La Campagne de Tunisie:
Scenario Preview, Part Three
We like to emphasis unusual historical events in our games, and La Campagne de Tunisie is definitely that: a look at the French XIX Corps and its battles against the Axis (and briefly, against the Allies) during the 1942-43 campaign in Tunisia. It’s a book filled with historical background for these odd battles that actually happened, with 88 new die-cut, silky-smooth playing pieces plus a dozen scenarios.
Let’s wrap up our look at those scenarios.
Sword of Damocles
18 January 1943
During the rainy period, French units advanced through the mountains of central Tunisia and threatened the pass exits leading to Kairouan. Even if they ran into the Italian Superga division their breakout possibility into the coastal plain continued to hang over the Axis forces like a Sword of Damocles. Consequently, the Germans launched a counterstroke from the area around Pont du Fahs, to create some breathing space. The eastern wing of Weber's command was a composite German-Italian infantry regiment of the Superga Division reinforced by a panzer battalion.
Battle Group Weber was to advance into the Ousseltia valley, envelop and destroy the enemy groups in front of the Italian positions, and then advance the front to the west. A collection of mountain troops, several tanks, two artillery batteries and some combat engineers spearheaded the attack but were pinned down by fire from Foreign Legionnaires on the heights. Eventually panzer grenadiers relieved the mountain troops and succeeded in storming the mountain positions, overrunning a French artillery section and capturing its guns and equipment. By the end of the day the Axis forces had almost completed the first phase of their operation.
The Germans, and a handful of Italians, are on the attack against the French (including the Foreign Legion!) in some pretty nasty terrain. The Germans have a lot to accomplish, without a huge edge in force. And everyone is ready for battle, with shockingly high morale all around.
Pour la Légion!
Henchir Moussa, Tunisia
19 January 1943
The Axis had reached and conquered the Oum-el-Abouab village on the previous evening. On the morning of 19th December, French Colonel Carpentier ordered two Moroccan companies supported by British tanks to counterattack the Germans along the mountain road to retake the village. After hard fighting, the counterstroke fell short of the village still strongly held by the Tigers. Panzer grenadiers then advanced farther to the south, following the winding road that led through the narrow valley.
At 1000, twenty panzers were in contact with the French along the mountain track leading to Henchir Moussa. French WWI-vintage armored cars exchanged shots with the Tigers in a kind of David vs Goliath fight but with a more predictable result. Luckily enough for the Légionnaires, they were separated by a minefield laid by the Italians during the previous night. The French eventually mounted a well-executed fighting withdrawal along the mountain road and delayed the German drive for more than five hours. It wasn't until evening that Battle Group Lüder reached the day’s objective, the crossroads of Henchir Moussa.
The Germans have Tiger tanks, and are on the attack against the French, whose defense includes the Foreign Legion. Tigers against the Legion. Why have you not ordered this book?
Just Like Training
North-West of Ousseltia, Tunisia
20 January 1943
The situation on 20 January caused General Dwight Eisenhower's advance command post to arrange for coordinated resistance by French, American and British ground units and Allied air forces. British First Army elements would move toward the Rebaa Oulad Yahia valley to cut off and block the enemy's advance there, while Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, was assigned to XIX Corps for commitment in the Ousseltia valley. By the next morning, the force was assembled about five miles southwest of Ousseltia and engaged in active reconnaissance.
The US tankers had been attached to the French at the beginning of the campaign. They got neither mail nor orders; they drew neither pay nor supplies and ate French food. They had seen lots of action and every fourth man in the little company had been decorated by the French government. In the Ousseltia valley, the Americans had a little Arab village to hide in, but the German tanks were all around them and could sit out of range and blow up the village, house by house.
By midnight, 20-21 January, Lüder overran the three lightly-held Allied roadblocks on the roads leading into Ousseltia village, and reached the Ousseltia-Kairouan road about four miles northwest of the Kairouan pass. During the night only one battalion of the 756th Mountain Regiment, using trucks borrowed from other units, was able to reinforce Lüder. He proceeded to destroy the French units, cut off on the ridge to the north of Djebel Bou Dabouss, assisted by Italian elements attacking from east of the pass.
The Tigers are back, and this time they’re facing battle-hungry Moroccans and Algerians with some American tanks and tank destroyers. Sending out the tank-destroying half-tracks with their aged 75mm guns against the Tigers is inadvisable.
Seven Horrors of War
South of El Guettar, Tunisia
22 March 1943
With the coming of spring the Allies were ready to regain the initiative. However a driving rain confined vehicles to the roads and filled the desert with mud - one of the seven horrors of war. When the rains finally ceased, the Allies gradually pushed the Axis defenders back in the El Guettar region. There, the German command had built a blocking position manned mainly by the Italian Centauro Division and by several ad hoc units. To support the US attack a Franco-American diversionary force would bypass the Italian defenses from south, following a wide valley shouldered by high djebel hills on both sides. It just looked like a trap.
The desert track was rather easy to defend since it was dominated on north by a high djebel line. The Axis troops used the terrain to close down the way to the east and the first French troops were halted by violent artillery fire. When they tryed again at 1600, they were stopped by the fortifications between Djebel Bou Jerra and Djebel El-Asker. Despite aggressive action by the Somua tanks covering the US recon units, accurate Italian artillery fire prevented the French from closing the range. No bypass was possible.
An American infantry force with French tank support is attacking the Italians, who’re made up of high-morale Bersaglieri with some strong on-board artillery support. The Allies seem to have better morale than I would have granted them here.
Not all of the French forces in North Africa chose to join the Allied cause. The Vichy government called on Frenchmen to rally to defend their North African colonies and fully 300 French and 150 Algerians jumped at the chance. Recruitment began in November, 1942 as the Torch landings made it clear that sides must be chosen.
The weak “Legion Imperiale” battalion deployed alongside the German 334th Infantry Division and participated in some desultory fighting in April 1943. Given the thousands of men who joined the Allied effort, the failure of the French to field any useful support for the Axis during the North African campaign must have been disappointing, although probably not surprising, to the Axis commanders.
This paltry force actually had three names. First, it was called the Legion Imperiale during recruitment. Then it was called the Phalange Africaine during its deployment and finally, just before it joined the Axis surrender in Tunisia, it took on the name Légion des Volontaires Française de Tunisie; the name becoming longer and more impressive as both the cause and the unit’s actual size were reduced.
North-east of Medjez el-Bab, Tunisia
23 April 1943
Armed with a melange of French and German weaponry, wearing French uniforms with German helmets and greatcoats; the Phalange Africaine joined in the fighting towards the very end of the campaign. The 334th Infantry Division deployed this odd reinforcement on the hills to the north-east of Medjez el-Bab, facing towards Djebel Bou Aoukaz.
It was a wet and very dark night, and the British advanced through fields of waist-high corn sodden with rain. The men covered the larger part of the three-mile approach march in complete silence. Through the dim light, the assault began following a heavy bombardment. After severe hand-to-hand fighting, Point 134 and the neighboring hillocks were firmly in British hands when light grew. The British then dug fresh trenches and detached an infantry company and seven Churchill tanks to mop up the system of hills and wadis round the village of Grich el Oued.
The British are on the attack against a small force of German-led French collaborators, armed with French weapons. The Brits are the Grenadier Guards, with stout morale, Churchill tanks and a small allotment of very heavy artillery. While they have the definite edge in force, they have a stout set of victory conditions to match it.
And those are the scenarios of La Campagne de Tunisie.
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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.