The Battalions of Malta
By David Hughes
August 2013

Facing the elite of the Italian and German armies in Island of Death are some pretty impressive British units. Half of them, those that were part of the King’s Own Malta Regiment, have already been covered in Daily Content. Equally valuable were the British battalions present, divided into a couple of groups. The game abbreviated their names, so here they are in their full splendour.

The first group contains the three units with high numbers, the 4th Battalion the Buffs (4B), the 8th Battalion Manchester Regiment (8M) and the 11th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (11LF). These came from the Territorial Army, just like American National Guard or Australian and Canadian Militia. They were given a few regular officers and sergeants and by 1942 were very similar to battalions found elsewhere.

There were also two regular battalions that came to Malta after fighting in France or North Africa, the 1st Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment (1H) and the Durham Light Infantry (1DLI). Although regular in title, most of their original soldiers had become casualties or transferred, and they were in reality just like the territorial battalions.

Another regular unit, the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, was covered in an earlier Daily Content. It had lost a number of good leaders when moved from the Middle East to Malta in 1940. Because it was serving as both an infantry and a machine-gun unit its cohesion and training had suffered.

But the other four were very different. The 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire (1D) and the 2nd Battalions of the Devonshire (2D), Royal Irish Fusiliers (2RIF) and Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiments (2RWK) had been on the island since the war started. Also as there was a permanent threat of invasion they had not had their best officers and men taken away to help improve newly drafted battalions. As a result, by 1942 they had the highest proportion of regular, highly trained soldiers of any unit in the British Army—although a few snobby cavalry and guards units might disagree.

This is important because in Island of Death, unlike most war games, quality is as important as size and equipment. As an example a German parachute battalion (6-7-7) attacks a British battalion (6-6). In most games the odds are a poor 1-1. However the German morale value of 7 is three higher (the maximum modifier) than the British 4, which creates a much more desirable 4-1 ratio. Relative morale really does matter.

In Island of Death the highest Axis morale is a 7 for the Ramcke parachute brigade, 6 for the Folgore parachute division, 4 for the La Spezia air-landing division or Livorno infantry division, and 3 for the rest of the Italian infantry. All the British and Maltese are rated at 4. We can find more examples in Alamein, a much bigger game using the same system. Both German panzer divisions and the 90th Light are rated at 6, while the Italian armour gets a 5. All the British are 4, with the Australian and New Zealanders rated at 5, with the Maoris of the 28th Battalion being the very best with a value of 6.

While one can quantify guns and armour, morale (which in this case includes cohesion, experience and training) is much tougher. Biases always exist. In my case I always think German units are over-rated (after all, they usually lost!) and Italians under-rated (in Island of Death I think the San Marco marines deserve a better morale than 4). Recognising this, I still think the four battalions mentioned deserve a rating of at least 5. When the siege was over the Devon and Dorset battalions became part of the very effective "Malta Brigade" which landed at both Sicily and Normandy.

Mind you, the other two were less lucky. They were part of the British attack on the Aegean Islands and were forced to surrender when a real German parachute drop and some very effective Luftwaffe attacks on British and Greek destroyers cut them off from any support. Those who have not played the system might quibble at such a minor change, but in this game a morale increase from 4 to 5 means that instead of collapsing into a battered cadre, you can shoot the Fallschirmjäger to pieces, just like British regular battalions managed to do in Crete the previous year.

One other change is suggested, in this case a very minor correction. The counter mix includes a 5-6 Maltese infantry battalion. However, this should not be the 8th Battalion King’s Own Malta Regiment, but the 8th Battalion King’s Own Royal Regiment — British military terminology can easily lead to confusion! So the 8K counter in British colours is a replacement not an addition.

You can download the variant counters here.

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