Friday, 22 January 2021

The Pushna Valley Fight

 Part One.

Well that's the first fight-through done. A lot of fun but some work needed on the various draft ideas previously mooted.....

Quick run down of what happened (fill in the blanks....)..

Action Report: Operation to Pushna Valley 

06:00: B. Coy. arrive at head of Pushna valley. Establish Assembly Area and First Aid Post with defensive perimeter. Pickets and A.Car 3 put out to prevent surprise.



07:45: No. 1 MG (Ist. Platoon) and 4th Platoon dig-in at Assembly Point. Main force moves W. along Barga Valley.

 

07:50: Mine or IED noted on culvert just W. of Assembly Area. Vehicles go off road to avoid, then rejoin road. 


07:55: Mine or IED destroys lead tank (Lt. Pike commanding) with loss of crew. Column continues to base of Djebel Barga.


08:15: Balance of 1 Pl and 2 Pl. with 3 Pl in support, debus and move up Djebel Barga, in rushes, under covering fire of MG 2. (Ist Pl.).





08:30  On our units approaching the military crest a number of local tribesmen (approx. 30) show themselves. They then make off W. towards the Shrine without returning fire. Troops of 1 & 2 Pls harass with fire. 




08:50 East end of Dhebel Barga is cleared of enemy, who fall back towards the W. end of same. Pl 1 pushes along Djebel Barga. Royal Engineers move to the culvert with the known mine. Trucks of Pls 1 to 3 prepare to move along valley floor.



09:15: A force of enemy appear on the slopes of Djebel Shatar opening fire on  AC 3, shooting out a tyre. There are exchanges between AC 3 and this force for some time, with no damage to either side.





09:30: 1 & 2 Pls continue to advance along Djebel Barga, shadowing enemy, which continues to withdraw. 



10:00: 1 Pl dig in at shrine on Djebel Barga. Exchange shots with enemy force previously encountered, which digs in at base of W. slope of Barga.  Fire fight for some time until enemy finally pull back, having seemingly taken casualties (Note; throughout this operation the enemy carried off their wounded and, it is believed, some of their dead. An accurate tally of enemy casualties is therefore difficult).



10:15: 2 & 3 Pls cross Barga Valley to Djebel Omar. Enemy forces (approx. 30) appear on SE. slopes on Djebel Omar, opening fire on Truck 2, killing driver and assistant and causing vehicle to crash.



10:30: 2 PL continue to engage enemy force on Djebel Omar.

11:00: 2 PL continue to engage enemy force on Djebel Omar. These are reinforced, roughly doubling their number. 




11:20: 3 Pl scales Djebel Omar while enemy engaged with 2 Pl.  Tank 2 moves to W. end of Barga Valley. Platoon 2 take casualties but pin enemy.



12:00: Lt. C. Square, Off. Co. 3 Pl, having taken his men to the N. crest of Djebel Omar, leads the platoon eastwards, flanking the enemy force commanding the Barga road, opening fire and causing them to retire at speed. The enemy make off South, while 3 Pl opens a heavy fire upon them, causing a considerable number of casualties and breaking their resolve to continue. They flee towards Djebel Kourine.




The force of enemy on Djebel Kourine, seemingly alarmed at the damage to their fellows, also withdraw from the immediate area.  

12:30: 3 & 2 Pl.  move W. along the crest and lower N. slopes (respectively) of  Djebel Omar.

13:00: Enemy forces open fire on Tank 2 from the valley between Omar and the main plateau. Another force on the West end of D. Omar appears and opens fire on 2 Pl , which returns fire.


13:50: 3 Pl. advances along the N. crest of Omar. Trucks move along Barga valley. Units pause. Wounded are pulled back. Runner dispatched. 

14:00: A force of enemy cavalry arrive in the valley. 

14:15: Enemy cavalry 
charge and surround the remaining tank but are unable to cause significant damage while both machine guns of the tank engage. 



14:30: Lt. Square is hit by a sniper. Despite his wound he stays with his command. The enemy cavalry are further engaged by MG. fire from the tank and rifle fire from 1 and 2 Pls and break.





14:45: A force of enemy open fire on Pl 1 from the main village. They are engaged by MG 1.  


