Chain of Command, Abyssinia May 1939!

Related, but not the same…much to like nevertheless! The following game was put on by ‘Pedivere’ and his group using The Abyssinian Crisis as inspiration for some more ‘what if’s’ in the lead up to the Second World War. Their battle report appears here as a ‘guest post’ on the TAC blog, as any can be if related to the Abyssinian Crisis theme. Their table, I think you will agree, is superb with many interesting details that really bring it life.

In this clash the Italians and French Legionnaires, with Ethiopian Mehal Sefari in support, have at it in a fight over an airfield in the Horn of Africa…

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Chain of Command, Abyssinia, May 1939

On Friday, our small Chain of Command group once again met for a game in our fictitious setting in Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia).

Situation – May 1939, Mussolini’s Italy attacked Albania to extend its influence in the Balkans. For Great Britain and France, the limits of appeasement policy have now been reached. In order not to encourage Germany to attack one of its neighbors, France wants to put an end to the fascist taunts.

 

In Syria, in recent years and months, the French had already contacted larger groups of troops and now decided to attack the Italians in Abyssinia, they who had conquered Abyssinia in 1936, despite protests by the League of Nations.

Together with a platoon of Mehal Sefari, a platoon of French Legionnaires tried to attack an Italian airfield near the strategically important Addis Ababa-Djibouti rail line, consisting of Italian infantry and armored vehicles.

(CoC scenario 3: Attack & Defend).

Overview of the battlefield

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Warned by their outposts, the Italians are sending out patrols that will soon hit their opponents and get involved in the fighting.

The Jump Off Points for the Legion and Mehal Sefari are placed cleverly in the features near the Italians on their left in the small dip in the ground between the village and the crops.

The Italian JOP’s are in the village in front of the fortress, near the grey corrugated iron huts and the small repair hall.

For the Mehal Sefari this engagement will ‘test their metal’, and accordingly, the commanders will have to motivate their troops to keep them in the fight. They will struggle somewhat to compete with the Italians who are confident in their modern armament and the support of two armored vehicles. (Force morale of the Italians is 10, that of the Regular Legion at 9, the Mehal Sefari at 7).

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Nevertheless, the motivating speeches do have an effect on the Abyssinians, who resolutely move into the village on the edge of the old unoccupied fort, and take the initiative from the Italians (a roll of 2 sixes means the next phase also belongs to the Mehal Sefari. The Italian JOP in the village is also overrun so the Italians cannot use it).

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To the south, the platoon of legionnaires is advancing towards the airport, a section tring to reach the opposite hill with its palm trees for cover.

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The Italian defenders are hastily occupying their prepared positions. In the background, a FIAT 611 comes on at full speed hoping to prepare a bloody reception for the Mehal Sefari.

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Not to be out done, the Mehal Sefari are now ready in position, and stealing themselves for the fight. One of the two Ethiopian  Half-Platoons tries to exploit the cover of the small valley as much as possible so as to respond to the fire of the Italian infantry as well…clever thinking.

…meanwhile the other Half-Platoon takes the most difficult task, the village, against the fire from the Italian infantry and the attacking FIAT 611.

In order to increase their chances, the Ethiopians have a number of surprises planned. They are supported not only by an advanced 20mm SEMAG cannon (which can at least cause some discomfort to the lightly armored vehicles and tanks of the Italians), but a battle-flag is planted for moral support as well (which prevents a shock point per phase).

In addition the Amsa aleqa (Inferior Senior Leader) is also supported by a British military adviser…the Ethiopians have certainly come to fight!

Though the attacking Abyssinians have suffered some losses they are mitigated somewhat because of the size of their sections, making their accumulated shock hits still manageable.

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Much to the chagrin of the Italian commander, so far the twin MG of the FIAT 611 has hardly had any impact, lurking behind a truck for cover! And yet, while other Italian armored infantry is moving up in support, the fate of the FIAT 611 is sealed before any infantry support can arrive – a volley of the SEMAG irreparably damages its main armament, which is not so good for Italian morale, and shortly afterwards the Italian Infantry takes flight.

(The lost section, the wounded leader, means the force morale of the Italians drops suddenly from 10 to 6, and the lost JOP in the village).

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“…good work chaps, that deserves a cup of tea!…”

The infantry had escaped and left their amazed NCO, whilst the other FIAT turned off as it was threatened by a movement of the advancing legion. The Italians try to throw more infantry into the battle via a truck ride, so the Ethiopian and Frenchmen’s work is not done yet.

In addition, two Italian infantry sections once again began moving forward. While one section took up a defensive position, the other section tried to advance into the village in a desperate action to break through the threatening encirclement by the Mehal Sefari and Legionnaires.

However, they are immediately caught in a crossfire by the complete platoon of Mehal Sefari, supported by a MMG team and the SEMAG cannon, which changes quickly from AP to HE ammunition.

With that counter stroke the Italian relief force collapses under immense losses. Only a few Italians get away from the horror as their comrades fall around them.

