Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grammichele, Sicily, July 15, 1943

A straight road through open country with the ubiquitous hill town at the end leads to a trap laid by the waiting enemy. But by moving quickly to the attack the Hasty P's mange to turn disaster into victory.

This scenario, Ambush at Grammichele, written for the Battlefront WWII rules and played in 20 mm, is based on the first encounter of the Canadian Hasting Prince Edward Regiment with the Germans in Sicily. Pushing hard after the beach landings on the southern shore of Sicily, the Canadians were carrying the far left flank of the 8th Army in their advance north. The Germans, in an attempt to slow the enemy while establishing a firmer defensive line across the Catania plain, executed a series of blocking actions in the hill towns strung along the route of the advancing Canadians.

As the Hasty P's, supported by A Squadron of the Three Rivers Tank Regiment, approached the hill town of Grammichele they were strung out mounted on a long line of tanks and a hodgepodge of borrowed and captured transport, (having lost their own transport when the ship carrying it was sunk on the way to Sicily). This scenario begins with the advance units, the Three Rivers recce section and a platoon of the Hasty P's B Co. mounted on tanks disappearing into the town ahead, while the remainder of the force is strung out in the valley below, brought up short by a crater blocking the road. Yet undiscovered, the defenders, elements of the Hermann Goring Division, wait to spring their trap on the unsuspecting enemy below and in the town.

The intention of the scenario was to begin at the moment the trap was sprung, with the set up for the Canadians based on the historical situation, and the challenge to turn a bad situation around and if possible, block the German retreat. The German objective is to cause as much damage as possible and then retreat from the town relatively intact before their escape is cut off.

1. Approaching Grammichele

Mounted on anything that moves, the Hasty P's wait in a long column on the ditch lined Highway 124 as their lead elements stop to fill in a crater that blocks the road. The recce elements have already disappeared into the hill town ahead.

2. All Quiet …

From the town above the German rearguard wait to spring the trap.

3. Ambush!

Unable to wait any longer, the Germans open up on the Canadians that have ventured into the town. The lead scout car and Three Rivers recce carriers are quickly knocked out by an anti tank gun as the infantry bail out of the carriers and off the tank. German infantry on both sides of the street move to the attack while the Canadians run for cover.

4. Enfilade!

German panzers on both sides of the Sherman move in to attack but one of them instead has to fend off a close assault by B Co. soldiers. As the German infantry quickly mop up the platoon of B Co.and recce troops the Sherman, after trading some ineffective shots with the German armour, manages to reverse out of the ambush unharmed. The three tanks then hold their position, effectively blocking each other in, with none daring to poke their nose around the corner for the double tap at close range.

5. Lead tank shelled

Meanwhile the troops and vehicles in the valley have also come under fire. A lead tank is disordered by 88 fire and the tank riders bail off into the ditch on either side of the road. An Sd.Kfz. 7/1 with a 20mm Flakvierling opens up on the enemy from an orchard near the railway station, but fortunately for the Canadians, the fire is wildly inaccurate.

6. Canadians quickly move to the attack

As the attackers take fire from the escarpment on the north side of the town, and the high ground to the south, they quickly move to the attack. The Hasty P's B and A companies dismount from their transport and move to engage the enemy on the escarpment while the Shermans, providing covering fire, try to move out of the sites of the 88 and a Pz. IV that has made itself known on the edge of Grammichele and into a dead zone at the foot of the hill. Meanwhile the carrier platoon exits the road to envelop the town to the south.

7. Flakvierling opens fire from top of escarpment

A second Sd.Kfz. 7/1 opens up from the north side of Grammichele, along with a German heavy machine gun. Easily spotted, the gun comes under fire and is quickly knocked out by the advancing tanks as it attempts to withdraw.

8. C Co. joins the attack

 C Co. moves at double time up the road to pressure the Germans on their south flank.  A second German Pz. IV pokes its nose out of town to engage a Three Rivers tank that is approaching from the east.

9. Sherman is brewed up

As B and A Cos. begin to scale the heights on the north edge of the town, after some wild firing the 88 finally knocks out one of the Shermans as most of the rest of the squadron move out of sight of the enemy guns.

10. 88 covering south flank

On the south side of Grammichele a second 88 opens fire on the advancing Canadians, but like his counterpart on the escarpment, fails to land any serious hits!

11. South side of Grammichele

The Vickers platoon dismounts under fire of the German 88, but manage to move safely into the town while their carriers withdraw, miraculously unscathed.

