This After Action Report was written by Ian Underwood. If you’d like us to feature your local Warlord Games campaign days, tournaments or events, be sure to take plenty of photos and get in touch via email@example.com.
On the 18th of March, on a barmy autumn day in Sydney, the Western Front Gamers hosted an 80th Anniversary Italy campaign day. 22 players battled through a series of linked Bolt Action games from Campaign Italy: Soft Underbelly and the locally published Battle for Primosole Bridge campaign book.
The club prides itself on being ‘Bolt Action Headquarters’ in New South Wales, and not only was author of Soft Underbelly, Rob Vella, in attendance but five club members present on the day had been part of the playtesting team for scenarios from the book prior to its publication.
Not to be outdone, co-author of the Primosole Bridge book, Rex Withers, was also in attendance with his stunning custom-built boards. These included the 8×4 foot bridge board and the towering ‘Johnny I’ hill board. The Primosole Bridge book may be system agnostic – but anything more than a cursory glance will show it is written with Bolt Action firmly in mind.
After a rather lengthy setup, the games started. The scenarios chosen from Soft Underbelly to represent the fighting in Sicily included the huge 3,000(ish) point multiplayer game ‘Biazza Ridge’, as well as ‘Storming the Pig’s Snout’ and ‘In the Streets of Gela’. To represent the fighting on mainland Italy the organisers chose the assault on ‘Montecorvino Airfield’, ‘Standoff at the Calore’ and two more tables playing the more generic scenario, ‘Delay the Enemy’.
On the Primosole Bridge board the players enacted the Fallschirmjäger of Kampfgruppe Stangenberg’s second attempt to wrestle control of the bridge from Brigadier “Jock” Pearson’s besieged Paras in a scenario entitled ‘Keep The Barbarians Back’ whilst over on the Johnny I board, the British Paras were trying to storm the hill and take control of the strategically important heights that overlooked the bridge. Neither result followed entirely historical lines. On Johnny I the Italian Coastal Division, dug-in behind stone walls, proved extremely difficult to winkle out, and the paras took too many casualties from the murderous fire on the slopes and failed to take the hill. The Italian player cleverly took a major in his force (or should we say Maggiore!), who was able to keep his men moving and shed pins throughout the game.
At Primosole Bridge itself, the game ended technically in a draw, with the paras barely holding onto the southern end of the bridge and the Fallschirmjäger having only captured the northern end. Whilst both sides had suffered substantial loses, I was told another turn would have almost certainly seen Stangenberg’s men capture the bridge.
Storming the Pig’s Snout
At Capo Murro Di Porco (AKA the ‘Pig’s Snout’) the Italian Coastal Division again secured an unlikely victory over Major Paddy Mayne’s Special Raiding Squadron. Not even the inclusion of the ‘Irish Lion’ himself as a special character could sway the battle as the SRS struggled to destroy enough artillery pieces to satisfy the victory conditions. In 1943, Mayne’s SRS actually took both artillery batteries with only one casualty!
In the Streets of Gela
Elsewhere, at Gela the American Rangers eked out a victory against Sub-Lieutenant Naravri’s five Renault R35 tanks – although not quite in the same manner as they had in 1943. In the real encounter, Colonel Darby, a trained artilleryman, heroically manned the 37mm anti-tank gun that halted the Italian counterattack. In our game, the 37mm gun misfired all day, either failing to hit or failing to penetrate the R35s. The plunky Italians however, still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when on the final turn, poised to enter the town square, the lead tank FUBAR’ed whilst making its one-man turret test… and reversed away from the objective! As they say, “Bolt Action happens!”
Standoff at the Calore
When author Rob Vella was asked which of his scenarios he wanted to play, he chose his favourite from the book – ‘Standoff at the Calore’. A scenario in which Kampfgruppe Doring’s seven veteran Panzer IVs attempted to force their way across the Colore River before the bridges were blown – and if they were blown, to find alternative fords across. Attempting to stop the panzers on the heights overlooking the river was an ad hoc artillery force of eight medium howitzers and three light anti-tank guns.
This game was one of the few played in the day that finished along historical lines, as the Germans failed to find alternative fords across the river and were eventually beaten back by American reinforcements. The Panzers’ accurate fire however, destroyed virtually all the artillery and an American victory looked far from certain in the initial rounds.
Delay the Enemy
Elsewhere on the day, two tables played ‘Delay the Enemy’, a more generic scenario – played short board edge to short board edge, in which roughly 900 points of veteran Germans, dug-in and heavily protected by booby traps and barbed wire, attempted to hold off a much larger 1,500 point allied force. In both games the British 8th Army assaulted the German positions, but only once did they manage to breakthrough and rout the Germans. On the other table a combined 8th Army and Para force were held up by murderous German fire and were unable to push through to victory.
At Montecorvino Airfield, the British X Corps were unable to cause the utter destruction they had in the historical battle. The dug-in German defenders held them at bay long enough for armoured reinforcements from the 16th Panzer to arrive and swing the battle the defender’s way. The airfield and its planes were kept intact to fly another day.
Whilst over on Biazza Ridge, a truly epic grind was unfolding as the scattered elements of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment attempted to take the ridge and hold it before the inevitable counterattack by Tiger Is of the Hermann Goring Division. The beleaguered paratroopers would be led by Colonel ‘Jumping’ Jim Gavin himself as a special character, but could they hold off the feared Tigers before their own armour arrived in support? This scenario, the largest and only multi-player game played on the day, ground away for six (completely enjoyable) hours! Other players finished their games, changed tables, or took the opportunity to gather and watch other scenarios – and still the combatants on Biazza Ridge toiled away.
The game went down to the wire but ended in a draw with both sides holding one objective with a third being contested. I’m told the most valuable unit was the US bazooka team, which destroyed several German vehicles, including a Tiger, and survived the game.
The day was a great success. Whilst our club enjoys competitive gaming (and some of us even excel at it), narrative gaming is at the heart of what really excites us. Creating our own stories on the tabletop and interacting with history whilst doing it, is key. The smiles and belly laughs throughout the day were a testament to that.
Thanks to all the gamers who came down and took part including authors Rob and Rex. Thanks also to the club members who went out of their way to build scenario-specific terrain or forces. Special thanks to Warlord’s Australian agents, War & Peace Games, who supplied us with a few goodies for door prizes.
The club has already hosted D-Day and Battle of the Bulge campaign days, stay tuned for what we are planning for next year!
by Ian Underwood
This was a wonderful day and encapsulated everything I love about Bolt Action. My table was so cinematic both in look and the ebb and flow of the battle.