Sunday 26 August 2018

Air Assault Danzig - Battlegroup Blitzkrieg

So, as mentioned in my previous post, I decided a month or so ago that it was time to get my Ju-52s and DFS-230s out of their storage cabinets and revive my fictional Poland 1939 airfield attack scenario. The original game was played out using the Blitzkrieg Commander rules (that I enjoyed using for many years), but now I wanted to see how the game would work using Battlegroup Blitzkrieg, particularly as the recent Battlegroup Tobruk supplement includes rules for glider and parachute landings as part of the Battle of Crete. Besides wanting to get the toys out the cupboard again, I thought it would be interesting to see to what extent the very different levels of play in the two rule sets affected the game. In the end, the answer was 'not much', of which more later.

My scenario is inspired by the German attacks on the Dutch airfields around The Hague on 10th May 1940. These always looked like great scenarios to re-create on the table, but I didn't want the effort of buying and painting Dutch forces, so I decided to transpose the whole thing to 1st September 1939. Most of you will know that the German airborne forces weren't ready for such an operation in 1939 - a Fallschirmj√§ger regiment was operational (and had a number of potential operations cancelled during the campaign), but the glider and airlanding forces weren't yet available. This game is therefore very much a fictional one, and supposes an attack on the main airfield serving Danzig on the first day of WW2. For some more background, see this post from 2013 and this post from 2012. 

Scenario - The Assault On Danzig/Langfuhr

Langfuhr aerodrome. A 6' x 5' table was in use. Bridge objective in background.
Langfuhr was a real airfield (now defunct), situated on the outskirts of Danzig, but the representation of the airfield on the table is entirely generic. The airfield and a nearby river bridge are to be seized by German airborne forces, basically consisting of a glider assault platoon, a parachute platoon, and an airlanding (luftlande) platoon with supporting heavy weapons. The gliders will land off-airfield (to avoid blocking the runways) and concentrate on the bridge and airfield headquarters area. The paras will simultaneously land on the airfield itself to seize the runways and attempt to suppress the airfield defences. A few moves later, the airlanding units will arrive on the airfield to finish the job. 

The Polish aircraft based on the airfield are considered to have been dispersed to less vulnerable locations, or destroyed in air combat - German air superiority is already established in this part of Polish airspace. The airfield has some good AA defences and a modest infantry presence, along with a small unit of armoured cars which are temporarily based there. The nearby bridge is defended by a couple of pillboxes. Reinforcements will arrive during the game consisting of mobile recce units and more infantry, along with a couple of old Renault tanks from a nearby training base.

Now, I could list the full forces in detail, as I have done for many scenarios in the past, but I think you get the idea. I actually found adapting the scenario for BGB made for an easier game. I used the parachute and glider landing rules from Tobruk pretty much as written, and found once again that these work well. I was disappointed that the supplement didn't include rules for airlanding operations, especially as these featured prominently in the air invasion of Crete, but creating my own wasn't really much trouble. I decided the landing Tante Ju's would be subject to AA fire as they arrived, under the normal rules for air attacks, which would mean the defending AA units would need to have 'ambush fire' orders as far as could be managed by the Polish defenders. Ju-52s were allocated 4 hits. A 'return to base' morale result would involve the relevant aircraft joining the next wave in the following turn. After any AA fire, a landing table similar to that for the gliders would be employed, but with a higher chance of a safe landing.

The forces for the game were reduced from my original 2013 bash so that playing time would be less onerous - in particular, only three waves of Ju-52s would be needed. I have 8 model aircraft, and 4 were allocated to each wave, so survivors from the first 2 waves would need to take off again to form the third. This represented the need in real operations for aircraft to get airborne as soon as possible after deploying their loads, in order to avoid being destroyed on the ground. There was thus also a 'take off table' to match the landing table, based on a roll of a D6:

1 - crash on take off, aircraft destroyed.
2,3 - unable to depart due blocked take-off run.
4,5,6 - successful take-off.

For interested Battlegroup players, the German forces came to around 800 points with a BP of 61. The Polish forces had around 450 points, BP 33. And so, without further ado...

