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 – 1/1200th Scale Coastal Vessels

The Coastal Fleets

On the workbench at the moment are my World War 2 German and British 1/1200th scale coastal vessels. These were purchased from Magister Militum and are from the Hallmark range of 1/1200th coastal vessels. Looking through the collection there are S-boats, R-Boats, Torpedo Boats and ferries on the German side. On the British side are some Fairmiles, both gunboats and torpedo boats, MGBs, destroyer, ASW and M/S trawlers and merchant vessels.

Cranes and masts added (which was a pain), they are now based and undercoated. Next step is to paint the sea bases, then the vessels.

To add to this collection there are some Italians coming.

The one more project continues – the megalomania strikes!

I mentioned that there was one more project being planned. Doug and I had decided on the American Revolution (or in his case, the American War of Independence), The plan was to purchase a few packets of plastic figures, paint them up and have them ready for battle overChristmas 2015. We decided to each buy a set or two of figures and swap the British and the Americans. We had decided on 2 boxes of Infantry, half a box of artillery and a handful of Indians each. 40mm frontage, rules to be decided!

Doug ordered some Highlanders, Indians, cavalry and the mixed grenadiers and light infantry. He also ordered the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse Revolutionary War from IMEX and some Italeri British Light Cavalry

He was then going to package the americans and half the Indians and send them on so I could get painting – oh, and  half the artillery.

He noted that

As far as I can tell, we will end up with:

British
16 cavalry (+ 1 wounded)
88 usuable british infantry (+ spares) + 4 mounted
16 british grenadiers
16 light company skirmishers
4 guns + 24 figures
42 usable scots figures
24(48) indian figures

American
84 usable militia + 4 mounted
24(48) indians
4 guns + 24 figures

Doug also suggested that I may need a box of French.

I must admit, that I may have misinterpreted his original email because when I ordered some British Infantry to do a paint conversion to French. I also ordered 2 boxes of American War Of Independence – American Infantry from Italeri, an American Revolution War Of The Patriots Set from IMEX and two boxes of IMEX British Redcoats

I would have ordered IMEX Americans instead of Italeri but they were out of stock.

A calculation was made by Doug last night and his email noted:

“You do realise just how many infantry you are going to have? rough count, each box is 50 and the set around 100, so with the ones here, 100, you will have another 100 in the boxed set, another 100 from your two Italeri boxes, and with the Brits painted up as French – you could have up to 150 of those!”

All up, then we will have (approximately):

Redbox Highlanders – 50
Indians – 50
Dragoons – 32
Grenadiers & Lights – 32
16 artillery & crew
Americans – 300
British – 300

So if 50 Brits were used as French … that would be approximately:

American
25 Indians
16 Light Dragoons
50 French Infantry
8 artillery pieces
300 ‘Patriots’

roughly 375 foot

British
25 Indians
16 Light Dragoons
50 Highlanders
32 Grenadiers & Lights
8 artillery
250 Line Infantry

roughly 357 foot

Megalomania indeed!

Yet one more project

OK, Christmas, the odd beer or ten too many, a late night and a brilliant idea. All these items conspired to have Doug and myself decide that we were going to leap into a new period, a new project, in a scale that was at least new(ish) to me and in a medium that apart from World War 2 and the odd aircraft model, neither of us work in.

The image to the right is a pretty good hint.

So, Doug has sent an order off for some appropriate plastic figures in 1.72 scale, and I am in the process of doing the same thing As we hae been buying some sets, there is a period of figure swapping going to occur.

The plan is to shape up for the battle next Christmas, over the aforementioned odd beer or 10 too many!

Just what I needed, another project in the year that I decided to paint the fleets of Jutland!

Still, it is a good book, especially if you have an interest in that period.

Napoleonic — Battle Five at the Gun Bar — Another Last for a While!

I noted back on 30 June 2014 that I was having the last battle at the Gun Bar for a while as I was taking up a new job and moving from Singapore. Well, as is the way of things in IT and Banking, that move was delayed a week, then another week, then another week and we are still sitting here.

