We’re grateful for being able to provide you with yet another War in the Desert game report. This one was played and written up in the summer of 2018 by Bill Jenman. Since the game was mainly played to test some modifications of the Malta status number, the second half of the game report, from March 1942 onward, is summarized, nevertheless it makes for a good read. You can find it as WitD AAR No 3 in the archive, as always.
Jan I 42
Malta status = 6
The Allies sit tight, but the Axis figures that they have air superiority on the front line (rough parity in good fighters, with Axis actually having slightly better aircraft, the Axis with many more and much better bombers and dive bombers, plus as many obsolete Italian fighters again). A sustained airfield bombing campaign is launched, with the dual purpose of forcing the inferior Hurricanes to duel with Me109s and MC202s and of bombing out the airfield capacity.
Also part of the Axis thinking is that Malta is muddy and bound to grow more powerful, but there are plenty of AS already ashore in N Africa, while more critical reinforcements and replacements may be turned back but only have a 1 in 6 chance of actually being sunk if the NT is hit by Malta Status anti shipping forces. So the Malta bombers and Italian anti shipping aircraft are also pulled off naval duties to join the assault. The initial results are inconclusive, but the Axis wears down the allied air forces over the next few turns.
Jan II 42
Malta status = 5. Attritional air warfare continues.
Feb I 42
Malta Status = 3. The first of the Australian withdrawals happens
Feb II 42
Malta Status = 2. 7th Armoured division is no more; down an armoured brigade, its SG also turns into a 2-10 Mot Inf and a HQ.
Note; while conversions are not compulsory, it feels too contrived to spend the game keeping the 7th Arm SG and a 1-8 AT II, or all 1-10 SG and the 3-8 Gds Inf X, etc apart to artificially postpone the conversions until convenient. So as a house style I try to complete conversions on schedule as afar as practicable.
The Axis decide its time to take a risk and attack the forward Allied stack of 37 points (1x Arm Xx, 2 x Inf XX Incl the NZ, 2 x 6-4-6 tk X, an AA X, and 2 x 3-8 Art X). They take care to avoid invoking ATEC for just a -1 from the Allied fort (who knew that a 2-6 Inf XX could be so handy?) . In huge air battles a lone SA DB-7B, unescorted, makes it through fighters and flak – DFCs all round. The Axis bomber armada lifts odds to 2-1 (just – a very close run thing) and the result is EX.
The Axis loose 5Le entirely (they already have the replacement points to rebuild it), 21Px and Ariete are cadred, an Italian 2-6 Inf XX, 2 x 3-4-X Art (one It, one German) and assorted ash and trash are lost.
A very bloody result all round, but the front is opened up..
Mar I 42
Malta status = 1
The Allies cannot fully rebuild their airforce (ARP restrictions) and they lose 2 more Inf XX to the Far East. So they re-jigg front line forces, bringing up 2 engineering X to quick construct a new fort in the hex the seaward XXX retreated to last turn. Cadred British Inf and Arm XX are pulled back, out of any ZOCs, for speedy rebuilding with accumulated replacement points.
DAK, despite last turn’s losses, sees an opportunity for an armoured attack on the now fortless front line attack; the Allies have some armour but the attack will still go in at +2. Again the application of maximum airpower lifts 27:20 to 2:1 odds. The result is DH and the Allied line has been decisively broken; the two turn run of risks taken has paid off. 1st SA Inf XX is eliminated entirely in its first engagement along with a Cons X that would have been doomed in the retreat anyway.
The airforces of both sides are badly damaged; the LW has 1 Ju88 k, and another 3 aborted, 1 x Ju87D a, 1 x Ju87B k, 1 x Me109F3 k, 1 x Me110D a, the Italians have an SM 79-2 k, another aborted, along with a BR20M and a CR42AS. There are a killed Hurri 2C and Blen 4, plus aborted Well2, A22 x 2, P40E (aborted by a Ju88 on its first mission !), a P40C, and the DB7B.
