Saturday, 25 March 2017

La revanche, August 1914

This was a game I put on using my new 15mm French figures (and my venerable Germans) covering the offensive by French 1st Armee into the Belfort Gap in the opening days of WW1. John and Graeme took the French, Tim and Tom the Germans, while Jerry heckled from the sidelines. The game was played with OP14, which has brigades (or cavalry divisions) as the basic element of manouvre, grouped into Corps and uses two hour turns on a 2km per hex grid. So good for quite big battles. 

General Briefing
When war broke out it was inevitable that the French would seek to regain the ‘lost territories’ of Alsace-Lorraine. The Germans and French were well appraised of the others mobilisation plans, and Joffre, counting the ratio of first  line divisions, felt there was ample margin for an offensive. The main effort was in Lorraine and Northern Alsace, but south of the Vosges, 1st Armee was tasked with taking Mulhouse via the Belfort Gap.

French Briefing
1st Armee will mount a subsidiary operation through the Belfort Gap with a Corps group. The main aim is to threaten the German grouping in the Vosges to the north, and to secure a firm foothold on the west bank of the Rhine. German troops will be de-training across the Rhine, but air reconnaissance indicates little opposition, although one unconfirmed intelligence report mentions an Austrian Army Corps in the area. This is a chance to gain glory for France and gain revenge for the treachery of 1870. French elan will prevail and we will sweep away the enemy machineguns at the point of a bayonet.

French Forces, Elements 1st Armee (Dubail)
VII Corps (Bonneau)
8th Cavalry Div (Aubier)

German Briefing
The French will almost certainly attack, although the terrain and communications in this sector precludes a major offensive. The Landwehr provide a screen and the most important task for IX Corps is to cover the detraining of our VIII Reserve Corps across the Rhine. These will be committed to front line action and combined with an extra division assigned to IX Corps, will give us a significant force superiority over the French. The temporary loss of ground can be tolerated, as long as it is regained later.

German Forces, Elements 7th Army (Heeringen)

Upper Rhine covering force (Landwehr)
IX Corps (reinforced)
VIII Reserve Corps



The battlefield from the north. The Swiss border is the far edge, the French frontier is on to the right with fortress of Belfort a few km further back, the Rhine is on the far side of the forests to the left and nearest the camera are the foothills of the Vosges. Mulhouse is on the rail junction.  Altkirk and Thann are each garrisoned by a brigade of Landwehr.


Wicked Germans looking determined.


The French are rather more relaxed.


8th Cavalry Div ride on looking glorious, accompanied by a battalion of Chasseurs a Pied.


VII Corps marches on up the main Belfort-Mulhouse railway line.


As it approaches Altkirk, the leading brigades deploy and the artillery unlimbers. The Landwehr await them on the other side of the river.


The French artillery drives the Germans out of the town.


Meanwhile 8th Cavalry Div bypasses Thann and rides into Mulhouse, to be greeted by jubilant crowds. An aircraft from VII Corps provides liaison. At this point the remaining Landwehr melted away and the French had a day or so to organise their defences. The triumph is telegraphed to the War Ministry and the Paris newspapers, much to the fury of Joffre.


Ooer, what is this? 9th August dawns with hordes of Germans emerging from the Rhineland forests. IX Corps and VIII (Reserve) Corps have arrived.


The Germans close in on Mulhouse where the French have been digging in along the railway line. The first assaults on Muhouse are repulsed.


Eventually, German numbers and artillery superiority tell as the line is outflanked. The empty hex is  where an entire French brigade fought to the last man after being forced from the town.


The massed German artillery park, which includes 150mm howitzers, is decisive.


VIII (Reserve) Corps pushes up to Thann, held by 8th Cavalry Div.


8th Cavalry Div conducts a mounted counterattack, which is very glorious but predictably shot to pieces by rifle and machinegun fire. By this time, heavy losses have exhausted the French, and on the 10th they fell back to Belfort and the Germans retook the lost ground.

This went very well, in fact I was delighted that it replicated the historical result exactly (the exhausted French falling back on the 10th, after taking Mulhouse on the 7th). The players seemed to enjoy themselves and the rules worked excellently as ever. The French in the game adopted a rather more imaginative strategy than their historical counterparts who just trudged a division down each railway line and had to fight for both towns. The cavalry sweep worked excellently, and the concentrated infantry Corps was able to push the German out of Altkirk with minimal losses.

Sadly, as in real life, Joffre had miscalculated the correlation of force, assuming the Germans reserve divisions were not combat ready. When the Germans did turn up with all their forces (including the reserves) the French were heavily outnumbered and forced back.



