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The Flare Path: Welcomes Combative Commenters Again

Communal Combat Mission

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In Turn 18 Stuart the Stuart acquired three more dents and, rather worryingly, two new holes. Making good use of the area of large rocks on the eastern side of the northern wadi for concealment (our buttoned gunner struggled to identify targets) the Italian ATR team kept up their stealthy attacks achieving a penetration, a partial penetration and some spalling. Amazingly, none of our tankies were hurt by the hits, but in the smoky, sweaty interior of the little M3 nerves must be fraying.

Talk of the tide turning at Grayling may have been a tad premature. 3 Squad is currently locked in an intense close-range firefight with an enemy unit occupying the building at q31. Grenades have been traded. One Kiwi has been left badly wounded. I suspect the Italian squad sustained casualties too but right now there’s no way of verifying that.

1 Squad’s scamper to the south to shield the HQ proved eventful. Spotted by enemies around Kokopu and the southern wadi during their move, they lost a man and spent some time pinned before recovering and joining the Scout Car and the mortar team in a spirited demolition of the Italian southern taskforce.

Having taken an eternity to join the fray, our 3-inch mortar operators seemed determined to make up for lost time. They lobbed their first bomb into the southern wadi (the targets around Kokopu were too close) at around the 20 second mark. It landed slap-bang in the centre of a cluster of unidentified enemy units and immediately kindled a brush fire. Subsequent bombs helped spread the conflagration and increase the chaos!

Eighteen minutes in, the Battle for the Perfectly Rectangular Olive Grove looks like this. Things that may not be obvious from the overhead pic. The truck at o24 has been fired at by units near Kokopu and is in the process of reversing. There’s an enemy infantry unit in the wadi at c34 that looks like it may be about to dart for VL Perch. All of the Kiwi infantry except the HQ and ATR team are currently engaged. The L6 was last seen looking sheepish at v60. In terms of victory points, the engagement is very delicately balanced at present…

Turn 19. The situation at the end of turn 19 isn’t wildly different from the situation at the end of turn 18. At Grayling 3 Squad are still blazing away at the residents of building q31.

Our mortar team, with a little help from the Scout Car and 1 Squad, continue to make life extremely unpleasant for the Italian troops using the southern wadi as an out-of-LoS advance avenue.

If it wasn’t for Stuart’s new position, hull-down behind the ridge at a24 (screened by a self-generated cloud of dust the reversing manoeuvre went like clockwork) and a late change of focus for 1 Squad (they end the turn firing at a mortar team 250m away to the SE) this turn’s overhead pic would be hard to distinguish from the previous one.

Can Stuart prevent the Italians taking Perch from his new vantage point? If the enemy infantry at Kokopu decide to push on to Carp will the Scout Car, shielded/unsighted by the building at v19, be able to stop them? Call me pessimistic but I’m going to respond to both questions with a “Probably not”.

Turn 20 started badly for 3 Squad, the Kiwis deluging q31 with lead. Fire from the building opposite reduced their fighting strength from seven men to five within the first ten seconds of the turn. They can’t have been pleased to see their comrades, 2 Squad, heading SW a short time later.

Repositioned as part of two-pronged attempt to break up an enemy thrust from the southern wadi, 2 Squad were given a very warm welcome by Italian infantry in the wadi and close to Kokopu. So warm in fact, they opted to spend the remainder of the turn taking cover.

The volume of fire emanating from the wadi doubtless owed something to the fact that the NZ mortar had been pivoted SE. Halfway through the turn that retasking paid dividends, an enemy mortar team crossing open ground circa dd35 taking a direct hit.

Brilliant. That’s the mortar threat dealt wi…

INCOMING! INCOMING!

As the turn races to a conclusion, three Italian mortar bombs treeburst in quick succession in the vicinity of 2 Squad. No-one is hurt but the alarm on the southern edge of the olive grove is palpable.

The situation at the end of Turn 20.

1 Squad (strength 10-1, location t29) has multiple targets in SE, S, and SW to choose from
2 Squad (strength 10-2, location t27) is pinned, taking cover, and under mortar fire.
3 Squad (strength 10-5, location q29) is pinned and taking cover (Their adversaries in the building opposite also seem to be taking cover at present)
The HQ (strength 4-0, location s28) isn’t involved in the fighting at the moment. Removing its short eastward cover arc would change this situation)
The ATR team (strength 2-1, location r29) is keeping its head down.
The mortar team (strength 3-0, location s26) needs new targeting instructions.