12. Carrier platoon clears south flank

Meanwhile, the carrier platoon clears the orchards and railway station of defenders on the south side of the village. The Sdk.Kfz.7/1 is quickly knocked out and an HMG nest cleared, while two carriers are lost to fire from a 75mm Lig  emplaced next to the 88.

13. D Co. moves forward

From the back of the column D Co. dismounts from its transport and moves towards the battle, passing the battery of Royal Devon Yeomanry Sextons (Priest stand-ins!) and the 17 lbr. troop emplacing to engage the enemy.

14. Fire support

Disentangled form the traffic jam on the highway, the battalion mortars and supporting SPG's emplace in the fields below Grammichele to finally bring indirect fire down on the Germans dug in at the top of the escarpment. The HMG is quickly knocked out and the 88 suppressed by the Allied arty and mortars.

15. Germans begin to withdraw

As indirect fire begins to take a toll on the units on the outskirts of Grammichelle and lead Canadian elements begin to push into the town, the German commander gives the order to withdraw. The panzers pull back from the town edge, tightening the defensive ring as the German panzergrenadiers accompany them. The 88, knocking out a second Sherman, is too slow to disengage, and the first Hasty P's to reach the top of the escarpment drive it back, forcing it to limber up and withdraw under fire. It is quickly overcome by the advancing infantry and lost as its transport is knocked out.
With the battle moving into the town, the tail end of the column, the 6 lbrs. and battalion command, move up along Hwy. 124. The 17 lbr. limbers up as well, and moves forward.

16. Carrier platoon secures railway station

The carrier platoon clears the orchards and railway station and regroups to push in from the south in hopes of cutting off the German retreat. The first tanks of A Squadron enter the town, keeping the pressure on the German armour and  tying up their withdrawal.

17. 75mm Lig withdraws

The last gun on the outskirts to withdraw is the German 75mm infantry gun, hand-hauled out of the built up sector back towards its transport. The lead carrier bursts into town and attacks but is driven off in close assault. The next round the transport arrives and the gun makes good its escape, following the 88 that had exited just prior to this.

18. Hasty P's sweep through town

With their commander in the lead, the Hasty P's B Co. lead the charge through town. Small arms fire from the last remaining enemy infantry tie them up at an intersection.

19. Pz. IV knocked out

Elements of A Co. trap a Pz. IV before it can safely withdraw and knock it out in close combat.

20. Carrier platoon pushes in from the south

Under cover of smoke the carrier platoon pushes into Grammichele from the south, clearing out the few remaining German defenders in this part of town before pushing towards the closest exits.

21. In the streets of Grammichele

22. Pz. III pulls back

 On the north edge of town a Pz. III beats off an assault and joins the withdrawal.

23. Final withdrawal

With the remaining guns and infantry safely withdrawn, the three surviving German panzers attempt to withdraw. But the Canadian infantry have infiltrated the town from all directions and move to cut off their retreat.

24. Too late for Pz. III

A second German tank falls to close assault just as it moves to exit the battle, with elements of the carrier platoon supported by tanks seizing two of the crucial exit points. After attempting to fight through the troops blocking their way the last two German tanks also succumb to close assault. 


Post Mortem

Although the Germans managed to score a slim majority in victory point allocation, they needed to outscore their opponent 2 to 1. So with that and all four board exits occupied by the Canadians by the end of Turn 7, precipitating an early end to the game, the Canadians score a major victory.

Interestingly enough, historically the German rearguard action at Grammichele, which under the circumstances (catching the Canadians completely flat-footed and strung across the plain in column formation) should have allowed them an easy victory and unhindered withdrawal, instead turned into a Canadian success. In the actual action the Canadians went over to the attack immediately and with such force that the Germans had to hastily abandon the town, leaving behind a number of knocked out tanks and captured transport.

In this game the Canadians also pushed home the attack with a lot of gusto, forcing the Germans to ward off the enemy from all directions with meagre resources. In the early stages, when the Canadians were scrambling to close with the enemy, a series of pathetic die rolls on the part of the German 88's and tanks meant that the Canadians were able to close relatively unscathed. But even still, when the Germans began their withdrawal, they had exacted enough damage to allow them to withdraw with hope of still scoring a major victory. But as noted, the Canadian attack outstripped the German withdrawal and took advantage of the early departure of the German infantry to press home close assaults on the armour in the close confines of the town streets. Another lesson learned the hard way!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Parker's Crossroads

Here is an after action report on our recent playing of Parker's Crossroads, a Battle of the Bulge scenario written by Giopp Loris and R. Mark Davies for the Battlefront WWII rules system.
A miscellaneous group of U.S. defenders attempt to defend the Crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture against an SS Kampfgruppe. "Attempt" is the operative word as the attack comes in from all directions.

