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BLAZE ACROSS THE SANDS
Spearhead in North Africa 1941-1943
by Alexander P. Macris
It was only in the desert that the principles of armored warfare as they were taught in theory before the war could be fully applied and thoroughly developed. It was only in the desert that real tank battles were fought by large-scale formations. - Erwin Rommel
Blaze Across the Sands is a collection of scenarios designed to be played with Arty Conliffe's rules for WWII divisional-size battles, Spearhead. The scenarios can also be used with similar rules where the platoon is the smallest element in play and the battalion is the central command element. With some imagination, the scenarios could probably be converted into 1:1 battles as well.
The 21 scenarios in this book are each inspired by a historical battle that occurred somewhere in North Africa between Rommel's attack on the Cyrenaica in the spring of 1941 and the fall of Tunisia to the Allies in 1943. The selection of scenarios has attempted to present a variety of tactical situations for the gamer while also providing a historical overview of the entire Western Desert front.
The scenarios are divided into three Chapters organized by year. Chapter 1, Enter the Fox, traces the campaigns of 1941 from the entrance of the 5th Light Division into Cyrenaica to the retreat of the Deutsches Afrika Korps to Tripolitania. Chapter 1 focuses strongly on the fast-paced battles of Operation: Crusader, where victory is won with flexibility, fluidity, and combination of arms.
Chapter 2, Triumph of the Will, covers 1942. It opens with Rommel's January counter-offensive, and follows the Afrika Korps on its march eastward until it is stopped and defeated at Alamein. Africa was a hard environment, notorious for devouring both generals and supplies. Rommel's string of victories against extreme odds were achieved with a rare combination of audacity and willpower. Player commanders of both sides will hopefully discover that determination and daring can be battle-winning factors for themselves as well.
The collapse of Mussolini's new Roman Empire in 1943 is the subject of Chapter 3, Decline and Fall. Here small German forces, for the first time equipped with the latest tanks and equipment, face the overwhelming combination of the Anglo-Americans to the west and the Commonwealth to the east. With every scenario the German player faces increasingly difficult odds as victory becomes synonymous with survival.
Some of these scenarios are attempts at historical simulation, but all have been modified for play balance and variety. Where possible, I have attempted to use the actual orders of battle and unit designations that fought, but in other cases I have manufactured and modified the OBs. The scenarios are hopefully balanced, enjoyable, and representative of the difficulties facing the desert generals.
Although each scenario has unique rules and conditions, some characteristics of the desert war are so common that they demanded frequent representation. These rules can be found at the front of this book as the Optional Desert Rules. The scenarios will indicate when these rules are in effect.
One comment should be made regarding the scenario terrain. 12-30"x30" geomorphic maps form the basis of all the battlefields in this book. Many of these maps are only sparsely adorned with terrain, though some are dominated by large escarpments, hills, and ridges. Where these larger features appear they will be extremely important to play, and every effort should be made to represent such major topography. Smaller depressions and hills are less important; a certain degree of variation in these features will not affect play balance. The terrain of the Western Desert is largely important for its lack of topographic detail, and tables that preserve that emptiness will have preserved the spirit of the desert. Resist the temptation to add further clutter to maps, because it may destroy the qualities that made the desert a tactician's paradise. And above all, don't despair for lack of rivers and forests - the abundant array of entrenchments, mine belts, and sand dunes found herein should prove enough to keep even the infantrymen among you satisfied.
For those of you who intend to use these scenarios with systems other than Spearhead: Before attempting any conversion, keep in mind that the scenarios exploit the strengths of Spearhead's realistic depiction of doctrine and command. If your rules do not account for German advantages in artillery response, movement, tactical flexibility, combined arms warfare, and command organization, the balance of the scenarios will be badly skewed towards the Commonwealth forces. You may wish to develop house rules to represent these German advantages; or then again, you may just want to purchase Spearhead yourself.
North Africa has always been my favorite theater of the war. It holds a romantic appeal to me, and its famous images - Desert Rats tearing over the sand dunes, silhouetted 88mm-guns hidden in Hellfire Pass, Rommel staring into the horizon - have never tarnished in my mind. The tactical possibilities and strategic problems it presented the generals who fought there are unique in military history, and worthy of endless study. If, in this book, I have captured a bit of the nature and the feel of the desert war, so that players can for a few hours become the desert soldiers, the Desert Rats, or the Desert Fox - then I am satisfied.
Alex Macris, January 1997
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