Sunday, February 21, 2016

Centurions of Tchagai

With the departure of Brian  ( A Fist Full of Plastic) to greener (and more stable) North Island pastures, my part in his Harad project has been taking a seat in the vehicle so far back, it's sitting on the tailgate of the trailer. But over the last couple of days I thought I would do something about the squadron of Centurion tanks.

My two Centurion tanks.  One's a kit, the other a toy...
 One of these is a second hand kitset vehicle, originally painted green, that I have spray-painted over with a tan/khaki colour.  The other was a shiny green toy with wheels that had its whole tracked drive assembly suggested by printed transfers on the sides.  After a bit of work bringing it up to (my rather liberal) war game standard, it, too got rough black undercoating and a spray-paint.  Can you tell which is which?  
With a little bit of work, the toy vehicle looks much
improved and usable.
How the toy vehicle was adapted into a usable
war games AFV.  Rough and ready, but it will do, I think. Still
undecided about flooring the vehicle.

To make use of the latter, I tried (and failed) to remove the transfers, roughly shaped the tracked drives with balsa wood, and glued cardboard circles to suggest sprocket drives and road wheels.  The sides upon which the transfers hasd been glued, I trimmed back with scissors to make into side skirts.  

The tracks themselves I cut from some non-slip matting that I then wrapped longitudinally around the balsa, overlapped the ends, and fastened down with a thumbtack.

Having removed the wheels and cut back the lugs that held the axles, I then jammed the tracked drive assembly between the sides and what remained of the axle lugs.  As the sides tended to curve inwards owing to the lack of anything to stop this, I shoved in a small block of balsa to hold them out.  Finally I added pieces of sheet balsa to form the lower hull, fore and aft. I am not sure whether to floor the thing with more balsa or cardboard.

The gun I also had to replace.  This is simply a plastic tube, inserted through a short piece of wider bore tubing by way of a fume extractor. Into the gun mantlet I bored a hole that would accept a piece of wire over which the gun assembly could be fitted and held rigid.  I haven't actually glued the gun on, yet, so it still slides off if I'm careless.

There is still a bit of work to do on this vehicle, but the guts of it has been done.  Although far from identical, this pair makes, in Command Decision terms, a fine little Centurion Tank Squadron for the Army of the Nabob of Tchagai.

Friday, February 12, 2016

How did this happen?

I have allowed myself recently to become distracted from my Napoleonic and Army Men projects to have a look at my World War Two collections.  I started with my German AFVs.
What to do with all this?  I have left off my trucks and half
So I laid these chappies out on the table.  Surveying this lot, methought - 'How the hell did that happen?'  Somehow or other I had acquired a whole bunch of stuff I didn't know I had...

A very large ambush of Tigers.  Or is it a streak?
 First: Panthera Tigris:  In the picture are 4 Airfix Tiger Is, accompanied by their little friend, the Fujimi PzIIIN.  Behind are three of larger scale Tiger Is,  the two flanking ones being the ready-made ready-painted fellows you can get from book stores; the centre one, very slightly smaller, having been donated to the cause by a friend (Brian, I think).  That one was lacking its outer road wheels.  In another article I'll discuss what I did about that.  The sand coloured one is a later type of Tiger I with the later type of road wheels and zimmarit coating on the hull and turret sides.  This trio forms a company in Command Decision Game terms with its accompanying PzIIIM or skirtless PzIIIN as desired.  A couple of Hunting Tigers (Jagdtigers) complete the picture.  Out of shot are my two King Tigers, and my three ROCO Tiger Is (Thanks to Robin for that trio).
The prettiest AFV design of the War, though the British
Crusader, and some of the Russian designs, come close. 5 Matchbox,
the other, unknown, needed work.
 To my mind the most aesthetically pleasing German AFV has to be the Jagdpanther.  Five of these are Matchbox.  The yellow one was given me in somewhat battered condition, but the refurb proved straightforward enough.  For some reason I can't explain, I'm quite taken with the ... erm ... livery as received, so it will probably remain that way.  The two beside it will also retain their monochrome appearance.  The three behind them have been in my possession close on 40 years...
Revell horse gun-teams.
 I thought I would include here three of my Revell horse drawn gun teams.  A fourth is at the moment under construction, or will be soon.  Although I have had the guns for years, I put the teams together just a few weeks ago.
Matchbox JdPzIV/70, and Fujimi and ESCI

Jagdpanzer IVs.  The leading three are matchbox JgPzIV/70s, the rear two are JgPzIV/48s.  The unpainted one is ESCI; the other is Fujimi, I think.  The latter is lacking its side skirts, but I may well leave it that way. Of the Matchbox vehicles, the centre one lacked one of its side skirts (a problem I often found with Matchbox was bits missing).  The far item was given me looking as though it had been roaming the streets beating up on other tomcats.  Painting over everything (I didn't bother to strip it first) has freshened the vehicle up quite nicely.
A sprint of Panthers... or is it a claw?
 The larger part of my collection of panthera pardus - 9 Airfix and 7 Matchbox kits.   Some of these I bought second hand, others I built myself, others were given me as surplus to the donor's requirements.The uniquely patterned camo on the one top centre will keep its appearance, and will probably become the recon vehicle of the battalion.  The rest of the battalion comprises 4 companies of 3 vehicles each.  To the picture you will find my only Marder II, and sIG33 (Bison) infantry gun mounted on a PzI chassis.
Let's call it a whole bunch of panthers - 16 in all.
The remainder of the Panther collection.  The three on the right of the picture will form the 4th Company of the Battalion.
Panzer IVG - being photo-bombed by a mis-located
British 6pr portee.  More about the latter in a future posting.
Four Panzer IVGs of my PzIV inventory.  These are the good old wargamers' standby, Eidai 'throw-together' kits.  Somehow my scratch built British 6pr anti-tank gun portee got into the picture.  More on that item another time!
A whole lot more PzIV of various types - total:
 3 PzIVF1, 4 PzIVF2, 13 PzIVG, 1 PzIVH.
The other 16 of my 20 PzIV.  Actually, I have 22 - a couple are in the other room awaiting finishing work.  Of the inventory as a whole, the two panzer-grau and the sand coloured ones are the pre-asssembled metal types that come in plastic display cases.  The three desert coloured ones are ESCI PzIVG.  In front of them, an ESCI PzIVH given my years ago by Dave Blick.  I never did put the side skirts on, but they might end up on another vehicle.  To complete the array, are three more Eidai tanks, and 4 Airfix PzIVF2s.  The Panzer III Specials leading the column are Matchbox kits.
PzIIIG (Armourfast) and L (Matchbox).
One of the Gs has had a turret bin added to make it an H.
 Panzer III variants:  The Matchbox  PzIIIL from the previous picture, two PzIIIGs from Armourfast, and a Fujimi StuG III D, with the short 75L24 gun.  The tracks on this last vehicle had to be extemporised, as the kit as received lacked them.  A topic for another posting.  Finally a lone PzII.  I think there is another PzII kit in the house somewhere, but it has been a while since I saw it...
A stack of StuG III and IV.
 How my collection of StuG vehicles got to the size it is, I can't think.  Along with the Fujimi vehicle about (built about 6 weeks ago), here are 3 Airfix, 2 Armourfast (I think - Paul 'Jacko' Jackson gave me these, and very fine AFVs they are, too) with he 'box' mantlet, and 2 StuG IV (These might be Eidai, but I won't bet on it).  I still have a Fujimi StuG III G to build...
StuH/105, Opel Blitz, and an interloping Su85. A bit of a story
attaches to the Russian vehicle, but that will have to wait.
I have included this picture for the StuH/105 knocked together from a very tired pre-hammered vehicle.   Also in the picture: an Opel Blitz I built a couple or so weeks back; my only SdKfz250-type vehicle, a lot of HaT Motorcyclists and M/C combinations.  These are way over scale, but I rather like them because they are over scale.  They look good.  They came with some useful additional foot figures,
Armoured cars...
 I never realised until I laid them out, just how extensive (and unbalanced) my armoured car inventory had become: 4 SdKfz 222s (3 Airfix, the other I'm not sure - possibly Dragon); 4 Pumas (the closest to the camera is slightly larger, but I don't know the provenance of any of them; I bought them second hand at a bring and buy); 2 resin SdKfz231s; a Rodin SdKfz234/3; and a SdKfz233 that I don't recall the maker of.  Between the resin 231s and the 233, is my attempt about 25 years ago to scratch build a SdKfz231 from the Airfix 234/4 kit (of which I somehow ended up with several). Lacking good information at the time, I got the turret size rather wrong, and the shape even more wrong.  But I haven't the heart to deep-six it... This will be included in my coming article on scratch-building and extempore methods of supplying missing bits of kit.
Towed ordnance.  Be careful what you wish for.  For a long
time I was concerned that tanks outnumbered my guns...
 One is inclined rather sadly to omit the artillery side of things, probably because in most rule sets the artillery gets left off the table.  I prefer to have them on if I can, which probably explains my predilection for 'the bigger picture' type of rule set for WW2.  The assortment here includes 5 metal 10.5cm howitzers (one is mostly out of the picture), my four unlimbered Revell barely make it into the picture by the look.  Several PaK40 anti-tank (Matchbox, ESCI, HaT, and a couple of scratch builds). Ten or twelve years ago, I made up a couple of Matchbox ones to double my PaK40 inventory to 4. Quite what happened after that is anyone's guess.  I also have a couple of PaK38s, two or three Wehrmacht 'doorknockers', and a couple of very under scale PaK38s that I think I will adapt into PaK41 tapered bore weapons.  For them it will probably suffice to replace the gun shield...
Infantry guns: 4 metal, 2 cardboard.
 Here I thought I'd focus in upon my infantry guns.  The centre and right hand pair as you see them are metal.  The two on the left ate my cardboard scratch builds.
Fully tracked traction!
I just HAD to have these: fully tracked tractors with towed PaK40 anti-tank guns.

SP Artillery.  Still to decide what to do with the gunless
vehicle closest the camera.
Let us finish with these: two 'battalions' of SP Artillery.  The nearer Hummel (#34) was the subject of a series of postings in mid 2012 - a semi-scratch build.  Since then I have been given - I think it might have been from Paul on the Coast - some bits that might well form the basis for yet another Hummel. The Wespe hull closest the camera lacks its gun.  A number of possibilities spring to mind.
1. Use the vehicle as is, or slightly modified, as a ammo-carrying vehicle.
2. Shove in a gun from one of my Airfix Kfz234 armored cars and call it a Marder II.  It seems that the marrying of this particular PzII hull and that gun won't do, though.  Damn.
3. Sacrifice one of my Revell gun kits to supply the weapon for the Wespe, and substitute the Airfix armoured car gun for the missing gun on the Revell gun carriage as a 7.5cm field gun.  I know the Germans did deploy field guns similar to what I have in mind, but haven't found any pictures that would confirm or validate this course.
4. Scratch build the necessary ordnance.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Retreat from Smolensk: Part the Fourth.

Resuming this series of Napoleonic postings...
2nd Reserve Division under pressure from French foot and horse.

The Battle - a brief account.

As the French Army waited on the heights, the Austrians advanced all along the line, albeit rather cautiously on their exiguous right wing.  On the left, Zonkovo village proved something of an obstacle.  The middle Divisions of the successive Corps on this wing had to drop back behind their left wing Divisions to pass west of the place, whilst the respective right wing Divisions passed by the east.  The village itself was left for the II Corps artillery to pass through.

General view of the Austrian right.
The upshot was that the 3rd Hungarian Division, in striking the French right, had to sustain alone  its attack against the French right flank for over an hour, until the 2nd ranged up on its left.  Until then the French were managing to hold, but with odds increasing to two to one, found themselves being forced back .  The rearward move accelerated until the Division broke, and fled incontinently from the field.
General view of the Austrian left.
To their right an artillery duel and bickering skirmishers kept the 2nd and 3rd Divisions free from encumbrances as they drove back the French.  Meanwhile, the Hungarian 1st (Grenadier) Division encountered the French 5me to the left of the Clxix village that formed the centre of the French line. The Hungarians got the better of the tough and costly struggle that ensured, supported as they were by the heavy (12pr) ordnance of the Army Reserve artillery.  
Enveloping the French right.
No sooner had the French infantry given way, after a three hour (3 turn) defence, French Cuirassiers took up the fight.  Forming square betimes, the wearied and battered Hungarians shrugged off the heavy horse.  But the effort had depleted the Grenadiers' last reserves of strength.  Intervening personally, the Archduke drew the battered Division out of the line, that 1st Divsion I Corps could sustain the action.
Gudin's 3rd Division taking on two
Hungarian Divisions.
The Reserve Corps undertook the attack on the French centre, mainly to inhibit the defenders shuffling troops across to uphold their beleaguered right.  First Grenadiers carried the village itself at the first rush, but there they stalled.  Though they gave up the place quickly enough, General Broussier quickly rallied his Division into forming a new line a short distance to the rear.  For almost the duration of the action, the Austrians we unable to debouch from the village.  
Leading Division (3rd) of Austrian I Corps approaching the flank
of the French 14me holding up Austrian grenadiers in the
village.  But French Dragoons are about to intervene...
Fortune favoured them in similar fashion immediately to the east of the village, where the French IV Corps artillery stood. At first coming under attack from the understrength 2nd Grenadier Division, they found themselves having to deal with Austrian heavy horse as well. Chancing their arms, the Austrian Cuirassier brigade stormed the gun line, sabred the gun crews, and made off, leaving the grenadiers to deal with the counter-attack that came, all too soon. 
Where have all the lancers gone?  But the
second line of 2nd Grenadier Division has
drawn the attention of two French...
Under attack from French lancers and infantry the grenadiers sustained a stout fight until well into the afternoon.  They had considerable help from accurate gunnery from their artillery park (the gunfire of both sides was pretty good all day).  All the same, it was only when the archduke felt himself, late in the battle, able to divert troops from the left that the pressure in this sector eased.  
Early afternoon: general view of the battle.
It was just as well, for the exhausted grenadiers had broken by then, and retired in confusion well to the rear.  All the same, they had sustained their line long enough to compromise any chance on the French restoring their fortunes by a victory in this part of the field.
Action on the Austrian right.  They could not have sustained this
fight for much longer!
Throughout the action, General Reynier had found himself skewered on the horns of a dilemma. Unable effectively to reinforce the crumbling I Corps and battered IV, he itched to counter-attack the slender forces that seemed to be confronting him.  To advance from the slopes to the plain below seemed, however, to exceed his orders (that is to say, seemed to be beyond the parameters of the scenario).  
Austrian Cuirassiers come to the aid of the grenadiers.

