Gerbini/Sferro Station (Sicily, July 1943)

Kaunitz

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Hello community

I’m currently working on a map + scenario covering the battle of Gerbini/Sferro Station in July 1943. Originally, I wanted to create a scenario for Combat Mission, but I’ve put it on hold for various reasons. Generally speaking, Command Ops lends itself much better to historical scenarios, without making too many adjustments for “fun” gameplay. Anyway, you can take a look in my research in the CM forum here: LINK.

Here is a screenshot of the current state of the map. It is still a work in progress and I plan to increase its size slightly. As you can see, I had to make some compromises with the height layers. I use height intervals of 20m for my altitude layers. Some of the higher mountains/regions in the north have to be cut off / flattened in return for a higher fidelity of the flatter terrain in the south.

62qE6Dd.png


As you would expect, the OOB for the Allies is easy to find. The OOB of the Axis not so much. But after some research, I’m confident that I got it as accurate as it can get. If you have any tips for me (in excess of the sources I’ve used – see the post below) I would be glad if you could share them with me! :)

As my research for the axis OOB for this particular scenario forced me to consider the bigger picture and the axis OOB for the whole of Sicily, I also have the intention to create further Sicily scenarios for COII, starting with Primosole Bridge + Catania and perhaps the battles of Sferro Hills and the Canadian push on the left flank, all of which are very close to the Gerbini battle both topographically and time-wise. In the long run, I’d also be looking at the US battles further to the northwest (e.g. Troina) and the landings (Gela counterattacks).

While I’m happy with the OOBs, the exact deployment/position of the forces – especially the Axis forces - at the start of the scenario has to be based on conjecture.

I’m planning to update this post with more information on the scenario in the future, so stay tuned.
 
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Kaunitz

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Sources (online)

For a contemporary 1943 map (1:25.000) take a look here: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/italy_25k/ (Gerbini) (same here: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/maps/europe/zoomify138659.html ). This seems to be the US Army Map Service -map that the allied troops actually used during the campaign.

You can compare this to modern maps, like the OpenTopo map (https://opentopomap.org/#map=15/37.47215/14.84386) and google maps (https://www.google.at/maps/@37.4691357,14.842885,1698m/data=!3m1!1e3).

Thanks to the 51st Division online museum, some quite detailed reports of the action are available online:
I also found this account quite helpful: https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2017/02/25/the-plain-of-catania-1943-part-i/

I could even find some drawings by the Division's artist Ian Gilber Marr Eadie (1917–1973):http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/8379 It is labeled with "Gerbini".

Two findings in the Canadian War Museum (I suppose it's Monte Turcisi in the background)
https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/2691135/?q=service:Canadian+Army&page_num=1&item_num=13&media_irn=5559681
https://www.warmuseum.ca/collections/artifact/2690855/?q=service:Canadian+Army&page_num=2&item_num=2&media_irn=5559787


Sources (books)

more general titles
  • Samuel W. Mitcham Jr./ Friedrich von Stauffenberg: The Battle of Sicily. How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory (Stackpole Military History Series (1991).
  • Carlo D’Este: Bitter Victory. The Battle for Sicily, July–August 1943 (1988).
  • Albert N. Garland / Howard McGaw Smyth: United States Army in World War II. Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy (1965). [short description of the German forces...]
  • Hugh Pond, Sicily (1962).
  • Eric Linklater:The Campaign in Italy (Second World War 1939 - 1945 Series) (1977).
more specific titles
  • Claude Gillono, Fortress. German Armour In The Defence Of Sicily (Firefly Collection No.3) (2013). [very usefull for me, regarding the axis OOB and equipment!]
  • Lorenzo Bovi, Sicilia WW2, Seconda Guerra Mondiale - Foto inedite. Speciale Aeroporti: Catania, Gerbini (2016). [includes an extract of a British air recon map sketching the (primarily AA) defences around Gerbini runway, including the pillboxes you can still see today - very valuable information - without it, you don't understand the initial artillery fire plan of the attack; there was a major trench network at the areas of artillery concentrations E & D]
  • [pending: Claude Gillono - Hermann Göring Panzer Division in Sicily (2008)]
 
