Wednesday 8 January 2020

Faid Pass, Jan 30th - 2nd feb 1943

Tunisia, January 30th - February 2nd 1943

On the 30/01/43 the Axis launched an attack of its own against Faid Pass, committing 21st Panzer Division, directly under 5 Panzer Army control, aided by elements from the Italian 50th Special Brigade (General Imperiali) and by army troops. The mission was to control the Faid Pass, to install security detachments on the chain of mountains from north of Faid Pass to Sened Village and to reconnoitre halfway to Sbeitla. At the conclusion of the operation, the attacking force was expected to withdraw all but strong security detachments. These detachments, with others from Brigade Imperali, would occupy key points in the Eastern Dorsal. Italians would hold the area of Sened Station, blocking the narrow plain. 

Faid was initially held by a single French mixed brigade from Gen. Joseph Welvert`s Constantine Division. Two battalion combat groups covered the approaches to Faid & Sidi-Bou-Sid. The northerly one covering Faid Pass and approaches across Djebels Kralif & Bou-Dzer (facing North,  North-west and west with a defensive coverage of 15KM) was built around II/2RTA (Chef de battaillon Bertrand). The southerly one: facing South, set to defend Rebaou Pass and the southern approaches to Sidi-bou-Zid  (again a defensive coverage of 15KM), built around I / 3rd Zouaves (Chef de battaillon Mignotte).
This brigade found itself confronted by two battle-groups from 21st Panzer and elements of the Italian 50th Special Brigade.

Our game
I came across an excellent article and disposition map for the defence of Faid by 1st Battery of 67RAA, so I`ve based this scenario purely on the northern sector and the defence of Faid.

Rough sketch map based on the one in the article I found

 For this game I expanded our table (again) as I needed to give the Italians a deployment zone. So our table for this game is 10ft long, then 8ft wide for the top 6ft (the northern edge) then 4ft wide for the rest.

Faid Pass looking east towards Faid

Sbeitia to Kairouan road through Faid Pass (looking east)

Faid and the French HQ

Looking east towards the pass

Looking south towards Faid

looking down on the pass from the north

French defenders of the pass
 4th company of 2RTA and 47mm DCA or 64RAA

Support weapons including a captured Italian 75mm field gun

French HQ and reserve, FT17s and AM50 plus a couple of platoons of Algerians

Chasseurs d`Afrique motorcyclists and the French reserve

The guns of 1st batterie 67RAA plus the DCA (defense contra avion) of 411 DCA

Axis forces
50th Special Brigade
557 Gruppo Semoventi
5th & 7th companies 92nd Infantry
M41 tanks, an AB41 plus motorcycle troops from Centauro Division

AB41 plus motor infantry from Superga Division
Panzer IIIs of 5th Panzer Regiment with a Kompanie from Tunisian Field Battalion T2

More Italian trucks awaiting their troops (I had to re-use infantry due to shortage), more panzers and a Marder III of DAK along with another Kompanie from T2

The final wave of DAK - Elements of 580 Aufklärungs abteilung; III/104 PG Battalion and 5th panzer

Played over 4hrs, 35 game turns, I played the French (as always), my lads Alex (21) and Chris (18) played the Axis.

Special rule: every 10 turns, the game stops and resets, both sides re-organise and the Axis get a new set of troops (additional to  what they already have), this represents the slow careful approach of the Axis wanting to preserve their forces, also the rough terrain and bad weather.

Minefield and decoy markers

First moves saw 50th Special Brigade advancing towards the pass, the Italian commanders decided to split their forces - half towards pass, the other half towards a higher pass at the centre of the table.
The Italians came under directed `75 artillery and 80mm mortar fire during these opening turns.

On turn 4, a 47mm DCC (defence contra char) fired and hit a Semovente, but was quickly smashed by return fire from others.

Italian sappers approached the first mine field, but were immediately attacked from previously concealed positions by Algerians of 2RTA

The Semovente and infantry Brixa mortars responded

Turn 7 saw a second Semovente knocked out by a direct `75 hit! A third SP upon firing rolled a double 1! (a subsequent role of 3 meant the main gun was jammed), this vehicle crew withdrew from the action.

Through turns 8-10, the Italians struggled unable cross mine-fields, being shelled by guns they could not see and their last Semovente, being now all alone, simply turned tail and ran away, at which point the Italian infantry lost heart and withdrew.

So the clock resets, the Italians recovered some casualties (as did the Algerians) and the game re-sets. The Italians also got reinforcements in the form of tanks and recce troops from the Centauro Division plus more engineers.

Again the Italian split their advance, one half moved straight for the pass, using their M41 tanks and infantry to support/cover the sappers in clearing the mines.

once they reached the pass the Italians once again came under attack from defenders including another 47mm DCC

By turn 6 the Italians in the centre had cleared most of the forward slopes

whilst those north of pass advanced virtually unopposed over the rough terrain (Algerian defenders had been drawn towards the pass)

Italians in control of the eastern end of the pass

The French throw their mobile reserve forward

which deploys at the western end of the pass

Turn 9 the Italians in the centre reach the heights and can finally look down into the valley beyond, they spot the battery of 67 RAA and promptly call down 100mm artillery on them!

The result

Once again at turn 10 the clock resets, the Italians control the heights either side of the pass and the eastern end of the pass is open. Both sides recover casualties, the Axis gains further troops - more Italian infantry are sent forward with more M41s. From the south in a sweeping move towards the central higher pass came the first elements of DAK, tanks from 5th Panzer supported by a kompanie from Tunisian Field Battalion T2!

The Italian armour tries to force the pass and meet French `75mm and Ft17 37mm cannon fire, they quickly lose two Ab41s

Italian troops reach the top of the ridge north of pass, but get a nasty shock - hidden in the farm the French have a captured Italian field gun which they are now going to use against its former owners!!

At the southern end of the table the Germans overcome the last Algerian resistance and their panzer IIIs join the Italian Semovente advancing through the high pass.

At the western end of the pass Italian M41s encounter 75mle1897s set up in an AT role! One tank is quickly dispatched, but then the gun`s recoil mechanism breaks!!

In the centre Italian and German infantry advance supporting their armour

The French commander sends everything he has left to confront this break-through

At the north end of the table after a vicious fight the Italian infantry over-run the farm, the captured Italian field gun only fired on shot before the breech mechanism jams and that gun is also useless....

At the western end of the pass, with the AT gun useless the M41s and Italian surge forward catching the French defenders in a pincer with the advancing panzers and Semovente and infantry from the front.

Game over, strategic win for the Axis.

On the whole I don`t see what more the French could have done, the unlucky roles which jammed/broke the French guns didn`t help.