The Stuart (e23) is moving S through the grove. ETA at s24 = 40 seconds.
The Portee (t13) spent the last turn firing AP at Kokopu. The results weren’t encouraging.
The Scout Car (v19) struggled to find targets during the second half of turn 20.

Enemy developments not previously mentioned. The Axis infantry concentration at Kokopu is growing and may be about to edge west. A dust cloud at v55 suggests the surviving L6/40 is heading west again.

During Turn 21 three New Zealanders perished. Both 1 and 2 Squad lost a man to mortar shrapnel and one of the White Scout Car’s three-man crew had an unfortunate encounter with a 20mm cannon shell.

The L6/40 that slunk away after sighting Stuart in turn 15, has returned and appears fighting fit. From round about v50, it spotted and holed the White Scout Car which was in the process of moving to x20. The upper hull penetration killed a crewman leaving the Allied AFV shocked but still, as far as I can tell, mobile. The light tank seems likely to deliver the coup de grâce in the next turn unless the Scout Car driver puts his foot down or…

…the Portee gunner pulls off a lifesaving long-range killshot. In the closing seconds of the turn our gun truck, also on its way to a new position, spotted the L6 and stopped to engage it. A lethal (fingers-crossed) 40mm emission can’t be more than five seconds away.

Other developments not obvious from the overhead end-of-turn pic. The Stuart arrived at s24 about thirty seconds into the turn and quickly persuaded an enemy infantry squad heading for Carp to hit the dirt. While it isn’t currently firing on any targets, it is well-placed to disrupt other westward lunges from Kokopu.

Our mortar is pounding the wadi edge again. The detonations are close to unidentified Italian units and must be helping our cause. At Grayling, battered 3 Squad looks to have the upper hand. Six men down, the Italian squad in q31 is not returning fire at the moment. Much like 1 or 2 Squad who, cowed by the continuing Italian mortar barrage, contributed little to the Allied war effort in turn 21.

The NZ ATR team man can see the turret of the L6 but doesn’t fancy his chances. The LoS tooltip implies he has a 10% chance of scoring a hit and a 0% of achieving a kill.

Turn 22 claimed the lives of several Italian infantrymen and one of Lt. Yarham’s four-man HQ team, but graciously spared the White Scout Car. Hit and punctured twice before the Portee managed to drive off its attacker with a long-range turret penetration, the Scout Car finishes the turn shaken but alive at w16 (impassable palms meant it couldn’t safely make w18).

In LoS just seventy metres away to the east is an infantry squad that was sprinting for Carp until Stuart intervened with his MG.

At Grayling 3 Squad feel in control for the first time in ages. The Italians have vacated the property opposite their position, leaving our most grievously mauled squad (10-5) with little to do but pick on a Breda MMG team bullied earlier by the Scout Car.

The rest of the Allied infantry spent the turn praying and pressing themselves into hollows in the olive grove. The enemy mortar/artillery bombardment continues.

Look closely at the end-of-turn overhead pic and you will see a new tricolore contact flag at g29. Our halted ‘scout truck’ has spotted a knot of enemy infantry moving S? SW? through the grove from Perch.

Three other developments possibly worth bearing in mind: our mortar team has just 21 HE and 9 smoke bombs left, the reversing L6 has disappeared behind a ridge, and the Portee has already endured some rifle and SMG fire from the Italian infantry moving westward from Kokopu.

Turn 23‘s good news:

3 Squad’s dash to the house at Grayling went well. Choosing the southern building rather than the northern one (counter-intuitively the small N. structure apparently built of stone is a ‘light’ building while the S one is ‘heavy’) they quickly made use of their new digs, driving off one knot of infantry and suppressing another.

Meanwhile, 1 Squad and Stuart were performing similar feats from their positions on the southern edge of the grove.

Even the Portee had a pop at distant infantry targets as it deftly distanced itself from the pith-helmeted foes closest to Carp.

Cpl Norseman and a companion scampered past the Portee as it manoeuvred. While CMAK doesn’t let players separate truck drivers from vehicles (sorry Cederic) the revolver-armed two-man crew of the abandoned truck at w13 was doing nothing so has been sent into the centre of the grove to watch for/engage enemies approaching from Perch.

Talking of which…

Turn 23’s bad news:

We’re down to our last Bedford OY. The lorry sent on the aborted scouting trip encountered two enemy infantry squads as it attempted to reverse back to the track and, raked by small arms fire, exploded in spectacular fashion.

2 Squad end the turn as they started it – pinned and praying the artillery barrage will soon be over. Any chance of them executing their assigned movement order was dashed by the same shell blast that reduced their fighting strength from seven to six (Turn 23’s third Allied casualty; neither of the truck crew got out alive).

