The Battle of Serafim Farm – a Playtest AAR from Gallipoli, 1915

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GallipoliTABp500“The Infantry simply cannot get forward against those guns. They will see them coming from miles away.” Lord Hamilton chewed on his mustache.

Then the answer, my good man, is that they must not see us. Let me remind of you of the night attack by the Greeks against the Trojans – Troy is just down the road you know …”

And so was born the plan that led to the Victory at the Battle of Seraphim Farm, and the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.

In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers. By December, Russia was in trouble after being defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenburg. Britain and France urgently searched for a way to send supplies to their Russian ally. The easiest route was by sea – from the Mediterranean, through the Dardanelles, and across the Black Sea. But the Dardanelles passed through the heart of the Ottoman Empire, who had barred them with minefields and forts. A combined Anglo-French fleet tried to force the Turkish passage but lost 5 battleships on the minefields. And so the Imperial War Council gave Sir Hamilton five divisions and the task of taking the forts for the landward side.

The historical plan for the landing at the Dardanelles pits 28 British battalions and 3 batteries against 18 Ottoman battalions and 9 batteries.  The Entente weakness is their lack of infantry reserves and dispersal of force. The Ottoman’s strength is their artillery, both field and coastal defense. However, artillery was still only capable of firing over “open sights” at this point in the war. For this “Free Landing” Scenario, the Entente player therefore chose to land at night, nullifying the artillery advantage. Canceling two of the historical diversions added another 12 French battalions for zero hour, balanced against faster Ottoman reinforcements on D+1.

Tyler Roush (left) and Scot McConnachie plan the Entente landings

Tyler Roush (left) and Scot McConnachie plan the Entente landings

Scot and Tyler (playing the Entente) planned to land their entire force on a concentrated set of beaches close to the objective (see image 1). The first wave (1st Australian Division, New Zealand & Australian Division, British 29th Division)  planned to land their advance Brigades at 8pm, followed  by the main body of each division at midnight. Half of the French 1e Division would follow shortly before dawn. I chose the Ottoman historical deployment — 19th Division in reserve at Bogali, with the 9th Division on cordon defence along the coast.

The Plans

Image 1 – The Plans

The drawback of a night landing is scatter – in the April and August landings, two landing squadrons missed their beaches by more than a kilometer. Tyler’s dice respected the historical precedent. The Kiwis and the Aussies completely missed their beaches and had to return to the transports to regain their bearings. Fortunately for the reputation of the Royal Navy, the tommies of the 29th splashed ashore just north of the silent guns at Gaba Tepe and pushed their way through the scratchy scrub (see image 2). After a tough climb, their northern flank overran the gun pits of the mountain battery on the 400 plateau. Their southern flank ripped up the wire on the beach and then attacked the fort at Gaba Tepe from the landward side,  a direction from which  the museum pieces of the fort could not bear (image 2). The bloody fight raged from pit to pit until at last Worcestershire regiment stormed the gun pit housing the hand cranked 25mm Nordenfelt machine gun. Shortly afterwards the Royal Navy finally found the beach to the south of Gaba Tepe and the Aucklanders of the NZ Brigade captured the 150mm coastal defense battery at The Olive Grove. Further south the Australians also pushed inland and overran a field artillery battery of the 9th Division — the last artillery battery near the Aegean coast.

Image 2 - The 29th Division storms Gaba Tepe

Image 2 – The 29th Division storms Gaba Tepe

Image 3 - 3rd Australian Bde at Kum Tepe

Image 3 – 3rd Australian Bde at Kum Tepe

Meanwhile the Ottoman phone system was running hot with reports of the landings. The reserve battalions were roused and quickly left their camps – no rest tonight! By midnight the road from Maidos was filled with reinforcements on the way to the landings – the remaining two battalions from the 27th Regiment (9th Div), plus the the 72nd Regiments from the 19th Division. The 27th quickly deployed in line in front of Gaba Tepe, while the 72nd headed to their right to hold off the northern wing of the 29th Division. On the high ground near Serafim Farm the 25th Regiment decided it was best to entrench where it was- they had heard ominous reports of “Australians approaching in the dark across the grasslands.” The 25th Regiment was the only Ottoman force between the Australians the forts overlooking The Narrows.

Image 4 - Looking West as Ottoman reinforcements head for the beaches

Image 4 – Looking West as Ottoman reinforcements head for the beaches

The various reserves are activated at different rates, influenced by the number of diversionary landings by the Entente. The Ottomans have rolled a little better than average and so are slightly ahead of the release curve in this game. It is a meeting engagement – both sides are always convinced they are only one reinforcement away from victory!

