AAR by: Neal Ulen
Advanced Squad Leader AAR: Drillo HG Reconquest (BR9)
Here’s the historical situation:
Date: July 12, 1943
Location: Ponte Dirillo, Sicily
Attacker: German (Hermann Göring Panzer Division)
Defender: American (82nd Airborne Division / 45th Infantry Division)
On the evening of July 11th, shortly after the Invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky), German Lt. Goldschmidt and his platoon of Tigers joined forces with Cpt. Weber and a hundred unaccounted grenadiers of the Herman Göring Panzer Division. Headquarters ordered them to proceed westward along highway 115 toward Gela. Their mission was to link with the HG Panzer Regiment coming in from the north in an attempt to push the American’s back to the beaches near Gela. Hiding in the foothills overlooking Ponte Dirillo were elements of the 82nd Airborne Division waiting to pounce from pillboxes they had captured the evening before.
Scott and I decided to venture to the island of Sicily and play a scenario from Advancing Fire’s new historical effort, Biazza Ridge (BR), focusing on battles during Operation Husky, the allied invasion of that island in July of 1943.
Most of the scenarios and maps in BR use the hillock rules (F6 from the DTO ruleset), but places those hillocks across eight levels of hills. We struggled mightily trying to figure out exactly how they work in such situations, as opposed to how they work when used in a flat desert environment that they were designed for. The BR special rules refer to chapter F6, but also add rules that, in my opinion, additionally obfuscate how to interpret hillocks when placed on hills. I believe the Advancing Fire fire team should have just gone with the slope rules in chapter P6 (from Kampfgruppe Pieper), which were designed to be used in hill settings.
Regardless, after awhile we abandoned the hillock rules when playing this scenario and reverted back to the standard hill ruleset. We found we were spending too much time debating their interpretation than playing and enjoying the scenario. Finally, even the BR rules state that doing so would not really change realism or balance.
So, on to the action …
Victory Conditions: Germans win immediately if they exit 45+ EVP off the west edges on/between hexes A2 and/or B0.
The Germans start with a total of 72 possible EVP, so the Americans have to destroy, disable, or significantly delay 28 EVP to win. This amount of EVP seems like a tough ask for the Germans, thus I chose the Americans comprised of:
- 6 – squads (varying quality)
- 2 – leaders
- 3 – MMGs
- 2 – light mortars
- 1 – bazooka ’43
- 1 – 37LL AT gun (M3A1)
- 1 – captured Italian 75mm artillery piece
- 5 – 75mm Shermans
- 1 – 75mm halftrack
Scott was left with the Germans comprised of:
- 10 – squads (varying quality)
- 2 – crew
- 3 – leaders
- 1 – MMG
- 4 – LMG
- 1 – ATR
- 1 – light mortar
- 2 – 75mm infantry guns
- 1 – armored car
- 2 – halftracks (for towing guns)
- 5 – PzKpfw VIE (Tigers … ugh!)
Scott’s entry tactic was to bring all his units on board to the north of the stream and reed beds. If he didn’t any vehicle that entered south of it would have to contend with crossing the bridge on the way to the NW exit corner, or temp fate by possibly bogging in the stream/reeds. He started out tentatively by bringing out his PSw 222 armored car (with high MP, thing can cover a lot of territory), (un)fortunately he moved right into the hex that was bore sighted by my 75mm ART located on the central hill. A hit pretty much guaranteed a kill, and I was able to do so despite using capture Italian equipment, and retain ROF. First blood!
He then began bringing on other units, alternating between his mighty Tigers and infantry units. As he brought squads down the road and around the hook of the hill I was able to get some shots off by my mortar at the top of the hill. One hit, no results … but retained ROF. Scott continued to move his Germans on, hugging the bottom left base of the hill, and not giving me many shots. He did roll 4 of his Tigers around the south of the hill up the road, knowing I didn’t have much that could take them on. He opted to keep his halftracks towing INF guns off board for later entry (which is an option in this scenario).
I took another shot in Final Fire with the mortar and was able to get a casualty reduction due to a poor MC roll by Scott. My ART also retained ROF, so I took a deliberate immobilization shot at the leading Tiger. I need a 4 with a hull hit … I rolled a 5 will a hull hit. Argh! The rest of the turn was uneventful, Scott taking some AFPh shots with no effect, then advancing.
