The (stainless steel) desert rats’ return

Following on from yesterday’s review of the “Battle of the Bulge”British content, Alex talks us through the post-Normandy, no longer reluctant, Desert Rats.

Introduction

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As I’ve mentioned from time to time on the blog I’ve got a thing for the Desert Rats.  It’s probably partly that my grandfather served in them throughout the war, but also possibly because I had pet gerbils as a child and love Dune (if you get the Dune reference have a star).

As such, I’ve been putting together proper 7th Armoured Division (note spelling) armies for a few years now so that I can achieve my aim of being able to field the Desert Rats at any point in the war. One big gripe I’ve had is that I’ve not had a Desert Rats list to represent them after the Normandy breakout.

Following the fighting in Normandy, where the Desert Rats were not entirely without fault (represented in the Normandy lists by their ‘Reluctant’ rating), there were lots of changes in the senior command structure of the division and they went back to fighting as befitting their reputation. I’ve wanted a ‘Confident Veteran’ Desert Rats late, late war list for ages to cover this period but there just hasn’t been one. While the Desert Rats did a lot of fighting after D-Day they were a bit too far south for Market Garden and a bit too far north for the Battle of the Bulge.  They did fight their way into Germany at the end of the war but went north so didn’t appear in the focus on the rush for Berlin. It’s felt like they were deliberately avoiding being in any areas covered by the books covering late late war [see they were so veteran by this stage they were taking steps to minimise casualties even among model soldiers being used to represent them 70 years later, that should probably be reflected in some super-veteran 7+to hit them rating if anyone from Battlefront is reading this].

Anyway, having been kindly provided with a preview copy of the new ‘Battle of the Bulge’ compilation, it was fantastic to see that the Desert Rats have finally been included.  Not only that, but they haven’t got just one list; they’ve got a whole section with a chunk of history covering The Great Swan as they crossed France with speed after the Normandy breakout; and three army lists covering a tank list, a motorised infantry list and a rifle infantry list. The Rats have returned to finish the job!

So after my excitement at reading this, I thought I’d look at putting together an army from each list and show you some of what the Rats can do. Here we go:

Armoured Squadron

First up is the tank list, ‘Confident Veteran’ Cromwells with lots and lots of 17 pounders.

Bulge desert rats tank lis

Now I have a love hate relationship with Cromwells at the best of times.  I want to love them because they are so cool and fast; but I hate them because I can never get them to kill anything and their armour is rubbish so they just die when I try. This isn’t helped by their distinctly contradictory set of special rules which as a ‘light tank’ with ‘protected ammo’, means they are incentivised to go fast and find side shots but with ‘semi-indirect fire’ and access to ROF 3, 17 pounders Challengers they also want to stay stationary at long range. They really are Schrodinger’s tank, which simultaneously wants to be rushing around your side while staying stationary at long range. As I have yet to work out how to achieve exploring the uncertainty principle while war gaming, I find that they are always paying points for special advantages you don’t use, which makes them expensive. This used to be balanced in the old ‘Turning Tide’ list by the points break for ‘Reluctant’, however when ‘Overlord’ came along the points went up and I now can’t get that list to work. This is worse with confident veterans

The combat platoons of this list come in at between 310 and 455 points, which means if you are looking at a 1420 point list you have spent over two thirds of your points on your basic platoons and HQ if you go for the most expensive option. For that you will have an exciting 10 tanks, 6 Cromwells, 2 Fireflies and 2 Challengers. That doesn’t leave many points for the other stuff you will want; when you add in recce and a smoke bombardment, you have completely run out of points. You also have an army which doesn’t really synergise well as each platoon has 2 Cromwells, one Firefly and one Challenger. That’s two fast tanks with pea-shooters, one tank which is a slower sniper with a big-arse gun and rubbish at killing infantry and gun teams, and a fast sniper with an even better big-arse gun which is still rubbish at killing infantry and gun teams. For that main reason I am not convinced that these platoons are the ideal basis of a good army really.

What this army does well is putting out 17 pounders.  What it does less well is pretty much anything else; which is frustrating given the Cromwell’s excellent theoretical strengths of speed and manoeuvrability. Now I suspect that there is something clever which can be done here with points denial as you can split the two Cromwells from the Fireflies and leave them behind to snipe while the Cromwells go hunting, that will mean even if the two Cromwells die, you aren’t taking motivation tests. The other thing you can do is take 3 Cromwells and one Firefly, but then if the 3 Cromwells die, the Firefly may well run away.

Playing to the strengths I’ve put together the following list as an example of how many 17 pdrs you can put out:

Just imagine the M10's are archers and one of the challengers is a firefly
Just imagine the M10’s are archers and one of the challengers is a firefly

HQ: 1ic Cromwell
Desert Rats Armoured Platoon: 2 Cromwells, 1 Challenger, 1 Firefly
Desert Rats armoured platoon: 2 Cromwells and 2 Fireflies
Anti-tank Platoon (SP): 4 Archers
Desert Rats recce patrol: 1 Stuart V and 2 Stuart V Jalopies

Total: 1420

So that’s eight 17 pounders in a very small army. It’s not a good army but if your opponent is taking Panthers or Tigers it will give them a proper brown pants moment.

Motor Company

Now I suspect there is a typo in the preview version we have been given as this is listed as an ‘Infantry’ company and the rifle company is listed as ‘Mechanised’. If, however, this is an ‘Infantry’ company, this could be amazing as you get such cheap combat platoons so you can spend the rest of your points on nice support stuff.

