Battle of Troina – Sicily 1943

After General Patton’s “end run” across the Island of Sicily, taking the western half and the old city of Palermo on the run, his II Corps headed eastward entering the mountainous northern half of the island. Quickly the pace of advance was reduced to a slow ridge line, or river line, or old hilltop town clearing process. Skillful German rearguard actions, holding the key terrain features, maximized German-Italian efforts to delay both the American and British advancing armies as preparations continued for the cross strait Messina final evacuation to mainland Italy.

The Battle for Troina was a week-long bitter struggle to seize control of the old Sicilian hilltop town and nearby “mountain” terrain. Being somewhat central on the endgame Allied frontal map lines of Sicily, with the Americans battling along the northern coastal road at San Fratello, and the British around the flanks of volcanic Mt. Enta to the southeast, the town of Troina was seen by both sides as a linchpin or hinge to stall or finish the Sicilian island campaign.

Linchpin or hinge on the military maps, the American 1st “Big Red” Division wanted the town and access to the eastern narrow highway SS120 beyond towards Cesaro and eventually Messina itself. The German 15th Panzergrenadier Division, their hilltop town and nearby low mountains having a view of the American advance, planned the defense with deadly precision. The Americans didn’t disappoint them, their August 1st first probing frontal attack was quickly rebuffed when launched by the 39th Regiment (transferred in from US 9th Division to support the 1st Division).

II Corps advance prior to the Battle of Troina. Map from the US Army history WWII MTO.

Troina as viewed from the American general approach during WWII. Lots of open hilly ground overlooked by the German defenders. (US Army photo)

The American viewpoint towards Troina and the 39th Regiment (attached 1st Div.) tried a direct August 1st assault up that slope. Compare modern-day Troina view with previous historical photo.

Historical WWII picture of Troina looking westwards. Another axis of American attack (16th Regt.) approached from that direction with little success before German retreat.

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Calore River 1943 revisited

Last time WR’s Calore River crossing 1943 scenario was played the Germans eked out a narrow victory. For the Orccon 2017 convention, Daniel (WR’s son) wanted to run the same scenario since he missed the first game. Joined by FOW veteran Bruce, teamed with young Jesse, the scenario replay was hard-fought for ten turns. In the end, a new victor, American or German was determined, but the reader will have to read the AAR… or just scroll down to the final scene.

Scenario starts with the deployment of both sides (FOW meeting engagement mission basically, alternating platoon placement) and the Americans have first move. This is important for the German player to notice and plan his deployment carefully, knowing his exposed platoons will receive immediate American firepower after the American movement step is completed.

Full table with both sides deployment. Germans on left, Americans on right with first movement. Table is 6′ x 8′

A quick recap of the American and German platoons involved in the scenario before the AAR narrative. All the American platoons start on the tabletop, two of the vehicle German platoons are reserves and will arrive on turn two. Specific deployment zone bands are described in the scenario notes file. For a complete scenario background and scenario notes, click on this link: Calore River crossing 1943.  Continue reading

Calore River crossing AAR

Having written up the recent Salerno invasion “Crossing Calore River 1943” sscenario, it is time to play test the scenario with an actual Flames of War 20mm tabletop game. The scenario is based upon the efforts of 2nd Battalion, 179th RCT to advance across the shallow Calore river, march to block German access to Highway 19 near Serre, and link up with the rest of their 179th RCT taking a different route towards Ponte-Sele and Serre villages.

Scenario background and write-up article link: Crossing Calore River 1943 and scenario notes file (.doc) Calore River crossing 179th RCT scenario notes

To the scenario commentary. Start off with a quick view of the scenic scenario tabletop and suggestive platoon deployment. The scenario notes (.doc) file describes the platoon initial placement in map row assignment or specific map square, so the actual placement is freely determined by the players…. within the assigned map rows or actual map square location. Generally, the terrain is mostly open rolling ground dotted with low hedges, crop fields providing infantry concealment, a few farm buildings, and river or hill slope bushy zones. Woods are near the table edges except for one near the destroyed bridge – ford. The river is crossable for foot or vehicle, being low water flow during late summer, but does reduce vehicle movement.

For the players…. Paul, a seasoned German player, Luis a new-bee with the FOW system, backed by WR to coach him in the finer points of dice rolling. Daniel called to work at last minute.

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The Calore River crossing scenario on 8×6′ table. Both sides have deployed their starting units or platoons per scenario notes. Placement has some latitude and only suggestive in this photograph.

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Scenario map drawing with 12′ marked squares. Total table size is 8×6′. Map legend at right and scenario notes file have terrain description and effect.

