Avanti: Italian Forces in North Africa 1942-43
The Italians learned about modern warfare the hard way in 1940. Now they are back, showing the world what the Italian soldier can do. Fighting under the famous ‘Desert Fox’, General Rommel, they form a crucial part of the Italian-German Panzer Army. Tough, determined, skilled, and aggressive veterans, the Italians broke through the British Gazala Line to save the trapped German Afrika Korps, held the line at El Alamein, and opened the way at Kasserine Pass, before holding up the American offensive at El Guettar.Fight or die for the new Roman Empire!
With their equipment outclassed by the enemy’s, the Italian soldier had no choice but to substitute bravery for technology. Despite British propaganda that painted the Italians as cowardly and easily defeated, the Italians fought well and bravely and won many victories that were attributed to the Germans (and were even blamed for German defeats that they had no part in!). Avanti reflects this in the way the Italians are portrayed.
The two characteristic special rules for the Italians are Avanti and Determined. Avanti allows Italian troops to more easily pass Follow Me tests to move faster, modelling their doctrine of rapid movement to contact followed by heavy localized firepower and assaults to overcome resistance. Determined makes their infantry more likely to Rally and their tanks more likely to Remount (made even more likely by the clever and well-protected ammunition stowage of their tanks and SP guns). The Italians can be relied on to fight hard for as long as they can.
Before the Second World War began, Mussolini demanded an army eight-million strong to create his new Roman Empire. The rapid expansion needed for this led to reservist officers being recalled to the colours with little extra training. When combined with an emphasis on indoctrination over tactical training, it was a recipe for patchy performance. Tank crews arrived in the desert with limited knowledge of tank driving and gunnery, and had to be taught by their units before they could be sent into action. Sometimes this worked well, sometimes less well.
The 8-Million Bayonets rule brings this feel to your Italians. When each of your units arrives on table, you roll an 8-Million Bayonets die for them. If you’re lucky, the unit is better trained than average, and uses a second column of stats on the card.
Tanks and Semovente
Avanti only has one tank company in the book. At first glance this seems somewhat limiting. However, the Italian armoured force evolved considerably between Gazala and Kasserine Pass and this shows in the company structure. The Ariete Division’s early tank companies have sixteen M14/41 tanks in three platoons, backed up with Semovente SP guns in small companies of eight. By the time their fighting against the Americans in Kasserine Pass and El Guettar, the Centauro Division’s tank battalion had substituted Semovente SP guns for a third of their tanks, and the Semovente companies had eighteen SP Guns! The structure is flexible enough to cover both ends of the spectrum and the intermediate organizations as well.
While both the M14/41 and Semovente are lightly armoured compared with German and American tanks, both have some interesting high-tech features. As well as the protected ammunition mentioned above, they both fire Effecto Pronto anti-tank ammunition. This gives them the HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) rule which allows them to keep their full penetration at long range! This is offset to a degree by the small size of the vehicles which mean that the commander is also the gunner. With their attention focused on firing the gun, they don’t have time for clever manoeuvres, resulting in poorer Tactics ratings.
Avanti has two infantry companies. The first is the weapons company used at Gazala and El Alamein. This compact unit reflects the ‘fewer men, more weapons’ concept, much like the German Africa Rifle Company. In the Italian version, each platoon combines three Breda MG teams, a Breda HMG team, a 20mm anti-tank rifle, and a 47mm anti-tank gun. This gives them plenty of firepower and makes light tanks think twice before harassing them (especially as the 47mm guns have the HEAT rule as well). It’s very mobile as both the 20mm and 47mm were designed for mountain warfare, so are small and light and have wheeled carriages designed to be pulled by their crew.
If the weapons platoon’s 47mm guns aren’t enough, you can back them up with another two anti-tank platoons of four guns for just 8 points apiece. With that many firing at them, even medium tanks need to think twice about assaulting, and many want to pick an easier target instead!.
