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Operation Crusader

Tips & hints
Operation Crusader mac game graphics

The Axis units

The Axis player commands three Corps in OC. Physically the largest, but by no means the most effective in terms of combat power is the Italian XXI Corps. It plays a supporting role, and its units are primarily deployed in the ring around Tobruk.

The second largest is the Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK), its three divisions are the primary offensive power of the Axis. The smallest is the Italian XX Corps with only two division assigned. Before any battle plans are formulated, an assessment of the divisions and their circumstances should be conducted.
  • The 17th Pavia Infantry Division (ID): an average Italian unit deployed in the "Center." It does have an independent L3/35 tankette battalion, as well as a Heavy Flak battalion. This unit is poorly equipped to deal with the British armored thrust that is about to fall on it. Yet by the virtue of the exposed position of ed Duda and Sidi Rezegh it must move forward in the direction of el Gueitinat, and be reinforced gradually.

    It should, on the first turn attach to itself the I-25 Light Tank and IV-10-25 Mot Hvy Flak from the 25th ID, and the IV-57-27 Mot Hvy Flak from the 27th ID.

  • The 25th Bologna ID: also an average unit, deployed on the south-eastern side of the Tobruk ring. Partially in reserve at the beginning of the operation, it stood ready to exploit any breach in the Tobruk defenses. It is a poor unit for this purpose.

    At the start of the operation, it should immediately begin to relieve the 7th Bersaglieri Motorized Infantry Regiment of the 102nd Mechanized Infantry division (MID). It is best to have the relieving force in the trenches prior to departing with the occupying units: this avoids nasty surprises, like being caught in the open!

    Additional elements of the division can be moved further east and entrench at Sidi Rezegh. This is to guard against an unforeseen penetration against the 17th. It should give up two battalions to the 17th ID (see above).

  • The 27th "Brescia" ID: the worst Axis unit on the board. It is completely incapable of conducting offensive operations, especially against an entrenched enemy. Its engineer unit is of such low quality, that it is probably not worth including it in an attack with other units (in order to get the engineer bonus), since it may actually detract from the final odds of the attack.

    Since the Carpathian brigade can dislodge the 27th from its entrenchments, the engineer is much better used to convert the current "dug-in" counters to fortifications. The 57th artillery regiment should move to the vicinity of Acroma (near the HQ), as it is currently out of position to support the division. The 27th should give up one battalion to the 17th (see above).

  • The 55th Savonna ID: with its right flank flapping in the breeze, overextended, and its rear unprotected, it is a disaster waiting to happen! In its present position it can be easily cut off and rolled up. The carnage that will result should buy the player some time, but it will also cause the total destruction of the unit and the capture of Bardia.

    It may be more prudent to set up a position that is at least somewhat defensible. The only real prospect for this is the bunkers and escarpments around Bardia. The 160 victory points lost per turn (Sidi Azeiz, Fort Capuzzo, Sollum, Halfaya Pass, and Libyan Omar) will hurt, but Bardia (100 points per turn) can hold out.

    The 55th is a leg infantry unit. In order to have any hope of reaching Bardia before the motorized Commonwealth forces, it must use strategic movement to get there. Take solace in the fact that if one of the your units runs into a Commonwealth unit in strategic movement mode, at least there will be no "ambush" casualties.

    The 55th should attach the following units on the first turn:149-DAK, 368-DAK, Genova, 350 GAF, III-347-90, III-255-90, 1-300-DAK, 2-300-DAK, and 3-300-DAK.

  • The 101st Trieste MID: the second best Italian unit on the board. What a stroke of luck to have this unit in reserve! While it would be tempting to commit it in the "Center", there is greater need for it in the "Interior". It must immediately set off, preferably with at least one regiment traveling in strategic movement, and block the "Wadi Crossing."

    Once there it should attempt to move across and drive into the rear areas of the attacking Commonwealth units. Before it moves off it should give up the 8B-101 Bersaglieri Armored Infantry battalion to the 132nd Ariete AD. By itself, this mechanized unit is not sufficient to produce an armored punch, but it will complement the Ariete's Mech Recon battalion very nicely.

  • The 102nd Trento MID: an above average Italian unit, in the southern portion of the ring around Tobruk. On the first turn give up the 7B-102 and the 46-102 regiments to the XXth Corps HQ. These units are well matched, and will effectively create a second Italian AD.

    As soon as the relieving elements of the 25th ID are in place, the Bersagliere regiment should join the rest of the XXth Corps. Also on the first turn, attach the 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, and 4-2 artillery battalions from the XXth Corps. The much reduced division should maintain a defensive posture, and convert to fortifications.

