Archive for the ‘WWI’ Category

Yes … somebody parked a tank on the lawn. Well, lots of tanks .. just another day at Knuston Hall.

Well, how wonderful to be out wargaming again … meeting people many of whom you’ve only seem via Zoom since more than a year ago … CoW 2020 got cancelled. This one went ahead with limited numbers, Social Distancing, sessions outdoors where possible. But it was still great and still packed with games, toys and bright ideas.

(just a sample of the wide variety of sessions at CoW … tabletop games, committee games, skirmishes and pirates … )

The plenary game was a fast and furious look at the machinations in Hungary in its last days as part of the Axis: I was the Hungarian Foreign Minister, looking to open a channel to the Soviets whilst hoping I wouldn’t end up on trial for the government’s evident war crimes. Sorry, that was Magyaria, of course … a fictional country …

On Sunday morning I was in a reconstruction of a wargame originally played in the Cabinet Office in 1975, called WintEx ’75, an excercise in thinking through the transition from peace to war in the event of a Soviet invasion in Eastern Europe. Actually, the game’s precepts reflected classic 70s establishment paranoia, and was mostly about controlling and combatting the enemies within, than about taking on the Warsaw Pact.

Some of the paranoia would have been eminently justified, I’m sure. An illuminating and well-prepared session. Lots of paperwork.

The game on the lawn was based on the attack at the second battle of Villers Brettoneux. I volunteered to command a British tank as my Grandfather had done it for real.

Firing was adjudicated an an adjacent range using toy canon and matchsticks

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Apologies to everyone who has been missing their regular dose of P.B.Eye candy.  It has been a very busy spring for me … Everything from working on the big ECW reenactment event at Naseby in the Summer (Naseby 370) to running my Harfleur game at Salute (SoA at Salute) …

But I have been taking an interest, and here are some splendid 20th Century exhibits from the big show …

Salute 2015 16(Salute: the Battle of St Vith)

Salute 2015 17(Paul T running a Bolt Action Pegasus Bridge game)

Salute 2015 18(Rob running the new PBI game ‘PBI Company Commander’)

Salute 2015 19(detail)

Salute 2015 20(20mm action from Batlegroup Blitzkrieg)

Salute 2015 21(Peterborough’s elaborate Dambusters challenge)

Salute 2015 22(Great War: the Turkish lines at Gaza)

I also saw this eye-catching use of screens at Hammerhead

Hammerhead 15 01

And an intriguing historical scenario from the Great War featuring an impromptu attack on an airfield by a scouting cavalry patrol …

Hammerhead 15 02(1914: French cavalry behind the lines at the Battle of the Marne)

Some good ideas, there …

Things to come?  We’ll be back with Operational games on squares shortly, and I’m giving a talk on war art later this month.  At CoW my simple naval rules will get a run out using some components of the Battle of the Denmark Strait.

Meanwhile, out of period perhaps, but don’t forget you are invited to the Naseby 370 event on 13/14 June.

2014-15 Yearbook 75

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Lodz 01

The Battle of Lodz, seen here from the Southern aspect, was fought in 1914 on the Eastern Front … or refought in London (just about) on the 100th anniversary using the Op 14 operational level rules by Richard Brooks.

It was fought in ever harsher conditions as the Germans attempted to destroy the Russian 2nd Army and headquarters in Lodz (while the Russians attempted to encircle the Germans and trap them in a freezing vice).

Lodz 02

Here’s the view from my end of the table – I took the Reserve Corps of XXV and III Guards, turfing the defenders out of the Northern villages and completing the encirclement while XX and XVII Corps annihilated the trapped Russians.

We did not know the Russian plans, and I  had the unenviable task of closing around the position … leaving all that empty space (the whole near, left quarter of the table – around which several unarrived Russian players would deliberately hover) to my rear.

