Friday, September 14, 2018

Surprise Party

June, 1944.  Operation Bagration had begun, stormed though German lines and surged deep into Belorussia and the Baltic States,  At Latvian Dvinsk (Dunaburg, Daugavpils) the town and its outlying suburb villages were overrun, though not without a fight.  The Germans hastily abandoned the village of Malinava, northwest of Dvinsk.

Oberstleutnant Degnon, with an elite force of heavy tanks and panzergrenadiers was tasked with seizing, taking or carrying the village of Malinava as a counter to the bridgehead the Russians were establishing on the south bank of the Dvina River (just off the bottom edge of the map).  Dividing his small battlegroup into two columns, he ordered the column commanders, Hauptmann Carius and Oberleutnant Strecker to pinch out the village position, retake the place, and prepare for the enemy counter-attacks that would inevitably follow.  The Germans soon found that Malinava was already held in some strength, though the enemy had yet to consolidate his defences.

For his part, the local Russian Commander, Colonel Bogdan Bogganitch Bogdanovitch, had been apprehending just such a quickly mounted attack by the Hitlerites.  He had his tanks and tank-riding infantry, but where in all of Holy Mother Russia were his heavy weapons supports?  The mad rush of the advance had left them far behind.  All he could do was wait.  'Hold on,' said his commanding General, 'We have tanks and infantry coming up.  Some heavies, too.  They should arrive about midday.  Can you hold until then?'

'We'll hold,' said Colonel Bogdanovitch. He was by no means as sure of that as he tried to sound...

German Kampfgruppe Degnon:

HQ:  Lt-Col Drgnon, car, SP=6

Column Carius:

Haupt. Carius, Kubelwagen  SP=1
1st Panzer Company:  Tiger I, heavy rank, elite, SP=3
2nd Pz Coy: Tiger I, heavy tank, elite, SP=3
1st Panzergrenadier Coy: 4 infantry stands, SdKfz251 average SP=4
2nd PzGr Coy: 4 infantry stands, SdKfz251, average,  SP=4
4th PzGr (Weapons) Coy:
      MGs: 2 MMG stands, SdKfz251,average,  SP=2
      Mortars: 1 8cm mortar, SdKfz251, average, SP=2
Heacy Armoured Car Compamy:
      1 SdKfz234/2 Puma, elite, SP=3

Column Strecker:

Oblt. Strecker, kubelwagen, SP=1
3rd Pz Coy: Tiger I, heavy tank, elite, SP=3
4th Pz Coy: Tiger I, heavy tank, elite, SP=3
5th PzGr Coy: 4 infantry stands, truck, average, SP=4
6th {zGr Coy: 4 infantry stands, truck, average, SP=4
8th PzGr (Weapons) Coy:
     MG: 2 MMG stands, truck average, SP=2
     Mortar: 1 8cm mortar, truck, average, SP=2
Recon Support Armoured Car:
     1 SdKfz 234/3 with 75L24 gun, average, SP=3


Units: 17 (including commands, see Note 1
Median: 9
Strength Points: 50
Exhaustion Point: 17 SP lost

Russian, Elements of 4th Shock Army

Garrison, Malinava village and environs.

91st Tank Brigade: Colonel B.B. Bogdanovitch, SP=6
410th Tank Battalion:
     1st Tank Company: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     2nd Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     3rd Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
421st Tank Battalion:
     4th Tank Company:  1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     5th Tank Company:  1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     6th Tank Company:  1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
155th Tank desantski SMG battalion:
     1st SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, average, SP=4
     2nd SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, Average, SP=4
     3rd SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, average, SP=4
     MMG Coy: 2 MMG stands, average, SP=2
Light Armoured Car Coy:
     1 BA64, MG only, elite, SP=3

Reinforcements, arriving during the day:

At Point C:     Elements 129th Tank Brigade:
     7th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor,SP=3
     8th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     4th SMG tank desantski Coy: 4 SMG stands, average, SP=4
At Point B:   Elements 132nd Tank Brigade:
     9th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor. SP=3
     10th Tank Coy: 1 T34/76, poor, SP=3
     5th SMG Coy: 4 SMG stands, SP=4
At Point A:  Elements, 43rd Heavy Tank Battalion
     Captain S.S. Stepanski, jeep, SP=1 (See Note 1)
     1st Heavy Tank Coy: 1 IS2, average, SP=3
     2nd Heavy Tank Coy: 1 IS2, average, SP=3
     6th SMG  Coy: 4 SMG stands, SP=4


Units: 12, rising to 15, 18, 22
Median: 6, rising to 8, 9, 11
Strength Points: 41, rising to 51, 61, 72
Exhaustion Points: 14, rising to 17, 21, 24 SP lost


1 Commands counted as separate units for the purposes of counting medians.
2. Command stands with another stand may act with it without using an extra movement point.
3. Command units moving independently cost a movement point.
4.  I made the German tanks elite and the Russian 'poor' really to differentiate as much as possible their disparate strengths without differencing their SP values.
5. Recon units I decided were 'elite' to add to their value for recon purposes.  It didn't make much difference in this particular game, although the Puma did end up footing it with at least one T34.
4. On the Russian side, the Exhaustion Point is adjusted upwards, as reinforcements arrive.
5. Reinforcements are placed on the table entry points, or 1 edge grid area adjacent to it, at the beginning of their arrival turn before initiative is determined.
6.  Arrival times are
    C: Move 11
    B: Move 14
    A: Move 17
(These could have been randomised to add to uncertainty)
Before leaving here, I ought to say something about the rule set I was using.
1.  The rule set was Bob Cordery's Portable War Game.  However there were a few small tweaks to make what was a sizeable game play smoothly.
2.  The subcommanders added to the number of units, but could move with other units at no extra cost to the movement allowance.
3.  Turns were in pairs, comprising one side making its moves and attacks, then the other.  At the beginning of each pair, I rolled two dice.  One went ODD (German initiative) or EVEN (Russian initiative),  The other roll went 1,2 - activate median-1 units; 3,4 - activate median units; 5,6 activate median +1 units, for whichever unit 'won' the initiative.
4.  At the end of that side's moves, combats and rallies. then the other side rolled to activate its units.
5.  Commanders did not have a fighting capacity of their own, but helped (per rule set) with the fighting and or morale of units they were with.
6.  Pinning.  To move things along, I decided that pinned units in contact with the enemy could still battle in close combat.  The modifications still stood, but a 'natural' six rolled always counted as a hit on the enemy.  The effect of this was to help the action along a bit, especially when two opposing units were both pinned!  We'll see how that worked out next time.
7. Transports.  The Panzergrenadier trucks and half-tracks were integral to the unit.  If the infantry dismounted and left their vehicle, only the vehicle OR the infantry could move or shoot for the movement point allocated to the unit.   Motor transport in this action did not count as separate units.

Finally: this scenario owed a great deal to the 'Surprise Party' scenario from the Computer game Europe In Flames: East Front.  It seemed to me a fine scenario to adapt to this system

To be continued.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

'We Sail the Ocean Blue...'

Having read a blog review (Wargaming for Grown-ups)of the old SPI game Fighting Sail, I was reminded that I had bought a copy of the game, way back (1981).  I had never played it!  At around that time, Yaquinto or some such outfit produced the game Wooden Shops and Iron Men, which, I gather, drew forth at the time considerable accolades.  They rather put the SPI game into the shade.

One of the features of the WSAIM game was that it was played on a hex grid, but the SPI chose a square grid.  In my view the SPI choice is the better for the Age of Sail, as better to depict the four points of sailing: beating, reaching, broad reaching and running before the wind.   The game uses the 'movement allowance' system of 2 'movement ponts' for orthoganal and 3 MPs for diagonal movement.  There are also tacking and wear ship commands for changing course and direction by more than 90 degrees.   How the ships coped with the wind depended upon their sailing qualities, an A-grade vessel being a fine sailer with a well-trained crew; a C-grade being unhandy and/or with an ill-trained crew.
Points of sailing.  The arrows indicate wind direction
relative to the vessel.
I mentioned this to fellow blogger and Christchurch war gamer, Paul 'Jacko' Jackson.  A few evenings ago he came round with the interesting items pictured.  They came from a Pirate game, which I ought to have looked at more closely but I was fascinated by these clip-together vessels.  I've shown them here on part of the square-grid SPI game playing surface.
The large 3-4 masted vessels look like line-of-battle ships;
the 3-masted fore-and-aft rig is a schooner, apparently< the
square-rigged two-masted vessel I'd call a brig, or maybe a sloop,
and the single masted boat, I've been calling a cutter..
Wooden Ships and Iron Men game.  The vessels in look very similar to the Pirate game ships and small craft.

Can these vessels be used on the Fighting Sail playing grid?  Possibly, with some tweaking, bearing in mind that most of the ships take up two grid areas.  I'm already wondering about roping in all the small craft for a Battle of Lake Erie (1812) game...

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bits and Pieces

My last posting showed an interesting and useful pile of stuff sent to me by a fellow blogger from the Land of Oz (Mark, of One Sided Miniature Wargaming Discourse} .  Here is what I have done with them in the last week or so.  The T70 and the BA64 I touched up with a lighter green and some weathering, and added identifying numbers (usually, I paint them on, as here, rather than using transfers)
This picture compares the assembled 122mm howitzer with the semi-scratch-built I made some years ago,  This new addition doubled by 122mm howitzer inventory!
The Nebelwerfer came already assembled: you've seen it before.  The metal 7.5cm infantry gun, limber and RSO tractor I assembled, and I've given them a very basic paint job.  The tracks and washes and such have yet to be done.  The half tracks are still awaiting their weaponry. The background buildings I will touch on later in this posting.
Before I do, I should mention these items.  The civilian volkswagens were given me by a friend quite a while back.  I don't know whether these models were ever used as staff vehicles by the Wehrmacht, but painted with camo, they do look the part.  The white metal 15cm howitzers I bought at a bring-and-buy several years ago, but assembled only this last week.  The recoil slides are a bit munted, about which I couldn't do much, but I figure that if the thing looks like what it's meant to be then that is what it is.
...And these four items made up half my purchases from last Saturday's bring-and-buy at the Club: two Daimler scout cars, and two Bedford light trucks.  These are die cast models, something I didn't fully appreciate until I got them home (my eyesight really is becoming a problem...).

