#RockyReads for #Wargame – Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare 1939-1945 by Alfred Price (Frontline Books, 2017)

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A good general history of electronic warfare in Europe during WWII that tells not only the technical advances but also the intelligence battle behind them. Efforts to expand the story into the Pacific feel incomplete and tacked on. Possibly a dated account; no references.

EW Past

My first assignment in the US Navy was with a Tactical Electronic Warfare aviation squadron – EA-6B Prowlers. Since then I have always had a soft-spot in my heart for the “Battle of the ‘Trons.” There is much talk in military circles these days about cyber warfare, but at the same time classic Electronic Warfare, EW, keeps coming up again. Somewhere I stumbled upon a recommendation for this book and put it on my wishlist. Christmas 2020 it arrived in the RockyMountainNavy home.

Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare 1939-1945 is a good, easy narrative to read. Although billed as account of EW in all of World War II, the book is clearly focused on Europe first. The Pacific parts feel very tacked on and incomplete. Instruments of Darkness is also in many ways an intelligence story. The “Battle of the Beams” was not only a see-saw battle of technical innovation and advancement vs countermeasures but also the story of the cat ‘n mouse battle between scientists and engineers and the airmen they served. In many ways this was the enjoyable surprise of Instruments of Darkness and is a good deal of the appeal the narrative delivers.

According to the front matter of the book, the original was first published in 1967, expanded in 1977, and revised in 2005. Although this edition was printed in 2017 it appears to be straight reprint of the 2005 version. The dating of Instruments of Darkness is important to me because it gets directly to the sources Dr. Price may have used. I say “may have” since the sources are unknown given there are no footnotes or endnotes (not even a References section). The Author’s Acknowledgments to the first edition (reproduced in this edition) credit several individuals and some official records. The end result is a book that appears most likely to be based on oral histories and declassified records of its day. With today being 2021 meaning more than 15 years past the 2005 “revision” I have to wonder what other information may be available.

Rocky’s Thoughts

Best Value

General history; intelligence angle.

Weakness

Possibly dated account; lack of references.

Wargame Application

Chapter 1 “Battle of the Beams” is, to the best of my knowledge, not really reflected in any Battle of Britain wargame. Later chapters covering the protection of bombers over Germany is likewise not depicted in any wargame I know own.

Citation

Price, Alfred, Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare 1939-1945, Yorkshire: Frontline Books, 2017.

#Wargame Wednesday / History to #Wargame – Bias discovered in Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolutiongames.us, 2018)

In a previous post I talked about the lack of historical background provided in Konigsberg, The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018). A comment on Twitter from Scott Mansfield (@scotts_table) on that post asked:

Interesting post. With what you know of the operation and with limited designer notes do you feel Stefan portrays the decisions of Konigsberg accurately or does it feel like his well developed mechanic (chit pull) is what comes through with the narrative taking backseat?

Hey Scott, thanks for the lead-in to this post!

Photo by RockyMountainNavy Gamer

After playing the game I still can’t tell if Konigsberg is an ‘accurate’ depiction of the battle portrayed. What I can tell you is that the game is very engaging. The engagement comes from the interaction of two game mechanics, the ‘well-developed’ chit-pull and 4.0 Command, as well as a challenge to my own biases. Let me explain.

Konigsberg uses that ‘well-developed’ chit-pull mechanic in the best possible way. This comes from how the chit-pull and the rules for Command interact. The interaction creates several factors that make play engaging:

  • Random: Every turn the Command Chits are drawn randomly from the cup (4.1.1 Command Chit Draws)
  • Limited: The Turn Track tells how many Command Chits can be drawn for each force (German, 2nd Belorussian (2BF) or 3rd BF); once this limit is reached NO MORE can be activated for that force (4.1.1)
  • Higher HQ: During the game, extra commands chits (2BR & 3BR for the Soviets or HGM for the Germans) enter the game awarding ‘bonus’ activations (4.1.2 & 4.1.3)
  • Independent Units: When a Command Chit is drawn, the player can activate all units under that command as well as independent combat units (2 for Soviets, three for Germans) that are within the Command Range of the HQ (4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3, & 4.2.4)

Accurate, but Game

Konigsberg is in effect a race game. One side (the Soviets) are trying to grab as many victory hexes as possible in a given amount of time. The other side (Germans) are trying to delay the Soviets as much as possible. The chit-pull mechanic and Command rules ensure that the players must be flexible in their planning, taking opportunities as they come. The Soviets must maneuver their HQs to keep the front moving. The Germans have to position their HQs to build a flexible defense in depth that not only slows down the Soviets but also maintains integrity as it inevitably collapses.

