Saturday, November 15, 2014

Operation Torso - Battle for Orsogna, December 7, 1943

I solo-played through a biggish Battlefront WWII scenario, or rather two paired scenarios, over the past few weeks. It was a scenario I had written and was play-testing for the first time – extremely difficult terrain to model and play over, mountainous country on the east coast of Italy in early winter, 1943.
The background goes something like this:
By early December of 1943 the 8th Army, fighting up the east coast of Italy, has crossed the Sangro and pierced the German winter line. An initial sally on December 3 into the hill town of Orsogna is rebuffed, but the high command is convinced that the Germans are in retreat, leaving only small rear guards to delay the New Zealanders' advance on this part of the front.
However, slowly the truth emerges that the Germans are preparing to defend Orsogna and its ridge. It is a few more days before the Division is prepared to launch a proper attack, and those days are spent by the Germans feverishly preparing their defences.
The plan for Operation Torso is for the 2nd New Zealand Division to seize Orsogna through a direct assault on the town and a 200 yard stretch of ridge to the northeast. It will be a two brigade attack, with 5 Brigade on the right, attacking the Pascuccio feature and 6 Brigade on the left, attempting to seize Brecciarola Ridge and Orsogna. It is vital that the attack on Orsogna succeed in able to allow a flow of tanks and weapons to reach 5 Brigade once they have seized their objective. 24 Battalion, supported by tanks of 18 Regiment, is given the task of seizing the town and 28 Battalion will spearhead 5 Brigade's attack on Pascuccio Spur while 23 Battalion screens the right flank.
At 2:30 p.m., December 7, 1943, after a morning of air attacks and an initial barrage that has begun an hour and a half earlier, 24 and 28 Battalions leave their start lines and begin their advance towards the enemy.
The paired scenarios divide neatly into two even though I played them as one. It was a tough one for the Kiwis to pull off, and the game results supported that assumption.

The Battlefield
The game was really two scenarios played as one. 24 Battlaion's attack, supported by tanks of A Squadron, 18 Regt.,  came in on a narrow front bordering the Lanciano road while 28 (Maori) Battalion attacked along the Pascuccio Spur. 
Orsogna seen from the south. The NZ attack came along the dirt road from the right. The south side of the town was unassailable.
The Lanciano road, an old Roman road that ran along the ridge of a spur leading up to the town, with steep slopes dropping off to the left, seen from 24 Battalion's start line.
Pascuccio Spur (right) and the high ground bordered by the paved road and railway line (upper right) which was the Maori objective. The gully down the middle divided the two New Zealand attacks.

The track that ran along the ridge of Pascuccio Spur, seen from the Maori start line.

Orsogna, viewed from the gully dividing the two attacks.
The Attackers - Orsogna
The four companies of 24 Battalion plus the carrier platoon and attached engineers and bulldozer. Shermans of A Squadron, 18 Regt., which supported the attack and C Squadron, which never come into play. Also Kittyhawk air support.
The Defenders - Orsogna
Two companies of 26 Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, with attached pioneers and platoon from 146 Regiment (not shown). Also Pak 40 (KO'd in barrage), quad 20mm flak. Two Pz. IV's and a Flamm panzer of 26th Panzer Regiment in support.
Counterattacking I Kp., III Battalion, 4 FJ also shown (upper right).
The Attackers - Pascuccio Spur
Four companies of 28 (Maori) Battalion, with Vickers MG platoon attached. Yes, if you look carefully, three of the companies are repurposed Commandos. Apologies to the purists but I didn't have a second battalion of Commonwealth infantry painted up.

The Defenders - Pascuccio Spur
Two companies of II Battalion, 146 Regt., along with I Kp., II Battalion, 9th Pz. Gr. with attached Pak 40. At the back are the two counterattack forces comprised of a third company from 146 Regt. and II Kp., II Battalion, 9th Pz. Gr. supported by elements of 26th Panzer Regt.

The Battle

 The barrage begins
The Lanciano road to Orsogna (foreground) and Pascuccio Spur (background) are lit up by the 25 pdrs. of the 4th and 5th NZ Field Regiments as they commence a creeping barrage. These guns, part of a massive fire plan, will pave the way to the two objectives.
Advancing towards Orsogna
24 Battalion falls in behind the barrage, moving forward with B Co. on the south side of the road and C Co. on the north.

