30 October 2012

El Alamein NZ History perspective

El Alamein: NZ perspective (from NZ history online) 

Enter Monty !

In late June 1942, the New Zealand Division fell back to the Alamein Line, where it took part in the first Battle of Alamein. At Ruweisat Ridge on 15 July 1942, and the El Mreir Depression a week later, the New Zealanders seized their objectives after successful night assaults. But on both occasions they were left unsupported by British armoured units, and when overwhelming numbers of German tanks appeared they had no choice but to surrender.

Inability to get tanks, anti-tank and other heavy weapons forward to the New Zealanders contributed to the debacles at Ruweisat and El Mreir. Faulty orders and a lack of initiative on the part of the exhausted British tank commanders lay at the heart of the problem. The 4th, 5th and 6th (NZ) Brigades suffered heavy casualties in these battles, and several thousand more New Zealanders were captured.

A stalemate developed on the Alamein Line. Rommel, conscious that a lack of reinforcements and supplies were weakening his position in North Africa, tried to grab the initiative before it was too late. On 30 August 1942 German and Italian forces breached the Alamein minefields and headed south in an attempt to outflank the Allied forces. 

Deciphered German codes – dubbed ULTRA intelligence by the Allies – allowed the Allies to track Rommel’s intended movements and they pounded his columns with artillery and from the air. Having made little progress and with his tanks short on fuel Rommel fell back to his original positions. 

This action marked the debut of the 8th Army’s new commander, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery. While he was fortunate to assume command just as conditions began to favour the Allies, Montgomery had more than good luck on his side. He brought a new uncompromising approach to the campaign, immediately indicating that there would be no thought of further retreat.

Breakthrough at El Alamein

The New Zealand Division played a key role in the second Battle of El Alamein, which began on 23 October 1942. Its task, along with South African, Australian and British divisions, was to 'break in' through the enemy defences, which were now covered by deep minefields. At 9.40 p.m. the skies around El Alamein lit up as around 900 guns opened fire on known Axis positions. Twenty minutes later the infantry began their assault, advancing forward under a First World War-style creeping barrage. While the New Zealanders seized their objectives, the overall battle did not develop as Montgomery expected. Congestion, poor coordination and cautious leadership prevented Allied armoured units from taking advantage of gains made by the infantry.

Montgomery planned a new attack – Operation Supercharge – further to the south, which would essentially repeat the process of the initial attack. He looked to the New Zealand Division's experienced headquarters to plan the ‘break in’ component of Supercharge, although the division itself was too weak to provide the necessary punch. Two British brigades, with New Zealand support, would carry out the attack while New Zealand infantry battalions protected their flanks.

Operation Supercharge began at 1.05 a.m. on 2 November, with the British infantry brigades forcing open a path for British armour to pour through. Having breached the prepared Axis positions, the tanks ran into Rommel’s panzers. Both sides incurred heavy losses in the ensuing battle, but by evening the Afrika Korps were facing defeat. Realising his battered armoured units were fast running out of fuel, Rommel decided to withdraw. Despite Hitler ordering the German-Italian troops to ‘stand fast’, by 4 November Axis forces in North Africa were in headlong retreat. Many Italian troops, without adequate transport, were taken prisoner. Rommel’s defeat at El Alamein would prove to be the decisive moment of the North African campaign.

The Axis position in North Africa was furthered weakened when Anglo-American forces landed in Vichy-French Morocco and Algeria in November 1942. To meet the new threat, Axis forces poured into Tunisia, forming a new army commanded by General Hans-Jurgen von Arnim. The Germans and Italians were now fighting on two fronts.

Enthused by El Alamein

Enthused by anniversaries of El Alamein and Tobruk, memories of growing up in South Africa with stories from veterans that had been "Up North". A cousin's farm was even called Tobruk. These battles left an indelible mark on the psyche of the ANZAC and South African soldiers, who took part in the desperate defence of Tobruk and the First Battle of El Alamein in 1941, and the Second battle of El Alamein in 1942.

My first wargaming teeth were also cut on these battles, using Lionel Tarr and Donald Featherstone's rules. I have since repainted a lot of my armour to reflect the European theatre of war, only to now again become gripped by the Desert War.

Painting these guys in the desert khaki rather than the jungle green

Desert Khaki here too, and some conversion to represent Sikh or Punjab soldiers

I obtained a (rather large) box of 8th Army, Australian and Gurka troops off trademe (Ebay equivalent in NZ) and started painting these up. Decided to honour the memory of the Anzacs and S.African Brigade, and also to throw in a few Indian to flesh out a mostly colonial battle-force.The standard Matchbox 8th Army does form the core of this force. Another work in progress...

