'O' Group - the Gazala Line 1942

A game played by Dave C, Graham and Peet at a club Sunday in October 2021. I am grateful to Dave for the account that follows: -

The scenario was loosely based on the initial assault by the Italian Ariete Armoured Division on the Free French fortification at Bir Hakeim at the southern end of the Gazala line in May 1942. As I had no Free French figures or support, the British stood in for them, with roughly equivalent support units.

The British position consisted of a system of trenches and gun pits surrounding a couple of buildings housing the company HQ and this portion of the fort was garrisoned by a company of British infantry supported by a machine gun platoon, two 6lb AT guns and two 25lb gun howitzers, all under the command of Major Peet. Three off-board medium artillery strikes and the battalion mortars were also available to Peet. The entire position was surrounded by a minefield. A scenario rule allowed the attackers to move through the minefield, at some risk (as this was done in the actual attack)!


The attackers, under the command of Generalissimo Graham consisted of a Bersaglieri battalion of the 8th regiment supported by a Company of M13/40 tanks (6 sections) and a platoon of 65mm infantry guns. In addition, the components of a heavy weapons company (MMGs and 47mm mortars) were distributed amongst the infantry platoons. Graham had 3 artillery strikes and regimental mortars also available. Prior to this engagement, the Ariete Division became disoriented during their drive south and initially attacked a position held by the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade in error. Once the mistake was discovered, the Italians disengaged and moved further south, attacking Bir Hakeim later in the day. Hence, there was no time for a preliminary bombardment and less time to achieve their objective (the occupation of one of the Company HQ buildings).

Graham planned to launch a rapid infantry attack aimed at the centre of the British trench line that appeared to be lightly defended. Initially this made good progress through the minefield without setting off any mines. A supporting attack by the Italian left flank company faltered when the Company commander had an attack of hesitancy! And then just to add to the Italians frustrations, their leading infantry platoons came under cross-fire from machine guns and rifle fire.  

Graham countered this with fire from his 65mm guns and getting his off-board artillery to lay down a thick smoke screen which lingered for 3 phases! Taking advantage of this, one Italian platoon bravely pushed through the minefield and broke into the British trenches and then, finding themselves unopposed, headed further down a trench line leading directly to the British HQ. Unfortunately, the other forward Italian platoons could not support them, as they suffered from exploding mines, keeping them pinned outside the British perimeter. 

Peet had a British platoon in a parallel trench system. Despite having suffered shock from enemy fire, mirroring their WW1 forebears, they launched  desperate trench-to-trench assault on the Italians threatening the HQ and, against the odds, managed to force their enemy back up the trench system.

Meanwhile, elements of the Italian tank company began to arrive and exchange fire with the emplaced British AT guns. The Italians gradually began to take losses both in tanks and in the infantry marooned in the minefield but they were also grinding the British defenders down. By the end of the day, there was no clear winner, with the British worn down to only three operational infantry sections and their supporting artillery while the Italians had lost four of their six tanks and had not gotten closer to their objective than their earlier 'high tide'. Both sides had two FUBARs at this point, so we called the outcome an honourable draw!