  • The 132 Ariete AD: the best Italian division in the desert. Avoid the temptation of taking on the entire British army. Wait for reinforcements! The South Africans to your front are easy targets, but there are a lot of them. The real danger is that the unit will be outflanked.

    Reinforce the RECo N C Mech Recon battalion with the 8B-101 battalion from the 101st (combined factors in general supply: attack 18, defense 18, armor 5, anti-tank 9). Use the dummy units to cover any gaps between the 132nd AD and the 17th ID, as the latter pushes on to El Gueitinat. These dummy counters will be exposed, and eventually overrun, but they will allow the XXth Corps (reinforced with the 7B-102 regiment) time to organize and move forward.

    Avoid the temptation of attaching artillery units which are not as well trained as the 132nd, because they may reduce the odds with their low quality. It is better to add air support or attach Rommel.

  • XXth Corps: a fairly powerful, yet fragile armored force. It will get chewed up without infantry support. This support should be provided by the 102nd MID (see above).

    The transfer of units will leave it with one fewer artillery battalions, but those remaining are of a better quality. As it moves forward, expect it to encounter some British armored units that may have penetrated the 132nd's dummy counter screen. Try to maneuver the unit so that it deploys between the 17th and the 132nd. This should give the Axis a localized armor superiority, and one of the best initial points to take the battle to the enemy.

    The unit must avoid head on confrontations with the better British tanks. Attempt to surround them and cut them off. Once a British armor unit is trapped, under no circumstances allow it to escape!

  • XXIth Corps: the two artillery regiments assigned to the Corps are on the same level of quality as the 27th ID. Try to use them for independent artillery missions, and if you move the II-1 and II-2 battalions far enough forward, they may be able to do counter battery missions inside Tobruk.

  • The 15th PD: the pride and joy of the DAK, and without a doubt the best unit on the board! On the first turn it should attach the I-6-DAK Mot Hvy Flak and the 580-90 Mech Recon from the 90th Light Afrika Division (LAD).

    The series of two escarpments running east to west (north to north-east of Sidi Rezegh) will not only create a nightmare for the maintenance of supply lines, they also restrict freedom of movement: in effect channeling the forces as they attack.

    Try to get into open terrain, or better yet to the edge of the hammada, where your anti-tank values are doubled. Do not allow Gambut, and the supply dump located near it to fall. An attack from the direction of Gambut, and running to the south-west, can wreak havoc with the British, and may eventually trap a substantial force around Sidi Rezegh.

    The 21st PD: the second German PD, it has a three battalion Armored Infantry regiment and a weak artillery component. The temptation will be there to relieve the 55th ID. The consequences will be ruinous! The 21st is overextended, and there is no one to relieve them if they get into a tight spot.

    They must protect Gambut from the East, and keep the Commonwealth from penetrating to the Via Balbia. The whole division is on the south side of the escarpment, and it should stay there. It should attach the dummy counters from Panzer Armee Afrika (PAA), and use them as a screen to prevent the Commonwealth from entering the hammada south of Gambut.

    Attach the 33-15 Mech Recon, and return both it and the 3-21 Mech Recon closer to friendly lines. Also attach the 362-DAK and 364-DAK artillery companies. Finally, reattach the I-155-DAK and III-155-DAK artillery battalions which belong to the 21st, (currently south-west of Tobruk) and move both near the division HQ.

  • Remember - the five dummy counters are a paper thin wall, but they will buy time enough to form an organized defense.

  • The 90th LAD: not as capable as its two other German divisions, the LAD was slated by Rommel to be the primary offensive force in the attack on Tobruk. It is abundantly equipped with long range artillery.

    On the first turn, all non-artillery units attached to the divisional HQ should be parceled out to the two regiments. At the same time some of the artillery units can be moved further east, so they can cover the LAD, the 17th ID, the XXth Corps and possibly even the 15th PD.

    Whenever possible keep the LAD HQ in attack supply, its artillery should provide murderous fire support. It gives up one battalion to the 15th and two to the 21st (see above).

  • DAK: the German Korps HQ. It has a mixed bag of units attached to it; most should be given away and the HQ pulled out of Bardia in the direction of Gambut. It gives up two Motorized Artillery Companies to the 21st. The rest of the units under DAK's command attach to the 55th.

  • PAA: Supreme Axis Command in North Afrika, the initial location of the Rommel leader counter. It gives up seven battalions, nearly all dummy counters, on the first turn to the 15th and 21st PDs.

The Opening Moves

  • Once the initial analysis, and subsequent adjustment of forces is complete, the Axis must determine the supporting objectives which will lead to ultimate success: the capture of Tobruk!

