Friday, July 18, 2014

Wintercon 2014 - Chain of Command 'Air Assault' Games: Galatas (Crete 1941)

One of the biggest challenges was bringing BOTH the Pegasus Bridge AND the Galatas games to Wintercon. Frankly either one of them would have been enough but Andrew had devised and written two scenarios of four separate games and after a few play tests - we couldn't do just one!  However, we did find out playing the Pegasus Bridge games that a day was barely enough time. It became apparent early during the first Galatas game that we would need ALL that day to see it play to a conclusion, without a hope of doing the planned next game. Nonetheless, despite running out of time and our rules guru Andrew having to unfortunately drop out of the Galatas game completely, it still came off as John, Jason and myself all threw ourselves into it - another wargaming spectacle was repeated on the second day of Wintercon! The fact we managed to pull it off is in no small measure to Andrew's really excellent scenario and adaptation of the Chain of Command (CoC) rules.

As well as showcasing Two Fat Lardy's CoC as a ruleset for larger scale actions, with the first game of the Galatas scenario we were also giving a world-first introduction to Rif Raf Miniatures latest line of 28mm WWII figures - the redoubtable Greeks!

They are all in greatcoats - obviously intended for the Albanian - Northern Greece theatres, mostly against the Italians (to whom they gave a right flogging) so a bit warmish for Crete in the summer but they are Greeks and, as far as I'm aware - RifRaf are the ONLY supplier of such figures on the market - so good on 'em I say!  They have produced a very good range of figures in multiple poses and a wide variety of weapons, accurately reflecting the fact the Greeks used whatever they could lay their hands on - particularly captured Italian weapons - but were primarily equipped with a variety of French and British stuff. They come with both the French Hotchkiss and British Vickers HMGs, for example. The Italian style helmets were manufactured under licence before the war so most available steel helmets were of this variety but French Hadrian helmets were also used and as the campaign went on, increasingly British Tommy 'ats!

The poor old Greeks that made it to Crete after the debacle on the mainland had lost most of their weapons and kit so were equipped with whatever the equally hard-pressed British could spare. The Greeks on the mainland were armed with a few submachine guns, primarily the Thompson drum fed SMG but increasingly much prized captured Italian Berettas. Apart from two French  LMGs the Greeks in our scenario are only rifle armed, to reflect the historically dire situation they were in on Crete with regard to equipment.

Galatas with its scattered defences
The Monastery & its Greek defenders (3 rifle sections & one LMG)
The village defences - two rifle sections & a Vickers HMG
The Kiwi section (with 2" mortar and Bren) isolated in the woods.
Aussie crewed captured Italian artillery & Greek LMG protecting outside an olive grove opposite the village and overlooking the valley, providing support to the village defences.

In the first game of our Galatas scenario the Greeks formed the bulk of the forces defending the village and the key position of the monastery - roughly an understrength platoon for each. They had two LMGs and one Vickers HMG for support with a captured Italian 75mm gun (minus the sights!) manned by an Australian artillery crew, a couple of New Zealand advisors (officer & an NCO for the Vickers as the inexperienced Greeks were unfamiliar with it) and one small section of Kiwis in an isolated position on a wooded hill between the monastery and the village. The Kiwis and Aussie gun crew are regulars but all the Greeks are classed as 'green'.

JU52s sweep over the fields outside Galatas

Historically, the Germans were indeed fortunate to face such thin and poorly equipped defences so far apart, otherwise their landing could have been a disaster like the ones they suffered earlier at Maleme and Heraklion etc. Galatas and its neighbouring monastery were the key positions to Canea, the last sizeable city and port on Crete held by the Allied 'Creforce' and from which they could evacuate.  To finally crack the Allied defences on Crete and trap thousands of Allied troops, the Germans had to back up their costly and hard-won earlier successes at Maleme and Heraklion.

