Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Getting the hang of it.

Objective:  Operation Saturn on 3rd Romanian Army Front;
November, 1942.  'Jacko' has the eight infantry and 1 armoured
Division, but has just begun assembling his cavalry.
Over the last three weeks, Jacko (real name, Paul) and I have been meeting once a week to get on with painting, basing, modelling our WW2 armies.  I am building up my Russians; Jacko has been putting together a Romanian army.  Or should I say 'Army' - specifically the Third.

In this connection we have been investigating the 'Not Quite Mechanised' system (?) pioneered by Chris Kemp.  I down loaded and printed a copy of his rules  umpire's guidelines some time ago, but last night we thought to have a go at some of its mechanics.

Some weeks ago we tried a Soviet battalion storming a dug in Romanian one.  The Russians inflicted one hit in the first round of the firefight - and received nine in return (two of the defenders' hit dice were sixes).  We figured that was a handy repulse resulting in the complete destruction of the Soviet battalion.

Well, last night, it was not easy going.  To begin with, we (I) wanted to test out the combat mechanics to get a feel for how the action went.  So, we set up a set piece attack.  Now, as we are aiming towards Army level action, we have followed Mr Kemp's alternate system in which the NQM units count as Divisions, rather than battalions.
Soviet Army Corps with tanks and heavy mortars in support
attacks a single Romanian battalion with medium mortars in support.
Sorry about the mediocre photography.  
However, the first pass assumed the standard NQM scales.  A Russian Rifle Brigade of 3 battalions attacked a single Romanian battalion dug in .  The Russian Divisions were supported at Corps level by a couple of units of heavy mortars (120mm); the Romanians by a single unit of mediums (8cm). We assumed for the purpose of this exercise that (a) all the preliminary approach marches and reconnaissance had been carried out, and (b) the Soviet prepared mortar bombardment would go for the one approach move, and one move of firefight, and then stop.  The Romanian mortar would begin at the same time as the Russian, and throughout the firefight.  Maybe counter-battery by the Russians would have been legitimate, but after a brief discussion, let that pass by.
'Ourrah!  Ourrah pobieda!'

We certainly did a few things wrong, judging by a reread of page 5!  The Soviets never did succeed in pressing home the attack to a close assault!  They equalled the Romanian shooting in both rounds, and ended up taking twelve hits all up, whilst the Romanians were destroyed.  We knew something wasn't quite right.  But I find that it the way to get the hang of a rule set.  Suck it and see.  Then read over at leisure to see what you did wrong.
Soviet Rifle Divisions have taken losses serious enough to
disorganize them and stop them pressing home their attack.  The
armour, nothing loth, surges on.

Finally we tried an 'Army Level' game.  The battalions became Divisions.  The Soviets also got a Tank Brigade.  The Orbats were;

Red Army Corps (all Regular)

1 Tank Brigade (1xT34 CF3)
3 Rifle Divisions each with:
       [3 rifle bases (F3), 1 command/SMG base (CF1), 1 MMG base (S1), 1 PTRD base (S1)]
2 Mortar Regiments in direct support each with:
Having successfully driven in to the Rumanian position,
the Soviet armour is summarily thrown back out again. 
       1x120mm mortar (S3) (there ought to have been at least one FOO as well)

 Romanians (Regular)

1 Rifle Division with:
       3 rifle bases (F3), 1 command rifle base (CF1), 2 support bases (1xMMG 1x ATR = S2).
1 Mortar regiment in direct support (S3).

The Romanians have seen off two Rifle Divisions and a Tank
Brigade.  Maybe the 3rd Soviet Rifle Division can
carry the position.

Now, given the scale of the game, I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the ground scale is correspondingly reduced, from 40cm to the kilometer to 4 cm to the kilometre.  I suggested that the firefight 'zone' be placed at 3cm - overscale, to be sure, but with a clear separation between forces. The time scale would be correspondingly changed as well, leaving the 'on table' movement rates the same. 