The Game In Pictures

Turn 1. A timed Ju-87 strike severely damages the airport HQ buildings and destroys the Polish HQ.
The parachute and glider landings are rather dispersed but broadly successful.
Some of the German paras landed almost on top of the Polish dug-outs.
Assaults on the Polish AA positions were determined and effective.
The gliders on the LZ south of the bridge landed pretty well.
On the northern LZ, one glider miscalculated and hit the trees of a windbreak east of the LZ.
All on board were lost.
Turn 4. The first airlanding wave arrives. AA opposition was limited.
Turn 5 - second wave.
On the left some motorised Polish infantry have arrived to reinforce the defenders.
They rake the airfield with effective fire.
The bridge is in German hands. The flamethrowers of the assaulting engineers were put to good use.
Turn 7. Casualties on both sides were high, but on this turn the Poles reached their BP number and were defeated.
It had been a close run thing, however, and the Germans were only a few points from their own BP.

So Much For Scales In Wargames!
Well, in BKC one stand equals a platoon, whilst in BGB one figure equals one man. But I played the same scenario on much the same table and terrain, using the same figures and models with both rule sets, except that with BKC a 'battalion' of airlanding troops supposedly arrived, whilst with BGB a 'platoon' arrived. How come those 1980s rule books were so hung up on the importance of accurate scaling? As I have found so often recently, those 1960s pioneers who just went with what worked were absolutely right.

Anyway, this is a fun scenario that I hope to play again. The vagaries of airborne arrivals are dramatic and create a game that will be different every time. My main disappointment was that the Renault FT-17s arrived too late in the game to see combat - blast! I think I have demonstrated that this kind of speciality game can be developed without a shed-load of expense and months of work on tailor-made terrain and figures.

As a coda, I decided the airfield needed decorating with at least one Polish aircraft. So I purchased a Zvezda Russian Po-2 biplane. This will be painted in Polish colours and will pretend to be an unserviceable Lublin R-VIII stuck on the aerodrome:


Thanks for reading. See you next time!

Saturday 4 August 2018

Some Recent Ventures

My recent rather single-minded commitment to the ancient period has at last dissipated, and this has led to some rather more diverse projects and purchases. I thought I might flag some of them up by combining them all in a single post.

Sticking with ancients to start with, I want to develop some scenario-led battles to play, rather than the more traditional (and rather unimaginative) 'line 'em up and go' idea which seems so common in this particular period. One route to that end was to get some buildings to fight over, which could join my fish tank temple on the wargames table. I settled on the Renedra 'Mud Brick House', of which I bought two. These are best bought direct from Renedra rather than Warlord Games or other outlets, as the former are presently doing discounts on buying more than one, as well as providing free and rapid delivery - I got mine within 48 hours.

The models come as hard plastic kits, which are easy to put together and paint. You might find a bit of filling is required here and there, depending on your personal modelling standards. Well worth getting.

I am currently reviving my Air Assault project from 2013 (I can hardly believe it was 5 years ago), using Battlegroup Blitzkrieg rather than Blitzkrieg Commander - similar titles but very different rules. Look out for a future post on this project, but of course I couldn't resist the excuse to buy something. Fortunately my 'needs' were modest and I went looking for some 15mm-size Kettenrads. Sadly, my favoured source of 15mm WW2 vehicles, Skytrex/Command Decision, don't seem to do these, so I settled for the Battlefront ones.

I sourced these from Element Games, who I have used before for a variety of stuff and are generally reliable. The models themselves are fine - as is so common with Battlefront, not entirely accurate but easy to put together and perfectly OK for wargaming. When finished, these will tow the 75mm infantry guns and 37mm anti-tank guns of my airlanding troops - kettenrads were carried in the old bomb bay areas of Ju-52s.

A rather whimsical purchase to finish - some 1/32nd (54mm) plastic soldiers. Another project I will be flagging up in a future post is a set of simple Horse and Musket rules, aimed at 'toy soldier' style battles. The project was partly inspired by Stuart's collection of 54mm Britains metal soldiers, and I began looking around for what was on the market in 40-54mm these days. Thus I happened upon the products of companies such as Armies in Plastic and A Call to Arms which I had never encountered before. Now, I have no intention of building any kind of collection of such figures (no, honestly, I haven't), but, on finding that a box could be bought quite cheaply, my inner child couldn't resist purchasing some.

