Archive for February, 2013

Rif Pluck 01

These are a few photos from Treb’s impromptu 20th Century SvP game.

When an expected game of NQM (hope you are well, Chris) went missing, Graham morphed SvP a little to cover the Spanish Legion’s actions against the Rif tribes.

I confess I knew very little about this (just an acquaintance with the basics from the French angle) … so in this case Wikipedia Rif War is a good source to me …

Aerial Reconnaissance

Aerial Reconnaissance

The Rif mountains form the northern boundaries of Morocco and were the home of fiercely independent Berber tribes with whom the Spanish fought a series of nasty colonial campaigns in the 1920s.

This game was an experiment to see how Howard Whitehouse’s Science vs Pluck colonial role playing game would fare given an early 20th Century spin …

Well, of course, as a player, I can’t really tell you much about the engine room (as a player, the less you know about the mechanics, the better) – but the feel was actually very good … Indeed, as modern Europeans, it may be easier for us to play out roles commanding forces that have automatic weapons, trucks and the like.

Rif Expedition: scenes from the highlands ...

Rif Expedition: scenes from the highlands

Our mission was classic SvP … a punitive/recce mission to the village on the far horizon … during which clouds of sand are seen, and thunder of hooves heard beyond every crest line, and out of every hollow, all round us.

Of course, this could all be colour and texture to spook us … but, delivering an evening game, indeed every gully our scouts peered into proved full of tribesmen.   Very well-armed tribesmen (don’t believe those ‘ill-equipped’ briefings!) … Fausends of them.

In true SvP fashion we were quickly surrounded, and forming an ‘inter war’ version of a square.

Mission Headquarters

Mission Headquarters

Fortunately, modern machinegun companies proved to be as effective at suppressing insurgents as I’d hoped and we were able to stabilise our perimeter.

We had originally intended to fulfill our mission by firing a few warning shots at the village … ordering them to surrender any weapons they held and destroying the weapons along with any supplies we found hidden (and any dwelling where they were found) – quite  a progressive approach, really.

Rif Pluck 05

However, as armed men had appeared from the town, and as dusk was approaching, we ranged the artillery in and did the job somewhat indiscriminately, but efficiently, from half a mile away.    We may have missed a few of them, but we took no further casualties.

Of course, that, language excepted, is very much the report of the Legion officers.   We moderns would not condone the persecution of this oppressed population, or the callous use of traditionally dumb munitions.

From a history and wargames perspective, this game did the job, leaving me interested to find out more.

Figures are mostly a mix of Treb’s Peter Pig SCW and Sudan figures, with an old jalopy and biplane from my box of tricks.  I’ll own up to having ineptly retouched the pictures to give the plane Spanish markings …

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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.


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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IYTT Road to Madrid

Since Christmas we have managed to brave the hostile weather and play a few games in Trebian’s new wargames facilities ‘the Shedquarters‘.  We have been revisiting Civil War Spain, and playing through some connected contact scenarios with Graham’s higher level rules, ‘If You Tolerate This …’

Although there are smoothings out that any game experience generates, the rules are basically those played at COW last year and published in issue 257 of ‘The Nugget’.

Before moving on, I hope you will permit a quick plug for WD … If you are the kind of wargamer that likes looking at new ideas, often picks up new rules to try out (maybe you spend a few pennies here and there on sets or download PDFs …), you get all that, plus associated feedback and commentary in the Nugget – 9 issues a year, incorporating several complete sets of rules, all for £20 (£10 if you just take the online version … easily worth it just for the games content it will open up).

Have a look at Wargame Developments.

IYTT Road to Madrid 01

(looking down the table in the ‘Road to Madrid’ game)

In the game, 4 bases make up a battalion, and we have been playing with around, say, 3 brigades plus some vehicles and artillery on the march – against a few battalions plus variable surprises defending villages, sunked roads and ridge lines.   Allowing the leisurely style of social wargaming, we get 2 to 3 hours wargaming out of the scenarios ….

The games have been played in 15mm on a long table, but as everyone knows, wargame rules are not size specific, and the rules would work for any figures from micro to lawn games (just adjust the movement/ranges as appropriate).

The table is divided up into offset squares or hexagons (either will do) representing around 500 metres across.

if you ... 02

(armoured cars approach a village in part 2 of our second game … )

Turns sequence is driven by unit-to-unit activation … shooting and resolving assaults as and when they occur.   Units can make up to two activations (you can do both together, or do a bit then come back later in the turn – assuming the dice favour your second go) … and there is a die roll to switch from unit type to unit type.   If you fail, the other side gets a go (and you are back on as/when they fail an activation, assuming they have something to activate).    If an activation is failed and the other side has already activated everything, then the turn is over*.

It runs pretty smoothly, and activations seem easier to achieve than in some of the similar games.    However it is neatly pitched to disrupt co-ordinated actions (infantry/armour, anarchist/communist … that sort of thing): with me rolling the dice this usually means … the infantry move up expecting to be covered by the tanks … the dice give the enemy a go who dump all their available resources on the exposed infantry … then the tanks finally move up, wondering why everyone is lying in a ditch …

IYTT Road to Madrid 03

(a Renault FT detachment is blown apart by determined infantry on the road to Madrid)

Shooting takes the form of potential hit damage which builds up until the unit gets activated or engaged by the enemy … at that point resolution dice are rolled generating morale drops and bodycount.   This means you never quite know what state the enemy is in when you do the shooting – and sometimes heavy preparation followed by a bayonet charge can find the enemy surprising up for the fight.   Generally, however, troops in buildings are much better off than troops moving in the open, say … just you never really know whether enough is enough.

Assaults are resolved in one turn by rolling dice (1 to 3 depending on unit quality) and applying modifiers … the modifiers generally outweigh the basic scores … although by throwing 3 dice, elite/determined troops always seem to have a chance, while on 1 die, poor troops really do have to have everything stacked in their favour.  

if you ... 03

(Republicans successfully swamp a BUA in part 2 of the second game)

These games have been very successful, allowing us to get together and play through a game that reads well and flows well … Same time, the games have had a good deal of ‘exploring the history’ about them.    Having played a number of Treb’s rules, I think this one balances well the historical content he wants to include with the easy game play needed to get through a relatively rich narrative in a single evening.

The mechanisms are by no means derivative and have a rewardingly different feel to them.   The grid scheme allows quick and simple play without all that measuring and annoying in/out debate (and as offsets, will switch straight over for players using hexagon terrain components) …

I’d give these rules serious consideration if you are looking for a higher level SCW wargame.

You can follow these battles in more detailed AAR’s on Trebian’s Wargaming For Grown Ups blog ( try the Spanish Civil War label) …

*any activations left to the player who failed are lost.

Note: the photos show Treb’s collection .. Peter Pig figures, mostly on 30×30 bases, with Piggie/QRF /Zvezda armour …


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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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