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Desert Warfare

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The Desert is just as much of an enemy as the actual enemy.

So you have a Thirsty Desert. That in and of itself is already an inconvenience for anyone going through it, but for any soldiers trekking through one in the middle of a war, they now have an additional threat, in this case an enemy force that they must fight. But that isn't the end of their problems. Any warring faction now has to deal with shortages of water and fuel supply, two things that, when crossing through the desert, are a matter of life and death. On a positive note is that there are no civilians for miles on end, and that tanks are now given a free rein to advance straight through wherever they please. When there are civilians, expect a Hidden Elf Village near an oasis, or as later works depict, in major cities surrounded by desert.

Desert Warfare is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, a trope that involves fighting that takes place in a desert. In contrast to Jungle Warfare and Urban Warfare, where fighting takes place mostly in close-quarters, Desert Warfare is a new story altogether. In this kind of scenario, expect elite soldiers trained in fighting in the desert performing long range patrols, usually on specialized vehicles, but also on foot on certain occasions. These same soldiers also have to deal with constant supply issues in the absence of Easy Logistics, namely with ammunition, fuel, and most importantly, water. As mentioned above, tanks are now able to move freely and advance quickly, and this can usually end up with a massive tank battle taking place. Because of this, defending forces will usually set up Anti-Armor defenses such as anti-tank artillery or land mines, usually concealed with camouflage netting. In ancient settings, or settings that don't involve tanks, cavalry charges, usually on horse or camel, but occasionally on chariot, are also common.

Compare and contrast with the aforementioned Urban Warfare, Jungle Warfare, and Winter Warfare, where fighting takes place in cities, lush tropical rainforests and jungles, and in the snow, respectively. Interestingly, a lot of recent examples of Desert Warfare also overlap with the first one, especially if the work is set during The War On Terror.


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     Comic Books 
  • Nick Fury Peacemaker: Fury is captured by Germans in the African theater and released, getting rescued by British fighters with a guerilla approach to warfare. This influences Fury's later approach to special-ops warfare, though by the end of Fury: My War Gone By he realizes Elites Are More Glamorous was a very bad mindset that ignored the crucial necessity of having foot soldiers do most of the work.
  • Commando stories set in North Africa during World War II will often have desert fighting between British forces and Rommel's Afrika Korps as a staple.

  • Patton has the first part of the film set in North Africa, showing just how ideal the desert was for Rommel, and later, Patton himself, in pulling off tactics involving tanks.
  • Sahara (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart. It has all the tropes related to this and Thirsty Desert, with the main characters initially focusing on Crossing the Desert and looking for water. It later becomes this once the Germans start advancing towards the well that they hold.
  • The Desert Fox has the first third of the film set in North Africa, showing through Stock Footage the losing situation for the Axis forces in North Africa.

  • Discworld
    • Pyramids: When the kingdom of Djelibeybi (Ancient Egypt) is removed from time, the warring states of Tsort and Ephebia (equivalents to Troy and Ancient Greece) resume their war, which involves building giant wooden horses and waiting for the other side to drag them into their own city.
    • Small Gods has Vorbis (the unofficial leader of Omnia) plan his retaliatory counterattack against Ephebia before the actual attack (an Omnian speaker getting booed off stage, later retold as his getting murdered by the Ephebians) by having the army cross part of the desert and leave supply caches that the next group can use to cross the desert, taking the Ephebians by surprise.
    • Jingo has Ankh-Morpork at war with Klatch (the Middle-Eastern cultures counterpart). Being led by Ankh-Morpork's finest military minds, the army of course left without adequate supplies, water or siege equipment and is attacking the single strongest fortified point in Klatch. Only Carrot, Vimes and Vetinari's presence prevents a total slaughter by getting the D'regs to not attack everyone, arresting both armies and agreeing to surrender rights to an island that sinks a few days later respectively.

     Live-Action TV 
  • The 1960s show The Rat Patrol depicts the adventures of the title Allied combat team against the German Afrika Korps in the Libyan desert during World War Two.

     Video Games 

  • Medal of Honor
  • Call of Duty
    • Call of Duty 2 has about 2/3 of the British campaign set in North Africa. Needless to say, a lot of it involves Tank Goodness and Epic Tank-on-Tank Action, especially during the Libya portion.
    • Call of Duty 2: Big Red One covers Operation Torch and the Battle of Kasserine Pass.
    • Modern Warfare has this overlapped with Urban Warfare in the US Marine campaign of the first game. The second game, meanwhile has two levels set in Afghanistan.
  • Spec Ops: The Line is set in Dubai, and in this case overlaps with Urban Warfare.
  • Stronghold Crusader, set in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.
  • Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is, as the subtitle describes, set in the Great Banded Desert of Kharak, which takes up the vast majority of the planet's surface and is claiming more territory each year. The entire reason the Northern Coalition even mounts the expedition to the Jaraci Object (later revealed to be the first city on the planet and the remains of the transport ship that brought the Kushan people to Kharak) is because they hope the discovery will help boost the Coalition's space program and allow the Kharakians to flee the dying world. They are opposed by the fanatical Gaalsiens, who have used the technology from crashed ships to build a powerful force of advanced vehicles. Both sides are based around a land carrier, which acts similar to the Mothership in the original Homeworld.

     Real Life 
  • World War I has the Gallipoli campaign fought between the ANZAC forces and the Ottoman Empire.
  • Which leads to the Real Life situation where North Africa became the central focus of British involvement in World War II — for three years. Initially thought of as a quiet colonial backwater where major war was least likely to break out, British forces in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean were pared back to the minimum and it was lowest priority on the supply chain for just about everything. Thus, Mussolini's declaration of war on Britain meant approximately forty thousand British personnel were now threatened by up to four hundred thousand Italians. The series of battles that ensued — a Curb Stomp Battle against the Italians — saw British troops facing a largely beaten Italian army but unable to get much further largely because of the fearsome logistics of sustaining an army, with all it needed, in a desert. Even something as basic as water was fiercely rationed: at the height of the fighting, a British soldier in the desert was issued no more than three pints of water per day for all needs. Later on, when Rommel took over leadership on the Italian/German side, the Axis armies were similarly plagued with supply difficulties. The North African War was as much one of logistics as of combat and was only really resolved when Lend-Lease provided sufficient equipment for the British to gain overwhelming superiority, including in supply and replenishment systems, allowing the breakout from El Alamein and the landing of new British and American armies in Tunisia to overwhelm a struggling, under-resourced, Axis army, that by now was being cut off from its sources of supply in Italy.
  • From the Cold War, there's the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, which was essentially this trope combined with The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized.
  • The Gulf War is probably the most famous recent example, complete with Epic Tank-on-Tank Action and incredibly rapid advances.
  • The War On Terror, particularly if set in the deserts of Iraq.