Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pin Markers

Fed up of finding ball pins stuck to your fingers? Hit markers come to the rescue! To save having to ladle heaps of pins onto your brigade or even division after a particularly heavy round of fighting, this marker doubles as a divisional first aid post and an on-table record.
The green (light), blue (medium) and black (heavy) pin records units. The white pin records tens.
It is easier to count up hits at a glance when a morale calculation needs to be made.
When the unit reorganises, black pins are still stuck directly onto the stands.
Your friends can use them for their own troops, who may not take kindly to pins chipping their bases. 

 Pin (hit) markers prior to varnishing and base texturing.

I have made the first nine first aid markers to record hits on formations and a pair of ammo marker to record remaining ammunition. Just remember that ammo counts down to zero and hits count up to whatever the unit maximum is.

It doesn't matter how you model the marker. A free stand will work, but the neatest way is to make it an integral part of the model. Cunning players will want to put a canvas tarpaulin over the marker to screen it from enemy recce! Brummy Stokes , who was last seen reading the Racing Times  in the January 2012 Archives, is probably already working out how to turn a fast bob or two from this idea!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Mimi wins a Medal!

Remember Mimi? The little chap with his hat pushed so far back on his head that you wonder how it stayed on without hatpins? If you had written him off as a vainglorious poser suitable only for parades and propaganda photographs then think again. 

Blackshirt Legionnaires scrounged from Peter Pig's Japanese WW2,  PITS and ACW ranges.

During the assault on 150th Infantry Brigade to the north of BIR HACHIEM, I had given Trebian a couple of understrength Blackshirt battalions to make up infantry numbers. Mimi was lurking at the back, hoping not to be noticed. (You can play "Where's Mimi" over on Trebian's blog if you want to find him yourself)

The evidence that a Blackshirt Legion actually did some fighting. Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013

Imagine my surprise then, when browsing Trebian's website after the battle, to see Mimi in the centre of the enemy position, behind the Legion's eagle. This calls for a Medal! Although there are not many photos of Legionari fighting on the web, there is no shortage of parading and saluting footage. Medals abound too, with almost every unit seeming to cast its own! 

 Mussolini's propaganda machine got hold of the story and recreated this realistic propaganda photograph of the victory in a studio somewhere in Rome. Such is the skill of Roman cinematic artists that the result is indistinguishable from actual battle footage!

If Mimi doesn't put his shirt back on, the award ceremony is going to hurt a lot!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Wargaming the Battle of Bir Hacheim - Pt 3

Last week saw the hard-pressed 21Pz wondering if it would be able to fend off concerted British armour attacks for long enough for Rommel to be able to find a supply route through the British minefields around the 150Bde defended box.

21Pz in the centre of a boiling Cauldron. 15Pz are at top left. North is to the right of the picture.

Rommels' woes were compounded by the stubborn resistance of 1FF in BIR HACHEIM, the complete absence of 90Lt  or Littorio on the battlefield, and the German inability to find anything resembling a supply dump. It wasn't for lack of trying, but fuel was now hampering the movement of DAK away from its tenuous supply lines hooking around the south of 1FF, or the yet-to-be established line through the minefields.

1FF being assaulted by Littorio and Ariete. The green rubber trucks represent the supply line.

IFF hung on doggedly as the attack developed between Ariete and Littorio, even counterattacking to drive infantry penetrations back out of the perimeter .

1FF are in no mood to be evicted from BIR HACHEIM.

90Lt appeared to the northeast of 1Tk. An attack was put in by the British, but 90Lt veered south and escaped back towards BIR HACHEIM, fighting a spirited rearguard action that caused 1Tk to break contact, congratulating itself that it had "driven off the enemy".Some confusion was evident in that 90Lt were driving captured British Matador trucks and were towing at least one captured 6pdr.

They look a bit too professional to be ours Sir! Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013.

21Pz successfully withdrew west, followed by the remnants of 22Tk and 32Tk, who kept enough contact to prevent 21Pz from reorganising.

Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013.

150Bde was on its last legs however, finally succumbing to a ruthlessly pressed-home assault from 15Pz, supported by Trieste. As in the historical battle, 150Bde collapsed before relief arrived, giving DAK time to reorganise itself to face down the British armour.

At the end of the battle, the Allies had done rather better than they did historically and the Axis powers slightly worse. This state of affairs can be laid at the door of the umpire, with the usual provisio that it could have been worse for both sides had waves of useful dice not been rolled when needed. The battle was tense and swayed to and fro with no clear winner being evident even at the end. The Germans had come very close to capturing two supply dumps - they were the hollow rocky outcrops out of an Army Men playset. This concluded the battle, leaving only a mass rush of troops as they were put back into boxes and ruminations on how the game went.

