Monday, July 27, 2009

Grinding down

So, where did we last leave our intrepid heroes?

Oh, yeah. Trying to liberate Sicily.

Last post, we had just finished the August 10 turn. Allies had just taken Catania, and were one hex away from taking Palermo. (Which historically fell on July 22, btw.)

I'm going to organize this post by sector. First, the west as its story is the shortest.

On August 12, Palermo was completely cleared. Another motorized infantry division was dispatched north through the center of the island to help clear the coast as the armor wasn't going to be as effective in some of the terrain along the north coast of the island.

By the 14th, contact was made with the Luftwaffe rearguard at San Stefano, about 45 miles east of Palermo. Engineers had been left behind in Palermo to repair the port in order to accelerate needed supply to this front.

After the 17th, the rearguard had taken positions further east and units were being reorganized to maintain pressure on this front with the hopes of linking up with the Commonwealth troops fighting up the east coast of the island. Determined bombing by the Luftwaffe hampered progress along the north coast.

The 19th saw the rearguard pushed back to Acquedolci. 15 miles further on in 5 days. Progress would need to be faster as the Germans were evacuating in force. Orders come to accelerate intensity of the attacks.

(no further images here - they're included in the ones below as we're now down within a single picture.)

Germans execute a highly effective fighting retreat on the 21st and 22nd, pulling back another 7 miles to Sant'Agata while inflicting severe damage to the remains of 2nd Armored and 3rd Motorized.

In the East, things went kinda like this:

August 12, good progress up the coast. 8 miles in two days. Captured a forward air base and ejected some units from the slopes of Mt. Etna.

August 14. Slower progress. Only 3 miles today. Suffering heavy and effective bombardment.

August 17. Operational pause to accumulate supply and swap in fresh troops. Italians and Germans fighting hard in the rough terrain. Heard large explosions coming from off shore. Rumors floating among the troops is some ships were sunk.

August 19. Good progress. 7 miles over two days. Germans seen pulling back in large numbers leaving mostly Italians as a rearguard. Cost has been high, though. We're probably losing two units for every one Axis loss. Still, orders coming down to fight harder and take ground faster. We're hearing large numbers of German troops have been sighted crossing the straights into Italy and are creating reinforced positions on the mainland. The drive up the boot is going to be a tough one.

August 21. 7 more miles today. Commander says it's not enough, though. Not sure how much longer we can keep up this pace. Almost as many ambulance units moving south as troops moving north.

At this point Mike already had 7 VPs, and he only needed 13 for a major victory. I was nowhere close to Messina, and he had six units within range to be evacuated within two turns. That was enough to clinch the major victory for him, and there wasn't a lot I could do about it. As it was, I only had 20 attack capable units left on the map. As I was losing them at 4-5 per turn, I simply wouldn't have had anything left to contest anything.

So, we called it at that point. By my estimate, we played for about 50 hours, and we knew a LOT more about OCS when we finished than when we started. I could point to a large number of things I did wrong as the Allies. The biggest was not being aggressive enough early on. I figured I could catch up over time, but that's harder to do than you think. In the end, we were averaging close to 3 turns/night or about 40 minutes per player turn. Things definitely went faster towards the end as the terrain in question closed down to the tip of the island around Messina.

OCS Technique #2.

Keep artillery units in reserve on defense.

Mike developed a very effective technique of putting artillery units in reserve. He would release these units in his reaction phase and target likely attacking stacks. (Usually determined by where I'd managed to DG him along the front line with my aircraft or ships.) After I noticed what he was doing, I tried to counter by attacking these stacks with my aircraft to hopefully cause a DG on him, and removing the reserve marker. Given the restrictions on air support in the game (1d6 ground attacks per turn) and the fact that these targets aren't spotted made this harder to pull off than you'd think. Too many targets and not enough firepower.

I'll go through a post-mortem of sorts in my next post. Which, given my work schedule has lessened a tad, should be later this week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Implementing Operation Husky

So, Mike and I have been cruising through our Sicily campaign these last few weeks, and I finally found some time to begin blogging the sessions.

When we last left Sicily, we had just started August, and the Allies were behind schedule. Historically, the battle of Primosole Bridge started on July 12. I didn't cross it until the Aug 1 turn, right before we took the game down. So, I've got some ground to make up.