Mar II 42
It is time for the great Allied runaway (again). It is also the turn, ironically, when the railway reaches Tobruch. The cadred Inf and Arm XX are rebuilt and airfield construction turned to airfield destruction before everyone heads east.
The biggest Allied XXX is partially trapped 16 miles inland. The Indian Division retreats north east to ZOC in the road; DAK can get past it but the Italians can’t, greatly increasing the chances of a successful withdrawal.. The 2nd SA Inf XX, the NZ cadre, and all the surviving artillery (the original W brigade has never entered the replacement pool for removal!) take a different path, risking a terrible fate as they try to escape SE around the Sebchet el Gheneien saltmarshes. They do at least have a couple of AS with them, so they will remain supplied for a month.
1st and 2nd Arm XX screen south of Msus. At the start of the Axis turn the RAF lays down maximum harrisment south of Agedabia – the first harrisment missions of the desert war – protecting both the armoured divisions and the 2nd SA XX.
The Axis start their turn by rebuilding 21Pz. The Allies may have miscalculated…
I’m afraid I stopped keeping detailed records of my game because I needed to clear the room by this weekend. The switch to using the Malta repair rate in the OB but requiring 2 hits be Malta Table column shift worked well, and the Malta number in the game was then broadly comparable to that recorded as historical in the Torch scenario instructions. There were some exciting swirling battles on the Tunisian border, with DAK being nearly surrounded, breaking out and in turn ZOC killing a British armoured XXX in the process, then a slow fighting retreat past the various bottlenecks. Meantime Torch benefited from the best weather I’ve ever seen – I kept rolling 1s – so instead of the usual advance stymied by mud the Allies advanced east at a good clip up to the Tunisian border. Here, however, there were just enough Axis forces to block the advance until airfield building finally allowed the Allies to gain air superiority then supremacy over the battlefield.
Bizerte was bombed out and Tunis’ port badly damaged (I love having the actual B17 counters to play with in this game!). At that point, in Jan II, the weather was again clear, allied reinforcements were starting to tell, and the Axis didn’t just have enough forces to hold an extended perimeter any more. DAK had to fall back from its strong blocking position or be cut off from the rear. A much smaller but more solid perimeter around Tunis/Bizerte was established.After a couple more turns, and as the US began to assemble divisions, the LW and RA largely gave up the fight only leaving a few fighters behind.
The Axis started evacuating rather than reinforcing. The cadre of 21st Pz, Trento (as an unmotorised 5-8 Inf XX), a 4-3-6* Italian Arm X, and the LW parachute units were the principle units saved by the end.The Allies steadily ate away at the perimeter forces, aided by generous replacement rates, while the Allied airforces continued to bomb the hell out of Tunis’ port turn after turn despite the 13 AA points there. Which is where my house rule (or maybe RAW) query comes in. In one interpretation, as long as there is a Supply Terminal in Axis hands, there is no surrender. So even if the Supply Terminal is in a port that’s totally bombed out, and so all the units are unsupplied, no surrender.
This interpretation, which I think is RAW, leads to an Axis strategy of maxing out the defence of Tunis (something like 40 def, 10 – 13 AA is quite possible) with enough AS to convert to general supply to last for months, and abandoning or evacuating everything else. The Allies will struggle to get a 2:1 -1 attack on such a strong stack entrenched in a city, leading to turn after turn of repetitive battering and perhaps even a drawn out stalemate . Such a long siege in a Tunis with no functional port seems very unlikely to me, and certainly not how the historical campaign ended.The other interpretation of RAW – or maybe just my house rule – is to require a supply terminal to be functioning to count. So the Axis surrender when they lose their last supply terminal or that last supply terminal is in a non-functioning port at the start of their (or the Allies – can’t remember when surrender is determined just now) initial phase. Regardless of how much AS they have stashed. That’s how my game ended, at the end of March 43, with no port cap left but two It Armoured XX plus 15Pz still in the field and Tunis still occupied.
