The Race To Messina was a Rapid Fire!

WW2 campaign played at the Club

 

based on  Operation Husky, the 1943 Allied invasion

of Sicily, and the largest seaborne assault of WW2

The Race To Messina

 


 

181,000 American and British troops were landed on the southeast corner of Italian and German held Sicily on July 10th. By comparison, the following year's D-Day landing involved 50,000 fewer men assaulting less than half the stretch of coastline covered by Operation Husky.

 

At the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, with the Tunisian campaign nearing a conclusion, the Allies began to look ahead to the first step on the road to liberating Europe. Sicily was a short hop from Tunisia. With their massive superiority over the cautious Italian Navy, Allied warships could dominate the seas around the island; apart, that is, from the Straights Of Messina, the nearest point to mainland Italy and probably the heaviest defended stretch of water encountered during the war. The capture of Messina would be almost guaranteed to instigate the overthrow of Mussolini's regime by the war-weary Italians.

 

It was decided that Eisenhower's North African command be used to invade Sicily, the Americans being allocated the left flank and the British the right. Overall control was given to General Alexander but the real fighting was to be done by George S Patton, commanding the US 7th Army, and Montgomery leading the veteran British 8th Army.

 

Both of these strong-willed, patriotic and determined rivals would turn the campaign into a race to Messina.

 

 

The Game

 

The basis of the Club campaign was to reproduce this race, one side playing Patton's Americans and also the Axis facing the British, the other side playing Montgomery's 8th Army and the Axis facing the Americans.

 

The main combat area of Sicily was divided into 5 maps, two in the American zone, two in the British, all leading to the final combined map representing the northeastern part of Sicily, with the ultimate objective  -  Messina.

 

A 6th map nominally represented the Palermo area to the west of the island. This was more or less abandoned by the Axis once it became apparent that the main drive by the Allies was in the centre and east.

 

Each map was fought over a 6ft by 8ft table. A team had to capture the whole table before moving on to the next. The overall objective was to be the first to reach the port area of Messina.

 

Rapid Fire! fast play rules were used with 20mm figures and models. The figure scale however was altered so that a Rapid Fire! battalion actually represents a campaign regiment or brigade.

 

 

 

GAME 1 - The American Assault, 10th July 1943

 

The first shots of the campaign were fired by the Allied navy, pounding the Italian defences with a succession of 1's on the dice. Steve B, in the guise of Patton, directed operations from the comfort of the Admiral's cabin on the USS Charles Irving. Max B, the Axis C-in-C, decided to take more direct control and commanded the reserve troops, mainly composed of crack German troops. The not so hot Italian troops held a series of strongpoints scattered across the table.

 

The invasion plan was to assault all three ports from the sea and simultaneously land paras at key points inland.

 

Once ashore Andy's Big Red One (1st Division - and a fearsome sight indeed) facing entrenched Italians under Gary C and Mark, was ordered to thrust cautiously towards Comiso whilst Gary B and the Sherman's of the 45th and 3rd Divisions crashed hell-for-leather towards Caltaisetta.

 

Alan led the paras in a fierce battle with some tenaciously held Italian strongpoints. One anti-tank gun, ordered to hold to the death, and despite repeated attempts by its commander Capitano Bob Lortoni to surrender to anything vaguely American (including a double cheeseburger at Luigi's roadside eatery) proved invincible. Under a hail of steel and fire it still succeeded in beating off all that dared attack; paras with demo charges and flamethrowers, Sherman tanks, self-propelled artillery, and even Ronald McDonald.

 

The paras, in spite of heavy losses, managed to consolidate into small defensive groups. Caltaisetta was captured and held in the face of a determined thrust by Panzer Grenadiers. With the end of the first day nigh, Max realised it was too late for an effective counter attack and ordered a withdrawal, thus preserving as many troops as possible for the next defensive line.

 

 

 

GAME 2- The British Assault, 10th July 1943

 

The British, led by Gawy C in Montgomewy mode, also decided to attack on a broad front. Bob L's Canadians were given the most important task, a direct assault on the port of Syracuse preceded by a heavy naval bombardment. Royal Marines commanded by Mark S drove their Buffalo amphibious vehicles straight up the river Iminio, unfortunately the Germans had already laid out their beach towels, and the advance was halted. The remaining British landing craft deposited their troops under Max B and British paras were dropped around Ponte Diddino, in a forlorn hope of holding the bridge until relieved by the Canadians.

