Sunday, 27 May 2018

Scenario and AAR - Battle of Steamroller Farm, Tunisia 28 February 1943


Battle of Steamroller Farm , EL Aroussa, Tunisia 27-28th February 1943

The History


Three days after the end of the battles at Kasserine Panzer Army Afrika opened Unternehmen OCHSENKOPF against the First Army intended to drive back the allies and lift the threat to Tunis. On 26 February, as part of as part of Unternehmen OCHSENKOPF, Panzers Panzer Regiment.7 and Jaegers of 2 Jaeger Battalion Herman Goring (Kampfgruppe Kleeberg) broke through the Allied Lines in the Mahmoud Gap south west of Goubellat and linked up with Hauptmann Schirmer's III./Fallschirmjäger Regiment 5. Moving Southwest they ran into No 6 Commando on the 27th February near a ridge of high ground nicknamed Steamroller farm by the British because of a large steamroller in the farmyard.
On the 28th February a counterattack to reopen the road was led by the Major EWM Hadfield's Churchill tanks of "A" Squadron 51.R.T.R  with Major Windsor-Clive's No.3 Company (2nd Bn. Coldstream Guards) the 25 pounders  of "Y" Division in support. "Y" Division is a scratch force thrown together from 1 Parachute Brigade and 138 Irish Brigade with artillery from  152 Field Artillery Rgt. - the Ayrshire Yeomanry and the 56 Recce Rgt. - the Derbyshire Yeomanry. With 51 RTR from 25th Tank Brigade and the 1 Guard Brigade and the American 26RCT added only the day before as a reserve.
The Kampfgruppe Kleeburg had attacked and driven a wedge between the two brigade threatening the Division HQ at El Aroussa. Y division  ordered the counter attack those elements of his reserve available set of from El Aroussa at 1100.
This small composite force with 2 troops up and the Coldstream's riding on the Churchill tanks set of in the morning from El Aroussa abd at 1600 reach Steamroller Farm on its ridge through which the road ran. Here despite heavy fire from the farm and heavy dive-bomber attacks the Churchill tanks pushed through the defences losing 9 Churchill tanks. They found dozen of transport vehicles, Captain "Gin" Holland of A squadron helped by Lt Kenton crushed an 88mm gun and a PaK 40 antitank gun and destroyed 25 truck and cars and  dispersing and killing 100's of infantry with machine gun fire. The two Panzer III tanks that arrived from the next valley. Before retreating by bounds back to British lines - one of the tanks under tow but the other. Next day the 3 Grenadier Guards found the position abandoned by the Germans.  
Sketch map of the Battle of Steamroller Farm from 51RTR war diary showing movements of A Squadron


Google maps of the present day area around Steamroller Farm, El Aroussa, Tunisia 
Sources are from "Bloody road to Tunis" by David Rolf, "Tunisian Campaign" by Charles Messenger the war diaries of  the 51 The Royal Tank Regiment; and the 25th Tank Brigade, and include the account written by Major Windsor Clive of 2nd Coldstream Guards for the book "No dishonourable name". 2 Coldstream guards also have an interesting Facebook page with many links to battle in Tunisia.

Terrain


Flat and open grass land and rolling fields to the South and West these are cut West to  East by deep wooded gullies called "Nullahs".  A series of ridges the highest occupied by the farm these are rocky and brush covered and provide excellent cover. To the North and east of the farm the ridge is covered by orchards. A dirt road runs from the south west to North East and a track to the farm from the road  provides the only access to it.
The Nullahs are dangerous ground for vehicles. The slopes up the Steamroller farm (except the track)  are difficult ground for vehicles. The Nullahs provide soft cover as do the orchards or rocky ridges. The building of the farm are stone and provide hard cover  

Forces 


Historical Forces - for Battalion Sized Battlegroup Game 

British Forces from Y Division    BR72  6 Officers

First Assault wave

Forward HQ - Captain Windor Clive (CG) and Major EWH Hadfield (51RTR) with Jeep
Forward Signls Unit - Medium Wireless truck
1 Infantry Platoons of 3Co/ 2 Coldstream Guards  with 3" mortar  and Vickers MG
1 Churchill tank troops Mk. III/IV
Forward Observer Team in Bren Carrier
2 Daimler Mk.I Armoured Cars
1 Engineering Section
Battery of 4 25 pounder  Field Guns - Off table


