Monday, January 27, 2014

Book & Games: Operation Husky

It is, and has been stupidly cold here. Like Russian Winter cold. So cold that the thought of launching a game and looking at the snow covered steppes of the Ukraine makes me shiver. I need a vacation someplace warm!

Since work is far, far to busy for me to actually go anywhere, I've decided to take a virtual vacation to sunny Sicily, in July 1943. I've always wanted a chance to learn more about the Italian campaign so I picked up the very well regarded Bitter Victory by Carlo D'Este.

I'm not all that far into the book yet, but I have to say that D'Este is infinitely more readable than the painfully dry David Glanz. Glanz's books contain a wealth of information but reading them feels to me almost liking reading the actual military unit reports. 

Operation Husky is important and interesting to me because it's really where the Allied command first began developing the skills required to mount Operation Overlord almost a year later. The invasion of Sicily was the largest amphibious operation ever conducted at the time and is still only second to Normandy. It caused the downfall of Mussolini, and set the stage for the invasions at Salerno and Anzio. Perhaps most importantly, the failure of the Allies to decisively destroy the Axis forces on Sicily before they could retreat to the Italian mainland illustrated the problems and shortcomings of their readiness to successfully field and command a multi-national force. 

Along with reading, I'll be playing a couple of games to better understand the campaign. To get an overall grasp of the major actions and movements, I'm giving the SSG classic Battles in Italy a try.

Pushing off the beaches in the American sector
I have to admit that I was initially put off by the seriously dated graphics of this game, and a user interface unlike anything else I've ever played. As I've played it though, I've discovered a couple of delightful things about it (and the graphics are growing on me):

Right, this is the incidental data
The game is surprisingly deep. There's a great deal of detail under the hood and reading through the manual to understand it all and how it effects game play is a must. There's some sophisticated operational level combat modeled here.

Combat Results Table for combat in a town on a plain in dry weather.
Unlike more modern games like Command Ops which use the computer to model operational conflict in ways that can only be modeled via computer, Battles in Italy really is the computerization of the board wargames of my youth in the 1970s and 1980s. The game actually uses combat results tables! Support units, terrain, and other factors cause column shifts on the CRTs that impact the results. Its an interesting, nostalgic experience to play this game.

II Corps Order of Battle. Pinkish units have not yet been deployed.

Units are primarily regiments or similarly-sized support units. This keeps the overall number of units large enough to perform interesting maneuvers but small enough not to be overwhelming and cause the campaign to take weeks to play. That's important for a first pass through the operation when try to understand the majors factors that influenced the outcome.

Once I have a better grasp on Operation Husky as a whole, I intend to pair sections of D'Este's book with specific scenarios from HPS' Sicily '43 and Battlefront's Combat Mission Fortress Italy. I'll post occasional outtakes and full AARs of my progress. Hopefully by the time I lose interest it'll be warm again and I can return to the Eastern Front.

P.S. If I get sufficiently engaged with this, one of my other drivers for studying this campaign is the idea that I might do some Sicily/Italy scenarios for Command Ops. If you think you might be interested in playing such a scenario, please leave some feedback below. It might coax me enough to get off my ass and put something together!