Is this accurate? From what (little) I have read yes. More importantly, it is engaging.

Revealing My Biases

For me, the lack of historical background in Konigberg forces me to look not only at the game mechanics more closely to divine what I am supposed to do, but the lack of historical ‘prejudice’ means I approach the game in a much more open-minded manner than I usually do. As I played Konigsberg I found myself paying much more attention to command, unit capabilities, and terrain. I came to realize that so often I use my historical knowledge as a form of bias in my decision making during play. I mean, we all ‘know’ it is folly to mount an airborne operation to seize key bridges across the Rhine, right? So why would we ever do it? In Konigsberg, my lack of historical understanding meant I didn’t know ‘what works’ (or didn’t) which forced me to fall back on my understanding of the strategy and doctrine of the time. It made me think about what I was doing.

Conclusion -or- Why to Play?

In my first play of Konigsberg the end Victory Conditions saw the Germans holding seven Victory Point Hexes. This is a Soviet Historical Victory. In a way this tells me that the game is ‘accurate’ in that it can recreate the historical condition. More important, however, I discovered through this play of Konigsberg that ‘knowing’ too much can actually be detrimental to my play experience. This play of Konigsberg taught me that the combination of game mechanics and the absence of my own bias still can deliver a very engaging game; engaging in that I thought my way thru this game more deeply than most games I recently played. In this case, the lack of historical background I lamented before actually delivered a better game.


Feature image “Knock out German tank, 1945″ courtesy WWII in Color (yes, I know it’s B&W).

History to #Wargame -or- What is a wargame without history?

THIS weekend I put Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018) on the gaming table. One of the reasons I traded for the game is that I really like the chit-pull mechanic in the game that makes it very friendly. I also was interested in the topic as I don’t have many late-war games set on the Eastern Front. I certainly have many early war titles (or even full war) but my late war games tend to be set on the Western Front. So I picked up this game to learn more about the period. Unfortunately, what I discovered is I need to teach myself more than I expected.

Some background for Konigsberg is found on the Revolutions Game website for the game:

Covering the Soviet attack in East Prussia in 1945. The game handles the 20 first days of the attack starting on the 13th of January 1945. The 3rd Belorussian Front under command of Cherniakhovsky launches an attack into the northeast of East Prussia while the 2nd Belorussian Front, commanded by Rokossovsky, one day later starts an attack from the south east. However, Army Group Mitte, under the command of Reinhardt, puts up an astonishing defence desperately pushing the Soviets back.

The time is however on the Soviet side and when the defence finally crumbles there is nothing left to withstand the Soviet troops to ravage the country.

I totally understand that the ad copy on a publishers website is to ‘whet your appetite’ for a game. In no way is it meant to be a comprehensive study of the subject. However, as I studied Konigsberg I discovered that, surprisingly, that is all the background given in any of the game content. I guess I’m spoiled because I ‘expect’ wargames to include some sort of historical background. Alas, Konigsberg does not. The game does include Players Notes which are a strategy guide to playing the game but they don’t include any historical comments.

Does that really matter? Well, yes.

Wanting to learn more of the history of Konigsberg I consulted my library. I found a few works that presented a broad narrative of the events of January 1945 (a date, mind you, that only appears in the website ad copy but never in the rule book or player aids). I discovered that even pinning down the start date of the game was a bit, uh, dicey. I ‘think’ Konigsberg starts somewhere around 17 or 18 January 1945 because Warsaw was cleared by Soviet forces on 17 January. Tilsit was taken on 20 January which fits with what the Soviet player might achieve on Turn 1 (each turn is 2 days).

