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Subject: A daunting task ahead - Strafexpedition AAR rss

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Marc Figueras

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Some weeks ago, my buddy Tomàs

Tomàs Reixach Coll

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and yours truly

Marc Figueras

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began our campaign game of Strafexpedition 1916 (by Vassal), this great game by Andrea Brusati and the guys of Europa Simulazioni. Tomàs leads the Italians, while I am in charge of Conrad von Hötzendorf's troops.

WWI has always fascinated me, and even more the less-known fronts, like this Italian one, too often overshadowed by the Isonzo front and Caporetto. So, I could not resist writing an ARR of our game. I plan to add a report of each turn as soon as we finish them, with some screenshots of the Vassal module. So here comes the report of the first turn...


Turn 1 - May 15

The offensive is about to begin. The task ahead is daunting, and the main objectives (VP hexes) seem ridiculously far away. My initial plan was to advance into the Italian lines but trying to break the front especially near the roads and tracks, during the first day, in order to secure them and having a free path for artillery units to advance later on [artillery -except mountain artillery- can only change altitude level while on road or track]. I intended to advance in all the front except the Easternmost sector, in which no Italian unit can move until an AH unit crosses the Eastern front line.

In the Westernmost sector, the 6. Gebirgsbrigade advances into the Italian front line, but not as expected, despite the heavy bombardment. Having used almost all artillery for the 6 Gebirgs, the advance of the 18. Gebirgs is stalled and the assaults against the Italian positions is cancelled: the attack upslope and crossing the Leno stream was too risky now. Just to the East, the 10. Gebirgs keeps on with the assault, but a high price: two units surrendered. All in all, the three brigades of the Western sector performed poorly, the best they achived was reaching the first Italian trenches. The main objective of securing the main road running besides the Leno was not achieved. Italian defensive fire, while not too powerful, was enough to shake some of our units, leading to poor performance in the assaults.

The central, much less crowded sector was assigned to the 58 Kaiserjäger, whose main task was clearing the track behind the Italian lines in front of the Pasubio. Due to the low density of Italian defenses here, the 58 took Valduga and Zoreri.

The Eastern sector was somewhat more successful for the Austro-Hungarian troops. The main puch was assigned here to the 5. Infanterie Brigade, in order to secure the track leading to Tonezza. The troops advanced well into the Italian lines and took some key terrain, although an unexpected Italian counterattack drove back some of our units, unable to fully secure the track, but capturing some Italian units. On their right flank, the 180 KJ, much more cautious, just advanced some meters without engaging in combat, just waiting for the next day. Finally, the Easternmost advance was that of the 15 Inf, which had an extensive no-man's-land to cover following the Astico stream, until finding the first Italian units; without artillery support, though, they waited and prepared for the assault next day.


The front after the first day: the red line marks the advance of the AH offensive (dotted lines are initial AH and Italian front lines).

Overall, the assessment of this first day is not very positive. While there was some local sucesses, I think the dispersion in artillery targets, trying to give everybody some support, was not a very good idea. Possibly, a focus on just some attacking brigades in order to break through the Italian lines with overwhemling artillery power, while leaving the remaining brigades more or less passive, would have been a better approach.

Just keep tuned for the next report!
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Nigel Twine
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I`ve been interested in this one since it appeared in Battles Magazine (#8). Looking forward to reading along!
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Marc Figueras

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Of course, some comments by my Italian opponent will be very welcome

@Tommy Atkins: This game is quite good, with surprisingly simple rules with almost no exceptions. The campaign could be very long (that's for this reason that we play it by Vassal). There are some brief scenarios playable in one session which also look quite interesting.
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Tomàs Reixach Coll

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Very good AAR. I also give my point of view of the game.

As the Italian player, my task, at the beginning, is to try to slow the advance of Austro-Hungarian units and to keep enough of my forces alive to be able to join later the reinforcements. I think that it's impossible to hold the front line: a controlled retreat is necessary along the roads. I'll try to save all of my artilleries for a later use, and if this is impossible, better blow them up before being captured.

Of course, any Austro-Hungarian casualties and disorganization of its forces are well received. There are many good defensive points in the map: mountain peaks, towns and streams. I hope the Austro-Hungarian will have a hard time there.

In the next turn, two and a half fresh brigades, plus some artillery and mountain infantry come to the rescue. For now, there is no panic in the Italian side. But we are playing only in half of the front. The East part of the front is waiting for the Austro-Hungarian artillery support that will start in 4 turns. I hope that the West front won't be too much scattered then.
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Marc Figueras

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Turn 2 - 16 May

Again, mixed feelings in the AH headquarters for the May 16th operations: cautious advances in the East and extremely bad performance in the West.

The Western sector of the offensive failed miserably. We tried to withdraw the heavily punished 6th Brigade for the fresh 9th Brigade to keep on the pressure in the sector, but the Italian managed to launch a surprise attack while the AH troops were in the process of being relieved. As a consequence our troops had to abandon some of the hard-won terrain gained the previous day and the front line returned more or less to the initial positions. At their left, the 18 and 10 brigades just kept their positions, in front of heavily entrenched Italian troops, waiting for some artillery support. Again, the main objective of securing the road running besides the Leno was not achieved.

