Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Luftwaffe (trop) - bombers

 The Luftwaffe fighters needed some bigger friends to play with, and although I had plenty of Stukas in stock, I was a bit short of bigger 6mm German bombers.

The Luftwaffe ended up with these two, both Junkers. A Ju 87 Stuka and a Ju 88. The Stuka was another old clunker I had in the aircraft box, while the Ju 88 is a new purchase.

I like a Ju 88, a great all round plane which works as a level bomber, a dive bomber and even a heavy fighter. In this case however, I very cleverly made a mistake on the order and bought a Ju 188 instead. Doh! I've trimmed the wings back down to a Ju 88 configuration and had a go at the canopy, although that was hard to file into the right shape. I'm hoping paint has covered up the rest, although the engine cowlings are a bit narrower than a standard Ju 88.

It hasn't come out too bad, although the paint scheme is actually one used on an He 111 squadron based in Sicily. I like the jazzy red/black spinners, and just a touch of green overspray. The large area of glazing is mainly dark blue with a bit of light blue highlight and the canopy struts show up nicely against the blue. It also got the ubiquitous white fuselage band, and as the fuselage is nice and thick, I even managed to paint a red recognition letter on it to add another splash of colour.

The Ju 87 cropped up in every theatre of war and is such an iconic German plane I had to have one for the desert. This was originally done in an Eastern Front scheme. Both the Ju 87 and Ju 88 suffered the indignity of my hand painted crosses, you'd think the bigger wings made them easier to paint, but no such luck. They don't look too bad from a couple of feet away I guess.

This unusual dark sand and chocolate brown splinter scheme is based on a Stuka squadron based in Libya in early 1942. I left the original sky blue underside but repainted the ground recognition bands from yellow to white (which seemed common in the desert), and also added the ubiquitous fuselage band. A bit of a coincidence was that this squadron also had the black/red spinners, the same as the Ju 88.

Off they go to bomb some targets over the the dining table. 

And here they are with their fighter escort. Seeing the planes together emphasises how large the Ju 87 was, it almost has the wingspan of the 110  (13.8m versus 16m). It also shows how small the Bf 109 was (9.9m wingspan).

I'm really pleased with that lot, so hopefully I've got enough planes for both tactical air support in brigade/regiment games and some representative aircraft for operational games.

Friday, 20 May 2022

Table Battles Malplaquet

 Off we went to the War of the Spanish Succession this week, as Tim put on another battle from the seemingly inexhaustible list of scenarios available for Table Battles. Malplaquet was an exceedingly hard fought engagement, as Villars attempted to raise the siege of Mons. Eugene and Marlborough had to work really hard to fend the French off and casualties were hideous.

Russell and I were Villars and Boufflers, and John and Simon were Marlborough and Eugene. For the first session Simon was unwell so John ran the Allies alone. 

Well, it is a card game so not amazing amounts of eye candy! Each 'unit' is a card, the blocks show their remaining strength points. For the Allies, Schulenburg and Orange have a whopping 8SP, the French are going to have their work cut out. 

Overall there are 30 Allied SP vs 24 French, but the outcome is more determined by how each side manages their card options.  Each card is restricted as to what it can do, which enemy units it can affect, and how effectively, which reflect the historical shape of the battlefield. This was one of the more complex setups as each side had two Wings, reserves and some different command options. 

The Allies are seriously handicapped by having so many units which can only take one command dice per turn, whereas all the French units can take multiple dice (of the same type), so they can build up some serious attacks.

Having said that, the Allies seemed pretty tough too and while we battered away at them, Marlborough led a series of attacks on Boufflers which seriously attrited our strength. We were fortunate in rolling enough doubles to keep feeding in our reserves, but they were soon depleted.

After several turns of hard pounding there weren't many French units left! In fact, just Villars was active, our reserves were exhausted and Boufflers and the Centre had routed. One of the British units had withdrawn with heavy losses and we'd routed Schulenberg, and Orkney was now committed. We kept pounding away at Orkney, as it was one of the weaker units.

The final push was Villars with 1SP remaining (!), which succeeded in routing Orkney, and as Marlborough and Orange weren't in a position to attack Villars, the Allied line was broken and it was a French victory. Blimey, that was a close run thing.

On Wednesday we ran it again with the sides reversed, and Simon and Pete were also able to play. Russell and I took the Allies, with John, Pete and Simon as the French

Off we go at full strength. Having played it once we all had much more idea what we were doing. We'd missed the special rule that Villars could allocate command dice to multiple units on his wing (normally it is only one unit per wing) so tonight we'd play it 'properly'. 

