Recently we looked at why a Blitzkrieg German army is a great alternative to the usual late-war Bolt Action forces you see prowling the tabletops, and today we’re sticking with the old-school theme and looking at one of their opposite numbers – the British Expeditionary Force, or BEF! British forces are among the most capable in Bolt Action, and their early-war incarnation is no different. These brave soldiers make a great accompaniment to our new plastic French infantry, and will also work equally well as a standalone force. Let’s dive in!

The BEF was the name given to the British Army units deployed to Europe at the outbreak of the Second World War. Intended to work alongside French and Belgian forces to resist the anticipated German invasion, the collapse of the Allied defence in the face of the Blitzkrieg required the BEF to be evacuated in a number of seaborne operations, most famously at Dunkirk, abandoning much of their heavy equipment in the process. The actions leading up to the withdrawal are oft forgotten and certainly worth further investigation, but there certainly isn’t space to go into detail in this article! Suffice it to say, the BEF (and their French and Belgian allies) were a far cry from the pushovers they’ve often been misrepresented as!

The BEF adopt a defensive posture.

Let’s start by looking at some of the challenges facing a potential BEF player (spoiler alert – there aren’t actually that many!) before we move on to the strengths and advantages! As with most early-war armies, the BEF doesn’t have much in the way of heavy anti-tank ‘oomph’, with the 2pdr or possibly the 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun being your best options. Additionally, infantry-portable anti-tank kit is almost non-existent, with the Boys anti-tank rifle a useful asset but not something to overly rely on. Finally, the infantry of the BEF are pretty ‘standard-issue’ – no Gurkhas, Paratroopers, Chindits, or Commandos here! This means that a lot of the heavy lifting will have to be done by Chaps, Ordinary, Mk I. Luckily, these are British chaps, so they’re not bad at all… let’s look at the strengths!

We’ll begin with the elephant in the room – the BEF are British, after all, and therefore come with some great national special rules. The free Artillery Forward Observer is always welcome in any situation, and the ability to roll two dice and pick the best result when rolling for Preparatory Bombardment can help you jump out to an early lead at the start of a game – if you remember to use it! (seriously, I’ve seen so many British players completely forget they’ve got this rule when I play against them with my Germans. Must be nice having so many special rules you forget one, eh?). In addition, the National Characteristic system allows you to tailor your infantry to have specific strengths to suit your playstyle. If you like to get aggressive, Up and At ‘Em or Blood-Curdling Charge are great choices, while Rapid Fire allows your infantry sections to bring even more firepower to the fight. Suffice it to say, there’s a limit to how weak a British force can be, even right at the start of the war!

BEF troops advance cautiously through a French churchyard.

The BEF also have access to some surprisingly useful armoured vehicles, particularly in the anti-infantry role. The Universal Carrier is one of the most effective troop transports out there, particularly when fitted with a pair of Bren light machine guns, while many of the early ‘cruiser’ type tanks bring plenty of machine gun nastiness to the party. There are also some fun options based on the Universal Carrier chassis, including the Machine Gun Carrier (like an MMG team, but better!) and Recce Carrier (like a Universal Carrier but… recce-er!). The Matilda I and II infantry tanks are also fun (if slow!) options, particularly if your opponent is relying on anti-tank rifles and light AT guns for their anti-armour work – a 9+ DV is nothing to sniff at this early in the war!

The average British infantry section available to the BEF isn’t bad at all either, especially when combined with a helpful National Characteristic. Available in Inexperienced, Regular, or Veteran (remember, many of the infantry formations in the BEF were pre-war professionals and thus very capable soldiers), meaning you can tailor your force to suit your playstyle, there’s a lot to be said for ten blokes with rifles and a Bren gun to form the core of your army – Bolt Action is an infantry game, after all!

All in all, the BEF are a great option for a British force with a very different feel, and with a fantastic range of beautifully detailed metal figures representing pretty much every unit available, it’s quick and easy to get on the table!

The British Expeditionary Force stands firm – bring on the Blitzkrieg!
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