The last time that the battle of Bir Hakeim was run with NQM was in March 2013, over the course of a day. This time, five of us played it inside two hours on a Tuesday evening, with an extra half an hour for set up and break down. The plan was for Jon Freitag to join us online, but I was too late in setting up the link. Sorry Jon!
Rommel’s plan can be seen on the link above that shows a map. His plan was for 15th and 21st Panzer divisions to loop around the south of Bir Hakeim, whilst Ariete armoured division swung north to attack the position from the rear.
XXX Corps planned to conduct a Mobile defence between brigade boxes and an extensive series of minefields. 1st Free French Brigade anchored the southern tip of this defensive belt at Bir Hakeim (old Man’s Well). Orbats for the battle can be found here.
In order to chivvy such a large battle along and keep it to time, some brutal simplifications were needed. Supporting elements were trimmed down, including artillery support. Several units that were on the battlefield, but which played no part were omitted. Practically every combat unit was classified as light except for the French, who defended as medium. Air support was omitted completely.
The battle was fought on a 120mm grid, which seemed to work well and which gave more manoevre space on the table. Each wheeled or tracked element moved three squares per move.
The game followed a historical path with the exceptions that 7th Armoured Divisional Commander avoided capture and the battle in the cauldron was a more concentrated affair, as the British succeeded in coordinating the attacks of its five effective armoured brigades from 1st and 7th Armoured divisions. I could have thrown a lot of umpire grit into the works, but there seemed little point.
The game ended with the Germans running short of fuel in the Cauldron as armoured cars from 7th Armoured Division chased fuel bowsers around the desert and Rommel, who was trying to avoid capture.¹
- Most fuel was carried in jerricans or “flimsies” but showing fuel bowsers helps players identify the unit on a crowded battlefield that is full of otherwise identical trucks.
- I had the impression that players preferred the certainties of a grid system for resolving combats. There were certinly fewer queries as to why this or that extra unit could not be included in a particular firefight. This may just have been due to me bundling everything along at speed, but everyone seemed content to set the matches up and roll dice.
- I still don’t like the Napoleonic way in which units form ranks and squares on a grid system, but nobody else seemed to mind much.
- Squares make movement quicker. For 15mm figures, a 40mm frontage on 120mm squares and 50mm for 150mm would seem to be the sweet spot for real estate. This only matters if you care about uniformity : I don’t.