The flight of JU52s reach their drop zones [Photo: Greg Blake]

The German's air drop outside Galatas was the last of Op MERCURY but the entire operation was still very much on a knife's edge. Had they failed at Galatas and the Allies successfully counterattacked, given the horrendous casualties already suffered, the Germans may well have called off their entire operation - they were also lucky that Creforce commander Freyberg was completely unaware of just how dire the German's position was - no doubt because the Allies' situation looked even more disastrous! Galatas wasn't a large battle - little more than a battalion-sized action - but it was very much a do-or-die situation for both sides. In the end local Allied success at Galatas bought them enough time to successfully evacuate many thousands of troops who would otherwise have to have been abandoned and likely captured. Our first game is based on the initial German landing at Galatas which saw them seize - after some hard fighting - both the crucial monastery and village. The second game is of the famous Kiwi counterattack which saw them retake - for a time - Galatas.  We have planned to play this one in about a month's time at our local club.

Initial landings outside Galatas - note the weapons container between the Greek defenders and German paras!

For our Galatas game I was Greek commander for a change with fellow Greek commander Ian and Kiwi/Aussie gun commander Paul with Jason and young Andrew the 1st Fallschirmjaeger force targeting the town and veteran gamer Greg the 2nd German force tasked with taking the monastery on Church Hill. John volunteered to be the umpire/rules guru in Andrew's stead. With this game I changed the start by not allowing the Germans first turn after landing.  Our last test game was a bit of a walk-over for the Germans attacking the town as they got the chance to recover their weapons containers AND open up on the hapless Greek defenders before the latter got a fire a shot off in defence. This meant that the Greeks never got going - Greek rifle sections with 8 firing dice faced the German para sections with over 30! Once the Germans unleash this firepower the odds go even more in their favour very quickly. I reasoned that the first drop would have met no defensive fire due to the element of surprise but the defenders would have been alerted by the noise if nothing else and would have either panicked or opened fire - the Greeks are green troops but they are also aggressive and opened fire with whatever they had. I could see Jason wasn't too impressed by this unilateral change but in the end it worked out as the German sticks mostly landed on top of or a move away from their weapons, with only about three exceptions out of 17 separate drops in three waves!

Initial drop - the paras land beside their container and quickly arm themselves

Although the second and third wave of drops could have been under fire, the reality was that the defenders had no AA and only three LMGs and one HMG to defend BOTH the town and the monastery.  One Greek LMG fired a burst at a JU52 on its last run but as I said to the German CO Greg - only allowing a hit on a D6 was perhaps too harsh!  After all dozens of the lumbering JUs were shot down by ground fire, many more returning to the mainland riddled and full of dead or dying German paras.

Last para drop - they were meant to attack Church Hill  but somehow came down outside of the town - the audacious Greek LMG in the background fired a burst at the JU as it passed overhead.

The JU the Greeks fired at was actually closer to them flying overhead at under 500 meters (the Germans usually jumped at 3-400 meters) than the paras in the field in front of them - probably should have allowed hits on D5 & 6. Similar to hits on an AFV, you then dice to see if you damaged the plane or killed paras or crew etc.  Next time we play this sort of scenario its something I'd like to try!

Jason's second and third waves dropped into a hot LZ - under intense fire from the Greek defenders and Aussie gunners firing over open sights (just as well - the captured Italian 75 didn't come with sights!)

The game starts with the first wave of German para drops, the number allowed dictated by the command dice and the number of sections (separate elements) carried by each plane. After the drop points are nominated the weapons containers are diced for direction & distance from the drop points, then the para sticks to see how close (or not) they are to their weapons. In two cases in this game the weapons containers landed some distance from their para sticks - the worse being Jason's lead section whose container landed in the walled roadway just outside the town - right under the noses of the Greek defenders.  The paras dropped into the open field beyond - right in the sights of the Greek Vickers HMG!  If I'd had my wits about me I would have tried to recover the Germans weapons before they did (you can do that in this scenario) but German firepower was so overwhelming - my rifle section command (officer, NCO and runner) were wiped out in one round of shooting (it was one of their belt-fed MGs that did it I think), dangerously reducing the Greek's overall moral.

Handgranaten Loss! 1st German assault on the town destroys one of the remaining Greek rifle sections - but also gets wiped out in the process. The Greeks are aggressive fighters and love hand-to-hand!
German mortar, HMGs (and eventually the mountain gun) zero in on the remaining strongpoint.  The amount of firepower thrown against the building was astonishing - as was the Greek's ability to survive it! 