My next turn Prep Fire started out well. I took another immobilization shot at the now acquired Tiger, and rolled a 4 hull hit. Immobilized. The icing on the cake is the crew failed is TC miserably and abandoned their Tiger, meaning they couldn’t sit there and take pot shots at my pillboxes.
During my MPh I brought my 5 Shermans and halftrack on and headed directly north, in hopes of setting up some sort of defensive position for his inevitable run off the map towards Gela (NW corner). I also knew, from a lot of experience, that trying to put Shermans up toe-to-toe with Tigers/Panthers is a fool’s game. You have to be very tricky and tactical to be effective against them.
Scott took some Final Fire shots during the DFPh, with no real effect other than stripping concealment off a half squad.
Here’s the situation at the end of Turn 1 …
Scott’s Tigers begin to flex their muscles. One of them takes a shot at the top of the right hill containing one of my mortars in a trench and the ART gun emplaced outside the trench. Both the squad and crew manning them immediately break. But I get revenge because the Tiger shot activates my sniper who promptly takes out the German 8-1 leader.
The Tiger on the lower ridge of hills then overruns my 6 morale HS manning an Italian MMG in a trench. The overrun results in a 3MC! Oof! The squad miraculously passes the MC rolling a 3, but are pinned so cannot attempt CC Reaction Fire. The Tiger stops in the entrenched hex thus freezing the HS.
Some German infantry start moving up the hill and I make a couple very poor defensive fire decisions, missing LOS opportunities. My second mortar on top of the left hill was able to pin a squad and break a leader trying to sneak up the hill. Even breaking and/or pinning German infantry goes a long way in delaying units from getting off the board to meet EVP requirements, so I’ll take it.
The rest of the German units move forward along the base of the hill, closing on my my pillbox/trench complex. What little defensive fire I have left has no affect. Scott’s advancing fire also amounts to nothing. Seems we may have some Star Wars stormtroopers in our ranks.
You’ll notice that the towed German INF guns are still opting to come into the action later. I believe Scott’s tactic here is to wait to bring them on at the last possible turn that allows them to still make a dash for the NW corner. The guns are worth 2 EVP each. Not a lot, but every little bit helps.
The beginning of my American turn 2 found my flank on the hill starting to collapse, and Scott’s German infantry starting to move out of the covered arc of my pillboxes. This could be problematic. But I stayed the course as I still had plenty of targets at the base of the hill.
I started by prep firing all the defending infantry I could, as I only had plans to reposition my Sherman and T30 half-track. Said prep fire was mostly ineffective, but I did get a SAN result that broke a German squad. My G.I. sniper has been pretty on point this scenario so far, taking out an 8-1 leader and breaking a squad.
Now I begin setting up my Shermans in the hope of building a Tiger Trap … but first I need to take a shot because one Tiger has exposed his vulnerable side to me. I hit the VASL roll icon with much trepidition. Yep, an 11. Whelp, at least I got to flip the acquisition counter! Next I reposition my Shermans to cover the cleft through the hill where the highway runs, and the east side of this hill, setting up so my AFVs are out the Tigers LOS, forcing them to come into my fields of fire hopefully creating side and/or decent immobilization shots.
Scott’s defensive fire mostly bounces off my +5 TEM pillboxes and I lose a half squad when he invokes no quarter during rout.
Neither of us manage to rally anything, and Scott’s feeling the pressure to get moving and chooses to prep fire none of his units. He fires up his Tiger on the hill, the one my Sherman has unsuccessfully been able to hit. As soon as he expends his start MP and passes his TC (Tiger has red MP number) I take another desperation shot knowing he will instantly turn its front armor towards me.
I roll snakes and turn the Tiger into a flaming husk. A rare victory for a Sherman against a Tiger. But this also activates his sniper who attacks my CE T30 hiding on the other side of the hill, stunning them and causing them to go BU the rest of the game.
Scott begins rolling his remaining 3 Tigers forward, looking for revenge. My star Sherman (that retained ROF with snakes before), takes another side shot at a passing Tiger. Scott is getting bold with his movement! No such luck this time, I roll an 11 TH. The law of averages strikes again!!
The rest of the turn is fairly uneventful, but it’s setting up to be an armor showdown in the next turn or two to see who can take control of the left hill. Scott needs to get through or around it … and I need to stop or delay him at all costs. He’s lost 2 Tigers, an 8-1 leader, perhaps a squad … but he has many broken units at the base of this hill. If I can keep them under DM and delay them further, that’s precious VPs that won’t be able to make it off the board.
