Thursday, October 25, 2012

Intermezzo: Encounter at Chilyabunnsk - concluded.

Continuing from my last posting, I had decided my main effort was to to be on my right, the Tank Company being accompanied by two rifle platoons and the mortar company.   The intention was to seize the ridge beyond the stream, eventually to line the crest with the mortars to support the further advance on that axis by the tanks and infantry.  A German light tank, edging around the woods fronting the stream discovered the error of its ways and was swiftly knocked out on the road.

But the Germans rather got the ridge first - or at least had reached a point at which too hasty an advance by my cheloveks was going to be extremely hazardous.

For all that, a section of Nr2 Platoon did occupy the edge of the dense thicket lining the headwaters of the creek, and there awaited an attack by the whole of the German 2nd Platoon.
Sure enough, that was where the two forces first collided, the Germans coming on in strength.  The first fires of the Russian infantry felled a few Germans but it was quickly obvious that the line of the stream east of the road would not long be held.  In a brisk exchange of fire, the Russian section gave its all, all ten men dying where they stood, each but one taking an enemy with him.   Quickly the remainder of Nr2 Platoon lined the near edge of the wood to await the German advance therein.

Meanwhile, the StuG Platoon that tried to penetrate the defile between the woods immediately to the north of the town got a swift reminder that the Russian tank company commander was on the qui vive.  The moment the first StuG poked its nose around the corner, it took a fatal hit.  The remaining two sat back for a bit of a think.

As the Russians hesitated on their right flank, the Germans were making use of the time to build up for a massive strike.  Possibly in order to distract the Soviets, or maybe to test their mettle, a PzIV attempted to ease around the east end of the wood.  It also fell victim to accurate effective tank gunnery.

The anticipated surge was not long in coming, but the Russians were waiting for them.  Over the crest came the long line of German tanks, to engage Nr2 Tank Platoon at point blank range.  Outnumbered more than two to one, the latter could, however, count up the support of Nr1 platoon within effective range, and the anti-tank rifles of 1st Rifle Platoon.   

Accurate so far across the whole front, the Russian gunnery failed them somewhat under the close pressure.  True, one panzer blew up and caught fire; another suffered heavy damage but was able to continue the fight, whilst the PzIVF2, coming in for special treatment by the right hand T34, escaped with minor damage.  Despite being on the move,  The Germans did better.  Two T34s bit the dust, one immediately bursting into flames, and the survivor made off.  

This was not at all good news for the Soviets, in view of the build up of German strength in the centre.  Oberstleutnant von Ormandy had long since made the decision to commit his reserve panzerjaeger to the centre in support of his armoured left hook, and now he brought up his anti-tank guns as well.  The latter move - the classic German cooperation between tank and anti-tank, was to prove decisive, and in spectacular fashion.
But what was happening on the rest of the front?  With ample armoured resources available, the German commander had made it his policy to apply heavy pressure along the whole front.  His attempted second probe in his right centre suffered a worse fate than the first: a second StuG shuddering smoking to a halt, whereat the survivor fell back a short distance for another rethink.   
On the extreme eastern flank, a brisk firefight had developed between 1st StuG Platoon and the anti-tank guns and rifles lining the wall of the cornfield.  As they approached, they caught the LMG platoon running for the woods, cutting down 4 of their number before they reached cover.  Sweeping around it they were met by heavy and effective anti-tank that put the long-barrelled AFV at once out of action.  But then the inherent vulnerability of anti-tank guns, even in ambush, asserted itself, and they, and #2 Section's ATR were quickly silenced. 

At this point I have to apologize to the reader for the lack of AT guns in these pictures.  I simply forgot to pack the correct box on the day.  So had to substitute Panzer Lehr counters, with green D6s showing crew strength.  I would not have included them in the pictures at all, but they did perform tolerably well on the day, destroying two StuGs, and heavily damaging two others.
Having achieved an early and perhaps lucky success, the German panzers resumed their sweep, the Russian 1st rifle Platoon losing its AT rifle team to tank MG fire and being edged off its river line position.  The mortar company, unable to achieve anything useful in the circumstances, hastily began to fade into the tall timber to their rear, and the Russian 1st Tank Platoon made ready to take on the remaining panzers.