Prices for the various boxes of such toys can vary, and some ranges are hard to find, but at their original prices these are a very inexpensive source of decent 54mm toy soldiers - less than 50p a model. They are crisply molded and nicely detailed.

I might even paint some of them up for display at some stage. A fun purchase.

A couple of long-overdue purchases of classic wargaming books have been made. The first was John Sandars' An Introduction To Wargaming, from 1975.

Of course, as an introduction to wargaming the book is rather lacking. The work is really just an introduction to Mr. Sandars' rather idiosyncratic and unique approach to wargaming, and mostly deals with only one particular campaign in one particular period - the Western Desert campaign in WW2. So, not much of a general introduction; but I had fond memories of getting it from the library and reading it many decades ago. In those days it represented an interesting alternative approach to wargaming the Second World War. However, the rules contained in the book were incomplete and lacked the detail to actually play a game, as well as being rather over complex for my tastes at the time - and indeed they still seem rather over-egged. Nevertheless, nice to have a copy on my shelves.

The second classic needs no introduction - Charles Grant's The War Game from 1971.

For a collector of old wargaming books, I have come rather the late to the party in this case. The main reason is that, as with John Sandars, Mr Grant's approach to wargaming differs widely from my own, both at the time of publication and now. Combat rules that are rather over-fussy (not to say clunky), and units that are far too large. And of course, copies of the original edition are getting rather pricey these days. Still and all, not having it on the shelves suddenly became no longer acceptable, and I found a slightly battered but sound copy on eBay for £25, which I thought was pretty lucky. Checking again today, imagine my chagrin to see a 'buy it now' copy for £7.50 plus £3.40 postage. Some people really are a bit dim - the item is right below a copy of the same book priced at £67.63. Ah well. It was still a pleasure to give it shelf space after all this time.

Flames of War? Are You Quite Mad?
Yes, Roy is quite a FoW aficionado, and has more FoW armies than you can shake a stick at. It's been ages since I had a go with these rules, which as readers will know are something of a Marmite phenomena in wargaming. Anyway, the subject of early WW2 gaming came up, and before I knew it I was at Roy's fighting a fictional Italians vs. Vichy French desert game. Tremendous fun, with enormous Italian infantry platoons and the usual collection of useless early war armour. Even more remarkable, I actually won - although of course, I had to be guided through the rules for the duration of the game. A few photos are included below just to get the gist. Thanks Roy!

Maybe controlling the French was a mistake Roy.
Italians swarm into a village.
Human Wave 1 - overcoming a couple of unfortunate Renaults.
Human Wave 2 - the Italians advance. Lovely terrain mat from Tiny Games.

Readable Rules 
I came across an interesting opinion piece recently on the Glorious Little Soldiers blog. Andy's "Mr Angry" writing style is always entertaining, but the point I took away from the piece is that it really is time that some rules appeared that were a pleasure to read. I have sometimes fantasised about writing a wargames book in Old School style that would not only present a set of rules, but might work as a book, rather like some of Charles Grant's original works from the 70s. Of course, actually writing something that someone would consider publishing is another thing entirely. Nevertheless, perhaps this could be the Next Big Thing in wargames literature.

As Andy mentions in the comments section, sets of rules like FoG or the typical WRG sets are lost causes when it comes to being a pleasure to read, but Black Powder made a stab at this goal, although the book was criticised for being too wordy and making the rules hard to look up. So what's needed is a readable book laying out the principles and background to the rules, with a straightforward rules summary to finish off. I'll get word processing immediately...

New Projects
So, two new projects happening at the moment - resurrecting the Air Assault game, and a new set of basic Horse and Musket rules. More on both soon. Oh, and I've written an article for Slingshot, based on my ancients project. A reasonable chance of publication, if the editor's initial reaction is anything to go by. A problem I find with this kind of thing is how long one has to wait between acceptance and actually seeing the article in print. This is unavoidable, and I remind myself that patience is a virtue!

See you again soon.