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British Shermans In The Desert

British Shermans in the Desert
with Gavin van Rossum

The early North African battles were a constantly evolving challenge for nations who were learning the true merits and flaws of their tactics and technology, which had been brought to the boil again since the last Great War. Harsh lessons were dealt and received to Axis and Allied troops alike under the unforgiving Saharan sun.

Both sides had long supply chains constantly striving to supply their troops and technical teams engineering any edge in the arms race that surrounded each battle. All efforts focused on glorious victory or mitigating the impacts of defeat.
The Allied forces of the British & Commonwealth began with mostly Cruiser light or medium tanks with the excellent light AT cannon the ‘2-pounder’, light armoured cars with a 15mm heavy MG or the decisive Matilda Infantry tank when lucky enough to have them supporting. As the equipment in theatre was hammered by combat and the environment, the troops often found themselves under-gunned and sustaining losses when their speed was not sufficient to keep them safe, as thin armour plates wilted for the most part.
British Shermans In The Desert
The Axis fielded initially the Italian light tanks such as the L3 tankette and the heavier M13/40, which both were mediocre designs for the cutting edge tank warfare of the desert. Their light cannons and thin armour were vulnerable not only to Allied tank armaments but also artillery hits. Once Rommel and the Deutsche Afrika Korps arrived to bolster the Italian lines, heavier Panzer III’s & IV’s would join the fight and evolve with larger, longer cannon and additional reinforced armour to resist the enemy’s advances.
From the early daring duels and long harrowing Italian retreats of 1940 to the more conventional thrust and parry operations of 1941 - 1943, superior arms would add a great value to the force’s ability to prosecute its goals in face of the enemy’s resistance. Once the DAK tanks were frequently armed with 5cm or short 7.5cm guns, the resulting battles were often hard fought until heavier options became available. The Axis were also impacted by the North African campaign not always receiving the cream of the latest designs as other theatres screamed for attention. 

Sherman - You Get What You Pay For
The cruiser tanks could handle anything Italian and lighter German forces, but suffered from any malign attention. Infantry tanks were great for punching into defended lines, but were few, slow and were often out-gunned. For the Allies in late 1942, the Sherman tank’s arrival filled the much needed role for a standard battle tank which could do anything asked of it. 

British Shermans In The Desert

In Flames of War the Sherman tank has all the right ingredients to win battles consistently without blowing out your force budget. The British were keen enough to get Grants, access to supplies of Shermans were even more rapidly provisioned and even being stripped from US divisions not in combat. The chassis provides a solid armour portfolio, well able to compete against Pak38 AT guns or even the 7.5cm/48 ‘Lang’ cannon equipped Panzer IV’s.

The British Sherman’s in North Africa get experienced British crews, who may have already had a few metal steeds shot out from under them before, they know the theatre’s hazards better than the US forces, who are busy learning the same lessons at the same price. Derived from this skill and experience they receive a solid ‘Is Hit On’ of 4+, which some define as the most important core stat in FoW, coupled with a British Mid War tanker ‘Skill’ of 4+ which is good enough to not be clumsy in their application. They are not brash and wild like the Death or Glory forces, more steady and reliable although well able to shift their weight as needed. Combining their base line 4+ with Concealment or Range modifiers gives you an immediate benefit of two-thirds of the enemy’s shots going wide, unless they move to reduce one or both factors.

British Shermans In The Desert

Once hit their solid Front Armour of 6 requires the attention of serious Medium or Heavy AT to penetrate, no wee Anti-Tank Rifle will do more than shake the crew. This sturdy frontal defence combined with a more fragile Side Armour of 4 makes the Sherman more robust than the Panzer IV, until the G or H model is encountered later on in the war. It also places them heavier than the best Panzer III, in armament at least. The American 75mm M3 gun with Anti-Tank 10 was sufficiently destructive to endanger all Axis armour in theatre and the HE round is explosive enough with Firepower 3+ to cause Infantry and Guns to consider it as a serious threat. Added into the anti-personnel firepower is the excellent .50cal Heavy Machine-Gun on the cupola mount, backed up by Hull & Coax MG’s, providing a solid 4 shots of MG fire per Sherman to keep marauding Infantry hiding in their holes and reliably Pin enemy platoons as part of assault preparation.