Now, these things.  Having got myself inveigled into grid war games, I needed to obtain buildings that were suited to my 4-inch square and 4-inch 'short-diameter' hex grids.  I have seen some impressive approaches to the problem on several blogs. The 2D (or 2.5D) approach by Foss1066 (Skull and Crown)  and Chris Kemp of Not Quite Mechanised. I find attractive, and it is only storage issues that give me pause about taking that line.  The former very kindly offered my a sample of his work, but as they are designed for 5-inch grids, and felt I had to decline.

I have gone instead for the 3D approach using very under scale buildings, rather similar to that taken by Bob Kett ("A Village Hex").  What gave me the idea was in fact the wooden 'town in a box' building set used by Bob Cordery and others for their games.   What you see above is a town or city-scape of home made, downloaded and assembled, and commercial card buildings.  For twentieth century warfare, I felt the need for some 'high rise' edifices, simple, '5-minute' jobs that at least look the part.  They are simply tea and Tabasco sauce packets, painted overall grey, given a low parapet and with doots and windows drawn on.  The large ones exactly fit the oblong formed by the opposite sides of my grid hexes.

Considering my interest in the Western Desert campaign, not to mention Medifluvian (Mesopotamian) operations carried out by the Ruberian Army against the Turkowaz Enpire, I bethought myself to make a few vaguely Middle Eastern/ North African style buildings - mosque, administration blocks and what have you.  

I don't show them in the above pictures, but here are a few  'built-up area' profiles that will be used for my hex-grid.  If buildings need to be removed to make way for soldiery of equipment, the grid area will (I hope) still be recognizably representing a village, town or city block.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Some time ago I sent a few surplus 15mm 11th century Byzantine figures (mostly cavalry) to one Mark Haughey of Western Australia , author of this blog spot: One Sided Miniature Wargaming Discourse.  Mark's Byzantine armies are look very nice already.  The flags set off something special, I think.

Expecting nothing in return, after all I have received stuff with no expectation of a return - a kind of pay it forward thing - I was surprised and appreciative of what Mark offered to send me by way of reciprocation.  I rather think he went the second mile on this.
The trove arrived a couple of days ago:

  • 3 ROCO schwere wehrmachtschlepper half tracks (plastic)
  • a 6-barrel nebelwerfer (plastic - survived the 3000 mile journey intact)
  • a light 7.5cm infantry gun (German, metal))
  • a limber (metal)
  • a RSO tractor (metal)
  • a T70 light tank (Russian, metal)
  • a BA64 armoured car (metal)
  • a 122mm field howitzer (Russian, metal)

It took me a while to identify the howitzer.  Thinking it was German,  I am very pleased to find it to be Russian after all. My only other 122mm was scratch built from cardboard around a kit-set barrel and breach moulding. These metal kits were actually unassembled 'mint in packs'   so I 'dummy ran' assembly for the pictures.  The howitzer I certainly assembled wrongly, but that has since been corrected.

This trove sure fills in some glaring gaps in my inventories!

My first thought for the armoured half tracks was for transport or command vehicles.  I even thought (briefly, and not very seriously) of going down the Charles Grant track and giving them to my Russians.  It appears that these vehicles were used as carriages for various AA and panzerwerfer weapons.  The vehicle seems not quite right for the 10-barrelled panzerwerfer, though if I simply roofed over the tray and mounted it in top, it might look the part.

But the thing was also used to mount the Uhu infra-red  light - something like this:
Image result for German Uhu searchlight

A 'Shapeways 1:285 scale 3D printed model.

Most images of the Uhu carriage have the angled sides and roof mounting, but this picture seems to indicate alternate mountings are possible with the vehicles Mark sent me.    Definitely a doable project, I think.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Still working on Operation Crusader

Ariete Division.  'First draft'.
Well, I'll tell you what: this project is proving a deal of harder work and searching than I originally thought.  I had what looked like a very good and detailed source for the Orders of Battle (OOB)- and discover I have reason to doubt its veracity.  On the other side of the coin, working out the SP values for the scale of game we're looking at is also being subjected to a review.
Italian XX Mobile Corps.  Ariete on the
mat. Trieste behind it.

One who has been following my progress so far has obviously been down this same road before, and amassed a deal of knowledge (thanks Neil).  Against that I have a source that, owing to comprehensive and circumstantial detail seems persuasive.  For a wild moment I thought the OOB referred to a later time, but the presence of Savona Division (surrendered at Bardia, January 1942 and never rebuilt) and RECAM (disbanded not long after the Crusader Operation) indicated I wasindeed reading a November 1941 Orbat..

On the other hand, it would appear that the inclusion of the Semovente group is mistaken (552 and 553 Battalions).  I have two OOBs printed out, one that includes the assault guns, one without.  The latter I unearthed buried among other bits of paper.  Pity: I would have liked to include them.
Having said that, since I took the photos a couple of nights ago, I thought I'd post them here anyway, as a kind of 'first draft' of what Ariete division and XX (Mobile) Corps will look like.

