Thursday, 13 August 2020

Semovente 47/32 conversion

Oh good, another pointless conversion! Avid readers may recall I bought a couple of L6/40s, a tank which came into action six years too late, and the Italian equivalent of a T60. Well I suppose it was better than an L3, barely.

Here are my L6s driving across the dining table, hoping T34s don't see them. The Italians also realised they were fairly useless, and set about converting some of them into SP 47mm anti-tank guns. And Lo, the Semovente 47/32 was born.... 

The real thing, a very diminutive SP gun.

The Semovente 47/32 actually worked quite well and the Celere division in Russia had a full company to support its L6s. The Germans also nabbed as many as possible in 1943 and a good few hundred were made. 

My old internet buddy Tim M from the old days of usenet and once made some Marders by building a superstructure to go on his Pz 38s as an alternative to the turret, and I wondered if the same might be possible with the L6s.

With the turrets removed, it looks remarkably feasible to build something to fit over the top of the hull...  

I spent several seconds looking at Semovente plans on the internet, and decided to start off with a template former to hang all the sides etc off.

I put the rear and front plates on to hold it all in place. These are pretty teeny-tiny pieces and the gun casemate has a slightly annoying construction.

Side plates. I made the rookie mistake of forgetting to allow for the thickness of the plasticard when cutting these so I had to do them over. So far I've used 20 thou cards for everything.

The little filler piece between the casemate and the drivers plate I cut very carefully from 10 thou card. When it was all dry I trimmed the top surfaces to make sure it was all flush. The real thing also tapers towards the rear so I trimmed it down a bit at the back.

There is a narrow cover of the front part which nicely squares things away, and I put on a rather exaggerated side door at this point. Something to pick up the drybrushing.

I made up the guns from 1mm steel rod (the same diameter as the 47mm guns on my M13/40s) and added the drivers vision slit cover and what appears to be a small light (or possibly an aerial bracket). The Gun mantlet is actually recessed with a raised lip but a simple square of card looks OK.

There isn't a lot of space inside and I didn't fancy doing any detailing, so I filled the back part with figures instead. These are various chopped up PSC tank crewmen with their hats trimmed into vaguely Italian shapes.

A spot of undercoat blends it all together.

I then painted the new removable superstructures in the same sand/red brown scheme as the L6 hulls with an ink wash. I did the crew in mid-grey so they can pass for Italians in temperate uniforms, or Germans if needs be.

I don't think they look too bad at all, if a little oversized.

And if they suddenly need revolving turrets again, I can just swap the tops. Hey presto!

I was pretty pleased with how they came out. The only downside was when I was assembling them, some of the glue ran through the plastic and lifted the top coat of the existing paint so I had to re-touch the damaged bits. It wasn't a huge issue but something to bear in mind. Next time I'll make any converted tops before  paint the whole thing.

I thought about doing the same thing for my M13s to turn them into Semovente, but there is a  bit too much metalwork to carve off the hulls before I could make the new tops fit. Maybe one day.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Road to Minsk - VCOW2020

For my session at VCOW 2020 I chose to re-run the Road to Minsk game I'd already tried out with the Sheffield regulars. I knew the rules worked and I knew the scenario was OK, which meant I could concentrate on the logistics of arranging a game with people from all over the country, many of which I'd never met before. I deliberately went with a more low unit density scenario than the Kursk and Battle of the Bulge games I'd done with these before as I was concerned about playing time. For our regular games, we have the luxury of playing over two evenings, but I was going to run this in a single session.

In the event, the VCOW organisation was impeccable. I had nine players signed up a week before and we had plenty of time to get set up beforehand and make sure all the comms was working prior to the actual conference start. I'd originally planned on only having four players and the rest observers, but with nine signed up, I decided to give each of them at least one unit to command as well as designating overall commanders. We'd run some pretty big remote games at the Sheffield club, and as long as we went round in a strict order, I was confident it would be OK.

With the player comms all set up, it also gave each side plenty of time to get to know each other a do some planning. Something which really adds to these remote games I find.

