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.

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.