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Bonus AAR! Rommel Attacks, ’43 (part 1)

What does a 4-player throwdown look like in Gary Grigsby’s War in the West: Operation Torch?  The gang at Matrix Games shows us ~

Matrix Games, 9 October 2015

This is an AAR of a 4 player game of the Rommel Attacks 43 scenario from Gary Grigsby’s War in the West: Operation Torch. Rommel Attacks is a short 5 turn scenario that covers the Axis counter-attack that led to the Battle of the Kasserine Pass. In the actual battle, after initial success, the Axis attack was halted and the German command withdraw some of the forces to focus on the British 8th Army arriving from Libya. In this scenario, the German forces are retained by the Axis player for the duration of the scenario, so the Axis side is expected to seize critical objectives and hold them.

Operation Torch allows each side to be split in two for true multiplayer play, with one player commanding the air forces and the other the ground forces. The players in this game, all from the Torch development team, were:

  • Axis Air Commander – Randy Seger (scenario designer)
  • Axis Ground Commander – John Young (scenario designer)
  • Allied Air Commander – Erik Rutins (producer)
  • Allied Ground Commander – Joel Billings (game developer)

This AAR will mix in comments from the different players. This was John’s first play through the scenario, while Joel had the advantage of having played an earlier version of the scenario as the German ground commander in a 4 player test game.

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There are 7 territorial objectives in this scenario, with various victory points awarded, each turn and at the end of the game, for control of these objectives. In addition, victory points are awarded for causing casualties, but the bulk of the victory points in the scenario stem from control of the objectives.

Planning

Axis Ground Commander

Overarching Plan. This is our first play of Rommel Attacks as a MP. Usually rjs28023 and I are a team co-designing scenarios and playing against each other for testing. Playing on the same side will be a novel experience. He takes the air and I the ground. Logging into the MP System is pretty simple – the hard part will be timing as I’m in the UK and the other players in the US. Our opponents are Erik Rutins (Allied Air) and Joel Billings (Allied Ground). I have a sneaky suspicion that we are up against two hard core wargamers hiding behind their friendly daytime developer credentials.

As is usual in short campaigns my first action is a quick review of the VP locations and values (Shift-V to show the flags on the map and V to highlight the VP screen.) The Axis only hold Pichon so any chance of a victory lies in capturing more VP locations. Concerned that I don’t want to overextend I focus my efforts on the Sdid Bouzid – Sbeitla – Kasserine manoeuvre corridor in the centre and also consider seizing Gafsa in the south. In the North my combat power is not strong so I decide on a defensive battle holding the current line which already has some fort construction. Logistics is going to be key; seizing Kasserine and Gafsa will extend the Allied truck resupply lines and should make our task easier. If I capture the Thelpte airfield this would allow enhanced air resupply. Finally I notice I have no forward depots so I’ll need to build some.

 

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Turn 1

Axis Air Commander

I know I have great aircraft and pilots, but I also know that I am outnumbered.  I plan on communicating Turn by Turn with my Ground Commander to ask him what he wants in air support tempered by what I can provide.

On Turn 1, I provided Recon, Ground Attacks on enemy concentrations (Sdid Bouzid) and Ground Support to the Panzer Spearheads.

Axis Ground Commander

I execute the plan as I’d hoped and seize the Sdid Bouzid – Sbeitla – Kasserine corridor as well as Gafsa in the south. In the manner that I played the turn I made sure that I had encircled Sdid Bouzid first so that the US Forces routed out of the pocket. Perhaps with hindsight I should have left that attack for T2 to gain a surrender but that would probably have stopped me getting to Kasserine. Certainly another option for T2. I’ve also captured two airfields so I can fly in supplies but Joel knows this and will make sure he recaptures those hexes.

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Allied Air Commander
The sudden Axis offensive resulting in the loss of Kasserine and Sdid Bouzid has us on the back foot already.  After our meeting to discuss a response, I deployed our Allied short range fighter units further forward to ensure enough escorts for the coming counterattack.  I decided to keep the fighters focused on helping the bombers for now, as keeping the bomber force intact would be critical to supporting the ground forces.  Reconnaissance was focused on the Kasserine and Pichon areas, with high intensity Ground attacks by both the US Air Force and the RAF concentrated in the area immediately around Kasserine.  The results in the air phase were modest in terms of enemy ground losses, but we did cause some disruption and managed to achieve some interdiction to the east of Kasserine.

Axis air did not intercept our strikes, suggesting they are also focused on targeted strikes and ground support rather than general air superiority.  We expect some direct aerial engagements during future ground battles now that direct air support of Allied ground forces has also been ordered.  The US Air Force is focusing all its support on the US II Corps to try to hold the line and hopefully push back the Axis around Kasserine.

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Allied Ground Commander

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Although the German panzers had routed one infantry regiment and CCA/1st US Armored while taking Kasserine, it seemed a swift counterattack could save the day. The key was to retake Kasserine before the Germans could get organized, while putting pressure on Sdid Bouzid. Ultimately, taking Pichon would be a step toward breaking into the coastal plain, so any opportunity to seize it would be taken. First, the French XIX Corps was ordered to take charge of the northern part of the line. The British V Corps responsibility was shifted to the center with the objective of cutting off the German forces in the Kasserine Pass by retaking Sbeitla and/or Sdid Bouzid. Elements of the 6th British Armored Division and the 78th British Infantry Division attacked due south toward Sdid Bouzid. Clearing light German resistance, a mixed American/French infantry force followed up. The 1st Army reserve, CCB/1st US Armored, was ordered to move toward Sbeitla and was successful in pushing the Germans out of Sbeitla. So far losses had been fairly light. Another British/American battlegroup moving on a parallel track to the west sent a panzer regiment north of Sbeitla back toward Kasserine. So far so good. Leaving the southern part of the line to be screened by light French forces directly under the control of the 18th Army Group, II US corps moved to retake Kasserine. A major battle developed when ½ of the 1st US Armored Division and a regiment of the 1st US Infantry Division attacked Kasserine. Thanks to the timely arrival of air support and the fire of numerous 155mm corps artillery battalions, the Germans were sent packing with heavy losses to both sides.

