Thursday, 2 February 2012

Follow the Flames - Cassino Campaign First Round Batrep

“...behind every hill there’s another river, and behind every river, there’s another hill."

British Commandoes attempt to storm a Monastery at Monte Cassino

I know, I know - a batrep from Suneokun.  Sit your ass down and prepare to be amazed!

The Cassino Campaign kicked off last night at my local gaming store (Tabletop Tyrants, otherwise known as GiftsforGeeks).  The boards looked amazing and have done plenty to encourage me to finish off my core force for round two the week after next!

The Cassino Campaign in WW2 was one of the bloodiest and meanest battles going, and something more akin to a WW1 trench warfare.  The allies, fresh from defeating Rommel in North Africa, and hoodwinking the Germans with Operation Mincemeat and seizing Sicily, were aiming for the 'Soft underbelly of Europe'.  The problem was that the Italian Facists had gone got themselves a German personal trainer, and that underbelly had more abs than Jodie Marsh.

Jodie Marsh
For indicative purposes only ... "The Soft Underbelly" - Perception versus Reality

The Germans had picked their battlefield well.  Cassino was an extremely rocky and inaccesible environment with massive natural features and difficult terrain.  As such this environment was an anathema to vehicles, it made transport and supply lines difficult, troops could only move slowly and this greatly advantaged the defenders.  There would be no easy breakthrough, exploitation and encirclement.

To further compliment these already demonstrable advantages, the Germans went about building the Gustav line (and behind it the Hitler line and the Caesar line), these enormous fortifications spanned between the frequent hills and mountains across the whole 'leg' of Italy.  They were to prove one of the western allies greatest challenges.  Arguably far harder than the D-Day landings against 'Fortress Europe' with little vehicle support, hitting the Facists at the height of their capabilities and readiness, with the battlefield, fortifications and killspots all in their favour.

Approximately 55,000 casulaties at Cassino, compared to around 12,000 on D Day and 226,386 for Operation Overlord.  This was a very serious and bloody business, but completely overshadowed by the D-Day landings (which occured as the Cassino Victory came in).

Politically the allies were under pressure from the Russians to open up a second front, hence the punch at the 'soft' bit.  It was to prove a impossible task and arguably Cassino never fell, but was retreated from when encirclement finally seems inevitable.  The allies could never bring their numerical advantages to the fore thanks to terrain and early stage errors and bad planning.  The defence by the Germans was remarkable.

The Gaming Campaign

"Our four days and nights were absolute hell; mortar bombs continued to rain down; we had a nebelwerfer rocket through our roof; and the never-ending smoke shells meant that we were living in a world where there was no day. Our nerves were stretched to breaking point, hands shaking so much that cigarettes were hard to light. Hot meals were impossible, as was washing and shaving. My diary notes, ‘it takes all our nerves to move from our position to Company Headquarters 25 yards away’. "
 New Zealand platoon commander on fighting in the town. Ref

Flames are a very well researched and intelligent organisation.  Writing campaigns that are balanced, fun and also fulfill the history buffs is a demanding challenge (certainly more demanding than making up shite about shite, calling it difficult, taking forever AND then getting it soooo wrong, eh GW?).  As such I would recommend looking at the Flames of War Cassino Campaign Overview .

The Campaign is broken down into 'rounds' of skirmishes representing the 4 battles of the Cassino Campaign.  The Different battles represent different routes taken by the allies in and around Monte Cassino.

For this campaign, it really is a trial by fire.  The majority of the Allied gamers are new to the game, with only a handful of battles under their belts.  The German commanders have years of experience in flames at local and tournament level.  A tough ask indeed.

My first round force of 500pts, were put together from the Strelkovy Batalon (Rifle Battalion) in the Red Bear book, for the requirements of the game, I am fielding them as Free Polish Infantry, or Greek - I'm not decided yet.  They are made up of competent (Confident and Trained) troops, based around the performance in a handful of games I've fielded them so far.

Rifle Battalion - 500pts

Rifle HQ (Command, 2nd, Commissar) - 30pts
Rifle Platoon (Rifle and Machine Guns) with 2 additional Maksim HMG - 180pts
Rifle Platoon (Sub Machine Guns) with Kommissar - 145pts
120mm Heavy Mortar Platoon (6) including command and spotters - 145pts

The Battlefield.