Moving up Pascuccio Spur
28 (Maori) Battalion advance two companies (C and D) abreast on either side of the spur, also pushing hard against the barrage.

Kittyhawks go in
As the barrage advances Kittyhawks go into action over Orsogna, bombing the town. Heavy weather curtails their action after a half hour or so of bomb runs, depriving the New Zealanders of the expected continued air support.

A German quad 20mm AA gun downs one of the planes as it comes in for its run.

Big guns zero in
As the bombing abates the 5.5” guns of 111th RA take over, firing a series of concentrations in and around the town. Although most are focused on Orsogna itself a few concentrations land on the reserve company dug in in the olive orchards west of town. A standing barrage by the 75mm howitzers of the 1 Airlanding Regiment hammers the approaches to the west and north of Orsogna, hampering any attempts to move in German reinforcements.

C Co. Shelled
The German FOO in the Orsogna church tower spots the NZ infantry moving along the north side of the Lanciano road and calls down the 105's.

24 Battalion's commander watches the advance from the cover of an olive grove

“A” Squadron moves forward
18 Regiment's “A” Squadron moves cautiously up the road to Orsogna, leaving space between themselves and the advancing infantry in order not to draw down artillery and mortar fire on the more vulnerable troops

B Co. moves up through gully to Orsogna
The German artillery drives the NZ infantry off the road. As the barrage out paces B Co. and moves into the town itself, they make their way slowly along the steep slopes south of the Lanciano road, advancing unnoticed towards the southeast side of the town via a wooded gully.

Pascuccio Spur shelled
Meanwhile, on the NZ right flank, the RA medium guns work their way methodically down either side of the Orsogna-Ortona road, in a seres of concentrations, towards the graveyard that marks the mid-point of the Maoris' objective.

Maori D Co. Approaches Pascuccio via escarpment
D Co. swings to the left, following the barrage as they make their way towards the base of the escarpment that parallels the Orsogna-Ortona road southeast of the graveyard.

Maori C Co. storms over the ridge line
As the 5.5” guns blast German positions beyond the paved road, C Co. storms over the ridge, sweeping aside opposition in this sector, but taking casualties in the process.

Barrage rolls over Pascuccio's defenders

Overview of attack on Pascuccio 
So far things have gone more or less as planned on Pascuccio, with D Co. forming up at the foot of the escarpment on the left in preparation to attack this segment of the high ground while C Co., pushing hard against the barrage begins to make inroads on the right flank.

Flamm Panzer watches as Orsogna is lit up ahead of the attack
Back on the Orsogna front, from high ground just north of the town, a German Flamm Panzer watches as the barrage rolls through Orsogna.

Barrage rolls over Orsogna
Between the air attacks, medium concentrations and standing and rolling barrages, the defenders have suffered about 25% casualties before the Kiwis even make contact, including the loss of a Pak 40 guarding the north side of the town. In the distance can be seen the concurrent attack on Pascuccio Spur.

Armour advance stalls
A Squadron halts its advance short of the town as they realize that a Pz. IV is positioned at the entrance to Orsogna. With minefields and soft ground to either side of the road it is difficult to move into a postition where the Shermans can bring superior fire power on the lone German tank. So they sit back under cover hoping that B and C Cos. can clear the way.

After the first troop of tanks has moved forward the Germans activate a demolition creating a second crater that blocks the way (another is at the entrance to the town itself) and disorders the third tank in the column. A Squadron is now effectively severed, with minefields either side of the demolition stopping the following tanks from circumnavigating the crater.

A Squadron presses in
A second Panzer IV appears on the lane north of Orsogna (top right). As the two lead Shermans are brassed up by the German tanks and a third stays mired by the demolition. Another turns to slog its way around the minefields and over the sloppy slopes. In the foreground New Zealand engineers cautiously approach to try and clear the minefields.

B Co. cautiously approaches the town
Still unobserved, B Co. makes its way through woods and the steep ravine on the southeast. The sun has now set (impacts command and control, spotting and fire). The Flamm Panzer, moving into town after the barrage finishes, takes up position 
unobserved along with troops in the houses and lanes bordering the woods.

Flamm Panzer counterattacks
B Co. briefly gains some lodgement on the east side of the town, but a vicious counterattack with Flamm Panzer and German engineers drives them out again.

26 Pz. Recce Battalion's second company reinforces Orsogna
The second German company in this sector moves in from its positions west of the town to reinforce the battered first.