Commentary and Questions
If we follow RAW, does a supply terminal have to be in a functioning port to count? And if RAW pays no attention to whether the port is working or not, then any thoughts on my house rule as an alternative surrender condition? It was a great game with many twists and turns – I particularly like the way that the Italians finally get to field a 3 XX armoured XXX worth the name – and I feel that the way I ended it avoided a boring and ahistorical slugfest hammering a fortress Tunis turn after turn. But you may think different! Ps I thought about carrying over into SF but it seems that the historical limiting factor on timing was the availability of landing craft, so with no possibility of an early Husky and a slightly stronger Axis force, with more saved replacements in place, to oppose the landings I didn’t bother.
Dec I Allied Turn
Clear and calm.
Allied turn; Malta status = 1
Noting that according to the OB, the repair rate never rises about 2 hits per turn, and also that the pendulum seems to have swung with the Malta status now too easy to keep low, I’m going to retrospectively limit the repair rate to 2 per turn from now on.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, Engineers start to improve Tobruch’s fortification, just in case…
Between Dec and Jan II is the highpoint of Allied strength, and there is no chance of breaking through unless Rommel does something rash. The Allied command decides to start to build fortifications of its own one hex east of Agheila, toe to toe with DAK
Dec I Axis Turn
From now on I’ll be reporting in a bit less detail, especially on the less interesting turns, as real life intrudes into my time again. I’m going to drop the doubling of Malta repair rates and switch to David’s alternative suggestion of each hit = 0.5 reduction in Malta status number, though so far (as you’ll see) that’s moot. I’m applying a corrective now, too, so that the revised Malta number is now 9.
Between Dec and Jan II is a highpoint of Allied strength, and there is no chance of breaking through unless Rommel does something rash. The Allied command decides to start to build fortifications of its own one hex east of Agheila, toe to toe with DAK.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, Engineers start to improve Tobruch’s fortification, too, just in case…
The El Agheila stalemate continues, with both sides concentrating on fortifying the front line and building airfields to bring forward their airpower. The Malta bombers score only 1 hit = 0.5 reduction.
Dec II Malta status now 8, both sides continue to dig in.
Nov I Allied turn
Malta status = 4
2 NTs are sunk en route to Malta but the third gets through.
8th Army closes with El Agheila and starts to build airfields within range of the front line; a Cons X is airlifted forward to assist.
Wel 2s attempt a long range bombing mission to Homs but miss.
Nov I Axis turn
The fort at El Agheila is completed.
2 hits to Malta for an He111 aborted. Status = 6
All replacements make it through bar 0.5 Ger and 0.5 It which are returned.
DAK digs in at Agheila with large numbers of fighters and Ju87s in support.
Nov II Allied turn
Seas are rough and E is mud.
Malta status = 3 (for comparison, CRUSADER scenario has Malta Status = 7)
2 NTs are sunk en route to Malta but the third gets through.
With airpower still moving up, best odds available to the Allies are 3:2 -1. 8th Army waits.
Nov II Axis turn
Quick construction of a second fort west of Agheila starts.
Malta takes 1 hit status = 4
The infantry reinforcements arrive.
Rommel’s maximum armoured attack, incl GS, is around 32 – 36 depending on AA, so best attack is 1:1 +2. Pulling the Malta bombers away to ground support won’t get that to 3:2, not until Jan when there are larger air reinforcements. Our Rommel also knows that the war with Japan is about to start and that the British will cripple their armoured XX with reorganisations all summer. Hmm… he waits and concentrates on wearing down the RAF and above all its airfields.
Only 2 hits are achieved but 2 Hurris are aborted.
Oct I Allied turn
Malta Status now 4
Malta supply convoys arrive.
Now it is time for the Allies to make decisions. Should they push on to El Agheila and beyond? Or should they use this opportunity to end the leaching of VP in the Levant and “liberate” the pesky Vichy French?