Reading the history helped me understand why some of the Random Events in Konigsberg may have been included in the game, like “Soviet Atrocity” or “Stalin Interferes.” Indeed, some of my library works, like Max Hastings’ Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 heavily emphasized this issue. But even after reading some of the history I still struggled to play the game.

Looking a bit further, I recalled a 2011 Russian TV series, Soviet Storm: WW2 in the East, and went looking for the relevant episode set around Konigsberg. Maybe this would be helpful; approach the history from the Russian perspective. Watching the episode I was struck by how similar it was in many ways to what Max Hastings wrote.

Then it hit me – it’s not that I don’t understand (or miss) the history in Konigsberg, it’s that I don’t understand where the designer is coming from.

Konigsberg has no Designers Notes. Without such notes I don’t understand what perspective the designer comes from and what they are trying to present to me. Designer’s Notes are the perfect place to tell players not only what inspired the game, but also to tell players what the “message” the designer is trying to deliver. It might be something as simple as “another Eastern Front tank game, but with cards” or it might be something deeper like “a game that reconsiders the role of indigenous peoples in a foreigners revolution.” Whatever the message is I find it helps me understand the game more. Not the rules, but the “meta” of the game.

I’m not saying I can’t play or understand games like Konigsberg if they don’t have Designer’s Notes. Sometimes one can figure it out. But having those notes certainly helps me to see what I am exploring and guides my learning, whether I agree with the message or not.

History to #Wargame – Harrier 809: The Epic Story of How a Small Band of Heroes Won Victory in the Air Against Impossible Odds by Rowland White (www.silvertailbooks.com, 2020)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Harrier 809: The Epic Story of How a Small Band of Heroes Won Victory in the Air Against Impossible Odds by Rowland White (Silvertail Books, 2020)

Photo by RockyMountainNavy

I remember the Falklands War on TV. I was a student in middle school at the time and absolutely enamored with the weapons of the Cold War. Here was a “major power” taking on an upstart South American country. Even after nearly 40 years, it is good to see that more of the history of the Falklands War is coming out, in the most recent case in the form of the book Harrier 809 which details the life of 809 Naval Air Squadron which was formed after the war started.

There is lots of goodness in the pages of Harrier 809. My personal favorite parts include the story of how 809 Squadron stood up. It really is a good lesson in trying to put together a unit in a “come as you are” war; lessons that I hope the US Navy and Air Force don’t ever have to face (but in reality, it could very well be the reality). I also love the factoid that the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough built several 1:24 scale Airfix models of the Harrier to test new camouflage schemes. I use this to show my boys that their “little hobby” can actually make a real difference!

At the time of the Falklands War I was big into playing Harpoon 3rd Edition (GDW, 1981). As much as I wanted to, the only real air combat games I owned at the time was Foxbat & Phantom (SPI, 1977) which was NOT a very good game to play around with too much. It would not be until 1987 that JD Webster and GDW published Air Superiority that was much better suited at depicting air combat during the Falklands (including rules for the famous VIFF -vectored in-flight- maneuvers).

Over time more games on the Falklands War came out. I own a few like the Harpoon 3rd Edition supplement Harpoon: South Atlantic War – Conflict in the Falklands/Malvinas, 1982 ‐ GDW first edition (1991) or the later Harpoon 4 version South Atlantic War: Battle for the Falklands – Scenarios for the 1982 South Atlantic Campaign ‐ Clash of Arms second edition (2002) that included a ground combat module for the Harpoon system. Not long after the actual war I acquired the Wargamer Magazine ‘zine game Port Stanley: Battle for the Falklands (3W, 1984) that I remember being disappointed in as it focused more on the ground combat over the glamorous air and grueling sea battles I so loved. (My perspective over time has changed as I have come to better appreciate the very challenging ground campaign).

More recently I acquired Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands (White Dog Games, 2017). Being a solo game it is much different than other games that look at the war. It also focuses at something between the operational and strategic levels of war with the air battles treated in a more abstract manner.

