A two-player game of the Helles Historical Scenario, November 2013
After finishing the Anzac play test I printed a completely new set of counters and a new copy of the Cape Helles section of the map. The Anzac play test had led to a number of detailed changes in both, designed to improve playability. Helles is a much smaller scenario than Anzac. The Ottomans start with two battalions, mostly deployed as immobile platoons. They eventually have five battalions, but at Anzac they very quickly had 12. The Entente player only has 12 battalions, not 20. However, the Ottoman defences are much stronger. V and W beach are wired, both have crossfire, and V even has machine guns.
We set up Helles and played one game turn (which is Game Turn 2 - they first game turn is an ineffective naval bombardment). The British landings took far fewer casualties than historical — the Lancashire Fossilizes took W Beach with only 1 step loss (out of 8), and the British actually captured W Beach. It was clear that the fire table might work for Anzac, but not at Helles. So the hand of the designer descended and removed a "balancing" number of British steps, with a vow to revisit his spreadsheets and return with a more accurate design.
I thought about the fire results and decided that the problem was that barbed wire and prepared fields of crossfire were both underrated. All the sources emphasis both. Crossfire that occurs "accidentally" during a moving battle is one thing, but crossfire from machine guns placed with plenty of time, where the officers can walk the fire zone is quite another. So I felt justified in adding a new "Cross fire from trench" DRM, clarifying "No Man's Land," and making barbed wire a bit nastier. Spreadsheet tests now match historical results. Fortunately they would never have been used in the Anzac scenario, so that play test is still relevant.
I re-read the British Official History and discovered that the 29th Division plan was even sillier than I thought. All commentaries bemoan that the unopposed landing at Y Beach was not immediately followed up by an advance on Krithia and Achi Baba - places that the British never reached. However, they weren't ordered to do that. They had been ordered to meekly advance in the exact opposite direction towards the main landings at the toe of the peninsula. I also tracked down some reprints of the Appendices to the British Official Histories. The appendices include the original orders.
The photo below show the Lancashires in an Us/Them situation on W (the left-hand beach). On the right, the remnants of the Royal Munster Fossilizes et al are hiding beneath a dirt bank on V. The only hope for the British is the flanking column from X beach to the North of W. It however, has been confused by accurate rifle fire from the Ottoman platoon on Hill 114.
The smaller scenario allows us to complete three turns this week, up to the end of turn 4.
The British player was hoping that the Essex Battalion would change orders from V to W beach and land on the left headland, flanking the Ottoman trenches. However, they rolled a "0" for Orders change and flatly refused to do so. In desperation the Lancashire Fossilizes rallied themselves and then bloodily assaulted the headland to the left, taking it over a pile of their own dead. Despite the losses they were now in a much better position - no crossfire. The Fossilizes from X beach assaulted Hill 114 but could not muster the strength to dislodge the platoon. At V beach, another company tried to reach the beach from the River Clyde and was mown down to a man.
Things were really looking bad for the British as the Ottoman reinforcements arrived, although they only two companies. Scot took his orders literally, aiming to drive me into the sea by clearing out the tiny khaki pocket on V Beach. However, the six Vickers on the forecastle of the River Clyde thinned their ranks as they tried to get through their own wire, allowing the Irishmen on the beach to hold their own, effectively destroying the only Ottoman reserves (at least until the 25th Regiment shows up in 3 turns). We talked about it and it seemed a reasonable gamble - if he had won I would have been down from 3 to 2 beaches and the majority of my force would have been bottled up for multiple days aboard the River Clyde, which is grounded on V beach.
Next turn the Essex's manage to avoid rolling a zero for their Orders and change and come ashore at W. Without the flanking fire from the left their momentum carries up through the wire and into the front trenches, which they take. The flanking column from X, which was supposed to save W, is badly chewed up by more shrapnel fire. Shrapnel against moving artillery in the open is deadly. The British are hoping that the Borderers will be able to adjust their orders and make better headway. At this point I find a loophole in their use of the terrain and decided to introduce the "Sea Cliff" terrain type. Otherwise they would be able to ahistorically hide from the Ottoman Artillery. Eventually one of the battalions manages to dodge the shrapnel and Hill 114 is solidly invested.
Elsewhere on the peninsula, Y beach failed their orders on the turn after landing, and the three partly damaged companies at S are not feeling strong enough to venture across the peninsula with so much artillery around.
The Argyllshire and the Ross & Cromarty batteries of the 1/4 Highland Artillery Brigade (try fitting those names on a counter!) land at W with only scattered shots from the platoon on the right. (Aside: The hiding rules are working well - if you are in a trench or folded ground and decide to hide then you are immune to rifle fire, but if you put your head up to fire then you invite a murderous counter fire. So unless one side has an overwhelming advantage, or psychopathic generals, close terrain and trenches leads to a Mexican standoff). Anyway, the ten pounders force the Ottomans to keep their heads down, which allows a successful attack on the left flank to meet with Borderers from X. So from the British point of view, at least W is starting to develop. However, a reasonable-looking assault from W towards the left flank is annihilated. Scot comments that W beach is one of the nastiest positions for an attacking force he has seen in a war game, which must mean it is historically accurate - no one got more than ten yards inland. The invaders were only rescued when the forces from W beach arrived.