Second Assault wave 


1 Infantry Platoons of 3Co/ 2 Coldstream Guards  with 3" mortar  and Vickers MG
1 Veteran Infantry Section
1 Carrier Section
2 Churchill tank troops Mk. III/IV and 1 Mk. I
Supply column 1 Medium Truck 


German Forces from Kampfgruppe Kleeberg  80BR  6 Officers

Initial Defenders

Forward HQ  Heavy Car
Luftwaffe Air Liason Officerwith  Radio Van
Forward Signals Unit - Medium Radio Truck
I
2 Fallschirmjaeger Platoon from II Co. 2 Jaeger Battalion Herman Goring
4 PaK38 AT guns with Sdkfz 6 tows
1 Pak 40 AT gun with Opel Maultier tow
1 Heavy AT gun with 88mmL56 AA gun and sdkfz 7 tow
1  20mm AA gun with sdkfz 10 tow
3 Timed Ju-87 Air strikes

Defences


2 rock sangar
6 mortar pits with 2 batteries of 2 80mm mortars each
6 foxholes 

Reserves

1 Fallschirmjaeger platoon from 5 Parachute Rgt. with 4 medium trucks
1 Platoon Panzer Grenadiers  from 14 Co Herman Goring with 4 medium trucks
Panzer III platoon of 3 Pz III L
1 Fallschirmjaeger foot patrol
Supply column 1 medium truck

Scenario

Victory


The first battlegroup to exceed it's total battle rating must withdraw and loses the battle. The defenders cannot claim all objectives claimed victory.

Deployment 


German Initial defenders place their defences and the troops indicated as initial defenders (historical positions, if you want to use them, are marked in blue on 51RTR's map). otherwise within the NE half of the table.
Objectives are placed on Steamroller Farm, the road junction and the NE ridgeline (see map).
The First Assault wave arrives are places within a 20" edge from the SW table corner.
The British attackers take first turn.
German defenders reserved arrive d6 per turn from turn 4.
British Second assault wave arrives on turn 4 deploying from the British table edge (20" from SW table corner).

Special rules


Churchill mobility rule applies
Surprise attack - German player may not use the withdrawal special rule for soft skins. NO German truck or half track may withdraw from the table.


The battle field with Steamroller farm the highest hill in the centre of the board.


AAR - "My side of the hill"

A big game. I have first to declare an interest here. My grandfather Bill Kinrade was a radio operator in a Churchill tanks in HQ Squadron of 51 RTR so I have a great interest in the battles on 25th Tank Brigade and 51 RTR in particular. Although he is long passed away it is interesting to read historical accounts and match them up to his (very rare) recollections.  This is one of the standout battles of that campaign perfect for recreating a larger battalion sized battle. Co-incidentally my own collection of Churchill tanks are painted up as A squadron of 51RTR - Agile,  Audacious and Achilles several of which where knocked out during this action. 
However I played this game out with my German opponents provided by Warwick Kinrade find his Blog at Move to Contact He will be giving his account of the battle from Kampfgruppe Kleeberg's point of view. We decided to reduce the historical forces to make the game a large Company size game. To that end each Churchill troop was represented by a single Churchill tank and the Coldsteam Guards company (2 platoons above) by a single platoon. Support weapons where reduced in proportion to this. The Germans had only a platoon per company also and there tanks to just 2 Panzer III L. The AT guns  and mortar where down to just 2 of the  PaK 38 and 4 of the 80mm mortars. This gave us about 750 pts each. A manageable game for about 4 hours!

Warwick created the terrain I provided Steamroller Farm from my collect of (mainly Lancer Miniatures) Mediterranean  buildings. 

