||Face to Face
This was my first game of Panzer Grenadier, and I had to be blackmailed into playing it. Having been soundly beaten at infantry combat by my brother for all of our childhood, I was not looking foreward to more of the same. My willingness to depend on fair play cost me some important experience early; my opponents were of the opinion that exploitation of the Rules---to put the best face on it---constituted a fair exercise of command. As a result, in this and all the games I played during 2010 in Desert Rats, Afrika Korps, Eastern Front, and Road To Berlin, the column shift for higher Morale units and the use of the Surrender Rule were not employed.
The Italian Player's choices are limited to deployment options, as setup restrictions put him in the hill defined in the scenario (level one at 1522 & and level two at 1526). The Commonwealth Player's choices are more complex. Twenty Turns are sufficient to attempt a flanking manoeuver against the Italian fortified position, but the Italian camp is closely-ranged, which means that the Italians could probably manage to manhandle their Anti-Tank Gun batteries into position before the flanking forces could mount their attack.
The two 65mm howitzer batteries, the 105mm howitzer battery, and the two 81mm Mortar platoons, are all dug-in in the midst of the camp (the L2 Hill hexes 1626, 1627, and 1526). The two 47mm Anti-Tank gun batteries, the two Mitragliere (MIT) platoons, and two Fanteria (FAN) platoons, are disposed in two entrenchments forming the anchors of the Italian position at 1728 and 1725. Two Fanteria platoons each occupy entrenchments in hexes 1525, 1427, 1528. The remaining 8 Fanteria platoons are dug-in between the entrenchments, 1727, 1629, and 1625, each having two platoons, 1726 and 1426 having a single platoon each. The Lancia is deployed in 1819 to provide early warning of Commonwealth assault from the Northeast. Leaders are disposed to provide subordinate activation, with the howitzers and mortars able to fire in combinations (either all the howitzers, or one set of howitzers and the mortars).
The Commonwealth Player decided to take advantage of the Italian concentration by making a two-pronged attack from the Northeast. After entry, the Commonwealth forces would divide into a Fast Force and a Slow Force. Fast Force comprised eight Rifle (INF) platoons, two 3-Inch Mortars, three Weapons (HMG) platoons, all of the 6th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (6RF), and the New Zealand lorry drivers, the whole force mounted on Bren (BREN) and India Pattern Carriers (ACW). The six Mathilda troops of 7th Battalion, The Royal Tank Regiment (7RTR), would accompany Fast Force. Slow Force thus comprised four British Rifle platoons of 6RF, the eleven Rifle (INF) platoons, three Weapon (HMG) platoons, and the one 3-Inch Mortar platoon, of 1st Battalion, 3rd Punjabis (3/1 Punjabis), the whole on foot. British Officers were concentrated in the Fast Force, with only sufficient junior officers present in Slow Force to lead the 6RF detachment and direct the overall movements of Slow Force, and provide spotting for the British Off-Board Artillery Factors should that be needed.
The Commonwealth plan had some very serious flaws in it, and these very quickly revealed themselves. The desert terrain worked against the conception of two coordinated attacks on the Italian camp, as did the Italian Lancia, which quickly spotted the two Commonwealth forces. The Lancia harassed the Slow Force as it proceeded to crawl along the escarpment running along hex row 18xx, while the Italians, true to expectations, manhandled their 47mm ATG from 1725 to 1625 and from 1728 to 1427. The Lancia proved nettlesome, impeding the progress of Slow Force rather more than expected, but the real problem was the effect of the Italian howitzers and mortars on the advancing infantry. Between them, these greatly disorganized Slow Force, permitting the Italians to focus on dealing with the over-powerful Fast Force. The vulnerability of infantry in Carriers was brought home when the 47mm ATGs opened up and two rifle platoons vanished, wiping out four of the ten steps the Italians needed to wipe out. Two more had already been lost to Italian fire on Slow Force. That the Commonwealth would lose four steps taking the hill fort seemed highly probable. The Mathildas fired back, and British OBA was finally brought down on the Italian positions---though the howitzers and mortars remained protected at this point (two hill lines). Fast Force dismounted and advanced in company with the Bren Carriers and Mathildas, receiving plenty of concentrated Italian fire in the process. But the Bren Carriers also pack a whallop, and the Mathildas were designed for infantry assault, so the ferocity of Italian fire quickly slackened. The first entrenchment was taken, and with it one of the two 47mm ATGs. The Mathildas then surged into the camp, wiping out the Italian artillery amid a rain of British OBA which kept the 105mm howitzer crews from effectively countering the Mathildas' advance. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting raged in the trenches, but the Italians were able to cling to two entrenchments to the bitter end, and the unexpected loss of a Mathilda in one of the final assaults sealed the Italian victory.
This battle would probably have ended in a Draw if the rules had been followed, as the column shift for superior morale would have made it possible to spread the assault forces more widely, and the Italians only just managed to hold their last two positions. But there is no getting around the poor planning of the Commonwealth Player, which squandered numerical superiority and forfeited concentration for pointless subtlety. Played now, I cannot conceive of how the Italian player, hemmed so closely in the L2 hexes, could survive. And that is rather a fine comment on the game system itself, I think.