 

As in the American sector, Italian troops defended a series of strong points. German Panzer Grenadiers lay in wait to the north. The Axis commander, Steve B in the absence of Gary B (still mourning the latest defeat of FC Inter Bayern Rochdale), decided on an all-out effort to prevent the British capturing the map.

 

Things started badly for the British, and didn't improve as the game wore on. The air landings dispersed the paras and left them easy prey to theThe Marines Land Italian bunkers and trenches. This was compounded by German reinforcements arriving on the earliest turn possible and the paras were forced to go to ground. German Tigers rumbled forward and an anti-tank screen established along the river Cava. Canadian infantry backed up by Churchills struggled past weak Italian resistance in Syracuse but met the German panzers head on. In a fierce exchange of fire half the Canadian vehicles were hit before a lucky strike on a Tiger induced the Germans to retire back across the river. The Marines eventual occupied Ragusa when the defenders withdrew but Panzer Grenadiers prevented any further advance. This signaled the end of major fighting. In contrast to the Axis forces facing the Americans who pulled back to prepared defences on the next map, Steve B decided to hold a makeshift line along the river Cava. Only time will tell who took the right decision. 

 

 

GAME 3- The American Thrust Inland 17th July 1943

 

Having decided not to commit all their reserves against the landings, the Axis were in a position to hold their next defensive line in strength. Max peppered the main road with light forces whilst the bulk of the German & Italian troops dug-in along the high ground to the north.

 

Steve B's plan for the American attack was a drive by tanks across the hills to the east, whilst two Divisions moved on Cesaro via a bridge. The 1st Infantry Division, under Patton's personal leadership, were to sweep round the left to advance west along the coast road.

 

The 1st Infantry brushed aside weak opposition before being held up at a narrow defile. Tenacious defence allowed Italian and German tanks to further disrupt the advance. The attack petered out.

 

The difficult terrain, whose effect was underestimated by the American commanders, and careful advance by Chris, Alan and Andy meant the eastern attack barely got into gear. The central thrust fared little better, ending in an all mighty traffic jam as the tanks and vehicles of the 3rd and 45th Divisions tried to squeeze over the bridge. Gary and Mick drove on their units only to be ambushed in the woods to the north. The whole advance fizzled out at this point with the Axis forces forming a strong defensive line along a River and woods to the east. 

 

 

 

GAME 4- The Brits Bust Out 17th July 1943

 

Unlike the Central command's withdrawal to prepared positions, the Axis in the east decided to form an extemporised defensive line along the river Cava. They hoped to stall the British advance - who, having suffered greater losses than the Americans to the west, found themselves penned in by geography.

 

However, the Canadians hard-fought but successful battle for Syracuse meant that reinforcements could be quickly landed at the port. This allowed a strong broad-front advance north against the commanding positions held by the Germans and Italians. Beyond lay the open terrain of the Catania Plain, and the promise of an easier ride.

 

German anti-tank guns covered the bridge at Ponte Diddino and the road leading north whilst medium tanks and assault guns held the high ground. Tigers faced the battered but determined Canadian Churchills. Shermans advanced whilst Highlanders raced for the bridge over the Cava, which German engineers had only managed to partially demolish.

 

Though the advance across the river began to falter, overwhelming Allied strength on both wings and heavy artillery bombardment caused the Axis to order a retreat. Most of the Germans managed to retire north but the Italians, with limited transport, were roughly handled by the advancing British.

 

 

 

GAME 5- The Americans Continue to Advance 24th July 1943

 

"Well I say we bring this wooden horse thing into Troy."

 

"I've decided, the Grande Armee marches into Russia."

 

And, to be added to the list of history's follies ... "We don't need to garrison Brolo."

 

German High Command (no Italians units having survived previous battles on this front) in the guise of Max and 'Deputy Dawg' Gary reasoned that any defenders in Brolo would get shelled to Valhalla by the allied shore bombardment. True, but once the battle began it might have been worthwhile rushing a few troops to defend against an assault from the sea. Patton immediately saw the potential, and to assuage any niggling doubts suffered by the Axis commanders, he made sure that they heard about the American's intention to concentrate on an armoured thrust on Santa Agata.

 

A convoy of Shermans and jeeps duly made its way along the coast road only to be stopped by the blowing of a bridge. Harassed by Germans in the woods straddling the river, they nonetheless turned south and began to wind their way up Mount Soto. A force of Tigers and assorted armour was soon their way in an effort to stop their advance.