See also Trebians Battle report on Wargaming for Grownups

Things to make and paint before the next battle :

Minefield/barbed wire markers.
Defended brigade boxes
More British infantry (Guards and Gurkhas).
RMP and Feldpolizei traffic control markers.
Minefield gap markers.
Some of 1FF's heavier equipment.
More trucks and command cars!
Command markers (for recording orders)
Caualty Markers (for recording hits)
Logistics markers (for recording supply)

Post game Ruminations :

The battle followed the course of history closely, without being slavish. This was partly becouse the information fed to the players was narrative driven, and partly because the confines of the table caused space to be compressed dramatically. Even so, the play-through with a lot of the complexity stripped away helped my understanding of a confused series of manoevres that do not always come out clearly in the historical accounts.

Air support was absent. I had the models available, but so much was going on that I felt it better to leave air out this time round. Phil remarked that 1FF might not have held on so well if the usual waves of NQM Stukas had been pounding the position to soften it up. Hubert Pölz was grumpy as he didn't take to the air in his new Stuka.

I am going to need a wider variety of markers if I plan to hide things in plain sight in future. Players won't be fooled twice

Players were focussed on winning the battles because that was the way they had been led. I am going to have to encourage wider thinking next time so that recce is thrown out wider and more speculatively, rather than being drawn into the Cauldron as extra light dice. If players want to do something, my instinct is to allow them unless there are good narrative reasons not to.

Players quickly lost track of unit boundaries, resulting in impromptu atts and dets. This is how it should be, but I took on board a useful suggestion to go back to using stands that were unit markers with a hit point track to keep up with ammo and red and black pips. This is something that we used to do for the really big games and then abandoned. the paper chits were impromptu unit markers that had become necessary to keep track of which unit was where.

The next time that this game is run, player briefs will be more complete and 6 players should easily manage the game with minimal need for umpire intervention. That should allow more logistics to be inserted. Even with ruthless simplification, this game took us 8 hours of play time and involved 6 Axis divisions and 7 Allied  brigades

Units were running on bare-bones orders of battle, with a lot of the logistics and command stands, FOOs etc being absent.  There is stilll a lot of modelling to do, so I shall probably take a break and head back to the Eastern Front for a while after Easter.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Wargaming the Battle of Bir Hacheim - Pt 2

The second evening of gaming saw reinforcements for 50th Northumbrian Division arrive in the form of the Revd Ian Lowell. This was his first visit to Shedquarters, so naturally he was thrown in at the deep end and given control of 150th Infantry Brigade. He has form for WWII, having built a 20mm French army, now residing in Tim Gow's collection, and the 20mm Laffleys in the 2nd rank of Ariete's attack in the 2nd picture below.

Ian Lowell. Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013
The time line for this stage of the battle was roughly : 

1. Ariete consolidated and swung northwest to attack 1FF. Several assaults were beaten off

Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013 

2. Trieste continued to batter 150Bde from the west and discovered a passage through the minefields.
3. 15Pz and 21Pz reorganised and continued driving north. They met and defeated  22nd Armoured Brigade (22Tk) in similar fashion to 4Tk.

The destruction of 22Tk. Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013
4. 15Pz drove west to attack 150Bde from the southeast.
5. 21Pz beat off several attacks from the reformed 4Tk supported by 7th Support Group (7Sp) assaulting from the south.
6. At the same time 1Tk  attacked from the east and 32Tk from the north. 21Pz was unable to exploit successes for lack of fuel. Through cunning die rolls, the British were more successful in coordinating their attacks than they had been historically.

British armour attacks the Cauldron. Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013

At this stage, Players were feeling the pressure of insufficient umpire feedback on the timeline and naturally wanting things to be under control, when historically they weren't. Trebian was reminding me how much he hates the random effects that table 12 throws out (he has done this consistently for the 25 years that we have been playing, so it doesn't really count!) In short, a slightly more hectic game than usual was under way.

By the time we wound down, battles were raging hotly in the Cauldron and the defended positions of 1FF and 150Bde.  Rommel was in the thick of it, trying to open a passage for supplies around 150Bde, and 21Pz were fighting for survival. Next week will see a conclusion.

 Close of play looking north to the coast. Photo copyright Graham Evans 2013

What the Umpire thought :

I must sort out the sequence of a combined tank/infantry attack on a defended box.
This should have been a six player game. More than a division is really too much for a single gamer.
Units are getting lost in plain sight on the table in a most satisfying manner.
This is a huge table and it's still stuffed with toys, with perhaps more to come!
The two defended positions needed the upgrade from medium to heavy to reflect their historical resilience, so that decision seems to be paying off.

What the Players said :

The sequence was a bit chaotic. Because the umpire had more narrative than usual in his head, players were less able than usual to get on with the game, so had to wait for the disjointed sequence to come around to their bit.