The Soviets went in with a leading wave of two Rifle Divisions, 1st Div on the right, 2nd Div on the left, and the Tank Brigade in the centre.  Second Division at once took 3 hits from the Romanian supporting mortars (ouch) as they entered the 'firefight' range.  I assigned the hits to 2 'F' bases and 1 'S' base
The repulsed units fall back to reorganize.  Each of the three
units loses a base or strength point.  If you prefer:
the infantry have been reduced to about 80% strength;
the tanks to less than 70%
Now, here is where we made certain assumptions that appear to be wrong.  Having taken 50% hits, 2nd Div became disorganized, and probably ought at once to have bugged out.  I supposed that, though it could not press home an attack, it could at least carry on a firefight in support of the remaining units. On top of that it seems a morale check might have been in order. In the firefight zone, all Russian units fired.  We weren't sure whether the tank represented just one 'CU - combat unit' for the vehicle, or 3 - one for each strength point (SP).  That question cropped up in the close assault phase as well.  I supposed that as a 'base' represented a single SP on an infantry stand, then 1 SP represented a base.  But we had been rolling a single die for each of the SP3 mortars.  Which was it to be?

Well, the first round of the firefight did not go well for the Russians.  First Division took 3 hits incoming, disorganizing that unit, but the Tank brigade remained unscathed.  But the Romanians were taking some knocks as well.  In the next round of firefight, the Russians did a little better, but only the tank could close assault.
During the firefight phases, the Russians inflict 4 hits - enough
to destroy the defenders outright.  But their losses are enough
also to disorganize the Russians.

Tank terror having been shrugged off successfully (I think we ignored it for the purposes of this 'play test') the Romanians were pushed back by the Soviet armour, but remained in the fight.  One problem we encountered at this point was what constitutes a 'win' for the attackers. Possibly now was a good time for the Romanians to take a morale roll (maybe they did at that, I don't positively recall, now).  Be that as it may, the battle continued.  Again I gave the tank 3 dice for its 3 strength points, and the Romanians had enough still in hand for their two dice.  And I rolled diddly squat, and he rolled 2 hits.

Back went the armour, and the rest of the first wave, to reorganize and generally feel sorry for themselves.  In went the reserve Division, the 3rd.  Well, that didn't go so well, neither.  The delay between the repulse of the first wave and the advance of the second gave time (we supposed) for the Romanians to spend a move themselves reorganizing.  The 'black' pins we substituted simply by removing stands.  Having taken some knocks in the earlier fighting, the Romanians had just 2 stands remaining.  

Ample, of course.  The Soviets were fortunate in entering the firefight zone with just the one hit, but they never got any further.  They might have progressed, for they won the firefight, inflicting 4 hits against 3.  The Romanian defence was thus eliminated (but for the mortar regiment some kilometers to the rear.  But the three hits were enough to disorganise the Russians.  Could they occupy the position now bereft of defenders?  

End of the battle: mutual exhaustion.  The Romanians
have been worn down to nothing; the last Soviet
Division in a state of disorganization.
Considering the odds, and the defenders were only dug in, not fortified, they inflicted almost as many hits upon the Russians as they took themselves.  But there seems to be no 'reorganization for a destroyed unit, and the Russians ended up losing a base from each of the 1st and 2nd Divisions, and two from the third.  The two  hits (red counters) on the Tank Brigade became one (blue counter) representing its reduction to 2 strength points.  

Several questions were raised by this simple 'play test'.
1.  Do morale tests take place only in the context of close assaults?
1A.  Are morale tests applicable in fire fights?
2.  Can attacking units continue a firefight whilst disorganized, or must they at once retire to reorganize?
2A. Must attacking units break off a firefight once disorganized? (Note: it is clear they must break off a close assault).
3.  What constitutes 'contact (with the enemy)'?  I have assumed it to be 'within infantry firefight range', but can think of a whole swodge of other possibilities ranging from reaching harassing fire range to close assault.
What I am proposing to do it formalise Chris Kemp's 'guidelines' into something a little easier to use without unpire mediation.  That is why, in terms of the 'standard' NQM system, I have translated nominal distances and speeds into table-top terms.  For instance, taking the ground scale at 1:2500, that means 40cm represents a kilometre, and I have taken 1 turn to represent 1 hour.  Using my own conversion method (described in this blog some years ago), 1 kph is (approximately) represented by a 50mm game move.