But now the odds were much more heavily against them,  Although they managed to inflict further damage - another panzer knocked out - there was a lot more incoming than outgoing.  For all that, most of the German fire was ineffective, doing hardly any worthwhile damage.  But the gunners of the PaK38 platoon were deadeye veterans of many a battle, each gun taking on a different T34.  Wham!  Wham! two shots, two hits.  Boomph!  Woomph!  Two hits; two knockouts.  His AT guns needing 5s to hit, Tony rolled something like 6 and 7 on his D10;  and  on his D6s for effect: 2 sixes!  You couldn't argue with that!
That was the battle, pretty much. Although the remnants of one of the German panzer platoons fell back over the ridge, the surviving T34 of 1st Platoon also decided against sticking around, and made off to the north.  In this decision he was helped by his Tank commander being brewed up in his vehicle under fire from the StuGs on the distant flank.   
Opposition to the German advance on the right had by now faded away to nothing, and it was going to be a case of sauve qui peut for the Russians remaining.
Yet the Germans knew they had been in a fight to crack the Russian resistance.  Though they had killed or wounded some 35 Soviet infantry and gunners, and destroyed 5 of 7 enemy tanks; though they had successfully secure Chilyabunnsk against Soviet attack for months to come, the price had not come cheap.
Although just 9 infantry were lost, as many as 7 German AFVs were now wrecks, and a further 5 would have to see the inside of a workshop very shortly (had taken a Heavy Damage hit, or, in the case of the PzIVf2, 3 light damage hits - any more damage would have seen that vehicle smoking merrily on the field).
A German victory: undeniably.  But it was one of those occasions in which Col Ivan Andreivitch Dowmanovitchski could sip philosophically his vodka with a splash of vodka and derive a certain satisfaction from the day's events.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Intermezzo: Encounter at Chilyabunnsk

Labour weekend being the time that the Cavalier Club stages its 'Conquest' wargames convention left not much activity happening at the Woolston Club (which I think is still the best wargames venue in Christchurch.
So the pick-up Panzer Marsch game between myself and Tony Ormandy was played in splendid isolation on an 8'x6' table in the middle of an empty floor.  A couple of other guys (Kevin and Jonathan) turned up to kibitz and chew the fat, and a pleasant laid-back sort of day was the outcome.

General narrative:
Colonel I.A. Dowmanovitchsky received the order on May 9th to make a push towards the important rural town of Chilyabunnsk, to destroy all Hitlerite troops therein, and occupy and fortify the place for defence.  It so happened that the town had lain pretty much unscathed in no man's land through the terrible winter just past, and the local German commander detailed Oberstleutnant Antonio von Ormandy with a kampfgruppe of all arms to take, carry or seize the town and the ridges beyond, and if possible to exploit on towards the north.   So it was that the early morning of May 9th 1942 found the two battlegroups racing to meet each other.  The Germans achieved their first objective, the town, without opposition, but it soon became apparent that the day was not going to continue peacefully for much longer...

The first pictures are of a general Russian advance: Nr3 Rifle platoon, the MMG Platoon, and a platoon of 45mm Anti-tank guns entering a large field; whilst a weak tank company, carrying  Nr2 Rifle platoon, moves rapidly up the road.

 The Soviet OOB was as follows (1500Army Points under the Panzer Marsch system:
* Battlegroup Command - C.O. and rifle section, with Ammo supply vehicle and a 76.2mm Infantry gun attached;
* Tank Company (understrength) of 2 Platoons, 7 T34/76 tanks overall;
* Rifle Company of 3 Platoons each comprising an 8-man HQ section and 2 10-man rifle sections
(each section, including the Coy HQ, carried 2 SMGs, 1 LMG, 5 Rifles and a PTRD Anti-Tank Rifle)
* Machine-gun Company (attached to Rifle Company) with:
     - Medium MG Platoon - 4xMMG
     - Light MG Platoon - 5xLMG
     - Light Mortar Platoon - 3x50mm Mortars
* Mortar Company - 6 x 82mm Mortars carried by as many light trucks
* Anti-tank gun Platoon - 4 x 45L46 Anti-tank guns with light truck tows (unfortunately, I forgot to pack the guns - or at least, I thought I had.  This will spoil some of the pics, unfortunately...)
 The above picture shows the Russian tank column carrying Nr2 Platoon up the road...