The initial flow of events was much like Tuesday. The French battered away at the Allied centre, while using their reserves to absorb Marlborough and Schulenbergs attacks. We managed to get Withers into action, who was able to directly attack the French reserves, reducing their ability to mask our attacks.

tbh things could be going better. Our Centre is very weak now, while we've hardly damaged the French front line at all. The French kept rolling '4's, which their Centre needed as command dice, and there wasn't much we could do about that.

Ooops. Our Centre has routed and Orkney moved up from reserve. We have managed to batter the French centre and Villars somewhat though. Unfortunately losing the Centre gives the French an extra morale chit, without that, routing Villars would rout the whole French army.

Our right wing gets into action, as Orange batters Boufflers down to 2SP, and another attack by Withers has reduced the French reserves to 1SP. Unfortunately the French have built up a huge 4 dice attack from their Centre again, which spells curtains for Orkney.

The French duly overrun Orkney, getting the French another morale chit. Only Schulenberg can attack Villars now, but still has 5SP.

Withers returns the favour and destroys the French reserve, getting us the chit back. It is now a race to roll up the rest of the French army before they can destroy Schulenberg.

Boufflers routs under attack by Orange and Marlborough. Another chit to us.

Then the French Centre goes, and another chit to us. Villars is now down to 1SP, we are nearly there. Sadly Schulenberg is also down to 1SP, but if we can manage and Exchange, he gains 1 morale chit for Schulenberg while we'd get 2 chits for routing Villars and a win.

Sadly it is not to be, as the French force us to react to their own attack, preventing our attack on Villars, and then Villars gets a double 6. Bugger.

Villars duly blows Schulenberg away, gaining the victory just as in the last game with the French down to 1SP.

That was another really close game, and victory was actually within our grasp on three occasions, but good French play of the command dice blocked us.

Table Battles is a really clever system, and always produces impressive results. I can't get my head around how you design anything beyond even the simplest scenarios though, given the very, very complex interactions between the card characteristics. It just makes my head hurt, so I'm very glad the designer has provided us with such a great set of scenarios. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Luftwaffe (trop) - fighters

 The RAF and Reggia Aeronautica had some nice new aircraft, so I'm sure Rommel wanted the Luftwaffe to have some too. The Afrika Korps has generally had to take lerate aur support in temperate colours, but I thought I'd do some desert ones. I have quite a few 6mm German aircraft models already, most of which are very old indeed. I had a bit of a rummage in the plane box and came up with these two old warhorses.

A couple of Messerschmidts, an Me 110 and a Bf 109. Looking at the spinner on the 109, a F or a G. These models date from the mid 1990s, both H&R.

The Bf 109 is minute, but then again it was a small plane in real life, although I do have a suspicion there may have been a bit of scale creep in the intervening years. The original model was done in green/dark green splinter and I repainted it in dark sand with a bit of green overspray - another scheme from 'Axis Aircraft of WW2'. In retrospect light sand may have been more representative, but hey ho.

The balkan crosses are done by hand - initially a white cross, then a black cross leaving a bit of white showing. My hand isn't as steady as it used to be for doing this sort of thing, so they are slightly wobbly. I squared off the ends with a bit more sand paint. The white fuselage band seems very common on Axis aircraft in the desert, I assume it was some sort of recognition thing. It breaks up the camo a bit anyway, as does the white spinner.

An Me 110 Zerstorer. This is also an ancient old model, and very handily can double up as a fighter bomber for ground attack. The camo is one of the special ones developed for North Africa, and with its red brown tightly grouped blobs reminds of the camo used on British tanks stationed in Malta.

This also got the fuselage stripe and slightly wobbly balkan crosses. The spinners are based on a real plane, white at the base with black tips. It looks rather smart I think. I did have a go at painting some fuselage letters, but it was too small for my big fat fingers.

Off they go across the dining table a cruisin' for a bruisin'. 

Next up, some German bombers.


Friday, 13 May 2022

1st Mechili

 Time for another trip to Operation Compass. This time it is January 1941 and the Italian 10th Army has fallen back to the Derna/Mechili line. While the Australians deal with Derna, 4th Armoured Brigade is trying to turn the desert flank at Mechili. Unknown to them the Italian Special Armoured Brigade is on the way...

