Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sarissa 20mm Eastern Front buildings

For some reason, while 20mm or 1/72 is extremely well catered for in terms of figures and vehicles, the same can't be said for terrain and in particular MDF buildings.  I have several from the Charlie Foxtrot Models range that I particularly like and use regularly for games set in Normandy or other parts of Europe.  So, it's always good to hear about new ranges in 20mm and I was particularly pleased to see the 20mm buildings from Sarissa Precision for the Eastern Front.

I have a few of the small Russian village houses from Blotz but I've always wanted to add some more variety.  I particularly liked the idea of a church and that's one of the offerings from Sarissa.  They also have a nice looking Russian house that would add variety to those I already owned.

What I liked about their buildings is the addition of the greyboard fine features that add a level of detail that lift the buildings.  My only issue was with the dome on the roof of the church which clearly shows the limitation of MDF.  I wasn't overly concerned and thought a bit of work with some filler or similar would sort that one out.

The dome that clearly needs more work.
At the same time I put together the Russian village house and the two will work well together and look good to scale with my figures and vehicles.

There were two things that I wanted to change or improve.  I wanted to add roof tiles to the church and add planks to the house roof, but the most obvious thing to work on was the church dome.  Since embarking on this project I've seen articles in other forums suggesting you use the dome moulds designed for the end of curtain rails.  A bit late now! I had already decided to use some kitchen paper towel soaked in diluted PVA to wrap the dome.

The roof tiles were from Charlie Foxtrot.  They are easy to apply and work very well with absolutely no wastage.

Next I went to work on the dome.

This worked reasonably well, but not well enough, so once it had dried I also gave it a coat of plaster and was then happier.   Here it is with roof tiles and the dome.  In hindsight the dome is too large and could really do with being changed altogether.

Before setting to work painting, the whole thing gets a coat of grey primer from a rattle can.

The village house worked well among my existing houses.  These I had painted in a hurry for a game I was putting on and I have never been totally happy with them. So I decided I would give all of the houses a new roof and a new paint job.  Unfortunately I didn't take an work in progress shots for that bit of work, but here's a before shot.

Four of the Blotz houses with a rushed paint job.  Acceptable....just.

The Sarissa village house will fit in well.
I wanted a faded dark wood effect for the church and a gold dome.  I didn't think painting it gold would work so went for a faded yellow/brown.  It's not quite as bright as it looks in the pictures but it may need to have a brown wash to tone things down.

With the village houses repainted and re-roofed here they are in a game setting.  Overall I'm happy, although one day I may have to revisit that church dome and look at a better alternative.  It would be simple enough to remove and replace it.  It's very tempting.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Von Luck Campaign Scenario 5 'Delaying Action at the Chateau' (round two)

We reach the final game in the Von Luck campaign (you can find links to all the earlier AARs here). The Germans have eight games to achieve victory and this will be their eighth.  In the best possible way, this has come right down to the wire.  We have battled over this terrain once already (Von Luck Campaign Scenario 5 'Delaying Action at the Chateau') and the ground bears the scars of recent battle. A key building has collapsed under the impact of a 150mm HE round from a German Lorraine Schlepper.  That very same vehicle, victim of a PIAT round, now sits as a smoking hulk blocking one of the narrow, wall-lined lanes that lead to the chateau.  All the while the clock is ticking.  The Paras know relief is on its way and Von Luck's men know that time is not their friend.

German view of the table

As the Paras see it

The wreck limits vehicle access to the chateau

With the wreck blocking the road Dave's options for his vehicles are a little more limited.  That said, I don't think this is a real problem for him, as the alternatives are all viable.  Based on the last scenario my gut feeling is that he will try a flanking move through the ploughed field and over the wall.  He made good progress on that flank last time and was only brought short when his attack on the other flank suffered considerable loss.  So, my thinking is, he will set up a strong firebase behind the hedge, most likely including a forward observer and this will cover a main thrust across the fields and around the flank.  A diversion on my left flank will have less ambition and simply try to pin me in place.

How I think the Germans will advance
So, how do I plan to counter this?  My thoughts are that I will need to have at least one section, if not more, dug in ready to counter the main thrust across the ploughed field. This small force won't be quite enough knowing the strength of German firepower, so for the first time in the campaign (and with the luxury of enough support points), I plan to call on a mortar battery and have the FO on that flank if needed.  With the FO attached to the squads and with everyone entrenched we will present any Germans behind the hedgerow with elite troops, in hard cover, at effective range.  That's about as good as it's going to get.  Unfortunately, the Para battery is only two mortars, so we won't cover off as much area as a full battery, but I'm hoping it will prohibit movement through the field and block line of sight.

The Paras defence plan
I will aim to place jump off points so that I can defend the field from Area 1 and then form a base around the ruined building in Area 2. If the defenders in Area 1 are overcome, then it will be up to those in Area 2 to defend the victory JoP.  So that's the plan, but will it survive first contact?

I have nine support points to use and so use them to bring in the mortar battery, an additional section and an entrenchment for a team.  I also receive three entrenchments at no cost as part of the campaign.  Dave has four less support points for this scenario replay, but that still leaves sixteen points, which gives him several options.  I'm expecting to see a FO, a Lorraine Schlepper, an additional squad and a second Senior Leader in the mix.

The Force Morale rolls see the Paras start on 10 and the Germans on 9.  The Patrol Phase is not much different from the previous game, except this time I have a JoP in the ploughed field.

Para JoP in red, German in blue.
The command phase starts off with the Paras rolling a double phase.  Deja vu, that's nothing new.  Good news is, I also roll a few 5s in both rolls and while I don't deploy anything yet, it means I have a few CoC points amassed.

Dave's first deployment is on his right flank in the chateau grounds, where a squad deploys in front of the gatehouse.  This I suspect will be part of his diversionary force, but then he surprises me a little by driving on the S307 Pak40 on the same flank.  I take the opportunity to deploy a sniper into the ruins and begin taking shots at the squad in the open.  No kills, but some shock.

The Para sniper takes a shot

No kills, but a bit of shock.  
I've had trouble from one of these before....
The next deployment sees a squad turn up on my right flank near the hedgerow.  This is where I expect to see the main German force appear, so no surprise.

The first Germans appear on my right flank.
A German senior leader also turns up on this flank which inclines me to think my hunch may be correct.  It's still too early to see what Dave has planned, so I'm cautious with my deployment until I see more.  Dave moves the squad on my left to the hedgerow so that he has a line of sight to the ruined building.  I decide to make the most of this before more Germans deploy and bring on my FO into the ruined building (yes, I know, he is supposed to be covering the other flank, but he does have a line of sight to there from the upper level of the ruins).

The FO team joins the sniper

The Germans fire at the FO, but to no effect.  The Pak40 rumbles closer.  Surprisingly and somewhat rashly the German squad on my right decides to advance over the hedge into the ploughed field.  No more Germans deploy, which has me a bit confused, as Dave normally builds up a very solid fire base before advancing.  So, what has he got planned here then?  Regardless, I need to use my next phase to get some other teams on the table so the FO is not a lone target.

A bold move into the open for the German squad

I then have a stroke of good fortune with a double phase.  I really feel I may have an opportunity here, for the Germans don't seem as well coordinated as usual.  I'd like to try and catch them while they can't bring their full force to bear.  For my first phase I deploy a section on the ground level of the building and the 2" mortar, while the FO calls in a ranging shot.

The 2" mortar and a section deploy

My hope is to inflict some hurt on that German squad on my left. The 2" mortar is there to blind them with smoke if my fire is ineffective.  The FO's first ranging shot was a little wide of the mark, but not much and the section's fire inflicts casualties and shock on the German section.  The 2" mortar pops some smoke, but it's also off target.

Ranging shot and smoke both wide of the mark

I roll for the second phase and lucky me, this turns into a triple phase.  Luck is on my side and I need to take full advantage.  There is a German squad in the open in the ploughed field, it's not on overwatch and there are no other units to provide covering fire.  That's a good target and I've got two phases, so I deploy the Para Bren section, entrenched into the ploughed field.  Dave has a CoC dice which he could use for an interrupt (if only to get the squad in the field back into cover behind the hedgerow).  He decides not to use it.

Two bren teams deploy

The fire from the two bren teams is very effective and causes three casualties and some shock. The German Senior Leader is hit and is lightly wounded.  German FM drops by two.

The squad takes two casualties and the SL is wounded.

Meanwhile on the other flank the Para section fires into the squad behind the hedge, inflicting further casualties and shock, while the FO adjusts the barrage and brings it down.  With the German squad's cover reduced the barrage inflicts further shock.  That would be enough to pin the squad were it not pinned already by the barrage.

The next phase is mine, so it's simply a case of repeating what I've done.  The barrage continues to take a toll on the German squad and the Para Bren section inflict further casualties on the exposed squad.  The combination of triple phase and the fact the German deployment is unsupported means I've really been able to inflict some loss on these two squads, with none in return.

The squad is down to three men and the JL.

The Bren section's fire sweeps the ploughed field

The barrage pounds the other squad

When Dave finally gets a phase he moves the Pak40 closer into the chateau grounds.  Meanwhile the Junior Leader on the other flank frantically throws smoke grenades to mask his squad from the bren teams.

The S307 edges carefully around the barrage
Smoke grenades provide respite from the brens

At this point Dave plans to retaliate with a barrage of his own and his FO team position themselves carefully behind the wrecked Lorraine Schlepper.

German FO ready to call in a barrage
With both German squads out of my line of sight (one behind his own smoke grenade, the other in the barrage) I fire on the FO team, but they are tough to hit and I have no effect.  At this stage I'm beginning to wonder where the rest of Dave's platoon is.  He has at least one more squad from the core platoon and most likely a support squad as well.

Dave calls in a ranging shot for the barrage which lands on target in the ruined building, but doesn't cause any casualties.  Dave and I both have a CoC die and clearly we are both thinking of how we can use them to end each other's barrage.  Dave brings the Pak40 around on the flank and turns it to target the ruined building.  In my phase I activate the FO and we adjust the barrage, if I move it the full 6" it can just get the Pak40 while still hitting one of the LMG teams in the squad.  So I adjust the barrage and it comes crashing down, destroying the Pak40.  That brings German FM down once again.

A mortar round does its work!

This is just in time, as it's now Dave's turn to have some luck and he rolls a quadruple 6.  The random event is a wine cache which brings his flagging force morale up one level.  That does mean my barrage could end, but I can't complain, it's done some good work, however I use my CoC dice to keep it going.  The quadruple four is a mixed blessing as it limits his command options.  Next phase the FO can't be activated so the German barrage is delayed.  However he takes the opportunity to extract his reduced squad from the ploughed field and get it back behind the hedgerow and out of harm's way.  With his FM sinking fast there's no point leaving them to be sacrificed.  Meanwhile, I try to take out his FO but he's found some good cover behind the wreck and it comes to no effect.

Dave decides to use his CoC dice to end the turn at the end of the following phase, which removes my barrage and frees himself up for his barrage.  The German squad that was under my barrage is in bad shape, the seven surviving men have 11 points of shock and they are close to breaking.  I make this my priority as his force morale is now only five.  In my next phase the Para section in the ruined house fires on the squad, inflicting two casualties and more shock.  They break and fall back, and German FM goes down further.  That's two squads of panzer grenadiers effectively written off for this game and the Paras have hardly been scratched.

15 points of shock on five men - they are gone for now.

Dave is not about to give up though and brings his barrage down onto the ruined house  The Paras take two casualties, including a wound to the junior leader.

81mm mortar rounds shower down

German FO eyes his handywork

A third German squad deploys on my left behind the wreck of the Pak40 and a fourth on my right flank.

German squad deploys on my left

Things are not looking good for the Germans.  FM is down to 4 and the Paras are all in good shape and they still have units to deploy.  Up until now Dave has coordinated his German attacks very well, but I feel something has gone awry this time.  In this case I think it's a combination of my good fortune with the triple phase and that lack of coordination in the German deployment.

I have a CoC die with 5 points and my next phase command roll includes a 5.  Given I'm under the barrage there's nothing I can really do, so with my newly acquired CoC die I end the turn.  This removes the German barrage and causes the broken German squad to rout off the table taking the junior leader with them.  German FM goes down to 3.  Things are looking desperate for the Germans.  In Dave's next phase he activates the FO and rolls to see if he can connect with the mortar battery, but things have definitely taken a turn for the worst, he rolls a 1 which means he's lost the battery completely.  That was the last straw and what has been inevitable for the last few phases occurs when Dave admits defeat.