    Operation Crusader, the game, differs from the "real thing" in one major way: the player, unlike Rommel, will not loose the first 24 to 36 hours in a state of surprise. (A variant of the game which started on November 19th would have been quite interesting.

    For those who want to explore the situation Rommel really faced, I recommend a game, where the Axis is not allowed to move any battalions or companies on the first two turns. Form the third turn to the sixth turn the Axis is allowed to move no more than 10 units per turn. During the entire first day, the Axis can only defend or probe, and supply values can be no higher than defensive. Starting with the seventh turn all Axis restrictions are lifted.)

  • In the game, the Axis player should act immediately, and not let the adversary dictate the scope of the operations. I generally agree that a "two front war" is a bad idea, even from a position of strength.

    When the combatants are relatively evenly matched, this is suicide. Therefore, since the greatest threat lies with the British armored formations around Sidi Rezegh, they should be blunted first.

    The prevention of the capture of Gambut and the encirclement of Bardia are just as important, and simultaneously objectives. The third objective is the penetration of the Commonwealth rear areas. Lastly, once the armored threat has been destroyed, the Axis can dismantle Tobruk's defenses.

  • The allocation of supply and air power are critical. Despite the initial abundance of supply, keep all non-essential units in defensive supply. This applies primarily to the 25th, 27th, and 102nd Italian divisions, as well as the XXIst Corps.

    The maneuver divisions should be in general supply, while the two panzer regiments and the armored regiment of the 132nd AD should be in attack supply for as long as possible. Air power is available in relative abundance. Fighter squadrons can be used twice a day: if they fly in the morning, they'll be available again in the evening. The bomber squadrons can very nicely fill in the mid-day lull.

  • The first two days should be sufficient to allow the units to be restructured and deployed in their respective areas. Bardia's defense screen should be intact, and the 15th and 21st PDs should present a solid front line.

    Likely, the 132nd AD will be heavily engaged with the South Africans. Use this time period to locate the major adversary formations and look to attack in areas where you hold the advantage. As the enemy is moving toward you it is possible to make contact with an isolated battalion before the rest of the unit moves up. Try to unleash a major attack against it, using Rommel whenever possible.

  • Initially, this deployment of the two German PDs appears to be quite strong, but there is a chink in the armor. The AI has found the hole and is beginning to exploit it with an anti-tank unit.

The End of the Fifth Day

  • The complete disposition of the Commonwealth forces should be evident by now. In terms of the four areas of the map, you should be in control of at least one: the "Center". You might as well resign yourself to the fact that the New Zealanders and Indians will have the run of things in the East, and it is unlikely that the opponent has made such a blunder as to allow you to take Tobruk.

    The way to the "Interior" may be open, but you will need to have the 132nd AD south of Gabr Saleh to really claim that you are in control; and for that you must eliminate the South Africans.

  • The disposition of Axis troops in the "Center" creates a funnel shape, forcing the British armor into an increasingly narrow path of approach. The further they advance, the more troops they will required to protect their flanks.

    The success of the defense will rest on the shoulders of the 17th ID, and their ability to use the reinforced anti-tank capability of the division (see attachments above) to clog the funnel.

    Once the XXth Corps arrives, the Axis will have a favorable troop density in this area, meaning that they will be able to slash at the flanks of the British armor, achieve penetrations, and have a sufficient reserve force to protect the rear areas.

    Due to their good mobility, the tankette units make ideal exploitation and encirclement troops. Most will be lost as a result, unfortunately it is the role that they are best suited for.

  • If you can't claim to control the center, then I'm afraid things are looking pretty grim. If there is a danger that the Commonwealth will cut through your lines in strength, your only chance may be to try to reduce the frontage, and fall back toward a defensive line utilizing the escarpments between Sidi Rezegh and Gambut.

    Don't be surprised to see the Tobruk garrison make an early breakout attempt. The Commonwealth will follow the path of least resistance, and try to break through the Italians. You may even consciously choose to give up Ed Duda for a few turns, so that elements of the 90th LAD can encircle and trap the leading forces.

    To make this a quick and efficient operation, all elements of the 90th should be in attack supply for the counter attack. There is a strong artillery presence in the fortress, and it can ruin your day with defensive fire support.

    Try to launch more than one assault per turn against the break-out force, this will minimize the impact of Commonwealth "On-Call" artillery support against any one attack. It does little good to push the Commonwealth back into the bunkers. Once they leave the perimeter, make sure they never get back.

The End of the Tenth Day

  • Even though it is not quite half way through the operation yet, by now some general trends should be evident. One of the best indicators of success is the ratio of attacks between the two sides, and the efficiency of those attacks.