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Bones26

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May I suggest as a further future source, Mark Zuehlke and one of his volumes from his Canadian Army campaigns of WWII, more specifically his book entitled, " Operation Husky - The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10 - August 7, 1943"

His also has several other volumes pertinent to the Italian campaigns and that deal with the Canadian Army efforts at Ortona, the Liri Valley and the Gothic Line.

As an aside, and for those interested in perhaps exploring the Canadian experience during the Italian campaign a bit further but at perhaps a more granular level, may I suggest the book "The Regiment" by Farley Mowat. In it he recounts the story of the Hasty P's (The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, Canada's most decorated regiment of the war winning 31 battle honours) from their recruitment in September 1939 until wars end concentrating largely on their efforts during the Italian campaign, and this from his perspective as a second lieutenant and platoon leader in the Regiment. Additionally, there is his own grim personal memoire of his own second world war service in his excellent book "And No Birds Sang"

Mowat was one of Canada's most esteemed & recognized writers (he has authored 45 books) and in his moving accounts of these campaigns he foregoes a simple dry recitation of units and maneuvers alone as one might otherwise expect from a military history, to also capture the sights, sounds, confusion, valiantly and human consequences of war.

Cheers and good luck.
 

Kaunitz

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Hi Bones25!

Thank you for the tip! I will certainly take a look once I'm working on a "Canadian" scenario. I do plan to create other Sicily scenarios for COII, including those involving the Canadian Division. In this thread though I'm dealing solely with the engagement at Gerbini & Sferro Station (Highland Division versus parts of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division).
 
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Hello community

I’m currently working on a map + scenario covering the battle of Gerbini/Sferro Station in July 1943. Originally, I wanted to create a scenario for Combat Mission, but I’ve put it on hold for various reasons. Generally speaking, Command Ops lends itself much better to historical scenarios, without making too many adjustments for “fun” gameplay. Anyway, you can take a look in my research in the CM forum here: LINK.

Here is a screenshot of the current state of the map. It is still a work in progress and I plan to increase its size slightly. As you can see, I had to make some compromises with the height layers. I use height intervals of 20m for my altitude layers. Some of the higher mountains/regions in the north have to be cut off / flattened in return for a higher fidelity of the flatter terrain in the south.


As you would expect, the OOB for the Allies is easy to find. The OOB of the Axis not so much. But after some research, I’m confident that I got it as accurate as it can get. If you have any tips for me (in excess of the sources I’ve used – see the post below) I would be glad if you could share them with me! :)

As my research for the axis OOB for this particular scenario forced me to consider the bigger picture and the axis OOB for the whole of Sicily, I also have the intention to create further Sicily scenarios for COII, starting with Primosole Bridge + Catania and perhaps the battles of Sferro Hills and the Canadian push on the left flank, all of which are very close to the Gerbini battle both topographically and time-wise. In the long run, I’d also be looking at the US battles further to the northwest (e.g. Troina) and the landings (Gela counterattacks).

While I’m happy with the OOBs, the exact deployment/position of the forces – especially the Axis forces - at the start of the scenario has to be based on conjecture.

I’m planning to update this post with more information on the scenario in the future, so stay tuned.

It's refreshing to see the CO2 engine used to recreate battles on a new front.

I believe this is the first scenario planned to reflect the Allied offensive against "soft underbelly" of the Axis in Europe in 1943.

Others have used this site (https://forum.axishistory.com/viewforum.php?f=56&sid=d0608090da6957f6c2c9a9935c3bee83) to document OOBs, TO&Es, and Axis deployments in previous scenarios. It might be worth a check for any Axis force deployments in Sicily.
 

