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Blaze Across the Sands
A Western Desert Spearhad game by Pete Smith

Background

During the latter stage of the battle of the Gazala line in June 1942, Rommel had managed to outflank the Commonwealth forces (again) and was poised to attack the much depleted defences of the important strategic port of Tobruk. However, to the north of his position the remnants of the 1st and 7th British Armoured Divisions, total of three Brigades, were preparing for an attack to the south towards the small water hole of Bir Lifa. However, on 11th June several Battalions the German 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions launched their own attack and rolled north to meet the British Brigades which would turn out to be one of the largest tank battles of the war in the Western Desert.

Order of Battle

Germans

British

15th Panzer Division

(Bret - CiC)
1st and 2nd Battalions of the 8th Panzer Regiment
(1st Battalion had the 1st/33rd Flak Regiment attached)
1st Battalion of the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment
33rd Panzer Jaeger Battalion

21st Panzer Division

(John Lambert)
1st and 2nd Battalions of the 5th Panzer Regiment
1st Battalion of the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment
39th Panzer Jaeger Battalion

1st Armoured Division

22nd Armoured Brigade

(Paul - CiC)
2nd Royal Gloustershire Hussars
3rd County of London Yoemanry(Sharpshooters)
4th County of London Yoemanry

2nd Armoured Brigade

(John Legg)
10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales Own)
The Queen's Bays (Dragoon Guards)
3rd /5th Royal Tank Regiment
1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade

7th Armoured Division

4th Armoured Brigade

(Colin)
8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
6th Royal Tank Regiment
1st Royal Tank Regiment
1st Battalion of the King's Rifle Corps
 


Map




After both sides had written their battalion rosters and the respective CiCs had drawn up their battle plans the action got underway.

The British 4th Armoured Brigade (Colin) of the 7th Armoured Division set up in the north east sector of the table. The 1st Armoured Division's 2nd Brigade (John Legg) entered from the northern edge of the table at full speed, creating a dust cloud behind the moving vehicles. (Full speed for most vehicles in the game is 9" - dust clouds of 4½" long are made behind the vehicles if they move greater than combat speed, which is ½ full speed. Dust obscures line of sight and can be spotted up to 21" away). The British CiC (Paul) decided to attempt an attack with 1st Armoured Division's 22nd Brigade deep into the eastern German flank. This was a risky plan as the Italian Trieste Motorised Infantry Division was in that area ( off table ) and could delay or even prevent the 22nd from arriving at all.(The British CiC had ordered the three armoured regiments of the 22nd to arrive on game turn 3. They needed to roll 5 or 6 on a D6 to succeed. If they failed, a further 1 - 6 on a D6 of base losses will be inflicted on the armoured regiment).

Panzers throwing up dust clouds

Meanwhile, the Germans planned their own attack with the 1st Battalion of 5th Panzer Regiment, 21st Panzer Division, on the same flank but to the north. This time it was the British 201st Guards Brigade (off Table) which could thwart their scheme.

The remaining German Battalions were ordered to enter from the south and attack towards the Trigh Capuzzo track.

The Germans won the initiative at the beginning of the first turn and so started the action with the 15th Pz. Div. advancing on left and the 21st on the right. (Winning the initiative lets the players choose which side moves first - both sides roll 1D6. Highest wins. The Germans, perceived to be better organised, get a +1).

Crusader tanks of the 22nd Arm. Brig. hit the flank of the 5/21st Pz. Div.

Turn 2 saw the Germans with the initiative again but the continuing advance of both sides' battalions did not make any visual contact (max. range for spotting is 18". It's 21" when throwing up dust). The British chose to move first at the start of turn 3 as they won the initiative.

It was time for the 22nd Arm. Brig. to try and make a showing on the south east flank. Only one Armoured Regiment - the 4th County of London Yeomanry with their Crusader II tanks - managed to arrive. (The other 2 regiments failed their dice roll and lost a number of stands as well. They can try again next turn).

But the 4th CLY Regt. certainly caused a shock for the 2nd Batt/5th Regt. 21pz. Div. A number of their panzers were knocked out from flank shots but, lucky for them some were out of site due to the dust clouds.

The 2nd /5th Pz drove straight on to try and evade this dangerous position and considered changing orders to change course to the west.

British armour of the 4th Brigade charge into contact.

But the problem was compounded by the armoured regiments of the 4th Brigade (7th Div.) heading straight for the them from the north. The only option was to keep moving and engage the British 4th Arm. Brig, head on and hope the enemy to the rear will go away. In the meantime the other battalions of the 21th Pz. Div steadily advanced north along with the units of the 15th Pz Div.

No contact was made during turn 4, although the 22nd Brigade's regiments yet to arrive on the S.E. flank were reported to be engaged with the Italian Trieste Division further to the east (in fact they failed their flank march test again and this time lost all stands due to rolling 6s on the subsequent losses test) and so would be out of the scheme of things indefinitely.

Turn 5 saw the 21st Pz Div.'s 39th Pz. Jaeger Battalion and the 115th Pz. Grenadiers take up positions around and in a depression in the terrain to north of Bir Lifa. The 15th Pz. moved further north although the 33rd Pz. Jgr. Battalion started to unlimber their PAK 38s to west of the depression.

Tanks of the 4th Arm.Brig. move through the burning wrecks of the 2nd Pz.Batt.

