Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Armoured Encounter - Poland 1939

Wargamers - what can you do with them? I like to tell myself I'm hot on historical detail and historical knowledge - 'know your period', is my watchword. And so I'm well aware that the 1939 Polish campaign was mostly about infantry battles, especially on the Polish side. But the wargamer in me can't resist setting up those tanks. 

I also love to use the scenarios of Steve Jones, which are regularly published in Miniature Wargames. The one I am using here was called 'Threemen's Farm' (MW390). It was based on the Battle of Freeman's Farm during the American War of Independence, but examples were given for three different wargames periods. In the WW2 period, Steve featured the 1939 campaign, and gave infantry forces for both sides. I quickly decided to dump this sensible idea and go for an unhistorical armoured dust-up between the battlegroups that have featured in the last 2 posts on this blog.

The map from the article is shown below - once again, many thanks to Henry Hyde for letting me use it. The arrival sectors for the various forces (see below) are indicated, and the deployment area for the Blue Light Force is shown. The table I used was 6' x 5', so I had a bit more depth to play over than the original setup.

© Henry Hyde 2015.

Points values for the forces given below are approximate, especially for the Polish motorised brigade which does not feature in the army lists for Battlegroup Blitzkrieg. For these guys I have developed my own organisation and guessed the points. The Battle Rating (BR) values are also my own best guess. I have only given details of actual troops where they differ from the Battlegroup Blitzkrieg army lists. Special rules are in italics.

Polish Battlegroup, 10th Motorised Brigade (blue) (all rated regular)
Main Force
Forward HQ (PF508 car, senior officer, mortar spotter)
Forward Signals Unit (communications)
Vickers tank Platoon (3 Vickers 47mm, 2 Vickers mg)
Supply Column (1 PF621 truck, re-supply)

Reserve Force
Infantry Platoon (Platoon command squad officer, runner, 3 rifle squads, 3 LMG squads)
MMG team
37mm Bofors Anti-Tank Gun (PF508 tow)
Anti-Tank Rifle team

Light Force
Tankette Platoon (2 TKS mg, 1 TKS 20mm)
Recce Command (rifle squad, PF508 car, officer, scout, mortar spotter)
Infantry Foot Patrol (1 rifle squad, 1 LMG squad, scouts)
Anti-tank rifle team

Off-Table Mortars
2 x 81mm mortars

450 points, BR 34.    3 officers, 3 scouts.

Arrival Schedule
The Light Force is deployed on table at game start, in the woods as shown on the map. The Main Force arrives on move 1. The Reserve Force arrives once the Poles have lost 2 units. This latter is a new method for me to decide arrival, but seems an interesting suggestion by Steve, so I decided to try it. I presume it represents off-table forces responding to the sounds of battle and/or calls for help from the leading units. Arrival sectors for the Main Force and Reserve are shown on the map.

German Battlegroup, 3rd Light Division (red) (all rated regular)
Forward HQ (Horch staff car, senior officer, artillery spotter)
Forward Signals Unit (communications)
Panzer 38(t) Platoon (4 tanks, officer)
Supply Column (1 Blitz truck, re-supply)

Right Wing
Infantry Platoon (officer, runner)
MMG team
37mm Anti-Tank Gun (Protze tow)
Anti-Tank Rifle team

Left Wing
Recce command (officer, scout, mortar spotter)
Kradschutzen Recce Patrol (scouts)
Kradschutzen MG Patrol (scout)
Sdkfz 221 armoured car (scout, mortar spotter)

470 points, BR 39.    4 officers, 5 scouts.

Arrival Schedule
The Centre and Right Wing arrive on move 1. The Left Wing arrives when the Germans have lost 2 units. Arrival sectors are shown on the map.

The Germans have the best tanks and more infantry in their infantry platoon, so they don't get any off-table mortars in order to keep things roughly even. Their Forward Signals truck is therefore redundant, but I kept it in for the hell of it. BGB players will note the engagement is towards the lower end of the points band for a platoon level game. This should keep everything quick and simple, and fits in with the forces used by Steve in his article, which are fairly modest as well.

