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Strategy in
Defiant Russia




More Guns for Malta
By David Hughes
May 2008

For those players of Island of Death who prefer to be on the British side and are appalled at the prospect at fighting the extra Italian divisions provided in recent Daily Content, here is some welcome reinforcement: a new battalion, more field artillery and a little boost to the coast-defence artillery.

Although the game accurately depicts Malta’s main coast defence weapons, the 9.2-inch and 6-inch guns, we need to add a secret weapon of the Royal Malta Artillery — the twin 6-pounder mount. This was an amazing gun. As far as I know it was only used once in anger, on the night of July 25th, 1941 when a bunch of courageous Italians manning human torpedoes and explosive motorboats attacked Grand Harbour in Valetta. In less than 30 seconds a pair of mounts had knocked out five of these almost invisible and fast-moving targets. For the technically-minded this is the double 6-pounder 10 cwt (hundred-weight), auto-load, auto-sight mount. For others visualise a twin Bofors 40 mm gun, its barrel a little shorter but firing continuously instead of from four-round clips.

No need to imagine; Britain's coast-defence secret weapon in testing.

Adding these to the game is not quite straightforward. We have provided a counter with an attack value of 6 and a range of 1 in Royal Malta Artillery colours (there were six mounts on the island), with the usual question mark on the back since they are placed face-down.

Now, that creates a problem because no matter how neatly we mount it, the result is never going to match the impeccable quality of the original, so that the perfidious Axis player will just “happen” to select it for attack by his warships! The solution is simple. Use the single existing coast-defence gun counter with all zero values (it’s a dummy). When it fires or is fired on, replace it with the new counter. Because it fires light shells it cannot fire against warships (Rule 16.55) but can against Landing Craft (Rule 16.56), so it must be placed adjacent to a beach hex (for those who do not own the game, seaborne landings can only be made against beaches in one of four zones). Ignore range, instead the Allied player fires six times at the First Wave of the Zone with the usual result of 6 being a hit. The Axis player applies the result to his First Wave units and the Allied player removes the gun, as once in action it was a very obvious target.

As well as the twin 6-pounder a much older gun was in use. This is the 18-pounder, the standard British field gun in the First World War. There were at least 60 of these on the island and about half were used as "beach guns" by the 26th Defence Regiment of the Royal Artillery. They were unprotected but well concealed and were used wherever the British planned to resist an invasion. At Hong Kong a couple of guns did severe damage to Japanese infantry loaded in wooden junks.

In Island of Death they are simulated in the Waterline Combat rule. When an Italian unit lands on the beach roll a die. Add two if an Allied unit is adjacent (beach gun benefit), add one if two hexes away. On a result of 7 or more the Italian unit disintegrates, while the gallant British player pats his 18-pounder.

A 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun of the Royal Malta Artillery, 1942.

Next, another infantry battalion and some much needed artillery for the British. The 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment is shown broken down into four machine-gun companies. This is appropriate as the Cheshire was one of only four British Army regiments whose battalions were designated for that role. However, Malta needed the battalion as an infantry reserve as well as providing machine guns. This proved possible as a fixed Vickers machine gun (almost all were in towns or strong points) only needed a three-man crew, leaving the other seven available for other duties. The Cheshire then reformed as infantry, although with only three rather than the normal four rifle companies serving as part of the Central Brigade. To simulate this remove the two stronger companies — both have a rating of 1-2-6 — and add the new counter. Note that it is valued as 4-6 rather than the normal 6-6 of a British battalion.

Last of all, adding what the British really need, more field artillery. The only complete artillery unit on the island was the 12th Field Regiment with twenty-four 25-pounder guns. This is the most powerful unit present (its offensive-defensive value is 9-3 compared with the 4-2 of most Italian artillery battalions) but having only one unit does limit British initiative. Had a landing taken place the unit would have broken down into its three batteries, each allocated to one brigade. The reserve would be supported by part of the previously mentioned 26th Defence Regiment as, in addition to beach guns and some mountain howitzers, its remarkably flexible gunners also manned some old but still effective 6-inch howitzers (they were still in use against the Japanese in Burma in 1945).

British gunners train with the 3.7-inch mountain howitzer, Wales, 1942.

I estimate that the regiment could have easily operated eight guns. Note that although more powerful they have a much shorter range than the more modern 25-pounder field guns. Adding this is a significant benefit for the British. However, the regiment lacked the usual prime movers for the howitzers — carefully note the back of the counter. One source (of uncertain truth) claims that they would be slowly dragged by tractors lent by local landowners who had no use for them in view of the lack of fuel. When the siege was lifted the unit was suitably renamed the 26th Medium Regiment, given modern 5.5-inch guns and sent to Italy.

Finally, a couple of changes needed to match Balbo's Great Adventure, which has recently appeared in Daily Content. Ignore the nice new coast-defence gun as the 6-pounder did not appear until late 1941 and the 6-inch howitzer counter as its regiment is not yet formed. However the British never left regular infantry without some artillery support. In this case it came from the 26th Anti-Tank Regiment, which formed a couple of 3.7-inch mountain howitzer batteries (these later became beach-guns). Since the unit converted into the 13th Mobile Coast Defence Regiment in late 1940 the new counter is given its ID. Treat it as glider/parachute artillery when changing mode (Rule 6.6). The unit can be added to a 1942 scenario by mutual consent. On the other hand if playing the Isle of Calypso Daily Content scenario which gives the Italians the entire 1st Superga Division make sure it is in use. When fighting at those odds, even weak artillery is an essential.

You can download the new counters here.

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