Hellfire and Back! – Early War Battles in North Africa, 1940-1941
Hellfire and Back covers the battles in Libya and Egypt between the Italian invasion of Egypt on 13 September 1940 until the end of Operation Crusader at the end of December 1941. During that time both the Allies and Axis raced backwards and forwards across the desert, each achieving overwhelming victories only to see the other side recover to come back at them once again.
What’s inside Hellfire and Back
• Italian Forces in North Africa 1940-41
• German Forces in North Africa 1941
• British and Commonwealth Forces in North Africa 1940-41
• One Italian, two German, one British and one Australian Warrior. • Strongpoint Fortification rules
• Desert Hazards variable terrain rules
• Three new Missions
• Background History and Maps
The Italians get the special rules some of you may be familiar with from North Africa. These include Avanti! and Heroism. Avanti! allows Italian platoons to make a Skill test to move an extra 4”/10cm instead of Shooting in the Shooting Step. Heroism gives the Italian player a chance to get the Unknown Hero Warrior when a command team is destroyed. The Unknown Hero gives the platoon he is commandeering a 2+ Motivation.
8 Million Bayonets is worth mentioning in a little more detail because the ratings in Hellfire and Back are different from those found in North Africa for Mid-war. The Italians fighting in 1940 to 1941 are less experienced and this is reflected in the Early-ear 8 Million Bayonets table. We also introduce another rating to cover the Libyan colonial troops fighting for Italians in 1940.
Capitano Sergio Falletti
In Hellfire and Back we have created a number of new Warriors, the first of these is for the Italian Posizione di Fucilieri (infantry position), Capitano Sergio Falletti. While looking around for an interesting Italians as potential Warriors I came across Falletti on an Italian website. He had an interesting back story, a WWI veteran with previous experience in the Italian East African colonies as a settler-farmer, he returned to his home town of Turin to take on an official role.
He volunteered when WWII broke out and fought in southern France. He transferred to Libya in 1941 and took command of a company of the 27th Infantry Regiment of the Pavia Division. His company was part of the ring besieging Tobruk when they came under attack from British troops in November 1941. He and his men fought tenaciously, and when his men looked to waver, he rallied them around him to keep them in the fight. He took command of a machine-gun, called in artillery on his own positions, and with his last few men took a final stand before his death.
For his rules he and the men he commands pass Motivation tests on a 3+ and he can also sacrifice an infantry team to save a gun nest.
The Italians had good numbers of tanks from the start of the fighting in the desert. The Compagnia Carri (tank company) allows you to field a company of M13/40 medium tanks. The M13/40 is similar looking to the M14/41 of mid-war, but it is powered by a smaller engine, so it isn’t as fast, and counts as a Slow Tank. However, it has good armour of 3 in the front, which compares favourability with the armour of the British cruiser and light tanks it faces. It has an anti-tank rating gun of 6, with a Firepower of 4+. This gun has a high-explosive round giving it another advantage over the British.
These can be supported by Tankette Platoons equipped with L3/35 tankettes armed with twin MGs or 20mm Solothurn anti-tank rifles or additionally armed with Brixa light mortars. Another armour support option is the Flame-thrower Platoon with L3/35 Lanciafiamme tankettes.
The elite Compagnia Bersaglieri (light infantry company) are the infantry of the Italian armoured divisions. You may notice these are organised in a more traditional platoon format, as the AS-42 reforms of mid-war are yet to be put into effect. During the early years in the desert the Bersaglieri operated in platoons of seven Rifle/MG teams and the heavy weapons remain in separate platoons. However, the company has access to machine-guns, anti-tank guns and mortars. As well as the Italian 47/32 anti-tank gun, the gunners can also be equipped with German 37/45 (3.7cm PaK36) guns. The Italian also had Autocannone da 102/35 guns from the X Milmart Legion supporting them. This coastal defence militia was armed with long-range guns mounted on trucks that could be used for anti-tank and direct fire support. The Autocannone da 102/35 has a range of 40”/100cm, ROF 2, Anti-tank 11 and Firepower 2+, making it a handy weapon indeed.
Some Bersaglieri were also mounted on motorcycles. These platoons take advantage of the Motorcycle Reconnaissance rules, which first appeared in Blitzkrieg. They allow motorcycle teams to operate as reconnaissance teams and save on a 3+ while mounted. Italian Rifle/MG teams fire at full rate of fire if stationary while mounted as they don’t have sidecar like their German allies. They dismount as Rifle/MG teams.
