Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ambush at Grammichele, Sicily, July 15, 1943

Ted Hodson and I finally got around to playing through the Grammichele scenario I wrote a few years ago, the second in our Italian campaign. The scenario was written for the Battlefront WWII ruleset and is played on a 9' X 4.5' board in 20mm. As a result of some very bad luck for Ted (and a misreading of the victory conditions that I myself had written two years ago!) the game came to a quick conclusion and a resounding loss for the Canadians.

Having spent a couple of days building the board, and wanting to make sure the scenario wasn't unbalanced, I played it through solo a second time. That being the more interesting game, I decided to put that one on this blog.

We gamed this once before, and the results can be seen here. The scenario is based on an ambush of a Canadian column, strung out on a long open road before the hill town of Grammichele. It was the first engagement of the war for the Hastings Prince Edward Regiment, coming off a long three years of training in Britain before finally being committed to Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. 
This map of our on-going Italian campaign chalks up an Allied win for Grammichele. With the Germans triumphing at Primosole Bridge, that makes it one a piece!
Five days after the launch of the Allied invasion Canadian forces pushed north into the rugged Sicilian interior against stiffening German resistance. As the Hermann Göring Division disengaged from the Americans around Gela in order to shift their forces east, they initiated a series of rear guard actions against the 8th Army's left flank to buy time to establish a defensive line in the Catania plain. At the town of Grammichele elements of the HG Flak Regiment, supported by infantry and tanks, carefully prepared an ambush for the advancing enemy. The town perched on a height of land had a commanding view of the wide, empty plain devoid of cover traversed by Highway 124 running straight as an arrow. The German commander couldn't believe his eyes as the Canadian units came into view, advancing in a single two mile column strung out along the highway under the sights of his waiting guns.The Canadian Hastings Prince Edward Regiment, supported by tanks of the Three Rivers Tank Regiment, spearheaded the 8th Army's left hand thrust. The Three Rivers' reconnaissance section, accompanied by a platoon of Hasty P's B Company mounted on tanks, preceded the column into the seemingly empty town, cautiously probing for enemy resistance. As these lead elements disappeared from view into Grammichele, the remainder of the column was brought up short by a crater on Hwy. 124 that effectively blocked the way forward for wheeled transport.
Lt. Col. Tweedsmuir, the Hasty P's commander, had just ordered the crater filled when firing erupted. Machine gun and small artillery fire tore into the exposed column as the infantry bailed off their transporting tanks and into the cover of a shallow ditch. The battle had begun.
The object of this scenario is to mirror the unique challenges posed for both sides. For the Canadian player it is to make good a bad situation while the German player tries to execute a successful rear guard action, inflicting as much damage as possible while tying up enemy troops before exiting his units as intact as possible. Victory points are awarded for the Canadians by responding quickly and effectively to the ambush while the Germans need to score a certain amount of damage (twice that of the Canadians) and then withdraw all of their surviving units from the table.

Scenario map showing the Allied attack.

The battlefield from the Canadian side

Highway 24 stretches ahead through open ground to Grammichele, with a crater blocking wheeled traffic halfway along.


The battlefield from the German side

The defenders are well-entrenched and out of sight in Grammichele, with a commanding view of the countryside.

The railway station
The ground around the railway station, covered by German guns and tanks becomes a killing ground for the Hasty P.'s carrier platoon.

The Annex!
Ever had a bigger table than you could fit in the room without blocking access to the far side? I was particularly pleased with this solution, a board extension on a wheeled trolley that allowed me to extend the road its full length for the opening moves and then be wheeled away when no longer needed.

The Defenders

Historical information is sketchy as to what elements of the HG Flak Regt. were present in Grammichele, and with what support. I opted for a light flak platoon (as Sdkfz 7/1's were present, although I have substituted these with 20mm SP flak guns), a heavy flak battery, a reduced panzer company and a panzergrenadier company with attached support weapons.

The Attackers

The Canadian force is made up of the Hastings Prince Edward Regiment, support weapons and A Squadron of Three River Tanks along with their recce section consisting of a turretless Stuart and Dingo scout car. On table fire support is composed of a battery of Devon Yeomanry 142 Field Regiment Sextons. Again, lacking these models, I substituted a pair of Priests, figuring they would be far enough back that they wouldn't be much in play. In fact, they spent the game on the Annex.

Overview showing the German defence set up at the beginning of the game. All defending units were recorded and then removed from the table.


