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The Flare Path: Bee-Eater Beelines

A Yom Kippur War yAARn

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Campaign Series: Middle-East 1948-1985 wasn’t one of 2015’s bolder wargames. A repaired, refurbished and reinforced version of a dusty TalonSoft disappointment, it was an easy title to overlook and underestimate. I’ve been playing it a lot recently, and, though the £30 price-tag still feels a tad cheeky, its likeable mix of relatively obscure wars, decent AI, and nicely judged complexity (think thinking man’s Panzer General) has convinced me that a Flare Path battle commentary is in order. That empty chair there is yours if you want it, all I ask is that you refrain from backseat brasshatting and don’t guffaw too loudly when I blunder.

CSME features a selection of super-recherché Algerian and Yemeni scraps, but as I’ve already played the majority of these and don’t want to enter the coming fray in possession of any advantageous intel, I think ‘Into Africa’, a mid-sized Yom Kippur War scenario, will provide today’s tactical challenge.

It’s Oct 17, 1973, and Israeli forces, having crossed the Suez Canal, are about to advance deeper into Egypt. Using about a dozen infantry platoons, 14 tanks (more than half of which are marooned on the eastern side of the Canal) and various artillery, HMG, and recon units, History, and scenario author Jason Petho, expect me to push northward seizing most (ideally all) of the map’s ten Victory Locations.

For clarity I’ll be referring to the most lucrative VLs by my own metallic codenames. Securing Gold and Silver (50VP apiece), the two northernmost objectives, is vitally important. If, sixteen turns down the line, I haven’t also taken the two Bronzes (25VP each) and the two Coppers (20VP each) I’ll be disappointed.

The coloured arrows on the above map indicate my three-pronged plan. Because I’m worried about getting bogged down if I take the most direct route to the north, I’ll be dividing my warriors into three distinct forces. Bee-Eater, the largest force, will attempt to bludgeon its way northward via the short yellow route. The slightly smaller Kingfisher (blue arrow) contingent will stay on the Canal road and endeavour to hook left, taking Gold from the east. Spoonbill (red arrow), a tiny recon/diversionary force, will probe the worryingly built-up environs of Brass.

Turn 1. My initial manoeuvres reveal no enemies, however, in the Egyptian phase of the turn (CSME is IGOUGO) two hostile armour units beetle out of the Fog-of-War close to Copper 2 and fire at an over-eager Sho’t platoon before disappearing into an oasis hex. Thankfully, the surprised Centurions survive the close-range encounter.

Turn 2. Spoonbill get their first taste of action, the para platoon that makes up the infantry half of the force, persuading an Arab unit close to Brass to take to its heels. Bee-Eater snatches Copper 2 (No sign of the oasis T-55s). Meanwhile Kingfisher’s pointman, an M3 AAA halftrack, finds itself half-a-dozen hexes from Gold after a high-speed unopposed run up the Canal road.

Turn 3. As the dust clouds stirred up by inaccurate Egyptian artillery fire dissipate, I load Kingfisher’s HMG section into my only APC. The lack of troop taxis means the Canal road is now dotted with weary Israeli paras yomping north. Ignoring the voice of common-sense that’s whispering ‘Don’t do it!’ in my head, I decide to press on with the halftrack. Perhaps Gold and its approaches are deserted.

You clot, Stone. As the cocky M3 rolls across the bridge east of Gold, it spies and is spied by a previously hidden AT gun. The AT gun trashes its target with one shot leaving me to ponder the perils of Gold fever.

During the turn’s Egyptian phase, there’s a second nasty surprise. The two Arab tank units that vanished amongst the date palms during the first turn, re-emerge close to Bronze 2. Within seconds my laden M113 APC on the Canal road is belching black smoke. What a shambles.

Turn 4. Remembering the two flights of A-4 Skyhawks I have at my disposal, I paint a ‘bombs here, please’ target on the hex occupied by the troublesome T-55s. In the centre of the map things are hotting up for Bee-Eater. Having cakewalked as far as Copper 1, their vanguard – a para platoon – finds its path blocked by a truck-mounted AAA gun and a Sagger team. The anti-tankers are quickly dislodged. It takes the timely arrival of a Sho’t unit to neutralise the para-shredding 20mm gun.

My hunch was correct. Bee-Eater are in for a tough time. During the Egyptian phase, a host of hostile units appear to the west of Copper 1, clearly intent on retaking the VL. A terse text message and a plume of black smoke informs me that Bee-Eater’s sole Sho’t unit is now composed of one tank rather than two.

Turn 5. In an effort to frustrate the Sagger slingers west of Copper 1 I reluctantly retreat my surviving tank, replacing it with newly arrived airborne troops and combat engineers. As further progress westward is looking increasingly unlikely, elements of Bee-Eater are sent into the vineyards north of the Copper VLs. We’ll make for Bronze 1 & 2 cross-country.

Will I never learn? Keen to find out whether an arty stonk aimed at the halftrack-killing AT gun near Gold had done its job, I edge forward using a jeep-equipped leader. A devastating shell impact  tells me all I need to know.

Turn 6. In the stream-threaded fields north of the Coppers, Bee-Eater pressure eliminates one Egyptian infantry platoon and drives back another. It’s a bit early for celebration though. During the enemy phase, the vanquished units are swiftly replaced by an intimidating clutch of new ones. It seems the two Copper VLs will be counter-attacked simultaneously.