The Motociclisti Platoon is a little larger than the dismounted Besaglieri with nine Motorcycle Rifle/MG teams. They are also supported by motorcycle mounted machine-gun platoons and towards the end of 1941 the first AB41 armoured cars started to arrive in North Africa.
Posizione di Fucilieri
Our final Italian force represents the bulk of the Italian infantry fighting in Libya and Egypt in 1940 to 1941. The Posizione di Fucilieri (infantry position) represents the fortified positions defending the port towns of Bardia and Tobruk, as well as the fortified camps in Egypt, fortified positions on the Libyan-Egyptian frontier, the later positions besieging Tobruk.
The fortified forces in Hellfire and Back focus on strongpoints, so that each fortified platoon is a concentrated position with its own Machine-gun and Gun Nests with supporting infantry with trenches, barbed wire and minefields. This is deployed in one position. Each company has two fortified positions and can include additional supporting artillery and anti-tank positions using the Gun Position to be deployed in Gun Pits. The force offers good firepower in well-protected positions.
Most forces can be supported by Carri, Tankette and Medium Tank platoons, as well artillery, infantry and aircraft. Medium Tank Platoons were armed with M11/39 tanks and took part in the fighting in 1940. The M11/39 was being replaced by the M13/40, but numbers of this older design equipped tanks supporting the invasion of Egypt. The M11/39 has its 37/40 gun mounted in the hull while the Twin MGs are mounted in a small turret.
The Germans arrived in Libya in 1941 to aid their allies the Italians. They brought with them some of their newest equipment and some of their best-trained troops from the 15. Panzerdivision. Initially they were planned to be a holding force to stop the British making further gains into western Libya, but Rommel soon whipped them into an aggressive mobile force.
The Germans retain the appropriate national special rules from the rulebook: Kampfgruppe, Mission Tactics, Stormtroopers and Mounted Assault.
Generalmajor Erwin Rommel
Rommel had already made a name for himself in France and from his exploits in WWI. His name was soon to become legend at he reversed the Italian defeat at the hands of the British, Indians and Australians in early 1941.
Rommel retains his ‘Fingertip Feeling’ and ‘Rommel at the Point’ rules from Blitzkrieg. Fingertip Feeling allows the German player to reposition one platoon up to it move distance within their deployment if they are within 8”20cm of Rommel. Rommel at the Point allows Rommel to keep his force moving, he can re-roll the failed Stormtrooper skill test of any platoon he joins.
Additionally you can have him mounted in his captured British Dorchester armoured command vehicle ‘Mammut’ instead of usual his Sd Kfz 250/5 ‘Greif’ half-track.
Gefreiter Arnold Hübner
Hübner is an ace Luftwaffe 88 gunner and won an Iron Cross and a Knight’s Cross for his actions in Africa. You can replace an 8.8cm FlaK36 gun in your Heavy Anti-aircraft Gun Platoon with Hübner and his gun. Hübner gains ROF 3 automatically, and retains his full ROF when pinned down. Additionally he can re-roll failed To Hit rolls. He also has the Warrior Gun team rule and gets a chance to survive if another 8.8cm FlaK36 gun is nearby.
The Panzer II and III tanks of the Leichte Panzerkompanie (light tank company) offer plenty of firepower and mobility. The Panzer III tanks are either late F models or new G models. These have the excellent 5cm KwK38 gun, with range 24”/60cm, Anti-tank 7 and Firepower 4+. They have armour Front 3, Side 3, and Top 1. Combined with their Co-ax and Hull MGs, and Protected Ammo, they easily out match many of their opponents. Later in 1941 up-armoured Panzer III H tanks with 4 front armour also joined the fighting.
Some may note that these armour rating are different from those for the same models listed in Mid-war North Africa. The tanks in North Africa have all had additional armour added to make them the same as the Panzer III J. An important element of the Leichte Panzerkompanie were the Panzer II C (late) tanks of the Panzer II Platoon. The Panzer II tank was the second most numerous tank serving in the Panzerregiments of the Afrikakorps after the Panzer III. These light tanks can work over the flanks of your opponents with their 2cm KwK30 guns (Range: 16”/40cm, ROF: 3, AT 5, FP 5+).
