Sunday of the Dead

Second day of the Sidi Rezegh battles 23rd November 1941

The 23rd of November is know to the Germans as Totensontag, Sunday of the Dead or perhaps "Death Sunday" in English.

On the 18th November the British forces in the desert launched Operation Crusader with the objectives of smashing the Afrika Korps tank strength and relieving the besieged fortress of Trobruk. The plan was for the bloated 7th Armoured Division to draw the German panzers in to a climactic tank battle and utterly destroy them. The chances looked good as the British had more tanks than the Germans. Unfortunately the Germans were not playing and the British divided their forces into brigade or battalion "penny packets" to be individually defeated by the Germans

By the 23rd the British tank forces were in disarray, the 7th Armoured Brigade had a few as 15 tanks running. The 22nd Armoured brigade was down to a composite regiment and the battalions of the 4th Armoured Brigade were scattered over the desert after the brigade HQ was over-run. However the British infantry was still intact and the British high command was still optimistic of a positive outcome.

On the 22nd of November the 5th South African Brigade had managed to get to a position a few miles south of point 175 overlooking Sidi Rezegh airfield; scene of a titanic battle between elements of the 7th Armoured Division and the German Panzers the previous day. They were preparing for an attack the next day.

The Germans attacked first. the 15 Panzer Division with the tanks of the 21 Panzer Division swept down from the north east, through the gap between the 2nd Regiment Botha and the 7th Support Group crashing in to the "B" echelon (ie the truck park) of the 5th South African Brigade and the 7th Support Group. Much of transport was left burning in the desert the rest was scattered to the four winds.

The panzers then met up with the Ariete division, all the Axis armour was concentrated in one location, something the British had singly failed to do in the entire battle. The combined might of the axis forces turned around, ignoring the desultory shelling of the 1st South African Brigade to the south, and headed back north for Sidi Rezegh airfield, the 5th South African Brigade was squarely in their path.

The scenario depicts the the Axis assault on the 5th South African Brigade, starting 15:00 hours 23rd November 1941

Map and Order of Battle


The map depicts a 10km x 5km area, north is towards the top of the map.

The area of the fighting is basically open desert, which is almost flat

The dotted lines are ridge-lines. These are very low gentle rises. The dotted lines break line of sight to/from all stands over 3" from the ridge line. As they are so gentle no hull-down positions are available on the ridge lines

The red dotted line is a track. It has no effect on the game

Special Rules

The game starts at 14:00, if playing WPD the Germans move first. The game ends at last light: 19:00 - 10 turns length. Turn 10 is a dusk turn.

Visibility in the dusk turn is 1km

The infantry, but not the guns, of 5th SA Brigade are dug-in, though not deeply. 5+ save for WPD, -2 cover for CD. All portee 2pdrs start the game mouted on their trucks. The 2nd Scots Guards have just arrived and are not dug in.

Any Commonwealth unit that leaves the table by the north table edge is considered destroyed. 21 Panzer's panzer grenadiers occupy the area immediately north of the South Africans.

Earlier in the day the transport of the 5th SA Brigade and the 7th Support Group was attacked by the Germans; much of it was destroyed or abandoned and the rest was scattered to the four winds. The Support Group was efficient in collecting its stragglers, the less mobile South Africans were not. The South Africans are short of transport. Roll d6 for every truck on the OB on a 1-4 its missing. The remaining trucks will be in a laager in the middle of the 5th SA Bde's positions. As the 2nd Scots Guards have just arrived their transport is intact.

3rd Company 3rd Recce Battalion can be placed anywhere on the table over 1km from the Germans

Kampfgruppe Böettcher is off table. One battery is being observed form north of the South African's positions. He can see any target within 30" of a point in the middle of the north table edge. The other guns ar not observed and can speculatively (WPD) or H&I (CD) only

The 7th Support Group is a reinforcement, it can be committed by the British any turn they wish 15:00 onwards. The turn BEFORE it enters they must indicate it's entry point (dust clouds will give it away). The entry point(s) may be anywhere on the lower half of the right table edge. Note the 3rd RHA starts the game deployed on table. The Germans may not approach within 3" of the crescent shaped ridge on the right side of the table until the dust from the 7th Support Group is seen or until a stand of 3rd RHA moves over the ridge.

115 Schutzen Regiment is a reinforcement Earlier in the day many of its trucks bogged down. Its arrival is random. Before the start of the 14:30 turn roll d6 - on a 6 it arrives for the 14:30 turn. Before the 15:00 turn roll, it arrives on a 4-6. 15:30 2-6 and its arrival is automatic on the 16:00 turn

Ariete is a reinforcement, it arrives within 6" of the SW corner.

200 Schutzen Regiment enters as indicated on the map

Elements of the 3rd and 5th RTR harassed the flanks of the German attack. As the 4th Armoured Brigade's HQ had been destroyed these were piecemeal and un coordinated. Each turn roll 1d6, on a 5+ a company of 1d3 Honey tanks arrives. At the end of each turn roll for each group on table, on a 6+ they head for the nearest table edge at full speed and leave. The Honey's arrive within 1km of the bottom right table edge but not within 1km of a German stand

Victory Conditions

In order to win the Germans need to destroy, or leave demoralised, the majority of 5th South African Division. A maximum of 20: infantry, command Infantry, artillery, MMG, mortar, armoured car, carrier, or portee stands must be OK and not demoralized when the game is over. British units that leave the north table edge are considered destroyed. Leaving any other edge does not count for axis victory conditions. The Germans must also kill more British tanks than they lose (they don't care about Italians)

The Italians win a victory if they lose less M13's than the Germans take casualties, they kill at least four British tanks and there are less than 20 stands (infantry, command infantry, artillery, MMG, mortar, armoured car, carrier, or portee) of the 5th South African Brigade left on table un-demoralised

The Commonwealth win if they kill more Axis tanks than they themselves lose. Italian tanks only count half. They also win if the 5th South African Brigade takes less than 20 stands (infantry, command infantry, artillery, MMG, mortar, armoured car, carrier, or portee) casualties

Any other result is a draw

If there is only one Axis player then the Axis player has to make BOTH the Italian and German victory conditions to will. If there are separate Axis players one may win the other may not

Historical Outcome

The Panzers braved a storm of artillery and anti-tank fire to close with the South Africans. Ariete was tardy coming up on the flank of the 8 Panzer Regiment, perhaps due to pressure from the 22nd Armoured. It looked a little sticky for the Panzers for a while; communications between the 5PR and 8PR broke down and the Panzers were in the midst of the 5th being shot at from all sides. The German infantry in their vulnerable trucks took heavy casualties but eventually arrived in support of the Panzers. The 22nd Armoured Brigade bravely swanned across the width of the German advance but seemed to make little impact. The South Africans, without any transport, could only fight in place an die. In spite of many acts of gallantry the 5th Brigade was slowly wiped out. The Germans didn't have it all their own way though, the wrecks of many Panzers littered the desert


British Armies in WW2 and organisational History Vol 1 (Tank Divisions) and Vol 7 (NZ & SA Army), David Hughes et al.

The Crucible of War 2: Auchinleck's Command, Barrie Pitt

German WW2 Organisational Series Vol 3/I, Leo Neihorster

History of the British 7th Armoured Division:

Iron Hearts Iron Hulls, Ian Walker

Panzer Truppen Vol 1, Tom Jentz

The Sidi Rezegh Battles 1941 JAI Agar-Hamilton & LCF Turner. There is an online version here: