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Subject: Palestine 1917 rss

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Pete Belli
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In the autumn of 1917 a decisive campaign was fought in the heat and dust of the desert region between the Sinai and Palestine. During what became known to history as the Third Battle of Gaza the British overcame confusion and the fog of war to defeat the Turkish forces and end any threat to the Suez Canal. The chaos and random events of this WWI battle are a good match for the flexible Memoir ’44 system developed by Richard Borg. This lavishly illustrated Session Report will describe the action and offer ideas that might help imaginative Geeks recreate other battles from the Great War of 1914-1918.




Typical set-up positions for the Palestine 1917 scenario

This modified system uses special brigade/division level rules I created for my “Age of Imperialism” and “Korean War” scenarios. There are a few rules changes to Memoir ‘44 -- infantry firing two hexes but rolling four dice at close range and two dice at long range is a major modification -- plus some interesting ideas to add First World War flavor.





This image shows the terrain features on the Memoir desert board and includes special playing pieces that I crafted at home. The most important terrain features are the rugged Judean Hills (gray) and ridges (brown) but in this scenario the coastal tiles are playable “sand dune” areas. The towns are Gaza and Beersheeba. The blue cylinders represent water sources. These locations become crucial elements during play.

In this narrative I might use the phrase “Turkish player” or “British player” but it is important to note that both armies contained formations from other countries. German and Austrian support units fought with the Turks and an awkward Central Powers command structure meant that a German general actually directed these operations. The British force included units from Australia, New Zealand, India, and other regions of the Empire.





The first two British attempts to capture Gaza were unsuccessful. The town was heavily fortified and protected by natural defenses. Sand dunes slowed an enemy advance along the coast. A confusing network of cactus hedges known as “The Labyrinth” covered the main approach. A series of ridges offered excellent defensive positions.

The new British commander was the energetic and capable Allenby. Movie fans might remember the magnificent depiction of Allenby by the superb Jack Hawkins in Lawrence of Arabia. The scene portraying a strategy session outside the officer’s bar actually discusses the plan for this campaign with Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) predicting the basic maneuver for the Gaza battle and Allenby’s subsequent advance on Jerusalem.

Allenby and his staff put together a bold plan for an advance through the desert. In many ways this campaign mimics the fighting between the 8th Army and the Afrika Korps in WWII. As in the 1940s, there is a densely fortified region near the coast (in 1917 the British were also entrenched, of course) with a relatively open flank in the desert. A sweeping move through this wilderness (with cavalry in WWI and tanks in WWII) instantly resulted in a logistical nightmare because the troops could not be adequately supplied. Allenby was also racing against time: the German high command was planning an offensive in Palestine (this might have been hopelessly optimistic) and both sides were attempting to make a major push before the rainy season.





Each army contained infantry and cavalry divisions. The more experienced British infantry divisions are represented by an extra officer miniature. This symbolizes the veteran status of these units… they roll an extra battle dice. Turkish units with gunmetal miniatures have veteran status (assigned on the basis of historical performance in this campaign) and also get an officer figure.





The excellent ANZAC cavalry formations with red miniatures are also considered to be veteran units and include a fourth officer figure brandishing a rifle. These aggressive ANZAC mounted infantry divisions participated in several reckless charges that broke the Turkish lines. To reflect this any “star” results on the battle dice are treated as a “flag” and require a retreat.

All cavalry formations in this scenario operate under severe limitations based on the availability of water supplies. At the end of every turn all of a player’s cavalry units must be within two hexes of a water source under friendly control. If a mounted formation does not have a nearby water supply the unit is forced to make a special “cavalry withdrawal” maneuver and is immediately disorganized. A formation which has become disorganized requires an extra command to activate. The Turkish player can attempt to destroy these wells… more on that later.





This is an image of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade. This small formation (about 1600 men on camels plus an attached cavalry unit) is also considered to be a veteran unit. Camels are not required to meet the water supply restrictions imposed on horse cavalry units. It should be pointed out that transport camels were an essential part of the logistical network and were used to carry water to the front. In fact, the two armies used nearly every form of locomotion to bring up supplies including the railroad, trucks, mules, wagons, and naval vessels.





Speaking of ships, there was a British naval squadron operating in the Mediterranean. The task force played an important part in the British deception plan before the battle. A complex series of events including a phantom army on Cyprus and extensive reconnaissance of the coastline behind the Turkish lines at Gaza was intended to convince the generals of the Central Powers that an amphibious landing was about to occur. In the Palestine 1917 scenario this naval squadron functions as an artillery unit which can provide fire support for an attack on Gaza.

This image also depicts the British armored unit, a handful of machines designated as the 8th Palestine Tank Detachment. The British also had armored cars. When individual tanks had been assigned to specific infantry formations in previous Gaza battles the armored behemoths had attracted tremendous amounts of Turkish artillery fire… this endangered the soldiers advancing with the vehicles. In this scenario the tank unit is a relatively weak formation that moves slowly like infantry and fights only at close range like cavalry.





Aircraft may conduct ground attack missions when specific command cards appear. The biplanes can’t destroy a formation but these sorties can disrupt enemy units and temporarily immobilize a hostile force. Aeroplanes are most effective against infantry divisions caught in the open and are powerful weapons against the vulnerable cavalry formations… horses can’t take cover.



