Flames of War  -  Mission Improbable




Rather than stick with the usual FoW missions we decided to embark on a series of games, loosely based on actual encounters, which provide something a bit different.


The following is a little know early/mid war clash that pitted the British against the French and saw tanks taking on bunkers.




OPERATION VICHYSSOISE (known to history as Operation Ironclad)  May 1942


Churchill, in one of his periodic episodes of anxiety, was worried that the Japanese were about to base submarines and other warships at Diego Suarez on Vichy controlled Madagascar off the east coast of Africa.

Due to the strength of the coastal batteries the British dared not risk a direct assault on the port and instead opted to disembark a few miles distant in order to assault the landward side.


The Game
Diego Suarez lies on a peninsular fringed by mangrove swamps, pampas grass, woods and hills. Before the First World War the French had built fortifications spanning the neck of the peninsular. Called the Joffre line it was made up of bunkers and barbed wire connected by trenches. Now overgrown, theses defences were hurriedly patched up and the bunkers armed with 75mm guns or machineguns.


The game threw up a different set of challenges; the terrain was unusual and fortifications were involved, the overgrown nature of the bunkers led to them being missed by British air reconnaissance so the invaders stumbled across them by surprise, the French also suffered a surprise when a single Royal Navy ship risked the shore batteries to land a party of Marines at the port.


The Forces

The British consisted of the following platoons, on table from the start;

3 infantry, 1 mortar, 1 scout carrier, 1 infantry tank (3 Valentines), 1 light tank (Tetrarchs).


One platoon of reserves (chosen at random by drawing a card, one of which could be returned to the bottom of the pack and the next drawn instead) arrived each turn either;


Infantry, HMG, infantry tank, light tank, four 25pdrs, Royal Marines (arriving by ship at the harbour jetty).


The French defenders were deployed across the table in Diego Suarez, along the Col de Bonne Nouvelle straddling the main road to the port  and occupying the Joffre Line. The French force comprised of;


2 platoons of Senegalese Tirailleurs, 2 platoons of the Madagascar Regiment, two batteries each of four 75mm guns, two 47mm AT guns, four medium mortars and four MGs.


The Senegalese were rated as confidant/trained (as were the bunkers) and the local Madagascar Regiment as reluctant/conscript. Any troops occupying the Joffre line were kept off-table until the bunkers opened fire or the British approached to within 16". The C-in-C and artillery staff teams occupied (and could not leave) the barracks in the middle of Diego Suarez.

In terms of FoW points the sides were pretty even at just under 2,000pts each



During the real battle the British tanks attacked the infantry dug-in along the road leading through the Col De Bonne Nouvelle, eventually forcing them back. As they advanced to the next line of hills the bunkers of the Joffre Line opened fire and most of the tanks were knocked out. The British sent one infantry unit through the swamp to their right. This was lightly held by the French and the British managed to get through to outflank the fortified Line. The Marines landed, brushed past some 75mm guns and captured the barracks, upon which the French commander hoisted the white flag.


Our game followed a very similar pattern; the Col De Bonne Nouvelle was quickly overrun before the tanks came under fire from the 75mm guns in the bunkers. The model Valentines proved slightly more resilient than the actual ones, though most were bailed out at one time or another. The reinforcing tanks were stopped by artillery fire, and the French 75s proved their worth by also taking out half the 25pdr battery who made the mistake of deploying too near to the shorter ranged French guns.


On the right flank the swamp was avoided and a more direct assault supported by light tanks was made instead. This was mirrored by an infantry assault on the left, both attacks eventually being successful.


The Marine reinforcement card was bottom of the stack and so by the time they landed most of the Vichy troops had left Diego Suarez, though a couple of 75s loosed off some shells as the ship moored alongside the jetty. The Marines quickly disembarked and knocked out the guns before advancing on the building representing the barracks. This was duly captured signaling the end of the game.


These games are not about winners and losers (a concept difficult for most wargamers to grasp) so I don't think I can be accused of fudging the issue by declaring that, as the game proceeded much as real life, the result was a draw.

Thanks to Bob, Frank, John and Pete for entertaining a spirit of adventure.