An Allied Interlude: “Strategy without Tactics…” OR “When the Tigers Broke Free”
This was intended as the culminating move of the ’43 Italy campaign since the beginning. The fights to weaken the bomber force were needed because the unexpanded airfields on the islands have trouble supporting naval patrols in force. Three TFs were pulled back even before Sicily was fully seized to create a sufficient bridgehead. 80 admin points were banked to allow the sustained motorization of an entire army for the rush up the west coast over a planned month. And the CW committed to battering their way up the east coast towards Pescara to draw off forces towards a serious third front and cut the eastern rails to Rome on time.
And even with all that it was, as the narrator for Conan would say, “Times of High Adventure!”
So let’s begin with the obvious – an early move on Rome is, even when properly planned, very risky. The Germans will hit a local peak in strength in October, fresh divisions piling in before the first serious rounds of east front withdrawals (in an EF off box – with the EF on, I presume there is similar pressure) which come in November. No matter how much good work you’ve done, there’s simply no way the bomber force is gone yet. And in Italy at least the Germans can still achieve local air parity for key efforts.
On your side, the fresh corps that arrive for the allies in November and December are, well, not there yet. The forces that have to drive north have probably been fighting since Sicily. The allied air force in turn has not yet blotted out the sun, as it begins really building into it’s strength in November and the need for sea control means you cannot convert too many FBs. Oh and the weather is going to be somewhere between bad and terrible from late October until December. (I got very lucky with this – perhaps weather karma from last game).
The fact that Loki literally crushed two armor divisions sitting on a beach with naval support and a ground support air allocation of multiple squadrons should point out just how dangerous things can be.
On the up side, you can pretty much count on having the entire navy to hand, and no time pressure screaming that you need to get a lot of this stuff back to England to get ready for the big show. And, of course, if it works then you should both have lots of points and fair chunk of attacking momentum on your side.
I looked at what the Germans had in the field down south and the layout of their Rome area defenses (they were set up for a Citavecchia – Lido landing zone), and figured on the strategic scale, if I did this then Loki could choose to defend all three fronts evenly – the west coast, east coast, and landings -somewhat evenly, or he could weight one at the expense of the tertiary front. Any plan needed to be able to deal with either option.
I also figured that this would be a phase where he would leave units out to die if it meant buying time (wrong), and that he would commit the LW en-masse (right), but that in a serious fight that meant maybe two weeks of effectiveness before it went to lick it’s wounds. (wrong)
Finally, in terms of what I wanted the Germans doing, above all else I wanted them to face a dilemma of either fighting for Rome while risking the bulk of the Heer, or for all intents and purposes abandoning Rome to preserve the force. Which is a bit like saying the secret to making money is buy low and sell high, but that was the overriding principle: don’t give a fight where they can achieve both with one commitment. The point of taking this huge risk was to avoid getting into a grinding multi-month fight for the city; no sense in paying the blood price just to have a minor link up near the south side of the city.
Having decided that above all other things I did not want the landing fight to covered by the same Germans committed to defending Rome, I chose the northern landing sites. There’s less local ports, the terrain is more open to counterattack in many way, but they had two big advantages: the lake forces the Germans to split to cover against a northern or eastern drive along separate rail lines, and there are multiple potential points of penetration where even one brigade breaking free could cut off all the rail lines to west Italy. Loki would have no choice but to commit hard against that chance (well, so I hoped).
Several hundred fighters were shipped up to Corsica and large portions of the level bomber force placed in Sardinia or NW Sicily to provide support, as was the entirety of the coastal air force. And since this operation either meant lots of mobility or lots of casualties, the Americans got tapped for the job. Which I’m sure relieved the brits, since they’ve been called “bait” at least twice already. The idea was to land in October and then fight locally until the November arrival of the Free French to break out for real unless Loki obligingly left a route to Florence and Perugia open. Initially another landing was planned at Piombino, but the dire need for naval gunfire and rotating damaged TFs in for repairs scrapped that idea.
Meanwhile, the two coastal drives were weighted with different resources. I wanted the east to be a serious threat, so they got solid assault infantry and plenty of CW armor which could scream north if left unchecked, with the intent of either being able to bull through two elite divisions to Pescara, or if it was just dross, drive to a position threatening the entire German army – not because they would actually manage to pocket it, but because there would be no way Loki could ignore that and stay near Rome. A turning movement if you will.
The west I did not think would have heavy enemy forces, who would hopefully be racing north to prevent either the landings or the brits from cutting the rails, but several delaying strong points. So I earmarked about 50 AP for motorizing two full corps of infantry and attached brigades, leaving 30 in the bank to pay off the weekly cost – AP to be employed either when there was a chance to cut off and destroy an elite division, or it became clear Loki was going to drop a net of hedgehogs. The ideal time for arrival would be early November, just as the Free French arrived in the landing zones. Sheer task overload should allow the city to be encircled and captured by early December.
Well, that was vicious. I expected to bleed up north. I expected to spend a week or so isolated by air. I even expected to possibly lose an outlying regiment or division. I did not expect to have three divisions effectively cease to exist. A lesson in both the risks of the move, and some poor tactics on my part. Then first division went away because I overloaded the beaches; I really didn’t need the ranger regiment there anymore, but they took up space and that mean a division routed. Yet I somehow made the same mistake again, because I was confident that two armor divisions backed by a TF could hold on when I occupied Citavecchia – even though Loki had very clearly shown the LW was up and running and that he had pulled two full panzer corps into position. But the landing held, and it opened up Rome. It did what it needed to do, but I will admit the manner in which I did it was appallingly ugly.
That said, the landing fights landed some body blows. German pilot losses have now crossed the entire amount they will get back as trained pilots in the course of the war. The bomber force is still real, but it will never again be at the high water mark seen so far. And while the panzers killed a lot – A LOT – of troops, they burnt a lot of armor doing it for what fell short of a strategic success. And the allies can take tactical losses if it means strategic success.
The west went better than planned. I had no idea that I’d have Rome in hand by mid-November. Didn’t catch and destroy much it has to be said, but a few regiments and a quick campaign isn’t a bad pay off.
The east did what it needed to. It pinned down the last of the elite units not being sent to the landings, and in doing so allowed the west to achieve it’s goal. Plus 3rd PzG and Schmalz got worked over. They’re already refitting, but regaining power at the end of a long rail line is hard business for the Germans.
Was It Worth It?
No doubt in a history book somewhere this would be debated heavily. Fortunately for us, we have the VP system. Taking aside the usual attrition losses, the landings cost a phenomenal 36 VP in losses. The eastern drive cost about another 9 VP. 45 VP. That’s a lot of VP. Had I not been routed out, those losses would have been about half of that. Ouch.
That said, Rome alone is worth 6 VP a turn in ’43, and 4 VP a turn in early ’44. Naples and the mountain cities are worth another 2 VP or so a turn, with the likely fall of a few more as we drive north evening the balance for ‘44. So 8 VP a turn for the next 6 turns (48 VP – hurrah for a net +3) and then a long pay out in early ’44.
Aside from which, there was no way Rome was going to be free – no matter if we landed in December, or pulled off a Diadem in May of ’44. Maybe it wasn’t going to cost 45 VP, but it would have cost something
So generally, despite the hideous losses, it was worth it. A strategic success that cost a lot more than it needed to due to tactical blunders.