The starting positions Jaeger Regiment Herman Goring dug in along the ridge and around Steamroller Farm The 88 and some infantry in there historical position at the road junction. The Mortar pits on the farthest ridge and the 75mm PaK 40 on the forward ridge.
The road and the Nullah. The 88 is covering the road to the right (South) of the Nullah.
The open field West of the farm covered from the ridge offer an unappetising approach covered by Anti tank guns and swept by MG fire and under observation for mortar fire.
The Coldstream Guards begin there advance the bulk of the platoon use the Nullah for cover a reconnaissance patrol use the road for sped. The Carrier has the FOO. The Daimlers of the Derbyshire Yeomanry leads the way one each side of the Nullah. The FHQ and Signals unit sets up shop with the mortar line nearby.
The Coldsteam Guards and the other armoured car hull down on the other side of the Nullah. We deliberately left a gap at the British board edge to allow some movement to the west of the farm.
A close up view of the tough Jaegers I would struggle with grimly for the rest of the battle.
The Platoon HQ observers for the mortars we grouped these into 2 mortar batteries for this game it makes them more useful as one observer can spot for a pair or mortars.
Excellently dug in with interlocking fields of fire. These infantry block the approach to the farm from the south and west.
My plan would hinge on the Infantries ability to move up the Nullah under cover to outflank the farm they would seize the cross roads objective and turn on the farm objective. the Churchill tanks would follow up two tanks along the road two across the fields west. I hopes that the 4 25 pounder guns of the division would supress a lot of the fire. But I would need to get the farm to give me observation of the rest of the German position. Once a grabbed high ground the German defenders would be at the mercy of my artillery.  Historically the infantry went left and hooked around to the left as well but I felt this would take to long and be too exposed to fire directed from the ridge. All the tanks would follow in the second wave on turn 4. They would follow the historical plan on the map above two going left and two right up the road.
The FOO in his carrier had a lot resting on his shoulders his link to the big guns was a big part of my plan.
Infantry advance either side of the road. The Derbyshire Yeomanry aim to bring the 88 under mortar fire but the Germans strike first a mortar strike pinning the advancing troops. The observation came from the farm this meant that every move I made had to be made under mortar fire. The FOO got quickly into cover I the Nullah and began calling fire against the farm. The explosions of the first 25 pounder strike can be seen in the picture below. I knew that I needed to pin down as many defenders as possible from the commanding position before the infantry assault could begin. As in many a game the exchange of artillery begins matters.
The other AC takes a hull down position and starts calling mortar fire against the Anti Tank guns on the ridge. The farm comes under fire from the Y division guns around EL Aroussa.

Turn three and the Dive-bombers arrive. Perfectly placed the Register Target Point in the Nullah pinned a lot of British troops but the vital FOO team nearby made there cover save and continued there vital work

The Derbyshire Yeomanry AC catches a 88 round - too keen I impatiently exposed this car to the big gun. The other explosions from the 1 large and 4 small bombs just dropped by the Stuka. Lots on unpinning at the end of my next turn.
This 20mm on Ambush fire would give me head aches it's position also covered the shortest approach to the farm and delayed my assault whilst I tried to get troops into place to suppress or destroy it.  Perhaps the tanks would sort it out! But the Luftwaffe had other ideas and there was an 88 to deal with even the heavily armoured Churchill should fear the mighty 88.
Typical the Stuka sweep in again next turn and destroys Agile with a direct hit! Churchills cannot survive hits by large bombs either. The FHQ is pinned as well as Coldstream's in the Nullah.
The Sherman tank from the reconnaissance squadron is all that remains there is still that 88 to deal with.
The other two Churchill gather there courage for the advance into the teeth of the German Anti tank defence. They bare covered by the mortars of the Coldstream Company spotted for by the Derbyshire Yeomanry. They also try to supress the PaK's with HE and then MG fire as they get closer.
The remaining tank in the Road hiding out of sight of the 88 around the bend in the road. The 88 gun remained on ambush fire. The Sherman took a reserve move and waited for the infantry to advance and deal with the gun.
The LoS of the 88 is marked by a burning Armoured car. If the tank had been a Churchill I might have decided to chance it but I think now that would be a mistake. The advance along the road is falling behind schedule. I need to outflank the farm and that means dealing with the 88 and it's infantry on the objective. A Pz III arrives just to make matters more complicated. The infantry will need to be unpinned and get moving there are two sections with a 2" mortar from the carrier section and a Vickers If I can pinn the gun I will rush it with the tank.
The Churchill charge at full speed towards the farm. Having deciding to chance the Pak 40 fire and the rapidly reinforced antitank line the 50mm gun soon joined the 75mm. The Churchills really show their metal here struck time after time by both guns they rolled forward into MG range. Passing morale check after check. Tthe tank to the left "Audacious" was struck 9 times by 50mm and 75mm fire but rolled unstoppably up to the steep slope around the farm. Churchill mobility showing it's value on the steep slopes.