...and this shows Nr1 Platoon to their immediate right advancing on foot.  Most of these are ESCI figures, but the SMG guy in the fur hat is the figure that came with the Matchbox T34 kit, and the rest are Airfix or Hong knockoffs of some outfit I've never been able to identify.
Trucks of the Mortar company advance up the right flank...

I never did get a very clear picture of the German OOB, but broadly speaking the Battlegoup comprised:
* Battlegroup HQ
* A weak Composite Panzer Company with a PzIIF, Several PzIII tanks armed severally with 37mm (PzIIIF), short 50mm (PzIIIH) and long 50mm (Panzer IIIJ); and PzIVF1s and a PzIVF2 - a total of 9 Panzers.
Panzer company advancing up the German left flank

 * Antitank Gun Platoon with 2 x 50mm PaK38s, and a 37mm PaK35/36
German antitank company deploys along the north edge
 of the orchard
 * A weak Panzerjager platoon with 2 Marders armed with 75L43 guns.
Panzerjager company in reserve at the south end of the town.
 * An infantry company - a platoon and Coy HQ of which ensconced itself in the town.
Wehrmacht Nr1 Infantry Platoon,
sweeping through Chilyabunnsk
 * Two StuGIII platoons attached to the composite Panzer Coy.  Each comprised 3 StuGs.  The lead (Nr! Platoon comprised 1 long and 2 short gunned AFVs and the 2nd, 2 long and 1 short.
The two StuG Platoons, one heading to sweep around
the right, the other to push up the right centre between
the wooded areas.
Below is the general view of the table from the German point of view.  The Panzers advance up the left flank, heading through the open woods thence onto the ridge beyond.  The StuG platoons push up on the right, Nr1 platoon sweeping around to the right of the wooded areas in an attempt to flank the Soviet positions; Nr2 Platoon was to push between the small tracts of dense wood close by the town (Chilyabunnsk) and surrounding the source of the small stream.
Chilyabunnsk and environs, looking north, the Germans
advancing from the south.
 The centre was covered by the infantry platoon in Chilyabunnsk; the Antitank Gun Platoon dropped into battery position along the north face of the orchard;  Nr 2 Platoon raced forward in its motor vehicles and disembarked in the lee of the central hill (We'll call it point 101); and Nr3 Platoon accompanied the Panzers.
Looking south from behind Soviet lines.
Here's the situation from the Soviet perspective.  The tanks, together with Nr2 Rifle Platoon race up the road, but not so fast they were unable to time their halt to unload.  Nr1 Platoon had perforce to advance on foot, which meant they fetched up behind Nr2 Platoon.  Upon the right flank, the Mortar company also advanced.  I did hope I could occupy the ridge and Point 101 betimes, but things didn't work out that way.

Meanwhile, Nr3 Platoon, together with the anti-tank guns and MMG Platoon were to set up a defensive position in the large field.  The LMG moved up on its left heading for the woods in front of the field (and with luck the woods beyond), and it was hoped a section from the Rifle Platoon could occupy the wood also.

Both sides surprised the other with its selection of AFVs Tony expected me to front with 10 T34s at least (we were looking at early 1942 as the limit of our allowed technology); and I had to admit that the 17 tanks and assault guns the Germans turned up came as something of a shock.  We'll see what happened next time...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Army Organisation: Kiivar

Readers who have been following this blogspot for any length of time might well be wondering whatever happened to the 'Jono's World' project.  It's still going, in fact, but unfortunately without its creator, Jono.  Several months ago I got a call in which he felt that the wargaming aspect didn't interest him so much as did the creation of the worlds and the filling in the geography and history. 
I might have guessed.  He had for some weeks been talking up an imaginary world very similar to our own, but with New Zealand increased in size to a pair of continents.  Nice idea, but, having spent considerable time on it, I wanted to develop the Sideon IV concept.  Persuading Jono to keep his armies took considerable effort (rightly or wrongly), and I hope he does find enjoyment out of them - they don't have to be Sideon IV.  But I respect his decision.  I don't think it came easy.