1. Advance on Grammichele

A Squadron of Three Rivers Tanks, with B and A company mounted, is strung out along Highway 124 before Grammichele, brought up short by a crater that blocks the road. Behind them, in order, is the carrier platoon with an attached Vickers section, C Company mounted in trucks, the FOO's for the Devon Yeomanry Sextons, 6 pdr. platoon, the battalion commander's White scout car and the Sextons bringing up the rear. The Hasty P.'s, having lost their transport en route from England, are catching rides where they can with D Company mounted on the 6 pdrs.' carriers, the Sextons and anywhere else they can find space!
The Three Rivers recce section, along with a platoon of B Company mounted on Shermans has disappeared ahead into the town.

2. View from the escarpment

Unknown to the Canadians, their column, strung out and vulnerable, lies in the sites of the German guns in Grammichele, waiting to spring the trap…

3. Ambush!

The recce Dingo is brought up short as it drives into the sites of a waiting Panzer III. It is immediately knocked out. With nowhere to go the Stuart recon vehicle barges by the burning Dingo to engage the German tank, forcing it to withdraw before it Ko's this vehicle at close range.

4. Sherman KO'd

Two sections of the B Company platoon are gunned down before they can dismount and the third falls to ambush fire immediately afterwards. The Sherman attempts to reverse out of town, but two Panzers have closed in from either side, and this tank is also dispatched.

5. Column comes under fire

As gunfire erupts in the town an 88, infantry gun and mortar fire open up on the stationary column from the escarpment. The remainder of B Company and A Company roll off their tanks and quickly begin to move forward.

6. C Company disembarks
As the tanks and carriers unload their troops and begin to move out off the road, C Company's trucks move up and disgorge their troops into the ditches either side.

7. Overview end of Turn 2

In this overview, lead elements of B Company can be seen upper left, along with the lead Sherman, closing in on the escarpment. A German heavy machine-gun opens up with grazing fire as the lead sections reach the escarpment's base. The 88 can be seen dug in at the top.
Half of A Squadron and the carrier platoon exit left via a farm track that spans the ditch, sprinting to work their way around the south side of Grammichele while staying as far away as possible from the 88 fire.
A Company follows B, moving up the ditches bordering the highway, while C Company dismounts from its transport and begins to move forward.

8. D Company brings up the rear

Far to the rear, D Company dismounts from its motley transport and moves towards Grammichele. German tanks have now appeared at the village's outskirts lending their fire to the defence.  

9. 105's open up

Sextons' 105's (or at least, Priest stand-ins) come into action, laying down a smoke screen on the south side of the town to help allow the carriers and tanks to make their way forward intact.

10. Mortars in action

After dismounting their C Company riders the Hatsy P.'s mortars move forward, emplacing in the ditch either side of the road and adding their firepower in trying to keep the Germans off balance.

11. 6 pdrs. brought forward

From the rear of the column the 6 pdrs. are brought cautiously forward, keeping their distance from the deadly 88 fire.

12. Panzers at the gate

One of the German tanks creeps out of town in order to better engage the Three River Shermans that are seeking shelter from the 88 at the base of the escarpment. A second tank takes up a hull down position at the entrance to the town at the top of the hill. In the foreground C Company follows the carriers and Shermans around the south flank.

13. Flak gun KO's carrier

Covered by the smoke screen, the carriers sprint below the railway station and away from the tank and 50m AT gun fire raining down on them from the south side of the town. A German SP 20mm flak gun, hidden in one of the orchards south of the railway station, ambushes the lead carriers and knocks one out. The carriers are also engaged by heavy machine-gun fire from the railway station. A Sherman moves up to lend support.

14. A second 88 opens up

The flak gun is disordered by return fire, but more trouble arrives in the form of a second 88, covering the dead ground below the station from this position. In rapid succession two more carriers are knocked out by 88, panzer and 50mm AT fire. The Canadian casualties begin to mount.

15. German defences right flank

German 88 and 20mm flak fire chew up the Canadian armour as the German platoon holding the railway station withdraw as a result of enemy encroachment.

16. Assaulting the escarpment

Meanwhile, on the Canadian right flank, two Three Rivers Tanks gain the relative safety of the base of the escarpment. From here they can bring fire to bear on the German 88 while being immune to the gun's own fire due to its inability to depress its barrel to that extent. The lead elements of B Company have been knocked out by MG fire as this company takes the majority of the Hasty P.'s casualties.

17. Second SP flak gun lends its support

The second half track mounted 20mm flak gun rolls up on the northeast edge of the escarpment to bring fire on elements of A Company working their way around on this flank.