I got set up on Saturday morning, in between attending other VCOW sessions. View from the east. The Germans have to get two units off the road in zone C3.

My super high tech camera station. A Samsung tablet perched on top of two old boxes!

The Russians all lined up for easy access during the game.

And the Germans placed off the northern table edge.

The opening setup, one lonely Russian rifle regiment on the Hill facing west. Mark had this unit, and I also gave him one of the reinforcements.

The Germans came piling on with a strightforward dash towards the exit road through the gap. There had obviously been a bit of planning going on. Panzers and Motorcycles in the lead, infantry following behind.

As the leading wave cleared the gap, two regiments of 15th Mech Corps appeared.

Further back the Russians on the hill were under artillery fire, but the German infantry were already lagging behind.

The Panzer battalion  moved up to engage the Russians, while the motorcyclists hung back and called in the Stukas. This allowed the German infantry to catch up, but they took some losses from the Russians on the hill. The massed Russians managed to knock out some of the Pz 38s, despite the Stuka attacks.

Contact was made! The panzers engaged the motor rifles and the unengaged Russian tanks took the oportunity to swing round and smash into the German flank. Ouch! The motorcyclists spotted a gap and roared south towards the road.

Meanwhile the bulk of the Russians appeared from the west, hurrying down the road with Alex's tanks in the lead.

The fight really hotted up in B3. The Soviet motor rifle troops disintegrated, and the Schutzen drove off Marks rifle regiment. Things weren't looking too good for the Russians.

Now the KVs and T26s came under air attack as the motorcyclists sneaked past under their guns, albeit not without losses. The Germans revved their engines and managed to drive off the table without any more casualties.

Meanwhile back in B3, the Russian tanks defeated their opposite numbers and the Germans were suddenly looking rather thin on the ground. One of the Schutzen battalions engaged the Russian tanks with AT guns.

The other Germans headed for C3, but the Tank Regiment piled in and rolled some mighty dice in the assault (look at all those 5s and 6s!). This was enough so obliterate the German infantry in one fell swoop.

And then there was one.... the last German infantry battalion suddenly found itself assailed on all sides by a division sized force.

Under fire from all sides they hurried forwards, suffering sufficient losses to disorder them.

But they scuttled off the table to the east, albeit not via the vital road. So that left the Russians in possession of the field, and with only an isolated motorcycle battalion heading for Minsk.

That all went fine, and in fact we rattled through the game in plenty of time, which gave loads of time for a good wrap up session. Interestingly a different result to the previous run through, which shows how well balanced these One Hour Wargame scenarios are. It looked like it was all over the Russians at one point, particularly when the Mech Corps didn't block the exit road, but they managed to hold up the Germans and turn things around with aggressive concentric attacks. 

Many thanks to all the players for taking part!

One of my blogging pals has posed this little challenge re simple rules:

As modified One Hour Wargames are listed, here are my answers to his questions:

Basic Questions:
How long did the game take to play?

a. Around an hour.

What was the scenario?

a. A standard one hour wargame scenario, modified a bit to suit the situation.

What happened?  Anything extraordinary?  (troops holding out amidst terrible odds?  Savage attacks that tore through the enemy line?  A straight string of rolling 6s or 1s?)

a. See the account above. It is still quite attirtional like the original set, but somewhat less predictable.

Who won and why?

a. The Russians. The Germans had a clear plan at the outset, but the Russians managed to distract the Germans from their goal. So it was command decisions which decided the outcome, rather than luck.

Did you enjoy the game? Why?

a. Sure. Wargames are a combinaton of art and science and this one told a plausible and hopefully exciting story.

Advanced Questions:
After reading the rules, how many consultations occurred with the rules during the game?

a.None. I wrote them and memorised them beforehand.

Was the scenario created for you or did you create it?


Did any troops perform remarkably good or bad?  Was it luck or part of the mechanics?

a.Not noticeably.

What were the victory conditions in your game?

a.Germans had or exit two units from the Minsk road before the end of the game.

