It’s Christmastime in July for the Allied player in the Western Desert with an Air Cycle and plenty of reinforcements and replacements pouring into the Mid East Command. This game turn may mark the beginning of a period of steadily increasing strength and quality for the British 8th Army during the second half of ’42, perhaps historically climaxing with Montgomery’s late ’42 offensive. Just for starters, the Allies receive two Br 3-2-8 arm X reinforcements. He also spends 3 new arm REs to bring on-map the “full” Br 8th 4-3-8 arm X in the ME Forming Box. Later the Allied player says he intends to upgrade it next turn to a 5-3-10 arm X. He also rebuilds the supported Br 7th mot inf X that was overrun on the game’s DC at start May II 42 Axis turn. Later he says he does this with the intention of assembling both the broken down Br 1st and 7th arm XXs to 1942 full strength 8-7-10 units during the exploitation phase. This still leaves a Br 3-2-10 arm X, three lt tank IIs, the old Br 2nd arm XX’s motorized support group, and one of the two Br 6-4-6 arm Xs in the western Egypt British defensive zone facing the Afrika Korps. The other Br 6-4-6 arm X is part of the Tobruk garrison. There are also in Egypt this turn three Br 1 RE motorized transport counters. The Allied player also uses Indian REs to replace the overrun Ind mot anti-tank X and the supported Ind inf X that was eliminated at the ridge hex at 4818. The supported Ind inf Xs occasionally mentioned in the game reports are part of the Ind 5th Inf XX. In the turn’s air cycle the Allied player tallies up 12 ARPs, meaning he can spend up to 4 ARPs per turn this air cycle. At the same time he has enough remaining unused ARPs to qualify for ¾ VPs per the WW Western Desert VP schedule. The old Hurr 1 guarding the Suez Canal is converted into a tank busting 2D and rebased closer to the western Egypt defensive zone. With the new ARPs he takes the P-40E from the ME eliminated air box and from the aborted box the P-40C and the Bftr 1C. The Bftr is then converted to a 6C per the WitD Allied OB and then transferred per the OB to the Med Anti-Shipping Box.
In the movement phase the Allied player moves the 66RPC const X to Sidi Barrani to begin repairs next turn at the smashed up airfield there. He may have intended for it to begin a 2 turn fort build at hex 2218 east of El Alemein, but probably feels that right now repairing the Sidi Barrani airfield in western Egypt more important. Another Ind inf X transfer from the off-map NE Command per the WitD Allied OB admin moves from Iraq to northern Palestine, and the famed 2nd NZ inf XX rails down from Syria into Egypt to the coast road hex at 1519, having finally been released this turn from the Levant garrison. The Gk 3-8 mtn X guards the coast road/rail hex 2318 (just west of Alexandria) from a possible though unlikely Axis surprise para-drop attack on Alexandria, just in case. This area is often devoid of Allied fighter cover and is a possible target hex of a ’41 or ’42 Axis special-op para-drop if the Axis player knows that the Allied player usually leaves Alexandria lightly defended. In the naval movement segment at the start of the movement phase, the Allied player naval transports gsp’s to Cyprus, Malta, and Tobruk. A SM79-2 based at 4618 on sea patrol and escorted by the Me 110D goes after the Allied shipping at the all-sea hex 19A:0707, due north of Sidi Barrani, the last daylight all sea hex on the sea lane between Alexandria and Tobruk. The110D is eliminated by an intercepting P-40E, but the SM79 sinks 2 gsp’s and returns to base. With the Axis sea patrol used up the Allied player then waltzes a step of attack supply into Tobruk. The Allied player’s long-range “desert rat” Br lt arm II, now at Axis U-1 supply status, limps at half mot movement rating to 4329 at the end of exploitation. Though annoying, the Axis player so far hasn’t begun chasing it. In the exploitation phase the Allied player scores another port hit on Derna, effectively closing this important Axis port with three hits. Then the Allied player begins a series of tedious airfield bomb runs against the 5-odd Axis airfields (four of them temporary) between Derna and Tobruk, returning them to base prior to the bombing mission as soon as the Axis player does interception. The intent is to make some good Axis fighters inoperative, then go after them while parked at one of these bases. This trick worked several times in the Crusader game played earlier, but the Axis player is lucky with having all his fighters bunched into the area and, having seen the trick before, is careful in his choice of interceptors. This time the plan comes to naught.