Turn 7. Things are going better than anticipated for token taskforce Spoonbill in the SW. One tank down but otherwise unscathed they edge NE through Abu Sultan, skirmishing with peripatetic defenders as they go. Near the Canal, a game of cat-and-mouse is underway. Having survived the predations of my Skyhawks the T-55s are now being hunted by the eastern bank Sho’ts.

Turn 8. Splendid. The cats have found their mice. Firing across the tranquil waters of the Canal, Israeli Centurions eradicate one Arab tank unit and badly maul another. In the centre, the Egyptian lunge towards Copper 2 is stopped in its tracks by a hail of bullets and direct-fired HE. 105mm shells delivered by my brace of M109 howitzers also do their bit. In the north, Kingfisher’s dusty, footsore infantry component is finally in position.

Turn 9. Carnage up north! When Egyptian APCs appear on the map edge adjacent to Kingfisher’s idle-since-that-bally-AT-gun-was-detected Sho’ts the results are as gratifying as they are predictable. One lucky enemy infantry unit manages to survive the shell storm and retreat intact.

For Bee-Eater, the fighting is less one-sided. The mini Israeli bridgehead beyond Copper 1 is under constant attack. Egyptians press from multiple directions, their intense fusilades regularly spawning the little red ‘Disrupted’ Ds that every Campaign Series player learns to dread.

Turn 10. The Sho’ts on the eastern bank are earning their keep. Perched on bluffs they spot and eviscerate T-55s trundling south towards the Copper crucible. Less pleasing is the situation at Bronze 2. The friendly Bee-Eater infantry platoon that succeeded in occupying this village last turn is now no more. Clobbered by an arty stonk and raked by fire during their advance into the hex, they were in no fit state to defend a key VL.

Turn 11. The AT gun near Gold falls silent, its crew slain by assaulting Israeli paras. Eager to get Kingfisher’s vehicles back into the fight, I hurry a Sho’t west across the bridge and am mortified to discover that Gold was guarded by two AT guns not one. The dead gun’s twin appears, fires at my speeding tank and, thank goodness, misses. With paras close at hand, it won’t get a second chance.

Turn 12. Artillery shells rubble Gold and Silver, the two 50VP victory locations. Once they’ve been softened up I’ll send in the infantry. Troops from Kingfisher and Bee-Eater are now close to both locations. The Egyptian pressure on Copper 1 is as intense as ever, but elsewhere the enemy seems to be wavering. I just glimpsed what looked like an Egyptian staff car speeding westward into the desert.

Turn 13. Gold falls, the single unit defending it standing little chance against the Kingfisher juggernaut. I tarnish the triumph a tad by losing a recoilless rifle jeep in an idiotic bid to retake an inconsequential minor objective, but the tide of battle is now definitely moving in my direction. Not that the Egyptians surrounding Copper 1 seem to have grasped that yet. The slugs and the Saggers keep coming. Hang in there, lads.

Turn 14. With Silver threatened from the north by Kingfisher and from the south by the Bee-Eater splinter that, a couple of turns ago, quietly quelled resistance at Bronze 1, the enemy attempts to evacuate a motley selection of soft-skinned vehicles from the hex. Crossing an area watched over by Israeli armour, the truck column is mercilessly euthanized by opportunity fire from Kingfisher’s Sho’t platoon.

Turn 15. Silver succumbs to a two-pronged assault. Unless the Egyptians have a few squadrons of Fitters waiting in the wings, or a giant irradiated Nile crocodile up their sleeve, it looks like it’s all over bar the shouting/souvenir collecting.

Turn 16. For a moment there I thought we were were to going to wind up in possession of all ten VLs. I hadn’t anticipated a spirited counter-attack in the SW. Spoonbill’s battle-weary grunts have been ejected from a minor objective in the closing minutes of the game. Oh well, I still get my ‘Major Victory’ verdict and the satisfaction that comes from fighting an engrossing and evocative virtual battle to a successful conclusion.

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The Foxer

Last week’s geofoxer took the likes of All is Well, Stugle, AFKAMC, unacom and Matchstick to the back of beyond and beyond. Stugle secures a special duralumin FP Flair Point for flushing out the Flamant.

a. Dukla Pass, Slovakia (All is Well)
b. Deelen, The Netherlands (All is Well)
c. Sion, Switzerland (Matchstick)
d. Rimini, Italy (AFKAMC, unacom)
e. Pegasus Bridge, France (All is Well)
f. Woomera, Australia (unacom)
g. Albert, France (Stugle)
h. Bastogne, Belgium (All is Well)
i. Croydon, UK (AFKAMC)
j. Bovington, UK (Stugle)

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Foxer Fact #664

Foxers feature heavily in The Silk Cormorant (1917), the third Richard Hannay novel. On the trail of a mysterious black Zeppelin that is devastating Britain’s munitions factories, Buchan’s hero finds himself in the clutches of Nesbit Pelling, a German agent who’s been passing on targeting information to Berlin via collages in The Baffler. (Spoiler Warning) After turning the tables on his captor with help from a patriotic schoolboy, Hannay subtly alters a ready-for-dispatch ‘Tower of London’ foxer sending the pride of the Kaiser’s airship fleet straight into the path of a squadron of rocket-armed Sopwith Succubi.

All answers in one thread, please.

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