28 October 2012

Historical Battles

The next 3 years will see the 70th Anniversary of some of history's most significant battles 
(Certainly from a WW2 Wargamer's point of view.)

Battles that have proved decisive as turning points in history, made great and famous generals, and ruined others. Battles that may have gone differently, if supreme commanders had not not interfered, if better lines of supply been available, if, if, if...

(Now that was a V for victory sign, wasn't it?)

The stuff that wargames are made of...The variables, the role of luck, the role of fate, the role of intelligence, the role of the weather, the role of...you know!

20th Century warfare's decisive land battles loom ahead, starting with the 2nd Battle of El Alamein.
Many wargamers are already getting ready for Kursk, the greatest tank battle ever!

I have purposely themed my repaint and expension of German Armoured Forces so that they will do for the North African, Italian and Eastern Fronts.

Get Ready, El Alamein is at hand!

20 October 2012

More Militaria Gems

A few more Gems I acquired in the last month through the generosity of others:
Reference works with amazing detail and information on uniforms

19 October 2012

Collectable Wargaming Rules and Manuals

I was fortunate to have recently been the recipient of a treasure trove of Militaria and Wargaming books.

 Among these were these two gems:

Perry's Wargaming rules for 54mm Miniatures

Probably considered too large a scale for most of today's wargamers, but ground breaking at the time (1977)

14 October 2012

Blast from the past

I have been rearranging my book collection lately, having recently been donated some wargaming and military history gems.

I was introduced to wargaming in the late 1970s, by my friend Barry van Wyk. His father, the late Phillip van Wyk, was a keen wargamer, and at the time refighting the WW2 Desert War in North Africa, fielding an Allied Army (British 8th Army)

We were allowed access (as teenagers) to his prized books and 1/72 models, including the rules used at the time from Featherstone's Wargames  and Advanced Wargames, including those for airborne operations, published in 1977

Sometimes I wonder about all those Allied models that appeared in Barry and Hugo's Armies, and if Phillip knew that they were at times residing on the games table at our house to counter my growing passion for the Wehrmacht.

I trust Barry and Hugo (his brother) have preserved Phillip's collection of militaria and literature including the rule books.Of particular interest in one of these books by Lionel Tar and Donald Featherstone was a picture of Phillip umpiring a re-fight of the battle of Waterloo at the South African museum, captioned "South African wargamers refighting the Battle of Waterloo" or something to that effect. Napoleon won on that occasion.

These are the covers of the books that we used at the time:
(I don't have actual copies, unfortunately, other than the Complete Wargaming )

"War Games" is the book I cut my wargaming teeth on

Followed by this one once we'd mastered the basics of Featherston and Tarr's rules.

Both books had been liberated from Phillip van Wyk's collection, and lived at our house for weeks and months on end, where the two of us had built a landscaped gaming table. 

Philllip's sand box was probably a more suitable set of terrain than our first attempt.
Barry and I thought it a good idea to build a great big paper mache mountain in one corner.
This took weeks to dry, and left us with well on an  eighth of our gaming table only useful for mountain troops. I found it particularly a hazard to my Falschirmjaeger.

I did build a V1 installation up there on the Mountain once, (A modified 1/100 Kawasaki Hien) but Barry only allowed me to use it for one game. Funny that. I felt the same about his M40 SP  Howitzer.
So I got a Jagdtiger with my next pocket money. The arms race was on.

We got this volume from the local public library. 
I think I may hold the record for the most successive renewals of any book in their collection ever !

The ideas in this book got me going, given what an important role the rail system played during WWII. 
We could never afford to play any rail based games as teenagers. The Lima and Hornby  train sets that were for sale then were way out of the reach of our thin wallets; and no-one was parting with theirs second-hand.I particularly lusted after Lima's "Leopold" Rail Gun. 

I'm living out that childhood desire now, having recently acquired a train set off Trade Me (NZ equivalent of Ebay) that is just great for the purpose. 

No Leopold as yet though, as nice as it is, it is only good for a  scenario in a table-top WW2 game.

We have had one rail-head skirmish battle at the Kapiti Wargames Club so far, set in the desert. 
Wonderful thing, disposable income at last...

 This book is still on my shelf:

I believe Donald Featherstone is in his 90s (if he is still alive.) Thanks Donald, wherever you are; and all of those gamers that came before (and after) you, that have made wargaming such an absorbing and enjoyable hobby!

11 October 2012

Of Cabbages and Kings: Gotta brag a little

"The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things:
 Of ships, and shoes, and sealing wax
Of cabbages and kings..."

Have to brag a little, know this has absolutely nothing to do with wargaming, but my wife's catering company, PartyPerfect, catered for the Prime Minister of New Zealand yesterday.