The 2" mortar from the carrier section trades shots with the 88L56 down the road. This uneven battle payed off with a tactical advantage No longer on Ambush he big gun is vulnerable. The Sherman takes his chance a reserve move right at the end of the German turn followed in my turn by 2 aimed fire shots kills the crew of the gun. Now the Panzer!
Audacious advances and Achilles covers. The Infantry in the Nullah have now outflanked the farm. The foxholes of the Jaegers have saved them from ferocious artillery fire but it can't last forever. Once the tanks reach the farm the infantry will attack up the slope out of the Nullah.
A Panzer III L silhouetted on the horizon takes on the Churchill as the German's try with more and more desperation to stop the advance.
The Panzer III L block the road and hold the objective. I give up on that part of the plan and orders start to flow to the forces around the farm. The carrier section along with a veteran section stand by at the foot of the ill to race to the farm. The Churchill's roll on seemingly unstoppably
The Pz III claims a victim drilling the Sherman at Point-blank range. The objective might as well be on Mars as the infantry can pin it but have nothing that cn destroy it! Meanwhile it sprays supressing MG fire into the Nullah
Both tanks have taken multiple AT hits but the front armour holds out. They are starting to get out of the arc of the AT guns on the ridge.
The Coldsteam's attack behind there own barrage. Not every defence is pinned and silenced but it is getting to now or never. German reserves are advancing from the other side of the hill soon the farm will be garrisoned even more strongly than before. Using the reserve move to quickly cross the ground I hope to oin the Carrier section in the hard cover of the building and hang there. If I can pin all the attacker I can claim the objective.

The carrier platoon reinforced with a veteran section try to seize the farm but advancing Panzer Grenadiers approaching from the other side of the farm are too close. I would never capture the farm despite heroic efforts. Audacious reach's its furthest advance as a breakdown immobilise it.. but close enough to support the infantry.

The British assault eliminates the tough defenders mostly falling victim to the barage
The moratrs of the Jaegers along with flanking MG fire pins the Coldstream's and the gamble fails. But I have mortar spotters in the farm and they begin to call in fire on the defenders of the ridge beyond and the inevitable German counter attack. The counter provided a Low ammo I played on the 75mm PaK which ended a dispiriting game being towed out the mortar barrages aimed from the fire. Pinned down taking 50% casualties the farm remained in British hands till the end of the game.
Audacious MG are vital removing infantry from the orchard field. The Churchill's 6lb gun made short work of the Panzer III allowing the Carrier section to make there rush.

Pinned and immobilised they pass there morale check and refuse to abandon the last surviving British tank
Royal Engineers they are fighting as infantry giving cover to the infantry assault with their Bren gun


The Panzer III stands fast I pray it does not start moving as my infantry have nothing left to deal with it. Fortunately the German s have suffered with poor orders rolls through the middle of the game. My pressure on the farm is preventing any movement down on the road.
The coup de grace - the RAF Hurribomber IID arrives. Taking out the  AT Gun facing the Churchill with a fearsome 40mm cannons.
A Biggle's style victory roll as the German player pulls a 5 BR loss from the air attack which breaks his will. Kampfgruppe Kleeberg withdraw back toward the Mahmoud pass.




The fial damage The British BR total for this cut down version was 49. A comfortable margin helped by some useful special events not adding to the total.
The German final total there BR of the reduce German force was 58

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