La Campagne de Tunisie:
When Allied forces invaded French North Africa in early November 1942, the French garrison of Tunisia numbered about 15,000 men organized into six groupements varying in size from about that of a strong brigade to a weak battalion. After some days of intense negotiations, French and American officers hammered out an agreement by which these troops would be re-equipped and supplied by the Americans to fight alongside the Allies.
Despite constant complaints from Charles de Gaulle and his Free French movement, formerly Vichy troops from across the colonial empire gathered in Tunisia to fight under British command as the XIX Corps, initially fielding two divisions and later three. And it’s that campaign that designer Philippe Léonard has translated into Panzer Grenadier format with La Campagne de Tunisie.
At Avalanche Press we enjoy including unusual units in our games, what a designer here used to call “gonzo pieces.” Usually that’s just a few. It’s not a Philippe Léonard show without a huge helping of them, and in La Campagne de Tunisie he does not disappoint.
La Campagne de Tunisie is a historical supplement for An Army at Dawn. It draws on An Army at Dawn (and just a little from either Conquest of Ethiopia or Africa Orientale Italiana) for maps and other game pieces. You don’t need to own any other Panzer Grenadier game to play all 12 scenarios.
There are 88 die-cut, silky-smooth playing pieces included with La Campagne de Tunisie. The largest contingent – 38 of 88 – are Vichy French, with a color scheme similar to that of the French Army in 1940: The Fall of France, but bearing the double-axe of the Vichy Republic instead of the Gallic Cock (the “angry chicken” in Avalanche Press graphics parlance).
And as one might expect from Philippe, these include some unique units. French commanders in North Africa had carefully husbanded their armored vehicles, keeping hold of those already in the colonies and slipping new ones past the German and Italian commissioners – at times at the behest of the Axis powers, when they hoped that the French would resist Allied incursions into their colonies. Others had to be hidden; the 5e Chasseurs d’Afrique, for example, placed its illicit tanks within the stables for sick horses, where Italian inspectors did not venture.
These include many vehicles also found in the 1940 campaign: Somua S35 medium cavalry tanks and Renault R35 light tanks. But there’s also the Char D1 light tank, an infantry support vehicle developed in the late 1920’s and relegated to the colonies due to its poor mechanical reliability. They saw action in the Tunisian campaign, with one of the venerable old tanks even knocking out a modern German PzKpfw IV during the Battle of Kasserine Pass. There are also three new types of armored car.
There are, however, no foot soldiers in Vichy colors. Those come from other branches, like the first appearance in Panzer Grenadier of the French Foreign Legion. They have their own color scheme, and as you might expect they’re pretty tough, both on foot and riding on motorcycles. Even tougher are the Moroccan Goumiers, Berber mountain tribesmen described as “gendarmerie” during the Vichy period to evade limits on French forces. Barely disciplined, Goumiers would be accused of over 7,000 rapes during the 1943-45 Italian Campaign, their victims including priests and children.
Not all French soldiers in North Africa welcomed the Allies – a few fought for the Axis instead in the Phalange Africaine, a unit established in 1943 and sent to the front in the last days of the Tunisian campaign. The Phalange numbered only slightly more than 300 combatants (a figure which may or may not include the 100 or so Tunisian Arabs who had volunteered to fight alongside the Germans), but Philippe has included their battlefield exploits (or lack of them – they were pretty bad at the whole fighting thing).
The Germans pick up a few more unusual pieces – a company of mountain troops, another of replacement infantry, and a Nebelwerfer rocket launcher. Their Italian allies have a platoon of assault engineers plus some additional units, though none of the other really count as gonzo.
Rounding out the mix are a handful of additional British units, and a handful of Americans as well – including a couple of new units, the M3 Scout Car, machine-gun-armed trucks and a 25-pounder artillery battery in U.S. Army colors. As best as I can tell there are sixteen (16!) unit types that are new to the Panzer Grenadier series, which is pretty impressive for a set of only 88 pieces all told.
You can play with this menagerie in a set of twelve new scenarios. In two of them, the French fight against the Americans. In six of them they fight the Germans, and in three they fight the Italians. In the final scenario, the evil Phalange squares off against the British. All of them are based on actual battles between the French and, well, everyone. This is no alternative history; we’d never try to pass off anything quite this strange in our fiction.
And they’re really good; Philippe Léonard does his homework: these are no slapdash “typical action on the Tunisian front” affairs thrown together after a little light reading. He’s dug deeply into the sources to unveil these intense actions, and developers Matt Ward and Daniel Rouleau have polished them into very fine, tightly balanced and fun scenarios – it helps to give the designer a developer who speaks his language, a small difference that yields great results here.
We originally released La Campagne de Tunisie in a special limited edition for the Gold Club, with a comb-bound booklet and laser-cut pieces. It really deserved a wider audience than that, but at the time we didn’t have a suitable format for it. Now we do, and we can add the background support that the scenarios need to make the book a very fine addition to the Panzer Grenadier line.
All of that comes together into the sort of package I love to publish here at Avalanche Press: a supplement that draws on just one game (An Army at Dawn), is based on excellent history and deep research (real, primary-source research), a huge helping of gonzo units and really finely made playing pieces all inside a nice little book with a fine color cover.
You’re going to like this one.
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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.