The Mittlere Panzerkompanie (medium tank company) represents ⅓ of each of the panzers in a panzer regiment. A Mittlere Panzerkompanie is has Mittlere Panzer Platoons armed with Panzer IV D or E tanks. These tanks are well armed with a 7.5cm KwK37 gun (Range: 24”/60cm, ROF: 2, AT 7, FP 3+), which can be used to fire bombardments (Range: 48”/120cm, AT 2, FP 6) as well as in direct fire. The armour of the Panzer IV D is front 3, side 2, top 1 and the Panzer IV E is up-armoured to have front 4 and side 3.
Like the Panzer III tanks above the armour of Panzer IV E is different from mid-war North Africa because the mid-war tanks have been upgraded to with additional armoured to be the same as the later Panzer IV F1.
The Panzer IV tanks also fight alongside lighter tanks in the form of the Light Panzer Platoon armed with a mix of Panzer II and Panzer I tanks.
The Schützenkompanie (rifle company) represents the motorised infantry of the Afrikakorps from 15. Panzerdivision and 5. Leichte Division. These forerunners of the panzergrenadiers are armed with two MG-34 machine-guns per squad and are ideal for holding positions after the Panzers have taken the ground. MG team equipped platoons with plenty of weapons support from machine-guns, mortars, infantry guns and anti-tank guns make them a formidable force.
In 1941 a few companies of Panzerschützen (armoured rifles) with armoured Sd Kfz 251 half-tracks fought in Libya during Rommel’s strikes against the British. These were the elite of the Schützen with the best equipment and trained to work closely with the tanks. They are able to launch assaults from their half-tracks using the Mounted Assault special rule.
Motorcycle troops of the Kradschützenkompanie (motorcycle company) filled an important reconnaissance roll when the German first arrived in Libya. They also quickly found themselves fighting alongside the tanks as infantry as Rommel pushed the British back. The Kradschützenkompanie uses the Motorcycle Reconnaissance rules. These rules allow them to fire on the move, perform reconnaissance and make a 3+ save while mounted. Once they dismount they fight as infantry, making them a very flexible fighting force.
The MG-Kompanie (machine-gun company) is an unusual force, initial formed to act as a blocking force, Rommel’s aggressive strategy meant these machine-gun troops soon found themselves fighting as mobile truck mounted infantry. Because of their duel role as machine-gun troops and infantry you can choose to fight at the start of each game as either MG34 HMG teams or MG teams. This allows this force to easily switch between attack and defence as required.
The Leichte Pionierkompanie (light engineer company) played an import roll in the siege of Tobruk where their skills were important for clearing minefields and assaulting the Australian strongpoints. As well as their pioneer infantry they were also equipped with Panzer I or Panzer II destruction tanks fitted with Demolition Charges ideal for destroying nests and clearing obstacles.
Not all the infantry sent to North Africa were motorised, some were simple foot-sloggers. Various infantry units harvested from sources as varied as Germans from the French Foreign Legion, infantry regiments and Oasis battalions were formed into the Afrika Division zbV (zur besonderen Verwendung, or ‘for special purpose’). The division was formed with the assault on Tobruk in mind and was used, alongside Italian infantry divisions, to lay siege to the Australian fortified ring around the town. They have additional artillery support with which to lay waste to the enemy’s positions.
The final German force is the Stützpunkt (strongpoint). The Germans prepared strong positions for all-round defence anywhere they needed to defend. These were protected by barbed wire and minefields and the infantry were protected in trenches. Guns were protected and concealed in well-constructed firing positions, where they would lay in wait undetected until they opened fire. Like the Italian Posizione di Fucilieri their fortifications come as part of the platoon and are included in the Stützpunkt Platoon so that they can be placed to create a strongpoint. A second Stützpunkt Platoon can also be purchased allowing for mutual support. The key to the German strongpoint defence was to provide effective fire to wear down the enemy and allow the Stützpunkt’s ample mobile reserves to come in and counterattack the disrupted enemy. A key feature of many Stützpunkt positions were the addition of 8.8cm FlaK 36 guns in fortified and concealed positions, often the gun barrel was just inches off the ground. The ‘88’ FlaK nest were used to great effect defending Halfaya Pass from British tank attacks.