The defeat of 13me Division forced his hand to the extent that he ordered 21me Division to counter-attack the 2nd Reserve.  After an interval, he flung in the 22me as well,  Below establishment as they were (20 figures instead of my 'standard' 24) these Austrian grenadiers eventually drew the attention of two enemy infantry Divisions and the Lancer Brigade as well.  Small wonder that by early afternoon, they had had enough.
Final clash on the French right.  Hungarians get the better of it,
and Gudin forced back towards the centre.
Reverting to the decisive action on the French right, Dessaix's Division had been swept from the field with the Hungarian 3rd and 2nd Divisions following up in pursuit.  To plug the gap and sustain the right, General Gudin brought his 3rd Division round in rear of the wood, and engaged the two Austrian.  
The Dragoons strike an Austrian Divisional column
before it can deploy. Limbered Austrian artillery have
strayed too close to the sharp end...
Into the gap between the Hungarians and the village of Clxix, swept the Austrian I Corps.  Third Division aimed for the open space between wood and village; whilst 2nd Division, with nowhere else to go, undertook the trek through the dense foliage of the wood itself.
The early clash - honours even.
His right flank crumbling out of existence, Prince Eugene flung in his last reserve that remained in the centre - his Brigade of Dragoons.  They caught a hurrying Austrian column before it could deploy into squares (I may have to implement a special masse rule for the Austrians).  Although the infantry stood for a time, they finally broke (phenomenal dice rolling by the French dragoons!).  In the ensuing pursuit, the Dragoons then caught the I Corps artillery limbered up and hurrying forward. Wiping out most of the park, the victorious dragoons then made off, with Austrian Uhlans in close chase 
Austrian grenadiers, having entered the village easily enough
finding it hard to exit the place.
Small successes like these could not disguise from Prince Eugene's discerning eye, that the battle as a whole was already lost.  Though Gudin held his own at two to one odds for an hour, that could not last.  Reynier's counter attacks, though gaining some ground, were becoming more likely to exacerbate than mitigate defeat.  
2nd grenadier Division, second line: barely hanging on!
The dragoons had been his last reserve: nothing remained to stem the French tide.  When Broussier's Division's attempt to bottle up the Austrian Grenadiers in Clxix at last collapsed, and Gudin's Division was being driven in towards the centre, that was the signal for a general retreat.
Reynier under pressure.
The Austrians were cock-a-hoop, as you can imagine.  It had been a decisive victory, in little more than half a day, and a disaster for the French.  Aghast upon hearing the news, the Emperor Napoleon gave vent to an explosion of rage, and briefly considered sending his step-son home.  But, as ever when faced with reality, Napoleon kept the Prince on, and recast his plans for his continued withdrawal from Russia.
The small brigade of Austrian chevaulegers
attack the squares of 23me Division.  They have been
fairly successful by the look...
Meanwhile, what of Marshal Davout, and his encounter with Admiral Tchitchagov's Corps to the east of Zonkovo?  Even if successful, could he get by the victorious Austrians now occupying the villages of Zonkovo and Clxix?
French 21me Division advances, having at last
defeated the Austrian grenadiers.  The 22me Division was
not so lucky, having been caught whilst still in column


As I mentioned in a previous posting, this was an experiment to see how a large-scale battle might be enacted on my small, 4ft by 4ft 5in (122cm x 134cm), table.  I'm not sure it was a complete success, but it wasn't a total failure either.  The main problem in this action was the difficulty in articulating the defence.  Perhaps if the hill line was brought 6 inches (15cm) closer to the centre, that would have been enough to give the French the needed flexibility.

First Division I Corps, hitherto unengaged, hurries off towards
the right flank, where Reynier's Corps is looking threatening.

The Big Battles for Small Tables still needs a lot of work.  Here are some of the problem areas

1. Combat still favours column over line.  I have some refinements in mind that, rather than play around with the combat mechanics as such, gives the line some options that will increase their effectiveness.  In order for this to happen, though...
Exploiting on from their defeat of the Austrian infantry,
the Dragoons overrun the I Corps artillery.  but here come the
2. ... I am beginning to think the IGoUGo system will have to be adopted.  Now, I am very much in favour of simultaneous moves, or systems that come very close to it (such as that used in the Italieri sponsored Operation Overlord rule set of several years ago).  The fact is that simultaneous moves is very hard to do right in solo play.  
At any rate, the effect on combat is that a defending line will be able more easily to throw forward its flanks in its own turn to offset the one or two figure limitation on overlapping files able to shoot.
3.  Cavalry vs infantry is very hard to get right.  They will beat lines and columns, all right, and attacking squares is a losing proposition.  That's fine.  Although the French Cuirassiers beat the Hungarian grenadier squares in this action, the circumstances made this credible: The Hungarians had already taken a battering whilst defeating the French 5th Infantry Division, and already lost 25% of its strength.  The Cuirassiers were fresh and counted as elite (though so did the grenadiers).  Although the dice rolls of the first encounter were even, those of the second heavily favoured the French, and brought the Hungarian strength down to 50%, enough to break them.  Mind you, the Cuirassiers were not in very good condition afterwards, neither.
The French right and centre have fallen to pieces, Prince
Eugene Beauharnais signals a general retreat.
A great victory for the Austrians!

4.  Morale/Reaction.  I was going to keep this at simply the 50% rule and/or the outcome of close combat.  This will have to change, no question.  Morale rolls will also go some way to modify the present advantages of column over line in close combat.

5.  Command and control.  Some work is needed here, as well!