A Wargamer’s Guide to the Desert War 1940-1943 – Review

Daniel Mersey, a wargame author with an increasing number of publications, has written a few “Wargamer’s Guides”. Previous volumes have covered the Anglo Zulu Wars and the 1066 Norman Conquest. This volume covers North Africa and the Desert War between 1940 and 1943.

The book is paperback of 118 pages, published by Pen & Sword Military on 12 June 2017, ISBN: 9781473851085. It is one of the range of wargame books being published by Pen & Sword.

In many respects, I found this book a better “beginning wargames” book than Iain Dickie’s Wargaming on a Budget as it covers pretty much everything from figure size and model scale, through rules, and figures, and playing the game and setting scenarios.

The book contains six chapters:

  1. The Desert War – an overview of the war covering the early cumsy attempts of the Commonwealth and Italian forces, then the changes broiught about by the introduction of German firces and then lastly the American effect and concluding with Operation Torch and the collapse of the Afrika Korps
  2. Armies, Organization, and Equipment – covering, well, the armies, their organisation and equipment. A generalised discussion of the organisation of the four armies but with references to more detailed Order of Battle. A reasonable equipment list for wargamers is also supplied. There is also a general painting guide for figures and vehicles here
  3. Wargaming the Campaign – it is what is says
  4. Choosing Your Rules – a summary of a number of rules, including: Battlegroup; Blitzkrieg Commander; Bolt Action; Chain of Command; Crossfire; Desert Rats; Flames of War; Iron Cross; KISS Rommel; Operation Squad; Panzer Korps; and Rapid Fire
  5. Choosing Your Models – a look at some of the main manufacturers in various scales including manufacturers of 28mm, 20mm, 15mm, 10/12mm and 6mm. This chapter also discusses scale for each of those figure sizes
  6. Scenarios – setting up some battles to get a feel of the desert war

There is also an index and a list of titles for further reading.

Mersey relies on previous authors’ works as well, such as Don Featherstone, which is not a bad thing.

The book also has a number of colour plates illustrating the subject in the figure sizes of 28mm, 15mm and 6mm. Many of the colour plates are from the Perry Twins.

Being a wargamer and having grown up on stories of the Rats of Tobruk and el Alamein, I have always had an interest in the Desert War. That it was in the first half of the Second World War when the equipment was being developed that would later be used and characterise the late war was  a bonus. Who can not fail to admire the Italians in their tiny tanks or groan at the number of breakdowns of the early cruiser tanks and then marvel at the later Lee/Grant tanks.

This is a volume that should be on any wargamer’s bookshelf. Even now, I am about to post this review, make a coffee and sit in my favourite reading chair and flick through this book again, planning my next Desert War project. Will it be Chain of Command and 28mm or more 6mm and Blitzkrieg Commander? Perhaps even 2mm this time.

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WIP — Yes, Plastics 6

I finished the first five bases today, recovering as I was from watching the Netherlands finish the demolition of Brazilian football. I’m pretty happy with everything on them, except for the unit flashes. Looking further at the flashes on-line this evening they seem somewhat straighter and smaller. Oh well, I guess I will touch them up when I do the next batch of uniform dry-brushing.

Apart from that, I am happy with them. I don’t have to worry about finishing the bases, Anthony will do that so they look the same as the other troops in his forces.

The main colours used were the following (Vallejo unless otherwise noted):

  • 921 English Uniform
  • 988 Khaki
  • 924 Russian Uniform
  • 982 Flat Earth
  • 967 Flat Red
  • 963 Gunmetal Grey
  • 995 German Grey
  • Barbarian Flesh (from Army Painter War Paints)
  • Devlan Mud (an old Games Workshop Citadel wash)

The figures themselves are OK although they appear a little large for 20mm (1/72) and there are a few in odd poses – like the bloke squatting as if he as answering a call of nature whilst pumping a few rounds off from his Lee-Enfield SMLE. The hard plastic takes paint quite well though and has the advantage of not bending like metal does when you bump a figure accidentally.

WIP — Yes, Plastics 5

I was knackered last night so went to bed early. I followed my usual routine, large drink of water, clean teeth and retire to slumber. Usually, as the last thing before sleep, I will watch a movie or TV show on my phone. I know, it’s supposed to prevent you sleeping well but I find it relaxing … go figure! Last night I watched the first episode of Reign. I’ve been kind of caught up in the world of the Tudors recently and it was good to see how far the producers, directors and writers of the shows I have been watching have drifted from the history.