So, it was off to the Gun Bar again, this time with plastic soldiers painted ready for Anthony to base (see previous posts here). To make the trek worthwhile, another Napoleonic game was organised with Général de Corps Anthony facing off against Major General Thomo the Lost again. This was also a special battle as again it was likely to be the last time I was going to be in the position to battle with Anthony, face to face, beer to beer, for some time to come as I up sticks and hopefully high-tail it out of Singapore.

The battlefield was laid out as I arrived, with the battle being taken from Stuart Asquith’s Programmed Wargame Scenarios. The scenario was the British were withdrawing in the Peninsula to the defence lines at Torres Vedras and a rearguard had been left to delay the French by holding a village and a bridge. Again, for depth, it was decided to play along the battlefield rather than across it.

Now, I have mentioned the dice feng shui before so this time I suggested I take the poorly rolling blue dice and Anthony used the high rolling red ones. We again diced to see who would be French and who would be British. Again, I ended up as the British commander.

The British had two battalions of green Portuguese Line and a Battalion of veteran Caçadores. Accompanying the Portuguese were two battalions of British line troops (one understrength) and a battalion of Highlanders (who also were veteran).  There was the 5th battalion of the 60th foot, armed with rifles and already having taken casualties earlier in the retreat. In support was a regiment of Light Cavalry, a foot battery of artillery and a horse battery.

The French started the battle with two regiments of light cavalry already in the table with the rest of the French force arriving one unit at a time, one bound at a time.

I based my tactics around holding the village on the British right with the poor quality Portuguese. Meanwhile the British would hold the more open ground as well as defend the bridge. The Horse battery was deployed forward with the 5/60th to slow the French advance a little and the foot battery was deployed on the hill to the rear. The Caçadores were forward on the British right flank.

The Highlanders were held as a reserve in the centre of the line, able to turn either way as the situation required.

The French advanced and the British fired. The blue dice were indeed rolling low, at one stage I rolled 9 dice and scored nothing higher than a three. However the British tactics were sound and the French élan was such that they came forward rather piecemeal.

The Caçadores went into square on the right, holding up and preventing the French cavalry from attacking the British right. In the meantime the horse battery and the 5/60th fell backwards firing all the while. After 10 bounds, with the scenario due to end, the British still held both the village and the bridge. Victory in yet another of my last games at the Gun Bar. To be fair, 10 bounds was not really enough time for the French and I suggested for the depth of table we were using that a variable finish between 12 and 16 bounds would be more interesting and give the French a better chance.

The photos below are from Anthony’s phone as for some reason as yet unknown, my phone was talking really odd photos and they were not at all clear,

Interestingly, throughout the entire game I won the initiative roll only once, Anthony won that nine times. I inevitably rolled down, he rolled up. I think there is definitely dice feng shui here and the next time we play, the blue dice will be reserved for marker duty, replaced by the green set perhaps.

Dice feng shui exists – at least with those blue dice! After the game finished, I rolled the nine dice again and had seven numbers four or greater! Go figure. The only dice that rolled well was the 8-sided dice being used for morale checks. I should also note that Anthony’s rolls were generally positive – split about 50:50 around 1,2,3 and 4,5,6 on using the red dice so, dice feng shiui exists!

Napoleonic — Battle Four at the Gun Bar — Last for a While

The last time Général de Corps Anthony faced Major General Thomo the Lost was the 5th of May.  Nearly eight weeks later we faced each other across the field of battle one more time. This was a special battle as it was the last time I was going to be in the position to battle with Anthony, face to face, beer to beer, for some time to come as I up sticks and high-tail it out of Dodge … er … sorry … Singapore.

The battlefield was laid out as I arrived and it was decided to play along the battlefield rather than across it. Because of the wicked dice feng shui plaguing Anthony in the past, we decided to dice to see who took the French, with the winner to take them. Once again, I ended up as the British commander.