Fortunately for the hard pressed 2nd Batt 5/21 Pz., the Crusader tanks of the 4th C.L.Y. to their rear had advanced west over a line of sand hills.(They had tried to change orders to pursue the panzers but failed their order change test dice roll and so had to carry on with their original attack plan).Unfortunately, the 2nd Batt. made contact with the regiments of the 4th Arm.Brig.which were the 8th Royal Irish Hussars, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the 6th Royal Tank Regiment. Apart from a few squadrons of the light "Honey" tanks, these units were mainly composed of the heavier "Grant" tanks. The action that ensued saw the destruction of the German 2nd Pz. Battalion 5/21st which meant the British armour was now free to swing west to assault further enemy positions.

The 4th and 22nd Arm,Brig. assault German infantry and ant-tank gun positions.

The 4th CLY of the depleted 22nd Arm.Brig. by turn 6 had crossed the sand hill and found a vulnerable company of enemy anti-tank guns of the 39th Pz.Jgr. that were an easy target for an over run assault. During turns 6,7 and 8 the 4th Brigade had joined the 4th CLY in the assault on the 39th Pz.Jagr. and the 115th Pz.Gren.

Both Brigades took losses. But eventually, after the Pz. Jgr. battalion tried to break off, it was totally wiped out.

The German 115th Pz.Gren. were in action also mainly against the "Grants" of the 8th Hussars and the 6th RTR. The Grenadiers held their position in the depression and were assisted by the PAK 38s of the 33rd Pz.Jgr. Batt. of the 15th Pz. Div. which was now in defensive positions to the Grenadiers' left.


The PAK 38s of 39th Pz.Jgr Batt. taking heavy damage. The dust cloud in the background was made by towed guns trying to escape.
115th Panzer Grenadiers hold the "low" ground against assaulting "Grants"

While these events were unfolding to the south of the battle area, turn 5 saw the arrival of the 1st Battalion 5/21st Panzer Division on the extreme north east flank - right in the British rear. This left the Queen's Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) of the 2nd Armoured Brigade in a precarious position. The other regiments and the rifle battalion had moved further south so there wasn't any support at hand.

The 1st Batt.5/21 Pz. about to bear down on the Queen's Bays Regt in the distance.

Despite the deterioration of visibility due to the onset of mirage conditions,( from turn 5 to 11 mirage conditions were in effect. Visibility distances were halved for all units) the Queen's Bays took withering flank and rear shots before breaking (they took over half casualties so had to take a moral test, which the failed and all stands were removed from the table). Further to the east the King's Rifles had made good progress and had set up defensive positions in and around Bir Lifa.

The 1st King's Rifles Battalion arrives at Bir Lifa and prepare for a possible enemy counter attack

The panzers of the 1st Batt. continued their drive into the unsuspecting British rear, but despite poor visibility, the K.R. Batt. spotted the advancing panzers to the S.W. of their position. The 6Pdrs of the King's Rifles A/T company opened fire on the left flank of the 1st Batt.5/21st Pz. with such devastating accuracy that it very swiftly made the panzers just smouldering wrecks shimmering through the desert mirage conditions.


Panzers of the 1st Batt.5/ 21st are totally destroyed by the…
… withering fire of the K.R. 6Pdr A/T guns deployed S.W. of Bir Lifa.

On the far British right flank the 3rd/5th RTR of 2nd Brigade made good progress across the desert and using the mirage conditions to close with the enemy without being spotted. However, the dust clouds thrown up by the speeding cruisers and Grant tanks soon made the 88mm Flak/AT artillery with the 104th Pz.Grenadiers aware of the approaching enemy armour (dust can be spotted at 15" through mirage). The 88s were able to open fire while the 3rd /5th RTR were still out of range, registering a number of crippling hits on them. Despite this, the British tanks rumbled on but by turn 11 were also attacked by the panzers of the 1st Batt.8/15th Pz,Div. The incoming shot was too much to bear for the 3rd /5th RTR(the 88s & panzers were static units and so fire first)and consequently failed an ensuing moral test and so were removed from play.

The dreaded 88s open up at long range.

Turn 11 also saw the 1st Battalion of the Rifles of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, supported by the 10th Hussars set up positions to attack the 2nd Batt 8/15th Pz. and the 33rd Pz. Jgr. The 8th Hussars of 4th Brigade failed a moral test along with the 4th CLY of 22nd Brigade, which resulted in both armoured regiments leaving the battlefield.

The Air to Ground Controler of 4th Brigade managed to call in three sorties of Hurri-Bombers to attack the PAK 38 positions of the 33rd Pz Jaeger Battalion.( the British needed 4, 5 or 6 on the Air Attack/artillery table - they rolled a 5 ) But the the attack turned out to be ineffective inpart because of the presence of a German 20mm FLAK battery (within 12" of the Hurries attack which gives a -1 on the dice roll.All 3 sorties rolled under 5 - no hits)

The PAK 38s survive the Hurri-Bombers' onslaught.

The 33rd Pz Jgr. absorbed the bombardment with minimal damage and was able to engage the 10th Royal Hussars to their front, knocking out several enemy tanks.

The situation at the end of turn 12 was that the British couldn't achieve their goal of knocking out more enemy tanks than they lost. They had lost too many of their own - on and off the table due to the three Regiments of 22nd Brig. failing to arrive. But the Germans couldn't reach their victory conditions either. They hadn't knocked out twice as many enemy tank platoons than they lost - and it was now impossible because there wasn't enough British armour left on the table.

So it ended a draw at the end of game turn 12, but the Germans were probably in a position to exploit because they had more armour remaining intact and so could drive on to and take Tobruk, which is pretty much what happened historically.



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