See Also :

Trebian's :
Yesthatphil's :

Friday, 1 March 2013

Wargaming the Battle of Bir Hacheim

The battle of BIR HACHEIM was the opening round of Rommel's offensive on TOBRUK. In a wide southern sweep, Rommel's three armoured divisions (15Pz, 21Pz, Ariete) and Trieste the motorised infantry division drove around the desert flank of Ritchie's Eighth Army. 90th Light division accompanied the force on the far southern flank of the attacking panzers.

Players were given an edited version of the map above with the enemy dispositions and movement airbrushed out. The orbats were printed off and put into the relevant boxes. As usual, players had fun reconciling what the orbat said with the models that were actually there in the boxes (real life logistics intervening without the need for written rules!) The British were particularly hard-pressed in this respect as their doctrine at this stage of the war dictated that infantry and tank brigades fought separate battles, wheras the Axis forces were much more closely integrated.

The battlefield from the south with the 3Ind box on the right and 1FF to the left

Trieste was supposed to skirt the Southern flank of BIR HACHEIM but swung east too soon. I allowed for the possibility of them navigating accurately in the game (25% chance) and Ariete going astray (10%), assuming that the DAK would navigate accurately. Trieste was true to form and happily swung in to attack 150th Infantry Brigade from 50th Northumbrian Division (150Inf) hitting them square on from the west.

When picking the box out, I inadvertently gave Trebian the Littorio box, so he had more tanks than expected. I expect payback will come when Rommel calls for Littorio and gets Trieste. Fog of war and all that!

Trieste attack 15th Infantry Brigade north of BIR HACHEIM

Ariete drove around to the south of BIR HACHEIM and hit 3rd Indian Motorised Brigade (3Ind), believing them to be the Free French (1FF).

Ariete drive east. Don't they look splendid!

3Ind were not dug in at the time they were contacted, so were counted as being in the open, whereas 1FF were counted as fully dug-in. Additionally, 3Ind had only half its complement of 2pdr anti-tank guns and no 6pdrs. They did not last long and were overrun, with a third of the brigade escaping to the southeast. This success put Ariete into high spirits as they reorganised ready to move northwest to attack 1FF.

3rd Indian Motorised Brigade about to be overrun

Meanwhile, 15Pz and 21Pz had hooked east then north around the 3Ind position to seek out supposed supply dumps. What they found instead was 4th Armoured Brigade (4Tk) in fighting mood.

15Pz at the top of the picture and 21Pz in the foreground become aware of the first few tanks of 4Tk on the ridge to the top right

4Tk charge furiously into 15Pz as it swings east to engage the enemy

Initially, the battle went 4Tk's way with 15Pz being driven off to the south with heavy tank losses (75%), but as 21Pz counterattacked from the west, the British Crusaders and Honeys soon went up in flames, leaving the shattered remnants of the brigade to make its escape to the south with morale intact.

21Pz finds the flank of 4Tk and engages it. Casualties mount on both sides.

Burning panzer IIIs from 15Pz dominate the centre of the battle as 15Pz retires southeast and 4Tk retires southwest.

The survivors of 4Tk may prove to be as few as 10 heavies when they pause to reorganise.

Here we ended the game for the night after two and a half hours of play, with at least half an hour of tea drinking and associated chocolate munching. Biscuits may have been dunked too.

At this stage of the battle, 15Pz and 21Pz were in possession of the field but low on fuel, having scattered the  first attack against them. Rommel (aka Trebian) professed himself inclined to ignore 1FF in BIR HACHEIM and press north. Ritchie (played by me as umpire) was trying to marshall 7th Support Group (7Mot), and 4th and 22nd tank brigades (4Tk, 22Tk) to make a concerted attack to reinforce 150Inf. These attacks would be arriving from widely different directions and might prove difficult to coordinate . 1st and 32nd army tank brigades (1Tk, 32Tk) were making their way south too.

Off table in the north, Italian XXI Corps was attacking the front of 1st South African Division.

The crew of a Honey take a break from the battle. Time for a brew!

What the Umpire learned:

It is time to start grouping the British troops into brigade boxes.
Don't hand players the wrong boxes!
You cannot have too many minefield and barbed wire markers.
There is a LOT more painting still to do.

What the Players learned:

The key to success is all-arms action.
Pins should be handled with care!
Dug-in infantry with a full complement of anti-tank and field guns can be formidable but troops caught in the open cannot hold their own against armour.

What we discussed in the tea breaks:

The course of the historical battle.
Bases on tanks.
When am I ever going to finish painting stuff and be more like Trebian? As if ...!
Scholiosis and Richard the Third.
How little detail can be seen on models at battle distances.

Assumptions made:

We counted all tank units as medium, except the Grants, 50mm Atk and 6pdr Atk, who fired as heavy.
Troops counted as light, unless dug in, when they defended as Heavy but fired as light.