An Army at Dawn:
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
An Army at Dawn brings the Fourth Edition of Panzer Grenadier to the North African theater, with forty scenarios set in the Tunisian campaign. Here’s a look at the second segment of 10 scenarios from designer Mike Perryman:
Rebaa Oulad Yahia
16 December 1942
The Germans controlled the dominating high ground where the Eastern and Western Dorsals met, giving them an excellent observation point overlooking any Allied drive on Tunis. To prepare for their main effort scheduled to go forth on Christmas, the Allies needed to clear and seize the heights. The 7th Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment drew the honor of occupying Rebaa Oulad Yahia to provide the base of operations to tackle the heights themselves.
The Moroccans indeed secured Rebaa Oulad Yahia for a base of operations, but the push farther into the hills bogged down due to tough Italian resistance. On the 22nd headquarters called off the offensive without the heights being secured. A stronger attempt a few days later also failed.
This is a fairly small infantry-based scenario, but it’s an excuse to use those wonderful Red Division Marocain pieces in another theater.
A reinforced battalion of Moroccans assaults a couple of Italian companies holding a strong hilltop position both sides have artillery and a weak allotment of support weapons, but no tanks.
The Taking of Longstop
23 December 1942
After the battles of the 10th, heavy rain had made the battlefield unfit for combat. The German used this time to employ Jewish forced laborers from Tunis to strengthen their defensive positions while the Allies made plans to capture the city. In preparation for the grand offensive the Allies need to seize a hill six miles from Medjez el Bab nicknamed “Longstop” by the British. During the night of December 22nd/23rd the British captured all of Longstop except a position known as Halt. Their work done, they turned Longstop over to the Americans at 0430 and retired. Dawn showed that the situation was not as good as the British had made it out to be. Instead of a few demoralized Germans waiting to be mopped up, a hardened panzer grenadier battalion hunkered alertly in their shelters ready to counterattack, and reinforcements were on the way.
The Germans didn’t waste time allowing the Americans to prepare for the attack, but struck themselves as quickly as possible. The fighting raged all day with the Americans slowly being forced into pockets on the south and west of Longstop. This didn’t sit well with the Coldstream Guards who had taken Longstop on the previous day and were now summoned back to reinforce their allies. Many cursed the Americans’ inability to keep a hill given to them.
There’s an insidious notion still held by some popular writers and wargame designers, that the campaign in North Africa was somehow a “war without hate,” to use Erwin Rommel’s self-excusing phrase. A blurb for a recently-republished book proclaims the North African campaign “(an) extraordinary episode, remembered as a ‘war without hate’ for the willingness by both sides to adhere to accepted notions of ‘fair play’ and the mutual respect and camaraderie that evolved between the combatants.”
German troops rounded up 5,000 Jews from the city of Tunis to dig their trenches at this location and elsewhere, and set up 32 camps in Tunisia to slaughter the colony’s Jewish population. All without the SS on hand to serve as an alibi. “Fair play” indeed.
Ousseltia Valley Pummel
21 January 1943
To improve their defensive positions the Germans launched a major operation late on January 18th aimed at controlling the four main gaps through the Eastern Dorsals, which conveniently controlled the Tunis water supply. After faking an attack against the British they wheeled on the ill-equipped French and broke into the Ousseltia Valley. At 1715 on the 19th General Paul Robinett received orders to lead Combat Command B into the valley to rectify the situation. The Germans controlled the valley by the time Robinett arrived at Maktar on the 20th. He lined up his artillery support, then conducted a treacherous road march, delaying his attack until the afternoon of the following day.
Robinett’s attack showed that Combat Command B was learning from its previous mistakes. Instead of racing willy-nilly down the road into the fire of waiting enemy anti-tank guns, the tankers waited until the supporting artillery began softening up the enemy with their fire missions and air support roared inbound. Then they advanced under control and remained organized when engaged by a platoon of Tiger tanks. While they didn’t achieve all their objectives they pushed Kampfgruppe Lueder back far enough to open up an escape route for the French fighting to the north. This new discipline led to the 501st Heavy Panzer Detachment mistaking them for British. The day did not bring laurels for CCB but they did their job well enough, and remained combat ready for the next day.