The Game In Photos

Table set up. The Polish Light Force are already deployed in the woods at bottom right.
The Polish Main Force moves up along the axis of the road.
The German Pz38(t) platoon move forward towards the farm.
In the background German infantry moves across to support their tanks and claim the farm.
Elements of the Polish Light Force advance as well.
First blood to the Germans. A long range shot from a 37mm anti-tank gun claims a Vickers gun tank.
The Germans are in possession of the farm,  but Polish units are moving up to contest the objective.
A Pz38(t) has been destroyed in the background by a Vickers tank.
The German Left Wing force has arrived and deployed off their motorcycles.
They advance to threaten the Polish units still in the woods ahead of them.
Bottom right: mine strike + soft skin loaded with ammo = kaboom!
With German units around the road junction contained by mortar fire and an unexpected air strike, the Polish tanks, supported by the infantry of the Reserve, move to their right to challenge the Germans at the farm.
Overview at the end of the game, after 7 moves. The Germans have suffered significant casualties
and their tanks are out of ammo, with no prospect of resupply. They decide to withdraw.
I expected the Poles to have the worst of it, but they triumphed in the end. This was partly due to some lucky die rolls, but more particularly they drew a few favourable Special Counters which helped them immensely. The airstrike they received was very effective against some German infantry in the open, and a mine strike card concluded the game when the German re-supply truck was destroyed, and left the 2 remaining Panzers out of ammo. After 7 moves the Poles had lost only 10 out of their Battle Rating of 34, whereas the Germans had lost 25 out of 39. One does, of course, prefer to see one side or the other winning due to better tactics rather than luck, but in a solo game the intervention of fate and an unexpected surprise or two are fun.

Using a deeper table meant the opposing forces took longer to engage, and this slowed the game down. The original 6' x 4' size used by Steve will work better. However, the points system proved itself by producing 2 very well matched opponents, giving both sides a good chance of winning.

When I first started playing BGB I ignored the ammo rules for simplicity, but have now started using them. I don't, however, distinguish between HE and AP - this is just a bit too fiddly for me. Using the ammo rules does bring a new dimension into the game - with the Vickers tanks only having 5 rounds and the Panzer 38(t)s only having 7, re-supply becomes a really important part of your tactics. In fact, I quickly realised I should have gone for at least 2 re-supply trucks per side. 

Playing the game after a bit of a hiatus reminded me of just how simple the basic mechanisms are. With a modest game like this (and 2 players), quick and fun games result where you can concentrate on your tactics rather than constantly worrying about the rules. The number of possible special rules for each period or campaign does tend to blur the picture somewhat, particularly in bigger games, but I think it is my inexperience with the rules that is really causing the odd mistake. Using these rules regularly should produce a lot of good games.

A couple of house rules for the record. The woods on the Polish left were obviously intended to be more open, so I have the following rules for Open Woods. Movement is only reduced by a D3 rather than a D6, and line of sight is not blocked at all. However, all units in open woods count as obscured. I also tweaked the rules for air strikes - the supplement (p.14) reduces the chance of Polish aircraft arriving to a roll of 6 only, but in game terms this makes air activity too unlikely for my taste. I prefer to keep the Polish roll at 5+, but increase the German roll to 4+ to represent their air advantage.

I'm definitely planning more BGB games. In fact, Mr Jones has another tempting scenario out in MW393, so it's time to re-commence the enjoyable process of planning terrain and forces.

See you soon!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Battlegroup Blitzkrieg - Polish Mechanised Brigade 1939

In the light of my previous post, I was tempted to produce another one to cover what might be thought of as the natural wargaming opponent of the German Light Divisions, the Polish Mechanised Cavalry Brigades. Of course, there were only 2 of these, the 10th Mechanised Brigade and the Warsaw Mechanised Brigade, but both saw a good deal of action and despite all their problems (in particular, their reliance on a very small number of inadequate tanks and constant fuel shortages), they managed to punch above their weight on a number of occasions.