The German's were gradually worn down too - although the Vickers HMG got plenty of hits, caused very few casualties - the Greek rifles (all eight of them!) did as much damage!  In the end the remainder of Jason's squad charged the Greeks behind the wall defences of Galatas and in the ensuing hand-to-hand six paras killed six Greeks who also killed them. The surviving Greek NCO had had enough and bolted - and the fragile Greek morale took another nearly fatal hit.  Luckily my command dice rolling had given me a D6 CoC which I burned to avoid my overall morale breaking completely. But it was only putting off the inevitable.

On the other side of the table Ian was putting up a good fight defending the monastery on Church Hill. In fact such was his shooting prowess that the Germans never even threatened the hill - although it was a major objective along with the town.  The German commanders decided it would be too costly to assault across open fields.  Interestingly they never used their CoC dice to call in an airstrike with the available Stuka or ME110. In our test game the Germans were faced with the same problem but the effects of the combined bombardment and airstrike were devastating and broke the Greek defenders. Likewise Paul's Kiwis inflicted serious damage on two German units but once again German firepower gradually eroded the small Kiwi section's effectiveness to the point where they were forced to retreat.

The much reduced paras bring their gun into action and finally force the Kiwis and Greeks to retire.

In the end numbers and constant pressure told, at first pinning then breaking Kiwi resolve and forcing them to retreat.

The final part of the game was Greg deciding to drop his remaining sticks of paras in about the only spot not contested or exposed to enemy fire the fields next to the olive grove on the hill opposite the town - also one of the German objectives.  We had a bit of a discussion about paras dropping into wooded areas and the mayhem that usually follows.  The most the German commanders would conceded was one shock per stick to represent the 'confusion'.  So, no broken legs (or necks) then. I personally think they should dice for casualties - a D5-6 then roll again for how many - but I think I may have been overruled... or something!   Anyhow, Greg's landings were a masterstroke as they finally overran the LMG and Aussie gun crew (the former wisely surrendered, the latter after a short, hard fight) and they were marched off into captivity.

The end is near for the Aussie gunners who didn't manage to hit much with their antiquated Italian gun but kept firing until the paras overran them - the three surviving crew joined the captured Greek LMG crew.
The Germans capture their first objective - Olive Grove Hill.

This left the rest of Greg's force combine its efforts with Jason and Andrew's main force and concentrate on reducing the remaining Greeks  in Galatas.  As his last squad and HMG had landed next to the vineyard, behind a defending Greek rifle section, the latter decided to bolt into the main house/strongpoint in town and join the hard-pressed Vickers and HQ sections and their Kiwi advisors. Twice Greg thre 30+ firing dice at them and came up with... a couple of shock markers.  The amount of ordnance thrown at the house was extraordinary - and eventually told.  Once we started loosing more men, the accumulation of shock plus the Kiwis forced withdrawal AND the capture of the gun and LMG meant Greek morale finally broke and the defenders of Galatas had no choice but to surrender.

The surviving Allies in Galatas, pounded into submission, with mounting casualties and no hope of relief, are forced to surrender .

I don't know what is to become of the virtually unscathed Greek defenders of the Church Hill monastery. Perhaps their morale broke too - I can't remember (we'd run out of time anyway!) I think if they held out the Germans would have just bombarded them and called in an airstrike or two. 

The Battle of Galatas

Interestingly the Germans, although victorious (3 out of 4 objectives) didn't have things entirely their own way as it proved a costly win with two entire sections out of nine destroyed and several others badly mauled.  They still have all their heavy weapons intact - and even an Italian 75 if they want it (but apart from the desperate Allies - who would?) and they were about to be reinforced by Gebirgsjaeger (Mountain Troops) - all of which they will need for the next scenario when they are the defenders of Galatas.

