Wednesday, 30 November 2016

WWII Desert: Operation Brevity – Top of Halfaya Pass - 15th May 1941

Operation Brevity – Top of Halfaya Pass - 15th May 1941
(1/72 using Rapid Fire 2 rules)

Operation Brevity was conceived by General Wavell as a preliminary offensive in mid 1941 to gain control of the Egypt-Libya border, as a starting position for a larger offensive (Battleaxe) to break the siege of Tobruk. The strategic situation is shown in context of all engagements in Fig 1. 

Figure 1

This scenario played out the action at the top of Halfaya Pass inside Egypt, near Sollum. Dave was scenario designer and umpire, Stu played the Axis, and Pete and Alan the Allies.

TSOG had previously played the action in Operation Brevity at the bottom of Halfaya Pass and it was an Allied victory, as per history. The location of Halfaya in the border region, the terrain at the top (north-east) and bottom (south-west) of the pass, and some images of the escarpment separating them are shown in Fig 2.

Figure 2

The terrain at the top of the pass is shown in Fig 3. The Western Desert Force is attacking from the right and initially hold one control point. The German-Italian defenders hold four control points. Hence the game commences as an Axis substantive victory.  

The solid line road up the escarpment, through the Village and south is a ‘good track’. The dotted road running south-west from the Village is a ‘poor track’. The yellow area is soft sand, the dotted areas rough ground, and the dashed ovals are rocky outcrops. Each square is 12”, representing 600 metres.

Figure 3

Order of battle;

Elements of the 22nd Guards Brigade Group – 4th Indian Div – Western Desert Force

  • No overall HQ on board, but command & control derived from the Allied control point.  C2 level: 1D6 = 4,5,6 (50% success chance). 24” range to Infantry Battalion or tank squadron HQs which have a 12” range to their companies or troops.
  • 2nd Battalion Scots Guards: 3 rifle companies (A,B,C) and Support Company (D) [Pete]
  • C Squadron, 4th RTR (3 troops of Matilda II and HQ troop of Vickers MkVI) [Pete]

  • 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards: 3 rifle companies (A,B,C) and Support Company (D) [Alan]. (An optional reserve selected by Allies)


Elements of 15th Panzer Div   

and Ariete Div  

(C2 level: 1D6 = 3,4,5,6 for DAK (66% success chance) and 5,6 (33% success chance) for Italians)

  • BHQ for the 15th Kradschützen Battalion (overall command & control)
    • 1st Kompanie
    • PaK Kompanie (section of 37mm PaK-36 and section of 50mm PaK-38)

  • 2nd Infantry Company (reduced), 12th Bersaglieri Btn, 8th Bers. Regt, Ariete Div.
  • Artillery Battery, 1st Gruppo, 24th Artillery Regt., Ariete Div (100mm 100/17 battery)

The above Axis units can be deployed dug-in.

  • Optional Reserve: Intended for the entire border defence. So if taken for the top of the Pass then certain Allied losses must be inflicted or a penalty is incurred, as they are not defending another point on the front. Deployed in the open (not dug-in).
    • Batterie, 18th Flak Regt., 15th Pz Div. (88mm Flak 36/41 battery)  [Taken by Axis. Penalty of having to heavy damage or destroy two troops of Matildas.]
    • Batterie, Artillerie Regt 33, 15th Pz Div (105mm FH-18 battery)  [Taken by Axis. Penalty of having to destroy or rout two companies of allied infantry]

So the Axis were outnumbered, but commence mostly dug-in. The Allies were on a static command & control anchor, with only 50% success chance and range just short of the road and control points. The Allies also had a time constraint of only 6 guaranteed turns (4hrs 30min) with a sliding chance of operations being stopped after that.

As usual we commenced with a briefing shown in Fig 4 before the Axis defenders deployed.  The new DAK and Ariete symbol dice can be seen on their first outing.

Figure 4

Battle opened with C Squadron 4th RTR advancing on the centre, between the sandy ground and rocky outcrop seen in Fig 5.