Kaunitz

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Hi, jimcarravallah!

Thanks for the link, I will take a look!

I have to admit that the italo-german OOB is giving me lots of headaches for the Gerbini scenario. So much in fact that I consider to do the Primosole Bridge scenario first (map is already 1/2 finished). It's better documented than the Gerbini battle and also, getting a clearer picture of the units present at Primosole/Catania helps me to deduce what units were likely present at Gerbini, as the two front sectors were adjacent.

But even in the case of Primosole bridge, some major questions remain unanswered. Most authors who have written about it seem to get a bit carried away by the "Red Devils verus Green Devils epicness". I'm pretty deep into it currently and I still don't know when the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 4 actually landed (most books indicate 14th July, but it seems as if the Fallschirmjäger-Pionier-battalion that held the bridge was only relieved by FJ Reg. 4 on July 17th). I'm currently trying to lay my hands on an account of one of the members of the FJ Pioniere to get some certainty. And I'm not certain about the position of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 3 at the dawn of 14th July (=start of the scenario). Somewhere south of the bridge, in between the Simeto and the British, perhaps rather to the east, towards the see...

But then again I suppose most people playing the scenario don't care that much anyway. The only sign that a scenario's OOB has been well researched is usually that it features mixed ad hoc units with strange names. But when working on a scenario the spirit of research takes over at some point. ;)

Any way, the Primosole/Catania scenario is interesting and challenging. It Features lots of fortifications, naval support fire, British commandos (trying to secure the Ponte dei Malati) and Paras, italian assault troops (Arditi) in Saharina jeeps, etc. etc.
 
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Hi, jimcarravallah!

Thanks for the link, I will take a look!

I have to admit that the italo-german OOB is giving me lots of headaches for the Gerbini scenario. So much in fact that I consider to do the Primosole Bridge scenario first (map is already 1/2 finished). It's better documented than the Gerbini battle and also, getting a clearer picture of the units present at Primosole/Catania helps me to deduce what units were likely present at Gerbini, as the two front sectors were adjacent.

But even in the case of Primosole bridge, some major questions remain unanswered. Most authors who have written about it seem to get a bit carried away by the "Red Devils verus Green Devils epicness". I'm pretty deep into it currently and I still don't know when the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 4 actually landed (most books indicate 14th July, but it seems as if the Fallschirmjäger-Pionier-battalion that held the bridge was only relieved by FJ Reg. 4 on July 17th). I'm currently trying to lay my hands on an account of one of the members of the FJ Pioniere to get some certainty. And I'm not certain about the position of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 3 at the dawn of 14th July (=start of the scenario). Somewhere south of the bridge, in between the Simeto and the British, perhaps rather to the east, towards the see...

But then again I suppose most people playing the scenario don't care that much anyway. The only sign that a scenario's OOB has been well researched is usually that it features mixed ad hoc units with strange names. But when working on a scenario the spirit of research takes over at some point. ;)

Any way, the Primosole/Catania scenario is interesting and challenging. It Features lots of fortifications, naval support fire, British commandos (trying to secure the Ponte dei Malati) and Paras, italian assault troops (Arditi) in Saharina jeeps, etc. etc.
I haven't done a lot of detailed research on the Italian front, though I find the battles in Sicily intriguing as they included the first mass combined seaborne / airborne invasion effort against a defended coast (in effect one of the "proof of principle" tests for D-Day), and evolved into the high maneuver allied advances (Patton's "end run.") in terrain more varied than that in North Africa.

As far as Axis deployments, keep in mind that the scenario creation engine allows for variables in deployment -- "what if?" options to vary the situation faced by the human player when contesting against the computer player. Those options can be set at random, or defined in terms of "favor <side>" to create a balance. They allow for varying the arrival times and places for reinforcements and quantity of supplies to support the forces.

As a scenario designer you have the option of determining what is "historical" and what is a decision influencing variable.