Forces were equal so we set about deploying. At about this moment, a very nice beer was offered by the commander of the French so toasts were drunk and we retired to the balcony for the Singapore version of a sausage sizzle and that marvel of Australian gastronomic delight – the sausage sanger! The sangers were despatched, as was the beer, so we returned to the table.

I had based my tactics around holding the village in the centre of the table with my forces able to run back into the forest should the going get a little tough. My artillery was massed on my left. The rifles were in the best position to take the town and they were ably supported by the Portuguese.

My right flank was protected by three battalions of English and Highland troops. Battle commenced, dice were rolled, the French were rolled, au revoir, c’est tout ce qu’elle a écrit.

Whilst I lost a light cavalry regiment carelessly, and a few troops from other battalions, the French lost heavily. Again, the dice smiled upon me and laughed at Anthony. I must remember to take my pilgrimage to the shrine of St Magnus (the patron saint of dice rollers – read the Orkneyinga Saga for verification)!

In any case, thanks Anthony for the hospitality, beer, sausages, the games and most importantly, for being a mate!

And then, what better way to complete the battle than …

Bang on!
Bang on!

Bang On!

Napoleonic — Battle Three at the Gun Bar

Back in December 2013 we fought Napoleonic — Battle Two at the Gun Bar. About six weeks ago we started Battle Three. However, a period of high stress as well as hunting for a new job meant that whilst we started Battle Three, I had not had a chance to return to the Gun Bar to finish off the French.

Today I returned to the Gun Bar and finished off the French!

The British cavalry “got tore in” to the French horse and guns on the right, quite effectively, destroying the gun and forcing a retreat from the French. Further time was spent as the British and the French rested their horses before engaging further.

Meanwhile, in the centre, the French columns came forward. They managed to survive a light cavalry charge on them, pretty much destroying the light cavalry but then for some reason the French advance slowed and this allowed the British lines to engage in what they do best, shooting!

“Make Ready! Present! Fire!”

They shot! Devastating volleys delivered on the hapless French.

Game Three at the Gun Bar was over, the gallant French again victims of outrageous fortune (a number of dice rolls came up 1 at the time the French needed 4+).

Adieu!

And thanks Anthony for the brunch. Lovely!

Napoleonic — Battle Two at the Gun Bar

It was a dark and stormy night … well OK, it was dark, all nights are generally dark in this neck of the woods, and it was raining, some of the time. Well, raining really for just the most inconvenient time.

I finished a late afternoon coffee meeting down-town then jumped into a number 700 bus (I almost missed the bus as I was sitting in the bus-stop reading Jack Campbell’s The Lost Stars – Perilous Shield, on  my phone. The driver nicely waited for me making the last minute dash for the bus door with a smile on his face. I boarded and settled in to the one hour bus trip.

The view out the window obstructed by condensation, so it wasn’t raining. It started raining. I checked, it wasn’t raining at the Diary Farm so no problem (I did not have an umbrella with me). As we approached the bus-stop before Diary Farm Road the rain started again. I alighted and waited in the bus shelter the required 20 minutes for the rain shower to pass. It passed. I started walking. At exactly the half way point between the bus shelter and Anthony’s place, the rain started again. I got soaked. The start of this battle report then was written by the shirtless British commander in the wet trousers 1!

It was time again. The last game we had was back on 5 November 2013. My back hack from Dr Bloodaxe 2 as well as a business trip and some other family issues had conspired to keep the protagonists apart until last night. The British had been reinforced since the last battle with another battalion of Highlanders. The British were also handicapped with a wet general. We started.

As the British commander and having less cavalry than the French, I was out-scouted and deployed first. I had a plan. Anchor flanks on the river and the farm and let the French wash over me, destroying them as they came. To that end I deployed the Light Division around the river to keep the French honest there, the Portuguese Division on the Left where they could anchor on the farm, the British and Highland Divisions were in the centre with the Light and Heavy Cavalry Brigades held in reserve. Two British batteries were also deployed in the line.

There were a lot of French. They were in front of the British.

