One of the most popular and enduring campaigns of World War II is that of the Western Desert, where Allied forces clashed with German and Italian foes under the gruelling African sun in the most treacherous of climates. The battles of the Western Desert hold legendary status, Tobruk, El Alamein and Gazala amongst them. With the newly announced A Gentleman’s War Bolt Action Starter Set on the horizon, we thought it prudent to take a look at the theatre in a little more detail. Fortunately, it is the subject of one of our Campaign Books, which includes in-depth information on the forces involved, as well as new units, theatre selectors and special rules, as well as a plethora of scenarios to tailor your Bolt Action experience to the theatre.

The Western Desert

Campaign The Western Desert focuses on the conflict in the area most commonly referred to as the Western Desert – a campaign theatre reaching from the Libyan city of Tripoli to Cairo, and the Egyptian Nile valley, a distance of some 1,300 miles, featuring some of the most hostile terrains on Earth.

When compared to the enormous campaigns waged on the Eastern Front and in Western Europe during World War II, the struggle in North Africa between the British Commonwealth and the Axis might seem an unimportant sideshow. However, its influence and impact were far-reaching and dictated many strategic decisions that influenced the course of the war.

The book covers a period of time from September 1940 when Mussolini’s Italian Army invaded British-held Egypt to the final retreat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps from Egypt during October 1942. During that period the conflict witnessed much hard fighting resulting in spectacular victories and the capture of territory, equipment and prisoners for both sides whilst also subjecting them to a series of demoralising retreats, where final and irrevocable defeat seemed assured.

This campaign, like many others, saw examples of cruelty and inhumanity perpetrated by both sides, but they were relatively rare and the war in the Western Desert has often been referred to as the ‘War without Hate’ or ‘A Gentleman’s War’. Perhaps the biggest reason for this was that the soldiers of Germany, Italy, and the British Commonwealth faced a much greater common enemy – the harsh unforgiving terrain and climate of the Western Desert.


Operation Compass: The Fighting Begins
Scenario 1: Frontier Battle
Scenario 2: Fort Nibeiwa, 9 December 1940
Scenario 3: The Battle for Bardia, 4 January 1941
Scenario 4: Tank Clash at Mechili, 24 January 1941
Scenario 5: Fox killed in the Open, 5 February 1941

Operation Sonnenblume
Scenario 6: Mersa Brega, 31 March 1941
Scenario 7: Ras El Madauur, 13 April 1941

Operation Brevity and Battleaxe
Scenario 8: Hellfire Pass, 15 June 1941

Operation Crusader
Scenario 9: Bir El Gubi, 19 November 1941
Scenario 10: Gabr Saleh, 19 November 1941
Scenario 11: Point 175, 29 November 1941

Gazala: Rommel’s Greatest Victory
Scenario 12: The Cauldron, 1 June 1942
Scenario 13: Bir Hakeim, 27 May 1942
Scenario 14: Bir-El Harmat 2 June 1942

El Alamein: The End of the Beginning
Scenario 15: Alam Halfa, 31 August 1942
Scenario 16: Outpost Snipe, 27 October 1942
Scenario 17: The Charge of the 9th Armoured, Tel El Aqqaqir, 2 November 1942

Raid Scenarios
Scenario 18: Dawn Raid
Scenario 19: The Via Balbia Raid, 27 May 1942

Commonwealth armour is hunted by Afrika Korps anti-tank weaponry

New Units and Army lists

In addition to new rules, units and theatre selectors for British and Commonwealth, Italian and German armies, you’ll also find rules for free French Forces in the Western desert as well as special forces that operated in the theatre.

France’s defeat and occupation did not mean the end of the fight for all Frenchmen. Many units not in France when it fell took refuge in Great Britain. Under Charles De Gaulle, they formed the Free French Brigade. In early June 1942, the 1st Free French Brigade found itself on the extreme southern flank of the fortified Gazala line in Libya. For 15 days, they stubbornly defended the fortress of Bir Hakeim against constant German and Italian assaults. You can field this brigade using the rules in this campaign book in conjunction with Armies of France & the Allies and Armies of Great Britain books.

Whilst the Special Forces operating in the Western desert are atypical of the composition of most Bolt Action armies, a theatre selector and rules have been included for purposes of historical accuracy. That is not to say that such armies cannot be used in Bolt Action open play, but they are ideal for use with the specially designed raid scenarios in Campaign Western Desert.

The SAS speed to a crucial objective.

Special Rules

The enemy was not the only thing to contend with in the theatres of the Western Desert, with the environment itself a constant thorn to all parties. As such, many of the special rules found in the campaign book are concerned with the environment and climate. This ranges from the detailing of specific terrain features (sand dunes, boulder fields etc), to the effects of the environment itself – for example, dust clouds kicked up by vehicles and the effect of overwhelmingly clear skies on the fortunes of ground attack aircraft operating in the theatre.

You’ll also find new traits for troops ideally suited for desert combat and a wealth of new possibilities for desert-themed games of Tank War with the optional special rule going ‘hull down’, which dismisses the myth of flat, level desert battlefields – enabling crews to manoeuvre in such a way as to enable optimal firing positions whilst concealing the bulk of their armour to the enemy.

Get Started – A Gentleman’s War

This Bolt Action starter set pits the forces of the British 8th Army (more commonly known as The Desert Rats) against their Axis foes, the Deutsche Afrika Korps. Containing two opposing plastic forces set amongst the conflict across the arid desert war of the North Africa campaign, A Gentleman’s War contains the Bolt Action rulebook as well as a theatre booklet that guides you through your first steps in the game. It’s everything you need to get started with Bolt Action,

A Gentleman’s War contains:

  • A5 Bolt Action rulebook
  • A Gentleman’s War – Bolt Action Starter set booklet
  • 24 Afrika Korps plastic infantry
  • 1 plastic Sd.Kfz 222/223 armoured car – exclusive to this boxed set
  • 24 8th Army (Desert Rats) plastic infantry
  • 1 plastic Humber Mk II/IV armoured car – exclusive to this boxed set
  • Waterslide decals
  • Plastic Bolt Action templates & tokens
  • Plastic Pin Markers
  • 6-sided dice
  • Bolt Action Order dice
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