That was shorter and a lot more one-sided than I think either of us were expecting.  Dave quite rightly pointed out that with every German defeat the root cause has always been the same - moving too hastily, in an uncoordinated fashion, before a solid firebase had been established.  Whenever Dave has taken his time to deploy and cover all forward movement with a number of fire options the Paras have been unable to stop them.  As with the previous playing of this scenario my Paras were able to capitalise on this by concentrating their fire on individual sections that were isolated from other German units.  Having consecutive phases certainly helped the Para's cause, but I don't think they would have been quite as successful had the Germans been better supported.

The lesson then, is that a platoon must fight as a platoon.  Units should provide mutual support and by doing so, bring maximum fire to bear to suppress the enemy and allow for manoeuvre.  The best way for a defender to counter this is to find a way to isolate individual units and write them down.  And, if you are lucky enough to get a moment of good fortune, then make the most of it while you can.  Those opportunities are fleeting, but they can tip the balance.

So ends the Von Luck campaign. The Paras finally triumph, but it was a close run thing.  A gripping campaign that went the full distance, you can't ask for more.

You can follow all the earlier scenarios here:

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 1 'Patrol on the Ring Contour'

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 3 'Corridor of Death' (round one)

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 3 'Corridor of Death' (round two)

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 4 'Church on the Flank'

Kampfgruppe Von Luck Campaign Scenario 5 'Delaying Action at the Chateau'

Alternatively you can find all the links in one spot:

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Doing the First World War.....slowly

I've never understood why so many people with an interest in the Second World War have little to no interest in the First World War.  Frankly I find it incomprehensible, as to my mind, it is impossible to understand the second war without understanding what happened in the first.  I mean this at almost every level - from the grand strategic to the tactical.

Until I delved into the First World War I had that common view that it was four plus years of stalemate and unremitting loss of life for little result.  While I enjoyed Blackadder and I admire the war poets, I've since discovered that neither will actually teach you much about the First World War.  Blackadder is a fictional comedy that relies for its laughs on common myths about how the British fought the war.  History it isn't.  The war poets reflect the impact of war on individuals but it could be any war really.  "I died in hell, they called it Passchendaale", or they called it Stalingrad or Iwo Jima or Shanghai.....

I also had a personal interest.  The man in the picture below is my grandfather, the young child he is cradling is my father.  My grandfather volunteered in 1914 and joined the Scots Guards (the family has no known Scottish ancestry, so don't ask why).  In March 1915 he went to France and served there until July 1916 when he was discharged medically unfit due to shell shock.  He recovered, married and had four children and worked at his trade as a Master Painter.  When the Second World War came along he volunteered again and served in an anti-aircraft unit.  As an aside, the two boys digging in the sand behind my grandfather are his two eldest sons, my uncles.  The eldest Frank would serve in the RAF and was killed when his Wellington bomber was shot down over Benghazi in 1941.  The second eldest Jack also served in the RAF but survived, he was the pilot of a Mitchell B25.

From a tactical and operational level, there are now a significant number of revisionist historians from John Terraine through to Gary Sheffield who have sought to take a more objective look at how warfare progressed during that period.  The battlefields of 1914 were vastly different to those of 1918 and in that short time frame modern warfare and tactics as we now come to understand them were created.  You can see a great deal of the Battle of Amiens in 1918 in the way Montgomery planned and executed the Battle of Alamein in 1942.

So, to cut a long story short, I've always liked the idea of gaming the First World War at a tactical level, but I've never found a boardgame or set of rules that appeared to have the right feel.  When I discovered Chain of Command (the WWII tactical skirmish game from Too Fat Lardies) had a First World War variant I was immediately interested.  That said, this project has been a slow burner.  About a year ago I invested in enough 28mm Great War Miniatures Germans and British to field a platoon apiece and so the familiar story begins.  They sat in a box for six months, untouched, but not forgotten.  Then I got out the British, cleaned them up, based them and primed them.  Then they went back into the box, untouched, but not forgotten.  Then last month I finally got the urge to put some paint on them when I was in between WWII 20mm projects and so the first British figures finally came to life.

Based, primed and a coat of flesh paint.
I decided to trial paint colours with a few figures first.  I did a fair bit of surfing the web to see what others had done and settled on a colour scheme that looked about right. So here are the first six, a mix of bombers, Lewis gun team and rifle grenadiers.

The first six, ready for the table.

Just don't hold your breathe for the next instalment........