Chain of Command: Italians vs. Commonwealth troops, 1940

After a long time we (Virago and I) finally got our Italian and Indian platoons on the table for a classic, but oft-forgotten face-off in Northern Africa, late 1940.

chain of command skirmish wargame

This particular scenario would pit a platoon of Indian infantry of the 4th Infantry Division against an Italian platoon in a Flank Attack scenario.

Historical Background

Operation Compass, the first large Allied offensive in North Africa, started with an an attack of British and Commonwealth forces against Italian positions in Western Egypt and the Cyrenaica. The Western Desert Force (consisting of the 4th Indian Infantry Division and the 7th Armoured Division) commenced their attack against the Italian fortified camp of Nibeiwa held by Group Maletti on 9th December 1940.

The attack started with the RAF bombarding the fort the night before, and generally making noise to mask the vehicle movements on the ground. Before sunrise Indian groups on foot skirmished with Italian listening posts and retreated again, only to attack from a different angle. All while British armoured vehicles and lorries moved up.

chain of command skirmish wargame
An Indian rifleman with a SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) Mk III in the prone firing position, Egypt, 16 May 1940.

At 7:15am the attack started proper with artillery of the 4th Division striking down on Nibeiwa. At 7:30am tanks, flanked by Bren carrier platoons of the Indian infantry attacked. Italian tanks were caught off-guard as crews were still warming up the motors.

Tanks and carriers overwhelmed ouposts and drove up to the fort, with lorries of infantry following up soon thereafter. Italian artillery proved useless against the thick armour of the Matildas. Methodically infantry, tanks and artillery worked together to take sections of the fort, and by 10:40am Nibeiwa was in British hands.

The Scenario

For this game we played Scenario #5 from the Chain of Command rulebook – Flank Attack, the Indian platoon being the attacker, the Italian platoon being the defender. It fits the setting perfectly.

chain of command skirmish wargame
British Jump-Off point. Officers and an interpreter questioning a local merchant while the troops befriend a camel.

Funnily enough it was the first time we played this particular scenario. It certainly gives an interesting patrol phase. I (playing the Italian side with a grand total of 3 patrol markers) had a hell of a time trying to keep the six British patrol markers completely encircling my positions.

After the patrol phase the Jump-Off Points were positioned as such:

chain of command skirmish wargame

Virago used the 1940 British platoon organization in this game, I used the Italian 1940 platoon organization. I checked the all-important revised platoon ratings for the Italians before the game, but didn’t think of doing the same for the British list. Oh well. Wouldn’t have changed much anyway. Speaking of change, to depict the Indian platoons we replaced the “Five Rounds Rapid” National Characteristic with making all Indian troops “Aggressive”.

We rolled for support, virago ended up with a total of 14 points of support, I, as the defender got 4. Their force morale starts at 11, mine at 9.

The Game

The game starts with the bad news of artillery shells raining down on my platoon’s forward position. The RAF’s nightly activities and the Royal Artillery seem to have done a good job there. For a LONG time I don’t get anything on the table, because my ragazzi are dead set on keeping their heads down.

In the mean time virago puts his first infantry section on the table.

chain of command skirmish wargame

Well, no worries. I’m here, and they’re WAY over there, with a lot of no-man’s land between us. Should they try to attack on their own my guys will pop up (hopefully) and shoot them to bits.

In the mean time though virago’s actual plan shows as a Bren carrier enters the table right at his other table edge.

chain of command skirmish wargame

Seeing how the enemy’s not in sight, they step on it and put my leftmost Jump-Off Point (a deserted artillery position) out of commission!

chain of command skirmish wargame

Seeing as how I got a bunch of Jump-Off points undefended it’s time to deploy troops to shoo away that Bren Carrier. However, due to the pre-game bombardment my guys stalwartly refuse to deploy ANYTHING.