If the game was or was not enjoyable (it has to be one or the other!) was it due to the mechanics?  the outcome?  tension?


Thursday, 6 August 2020

QRF Churchill Crocodile

I've idly thought about making some Crocodile trailers for my existing Churchills, but as I was putting an order in anyway I thought I'd get a proper Churchill Croc from QRF as for some scenarios I'm slightly short of gun armed Churchills too.

The Churchill VII was one of the most heavily armoured British tanks of the war, it saw combat service in Korea and in Northwest Europe, the majority (some 300) were employed as armoured flamethrowers with a smaller number assigned to Churchill tank regiments. It was heavily armoured enough to keep out even 88s out at moderate ranges.

Here it is trundling across the dining table. I mounted the trailer separately so I can use this as a normal gun tank (and it is much easier to store too). Having got a trailer model, I can also. use it as a template to build some of my own

This is a lovely model, really crisp and easy to assemble. The parts fitted very well and had minimal flash. It is also much better detailed than my Skytrex Churchills with a really nice bomb thrower moulded on the turret.. The only fiddly bit was the bow flame projecter which in the end I left off

You can see the bomb thrower nicely here. The moulding on the engine deck is fairly light but good enough. I ran a micron pen around the hatch cover edges to make them stand out more. The commander is a twenty year old Peter Pig one I had in the spares box. You can also see how long and thin it is (like the Cromwell) to work around the British railway tunnel restrictions for transport.

The fuel trailer is a nice solid piece. I mounted it on a bit of foamcore painted black to keep it upright. The wheels aren't quite as chunky as the originals but fine for a 15mm model. It would be fairly easy to carve two of these out of foamcore and add some details for those odd occasions when I need a whole troop of Crocs.

I just did the whole thing in khaki green as it is a late war vehicle, with a very liberal application of mud as these saw a lot of action in the very wet winter of 1944/45. I gave it a wash of olive drab and then did a dark brown pinwash on some of the panel lines to give it some depth, followed by a very light drybrush of light stone to pick out the highlights. As is my current habit, I didn't bother with any markings, but I might paint a few on at some point. 

Friday, 31 July 2020

Bir el Gubi

Ah, Bir el Gubi. I first came across a decent account of this battle in FM Lord Carvers 'Tobruk' in the late 1970s while I was eagerly waiting for the release of AHGCs boardgame of the same name. Tobruk the game turned out to be a dice rolling disappointment, and also didn't cover any of Operation Crusader at all, but I remained interested in Bir el Gubi as an asymmetrical engagement.

My first efforts at scenario design for it were for HPS Simulations computer game 'Panthers in the Shadows' back in the mid 90s, and as we are trawling through the western desert again during lockdown, it would have been rude not to have 22nd Armoured Brigade have a tangle with Ariete.

This scenario is based on the one in Frank Chadwicks very fine 'Benghazi Handicap'. I've no idea if the real terrain at Bir El Gubi is really like this, but it makes for a good game and explains why Ariete chose to make a stand at this otherwise unremarkable junction of desert tracks.

The terrain ended up looking like this. The odd orientation (with North at the bottom) is to best suit the webcam angle. Up in the top right is a depression with an escarpment around its eastern and northern edges. I don't think anyone will be going down there.

22nd Armoured Brigade. Front row is 3 and 4 CLY in Crusaders, back row is 4 RHA (25pdrs), 2 RGH (Royal Gloucester Hussars) also in Crusaders and finally B Co, 1KRRC with attached 2pdrs and Bofors guns.

Most of Ariete. Front row are the mixed Bersaglieri infantry/AT/weapons companies the Italians used to man the forward strongpoints, next row back is another Bersaglieri battalion in trucks, Regimental HQ and the regimental recce Co with motorcyclists and AB41 armoured cars. Finally at the back is he artillery, a battalion of 75s a (Corps) battalion of 105s and MILMART, 102mm naval guns mounted on the back of lorries with a few 90mm AA guns too. In the top right corner are two battalions of M13/40 tanks from 132 Armoured Regiment.