I've done the same by tabulating weapons ranges as follows:
Maximum Effective Range
Maximum Harassing Range
Infantry small arms
300m -> 120mm
1 km -> 400mm
Infantry anti-tank
200m -> 80mm
Light anti-tank guns
500m -> 200mm
1 km -> 400mm
Medium anti-tank guns
1000m -> 400mm
2 km -> 800mm
Heavy any-tank guns
2000m -> 800mm
3 km -> 1200mm (1.2m)
Up to 47mm tank guns
300m -> 120mm
600m -> 240mm
48-76.2mm tank guns
500m -> 200mm
1 km -> 400mm

3-inch mortar
1.5 km -> 600mm
80-82 mm mortar
3 km -> 1200mm
120mm mortar
5 km -> 2000mm
Infantry guns (75-76.2 mm)

Field artillery

Light (105mm- 120mm} artillery
15km -> 6000mm
Medium (150+mm) artillery
18km -> 7200mm
Heavy (200+mm) artillery
20km -> 8000mm

The gap I have left to be filled by heavier anti-tank weapons - differentiating between short, medium, long and extra long 75/76/77mm guns: the long 85/88/90mm guns and extra-long 88: and the 100mm, 122mm and 128mm tank guns.  I have also added rows for infantry guns and field artillery. Though I am conscious that infantry guns were battalion inventories as a rule, heavier infantry guns (15cm) were more regimental, but in small numbers.  To represent the 6x15cm infantry guns of the 352nd Division (two per rifle battalion) at Normandy, for example, you would have to treat them as a Divisional asset (S1).  I'd consider doing the same with the infantry guns (total 14 for the Division, so S1 again - or group all the infantry guns into S2).  That would leave the battalions with something like this: 3 rifle bases (F1), 1 MMG base (S1), 1 mortar base (S1) and 1 panzerfaust base (F1). I'm not sure which of the latter 3 ought to incorporate the command base.

What about the ranges for these weapons in the 'Army level' game?  Chris Kemp calls this a scaling 'by three' but it's really a scaling by nine, or ten, where 1 battalion under 'standard' NQM becomes a Division of nine battalions (say) under the Army level game.  In the above article, the ground scale was reduced by a factor of ten, which meat a reduction in time scale by a factor of 3.  Of course a 12mm range for small arms (We are using your old school plastic kit armies, here) is much too finicky, so I have suggested a 3cm 'fire-fight range' or 'zone'  to the front at least of a given unit, and possibly all round.  I'll have a look at how the other weapons work with this Army level ground scale. We may have to look at 'scale by three' after all!

Quite a bit of work in progress here - much to think about.  Meanwhile, the other day I got a call from Tony concerning a 75th anniversary El Alamein war game.  What have I in my 8th Army inventory? Not a huge amount, as it happens... just bits and pieces.  I do have 8 Airfix Vickers MMGs though .

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Frivolous Fellows... (Interlude)

In a previous posting, much earlier in the year. I received a comment that seemed to cast aspersions upon the brigade commanded by Brigadier-General Daniel P. Tyler - the IVth of that name.

Frivolous Union  fellows giving the Army of
the Valley (CSA) a hard time.
My reply:
"I have to admit that the figures in Tyler's brigade were never my favourites.  'Frivolous fellows for serious work,' General T.J. Jackson might have said.  I find them surprisingly photogenic, though. They were also a useful source of subaltern command figures and flag bearers..."

I have another Union brigade of 'stabbing down' guys.  Haven't a clue what they are supposed to be doing, actually.  I suppose one could not fault them for lacking a determined look.  In fact, so unappealing are those guys, that I still haven't given them a 'finished' look.  But, waste not, want not; one can not allow a whole brigade to go to waste!