At the gates of Orsogna
The Pz. IV, positioned at the entrance to the town and safe behind a massive demolition, KO's the lead Sherman while two more try to make their way around the slopes north of Orsogna. Meanwhile minefields to the east and north of the town hold the NZ infantry at bay.

28 Battalion D and C Cos. clear out battered defenders
Back at Pascuccio Spur, the Maoris continue to clear out the German defenders on this flank. These are lower quality troops, making their job easier, but C Cos. casualties start to mount as they attack an orchard to the right. In lower left A Co. moves up behind in support.

Defenders begin to break on Pascuccio
Elements of 146 Regiment break under D Co.'s attack up the escarpment and flee from the graveyard and over the railway bed.

Maoris consolidate their position on Pascuccio
With only a bit of mopping up left to do southwest of the graveyard, the New Zealanders begin to consolidate on their objective. C Co. (reduced to platoon strength) takes over abandoned German positions in the orchard, facing north along the road in expectation of a German counterattack, while A Co. reinforces behind them and along the rail track as the sun goes down.

Bulldozer moves forward
Back at Orsogna, under cover of darkness the engineer's bulldozer is brought forward to fill the first demolition. But as it draws closer it is spotted by the FOO in Orsogna and repeated artillery strikes stall its progress.

Busting down the door
The NZ infantry finally force entry into the eastern edge of the town and blow up the Panzer IV at the gates before it can withdraw.

German machine-gun nest
A platoon of 146 Regt. infantry, under command of the recce battalion, move into Orsogna from their positions north of the town to bolster the thinning defences.

A second Sherman brewed up
The Squadron command vehicle is KO'd by the command panzer north of Orsogna as it joins the rest of the squadron in their attempt to circumnavigate the town. Even with the Pz. IV at the entrance destroyed, the demolition blocks their way into town from that direction until the engineers can fill it.

Shermans push around north side of Orsogna
In an attempt to bring increased fire power on the remaining German Pz. IV, the surviving Shermans brave bogdowns and minefields to bring support to the struggling infantry.

Orsogna overview
On the left the NZ tanks can be seen pushing their way around the north side of the town. Lower left shows A Company following up B Co. in their attack along the steep wooded ravine leading right up to the town. At centre right is the bulldozer, stalled out as it comes under enemy artillery fire, while the carrier platoon (dismounted) and D Company, committed much later, come under fire as they make their way up through the orchards north of the Lanciano road. Unseen, beyond the Shermans, is the battered remains of C Co., which was torn up by the German defence on the north flank as they tried to circumnavigate the town.

Panzer counterattack
Back on Pascuccio, soon after nightfall, the expected German counterattack comes in. A reduced company of Panzer IV's supported by a company of panzer grenadiers from the 9th PG Regiment enter along the Orsogna-Ortona road from the north. As the approach to Pascuccio was too difficult to get any AT support up to the spur, the Maoris are limited to their Hawkins mines, PIATs and artillery and mortar fire to stem the assault.

A “Murder” target is called in by the NZ FOO, bringing all of the regiment's guns and the RA mediums in an intensive concentration. But it has little effect other than to slow the advance.

Second counterattack goes in on Pascuccio
Shortly afterwards, a second counterattack by the reserve company of II Battalion 146 Regt. goes in, targeting D Company (now bolstered by B Co.) on the left flank of Pascuccio and just north of Orsogna. The Kiwis are still involved with mopping up the remnants of the original defenders and are taken by surprise, but these new German troops are rated “raw” as a result of the night fighting, and pose less of a threat.

Fallschirmjaeger arrive to bolster Orsogna's defence
As the New Zealanders begin to make inroads into the east end of Orsogna, German paratroops arrive form the west, crack troops from the 4 FJ Regt.. As they go into town they pass by the first of the recce battalion defenders exiting the battle.

Overview of German position
On the lower left German paratroops can be seen entering the town. The Flamm Panzer still holds fast and most of the town remains in friendly hands, but the first few buildings around the eastern entrance have now fallen to the attackers.

Orsogna Pz. IV KO'd
The remaining Pz. IV is KO'd by a Sherman as it attempts to withdraw into town and gets bogged down on the northern slope.

24 Battalion begins to consolidate in east end of town
As German defenders move into the woods on the eastern slope to engage the enemy, A and B Cos. continue to push men into the edge of town, strengthening their foothold. But the minefields and demolition continue to hamper the attackers' advance.