To my far right, the platoon commander and the 2″ mortar team pay the Indian infantry squad a visit to ask how things are going.

chain of command skirmish wargame

The men cautiously advance to the top of the hill to show initiative, since the boss is looking on:

chain of command skirmish wargame

To their back, the brilliant little asset that 2″ mortar is starts lobbing smoke rounds over their turbans. Not quite concerning. Very much concerning: The Bren Carrier takes a sharp turn and takes out two more of my Jump-Off Points! (Among them the JOP where I had my entrenchments!)

chain of command skirmish wargame

It really, really is time for me to deploy troops now, but they stubbornly refuse to do so. The British deploy more and more support, as a Matilda II and a forward artillery observer team enter the table.

chain of command skirmish wargame

The steel behemoth instantly moves up to my position, the same way the Bren Carrier did a few phases earlier as the observers call down an artillery strike on my last remaining active Jump-Off Point.

chain of command skirmish wargame

Here’s an overview of this phase of the game:

chain of command skirmish wargame
In short: Not good.

And then suddenly the turn ends. The bombardment stops (even more so – the battery doesn’t react to the observer team’s call the next phase, which gives me some room to breathe!), I wouldn’t have to roll for pre-game bombardment effects any more, the smoke clears – I can get into the game and turn it around!

Right away I deploy whoever I can scrape together – the Cannone da 65/17, originally a mountain gun from the first World War, refitted for infantry service with an oddly huge gun shield, and one of my two (also oddly huge) infantry squads.

chain of command skirmish wargame

The wee infantry gun is my only chance to maybe scratch the Matilda. I have the crew fire at the monster – nope. Meanwhile the infantry squad (the whole 20 of them!) rush to their right to retake the entrenchments, establish a firebase, and get rid of the pesky Bren Carrier. The vehicle is parked between my two jump-off points. Due to turn end I lost them, dropping my force morale to a mere 6. But now I’ll turn it all around!

My infantry rushes to the prepared positions, the Bren Carrier crew doesn’t even expect much resistance at this point, and get surprised by several hand grenades being chucked their way. The crewmen barely make it out before the Carrier is blown up. British force morale goes down to 9, maybe I can still win this?

chain of command skirmish wargame

The Indian platoon commander reacts by deploying another squad at my left flank…

chain of command skirmish wargame

…and finally the third in the middle.

chain of command skirmish wargame

All while the 2″ mortar crew lobs more smoke rounds rightin front of my infantry gun. I deploy the second infantry squad who link up with the first one, lining the hill, ready to open up at the first Indian squad to my right.

chain of command skirmish wargame

The opposition wisely retreats behind the hill to report to their platoon commander that the Italians have arrived. Minor firefights break out between my first infantry squad and Indian infantry, as my gun crew push the gun forward to get out of the smoke and into Matilda’s face. The pesky mortar crew throw another smoke round right in front of them with pin-point precision.

chain of command skirmish wargame

Eventually the Matilda draws ever closer and through the thick of the smoke the roaring monster smashes into the gun. The crew flees, the gun is flattened.

chain of command skirmish wargame

One of the signs of things not looking great in Chain of Command is when you start looking up the “MGs versus armoured vehicles” rule. My MG teams open up at the Matilda which is very unimpressed, and returns fire with the coax-MG. However, it’s all for nought, as the loss of my support asset reduces my force morale to 3.

An overview of the battlefield at the end of the game:

chain of command skirmish wargame

In the right, just by my last Jump-off point you can see a my senior leader trying a last desperate assault agains the Matilda with hand grenades and spades, but it’s too late.

It’s a British Victory.

Debriefing

Now that was an interesting game. Interesting scenario. Just a few moves into the patrol phase virago exclaimed, that this was the weirdest patrol phase we’d ever had (and Patrol phases often go in very interesting directions!).

chain of command skirmish wargame

The attack itself was textbook stuff. Artillery strike (which worked great), armoured/mobile spearheads exploiting the confusion, infantry moving up and seizing ground to seal the deal and stop remaining enemy forces from moving around.

The British and Italian 1940 platoon lists are a great match-up, as they’re both weird and different in their own ways. The British only having infantry squads of 8 each can be tough to work with (as I know from bitter experience). On the other hand, the Italian platoon is huge by comparison, but they’re organized in two large squads of three teams each. The unwieldiness of this formation is offset by squad leaders being classed as Superior Junior Leaders, on the other hand the platoon lacks ever-useful assets such as a platoon sergeant or an equivalent of that sweet, sweet 2″ mortar.

chain of command skirmish wargame

Good game, that, and I’m looking forward to our next games with these platoons. Out of all the CoC games I played I sure enjoy the ones set in Northern Africa 1940/41 the most.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

code