15:00: The enemy cavalry flee down the Barga valley, and are further discomforted by fire from the Pl 2. They approach the two trucks in the barga valley, the drivers of which smash their way through the fleeing cavalry. The enemy horse continue running eastwards and are engaged by the armoured car before scattering. This force causes no more problems during the course of the operation.



15:30 Pl 2 exchanges fire with the enemy forces in the main valley west of Djebel Omar while Pl 3 
outflanks the enemy force at the west end of the djebel; opening a heavy fire from higher ground and breaking it. The force in the valley is then dispersed by fire from the tank, supporting fire of No. 1 Pl and 3 Pl.


This now leaves the main North-South valley clear. Pls 2 and 3 begin to move towards the village.




16:00: The enemy in the village go to ground after receiving heavy fire from all units in the vicinity, then pull back. The Engineers make their way to Djebel Barga. Meanwhile PL 4, summoned by runner, arrive in their truck at the west end of Barga valley. 

 

16:30 Pls 2 & 3 by a series of rushes cross the main north-south valley. Part of Pl 3, still led by Lt. Square, moves up the slopes to the south of the main village and eventually establishes itself on the plateau, while the remainder of the platoon and Pl 2 give covering fire. The enemy at the village flee, helped on their way by machine gun fire from MG2 at the Shrine and the remaining tank under Sgt. Sponge.

17:00: With the visible enemy in the village begin pulling back. Sgt. Sponge in the tank pushes up the track to the fort.


17:45: The enemy in the village having made off, and with 3 PL already on the plateau, 4 Pl, accompanied by MG 1 of 1 PL, in their vehicle make their way up towards the fort, followed by the Sappers. 



18:00: A force of enemy concealed in the fort opens fire on Pl 4's vehicle, killing the driver and assistant. The truck, out of control, crashes from the narrow track onto rocks, killing several members of Pl 4, including OC Lt. Hodges, and wounding a number of others.  




18:15: The occupants of the fort come under sustained machine gun fire from the machine guns of 1 Pl and the tank, as well as rifle fire from the survivors of 4 Pl and long range fire from 1Pl at the shrine. 

18:30: With the enemy in the fort pinned by the concentrated fire from the platoons and machine guns Sgt. Sponge takes his tank round the side of the fort and drives straight through the main gate, machine gunning the ramparts from the inside. Shot at from both front and rear the occupants of the fort promptly surrender.



18:45: The Engineers drive up to the fort. A force of enemy camelry appear in the main valley.



19:00: The Engineers set charges in the fort. Enemy prisoners are ushered out of the village; the tank escorting, along with the wounded and remainder of Pl 4.


19:30: The enemy camel force moves northwards along the valley and comes under fire from Pl. 2 and 3. The camelry  swiftly pull back, encountering the enemy force which had moved from Djebel Kourine to the west end of Djebel Shatar.



19:45: The charges at the fort are detonated. The engineers move on to set charges in the village with Pl 3 to support. It is now getting dark, with a possibility the demolition of the village may need to be abandoned. What trucks remain are brought up for the wounded.  Pl 2 is pulled back to secure the N.W. slopes of Djebel Omar. 

    

20:15: No further enemy appear. The engineers board their truck and leave the village, followed by Pl 3. The charges set on the important buildings in the village are detonated.


20:30: The heights of Djebels Barga and Omar being secured by Pls 1 and 2 the force pulls back along the Barga Valley without further incident.



Summary:

The two main targets were successfully destroyed and the defenders are believed to have suffered around sixty eight casualties, along with the loss of six prisoners. 

During the operation one officer (Lt. Hodges, 4 Pl) and fourteen other ranks from the company were lost, as were the crews of Tank A (Lt. Pike and Cpl. Walker) and two trucks. One officer (Lt. Square, 3 PL) and eight men were wounded.

Note that included in the above are Lt. Hodges and eight other ranks of Pl 4 who lost their lives, four other ranks being injured, when their truck went off the road after the driver was shot while at the wheel. 


Commendations:

All ranks performed their duties to the high standards expected of the Regiment. However, it would be remiss not to mention t
he prompt and bold actions carried out by Lt. C. Square OC 3 Pl throughout the mission.

In leading his men to decisively disperse a considerable number of the enemy on Djebel Omar (who, had they simply been discomforted and gone to ground in the vicinity of Djebel Shatar, would have posed a threat to both the Assembly Area and our Line of Communication, and thus severely impeded the Operation) showed initiative and leadership 
concomitant with the traditions of the Regiment.

