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Subject: Playing the full the campaign game rss

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Thierry Michel
France
Paris
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A few months ago, a friend and I decided we would go and play the campaign game to the end,I reported the sessions on Consimworld, one week-end at a time, and I thought it might be of interest to give a concise summary here.

***

At start, the initiative is with the Axis, who must strike with the Italians as deep as possible into Egypt. The Allies have few units, and it's probably best for them to defend in depth, rather than try to hold near the frontier. From the start, recon units proved valuable as they could slow down enemy columns with little risk to themselves, and were easily replaced anyway.

The Italians had to drag along their infantry, so they couldn't really go far - and the further east they went, the more open they were to encirclement and isolation. In the end they managed to just reach Sidi Barrani, but not take it, before the counter-strike.

One word about objectives: in the campaign game, victory is obtained by getting a non-isolated unit to the enemy end of the map, which in effect means destroying the enemy army, as it is trivial otherwise to cut the line of communication. That's the long goal, but to facilitate that, players need to control airfields and ports - to ferry supplies and base their air force. Sidi Barrani is such an airfield.

The Allied counter-strike went through, once they had enough troops. Their tanks were better, and their infantry as well, and the Italians are much less effective in defense when isolated, so the Commonwealth should try to pocket the enemy forces as much as possible before reducing them. It did not really happen that way this time, as the Italians managed to mount limited local counter-offensives that failed, but caused lots of losses for both sides. The Italian army is out-gunned, in the main, but it is still possible to build a few mobile groups that can blunt an offensive. Isolated armor is particularly vulnerable to this.

At the end of the first act, before the Germans arrived, the Italians were besieged in Tobruk but had an organized defense further West, with mobile reserves. The Ariete armored division was about to arrive as reinforcement, and Tobruk was (too) well supplied.

Axis supplies and reinforcements appear in Italy and have to cross by convoy before they can get used. The crossing is a dangerous operation, depending on how reinforced Malta is, and spending resources to escort the convoys or for the Allies, to build up Malta, is important. A large number of Axis reinforcements sank before they reached the theater.

The Ariete division made its way to the front, but aggressive maneuvering and fighting meant it took the brunt of the Allies fattacks, and essentially disappeared. Meanwhile, the fortifications of Tobruk were breached by artillery barrages, and the city fell with its remaining supplies.

Supply is the basic currency of offensive: it is needed to do any kind of effective attack, and artillery uses a lot of it against fortifications, meaning it is necessary to plan ahead and stockpile before launching a coordinated attack. Unfortunately, moving it is complicated, with few trucks available and ports generally at low capacity. The further one ventures from one’s side of the board, the longer it takes to bring supplies to the frontline, while it becomes easier for the defender.

When the Germans finally arrived, they had the best tanks, and what’s more, the best AT guns. With the frontline just East of Tobruk, there were various attempts to bypass it by going South, that ended catastrophically for the Allies - a first attack against the German divisions failed, was followed by a counter-attack disrupting the armored divisions and a subsequent envelopment that essentially destroyed most Commonwealth tank battalions. Separating the tanks from the infantry had been a bad idea, and Axis air superiority had done the rest.

Air power is interesting to manage - a side that gets unopposed air support can really shift the odds in one combat, and the bombers really need escorting, so the range of fighters effectively dictates the extent of the advance. The most common result of fighting is to ground the units of both side temporarily, so keeping reserves for important fights is necessary.

Following this disaster, Commonwealth forces retreated deep into Egypt, building fortifications near El Alamein and pulling back their infantry. An infantry division found itself isolated in Sidi Barrani and started to take attrition. The German panzer divisions made it to the airfield at Fukah, but with too few supplies between them to mount an offensive. As importantly, they found themselves far beyond their air cover, and as the Allies recovered their losses, they became vulnerable. An Allied attack got lucky, avoided the 88s that could have made a difference in defense, and managed to push back the Germans, who chose to retreat all the way back to the Libyan frontier. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth infantry division in Sidi Barrani had tried to break through, but vanished through attrition in the desert, leaving no stragglers to recover.

Combats are violent, but the losses generated are not permanent. A battle won allows one to recover most of the losses in time, while a battle lost still leaves some stragglers to pick up. It is important to win battles, especially for the Axis who gets much less reinforcements, and on the wrong side of the sea. Isolation, in the other hand, is a net loss - the men lost through attrition are never recovered.

After this back and forth, lines were drawn at the frontier (mid-1941) and lots of build up followed. In between the lines, recon units skirmished, and there were also a few big fights, notably an attempt by the Commonwealth to bypass by the southern route, repulsed with heavy losses of infantry. The Allies got stronger with time passing, while the Axis has a hard time getting convoys, shifting the frontier slowly westwards. The Axis also tried to break through, sending two mobile Italian divisions together with the German panzers. It turned out pretty bad, with the Axis having to fall back, having taking losses they could not afford. From there, it was a slow withdrawal towards Tunisia. The Commonwealth managed to bring a few more big fights, lost some more isolated units (this time an Indian division) but pushed up to Benghazi by getting south of the mountains and avoiding the coast. An Italian counterattack seized an airport and threatened the Allies supply line, but got caught and butchered by the British tanks. By this point, the imbalance in forces was big enough that the Axis had to retreat all the way West, shortening the front. Without much room to maneuver, the last fights were unequal, and the Axis forces got bled out, incapable to stem the Allied advance. By September 1942, it was effectively over, and the Allied player accepted the resignation of the Axis.

***


All in all, the campaign game took us about 50 hours, with lots of maneuver and fighting and plenty of swings of fortune. We learnt tactics and rules as we went, and it was a good enough experience that we think we will play the return match, switching sides.


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Keith Rose
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New Malden
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Great AAR - I've played scenarios but not the full campaign, this makes me want to give it a go as the results seem very realistic. I think this shows what a good job Mark Simonitch did with this game.
 
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