Tuesday 14 April 2015

A Return To Poland 1939, and Battlegroup Blitzkrieg

Over the past year I've spent most of my wargaming time developing and testing Honours of War. With the manuscript now submitted, it's time to give my other main period some attention - the 1939 Polish campaign.

1. Wheeling out the Armoured Train
The first tickle of interest was inspired by a scenario map in MW377. As you can see, 'The Bridges at Monocacy' was an ACW scenario - but my thinking was, firstly, what an intriguing map for a wargame and secondly, that railway line can mean only one thing - a chance to use my armoured train!

Many thanks to Henry Hyde for providing this map. Image © Miniature Wargames.

I decided to go for a scenario where Polish recce forces were co-operating with an armoured train to seize the two bridges on the map. They would encounter opposition from German recce and armoured forces. Additional inspiration regarding encounters between Polish and German recce units came from the excellent PIBWL site, for example the accounts of actions involving the Wz.29 Ursus armoured car. Rules in use would be Blitzkrieg Commander.

Scenario - The Bridges at Zamosc (6' x 4' table)

Poles CO CV8 (with the cavalry)
Initial forces (static deployment)
On railway from south east corner - armoured train (CV8) with Tatra T-18 drasine
On road from X - reconnaissance company; HQ CV7, 2 x Wz.34 armoured cars, 1 x Wz.29 armoured car, 4 infantry units (trucks), 2 mg units (motorcycles).
Forces arriving on the road from the west on move 5 (mobile deployment)
Cavalry detachment; HQ CV8, 6 cavalry units, 2 mg units (tazchanka), 1 37mm ATG (horse tow), 2 x TKS tankettes (mg).

Germans CO CV9 (with the tanks)
Initial forces (static deployment)
On road from Y - Reconnaissance detachment; HQ CV9, 1 x Sdkfz221, 1 x Sdkfz222, 1 x Sdkfz231(6-rad), 3 infantry units (trucks), 1 mg unit (truck), 1 37mm ATG (truck tow).
Forces arriving from the east on move 5 (mobile deployment)
Panzer battlegroup; HQ CV8, 2 x PzI, 2 x PzII, 1 x PzIV, 3 infantry units (trucks), 1 mg unit (truck), 1 75mm IG (truck tow).

The German forces arriving from the east should dice - on a 1, 2, 3, or 4 they arrive between the river and the north board edge. On a throw of 5 or 6 they arrive up to 30cm south of the river.

The bridges are the objectives, so obviously possession of both gives you a victory, and one each would be a draw. I suggest a turn limit of 10 moves.

This scenario is untested at the moment, and so may need tweaking after the first game. The idea is that the Poles have the advantage at first with their armoured train, but this is in turn threatened by the German armour on move 5. The arrival of the Polish cavalry will then hopefully even things up. I suggest the T-18 and one of each side's armoured cars be rated as recce units, and all other armoured cars are rated as recce support units.

2. Buying Stuff
Of course, no renaissance of interest in the 1939 campaign could avoid the spending of a little money. I thought I already had all of the worthwhile English-language books on this subject, but was alerted to one I had missed by the Polish Army 1939 section in Anatoli's Game Room. The book in question is from MMP, entitled Invincible Black Brigade (by Jerzy Majka), and deals with the creation, organisation and exploits of the Polish 10th Motorised Brigade. Being from MMP, this 120 page, A4 sized soft back is aimed particularly at modellers and so is fundamentally a picture book, with a large number of excellent and interesting photos of all the kit involved. But there is also a decent summary of the fighting which the brigade undertook and a good organisation table, along with some nice colour profiles of tanks and soft skins. All told, well worth getting, although cheap copies may be hard to find - I was lucky to get mine off Amazon for about £20.

I also decided my Polish armour needed a modest reinforcement. I ordered a 7tp twin-turret tank from QRF Models, to match what I already had, and out of interest I also ordered a 7tp from Battlefront, which can be completed as a single or twin turret vehicle.

My 2 original QRF models are on the left. The Battlefront 7tp is on the right in unpainted condition.
In between is my new QRF 7tp with tracks from a True North Miniatures vehicle.

The Battlefront 7tp is easily the best 15mm model of this vehicle you can get - you can make either version, it is pretty accurate and you get the option to have a tank commander in the turret. The only negative is that the rivet detail is overdone and needs sanding down. Unfortunately, at the time I was building my Polish forces the Battlefront Poland 1939 collection was way in the future, and I had to rely on the QRF models, which at the time were the best there was. I am actually quite fond of them - they are inaccurate, but have a quaint old school feel about them. Sadly, the moulds for the older QRF offerings are in poor shape these days. The tracks for the 7tp I received seemed to have been eaten by moths. I should have sent the model back, but I found some tracks from an old True North Miniatures offering which, whilst too small, were good enough for my needs.