And I’m starting to hear “We’re running low on ammo” now and again. 3 and 2 Squad are the parties concerned. Infantry in CMAK will never stop firing completely but those with 0 ammo points (3 Squad = 0, 2 Squad = 6, 1 Squad = 28) probably won’t fire more than once a turn and then the shots are likely to be in self-defence.




The situation at the end of turn 23.

Turn 24. The barrage may be over. Our HQ was rocked by a blast at T+48 seconds; apart from that, nothing nasty fell on the olive grove and its denizens during the turn.

1 Squad took advantage of the peace and quiet to leg it to t25. Their redeployment and the Scout Car’s timid advance may have sealed the fate of one of the enemy squads near Carp. Receiving fire from the W and the NE, the sandwiched foe looks doomed.

Stuart too, has been happily hosing foes in the village. The enemy push from Kokopu to Carp is well and truly stalled at present.

Which is good news for the Crusader survivors, Sgt. Hutchison and companion, who are still 50m from the threshold of the westernmost VL.

A lack of ammo doesn’t seem to be cramping the style of hard-fighting 3 Squad. The four-man LMG squad they’ve been targeting since they arrived at Grayling, was on the receiving end of at least two Mills bombs this turn, the second of which claimed a victim.

Our last Bedford is heading west through the grove as ordered, but progress, as the end-of-turn recon image illustrates, is painfully slow. Cpl Norseman and companion are now a stone’s throw from both the struggling truck and our currently idle mortar team (21 HE, 9 smoke). Their Webley Mk VIs and Eyeball Mk Is are at your service.

Turn 25. As the Italians’ bid for Carp disintegrates in a hail of MG and rifle rounds (both the squads making for the westernmost VL have been put to flight by the combined firepower of Stuart, the Scout Car, and 1 Squad) the enemy springs a surprise NW of Grayling.

Using the grove as cover, a contingent of pith-helmeted infantrymen get within 50m of the building occupied by the ammo-short 3 Squad before being detected.

The clock stops with 3 Squad in the process of turning to face the new threat, 2 Squad (selected in the above pic), sent north on a timely screening mission, having just spotted the interlopers through the undergrowth, and our startled ATR ‘team’ busy having kittens. The HQ is currently about 20m too far south to participate in the firefight that’s surely just about to erupt.

In other news (see overhead pic) the Portee is back at its post on the SW corner of the grove (If the L6/40 tries its luck again, we’ll be ready for it), Sgt Hutchison’s team has made it to Carp, Cpl Norseman’s team waits inconspicuously next to the track at p24, and the mortar team remains idle (minimum range and LoS issues mean it can’t target the party-poopers newly arrived from Perch).

Turn 26. Before dashing North to assist 2 and 3 Squad, 1 Squad briefly joins Stuart, the Scout Car, and the HQ in the merciless harassment of broken squads fleeing from Kokopu.

By the time 1 Squad arrives at its new position deeper in the grove, 2 Squad (on left) has lost a man and all but exhausted its ammo, and 3 Squad (in the VL building) is taking cover from a new threat. If a third enemy unit appears amongst the gnarled trunks next turn, we’re in real trouble. As things stand, the two forces clashing near Grayling are probably fairly evenly matched – our apparent numerical superiority offset by our parlous ammo situation.

In other news, there’s no sign of the L6/40 in the east, and no suggestion that the mortared troops in the southern wadi are planning another assault on Kokopu and Carp.

End-of-turn overhead pic.

Turn 27. Crikey. That was brutal.

Pestered by Kiwi lead, one of the enemy squads NW of Grayling went to ground early in the turn. Unsupported, the other one pushed on into a world of hurt, confusion, and loss.

By the time Yarham’s HQ arrived at r29 and added its two Lee-Enfields and one Webley to the havoc, several Italians had already fallen to the rifles and Brens of 1 Squad and 3 Squad.

The Mills bombs that began flying at around T+35 claimed two more of the attackers, and the olive-sprinkled Stuart, joining the fray at T+50, came very close to finishing the job.

This turn’s Allied losses = 0

This turn’s Axis losses = 7 or more

Was that the enemy’s final fling?

(Overhead pic)

Turn 28 in pictures.

^The lone survivor of the squad shot to pieces last turn, moments before he was cut down by the Kiwi Crescent of Doom near Grayling.

^The Scout Car assists the Portee with some suppressive fire after the gun truck is plinked from afar while moving east.

