Bolt Action Campaign Italy – Soft Underbelly

The Bolt Action campaign content about Italy was spread across two campaign books, Soft Underbelly, which we will cover today and Tough Gut, which will be available in the next months.

Bolt Action Campaign Italy - Soft Underbelly

Campaign Italy: Soft Underbelly was released in autumn 2022, accompanied with a first wave of updated miniatures (incl. plastics) for the Italian forces. The 176 pages cover the first major operation of the Western Allies, moving forward from North Africa towards South Europe / Italy, with Operation Husky via Sicily onto the Italian Peninsula towards Rome. As for the Mediterranean campaign, this is chronologically the book after The Western Desert.

Warlord Games recently raised the RRP of the campaign book from 20 GBP to 25 GBP, which is still reasonable as they kept the price stable for multiple years and increased the content by a lot . The book was written by Robert Vella, who already worked on Campaign book D-Day: Overlord.

The pre-order bonus miniature with this book is Enrico Francisci, who is also covered as a Legend of Bolt Action in this book. He left active military service in 1939 due to his age (he was 55 at that time), but was tasked with coordinating a counterattack against the Americans after they landed in Sicily in 1943, with almost 60.

Bolt Action Campaign Italy - Soft Underbelly

What is it about?

With the victories of the Western Allies in Northern Africa, and the combined defeats of the German Army in Africa and the Eastern Front, the Allies wanted to put more pressure on the Third Reich. With a focus on Europe First, they discussed their options at the ANFA Conference, in January 1943, to decide which actions would be the most succesful. While the British and Americans participated in the conference, the Soviet Union kept its focus on Stalingrad and didn't join the discussions.

There were already talks about a cross-channel invasion, from the British Islands towards Northern France, but a diversion, like an attack in Southern France, Italy or the Balkans would be needed to weaken the defensive line and spread out the enemy troops further. Among these options, Operation Husky, the airborne and naval invasion of Sicily, was favoured - for multiple reasons. Due to the position in Northern Africa, this would strengthen the logistics and supply in the Mediterranean and put more concentrated pressure on Italy, weaken the Berlin-Rome Axis and very likely knock Italy out of the war, isolate the Third Reich even further.

Soft Underbelly covers Operation Husky and its aftermath until Ortona in December 1943 and as such covers the participation of the allied forces of US Americans, British and Commonwealth troops, with German and Italian forces on the other side.

Bolt Action Campaign Italy - Soft Underbelly

First Impression

I was impressed by the amount of content Warlord Games and Osprey prepared for this part of the war. As for European theatres of war, usually D-Day is very present and for the battles in Southern Europe or Italy - from my personal point of view - the Battle of Monte Cassino / Operation Avenger is most present - which is not part of this book, but will be covered in the second volume Tough Guts. So, for that reason, I am thankful that they took the time and shed light on this part of the war, which is probably underrepresented in comparison with Africa, the Pacific and D-Day.

Beyond that, you receive a proper Bolt Action campaign supplement. The combined resources of Warlord and Osprey provide you with a lot of maps, artwork and scenic shots of miniatures in action. 13 scenarios (more details below), new units and theatre selectors, and a proper structure. For example, the Legends of Bolt Action once again have their own chapter and you don't need to search through the book to find them. Yet, as much as I value scenarios and see the purpose of theatre selectors for the thematic representation, I feel they went a bit overboard on the units. I understand the addition of Divisione Costiere Section, Guastatori Destruction Group etc., but the Germans alone have  18 new units with things like Fallschirmjäger in Italy 1943, Ortona, Sicily and Salerno. And oddly enough, the Italians - who should be the focus of this book are the ones with the fewests number of new units compared to Germans, British and US Americans. Germans get a lot of Fallschirmjäger and Hermann Göring Division units, the British have Guards, Commonwealth Special Forces, Popski's Private Army and (Royal Marine) Commandos, and similar heavy on the special forces are the Americans with First Special Service Force / Devil's Brigade, Darby's Rangers and the 82nd Airborne. All of them "among others". There are a few generic new units, but no new ones with the chaplain, naval forward observer, intelligence officer, mule teams and horse-drawn limber. But that's actually a decent move by Warlord, not forcing you to buy another book to cover a few lines of rules, but just making space for them.

And of course, you need army lists / theatre selectors for this flood of new units. These make proper sense, as you have scenarios and want to cover their special circumstances (and this is something that I have far more understanding for than the lot of new units). The Italian Gruppo Mobili Carri Reinforced Platoon, Divisione Costiera, Fucilieri, Gruppo Tattico and X Reggimente Arditi are available for southern Italy and Sicily, covering a broad variety of military branches. As for the Germans, have a lot of different Reinforced Panzergrenadier Platoons, the various Hermann Göring divisions, and special Kampfgruppen like Kampfgruppe Ost and West Hermann Göring, Kampfgruppe Ulich, Stempel and von Doering - again among others. The British do not only receive the various theatre selectors but extended national characteristics for Canadian, Indian, Irish, Scottish and New Zealand forces, a lot ... a lot of different theatre selectors, Airborne, Special Raiding, Commandos, some of the Commonwealth troops, and the No. 1 Demolition Squadron (Popski's Private Army). The Americans have their Infantry and Airborne choices, and of course their special units X Force / Darby's Rangers Reinforced Platoon and FSSF Reinforced Platoon.