18. A Company advances

A Company moves to outflank the escarpment while the Three Rivers Shermans keep the 88 and German HMG occupied. Goats and sheep look on…

19. Mid-game overview

At the top A Company can be seen moving towards the north side of town while remnants of B Company draw fire as they attempt to close in to the centre. Lower left the carrier company is caught in a deadly cross fire by the 50mm Pak (upper right), tank and 88 fire. A Sherman moves in towards the railway station forcing the German infantry to abandon this position, while another engages the enemy armour from an orchard. Lower far right C Company follows in.

20. Burning carrier

A fourth carrier is brewed up along with the first of the Three Rivers Tanks. Carrier infantry bail out and move in to assault the railway station and SP flak gun, which is quickly knocked out by machine-gun fire.

21. 88 KO'd

The German 88 dug in at the top of the escarpment is destroyed by tank fire, eliminating a major threat on this flank.

22. 6 pdrs. emplace

With the threat of the 88 taken care of the Canadian 6 pdrs. move up and emplace to lend their support to the attack.

23. Close assault

Under cover of smoke a Sherman and infantry section move in on the lead disordered Panzer IV and successfully engage it in close combat, knocking it out.

24. And a second close assault

Under cover of smoke a carrier moves in on a suppressed 88 and its occupants dismount into close assault. One Canadian section is knocked out by a nearby HMG but the other successfully destroys the gun, and has the distinction of being the first Canadian entering Grammichele.

25. Closing on the railway station

As the battered carrier platoon seizes the railway station, C Company follows up.

26. A Company scales the escarpment

Meanwhile A Company, circumnavigating the HMG grazing fire, begins scaling the escarpment.

27. LiG Limbers up

With the Canadians closing in and a sufficient amount of damage having been inflicted in the ambush (this was supposed to be a simple delaying action!) the German commander gives the order to withdraw. The LiG and 50mm Pak limber up in preparation for bugging out while some of the infantry begin to withdraw from forward positions.

28. Late game overview

At the bottom both the LiG and the 50mm can be seen exiting the board in withdrawal, along with much of the infantry. Positions along the escarpment are found completely abandoned as Hasty P.'s A Company makes its way up the escarpment. The three remaining panzers take up positions at entrances to the town to cover the withdrawal, although one tank (top) becomes disordered by 6 pdr. fire.

29. LiG bugs out



30. Germany infantry withdrawing



31. German battalion commander brings up rear

32. Gaining the escarpment

A Company gains the top of the escarpment and starts to move into Grammichele only to find the German positions abandoned.

33. A second Panzer falls to close assault

Meanwhile adjacent to the railway station, a second Panzer falls to close assault from the same carrier section that had destroyed the 88. Under cover of smoke Canadian infantry manage to work their way unobserved to attack from the rear of the tank. Suddenly the German withdrawal is in trouble.

34. And a third falls to a 6 pdr. long shot

The disordered Panzer III on the edge of town loses nerve and turns to flee. As it abandons its hull down position the 6 pdr. KO's it on a long shot before it can disappear into the town and now the Germans are down three tanks.

35. Battalion commander falls

The withdrawal continues to be harassed as the heroic carrier platoon section now disorders the German battalion commander as he dashes by the end of the street, finishing the job in close combat and bringing German infantry losses to three stands.

36. Surviving Panzer battles it out in the streets of Grammichele

The surviving Panzer company commander also loses nerve and withdraws, battling off lead elements of A Company as he does so. A subsequent failed maneuver roll sees him scurrying off the board in panicked disorder.

37. Carrier platoon and C Company enter outskirts of Grammichele

The carrier platoon and C Company make their way past a burning Panzer into the abandoned town.

38. Three Rivers Shermans advance into town.


39. End game overview

At the bottom of the picture the last German panzer and troop stand flee Grammichele. Upper right A Company moves quickly in from the escarpment, while the Three River Tanks and C Company move in from the south. D Company follows up, late to the fray.
In the fighting most of B Company, the recce section, two Shermans and half the carrier platoon were casualties, while the Germans suffered the loss of two 88's, four tanks and a platoon of infantry. While the Germans were in good shape when they began their withdrawal, having scored very close to double the VP's required for a victory before pulling out, the Canadians' late push tipped the odds in their favour, securing them a minor victory (a major victory would have had them in possession of all the exit points on the west side of the board by game's end).
All in all a real nail biter, giving three very different conclusions in the three playings of this scenario.

3 comments:

  1. Another excellent post. I always enjoy the battle report and that table is amazing. Thanks for posting - very enjoyable!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Shaun. I have some new OoB information which may result in a rewrite, so this may be played again sometime (if I can find the energy to build the table a third time!)

    ReplyDelete