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Crossing Calore River 1943

The Salerno – Calore River crossing 1943 Flames of War 20mm scenario is based upon the efforts of 2nd Battalion, 179th RCT to advance across the Calore river, block German access to Highway 19 near Serre, and link up with the rest of their 179th RCT taking a different route towards Ponte-Sele and Serre. To this current day, the open fields around the battlefield are pretty much untouched except for the local farming. The road network, maybe gravel back in 1943 but paved now, is basically unchanged. The bridge has been replaced since the battle, the original one destroyed by the retiring German panzergrenadiers prior to the American arrival.

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Google view: Current day Calore bridge crossing. Note the underbrush near the river across bridge. Hill 424 is short distance behind the camera. Modern day building at left.

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Google view looking south: Center of battlefield with Hill 424 in distance overlooking  entire area with German artillery spotters. As seen, ground is flat with slight elevations and raised roadway.

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Google view looking south from near the modern developments and cross-road junction. Basically farmland. the roadway looks the same except repaved since then. SP88 is the Italian route #.

After splashing ashore during the dark early hours of September 9th, the American beachhead steadily enlarged on the 10th and early morning hours of the 11th, beating back several local German counterattacks during the first days on mainland Italian soil. During the early morning darkness of September 11th, the American RCT’s (142nd, 157th, and 179th) advanced into the local Italian foothills and Sele-Calore river corridor inland from the invasion beaches, hoping to control Highway 19 near Ponte-Sele and Serre, plus occupy the valuable observation hilltop called Hill 424 and nearby Altavilla village. Unfortunately, the early arrival of the 29th Panzergrenadier Division, joining the defending 16th Panzer Division, soon stopped the American general advance cold, then changed the battlefields to desperate defenses, as successive German Kampfgruppe attacks impacted each of the three RCT commands that and following days.

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Salerno beachhead enlargement from landing September 9th to September 13th, The RCTs are marked for their Sept 13th position… the 179th was pulled and sent west of 157th for example.

Concurrent at the same time of this Calore river crossing scenario, the three other significant events occurring on the American Salerno invasion battlefield: 1) The early stages of the battle for Altavilla town and Hill 424, 2) The efforts of the 179th RCT (1st and 3rd battalions) to secure the Sele-Calore corridor region and occupy Ponte Sele and Serre across Highway 19, and 3) The initial assault on the Tobacco factory by the 157th RCT, trying to take pressure off the beleaguered 179th RCT.

Left Flank Sept 11 179th & 157 RCT

Crossing the Calore river scenario lower right quarter of map. Map covers all the engagements fought by 142nd, 157th, and 179th RCT on September 11th and German movement / attacks.

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Paestum Landing – Salerno 1943 AAR

Recently at the regional HMGS-PSW convention held back on October 8-9th, WR arranged to play his new 20mm Flames of War Salerno invasion scenario “Paestum Landing – Salerno 1943” with six gamers. The American zone Paestum landing at Salerno involved four designated beach zones…. Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue. The 142nd RCT from the 36th Texan Division landed on Red and Green beaches. At Yellow and Blue sectors, the trained but untested 141st RCT, again from the 36th Division, landed against the 16th Panzer Division defending the dunes along the beach. For his Paestum scenario, WR narrowed the scope of the landing to represent only Yellow and Blue beach sectors, and the 141st RCT. WR intends to add future Salerno scenarios, several which will involve the 142nd RCT, in the foothills surrounding the Paestum landing, to the series listed at end of article.

Pregame historical material and Paestum Landing scenario design notes: Original Paestum Landing Salerno 141st RCT scenario notes. Since original play test and this AAR, WR has revised the forces , landing craft 1st wave rules, and reinforcement schedule for a Paestum Landing – Salerno 141st RCT Scenario notes revised  file.

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General view of the Paestum area. The old Greek-Roman town ruins at right with Via Magna Grecia (Highway 18). Plane models ready to deploy once daylight starts on turn five.

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The American view of the Italian coast. The Torre di Paestum, an old medieval watchtower converted into a HMG nest, formed the  linchpin of the German beach front defense.

Team America (141st RCT) played by Paul and Jordan with WR in the background. Basic pre-invasion planning: Land on the beach, use the dunes as cover to gather sufficient forces, then assault the tower and panzergrenadier defensive position, then break out to reach the distant inland objectives. Team German played by Daniel and Theron, with Paul, and Eric joining in as their adjacent game had action pauses. Germans decided to hold in place till the reinforcements arrive, hopefully the reinforcement can block the inland egress movement of the Americans before they reach the objectives. Dice gathered, charts ready… time to commence the scenario.