Shortly before dawn the French land — metropolitan troops of the 175th Regiment, Zouaves from Algeria in bright red and blue and the Foreign Legion in their kepis (see Image 5). They land either side of Gaba Tepe, attempting to push across the plain and cut the peninsula in two. Blocking their path was the newly arrived 57th Regiment, the best Ottoman troops on the peninsula. The French will spend the whole day here attempt ing to break through, but will not succeed. However, the French 1e Divsion and the British 29th Division slowly grind the 27th Regiment into the dust, and isolate the  57th . The 57th refused to acknowledge their retreat order (I kept rolling 05!) and so they were cut off. An attempt to retreat in daylight was disastrous – by the end of the second day the British had several 18pdr batteries placed on the coastal ridge and daylight movement on the plain was suicidal. [We adjusted some of the dice roll modifiers for orders change as a result of this sub-battle, we all agreed it was too hard for formations to change their orders from Attack. ]

Image 5 - 29th Division, French 1e, and New Zealand Bde battle the 27th and 57th Regiments

Image 5 – 29th Division, French 1e, and New Zealand Bde battle the 27th and 57th Regiments

The New Zealanders at the southern end lead the rush across the plain, but are cut down by rapid-fire shrapnel from the Ottoman Krupp 75mm batteries on Ayerli Tepe, just to the north of Serafim Farm. The 4th Australian Brigade are ordered  to dig in in front of the beach, guessing correctly that the 57th Regiment is aiming to capture the beach. The 4th will play a critical roll during the second night as they suddenly leave their rifle pits and climb Ayerli Tepe, overrunning the guns and threatening the flank of the 25th regiment at Serafim Farm.

At the top of Image 4 is the British 86th Brigade. They easily reach their first objective line but have trouble accepting orders to go any further. After a few hours the 72nd Ottoman regiment arrive and block their path, until the 72nd hurriedly departs to join the maelstrom around Serafim Farm.

By mid-morning Enver Pasha, commander of the III (Ottoman) Corps is reasonably happy with with the situation in the North – The British, French and New Zealanders are all stopped, and the Ottoman Regiments holding them can probably last one more day until reinforcements arrive. However, the Australian Division at Kum Tepe is headed straight for the forts , and only opposed by the 25th Regiment (i.e. 12 battalions and 1 battery versus 3 battalions and two batteries). Therefore Enver Pasha orders the 26th Regiment to abandon their beaches at Cape Helles and head north, and also pulls the 72nd and 77th regiments out of the North and sent them to Serafim Farm (Image 6). There is no point in pinning the British and French on their beaches if the Australians win the battle by capturing the Forts at the Narrows.

 

Image 6 - 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Australian Brigades climb up to Serafim Farm, opposed by 25th and 77th Regiments

Image 6 – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Australian Brigades climb up to Serafim Farm, opposed by 25th and 77th Regiments

The plans of the respective commanders are shown in the following planning maps, complete with mid-battle scribblings 🙂 [The game can either be played with objective markers placed on the map, or with planning maps. If it is played with objective markers then there are no written orders, although for large games all the play testers have preferred drawing on the planning maps. They also are nice souvenirs.]

Planning Map 1

Planning Map 1

Planning Map 2

Planning Map 2

This battle highlights the planning meta-game. The Ottoman player (i.e. me the designer) felt pretty good at this point. I  thought that I had wrecked every Entente brigade and regiment in the northern sector. The British and French had suffered very badly from close range rifle fire, and the New Zealanders had been shredded by shrapnel from the field artillery near Serafim Farm. The Australian 1st Division (1st, 2nd, 3rd Brigades) had reached the heights overlooking the forts at Serafim Farm, but the Australian brigades were now opposed by an equal number of Ottoman regiments. However, the Ottoman line ran west to east, not north-south. The Ottomans had their backs facing the North. If any of the Entente forces in the north sector were to break out then the entire Serafim position would be attacked from the rear. As it turned out, the 4th Australian Brigade were fresh. As night fell, they changed orders to attack order and suddenly roared up the plateau from the North. All the Ottoman regiments were engaged and worn down, so they had low Officer Point totals, making it very difficult to pass the Change Orders rolls. The Entente had managed to “turn inside the Ottoman decision cycle.” In a standard I-go-You-go game no player ever gets caught out of position like this; they can instantly wheel their entire army. This is the part of the game I love – it is a game of watching the other side’s reserves, getting inside their head, and stealing a march on them. To make things worse for me, the French landed their other brigade (2nd Colonial, of two regiments)  and raced due East into the gap just north of Ayerli Tepe. I am running out of reserves. I am forced to rely on an ad hoc group of field artillery that I managed to save from the wreckage of the 57th Regiment.

