Monday 16 February 2015

"L'ultima carica" - the last cavalry charge in history. Izbushenskiy, 1942.

I have always felt that the (un)preparedness of the Italian and Hungarian armies for WWII was nicely highlighted by the fact that these two nations did so well in the fencing events in the 1936 Olympics. (Italy: 4 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze; Hungary: 3 gold, 1 bronze.)

Fitting, therefore, that the Italian army should also claim the honour of having carried out the last cavalry charge in history. The "ultima carica" was performed near Izbushenskiy on 24 August 1942, by the Savoia regiment.


Who wouldn't want to wargame such an action? A few years back I wrote a scenario for the battle, using the Kampfgruppe Commander rules. Recently, at Dave W's behest, I dug it out again and we happily revisited this glorious episode. The full scenario can be found on Flickr:

In our game, history was somewhat reversed, as it was the Soviet Guards who charged the Savoia dragoons on Turn 1:

As the game starts after the Sforzesca division has been smashed back from the Don, the Italian centre starts as a gaping hole, which the Soviet 203rd Rifle Division is poised to exploit. White counters denote the hills that are objectives for the purpose of determining victory at the end of the game.

On the Italian left, a single pioneer battalion is holding the line, trying to buy time for remnants of Sforzesca to rally in Yagodniy behind the pioneers.

After a furious and protracted struggle, the Savoia cavalry are destroyed in the balka above Chebotarevskiy, leaving only an Italian modernist poster behibnd them:

Similarly, on the left flank, Russian cavalry clear the Italian flamethrowers out of the Kriuska ravine:

The Bersaglieri battlegroup arrives to shore up the Italian centre. Riflemen dismount from their motor tricycles, while the mighty L6/40 light tanks race to the aid of the CC.NN Tagliamento Legion on Hill 193.

But the Soviets have not been idle either. 652nd Tank Brigade has formed up at last, ready to attack Hill 193, supported by the Guards:

But gallant Blackshirts somehow destroy some T34s and deter the rest!

On the Italian left, costly Soviet assaults will eventually clear the pioneers off Hill 208:

The outnumbered Bersaglieri wondered how they could shift the Soviet 203rd Rifle Division. They would need help:

Help was at hand in the form of these Semovente 47/32s:
which boldly raced round to attack the 203rd from the rear, threatening their line of communications. Most of the tiny tank destroyers were soon grenaded by Russian infantry, but they had done their job  and halted the enemy's advance.

Similarly, the light armour sent to support the Blackshirts was attacked by Lend-Lease Lees, outgunned and destroyed.
But they had bought enough time. At game end, the Soviets held just 3 of the 9 objectives, 2 short of the 5 they needed for a win. Viva Italia!

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