Battlefield from the south. Mechili is the little town at the road junction in the centre left. There are some deep wadis with areas of rough ground beside them plus a few low rises, and a network of desert tracks. This is a long way from the coastal highway. The British are trying to clear the road network to the northwest, while the Italians are trying to stop them (and ideally cut the roads leading east). 

As ever, the scenario is taken from the excellent "Benghazi Handicap". 

Advanced guard, 4th Armoured Brigade. 7th Hussars supported by a RHA 2pdr portees battery. John, Mark and Simon played the British. John was Brigadier Scott Coburn, while Mark had 7th Hussars. Simon had 2nd RTR who would arrive later. The British had cross attached cruisers to each armoured regiment to support the Vickers Lights. Curiously A9s were attached to 7H, whereas some A13s might have been more sensible. Oh well. 

The Mechili garrison, drawn from elements of 60th Sabratha Div. The Italians were commanded by Tim, who commanded all the brigade level support. Pete and Russell had the manouvre battalions. 

The Mechili garrison had a lot of heavy weapons, but was seriously demoralised. If they were not closely supported by their own armour, they would retreat. 

Russell commanded the Advanced Guard of the Special Armoured Brigade. A battalion each of L3 light tanks and M13 mediums. The M13s were a step up  from the M11s the Italians had used previously. 

There was some randomised air support as I'd painted the planes. The British had some Hurricanes flying CAP. 

And the Italians had some CR42s flying top cover. 

The impetuous fighter pilots immediately got stuck in, and unsurprisingly the Italians came off worst and burning biplanes littered the desert. First blood to the RAF. 

The British took are fairly directly approach and just piled everything up the central track, which fired the deep wadi. Tanks in front, AT guns bringing up the rear. The central wadi is a significant obstacle, but not much of a problem for the veteran British tankers to negotiate.

Russell's tanks edged forwards to the north of Mechili. The 47mm AT guns in the town opened fire and knocked out some Vickers Lights. The Italian gunners were rather better quality than their infantry pals. 

The British parked their cruisers up to provide covering fire while the Vickers closed in on the town. The 2pdrs took up firing positions in the wadi. The Italians were content to just fire and the AT gunners knocked out some more light tanks. 

At this point the rest of the Italian Armoured Briagde rolled up. A battalion of 75mm field guns set up on the northern rise, while some Tripoli armoured cars rolled down the road, very slowly. There were only half a dozen of these irl, old WW1 armoured bodies mounted on Lancia light truck chassis.

And coming up the road from the south, Petes Bersaglieri battalion reinforced with 47mm AT guns, and another battalion of M13s. This route was constrained by the wadi and rocky ground, so the motorcycles, trucks and tanks stuck to the track through the bad going.

The artillery were joined by Colonel Tivoli, who directed proceedings.

Amazingly both sides managed to roll up some more random fighter cover. This time a Hurricane faced off against a Fiat G.50.

And the G.50 was victorious!

Simons 2nd RTR rolled on down the road past the burning wreckage of the Hurricanes. This regiment had a higher proportion of cruisers, although still a mix of A9s and A13s so the unit was slowed to the speed of the A9s.

The RHA had an amazingly good shoot and knocked out half of Russells M13s. The M13s and L3s pulled back a bit, and the Italian 75s started shelling the portee 2pdrs who had perhaps unwisely moved into the open.

With the main body of 4th Armoured here, 25pdrs were available which started shelling Mechli. 7th Hussars parked up outside the town and began brassing it up, and the combination of artillery fire and massed 0.5" BESA fire inflicted some losses on the defenders. The Bersaglieri moved up to support the towns southern flank.

Petes M13s were stuck in a bit of a traffic jam as they tried to leave the bad ground around the wadi, and at this juncture the Rolls Royce armoured cars of 11th Hussars rolled up from the south and parked up to observe the Italian motorcyclists.  

A flight of Fiat Br.20 Cicognes now turned up, escorted by the victorious G.50.

And from the east a flight of RAF Blenheims arrived.

The G.50 intercepted the the British bombers.

The Blenheim gunners downed the pesky fighters, but were forced to abort their bomb run in the dog fight and try again next turn.  

The Cicognes scattered bombs rather ineffectively around 2RTR and 4th Armoured Brigade HQ and flew off. No losses were sustained and the armour passed its morale check.

Unperturbed the British armour rolled across the wadi, accompanied by the Brigade HQ.

7th Hussars were really getting shot up quite badly. I'm not sure why they were butting up against the defended town instead of taking on the Italian tanks. The 25pdrs shifted their fire to the Bersaglieri, who took a few losses and were pinned down by the shell fire.