(Note; if not using Optional Rule 14A1e the Allies are required to devote 3REs of engineers, which is all or nearly all those available, to the Levant garrison where they’ll spend a year building a pointless railway between Haifa and Tripoli. Loss of all 8th Army’s engineers is reason enough to leave the Levant alone, and the VP penalty for not fulfilling the engineer garrison requirement is 3 times greater than the penalty for not invading the Levant at all. Doh!
14A1e however makes this commitment to railway building optional (and no sane Allied player would ever build it).
In a game context, this inconsistency is a problem; or at least the level of obligatory engineering assets is. What on earth was SO important about this railway 1000km from the front line that was worth risking the loss of the entire Desert war over? )
The decision is made to continue the pursuit for now, and leave the Levant to its own devices.
(Note; in reality advance warning of the Australian withdrawal in Feb, and the self inflicted crippling of the British Armoured Divisions shortly afterwards, was also a consideration. The British can’t spare 2 Inf XX to fulfill the Levant garrison requirement for the next year).
The Reinforcing engineers and Arm X arrive at Matruh, the rest at Alex.
The Arm XXs push forward, capturing ground to allow the Inf to admin move forwards behind them as far as Tobruch. In Exploit the Arm XX advance a little further, to Gazala, having worked out that going further risks being killed in a ZOC lock by Axis motorised formations. 8th Army will advance together or not at all.
Oct I Axis turn
The Malta bomber force now totals 2 x Ju87 (1 It), 3 x Ju88, 1 x He111, and 2 x BR20M. They score 4 hits for a Ju88 aborted.
Malta status is now 8
All reinforcements and replacements arrive safely.
The airfields at Bengahzi are destroyed and the Axis armour forms a block just south of Msus. All the surviving Axis non motorised forces arrive safely at El Agheila.
Oct II Allied turn
A great day for the RN; AA gunners abort both SM79-2 torpedo bombers and the supplies arrive safely in Malta.
Malta status now 5
The existing line to Matruh finally repaired, construction of the extension to Tobruch starts at last.
8th Army arrives 30 miles NE of Msus, while 7th Arm XX takes Derna and Bengahzi via the coast road.
Oct II Axis turn
Quick fort construction begins at Agheila.
Only 1 code V bomber can be repaired per turn.
5Le cadre is rebuilt and converted into 21 Pz.
2 hits to Malta; status = 7
The Panzers screen the Agheila bottleneck; Rommel declares that the retreat is over.
Sept I Allied turn
Malta status 2
Malta supply convoy gets through.
Engineers start to repair the rail line west of El Alamein. 2 more It Inf XX are eliminated as the advance continues.
Sept I Axis turn
3 hits on Malta; status = 5. 1xBR20M aborted by AA.
Once again 0.5 Ger and 0.5 It Inf RPs are sunk and the 0-1-10 lt AA is returned.
German engineers blow 2 hits on Bardiya port.
Sept II 41 Allied turn
Malta status 2, Malta supply convoys sunk.
8th Army advances, ending up in a line south 4 hexes east of Halfaya.
Cyprus is now garrisoned by 2 x 1-8 MG II, a Hurri, and a Blen 4, which should discourage any lurking Fallschirmjaegers.
Sept II Axis turn
5 hits on Malta; status now 7
The 0-1-10 Lt AA II lands at Bengahzi.
Rommel considers his options. He has 2 armoured XX plus a cadre, and a weak mot inf and a couple of Inf XXs; and not much in the way of support units. 8th Army is beyond air cover but has 6 strong infantry divisions, 2 Arm XX, and ample support, but has not ZOCed in the Axis non motorised formations.
The decision is taken to run now, and not to try to hold Halfaya or Tobruch. Forward supply dumps are blown up.
An It 2-6 Inf XX and a 3-4-6 Art III board ship at Tobruch. Everyone else skedaddles, non mot using admin movement and motorised units pausing to blow the airfields before heading towards Msus.