A big thank you to all who played and helped run what was a spectacular and enjoyable game.  Can't wait until we get to do the second part of Galatas - the Kiwi counterattack with the famous haka & charge by the Maori Battalion. Oh, and there'll be tanks too!  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wintercon 2014 -Chain of Command 'Air Assault' games: Pegasus Bridge

Well another Wintercon has come and gone with what appeared to be a good attendance and dozens of great games and comps with Flames of War, Bolt Action, Impetus etc, etc as well as the usual hordes of fantasy gamers and even some rather attractive cosplay 'actors'(?) were observed.  Myself, Andrew, Jason and John put on the 'Air Assault' demonstration / participation games with scenarios for the famous parachute drops at Pegasus Bridge, Normandy June 6, 1944 and the German drop on Galatas on April 21, 1941 the final part of their Op MERCURY air assault on Crete.  Andrew did a sterling job devising the scenarios for both and adapting the excellent Two Fat Lardy's 'Chain of Command' rules for them. Both scenarios consisted of two games each - the first being the actual landing and the second the fight to hold the objectives seized. 

This worked extremely well with the Pegasus Bridge scenario, mainly because the elite British paras landed right next to mainly third-rate German troops - mostly dozing Osstruppen (Ukrainians, Poles etc, none of whom had much enthusiasm for the war and couldn't speak German!) The German commander was also happily tucked up in bed with his French mistress (historically accurate!) so all in all the paras were not faced with much opposition in the first game and predictably rolled the German defences on one side of the canal, seizing all their objectives and capturing all but one of the German's drop off points, making it impossible for them to deploy and fight back.  One of the Para commanders was Jason's son Andrew (AKA the Boy Who Rolls Boxcars). The 37mm AckAck  and a HMG in the bunker were opposite the crashed glider which had only disgorged half its compliment and both threatened to brass up the paras before they could get into the entrenchments.  But young Andrew did what he does best - rolling consecutive double sixes - and put a Piat round right through the bunker door, taking out the pesky MG and crew.  At this point all German opposition on that side of the canal ceased with any surviving Osstruppen surrendering.

Detail of Jason's magnificent bridge model.
All but one of Jason's beautifully made Horsa gliders landed perfectly.
This time the bridge guard didn't stand much of a chance as Howard's paras quickly rushed the bridge.
The paras quickly overwhelmed the German defences who couldn't deploy, only the gun crew fought back.

After blowing up my bunker and everyone in it, young Andrew calmly contemplates the fact there are no Germans left to eliminate on his side of the canal. [Photo: Greg Blake]
The German reaction on the other side of the canal (the last remaining jump-off point!) could do nothing to stop the paras from seizing their objectives. The blazing tank is part of the scenery!
Unlike the test game we played (but matching what happened historically) the paras suffered only very light casualties seizing the bridge, its defences and deploying into the village approaches opposite.  The second game was a rather different kettle of fish as they were faced with multiple tanks, AFV's, well-equipped SS and Wehrmacht regulars.

British positions, Game 2.  They have taken the town on the other side of the canal and rapidly dug in entrenchments as well as occupying the buildings, turning the large hotel/chateau into a strongpoint.
The German heavies arrive - cautiously.  They all have a pin marker as they are convinced the paras are bristling with AT guns. They aren't of course, save for the captured  one next the bridge - but there's plenty of Piats to compensate!
The para's 2" mortar soon zeros in on the German commander & HQ section. The accurate fire killed half the HQ section and caused the CO to flee for the relative safety of the trees.
The German's proceeded with caution due to the rumour the paras had a couple of AT guns. Of course the only one they did have was the one they captured but it was in the capable hand's of Andrew who, true to form started getting hit after hit on the German tanks. Young Andrew was unlucky not to knock them both out with the amount of hits he got with his captured PAK38 and later with the captured 37mm AA gun. For a change I was lucky and rolled off all but one shot which penetrated the turret and killed the gunner, silencing the tank's main gun for several turns while they hosed the old gunner out and got a new one in. It must have rattled them as they couldn't hit a barn door for the rest of the game.
The Germans concentrated on the main British strongpoint, pouring all their fire into the hotel, eventually collapsing the upper floors and wiping out the para sections therein. The 2nd explosion marker on the side of the road near the bridge marks the final resting place of British commander on that side of the canal, the aptly named Col. Pine-Coffin. A Panzer got a direct hit with its75mm on the Colonel and his HQ team who were sheltering behind the stone wall.  The white puff of smoke on the other Panzer is young Andrew's hit on the turret with his captured PAK38.
Unlike the historical German counterattack, ours proceeded with great caution, using the armour to screen the advance and pummel the main strong points. Once the combined fire collapsed the hotel's top floors and the Para's CO was killed, the British had little choice but to try and pull their remaining troops back over the river. The guns on the other side proved to be a constant menace and only lucky saving dice rolls prevented them loosing one or both tanks, which took hit after hit. After taking the major strong point the Germans laid down successive round of smoke with their 81mm mortars to obscure their Panzers and SS who were assembling for a final assault on the bridge.