Over the years I have occasionally seen rumors and hints that Lee Brimmicombe-Wood might make a Falklands version of his raid game Downtown (GMT Games, 2004). As often as I hear the rumors they are crushed. I’ll admit, this would be an insta-buy for me!

One game that everybody points out as a really good take on the Falklands War is Where There is Discord: War in the South Atlantic (Fifth Column Games, 2009). I don’t own it, and given the market prices for the game -between $150-200- I don’t think I’m going to be acquiring that title anytime soon.

At the end of the day I feel the Falklands War is an under appreciated topic in wargames. There certainly is fertile ground for tactical Land/Sea/Air games with the interaction of the many weapons systems. I also feel that the operational level game, from the level of the Task Force Commander has not really been explored. As more recent scholarship has revealed, there was also much more going on at the strategic level than I think is generally understood. Harrier 809 has certainly whetted my appetite for playing some Falklands War scenarios – I’m just going to have to go a bit retro in my wargame selections to do so!

#Wargame Wednesday – History to Wargame – Washington’s Crossing: A Game of the Winter Campaign of 1776-1777 (revolutiongames.us, 2012)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Washington’s Crossing

“A people unused to restraint must be led; they will not be drove” – George Washington

The cost of it to George Washington himself was greater than anyone knew except members of his family. Twenty years after the event, when Washington retired to his beloved Mount Vernon, his stepson remembered that in the night, “he would frequently, when sitting with his family, appear absent; his lips would move, his hand be raised, and he would evidently seem under the influence of thoughts which had nothing to do with the quiet scene around him.” To the end of his life, George Washington continued to relive the desperate struggle of the dark days in 1776, and the crossing of the Delaware. – David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, p. 362.

Bibliography

Fischer, David Hackett; Washington’s Crossing, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Tucker, Phillip Thomas Tucker PhD; George Washington’s Surprise Attack: A New Look at the Battle the Decided the Fate of America, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

Washington’s Crossing: A Game of the Winter Campaign of 1776-1777 (Campaigns of the American Revolution Volume 1), designed by Roger Miller (Revolution Games, 2012).


#Wargame Wednesday – History to Wargame – Undaunted: North Africa (@OspreyGames, 2020)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Undaunted: North Africa

“Who Dares, Wins”

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Photo by RockyMountainNavy

It was nearly a week before the German High Command in the Western Desert became aware that the notorious British soldier, whom their radio referred to as “the Phantom Major” because of his persistent night raids behind their lines, had at last fallen into their hands.

It was enough of an event for Field-Marshal Rommel to write in his diary: “During January, a number of our A.A. gunners succeeded in surprising a British column…in Tunisia and captured the commander of the 1st S.A.S. Regiment, Lieut.-Col. David Stirling. Insufficiently guarded, he managed to escape and made his way back to some Arabs, to whom he offered a reward if they would bring him back to the British lines. But his bid must have been too small, for the Arabs, with their usual eye to business, offered him to us for eleven pounds of tea–a bargain which we soon clinched. Thus the British lost the very able and adaptable commander of the desert group which had caused us more damage than any other British unit of equal strength.”¹ (V. Cowles, 1)

Bibliography

Cowles, Virginia, Who Dares, Wins: The Story of the Phantom Major – David Stirling and His Desert Command, New York: Ballantine Books, 1958.

Undaunted: North Africa, designed by David Thompson & Trevor Benjamin, published by Osprey Games, 2020.


¹ Rommel’s account of Stirling’s recapture is not accurate.

Feature image: “‘R’ Patrol Chevrolet WB radio truck; the rod antenna can be seen on the right. The man at the rear is manning a Boys anti-tank rifle.” Courtesy military.wikia.com

#Wargame Wednesday – History to Wargame – Plan Orange (@RBMStudio1, 2015)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Plan Orange

The Great Pacific War

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Photo by RockyMountainNavy

Plan Orange was the U.S. Navy’s contingency plan in the event of war with Japan. First developed following the First World War, when Japan was identified as the most likely naval opponent in a future war, the plan assumed that Japan would quickly seize control of most of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy would then launch a counteroffensive across the Mandates in the central Pacific with the goal of relieving Manila and blockading Japan. The plan was continually updated to reflect shifting alliances, improvements in naval technology, and the relative strengths of the fleets. (The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia)

Bibliography

Bywater, Hector C., The Great Pacific War: A History of the Japanese-American Campaign of 1931-1933, Bedford: Applewood Books, original copyright 1925.