Have you ever noticed, though, that you kinda despise your unfavourite units, and make them into the most brittle types of conscripts, militia, and assorted military, just to drive the point home.  And then these guys stick a finger up the nose of your prejudice, fight like demons, break and run only after extreme provocation, and, if and when they do, rally in a trice like a box of birds?  Meanwhile your pets run into a little hot stuff, squawk, vanish, and if after a long while you do manage to drag them back into the fray, like as not, it will be 'Ho, for the tall timber!' at the slightest hint of incoming (Reason for reaction test: first casualties after rallying from rout).
Regiment of Airfix figures.
(Posted in Archduke Piccolo, January 2010)
I'd probably be inclined to 'hide' the wonky poses among others by mixing the figures in each unit. Here's a thing, though.  Consider the old ESCI or Revell figures.  Individually fairly characterless,  the different poses in single unit give the whole a dynamic look.  The regiment or battalion becomes full of character.  Apart from the standing and kneeling firing, you can't really do that with the Airfix figures.  Individually loaded with character (even the frivolous guys and the 'stabbing down' dudes), a 'mixed pose' Airfix  unit looks simply a mess - in my view.  Even the shooting guys have to stand formally with the kneeling guys in the front rank, and the standing in the second.
Regiments of ESCI figures.
(Posted in Archduke Piccolo, January 2010)
Note that this applies to the infantry only: the Airfix 'Seventh Cavalry' used as the major source of horsemen look fine in mixed units.  Just as well: otherwise one would be buying a heck of a lot of boxes of ten figures apiece!  Mind you, I have at least sixteen boxes of Airfix represented, augmented by one box of Atlantic

Later in the Stonewall in the Valley campaign , if and when General Fremont's Division puts in an appearance, we might see some of my 'mixed' figure ESCI units

Convivial evening.

The Germans hurrying westward towards their own lines see that the Russians
have established a roadblock.
On Thursday evening, my war games buddy, Paul, a.k.a. 'Jacko' (Painting Little Soldiers) paid a visit. Usually we just have a war games chinwag, but on this occasion methought a small game was in order.  World War Two, using the simple rule set and a scenario from Neil Thomas's One-Hour Wargames.
Russian flank attack held by the Germans.  Third Rifle Platoon
has already taken a lot of stick, just 4 SPs of 15 remaining!
These games comprise (usually, though not always) six units the side  On this occasion, being WW2, they were chosen from 3-4 infantry, 0-2 Tanks, 0-2 'Mortars' and 0-2 Anti-tank guns.  The actual composition was decided by dice rolls. Wouldn't you know it we both rolled '2', which gave us 3 infantry, 2 anti-tank guns and 1 'mortar'.
Not that the Germans are getting off unscathed:
the infantry have taken a hit, the AT unit 6.
'Mortar' in Neil Thomas's rule set can stand for infantry guns equally well - the sort of weapon that might be ready to hand in a company level action.  The scale of action in these games is that of a reinforced company, each infantry unit representing a platoon of about 40 men, and each weapon representing a platoon or section of three. So both sides had an infantry company of three rifle platoons, plus support weapons.

The German anti-tank guns were represented by one towed and one half-track mounted PaK40 (treated identically); the Russians had two 45mm guns towed by light trucks. The Red Army 120mm mortar was matched by the German 7.5cm light infantry gun. We neither of us had a tank to bless ourselves with.

As I had rolled first, I did suggest that Paul might like to re-roll. But he was happy enough with the status quo. I discover that Mr Thomas recommended a re-roll in the event of identical forces being generated (I ought to have looked at the time, maybe), but the result was reasonably interesting as it transpired.