Meanwhile, continuing the project for myself, I've begun collecting various army men type figures and am on the hunt for suitable vehicles and ordnance to go with them.  The above two pictures show an infantry - possibly armoured infantry - company comprising 3 rifle platoons (each of 2 sections/squads of 7 men apiece), a medium machine-gun platoon with 4 MMGs, a mortar section (sans mortars - more of this anon), and a section of Bazooka men.  This latter section (squad) is to be transferred to another infantry company.

By way of comparison of scale, my two recently acquired  PzIVs are included in the picture.  The lower angle in the next picture gives possibly a clearer idea.  Under-scale; yes.  Acceptably so: yes again.  They will count as probably the top notch AFV in Jono's World: Heavy (or maybe medium) Tank with a heavy anti-tank gun.

 Below is a selection of figures of a different manufacture that I bought at a supermarket of all places.  It seems to have been some promotion or other.  At any rate, the tanks were quite underscale compared with the figures.  Yet they seemed to me usable (the jeeps, on the other hand are HUGE - they might end up as light trucks or artillery tractors).  I've halved the length of the gun barrel and call them light tanks, with a light anti-tank gun (a 20mm cannon, say).  The olive green vehicle in the background, an item that has been in this household for well over a decade, has become a light infantry support tank armed with a heavy infantry gun (a short 150mm fellow).   These four form a light tank company.
 Below are the figures.  Now I like these guys, for several reasons.  All the poses are reasonable, barring more grenade guys than I would really like.  And each pack was identical, unlike the random assortments one often finds: 3 packs gave 2 each of 10 different guys.  The only problem is that you don't get any support weapons.  These had to come from the other army men toys.  Each squad has 9 men, each platoon 20, with a Bazooka man attached to the Platoon HQ.  The earlier mentioned Bazooka Squad will become attached to the 'Weapons' Platoon of this Company.

So this MG Platoon is part of this infantry company. The two companies, by the way, are not intended to be part of the same battalion or regiment, but will represent separate units, one being a footslogger outfit, the other motorised or armoured infantry.

Here the organisation of the rifle units is clearer.  Of course, these are scaled down companies, 60 or 70 figures apiece (real companies being double or treble the number).  At that, it is likely in certain circumstances that each will stand in for and be referred to as their parent battalions - a secondary form of scaling.
Light tanks on the move past a hibernating - and none too fragrant - ancient hairy creature that used to be a mongrel but is now a designer breed, apparently: a Taco Terrier (chihuahua/fox terrier cross - this specimen at least came out looking like a dog).  The severed pieces of gun barrel on the tanks will not go to waste, becoming shortly the tubes of the mortar sections integral to the infantry companies.

Finally, a pic of a light tank compared with the foot figures.  The right hand group are slightly taller, and vary in height as well (some big guys in there!), but I don't think the tank - as tankette - looks too out of place.

These are all from the army of Kiivar, except for the PzIVs.  They are destined to join the invading Army of Raesharn... Some more soldiery (tan) called for...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Excursion to the West Coast...

I'll explain these later... 
Last week, Karen and I took advantage of a certain promotion deal and took a two-day rail excursion to the West Coast.  That is to say, the west coast of the South Island in New Zealand, called the West Coast, and not to be confused with, say, the west coast of the United States of America.   We were sitting across from an American couple from northern California - she a well-travelled accountant taking a break from her  international company, he employed in the same profession for a mortuary.   They were on their way to visit the Franz Josef glacier - a well-known tourist attraction.  