I had to buy a couple of extra Vickers tanks to make a full 5 tank platoon, of 3 gun tanks and 2 MG tanks. Unfortunately, unlike the excellent Zvezda kits of the Panzer 38(t), no decent 15mm models of the Vickers 6 ton in Polish service are available. I have decided to make do with the distinctly second rate (make that third rate) model from QRF - wrong turret shape, no sign of the distinctive air intakes, hull made ridiculously shallow to save metal, etc. Sigh. Like many wargamers who appreciate this period, the advent of the Flames of War range a few years back raised high hopes for a good selection of the main vehicles, but alas the range was left to wither after the initial releases. No Vickers tanks, no soft skins at all. So much for the advantages of commercial wargaming. However, I cannot leave this subject without saluting the efforts of one wargamer who applied his considerable modelling skills to this problem. Check the link.

So anyway, the tank platoon looks like this,

The gun tanks lead whilst the MG tanks wisely keep to the rear.

And of course I couldn't resist putting together a small battlegroup to set against the German one I outlined in the previous post.

The infantry organisation is adapted to the 4 figure bases left over from my days of using Blitzkrieg Commander.
No chance of re-basing in the forseeable future - I have better things to do with my wargaming time! 

In this case I had to do rather more work, as the organisation of the mechanised brigades is not covered in the BGB supplement (oh, for shame!). I would refer any interested parties to check out this thread on the BGB forum, particularly for the response from the chap calling himself 'gebhk' who clearly knows his stuff. As you can see, the infantry platoon is much smaller than the normal, very large one employed in Polish infantry formations, being based (of course) on the cavalry organisation. For those noticing the absence of the distinctive black leather coats of the 'Black Brigade', I will have to admit that I use ordinary infantry figures in the mechanised units. So assume this is the Warsaw Brigade. Or a unit of the 10th who are vegans and don't wear leather.

Anyway, the battlegroup I chose has a Vickers platoon; a TKS platoon including one tankette with a 20mm gun; an infantry platoon supported by an anti-tank rifle, towed anti-tank gun and MMG team in a Lazik; a motorcycle reconnaissance section; and off-table support from a battery of 2 81mm mortars. I left out the transport trucks for the infantry in this instance - the 2 Praga RV trucks for the mortars are superfluous and are included for effect only.

These are the first photos (and this is the first post) from our new home in the Cotswolds. I have discovered that the lighting in the dining room, from a rather old-fashioned light fitting with 5 separate lamps, actually produces rather a nice bright and even light for wargaming in general, and wargaming photography in particular. I will have to ruthlessly sabotage Mrs Flint's project to replace this fitting with something more contemporary.

Anyway, with Christmas and New Year out of the way, and all boxes unpacked, it is time to get some gaming going. My intention is that the first game to be played here will be a solo BGB engagement designed to refresh my knowledge of the rules. I have something in mind that will pit units of the German 3rd Light Division against some from a Polish Mechanised Brigade, using a couple of evenly matched battlegroups similar to those featured here and in my previous post. This will be an encounter engagement based on a scenario recently featured in Miniature Wargames.

Watch this space. Oh, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Battlegroup Blitzkrieg - 3rd Light Division, 1939

Just to prove I'm not totally obsessed with the Seven Years War, I thought I would take the opportunity to flag up some progress on the Battlegroup Blitzkrieg front.

This progress was first prompted by the impulse buy of 3 Zvezda Panzer 38(t)s at The Other Partizan. Great models, easy to put together, and cheap as chips. I was so happy with them I bought 3 more - in this way I can have 2 x 3 tank platoons, or 1 x 5 tank platoon. The normal platoon establishment was, apparently, the 5 tank organisation. Here are all six tanks.

Walls were also acquired at The Other Partizan, from Tiger Terrain.