This was the set up, with the Americans crammed into the circle in the centre while the Germans attack from all points.

1. The Battlefield

"X" marks the spot. The Americans are ordered to hold at all costs this crucial crossroads. The perimeter of their defence is roughly defined by a circle encompassing the three clusters of farmhouses and the edge of the woods in the foreground. The initial German attack is expected from both north and south, with reinforcements arriving from almost any direction.
The Americans opt for a ring of steel, positioning the majority of their tanks to the south with a platoon of Shermans guarding the Samree road. Within the perimeter  F Co. of the 2/325th Glider Infantry Regiment and a platoon of paratroops from the 509th take up positions in foxholes circling the crossroads and within the farm buildings, with the majority of the halftracks and assorted soft vehicles towards the center. These are protected by the M15 gun motor carriages positioned either side of the crossroads. A smattering of artillerymen cum infantry pick up weapons and join the defence. The recce platoon of the 87th Cavalry hold the walled farm to the southeast along with the towed anti tank platoon of M5  3" antitank guns and the Priest, kept back as a second line of defence to defend if the armoured perimeter is breached. The entire crossroads area is crammed with vehicles and guns.

2. View of the crossroads from the north along the Samree road.

Under cover of an intensive barrage the Stug company and 10. Kp. Panzergrenadiers enter along the Samree highway. As the Stugs engage the Shermans on the north side of the crossroads, the infantry dismount into the woods bordering the road.

3. View from the south.

Meanwhile 9 Kp. supported by a company of Panzer IV's moves in along the Bastogne road. A number of Shermans are immediately spotted around the crossroads as they open fire.

4. Overview of opening salvos.

The Germans concentrate their artillery on the southwest side of the crossroads, knocking out a number of defending infantry and keeping the rest pinned in their foxholes. The American tanks fire to little effect as they are blinded by the barrage and have difficulty spotting the enemy. 

5. Stugs attack

One of the Stugs is brewed up as they engage the defenders to the north. Meanwhile 9 Kp. (bottom of picture) works its way through the woods, evading suspected American position as they move to the east.

6. Brave Stuart!

With one of the defending Shermans knocked out and the Stugs closing in, the recce Stuart moves in to plug the gap but is destroyed in close combat.

7. On the southern flank

To the south two more Shermans move in to the attack but one is immediately destroyed. The German armoured halftracks advance and dismount, with one being brewed up before it can do so. Its infantry bail out into the surrounding fields.

8. Bazooka scores a hit.

One of the Pz. IV's strays too close to the southern group of farm buildings and has its skull rapped by a bazooka shell, with a second shot scoring the first kill on the Pz. IV's. But wild shooting on the part of the American tanks and the FOO's inability to make contact with their supporting artillery allow the Germans to operate with relative immunity.

9.  Northern flank begins to crumble

Two more Shermans along the northwest flank are knocked out, leaving nothing but a lone artilleryman armed with a bazooka to hold off the Stugs. The barrage shifts over to the west side of the road, leaving space for 9 Kp. on the south flank to advance into the perimeter.

10. Attack on walled farm.

Behind a wall of smoke 10 Kp. emerges from the woods to push home their attack on the walled farm bordering the road to Manhay. The glider infantry dug in in the woods on the north flank sweep aside a German HMG and move in to attack 10 Kp.'s exposed flank. 

11. Close assault on walled farmhouse under cover of smoke.

12. Sticky bazooka

The lone bazooka holding the Samree road (northwest) farm proves hard to dislodge for someone who was firing howitzers the day before. German halftracks move up to the screen of woods bordering the farm to spray the building with machinegun fire, but he stays put, successfully knocking out a Stug and holding up this flank for the better part of two turns.

13. South flank collapses.

On the south side of the perimeter most of the Shermans are now swept away and the Pz. IV's and Stugs regroup for the push into the American lines. But a lone American light machine gun lodged in the south farm group still holds the German infantry at bay. In the distance a reinforcing platoon of Pz. IV's enters from the east, knocking out one of the two remaining Shermans in enfilade and driving the second into the woods to the east.

