Sunday, June 9, 2013

Wasser oder Todt!

This Saturday, we returned to the Western Desert for a Bolt Action game roughly (very roughly) inspired by the 1943 Humphrey Bogart classic Sahara! The 8th Army defended a rather lush oasis against some very thirsty Germans—and a few thirsty Italians, too.

Two squads, supported by an MG and a 2-pounder, defend the oasis
The British numbered seven squads plus supports, which included a 2-pounder AT gun, a 25-pounder howitzer, two bren scout carriers, and a Churchill MkIII. British players were Dick Larsen, Mark Serafin, Richard Li, and me. We set up first with me manning the oasis with one British squad and one squad of hard-bitten French Foreign Legionnaires. Dick and his carriers with a commando squad was on my right.

Oasis manned and ready! 
Mark manned the few buildings and a stone wall to my immediate left, and Richard with two squads, the 25-pounder, and the Churchill supported Mark to his left-rear.

Mark's boys in the buildings 
Facing us were 12 squads of Afrika Korps panzergrenadiers, supported by MGs, mortars, a 75mm light IG, and three tanks: a Pz IVD, a PZ IIIL, and a redoubtable Italian ally in an M13/40 medium light tank. The Axis players were Phil Bardsley, Doc Marshall, Jerry Tyer, and Bill Stewart.

Thin, yet amazingly indestructible, steel
Phil with two squads, two tanks, and the IG was on the German far right. He was supported to his left by Jerry's three squads. The German center was run by Doc with three squads and Bill was on the far left with three squads and the M13/40, supported by a command company with an MG and medium mortar.

The panzergrenadiers of the German center advance towards the oasis
Phil started the ball rolling on turn 1 by an attempted a coup de main with his Pz IV.  However, his movement wasn't sufficient to overrun Mark's infantry behind the wall, so he wound up shooting with the Pz IV's MGs and started the slow whittling-down of Mark's point guard.

Bill opened up on my MG and knocked out two of the three crew. My MG would remain useless until Bill finally took out the remaining crewman a few turns later.

Panzer vor!
I managed to get a shot against the Pz IV with my 2-pounder, but it bounced off harmlessly—the first bounced shots of many throughout the game. The 2-pounder crew then took a pounding itself and lost two of its three crew. This didn't seem to have a huge effect on my ability to score a hit, but I never could penetrate the target.

Wounded 2-pounder still facing off the thirsty Germans
Phil continued his bold advance with the Pz III, but this had little effect on Mark and Richard's troops behind their stone walls.

Throwing dust
The tank threat to the British diminished a bit when Phil's attempt to pass an order test with his Pz IV resulted in a failure, sending him backwards. Failed order tests plagued it for several turns and the Pz IV would spend the rest of the game trying to get back to where it retreated from. Additionally, Richard's 25-pounder and Churchill kept Phil's tanks at bay for most of the game.

High-water mark for the Pz IV
Jerry moved up his infantry against another part of the wall, using shell holes as cover.

Convenient use of missed artillery shots
This move put the Germans and British in fairly close range. Mark's most exposed unit was whittled down until it failed a morale check and went away.

Mark's tommies man the wall
The M13/40 was something we all marked for an early demise even before the game began. However, all attempts to put it out of action failed. My 2-pounder and mortar rained fire on it every turn. Despite several hits, it just held on—although it was immobilized by pins and never moved from its starting point.

Self-propelled coffin—or not
As Bill advanced on the oasis, Dick brought his scout carriers and commandos into action. After Bill attempted to shoot a carrier with the M13/40, only to see it scoot away using the recon rule, he lost interest in targeting them. Bill turned his attention instead to the oasis where unloading the M13's three MGs finally took out the Foreign Legion squad that had been harassing the the flank of his advancing infantry.

Dick's dune buggies go into action
Meanwhile, Doc steadily advanced in the center. The onslaught was curtailed briefly by a F.U.B.A.R. roll that sent one of his squads running away towards the deep desert. But by next turn the unit had recovered and was back in the fray. My troops defending the oasis were looking pretty thin. The MG and the Foreign Legionnaires were gone. My remaining squad had taken more than 50% losses, but was still holding on. The 2-pounder kept bouncing shots off the M13/40. My mortar, firing indirectly by means of its intrepid spotter, had wiped out Bill's command group with his MG and mortar and had zeroed in on the M13/40 (to no effect).

DAK closing in on the few remaining defenders
With Mark's foremost squad lost, Jerry moved his infantry up to the wall and turned the cover advantage against Mark and Richard's troops.

The wall changes sides
It was a short-lived advantage, however. Mark popped a unit over the wall to shoot at the exposed panzergrenadiers, ineffectually at first, but along with MG fire and Richard's troops. Jerry's infantry  receded back from their high-water mark to the shell holes whence they crawled. At some point, Richard's 25-pounder got a marginal hit on Phil's Pz III, which set it ablaze and forced its crew to bail out. That was the only tank loss for either side in the game.

Bill began shifting his infantry towards Dick's commandos and the exposed section of the oasis.

More convenient artillery-made craters for the Afrika Korps
By now the effectiveness of my mortar was starting to urk Hauptmann Stewart who started shooting everything he had at my intrepid spotter, Lt. Kevlar.

Lt. Kevlar, MC, DSO, VC (post.)
But the lieutenant would not be dismayed. Although he hit several times, Bill couldn't get a damage result and I was consistently able to pass my orders tests. As a result of a F.U.B.A.R. roll, the remnants of my lone squad still holding the oasis panicked, turned about, and expertly performed the tactical maneuver of close-order buggering off in quick-time.

Sauve qui peut!
This temporarily left Lt. Kevlar as the sole defender of the oasis, still calling down mortar fire on Hitler's minions. But a sticky end for him was looking ever more likely.

Closing in
With the fall of the oasis imminent—and the threat from Phil and Jerry diminished—Mark and Richard began moving their troops towards the center and attacking Doc's advancing infantry. Having once been on the verge of an assault, Doc's infantry was too shot up by now to accomplish anything.

Richard's tank and troops moving to reinforce the oasis
The persistent survival of the Italian armored corps inspired Dick to run his wee scout carrier against it at close range so he could try a shot to the side armor with his Boys AT rifle. Despite hitting with a few shots, Dick didn't even manage to scratch paint.

Bren scout carrier charges in to bounce its Boys AT rifle shots off the M13/40's sides
Dick's wee carriers survived the fight, despite the brief attention of the M13/40. Although not tanks, they did get to practice the RAC's fine tradition of swanning about the desert going withersoever they wished. Add some flags flapping in the wind and it's almost the perfect picture of Balaclava—with a less sticky end.

By the end of turn 5, Lt. Kevlar was no more. Bill managed to finally shoot him to bits and he pushed a depleted infantry squad into the edge of the oasis by turn 6. However, Mark's infantry was just arriving at the oasis, my squad had un-buggered itself, and the likelihood of Bill's few troops making a gallant last stand just feet away from the cool waters was looking pretty good.

Nazis occupy the last post of heroic Lt. Kevlar, but reinforcements secure the oasis: no water for Fritz!
We called it a British win at the end of turn 6. The Germans would get their water only as P.O.W.s.

This was our first game with a significant number of tanks and the debut of Phil's little Axis armored corps. All but one tank survived the game. The 2-pounder, which I didn't think would last the first turn, survived the game. It never knocked out a single tank, but it contributed its share of pin results against Phil's Pz IV and the indestructible M13/40.

Mentioned in dispatches and awarded a posthumous VC was Lt. Kevlar, Bill's bĂȘte noire.