Yesterday I was in Leeds for the latest megagame- this time set in WW2. As the title suggests the megagame covered the campaign in Sicily and Italy. Given it was my seventh game so far (doesn’t seem that long ago since I went to my first one: Operation Goodwood) I asked for and got a high level command, in fact I was head of the entire British effort, Commander of 15th Army Group. Under me were two armies and four corps as well as attached air assets. One thing that was noticeable about the game was the number of new players there on their first megagame- so only having got their briefing materials that morning. Being six games in I was something of a veteran by comparison, a somewhat unsettling idea… especially as it was my first time in the lofty heights of high command… My command team included Evan as my operations officer, Chris as Logistics/Amphibious Landings/ Naval officer; his economic acumen was superb- he made sure that everyone had enough supplies to fight and that the right amount of shipping was available when needed (he and I managed to go through the logistic side of things from the pre game briefings on Thursday that really helped both of us) and new player Ken as my intelligence officer (his job was to liaise with everyone and keep us all informed as to where the front line were) who did sterling work all game.
Organised Chaos at the 15 Army Group HQ.
The game started with the joint British and American forces already landed in southern Sicily, we had to then battle to take the island. Given the starting dispositions I followed a pretty much historical plan, sending the Americans west to clear the island and Palermo and the British to clear the east side up to Messina.
Given the entire air command and the US corps were made of entirely new players they acquitted themselves superbly, couldn’t of helped for better. The veteran British corps players were solid too, I felt I had slightly neglected them as I tried to help the new players as much as possible but given their methodical and steady progress up the east coast I felt I could just happily leave them to get on with it.
Our planning map.
I landed a division directly into Palermo, they were unopposed in the main but I got a reprimand from the RN for ordering their Battleships into the range of land based fighters without adequate air cover. At this point the US Provisional Corps player was rather overworked having control of five divisions by himself, that said he was by far and away my most aggressive player often bypassing the Army HQ to talk directly to me, given he had command of my only Armoured Division he was the idea player. Still to ease things Evan volunteered to leave Army Group HQ to go down to Corps level to help him out.
The Germans for the most part had moved to the east side of the island and were holding firm around Mount Etna and in front of Messina, at this point Ultra intelligence allowed me to identify that extra units had been brought across the straights of Messina, something that I had been previously unaware of due to not being able to get any air recce up there.
The fight for the island went a little slower than I expected but this was understandable as the new players got to grips with what they were doing. As what happened historically Mussolini was toppled and lost the reins of power; this brought a pause in the game. Italy was evacuated by the Germans and the Italians left there surrendered.
Chris and Rob (game control) sort out logistics.
During this pause there was the opportunity for a little diplomacy with the Italians, through the game controllers, offering to surrender and disband their forces in Italy. After Ken started to put out feelers for their terms we really needed a man to deal personally with them. At this point Evan was recalled with a for the Corps HQ for a special mission…
…The Italians were prepared to open up a port for us before an armistice was signed and disband all other units afterwards if we promised to help protect Rome. During this planning phases Ken and I got quite caught up in the fun of the diplomacy to the detriment of the operation planning for the invasion of the mainland, planning that wasn’t made easy as we knew we were losing some units (withdrawn as part of the Overlord preparations) but we didn’t know exactly what we were getting as replacements.
We had a plan to get the Italians to open up Taranto to rush in a Corps worth of troops pre armistice but we couldn’t be sure that it would be completely unopposed. Basically the Italians wouldn’t disband until we made a show of attacking and I wasn’t keen to attack until they had disbanded (especially as rumours of Rommel’s presence were abounding). At this point I decided that a bit of real politic was in order; to sweeten the deal I promised to land the 82nd Airborne in Rome (historically it was considered but abandoned after the 82nd Divisional Commander did a personal recce of Rome), something that I had no intention of doing (Sorry to all the Italian players).
So I pushed a British Corps across the straits of Messina into the toe of Italy at the start of the 1430hrs turn with the Italians agreeing to announce their armistice at 1459hrs (too late for the Germans to alter their orders for the 1500hrs turn). This worked well, so well in fact that the Italians (excited that all the US Paras would soon be helping them out) decided to swap sides and fight along side us. With much cheering when the announcement was made they rushed to move all their game tables from the Axis side of the room to the Allied side (carried on the tables was a ton of useful info on German dispositions and units that Ken quickly hoovered up). Also scheduled at 1500hrs was a British Corps in Taranto and a joint US/UK landing at Salerno.
The Italian players have moved across to the allied side of the hall.
Unlike in real life the German players were badly positioned to counter this. With three major ports in our hands the logistic battle was won and they couldn’t muster enough strength to push the amphibious landing and the coast back into the sea. This was partly due I think to the fact that four Italian divisions had attacked the Germans in Rome and engaging in street battles whilst they awaited the arrival of 82nd Airborne (here Ken and I were to be loudly bemoaning the nasty sandstorms on the North African coast).
The advance up the main body of Italy went pretty well, the scattered Germans suffering badly. The two lads running the air support really got into the swing of things here, now they had got the hang of the game their air support was devastating, and as the Italian airbases became open to them it became even more so with great support to the ground units and vital coast rounds being constantly interdicted.
Given how well we were doing (the Rommel rumours remained that but they did cause me to be more cautious that I should have been in the east) Ken and I discussed what to do with the 82nd Airborne that we were holding in reserve. The east was secure that Salerno beachead was holding well so they didn’t need the help… so we decided that we would supply the armour in Salerno with extra logistic points and ask them to push out of the beachead hard towards Rome where we planned to drop the Paras. This fulfilled our obligations to the Italians finally (even though I wasn’t intending to when I made them).
The arrival of the Paras redoubled the Italian efforts in the capital and the Germans were ejected south of the city. At this point END EX was called and I felt pleased that we had won and taken Rome.
I really enjoyed the game, in fact it was my favourite of all the ones that I have been too. The top level of command is more enjoyable, I was constantly busy and surprised at how fast time had passed, without the rhythm or writing orders and waiting for the results to come back of the Corps level players I was constantly on the go, getting info for all side and having fun trying to balance everything. All the new players were great- really through themselves into it and by the end of it were doing fantastically. The diplomacy side was a lot of fun, more than I expected to be honest. I imagine it would have been interesting for the German players, knowing that the Italians were probably going to swap sides but not knowing exactly when and under what terms- I’d be interested to know how it affected their planning….
The master map at the end of the game.
After the game we all went across to the pub for a game game drink and informal debrief….
Really looking forward to the two remaining northern megagames of the year. It will be interesting if the organisers decided to base any follow on games on the result of this game or whether to do a follow up game based on the historical post Salerno landing pre Anzio landing situation.