Sunday, 19 March 2017

QRF Horse carts

There is a surprising dearth of 15mm WW2 horse drawn transport out there, which is surprising given the massive use of horse transport made by the majority of combatants (the US and Britain apart). If only HaT did their wonderful wagons and field kitchens in 1/100th scale, but they don't.

One company which does make some, are QRF who do some relatively affordable German horse carts, so I invested in a few to lug my 15mm Germans stuff around.


Here they all are, moving along in a column. What a great target for Jabos. I was a bit disappointed to find they are the version with pneumatic tyres, but if I really cared, I'd buy some Irregular spoked wheels and convert them. I clearly didn't care that much.


These are nice little models with perfectly useable draft horses and a couple of crew figures. Obviously any old sitting figure would do, and one of these chaps has a somewhat anachronistic peaked cap. Again, if I really cared, I would do a head swap or a bit of judicious filing down of the offending headgear.


These carts aren't very sophisticated. Just a box on wheels. It was very easy to assemble, but like all horse transport, it takes up a huge amount of space. I can see why everyone got lorries instead, but at least if hasn't got a four or six horse team.


And there it goes, off into the distance. I did these all panzer grey with a liberal coating of mud and dust so they are good for the whole war. I do pretty much all my German softskins that way now as there was still plenty of grey transport knocking around in 1944.

So, if you want some horse carts, these do the job, but if you want spoked wheels, you'll have to look elsewhere or dive into the spares box. 20mm gamers are somewhat better catered for in this department. It subsequently occurred to me that these would be pitifully easy to build our of plasticard, and Irregular do both spoked wheels and separate draft horses. Alternatively you could just buy a six horse limber and make up some wagon teams from the horses (there are horse drawn limbers around and oddities like Tchankas). 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Platoon Commanders War hexed

WD Display Team (North) are thinking of taking a game to the Joy of Six show in July. Clearly it needs to be a 6mm game and look nice, so Tim and John came up with the bright idea of converting Platoon Commanders War to use Hexon terrain. In 6mm PCW is a 1:1:1 game (each figure represents a man, and the ground scale is also 1/300th, so each 4" hex represents 33 yards). Using the hexes also allowed me to address my favourite WW2 bugbear, bunching up, so fire from an element hits everything in the hex. A Rifle section firing in enfilade is potentially capable of suppressing an area 100 yards by 33 yards (as the MG beaten zone is two hexes), which is in line with War Office Operations Reports which estimated a rifle section could suppress 100 yards of front.


The scenario was set out as a training exercise, taken from a contemporary training manual, of a platoon assault. This wasn't the very familiar 1944 manual, but the earlier 1940-43 one, so used two sections up instead of one. The attack is carefully scripted, with phase lines indicated on the exercise map reproduced on the table, and designed for the platoon to become used to working as a group.

Above is a view from the British end, with the white scrabble counters showing the various points of interest.

 

View from the German end. The Germans are holding the ridge, and a machinegun team has been identified somewhere to the left of the building (invisible at present). The platoon objective is the building and the small copse is the objective of a neighbouring platoon.


Our brave chaps line up for the O group. Three rifle sections each of a rifle group and bren team, platoon HQ in the middle, with a very dubious looking 2" mortar man in tow.

I took 1 section, Tim took 2 section, Jerry lugged the mortar and Tom ran the platoon with 3 section in reserve.


Start line was the farm track, two sections up. 1 section is nearest the camera.


As we crossed line B, things got a bit sticky and 2 section was pinned by the German MG. 1 section managed to work forward using fire and movement, but as we began to outflank the gun, more Germans opened fire from the building and pinned my rifle team. What a shabby trick.

My plucky Bren team however managed to pin both the German teams, which allowed all the pinned British troops to sort themselves out.  We kept the Germans heads down with covering fire and advanced by bounds over line C. At this point Platoon HQ and 3 section were coming up from the rear to assist.


2 Section managed to get their rifle group into close combat with the pinned MG team, while 1 section advanced on the building.


The 2" mortar laid a smoke screen bang on the ridge, so my rifle group went left flanking under the cover of the smoke covered by the bren, and as the Germans in the building were still pinned, it was all over bar the shouting.