All the German forces have plenty of support from infantry, pioneers, anti-tank, reconnaissance, artillery, anti-aircraft and air.
The British section of Hellfire and Back is crammed full of Intelligence Briefings, with everything from tanks to fortifications. However, it is not just British, you can also field Indians, Australian, New Zealanders and South Africans.
The British have the follow national special rules from the rulebook: British Bulldog; Carry On, Sergeant; Tally Ho!; Tip and Run; Broadside; Night Attack; Advance Under Darkness; Twelve-gun Battery; Mixed Battery; and Combined Bombardment.
In addition to all these familiar British special rules there are also a number of unit and Commonwealth nation special rules, including rules for Scots, Guards, Indians, Australians, New Zealanders, and New Zealand Maoris.
Brigadier J C ‘Jock’ Campbell
The first of our British and Commonwealth Warriors is from the 7th Armoured Division. Jock Campbell was the highly respected and skilled commander of the Royal Horse Artillery units in the division. He played an important roll in battles of Beda Fomm and Sidi Rezegh, where he commanded his elite Royal Horse Artillerymen to great effect. In Hellfire and Back Campbell is a Higher Command team and can join a Jock Column or any force that contains a Royal Horse Artillery Battery.
His rules reflect his exploits in battle and include ‘Where Are Those Reserves?’ where he can leave the table to bring reserves. With ‘There’s the Enemy, There!’ he can use the reconnaissance Eye and Ears rules to uncover Gone to Ground enemy platoons. He is also ‘Incredibly Brave’ and passes Motivation tests on a 3+ for platoons he joins. As a ‘Gunner of the RHA’ he can join a Royal Horse Artillery Battery to give then a re-roll on failed To Hit rolls in direct fire, which comes in handy against the enemy tanks.
Corporal John ‘Jack’ Edmondson
Jack Edmondson is a famed Australian Victoria Cross winner who heroically died in hand-to-hand combat fighting to save his commander. Edmondson’s platoon defended a perimeter post as part of the defence of Tobruk. During a counterattack he came to the calls for help of his officer and found him set on by two Germans. He quickly despatched them with his bayonet, but was mortally wounded in the fight. Jack Edmondson can join either an Australian Commonwealth Rifle Platoon or a Tobruk Rifle Platoon. He is rated Fearless Veteran, Hits on 2+ in Assaults and may re-roll failed Motivation tests for his platoon.
The first of a number of armoured forces available to the British player in Hellfire and Back is the Armoured Regiment. Due to the British armour’s practices of operating ahead of the rest of the army they only have a few choices for support, but this is more than made up for by being able to field a whole squadron tanks rather a single company. The force can be equipped with a number of different models tanks including A9 Cruiser Mk I, A10 Cruiser Mk IIA, A13 Cruiser Mk IVA tanks in a Heavy or Light Cruiser Armoured Company, or a Light Armoured Company armed with Light Mk VI B tanks or even a Captured Armoured Company armed with Italian M13/40 tanks. All of the armoured companies are made up of up to five Armoured Platoons which operate separately during the game. All the cruiser tanks are armed with the excellent OQF 2pdr gun (Range 24”/60cm, ROF 2, Anti-tank 7, Firepower 4+, Broadside, No HE and Telly Ho special rules). The A9 Cruiser Mk I is lightly armoured (Front 1, Side 1, Top 1), but has additional machine-gun, while the A10 Cruiser Mk IIA has improved armour (Front 2, Side 2, Top 1), but only the Co-ax MG and is slowed down by the additional weight. The A13 Cruiser Mk IVA over comes the problems of the A10 with new Christie suspension allowing it to move at full speed while retaining the improved armour (Front 2, Side 2, Top 1). All three cruisers are Unreliable if your Move at the Double, but as a Fast Tank (32”/80cm Move at the Double) it is sometime worth the risk with the A13 Cruiser Mk IVA tank.
Close support (CS) tanks of all three cruiser tank types are also available to prove smoke and high-explosive rounds to provide screening and for use against infantry and guns.
The Light Mk VI B tank provides the light armour. With half-track mobility it can move with speed through the desert (flat desert terrain is rated as road for movement) and its Vickers 0.5” MG had enough punch do deal with enemy light tanks and unarmoured vehicles.