For the Italian commander there is nothing left to do but issue the order to retreat!

With his front lines collapsed, or no longer held, and as enemy forces begin to close, the advancing section of the legion threatens to cut off the Italian communication line.

The allies decide to await the arrival of more troops to occupy the hard fought positions.

Due to the strategic situation, a decisive counter-attack by the Italians is to be expected within a very short time and thus further battles for both sides…stay tuned!

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Again, an exciting game in our certainly quite unique setting, which has a really nice interwar (just!) backdrop.

Terrain comes from Pedivere and KingKobra.

Additional pics and articles on all these forces for The Abyssinian Crisis and related topics is well worth checking out…

The  Italians are by @KingCobra. The Abyssinians were painted and converted by Utgaard. A few pictures more can be found as usual on his blog:
http://utgaards-blog.blogspot.de/2017/04…of-command.html

Thanks guys for an excellent battle report, gorgeous looking terrain and interesting interwar theme.

For those that would like to see a bit more of the troops above please follow the links. I can;t emphasise enough how well done these models are – they are very evocative of the period and really show the the forces off in the spirit of the The Abyssinian Crisis. The ‘green coat’ is particularly nice in my view and we hope for more from Pedevire, Utgarrd and KingKobra.

I include a quick selection of eye candy here with the thanks to the guys for letting me host them. Top job!

A superb model of the Ethiopian 20mm SEMAG.

Check out the build post for this weapon…nice work

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An excellent mix of figures – Empress, Copplestone and Perry (head)

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Flames of War – The Abyssinian War

I stumbled across this rather nice treatment of The Abyssinian War for the rule system, Flames of War – a very popular WW2 game system as most people will know.

I don’t know who did it or from what site as the direct link I found didn’t come from a webpage so I can’t give credit to the author, who did a rather good job of it all. Whilst there are a few things that might need adjusting overall it’s a pretty good take on the period for that game system. What it really shows is just how the Abyssinian War can be gamed at what ever scale you prefer, from large multi battalion level battles down to platoon level skirmishes. Flames of War pitches nicely in the company level game providing both low level detail but a big enough scale to bring in many aspects of each combatant’s support arms.

As lots of people have WW2 Italians in sun helmets and perhaps some colonial war period white clad African types then a game using this rule set would be achievable using existing resources or minimal investment. The Imperial Guard would be any WW1 British infantry as well. Drop in some vehicles and guns and you are away! There are many actions that can be portrayed at the company level game scale of Flames of War so this does have some appeal all of its own.

One aspect of this rules supplement that is pretty handy for the Abyssinian gamer is the nice terrain set up system. This is rather good as it divides the terrain types into those of the Northern and Southern theatres of operation so allowing for plausible and agreeable table layouts. The descriptions are generic enough that they can be applied to any game system and thus are pretty handy no matter what scale of game you are playing. I’ve included the text of the terrain layout system below for ease of reference and the complete FOW Abyssinian War supplement can be downloaded here.

soldiers-of-italian-colonies-liby-and-somalia-advance-on-ethiopia-1427558486g8k4n

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 Abyssinian War terrain Set-Up Method

Ethiopian Terrain Guide

The Second Italo Ethiopian War was fought on a wide variety of terrain, from the jagged mountains of the north to the deserts of the Ogaden, bordering Somalia. The countryside is sparsely populated with villages and farms. Rough trails serve as the only roads across this landscape.

This chart provides an optional way to decide what terrain to place on the table.

Before starting a battle, decide if it is being fought on the Northern or Southern front, as this will determine whether you are fighting in harsh mountains or scrub covered desert. Divide the table into 2’ squares, with each player taking a turn to pick a square and roll to see what terrain is in it. This table is intended to be merely a suggestion, and the final layout of the table is up to the players.

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Northern Front-Ethiopian Highlands

The predominant terrain feature here is wooded hills and ridges, with clusters of farms and villages connected by narrow dirt roads.

1 or 2: Ridges and Hills

roll again:

1 Valley: this area is relatively open, with grassland and a few trees covering the area between two low rises (at least 12” long). The rises are cross-country terrain. It should be tall enough to conceal units on the far side. Try to connect valleys in adjacent squares.

2 or 3 Ridge: A steep rocky outcrop (at least 12” long) provides a good amount of elevation in the area. The ridge is Difficult Going and is much taller than a tank or truck. Try to connect ridges in adjacent squares.

4 or 5 Hills: The area is covered by one to three foothills, descending from the nearby mountains. A hill is Cross-country terrain. It should be tall enough to conceal units on the far side.

6 Rocks: The area is strewn with large boulders, making it a great place for infantry to hide but difficult for vehicles to navigate. One or two areas of rocky ground (at least 12” across) swell from the surrounding grassland. The terrain is Very Difficult Going and provides Bulletproof Cover to Infantry and Gun Teams.