Anyway, I watched, snoozed then slept … only to awake at about three in the morning, unable initially to fall back to sleep again. So, what else does one do at three in the cool of a Singapore morning? I got up and painted for a while. Painting is a catharsis for me (as compared to cathartic for which I rely on a good, heady beer) and usually calms my mind, spirit and emotions so that I can relax. I was hoping that a 3:00 am painting session for about 30 minutes would help me to sleep again. It did.

I had decided that rather than work on all the figures in a single batch, from yesterday’s point onwards I would work on 5 or so bases at a time. That way if any of the technique or paints did not work out I only had a few to repaint rather than the whole batch.

The painting sessions yesterday and this morning were initially to get the webbing done but I decided to do some washing and dry brushing as well, just to see how things turned out.

The picture quality is not great – the phone’s camera combined with the light on the painting table tends to wash the colours together but I am quite pleased with the way that batch looks now. The wash has picked out items such as the collars on the uniform and other fine details. It has also provided an edge between the uniform and the webbing.

Next task will be to do the same for the rest of the figures, then pick out the weapons, water bottles and other smaller items such as the bayonet scabbards.

WIP — Yes, Plastics 4

I had hoped to have uniforms and webbing done but I was only using a standard sized brush (about a size 0 or 1) – the uniforms took somewhat longer to paint than expected (memo to self: “self – get a couple of bigger brushes  … when you get a job”).

Uniforms painted - now starting to look like soldiers. Note how the two figures already painted are starting to merge in with the others
Uniforms painted – now starting to look like soldiers.
Note how the two figures already painted are starting to merge in with the others

Next up – webbing and other impedimenta. Then wash, highlight and lastly pick out the weapons.

WIP — Yes, Plastics 3

No more beer money left – time to get cracking on the painting. Yesterday was a good day – two colours were added to the figures.

The first colour to go on was the hair. Yes, I gave the Tommies hair. There is enough of an area under the helmet and above the neck that if it is left flesh, well, they’ll look like a little unit of Sinead O’Connors!

Hair painted - of course, it is lucky this is not next to yesterday's picture as you wouldn't see it ... but I know it's painted :-)
Hair painted – of course, it is lucky this is not next to yesterday’s picture as you wouldn’t see it … but I know it’s painted 🙂
The tin lids are painted. The colour is Russian Uniform and used for British helmets and tanks - and by default, equipment such as 2-pdrs, mortars and MMGs.
The tin lids are painted. The colour is Russian Uniform and used for British helmets and tanks – and by default, equipment such as 2-pdrs, mortars and MMGs.

I also touched up the helmets on the painted figures as well as I want them to look like a part of the same unit. The helmet colour will soften a little as well when I apply some brown wash.

Next up – uniforms and webbing.

WIP — Yes, Plastics 2

The beer was good so the painting is underway.

The figures have been under-coated in spray black. I like to use a brown undercoat these days, works as well as the black and makes it easier to see details on the figures as they are painted but I am trying to match his other figures a little so black under-coat was the way to go.

After basing material is added, the figures have been under-coated in black
After basing material is added, the figures have been under-coated in black

After under-coating, especially when dealing with black under-coat, I like to paint the flesh next. It helps me see the other detail and generally it is the lowest part of the figure to paint (well, the face is anyway) so I can paint up to the edge of it easier.

Flesh coloured paint added to the, er, fleshy areas on the figures
Flesh coloured paint added to the, er, fleshy areas on the figures

Next up – uniforms, helmets and webbing.

WIP — Yes, Plastics

Painting some plastics for a mate here … the things I’ll do for beer money 🙂

Some British WW2 Infantry, figures in grey are from the Model Soldier coming I believe and the light brown are Zvezda. The 2-pdr base has had some modeling plaster added to it to help bed it in finally as the model was a bit unstable just attached to the wooden base.

Plastic Soldier Company in grey, Zvezda in brown
Plastic Soldier Company in grey, Zvezda in brown
A view from the other side - the 2-pdr was a challenge to construct given my fat fingers and the fine parts on it
A view from the other side – the 2-pdr was a challenge to construct given my fat fingers and the fine parts on it

Figures are just now sitting and I’m letting the glue set before adding sand to the base and undercoating. Target is to paint them by mid week.

Rapid Fire – Game 2 – Second Game in the Gun Bar – Don’t Roll Ones!

The paras and supporting elements star to move towards the village
The paras and supporting elements star to move towards the village

Loins girt (girth?) I hobbled out to the taxi with the lady and we headed up to Anthony’s at Diary Farm for the second Rapid Fire game.

Squeezing my sore leg (I used my bung knee as an excuse to catch a taxi today) into the back of the taxi we took off for the 30 minute drive. I bet you didn’t think that the red dot that is Singapore on the map is that big.