Quick notes on the initial German deployment. The Torre di Paestum nest contained two HMG and one sniper team. Located in the beach dunes of Blue beach was two 2cm AA guns, one a quad mount, protected by barbed wire, Two minefields covered the two open ground exit passages. Behind the beach dunes was a very strung out panzergrenadier platoon in foxholes. Behind them and some low hedges, the reduced 8cm mortar platoon entrenched. Way back in the orchard was Company headquarters with two attached 8cm mortars. Off-board artillery observers behind the old roman town wall (at table edge) and in the left beach front building. Hidden assets included the StuG III G platoon, a reduced PzGren. MG platoon, and two additional sniper teams.

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The American LCVP approach the Italian shoreline at night (3:30am). Hearing the German loudspeakers, the GI’s know the Germans are ready.

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Paestum Landing – Salerno 1943

Second in a multi-part series of Flames of War 20mm Salerno invasion scenarios, this scenario features the beach landing at Paestum Italy conducted by the trained but inexperienced 141st RCT, part of the Texan 36th Division. Landing ashore in the middle of the night, without any preliminary naval bombardment, unlike the later British invasion up north, the Texans quickly found themselves under the German loudspeakers, then bright flares overhead, followed by accurate German machine gun fire, while struggling to cross the beach dunes, shrubbery, minefields and barbwire defenses. Key German “strongpoints” like the old Torre di Paestum hampered the American beach expansion while well positioned German assault guns roamed the near beaches. At morning light, the German pressure intensified with addition German panzergrenadiers and their Panzer IV’s approaching the beach landings. Pushing inland, the American GI’s soon were “armed tourists” with hostile unfriendly German “tour guides” in the nearby old Greek-roman town of Paestum, with its ancient temples and ruins.

After securing the island of Sicily, the Allied commanders had a decision to make. Go directly onto the Italian mainland, invade another Mediterranean island like Sardinia or Corsica, invade the Greek islands region, or shift the entire war effort into an earlier Normandy invasion. With the pending negotiated Italian government surrender, the only option quickly became the invasion of mainland Italy and Operation Avalanche, the Allied invasion at Gulf of Salerno. The invasion at Gulf of Salerno was in two zones, the northern British sectors near Salerno proper, and the southern American sector on the southern end of the Gulf of Salerno, near Paestum. Full details of the invasion plans in both Allied sectors can be read online or in one of the noted books below.

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Overall Salerno invasion map with both the northern British landing beaches and the southern American landing beaches along with the slow beachhead dated expansion.

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Current day view of the same beaches at Paestum. Viewed from the south with Blue then Yellow beaches northward. The beach dunes have since become overgrown with small trees and heavy bush.

Closer view of the American landing zone and the four-color coded beaches diagram below. The outlined scaled down Flames of War (FOW) 20mm scenario below covers the southern two American beach zones… Yellow and Blue, where the 141st RCT (36th Infantry Division) landed. The two other beaches zones, Red and Green, had the 142nd RCT (36th ID) landing there, while the 143rd RCT (36th ID) provided reinforcement landing after the first two RCT’s landing later that September 9th morning. Alongside the three RCT’s of 36th Division were the typical support companies and units for a typical US infantry division. Off-shore the Allied fleet was to provide naval gunnery support during the daylight hours while dodging and defending against the German aerial onslaught and long-range German artillery. Allied airpower for the carriers nearby and the island of Sicily provide air cover from the German Luftwaffe, breaking up German waves of bombers and fighter bombers, Still several warships were hit, while the smaller landing craft and ships nearer the beach suffered from direct observed artillery shelling. Burning ships and craft dotted the coastal seas.

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Ordeal of 179th RCT AAR

WR’s Flames of War (FOW) 20mm scenario written AAR from the recently played “Ordeal of the 179th RCT” Strategicon Gateway convention. This scenario covers the fighting between the 179th (Tomahawks) RCT of 45th (Thunderbird) Division, and the Kampfgruppe Ulrich formed from elements of 29th Panzer Grenadier (Falcon) Division and 29th PzGrenadier Division Aufklarung (Recon) battalion, on September 11, 1943, during the early days of the Salerno invasion.

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Grand view of the “Ordeal of 179th” Salerno 1943 scenario tabletop from Persano (western) end of table (west) towards the Ponte-Sele and Serre low heights (eastern sector) in distance.

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Eastern table shows German starting control of the Ponte-Sele to Serre heights. American lead Rifle platoon in center crop field behind hedge. JU 87 does a fly by….. for now.

Ordeal of the 179th RCT scenario notes (.doc) file below has complete OOB, scenario rules, deployment, reinforcement arrival, weather, terrain notes, and victory conditions:

Ordeal of 179th RCT scenario-notes

Scenario historical background material posted on WR in previous post link:: Ordeal of 179th RCT.

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Ordeal of the 179th RCT scenario map. Shows the Persano table zone, the eastern Ponte-Sele zone, and the joining transit (yellow) zone linking movement between the two battlefields.

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