 

To the south, Shermans started their advance only to become embroiled in a massive tank dust-up with panzers hiding along a forest edge.  With the German panzers fully committed, Patton pounced. Buffalo amphibious armoured vehicles swam ashore disgorging their load of Rangers who quickly occupied Brolo. Desperate attempts by German infantry to regain the town were repulsed with ease, and with the American tanks using their superior numbers to swamp the panzers, German High Command opted for discretion over valour. A retreat eastwards was ordered.

 

Victory for the Americans meant they could move onto the next, and final, map. Messina was almost in their sights!

 

 

 

GAME 6- The British Held Up ... Again. 24th July 1943

 

The Americans had reached the final furlong so it was vital for Montgomery to keep up the pressure. Though faced with the flat open terrain of the Plain of Catania, the rivers crossing from east to west presented a problem.

 

The British decided the solution was to commit both their Marines and glider-borne troops for the first time in the campaign.

 

The glider troops swooped on to Gerbini airfield, it being reasoned that a safer landing was more likely. True, however the presence of hordes of newly arrived well armed and tough German Paras turned the flat, empty airfield into a killing zone. Once again, the folly of landing airborne troops within spitting distance of the enemy was graphically demonstrated. Any hope that British Shermans moving up would gallop to the rescue were soon disabused when the bridge over the San Leonardo was blown. The glider troops were all but wiped out.

 

After the habitual feeble resistance of the Italian brigade holding Augusta (no support and crashing off-shore naval bombardment not helping their situation) the Canadian Churchills rushed forward (at Churchill tank rush speed i.e. not much faster than Churchill himself would have managed in a wheelbarrow).

 

The Germans, wise to the risk poured heavy fire on the Canadians destroying several vehicles on and around a bridge, and thus creating tank constipation.

 

Though the San Leonardo line had been breached inflicting heavy casualties on the defenders, the disciplined withdrawal stalled Monty's already tardy advance. He had failed in pushing the Germans off the map. Patton now had a free run, straight to Messina.

 

 

 

GAME 7- Messina Or Bust. 31st July 1943

In was in the bag. Messina was over the next hill. Patton could almost smell the pizza. Metaphors had never been so mixed.

 

The German command (now under the leadership of Gary C, Max having been sent to the Eastern Front i.e. the frozen wastes of Hertfordshire) acknowledged that Messina was doomed and the game was up. The task was now to rescue as much of the German XII Corps as possible, and at least end on a positive note.

 

To this end, ferries began to clog the harbour at Messina. The last remaining Italian regiment was positioned around the main road junction. Appropriately, Brian was put in command of these sacrificial lambs. Gary judiciously placed around half the German forces in defences whilst the rest gathered up their duty frees and awaited their turn to board the ferries.

 

General Patton could sniff that evacuation was in the air (and we're not talking about Italian potty breaks). He therefore ordered his armoured units to drive directly down the main road whilst the infantry pushed the Italians down the less direct routes.

 

The Shermans managed to reach the bottom of a valley before coming under intense fire from 88's lying in wait to the southwest. Patton used his artillery to lay a thick barrage of smoke which shielded the surviving M4s from further indignities as they slowly crept forward. The Italians meanwhile put up a spirited resistance before weight of numbers told and they crumbled. The Americans than released their motorised infantry who swept down the coast.

 

The evacuation was going well and Gary was determined not to allow the Germans to get entangled with the enemy. Vehicle after vehicle piled onto the boats as the sound of approaching gunfire grew louder. The Shermans burst through the smoke in front of the forest and a fierce fire-fight ensued, a Tiger tank proving particularly effective. In an effort to avoid the murderous German fire a battalion of tanks was sent sweeping round the forest.

 

By now the American motorised infantry had reached the outskirts of Messina, and with the help of supporting armour cautiously nudged their way towards the harbour entrance. At one point a Sherman managed to damage a ferry in the harbour, forcing the evacuation to be temporarily suspended. German light armour forced the Sherman back and loading was resumed. The main American armoured thrust finally broke through to the northern fringes of Messina and all German resistance ceased.

 

The last ferry left the harbour, the Yanks drove into town.

 

Patton had won the race to Messina, and won the campaign, but at least Montgomery's British had the satisfaction of knowing that the Americans had allowed more than half of the surviving Germans to escape back to mainland Italy.