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?



  1. This is pretty much what I ended up with when I did the forces for Crusader although when using brigade sized elements I rolled all the divisional supports together. I later redid them as normal Megablitz units with one stand per battalion or recce company, but that all gets a bit "busy" if you want to fight the entire battle.

    I think Commonwealth divisional artillery looks good with two stands.

    1. My first thought was to subsume the smaller elements into 'Div Assets' that surrounded the Div HQ. But in the end I decided to tease them out, even at 1SP basic, and look to other methods of emphasising their strengths and weaknesses.

      One method might have been to assign an AT value to weapons so designed, but I rather think that would work better at a lower scale level - even one down from this (battalion stands to company stands).

      I think I havwe reached a point that looks OK on paper and in a picture, but needs the acid test of battle. I have suggested to Jacjo a preliminary action between the NZ Division with an Army Tank Regiment (Valentines or Matildas) attached, against Ariete Division together with one of the infantry Divisions (Savona division, say).
      The scenario might involve Savona within fortificatioons behind thick minefields (around Fort Capuzzo and Sidi Omar) and wire entanglements; an attack from the south and southwest by NZ Div with 42nd Army Tank Rgt (say). Ariete Div enters the action from the Northwest Victory conditions the destruction or capture of Savona Div, or the overrunning of Savona's whole defence system, all whilst retaining enough strength for further offensive operations. Axis victory would be attained by a successful defence of Soaona's fortified position.

      This is, of course, is a re-enactment of the little known operation that occurred between Brevity and Battleaxe, called by General Wavell 'Operation Bluebottle'...

    2. I forgot to mention that I don't think we can 'do' this as one battle. It will have to be a series. I think we should begin with the plan (such as it was) laid down at the time, with the envelopment of the Halfaya/ Sollum/Bardia positions, and the thrusts to Sidi Rezegh and Bir el Gubi.

    3. Yes, the whole Operation was very prolonged. I just did the first few days.

      Looking at the OBs I used it looks like I mainly modelled the British infantry as Brigade Groups, so much of the divisional support was attached out as single SPs. Your basing scheme would work fine for that.

  2. Ion,
    The thing about all the sub-units comes down to personal choice IMHO. It's possible to either subsume them into larger formations or keep them separate. The key is how large a game you are aiming for. If fielding just the 2 NZ, I'd keep the field regiments as separate elements, if fielding 30 Corps I think you would need to look at brigade groups of 3x btns + 1x field regt as a single formation. It's back to the 8-12 elements per player.
    How you choose to physically represent the formation comes down to aesthetics and availability of models. So whether you have a single stand or multiple stands can be separate from how those stands act in the game.

    OoBs. I'm loath to correct a Kiwi about their own division; my copy of the NZ OH is not to hand but I was under the impression 2NZ fielded one of the few divisional cavalry regts which used Mk VI lights along with the carriers, so you could add a couple to represent the other sqns. There's little enough opportunity to field such models after 1940!
    The NZ AT (like the SA) had some rechambered 18pdrs IIRC. They were U.S. retro fits to 75mm . I'll check but seem to recall this from the much missed CD Mailer.

    I posted somewhere about your version of Brescia; Ariete seems to fall into the same camp. These are later incarnations.
    In Crusader, Brescia, like Savona were still on the AS1940 organisation so should have 6x battalions in 2 regiments, an artillery regiment and a divisional MG btn. Bologna and Pavia were on the new AS1941 with weapons btns. Trento and Trieste were different again with only Trieste being fully motorised.
    Ariete was at a transitional stage in Crusader. Starting with 1x M13/40 btn and 2xCV35, she had added 2x M13/40 btns over 1941 but still had the CV btns on strength. There was a Bersaglieri regt and an artillery regt (yours looks a bit over strength) but NO sermovante or 90mm AA. The latter may have been officially part of the division, but I've seen little evidence. An AT btn but no recce cavalry (looks like Gazala organisation). They did however have some batteries of Milmart SP 102 naval guns (on trucks) attached which spoilt the fun of 22 AB at Bir el Gubi.
    I don't know however if you are working on what kit you have rather than an inaccurate OoB.
    Happy to share if you want accurate OoB info.

    BTW, I'd recommend looking out for Frank Chadwick's "Benghazi Handicap" as this is packed with info. Not infallible but as good as I've seen published in one place.

    I'm working on using the old GDW "8th Army: Operation Crusader" board game (not to be confused with the other GDW game of Crusader) which uses the "double blind" system, so is perfect for a 2-player campaign.


    1. I've not heard of the NZ Div Cav having Mk VI lights, but as it is just 1 element and the official histories do mention carriers, I'll stay with them (it). I do know that there was a regiment of Lt Nk VIs at the time within the Tobruk Garrison, so that is where my sole model will fetch up!

      One surprise my researches dished up was that the majority of the 'I' tanks were still Matilda IIs. I thought they would have been mostly Valentinesby late 1941.

      T do like your 3 inf+ 1 gun Brigade groups idea. I did think of something similar (and in fact that system is very similar from what I have dome with the Italian Divisions). The though occurs that as the 18/25s and 25pr were often unsed in an anti-tank role, one could just about field one could subsume the AT, AA and artillery role in the one element. Bears thinking about.

      The awkward thing that has had an impact upon thgis whole exercise is the German organisation of armour, with 3 types in each of the 4 panzer battalions. What I have dome there is to conflate 8th and 5th Pz Rgts into single formations comprising the 3 types: PzII @ 2SP (Recon), PzIIIH @ 4SP, PzIVF1 @ 1SP. These SPs go with the ratios of machines available. I'm tempted to add 1 to the PzIV SP for 'weight'.

      I have been working on and OOB I got online, which actually mentions numbers of equipments. I suspect they are establishments, as the numbers are suspiciously identical: 53 M13s per battalion. The L3s (33 of them) were listed, along with the AB40s, in 'Div Troops'.

      That the evidence for the Semoventes is slender is probably not to be wondered at, even if they were present: just 20 vehicles, 10 per battalion. I suspect they were used more as artillery at that. As for the recon, I suspect they were under Ariete Division command but not integral to the Division. It seems otherwise rather odd to label the recon units 'Div Troops' instead of simply an integral recon unit.

      The artillery were listed as I have indicated: 24 x 75mm; 10 x 10.5cm (obviously German pieces).

      All 6 Italian Infantry Divisions are different. Trieste is a pretty handy sort of formation, Trento I have given a very small motor pool. It was supposed to be another motorised Division, but was never, quite, I gather. The other four are all different, but only in minor ways.

      Having said all that, I am not averse to adding to my knowledge by further researches (bearing in mind they are all subject to interpretation). I had to do that to fill some gaps in the Kiwi OOB.

      The naval guns are probably in my OOB as part of the Panzer Armee Artillery reserve, It's nice to kmow I can place a stand at Bir el Gubi!

    2. Damn. You have got me rethinking the 'Brigade group' idea. Just when I thought I'd got things pretty well sussed.

      Just while I think of it, I have read some of the numbers of AXIS AFVs from a source different from the OOB I was using. Although different - and slightly fewer - the figures are still in the same ball-park (146 tanks compared with 159, say). Not different enough for a review of the SPs.

    3. Again while I think of it: one of my sources are all the maps contained in the New Zealand Official History of the Crusader operation, and of course the texts on the same pages. These I took nearly 30 years ago (wish i had the whole book, but they are very scarce, hard to get hold of, and my first born is no longer in my gift by way of a trade. I've just been reading fragments of text. It mentions the carriers of Div Cav several times, but none of Lt Mk VI tanks. Scarcely conclusive, but an indication I think. Maybe the Kiwis had light tanks earlier, or acquired them later. They became noted for 'lifting' unregarded items, such as other people's vehicles (later to become known as Freyberg's 40,000 thieves).


    4. I have investigated 2 NZ Div Cav, and it does appear they received a consignment of 26 x Lt Mk VI tanks in October 1941 - about a month or 6 weeks prior to Operation Crusader. I have no idea (yet) how they were distributed or employed. Possibly they were mixed in with the carriers, but it is also possible a squadron or two were equipped with the light tanks and the remainder with carriers.

  3. Archduke Piccolo,

    Your examplar OOBs and the associated photographs make your thinking very clear. I like your use of dice and dice boxes, and that is something I may well copy. Likewise your allocation of SPs to arms rather than just to individual stands. It has given me plenty to think about.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks, Bob -
      The idea still has to stand a decent test, of course, but the WW2 battles I've had so far that have used the system (it is after all a steal from NQM as far as it goes) seem to have worked well enough.

      The dice and dice holders came to me because I had them but I wish now I had placed the rim on the flat bit, and not the square hole. Didn't think that through! Using dice I can 'colour code' formations or even the dice function - e.g. a different die colour to signify special functions: LOG, POL, AA, ENG and so forth. But I really need more and different colours of dice!