In truth, there was nothing I could do about it: I did not have the resources to police it all, and we did have to crack the enemy position.   Whilst not being naive, I had to run a race against time and hope to get into the position before unseen enemies could trap me against it.  Or so it seemed.

Lodz 11(another depiction of the battle as temperatures drop)

Op 14 is played with 4 stand brigades in 2 Km squares organised around Divisional HQs and artillery support.   If all are in contact then command is a good as whatever is normal for your forces.  For effect, you roll =< than the number of figures in your brigade (so as you lose men your chances of hitting diminish).

Some of your losses are recovered overnight but otherwise accumulate and trigger morale issues at higher levels.

Lodz 03

Anatomy of XXV Res. Corps … 3 4-stand Brigades, a Field Gun support battery (3 figures) and a Divisional HQ with some cavalry attached for liaison duty.   All ‘in command’ (all in adjacent squares).

In the background some outlying Russian units fall back on the main position.

Lodz 04

XXV are gradually sucked into the cauldron … the force is now spread out, using the HQ and cavalry to maintain command integrity.   With just the one battery in support, the chances of these attacks prevailing against men in villages and/or dug in are low – but the actions are necessary to draw troops and support away from the main attacks in other sectors.

The troops activate in card order – so in this sector XXV will go first.  The cards limit what actions are possible.  Hearts are good, but those enemy on clubs would be stalled if they were out of command (and e.g. not dig in) …

I like the simplicity of Op 14 as it lets you get on with the ‘big picture’ … however the squares do allow tactical modifier such as flank and enfilade bonuses which are too often missing from operational level games.  So there is subtlety as well as the grand sweep.

Polen, Lodz nach deutscher Besetzung(Lodz in 1914)

Tape rivers form on the boundary between squares and e.g. affect artillery movement …  and toy town buildings create the convincing illusion of built up areas once you are inside the abstract bubble of the game.

Lodz 06(Traction engines and draught horses bring up the German siege artillery)

As the battle developed the Germans were able to bring up some typically massive siege guns.   They took rather a long time to set up (hence the counting down D8) … the shell holes in that corner square come from the howitzers … they will be resolved when someone assaults the position.

In the example above, the square is likely to be attacked from both directions, giving the attackers extra dice.  Up to 2 of the defenders might be removed when the attack goes in as a card will be turned for each bombardment marker (shell hole) – red is dead – but as the defenders are in permanent trenches (extra dice) the attacker will still probably need the pummelling to have paid off (the defenders still get their extra dice, but, 2 bases left, would need 2 or less for hits, rather than their establishment 4) …

Lodz 07(Spotter aircraft flying over Lodz)

Little by little (square by square) the defenders were squeezed into less and less of the city … Unless spotting is available, artillery is by support only and requires line of sight (so the guns were being pushed through the streets) …

Lodz 08

The game gave one of the better – fluid and dynamic – city battles I have participated in … it felt gritty and brutal but progress was made (though not without reverses and losses) … Meanwhile Russian 5th Army was closing around us …

Lodz 09(the battle for Lodz city centre)

Lodz 10(action to the South of Lodz)

By the end of a day’s wargaming we had pretty much taken Lodz (at least that was what was being said in the German HQ … ) and our flanks had held out … just about (actually a number of divisions were in a mess and my reserves were on the brink of heading home – but don’t tell the Russians that).

We had 8 players in the game running from map moves to table top, including resolving a multi divisional city fight in a single afternoon (whilst allowing a good amount of socialising and a buffet lunch as you go) – yet at no point did the game really feel either rushed or simplistic.  I think that speaks highly of Op 14 for games of this sort.

Op 14 was published in Nugget 236 (June 2010) – the journal of Wargame Developments.

The figures and components were mostly supplied by Ian Drury and include a number of veteran Minifigs plus anything else that suits.

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I benefited from the great democratisation of British society in the second half of the last century.  I was able to go to university where previous generations of my family were denied such luxuries.   I studied history and before concentrating on the History of Art after my first degree, I specialised in military history.