Numbers were slightly down on this one, so we had John, Richard and Graham as the British, with Tim G, Simon and Martin S as the Italians with a newly returned Diego as an observer. Unfortunately we had  fews comms problems at the start, issues with sound due to my dodgy internet connection, and I'd cleverly managed to connect the wrong Skype account up for Diego.

As usual, the players had spent a few days plotting and planning, and I had sent me their deployments beforehand. Unlike Fort Capuzzo, I put the Italians on table at start as there was a lot of stuff to keep track of. I told the players that 11th Hussars had been scouting around again.

View from the east. The Italian strongpoints on Hills 169 and 194, and a great mass of transport and guns lurking in and around the wadi.

The Bersaglieri on Hill 169. In the distance (some 2 and a half miles away) a big clump British tanks are moving into view. 4 City of London Yeomanry in CRusaders.

The wadi near Bir el Gubi. The 75s are deployed in  the wadi itself, the reserve Bersaglieri battalion and RHQ on the road ot El Adem. The recce company are over in E7 and MILMART is daringly deployed to dash forward with its 90mm and 102mm autocanone.

Bir el Gubi itself. A rater dubious looking well in the desert, attended by a couple of Arabs from my WW1 Mesopotamia collection. Feel free to drink from the  well if you wish! It is an Irregular shellhole with some rather murky water painted in.

Over in the south, Bir el Belchon is similarly set up. Over in A2 are 3 CLY, another regiment of Crusaders.

The escarpment. I piled up two layers of Hexon to produce the cliff effect, and various 'boulders' from the driveway are scattered around the base. I don't expect anyone will be going down here anytime soon.

4 CLY can dimly discern Italian positions in the distance.

As are 3 CLY. I was slight short of Crusaders for this, so I used A13s as the RHQ squadrons. Over a webcam they all look fairly similar. The bases were originally done for Megablitz, so I'd already helpfully got labels for the various regiments of 22nd AB on some of the models.

MILMART. 90mm AA in the front, 102mm naval guns in the rear. I slightly bodged this as in the original scenario the 90mm guns were attached to the 75s, but a single autocanone unit seemed to make more sense, and was more fun to play with.

The action opened with a headlong charge by the leading British armoured regiments. I would expect nothing less. In fact, faced with a load of dug in Italian infantry and guns and a tank heavy force, there wasn't much else the British could do. The 2pdr armed Crusaders were more effective over-running the Italians than shooting at them. 4 CLY got stuck into Hill 169, just as in real life.

This was a very bloody fight indeed. The Italians eventually succumbed but fought to the last man and took half the British tanks with them. It turned out that trying to winkle infantry out of trenches with 2pdrs was a nasty business.

Over on the other flank, 3CLY replicated that same type of assault. They swept though Bir Belchon and only Hill 194. Another close range fight ensued, at a slightly more sedate pace this time as the Crusaders drove around trying shoot up the trenches an the Italians kept hiding and popping out again.

MILMART had set themselves up on a low rise nearby and plinked away at targets of opportunity. A 4 hex range was really quite useful.

The fight dragged on with losses mounting on both sides.

Over in the centre the Italian recce company got close enough to the British main body to call down some artillery fire, but rapidly discovered that a platoon of AB41s was no match for a regiment of Crusaders. Boom!

The Italian recce fell back to the RHQ at Bir el Gubi, but was pursued by the remains of 4 CLY who crashed into them in another magnificent cavalry charge on tracks.

Another bloody melee ensued. The Italians survived their morale test of 'tank shock' (no doubt steeled by the presence of the regimental commander), but the FOO for the 105s had had enough and routed back to join the 75s in the wadi.

4 RHA had now got the range of MILMART and was dropped shells around their positions. The Italian CB fire scattered wide.

The British main  body pushed up. 1KRRC skirted Hill 169 and 2 RGH advanced past the burning AB41s. MILMART managed to pick off a few Crusaders with long range AT fire.

At this point the first Italian tanks from 132 Armoured Regiment put in an appearance, trundling on via Bir Belchon in the direction of Hill 194. The reserve Bersaglieri deployed in front of the 75s, ready to defend the Bir.

At this point we called it a night. The crisis of the battle was approaching fast as the British armour had lost around a third of its strength but was now firmly embedded in the Italian position. The Italians had lost around half their infantry, but the artillery was completely intact and the 'cavalry' were beginning to arrive. 2 RGH was within charge distance of MILMART, so really it was a question of who go to attack first. Everything to play for!

We all rolled up promptly the next day, and Diego managed to join us successfully this time. Over on Hill 194 the Italian infantry finally succumbed to the mass of Crusaders and settled down to hide in their trenches but not before kocking more tanks out. Tims M13/40s tried to take advantage of the situation with a close assault and managed to roll a magnificent '1' for their morale and fell back in disorder.

Back at Bir el Gubi, 2 RGH also failed their morale test trying to assault MILMART, while 4CLY came under AT fire from all directions and ominous columns of black smoke rose up into the desert air. 4 RHA managed to get some rounds on target and some of MILMARTs lorries went up in smoke.

The Italian RHQ and motorcyclists voluntarily failed their morale and retreated from the mass of British tanks.

The last Crusaders at the Bir were finished off by the 75s firing over open sights and the 47mm AT guns with the reserve Bersaglieri battalion. 1KRRC moved up to the crossroads among the wreckage.

Meanwhile up on Hill 194 things went from bad to worse as 3 CLY became disorganised trying to overrun the Italian infantry and AT guns.  

Meanwhile Tim reorganised his M13/40 battalion, and the remains of MILMART took the advantage of the confusion in the British ranks to fall back and join the Italian tanks. A second battalion of M13/40s rolled up from the south.

Brigadier Scott-Cockburn moved up to rally 2RGH. irl he was sent home after the battle and ended up commanding the Military Records Office in High Barnet. Lt Colonel Birley, CO of 2RGH was wounded in the battle and was awarded the DSO as he continued to direct his regiment from the back of tank with his arm in a sling.

3CLY met a fiery end, surrounded by Italian tanks, artillery and AT guns.

2RGH rallied and  exchanged fire with the Italian tankers. Meanwhile Scott-Cockburn headed off to inspire the KRRC.

Tims recalcitrant tankers managed to fail their morale again and fell back towards Bir Belchon. 4RHA even manged to damage some with 25pdr artillery fire.

1KRRC and the Brigadier assaulted the Bersaglieri next to the crossroads, but the Italian infantry was far more numerous and the survivors fell back in disorder

Meanwhile back up the road, the long range gunnery duel between 2RGH and the M13/40s on the rise was chipping away at both sides but neither was willing to risk a dangerous assault.

The Italian motorcylists rallied, roared up the road to assault the KRRC and promptly failed their morale and withdrew again! The Italian 105mm FOO managed to call in a duff barrage with landed right next to his OP (the shell burst in the foreground). By now 1KRRC were completely disordered, and down to a platoon of infantry with a handful of guns and with another turn to go, the British conceded at that point and withdrew.

View from the Italian RHQ. A great mass of burning tanks in the foreground. By now the barrels of the Italian 75s in the wadi were white hot as they'd been firing continuously for most of the game.

Meanwhile back with 4 RHA, all they could see was lot of smoke in the distance.

I was very pleased with that, it mirrored the real battle closely. IRL the British overran Hill 169 early on, but in the absence of any infantry to take them prisoner, the Italians just remanned  their trenches and guns when the Crusaders moved off. The British tankers ended up milling around deep in the Italian position under a cross fire from all directions, and the counterattack by 132 Armoured Regiment was the last straw and 22nd Armoured Brigade withdrew having lost about 50 tanks. It was a proper Pakfront, which was how the Italians had designed the defences, it was only missing some deep minefields.

The game itself was very see-saw, the Italians looked like they'd had it after the first couple of hours fighting, but gradually the attrition of constant AT fire wore the British down and they suddenly collapsed.