In continuing to lead his platoon, despite
 being wounded by enemy fire, Lt. Square showed determination and commitment to the work in hand; continuing to lead his command to help clear the main valley of enemy, leading his platoon across said valley and taking and securing the south side of the enemy village. He and his men then held position, covering the work of the Engineers until dusk, before Lt Square lead his command back to the main column, covering the withdrawal; making 3 PL the last unit to quit the target area. 

It might be noted that, despite the key part played by 3 Pl. during the mission, only one serviceman was lost killed and only two members of the platoon (including Lt. Square) wounded.

I should also like to commend Sgt. Sponge and Trooper Jones of 3rd Lt Coy Royal Tank Regiment for their initiative and boldness throughout the action.

Maj. G. Wilson
Officer Commanding B Company
1st. Bn. Loamshire Reg. 

*****************************************************************


Conclusion: 

Well, hardly a stunning victory.... Points-wise it was a skin of the teeth win, but the Butcher's Bill was higher than it ought to have been (despite my cautious approach) and neither of the Secondary Targets were affected (it was too late in the evening to take a swipe at the shrine on the way back, and I didn't want to risk an ambush of the column as we pulled back by hanging about). No commendation for me. I expect a rocket from the Colonel, and there will be a certain amount of tutting behind my back in the Mess. However, young Lt. Square's actions (and the need for something positive to overshadow the muck-up I made) may mean that what folk remember is the the gong he's been put up for....



Technical and Other Lessons:

Well, THAT was stressful. Fun, but stressful......

First I got freaked out by the early loss of the lead tank (with it's radio) and was too cautious early on as a result (my men did a LOT of walking..).

I was also perhaps too worried about a sudden enemy swoop on the First Aid Post, and so effectively lost a platoon, a machine gun and the armoured car for most of the mission. Every time that particular dice throw rattled I was nervous; especially once Platoon Four left for the Front.. 

Rule-wise things were OK, but with some work being needed for the next play-through..

I had set a limit to the number of moves I could make before darkness forced me to withdraw. This was fine in itself, but I found that the "Tiffin" token (SP) method slowed things too much - for both sides, so that after about eight or so moves I decided the token mix needed tweaking. I took out the "Tiffin" token, added a Blank counter, and played a variant on the NMTB method, pulling tokens from the tub until only TWO tokens were left. THAT was now the signal for the end of the move. This was a vast improvement.

NO petrol bombs appeared. I - as the Player - was happy with that, but this didn't help the defenders. This was down to the Events Pack draw (I had an "Events" token in the token mix. This kinda worked, but made me nervous; which, while good in terms of solo-tension, felt "wrong"). I need to redraft the Events Table. I MAY think more about how Events are prompted and need to up the chances of petrol bombs (Dagnabbit..).


The IED/Mines issue was a constant worry for me right up until we got to the Plateau and the (one) track we were using had been driven over enough to "clear" it. The Zone principle for the mines was fine; I was nervous every time a vehicle or tank moved along a track. I suppose that was right, from a "realism" point of view,  but boy did it make the "game" more stressful. I was painfully aware the whole time that just one explosion of a loaded vehicle could badly cut my (small) force and throw all plans out the window (the loss of Platoon 4's truck to enemy fire just when victory seemed in my grasp felt like a total disaster).

Also, the "off-road puncture" process was too punishing - it's not in the report but we had four punctures in all, and several near misses (including the only serviceable tank nearly throwing a track) only one due to enemy action. I was wondering at one stage if I was going to have to make a "strip any salvageable tyres from the wrecks" rule... This needs more work BUT did force me to keep to the dreaded ("OMG; are they mine-ridden?") roads, so, again, felt "real"....

SO: more work on Chance Events needed - but not so much that I stop biting my nails..

Operationally the rules were fine (Home-bashed & updated TMWWBK; with added shooting). 

"Enemy Generation" was the old Hidden Enemy Card Trick (six on a dice on unit movement or at move end prompt a card; in this case, with a finite enemy and at 6mm, I simply used all the cards from a single suit with a stand of three figures per card "pip"), with Blinds" for the cavalry/camelry (moved by Token draw until within LoS or prompted by Events table). 