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War 1932-1935, designed by Mark Herman, published by C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2015.

Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.


Feature image: “Two Vought O2U Corsairs of Marine Corps Scouting Squadron 14 (VS-14M) fly past USS Saratoga (CV-3) while preparing to land on board, circa 1930.” Courtesy navy.mil.

History to #Wargame – A “historical” scenario of Dawn of Empire: The Spanish-American Naval War, 1898 (@compassgamesllc, 2020)

FOR MY CORNATINE SUNDAY AFTERNOON SOLO GAME I put my newly-arrived copy of Dawn of Empire: The Spanish-American Naval War, 1898 (Compass Games, 2020) back on the table. This time I decided to play the “historical” scenario with no Extra Time  (campaign is played for the standard six turns) and no Extra Warships for the Spanish (although they get the battleship Pelayo which they historically didn’t).

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I adopted a “Caribbean Fleet-in-Being” strategy for the Spanish. My thinking was the Spanish should move their ships to Caribbean ports and threaten American Squadrons. For the Americans I adopted a Blockade strategy. Within the limits of Dawn of Empire, both approaches approximate history. However, that’s where the history ended and the alternate past of Dawn of Empire began.

This play of Dawn of Empire I focused in on Orders and specifically payed much closer attention to what orders can follow what. The “order of Orders” is very important and creates many interesting strategic choices. For instance, a Blockade order can only be followed by a Coal order, unless you have too many units coaling in which case the Coal becomes an Anchor. Overall the impact is that squadrons really are only effective / available every other turn (maybe even every third or fourth turn if using Transit). My first time playing I didn’t catch the nuance that a Raid MUST be followed by a Transit which in turn is followed by a 2nd Transit, Coal, or Anchor. So before you send that Raid out you better think about what you also need that squadron to do in the future. What you do NOW has a huge impact on what you can do THEN – and you must plan accordingly.

This play of Dawn of Empire I also paid much closer attention to the Port Attack Resolution and experimented with port attacks using both Raid (every other unit in squadron combats against the Port Attack & Defense values) versus Blockade (every third unit in squadron combats against the Port Mine Factor & Defense). A subtle, yet impactful difference.

My play of Dawn of Empire ended in an American Automatic Victory at the end of Turn 5. The Americans lost a battleship, two monitors, and a cruiser in fleet battles during the war. The major battle was on Turn 5 (mid-late June) where the bulk of the Spanish fleet was lost in a major battle south of Cuba in the North Yucatan Basin area. The crazy thing is the battle should not have happened; the smaller American squadron was on Blockade of Cienfuegos and the large Spanish squadron was sailing for Havana under Transit orders. There was only a 33% chance of meeting…but the odds fell that way. This battle was all the more surprising because in the first round Admiral Sampson, aboard the American battleship Indiana at the time, was forced to leave the engagement when Indiana was Disabled. Although leaderless and outnumbered, the Americans outlasted the Spanish and secured the victory not only in the battle but in the war.

That said, the Americans were not happy with the results of a late Blockade of Havana where the harbor defenses almost sunk the battleships Oregon and Iowa. Had the war continued, the Americans would of been hard-pressed to repair the combined 8x Damage to both ships in any sort of a timely manner. The closest port is Key West, but it can only repair 1x Damage per turn. Mobile Bay is a bit better with a Repair Ability of 2. Hampton Roads is the best with a Repair Ability of 4 but the damaged ships would take four or five turns to get there. Another possibility was to send them to Key West, do enough repairs to get a better speed, then go to Hampton Roads. No matter the choice, the time necessary was huge. Oh yeah, you also want to sail them as Independent units, not Squadrons, to avoid being intercepted. Planning, planning, planning!