If you are looking for an unusual British armoured force you can also field the captured M13/40 tanks of B Squadron, 3rd Hussars or A and C Squadrons, 6th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment who fought against Rommel’s initial onslaught at the beginning of 1941.
Crusader Armoured Squadron
In May 1941 Cruiser Mk VI Crusader tank arrived in the desert, the first of these were issued to the 6th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment and took part in Operation Battleaxe. Later other units from the 7th Armoured Division were issued with these new tanks. Like the A13 they took advantage of the new Christie suspension making them fast and agile. They have improved armour (Front 3, Side 2, Top 1), are Fast Tanks, but are Unreliable. Like the earlier cruiser tanks they are armed with the OQF 2pdr gun with Telly Ho, No HE and the Broadside rules. Some of the Crusader first sent to the desert were also fitted with a Deck Turret MG to supplement their Co-ax MG. The Crusader also has a CS version fitted with OQF 3” howitzer (Range 24”/60cm, ROF 2, Anti-tank 5, Firepower 3+, with Smoke, Broadside and Tally Ho. It can also fire Bombardments). The CS tanks are available in the Squadron HQ.
Some squadrons were mixed and also fielded older cruiser tanks. These are available as Heavy Armoured Platoons armed with A10 Cruiser Mk IIA or A13 Cruiser Mk IVA tanks.
Honey Armoured Squadron
As America joined the war some of their tanks became available to the 7th Armoured Division’s regiments. The first of these to arrive in the desert was the Light Tank M3, know to the British as the ‘Honey’ Stuart I tank. They first went into battle during Operation Crusader at the end of 1941. The Stuart gave the British to fast, agile, well-armed and armoured light tank. As a Light Tank is has a 16”/40cm move. Its armour is as good as the Crusader (Front 3, Side 2, Top 1) and it is armed with the American M6 37mm gun (Range 24”/60cm, ROF 2, Anti-tank 7, Firepower 4+, No HE) as well as Co-ax, Hull and AA machine-guns.
Armoured Car Squadron
The Armoured Car Squadrons played an important role in the war in the desert, scouting ahead of the armoured brigades, raiding enemy forward positions and ambushing columns of troops and supplies. They used a variety of armoured cars from the WWII vintage Rolls-Royce to the more modern Humber. They have a special rule called ‘Swanning About the Blue’ that allows them to adjust the placement of one object on the opponents side of the table before Reconnaissance Deployment moves, potentially allowing their lightly armoured force to get a clearer path to it. They often cooperated closely with the 7th Armoured Support Group and get support from the Jock Column and Royal Horse Artillery.
The Motor companies of the 7th Armoured Division made up the core of the Support Group alongside the Royal Horse Artillery. While the armoured regiments were off tearing about the desert, the motor companies were organised into mobile all-arms ‘Flying Columns’ to take the fight to the enemy. These were eventually christened ‘Jock Columns’ after Jock Campbell who was an enthusiastic proponent of these tactics.
The Jock Column is built around a core of Motor Platoons supported by other elements of the 7th Armoured Division Support Group and the occasional armoured platoon. The Motor Platoon contains four MG teams and a Light Mortar team, and can have up to three additional Anti-tank Rifle teams.
Their main support comes from the Royal Horse Artillery who supplied Fearless Veteran artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft platoons.
Infantry Tank Company
One of the most devastating weapons in the British Arsenal was the Matilda II infantry tank. These were used with great success from the very start of the desert campaign where they were used to quickly overwhelm the Italians in Egypt before moving into Libya to aid the storming of Bardia and Tobruk.
The Matilda II tank is so effective because of its thick armour (Front 7, Side 6, Top 2), plus it is also armed with the ever effective OQF 2pdr gun for anti-tank work. However, it has to rely on its Co-ax machine-gun against infantry and guns. A CS version was also available for anti-infantry work in the company HQ.
The Valentine II infantry tank arrived in the desert in time to take part in Operation Crusader in 1941. Not as heavily armoured as the Matilda (Front 6, Side 5, Top 2), it was still a daunting prospect for many Italian and German anti-tank gunners. It was also armed with the OQF 2 pdr gun. While not as heavily armoured, you can have a few more Valentines in your force than the more expensive Matilda.