This went really well, and the platoon attack took about 45 minutes. What I really like about these rules is that Battle Drill actually works. You need to win the firefight, you need to use fire and movement to advance, and you clear the enemy position by assault (ideally from a flank, and ideally with the bren positioned to cut the enemy line of retreat). So hopefully some learning points for people too. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Gabions galore

Tim as always been very generous with his surplus items, and my latest acquisition via this route was a random collection of Irregular 6mm fortifications. Keen eyed readers may have spotted the Austrians hiding behind them in last weeks APW game. They were unpainted as Tim had literally just handed them to me before the game, and I thought they were just the thing to use as dug in markers instead of the matchsticks I was going to use.

There were half a dozen earthworks reinforced with gabions on one side, and one set of freestanding gabions, the latter are just what I need for a scenario I'm working on.



I need something to use as a temporary roadblock, and these are just the ticket. I was going to scratchbuild some,  but it is much easier to just paint something.


The trench sections are rather nice too. I just stuck the terrain bits down on appropriate sized bases, painted them mid brown all over and then ran an inkwash and a light drybrush over the gabions. They are all on 30mm frontages, so will also do as dug in markers for some of my bigger toys (which are also on 30mm bases). 


From the front, a rather unexciting pile of earth. Apart from the painted gabions, the rest of the bases were just done with builders sand stuck down with PVA and edged in black. At some point I'll add some static grass to the actual base bits.


Here are some heroic French Zoaves somewhat uncharacteristically hiding in a load of earthworks. For Rifle & Kepi games I'll just use one marker in a hex to indicated dug in status, and for other periods and rules they can join my useful heap of bits of terrain.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Munchengratz

I've been working on some revisions to my venerable 'Rifle & Kepi' rules for some time, mainly to streamline the command and combat systems. The activation and movement system from OP14 seemed to fit the bill admirably as it activated each Corps rather than each division and also eliminated the fiddly action point dice roll. That does rather restrict it to multiple Corp sized battles, but hey, I'm a  big battle sort of guy.

I rather liked aspects of the old combat system where you could resolve an entire Corps sized engagement in a single step, but the mechanism of calculating the relative combat power of each division (modified by tactical factors and individual dice rolls) and adding all the scores up, was far too cumbersome. The close combat system in Simplicity in Practice came to the rescue, as a way of generating combat value scores using handfuls of dice instead.

So, with the various revisions at hand, time to try it out on some actual players..... We've done this particular battle before, The Prussian Elbe Army closing in on the Saxons and Austrians near the town of Munchengratz on the Iser in June 1866. It essentially consists of four separate Corps sized commands with no pesky cavalry to mess things up. John took on Crown Prince Friedrich Karl, Tom was von Bittenfeld, Jerry was the Elector of Saxony and Tim landed the plum role of General Clam Gallas, reputedly better at eating than fighting.


The battlefield from the east. The Saxons are over to the left down the Iser, while the Austrians have a cordon out covering their evacuation of Munchengratz, Each hex is around 1000m.



The Crown Prince marches his Corps on and the Saxons move up to cover the left flank of Munchengratz. As it is high summer the Iser is passable to infantry and cavalry.


One Prussian division siezes a bridgehead while the Saxon artillery shells the enemy. Sadly after this point the battlefield became shrouded in smoke and there was no visual record of what happened.


Once the smoke cleared, the remains of the Saxon Army were revealed to be in full retreat, although the Prussians had suffered heavy losses in the process. One Saxon division had routed and the Elector had decided that enough was enough. The Austrian reserve brigade had moved up to fill the gap in the meantime.


Over on the road from Torgau, Von Bittenfelds Corps mounted a frontal assault against the Austrians entrenched behind the river. All very unpleasant. On a diamond, deployed units can't cross obstacles (like steep hills, woods and passable rivers), but the Austrians weren't planning on leaving their comfy trenches.


The fighting was so unpleasant in fact that the Prussian Army became shaken and the troops all went to ground. Having suffered 50% losses, it was understandable.



Corps dither (do nothing except defend themselves) if they draw a spade picture card for activation. If a Corps does dither, the HQ can issue an extra card to one subunit to activate at least a portion of the Corps. The Saxons are clearly unsure of what to do next...


The Austrian brigade south of Munchengratz succumbs to the Crown Princes concentric attack. Meanwhile the Austrians in the town have spent the last six hours (!) digging in (indicated by the little dice). Prussian casualties are around 40% at this point.


Back in the north, one Prussian division rallies and manages to fight its way across the river, supported by artillery. Less than half Von Bittenfelds Corps is left on its feet.


And in the south, the Crown Prince threatens the Austrian lines of communication. Night fell at that point and we called it a day.  The Austrians had managed to keep their communications lines open and inflicted heavy losses on the Prussians, even though the Saxons had scuttled home. So a well earned victory for Clam Gallas, and his Corps can withdraw overnight to meet its destiny at Koeniggratz.