The German assault on the village rolls on after British morale collapses and they flee after the death of their commander. Temporally covered by laying smoke, the SS begin their dash across the road to take one of the British objectives.

Jason got to roll-off the smoke for one turn, enabling him to catch the SS section sprinting across the road to seize the objective on that side of the canal. The Paras opened up with every available gun (nearly 30 x D6 worth!) and knocked off nearly half the squad before the Germans could lay down more smoke.  That was to be their last success as the Germans finally took out the captured 37mm and half the crew of the PAK38 on the other side.

Germans assemble for the final assault after taking the objective on this side of the canal.
  Tthe smoke on the road obscured the Paras vision of the Germans as the SS made an impetuous dash for a key objective.  The smoke briefly blew away (not quite sure how that happens!) and uncovering the SS who were only halfway over the protecting wall.  A storm of British lead brought down most still in the roadway.
The captured 37mm Ack Ack finally bites the dust.  The Paras put both it and the PAK AT in the fortified emplacement on the other side of the bridge to great use against their former owners!
Save for one section of SS, the German's had all their troops including regular Wehrmacht and Osstruppen intact as well as all their Panzers and AFV's assembling for a final rush across the bridge. Unfortunately time defeated us and we couldn't play that out but it was agreed that the Paras, half of whom were now casualties, were a much depleted force and unlikely to be able to stop the German armour, so ended the game in their favour.

The Germans line up to pound the village but the British have already fled (oh OK 'withdrawn'!) A Pzw IV rolls over the entrenchment in front of the hotel from which the surviving paras have definitely fled! [Photo: Greg Blake]

This did not bode well for the next two games on Sunday.  The scenarios are great and all but the first Pegasus Bridge one would be enough for an entire day's gaming.  It became apparent that we would be lucky to get through both Galatas scenarios the next day, which indeed turned out to be the case. That's not to say everybody who played didn't have a good time - they did.  The games provided a unique gaming spectacle that was commented on by dozens of spectators at Wintercon - even attracting the attention of some of the Flames of War and Bolt Action players. Almost forgot - one thing that attracted their attention was the flashing explosion markers that I made from little tea lights. Can't say its an original idea as I saw it somewhere in Blog-land but I'm pretty happy with the result!

German mobile artillery concentrate on the hotel strong point [Photo: Greg Blake]

Here I must pay tribute to our mate Andrew who devised all the scenarios and was a driving force behind making the CoC 'Air Assault' games work.  He's had the roughest trot of late battling debilitating personal injury and then family tragedy which saw him have to leave the game halfway through the first day. Not only that but just a week or so before Wintercon he suffered the disaster of all his carefully crafted terrain boards being ruined by water following a heavy rain storm. Such things would have defeated a lesser man and I wouldn't have blamed him from cancelling it all together but that was clearly the last thing he wanted to do. Its due in large measure to his efforts that it was such a huge success at Wintercon. Our thoughts are with you Andrew and I'm sure the sentiment is shared by all your wargaming mates.

The good news is that John, Jason and myself decided not to run the second Galatas scenario but to do the whole thing properly at the Lanyan club in a few weeks time, when I'm sure Andrew as the rules guru will be better able to come along and guide us all as we re-fight the Kiwis' heroic counterattack on Galatas.

My next post will be devoted to Andrew's terrific second scenario, the German air assault on Galatas.