You will see I completed them in the two tone brown/grey scheme which is all the rage these days, following the championing of this scheme by Flames of War. I think it looks pretty good. A new finishing touch was using decals to provide the white German crosses. These are always a bugger to paint, and a great advantage of the Zvezda models is that the surface detail is subdued, so that decals can easily be attached to the model without all those rivets getting in the way. The decals are from a seller on ebay - they are cheap, you get loads in different sizes, and quality is good. The Zvezda models don't come with separate hatches or crew figures. To show which of the tanks had the officers (necessary in some BGB armies) I filed the top of the tank cupolas flat, added Peter Pig German tank commanders, and made a quick open hatch cover from plastic card. Simples.

As the title to this post would indicate, the Panzer 38(t)s used in the Polish campaign were assigned to 3rd Light Division, which had 55 of them alongside 22 Panzer IIs. Below I have put together a BGB battlegroup for a modest game.

This includes a tank platoon, a motorised infantry platoon with platoon HQ and truck mounted support weapons (5cm mortar, MMG, anti-tank rifle), a supporting towed 37mm Pak36, an Sdkfz221 recce support unit and a battlegroup HQ in a Horch command car. For BGB, I am in fact finding that points spent on soft transport are sometimes wasted - the troops end up de-bussing very soon after entering the table without gaining much advantage from being motorised. However, developing a scenario where the transport is needed and useful (say, an ambush on a German column), could be fun. Plus, I wanted to have a good number of toys in the photo.

Speaking of photos, my recent collaboration with James Roach (thats Olicanalad to you) on the Honours of War rulebook has got me attempting to raise my game in the area of photography. So £89 got me a decent budget full-sized tripod (a Hahnel Triad Compact C5. You can get it cheaper on Amazon but I decided to support my local camera shop). Using this with a delay on the camera to make sure there is absolutely no camera shake has been useful. Also useful is James' tip that you don't need fancy specialist lighting, just make the most of what you have. So the photos above were taken in the kitchen, which has the best and most even light in our current house, supported by a couple of normal anglepoise lamps. Prompted by James, I found that during the 10 second delay one can hold up one or both of the lamps and move them around to get the best picture. 

Then of course one uses the editing app of one's choice to improve things a bit more (I just use the standard iPhoto editing procedures on my Mac). There is a way to go yet, but what you see above represents an improvement already. Getting an improvement to pictures of a full wargame rather than carefully posed unit shots will be a greater challenge.

Moving house has meant no games of BGB for a while. We move (fingers crossed) next week, so let's hope I can get the new dining room organised for some gaming asap. I'll have to re-learn how to play the game, but that should be fun in itself.

Next post from the new house. See you soon.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Honours of War Website

In preparation for publication on the 20th of November, I have now opened a modest website for the Honours of War rules. It is quite basic as websites go, being mainly a forum with a few pages of additional content attached. Check it out at

A recent photo of a real game of HoW. Guaranteed not posed.

I think in this day and age a bit of online support is appropriate for a new set of rules. There are of course any number of forums already out there (notably TMP) on which the rules can be discussed, and perhaps will be. But I wanted the main interaction on the rules to take place on ground of my own choosing, as it were. There we can keep things polite and suitably highbrow.

The Yahoo group has been a great facility for getting input from playtesters, but I felt a proper forum would make things easier and better for users, as well as being a more attractive and welcoming environment. The Yahoo group will close in a couple of weeks, so take advantage of any of the downloads while you can. I hope all the valued participants on Yahoo will move over to the forum, and that the atmosphere of well-mannered but honest and open discussion will gravitate to the new location.

A sample page. Thanks to Phil Smith at Osprey for providing copyright content.

This month's Miniature Wargames (391) contains a nice positive review of the rules, for which I am most grateful. It seems that some current users are already plotting to extend the rules to other conflicts of the 18th century, which sounds like fun.

Publication date remains the 20th of November. Not long now!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

General de Cavalerie The Count Florian von Lenzbourg

Ours is a very 'whimsical' hobby. Just check out the first definition of that word that comes up online: playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing or amusing way. The word could have been invented to describe playing with toy soldiers. So I'm sure you will excuse this particular piece of whimsy.