The second infantry company is the rifle company. The troops that fought the British and US armies in Tunisia were organised as more conventional formations. They have large rifle platoons backed up by heavy machine-guns, mortars, and more of the reliable 47mm guns. With solid infantry and plenty of firepower, these companies can not only defend positions like the weapons company, but they are also excellent for launching attacks. They’ll move quickly across No-Man’s Land and into assault range, where there skill and numbers make them deadly.
To make sure that they succeed in closing with the enemy, they have both a conventional 81mm mortar platoon (very long-ranged compared to their foes!) and an assault mortar platoon. This platoon fields nine small, rapid-firing 45mm mortars on three large bases. Combining a high rate of fire with a good firepower, they advance with the infantry to close range and saturate their positions with fire, knocking out machine-guns (or blinding them with smoke) to clear the way for an assault.
All three companies have a solid range of supporting troops.
The assault engineers are the elite of the Italian army, the most daring and deadly troops available. Their armament is optimised for assaulting, with a combination of assault teams, flame-throwers, and Brixia mortars. Using the Brixia mortars (a single-based version of the rifle company’s assault mortars) to either blind the enemy with smoke or pick off their machine-guns, then the flame-throwers to pin the enemy down and eliminate their key defensive weapons, they can assault and destroy almost defensive position. Being pioneers, they are also skilled at crossing and clearing minefields as well.
At the other end of the spectrum are the 90mm anti-aircraft gun mounted on the Lancia truck and the German-supplied 88mm. Both of these heavy anti-aircraft guns are excellent long range tank killers. The Lancia has the unique capability of moving its position if the enemy try to avoid its field of fire or bring it under heavy artillery fire. Manned by the artillery, they too are elite and will fight to the end. The Italians have one big advantage over their German allies in that they, of necessity, fielded all of their heavy anti-aircraft guns in the anti-tank role, leaving the Germans to defend the ports and supply lines. This allows you to field twice as many of these heavy guns as their Afrika Korps allies.
The artillerymen also fill their traditional role with the 100mm howitzer. This gun is the equivalent to the German 10.5cm howitzer, although the Italian crews are more willing to fight to the death, even if less technically sophisticated having a lower skill rating.
The Italians are well supplied with reconnaissance troops, having both the AB41 armoured car and the L6/40 light tank. Both have the same 20mm gun, making them amongst the most deadly reconnaissance troops in the game. The AB41 is a conventional armoured car: fast on roads, not so fast across country, and lightly armoured. The L6/40 is the more expensive option with better armour and mobility for those who want to fight rather than just sneaking around.
The Italian air support comes from the CR.42 Falco biplane. Obsolete as a fighter, the Falco was redesigned as a light attack aircraft. With a pair of heavy machine-guns and light bombs, it can handle a range of targets with whichever weapon is more effective in the situation. It’s not as deadly as the German Stuka, but at half the price, it’s a good buy.
The Italian counter to enemy aircraft (apart from their heavy anti-aircraft guns) are truck-mounted 20mm guns. These are very useful for discouraging enemy aircraft from molesting your big guns, allowing them to get on with the job of killing the enemy.
The German and Italian forces were extraordinarily well integrated in both the German-led Panzer Armee Afrika and the later Italian-German Tank Army. This is reflected in the allowance for the Italians to take two German units as support, rather than the usual one unit. This gives you the ability to field the heavier German tanks or their well-armed infantry to back up your Italian strike force. To make things easier for you, the book has the relevant German units in a section of their own at the back of the book..
Even if the Italians don’t grab you as an army, the allied support rules also allow you to field one of their units or formations in support of your Afrika Korps force. You can back your expensive German tanks with a small force of cheaper Italian tanks, or form an assault group of Italian infantry to clear out pesky enemy infantry.
This book gives you a whole new way of fighting in the desert. The Italians are more lightly equipped, but more determined than the Germans and British. Their infantry is as numerous as the Americans, but more experienced. So, if a heroic approach to battle appeals to you, this is the force for you.