As discussed last time, I’ve spent the last few months building the terrain and forces for a demo-game of the Cassinga Raid, with the intention of going around a few of the UK wargame shows, starting with Warfare in Reading, then Crusade in Penarth, Partizan in Newark and perhaps some others.
So with the terrain built and the troops, tanks and aircraft painted, I took the game down to the Carmarthen Old Guard last week, to get it all set up, check that everything ‘fitted’ and to have a bit of a playtest of some of the scenario mechanics; primarily I wanted to see if my ideas for conducting the opening air-strikes and para-drop worked and if the initial battle between the South African Paras and the SWAPO-PLAN guerrillas would be a good game or too overbalanced toward one side or the other.
As discussed last time, the rules to be used are Battlefront: First Echelon, which is my Cold War adaptation of Fire & Fury’s Battlefront: WWII. That said, with this being such a relatively low-tech war, we can just use the straight Battlefront: WWII rules with the appropriate unit cards and a few scenario rules covering the helicopter extraction.
Above: The calm before the storm. In the Angolan town of Cassinga (known to SWAPO-PLAN as Camp Moscow), the bulk of the garrison masses on the parade-square to salute the flags of Angola and Free Namibia and to receive their work and training orders for the day. Other SWAPO troops are on sentry-duty in the trenches, while on the north edge of town, the new recruits conduct their own parade in their tented camp, while bored anti-aircraft gunners doze in the morning sunshine…
Above: But what’s this? It looks as though their Cuban fraternal revolutionary comrades are conducting a fly-past in their honour! But hang on, those engines don’t look right for Illyushins… Four South African Canberra bombers in line abreast unload 300x 10lb ‘Alpha-Bombs’ onto the parade square. The spherical, football-sized bombs hit the ground, bounce once and then explode ten feet above the ground, saturating an area 500m x 800m with shrapnel.
Above: Close behind the Canberras come four Buccaneers, who release 1,000lb bombs onto the anti-aircraft positions and training camp. A pair of Mirage III fighters then strafe the survivors of the earlier attacks. Behind all of this comes a wave of C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transall transport aircraft, who start to disgorge paratroops all around the town.
Above: The parade suffers around 20% casualties in the initial bombing-run, while trucks and buildings burn. Comrade Dimo Hamaambo, the camp commandant, was fortunate enough to be in his house (the red-roofed building) at the time and managed to escape by the skin of his teeth! The shocked survivors are in various states of disorder. Meanwhile, the Training Unit has suffered around 40% casualties and the section of ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns has been knocked out. And yet the battle has only just begun…
Above: Commandant Rhys Breytenbach conducts the para-drop for Charlie Company, on the eastern side of the battlefield. Unlike the historical battle, most of the paras dropped fairly well-concentrated around their DZs. Two sections land in the ponds of the eastern valley and a lot of sections land Suppressed or Disordered (in game terms), but none are lost, which is a good start. [Note to self: Make them drop from a higher ‘altitude’ above the table next time… 🙂 ]
Above: A Mirage III adds to SWAPO’s misery by conducting a strafing-run through the carnage on the parade-square, causing a few more casualties. At the bottom-left of the photo, Breytenbach’s headquarters group, combined with Captain McQueen’s Bravo Company, has quickly rallied and is making a bee-line for the centre of the town. On their left, Captain Swart’s Alpha Company has landed more scattered; elements have managed to reach one of the AA positions, but is being badly shot up by the surviving ZPU-4 AA gun in the second AA position, as well as by the infantry and a 60mm mortar section of the SWAPO 1st Detachment in the trenches north of Comrade Dimo’s house.
Above: Back at Breytenbach’s DZ on the western side of the town, the battalion Mortar Platoon, along with Bravo Company’s mortar section, set up their weapons and prepare to conduct fire support. They are almost immediately in action as Charlie Company calls for support in interdicting some fleeing enemy troops on the eastern side of town, while Alpha Company calls for support in suppressing the ZPU-4, which has already eliminated one section of Paras.
Above: The SWAPO ZPU-4 AA section, along with the 1st Detachment, make a brave stand against the enraged South African Paras, but are finally overwhelmed by the combined efforts of the HQ, Alpha and Bravo Companies, aided by the Mortar Platoon. comrade Dimo escapes by the skin of his teeth, fleeing along with the parade survivors for the safety of the eastern trench-line.
Above: On the eastern side of town, Commandant Forbes’ Charlie Company has managed to extricate itself from the bog and sets up a stop-line around the walled cemetery on the eastern side of the town. Nevertheless, some SWAPO units from the 3rd Detachment manage to slip past their cordon, through a wide gap to the south-east.
Above: At the southern edge of the town, Captain Smitt’s sorely-understrength Delta Company manage to storm the SWAPO Engineer Company HQ thanks in no small part to effective supporting fire from Lieutenant Peters’ Anti-Tank Platoon. However, flanking fire from elements of the SWAPO 4th Detachment in the southwestern trenches (at the bottom-left of the photo), plus an 82mm B10 Recoilless Rifle section, cause them serious problems and one of the Delta Company sections falls victim to SWAPO fire during the assault. To make matters worse, the SWAPO Engineer Company quickly manages to rally in the trenches beyond the HQ buildings, while the 4th Detachment is soon reinforced by the rest of their unit, who have somehow managed to survive the parade (and the subsequent strafing by a Mirage and rocketing by a Buccaneer) unscathed!
