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Battle Report: First Contact Re-fight - 13 September 2007

BATTLE REPORT

 

Re-fight of the First Contact, Thursday, 13 September 2007, by members of the Peninsula Wargames Group, at the Rondebosch library, Cape Town.

 

 

Having been delayed by the required labelling of bases and markers, I only arrived at the Library at about 20h00 whereupon everyone helped with the layout of the table (placing trees for the bush that practically covered the entire table).

 

Having planned the scenario to accommodate 6 players, I was surprised to find quite a healthy turnout of 11 enthusiastic players at the Library. I therefore had to isolate 6 main players for the main roles and allow them to pick subordinate commanders from the remainder. But only after they each had to randomly select a cigarette box with their force and keeping the contents thereof secret from each other. Each box contained the main portion of his force and the folded briefing addressed to each commander. The allocations were as follows:

 

Scenario Controller:

Johan Schoeman

Umpire (Using WRG Rules)

Anthony van Dijk

FAPLA 1st Bn:

Alex Barguirdjian

 

Michael Schubert

FAPLA 2nd Bn:

Johan Smith

 

Harry Adlard

FAPLA 1st Coy, 3rd Bn:

Evan Gotte

 

Dean Hinzelman

UNITA Platoon

Paul Gouws (to his bitter disappointment)

Cmdt. Les Rudman

Gabriël Rousseau

1 Para Pathfinders

Lindsay Hall

Maj. Pierre Franken (SAA)

Jayjay Schoeman

 

It took about another half an hour for each player to settle in, identify the elements of his force, and select and mark the allocated dummy markers for his force, before deploying them in the allotted deployment areas. No one had any idea of who the others were, except for the ones that were grouped together.

 

Although I would have preferred to use Battleground as rules, the late start and my total inexperience with this rule set led to our decision to use WRG for the simple fact that Anthony had played it a number of times before and would act as Umpire, applying the rules to the game.

 

By 20h50, the deployments were done and the first player (Maj. Franken, unbeknown to any other) started moving his little force away from the threatening western table edge towards the general area where Rudman’s force were deployed to the north of the shona. Neither player were aware of each other so it led to a bit of a consternation when the 15 or so markers started moving at about 3 inches per turn towards Rudman’s positions. Right behind them followed the 40+ markers of the FAPLA 1st Bn, also totally unaware of whom the force in front of them could be.

 

The UNITA Platoon was deployed quite close (too close…?) to the advancing FAPLA 2nd Battalion (specifically the companies controlled by Harry), when it was spotted, identified and fired upon without them having a chance to spot the advancing FAPLA force first. This resulted in an uneven firefight, pinning most of the stands of the UNITA platoon, effectively preventing them from moving away in their move. Paul, being Paul, decide to assault the advancing over 40 markers of the advancing force with his 15 or so markers, most of which were quickly identified as dummies, revealing his small force of 4 stands. By about turn 4 of the game his little force had been decimated (with one base remaining) and Paul could go home early! Harry was quite pleased with the performance of his troops, despite having had objected to play with ‘hated communists’.

 

UNITA’s gallant efforts did not go unrewarded though, as it delayed the advance of the FAPLA forces from the western table edge by a good couple of bounds, and it was clear to everyone who the main FAPLA force was. However, to the south (edge C), the FAPLA 1st Coy, 3rd Bn, was advancing in front of the 2nd Bn which was still busy engaging the little UNITA force. It was spotted, not identified, but nevertheless fired upon by the 2nd Bn and the FAPLA company promptly returned fire to whoever was firing on them. Another firefight developed south of the UNITA encounter, with FAPLA elements actually fighting FAPLA elements! This was only discovered after a number of casualties were inflicted on both sides, and the firing ceased. (Johan Smit, who served in the SADF during the earlier years and controlled the FAPLA 2nd Bn, seemed quietly (wickedly…?) pleased with this result, not to mention Evan and Dean, controlling the unfortunate targets of this friendly fire) (Note: maybe we should use players more sympathetic to the FAPLA cause as FAPLA commanders in future - might have to import some Cubans to come and play!)

 

The 1st Coy, 3rd Bn now linked up with their brief opponents to advance to the treeline west of the shona.

 

Rudman’s little force was extremely nervous about the force of 15 or some markers approaching them unidentified, so sent out a team of pathfinders to observe the oncoming force and identify them. Soon the engines of Maj Franken’s two Buffels identified them as friendly and Les Rudman joined them in his Casspir. While the recce teams of Franken went on to join the rest of Rudman’s force, Franken’s single Buffel accompanied by Rudman’s single Casspir, turned around to stealthily approach the oncoming forces, which they were now quite sure were FAPLA elements. Accompanied by about 16 dummy markers the two observation teams now carefully and in full stalk mode, slowly moved towards the west, hoping to see the enemy first!

 

The two FAPLA forces to the west of the treeline had no inclination to pass over the open grassland of the shona, and decided to concentrate their forces with those of the 1st Bn. It was obvious that no other enemy concentrations of markers remained anywhere on the table except the two minor forces to the north of the shona. Neither side at this time realised what the other force comprised off. Both were nervous about armoured vehicles or worse, tanks, despite assurances from the organiser that they would have heard tank engines by now!