Next week the three battalions of the Ottoman 25th Regiment arrive, which will finally give him a manoeuver force. However, that is all he will receive for another day and a half - one regiment versus a whole division. We will play it out because I want to see how the troops recover overnight, and whether they can assault again on the 2nd and 3rd days as they did historically. I am worried that the cardboard British will be much more effective than their real-life counterparts and will roll over the Ottoman's. Stay tuned.
The afternoon saw the high point of British hopes at Cape Helles. Although the British were able to mount a series of local attacks to connect W and V beaches, the 25th Regiment arrived and dug in around the toe from X Beach (abandoned by the British) to Sedd el Bahr, closing the door on a break out. Historically the Ottomans sent some of the 25th Regiment to watch over Y beach, eventually forcing the Marines and Scots to withdraw. Scot gambles that the mixed force on Y beach won't be able to organize themselves and so ignores them. This proves not be not so wise :-)
The Y Beach force passes a command check and launches itself towards the first day's goals - Krithia and then on to Achi Baba. All that stands in their way is a single platoon in Krithia, and some antiquated breech-loading rifled 12cm guns that the Turks captured from the Bulgarians in 1912. Scot is very worried!
The first image shows the situation at Cape Helles before the arrival of the 25th Regiment. The 87th Brigade are methodically working across the toe. They have just captured the lighthouse and Hill 138, and now are trying to take Fort Number One from the West. The battered troops on V Beach also attempted to take Fort Number one from the East, but have been mown down in a murderous cross fire. A British break out appears imminent.
The second image shows the whole battlefield. In the foreground the two of the three battalions of the 25th Regiment have deployed in an arc, and are digging rifle pits. The third launches an attack on the extreme east of the line, but is stopped cold by the 88th Brigade. In the background the Y Beach force has just reached Krithia, guarded by a single platoon. The whole Ottoman force is in danger of being cut off!
British hopes are high as their flanking force from Y prepares to capture the virtually undefended village of Krithia. But lo! A roll of double-zero and they just can't quite summon the courage to assault. Presumably the Marine and Army commanders are arguing about seniority, as they did in real life. The shrapnel from the coastal defence artillery is not helping, causing casualties and morale failures.
The delay allows the 2/25th Battalion to arrive and occupy Kriti hi a. The British are taking casualties from the shrapnel and figure that they can't take a village at 1-1 odds, so withdraw to the folded ground in order to hide from the shrapnel.
Sedd el Bahr is more promising. The 88th Brigade has been able to land from the River Clyde. With the help of the 88th Brigade it takes Sedd el Bahr and Hill 141. The Ottoman line in this area has been thinned by the need to reinforce Krithia, so the 88th attempts to break through along the shore at Morto Bay. At the same time the until-now quiet force at S Beach also pushes East in an attempted mini-pincer.
This session was quite surprising. We both thought that the Ottomans would be defeated, but some bad rolls for the British snatched victory from them. However, the Ottomans are still weak, so a day of concerted grinding away could well cause a collapse. We noticed a few too many routs so made a small adjustment to the rout rules.
This week saw us rocket through 7 turns because both Armies were exhausted and badly mauled. Both players felt they were on the edge of a catastrophe. Scot (as the Ottoman) was sure that his weak line was about to be ground into dust, not realizing that the British had taken such heavy casualties that they could barely hold an attack order together for more than a few hours. I (as the British player) realized that I had not defended my beaches, and could only hope that if he did decide to counter attack that the shrapnel from the 18 pdrs would carry the day (I think it would have). The British managed to slowly work their way around the Eastern flank, even joining up with the troops from S Beach, who sortied along Morto Bay. An unequal artillery duel methodically wore down the only Ottoman field artillery battery. Scot chose to fire at my infantry instead, which certainly caused them to lose officer points and fail their orders. However, both players ended up praying for dark so that they could pull out or dig rifle pits.
The first image shows the Ottomans holding on to a trench line just north of Hill 141. This was a considerable irritant, although he chose to keep his heads up and I was able to badly damage a precious half battalion of the 25th Regiment. My stacks might be high, but they are all loss markers! The S Beach forces can be seen in the upper right.
Night fell and the Ottomans retreated up the peninsula. The British also withdraw and began a regrouping order. This allows them to recover Officer Points back to their maximum, plus half of the losses and all the rout losses are recovered (the other half of the losses are now permanent - KIA and wounded). I should probably have waited two turns rather than regrouping two of my three brigades, but I knew that Scot's morale was shaken. In any case, dawn would bring the French. Quelle horreur! - the English saved by the French!
We stopped at the first turn after dawn. I have regrouped a considerable number of troops (in fact, I need to reduce the straggler recovery rate). AT this point Scot should be wrorried, although I still need to actually get an order together. His next reinforcements will probably arrive just when I start to trundle northwards :-( At least this time he has no barbed wire.