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.”
“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