 

The link up between the two battalions and the extra company resulted in a massed concentration of over 90 markers in a relatively small area, and both Rudman and Franken had dismounted from the vehicles to observe the enemy from tree height. An unbelievable sight greeted their eyes as they saw hundreds of FAPLA infantry grouping for an advance in the tree line, not 300 meters away from them!

 

Franken immediately called for Artillery support from the G5 battery, but was disappointed when it was not immediately available (turned out that the battery was redeploying and all the guns faced the wrong direction, per the actual encounter). No other artillery was available for support and they had to try again on every bound. They tried and failed four times! (Jayjay’s dicing being atrocious with four ones in a row, with only 2 or more needed on a D6 to succeed).

 

By now the FAPLA force were beginning to spread out for their advance and the incredible opportunity was lost. When the first shots of the only 2 guns available finally came in, only three FAPLA bases were hit (about 30 casualties). Franken managed to successfully call in another mission from the 2 G5-guns but was unable to observe the fall or result. The resulting airburst managed to catch a command section of the 1st Bn in the open with dire results. The FAPLA advance now forced Rudman and Franken from their cover and they had to sprint for their vehicles, mounting them and starting the frantic drive back to the ambush position. They were spotted by the advancing FAPLA elements, and while not incurring any casualties, the bluff was revealed when the dummy markers were all spotted and removed.

 

The FAPLA 1st Bn Commander (Alex) had been very worried about advancing into an ambush laid by SADF armoured forces with only infantry and no support, but as soon as he realised that only such a small force was holding him up, he renewed his advance vigorously. In the meantime, the heavy weapons of the 2nd Bn were lining the treeline to cover the entire shona with fire from its mortars, B10’s and AGS-17 grenade launchers…

 

The two vehicles from the observation teams reached the main ambush position of Rudman’s remaining men, and Rudman (Gabriël) decided that his little force of 42 odd men was no match at all for the now identified as over 800 FAPLA infantry advancing towards them. Orders were given to mount their vehicles and get the hell out of there!

 

As it was after 11pm already, the game had to be stopped, leaving the question of whether the SADF forces got away with minimum casualties or not. Gabriël’s concern was: how did the real SADF force get across the shona relatively unscathed? When I told his that the grass of the shona had started to burn because of exploding FAPLA grenades, it became clear to him that that would have been the only way to extract his force through the shona without having to go around it in the bush!

 

As it was, a relatively small encounter between unknown forces, with few casualties, the results speak for themselves: About 80 casualties on the FAPLA side (about 30 from friendly fire), 25 UNITA casualties, and no South Africans or SADF equipment lost.

 

Victory points:

FAPLA:            3 x UNITA bases (3 x 2VP)                                                         6VP

UNITA:            2 x FAPLA bases (2 x 1VP)                                                         2VP

SADF:             Rudman’s force:

                        Identified at least one FAPLA battalion                                   8VP

                        Linked up with Franken                                                            2VP

                        Observed Fire casualties caused (4 bases)                          4VP

                        Franken’s force:

                        Linked up with Rudman                                                            2VP                

                        Observed Fire casualties caused (4 bases)                          8VP

 

The SADF wins with 24VPs to FAPLA’s 6VPs, having achieved only some of its missions, but what really saved the day for the SADF is the fact that no men or equipment were lost. It might have been quite different had we been able to play another few bounds with them crossing that open grassland without the benefit of fire and smoke!

 

FAPLA should have been a lot more aggressive in their actions as they were not penalised for suffering casualties, but could only gain tenfold by causing SADF casualties and destroying or capturing equipment. But that is the problem when you are facing an opposing force of unknown composition and strength. And no points are scored or lost for killing your own…not if you’re FAPLA anyway!

 

UNITA fared rather badly by not achieving any of its missions other than destroying some FAPLA elements and getting cut up in the beginning of the encounter.

 

Discussions after this encounter led to a number of suggestions for future games:

  • The use of maps rather than dummy markers to avoid areas with no markers to be ignored.
  • I also suggested that we could use dummy players with their own set of dummy markers in these areas.
  • Allocating separate roles for EACH player rather than grouping players together with bigger units, which was an obvious give-away of the bulk of the FAPLA forces.
  • Identification by sound played a big role in Angola as most vehicles had a very distinctive sound. There is no chance of mistaking a Ratel for a Russian tank or vice-versa. In this actual encounter it was recorded that the gunners used the sounds of the vehicles to guide them in by radio. Also FAPLA heard Ruudman’s vehicles and formed up and attacked them when they stopped. The Rules need to address the identification of friendly or enemy forces based on the sound they make and the distance to it.

 

Please send your comments on this game to me at johan@veridical.co.za.

Regards

 

Johan Schoeman

Cell: +27 (0)72 409-6271

Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET

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All images below are from the “Grensoorlog“ Series, which was  produced by Linda de Jager, and are now available as a 2 volume set of  DVDs.
PLEASE NOTE: Some images on this page are Copyright 2008 Electronic Media Network (PTY) LTD. - (MNET). All rights reserved!

Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET

Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET

Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET

Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET

Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET