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Archive for the ‘Operational Games’ Category

Warsaw 1920 01

Warsaw 1920 was a higher level multiplayer wargame of the defence of Poland’s capital.    It included Operational Level command (Bob and John with maps and messages downstairs) and tactical resolution (6 players with toy soldiers on a big table upstairs) …

Ian Drury and Richard Brooks umpired and were kept busy all day.

I took the role of Franciszek Latinik in command of Polish 1st Army, tasked with holding Warsaw and somehow tying the Russians down on the Narew/Bug line so that Nigel (as Sikorsky/5th Army) could counter attack round their Western flank.

My Eastern flank was secured by Alex (Roja/2nd Army).

Warsaw 1920 03(The Horror!   Somewhere out there lay Tukhachevsky’s ferocious Red Legions – and I had just a strung out line to stop them)

The game started with map moves on a pin board in headquarters until active umpiring identified that formations were hitting contact ranges – and then, one by one, we were called up to the tactical level and started putting toys out.

Warsaw 1920 02(here is the map to table interface … most of my units/flags are in Warsaw – the Western sector was very thinly held)

The line of the Narew/Bug could only be crossed by marked bridges or in the BUA squares – and although most of the Russians threatening the sector were the other side of the line, there was a weak point that I had to keep control of, stretching me forward.

These three bridges were key in stemming the flow across the Narew (as although there are plenty of the lighter blue rivers, they are not going to hold the enemy up).

Warsaw 1920 04(you can see how Warsaw is defended to the north by the Narew and Bug rivers … the game map shows how this requires me to hold the three bridges – and the gap between my flags which shows that I don’t )

Once the game goes tactical, it is very hard to plug these command gaps and I never did manage to concentrate the troops defending my sector.

Indeed, the movements that called me to the table were precisely against this sector, as occasional over flights confirm … 1st Army is in a lot of trouble.

Warsaw 1920 05(contact!: 4 figures represent a typical brigade)

My game quickly degenerated into a dogfight for this sector with a seemingly endless flood of Russians.

Two things saved me … the action in the game is card driven and the Russians stall on some cards (although I couldn’t stop them, ‘friction’ could)  … and there was no threat directly from the North (so as Roja’s North Eastern defence collapsed back into the City’s entrenchments, it freed me to feed my reserve units in North West of the City to bottle the enemy up on his bridgeheads).  Nice one, Alex!

Warsaw 1920 06(the blast markers show where the Russians have burst through the centre of my sector defence – but you can see a line of 3 brigades who have come out of Warsaw trying to drive them back to the bridges)

This is pretty much how the game ended … we had planned another day’s action (in which an Eastern counter attack would match our Western encirclement, so trapping Tukhachevsy’s armies) but the pace at which we completed the 2 hr turns was never quite brisk enough to take us to the final day.

We played enough to decide the the Poles had held Warsaw but not enough to see if our plan to win the Vistula campaign would be decisive.

Warsaw 1920 07(some more general shots of the toys on the table 15mm, mostly Peter Pig … the plane is a 1/144 from Shapeways)

Warsaw 1920 08(2nd Army falls back into Warsaw drawing the Russians into our trap and relieving 1st army’s reserves so they could be feed into the Western sector)

I think, as a muliplayer game bridging the Operational to Tactical divide, this game would have worked perfectly had we all been familiar enough to churn through the turns quick enough – as it was, some players (me included) needed a little too much Umpire engagement and so we were left just short of a conclusion when we needed to debrief.

But it was clear enough what would have been achieved had we been as adept at the beginning as we were at the end (isn’t that so often the case …?) ..

Nevertheless, this game ticked a lot of boxes and I appreciate all the work that went into staging it.

As a biographical note, Latinik was one of the few survivors from this war, most of the officers on both sides falling to the grim policies of either Stalin or Hitler.   RIP.   I hope we honour them by remembering their part in the history of their countries.

Warsaw 1920 09(Polish 1st Army counter attacks in the River Narew sector)

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One of the key options in preparing for an operation is to use artillery to suppress the enemy’s artillery.  Not easy for the Germans on the Eastern Front as their guns were generally outranged by the equivalent Soviet equipment … Giving them that option was a key function of the 17cm Kanone 18 and the similar 21cm Morser 18.

17cm k18 build 06

Despite the gun’s widespread use and iconic looks, I’ve never found a 15mm model (I guess because most 15mm models are dedicated to tactical wargaming at ranges that are below Counter Battery ranges …) …

So I added one by scratchbuilding around a 17 Cm barrel that comes as an option with BF’s sFH 18.  See the modelling page for some of the nuts and bolts of the build.    Finishing will find this model superdetailed, towed and crewed (and that will be ‘Part Two‘).

For counter-battery fire in Operational wargames like NQM or Megablitz I would apply the simple expedient of reducing the dice rolled by the enemy battery by the score on a die per supressing battery.   This will best achieve the suppressive effect (reducing the incoming damage on the troops the counter-battery fire is intending to protect, rather than inflicting damage on the supporting artillery itself which would all be too late for the troops under fire) …

17cm k18 build 05

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Being the next evolution of Chris Kemp’s NQM … in which lots of toys are pumped into an area deemed by both sides to be of critical importance …

Kharkov 42 05

This was the first of a two part game, so here a some photos to add to what Chris and Treb have said … Map here, Orbats here

I was given notional control of the Axis commanders (though not much around which to construct a plan and, as a consequence we started in a fairly passive mode waiting for what seemed like an endless sea of Russians to bring the battle to us).  Once the attacks began, we moved forward to defend lines ahead of our key centres …

Kharkov 42 02a

That huge pocket of Russians behind Kharkov began a series of pinning attacks on the Hungarian army before hordes of infantry poured out of the Stalino sector, simultaneously with a mechanised assault on Kharkov.

We had to commit many of our reserves to stabilise the front …

Kharkov 42 01(Kharkov: the Red Army attacks the Hungarian sector)

Kharkov 42 04(Breakthrough Artillery at the disposal of the Soviet Reserve)

Kharkov 42 06(Dogfights harass the roving VVS – more numerous than during the previous Summer)

Charkow, Strassenkämpfe(Fierce action in the streets of Kharkov)

Kharkov 42 03(A Stuka dives in to support the defenders of the beleaguered city)

To be continued …

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New Year accessions 01

Happy New Year to regulars and followers … Welcome to newcomers …

I’m sorry there hasn’t been much on P.B.Eye-Candy over Christmas and New Year: I try to reserve the ‘break’ for go somewhere projects – I find, during the rest of the year, with its events, shopping and shows, I tend to focus on the dominant public project whilst only nibbling at other bits and pieces and/or maintaining my commitment to paint and put into service any new stuff I buy.

So, for a magical couple of weeks, I like to pick something that never gets done or has stayed not done for too long, and really tick a box.

This year I managed to shift a number of ancients flats from to do to ticked by configuring them into a ‘displays options’ project (more of which on my FoG Blog ), in addition to which I have cleared up the last remaining German half tracks.

These were originally acquired as Headquarters assets available to send forward to support my PBI Company … so represent various Panzer Division vehicles that might come into play, and come in pairs to suit PBI …

The Rocket Troops had never been built (see below), only one of the Flammpanzerwagens, and neither they nor the Flakvierlings had their basing done properly.    So the Stukas have been done, and the others tidied up.   That leaves nothing outstanding from the original project, and some useful and attractive vehicles allocated to new tasks.  Tick!

New Year accessions 07

New Year accessions 08

New Year accessions 09

In addition to which I have done a Half track ambulance for the unnamed project … I get two ticks for that one as it is one of the delightful little Zvezda models and is a proper NQM reorganisation model all in one.  I have wanted to fit a Zvezda Hanomag in somewhere, but given I still had metal ones to paint (til now) it wasn’t immediately clear where I should go … but searching Medical assets proved fruitful …

New Year accessions 02(Sdkfz 251/8 armoured ambulance – from the Zvezda 1/100 model)

It’s a really nice model to which I have added a canvas made from a piece of plastic bottle which I have covered with tissue to represent fabric (as usual).   The red Cross symbols are hand painted of course (so apologies for that, I need to go back and tidy them up or get some decals I guess – but until the scrutiny of a digital camera they looked OK ;) )

New Year accessions 03

For my on going Operational Games project, I intend  that players will either need – or do better with – reorg/recover facilities in the field … for troops, that means medical facilities or similar, for vehicles that means a repair stand or similar.  I think I may have mentioned that when I introduced 22 PZ’s recovery tractor …

What I did to the Zvezda that wasn’t at all necessary is I swapped the running gear with a Quality Castings model that was waiting to have its rockets attached.    This I did just as a fiddler, and to harmonise the models: the Zvezda is just a littler bit big, and the QC just a little bit small.   Also it adds a little plastic to the metal model and a little metal to the plastic (which I though might make the ‘feel’ similar*)

New Year accessions 04(1/100 SDKFZ 251: QC with Zvezda tracks, left, Zvezda with QC tracks, right)

It was not quite as clever an idea as I thought, as it mean extending the mudguards on the QC vehicle (and now I’ve mentioned it, I suspect you can see what might otherwise count as a gap on the Zvezda) …

That said, it does make it harder to spot the different makes in a line up and I think the QC with Zvezda tracks is probably my favourite 251 of all of the (BF, Skytrex, Piggie, whatever) …

In all, I am particularly pleased with the Stuka Half tracks …

New Year accessions 05(Sdkfz 251/Wurfrahmen 40 – left: Quality Castings mount; right: Skytrex … the rocket equipment is all Skytrex and the crews a mix of Skytrex, BF and Peter Pig)

The 251 Wurfrahmen 40, or Stuka zu Fuss, was available to Panzer Pioneer support companies and could rapidly saturate an area in High Explosive if your first responders got into trouble …

These vehicles took ages.   Although I swapped the vehicles around abit, the gear is all Skytrex and I chose it because it looked sharper and less clumsy than some of the alternatives.   Now they’re done, it was perhaps a good idea.   The disadvantages were …

It is very fiddly: each mount has a fixing and a rocket pack (so 6 + 6 per vehicle) … and like all metal kit, the fit is only ‘so so’.

As ever, there are bits I want to fiddle with – e.g. the Skytrex gear lacks the front and rear cross pieces (added from brass wire – the front one is not straight, so involves a bit of fabrication) … the mounting brackets have spaces in them which are not open in the miniature versions (so would need drilling and filing).  OK – simple enough – but (sigh!) repeat 12 times

After that, paint.   This also takes much much longer … it is just a green bomb in a wooden box … but, again, repeat 12 times**.

So I a so pleased to have finally stopped putting the project off, done it properly and finished!

New Year accessions 06(OK – I did have to go back and repaint the base of all the rocket packs when I saw what they really looked like)

Russland, schwerer Wurfrahmen an Schützenpanzer

(It is ironic that you only seem to find pictures like this when you think you have finished!)

On balance I think the Peter Pig models (which have all the rocket gear cast on) have a lot to be said for them.  Less fine and less adaptable but, trust me, the self assembly versions are quite a lot of work, I have seen plenty that look more than a little (shall we say) wonky, and all those joints are only an accident away from disaster …

Fiddly?  I feel some horse-drawn transport coming on …

*in retrospect I might have added the rockets to the Zvezda model and used the QC for the ambulance: the ambulance is still a bit of a lightweight – I didn’t fill it with plasticine as I thought the weight of the tracks might help (wrong) – whereas the metal vehicles with all that gear bolted on a really hefty beasts!

**each box has 3 visible sides, of course … so even though painting the green bomb is only a dash of paint plus a dash of highlight, that is the repeat 36 times ….

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A Battle Lost 10

2 Operational Level wargames within a fortnight sandwiched my trip to the Plassenburg.    NQM is the original ‘event led’ Op Game designed by the Doormouse years ago (even I have been part of the playing group for 20 years, now!).   Megablitz is a more codified game inspired by the NQM project.    When NQM stepped down to 15mm for space reasons a decade ago, much of the 20mm collection went into the Megablitz stables (so even some of toys are the same).

Fall Gabel 04a(Fall Gabel: 4th PD – my 22 PD toys – getting obliterated by a Corps level artillery barrage or unprecedented ferocity)

The two games couldn’t have been more different.   Fall Gabel (NQM) was played amongst a small group on a single evening just on one table; A Battle Lost? (Megablitz) was played all day on six tables with around twenty players.

In Fall Gabel we were channelled straight into the combat zones so spent just about the whole game running higher level combats; in A Battle Lost? the French were determined to dig in, while the Panzer Corps (at least) were given strict orders to by-pass enemy units and not to fight any battles (so the game was mostly a traffic game).

A Battle Lost 04a(A Battle Lost?: Panzer columns navigate around and between French positions)

Fall Gabel 06(Fall Gabel: the Gross Deutschland Motorised Division gets stuck in – my Germans, Chris’s Russians, Treb’s buildings)

Neither game featured any player engagement with the logistics rules.   Which, originally, was what these Operational Level games were about.   What made them interesting.

Air power is another important part of these operations but was Umpire controlled in both games … in A Battle Lost? this combined with an ‘all in one basket’ policy imposed by high command to mean the Luftwaffe played little part in the conquest of France.

A Battle Lost 02(A Battle Lost? Opening Phases … the Luftwaffe take off successfully – one of their better moments)

Here are some more pictures:

A Battle Lost 01(A Battle Lost?: some of Rommel’s recce units – on strict orders from Gen. Guderian – me – to get to the beaches first)

A Battle Lost 04(A Battle Lost?: the BEF about to cop it)

A Battle Lost 05(A Battle Lost?: Cambrai about to cop it)

Fall Gabel 08(Fall Gabel: 4th Panzer advancing confidently into the battlespace)

Fall Gabel 07(Fall Gabel: the remnants of the Division reorganise a safe distance back from the smoking wrecks of its combat units)

Fall Gabel 05(Fall Gabel: nightfall – the tattered Red Army are driven out of all their positions into a confused cauldron around the rail head; Gross Deutschland poised, brimming with confidence, before the morning’s assault)

In truth, blend the two games together, add back the missing logistics and air liaison – and give all the players enough to do … and you would have the perfect wargame.   At the moment the Operational Game seems to have settled into a formula which everyone enjoys (me included) but which runs as much because of the fudges and bits left out as it does because of the rules which are played and work.

A Battle Lost 07(A Battle Lost?: by Day Three my Corps had worked its way to the front and Rommel was headed for the coast)

The games are very well organised and the lunch at Shrivenham was first rate.

My thanks all round.

I played Germans in both games.  In Fall Gabel I commanded 4PD which bounced off, but which had softened the position sufficiently that we took it in the afternoon, and I commanded Gross Deutschland which methodically destroyed everything in front of it.  Unfortunately we were at the end of our (unplayed) logistic chain, so the thrust was doomed to fail.

In A Battle Lost? I played Fast Heinz whose XIX Corps of three Panzer Divisions was allocated a 2nd echelon birth with orders to break through to the coast.

Despite all the traffic trouble, the infantry getting in the way, and lack of allocated road priorities, by Day Two we were threading our way through.   We took 3 or 4 small towns, the main Front airfield, cut off a full enemy Division and were first to the Sea with 2 of our 3 Panzer Divisions (Rommel up front); indeed, at the airfield we were just minutes behind the departure of the French C-in-C!   Job done I guess.

A Battle Lost 08(A Battle Lost?: XIX Corps securing the Albert air facilities just as the lumbering Bloch extracts the French High Command)

I took personal command of the Albert (airfield) exploitation phase so as to free Rommel up for the race to the coast.    Had the Luftwaffe been properly about its business it would have forced the still visible Bloch transport down, enabling us to capture the top brass.   As it was, they ignored air identification flags and flares, ignored the priority messages sent 2 hours earlier concerning the capture of the assets, and instead shot up the German Staff detachments and wrecked the captured planes.   Thanks guys.

Not to worry, of course, it is the kind of hokum Umpires enjoy throwing into games but which doesn’t really happen: my father’s cousin won his DFC in this campaign and always insisted it was easy enough to tell the French from the Germans from a plane in 1940!

Operational games are like proverbial buses (unusually I used a real one recently) … you wait for too long then several come at once.   I am pleased to have been able to join in.

NQM vs Megablitz

NQM has too many stands (you don’t need so many stands at battalion level if they are all going to do the same thing) … Megablitz is better in using company stands for recce (who disperse at that level) but battalion and similar stands for other troops.*   I prefer scaling by relevance, so might compromise by allowing 2 stands to a full strength battalion so I can show a difference between transit and combat moves.

I do like NQM giving different values in attack and defence compared with Megablitz Strength Points – I like the way artillery can be strong supporting an attack but relatively weak if caught unprotected**.

I like Megablitz‘s codified movement concepts but still have a soft spot for NQM‘s variable (event led) length bounds.   One day that sort of system will be harmonised into a working game mechanism that requires less umpire fudge than tradition has allowed.

Megablitz has a very efficient orders/posture system that reduces confusion.   NQM is more ‘old school’ (and free-wheeling) …

Both games are great value and should be played more.

*******

*NQM gives an infantry battalion up to 6 stands, varying strength by the number of stands present.  Megablitz uses one stand per battalion, varying the strength by varying how many strength points the stand can contribute (and absorb) in combat.   Megablitz feels less cluttered as a consequence.

** NQM rates a stand Heavy, Medium or Light for its firepower and similarly H,M,L for its target value.  It means that, say, a Katyusha unit e.g. can be H in its hitting power but only L when taking incoming hits.   Megablitz uses the same SPs for hitting and taking hits (so tough units are equally tough in attack and defence): this is a very useful and quite justified simplification which does the job relatively well – I just prefer the more subtle detail the NQM mechanism allows.

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With the Society of Ancients BattleDay and Salute coming in quick succession in this busy Spring, I have had a lot of photo reports to edit.  Although that has slowed down my blogging, it has not stopped the wargaming.    Quite the opposite.

Luckily, locally and at events, in March and April we have played ancients (really, Ancient, Dark Age and Medieval – Armati, DBA and FoG), Marlburian, ACW, RCW, SCW, WWII (PBI and NQM) and Post War (AK47) … to add to the Civil Wars, I have ECW games I am putting on at Naseby and COW (so those toys are also currently out ...) … and Treb is setting up a Science vs Pluck game for the Bank Holiday!

NQM Gazala 1 07(Gazala … great battles in the desert with everyone bundling in)

The Gazala series was great fun, and very thought provoking.   In the desert, Chris Kemp’s free-rolling system was a bit lost – without roads and towns creating a network of distances and locations, it was much harder both for players and the Umpire to keep track of what was where (and when) and which formations could cooperate and combine.   The game needed a clock and a more rigorous ground scale, and confirmed my previous thoughts on using squares to manage the real estate issues.

Although this would potentially give the players more control, it would be a more authentic operational ‘quasi map-based’ control, and it would take lot of pressure off the Umpire.   Otherwise, I think the game demonstrated that what are now quite venerable mechanisms stand up well: the recce rolls, table XII shooting and risk-style close combat all did their jobs well enough.

NQM Gazala 1 08(Free French stubbornly defend the perimeter at Bir Hacheim)

Of course, NQM has always been an event-led system with a certain variability to the bounds … but I think there are ways in which a stricter spatial structure would actually help that more  fluid game turn.   I think squares can also help clarify supply avenues and associated problems.

It is all too easy to allow operational games to degenerate into vast bun fights at the critical point.  Sometimes that would be historically appropriate, but not always.    More anon.

RCW Mar 01a(RCW: White Cavalry pile through a gap between woods and villages in a rush to outflank the Red Army)

We had slipped in another game of Treb’s Return to the River Don … a control heavy game with lots of markers (but fewer than the Perfect Captain, so that’s a relief!),  but a well-honed command system that really has a period flavour.   A game took us two sessions to play, but that is hard to avoid if you want to use a lot of toys and have an alternating activation method (rather than everyone moving simultaneously).

I would like to see this game go to the next stage of evolution.

Meanwhile, on the Home Front, I rejigged the snowy landscape for more PBI.

Snow battle II 02

Richard was bringing up his Easy Company paras, so I replaced the Russian buildings with blown apart European ones (a half-way house to our ‘outskirts of Bastogne’ project).

Ironically, Richard had driven up with all the other toys we needed for a feast of wargaming but left his Band of Brothers behind.   So we kept the new set up, but dropped some veteran Russian paras into it …

Snow battle II 06(Red Army paras: PP figures with some of the heads swapped for tanker helmets which have been trimmed down to flying caps)

I was pleased to oblige as the Soviet paras have been around for while but had yet to be blooded on the table.   I had expected them to be sent up the line in an operational game as emergency blocking troops – but battle is battle,  and tactical combat seemed to suit them fine (rated veteran for the game they were nothing if not stubborn!).

This was a great game also notable for the cork building shells I made up a while back but had not finished.  I thought they might work for this so gave them a very loose spray with grey and while paints, and some snow flock.

Snow battle II 03

You can see it was a rush job, but somehow the abstract look worked very well – I’m never sure if that sort of effect really works in photos.   Cork is a very inexpensive and easy material to work with and is a good alternative to foamcore for some jobs.

Anyway, I drove my Aufklarungstruppen up the road, allowing myself to run into the enemy outposts … then swung support platoons out to the flank, but also tried to force my way up the road …

Snow battle II 04(figures by Peter Pig … Kubelwagen by QRF, truck by Battlefront)

Mimicking the Americans they were standing in for, these Russians were festooned with anti-tank guns and captured Panzerschrecks, and they had been deployed to cover all the approaches.

Snow battle II 05(not a good day on which to drive up in your vehicles)

This is a very heavily armed German unit (MG42s, Sturmgewehrs, SMGs, the lot …), and they are used to being able to blast their way through blockages (as their historical prototypes were expected to do) – but not on this occasion.

Stubborn infantry in buildings or dug in anti tank guns meant I could make no progress anywhere.   And my plan to seize the key positions from which I could converge my fields of fire got nowhere.   So I needed to get lucky.

Snow town 03(a Peter Pig 45mm AT gun tucked away inside one of my cork ruins …)

That didn’t happen, and we chalked up a resounding win to the Americans … err – Russians …  Last time we tried a similar game, Richard was less canny with his use of the terrain, and I was luckier with my firepower.  It wasn’t a very long battle – so turning it round by shrewder deployments was quite a satisfying outcome.   Good on PBI.

And I was very pleased with the new additions to the winter layout – I am inspired to go back and do some tidying up!

Snow town 04

And almost as suddenly, we were playing AK47 again.