July I Allied turn
Malta repair now 3 per turn; Malta status 5.
Supplies and the 0-1-8 Hv AA II make it through to Malta.
The Allied Front line is reinforced but still not strong enough to risk a sortie and attack on the strong DAK stacks. Instead it solidifies further.
July I Axis turn
Malta takes 1 hit; Malta status now 6.
DAK inches forward to provide protection for the two cons units pushing the airfields forward, and is now toe to toe with 8th Army.
July II Allied turn
Malta status now 3.
8th Army decides it is time for a massive attack on the central hex with 5Le and support units, before the LW Ju87 ground support and multiple fighters move forward (which they will next turn).
Odds are 52 vs 18 – at -1.
An attempt to fly in DAS results in the biggest air battle of the campaign so far; a Hurri is aborted along with 2 Ju88s and a Me110, and an MC 200 eliminated. The last Ju88 is aborted by AA.
11 Pts GS make it through the AA for 63 vs 18 or 3.5:1 -1. DR.
A frustratingly inconclusive result, and 8th Army declines to advance after combat, preferring to sit in its forts.
Axis July II turn
The Germans give an Arm RP to the Italians, who replace Ariete’s HQ. (are they allowed to do this in WW?! I decided they could borrow from SF rules if not…)
2 Malta bombers are aborted and the third misses.
Ariete’s new Arm III makes it through safely and lands at Tobruch.
VP count – Axis 40 for control of Cyrenaica and a town in Egypt.
Allied 48.5 accumulated plus 30 for Cyrenaica – 8 for failure to invade the Levant = 70.5
June I Allied turn
The Malta supply convoy from Gib is sunk – all E med transports are evacuating forces from Greece.
Malta status is now 8
The evacuation goes badly; only the two ANZAC HQs, one 2-8 Aus X, the artillery, MNBDO AA, and 1 pt lit AA are saved.
The second Alamein fort is completed, and the Allies retreat to that line blowing the Matruh airfield en route.
The Wel 1C attempts a night raid on Tobruch port but misses.
June I Axis turn
Ju87s and SM 79s both hit Malta, Status now 10.
One of the anti-shipping SM 79-2s rebases to newly captured Crete.
DAK forms up 4 hexes west of Alamein.
Jun II Allied Turn
Malta status now 8
Malta is supplied from Alex (with 1 West med and One East Med transport sunk).
The Alamein line solidifies. The Wel 1C misses Tobruch again.
June II Axis turn
Malta bombers miss, as the bulk of the Axis air forces moves up to the front line.
All reinforcements arrive safely, incl 2 AS at Tobruch.
DAK forms a defensive line 3 hexes east of Alamein.
May I 41 Allied Turn
Malta status = 11
The first Alamein fort is completed.
The Hurri 2s are retained in the Desert, not sent to Malta. Malta AA is supplied from the East Med.
With AS now available the Allied army turns and attacks an Italian corps based on Trieste plus four tk II. One step of AS is retained so the attackers are only partially supplied. This corps is chosen because it can be surrounded for a ZOC kill (but unlike German c/m stacks can’t retreat over friendly units), plus killing Trieste deprives the Axis of the option of demotorising it for additional SMPs. 4 GSPs are moved forward by the 2nd SG to the 7th Arm XX stack to ensure full c/m movement next turn even if isolated.
With huge air support the attack goes in at 4:1 -1; a 3 is rolled, with -1 that is a HX result.
Afterwards, 7 Arm XX on the southern flank pulls back slightly
Losses; It; 1 x 5-8 Mot Inf XX, 4 x 1-6 tk II, 1 x 1-8 Mot Art III
Br; 3-8 Inf X, 1-10 Ind Mot inf X, 1-8 MG II.
May I 41 Axis Turn
1 hit on Malta takes the Malta status to 12.