All these units and selectors have a few named characters - once again put into a single chapter, easier to navigate and find. Major General Enrico Francisci (Italian), Sub-Ltn. Angiolino Navari (Italian), Oberst Bernd von Doering (German), Hauptmann Heinz Meyer (German), Hauptmann Heinz Paul Adolff (German), Oberst Wilhelm Schmaltz (German), Major Robert 'Paddy' Mayne (British), Major John 'Jock' Anderson, VC (British), 2nd Ltn. Edward Clapham (British), Major Paul Triquet, VC (British), Col James 'Jumpin Jim' Gavin (USA), Col William 'El Darbo' Darby (USA), Lt General George S. Patton Jr. (USA) and Col Robert T Frederick (USA).

Similar to the new generic units, the new rules are mostly repurposed or reintroduced from other books, like demo charges, bangalores, multinational forces (we've seen those across the Axis and Allies) and ad hoc units.

The book covers the fighting of 1943 in a total number of 13 Scenarios spread across 4 chapters

  • Scenario 1: Biazza Ridge (Operation Husky)
  • Scenario 2: Storming the Pig’s Snout (Operation Husky)
  • Scenario 3: In the Streets of Gela (Operation Husky)
  • Scenario 4: Primosole Bridge (Operation Husky)
  • Scenario 5: Escape from Troina (The Race for Messina)
  • Scenario 6: Delay the Enemy (The Invasion of Italy)
  • Scenario 7: Tanks on the Beach! (The Invasion of Italy)
  • Scenario 8: Montecorvino Airfield (The Invasion of Italy)
  • Scenario 9: Standoff at the Calore (The Invasion of Italy)
  • Scenario 10: Termoli (The Winter Line)
  • Scenario 11: Mozzagrogna (The Winter Line)
  • Scenario 12: Monte La Diffensa (The Winter Line)
  • Scenario 13: Ortona (The Winter Line)

How does Italy - Soft Underbelly play?

This book covers a strong narrative. The scenarios cover that in a proper way, incl. asymmetrical forces and in some cases - for example with Primosole Bridge - just appeal to play with multiple players on both sides. Overall, a very mixed series of scenarios. You have setups, where you want to claim objectives and be quick within a city (or its ruins) and might prefer multiple smaller infantry units, especially with some of the smaller points limits of the split forces. This also limits the use of vehicles in many scenarios rather strictly. But overall, with the progress of the Allies pushing into the Soft Underbelly, the supply gets improved, the gear gets heavier and the enemies have to move heavier equipment towards the Mediterranean as well. But all limited to the options of the production during the middle of the war. This will peak further when we see the second book of this campaign.

All in all, very diverse gaming experience. A huge bonus.

Bolt Action Campaign Italy - Soft Underbelly

What's next?

Soft Underbelly focusses on Operation Husky and its aftermath until Ortona - but the campaign obviously continues after that and that part is covered in the next campaign supplement, Italy: Tough Gut. The Allies push further up north through Italy and encounter heavy resistance. And this is where the names of these supplements come up again. The 'soft underbelly' of Europe proved to be false, instead it was a 'tough gut'. Therefore, we will pick up the narrative again in 1944 with the battles at Gustav Line move from there towards the Gothic Line in 1945, without missing to cover Anzio and Monte Cassino. Further progress to end to the war and liberate Italy.

And there are still rumours for a skirmish Bolt Action supplement, called Raiders. Originally scheduled for the end of 2021 but then postponed - and postponed again to 2024/25. It's about commando or smaller military operations, like sabotaging hydroelectric plants in Norway and assassination attempts against Rommel in North Africa, to the defence of Pavlov's House at Stalingrad and covert landings in the Pacific and Normandy. It will be based on the classic Bolt Action system, but go more into detail, providing everything needed to recreate these critical operations. As such the book is said to cover scenarios, rules for both special forces and regular troops, and a new campaign system that adds a narrative element to games.

Bolt Action Campaign Italy - Tough Gut


If you're playing an Italian army, this and the next supplement is obviously a must have (well, there is not much beyond that, where they saw action beside the North African campaign). But it is an interesting addition for a club or group of gamers with armies for the European theatres of war but want to cover something different than France / North Western Europe.

The scenarios are entertaining and mixed, especially with the multinational forces and combined platoons, they are great for multiplayer games from my point of view. On top of that, with the landscape you should be able to use a lot of the terrain you already have for Bolt Action, if it is not just Africa or the Pacific, so this creates a very low entry barrier. With the addition of choosing a themed Italian army for your next project (or side board addition of your existing projects) instead of the more "popular" and repetitive choices.

Quality of the book is overall pretty convincing. Proper layout, nice design, here and there a few typos or mistranslations and from a gamer point of view, the only thing that I actually had a problem with was the flood of new units, as I see the risk of slowing the game down or cluttering the games rather lean framework with too many things to keep track with.

You will find something in Osprey books (CAM 251 - Sicily 1943, CAM 257 - Salerno 1943 and CAM 395 - The Winter Campaign in Italy), this supplement alone has a bibliography of one and a half pages of small print covering books that they used as sources.

Bolt Action is a brand of Warlord Games.

The reviewed product item was provided by the manufacturer.

Posted by Dennis B.

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