If you've got the appropriate OOBs and TO&Es for those OOBs on the map at start, unless you have specific histories detailing deployments to exact locations and at the specific times your scenario covers, the best option is looking at the objectives you define as critical to defense or offense and deploying your known forces at points that support either the defense or the start of offense at the time you choose for the battle to begin.

In looking at a scenario, you want the opposing forces to face opposition of as realistic a strength and quality as they were at start, and then allow the player(s) to work through the problems the commander(s) faced start with their own plans and actions. "Being historical" doesn't mean every battle ends the same way, but that every commander taking on a "historical" force faces the same problems the original commander faced.

The scenario should have the potential of ending up as the battle did historically, but shouldn't be judged based on having the same outcome every time (otherwise, why play it more than once?).

Hope this helps.
 

Kaunitz

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jimcaravallah,

Indeed my aim is not neccessarily to re-create the historical outcome. The starting conditions, the arrival of reserves and the objectives need to be realistic, everything else is up to the player and the AI. The map and the length of the scenario is also a big factor here. I decided to use a rather large map so that players have more freedom in their decisions. E.g. the main objective in the scenario will be the city of Catania, not the Primosole bridge.

So for me it's important to keep the bigger picture in mind: Cancelling their counter-attacks on the allied embarkment-zones, the axis Forces in this sector (Gruppe Schmalz) have to conduct a fighting retreat to establish a new, cohesive frontline along the Simeto & Dittaino rivers (the Primosole bridge is the easternmost pivot point of that new frontline). The Allies, by contrast, try to break through to Catania as fast as possible, which was a rather difficult task as their troops were lacking mobilisation. The Primosole brigde is only one piece in the operational puzzle and turned out to be not really decisive. As the British were unable to put enough pressure on the retreating Germans, the Germans were able to simply use another bridge (Fergotto bridge) for their withdrawal northwards. As a starting date for the scenario, I'm considering the dawn of July 14. This is after the British paras have landed and taken possession of Primosole bridge. Including the Para's coup de main as part of the scenario would not be that apt and interesting for COII's scale, and also raise problems concerning the demoralized italian units (who were dissolving quickly in the night from 13 to 14 July), the Para's capturing of enemy equipment, the staggered arrival of additional Paras who had dropped further away from the dropzones, etc. Instead, the scenario sets in with the German ad hoc counterattacks against the bridge.

I admit I'm mainly concerned with the maps and the OOBs for now. I've not taken a closer look at the options for reserves and for implementing "randomness" yet. One important factor here will be the availability of the naval support (HMS Newfoundland) for the Paras. It's date of Arrival should have a large random factor (only very few radios made it through the catastrophical drop, radios were unreliable, etc).

I'm also happy to report that I've had a small breakthrough yesterday evening as I was able to access the unpublished manuscript “US Army Foreign Military Studies, T-2”. It contains the translated accounts given by some German generals who were involved in the campaign, including Wilhelm Schmalz, shortly after the war (1950). This source is of great importance to me since the Gruppe Schmalz is the main axis force in the Primosole scenario. Schmalz provides information about the units under his command, even including some sketches (I just have to make out the map that is supposed to be used in combination with the sketch).

I will open up a second threat soon for the Primosole Scenario soon, to discuss some of the more detailed aspects. For example, the British paras had no radio contact with their relief force - how would you represent that in the game? I'm actually considering to turn the Paras into static units, but this is not ideal either.
 
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I have, in English, the battle order of the Italian army of July 1943 nº 306 / .2-2 if that eventually helps in the continuation of the scenario, only ask me in the private that I send you by email.
 

Tainster

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jimcaravallah,

Indeed my aim is not neccessarily to re-create the historical outcome. The starting conditions, the arrival of reserves and the objectives need to be realistic, everything else is up to the player and the AI. The map and the length of the scenario is also a big factor here. I decided to use a rather large map so that players have more freedom in their decisions. E.g. the main objective in the scenario will be the city of Catania, not the Primosole bridge.

So for me it's important to keep the bigger picture in mind: Cancelling their counter-attacks on the allied embarkment-zones, the axis Forces in this sector (Gruppe Schmalz) have to conduct a fighting retreat to establish a new, cohesive frontline along the Simeto & Dittaino rivers (the Primosole bridge is the easternmost pivot point of that new frontline). The Allies, by contrast, try to break through to Catania as fast as possible, which was a rather difficult task as their troops were lacking mobilisation. The Primosole brigde is only one piece in the operational puzzle and turned out to be not really decisive. As the British were unable to put enough pressure on the retreating Germans, the Germans were able to simply use another bridge (Fergotto bridge) for their withdrawal northwards. As a starting date for the scenario, I'm considering the dawn of July 14. This is after the British paras have landed and taken possession of Primosole bridge. Including the Para's coup de main as part of the scenario would not be that apt and interesting for COII's scale, and also raise problems concerning the demoralized italian units (who were dissolving quickly in the night from 13 to 14 July), the Para's capturing of enemy equipment, the staggered arrival of additional Paras who had dropped further away from the dropzones, etc. Instead, the scenario sets in with the German ad hoc counterattacks against the bridge.

I admit I'm mainly concerned with the maps and the OOBs for now. I've not taken a closer look at the options for reserves and for implementing "randomness" yet. One important factor here will be the availability of the naval support (HMS Newfoundland) for the Paras. It's date of Arrival should have a large random factor (only very few radios made it through the catastrophical drop, radios were unreliable, etc).

I'm also happy to report that I've had a small breakthrough yesterday evening as I was able to access the unpublished manuscript “US Army Foreign Military Studies, T-2”. It contains the translated accounts given by some German generals who were involved in the campaign, including Wilhelm Schmalz, shortly after the war (1950). This source is of great importance to me since the Gruppe Schmalz is the main axis force in the Primosole scenario. Schmalz provides information about the units under his command, even including some sketches (I just have to make out the map that is supposed to be used in combination with the sketch).

I will open up a second threat soon for the Primosole Scenario soon, to discuss some of the more detailed aspects. For example, the British paras had no radio contact with their relief force - how would you represent that in the game? I'm actually considering to turn the Paras into static units, but this is not ideal either.
Can you tell me where I can get access to the US Army Foreign Military Studies, T-2 that you refer to.
 
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Can you tell me where I can get access to the US Army Foreign Military Studies, T-2 that you refer to.
I believe you referred to it.

I did look it up, and here's a link to some digitally archived data, though not necessarily covering the era you're researching for the Italian front:

 

Tainster

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I believe you referred to it.

I did look it up, and here's a link to some digitally archived data, though not necessarily covering the era you're researching for the Italian front:

I eventually managed to find the script T-2. I took out a month's free subscription to https://www.fold3.com/ and was able to access all the information that I was looking for.
 

GoodGuy

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Sources (online)

For a contemporary 1943 map (1:25.000) take a look here: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/italy_25k/ (Gerbini) (same here: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/maps/europe/zoomify138659.html ). This seems to be the US Army Map Service -map that the allied troops actually used during the campaign.

I know that this post is from 2019, but I just wanted to mention a fact that is often overlooked:

The map is not from 1943, it is an Italian map from 1934 which served as base for a map version that was then revised by the US map service.
The map contains a clear hint at the bottom: "Photolitographed by O.S. 1943".
But it also carries a note at the right bottom: "Copied from Carta Topografica ..... 1934, Instituto Geografico Militare".