The differences between Shermans fielded from American formations is the loss of the Stabiliser, which reduces the volume of cannon fire on the move, this was commonly disabled by British crews even if supplied. Also the British bring in a penalty to their Last Stand, shifting from Confident 4+ to a more reluctant 5+ as a ‘Fight Another Day’ rule. Heroics were sometimes called for, but the respect between the opposing sides of the Desert War often meant evasion or captivity was not so bad, better than the cold certainty of being dead.

Building a British Heavy Armour Force
Looking at the Sherman Armoured Squadron, the first thing that leaps out is you can get 4 Shermans in your HQ, it is awfully tempting to make the officers earn their medals the hard way. 

Lead From The Front

Sherman Armoured Squadron  
Sherman Armoured Squadron HQ 36 Points

Sherman 75mm HQ (x 4)

 

Sherman Armoured Troop 1 27 Points
Sherman 75mm (x 3)   
Sherman Armoured Troop 2 27 Points
Sherman 75mm  (x 3)  
Sherman Armoured Troop 3 27 Points
Sherman 75mm  (x 3)  

Thats 10 Shermans for 90 points! That is a lot of decent Armor and firepower on table, with the HQ also in a good place as heavy Reserve.

Formation Support  
Daimler Armoured Car Troop 2 Points

Daimler 2pdr (x 2)

 

Dingo (x 1)

 

25 pdr Field Troop 7 Points
25 pdr gun (x 3)   

With 1 point left over for a spicy Command Card, Big Guns has the Sherman HQ in mind for rerolling failed Firepower at Inf & Guns while Halted, Artillery Expert would help your 25 Pounders be effective from Turn 1 with a better placed Ranged-In Marker. 

Mixed Medley

Sherman Armoured Squadron  
Sherman Armoured Squadron HQ 27 Points

Sherman 75mm HQ (x 3)

 

Sherman Armoured Troop 1 27 Points
Sherman 75mm (x 3)   
Crusader II & III Armoured Troop 2 7 Points
Crusader II 2 pdr (x 1)  
Crusader III 6 pdr (x 2)  

This mix of mobile armoured hits your bill for 61 points, provided 6 great medium Shermans as the solid and dangerous core of the force, backed up by 3 light tanks, 2 of with have good AT guns, these Cruisers are hit on 3+ so more flank screening than frontal assault types. 

This lighter option allows you to combine arms with another Formation, perhaps a Rifle Company or a Crusader or Honey Armoured Squadron depending on your preference.  

Grit:

Sherman Armoured Squadron  
Sherman Armoured Squadron HQ 27 Points

Sherman 75mm HQ (x 3)

 

Sherman Armoured Troop 1 27 Points
Sherman 75mm (x 3)   
Churchill Armoured Troop 2 33 Points
Churchill III 6 pdr  (x 3)  

This list is as heavy as you are likely to get from a 100 point list until you go for the full Churchill Squadron. With that stodgy 87 point core of mediums & heavy tanks, Support would be a good rounded Recce platoon, also a barrage would be useful so either 2 Priests (10pts) or 2 25 Pounders (7pts). Also dont miss out on the card Mad Tanks (1pt), for assaulting positions where your opponent thought nature would be on their side. Auto-pass Cross tests, thank you very much!

British Shermans In The Desert

Overall Armoured Fist is a welcome addition to the Flames of War V4 campaign book options for the British players. You can field different force mixes across the whole spectrum of British forces in North Africa, constructing ad-hoc battle groups to face off those nasty Axis blighters. The British took great advantage of their Sherman tanks from the 2nd Battle of El Alamein and till the end of World War Two, you must do the same.  For King and Country!
~Gavin


Last Updated On Tuesday, May 1, 2018 by Luke at Battlefront