The idea came up an we all said yes … there is a second game I will report shortly but here is a taste from our ‘get your toys out’ refresher game (in which we got ourselves back into the swing of the rules)

AK Apr 01(A fine African landscape in Treb’s shedquarters … I have left bodies everywhere, but have parked an armoured car on the main objective)

AK Apr 02(PP figures … a Professional unit with Humvee have dashed to take control of a terrain template …)

AK Apr 03(the kind of resource without which no AK army is ever complete) …

We will return to all of this soon.   We do indeed live in exciting times!

archive red para drop

French North Africa

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Alpha and Omega …

In the midst of all this we’ve had a crack at another couple of WW2 games … what you might call the alpha and omega of the WW2 table top game – PBI and NQM … both very good games, but trying to do different things ..

Feb Far East 01

PBI puts you in command of a Company (though usually not all of it) …

NQM Gazala 1 01

NQM puts you in charge of a corps or an army (generally) …

The PBI game took us to Burma and Treb’s Japanese/XIV Army match up … and some trial jungle warfare tweaks.   Here’s an extract from my club report … (I took the Japanese)

Graham’s jungle tweak was only to cost 1AP to move from connecting closed to closed (and likewise on the cost of motivation from the commander) … with the 2AP hitting when you break cover.   It needs more moulding (especially on how much for armour) but actually worked quite well ..   

Feb Far East 03

I managed to box the Brits in by pushing lots of bodies into a front line which  kept my hands on all the objectives … passing 2 break tests with a raw platoon (and an earlier one with an average platoon) … and as I had also managed to blow up a Grant by having lunatics jump all over it, I suspect the maths might have given the Japanese a win.

Final Positions

Final Positions

(the XIV army company is held in the north east corner defined by the river – but the Japs hold the buildings and the jungle between the two Grants)

Not only were the Japs finishing the game all present despite break test threshold casualties (some of which had been tidied up, of course*), my reinforcement platoon had raced up to the front line with its officer in front waving a ceremonial sword … a ceremonial sword which proved no protection at all against machinegun fire …

So a small CC on a can’t advance morale fail, 2 platoons with heavy losses, a fresh one without a commander … and a gun platoon whose weapons were less use against a Grant than a brave man with a satchel full of grenades! Yes, a natural game ending roll would have been about right.

General in distress ...

General in distress …

(in that ball of smoke is the Grant that the Japanese ‘grenade and satchel bomb’ team have just ruined …) …

The XIV would have easily walked into the positions had I failed the above break tests. The Banzai rule wasn’t used (it would have needed looking up and anyway, I recall thinking it was a bit ‘comic book’) …

A very absorbing game and much content to think about ..

Gazala/Bir Hakeim

This game was really the pre-amble … our session included a lot of set up plus some of the early moves and assaults.   The meat of this battle awaits us and will doubtless be the subject of posts to come …

Out of visible range, Panzer columns by-pass the French at Bir Hakeim

Out of visible range, Panzer columns by-pass the French at Bir Hakeim

But … the story so far … A strong force of Free French were dug in at Bir Hakeim, and the Axis lead echelon decided to by-pass them, out-flanking the position ( (an Italian division bumping into a much less well defended area held by the 3rd Indian Mot brigade ..).

The Italian attack on 3rd Indian Mot.

The Italian attack on 3rd Indian Mot.

The Indians fought with their usual tenacity but simply did not have the numbers required to hold their position against the Italian Trieste division.

Meanwhile, the Ariete diverted north of the French position and smashed into the Northumbrians … again, here, dug into a fully prepared position.  Despite some successes, it was not carried in the first phases.

21 PD arrive on 4Tk's flank

21 PD arrive on 4th Armoured’s flank

By this stage, the 4th Armoured Brigade had spotted the main force (15th and 21st Panzer divisions) and decided that an old fashioned cavalry charge on 15th was the required preemptive medicine.   It was able to drive through the Germans doing much more damage than expected before 21st was able to join in on its flank.

21 PD follow up through the wrecks of 15 PD's armour

21 PD follow up through the wrecks of 15 PD’s armour

This was essentially buying time, of course, and at cost – however, the Panzer columns were burning both their armour and their fuel in these chaotic actions, and what little of it that could be understood in the allied headquarters was broadly met with approval.

NQM Gazala 1 05

(The swirling armoured battle late on day one of the Gazala offensive)

How much influence these events have on the outcome of the operation will only reveal itself as subsequent actions unfold.

More on the first game: NQM BlogWargaming for Grown-Ups

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A-40 00Oleg Antonov’s A-40 ‘flying tank’

Following up on the taster glimpse, here is more on the flying tank.

The Red Army was, of course, some way ahead of its contemporaries in the development and use of advanced weapons (rockets, heavy tanks, cluster bombs, automatic weapons etc.) – and pioneered the use or airborne forces.

One of the challenges to which it sought an early solution was getting armoured support quickly up to stiffen the paratroopers, Antonov was directed to design a glider for landing light tanks.   Perhaps inspired by Christie’s Wellsian ‘flying tank’ fantasies (Christie’s tank, could, of course, do anything ...) .. Antonov looked at making the tank itself into the glider, adding detachable wings and tail-gear.

