Convoy to Casabona
Rif War, Morocco, September 1921
An earlier version of this scenario has appeared in The Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers (SOTCW). I`ve re-written it based on further reading/research into the actual events and then changed the scenario based on all the games I`ve played over the time I`ve been out here, adding and incorporating some of tested ideas that I`ve and used in those games.
In the weeks following the panicked retreat from Annual, the Spanish rushed reinforcements to Melilla and built a series of defensive lines around the presidio. Eventually it became obvious that the Riffi were not going to attack the city itself and the immediate danger had passed. The Spanish began operations to move out from the presidio and expand their area of control. They also wanted to relieve any outposts and forts still occupied and rescue survivors. To carry out these tasks the Spanish formed flying columns of mixed formations from several types of unit – Legion, Regulares and regular army (cavalry, infantry and artillery), supported by heavier artillery, aircraft and even naval fire support when possible.
These columns were also tasked to build or re-built forts or bloaco (blockhouses) at strategic positions as they went along, expanding the Spanish perimeter. Progress was slow, columns would advance fight a skirmish with the natives who would retreat in the face of superior firepower. The column would then withdraw at nightfall only to have to fight for the same ground again the next day! The Riffi were skilled at using the terrain and were able to move very swiftly whilst remaining concealed. They were also good shots and had gained large quantities of modern rifles and ammunition during the Spanish retreat from Annual; they also began employing cannon against its former owners!
On September 8th a large re-supply convoy under the command of General Francisco Neila y Ciria was dispatched from Zoco el Had towards the important forward position at Casabona set on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley of the Rio de Oro some ten kilometers from Melilla. The Riffi have built several trench/defensive lines between the outpost and Zoco el Had, so a plan was formulated where a unit of Regulares would advance towards the enemy, whilst legionnaires and more Regulares go down into the valley and approach the position on the right flank.
As usual in this part of Morocco the terrain was mostly scrub hills with some cedar and pine woods. Casabona was an important way station between the mines along the Rio de Oro and Melilla a decent track - actually passable to vehicles! And a narrow gauge rail line led from there back to the presidio and the port.
After a hard fought battle, soldiers of La Legion and Regulares supported by army personnel managed to open a route through to Casabona and the supply column got through and later wounded were evacuated along the same corridor.
A mixed Spanish command has orders to open the track to Casabona and cover a supply convoy in and the extraction of wounded on the return trip. The game ends when the rescue column gets back to the line of departure (the Spanish gun line).
Scenario special rules
For this game I increase foot movement speed to 6” per turn, cavalry 6” at the walk/12” on the charge. This was just to speed up the movement based on what has happen in previous none mechanized games where the attacker took ages to actual get anywhere.
The armoured car This vehicle was abandoned by the Spanish during an earlier operation, unknown to them the Berbers have fitted it with a new machine gun and have effectively turned it into a pillbox – a nasty surprise when it opens up!
1st column (offensive) orders:
To advance up the track and drive off /destroy any enemy encountered so the supply column can proceed to the Casabona position. Positions can be occupied and held to prevent the enemy re-occupying them and stopping the convoys return with the wounded. Once the convoy has withdrawn past your position you have permission to withdraw also, covering the retreat.
Companies No5 & No8 (support), II Bandera La Legion
1st Mia (Company) – 2nd Tabor de Regulares de Melilla
“A” Squadron of Regimiento de Husares de la Princesa
2nd column (relief) orders:
Once the lead units are moving and working to clear a path through to Casabona, you are to move with all speed to re-supply the position and then load up and bring back as many wounded heroes as possible, if required sacrifice yourselves to achieve this! The infantry company`s main task here is to keep the road open and protect the convoys withdrawal and NOT to engage enemy not directly threatening the column.
Supply convoy – mules, wagons, ambulance
Company – Regimiento de infanteria No31 “La Corona”
2 x `75mm batteries in direct support
The Spanish can also call: 2 sortees from 2 bi-plane fighter bombers armed with machine guns and bombs, these arrive 1D6 turns after being called and will attack targets as required (guided by heliograph). The planes can deliver one turn of strafing and one bomb run either 2 x 15pdr high ex OR on a roll of 5-6 (1D6) mustard gas!!
For the purposes of the game Riffi and their Arab Allies can just be re-used as a unit (Hamsein or 50) represented by 10 figures is destroyed or its morale breaks another just moves onto the table roll 1D3 (south, east, north). Once the guns are lost (except the Lewis) they cannot be replaced.
Initially all Riffi are concealed and can only be spotted once they are within rifle range on 5-6 (1D6) OR via binoculars, etc up to 30” (again 5-6 on 1D6) - obviously once they fire their position is exposed.