Bulge desert rats motor company

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MIKE TARGET!

This gives you the possibility of an artillery park from hell:

HQ – 1 and 2ic rifle teams with White Scout cars

Desert Rats Motor platoon – CMD MG, 3 MG teams, PIAT, light mortar, 4 M5 half tracks

Desert Rats Motor platoon – CMD MG, 3 MG teams, PIAT, light mortar, 4 M5 half tracks

Desert Rats Scout platoon – 3 Universal Carriers one with a PIAT, one with an extra MG

Field Battery (SP) – 8 Sextons, plus observer Shermans, etc.

Medium Battery – 8 5.5’s, plus gubbins

AOP

Total: 1420

Now, the army has 7 platoons which is not ideal; but if you take short motor platoons, and drop the C arrier extras and the AOP, you can get a couple of 6 pounders which gives you 8 platoons.

That does however mean no AOP which, with the 5.5’s, is a big loss.

It’s not a great army but if you like digging in and shelling the enemy until your small infantry units can move up, it’s great.

Rifle Company

Finally is the infantry company; which, as I said above, is apparently a ‘Mechanised’ company:
Bulge Desert Rats rifle company
Now this is possible to turn into a horrible artillery company, as with the motor company.  But, rather than give you the same list again, I’ve gone for a more balanced version:

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Fix Bayonets and follow the Cromwells

1ic and 2ic rifle teams
Desert Rats rifle platoon – Cmd Rilfe/MG, 6 rifle/MG teams, PIAT, Light mortar with transport lorries
Desert Rats rifle platoon – Cmd Rilfe/MG, 6 rifle/MG teams, PIAT, Light mortar with transport
Desert Rats Anti-tank platoon – 6 6 pdrs (late)
Field Battery – 8 25 pdrs plus staff and observer Shermans.
Desert Rats armoured platoon – 2 cromwells, 1 challenger. 1 firefly
AOP
Total: 1420

Now this isn’t a great army but it has something for everything: from digging in and hiding with ‘Veteran’ infantry and 6 pdrs on an objective; to night attacking with smoke and tank support.

Either the tanks or the 6 pdrs go in ambush on defence, depending on what is attacking: 6 pdrs against lighter stuff, tanks against heavy tanks and things like US armour for 5 AT 15 and 4 AT 10 shots at short range or the equivalent of 5 AT 14 and 4 AT 9 shots re-rolling misses at long range. If you set it up properly you can then direct smoke the survivors from some 25 pdrs to minimise return casualties, which is a bloody nasty surprise and if you are going for long range sniping then the attacker’s recce is irrelevant.

Conclusion

So all in all, these are expensive lists with some limited options at 1420, though they unsurprisingly open up a lot more at 1750.

The tank list really suffers from the problems with Cromwells in Flames of War as I’ve bitched about above and if you want to run a Desert Rat Cromwell list you are better with the ‘Reluctant Veteran’ version from ‘Overlord’.

The motor and rifle infantry companies have some legs and, particularly at higher points values, will be better. You can create a complete arse of an artillery park if that floats your boat and you can do more fun things like auto-attacking crocodiles.

All in all, as a Desert Rats fan, I’m dead chuffed this section has been created and I now only need a Burma list with the best tank in the war – Stuarts to finish off my obsession. (Before I go on to doing an army of guys doing training and down the mess for the period between Italy and D-day to truly finish them off)…

Category: Battle of the BulgeBritishFlames of WarLate WarReviews

6 comments

  1. well you’re either the Kwisatz Haderach or Jim DiGriz…make you’re mind up, and those Archers look suspiciously like Achilles in the photo….you’re attention to detail is lacking dear boy :-). Nice review though, so glad my Cromwells can come out to play again….just as I get my Comets finished !!

  2. The Infantry and Mechanised rating for the Motor and Rifle Company may very well be correct, if doctrine matters to Battlefront – although this late in the war, I am fairly confident that that doctrine wasn’t followed.
    But the intention of the Motor Companies was to quickly move up behind the tanks, hold the ground taken and dig in for an armoured (or maybe that should be Gepanzerte) counterattack (which is the main reason that the Motor Infantry had a lot more AT assets than the Rifles, and were usually supported by the divisional AT(SP) assets as well), whereas the Rifle Companies were supposed to support the tanks in the attack in rough terrain, towns and other places unfavorable to tanks.

    I’ve been fielding a DR Motor Coy since Villers-Bocage, through points discounts and increase, they are roughly back where they started – and they have served me very well although reluctant – so I am also looking very much forward to seeing the new lists.

  3. They really have Cromwell x 2, Firefly x 1, and Challengers x 1 in a Troop? My understanding was 7th Armoured when it received Challengers swapped them 1 Challenger exchanged for 1 Firefly turned in. That is where a majority if not all of the extra Firefly tanks came from which equipped the Guards and 11th Armoured Divisions so they had 2 x Sherman with 75mm and 2 x Firefly tanks in their Troops.
    Late war 6 pdr have AT11 I believe due to APDS being available although it should be AT11 in Normandy as it was introduced there.
    Definitely not Archers.
    A Cromwell is a Light (i.e. Fast) Sherman tank with no stabilization and the semi-indirect fire rule.

  4. A combat platoon is then 2 cromwell, 1 firefly and 1 challenger? I thought that maybe a combat platoon has now two fireflies and as option, update 1 firefly To challenger… Is this correct?

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Article by: Mark Goddard