The Germans are hunkered down in two entrenched positions.  They comprise 2 Grenadier units (Confident trained - same as mine), in addition to a command squad and the trench lines, they have 3 machine gun nests (which are unbelievably evil).  To make matters worse, I have to ford or swim the river, which is dangerous, difficult and makes me immensely vulnerable.  In my advantage ... well I'm attempting this at night.  Which gives the enemy a fair chance of not seeing me... I hope.

Attempt 1 - Mucking about

I'll go through this one quickly, because it's a massacre and a learning experience.  Rather than fording immediately, I get testing with the mortars and my entrenched Rifle and machine gun and Maksim machine gun teams.  3 turns of pounding later and I've caused more casualties than any of my predecessors (Dustin was wiped out without killing a stand and Jack killed one stand), but the fording is left too late.  I move up to the river turn 4, get in the river turn 5, get out the river turn 6, and don't have a chance to entrench (my objective being to 'dig in' as a beachhead on their side of the river by turn six!) ... epic fail.  I get 2 command points for turning up AND having my commander survive (at the back).  As the assault infantry resurface, dawn breaks  - game over man, game over!

Attempt 2 - no mucking about

On the second attempt I line up the SMG's, with the command team attached (in for a penny), on the river bank.  I then surge into the river turn one, while the spotters target the enemy rifle team opposite.  Not firing with either unit means that Dustin has to struggle to spot my teams,  he manages to down a few of the teams on the river, but 4 (of 6) make it across.

On the second turn I move the 4 teams onto the bank and move the other units (including the command team) into the river.  With the unit split between the river and the bank, I have no option to dig in next turn ... but must weather the fire.  The spotters rain down fire on the enemy troops, and the mortars pin the grenadiers! Yeah!  The rifles and machine guns open up, but fail to kill any.  The mortars have so far killed an enemy base.  In a brilliant turn of events, the 'view' rolls of Dustins forces suffer an epic fail and all the in range units fail to spot my shivering troops. - Wow!

Turn three sees me throwing everything against the Nazi's, the sun doesn't rise, giving me darkness as cover.  The HMG's throw everything at the closest Machine gun nest and destroy it!  (12 shots, requiring a 4+, a 6 and then another 6!).  All I need now is a good turn of space marine armour saves and I'll dig in.  The attritional firepower is immense, of the 7 teams on the bank, only 2 survive and they only just hold it together.

Turn four, it's do or die now.  The Mortars hit again, killing another stand, but failing to pin as the grenadier commander rushes across.  I feel a real sense of urgency in the Germans.  Unfortunately, dawn breaks!  The SMG and command team attempt to dig in, but after fording a river, seeing their friend massacred and rallying.  They fluff the 4+ roll to dig in.  As such, no bulletproof cover and the raking fire wipes them off the bank, despite everything I throw at them.

By turn 6 I pummel a whole platoon into desertion, and gain a +1 of the command points.  But with the death of my command team (My polish commander, injured, was rescued after the Russians bombarded the Germans into next week!  So for all the efforts, I was a 4+ away from a +4 Russian victory... and capturing the bridgehead by the skin of my teeth.


So close ... really, I was a 50/50 roll away from walking away with that. The Germans were unlikely to assault my position (due to their own barbed wire and my R/MG team and Maksims covering my men) and although only 2 teams he had only a 2% chance of machinegunning them down ... it was a close run thing.

Getting in and out of the river was sheer murder, and really really nasty.  3 turns of creeping and swimming in the face of enemy fire... I was helped by an astounding piece of luck.  However it clearly ran out then, as I failed 3+ after 3+ cover save.

However, everyone agreed that the river crossing was the worse of the three battles and the result, whilst galling  - was realistic.

What would I do differently, not much really.  Soviet force lists have a big chunk missing, in that smoke mortars aren't used.  This would have made the crossing a lot more possible, as a few smoke shots could have completely silenced the machineguns of the other side (for a turn).  The biggest worry for me

The other battles include assaulting a Monastery (with delayed reserves on both sides AND loads of cover (everyone is always in bulletproof cover!), or assault a barracks through the town (even more bulletproof cover).  I look forward to these.

As for the campaign ... every single allied attack lost.  A combination of entrenchment, machine-gun and tank emplacements, barbed wire, grenadiers and mortars meant that everyone struggled.

We can at least comfort ourselves that the early campaign in Cassino were equally bloody.  And take real comfort in the fact that I can pack my little men up afterwards and go home to my wife.

And finally ... a free gift to my readers

This is a superb Ministry of Defence historical PDF on the Monte Cassino campaign, with quotations, citations and great tactical analysis - Clickety Click here.  Well worth a scan!
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