Sunday, 26 November 2017

A Rumble in the Desert - Battlegroup Tobruk

It’s not unusual to have ‘Steve’ put on a game in the club, but this month it was a rare sight as my
WW2 desert armies made an appearance!

I've built up fair amount of 8th Army, DAK and Italians over the years, and they have appeared
previously on these pages, but my ‘go to’ set of rules has always been FoW. These are not particularly favoured within the club, so the figures have not seen the light of day for probably a couple of years and I've not even considered version 4!

The release of Battlegroup Tobruk by Iron fist publishing, made me think that maybe I could redress
that, so I purchased the rules a few months ago, had a play around with a bit of a solo game and
committed to putting on a club game.

I’ll not go into a ‘rules review’, just give an overview of the game and some thoughts.

I wanted to get a mixture of ‘toys’ onto the table, to see how the rules handled things, so didn't go
for an historical scenario or forces. Love them or hate them, Battlegroup uses a ‘points’ system, so I
put together forces of company strength, equal to just under 900 points, based on an armoured battlegroup.

For the 8th Army this consisted of;
Forward HQ in a M3 Honey
Forward signals unit (gives a re- roll when calling in artillery)
2 x platoons of 3 x M3 ‘Honeys’
1 platoon of 3 x Crusader II’s
An infantry platoon, with an HMG, medium mortar and towed 2pdr a/tank gun
A recce platoon of 3 x Vickers Mk IVB’s
A carrier section of 3 bren carriers
1 x Valentine
1 x 2prd a/tank portee
A Forward Observation Officer (FOO) with 2 x 25Pdrs & 2 x 3’’ mortars off table

Additional fire support consisted of a timed 4.5’’ barrage and a timed 6’’ howitzer barrage, which
have to be pre registered on the table, and a turn of arrival declared. There was also a ‘counter
battery’ fire mission available.

For the DAK;
Forward HQ in a Panzer III G
Forward signals unit
Platoon of 3 x Panzer II’s
Platoon of 4 x Panzer IIIG’s
1 x Panzer IVD
Infantry platoon, with HMG, medium mortar and towed 37mm a/tank gun
A recce platoon of 2 x Sdkfz 222’s
A Panzerjager platoon of 2 x towed 50mm a/tank guns
Platoon of 3 x Italian M13/14’s (25% of a DAK battlegroup can be Italian)
FOO with 2 x 105mm howitzers off table

Additional fire support of 2 x timed 150mm barrages and a ‘counter battery’ fire mission.

The scenario was the ‘Attack/counter attack’ scenario taken from the main rulebook, with Nathan &
Jason taking the DAK, and Si and Chris the 8th Army.

The DAK deployed their Panzer II’s, III’s & IV on their left flank, while the Brits deployed the Honey’s to counter. On the DAK right, the 50mm anti-tank guns came on and deployed at long range, soon to be supported by the M13/14’s and the infantry platoon with supports. On the British right, both 2 pdr anti-tank guns and the Valentine tried to keep out of sight behind the hills, while the Crusaders deployed in the centre, followed in the later stages by the infantry.

The main combat took place between the Panzers and the Honeys, with the Honey’s generally getting
the worst of the encounter. On the other flank, the 50mm took long range shots at anything in range, while the Crusaders took long range pots at the M13/14’s. Consequently not a lot of damage was done.

The German timed barrages were effective, taking out the FOO and the carrier officer who was also
able to call in mortar support. Unfortunately the 8th Army were not quite so lucky!

Force cohesion is based on the total ‘battle rating’ (BR) of each force, with each unit contributing its
own BR to that total. Reduction of that BR is based on drawing a ‘chit’ each time a unit, or objective
is lost. Each chit is numbered 1-5 and when one is drawn, it reduces the Force BR by the associated
number. When a Force is reduced to 0 it is adjudged to have lost its battle effectiveness. There are
also ‘special’ chits which may cause an enemy unit to breakdown or run out of ammunition, or a
friendly unit to carry out an ‘heroic act’. We had some of the former, but none of the later.

Because I wasn't keeping detailed notes, exact details of what took place are a bit hazy, but by the
time we called it a day, each Force’s BR was only down by about 50%, so maybe a company level
game is too big for a club day? Although both sides were doing a lot of long range shooting!

I enjoyed putting on the game, but didn't know the rules as well as I thought! The basic mechanics
are simple enough, calling in and firing artillery appeared quite involved, and against armour took a
bit of working out.

Once everyone got familiar with the basics, turns flowed quite quickly. Spotting every turn before firing takes some getting used to, and we weren't sure if some of the factors were totally effective.