Above: At the northern edge of town, Lieutenant Witt’s 9 Independent Platoon has managed to discomfit the ‘elite’ SWAPO Reconnaissance Company by directing a large volume of suppressive fire onto their accommodation buildings. One of the SWAPO sections flees and falls back to the safety of the second building. The Recce Company Commander is made of sterner stuff and holds his ground, though is similarly forced to fall back when the South Africans assault the house. Witt’s men move forward, though soon find themselves under effective fire from the second house.
Above: In the northwestern corner of the battlefield, Lieutenant Botha’s 9 Independent Platoon has no such trouble and quickly overwhelms the hapless SWAPO Training Unit with a bayonet-charge on their tented encampment. A couple of SWAPO sections attempt to flee but are ruthlessly cut down and Botha’s men move on to join the assault on the town.
Above: The SWAPO Recce Company, having been forced out of its comfy accommodation, now largely panics and flees eastward, unaware of Charlie Company’s presence there. However, one determined section holds out in the orange house and delays Witt’s 9 Platoon long enough for the rest of their company to escape.
Above: In the south, Delta Company attempt to maintain the tempo of the advance by attacking the SWAPO Engineer Company in the trenches. However, the Engineers have recovered their wits, while Delta Company no longer has the support of the Anti-Tank Platoon, which has been left behind at the main road. Flanking fire from the bunker first disorders one of the Para sections and further fire from the trenches finishes them off. Nevertheless, the Company Commander and a section of Assault Pioneers reach the trenches and engage in close combat with the SWAPO Engineer HQ Section, but fail to deliver the killer-blow and the SWAPO Engineer commander falls back once again. Emboldened, the SWAPO Engineers prepare to mount a counter-attack on the severely-weakened Delta Company, which is now reduced to 50% strength! The South African Anti-Tank Platoon moves forward to assist, but they have their own problems, being still under fire from the 82mm B10 and 4th Detachment’s 60mm mortar.
Above: Charlie Company moves forward, across the open ground, from the cemetery to the outer trenches on the eastern side of Cassinga. There they engage in a firefight with the survivors of the SWAPO 2nd and 3rd Detachments, who have rallied around Comrade Dimo in the main trench-line. However, this also means that SWAPO elements are now slipping away on either side of Charlie Company’s line.
Above: Called in by the Forward Air Controller in the orbiting Cessna 185A, a Buccaneer returns to perform a rocket-strike on surviving SWAPO positions. However, previously unseen 12.7mm DShK heavy machine guns open up and throw off the pilot’s aim.
Above: The South African mortars are directed to switch their fire onto the heavy machine guns.
Above: Hot on the heels of fleeing SWAPO units, Breytenbach’s HQ arrives along with Bravo Company on the bloody parade square. One heroic SWAPO 4th Detachment section has volunteered to stay behind to cover 4th Detachment’s withdrawal (they are now slipping away to the south, around the rear of Delta Company and the anti-Tank Platoon) and these glorious Heroes of the Revolution successfully fight off a close assault by the enemy before coming within a whisker of killing Breytenbach himself! However, the rest of Bravo Company has now finished clearing the previous trench-line and soon swamps the lone SWAPO section with fire, before finishing them off with a close assault.
And that was where we had to leave it!
All in all a good play-test, albeit a little slow, as nobody apart from me knew the rules. It will be A LOT quicker at the shows, where I’ll have a core of players who know the rules intimately and we’ll be able to get to the second phase of the battle; namely the helicopter extractions and Cuban armoured counter-attack.
Nevertheless, it was an interesting tactical situation at the end of the game. On the South African side, the HQ Company, Bravo, Charlie and the three Independent Platoons were all intact, though Alpha and Delta had lost two sections apiece, meaning that Alpha had suffered 25% casualties and Delta a whopping 50%. Echo Company had not been called in, so was still sitting pretty in its C-160s, orbiting just south of the border.
On the SWAPO side of things, the Engineer Company was still intact and resisting doggedly against the South Africans at the southern end of the town. Survivors of 3rd Detachment, a DShK heavy machine gun section and Comrade Dimo himself were moving south to join them and may well have held the bridge long enough for the Cubans to relieve them. The 1st Detachment and their supporting AA guns and B-10 had been wiped out, while the 2nd and 3rd Detachments had suffered around 50% casualties apiece. The 4th Detachment had lost one section heroically mounting a rearguard at the parade square, but the rest of them were slipping away to the south, together with a section of B-10 and DShK. In the north the Recce Company had lost one section, but the rest had managed to escape encirclement.
So at the close of play, the South Africans had inflicted losses of 27 sections out of 54 on SWAPO – exactly 50%. In return they had lost 4 sections. So a fairly comprehensive victory for the SADF, but by no means complete, as formed SWAPO units were still resisting in the town and the timescale for the operation was slipping…
Thanks to all at Carmarthen Old Guard; Rhys, Aled, Chris, Andy and Alan for play-testing the game!