In their time, of course, my grandfathers fouArmy Form Z S O Steeleght in wars.   My paternal grandfather fought in the Great War.   An Oxfordshire farm boy, he joined the fledgling Tank Corps in 1916 and was trained as a gunner.   He was in E battalion at the battle of Cambrai.

He was reluctant to talk about the war other to reflect on the unpleasantness of it all … the heat, noise and nausea of going into action in a tank (indeed the only ‘war story’ he ever repeated was how surprised he was when taking a latrine break in the wood that he bumped into someone he knew from the next village, back home … mundane memories, of course ) ..

He later told his nephew he was more than happy when, in early 1918, they were converted to machinegun detachments (as they felt machinegunners had much more chance of survival than tank crew …) …  He did survive, of course (for which, as a descendant, I am grateful) ..

Perhaps as a response to his experiences on the Western Front, he flirted with druidism after the war (as in we have the certificate of admission to the order …) – again something he conveniently forgot.  And, no fan of war, he never collected his medals.   In fact, as we discovered, dealing with his estate, he did collect them and kept them in the strong box under his bed along with all his most treasured items.

battle of cambrai(British soldiers and tanks at the battle of Cambrai)

My Mother’s dad was also too young to go in 1914, though doubtless he would have been keen to take on the Kaiser …  He managed to sneak in before the end of the war but was rumbled as being underage for the front and was sent back to the depot where he was safely employed peeling potatoes.   He served in the army of occupation in Weimar, so was one of the reservists called up in 1939 for the BEF and was evacuated from Dunkirk.

Neither man relished warfare nor spoke much of their experiences … Neither ever questioned the need for those wars, or the importance of winning them, and both remained moved by the memory of those who did not come home.

As we remember the mistakes and sacrifices of a century ago, it is important that we don’t confuse our emotional response to the losses with our rational understanding of what took the world to war, and a fair assessment of the men of all nations who fought it.

GWC 01

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History Live! 14 22(History Live! 2014 … dogfights over Northamptonshire)

My little digital compact doesn’t really do long range aerial photographs but I wanted to share some of the sights (and sounds) of History Live!

I was in a tent with The Battlefields Trust doing a presentation on the Battle of Northampton (see AncOM/History Live) but there’s nothing like thunder of an approaching Merlin engine to draw people outside.  Even children too young to know are excited by the sound of fighter chasing fighter.

On display, there was an emphasis on WWI and a number of NAM displays as well as reenactment societies showing their kit.

History Live! 14 13(getting youngsters to try on a soldier’s basic load …)

History Live! 14 14(Soldiers of the Empire)

History Live! 14 17(a chance to get a good look at the Lewis gun)

A huge hit this year was this reproduction SE5

History Live! 14 15

Children were encouraged to clamber into the cockpit and get a brief introduction to their aircraft’s controls and the pitfalls of failing to manage the engine during the heat of aerial combat (apparently my goddaughter’s mission saw the oil all over the little windscreen, smoke billowing out and machineguns jammed … an average sortie and she got back safe 🙂 )

History Live! 14 16(History Live!: half pint pilot: all back safe and sound)

This was a very popular attraction all weekend and kids loved having their pictures taken in the old flying machine.

I had a quick look around the WWII encampments and I think I have not put these vehicles on P.B.Eye-Candy before …

History Live! 14 20(German blockhouse with recce patrol laagered up nearby)

History Live! 14 18(Sdkfz 222 and BMW motorcycle combos)

History Live! 14 19(Sdkfz 251 Hanomag armoured half-track)

And just to patch things up for the allies, the field hospital was present with plenty of American trucks …

History Live! 14 21(¾ ton truck seconded to field hospital use)

Of course if you are a military vehicle enthusiast there is loads more than this on show (I just try to add a few from the show every year as/when I get some time off from the stand to have a wander) … so do come along next July to Northamptonshire if this is your kind of thing.