Divisional Cavalry Squadron
The Australian and New Zealand divisions had their own reconnaissance regiments in the form of Divisional Cavalry. They fought in the desert as well as with the Australians in Syria and the New Zealanders in Greece. They had various types of equipment depending on where they fought and when. The standard organisation called for Light Mk VI B tanks and Carriers. However, the New Zealanders used Marmon-Herrington armoured cars in Greece before switching back to Light Mk VI B tanks in the desert in 1941. They even added some re-captured ‘Honey’ Stuart tanks. The 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry Regiment used captured Italian tanks for a time before they took Tobruk, while the 6th and 9th Regiments used captured French R-35 tanks in Syria. Universal carriers were the constant throughout the campaigns.
As a reconnaissance force they use the ‘Swanning About the Blue’ special rule, like the Armoured Car Squadron, to adjust the placement of an objective before the game begins.
The backbone of the Eighth Army were the infantry divisions. The Rifle Company allows you to field Guard, regulars or Indians. Each Rifle Platoon comes with seven Rifle/MG teams, a Light Mortar team and an Anti-tank Rifle team. This core can be supported by reconnaissance, artillery, anti-tank, infantry tanks and aircraft, giving it a good balance on attack and defence.
Commonwealth Rifle Company
Like the Rifle Company, the Commonwealth Rifle Company is a good balanced force centred on a strong core of riflemen. A Commonwealth Rifle company can be Australian, New Zealand or South African, each with their special rules and some variation in support.
Out last Commonwealth force is based on the 9th Australian Division defending Tobruk. At the beginning of Rommel’s push back into eastern Libya at the start of 1941 the newly arrived 9th Australian Division was forced to make a fighting retreat into Tobruk. They then quickly established themselves in the former Italian defensive ring around the town. They manned each strongpoint with what weapons and men they had available. They fought tenaciously, learnt their defensive craft as they went, and held their positions despite numerous German attacks.
The Tobruk Stongpoint, like the Italian and German fortified companies, is based around a position defended by HMG and Gun nests. Unlike the others, the Australian held their posts with little men, usually only a squad to man the nests. The rest of the company were held in secondary positions to perform counterattacks or give covering fire as required.
A Tobruk Strongpoint has one or two Tobruk Perimeter Posts and one Tobruk Rifle Platoon as Combat Platoons. Sometimes Bush Artillery Platoons would support them. These platoons were made up of rear area troops manning captured Italian gun to give extra fire if the enemy broke through. The Tobruk garrison had mobile support stationed further back to launch counterattacks against enemy attacks. Support platoons include armour, anti-tank, artillery, infantry, artillery, anti-aircraft and aircraft.
Hellfire and Back contains some new additions to the fortification rules to cover the nature of the strongpoint defensive positions in the desert. To give the fortifications the right feel for the desert fortifications come with the platoons. These are placed before the platoons themselves and are arranged in separate positions and with gaps placed between each position to funnel the attacking enemy through. Each Fortified Platoons is placed so they create fortified posts, allowing you to arrange the post to support each other without creating a solid fortified line.
We have also created three new missions for Hellfire and Back. The first of these is the Tobruk Raid. This mission is designed for those situations in a tournament or campaign when game occurs between to fortified forces. The Mission allows you to set up your two fortified forces and fight it out in no-man’s land.
The second new Mission is Dust-up. This is corner-to-corner fair fight battle, where each force sets up in a corner, with your delayed reserves arriving from the other corner on your short table edge. This mission allows for some fun swirling battles, especially between armoured forces.
The third new mission is Witch’s Cauldron. This is a new variation on the classic cauldron battle with the defender’s deployment against one long table edge, with the enemy surrounding him and reserves arriving from the opposite long table edge.
Inside Hellfire and Back you will also find new variable desert terrain rules called Desert Hazards. Now you can add an element of the fog of war to your desert Flames Of War games. You place a type of terrain such as a Wadi, Escarpment, Wreckage or Uneven Ground, but you do not know its exact effects until the first team enters the feature and then you roll a die. The results could be anything from easy going to an old minefield. It adds a little uncertainty to you terrain.
We also included Dust Cloud rules to go with our new Dust Cloud markers also coming out soon. While racing around the desert vehicles easily stirred up clouds of dust the dry conditions, often obscuring them from enemy trying to locate their exact positions.