The Order of battle of Ariete Division will henceforth be based upon this:

132 Armoured Division 'Ariete' Gen Mario Balotta

32 Armoured Regiment 
  • I Lt Tank Bn
  • II Lt Tank Bn
  • III Lt tank Battalion detached to RECAM
132 Armoured Regiment
  • VII Md Tank Bn
  • VIII Md Tank Bn
  • IX Md Tank Bn
8th Bersaglieri Regiment
  • III Battalion
  • V Battalion
  • XII Battalion
132 Artillery Regiment
Battalion/ 26 Artillery Regiment (attached from Pavia Division
Battalion attached from 24th Corps Artillery Group.

No: no armoured cars, no Semovente.  'Jacko': I hope you are not disappointed!

But the Corps Troops do have truck mounted 102mm AA/AT.


On a personal note, I have very likely another operation in train. For the last thirteen years the vision in my left eye has been badly impaired by cataracts.  And at last, in the last few weeks I have noticed a marked deterioration in the vision of my right eye.  Yep.  Cataracts.  Confirmed by a visit to the optometrist last Thursday.  I now have an appointment for a consultation at the St George's Eye Care on Monday, 1 October.
Mixed plate.  Toothsome?  Oh, yes!

In a species of 'anti-celebration, Karen and I followed that evening's grocery buy with a feed at the 'Food Court' at the Eastgate shopping ... place.  This is what I got.  Mixed plate (lamb and chicken) with salad, chips (fries) and topped with BBQ sauce, sweet chili sauce, and yoghurt.

A unsolicited, unapologetic plug.

It was a bloody dam jolly good feed!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

'Operational Art' - and other stories...

These are just my German AFVs and artillery
I have been fascinated by the World War Two operational level game developments by a number of gamers and game designers who began exploring such game systems for several decades now.  Names such as Bob Cordery, Tim Gow, Chris Kemp and Martin Rapier come to mind, each with their own signature stamp on the concepts.  One ought not perhaps overlook Neil Thomas's One-Hour Wargames, and perhaps I have rather neglected to investigate further into the Sam Mustafa Rommel game system.

I'm a newbie to this type of game, for years being an aficionado of the Command Decision systems.  But when a couple of years back I set out a CD game, it remained on the table for several weeks with just two or three moves played, and was then put away again.  It was just too much effort.   Since then I have played several Not Quite Mechanised (NQM)/ Hexblitz/ Megablitz games and found them a lot of fun.

BUT... I know it not what you'd call 'good form', but I do feel the need to adapt such systems to my own inventories.  Although I know of at least two collections in this town that are orders of magnitude larger than mine, I have over the years amasses a fair inventory of kit...

You know what they say about gondolas, eh?

Of course I want to use it (it is also high time I organised it all).  It just wasn't happening with Command Decision, and the formerly popular Panzer Marsch! wasn't getting any traction lately, neither.

'Jacko' (Paul Jackson) and I have been much taken with the upscaled 'version' (insofar as it has any 'formal' existence) of  NQM, and have conducted some experiments along those lines.  We tried adapting the system to a hex grid game, using some Hexblitz mechanics, and we got a pretty exciting game out of it.

Continuing the saga, Bob Cordery has revisited his earlier Operational Art game system with a view to conducting an Operation Barbarossa campaign.  Exciting stuff.  Meanwhile, Jacko and I have been working on a game based upon the 1941 Western Desert relief of Tobruk, called Operation Crusader (18 November - 20 December, 1941.

So far I have been working on the Orders of Battle for the belligerents, and have come up with something that looks like this.  This is only the New Zealand Division and the Ariete Armoured, by way of sample ORBATS.
New Zealand Division setting out for Tobruk

2nd New Zealand (NZ) Division: Maj-Genl B. Freyberg  car SP=1
     4th (NZ) Bde:
          18th, 19th, 20th Bns - 3 stands (1) - 3SP + 1 (Veteran) = 4SP
     5th (NZ) Bde:
          21st, 22nd, 23rd; 28th (Maori) Bns = 4 stands 4SP + 1 (Veteran) = 5SP
     6th (NZ) Bde:
          24th, 25th, 26th Bns - 3 stands Basic 3SP+ 1 (Veteran) = 4SP
     27th (MG) Battalion (2) - 1 Vickers MMG stand - 1SP +1 (Veteran) = 2SP
     4th, 5th, 6th Field Rgts each with:
          1 x 25pr gun/how, Quad tractor; 1SP, 1 LOG (or grouped as 1 piece 3SP)
     7th Anti-Tank Rgt:
          1x 2pr AT gun with portee mount; 1SP
     14th LAA Rgt: 1 x Bofors AA gun, tractor: 1SP, 2LOG
     Divisional Cavalry: 1 x bren carrier, 1SP Recon
     Divisional Engineer Companies: 1 Engineer stand, 1 truck, 1SP, ENG
     Reserve MT Company: 1 truck, 4T,; 1 POL/Ammo truck 1LOG

Note 1:  I'm considering add a command figure to this 3-stand formation.  This figure
  would bring no SP to the group.  See infra)

Note 2: I'm thinking of modifying for quality and training by +1 (experienced, Soviet Guards) and +2
(Veteran or Elite); +1 for AFV or Medium-heavy artillery and mortars, and possibly rockets; +1 for AFV
armed with cannon (so not L3s or Lt Mk VIs); +1 for heavy AFV: +1 for superior equipment at any level
(the idea being that a Panther, Firefly and T34/85 gets the +1 for superior medium tanks only

Note 3: I see that I gave 2SP to the artillery and AT stands.  That was actually a mistake, but I am
 considering letting it stand, with a premium for certain weights or characteristics of artillery
 (+1 Quick Firing; +1 100mm-140mm; +2 149mm and heavier.

Total Strength: 23SP; 18 stands (excluding transports).  Exhaustion point: -8SP  

This formation would look. I believe, practically identical to a Bob Cordery or Tim Gow set up. 
But instead of SPs assigned to every stand, they are assigned (this applies to infantry, cavalry,
 and some recon units) to groups of stands representing regiments, brigades, and sometimes Divisions.

At the beginning of the Tobruk relief operation in Novemkber, 1941, the New Zealand Division
comprised nearly 20,000 officers and men, according to the Official History,  By this time, the average Russian Rifle Division could consider itself fortunate if it had as many as 5000.

Now, let's have a look at some of the opposition.

Ariete Division:  HQ: CO, car, Sigs vehicle 1SP

Supply Column:  Medium or heavy lorry LOG=3
POL Column: Medium or heavy lorry or fuel tanker LOG=2

132 Armoured Regiment:
     7th Armoured Battalion53xM13/40  1xM13, 2SP +1 (Tank) -1 (Poor Equipt) = 2SP
     8th Armoured Bn53xM13; 1xM13 2SP
     9th Armoured Bn53xM13; 1xM13  2SP

8th Bersagliere Regiment
     2 Rifle stands, 1 MG stand, 1 Mortar stand; SP=4
     2 trucks, each 2T
    1 AT stand (47mm AT gun), 1SP, truck or portee mount 1T

132nd Artillery Regiment

     (24 x 75L27 field arty; 10 x 105L28 light arty, total 34 pieces)
     1 x 75L27 @ 2SP OR
     1x 105L28 @ 2SP
     1 x 75L27 @ 1SP PLUS 1 x 105L28 @ SP=1

552nd/553rd Semovente Battalion: (4 ACVs and 16 AFVs): 1 x Semovente; 1SP +1 AFV = 2SP.

4/132 AA Battalion/ 2/24 AA battalion: (18 Hvy AA) 1 x truck portee 90mm AA OR 1 x 8.8cm FlaK SP=1; 2AA

Divisional Troops:

     3rd ‘Lancia di Novara’ Battalion: 33xL3.35 – 1 x L3/35 1SP Recon
     3rd Regiment ‘Nizza Cavalleria’: 40xAB41 – 1 x AB41 A/Car 1SP Recon

Total Strength = 19SP, 13 stands, Exhaustion point -7SP

1.  I am counting 30 tanks or assault guns as 1 SP; 24 guns as 1 SP.  This is double the Cordery system, and I do admit is not altogether commensurate with the upscaling of the infantry.  This will require testing, but I have hopes it will work out..
2. Each line represents a unit.
3. The Bersagliere Regiment may include a command figure to which the SP marker is assigned.
If used, this will apply also to the NZ and other brigade groups.  
4.  Multi-stand units may occupy two adjacent or 3 (hexagonal) or 4 (square) co-joined grid areas
5...Recon units:
My thinking is this, and owes something to the Chris Kemp game system.  It is intended as an aid to attack, can fight a little, but is really designed to improve attacking chances.  At the moment a units attacking a defensive one requires (in 'my' system) a 6 to hit an enemy in 'D' mode - defending or 'dug in'.  But suppose the enemy position were not reconnoitred ahead of time?   This should give the defenders the chance to get their licks in before the attacker can (so the attacker takes losses before rolling for its own attack).  This applies only to the first turn of the attack, subsequent turns will be held to have developed the enemy positions well enough for more effective attacks.  I am considering also bringing back the 5-5 and 6-6 hit requirement for the first round of an un-reconnoitred attack. 
6.  MG, infantry gun, mortar and heavy weapons (HW) stands that are integral to infantry and cavalry units I am considering allowing distance combat out to 1 grid area, at 1SP per stand.  This will be allowed only if the unit as a whole has no enemy in an (orthogonally)  adjacent grid area.

As I don't have the Italian inventory, I'm hoping to take some pics of 'Jacko's' kit to show what the Ariete Division would look like.
Should the NZ artillery comprise 3 gun stands, or just one?


Friday, August 10, 2018

Welcome diversion

Action on the Mahogany River
A week or so ago my copy of Bob Cordery's latest, Gridded Naval Wargames: Naval Wargaming in the Age of Steam, Iron, and Steel, arrived by courier, just as I was sitting on a mild winter's day (Antipodean late July) at my garden table attempting to put together some metal German WW2 15cm howitzers I recently discovered in my inventory.  The glue wasn't 'taking' for some reason, so the long awaited volume was a welcome break from frustration.
Confederate Shore guns getting ready to repel an attack by
Union Gunboat USS Lafayette.
I don't know how Bob shoehorns so much in so few pages - just 122, and yet there are ideas for six different war games - blockade running, battles between wood and iron, fleet actions and single ship duels, combined operations..  I makes for a great read, a fine source of ideas. plenty of meat and potatoes to chew on.  These little books make great bedside companions.  
The gun mountings are not glued to the turntables, so are free
 to swivel behind their barbette fortifications
The final chapter, "Coastal Operations", proved the inspiration for knocking together a couple of shore guns, possibly a touch anachronistic for the American Civil War riverine setting of the pictures accompanying this article.  This pair have been made from plastic tube, buts of felt colouring pen, balsa wood and the plastic top of a herb or spice jar (pieces I collect for their myriad 'recycling' uses).  
Having developed the strength of Island Number Nine,
The Union gunboat draws off.  Perhaps a landing will be required?
They are not perfect, by any stretch - pretty rough, withal - but they will do for my purposes.  Now, all that remains is to set up, carry out and report upon the Union attempt to capture or destroy the Confederate batteries of Island Number Nine.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Portmanteau war games - continued.

I should subtitle this: It seemed a good idea at the time.  Continuing the narrative - rather briefly - of my Tebaga Gap action, I should point out here that I used a heavily modified form of Bob Cordery's 'playing card' method of activating units for solo play.  Just quickly to recap: One side is designated 'Black' and other 'Red'; on each side, half the number of its units is called the 'median point', and cards are allocated -1, = and +1 this median to vary the number of units that may be activated for one side.  The whole is shuffled together into a single pack, and the cards drawn.  
8th Armoured Brigade, drawn up along its start line.

 On the whole I preferred to split the packs into Black and Red and, for each pair of turns, roll a die to see who went first.  This obviated a run of three or more 'Blacks' or 'Reds' turning up with the other side unable effectively to respond, but it did leave open the chance of getting in two turns in a row..  But my major modification was simply to do away with the cards altogether and roll a pair of dice - 1 die determined who went first (Odds = Allies; Evens = Axis) the other to determine how many units it could activate.  Once that side had moved, then the number of units activated was rolled for the second side.  In this determination: 1-2 = 'median'-1 units; 3-4 = 'median' units, 5-6 = 'median' +1 units.
New Zealand Division, ready to go.

 That seemed to work OK.  You may recall from last time, though, that I had split the Allies into two commands.  This I think is appropriate for Allied commands that are for some reason out of communication with each other, but on this occasion, I believe it was a mistaken policy.  Some of the reasons for this view emerged during the action. 

German defenders along the main road north

The best plan - and I think this was the one adopted (more or less) historically - would have been to clear the heights of the Matmata spur before committing the armour to force the passage along the valley floor.  Owing to the activation method I adopted, the New Zealand Division attack - unmotorised as the infantry battalions were - was fairly slow to develop; and the 8th Armoured Brigade get into action rather too soon.  
Looking east along the German defence line.  The PaK
company was placed in a very bad position and never
saw action all day.  The Allies simply did not get past the
infantry to their front.
 I'm still not sure how to handle the artillery in this scale of action.  I regarded all Axis units as invisible until they developed their position by fire or movement, or the Allies got close enough - one hex only intervening if the Germans were dug in (and, by implication, camouflaged).  As it happened, the German MG units on the southwestern slopes of Matmata rather hastily let rip against 24th (NZ) Battalion, and laid low half its strength at once.  Retribution was swift and terminal.  The three 25pr regiments brought down fire upon the luckless machine-gunners and obliterated their position.  Not a good exchange from the German point of view, and it meant that the New Zealanders approaching would have a clear run - give or take barbed wire and mines - all the way to the crest of the spur.
Having disclosed their position prematurely, the MGs
are quickly eliminated by artillery fire.

So it proved.  The Germans simply had to wait.  By the way, while I think of it, I permitted the German defending units to occupy two grid areas, by placing them astride the boundary between the two.  This derives from Bob Cordery's Hexblitz system, but see no reason why it could not work as well in the Portable Wargame system.
New Zealanders advancing on Matmata Ridge.
By this time, 8th Armoured Brigade was already heavily engaged with the panzergrenadiers dug in west of the main road, and even managed to whittle back some of its strength.  But the Germans proved hard to shift.  The supporting fire from the 8.8cm FlaK was soon reinforced by the Panzers and Marders.  Falling back to recover left the defending infantry free to recover their aplomb, and to reorganise.  That is to say, they could 'unpin'.  In the pictures you will observe the occasional yellow counter.  That indicated a 'pinned' unit.  Pined units were unable to initiate close combat, nor might they 'unpin' if in close contact with an enemy.  
The entire New Zealand Divisional artillery moves up to
close the range...

 And that brings me to something that involves a little bit of Boolean Algebra, characterised by the operators AND and OR. The order in which one prioritises the application these operators is usually determined in the Algebra by brackets, or some other method of linking.  For example, A OR (B AND C) means something different from (A OR B) AND C.  As a result of effective fire, a unit might be in a position in which it must retreat OR take a loss.

The wording goes: " ... Unit must retreat one grid area or lose 1 SP and become pinned.' Now, I think the pin is applied only if it is decided that the unit will take the loss.  A unit that retreats remains unpinned.  But this is by no means certain, and I am the type of guy who, faced with an ambiguity - which I can spot a mile off, by the way - will inevitably take the wrong intended meaning.   At any rate I went with what I thought was right.

Overlooking the German left flank...

