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Afrika Korps

The Cauldron, 6 June 1942

This is another one of our excellent entries to the Scenario competition held a few years ago.

By Paul Goldstone

In May 1942 the Afrika Korps outflanked Eighth Army’s defences at Gazala. For the next week a fierce battle raged as British armour attacked the Afrika Korps, who in turn were reducing the British defences for their supplies to get through. On 5 June 1942 a full scale attack was made by Eighth Army’s armoured brigades against Afrika Korps. The 107th Royal Horse Artillery (South Notts Hussars) and the Northumberland Fusiliers (a motor battalion) were to provide support for the British armour. They deployed to the east of the Aslagh ridge, and bombarded targets over the ridge. 

However, as the day wore on a steady stream of wounded and weary men made their way back through the South Notts Hussars and Northumberland Fusiliers positions, a sure sign the battle was not going well. Afrika Korps had met the British armour’s attack with a line of anti-tank guns and then a rapid counter-attack had scattered the British tanks. That evening the British General drove up to the South Notts Hussars and announced that he was now withdrawing but the regiment should “stand and fight to the last man and the last round.”

This left the British supporting infantry and artillery sitting in a vulnerable position indeed. 

Gazala
The artillery had deployed behind the Aslagh ridge, with their observers on the hill directing the fire. But the defeat of the British tanks meant German panzers were able to move onto the ridge, driving off the Honey observer tanks, and overlooking the positions of the South Notts Hussars and the Northumberland Fusiliers. That night the riflemen and gunners improved their positions, digging foxholes, but the position in the “cauldron” remained terribly exposed.
25 pdr gun troop The next morning Afrika Korps began a ferocious bombardment of the position with Stukas, and began working forward with panzers and infantry. E Troop of the South Notts Hussars was relatively isolated, and attacked. After a stiff fight in which the gunners knocked a number of panzers, the gallant Troop was overrun. A few trucks carrying wounded managed to get out, but by 10am the trap had closed - the Northumbrian Fusiliers and the South Notts Hussars were surrounded. By midday the position was a shambles of burning vehicles, ammunition boxes and dead and wounded men, but the guns continued to fire, the guns wheeling about on their platforms to defeat repeated attacks from panzers and German infantry. By the afternoon Panzers, using the smoke from burning vehicles as cover, were able to close in, overrunning the Northumberland Fusiliers.

One sergeant was seen leading his section in clambering onto a German tank to throw a grenade down a hatch, but they were killed. The gallant commander of the Northumberland Fusiliers, Colonel de’Graz, was killed trying to fire the last anti-tank gun. Then Colonel Seely, commanding the artillery from his Honey tank, was killed. After the command posts were overrun, the guns fought individually until their crews were machine-gunned or the guns crushed by the tanks.

Some months later the one surviving British officer of the battle returned to “the Cauldron”.

Every gun of the 107th RHA was still in position, surrounded by burnt out vehicles and tanks. The gunners lay where they had fallen, the layers still crouched over their sights.

Game Ideas

To replicate the confused and free-wheeling nature of this battle, I suggest using the Free-For-All mission. The battlefield should be open terrain, but with numerous small rises and depressions to allow troops to conceal themselves or adopt hull down positions, and quite a few burnt out vehicles.

Panzer III

Two important points are that the Germans should have the choice of table edge to deploy from, preferably with a long ridge on the German side of the table, while the British force should begin the game in foxholes and Gone-to-ground.

The commander of one company in the German force was to the fore. Oberleutnant Josef-Otto Reipold, was a courageous commander who led from the front.

As a young Leutnant he had won the Iron Cross, First Class, for bravery at Sidi Rezegh in 1941, and would command his company with great determination in the Cauldron. He would be killed when his tank took a direct hit during another duel with British artillery in storming the defences of Tobruk. Reipold counts as Fearless Veteran.

Northumberland Fusiliers and
107th Royal Horse Artillery
 
Motor Company HQ 
2 SMLE rifle teams 

2 points
Motor Platoon
4x Bren Gun teams
1x Boys anti-tank rifle
1x 2-inch mortar



8 points
Motor Platoon
4x Bren Gun teams
1x Boys anti-tank rifle
1x 2-inch mortar



8 points
Motor Platoon
4x Bren Gun teams
1x Boys anti-tank rifle
1x 2-inch mortar



8 points
6 pdr Anti-tank Platoon
4x 6 pdr guns

12 points
Support Platoons  
A and E Troop, 107th RHA
(South Notts Hussars)



25 pdr Field Troop
4x 25 pdr guns


14 points

25 pdr Field Troop
4x 25 pdr guns


14 points

Honey OP  2 points
Total
68 points

II/8th Panzer Regiment

Panzer III Tank Company HQ
2x Panzer III (short 5cm) H

10 points
Panzer III Tank Platoon
4x  Panzer III (short 5cm) H 

20 points
Panzer III Tank Platoon
3 x Panzer III (short 5cm) H

15 points
Panzer IV Tank Platoon
3x Panzer IV (short 7.5cm) F1

18 points
Support Platoons  
Afrika Rifle Platoon
4x MG34 team
1x 2.8cm amt-tank rifle


7 points
Total
70 points

 


Last Updated On Thursday, September 28, 2017 by Wayne at Battlefront