Victory is primarily determined by control of the strategic town hexes and the remaining water supply tokens. Destruction of these vital installations is an option for the Turkish player; in 1917 most of the wells were rigged for demolition. However, only a few of the major water sources were sabotaged by the Turks. One reason for this hesitation was the previously planned offensive dreamed up by the German commander Erich von Falkenhayn. He wanted to use Beersheeba as a jumping-off point for his own attack so the local commanders were often indecisive about wrecking the water systems. Whenever the Turkish player decides to destroy a blue water token (which requires a command) two battle dice are rolled: if two riflemen appear the local commander has been placed before a firing squad and the Turkish player loses a victory point!

Since the British were able to achieve tactical surprise that player moves first. On the southern end of the board (the right side of these map images) the ANZAC cavalry and the two infantry divisions (74th and 60th) never require command cards to be activated during the first turn. The outcome of the first assault on Beersheba (a certainty if the British player wants to win) will set the pace for the early turns… if the Turks hold the town the ANZAC cavalry divisions will need to withdraw and water the horses.

Usually the Turkish army is on the defensive so that player must make frequent counterattacks in response to British advances. This is entirely historical because the Turks learned the value of a rapid tactical response from their German tutors. The main problem for the Turkish player is a lack of cavalry. The Turks score victory points for wrecking British formations… destroyed Turkish units don’t cause the Kaiser to lose any sleep, so the Turks can stand and die unless those demoralizing flag results appear on the battle dice.

In 1917 Allenby pushed the Turks off the board after ten days of battle. This scenario isn’t intended to cover that entire period so the Turkish player get no points for exiting formations in the direction of Jerusalem. If the Turks can’t give the British a beating at Gaza the sons of Anatolia will do well if they can hold a second line near the edge of the board and block any British advance through the Judean Hills. I tossed a few special cards into the deck that act as timekeeping devices… the game ends when the last one appears.

Exploring the history of this campaign was interesting but the lack of options for the Turkish player left me as bruised as Major Lawrence after his trip to Deraa. The stubborn Turkish defenders need more bells and whistles because responding to British gambits and blowing up cisterns might not be enough entertainment. That firing squad rule will probably have to get the red pencil, too.
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Frank Burgo
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Nice scenario. What figures did you use?
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Pete Belli
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Thanks!

Turkish Units:

Infantry: Age of Imperialism by Eagle Games
Cavalry: Age of Imperialism by Eagle Games
Artillery: Attack! by Eagle Games
Officers: Esci 1:72 Colonial Infantry figures
Aeroplane: Dogfight

British Units:

Infantry: HaT 1:72 ANZAC
Cavalry: Age of Imperialism by Eagle Games
Camels: Italeri 1:72 Saracens
Artillery: Attack! by Eagle Games
Tanks: Attack! by Eagle Games
Fleets: Attack! by Eagle Games
Aeroplane: Dogfight
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Tanks Alot
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Ive been really wanting to play a ww1 game like memoir for a while now. There is a game called Dire Heroes: Gas Attack at Ypres which uses some special rules and is compatible with the memoir set.

Ive been soloing Trenches of Valor by Victory Point games which is really fun. Ive been thinking about trenchzone but its like $65. Too much for a light game.

Great idea on using units from other games but I would be afraid I would get all the games mixed up! Eagle games does sell their peices individually and they are pretty cheap
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The War Chief
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BRING ME THE HEAD OF SETH NEMEC AND RIK FALCH!!!!!!
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In Memorial: Moose, my dog. B:? D:01/13/16. He died peacefully surrounded by those who loved him. You will be missed.
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Really wish you would make a file for the scenario and the rules. You are killing me with all these cool reports and no way to play them myself.

Jackdevil
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Pete Belli
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Since the table had to be cleared for the weekend I decided to play the "Palestine 1917" scenario again tonight. It was classic Memoir '44 enjoyment.

After the crucial town of Beersheeba on the southern flank changed hands four times both commanders had exhausted any useful cards for that flank with the British holding the hex. The action shifted to the north as the British attacked Gaza.



I have specifically structured the battle dice to reduce casualties and place a premium on maneuver. Tonight it was a futile effort!

With a lucky roll of the dice the battered 75th Division (Territorial and Indian troops) brushed aside the elite Turkish 54th Division at Alowine and captured the wells at Huj -- note the British flag in that hex. However, the Turks responded with an artillery barrage (in this scenario artillery fire can only be directed at targets adjacent to a friendly unit) and the remnants of the 75th were destroyed. The hex was left vacant but under British control.

The veteran British 54th Division (with the officer figure) launched what was expected to be a diversionary attack on the cactus hedges in front of Gaza. The artillery unit at Dir el Balah supported the division. The entire defending force (the Turkish 3rd Division) melted away like an ice cream cone in the Sinai summer. Incredibly, the British suffered zero losses as they pushed on to the outskirts of the town.

The British general was essentially skirmishing with the 54th simply to use an extra command on a "Left Flank Assault" card while he moved a reserve force to the front. He stumbled into a major success. I love this game and all of its toy soldier, make-believe, bang-bang, die rolling goodness.
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Simon Vasey
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I LOVE seeing how people take my number one favorite game to the next level. Thank you for sharing your efforts in so much detail!
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