 

Image 7 - The critical maneuver - 4th Australian Brigade attacks the Ottoman rear at Ayerli Tepe and Serafim Farm

Image 7 – The critical maneuver – 4th Australian Brigade attacks the Ottoman rear at Ayerli Tepe and Serafim Farm

As dawn broke, things turn from bad to worse for the Ottomans. Signals reach HMS Queen Elizabeth – the largest battleship in the world. The blue jackets rejoice – they finally have an identified target clear of friendly troops and they soon send salvo after salvo of 15” shells into the Ottoman artillery on Ayerli Tepe. Enver Pasha had been counting on his artillery to force the 4 Australian Brigade to ground while he could find troops to plug the gap, but with the artillery suppressed the Australians came on. [Naval gunfire is extremely powerful, but is rare and unpredictable, just as it was historically. This chit draw was a crucial piece of luck for the Entente]. The Queen Elizabeth has to lift her fire when the Diggers close with the guns. The Ottoman gunners time their shrapnel to explode at the barrel, and losses amongst the Australians are heavy. However, the Australians rally and reform, take the guns and then fan out through the sheep yards of Serafim Farm, cutting off the majority of the Ottoman 25th Regiment. The French thrust just to the north of Ayerli Tepe is blocked by the Ottoman artillery, but when night falls the native troops will be able to safely enter the plain and capture the last Ottoman port at Maidos.  The Ottoman 64th Regiment lands during this barrage and extends the Ottoman southern flank.

The game ended with a definite Entente victory. The Ottomans were not going to regain the ridge, which means that the Entente overlooked the vital port at Maidos. They were within striking force of the forts, and their army was in much better shape than the Ottomans. The arrival of more Entente artillery, plus the Royal Navy Division in 12 hours time might well have broken the Ottoman line.

Image 8 - End State

Image 8 – End State

This game was the biggest Entente victory we have seen. The historical scenarios usually follow history – the British and Anzacs get inland, but not far enough or fast enough to actually threaten anything. Our first attempts at the Free Landing scenarios were massive Ottoman victories – the British never got off the beaches. It is a puzzle game, sorting out the correct attack and defense takes time and skill.

We stopped the game at 10am on the 26th after 15 game turns. Most of the time there was three of us playing, and Scot and I stopped frequently to talk through various rules questions. With various other stoppages and late starts I estimate it was 2.5 days to reach a decisions, with almost every formation on the map. Most games won’t go as long – the Entente is usually stopped earlier and the lines become entrenched.

We have had games where they never got off the beaches. It is a puzzle game, never the same.

C&CNapoleonicsbn1(RBM)

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5 thoughts on “The Battle of Serafim Farm – a Playtest AAR from Gallipoli, 1915

  1. I think my first reply didn’t make it through 🙂

    The game covers the initial landings, 25th-28th April. However, the rules are designed and written to be “Series” rules covering any WWI Battle 1914 through 1915. I intend to publish a second game covering the Suvla Bay landings in August, plus a weekly campaign game to tie the whole lot together. I will do a naval game. If I have the time and counter budget I will put it in the first game, otherwise it will be in the second game.

    • Geoffrey,

      I just posted a question about series application on your latest article, and then reading further found the answer to my question right here! This is a definite pre-order for me now that I know that the game system has series potential!

      If you ever apply the game system to battles of the Mexican Revolution 1910-1920, I would purchase that in an instant!

      Jan

      • Hmm, I never though of that war.

        The weapons would be similar, what matters more is the tactics. In WWI they started with company level tactics and artillery firing over open sights (i.e. Boer War best-practise), but by 1918 both sides were maneuvering by platoon and could fire artillery off-map without registration rounds. The series rule as designed for the 1914/15 methods.

        The battles would probably be of the correct size.

        • I’m in the initial stages of studying the military aspects of the Mexican Revolution, and it would seem like Boer War best practice might be a good starting point for modeling the Revolution, and in fact BW best practice might be too high a standard for some of the engagements … 1918 tactical sophistication most likely would be beyond the level seen during the Revolution, but I am interesting in exploring this in more depth when I have some spare time. So many games, so little time!