Since the end of the Axis Jun I 42 turn, a kind of “no man’s land” exists between the Axis front line bunched up around Tobruk and due south of it to 4819 or 4920 and the 8th Army’s western Egypt defensive zone originally standing at Sidi Baranni and at the permanent airfield on the Tobruk-Matruh rail hex 0819. During each player’s turn care is given to gain hex control of the coast road, Bardia, and the road going to Giarabub, thus per WW/WitD rules denying the other side admin movement on the roads or port use of Bardia. On the Jun II 42 turn the Axis player finally has the time and available motorized movement to begin wrecking the Matruh-Tobruk rail line from the rail head at 4818 (per the DC at start Allied OB)to 0502 in far western Egypt On the Jul I 42 turn the reinforced and emboldened Allied player moves forward the western Egypt defensive zone to the coast road hex 0519 and the rail line hex 0620, each hex containing an 8-7-10 Br arm XX and a host of additional motorized elements. A secondary rearguard force is stationed at Sidi Baranni and 0819. The Axis this turn has the 21st Pz XX at 4918, east of Tobruk and the 15th Pz XX at the road hex 4920, along with a host of other Axis units in each stack. Hex 4919 is unoccupied, but the Ju87Ds provide 5 harassment hits at both 5018&5019, thus protecting the Areite arm XX (plus some other units) at the ridge hex at 4818 overlooking Tobruk and the It arm cadre, the 90th Le mot HQ unit, the 0-8 Afr const unit, and the 1-cap temporary airfield basing a MC202 at 4819. Somewhat like jungle tigers, both sides bare their large armored “canines” to each other, threatening attack. And the Allied player is ready for bear, with at least 12 attack supply steps on the map. Four are at Tobruk at the turn’s end, four are in Alexandria, one at the forward hex at 0519, one at Sidi Baranni, and two near El Alemein at 0620. This Allied turn the Axis has 5 attack supply steps in Libya.
The Axis player feels he has little choice this turn but to attempt an attack against Tobruk. They have only this turn and the next to try and gain the +30 VPs for Axis control of the Cyranacia. Moreover, the three hits at the airfield at Sidi Barrani now make it more difficult for the Allied player to send fighters over the besieged improved fortress, and on the Jul I 42 Allied turn they didn’t optimally rebase their remaining fighters in Egypt for Tobruk’s defense. As mentioned in Game Report #4, the difficulty in a successful attack is Tobruk’s 29 defense factors and the improved fortress defense modifiers, especially the -1 die roll without the use of engineers. If the Axis throws in everything on the map he possibly can and even with every Axis air unit with a tactical bombing strength of 1 or better getting through, they are still well below a 3 to 1, and must settle for an unacceptable 2 to 1, -1 die roll. A raunchy 3 to 2 straight up die roll is possible if the It aslt eng II is used and a fair amount (eg., over half, close to 2/3rds) of Axis tactical bombing units (assuming every available bomber and maybe a couple of fighters flying a tactical bombing mission are thrown in) make it through the 7 flack factors and Allied DAS is kept very close to 0. This is not a battle of choice, but a battle of necessity, a necessary war game risk due to the slow but steadily deteriorating Axis position in the Western Desert during the second half of ’42.
But at the start of the Axis player’s turn, he can momentarily turn away from the troublesome battle confrontation facing him and ponder the turn’s air cycle, reinforcements, and replacements. With the 3 Ger ARPS per turn the Axis player replaces an aborted Me 109F4, the Me110F, and a Ju88A4. With It ARPs an aborted SM 84 and even a MC200 is replaced, and an eliminated SM79-2 is moved up to the aborted box. During the naval movement segment the Axis player gets all the Ger and It arm REs and all his ground unit reinforcements sea transported across the Cent Med. The Malta status is currently 9. Using their three 1942 Axis special-op Ju 52s brought in last turn, he airlifts one of the attack supply steps to the 3-cap permanent airfield at the cost road hex 2629 by the Gulf of Sirte. The Axis turn reinforcement Ju 52 airlifts in 1 Ger and 1 It inf RE into Benghazi. By the end of the Axis naval transport segment there are in Libya 2 It inf REs, 3 1/2 It arm REs (the 1/2 RE was a Ger aid transfer done the last turn), 5 1/2 Ger arm REs, and 4 Ger inf REs. The Axis player hopes next turn to be able to flip the It 3-8 133 Lit arm cadre to full strength. Remaining in the mainland Europe off-map holding box is 1 Ger inf RE and the other attack supply step for this turn. However, the Axis player must withdraw the It BR20M night bomber, and for the first time since the game’s start, does no Malta bombing. This turn everything must be thrown into the Tobruk assault.