A tank battle! The Americans have a serious edge in numbers, but the Germans have far better morale and a Tiger tank. At least the Americans have finally learned about balanced tank-infantry task forces supported by artillery and air power.
23 January 1943
On the previous day, Combat Command B forced Kampfgruppe Lueder over to the defensive but failed to defeat them. With Axis forces very active in the area, Combat Command B was ordered to attack northward at dawn and make contact with the British fighting at Djebel Bargou. Due to supply difficulties the attack didn’t start until mid-afternoon.
The attack stalled against determined German resistance. That evening Combat Command B received orders from their assigned French XIX Corps headquarters to continue the attack come morning. However, the American II Corps assumed they now commanded Combat Command B and wished to pull them back to Ousseltia until the enemy was driven from the hills. After much debate Combat Command B pulled back.
This is going to be tough for the Americans, on the attack with lower morale and only a small edge in numbers and no airplanes. Both sides field balanced tank-infantry forces, and on the limited battlefield area this is going to be a tense fight.
24 January 1943
While Combat Command B earned their spurs in the fighting up north, Combat Command A had yet to see combat. The commander of the 1st Armored Division drew up a plan for them to secure one of the key passes through the Eastern Dorsal at Maknassy. II Corps headquarters overruled the division staff’s orders, changing the plan to just raiding Sened Station twenty-eight miles away.
The successful raid elated the II Corps Commander, Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, who called his superiors, exclaiming “Trump that if you can.” Successful it may have been, but this blowhard micromanaged the 1st Armored Division throughout this period, often bypassing its commander, Orlando Ward. These flaws accumulated over time and eventually cost both men their commands; Ward would command the 20th Armored Division late in the war while Fredendall received a stateside post in Memphis where he gave away brides. But for now, the raid captured the Germans’ attention and highlighted the vulnerability of Maknassy. They quickly responded just as the 1st Armored Division commander had predicted.
The Americans hope to roll past the Italian defenses and blow up a large supply depot, then roll on again. The Italians are outnumbered with less-than-enthusiastic morale equal to that of the Americans except for a handful of tough Bersaglieri. But they do have an 88mm gun that will shred the American Stuart tanks (all of their armored support) if even the chance.
Clearing Ousseltia Valley
25 January 1943
Rather than allow Orlando Ward to commit his 1st Armored Division as a complete unit, II Corps’ Lloyd Fredendall attached the 26th Regimental Combat Team from the 1st Infantry Division to Combat Command B as an ad hoc force under the corps headquarters’ direct control. The force had orders to clear the Ousseltia Valley and open the Kairouan Pass. At 0900 hours the team moved forward.
The Americans caught a break. The experienced Kampfgruppe Weber withdrew during the previous night, leaving the defense to a recently-arrived Italian battalion. Around midday the Americans collided with the defenders, prevailing with relatively few casualties on either side.
Americans against Italians, and guess who’s the better-organized, better-led side? The Superga Division hasn’t seen combat since the brief campaign against France in 1940, but has spent the intervening years training for the abortive assault on Malta and is a match for the U.S. Army’s Big Red One and Old Ironsides. The Americans have numbers on their side and a slight edge in artillery, but they have very tough victory conditions to meet to win this one.
30 January 1943
The raid on Sened Station revealed to the Germans the vulnerabilities of their position in the south. If the Americans exploited this weakness, the forces fighting in Tunisia would be cut off from Rommel’s forces holding the Mareth Position. This unacceptable possibility led to an immediate move to rectify the situation.
