game, and as an umpire Chris managed to keep it moving along nicely, despite the presence of hard-drinking and hard arguing British sub-commanders, and an Italian player distracted by a parental custody battle being played out via text messaging during the game! We resolved to have another desert outing  soon, and in the meantime we’ll work on the terrain, which is still little more basic than we’d all like. Still, the bigger than normal table (an 8×6 foot one) captured something of the scope of the desert,  and although you can’t see it in the photos, the idea of sticking the hills underneath a desert-coloured cloth worked pretty well at making the battlefield as undulating and full of dead ground as much of the desert really was.

 

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