Because the Allied player is experienced, aggressive, and playing his kind of game, eg., knowing he’s gradually gaining strength ascendancy, the Axis player feels he needs to carefully plan out the attack on Tobruk. The assault OB is carefully crafted around the 1/10 ratio for the It aslt eng II. Both Pz XXs, the 90 Le mot inf XX, two It hvy flk IIs, the Lw mot hv flk III, the mot anti-tank II, and every Axis art unit on the map are adjacent to Tobruk. The 0-8 Afr const III’s dash into Bardia along with a stout defensive force is abandoned this turn because of the impending Tobruk attack and its unknown outcome. Instead, it increases the 1-cap temporary airfield at 4819 to 3-cap, then moves west to 4719 and builds a 1-cap field there. The It const III builds a 3-cap airfield at the coast road hex 4718, just west of Tobruk, but won’t participate in the anticipated assault. Plans are made for the possibilities of an EX result or an AR result and the issues of the placement of the non-motorized artillery and what to do in the exploitation phase. The Axis player feels like he gets a small break at the end of his initial phase when the Allied player decides to send two of the Wellingtons and the Blen 4 on a harassment mission to 0421. This means less Allied DAS later in the Combat Phase.
In the Axis Combat Phase the Allied player reveals how determined he is to hold Tobruk even in the face of fighter disadvantage and a not completely hopeless (for the Allies) straight up 3 to 2 Axis attack by throwing in all five available bombers on DAS and with only 2 escorts, a P-40E and the Bftr 6F. This mission force faces a swarm of eight good Axis intercepting fighters over Tobruk. At the end of the movement phase the Axis player might have used CAP to throw in over Tobruk up to two MC 200s and the Re2001CB, but elected to use them for the GS mission to hopefully jack up the attack factor. In the air combat two Me109F4s face the two Allied escorts and the rest of the interceptors go after the bombers. Two Wellintgtons and an A-30 are aborted, and the US B-24D5 is eliminated. Air combat with the bombers aborts a MC202, but an A-30 gets through and it also gets through the Axis attacking flack factor of 3. In the GS segment the Axis player gets 25 tactical bombing factors through (halved at combat for the improved fortress) the port’s flack with just a Z1007B aborted, but the final tally is just 1 ¼ attack factors shy of a 3 to 2 attack, so declines to attack at 1 to 1. From one perspective the A-30 has saved Tobruk this turn from attack. Like Lee in retirement or Donnetz at Spandau prison, he mulls afterwards if maybe he should have sent some or all the three aforementioned fighters on CAP over Tobruk instead of on the GS mission. For consolation the Axis player doesn’t have to expend the two attack supply steps he would have had he proceeded with the attack.
By the turn’s end it seems more probable that the siege of Tobruk will be protracted and not a quick fall into the Axis lap. No doubt in the near future the game’s unfolding 1942 “second” protracted siege of Tobruk will in addition feature some kind of Axis maneuver east towards the Bardia/Halfaya Pass vicinity or even farther eastwards towards Sidi Baranni. Two big Axis attacks during the WW Western Desert campaign’s Cauldron saga epoch have failed to bring Axis victory in the Gazala/Tobruk zone. The first was at the game’s Jun II 42 Axis turn Desert Cauldron start, when the big Axis attack resulting in a DR at 4619 failed to bag them a sizable “Gazala pocket” of prime Allied units. The second was this turn’s aborted Tobruk attack when the air situation was momentarily somewhat favorable for the Axis. A third factor perhaps contributing to the somewhat currently favorable Allied game position was maybe the Allied player’s “Auchinleck skedaddle” on the Allied Jun I 42 turn, rather than, perhaps like Ritchie historically, opting to attempt a second Allied close-in desert front line stand, perhaps in this war game extending due south of the improved fortress. However, the Axis side is still undefeated and so far has suffered no ground unit losses. For two turns he’s inflicted what might be called Allied air battle defeats in the sky above the besieged fortress. Though facing a dark horizon in the future of the Western Desert campaign, the game “ain’t over yet,” and the Axis player still hopes for maybe a not-too-bad VP outcome in the WW Western Desert campaign. For the Europa Association’s Total War fans who may think the WW II African desert campaign a “small potato” second-rate substitute, this Europa war gamer reassures, like an Afrika Korps Maxmillian Schnell to Brando in the movie “The Young Lions,” that “I should be in Russia! But I am here.”