The Rest Is History
Tobruk is a strategic Libyan port on the North African coast close to the border of Egypt. In the Desert War campaigns of World War II it changed hands several times before being finally retaken by the British forces following the victory at El Alamein, when the Eighth Army advanced again into Libya, taking Tobruk unopposed on 13 November 1942.
Tobruk Complete World War II British v Italian Starter set refers on its box art to the 20th June 1942. This was when the joint Axis forces of Germans and Italians recaptured the Libyan port city of Tobruk, displacing a large force of mostly South African troops in Operation Venezia. Over 32,000 Allied personnel were taken prisoner – the second-largest surrender of British-led troops after the fall of Singapore a few months earlier and Rommel, himself, claimed to have captured or destroyed 1,000 tanks and 400 guns. Whether, as is claimed on the box this “determined the fate of North Africa” is debateable as the Axis forces who won this battle were completely driven out of all of Africa by May13th 1943 less than a year later.
Tobruk itself was a heavily fortified position with defensive “boxes”, minefields and anti-tank ditches manned by mass infantry and field artillery. None of this can be realistically recreated by the contents of this set!
Tanks Very Much
However, what Tobruk Complete World War II British v Italian Starter set does give you is a comprhensive collection of 22 armoured vehicles, 2 AA/Anti tank guns and the complete Rules, reference Unit Cards and special dice to enable you to fight entertaining, fast action, open ground tank battles with two armoured forces of the period: British v Italian.
In detail it comprises :-
- Headquarters : 3 x Crusader Tanks
- Tank Platoon 1 : 3 x Crusader Tanks
- Tank Platoon 2 : 3 x Grant Tanks
- Tank Platoon 3: 3 x M4 Sherman Tanks
- Total : 12 Tanks
- Headquarters : 1 x M14/41 Tank
- Tank Platoon : 4 x M14/41 Tanks
- Assault Gun Battery: 5 x Semovente Assault Guns
- Anti-Tank Gun Battery: 2 x 88mm Guns
- Total ; 10 x Tanks, 2 x Guns
So far, so decent, but let’s look at the composition in detail. The Semoventi are the pick of the bunch. The Semovente da 75/18 was a self-propelled gun built by mounting the 75 mm Obice da 75/18 modello 34 mountain gun on the chassis of a M13/40, M14/41 or M15/42 tank. 62 were built on the M14/41 chassis from 1941 to 1943. The only Italian armoured vehicle that was feared by the British and admired by the Germans. So much so that after the Italians surrendered the German armaments industry continued to manufacture them. (They were designated StuG M42 mit 7,5 KwK L 18(850) if you’re interested). As they were a support attachment, the fact that here they outnumber the standard M14/41 tanks is a bit odd but let’s not complain we’re getting a decent number for our money.
On the other hand, on the British side, 3 of the vehicles are Sherman tanks. Sherman tanks were not introduced into the Western Desert theatre until the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942, 4 months after the battle supposedly depicted here! Whilst perfectly good models in their own right and used in all theatres of World War II they don’t strictly fit in with this theme. It would have been better to include M3 Stuarts.
So, what should I do with my newly acquired Tobruk Complete World War II British v Italian Starter set? Well let’s go for some open tank warfare.
The most successful action fought by Semovente da 75/18 took place on 10 June 1942, south of the Knightsbridge Box, during the Battle of Gazala. Thirty M3 Grant and ten M3 Stuart of 1st and 6th Royal Tank Regiments attacked a position held by the Ariete division but were repelled by Semovente da 75/18s as well as some M13/40s and gun trucks, losing three Grants and two Stuarts from 6th Royal Tank Regiment and twelve Grants and three Stuarts from 1st Royal Tank Regiment. The Italians lost two M13/40s. So why not use this set to recreate that battle? Of course you’ll have to get some M3 Stuarts from somewhere: I suggest ZATU’s Flames of War M3: Stuart Company or for a few pounds more the Desert Starter Set - Kasserine (US vs Germany) and get an extra 19 tanks and guns!
Overall I think this is an excellent value set, full of well produced models – it helps that the two Italian vehicles share the same chassis – that has only a tenuous link to its theme.
If, like me, you are building up armies to fight in a Western Desert scenario and know what you want and how to use them, then this is a great way to get some particular models – The Semoventi – and bulk up your forces. If you actually wanted to refight Tobruk, given the lack of infantry, British guns and anachronistic tanks then less so.
I’m giving the set a good rating from my point of view because I knew what I was getting and I trust that after reading this you do too.