Excellent German shooting.  The shooting dice
for the AT guns have already received the -2
adjustment for shooting at infantry.
Paul got the Red Army (Russians. naturally), I got the Blue. Then we rolled for the scenario. Scenario 13: 'Escape'. Although this purports to be the Blue force 'returning from a raid'. I'm more inclined to think of it as a German force struggling to reestablish contact with the front line during the course of a Russian offensive that, having gained several miles of ground, is beginning to peter out.
As the Germans stagger westwards (southwards according to book, but that is simply map orientation), the Russians race to slam shut the doors to escape.  Already a Russian platoon sits astride the road west.
The sudden irruption of the Soviet AT guns deflects the
infantry gun and the infantry in the woods.
As the Germans approach this slight obstacle, there suddenly appears from the south a lot of infantry - two more rifle platoons, swarming over the rise.  At once, the half-track AT gun turns to engage.  As the rules allow 360-degree fire for all units, turning the unit on the spot seems appropriate, for the sake of appearances at any rate.  Now, anti-tank guns aren't generally the best weapons with which to engage infantry (or anything else but tanks), and the SP gun is momentarily on its own.  But the other gun and Nr. 3 Rifle Platoon, swing to the left to join the fight.

The next day I did a bit of maffs and found that under this rule set, a fire-fight between two infantry units against one infantry and two anti-tank is very nearly an even match - just the sliver of an edge in favour of the two infantry in terms of fire-power, but this being offset by the 15 extra SPs they have to eliminate.  But in the German favour here was the clincher - the infantry gun: lethal against infantry.
As it turns out, the SP anti-tank's shooting does a lot of damage to the Russian 3rd Rifle Platoon (Russians in Bold; Germans in Italics).  By the time the other three units join the action, the Russians on the rise are badly outmatched.   Meanwhile the 2nd Platoon and 1st Platoon are fighting their own private duel.  Here the Reds get the first shots, an advantage they never lose.  First Platoon enters the wood in the hope of outflanking the enemy road block.

Each unit begins with 15 'strength points' (SP), reduced by one for each pip on the dice representing shooting at it.  I represented this as a sequence of coloured dice, each representing 5SP in the holders illustrated (assembled from parts given me by Brian 'A Fist full of Plastic' O'Sullivan many, many moons ago).  The sequence was White/Red/Blue.  I place a SP holder only when a unit started taking hits (which is why you find the towed AT gun without a marker - it never took a hit).  Suppose an infantry unit has already taken 1 hit.  The SP indicator is a white die showing '4'.  Then it takes 6 more hits,  Then, having just 8 SPs remaining, the SP indicator is switched to a red die showing '3' (5+3).

Suppose next turn it takes a further 3 hits.  Then the final indicator will be the blue die showing '5' for that number of SPs remaining to it.   
2 Platoon loses its battle, but their distant opponents
have taken a mauling.
Then arrives the pair of Soviet anti-tank guns from the north flank, on the German side of the woods.

I had half-expected that.  The infantry gun at once switches targets to these guns, whilst at the same time the 1st Platoon is recalled and lines the eastern wood edge.  Although the Russian guns inflict some damage, they are badly over-matched - and this without taking into account the superb German shooting throughout the whole action.
The Soviet AT guns under a cross fire - 9 hits on this move
being enough to destroy one unit and bring the other
almost to its demise as well.
Having seen off the flanking Russian infantry, 3rd Platoon and the AT guns swing westwards once more to resume their march.  But 2nd Platoon has lost its fight against the road block (the Russian platoon there helped by a section of AT guns that was close enough to engage the German infantry from the flank).  However, two AT units are no match for infantry backed by an infantry gun, and are soon overwhelmed.

The road block is still there.
A rare instance of poor shooting by the Germans
By the time the final Soviet reinforcement arrives, the 120mm mortar in rear of 1st Platoon, it is too late, as the Germans finally broke the resistance of the riflemen.  It is merely a matter of a concerted push that will knock out the mortar and the Germans can escape.

In retrospect it is hard to determine the balance of that scenario as played with the forces allocated. German shooting was superb all night.  The 'one' shown in the picture to the right for 3rd Platoon shooting was a rarity, and my AT guns seemed to shrug off their disadvantages in this type of fight.  One thing for sure, the Russians could well have used their 'mortar' much earlier in the fight, perhaps substituting for one of the platoons on the hill.

Thanks, Paul, for an enjoyable evening.

Post script:  I was going to include in this posting some comments on scaling WW2 miniatures games.  I'll leave that for another occasion.