By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Egypt, Axis and Allied forces each deployed
over a thousand tanks, aircraft and guns
during the second half of 1942. The concentration
of ground- and air-based firepower was enormous
by the scale of the desert war, and the eventual
Allied victory at Alamein could be in large
part attributed to their much greater buildup
in these areas.
But neither side deployed serious naval
assets in the Alamein battles of July through
November 1942. On the British side, the Royal
Navy had deployed its Inshore Squadron in
late 1940 and early 1941. The squadron was
built around the monitor Terror and included
three "Insect" class river gunboats
built for service in the Great War. But by
the time of Alamein, the Inshore Squadron
had been disbanded, its utility disputed.
The Royal Navy began building specialized
bombardment vessels at the end of 1914, when
it became obvious that the old battleships
used to support operations off the Belgian
coast could not approach close enough the
shoreline. A new ship with shallow draft
but capable of bearing heavy guns would be
needed. An American industrialist — in a
flagrant violation of the Neutrality Act
— offered four gun turrets ordered for a
Greek battleship under construction in a
German shipyard, and within weeks the new
design had been approved.
The four new monitors were ready by May
and June 1915, and went to the Dardanelles
to bombard Turkish positions. Pleased by
the rapid delivery, the Admiralty ordered
10 more ships: eight to be armed with 12-inch
guns in turrets taken from old retired battleships,
and two with 15-inch guns in turrets diverted
from a new battleship.
The first monitors had already lacked engine
power, only making six knots instead of the
10 specified in their contracts. The two
with 15-inch guns, Marshal Soult and Marshal
Ney, were utter failures. The hull had to
be widened to accommodate the bigger 15-inch
turret, and First Sea Lord Sir John Fisher
insisted they be powered by diesel engines.
The only available diesels provided even
less power than the earlier monitors could
produce, resulting in so little headway that
they could barely be steered.
A new order for two replacement monitors
resulted in much better ships. Erebus and
her sister Terror were longer, both to improve
handling and allow for much more powerful
machinery. They could easily make 12 knots,
and saw action in the last years of the Great
War against German targets in Belgium. After
the war they saw some use as training vessels,
but mostly were in reserve until refitted
in 1939 for a new war.
The smaller ships of the Inshore Squadron
had been constructed to fight the Austro-Hungarian
Navy's Danube Monitor Flotilla, a mission
that disappeared when Serbia collapsed in
1915. The "Insect" class instead
saw service in widely varied theaters. Valued
for their shallow draft (just four feet)
and relatively heavy firepower (two six-inch
guns plus anti-aircraft weapons), they were
retained after the war primarily because
they were very cheap to operate, with a crew
of only 53.
The Inshore Squadron supported the British
advance into Libya in late 1940 and early
1941, but its old and slow ships were very
vulnerable outside the umbrella of air and
surface protection. Of the three gunboats, Ladybird was sunk by German dive bombers
at Tobruk in May 1941 and Gnat torpedoed
by a u-boat a month later. Though salvaged,
she was beyond economical repair and served
out the rest of the war as a harbor anti-aircraft
guardship. Aphis survived the war, taking
part in the invasion of Pantelleria and Sicily,
and was on her way to join the British Pacific
Fleet when the war ended.
Terror had been a base ship at Singapore
when the war broke out, and went to Egypt
in January 1940. She conducted frequent fire
missions against the Italian invasion of
Egypt in late 1940, and moved forward to
Benghazi in February 1941 to allow her to
be based much closer to the front lines.
She struck a mine on 22 February that did
light damage, but the next day was heavily
damaged by near-misses from a German air
attack. She set out for Alexandria, but flooding
became progressive and she sank on the 24th.
Whether her captain, Cdr. Henry John Haynes,
ordered her scuttled is unclear; in any event
he got his entire crew off without loss.
By the late summer of 1942, Allied resources
had increased to the point that the Axis
could be pressured with four major offensives
conducted at quite literally the four corners
of the Earth. Operation Watchtower would
send U.S. Marines to the Japanese-held island
of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Operation
Torch would land American and British troops
in French North Africa. Operation Ironclad
would invade the French-ruled island of Madagascar
in the southwestern Indian Ocean. And finally,
there would be Operation Lightfoot, an offensive
against the Axis army at Alamein in western
The three major naval operations, and the
associated diversions, took away all major
fleet assets from the eastern Mediterranean
that might have provided naval gunfire for
the British Eighth Army. The new monitor Roberts arrived at Alexandria in February
1942, but left in September to take part
in the Torch landings. While she was present
for the first battles of Alamein, she did
not lend support to ground forces but instead
served as an anti-aircraft guardship in Alexandria's
One other large monitor remained to the Royal
Navy: Terror's sister Erebus. Erebus spent 1940 at Dover, guarding
against a German invasion of Britain, before
moving north in 1941 to protect the Home
Fleet's base at Scapa Flow. In early 1942
she went out to Ceylon to join the Eastern
Fleet as a guardship for the port of Trincomalee,
and was damaged there in a Japanese air attack
in April. After several months of repair
in India, she joined the bombardment force
supporting landings on Madagascar in September.
On October she headed back to Britain, and
would later help support the invasions of
Sicily and Normandy.
Roberts commissioned in October 1941, and
after some special trials was designated
for bombardment support duty in the Eastern
Mediterranean. When she arrived in Alexandria,
however, the Mediterranean Fleet command
declined to re-institute the Inshore Squadron
concept. Monitors provided big, slow and
prestigious targets for enemy submarines,
aircraft and even surface ships. Instead
the new ship was detailed to Suez to act
as an anti-aircraft guardship thanks to her
modern suite of air-defense radar. While
she was nearby during both the Axis attacks
on Alamein and the planning for Supercharge,
she remained at Suez until sent to the western
Mediterranean in August to support the Allied
landings in Algeria. She would go on to bombard
the Axis in Sicily, Italy and Normandy.
The Randy York Variant
We included no warships in our massive Alamein game, because other than a few scattered
bombardments by British destroyers, naval
gunfire played no role in the battles. At
Origins one year I sold superfan Randy "Ship
Guy" York a copy of Alamein with the
promise that we'd add a Daily Content variant
allowing him to use 15-inch naval guns to
blast Nazis. Since blasting Nazis with large-caliber
weapons is an eminently laudable desire,
here is the Alamein Naval Support variant.
The British warships Erebus, Roberts, Aphis and Cockchafer are available to the Allied
player in Scenario Four, Operation Lightfoot.
All rules from Island
of Death section 16.7
are in effect with the following exceptions:
no communications dieroll (16.73) is necessary,
and of course there are no Axis coastal guns.
Axis aircraft on the Ground Strike mission
may attack British warships instead. The
Axis player indicates which air unit(s) will
attack which warship(s), and the Allied player
rolls one die if a gunboat is targeted, two
dice for Erebus and four dice for Roberts.
For each result of 6, one air unit assigned
to attack that warship is unable to attack.
If two or more results of 6 are obtained
by one warship, one air unit assigned to
attack it suffers a step loss.
You can download the new pieces here.
Click here to order Alamein right 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. Leopold swims better than he edits.