Another issue raised itself, one I remembered from a previous occasion I looked at the pinning rules.  This is what happened to the Staffordshire Yeomanry.  Close assaulting the the trench line - probably not the smartest method of clearing out the enemy for armour - the Staffs took a hit and became pinned.  It could not move, and could not initiate a close assault.  I presumed, even though directly in front of and adjacent to the enemy, the Staffs could still shoot, but what can you do when you're looking for 5s or 6s, but you have to subtract 1 for the pin, and a further 1 for the enemy protected by fortifications or cover?  

The staffs were stuck, and could not be unstuck until the enemy left their position, voluntarily or by force.  The intervention of the Buffs Motor battalion didn't improve things, neither, as they fetched up pinned and under fire.  I was imagining the German battalion ending up with the entire 8th Armoured parked in fromt of their position, pinned, immodile, and as good a protection as they could hope to obtain against anything but artillery.

Frustrating though that is, there were ways to deal with the situation e.g. to call upon the New Zealand Div artillery.  There was plenty of it!  I feel like suggesting an amendment to the existing rule that a pinned unit may move one grid area but with these restrictions:  1. a pinned unit in a grid area adjacent to a grid area containing an unpinned enemy unit can not move; 2. any move must take the pinned unit further from the enemy than it is already; 3. the pinned unit choosing to move remains pinned, until a move is spent 'unpinning' 4. a unit being 'unpinned' may not move. Current restriction on 'unpinning' continue to apply.

III PzGr Battalion positions carried and overrun.
 As it happened, the ponderous New Zealand attack rolled forward to bring the hill defenders under heavy infantry attack.  Twenty-third Battalion took a loss passing though a minefield (the engineers hadn't come up); and was later to dash itself to pieces frontally assaulting the III PzGr Battalion.  Under cover of this attack, the Vickers platoons of 27th MG Battalion fetched up in an enfilade position on the German left, whilst 21st and 28th (Maori) Battalions launched their own attack.  A counter-attack by II PzGr Battalion looked for a moment as though it might overwhelm the 28th, but a timely intervention by the artillery came to the aid the Maoris.  II PzGr Battalion, within an hour reduced to remnants, was written out of the German order of battle.
The battles in the centre.  In the distance the 21st and 28th
battalions advancing to cut the road.  Time Jerry pilled out!

Although attack and counter-attack were leaving the German defences undented on the valley floor, the final clearing of the Matmata Spur was enough to unhinge the German position.  The elimination of III PzGr Bn brought the Germans below their exhaustion level: further counter-attacks were out of the question.  For their part, although 8th Armoured Brigade still retained all their units in action, it too had reached the end of its tether.  Only the New Zealanders retained the capacity for further attacks.  However, if I counted the 8th Armoured as exhausted, together with the losses the New Zealanders had taken, the whole came to just over half the total Allied force in SPs.  I decided then that the Allies had had enough and called the battle there. 

The Germans had stopped the Allies, but, badly hurt themselves, abandoned the position overnight to a fallback position protecting the coast road.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Portmanteau War Game

Second New Zealand Corps on their start line, facing
north into the Tebaga Gap.
For some eighteen months now, most of my war gaming focus has been upon grid war games and operations level actions, especially for my World War Two games.  I have to admit, though, that the plethora of game systems that have come my way - Bob Cordery, Tim Gow, Chris Kemp, Neil Thomas and Martin Rapier; all playable and attractive - have tended to contribute to a certain desire to amalgamate the whole lot into something flexible and playable at almost any scale from battalion level on up.  Hence the title of this posting: Portmanteau War Games.
Same scene, viewed from the south-east.

A couple of weeks ago I set up the following scenario to be fought, in the first instance, as a solo game, using Bob Cordery's 'Developing' game system.  The set up was based rather loosely upon the forcing of the Tebaga Gap in Tunisia, March 1943.  I didn't trouble to research it overmuch, as the thing was simply intended as a generic operation of this type.

The narrative ran that with the failure to force the Mareth Line on the Mediterranean coast, Field Marshal Montgomery dispatched the New Zealand Division, less its 4th Brigade (then detached and training up as an armoured Brigade), but with the addition of 8th (Light) Armoured Brigade, in a wide sweep around the Matmata Massif to force the gap between it and Djebel Tebaga into the rear of Panzer Armee Afrika.  The hope and expectation was that, cut off and surrounded, the Axis forces in southern Tunisia would be forced to lay down its arms.  Unfortunately for this plan, the Germans were able to respond betimes with a force sufficient to contest the passage

The action was to be fought over comprised a flat tract of country, dotted with a few ridges and hills, together with here and there thick patches of dry scrub and brush.  Constricting the plain, however, was a spur of the Matmata Hills thrusting westwards to form a bottleneck.  A good road passed up the floor of the valley, leading towards the coast, and the New Zealand Division objective.