In the central sector, scarcely defended, the 58 KaiserJäger and 180 Brigades cleared completely the track leading to the eastern valley down Mount Pasubio: troops of the 58 closed in the Northern slopes of Pasubio, and advanced down the track, protected by the high cliffs and crags. The advance looks primising in this sector, but now the AH brigades will have to wait for the artillery to reposition, as the Italian units are already out of range. The high and uneven plateau between Zoreri and the Astico stream, with the tracks leading to Castana and Tonezza was painfully and slowly cleared of Italian units, although some scattered units remain. This zone has witnessed one of the boldest actions of the offensive, so far. An isolated Italian mountain unit, already surpassed by the advancing AH units, and protected by high crags, made a bold action towards the AH rearguard, in which they disrupted two artillery batteries. Now they will be readily captured, but we salute the bravery of these soldiers.

Finally, in the Eastern sector, the 15 Brigade assaulted the Italian lunes and easily dislodged the weak Italian units there. The road to Pedescala is defended by just a handful of Italian troops of dubious quality: a promising line of advance, although the Easternmost section of the front, still calm, could change the strategic situation.


The front after the first day: the red line marks the advance of the AH offensive; the black arrows mark the main AH advances, the blu arrow marks the Italian counterattack in the West; the green arrow marks the bold action of the Italian surrounded troops

The main problem now for the AH headquarters is the advance down the Leno stream, in the Westermost sector, where the offensive has failed and could become an attritional clash, instead of the more mobile fight in the rest of the front. Time favours the Italian... rumours of an impending Russian offensive in Galizia are spreading...
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Tomàs Reixach Coll

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Here Italian HQ

Austro-Hungarian forces won't have an easy walk in Italian soil. I was lucky to activate the Taro brigade in the right time. I was able to attack a medium disorganizated Austro-Hungarian brigade and prevent penetrations in that part of the front (in this turn, anyway). In the others parts, things look darker because there are not enough Italian units to stop the offensive. The (public) plan right now is to prevent any runs to the rear by all the means necessary, militia units are expendable. Many reinforcements are coming from afar, two turns away. I hope they won't come too late...


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Marc Figueras

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Turn 3 - 17 May

Steady but slow advance could be the summary of this turn for the Austro-Hungarian forces. While Conrad's forces advanced steadily, there is no sign of a possible breakthrough, as the Italian troops retreated orderly for the most part and stood fast stubbornly in some zones.

Again, the Western sector was a hard nut to crack: trying to clear the road and the valley is desesperately difficult. A determined thrust down the valley saw some success, but this success was nullified by the danger that developed in the left flank of this zone. There, the fast advance of the 58 Kaiserjäger towards the Pasubio left a dangerous hole to the left of the weakened units of the 10 Gebirgsbrigade. Some Italian units took advantage of this hole to push some 10 Gebirgs units back to the starting frontline and threatening the artillery batteries behind. To counter this threat, the 6 Gebirgsbirgade was hastily moved to help the 10 Gebirgs, while the recently arrived 12 Gebirgsbrigade advanced to plug the hole at Valduga.

As already stated, the 58 Kaiserjäger advanced steadily towards the Pasubio and down the valley to the East. Nevertheless, now the 58. KJ is probably too scattered and should stop to reorganize. The advance in the high and uneven plateau between Zoreri and the Astico stream, with the tracks leading to Castana and Tonezza, was also steady but slow, but now the valleys behind are within reach of the Austro-Hungarian troops. The fastest advance was that of the 15 Infanterie Brigade. The weak units there were no match for the advancing troops, but we are at risk of overstretching our lines towards Pedescala. Some reinforcements are expected tomorrow, but anyway, the 15 Brigade won't be able to keep this rate of advance.


Black arrows: main AH advances. Blue arrows: main Italian moves and counterattacks.

The main problem is still the advance down the Leno stream, in the Western sector. 5 brigades are pinned there, with many artillery batteries. At the other end of the offensive, the road to Pedescala and its important crossroad is open, but putting at risk the whole 15 Infanterie Brigade and leaving a dangerous hole...
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Craig Ambler
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Great report. Shame it seems to have stalled. I like the way the Italians counterattacked as I never saw that in my two games so far, very interesting.

I intend to set this game up again very soon.

Thanks for sharing

Craig
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Marc Figueras

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Craig Ambler wrote:
Great report. Shame it seems to have stalled. I like the way the Italians counterattacked as I never saw that in my two games so far, very interesting.


Yes, I'm sorry, Craig. My gaming buddy had a son (his first one) during this game, so he had to quit. We were at mid-fourth turn when we finished. Anyway, I found the game extremely good and full of small-scale decisions.

Any hope of a report of your new session?
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Craig Ambler
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That would stop most things.

Not sure about a report as I don't really take photographs or the like, but I will certainly let you know how it all goes.

All the best

Craig
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Craig Ambler
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My game is now set up and ready to go. I will be playing it solo as it will be on my table for quite some time so I can play when I want for a hour or so.

Hope I have as much fun as you did.

Cheers

Craig
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Craig Ambler
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Six turns in and my Austrians are hitting form at the moment. One thing with this game is that you need to keep the pressure on, and attacking with just one brigade is no use.

This old one two is working well. Before the 2nd attack even starts the Austrians have almost cleared the mountains to the west and are already holding Castana, Passa della Borcara, Valmorra and Arsiero although the Italians now have men holding that line with more arriving.

More later but this is a great game.

Craig
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