Wednesday 9 January 2013

Wargaming the Western Desert

One of my Christmas acquisitions was a book by Donald Featherstone Tank battles in miniature: A wargamers' guide to the Western Desert Campaign in 1940-1942 which was originally published in 1973. I have the 2010 paperback reprint edited by John Curry as part of the The History of Wargaming Project and I have to say that its probably the best book I have read on this theatre of the war.

The great Donald Featherstone had tried to join the RAF and the Royal Navy during the Second World War but both rejected him. In the great tradition of 'third time lucky' he was eventually able to enlist when he joined the Royal Armoured Corps, serving in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. The result is that this book has a very natural feel to it and many sections are clearly written from personal experience.

The book contains a clear and concise summary of the actual campaign at each stage of the war. This is probably the clearest description I have read so far in fact. Each phase of the campaign is clearly delineated and at the end of each section the vehicles and tanks used by both sides are listed along with approximate numbers. This will be of great importance when building an army list or picking a particular period or battle to recreate. Having detailed the action of the campaign the author then goes on to discuss the tactics and their evolution throughout the war.

Following on from this is a section describing the terrain encountered and it was here that I realised what a really good writer Donald Featherstone is. Don's descriptions are evocative, vivid and clearly convey the desolate and barren land across which men fought and died. This was as harsh and as unforgiving a landscape as anyone could wish to fight for. But it was also 'ideal' country for manoeuvre warfare and as such was unlike any other theatre in the Second World War.

Further chapters describe the technical specifications for the vehicles, tanks, guns and aircraft used throughout the campaign. There are also sections on communications, visibility and navigation, how top fire tank and anti-tank guns, 'brewing-up', air operations, the Long Range Desert Group, minefields and supply. Much of this can be found in other books but this volume collects together a wide range of facts that not only give a really good picture of the Western Desert war but will also be invaluable to anyone planning on wargaming the period. 

This is an truly excellent book that is just as useful now as it was when first published in 1973. As someone just starting to wargame this campaign I count myself very lucky to have found this book and I can see it being referenced constantly over the coming months.

Paperback: 184 pages
Publisher: (12 July 2010)
Language:  English
ISBN-10:    1445790645
ISBN-13:    978-1445790640
RRP:          £12.95


  1. I remember pouring over this book as a boy. Excellent book from a great man.

  2. Sounds great, Lee; on an aside, did you catch 'Tankies: British Tank Heroes of WW2' the other night on the BBC? It followed 5 RTR throughout the war, a large part of which occurred in the Western Desert ;)

    1. I 'discovered' it on the BBC iPlayer yesterday and watched it during my lunch break today. Excellent programme and because its made by the BBC there are no advertising breaks and therefore none of the annoying and time wasting repetition you get with commercial documentaries. Looking forward to the next one!

  3. I remember this book from all those years ago.

  4. I'm sure you know it's one of five great books in the series of which Donald Featherstone wrote two(no's 1 and 4) and Bruce Quarrie wrote the other three. They're all a great wargames and historical resource. Happy reading and oft re-reading.

  5. Great book especially the real life background stuff.
    Some of the rules are bit different though :-)

    1. Some good food-for-thought though. Already thinking how to customise the rules to account for poor visibility etc, dust and wind direction.


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