As with the last battle, the British plan was to let the French run onto the British bayonets and then riposte! I did not expect the French to also run onto the batteries but had hoped that the positioning of the two batteries would cause the French to funnel their attack through the centre where a wood would nicely break their formations up.

The French ran into one of the batteries! It was not pretty.

On the British right, the commander of the Light Division seems to have been out on the town with the lads the night before and deployed them where their only option of evading way from the French who got to close was to swim away. This was countered however by the rashness of the French Light Cavalry commander sending his forces into a Balaclava like charge at some British guns, supported by Portuguese battalions.

In the centre, the Old Guard advanced against some stiff volleys from the British Line, eventually closing with the line and forcing them back. The Highlanders were handled roughly by the French Grand(ish)  Battery however managed to weather than storm and were ready to commence the push onto the left flank of the French centre, the Portuguese being ready to do the same on the French right.

The French commander, seeing that his infantry had somehow managed to get themselves caught en masse in the centre decided at this point to commence withdrawing his forces from their current positions whilst he still had an advantage over the British right and whilst the Portuguese had a long march to close with the French right.

This game was also played under the Rank and File rules. As with the last, there were a number of odd things that turned up that I will really get around to discussing in a separate post but overall, a quick game. I think we are thinking of trying FoG Napoleonics next in our question for a set of Wargame Rules that does, as Anthony described it, have “war” and “game” in the same font size or a font size that has “war” a lilttle larger than “game”. Rank and File seems to put the emphasis on the “game” part of “wargame”. Pizza, Beer, and a Wargame – could there be a better way to spend a rainy Thursday evening?


Footnotes

1. Perhaps the most interesting comments were when I sent a selfie to the lady ‘erself at the start of the game after she asked if I had got to the game OK and was I having fun? The selfie was all I replied with and her immediate reply to that was “Where r u?” 🙂

Then there was Anthony taking photographs and saying “I need to be careful not to get a topless Thomo in shot”. My comment back was “don’t worry about that, if anyone asks, just tell them we were playing strip wargames!”

2. “The back hack from doctor Bloodaxe” has a degree of assonance that I did not notice when I first wrote it however it has a definite musical quality to it … unlike Dr Bloodaxe’s skills with a sharp object and my back!

Napoleonic — Battle One at the Gun Bar

It was time – we’d had a couple of games of French-Indian Wars and a couple of games of Rapid Fire, now it was time to turn to something new. We decided to play with Anthony’s new Napoleonic French and his old but still being based British. We’d decided to do a mid-week as my weekends are a bit full just at the moment. Last night I trekked up to Anthony’s Gun Bar at The Dairy Farm. I felt a bit like the postman as I did, trekking bravely and gamely through rain and hail and sleet and snow to get to the game 1.

There are some pictures below. I was the British and decided to demonstrate with the light division in front of the rather extensive convent to the front of my right flank. My artillery was placed in two batteries on a hill where they could command the battlefield. For once the British had the advantage in cavalry and they provided my left flank – facing as they did the outnumbered French cavalry. My remaining divisions, one British and the other Portuguese held the centre. The plan was to let the French run  onto the bayonets of Allies. As a plan, it worked.

The only problem was that some of the bayonets were bent. The French Old Guard managed to slice through the Portuguese battalions facing them. The British Light Horse were severely handled by the French Dragoons although in a bright spot on the British left the Household Cavalry managed to catch a French Light Horse regiment and saw them from the field. Sunset was approaching and the French were taking casualties from the British muskets and although the French Guard was slicing its way through the British line there was a battalion of Highlanders who had managed to work their way around to the flank of the French battalions and were set to cause some strife. We agreed at this point that a draw seemed most seemly!

The game was played under the Rank and File rules. There were a number of odd things that turned up that I will discuss in a separate post but overall, a quick and satisfying game. Fish and Chips, Beer, and a Wargame – could there be a better way to spend a rainy Tuesday evening?


1. OK, so it is Singapore and we were missing the sleet and snow … and hail for that matter but it was raining and that made the traffic and the 300 metre walk at the end of the trip somewhat more challenging!

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