The locals behaved in character - making off if unable to regain their Mojo, or if freaked by flanking or by folks being above them. HAD I camped on the field (due to darkness) all "routed" enemy would come back into play. I perhaps need to think about rallying. The MHWBK morale rules assume a small field, so routing meaning gone for ever makes sense. On my table the guys could have fled to another "valley" half a kilometre or more from the action easily. Should they have had a chance to regroup and get their bottle up..? I think perhaps so; it looked a log way to run, at times, on the table.... More thought needed..   

Evacuating the wounded was a real concern (as it should be), but the process worked.

I was a bit worried, after the event, about my chaps' bodies (strange I know). The question was "Should I have factored in time for burial details at Mission End?" (and hence risk of more losses).

I perhaps need to do some research about period practice. I know of tales of burial in the field earlier on NW Frontier to prevent mutilation, but I'm not sure what happened 1930s. I suspect any decision on the spot would be based on practicalities/pragmatism, with no hard and fast doctrine or policy. Or is this a step too far ? Were I gaming a modern U.S. forces action that WOULD, presumably, be a significant factor, so.. Needs more thought perhaps.... (?)

In gaming what was essentially a near 1:1 20thC skirmish over a large field the message that came home was very much "every man is important" and even moving about and commanding is irksome.... That was, I felt, a healthy counter to the "moving tokens on  board" direction many games take.  


  Operationally the biggest headache overall was Command and Control...How do you C&C a scattered Company, in broken country, with no platoon-level radios, no cohort and century standards, no trumpets and drums, no squadron of mounted Aides de Camp happy to fly handwritten missives across the field in the teeth of the enemy - and who know where you are for replies - but, instead are relying on only one Runner - your Batman - who has already gone off with a message.....??

The answer: either pull a guy out of the firing line (NO... Not with the Platoon down to fourteen shooters or less) or run about like the proverbial Azure Anussed Insect yourself... "MY" figure was running hither and thither; shouting at truck drivers, updating or instructing subalterns - and standing, red-faced and puffing, under the gaze of sardonic-eyed Sappers - for a good third of the game....

A reflection of reality perhaps ? But something needs to be done, so I can sit back in the coolth of a tent and direct the battle at the end of a Wireless..... ( : ) )

More research needed. Meanwhile, re. period communication issues, I stumbled across this: 

https://royalsignalsoperationalawards.com/2018/01/04/the-shahur-tangi-ambush-north-west-frontier-1937/

(Family connection alert: father was in the Signals - pic below. Not THIS conflict, obviously.. But seriously.. Would ANYONE want to be O.C. of THIS guy... ;) )
 

Biggest lesson of the operation: we should have bought artillery, or at least mortars and 2 pounders on the tanks (as advised before the mission by fellow solo gamer Steven).  "I told you so," say the Gunners, "Ubique, remember...?"

Overall this was an interesting, thought-provoking, if stress-filled, exercise, well worth repeating... Onwards and upwards.

As always; snipes, queries, suggestions and comments welcome...
  

2 comments:

  1. VERY impressive Ian! I've never played any of Featherstone's battles but it looks as though you did the whole thing justice (especially with your "tweaks"). Additionally, I never imagined I would be much of a fan of 6mm soldiering but with your outstanding terrain and buildings you may make me into a fan!
    I could certainly feel the tension throughout the report.
    I enjoyed all of your after thoughts and great photos too.
    As for artillery...well there's always a 'next time'!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, ha.. Many thanks..

      Mr.F. was one of those who, back in the day, encouraged/inspired me to see my "playing with toy soldiers" as somehow "respectable" (as opposed to it being time to "put away childish things"). This scenario was always one that I wanted to get to grips with properly..

      6mm is a funny one.. My "Queen of Scales" will always be 1/72, so the 6mm lads seem kinda "wee", but I loved the old Heroics & Ros Ancients, ACW and 7YW/AWI bods (THOSE I MUST get out to play someday) in the 80s (most British in this game were Irregular Miniatures, who still have some character to them, with most locals being H&R), and when you get the lads out on a big table you have more of a feel of grand scale actions or, in this case, getting lost in the terrain (khaki on sand... But then, I guess that's the point..).

      Also, in 6mm, the "Guns. Guns. Guns". can have "proper" reach...... And there will certainly be a next time... :)

      Delete

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