Anyway, the taxi ride was interesting as I got to see some new areas of the island, especially around the Clementi area.

We arrived and dived in to see Anthony slaving over a hot barbecue. Today’s food experiment was pizza cooked in the BBQ oven on a pizza stone. Using an Indian naan as the base, the pizza was constructed then placed in the oven to cook. Experiment successful. The pizza was great.

The new scenery - the buildings that made up the village
The new scenery – the buildings that made up the village

Anthony and I then retired to the Gun Bar to commence the game. Three companies of paras with supporting elements and a couple of Cromwell tanks with a couple of Shermans and a Firefly to arrive later had to take and hold the town.

The paras advanced across the field as the Cromwell’s advanced down the road. The AT gun deployed covering the bridge. The Cromwell’s were surprised by a German AT gun opening up on their right flank however there was only light damage to one Cromwell before a 3″ mortar barrage silenced the gun crew.

The paras advanced cautiously and used a combination of the 3″ supporting mortar, an MMG and the two Cromwell’s firing HE to ruin a couple of pieces of architecture in the village. Of course, this did not stop the panzerfausts and flame-thrower armed troops hiding in there from creating havoc a little later.

A flash of light reveals the Cromwell's moving to a position across the river allowing them to open up on the buildings
A flash of light reveals the Cromwell’s moving to a position across the river allowing them to open up on the buildings

The Shermans raced down the road and across the bridge, meeting no opposition until on the bridge. A German Hanomag opened up on the lead Sherman and caused minor damage. The Shermans pressed on and entered the village.

All was going well until a panzerfaust attached the lead Sherman. In the meantime, a flame-thrower tried to torch the second Sherman. The flame-thrower, at point blank range, was unsuccessful twice. The panzerfaust, however, was not and it managed to knock out the lead Sherman.

A reaction test followed. I needed to roll more than 1. I rolled 1 and the Shermans routed off the table. That was pretty much game over as the infantry was still behind the bocage. The only time I rolled sixes was for infantry moving through difficult going and in Rapid Fire, you deduct the roll of a six sided dice from 6″ for infantry move through difficult going. 6-6 equals 0. 😦

The Germans had some reinforcements coming as well in a bound or two in the form of two Panthers and a Tiger tank.

I draw another veil over this sad scene (I think I am cornering the veil market here).

One thing that was really neat was Anthony’s casualty markers. He had picked up one of those packets of plastic toy soldiers for about $5. They were then mounted on small metal discuss that cost about ten cents each, sprayed red and the result is a neat casualty marker.

The neat casualty marker is at the right hand end of the line
The neat casualty marker is at the right hand end of the line

The lesson from today’s wargame for aspiring wargame generals was …

Don’t Roll Ones!

Anthony’s battle report is at Battle of St Roll Ones

Rapid Fire – Game 1 – First Battle in the Gun Bar

The Paras have landed - opening moves
The Paras have landed – opening moves

Or … A Bocage too Far!

In a somewhat fortunate but at the same time unfortunate series of events, most of the Paras parachuted in close to each other with the 3″ mortar team landing on the other side of the bocage. On the hill to the left the rest of the paras landed with one of the gliders – the gliders containing Royal Engineers. The other glider can be seen having landed over in a field on the other side of the battlefield.

There were casualties from the rough glider landings with 60% of the engineers rendered hors de combat whilst the jeep that was the transport for the 6-pdr anti-tank gun in the other glider was also knocked out of action.

The good thing was that the Paras all landed together. The bad news was that they landed between a concealed MMG and a concealed StuG III. ((well the StuG III was concealed to all except the 3″ mortar team that landed next to it – it would have been a bit better had a PIAT team landed there))

On the plus side, the engineers that survived were near the tank obstacles that they would need to clear before the reinforcements arrived.

The Paras have found some cover of sorts and a smoke screen was laid
The Paras have found some cover of sorts and a smoke screen was laid

The Germans opened up on the Paras whilst they madly scrambled for cover. On the hill on the left you can see Paras making their way to the soft cover provided by the bomb craters whilst the others head to the cover of the bocage. The Paras then had the rock and a hard place choice to make – the MMG was firing on them from the village in right background whilst on the other side of the bocage the StuG waited.

At this point I will draw a sad vale veil over this scene and simple note that by the time the reinforcements arrived (two Shermans and a Cromwell) the Paras had ceased to exist as a viable force.

A good win to Anthony on the christening of his new wargames table (and a bloody nice combination of steaks and lamb chops mate from the BBQ).

Time I grabbed my copy of World War 2 Basic Infantry Tactics for Dummies I suspect.