I also ordered an additional Praga truck from QRF, a vehicle used extensively by the 10th Motorised Brigade. Confusingly, this model sits in the 'German' range of QRF vehicles. This is another old kit and whilst a bit rough, is just about acceptable for wargames purposes. QRF seem to have a generally good reputation, mainly due to their main man, Geoff, being considered an all round good egg. However, if ordering their older kits (usually obvious by the dodgy old photos on the website) be ready for poor quality. Their newer stuff is generally good. 

The QRF Praga truck as it comes from the manufacturer. Poor, but just about acceptable.

It is a great shame that Battlefront never completed their Polish range, particularly with the soft skin vehicles eagerly awaited by fans of this period. It just goes to show that big companies driven by profit margins rather than enthusiasm for the hobby won't always give you what you want.

3. Battlegroup Blitzkrieg
Talking of profit margins, we come to Battlegroup Blitzkrieg. When the first 'Battlegroup' title came out (Battlegroup Kursk, of course), I was predictably enraged that a 180 plus page, A4 size, full colour rulebook only covered one campaign of WW2. Clearly, a book that size was plenty to cover the whole war, and the principle behind the rules was endless supplements to maximise profits.

Nevertheless, at the time of writing you find me eagerly awaiting the latest supplement, which covers the 1939-1940 campaigns in Poland and France. That's £25 plus £5 p+p to you sir. £30? Have I gone soft? I think the answer is yes, a bit. I have been looking for an alternative to Blitzkrieg Commander for a while now - not because I have grown to dislike the rules, which I continue to consider excellent, but because after over 10 years of use I feel the need for a change, or shall we say a new perspective. But the various sets I have looked at all failed to inspire - mostly, they were too complex for my taste.

However, a while back my wargames buddy and good friend Paul acquired a copy of Battlegroup Kursk, and recently we got around to having a game. The rules (in my opinion) sit in a slightly uncomfortable space between skirmish level and the company level rules exemplified by Flames of War. The author (Warwick Kinrade) indicates the rules can be used at 4 levels - squad, platoon, company and battalion. The game I played with Paul was at company level: the rules proved a little hard to pick up, and were rather more 'granular' than we are used to (granular being a fancy way of saying 'detailed' in this context). We didn't get anywhere near finishing the game, but against my better judgement I began to develop a fondness for the rules. They were indeed a change from BKC, and at squad or platoon level I thought they could be a lot of fun. Once I am more familiar with them, company level might be OK as well, but I feel battalion level games would take a lot of time, familiarity and patience, as well as a fair amount of space.

This experience coincided with developing the scenario already presented above. In order to give the different perspective I was seeking, I had determined to play the scenario at what BKC players tend to call the squad level, where each stand of infantry represents a squad rather than a platoon. This means your basic formations are companies rather than the more usual battalions. But, having never tried this before, I found that how to play at this lower command level was far from obvious. Apart from the statement that ground scale changed from 1 cm = 20 metres to 1cm = 10 metres there wasn't much guidance. Did you have to double all game distances? Weapon ranges are given in centimetres, and only one range is specified, so where did that leave you? I didn't know, and neither did those who responded to my forum question. So it seemed that Battlegroup Blitzkrieg might fill this void.

I have already purchased the Battlegroup 'core rules' booklet for £10, and to be honest I am looking forward to playing another game. As long as I keep the games small, all that detail will be fun. It was also interesting to read Warwick's justification for this extensive series of large and expensive books. He says:

"The reason why Battlegroup exists is to try and infuse World War II wargames with more historical character... Each supplement deals with an individual theatre or period of the war in detail, providing gamers with its own unique character and feel".

This, it seems, means in particular a number of special rules in each book intended to provide that 'historical character', plus a series of very specific army lists. Do I buy this? Well, I don't want to call Warwick a liar so I accept his intention, though whether I actually agree with him is another matter. BKC managed this very well using a modest number of simple rule variations, conspicuous among them different command ratings for different armies in different periods. When I get hold of Battlegroup Blitzkrieg I guess I'll be able to judge the quality and accuracy of the army lists and special rules, and we'll see. I am by no means a beginner in this period. It might be interesting to play the bridges scenario above with both BKC and BGB, and compare. Let's hope I have the time and motivation.

And that's it. Let me know what you think of the scenario, and I eagerly await comments from anyone who plays the Battlegroup rules. 


Steve J. said...