A-40

The resulting A-40 prototype – correctly a ‘gliding tank’ – was tested with mixed results in September 1942*.   The tank did actually glide, and landed safely in a nearby field.    The driver/pilot detached the wings, and successfully drove back to the airfield under its own power.

The project was dropped, less because it wouldn’t work (in a limited way, it did), but because there were no aircraft then available that were powerful enough to tow it.

I’m not sure I will add this project to the modelling page as the key component is that I had some suitable wings left after converting some biplanes.   And this project is one of those … ‘first find yourself some suitable wings’.    The rest is pretty straightforward modelling craft: I made the booms out of Costa coffee stirring sticks, and any control surfaces that needed customising out of card.

A-40 03Soviet A-40 Krylya Tanka (a wings conversion carrying a Battlefront/Skytrex T-60)

I cemented a magnabase tab on the underside to mate with a steel sheet clip on the wing frame (the booms of which locate above the tracks on the side of the hull as in the original).   This clip was repeated on a suitable base so that the tank model could be used for wargames**.   Like the original, therefore, the model can have its wings detached to convert into a tank for the battlefield.

A-40 01a(a fully convertible wargames model)

Armoured support for Soviet paratroops

Aside from the obvious issues (the weight of tanks anyway, and making a tankie a glider pilot), the A-40’s problem was, of course, drag.  The solution for most armies would be to put the tank in an aerodynamic pod, and the wings on the pod (OK – of course … make a glider big enough, and put the tank inside the glider).

The Red Army/VVS had already developed a system to sling light tanks under the belly of the big TB-3 bomber/transports, and also successfully pioneered low speed free drops (again crude versions of modern approaches).    And in the Great Patriotic War, these would be be the preferred solutions.    

Due to the lack of sufficient transports generally, Soviet paratroops were only occasionally (and seldomly successfully) air dropped.   More often, the were used as rapid deployment infantry – flown in to trouble spots in Li-2 and TB transports, what light tanks they had carried with them.   Heavier  units would be coordinated separately

A-40 06a

(A-40/T-60 air mobile tank with paratroopers: BF/Skytrex adapted vehicle with PP ‘headswap’ figures***)

Wargaming the flying tank:

There is, of course, no evidence for anything other than the single trial flight.   From a historical perspective, the flying tank is a notation of air mobile light armour more than a suggestion of real usage.

For Operational level games, you need no extra rules … what ever allows your paratroops to deploy can allow them to deploy with a detachment of tanks.

For tactical games, the first approach is obviously to assume that the vehicles have been landed off table and drive on.

A-40 01

(towed by a Pe-2 bomber, the flying tank is hauled into the air – I believe this actually burned out the engines!)

If you want to try a PBI ‘what if‘, here is how I would employ the A-40 …

The tank glides onto the table as a reinforcement.    Dice for deviation as normal.    In the Soviet turn … dice for the square (6= the tank lands safely; 5= the tank lands safely in the next square; 3= the tanks moves a square forward; 2= the tank takes minor damage and moves forward one square; 1= the tank is destroyed):  just keep going as the tank glides in (i.e. lands on a 5 or 6, or crashes).   The ‘minor damage’ is cumulative in the usual way (so the tank might be destroyed in a rough landing), and the usual ‘opportunity fire’ rules apply.

If the tank stops in an enemy square, it must immediately close assault with 3 dice (the defenders get their usual dice).   Unless the defenders are lost or driven off, the tank is destroyed.

A-40 04

Otherwise and/or after such combat, the tank will do nothing other than detach its wing assembly.    In the following enemy turn it will defend itself as a functional AFV in close assault (unless damaged or immobilised in the landing or by enemy action, of course), but has no opportunity fire.   In its own next turn it is in action.

A-40 02

… of course, yes, these are general purpose glider rules :) .

A future feature will look at paratroopers and will include my PBI air drop rules.

*the trial tank had much of its equipment and fuel removed to give the towing aircraft a chance … and it is reported that having got the A-40 airborne, the TB-3 tow had to release the glider tank early to avoid losing control.  So the tank flew – but not far and not in battle trim.

**tanks without bases having no practical ‘footprint’ on the wargames table, of course.

***the paras are mixed PP Russians with most of the heads swapped for the characteristic flying cap.   This is a swap tanker cap with the sausage pads trimmed off.

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Amphibious tanks gave Soviet tank designers endless challenges during the 1930s.  With Deep Battle presuming sweeping attacks across the great rivers of central Europe, clearly tanks that could swim – especially for scouting units – would be a great advance.   But combining bouyancy with credible armour and a weapon of decent weight was always going to be a riddle.