If warfare in miniature is your passion, in addition to my Wars of the Roses battlefield model in the Heritage tent, Graham F and friends had everything from Romans to WWII in the wargames tentBolt Action and that sort of thing …

History Live! 14 08(wargames, Heritage-style: my Northampton 1460 display on the Battlefields Trust stand)

History Live! 14 23(Bolt Action with Graham in the wargames tent)

History Live! 14 24(some of those Vichy French chaps from North Africa)

History Live! 14 12(endpiece … English Heritage’s ‘History Live!’ at Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire) 

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It is a long time since we Bashed any WWI Squares, and it was interesting for our local group here to have an evening with RFCM’s SBII.

Amiens 00

Harvey treated us to a running of Amiens from the scenarios, with toys provided by Trebian … generally somewhat unfashionable Minifigs, I think.   The game was well organised and presented and ran smoothly.    I thought the feel was pretty convincing (for this scenario, at least) … I recall us being less impressed by SB I (which is why it hasn’t been played that much) …

Anyway, here’s some Amiens eye-candy …

Amiens 02

Amiens 03

Amiens 04

The scenario gives the British players overwhelming force, and the Germans a problematic defence.    The game mechanism stripped out a lot of their machinegun support, and the Brits eventually attacked with some gusto …

Amiens 04a

That said, I’ll happily include a snap of one of my more successful contributions …

Amiens 04b

11 dice, looking for sixes to hit … giving 8 hits!   The Germans replied with several ones in the Saving Rolls … Now that interaction would swing a good number of wargames

Being a man of simple tastes, it also brought a smile to my face …

Trebian has posted a blow-by-blow account, and has some more insightful comments on Wargaming for Grownups

We ended with the Brits in full control …

Amiens 05

Meanwhile I have been trying to keep up with the bits and pieces i have been acquiring for the Eastern Front collection … I added a nice little Airacobra from Revell 1:144 and a Zvezda Sdkfz-222 armoured car to scout for 22PD …

Revell Airacobra 01(Revell Micro Wings 1:144 Airacobra)

I found the FW 190 I made a while back quite tough going (old, ill-fitting, fiddly kit technology) but this one went together much better with very few gaps or misfits.

The Airacobra was a beautiful aircraft, and despite the mixed reception it got elsewhere was one of the most successful fighters on the Eastern Front (more than half the wartime output went to the Soviet Union, and more Soviet aces flew Airacobras than any other plane).

Revell Airacobra 02

The model lacks a canon in the spinner, so I drilled it out and fixed in a slightly over-sized example: the big gun was something VVS pilots really liked despite its slow rate of fire.  This was a quick build and paint (yes, I know it shows, but bear in mind it is a 1:144 – so is getting magnified in the pictures … )

Enjoyed this one.   And less expensive than a Zvezda!

I also enjoyed making up the Zvezda 222 … I had read that this was a tricky build, and needed and extra scout for 22PD as some of its assets have been stripped out to build the Rostov sector’s new unit.    In fact I found this one went together easily enough – it is fiddly but all the parts do fit where intended.   Easier than the BA-10.

zvezda 222 01(Zvezda Sdkfz 222 armoured car)

OK … it is destined for Army Group South but the table on which I did the photos had a baggage element from my ancients collection on it.  I couldn’t help wondering what it would look like sitting behind a Palmyran camel train …

zvezda 222 02a

It has a fun, Panzers in the Desert, sort of look.   Who knows?  Maybe the Mediterranean Theatre will catch on …


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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


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Cavalier Eye Candy

Oops!  I forgot to put the pics from Cavalier into my February summary!

Cavalier at the Angel Centre, Tonbridge (TWWS) was a great little show … I attended with the Society of Ancient but was able to have a browse.  There were quite a few aircraft overflying the modern games – and I thought you’d like a look …

From stringbags to bombers …

(over the Front)

(bombing battleships again?)


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