Archive for the ‘Amphibious Operations’ Category

As many regulars will know, my WWII collection is dual purposed … for tactical as well as operational wargames. The figures for 198 ID are ‘borrowed in’ from my PBI company, and just as there is a consequent ‘fill out’ in progress for all the impedimenta that goes with the Divisional Level formation (recorded here, as it joins the collection, under German Horsedrawn – for such most of it will be), there are also some components that need to be added to the basic blocks or that would be ‘nice to have’.

15mm figures by Peter Pig

So, in addition to an extra combat stand and support stand, I needed some recce for each of the regiments. I also decided (‘nice to have’) to add some boats to represent the river crossing and bridging capacities. Of course all divisions would have the facilities, but in game terms it is nice to have appropriate makers through which to channel the player’s attention (thinking forward; sending the boats to the right place; not leaving things behind etc.) …

Some Useful Boats

So, we saw the basic boat model on its trailer in the last update … added to this, now, is one in action – a Sturmboot 39 – and a couple of inflatables. These will come out at the sharp end … for most of the time the Division is moving around the theatre, the potential of these craft will simply be represented by the transit model, of course.

Also in the picture is a ‘downed Luftwaffe’ dinghy and a waterline Schwimmwagen which I already had (so this is now what I have got, as far as riverine assaults go)

The asault inflatables are by Quality Castings (with a couple of extra crew which are Peter Pig. The Sturmboot 39 is adapted by me from one of the resin boats from The Square (i.e. – and appropriately enough – it’s the same boat as the one on the trailer … I’ve just added a modicum of detail, given it a scratchbuilt outboard and a PP crew figure … and chopped it sufficient to have the right, ‘sturm’, attitude in the water).

P.B.Eye-Candy’s 15mm scale Leichtes Sturmboot 39

It has (seemingly always) an MG34 mounted in the bow and a very chracteristic motor (again, always the same power plant) which appears to be a Kovats type K4R4 … although highly simplified, I’ve tried to follow the basic shape and configuration in the scratchbuilt version.

The characteristic Kovats K4 R4: powerplant of the Sturmboot 39

As standard in my collection, the various watercraft are mounted on clear bases …

The scouts

Yesthatphil’s 15mm German recce stands

The recce stands with my PBI Aufkalrungsschwadron all use pretty fancy kit. Of course, 198 would have its fair share of motor vehicles, but that wasn’t the balance I wanted to strike. So I’ve made 3 new stands for this purpose … basic infantry going forward to scout without the luxury of armoured cars and half tracks. Consequently, I gave one a bicycle, one a motorbike, and one a horse.

Again denoting them as PBIs sent forward, I’ve given them the white wafenfarbe (uniform piping) of the infantry (rather than of specialist reconaissance unit).

(figures by Peter Pig, bicycle from model railway supplies)
Wehrmacht 198 ID scouting parties

Each of the bases is completed with a Peter Pig 2-man radio team in greatcoats (to which I’ve swapped a couple of heads for variety) …

The box of divisional assets and support ehelons is filling up.

Somewhere in RussiaAssault troops from 198 ID make an improvised river crossing prior to bridging operations

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A-bt-S D Day Mus 01

The first weekend of March saw the Society of Ancients‘s annual Armati-by-the-Sea wargames tournament in Bournemouth … after which it has become a tradition to make a group visit to a south coast military museum or heritage attraction.   Some travel for the event from overseas (so not everyone’s transport arrangements are completed on the Sunday evening) …

This year, we drove round to Portsmouth, and the D-Day Museum (link)

Children playing on the 3.7" AA gun

Children playing on the 3.7″ AA gun

Signposting to the Museum isn’t that great – but it is on Southsea seafront, so you genuinely can’t miss it (drive along the seafront and take the entrance by the AA gun and the Churchill Crocodile).    There is a pay-and-display carpark (and, as at Spring 2013, 3hrs cost £3.50, adult entrance to the Museum £6.50 each).

Overlord: the battle for Caen

Overlord: the battle for Caen

The Museum is not that big, but has a fair number of exhibits, and as a unique attraction, houses the famous Overlord Tapestry (actually patchwork embroidery) created as a memorial celebration in imitation of the Bayeux Tapestry from 1,000 years earlier.

I include a picture of the superb panel depicting the battle for Caen (my favourite).    Click it for a bigger image.  The Overlord Tapestry has a special place for my family as it was rescued from mothballing by Whitbreads, who put on display at their then headquarters in Chiswell Street.    Although no more than a curiosity, military buffs with needlecraft enthusiasts in their households may find it makes the D-Day Museum an outing that will be of interest for all the family.

D-Day Museum ... bigger stuff

D-Day Museum … bigger stuff

By mixing the bigger D-Day story (explaining the war itself) with the history of Portsmouth at war, the museum finds quite a bit to say for itself, and follows that style where you wind through corridors of exhibition cases and display panels which guide you through the topic.   I thought most of them were pretty good, the panel information was useful, and the cases were fascinatingly full of objects.

The Map Room at Southwick House

The Map Room at Southwick House

My favourite of the life-size reconstructions is the Map Room at Southwick House (Southwick House) … it’s pretty convincing, yes, but it also begs to be put into action as the control board for the D-Day megagame (or is that just me?) …

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

There are a large number of smaller cases displaying models, sometimes built to illustrate parts of the story (so, e.g. a fascinating model of one of the Mulberry components), sometimes displaying donated collections of variable interest.    Amongst these was a small Omaha Beach diorama built as a project by servicemen at Headley Court (good on them) …

Model displays

Model displays

A lot of this was around the same quality you would see at your local wargames show, but I quite liked the some of the aircraft (it gets you thinking …):

A-bt-S D Day Mus 07

Of course, it is the big stuff that is a real attraction with these places, and you’d have to say that D-Day, Portsmouth, could do with a bit more of it … they have a Churchill, Sherman and a 3.7 outside, and (notably) some jeeps, a Dingo, a DUKW, a Sherman BARV and a Higgins Boat inside.   That’s about it (The Tank Museum it isn’t!).

Churchill Crocodile

Churchill Crocodile

I did enjoy being able to walk into the Higgins boat.   Having spoken at length to one of the many who were delivered to Normandy that way many years ago, I shouldn’t have been surprised.   Even so, they’re not big, and they don’t feel very secure.    It is almost impossible to imagine being in one pitching and rolling in a rough sea, waiting for the machine guns to open up.   Sobering.

Disappointingly, the book shop was a bit short on related military books (I do like to bump museum revenues by spending money in their shops, but, even with a will, it was hard to find anything here*), and we had intended to have lunch if they had a cafe (which they didn’t) … We’d have been happier with a better ‘retail end’, and would probably have increased our spending by around £20/head had they given us the opportunity.

That said, I have to add that I enjoyed visiting the D-Day Museum and am glad I stayed over ‘the extra day’.   I would certainly recommend it to anyone already visiting the south coast, or who wants to see the Overlord Tapestry anyway.    Those considering a trip from further afield … yes, it’s worth a visit – just bear in mind it isn’t a big one (it took us around 2 hrs at a leisurely pace).

I’d also add that it seems to do a good job with Schools … there was a school party in when we walked around, and another de-bussing as we were leaving (so it felt quite busy, for a Monday morning in March!)…

Positives: good informative displays and well thought-out exhibits; easy to find (if poorly sign-posted); first time I’ve stood in a Higgins boat; clearly gets plenty of youngsters in (who seemed to be having fun).   Negatives: could be bigger; you have to pay to park; book shop hasn’t got much military history stock; no cafe …

more big stuff: Canadian built Sherman

more big stuff: Canadian built Sherman

*I did get a small book on the Mulberry system, which was ‘on message’, at least …

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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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Well – the title isn’t quite right … it is was a PBI game with an amphibious landing.

I am not sure whether PBI would be the right game to use to do ‘D Day’ and similar … but there are a number of interesting features of smaller landings that are appropriate for tactical games.

The Crimean campaign featured many landing operations, from grandiose set pieces to low-level infiltrations, and these latter were usual supported by Armoured Cutters and even submarines.

Toy submarine (background) and scratchbuilt Cutter (foreground)

Conveniently, I recently acquired a toy submarine from Poundland (as part of a sackful of cheap ships that will appear sometime) … inevitably, the sub is a different scale to the capital ships in the series (it is probably about 10mm scale, but useful as a ‘scale down’ component with my 15s).

I was looking at an experimental scenario in which a small flotilla would drop off a platoon of Soviet Naval Infantry as part of a combined ops game (so getting the Cutter and the recently finished sailors into the game, of course)..

Soviet Naval Infantry (mostly Peter Pig)

It would also give an opportunity to work through some of the issues of incorporating landings and naval approaches etc. into the basic game.

As a general health warning, the game was played using our standard local PBI variations (easier motivations, platoon organised by sections, reduced interference in the enemy turn etc.).

The table was defended by a platoon of Germans (with some light support weapons on table) who could call upon an armoured platoon, some tanks, and maybe even an airstrike as back up … (which I intended to feed in to keep the game balanced) …

In setting up, the Germans were aware that the enemy might come ashore or might roll in as a tank force (most probably both) … so set up with good fields of fire, but well back from the beaches …

the PBI table, viewed from the sea edge

(the blue at the far end is beyond the table edge and has some of the German reserves and assets)

I put a couple of ‘impassable’ squares that would block all fire and visibility in the way, and specified (rather like rivers) that the beach squares would count as Partial Cover.  This designation is debatable, of course: a beach that is ‘cover’ is seems counter-intuitive – then again, the landing troops (the targets) might be up to their waists in water, the beach might be rocky, not smooth etc. More than anything, I didn’t want the experimental game to see the landing parties just mown down without getting into play.

I had added a couple of rows of squares on the sea edge, and defined, as a starting point, that the Cutter and row-boats would count as ‘carriers’ under the rules … (restricting the sub to the ‘off table’ squares, so the beaching leg would be by row-boat, but allowing the Cutter to go in, treating the beach square as ‘Closed‘, the ‘Beach -1’ as ‘Partial‘, so it would have to pick its way in).  It would, of course, be able to carry out its proper role and give supporting fire to the Naval troops.

German machine gun nest

Hopefully, the landings would be given a chance if the Germans could be distracted by the imminent arrival of the tank force (last time I set one of these up, the were no landing forces, but the defenders bought the bluff to some extent).

At dawn, and with the first move, the flotilla arrived …

Dawn on the Black Sea

Immediately, MG42s opened up, raining fire down on the beaches, and support weapons began ranging shots against the Cutter.  Although they were some way off, I had left some clear avenues of fire down the table which were to give the landing parties a difficult time.

German Infantry section

That said, some of the defenders had been deployed to counter the landward threat (and needed to reposition), and the much feared sniper (who can pin a square when first shooting) was diced for unsuccessfully.  The troops got ashore, but took a lot of incoming …

Getting ashore under fire

(Naval Troops, mostly Peter Pig, supported by an armoured Cutter)

Firing its BT/T26 turret gun, the Cutter was able to do a ‘severe damage’ hit on a (thinly armoured) Marder SP gun – biggest gun threat on the table.  Unfortunately this did not prevent the crew getting the weapon sorted out and the disabled vehicle came back into action supported by an Infantry Gun and a Squeezebore AT weapon.  The battered Cutter was constantly taking hits, and was unable to give further support to the landing troops.

The troops delivered by row-boat fared better, picking a less exposed bit of beach.  However, my idea that the boats could ‘shuttle’ the platoon ashore by relays didn’t really work under the basic game’s carrier rules (as each part ‘trip’ is at least a turn … the easiest solution will be to provide more boats and/or not model the return to ‘mother’).

By this stage, the mechanised elements were arriving further up the table, and the pressure was reduced on the beach head.

A BT tank takes a direct hit from German defences

The close range firefight that developed engaging vehicles of both sides undoubtedly saved the Soviet sailors from being wiped out, and restored some balance to the game …German light tanks(German tanks turn back from the beach into the path of Soviet armour)

It is worth noting that the landing parties had spent some time pinned on the beaches, had survived a Break Test, and had done a fair bit of casualty removal to avoid further tests.  Only about 25% survived, and they had found it technically difficult to get up the table (PBI enables them to get pinned, it also has a modifier which benefits ‘not moving’ – it assumes they are prone/taking cover – both of which, in practice, really slow the troops down) …

PBI: German Armoured (Aufkalrungs) platoon

(Peter Pig figures, with vehicles from a variety of manufacturers – the pile of rubble is actually one of my ‘sniper’ markers)

When the German armoured platoon turned up, they chose to consolidate the area currently held, rather than to counter-attack immediately.  As both the game clock and the real one were running down, we chose to end at that point and chew over what had happened.


1/. The game worked quite nicely at a basic level, and treating the boats as a sort of carrier is fine. However, PBI’s carrier rules do leave troops exposed on the beach … and only further trials will tell if that can be sustained*.

2/. We managed to avoid morale tests by judicious casualty removals and the PC’s presence – however, it was obvious to me as we played that even if the standard test would have been appropriate, the outcomes (moving backwards into the sea) would not.  I was also unhappy about the casualty removal (but it was necessary to indulge it in our test game, as without it, the landing parties would have been continually under test, and doubtless pushed back into the sea).  That would have seemed even less plausible than letting them remove the casualties.

3/. Likewise, it probably saved the game that in the turn where they had too many casualties, the platoon passed the Break Test.  I suspect the answer will be to suspend the morale mechanisms until the landing troops are off the beach (i.e. Morale and Break Tests do not apply in a beach square unless the troops have moved into it from and inland square).

4/. The beach square should count as Partial for cover, but not for (land) movement.

5/. If using boats on a ‘shuttle service’, I would allow them a ‘free’ return to the parent vessel during the enemy turn (again, this compensates for the restriction the carrier rules impose on continuous movement).  Ideally, of course, we will be able to make all this work without rewriting large chunks of the current movement rules and Turn Sequence.

6/. I really need to adapt the veicle damage chart to incorporate ships and boats: ‘driven off’ seems to be a common outcome when these support boats come under fire.  More on this after another game, perhaps.

Of course, it was a joy to see the Armoured Cutter (so-called floating tank) successfully engaging armour in support of Naval Troops.  Like all good things, it makes you appreciate why you need more of them …

Thanks to Ian for playing the Germans.

* Troops are not allowed to make ‘foot’ and ‘carrier’ moves in the same turn.  Although this seems to work fine for men in vehicles (once players get the hang of it), for the landing it means ending a turn on the beach (technically choosing ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the craft), being sat there through the next enemy turn, then starting the new active turn from that position.  If the enemy is defending from an adjacent square (NB. in this game they were not), that means Op Fire as you arrive, then an enemy turn’s worth of incoming, then more Op Fire in the new turn.  With vehicles, that isn’t so bad, as you have the choice to debus at a safe distance – or even to drive through the position without debussing at all (i.e. where you are dropped is variable and optional).  The beach is fixed, and (structurally) not being able to move through it or off it immediately may be hard to justify.  Even worse, of course, if you use the standard rules for Motivation and APs (with a greater chance of failing to motivate, and being stuck there longer) ...

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