I have of late been giving my SYW brigade and army commanders labels with names on, to identify them during games. I have a set of generic colonels, brigadier generals, lieutenant generals and generals whose names are printed on small cards, and which can be allocated as required. This I find adds a modest bit of interest to my games in this period. Rather than saying "I'll move that brigade next", I (or my opponent) can declare "right, Driesen's brigade next". It's surprising how quickly a few lucky dice rolls enable these characters to come to life as expert leaders of men, or how a disastrous move or two can make them a laughing stock. A bit of banter is vital to any wargaming occasion, and anything that might increase it seems to me to be worth trying. Of course, in games representing real battles, the printer will be employed to deploy some real names.

I have recently taken this modest concept one step further, by creating my first ever wargaming 'personality', General de Cavalerie The Count Florian von Lenzbourg.

The painting scheme is, of course, completely fictional

Keen SYW gamers will see straight away that the Count is the figure of Maurice de Saxe in his carriage at Fontenoy, as produced by Crann Tara Miniatures. It is almost exactly a year since I bought the model, as you can see in this post. I decided that the general seated in the carriage would have to be able to serve with both my Austrian and Prussian armies, so I made him a Swiss mercenary general who has served in many armies of the eighteenth century during his career.

The Count in a Carriage.
This wayward son of a Swiss aristocratic family left home at the age of 13 to serve with the Army of France, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Rising swiftly in rank, he served subsequently as a cavalry commander with the armies of Russia, Austria and Bavaria. It was with the latter army (in 1743) that he suffered the wound in the groin from a ricocheting musket ball that meant he would never be able to mount a horse again.

Here we see the Count in Prussian service, with his escort of Black Hussars.

Whilst this was some relief to the ladies of central Europe, von Lenzbourg decided to have a special carriage made to enable him to continue his military duties. The SYW saw his talents employed by both Austria and Prussia. He became known as 'The Count in a Carriage', although sadly the more rough-tongued of his enemies adopted a very slightly different, but much ruder, epithet. How the loss of a single vowel can alter a meaning!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Filling Up The Time, Filling Up The Corners

A rather frustrating time at the moment as far as actual wargaming goes, with the wargames room (i.e. the dining room) full of furniture and boxes as we prepare to move house. This made a couple of recent visits to wargame shows particularly welcome. I journeyed to The Other Partizan at Newark last weekend, and this weekend it was the turn of Colours 2015. 

Both excellent shows, I thought. As for the venues, Kelham Hall in Newark is gloomy but glorious, whilst Newbury Racecourse is almost the opposite - a modern if bland grandstand with excellent light and space for showing off our hobby. The only slight disappointment at both shows was with the number and quality of the demonstration games, particularly at Colours. Indeed, at the latter there were some bare patches in the floor space which definitely needed filling. Where space is at a premium, as with Kelham Hall, perhaps it's time to foreground the hobby itself and cut down the number of traders? But then, I am at the stage of not needing or wanting much stuff these days; a situation apparently not shared by most of my fellow wargamers.

The main hall at The Other Partizan.
Colours 2015 - the redoubtable Craig Thompson (check shirt) gathers a crowd for his lovely Skirmish Sangin game.
A lot of scratch modelling in evidence, and he also created those stats cards himself.

Although I didn't go to either show with any kind of shopping list, I did of course come away with some stuff. Star buys were two books and a trio of Zvezda Panzer 38(t)s. The latter were pure impulse buys - but at £3 each, what's not to like? The books were Charles Grant's Wargaming in History Vol.4, and the 1798 translation of Warnery's Remarks on Cavalry. The last was a cracking and unexpected find for £15 - at last it's mine!

A further purchase, typical for a wargamer with no real needs but with money burning a hole in his pocket, was a set of 4 cows in 28mm, destined to decorate some corner of a foreign field during the Seven Year's War. Shouldn't bulk out the lead hill too much, I think.

In true Zvezda fashion, the tanks took about half an hour to build.
Here they pose unpainted in front of some Ironclad Miniatures 15mm buildings.