Soviet Light Tanks

Soviet Light Tanks 1938 – 1942

Wartime production was entirely geared to expanding and replacing the arsenal of main battle tanks, but before 1941 a number of designs evolved culminating in the angular T-40.

the T-40 amphibious tank

the T-40 amphibious tank

The ‘boxy’ shape, of course, gives it bouyancy, and the ungainly flat front is a nod to the requirement to perform as a boat when crossing water.

More or less the same running gear evolved both into the amphibious tank and the T-60 scout tank … so I was able to reverse engineer the less convincing Battlefront example into the T-40.    The rear idler on the running gear needed dropping down a bit, and the tank itself would need a reconfigured hull.   The turret needed smoothing from hexagonal to conical, and new armament would have to be added.   Even so, the basic footprint was there.

Here’s a pictorial summary:

t-40 02

1/. The complex frontal shape was made from a wooden shim filled around with green stuff; 2/. at which stage the rear of the tub was cut back to allow a propeller to be sculpted, after which … 3/.  most of the missing rear was then back filled around the completed prop.*  4/.   the turret was reshaped and the rear panels were added from plastic sheet, again, filled with green stuff.

The rest is fairly standard mods and cosmetics.    The new main gun – a DShk – is pinched from some PP AK47 spares.

Soviet Light Tanks 01(here’s the finished T-40 between a Skytrex and BF T-60 … )

Although only a couple of hundred T-40s were made, it features quite prominently in photos and newsreels of the defence of Moscow and the Winter Offensive.    There were very few tanks left by then, and a tank was a tank.   Here’s what I had in mind …

t-40 03I decided to stick with green comouflage but I’m sure you get the picture (ski troops are my converted piggies)

Production concentrated on the T-60, however, and over 6,000 of these were built.   Although no match for medium tanks, smaller factories could churn them out quickly and cheaply and they filled many gaps as the Red Army rebuilt itself.

One of the quirkier project in the T-60 stable was Antonov’s flying tank – an experimental solution to the problems of getting armoured support into the field alongside the new parachute units.   Designated the A-40, a set of detachable wings turned the light tank into a glider.

Surprisingly enough, the tank survived the trial, but – due to lack of suitably powerful towing aircraft – the project was dropped in favour of slinging the tanks underneath TB-3 transports.   But airborne units and flying tanks are for a future post …

A-40 conversion(Antonov’s flying tank … a modified T-60 with its clip on wings, left, and clip on base, right … )

*the prop and twin rudders are inset in the rear of the hull.   The only really difficult issue.   In the end I decided that rather than try to cut into the rear panel and work inside the cavity, it would be better to take the whole profile back, build the propeller, and then reconstruct around the completed drive.   It proved quite an easy job, that way.

 

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Colonial PBIs 01a

Another of those ‘finally off the work table’ projects.

I picked up a bargain bundle of Peter Pig WWI Germans on the rummage table at COW ages ago with a view to turning them into generic European soldiers in Africa for WWI and the ’20s through 30s’.    They were just begging to have their pickelhauben swapped for sun hats.

Colonial PBIs 08

In fact, the head swaps are such a simple task I did them quite quickly … but the painting and basing has had to wait.

See the modelling page for more on head swaps.

As I say, the intention was quite generic … however I couldn’t resist pinching some attractive eagles off some Black Hat/Gladiator Romans … and despite the German kit and British sun hats, I think this lot are happiest when the trains run on time …

Colonial PBIs 02

I had imagined these chaps in Abyssinia or East Africa … but just in case they ever make it to the Western Desert, I have allowed them to liberate an old Humber Recce Car for their commander to ride around in.   The Motorcycle is a BMW solo with a BF Breda on the handlebars, ridden in that exuberant way that would get you into a lot of trouble when you hit a patch of soft sand.

Colonial PBIs 03

I have a Battlefront Sahariana detachment, and those packs provide a lot of weapons options that go into the spares box.   Given to the little piggies, they make for plenty of support options.  Here are a few more details …

Dug in Anti-tank Weapons

Dug in Anti-tank Weapons

Chris K gave me this broken gun which I fixed up to provide some HE support … it uses my standard ‘magnabase plus shims’ method to swap between limbered and unlimbered … but in this case the limbering is just some unlucky PBIs given some ropes and told to get hauling!

Artillery Support components

Artillery Support components

I am very pleased with how these generics have turned out.  For operational use, they will allow me to configure various scaled forces from brigade to divisional size, while for PBI, I can see them both defending objectives in scenario games and giving me some dismount options for Sahariana patrols.

And they might also suit NQM – which has been on a desert theme for quite a while, now :)

Colonial PBIs 06

IMG_2895C

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