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Battleship Texas and Monte Cassino

Earlier this month, my brother and I attended the Texas Broadsides! mini-convention. What makes this event unique? Unlike other events that take place in a hotel or meeting space, this convention happens on board the battleship U.S.S. Texas!

A little primer about the U.S.S. Texas (BB-35). It's a US Navy battleship that has seen service in the "Tampico Incident" and both World Wars. It is one of the oldest battleships remaining in the world. It was first launched on 18 May 1912. It was first installed with coal-fired boilers and was converted to oil-fired boilers sometime between the World Wars. It was also the first US battleship to have anti-aircraft guns installed. Rather than retell the ship's remarkably long service record, I'll just direct you to the Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Texas_(BB-35) for more details.

Currently, the ship is moored at the San Jacinto State Historical site and is open to the public as a museum. Most of the lower decks are filled with water and are not passable, but the top deck and upper decks are open to visitors. Volunteers have been working to restore the interior of the ship. Plans are in place to move the ship to a permanent dry dock where the ship can stay indefinitely. Part of the cost of attendance went toward the restoration efforts.

The interior is amazing! It had a very Jules Verne-esque aesthetic. Every wall and door was made of at least 1" of steel. The interior of the ship smelled of paint and oil. Steep ladders instead of stairways allowed us to move to each deck. There wasn't a single elevator anywhere. The wood planking is still there on the topside. Lots of the brass details are in place as well. Many of the original large caliber guns were still in place. To visit is like a taking a trip back in time!

We were on-board for about half a day. Some of the time was spent touring the ship. The other time was spent playing games. The officer's areas at the bow of the ship had some nice, air conditioned cabins and the game tables were setup there.

My brother and I participated in Daniel Shaw's game called "Brigadier General Commands". Daniel is the author of the rules. He setup this game with 1/285th scale Micro Armor miniatures. I really like this scale because it is closer to a simulation than most miniatures games. Ranges are more true and the time it takes for vehicle and infantry to cross difficult terrain is more realistic. But the miniatures are really, really tiny!


The scenario we played was the Monte Cassino campaign. This is the famous battle where Germans hid inside an ancient monastery (called Monte Cassino) on the top of a cliff overlooking a broad valley. Before the battle began, Americans hit the monastery with repeated air bombardments until it was nothing but rubble.  The monastery was a 1000 year old cultural landmark and the question is still asked today if it was truly necessary to bomb the structure.



My brother and I played the Germans. I setup the Fallschirmjäger inside the ruins of Monte Cassino. Little bro took the remaining German troops and pill boxes surrounding the monastery. Brian Weathersby, a MillenniumCon regular, took the allied forces which consisted of various British units (some Indian and New Zealanders)

After setup, a new Allied air bombardment started. The bombardment was so scattered that elements from every unit was hit, Axis and Allied!  Then, the Allies took their initiative on the first turn. They advanced from every direction at a slow pace due to the rough terrain. BGC uses a card deck to simulate unexpected circumstances. The next card to turn up was the 'Daybreak' card.  The allies were given a choice to halt the advance or continue through the day. They chose to halt the advance out of the range of German guns and wait for nightfall when they would be more difficult to spot.

The next turn, The allies forced ahead and took some of the pill boxes surrounding the monastery. They also pushed forward in the valley below and made a hasty bridge across some flooded rivers. We returned fire on the engineers and halted the construction of a second bridge.

With the next surprise card in the deck, the British revealed that they had already constructed a road leading up the northern side of the mountain. It would have been nice if the British had told their allies about the new road one day earlier! A new brigade of British tanks were already moving down the road.

The following turn, German infantry and gun positions fired on the British tank column and forced them to fall back. British infantry successful captured the remaining pill boxes and started preparations to assault the ruins. Down in the valley, the Americans had pushed into one of the towns protected by German regulars. Bitter house-by-house fighting was sure to start there.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time. This battle represented a short period of the campaign which historically lasted 5 days. Our portion of the battle lasted 3 hours in real time and 16 hours in game time. Daniel explained that his father was present at the battle, fighting in one of the New Zealand brigades. He further explained that what happened in our game was very close to the historical events. Too bad. I was really looking forward to the final assault on the ruined Monte Cassino.

Daniel will be running his Monte Cassino game again at MillenniumCon November 10-12 in Round Rock, TX.  Be sure to check it out. Also, the Battleship Texas is a fun place to visit especially if you have children! And please donate to the cause to help preserve this historic landmark.

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