Gazala 1942:
Desert Parachutes

The war in the desert lasted almost three years, from June 1940 until May 1943. During those years a number of German and Italian airborne units fought in Libya and Egypt, from the independent battalions of Italian paratroopers who bravely resisted the initial British offensive into Libya to the Folgore Division and Ramcke Brigade that held the center of the Axis line at El Alamein when the Afrika Korps collapsed.

Only once, it appears, did the Germans or Italians seriously contemplate dropping airborne troops to influence a battle. One German battalion had arrived in Libya in May 1942, the Burkhardt Battalion of “Lehr” or demonstration troops that would eventually become part of the Ramcke Brigade and fight at Alamein.

The battalion had veteran leadership and an experienced cadre, and was somewhat overstrength for a German parachute battalion (1,200 men). Like all such formations, it was lightly armed and especially lacking in anti-tank weapons.

Rommel had the battalion available for the Operation Venezia, the offensive that would become known as the Battle of Gazala and is featured in our game of desert combat. The German staff did not employ the paratroopers at all in the offensive, even in a ground role, keeping them in the strategic reserve. But the air transport appears to have been available for a battalion-sized drop.

Therefore, we’ve provided a free download of this unusual battalion, available here.

The Axis player may attempt an airborne landing with the Lehr battalion. During the Initial Segment, the Axis player secretly notes that the Lehr battalion will land two turns later, and the hex in which it will land. The hex specified must be a clear hex, and may not be adjacent to a minefield or fortification hexside. Otherwise, the Lehr battalion may land anywhere on the map.

Safe Landing?
  1-3 Eliminated

Lands safely

On Target?
  1-2 Drifts one hex

Lands on target

Drift: Where?
  5 West
  6 Northwest
Two turns later the Axis player announces the landing attempt during any Axis impulse and rolls one die. On a result of 1 through 3 the unit is eliminated (disrupted by Allied fighters, or so badly scattered as to be rendered ineffective).

On a result of 4 through 6 the unit is placed in the noted hex and a second die is rolled to determine if the landing occurred where planned. On a result of 3 through 6 the unit remains in place, on a result of 1 or 2 it drifts. Roll yet another die to determine the drift. On a result of 1 the unit is shifted one hex to the northeast, on a result of 2 one hex to the east, on a result of 3 one hex to the southeast, on a result of 4 one hex to the southwest, on a result of 5 one hex to the west, and on a result of 6 one hex to the northwest.

If the unit lands in a prohibited hex (hill, sea or one adjacent to a minefield or fortification) it is eliminated. If the hex is enemy-occupied, the Lehr unit must initiate combat against the enemy unit(s) in the upcoming Combat Phase; if the hex is not cleared of enemy units, the Lehr battalion is eliminated. Other Axis units may participate in this combat if they are adjacent to the hex.

The Lehr unit is activated on the turn it lands by activation of the Afrika Korps headquarters (it can be reassigned later, but MUST be activated by Afrika Korps). The unit is considered to be in supply during the turn it lands.

Click here to order Gazala 1942 now!

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.