3: Woods

roll again:

1 to 3 Large Wood: A large wood covers most of this area. Try to connect large woods in adjacent squares.

4 to 6 Scattered Woods: One or two small woods (at least 12” across) cover the area.

4 or 5: Villages

roll again:

1 Village: A village of four to twelve houses along a single dirt road. A village must have a dirt road leading to another road or village, or to a table edge.

2 or 3 Hamlet: A hamlet of three to six houses along a single dirt road. A hamlet must have a dirt road leading to another road or village, or to a table edge.

4 to 6 Homestead: One or two houses and a number of crop fields, next to a single dirt road. A homestead must have a dirt road leading to another road or village, or to a table edge.

6: Water Features:

roll again:

1 River: The mighty Tekeze River cuts its way through your battlefield. A treelined river flows across the table. It flows between two table edges through all river squares. The river is Impassable and must have a road bridge or ford (Difficult Going) in each square it passes through.

2 to 4 Stream: A treelined stream runs through the battlefield. The stream must connect to streams in adjacent squares and must meet the table edge or a river at one or both ends. The stream is Very Difficult Going and must have a road bridge or ford (Difficult Going) in each square it passes through.

5 or 6 Marsh or Lake: An area of wetland or a lake (at least 12” across) or three smaller areas (up to 6” across).

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Southern Front – Ogaden Desert

The predominant terrain feature here is shrubland, with rocky outcrops and low, sandy hills.

1 or 2: Desert Features

roll again:

1 or 2 Savannah: The area is flat and covered in dry grass.

3 or 4 Sandy Hill: A hill in this area is covered in soft sand, but careful driving should get vehicles over it safely. A sandy hill (at least 12” across) is Difficult Going, and troops cannot Dig In here. The hill should be tall enough to hide units on the opposite side.

5 or 6 Rocks: The area is strewn with large boulders, making it a great place for infantry to hide but difficult for vehicles to navigate. One or two areas of rocky ground (up to 12” across) swell from the surrounding grassland. The terrain is Very Difficult Going and provides Bulletproof Cover to Infantry and Gun Teams.

3 to 5: Vegetation

roll again:

1 to 3 Scattered Scrub: The area has just enough water to sustain a few shrubs and tufts of grass. Areas of scattered scrub do not hinder movement, but provide Concealment for Infantry and Manpacked Gun teams.

4 or 5 Shrubland: The area is covered in dense brush and tall grass, providing little cover but hindering movement. Areas of shrubland (at least 12” across) are Difficult Going, and provide Concealment for Infantry, Manpacked Gun teams, and stationary Light and Medium Gun teams.

6 Baobab Grove: A handful of enormous Baobab trees tower over the surrounding grassland. A small wood (at least 12” across) is in this area. Try to place this adjacent to areas of Shrubland.

6: Villages

roll again:

1 Village: A village of four to twelve houses along a single dirt road. A village must have a dirt road leading to another road or village, or to a table edge.

2 Hamlet: A hamlet of three to six houses along a single dirt road. A hamlet must have a dirt road leading to another road or village, or to a table edge.

3 to 6 Homestead: One or two houses, with a large fenced area nearby for holding livestock. A homestead in the Ogaden does not require any road connection.

Vickers Medium Mk II tank

This short post will give a few details on a distinctive Interwar era tank used by the British army – the Vickers Medium Mk II tank. There are a few internet based sites with info but here we bring together some details related to the 1936 time period to give you an idea about this  unique looking vehicle at the time of The Abyssinian Crisis.

The Vickers tank, introduced in 1923, represented a significant jump in design concept and execution compared to British designs of the Great War. Featuring sprung suspension, a fully rotating turret and compartmentalised engine the design was quite lightly armoured (6-8mm all over) and really only designed to be proof against rifle calibre weapons as no true anti-tank gun threat was then developed.

Underpowered resulting in a top speed of 13-15mph, the crew consisted of Commander, Gunner, Driver, Radio Operator and Loader. By the time of The Abyssinian Crisis (1936) the vehicle layout had a turret equipped 3pdr gun with coaxial mounted Hotchkiss machine gun, along with one left/right hull side mounted Vickers machine-guns. Numerous variants had a mix of Hotchkiss and Vickers machining-guns which can be confusing, however, for the Mk II tanks in Egypt, they are as described here.

The 6th Battalion, Royal Tank Corps, was formed in Egypt in 1933 and was equipped with ‘tropicalised’ MkII tanks with better ventilation, heat insulation and asbestos plated. This battalion was supplemented by the 1st battalion RTC was also dispatched from the UK to bolster the Egyptian defences because of Italy’s build up in Africa. Complementing the battalion were Carden Lloyd Carriers and Rolls Royce 1924 pattern armoured cars. The vehicles were painted in a desert camouflage pattern of BS.52 Pale Cream and BS.46 Red Oxide disruptive pattern coloration.

6 RTC in Egypt, Vickers Mark II

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Here’s a short video giving a nice run through of the vehicle.