  4. Ion,
    Somewhere on the shelves I have a slim history of the 2 NZ divisional cavalry which confirms with pictures that Mk VIs were used by NZ recce during Crusader. They had MH a/cars for Greece.
    Mr Chadwick gives 3x sqns of mixed carrier & Mk VI.
    Tobruck had a single Sqn of Mk VI.

    Yes only 1x Valentine Regt, rest Matilda.

    I perhaps wasn't as clear as I could be on the Italians. There were NO sermovente in North Africa until 1942.

    I queried the artillery as you are giving them 2x models. At 12 guns per SP (Megablitz / Hexblitz) at most 2x SP total. If you reduce for towed guns and add for brave artillery, I think you get 1 2SP model stand. Contrast with a British field regt of 24 guns where there are thoughts of reducing to 2 stands or at most 3 for three times the number of guns?
    BTW, I suspect the 105 was the Schneider 105/28 rather than the German model.

    Trento was motorised until all the trucks were taken to ease the supply problems. Not sure if the Bersaglieri who were part of it lost their trucks.

    Ariete did not have any divisional cavalry or recce of any kind (apart from CV35 ). The units you mentioned are from Gazala.
    During Crusader, Ariete was part of RECAM along with Trieste. RECAM consisted of an African Police (PAI) unit of mixed motorcycle and armoured car (AB41), an experimental coy of mixed L6 & m13/40, 2xbtns of fully motorised Young Fascists and mixed batteries of truck mounted artillery.

    The infantry were significantly different between the 2 organizations I'm afraid. The AS1941 divisions had 4 btns of inf but no less than 3 weapons btns. These were a mix of mg, mortar and ATG as well as AA in addition to a separate AA btn with mixed 20mm and 75mm. There were at least 3coys each of ATG and AA in the weapons bans (total 4-5 batteries 20 AA + 1 75 AA in the division). I'd argue Bologna and Pavia merit an ATG and AA stand each.

    BTW, to further muddy the waters re Brigade stands et al , how about 2x different types of infantry stands. Pure infantry or reinforced infantry where companies of MGs , ATGs or artillery are attached at the btn level. These could be depicted with a suitable model to show attached elements, but fight as part of the SP of the main formation elements.


  5. No need to sacrifice the first born ( you would need him for the SA official history anyway...). NZ is progressive enough to have made electronic versions available for at least a couple of decades, including all the individual unit histories:



    1. My own investigations into Semovente were inconclusive, but did confirm my conjecture that Semovente were used early on as SP artillery, rather than, as later , in an AT role. Either way, I was prepared to give historic licence on that question.

      I know that the Italian Arty battalions comprised 12 pieces. The orbats I have indicate 3 such battalions for nearly all the Divisions. Having said that, I'm planning on reviewing the SPs for armour and arty with 1 SP per 24 pieces rather than 12, and 1 SP per 30 tanks. But both will get a +1 premium for the specialist role.

      Having spent quite a lot of time on this (not helped by eyesight decising now to start carking out - appointment with eye surgeon 1 Oct - I have to call a halt somewhere and go with what I have.

      I think some time ago you (or someone) provided a link to the Bob McKenzie BBBWW2 rule set. I overlooked it at the time (clumsy), but reviewing my past posts on this topic rediscovered it and followed it up. Though it goes into far more detail than I want, it does use something that I had half thought of already: SP multipliers for different arms and types. It's a thought, anyhow.

      Thanks for the NZ Histories link. I never knew it existed (and to be honest never thought to look specifically for it - although given the searches I have made I would have thought I would have run across them before now).

      And thanks again for your information and help.

  6. Ion,
    Fully understand.

    Good luck with your project.


  7. Dear Ion,

    An excellent post - I can't believe that I have only just found it. Alamein is Do-able at Corps scale (Hexblitz or Megablitz) with about 12 people on a 22 foot table, or in Front scale with about 6 people. Having dismissed bath-tubbing (Command Decision) early on, I'm coming back towards it with Pocket orbats. Basically, what I'm saying is dont feel that you have to commit to one scale if the operation is bigger or smaller than you want. Just slide the scale up or down to suit.

    Regards, Chris.

    1. Reading back over this, I can see that the need for lens replacements in my eyes was more of a distraction than I realised at the time. Since this posting, Jacko and I have 'done' part of Operation Brevity. I made things tough for 8th Army by leaving 2 battalions off the OOB, but it was an interesting exercise anyway.

      Having 'done' Operation Uranus once (will do an improved version some day), I reckon Op Crusader must be possible on my 4' x 4' table.

      Alamein is probably beyond me