^2 Squad draw fire from a unit close to the Portee pesterers while making for the building next to Kokopu. They arrive unscathed, as does Cpl Norseman’s team which has been sent to the VL itself. (The brush fire in the background was started by tracer from Stuart’s MG a few turns ago and has been growing ever since)

^As Stuart beetles up to VL Grayling, an enemy ATR team – the same one that punctured our light tank near Perch on turn 18? – emerges from the undergrowth close to the spot where earlier Italian interlopers still lurk/cower. The response from 1 Squad, 3 Squad, and the HQ is quick and concerted.

^At T+60 the Portee and the Scout Car are still moving east. Cpl Norseman’s team (w24) is relatively safe in Kokopu but is being sniped at by a unit due east in the wadi.

Overhead pic. Three Axis units are currently under fire – the ATR team, an MG team (u34, Stuart), and a possible infantry squad (x31, Scout Car). Our mortar has finished setting-up (see last turn’s comments for valid targets).

In Turn 29

Stuart bothers and bullies from a new vantage point beside VL Grayling. (All visible Italian movement is eastward this turn)

1 Squad, 3 Squad and the HQ break the will of the ATR team and eliminate another (presumably depleted) Italian unit that makes an optimistic dash for the VL building at T+50.

Our mortar scarifies the southern wadi, kindling a new brush fire in the process.

And the Scout Car and the Portee ensure the enemy is left in no doubt that further attempts on Kokopu are futile.

 (Overhead pic). As the enemy appears to be in disarray, I think it’s safe to run two turns consecutively from here-on. Bear in mind that 120 rather than 60 seconds will pass before there’s an opportunity to tweak or countermand the next set of orders.

Turns 30 and 31.

Has anyone got a pack of cards?

It seems the Battle of the Perfectly Rectangular Olive Grove intends to go out with a dreaming-dog whimper rather than a thunderflash-in-a-dustbin bang. As our ATR man trudges towards Bully (being a conscientious sort he’s decided to take his horribly heavy tank tickler with him) and Sgt Hutchison & pal slog towards Salmon (Sorry, weelillad, Emily tasked him first) Stuart and the Scout Car let fly at anything that moves in the southern wadi (precious little) and the ammo-short Kiwis at Grayling reach for canteens and smokes as the one or two surviving Italians NW of the VL, slink away or cower.

The victory display looks like this at the moment, the scale of our hard-won triumph somewhat distorted by the absence of an Allied unit near Carp, and the Italian stragglers (?) probably lingering at Perch, Bully, and Salmon.

Is there still time for a little tactical magic? Does anyone have enough energy left to go revenge poor old Crecy?

End of turn overhead pic.

Turns 32 and 33.

A half dead scorpion is also half alive.
(Old Bedouin proverb that I just made up)

Thirty seconds into turn 32 our knackered ATR man found himself under fire from Perch. Hitting the deck smartish, he managed to escape injury.

Not so lucky was Lt Yarham’s HQ. When this three man, ammo-short team ran into a swarm of bullets while moving north through the grove, it looked for a terrible moment as if extermination was imminent. One Kiwi fell in the initial close-range exchange, leaving two Allied soldiers within spitting distance of four Axis adversaries. What followed was one of those CM moments that linger long in the memory. The sound of blows and blood-curdling cries indicated that melee was in progress (CMAK doesn’t do H2H animations). After a brief scuffle during which the Italians lost one of their number, the remaining pith-helmeted brawlers put up their hands!

Meanwhile, further north, Stuart and 1 Squad’s simultaneous arrival at Perch proved too much for the five enemy infantrymen guarding the VL.

Although the Carcanos and MAB 38s of the defenders drove off the foot component of the NZ force, a few bursts of coaxial from Stuart quickly convinced the Italians to throw down their weapons.

Stuart was so busy pacifying Perch he failed to notice a ‘new’ presence in the SE.

The last L6/40 lives! Whether it can still fight is another matter. Despite having Stuart’s vulnerable back-end in view for a good twenty seconds, the light tank’s turret has yet to move.

A vulture’s eye view of the battlefield at the end of turn 33. Our mortar is now in a position to independently fire on Bully, Salmon, and areas of the southern wadi (but it will need around 55 seconds to set-up after its move). The truck has finally escaped from the grove and is making for Carp.

Turns 34 and 35.

Picked on by Stuart, the Portee, and the Scout Car (at one point even our mortar team looked as if it was going to have a go) the L6/40 finally succumbed in the closing seconds of turn 34. Amazingly, considering the half-dozen (?) times the light tank had been ventilated, one of the two crewmen escaped with his life.