Nice to see a scenario that involves the armoured train. I've bought some for my 10mm figures with the intention of converting them for Inter-War and WWII games. Sadly other distractions have prevented any progress, but your AAR might just spur me into action...

The scenario looks interesting. I'd add either one small built up area or maybe a few scattered farmsteads for some cover for both sides. Ultimately only playing the scenario will tell whether this suggestion would work or not.

At Salute I'm going to have a look at the Battlegroup game. Their website has some interesting AARs and info, as well as some nice ideas. However I find the inclusion of trucks at the frontline, cable laying troops etc either too detailed or not fitting in with reports of actions I've read about.

Keith Flint said...

Quite right Steve - I forgot to mention I would add some wooded areas and maybe some buildings to improve the terrain.

Richard Naylor said...

I did try BKC at squad scale and found it didn't really work right. The only other people I came across who'd done this are some people at Durham Wargames Group -

I looked at the Battlegroup rules series but the cost really did put me off. Also as it was written around 15/20mm figures I was concerned that it may not be suitable for my 6mm forces. In the end I went with I Ain't Been Shot Mum which works quite well and can handle a couple of companies a side. It would be nice to find a set that can handle my 1:1 scale Russian tank brigades but I haven't had any joy finding anything useable.


Richard Naylor said...

I forgot that I'd written some notes for playing BKC at 1:1 on my blog


Steve J. said...

There have been suggestions on the forum for playing at 1:1, such as adding another die to an lmg stand to reflect the higher firepower and seperate stands for AT rifles. I'm not convinced that would work too well.

As for armoured units, I think you would definitely have to have hits remain on, to reflect the relative ease of knocking out single tanks.

I think ruless such as "I Ain't Been Shot Mum" would be worth checking out, although the card activation system is not one that everyone likes. The Battlegroup series look good but are pricey and I for one would want to play them before shelling out some money.

chris said...

You will enjoy the battlegroup rules, 30 quid seems a high price but at the moment I am paying 40 quid for them in Australia. That said I play the rules solo with some success. They have a more historical feel than flames of war.

Richard Naylor said...

I've tried playing with the hits staying on but I found it could at times unbalance the game.

Yes the card activation system in I Ain't Been Shot Mum doesn't appeal to everyone but I've found it quite useful for scenario based games as you can add in random events or force specific cards (e.g. You could have a breakdown card in the deck if using Covenanter tanks). It's worth a look as the pdf isn't too expensive.

Keith Flint said...

Richard, thanks for those links. I'll check them out.

It seems pretty clear that playing BKC at 1:1 level was not something Pete Jones really worked out. I'd rather try a new set that adapt an old one.

Keith Flint said...

An email from the Plastic Soldier Company - BGB is on its way!

I'm excited. Maybe I'm turning into a fanboy.

Steve J. said...

Let us know what you think 'fanboy';). I may pick them up at Salute if they look half decent...

Piers said...

Be interested to read your comments on the book.

I had fun writing it.

Keith Flint said...

Piers! Nice to hear from you on the blog. I somehow doubt I'll have much negative to say about BGB - my experience with Kursk showed these books are carefully written, and I liked the rules when I played them.

I will of course be giving them a write-up once they've arrived and I've had a good chance to absorb them and try a small test game or two.

I also appreciate your forbearance in the face of my curmudgeonly cynicism!

Piers said...


Always interested in what people think, only way you get better is to listen.

I was very lucky to have contacts in Poland and Belgium for help with those lists. I do on occasion make some minor amendments for game considerations, but not many.

The most changes come in the rule modifications and also in the historical scenarios which are done to show ways to manipulate the mechanics to offer historical refight settings, to show some smaller BG games and to give a flavour of the period as for me its an utterly different beast to late war.

Indeed I put in so many scenarios and painting and lists we had to have a bit more brevity in the historical sections but I still hope its enough for the casual reader.

Im very found of Early War, I think I prefer it to most other things and its on a par with 1945 games. I guess I like the extremes of events. I also had a Grandfather and his twin in the BEF and both escaped via Dunkirk... so I hope I did it justice.

Its been arriving with people today, sadly I will have to wait a while to see it as mine will take a bit longer to get to Ireland so you may well see the book before I do!


Piers said...

But couldn't agree more... play whatever you enjoy.

Life's too short to do otherwise and wargame rules are such a personal thing... kinda what I call marmite syndrome. You either love them or hate them!

Piers said...

But couldn't agree more... play whatever you enjoy.

Life's too short to do otherwise and wargame rules are such a personal thing... kinda what I call marmite syndrome. You either love them or hate them!