 

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Turn 2

Axis Air Commander

Message sent to the Axis ground commander: No Allied Air present over the battlefield. The Luftwaffe downed three enemy fighters for each one lost in the last week, and has obtained Air Superiority in Tunisia.

Axis Ground Commander

Here is what I face as I open the turn.

 

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As I expected Joel has recaptured the airfields, managed to lever me out of Kasserine and is threatening Sdid Bouzid. My first priority is to clear the hex NW of Sdid Bouzid as this CC threatens capturing Sdid Bouzid and isolating my forces to the East. This I do. I also take some time to tidy up my command and control structure. Firstly I spend 21 APs firing Vittorio Sogno as the leader of XXX Italian Corps and bringing in Grazziani. On this turn I have also received Army Group Africa. With 5th Pz Army and the African German-Italian Panzer Army, the Afrika Panzer Corps and XXX Italian Corps I have more HQs than I need. I rearrange the structure to maximise leadership rolls.   The African German-Italian Panzer Army is disbanded. The two Corps answer to 5th Pz Army which is subordinated to Army Group Africa. In the south 5th Pz Army commands the units directly so I don’t over burden the command ratings. I then distribute SUs to the units and make sure that remaining SUs are placed in the Corps HQs. Finally on the logistics front I attach Construction Units directly to the locations of Maknassy and Kairouan and set the railyards to priority repair so the damage will repair quickly and maximise freight flow.

 

Allied Air Commander

With Kasserine back in Allied hands, I agreed with the ground commander’s request that Ground Support be extended to the entire 1st Army again rather than focused on II Corps.  Allied Air also remained in good shape, so I also decided to focus ground attacks and interdiction both east of Kasserine and around Pichon and lower the altitude of the fighter bombers and bombers to try to further slow the Germans and enable a counter attack.  Two American groups of Spitfire VBs, over 100 fighters in total, were assigned to fly sweeps in the same general area to try to divert enemy fighters from our ground attacks and ground support.  I kept the other fighters focused on escort and ground support, hoping the Spitfires would be able to manage.  The Spitfires succeeded in drawing the Axis fighters away from our ground attacks, but paid a terrible price.  Unfortunately, the German BF 109Gs and FW190s outfought our Spitfires and we lost many more than we could afford to at this critical point.  If the ground support is able to be effective, perhaps it will have been worth the price.

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Allied Ground Commander

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After seeing CCB forced back from the outskirts of Sdid Bouzid, I was heartened to see that the nearby American/French force was able to hold their ground against an attack by the 47th Airlanding Brigade. I decided that it was time to push the Africa Corps back once and for all. It took repeated attacks by the American/French force reinforced by British and American armor to retake the lost ground, but at a cost of 39 tanks destroyed to only 12 German tanks destroyed. CCB was the only force able to follow up the attack. During this fighting, Allied ground support assisting V Corps units were not only able to disrupt enemy ground formations, their escorts shot down 22 Italian and 9 German fighter interceptors at the cost of only 5 friendly aircraft lost. The loss of so many Spitfires in high level air superiority dogfights with the German fighters had not been in vain. Simultaneously with V corps actions, after several sharp engagements, II Corps forces forced German screening forces to withdraw from the eastern edge of Kasserine Pass. At this point, retreating German forces fell back to Sbeitla held by the German 21st Panzer Division. Converging from north, west and east, Allied forces from II and V corps launched what proved to be a costly and unsuccessful attack. Although Allied escorts shot down another pair of Italian fighters, the twelve B-25s that showed up to support the Allied attack was too little to offset the skill of the experienced German panzer force. Losing 104 tanks destroyed (and quite a few more damaged) while only destroying 22 German tanks, Allied forces were forced to call off their attack. A probe by a French infantry division on the light Italian forces holding the mountain just north of Pichon was repulsed. I hoped to infiltrate the thinly held Axis line north of Pichon, but the rough terrain is making this extremely difficult.

 

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Although happy to have retaken lost ground, there was serious disappointment in the Allied high command at the inability to retake Sbeitla, and the continuing heavy losses in AFVs. To date since the opening of the German offensive, nearly 400 Allied AFVs have been destroyed compared to approximately 140 German AFVs. With the heavy fighting and poor logistical infrastructure, Allied forward depots have been unable to keep up with the demand for fuel, ammunition and replacements. I’m afraid I may have to curtail offensive activity until I’m able to resupply my forward depots. I may look toward a quick move to seize Gafsa in the south if the opportunity presents itself. I’ve sent an infantry regiment from the US 1st Division in that direction as French scouts report that it’s being held by a relatively weak Italian armored force. If I continue to face strong opposition near Sebeitla, I will consider diverting part of the 1st Armored Division to try to storm Gafsa before it can be reinforced. The 9th US Infantry Division was released from theatre reserve, and is approaching Kasserine. This fresh, yet inexperienced, division may be what is needed to retake Gafsa or push on to Sdid Bouzid. No other reinforcements aside from a few flak battalions are expected in the next several weeks. The commitment of this division could determine the outcome of the battle.

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