The Allies already planned to reinforce the French units holding the pass but proved lackadaisical in carrying out their intention. When the attack began at 0400 the French commander quickly went to the commander of Combat Command A and asked for support. Due to an archaic command system it was 0900 before Combat Command A received orders to do something. The unclear orders caused consternation and only a small recon element went forward, but they confirmed the German attack in regimental strength. As a new morning dawned a counterattack finally launched. Despite all the bureaucratic bumbling, the French still held the pass at day's end.
A German infantry force with a smidgen of Italian tank support is on the attack against the French (actually, Algerians). The Germans have only a slight edge in numbers and morale, and a pretty high standard to meet for victory, so this is going to be a very tough assignment for them.
Task Force Kern
31 January 1943
The German occupation of the passes through the Eastern Dorsals in the south on the previous day completely reversed the strategic situation there. They would require few troops to guard the passes, allowing their spearhead elements to turn their attention elsewhere. The Allies decided to move quickly to counter their effort, and ordered Task Force Kern to clear the Ain Rebaou Pass while Task Force Stark cleared the Faid Pass about five miles to the north.
II Corps routinely ignored the commander of 1st Armored Division, Orlando Ward, and issued orders directly to his combat commands, so he and General Lucian K. Truscott (Eisenhower’s official observer) climbed Djebel Lessouda to watch the action (both this and the following scenario were visible from this vantage point). The attacking force looked puny in the vast panorama before them. The force proved insufficient to the task, and soon Ward returned to his headquarters to try and reorganize for a stronger effort for tomorrow.
The American force isn’t so puny in the scenario; at least it outnumbers the Germans, though only slightly. American morale is once again not as good as that of the Germans, and if the Americans want to win they have to fight their way through the German defenders, a well-balanced force of tanks and infantry with support weapons.
31 January 1943
Combat Command A had received orders to counterattack Faid Pass on the previous day but assembled slowly and advanced tentatively. Than at 1430 they unexplainably went into bivouac for the night, still seven miles short of the jump-off point for the attack. The Americans finally went forward at 0700.
So far the Americans had botched the whole battle. II Corps commander Lloyd Fredendall had more interest in raiding Maknassy than in addressing the situation at Faid. It would soon cost him his command. The combat command commander now compounded his dawdling of the previous day by displaying no sense of urgency, and didn’t attack until the rising sun was directly in his troops face. Then he ordered his Shermans to advance straight ahead. Within ten minutes half of them were brightly blazing under the rising sun. He was soon gone as well. In the meantime, the infantry methodically advanced to within a mile of the pass and then worked their way northward in an effort to outflank it. After taking two ridges the advance stalled under heavy enemy fire. After dark the Americans retired to friendly lines. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower soon lost faith in the task force commander too, and replaced him as well. War is a harsh teacher, and the Americans were determined to get it right, despite having to sack a number of commanders.
The American task here is pretty tough they have a steep list of victory conditions, and only a slight edge in combat power with lower morale than the Germans and only a little more artillery. There’s not much air support, and what there is of it flies for the Luftwaffe. Without strong play and a little luck, the American player could find himself or herself in Gen. Fredendall’s well-licked boots.
A Stronger Effort
1 February 1943
The previous day did not go well for the Americans. Well into night, commanders tried to come up with an acceptable plan but with Maj. Gen. Fredendall of II Corps fixated on Maknassy their task proved exceedingly difficult. Finally Task Force Stark rumbled southward to reinforce the attack there.
The Americans demonstrated some understanding of the subtleties of war. Instead of attacking with the rising sun in their eyes, as on the previous day, they waited until noon. Recognizing that armor was for all practical purposes restricted to the pass floor, another battalion of infantry joined the attack instead. The men maneuvered into the hills where needed without losing as much combat capability. This was all basic stuff but the inexperienced American officers needed to learn it - often the hard way. Still rank amateurs compared to the Germans, the Americans were already ascending the learning curve.
As noted, the Americans come with more infantry support this time, and a pretty strong contingent of tanks as well. This time they have a serious edge in numbers if not in artillery, and their morale remains weaker than that of the Germans. Their bar for victory is set kind of high, but this time they just might have the forces to achieve it.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.