14. Sticky machine gun on west flank.

A lone paratroop section still alive on the west flank is overrun by the Panzers but the following German infantry balk and fail to follow up with the close assault. The light machine gun then knocks out most of the attacking German platoon before driving off the Pz. IV through close assault. It is finally knocked out in turn by halftrack machine gun fire.

15. Defending the farm.

Chaos reigns in the close quarters of the walled farm as punishing German shelling takes its toll. The American antitank guns and Priest try to ward off the encroaching German armour as glider troops from the perimeter retreat to the relative safety of this last holdout. The panzer grenadiers of 10 Kp. have gained a slim foothold and the Americans rally to throw them out.

16. Stug retreats to cover

With the loss of a second Stug, the remaining guns temporarily loose nerve, one retreating disordered to the shelter of the woods.

17. Ring of steel

With the Americans pushed out of the two other farm complexes the Germans tighten their ring of steel. The gun motor carriages are knocked out in quick succession and the Priest comes under fire as the glider infantry company  commander abandons his foxhole to join his remaining troops by the farm.

18. Enfilade!

10 Kp.'s attack stalls out as they come under enfilade fire from the Americans emplaced in the woods and now moved to the edge of the forest.

19. 7 Kp. joins the fray

Just when things couldn't get worse for the Americans the reinforcing 7 Kp. emerges from the woods to the east (left) with their armoured halftracks in close support. Their first attack is beaten off with heavy losses while 10 Kp. is cleared from the buildings to the north.

20. Last Sherman standing

The remaining Sherman, retreating into the woods disordered is pursued by a Pz. IV. In close assault the disordered Sherman disorders the German tank in turn and then knocks it out! 

21. Overview

Just as victory seems imminent a  series of failed maneuver rolls stalls out the German armoured advance and sends a number of their tanks in retreat towards their starting lines. The American 155's come in for the first and only time to great effect, knocking out the better part of a platoon of German infantry that have seized the southern farm complex and destroying a Pak 40 in tow. 7 Kp.'s second attack on the eastern side of the walled farm also falters and the infantry retreat to the woods, but not before eliminating the antitank gun emplaced in the farm. The second American antitank gun has also been knocked out (by Stummel fire) and the Priest by tank fire, leaving the Americans with virtually no anti tank capability other than close assault (most bazookas were destroyed in the barrage). Before being knocked out one of the American antitank guns manages to destroy one more Pz. IV, reducing the company to less than 50% of its total, but it is is all too little too late.

22. 10 Kp. breaks and runs

Having lost half their company and caught in the deadly enfilade from the woods, 10 Kp. finally breaks and flees the battle, not aware that the American defence is on its last legs.

23. Not enough tanks

The lone Sherman still surviving pokes its nose out of the woods in search of targets, only to see German tanks and infantry pouring into the perimeter. It knocks out a German halftrack by the walled farm and then trades shots with a Pz. IV on the Manhay road.

24. Down to sticky bombs

In a final burst of heroics American glider infantry close assault the two Stummels that have moved in to close the deal. Both halftracks are knocked out.

25. 7 Kp. retreats

Now taking tank fire from the Sherman on their right flank, 7 Kp. packs it in as well, fleeing the battle. The Germans are left with only a handful of infantry still in the fight.

26. Last stand

A final attempt to drive off the attackers by close assault fails, and with the German armour now ringing the farm and panzer grenadiers within the walls, the few surviving Americans surrender or fall back into the woods.

Post mortem

The German tactic of leading with their armour - infantry and support vehicles only following up after most of the tanks had been knocked out - allowed them to push into the perimeter close on the heels of the barrage. 10 Kp.'s move on foot through the woods initially caught the Americans flat-footed, thinking that they were moving to attack  the line of dug in paratroops. But once the defender became aware of the axis of attack they were able to move into enfilade and effectively break up that sally.
Defending the perimeter against attack from all directions made it very difficult for the Americans to concentrate their defence or find positions that weren't easily enfiladed.The opening barrage gutted much of the American defence, knocking out half their bazooka assets as well as most of the HMG's. Also the failure of the American arty to be a no show coupled with miserable die rolling on the part of the American armour and anti tank assets meant that a difficult situation was made much worse and the battle more or less lost by Turn 6, at which point two of the three farm complexes were in German hands.