Battling it out in the dark
While engineers attempt to clear the mines at the entrance to Orsogna, German mortar fire thins their ranks. Two failed attempts to detonate add to the misery.

Orsogna defenders flee
As the paratroops push into town most of the original defenders break and flee.

Carrier platoon infiltrates along Orsogna's north edge
The carrier platoon begins to infiltrate along the north edge of town, by-passing the minefields, but its slow going through the gully. German defenders take up new positions along this side of Orsogna, while, with the last Pz. IV knocked out, the remaining Shermans brave the minefields and push through in support of the infantry. It's slow going but all pass unscathed.

Overview of Orsogna
Most of the buildings on the east and northeast of the town (bottom and bottom right) have now fallen to the Kiwis, but the Germans are still well-entrenched in the rest of the town. Shermans move along the north slope towards the northern entrance (upper right, blocked by a burning Pz. IV), while the bulldozer, having filled the first demolition, makes its way towards the second (lower right).

Flamm Panzer up in flames
The Flamm Panzer erupts in flames as it falls in close assault to NZ infantry.

Third Sherman KO'd in close combat
A third Sherman is KO'd in close combat by German fallschirmjaeger as it moves in towards the northern town entrance. But pressure mounts as the carrier platoon infantry close assault the adjacent houses, driving out the defenders.

Hail Mary
Trapped in the woods east of town and surrounded by enemy, a German company commander calls in an artillery strike directly on his position. Sadly, the only casualty is himself.

Fallschirmjaeger commander in tower
The FJ commander takes over the vacated OP (the FOO fled with the rest of that company) but with the cat among the pigeons there are few artillery and mortar targets left. In the upper right can be seen the German company commander singing his swan song.

Final demolition filled
The final demolition is filled, paving the way for 18 Regt.'s C Squadron to pass through to support the Maoris on Pascuccio Spur once the town has been cleared. But it turns out to be too late in the game, as time has run out for the attack and a slim majority of the town is still in enemy hands.

Meanwhile, back on Pascuccio
In the meantime the battle has been raging on Pascuccio. Repeated artillery strikes, called in by a FOO hunkered down unseen in the foreground, thin the ranks of the panzer grenadiers but only succeed in slowing the panzers.

C Co. remnants surrender as Germans seize orchard
The remaining elements of 28 Battalion's C Co., taking the brunt of the attack, are forced to surrender as they are cut off and surrounded in an orchard.

Seesaw battle at southwest end of Pascuccio
At the other end of the Maori attack, a seesaw battle erupts, with the German counterattacking infantry driven out of an orchard, only to have them return with a vengeance in counterattack. They prove sticker than expected and are still harassing this flank at game's end.

Panzer grenadiers make slow progress
At the north end the panzer grenadiers make slow progress, as they are continually battered by NZ artillery and small arms fire. The Maoris manage to block the road with an improvised minefield made up of Hawkins grenades, but by this time the Panzer IV's have abandoned the road and are mulling about on the soft ground either side.

End of the battle
For Pascuccio Spur the Germans win a minor victory as there are still German units active within 10” either side of the graveyard at either end, not giving the Maoris firm control over this section of road.
In Orsogna the defenders also squeeze out a minor victory, holding 17 built up sectors to the New Zealanders' 16. However, with the German armour in Orsogna eliminated and both demolitions filled, it was probably just a matter of time before the defending paratroops would have been ousted and C Squadron could have pushed through to Pascuccio. And on Pascuccio Spur the German panzers, although unharmed, had had their infantry support stripped away while at the other end of the ridge it was unlikely that the 146th infantry would stay put for long. But there just wasn't time for the NZ forces to make either of those possibilities come to fruition in the allotted 15 game turns.

Knocking it down
I thought some might be interested in seeing all of the terrain bits incorporated into this board, photographed as I knocked it down.


  1. Great looking game, love the terrain

  2. Fantastic looking game, the terrain looks suitably rugged, and all the explosions and smoke add to maelstrom of battle.

  3. Thanks, Craig, Jacksarge. Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Very cool, visually awesome, well researched too

  5. Thanks, Al. The scenario was sitting on my desk for over a year before I hammered it into shape. I was trying to figure out how to have it relate to the actual battle (which ended badly for the New Zealanders) and yet still be an interesting fight. I ended up giving the armour a bit more off board mobility than was probably realistically possible in Italy in early December 1943.