The forces available were:

New Zealand Corps: Lieut-General B. Freyberg (HQ SP=6
Built into this element was the 14th AA Rgt, just because)

5th Infantry Brigade:
    21st Battalion ... SP=4
    23rd Battalion ... SP=4
    28th (Maori) Battalion ... SP=4
6th Infantry Brigade:
    24th Battalion ... SP=4
    25th Battalion ... SP=4
    26th Battalion ... SP=4
Elements 27 MG Battalion ... 2 stands, light truck SP=2

Divisional Artillery:
    4th Field Regiment 25pr ... SP=2
    5th Field Regiment 25pr ... SP=2
    6rh Field Regiment 25pr ... SP=2
    7th Anti-tank Regiment 2pr portee ... SP=2 (Classed as light anti-tank)
Divisional Mortars ... 2 stands, light truck SP=2 
Divisional Engineers ... 4-7 Coys ... 2 stands, heavy lorry, SP=2

Totals: 14 units (Median 7), SP=44:  Exhaustion point, -15SP

Attached: 8th Armoured Brigade (HQ SP=6)
   3rd Royal Tank Regiment ... SP=3 Sherman   1st Nottinghamshire Yeomanry ... SP=3 Sherman
   1st Staffordshire Yeomanry ... SP=3 Sherman   1st Buffs Motor Battalion ... SP=4 
   73rd Anti-tank Regiment ... SP=2 (Classed as 'poor' medium AT)
Totals: 6 units (Median 3), SP=19: Exhaustion point, -7SP

Mid-morning, 21 March, 1943: the general
Dug in MMG companies - something of a 'trip-wire' on the
forward slip of the Matmata Spur, protected by barbed wire
and mine fields. 

Elements Afrika Korps: HQ SP=6
I PGr Battalion ... SP=4 Half-track
II PGr Battalion ... SP=4 Halftrack
III PGr Battalion ... SP=4 Halftrack
Forward MG coys ... SP=2
Rearward MG coys ... SP=2
Panzer Battalion ... SP=3 (Panzer III Special, classed as 'poor' medium tank)
Marder Abteilung ... SP=2 (assault gun, classed as medium anti-tank)
8.8. cm FlaK Abteilung in ground role ... SP=2 (classed as heavy anti-tank)
5.0 PaK ... SP=2 (classed as 'poor' medium anti-tank.  
7.5 cm Light Infantry gun coy ... SP=2 (begins off table)
8cm Mortar company ... SP=2 (begins off table)

Totals: 12 units (Median 6), SP=33; Exhaustion point, -11SP

Some explanatory points, as they come to mind.
1.  Readers well informed of the Portable War Game systems will observe that I split the Allied formations by adding an extra HQ, and separate activations (if using cards, the armour would get Red 2,3,4; the Kiwis Red  6,7,8.  Part of this was due to the number of units overall being 20.  As it happens I didn't use cards, merely rolling dice with 

1-2 = Median-1 units activated
3-4 = Median units activated
5-6 = Median + 1 units activated.

So I could have stayed with 20 units, Median 10; SP=63, Exhaustion Point -21SP.  The split system I chose led to my calling this a 'portmanteau' war game. We might be returning to this later on.

2.  Although the PW system classes 5cm anti-tank as light, I took the 'long' 50L60 anti-tank as medium, but gave it a 'poor' rating against the Sherman 75mm gun.  The Allied 6pr AT gun was treated in the same way.  On reflection, I could equally well have made them 'elite' light anti-tank, though really it was rhe AT range of the weapon that persuades me to the line I took.

3. I did not allow the artillery to come into action until the enemy were 'spotted', which meant their moving and or shooting with someone - anyone - having a clear line of sight.  That meant the III Panzer Grenadier Battalion, dug in on the rear slope was going to come under artillery fire until the crest of the Matmata spur had been reached OR the 8th Armoured were about due west of the position.

4. The patches of brush provided concealment but not protection, blocked line of sight, and represented bad going for tracked vehicles or troops on foot, and we impassible to wheeled vehicles.

5. The high ground also represented bad going for vehicles.

6.  As it happens, PW treats motor vehicles and other transport as separate units, with their own SPs, a point I had forgotten until I had completed my preliminary set up.  For this action I treated the trucks and halftracks as integral to the unit, with no function but to move troops around more quickly than they could move on foot.  As I can't really see motor vehicles fighting on equal terms with 'sharp end' troops, I'll have to give this one further thought.  The game as played worked quite well the way I played it, though.

7.  Ground and time scale.  As a tank  or a group of 4 infantry stands represented a battalion,  I figured on a grid-cell being 1 km (1100 yards) across the flats.  That represented a ground scale of 1:10,000.  This suggested to me a time scale of 1 move representing 100 minutes, say 8 moves (roughly) for an 8-hour equinoctial period of  daylight.  As it happened, the action did continue into a second day.   

8. Oh, yes, while I think of it:  the strength points of the infantry units is given by the number of 2-figure stands.  The tanks and guns are given by the SP-markers.

9. Finally, I discovered subsequently that 8th Armoured had a highly idiosyncratic organisation of composite armoured battalions each comprising fair-sized squadrons of Shermans and Crusaders, a small troop of Grants, and a couple of troops of armoured cars (really nice war games units, actually).  The three companies of the Buffs Motor battalion were attached to the respective armoured regiments.  I could have orgaised the Brigade then, as 1 Sherman, 1 Crusader, 1 Armoured car, a Grant Tank as a brigade HQ, and the motor battalion.  The addition of 73rd Anti-tank was a little bit of historic license, that unit being attached to 1st Armoured division at about this time.

To be continued.