It seems his available VPs needed to get off the board is getting very marginal. The loss of a couple more units, even even additional delay, could make it very difficult to meet the 45 EVP requirement.
I see Scott’s tentative plan, and I’m not taking the bait. He going to just flank my pillboxes with his infantry and make a run for the NW corner as they are now out of their CA. But I’m keeping my infantry set in the pillboxes, pounding the other half of the German forces (and the towed INF guns if he ever decides to bring them on). I can afford to let some of his units go.
I Prep Fire and succeed in keeping most of his broken units DM’d, effectively taking them out of another German player turn, and at this point probably out of the game as far as EVP goes. In doing so, I break one of my MMG. Not good if I later want to take out the unarmored trucks with the INF guns. My Sherman on the lower side of the left hill is squarely in the sights of his Tiger lurking behind the reed beds. As soon as I spend 1 MP to start, he’s going to light me up … so I Prep Fire in a desperate attempt at kill/shock/immobilization. I just miss it rolling a 5.
During the MPh I move my T30 half-track up the back of the hill (to hex P5) to cover the top portion with his flanking squads. They will be running right into the sights of a 75mm with WP9 capability. I reposition my Sherman in J8 so I can do a HD maneuver. The remaining Shermans come rumbling down from behind the left hill and swarm his Tiger (labelled ‘D’). Scott takes a shot at one and rolls and 11! Then intensive fires and rolls and 8! Dodged a big bullet there.
I now have 3 Shermans with 3 side/rear shots, all within 2 hexes. I like those odds.
The Germans don’t have much to shoot at during Final Fire, so I start warming up my dice for those side/rear shots in the AFPh. I roll 9, 9, 8. Fail. Now I know for certain I’m going to lose 1 or 2 of those Shermans in his PFPh, because he will 100% intensive fire again.
All I need to do is knock out one Tiger and that would deny him enough EVP to win. Maybe next turn.
My biggest screwup this turn was not CEing my T30 crew so they could man the gun to cover the backside of the hill. Ugh.
Sure enough, Scott Prep Fires his surrounded Tiger and turns one of my Shermans into a roaring blaze. He intensive fires and hits another … it’s gone … no, wait … he rolls a 12 on the TK roll. A dud! I still have 2 Shermans right on his heels.
He continues to run his infantry across the top of the hill. I manage to put down some covering fire from the mortar and infantry on top of the left hill … in the process breaking yet another MMG. He moves one Tiger through the cleft in the hills to engage my Sherman on the backside, and brings his other Tiger down to help out with his swarmed platoon member.
It’s my DFPh and the game could end here. Each Tiger is worth 7 EVP. I take a normal AP kill shot with on Sherman, get a hit maintaining ROF, but roll a 9 on the TK … not even close. So I decide to take another shot, this time using deliberate immobilization. I need a 6 TH (base of 10 TH, +1 BU, -1 Tiger size, -1 two hex range, +5 DI attempt = 6). I roll a 4 (3,1) which is a hull hit, resulting in automatic immobilization.
We pause here briefly to count the German EVP available on the board. He has 42 EVP left, assuming he could get every single unit off the board in the next 3 turns. We call the game here, it’s impossible for him to win at this point.
We both really like the subject matter of this scenario and the Biazza Ridge module as a whole (Operation Husky). The maps are beautiful and historically accurate (see link in the previous sentence). The problem with this scenario, at least from our perspective of one playing, is that it appears to heavily favor the Americans. The Germans start with 72 total VP and must exit 45 of them off the board. The American player only has to keep 27 VP on the board, or eliminate them. Just 3 Tigers alone are with 21 VP. And the Germans have to do this going across a map with little cover, no rally/rout terrain, against units in pillboxes and that are allowed to set up entrenched. It might be doable if the German player can execute a perfect plan with a little luck.
The best course for the Germans is to probably head straight up the hill and stay as far out of the pillboxes CA as possible. It will be slower, but it will force the American player to pull all his units out of the pillboxes and spend time repositioning his forces to cover the German movement across the top of the hill. Trying to sneak along the base of the hill in the CA of the pillboxes with almost no cover is going to end with a lot of broken German units.
.END OF BRIEFING.
Copyright © 2021, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
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