We set off from Christchurch railway station at 8:15 a.m. amid overcast and drizzle, which turned suddenly to snow before we got to Springfield.  By the time we got to Arthur's Pass, the snow had really set in.
Snow at Arthur's Pass Station, the morning of our westward
Through the Otira Tunnel (5+ miles of darkness travelling through the Southern Alps, down a 1:33 slope - hence two locomotives), and it rained all the way to Greymouth on the coast, rained the entire bus trip to Hokitika - a small town of little more than 3000 souls - where we stayed the night (rain).  It rained the following day all the way back to Otira tunnel.  Now, I'm not complaining.  For one from rain-shadow Christchurch, the weather made a welcome change, and gave the scenery a mystery to add to its hugeness on the far side of the Divide.  I liked the rain.
Snow at Arthur's Pass taken from the train station
 but looking in the opposite direction
 from that above, taken the following afternoon
 Emerging from the Otira tunnel we burst into a winter wonderland of Arthur's Pass village, where there had been near on a foot of snow overnight.  I took several pictures of the valley we descended...
Looking down the valley from Arthur's Pass
 ...especially of the gorge through which threaded the upper reaches of the Waimakariri River - the northernmost of several braided water courses that are such a feature of the Canterbury plains. 
Below the snow line; the last picture of many I took of the
Waimakariri River gorge.  Spectacular scenery, and
well worth the trip.
But it was whilst in Hokitika that I made the discovery that is the subject of the picture leading this posting.  Entering a bookshop (to get out of the rain), I noticed it had a toy section.  I always investigate toy stores if I discover one whilst visiting a strange town.  Having found nothing so far of interest, I was just about to abandon my search, when lo and behold, on a bottom shelf were maybe a dozen AFVs of a fairly sizeable scale.  Four of those were quite recognizably Pz IV Gs, the others modelled more modern tanks. 

The 2 Panzer IVs I bought.  Sweet!
At once I had to have a couple of these, which, though under scale for the Army Men figures I was using, seemed to me just the thing for my 'Jono's World' project.  Made in China, their quality was impressive, and they had a nice 'heft' to them, probably due to the 'motor' inside.   They just looked good.  Karen said I could buy 'as many as I need', but I restrained myself and limited myself to two.
As you can see from this angle, they are toys.  At $NZ13.99
apiece, they seemed to me a reasonable buy.
As the above picture indicates, these are toys, not models - you power them up by dragging them backwards along a flat surface, then let them go.  They travel at high speed and waggling the turret a bit from side to side.  Well, you have to test drive them, eh?
As this pic shows, they are considerably larger than
the 1:76 scale models.
 More like 1:56 according to my measurements. 
I've added the final picture to show the difference in scale from a 1:76 metal vehicle (also a IVG, but without the turret skirt).  Comparing their widths suggests to me these plastic toys are about 1:56 scale.

The question is: who is the manufacturer?  The only indication was the 'Made in China', and the number on the turret (405B) has something to do with the factory production code for this vehicle.  I'd like to know what else they make...

(To be continued...)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pile of Shame - Part 2: Wooden Muskets

My one Hinchliffe unit - or at least the 9 that required treatment.
Originally painted at the 68th Foot - Durham Light Infantry -
they are now the 51st Foot - 2nd West Riding
Light Infantry.
 I spent most of last evening doing repair work on broken muskets and bayonets.  A few just needed rejoining, but quite a lot of muskets had broken off at the left hand, so a bit more creative fixes were required.
Minifigs: men of 2nd /69th South Lincolns.
 Not a pleasant job, fiddly and annoying.  Probably superglue would have been better to use than my modelling glue, which takes quite a while to gain any adhesive property worth a hoot.   It also helped (usually) to file the break flat, then score it for a better fit.
 Having got the things to stick, I painted over the whole top half of the musket with PVA.  I am hoping this will 'discourage' the muskets from snapping off again at the join.
Although the results don't look consistent, I'm happy to live with that.  My past efforts have proved satisfactory: once painted these should look OK I reckon.  I hope.

Toothpicks are very useful materials for the DIY wargamer!