I was pretty pleased with this, it all seemed to go smoothly and although I forgot a couple of things in the heat of the moment, it all hung together OK. Playtesting with people is always useful as it highlighted some ambiguities and inconsistencies to iron out, but the revisions are only minor. The challenge is still to keep the rules to one side of A4, but I seem to have managed it. Once I'm happy with the revisions to the revised version I'll post them as a file download here.


Saturday, 28 January 2017

Hillman

Many years ago I was struck by accounts of the early fighting in Normandy about the difficulties posed to the British attempts to take Caen on D-Day by the strongpoint codenamed 'Hillman'. The position is still there, located on the 'Rue de Suffolk' south of Coleville on the back route into Caen and Tim visited it in 2004. 

Anyway, after 17 years of planing and research, I finally got around to putting on a game of the Suffolks attack on the position, which followed on from the game I put on before Christmas covering the assault on Coleville and 'Morris'

The game are covered two map grid squares (approx 2km x 2km), and once again featured the plucky heroes of the Suffolks, supported by 76 Field Regiment and 246 Field Company Royal Engineers. Against them was the ominous looking Hillman position, known to contain two German regimental headquarters as well as artillery observation posts overlooking the invasion beaches (Sword Beach is a couple of map squares to the rear).

I ran this with my 15mm toys using Johns 'Battlegroup' rules, somewhat modified by myself. The action kicked off at around 1300 hours on 6th June 1944. John commanded the Suffolks, Jerry reprised his role as artillery commander, Tom took the assault infantry companies and Tim got to push some tanks around.


The battlefield from the south. The Suffolks will form up around Coleville, the previously captured German positions visible in the distance. Over in Hermanville to the west the KSLI and Staffs Yeomany are building up to drive down the main road to Caen, which they can't do until Hillman is cleared.


The Suffolks move out from Coleville. Left flanking covered by bags of smoke. I was a little disappointed that Jerry got out of his nice shiny OP tank and decided to scramble up the church steeple instead.


Oooeer. Ju 88s from KG56 make an appearance. Unlike their historical counterparts who were shot down in flames by Spitfires over the beaches, these actually made it through the defending fighters and the massed AA fire of the Royal Navy, only to dump their bombs ineffectively in the sea. Masterful flying by Tim as temporary bomber pilot.


A squadron of the South Staffs rolls on, along with a stray troop from 13/18th Hussars.  Nice bit of unexpected support for the Suffolks. The battalion mortar platoon and attached MMG platoon are also visible here.


The Royal Artillery lay down some covering fire. Meanwhile German artillery fire covers the exit from Coleville, one platoon is pinned down but rapidly recovers using the stone buildings as cover.


A full squadron shoot from the Shermans is quite impressive. The infantry move up under cover of the barrage.


A German AT bunker opens fire on the Shermans. They respond with massed HE fire to suppress the position.


Over on the left flank, a German pillbox opens fire to no effect, but the German artillery plasters one of the infantry companies. The ditches around the field provide decent cover but the company HQ is knocked out.


A gunnery duel ensues. The artillery bunker engages the Shermans, knocking one troop out, while artillery provides covering fire as the engineers to use bangalore torpedoes to clear the wire and mines (the great big explosion). Some German interval troops pop up and suppress one rifle platoon.


Over in front, things are getting a bit sticky. The German 10cm guns engage and disable another troop of Shermans and catch a rifle company in the beaten zone.  The infantry have fortunately been digging in and are protected by their shell scrapes.


Over in the far corner, direct fire from the AT platoon and HE fire from the atillery has failed to suppress the armoured pillbox. However, the battalion assault pioneer platoon has managed to get through the cleared path, soon to be followed by an infantry platoon.


The Assault pioneers failed to close with the unsuppressed pillbox, but the infantry distinguished themselves by knocking the pilbox out with their PIAT while the Germans interval troops are suppressed by mortar fire.

We called it at that point, as once the British had broken into the position, it was just a question of mopping up each bunker. In the actual battle, the last Germans didn't surrender until 0730 on 7th June as the position was fortified to a similar level as Fort Douament at Verdun with underground concreted tunnels etc.

I think this went rather well and rolled along at a fair old pace. I had originally imagined gaming the fighting to clear the trenches and bunkers too, but it would essentially have been a slow fire & movement slog, so I think ending the game at  the point the British broke into the fortification was the right thing to do. One again 'Battlegroup' worked well and produced a believable result, which is always a good sign.