Just like with a lot of Central European locations, the Allied map services had severe problems to come up with decent/recent maps. Especially in the Huertgen Forest, Eifel, Ardennes and Oberberg/Sauerland areas (the latter areas were crossed after the push across the Rhine and then North towards the Ruhr industrial area, which eventually forced the Germans into the Ruhr pocket - trapping 300,000 German troops), many Allied frontline units didn't even have topo maps.
While the original Italian map was published in 1934, it's very well possible that the source data originated from the 1920s, when the actual land surveys were conducted or when pre-WWI maps were updated. This was actually the case for quite a few regions in France (1924, 1925), Germany (1924-1928) and Austria.
Since the first Autobahn project was launched in Italy, and a similar project planned and discussed in Germany (Cologne - Bonn highway), the increasing number of automobiles also created an increased demand for road maps. Also, after WWI, military branches were eager to create or update detailed topo maps of homeland areas, for defensive planning/troop movement and for artillery grids.

Still, as this map was published by the Italian Geo service, it's a pretty good source, but it doesn't contain any changes regarding the number of towns/buildings and the size of settlements, let alone new roads or installations/facilities built until 1943.

For instance, the Italians built a main military airfield in 1939/1940 just west (and a tick south) of la Rotondella, at "Mass Bagnara":
While the map just seems to show a few farm houses and 2 large barns (or factory halls), the actual main airfield was equipped with a radio beacon, a navigation and a runway light system and received a concrete runway. Satellite airstrips were added in the surrounding area, a plateau 20 km east of Catania.
Around 20 Italian air "gruppos" (1 gruppo = 2-3 squadrons, so this was the BN level) and 11 German KGs used those satellites and the main airfield. Axis aerial units also used the airfield during transfers from North Africa to the Italian mainland, to refuel. Nowadays, only a short piece of the concrete main runway is still visible on google images, as the surrounding area had been converted back to farm land in the late 1940s and early 1950s, already.

Since the original map is from 1934, the airfield and strips are not drawn on the map, of course. But even if Allied secret services would have been able to obtain more recent civilian maps, say from 1941, the maps wouldn't have contained military airfields, most likely. With increasing Allied aerial recon covering the French Southern Coast and Central/South Italy, more details could be added by reviewing aerial images, where then updated maps were published as revised versions in spring or summer 1944, for instance.
 
Last edited:

Dordo

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Hello community

I’m currently working on a map + scenario covering the battle of Gerbini/Sferro Station in July 1943. Originally, I wanted to create a scenario for Combat Mission, but I’ve put it on hold for various reasons. Generally speaking, Command Ops lends itself much better to historical scenarios, without making too many adjustments for “fun” gameplay. Anyway, you can take a look in my research in the CM forum here: LINK.

Here is a screenshot of the current state of the map. It is still a work in progress and I plan to increase its size slightly. As you can see, I had to make some compromises with the height layers. I use height intervals of 20m for my altitude layers. Some of the higher mountains/regions in the north have to be cut off / flattened in return for a higher fidelity of the flatter terrain in the south.

62qE6Dd.png


As you would expect, the OOB for the Allies is easy to find. The OOB of the Axis not so much. But after some research, I’m confident that I got it as accurate as it can get. If you have any tips for me (in excess of the sources I’ve used – see the post below) I would be glad if you could share them with me! :)

As my research for the axis OOB for this particular scenario forced me to consider the bigger picture and the axis OOB for the whole of Sicily, I also have the intention to create further Sicily scenarios for COII, starting with Primosole Bridge + Catania and perhaps the battles of Sferro Hills and the Canadian push on the left flank, all of which are very close to the Gerbini battle both topographically and time-wise. In the long run, I’d also be looking at the US battles further to the northwest (e.g. Troina) and the landings (Gela counterattacks).

While I’m happy with the OOBs, the exact deployment/position of the forces – especially the Axis forces - at the start of the scenario has to be based on conjecture.

I’m planning to update this post with more information on the scenario in the future, so stay tuned.
Kaunitz,
no news about your scenario ?
finishing the boring map stopped your work ?
If you need help just ask.

Looking forward to hear from you
 
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