Meanwhile in the village, ownership of Carp was formalised.

…and the Scout Car encouraged some last-ditch Kokopu assaulters to scurry back to their last ditch.

For a long spell during this double turn the NZ flag fluttered over four VLs (Kokopu, Carp, Grayling and Perch). Here’s the reason it’s no longer visible over Grayling.

Three never-say-die Italians, the remnants of an LMG squad, are currently engaging 3 Squad at close range. The Kiwis in the VL building shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with this threat on their own, but nothing is certain in war and CM.

And what of Stuart? As the latest overhead pic reveals, he’s on the verge of cresting the ridge in the NE – the ridge that we believe hides Crecy’s killer. I estimate he’ll have eyes on the dastardly AT gun? Portee? TD? in less than five seconds. Let’s hope the enemy’s shiest/deadliest unit isn’t expecting him.

Turns 36 and 37

The fog-of-war in the NE corner of the map lifts to reveal…

A truck with a 45mm Brixia mortar team on board?

Stuart immediately starts dousing the vehicle with lead. The passengers bale out. The truck lurches forward heading who knows where.

It takes Stuart fifteen seconds to realise that the truck is not in fact alone. An Italian ‘light gun’ (type impossible to discern) tucked in roadside brush at e61, draws attention to itself by slinging a shell at the Kiwi tank. The shell misses but Stuart seems to have got the message.

Our M3 is reversing at speed when the second round from the AT gun arrives. This round bores through 38mm of front turret steel before finding something softer to mutilate. The NZ light tank that comes to a halt on the safe, west side of the ridge at T+36 seconds is ‘shocked’, blood-spattered, and one crewman short.

After perforating Stuart, Crecy’s killer turns its attention to our ATR man. He survives four near-misses before perishing 100m from his goal.

And that isn’t the last Allied death of the double-turn. At Grayling, despite the best efforts of 3 Squad and the mortar team, those stubborn LMGers mentioned in the last summary succeed in eliminating one of the occupants of the VL. 3 Squad exacts swift revenge and with the arrival of the White Scout Car, any chance of an eleventh-hour Italian upset at r31 has probably vanished.

The situation at the end of turn 37.

Turns 38, 39 and 40.

The vast majority of the lead loosed during turns 38, 39, and 40, is .303 and .50 calibre. Stuart joins 3 Squad, the Scout Car and the mortar team in keeping the enemy LMG squad at Grayling securely pinned.

The only Italian emissions are directed at Sgt Hutchison’s team which, reaching the foot of Mount Salmon, finds itself under desultory rifle fire from above. Tired, dehydrated, and ill-equipped for heroics, the ex-tankers do the sensible thing. Pressing their bellies into the hot Libyan dust they refuse to go another inch.

With Bully and Salmon clearly out of reach, Carp reclaimed by the Portee, and Grayling safe, the invisible CM ref decides to inspect his watch and blow the final whistle. The few vehicles still in working order lapse into silence. Men lower weapons… discard steel helmets… savour survival.

It’s all over. Forty turns of hard fighting – four weeks of communal Combat Mission: Afrika Korps – have ended in a deserved ‘Tactical Victory’ for the Comment Commanders!

While the AAR panel makes satisfying reading, it’s the kill lists for individual units that tell the story of the Battle of the Perfectly Rectangular Olive Grove most eloquently. Stuart’s tally sheet is particularly impressive…

What’s striking about the NZ infantry stats is just how important each of the five core units was to Allied success….

1 Squad – 17 infantry casualties caused
2 Squad – 15 infantry casualties caused
3 Squad – 13 infantry casualties caused
HQ – 6 infantry casualties caused, 3 captured
mortar – 19 infantry casualties caused

Everyone pulled their weight. Everyone soldiered their socks off.

On the Italian side the stars were unquestionably Crecy’s killer (Don’t click this link if you’d like the precise identity of the AT gun to remain a mystery. I’ll be making the scenario available at the end of the week), the arty spotters on Mount Salmon that made life so unpleasant for the denizens of the grove from turn 20 to 24 (5 kills) and the LMG squad that ended the battle a grenade’s throw from Grayling (4 kills).

A massive thank you to everyone who has Comment Commanded during the past month. Without the likes of alh_p, Boronian, Cederic, ElementalAlchemist, emily riposte, Hydrogene, khamul, nastydisease, Rituro, Tarfman, and weelillad this fascinating/fraught Combat Mission: Afrika Korps clash would never have gone the distance.

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