Our sessions picked things up with the August 3 turn. Time is on the Axis side, so I need to try to be aggressive. Here's the situation at the point we restarted.

Over these last few nights, we've been getting in 2 or 2.5 turns per night.

I won the initiative on Aug 3, and went first. (This is becoming a rarity.) All barrages failed on this turn – didn't score a single DG. No variable replacements, either. I did manage to bag 3 HQs on the turn, however, though this is becoming less and less of an issue for Mike as the territory he's needing to command begins to shrink markedly as the game continues.

In the west, I'm starting to move units in on Palermo, and cleaning up the Southern Coast. In the east, I'm moving in force on Catania while holding in the center.

On the Aug 5 turn, Mike won initiative and had me go first. This is going to become a theme as Mike is determined to not allow me a potentially disastrous (for him) double turn. Again, nothing on the replacements roll.

In the east, I'm pushing harder on Catania. In the west, I've cleared the southern coast, Mike has abandoned Marsala, and Trapani's in my sights. My goal here (as Trapani is lightly garrisoned) is send the bulk of the 2nd armored division north to Palermo, but send a contingent over to take the port at Trapani.

Now it's August 7. Mike wins initiative again, I go first. Again, nothing on the replacements roll. (FWIW, I need a 7 or higher on two dice to get something.) An eventful turn this time, however. I take the first Palermo hex, Catania and Marsala. Also managed to have two tank battalions bounced by a single Italian artillery unit in Trapani. Not good. (I think the die roll was something like surprise of two columns for Mike with either snake eyes or a 3 on the combat roll. Horrendous, but still not the dreaded 4 ones and a 6.)

On to the next day. Mike (again) wins initiative, and I go first. Big replacements roll, though. Boxcars. Sorta makes up for the last three turns. Only managed minor progress in the east. Basically cleaned up the lines. In the west, I've cleaned up everything but Palermo and the handful of units there are the only Axis units in the west part of the island.

August 10 sees Mike win initiative (again) and I go first. Again. I get an equipment replacement this time. This turn began a run of highly successful barrages. If I'm not mistaken, pretty much all the barrages for the next two turns are successful. Maybe one or two that don't at least cause a DG.

This turned into an expensive turn for me. I lost five units and only killed one unit along with taking most of Palermo. There's very little left for Mike in the west, but Mike's only giving up a hex or two a turn in the East. Not fast enough for me.

August 10 also sees the beginning of the turns where Mike gains 1 VP every turn I don't take Messina. And I'm not getting there any time soon.

I guess this is a good time to talk about the victory conditions.

The Axis get 1 VP for every turn from August 10 on that the Allies haven't captured Palermo, Augusta, Syracuse, Marsala, and Messina. They also get 1 VP for every step loss of naval units they can inflict. Finally, they get VP for removing German combat units from the island on August 10 or later. They lose 7 VP if they get 12 or less off, 5 VP if 13 or 14, and it gets better for them every two units up to 7 VP for removing 40 units from the island.

10 VP = a minor Axis victory, and 13 is a major Axis victory.

Given that I'm nowhere close to Messina, the game's going to hinge on how many units Mike can get off the map while still holding me back.

OCS Technique #1

Here's a rather effective technique Mike has developed.

On the eastern half of the map, he's putting artillery units in reserve. These units are typically at their maximum range, so I can't get adjacent to them in the cramped quarters. He then waits to see what I do on my air barrages and goes after the units likely to attack any hexes where I've caused a DG result. He releases the artillery from reserve in his reaction phase and hopes to DG my attacking units. Under the circumstances, this has really slowed down my advance up the eastern coast of the island.

It's been effective because I've been unable to win initiative. If I can get a double turn, he won't be able to do this on the 2nd turn of that sequence. It doesn't work if I can DG his artillery with air barrages (since this pulls a unit out of reserve), but as those have a 3-column leftward shift due to a lack of adjacent spotters, it's not all that easy to pull off. Also, it adds more targets for the air and naval barrages, forcing me to use on-map (and supply-expensive) artillery to target the hexes I'm actually trying to attack.

More to come. Tonight (as I write this) we're entering the Allied half of the August 17 turn, and it wouldn't surprise me if we determine tonight the victory level we're going to achieve. Though I might be able to push it out another night or two.