SYW - Dismounted Cavalry
In my SYW games, I find the occasions when cavalry wish to dismount are rare. Usually this occurs when they wish occupy a town or village. In the past, I've made do with spare light infantry figures, but recently I purchased (already painted) some of the dismounted figures available from RSM Miniatures. The range is limited, and I settled for just 8 figures each of dragoons and hussars. These will have to do service as generic dismounted figures as I really can't justify a full set for their very occasional use. I will deploy them as shown with a mounted command base accompanying them representing horse holders and providing a bit of colour.

Austrian Dragoons
Prussian 'Yellow' Hussars

It has to be admitted that the RSMs can't really hold a candle to the dismounted figures available from Fife and Drum Miniatures (in their Minden Miniatures range). They don't have the animation and the range of poses. But these RSM figures are very rarely seen examples from a range which itself is both underexposed and under-rated. I wanted to own them and show them off.

Honours of War
Most of my hobby time at the moment is focussing on preparing a website to support these rules when they come out. This will be a personal website, not an official Osprey one. The pre-release copies of the book have apparently arrived and I eagerly await one. The 'publicity machine' is now beginning to roll, with an invitation from Wargames Illustrated to write a 'designer's notes' article. This should be fun. I am really fortunate to have my first foray into published rules backed by a well known publisher with a high profile, and people who actually do 'publicity'. 

A few interesting months ahead - getting into the new house and setting up wargaming operations in new rooms, and seeing the rules come out. All I need now is to start getting some games in!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

His Britannic Majesty's Army In Germany During The Seven Years War

This title featured briefly in the 'I'm Currently Reading...' section of this blog a while back. Any wargamer looking for a suitably detailed work on the western campaign during the Seven Years War will eventually gravitate to this book - indeed, as things stand, Savory's book is really the only game in town for this subject. The Battle of Minden, of course, gets a good deal of attention in English accounts, but this is about as far as most historians go.

It is perhaps surprising that no other military historian has covered the western theatre, but the reason for this may well be that Savory pretty much nailed it back in 1966. The book's 500-odd pages give the story of the campaigns and battles over the relevant 5 years in great detail, and in the process allow the reader to form a picture of the problems faced in 18th century warmaking. Although the book is primarily one of description rather than analysis, the description is so particular that the reader is naturally led to an understanding of how things were. And Savory is perfectly willing to add some analysis when needed. I learned a great deal of what little I know about the quality of the French Army from this book, for example - information that is sadly lacking elsewhere.

Most of what a wargamer needs is here - force strengths, dates and times, the movements of the various forces before, during and after a battle, and the reasoning behind the actions of the generals. The logistical problems faced are not neglected either. The writer (a military man himself) understands that to make sense of all this, theatre maps and detailed sketch maps are required, and there are plenty of these. The final clincher is that Savory writes in an engaging, slightly old fashioned style that is easy to read and keeps you turning the pages.

So overall, this is a fine read, and indispensable if one is serious about understanding this part of the SYW. The only problem is that the book was out of print for many years and original copies now go for around £200. Fortunately, a small publisher called 18th Century Press has had a facsimile edition available since 2009. This still costs £70, plus £12 postage from France, but in the circumstances we are lucky to have this edition available. 

When I originally and briefly reviewed this book, I had taken it out from my local library using the excellent interloan scheme. But after a year or two of pining, I finally took the plunge and bought the book this month. That gap on my bookshelf just had to be filled. Ordering online is easy, and the parcel arrived in just six days. I was relieved to find that a quality job had been done - this is no cheap digital copy. This is a solidly bound hardback book practically indistinguishable from the original, with a nice new illustration on the dustjacket. The only thing that seems to be missing is the general map that I believe was printed on the endpapers of the original book. As the two theatre maps are still present, this is not a great problem. Added are 4 battle maps in colour (Minden, Wilhelmsthal, Kloster Kamp and Vellinghausen), which in a nice, old school touch are printed separately and tucked in a pocket at the back of the book. These are taken from the British Battles website, and so are probably familiar to the enthusiast for this period, but I certainly appreciated these good quality hard copies of maps available online.

And so, many hours of good reading beckon as I once again tuck into this feast of information. This book is a cracker, and no mistake.