This play convinced me that the Optional Rules in Dawn of Empire really are necessary to get anything near a balanced game. Rule 11.J Extra Warships is basically a given and adding 11.I The Germans should be interesting. For a bit of added realism (with little rules overhead) I also want to experiment with 11.B Alternate Delayed Repairs (slower damage recovery), 11.C Maintenance (assigned damage), and 11.H Restricting Disabled Ships (if unable to reach a friendly port then scuttle and lost).

Dawn of Empire is not really a historical game. I am not sure if it really can recreate the true historical situation given there is no land warfare component to the game. Instead, Dawn of Empire delivers a near-pure Mahanian view of the Spanish-American Naval War in the Atlantic – in a very fun and easy-to-learn and play manner.

(Repeat) History to #Coronatine #Wargame – Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send three main columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and one inland to Sidi Suleiman. From Gasr el-Abid the 11th Hussars Reconnaissance Regiment and Central India Horse use their fast tanks and armored cars to drive straight to Sidi Omar (+1VP). The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 and a fierce battle develops. Sensing an opportunity, the 11th Hussars and Central India Horse drive to Gabr el-Gerrari to and tie into the flank of 7th Armored. At the end of June 15, Halfaya Pass is still held by the Germans but Fort Capuzzo is threatened.”

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Game map for Operation Battleaxe from Revolution Games. The British start with Tobruk (upper left) under siege and the offensive jumping off from red letter areas to the south and east. VP zones are denoted in red.

“On June 16, the British strike first with an attack on Pt 206, which they occupy quickly followed by attacks on Fort Capuzzo. The fort holds, but barely. The German 15th Panzer Division now joins the battle to relieve Fort Capuzzo but runs headlong into the anti-tank guns of the British 65th Anti-Tank and is chewed up. The first battle of Rommel’s Afrika Korps is very inauspicious. The German 5th Light Division attempts to outflank the British 7th Armored and travels deep thru the desert from Sidi Rezegh to Bir el-Hurush to take Pt 206 from behind. This time it is the anti-tank guns of the 12th Australian Anti-Tank that savage the German armor units. At the end of June 16, the British are in control of Sidi Omar (+1VP), Pt. 206 (+2VP), and Fort Capuzzo (+2 VP).”

“On June 17, Wavell recognizes that most of the German armor has been destroyed by his anti-tank guns the day before. Sensing an opportunity, the takes the under-strength 2nd & 6th Royal Tank Regiments and strikes out along the coast to Tobruk. By the end of the day, Bardia (+1VP) and Mentasir II (+2VP) have fallen. Meanwhile, the German defenders at Halfaya Pass look on worryingly as a desperate see-saw battle in Musaid sees both sides trade control of the area. At stake is the supply lines for the Halfaya Pass defenders. As the day ends, the British have established control of Musaid and cut off the Halfaya defenders from any resupply.”

“Though Halfaya Pass is yet to fall, it is obvious that Operation Battleaxe is a resounding British victory. In Berlin, Hitler is furious at the loss of his Panzers. With the start of Operation Barbarossa only a few days away, plans are considered for the withdrawal of all German forces in North Africa. More importantly, the Allies have finally faced down the Austrian Corporal’s tanks and shown them to be vulnerable, breaking the aura of invincibility that has surrounded German armor since the Fall of France.*”

[79 Years Later]

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Amazing how different a game this game of Operation Battleaxe was from the first. Whereas in the first game the Germans could not roll wrong, this time the dice gods heavily favored the British. Even with Wireless Intercepts (spend The Advantage to Regroup then Assault in and impulse) and Axis Battlefield Recovery (return one Reduced-Strength Axis armored unit to Full Strength each Refit Phase for free) the German lose armor faster than it can be replaced. The British also managed to put most the the German units on the map out-of-supply and more than a few units Surrender.

Unlike my first game, The Advantage was heavily traded in this game. Early on June 16 and 17, the British player used The Advantage to trigger an Axis Fuel Shortage meaning no Combined Operations (activate more than one area). Both sides liberally traded The Advantage whenever a Fanatical Defense or Maximum Attack was needed. The German player was able to call on Rommel an der spitz! (add a die to an attack roll) only a few times – when needed most the Allies tended to hold The Advantage.

Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941. Designed by Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs for Revolution Games and released in 2013. Great simple-to-learn wargame with just the right amount of chrome to feel ‘authentic’ without major rules overhead.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “A soldiers stops to inspect the grave of a German tank crew, killed when their PzKpfw III tank, seen in the background, was knocked out in recent fighting in the Western Desert, 29 September 1942.” Courtesy ww2today.com

History to #Coronatine #Wargame – The sharp edge of Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send four columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and two inland to Sidi Suleiman and Bir el-Hurush. The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 – and are thrown back by the impressive action of the 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion.”

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Situation near end of June 15. The 33rd AT Battalion defending Pt. 206 has already inflicted significant British armor losses. It will not get any better in the next two days….

“For two days, the British tanks throw themselves at Pt. 206, and for two days the 33rd AT Battalion makes a heroic stand before reluctantly withdrawing to Fort Capuzzo. Even when the British try to outflank Pt. 206 they run headlong into the newly arrived German 5th Light Division and its armor. With their own armor reduced to smoking husks in front of Pt. 206, British infantry units try to hold what they can but eventually start a fighting withdrawal. By the end of June 17, Wavell knows he is defeated. Though he is on control of Halfaya Pass and  Pt. 206 he has failed to relieve the Siege of Tobruk. British losses are painfully high. In this first action against Rommel, the British 7th Armored Division is all but destroyed, while the relatively unscathed German 5th Light Division is poised to for a counterattack deeper into Egypt. Wavell is forced to call off the offensive and signal the failure of Battleaxe to Churchill.”*

[79 Years Later]

I LOVE A WARGAME THAT IS ALMOST HISTORY. In this case, I am talking about Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 by designer Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs and published by Revolution Games in 2013. This title is part of the Area-Impulse series of wargames by Mr. Rinella that includes Patton’s Vanguard (2017) and Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (2019) also published by Revolution Games. The Area-Impulse series are lower complexity games that use area movement and activation of areas in impulses. Each day is of a variable length as each turn includes a Sunset DR (Die Roll) to see if another impulse occurs or if the next turn in triggered.

Operation Battleaxe does an excellent job portraying the situation in North Africa in June 1941. The British have to strike hard to relieve Tobruk while the Axis must defend. This was the first action of Rommel and the 5th Light Division. In this game these key German units are not released until the second day but once they are….

Each turn in Operation Battleaxe is one day, meaning the British player has only three turns to achieve victory. Given the odds built into the Sunset DR, this means on average each turn will be about 7 impulses. The Allies realistically have something like 21 actions to build their victory – meaning there is little enough time to act and even less time to waste. The Allied player earns VP at the end of every turn for control of certain areas. They also gain VP at the end of the game for eliminated German units and reduced German armored units. If they have enough VP then win; less than enough and Mr. Churchill is unhappy!

For such a simple game, Operation Battleaxe actually has a decent amount of chrome to reflect some of the unique conditions of this war. Like every Area-Impulse game, there is The Advantage which can be cashed in by the owning player for an effect such as Fanatical Defense or Axis Fuel Shortage. In this game, I strongly encourage the use of The Advantage Optional Rules which are Additional Tiger Cubs (return a single Allied armor unit to full strength without spending a Replacement Point) and Wireless Intercepts (reflects the Axis advantage given their ability to read British messages). Both are easy to use and add just-that-much-more flavor to the game for almost no rules overhead.

In my game, the 33rd AT Battalion in Pt. 206 rolled HOT(!!!) for June 15 and 16. It certainly sold itself dearly for delaying the British advance. Indeed, by the end of June 15, when the German 5th Light Division was released, the battle was actually pretty much finished given the British armor losses. In this game the British ‘Tigers’ were pretty much declawed from the beginning.

A great aspect of the Area-Impulse games is that they are smaller footprint and actually play relatively quickly meaning I will likely get a second game in this evening. With an easy-to-learn and relatively unsophisticated, yet highly thematic, game system that plays quickly, Operation Battleaxe make a perfect Coronatine wargame.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “Destroyed Matilda tank North Africa.” Courtesy worldwarphotos.info