DAK hits the Australian XXX at the north end of the Allied line, with Rommel sending 5Le swinging round and attacking them from the rear. 3:2 +2; a 5 turns into a 7 for DE
Disaster! The Allies lose 2 entire Australian divisions plus an armoured brigade.
In exploitation the Axis manage to surround the two remaining front line Corps.
May II 41 Alied Turn
Malta status = 10
The Wellington is called away to Greece.
A second fort is started at El Alamein.
Malta supply convoy arrives.
Desperate times call for desperate measures; A British Inf X ZOCs in Ariete, 2nd SG gives a supply path out for the besieged corps. The attack goes in at 3:1 -1; DR becomes HX.
Losses; It 5-8 Lt Arm XX, 1-8 Art III, Ger; Hvy AA and mot AT IIs.
British; 4th Ind XX cadred.
Exploitation leaves a strong stack built on 7th Arm XX stuck 4 hexes SE of Sidi Barrani, with the Indians on their own one hex to the NW. Matruh is garrisoned by the Greeks and Free French with an AT II in support.
May II 41 Axis Turn
5Le is out of supply (but not isolated).
A SM 79 and a Ju 87 miss Malta. Status remains at 10.
Both arriving AS are sunk en route, but the 3-10 Ger Mot III arrives in Bengahzi.
Cons units repair the airfield outside Tobruch and build a new temp airfield in Bardiya. 2 Ju87s (1 Ger, 1 It) fly in along with fighters and the BR 20Ms rebase forward too.
Rommel decides that 7th Arm XX is too strong to risk attacking with weakened Italian support, and instead mops up the Indians, saving the last available AS.
In Exploit the thin DAK forces form a ragged line halfway between Sidi Barrani and Matruh.
Losses; 3-8 Ind Cadre, 2-8 Br Inf X.
April I 41 Allied Turn
Malta status = 13 The Allies decide to take their only Egyptian front AS as 3 x Res Pts – the Pioneers and newly arrives Aus engineers can start to fortify El Alamein next turn.
Malta AA is back in supply.
The general retreat continues, trading space (or rather distance from Axis AS) for time. The Allies form a 2 hex line starting 1 hex inland from the sea in the 01xx hexrow. 7 Arm XX is on the southern flank, with a few previously unengaged units left further east to keep the Axis honest
April I 41 Axis Turn
The Axis roll for Levant intervention and gain air rights.
3 AS ship to Bengahzi. Amazingly, even at Max damage, Malta sinks one of them. The first elements of 15Pz arrive at Derna and Bengahzi.
The very large LW withdrawals bring an end to the usual massive air raid hits on Malta. The remaining Ju87s and SM 79s fail to score a single hit, status remains at 13.
The BR20M transfers to Bengahzi, where the cons Engineers complete airfield repairs (total cap = 4)
The Axis explore attack options, but can’t get better than 1:1 +1 or 2:1 -1 so instead they close up tight.
April II 41 Axis Turn
The Wellingtons are away in Greece, no doubt something to do with the evacuation to Crete.
Malta status = 11.
The West Med supplies reach Malta, greatly assisted by the withdrawal of the He111 anti shipping bombers.
The engineers start to quick construct a Fort at Alamein.
The rest of the Army forms up in 2 stacks south of Sidi Barrani, with the newly returned 4th Ind XX as a backstop near Matruh. The stacks could be isolated, but the Allies calculate that even halved for lack of supply they could kill one of the Axis stacks if they stick their necks out.
DAK Art arrives at Derna, as does the It cons unit from Bengahzi. 5 Pz III arrives at Bengahzi.
The Cons unit repairs the Derna port hit. (and in the exploit phase a second Cons, rebuilt in Tripoli, arrives there too using the last, newly repaired RE of port cap).
The Italians close up the Sidi Barrani line while DAK (incl the newly formed 15th Pz) swing south round 7th Arm on the southern Flank. They don’t attack, but the threat is clear.
The first of the Italian Inf XX from 5th Army is now close to the front after their long march east.