Initial Riffi present on tabletop:
4 x 10-figure Hamsein (one has a Lewis LMG)
2 x 10-fig cavalry groups
3 x MMG teams (one of these is the broken down armoured car see notes above)
1 x 2.75” Vickers-Maxim cannon
1 x 70mm mountain gun
Looking east towards Casabona
Looking south across the lumber yard
Looking south across the ruined watchtower
Looking west towards the Spanish start line across Casabona
Ruined farm – note the abandoned Spanish armoured car from and earlier engagement
Various bits of war detritus decorating the tabletop
Spanish front line (game start/finish point)
Spanish start positions La Legion to the left of the track with orders to occupy the farm. Regulares to the right with their objective being the lumber yard, the cavalry would head straight up the track proceeding the convoy.
Turns 1-2 general advance, no contact
Legion, cavalry and Regulares all engaged by initially concealed Berbers, casualties are taken by all groups.
Legion and Regulares respond with accurate fire (including LMGs) whilst continuing their general advance, the cavalry decided to push past the snipers with their lead troop, the 2nd troop dismounts to clear a group of Berber by the track. Spanish artillery plasters the high ground sheltering the Berber snipers.
Dismounted cavalry and Legionnaires battling Berbers
With the initial snipers cleared the column moves off towards Casabona, keeping at least 2 moves behind the lead units.
The Regulares begin a frontal assault on the lumber yard
The 1st cavalry troop round a hill and are surprised by native horseman who charge right into them causing a wild melee!
On the left the Legion encounter more Berbers and find the farm defended also!
The Regulares on the right find the lumber yard also defended including a MMG
After some truly pathetic dice rolling the Spanish cavalry troop takes awful casualties in melee with the native horsemen!
The remaining cavalry fail their morale check miserably and route back down the track!
In the background of this photo you can see the dismounted cavalry troop who engage the native horse with rifle fire assisted by Legionnaires! Both groups then get a nasty surprise when the “abandoned” armoured car turns its turret and opens fire on them with its Hotchkiss!!
The farm is heavily occupied and La Legion begins a protracted assault, one platoon tries to flank the complex by is shelled by a previously concealed Berber Vicker-Maxim 2.75”!
The 2.75” scores a hit on the advancing Legionnaires causing casualties, other platoons take casualties from the farm defenders and the armoured cars machine gun!
The native cavalry having taken a lot of casualties break and route
The commander of the La Corona infantry company with the column stops the fleeing cavalry and convinces them to join his command
Spanish artillery tries to target the Berber gun (unsuccessfully), on the right the Regulares are storming the lumber yard!
On the far left a Legion platoon reaches the wrecked plane and much to their surprise rescue the pilot!
Fighting continues at the farm and lumber yard
The Spanish guns smash the Berber cannon
Groups of new Berbers can be seen moving into the area from all sides of the table, luckily the Spanish airforce has arrived
The Legion platoon on the far left engages newly arrived Berbers
Fighting continues around the farm, Legion casualties mount!
On the right the Regulares are in the lumber yard
The Spanish planes bomb one group of Berbers quite effectively
The Spanish guns change targets against the armoured car, close but no cigar this turn
The armoured is blow to bits
The Spanish planes strafe Berbers moving down the track, then return to base to rearm
The Legionnaires on the left drive off the Berbers, but fighting for the farm continues
The Regulares now control the Lumber yard
The convoy advances
The last few Berbers in the farm are dealt with
On the right Regulares platoons begin to move forward to expand their defensive bubble
The convoy reaches the lumber yard, remaining dismounted cavalry re-mount and join their comrades as part of the column.
On the far left Legionnaire machine guns cover the flank whilst their comrades occupy the farm and dig in
The convoy continues its advance now with cavalry outriders
The Regulares have formed a defensive pocket around the lumber yard, they exchange fire with approaching Berbers
On the left more Berbers move onto the table but come under machine gun and mortar fire from the Legionnaires supported by the Spanish artillery (well they fired but caused few casualties)
1st platoon of La Corona move off the track and dig in to protect the convoys passing
Just in time as another group of Berber is seen approaching from around the old watch tower hill!
The Regulares and Legionnaires are both exchanging fire with small groups of Berber
The HQ platoon of La Corona joins 1st platoon, who are now exchanging fire with Berbers
Spanish planes return and bomb another group of Berbers who were about to get within rifle range of the track!
2nd platoon of La Corona moves off the track to assume a covering position on the left flank
The remaining cavalrymen move to form a skirmish screen on the right
Everyone else is engaged in various fire-fights with groups of Berbers, the Spanish planes strafe and newly arrived group of native horse and route them!!
Skirmishing continues, the convoy continues on up the track.
The convoy arrives at Casabona – mission accomplished
Spanish casualties were pretty high, La Legion in particular was badly blooded and only their superior morale saved them. The re-purposed armoured car proved a nasty surprise - as it did historically in the actual battle. The Berbers did nothing wrong and had some good luck at times, who knows a failed morale check by La Legion could well have changed the entire course of the battle.