Figure 5

The Axis gunners knew the Matlidas formidable reputation and held fire until they were within medium range (1500 m) of the dug-in guns along the road. The 88mm battery could engage at much longer range (3000m) but with low probability of hits, and so also held fire until the other guns commenced.

Figure 6

The fearsome 88’s did not live up to their reputation and the section of PaK-38 50mm took first blood, brewing up troop A of 4 RTR, seen in Fig 7. For the first time the Western Desert Force realised the Matlidas were no longer ‘Queen of the Battlefield’ as they had been in Operation Compass.

Figure 7

4 RTR survived their morale check and lumbered forward aiming at the Village and subsequent axis AT gun attempts on them were unsuccessful. The Scots Guards entered and drove at full speed towards the broken ground on the Axis left flank, before disembarking into cover on the rough ground, shown in Fig 8.

Figure 8

Meanwhile, the Coldstream Guards had entered on the southern side of the soft sand, to attack the Bersaglieri on the Axis right flank, shown in Fig 9.

Figure 9

The weaker Allied command & control began to let them down and slow their movement as they reached the end of the automatic C2 ranges.

Fig 10 shows the entire action as the Coldstream Guards on the Allied left are closing with the Axis position behind the control point at the southern edge. The Scots Guards were working their way on foot through the rough ground on the Allied right covered by their 3” medium mortar section deployed in the open. 4 RTR positioned themselves behind Halfaya Village, to block line of sight from 18th Flak Regts 88’s.

The Axis gun line of PaK-38s and Italian 100mm behind the road continued to engage the Matildas but with no luck. The PaK-36 ‘door knockers’ and anti-tank rifles had no hope against Matildas and engaged the transport of the Coldstream Guards support company D, destroying their trucks and forcing them to disembark. The Axis infantry are holding their fire due to not being able to see the Scots Guards in the broken ground and waiting till short range to reserve fire on the Coldstreams.

Figure 10

Figure 11 shows two companies of the Coldstream Guards disembarking to close assault the under-strength 2nd company of the 12th Bersaglieri Battalion. Reserve fire slightly depleted the Guardsmen, but the Bersaglieri were annihilated, heavily outnumbered in epic hand to hand fighting.

Figure 11

Fig 12 shows the action from the view of a Fiesler Storch. The control points in the Village and at the head of the Pass (behind barbed wire) can be seen still in Axis hands, although the Coldstreams have overrun the point at the southern end (2-3 = Axis marginal victory).

Figure 12

Two companies of Scots Guards, the MG section and BHQ can be seen in close-up in Fig 13 working their way through the broken ground. The reserve company is still en-trucked.

Figure 13

The Matildas advanced over the control point on the edge of the Village (3-2 = Allied marginal victory) engaging infantry with hull MGs, seen in Fig 14. The Vickers MkVI of the HQ troop joining in and losses amongst the 1st Kompanie in the Village forced a morale check. The Scots Guards reserve company also drove forward to disembark and attack the Village.

Figure 14

The Scots Guards breached the wire near the head of the pass and took the control point on the northern end of the road (4-1 = Allied substantive victory, plus 2 victory levels as 2 Matilda troops and 2 infantry companies had not been destroyed despite the optional reserve gun batteries).

So history was repeated, with the Allies taking the top of the Pass. Their considerable numerical superiority meant the Axis were probably less than 50% likely of winning.

However, a stunning platoon level victory was achieved by the Pak-36 crews of the 15th Kradschützen Battalion who, after their guns had been destroyed by mortar fire, repelled a close assault by a company of Coldstream Guards, despite the gunners lack of training in close combat and the Guards elite status.  Iron Crosses all round !!!

Figure 15

The next game was the Axis counter-attack in Operation Skorpion to try and re-capture the Pass.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, a well designed scenario and good game it was cool to be involved!
    Also nice to see those Airfix figures gracing a battlefield.