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.”
“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]
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