Before they became pinned, the Italian AT gunners brewed up some of the Rolls Royces, the survivors slipped around their flank to the south.

The Italian armour was now massed north of the town, with both battalions of M13s in front and the L3s on the rise behind.

Up in the far north, the Tripolis were probing to find a way across the wadi. At least someone had read their briefing!

We broke for the night at this point. The British are now more concentrated but the Italians have their full force massed and are looking to be in quite a good position.

2nd RTR kept rolling up the road, but the Italian 75s knocked out one of the Portees, who were still pinned down in the open by the artillery fire. 

The Blenheim came in for another run, looking for motorised road columns but missed the M13/40s by miles.

The AT gunners in Mechili picked off some more British tanks and 7th Hussars was now below half strength, but their morale held.

The Italian Airforce put in another appearance in the form of a flight of SM 79s.

While the Tripoli armoured cars continued their rear area rampage, the remaining Portees fell back the wadi, and into some cover.

In the centre. both battalions of M13s rolled forwards in a steel wave. 2nd RTR took up the challenge and charged headlong into close combat, to give the Vickers 0.5" MGs a chance as they were completely outranged by the Italian 47mm guns.

In the bloody close range fighting, the British suffered a few losses, but Petes M13 battalion was badly shot up and fell below half strength and remaining Italian tanks fell back disorganised. The superior quality of the British crews was decisive. That was a bit of a turn up as things had been looking a bit sticky for the British.

The Italian bombers weighed in at the point, but missed completely, with the bombs landing right on Mechili! Fortunately they didn't inflict any losses. Some tactical lessons about level bombers and mobile armoured battles there I think.

Realising how much better their crews were, the British pressed home their advantage and pursued the retreating M13s. Another close range battle ensued and the remaining Italian tanks were dispersed.

Back south of Mechili, more 7th Hussar tanks went up in flames as they attempted to overrun the Bersaglieri. It was too little, too late and the regiment became disorganised in the face of the interlocked Italian AT defences. Maybe if they had tried that a few turns earlier...

2nd RTR was now wedged in the middle of both Russells tank battalions and the M13s turned to engage their flanks. Some more British tanks were destroyed reducing the regiment to below 50% strength.

This didn't seem to unduly dampen their spirits and they first annihilated the remaining M13s with gunfire, then charged the L3s on the rise. The tankettes, without any effective AT weapons, withdrew in disorder leaving some burning vehicles behind.

The Mechili garrison was now unsupported by any Italian armour within a mile, and also withdrew in disorder back to the wadi. The remaining armoured cars of 11th Hussars took the opportunity to drive in amongst the fleeing Italians shooting them up, just like Lawrence of Arabia.

To add insult to injury, some more Blenheims turned up and bombed the Bersaglieri, but without effect.

2nd RTR pursued the L3s up the rise but came under direct fire from the Italian 75mm guns, knocking out some Cruisers. The tankers decided discretion was the better part of valour and took cover.

South of Mechili the fighting petered out. The handful of armoured cars were unable to inflict significant losses on the Italian infantry, and the disordered remnants of 7th Hussars withdrew to reorganise. The Bersaglieri were left south of town under desultory 25pdr fire.

2nd RTR had pretty much shot its bolt as well, and although the Italian position was thoroughly smashed up, the British had failed in their objective of clearing the roads to the northwest as they were still strongly held by the Italian field guns. 

While in the rear, the Italian armoured cars were having lots of fun cutting the roads eastwards. Which was a marginal Italian victory, despite their heavy losses.

Well that one went right down to the wire. I thought the British had completely blown it putting their light tanks up against a defended BUA with no infantry support, but late in the day they suddenly discovered their effectiveness in tank combat. The Italians deployed their forces very effectively, maximising their strengths, and it was a very bold move to infiltrate the armoured cars. Ultimately the British didn't have an answer to that and it cost them the game. 

I'd tried out some modifications to this, mainly to have fewer morale tests but make them harder to pass with the test conditions encouraging either flank attacks or that defenders were suppressed. In the end it didn't make a huge amount of difference, although it made the Italians a bit cautious about closing. The RTR were quite gung ho, but in the end paid the price for conducting a series of frontal assaults. I'll try the mods in a few more games and see how we get on.

It was also nice to get the planes out, although they ended up just being a random buggeration factor, and hopefully not too overwhelming.