There’s no ‘automatic’ spotting of infantry, even if you’re right on top of them and no ‘tank assault’. This was one of my bug bears for a desert game, as I like to think I'm quite well read on this period. The rules even make comment on infantry vulnerability in this theatre.

Nathan did think there was a ‘gun shield save’ when shooting at a/tank guns, but we couldn't find it in the rules and I think that’s from FoW.

Overall, I’d give them another go, not a perfect set of rules in my opinion, but maybe a few ‘home
grown’ amendments in the future?

Thanks to Nathan, Jason, Si & Chris for playing in the spirit, and putting up with me spending most of the time with my nose in the rulebook! It was good to get the desert stuff on the table again. Most
of the armour is Battlefront, with a smattering of Skytrex, mostly pained by JJ. The anti tanks guns
are all Battlefront, again by JJ. The infantry are a mixture of Battlefront, Skytex and Peter Pig, mainly
by yours truly – Steve M


  1. Lovely models - nice to see Battlegroup being played in Devon. I've bought the rules and have started collecting Soviets and Germans for Kursk although I started out with the intention of collecting desert forces.

  2. Nice post Steve.

    I have only played the "Battlegroup" series once and I think that was Battlegroup Normandy. I thought they played well, although I think we had Andy B cranking the rules and he clearly knew how they worked. I just rolled the bones !

    Nice to see Vickers light tanks on the table. I have always liked these vehicles, since I saw a Mark IV at Bovington nearly 30 years ago. Interesting that you fielded Mark IV's (are the models Mark VI's ?), as they were pretty rare beasts.


  3. For a first try at the rules... 900 points is huge.

    Around 350 would be more suitable to get a handle on the mechanics and complete easy enough. As with all rules it takes a while to get the basics down.

    Artillery is actually quite simple once you know it (ain't that always the case!) and if you are on the Battlegroup Facebook group I just put an artillery step by step guide up.

    There is no automatic 'spotting' of infantry and tanks are not infantry squashing machines in Battlegroup, though their MGs do quite well enough usually. The rulebook has a page devoted to explaining the spotting concept but it's the abstraction of alot of factors, not simply a roll to see a target really.

    Models look awesome and I hope you had a fun time regardless! :)


  4. Thanks Vince. Yep, Mk IVB's, equipped 1RTR 1939-40 and there were at least 20 at the first siege of Tobruk ('Battles with Panzers' Delaforce).

    Piers, great to have your input, thanks for taking the time to comment :)
    Yeah, in hindsight, a bit big, will downsize next time!

    Will have a look on FB thank you, I think it was mainly indirect fire on armour.

    I did read the page on spotting and did follow the logic, however it did frustrate the armoured commander when he was adjacent to infantry in the open!

    Thanks for the feedback, will certainly give the rules another go :)


    1. Anytime Steve. If you're on Facebook feel free to post queries on the Battlegroup Game Facebook group or drop me a PM.

      Keep us informed how it goes! :)

  5. Thanks for the report. I was thinking of getting these rules for my own 15mm desert stuff but, they don't seem to be for bigger games so, perhaps, best left.

    I'm looking for a set that will handle brigades / regiment games at a 1:5 ratio. Any thoughts? I'm using Piquet with company level units (3 tanks, inf stands) or BKC 2 at present - both having pluses and minuses.


    1. Hi James,
      Thank you.

      Yes I have seen your collection and a very fine one it is to. I didn't play in this particular game but have some experience with the rules around their earlier incarnations, Kursk and Overlord and have given my thoughts with some posts on previous games on JJ's Wargames.

      If you are looking for the next command level up you might like to check out our posts on two sets of rules at that level that we played this year.

      The first was Fireball Forward played in February with Si's lovely German/French 1940 15mm collection. I enjoyed the game and they had some nice mechanics.

      The other was our game in June using the new versuion of Dave Brown's Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier where we were doing a IABSM scenario of Operation Goodwood with a lot of tanks on the table so would tick the box for desert armour games I would have thought. These rules are on the third edition now I think are well crafted and again gave a good fun game.

      Hope that helps

    2. Most helpful, I'll check those out.


    3. Well the bigger you go the more time it takes... with most rules to be fair.

      Once you know the rules though it gets alot faster. We play 750 points in an evening and have done 2500 aside games in a very relaxed day of gaming. We've gone bigger too.

      The early period games do give you more stuff for your points but a desert game with just tanks will play quite fast.

      That said if you want to uses masses of stuff, and play in an evening, then no... probably not what you want. :)

  6. Hi, Could you answer a question about ridges? I'm new to battlegroup and have Italians and British desert forces and would like to know what effect a ridge has? Does it block LOS and for example?