Lawrence of Arabia:
A First Look
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
He’s an English guuuy . . . went to fight the Tuuuurkiiiiish . . .
Lawrence of Arabia takes the Infantry Attacks game series to the Middle East, specifically, battles fought in Sinai, Palestine and Syria between 1915 and 1918. T.E. Lawrence himself appears many times, leading the Arab rebels against the Ottoman Turks, and sometimes against loyalist Arabs.
Infantry Attacks was intended to model what the title says, infantry in action during the First World War. And it does that very well. It also includes cavalry actions, in a good bit more detail than its World War Two sister series, Panzer Grenadier. Cavalry can fight mounted (including charging) or can dismount and fight like weak infantry (which does keep them from being shot off their horses, and also lets them dig in).
There are a lot of cavalry actions in the first game of the Infantry Attacks series, August 1914, and many more in our upcoming Fall of Empires as well. But it’s Lawrence of Arabia where the mounted troops get their day, both horse and camel cavalry. Both the cavalry and the camelry come in many flavors.
Our story begins in February 1915, with the first Turkish attempt to cross the Sinai and capture (or at least close) the Suez Canal. It ends with the last Turkish stands in Syria in October 1918 against pursuing Allied and Arab forces.
In between we’ve got just about every type of combat seen in World War One. There a large-scale mounted actions. There’s some intense trench warfare. There are battles from the Arab Revolt, with Arab tribal levies flinging themselves against the Turks and the Turks’ own Arab allies. There are tanks and airplanes, firsts for Infantry Attacks. And armored cars. For the most part, the scenarios are very fluid and very mobile: the horse and camel were not outdated concepts in 1917 when used with an innovative spirit.
There are actually two story arcs at play, that eventually come together. First the Turks accomplished the impossible, moving three divisions across the wastes of interior Sinai (the coastal road being vulnerable to British naval gunfire) to attack the Suez Canal. Thanks to aerial spotting the Allies were ready for them, and a fierce fight took place in February 1915. The Turks briefly got across the canal but eventually had to withdraw, pursued by the Bikaner Camel Corps.
Things got quiet for a while, as the Allies steadily bled themselves at Gallipoli and the Turks chose not to venture across Sinai again. Finally in the late spring of 1916 the Allies began a cautions advance of their own across Sinai, laying down a railroad and water pipeline as they went. By August they had reached the edge of Palestine and fighting began again.
The campaign in Palestine lasted for two years, with the Allies finally achieving a breakthrough in late 1917 and into 1918, taking Jerusalem and Damascus. Along the way there were fierce trench-warfare engagements at places like Gaza and Beersheba, and widespread use of massed cavalry forces. Meanwhile, somewhat to the east and south, an Arab revolt took fire with the aid of an Englishman, T.E. Lawrence. Arab forces swept northward into Syria as well, but would be bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the post-war peace treaties, a legacy still bearing poisoned fruit today.
The scenarios follow both of these campaigns from their origins up to their convergence in Syria. John Stafford’s design submission had 45 scenarios, and I added 15 more to fill in the narrative a little more (that makes 60 total for the game). As a collection of independent scenarios, the first 45 were more than fine and probably are the 45 most interesting battles in the set. But they left a few gaps in the story (like the British counter-attack following the Turkish assault on the Suez Canal, including a camel charge by the Bikaner Camel Corps).
I’ve really liked the way our recent books have used scenarios to help tell a story (Red and White, or High Seas Fleet) and want to extend that narrative structure to all of our games. You can’t tell a full story, or test a historical hypothesis, with a dozen scenarios grabbed randomly from different parts of a campaign. But you can, as the designer, use scenarios plus additional text to build a very interesting story line with which your readers can, quite literally, play along. Creatively it’s very satisfying, much more so than the usual wargame design, and the customers seem to really like it. Plus it makes our games unique in the wargame marketplace, in a good way, and that’s a strong positive as well.
Troops of many nations take part. The Ottoman Turks are the bulk of the Central Powers forces, but there are also Germans (usually artillery) and Austro-Hungarians (artillery, and some light infantry). The Turks are pretty tough, especially on the defense, and while some of their troops are less than inspired their elite shock troops are very good.
The Allied side brings pretty much the whole world to fight for the Holy Land. There are Australians and New Zealanders. British and Arabs. The British Indian Army and Indian Princely State forces. The British West Indies Regiment and the Jewish Legion. It’s a colorful game.
There are eight maps by Guy Riessen, some showing the desert terrain of the Hejaz (the north-west part of today’s Saudi Arabia) and the Trans-Jordan (modern Jordan) but most depicting the Palestine of a century ago: olive groves, small villages, cactus hedges (yes, this was a thing: about five feet high and five feet thick, surrounding every village and many fields, they proved tougher than barbed wire and almost impossible to destroy). As with maps from other Infantry Attacks and Panzer Grenadier (Modern) games, they’re fully compatible with maps from Panzer Grenadier (they’re even numbered in the same sequence).
Lawrence of Arabia isn’t for everyone: it’s a big game manufactured in very small quantities for direct sale only, with a price tag that reflects that. It covers an unusual topic (outside of the title character, anyway) and is loaded with strange and unusual battles and armies instead of the more recognizable fare (Germans vs. Americans). If that stuff excites you, then you’re going to need to have this game.
Don’t wait to put Lawrence of Arabia on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!
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. Leopold catches and eats lizards.