    If the axis player has conducted more attacks than the Commonwealth, and has maintained a rate of success of 75% or greater, then statistically, it should be winning the battle. Control of the map regions is also important. The Axis player should strive for a link-up between the 101st MID and the 132 AD.

    Once this is achieved, the Commonwealth player will be obliged to to relinquish any positions still held in the vicinity of el Gueitinat. Now the "Interior" is exposed, and the Commonwealth will be forced to a defensive posture for the remainder of the operation.

  • Avoid the temptation of exploiting any success in the center too soon. As the 132nd moves south-east along the wadi, its frontage increases. It will not be long before gaps in the line become evident. The South Africans will exploit this. It may be possible for them to trap a substantial portion of the 132nd by pinning them up against the wadi.

    The Commonwealth may even be able to reach Bir el Gubi and the supply dumps beyond. Should the XXth Corps be cut off from their HQ as well, the situation will rapidly become critical.

    (Historical Note: for those unfamiliar with the battle, it was at this stage and for this reason that many historians say that Rommel lost the battle. He had contained the initial British armored thrust, and wanted to go for a "knock-out" punch against the Commonwealth rear areas and supply dumps. His attacking force ran low on fuel, it become disorganized, and the British supply dumps could not be found. In the meantime, the British armor, which had been blunted but not destroyed, was rejuvenated and was able to break through in the direction of ed Duda.)

  • The losses will also begin to mount. Several battalions may have sustained 50% or greater casualties. It is imperative that only the best divisions receive replacements. In terms of armor, only consider the 132nd and the the two PDs.

    In terms of infantry, only the very best trained units should receive any replacements (quality of 7 or higher). The "burnt out" divisions may need to be transferred to quieter areas of operation.

The End of the Fifteenth Day, and Beyond

  • The end game is difficult to advise, since the developments leading up to it will largely define the conclusion itself. Realistically, the Axis must set a target date for the start of the operation against Tobruk. And the operation itself will be predicated on the availability of German engineer and armor assets.

    In the absence of the units the 90th LAD will have great difficulties in breaching the perimeter, and may in the end have little to show for their efforts except for two wrecked regiments.

  • The key to freeing up a German panzer regiment, is to restore the freedom of movement of the 55th Savonna. Once the New Zealanders have been checked by the defensive line at the hammada, the time may be ripe for a counter attack.

    A bold attack in the direction of Fort Capuzzo will trap any Commonwealth units encircling Bardia. With their lines of supply shattered, these units can even be rolled up, with a little skill, by the 55th themselves!

    The 55th should fan out and take up positions along a line stretching from the Trigh Capuzzo to Sollum, and maybe even Halfaya Pass. This would allow the 21st to start working west and link up with the Italian forces east of el Gueitinat.

    The purpose of this operation is to eliminate or reduce the need for the 15th PD, who could then participate with the 90th LAD in the operation for Tobruk. Before the 15th departs, it should attach the engineer battalion of the 21st.

  • Once the 15th arrives south-east of Tobruk, it should rest and take any appropriate replacements. When it is ready to start operations, the 25th ID should be able to depart the Tobruk area, and be available for duty in the "Interior."

    It can deploy a number of places, but I recommend that it arrive between the 132nd AD and the 101st MID. It will be one of the few fresh units remaining, it should be able to reach Gabr Saleh or beyond. At this stage the merit of further operations in the east or center is questionable.

    The low victory point value of the Libyan Omar and Sofafi indicate that operations in their direction should only be contemplated after the capture of Tobruk.

  • The operation against Tobruk should be conducted against at least two bunkers at the same time. This will once again divide the defensive fire of the Commonwealth artillery, and strain the ability of the defenders to reinforce along all points of attack.

    All available air power, artillery, and Rommel's leadership should be focused on the assault. There is little room for finesse, the Axis must bear straight ahead until a breach in the bunker system develops. Once this occurs, any available reinforcements must be committed to exploit the opening.

  • If the men can still be pushed forward after the fall of Tobruk, operations against the coast road are advisable. The escarpment to the south side of the road will protect the path of advance initially.

    The threat to Buq Buq should result in the collapse of the Commonwealth position along the majority of the front. The road to Egypt and the Commonwealth supply dumps is wide open, and the whole British position in North Africa may become untenable.

  • Before you despair, consider the historic outcome. Rommel himself was only able to manage a Substantial Commonwealth Victory. Based on this scale, even if you only manage to avoid the liberation of Tobruk, you have achieved a measure of success.

    The balance between the forces is roughly equal, and the terrain favors the Axis. Place yourself at the front of the column. Adopt Rommel's mentality and make a name for yourself and the men of the Afrika Korps. Your Field Marshall's baton awaits!

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