Friday 29 May 2020

Lockdown projects

While kicking my heels at home (well, when I'm not working anyway) I got on with doing a few back burner projects.

Number 1. Folding Gaming table

For playtesting etc I tend to use the dining table, which is fine for occasional use but it is a bit narrow and now I'm home all the time and leaving some games set up for three days for remote running, I wanted something which was closer to the dimensions I need to One Hour Wargames and Command and Colours. I do have a 3' x 3' card table which is OK for some things but too small if you are trying to set up a camera etc.

When I was a kid I used to play on two pasting tables (which together made up a 6x4), and I was inspired by the games Phil Steele has been taking to shows with the terrain contained within re-hinged pasting tables. For most of the games I do now a 3x4 would be perfect, which just so happen to be the same size as two halves of a pasting table.

So, at first sight this looks like a standard pasting table.

However, inside its legs are missing. It was simple enough job to take them out although as they were held in by pins and push fit clips instead of bolts, it needed a certain amount of brute force to get them free. I also took the hinges off, which was much easier as they were held in buy proper screws.

Then both parts were lined up side by side.

And I re-fitted the hinges on the long edges rather than the short edges. I left it hinging outwards as the little bit of overhang will help keep it in place while it lives on the dining table.

So the whole thing now folds out into a nice 3x4 table. If the hinge overhangs become a pain I'll switch them for morticed door hinges, but for now it seems to be fine.

The whole thing folds away neatly for storage. The only other change I made was to move the supplied clip to the long edge. I left the carrying handle on as it makes it easier to move around. My wife is very excited as she pointed out that if it is opened the other way, it will be ideal for her 1000 piece jigsaws. Win-win!

2. Sorting out webbing

My late war 37 pattern British webbing has been in a sorry state for a while, as it has been repeatedly soaked at various events over the years so I thought it was time to re-blanco it. I didn't scrub it back as I was feeling lazy, although this time I did mark the lengths of all the straps on the inside before taking it to bits. When it is set up it is a great bit of kit, far better than German webbing, but getting all the straps the right length takes quite a while.

Having disassembled it, I scrubbed off obvious bits of mud and then applied a liberal coat of KG3 blanco using a cut down paint brush to work it into the material. It dried up really rather smart, so that was a good afternoons work. WW2 painters note how dark green KG3 webbing actually is. I usually paint mine in unblancoed tan, as I prefer the contrast with the khaki uniforms.

I also re-proofed my 'waterproof' rain cape as it has got pretty leaky. A good coat of Thompsons silicone water seal should sort that out. I'll find out next time it rains 'in the field'.

3. Cut that wire....

The previous occupants of the house decided  in their infinite wisdom that it would be a good idea to bolt chain link fence all over the stone wall on the west side of the garden. This is great for the climbing plants, but less great when it becomes infested with invasive ivy. I decided after 20 years that the time had come to get rid of it.

This is the stuff. As it was bolted to the wall and held in place with hang-glider rigging cable (!) it proved surprisingly difficult to get off with my big pliers and a crowbar, the idea of clearing many yards of it rapidly become very depressing. However....

While sorting out my webbing I came across these. My WW2 British wire cutters, in their handy carry pouch. I occasionally carry them when badged up as Royal Engineers (my maternal grandfather was RE). Note: this type of equipment pouch wasn't usually blancoed, although some rebellious regiments did it anyway. Some helpful soul has blancoed the bottom half but not the pouch cover. 

Extracted from their pouch, they suddenly look a bit more imposing.

And they fold out into a rather impressive pair of wire cutters. They may be 70 years old, but they tear through that chainlink fence like a knife through butter. I knew they'd come in handy for something one day! The fence is now all removed and recycled. 

Tuesday 26 May 2020

QRF 15mm SFh 18

Unlike the Allies and Russians, the Germans didn't have an overabundance of medium and heavy artillery. Obviously they had some, but not on the same lavish scale as AGRAs, Breakthrough Gun Artillery Divisions etc. My 6mm Germans have plenty (including a Karl Moerser), and even my 20mm Germans have a K18 100mm gun so I thought it was time to get a heavy gun for my 15mm Germans, although I have been known to use WW1 Schneider 155s when th need arises - just as the Germans did.

So, I picked up a QRF 150mm heavy field howitzer.

Here it is, and it is quite a large piece, certainly compared to a 105mm Le FH. As with all the QRF guns, it came with a crew (four figures in this case, as is common with all their heavier guns). Unlike the Pak 38s, it required some assembly. It had a single piece trail, separate wheels and single piece gun mount and barrel. The pieces fitted well although I held it all together with blu tak while it dried.

View from the business end. 

And from the breech. There is better detail on this than the Pak 38s and I should maybe have given it a wash to run into the crevices. The crew are an assortment of figures, mostly carrying shells, one with a binocular range finder and they have a range of headgear (helmets, side cap, field cap).  

I am fairly sure they are the same as the crew which comes with the 88mm Flak 36, and one of them has a couple of ammo boxes on his base which is a nice touch (you can just see them in the photo).

View from the side. You can just see the figure with the range finder, I have one of these based separately to use as an FOO and it usually draws admiring glances. The gun itself I did in field grey with a liberal coat of dust  so it will do for the whole war. The crew I did in a mix of field grey and reed green. I should probably have filed down the peak on the field cap, but I couldn't be bothered.

One nice thing is that the gun itself is the version with the longer barrel without a muzzle brake, so it will also do nicely as a sub for a 100mm K18. K18s were sometimes pressed into service as bunker busters, or even improvised AT guns (as 6th Panzer did in 1941 when faced with T34s and KVs at Rasenei). 

Saturday 23 May 2020

QRF 15mm Somua S35

Well, if I was going to get some H39s, I had to get some of their bigger pals and I finally succumbed and got a Somua. These also had an exciting war in both French and Germans service, but I can feel Arras calling to me again.

Like the R35 and H39, this is a lovely little model. Just hull, tracks and turret. It went together really easily with very little flash and the parts fitted well. One thing which did surprise me was just how small it was, I guess I'm used to later war medium tanks but compared to even an A13 this is on the small side.  

The hull has a very unusual shape, as does the turret, asymmetrical castings. I saw an article in Airfix Magazine where someone had scratchbuilt one of these. I really, really wouldn't fancy that!

Oooh yes, nice big engine grills. Takes a wash and a drybrush beautifully. Not great if being attacked with Molotov Cocktails either I imagine.

The roots of the running gear in WW1 tanks can clearly be seen here, it really is a very odd arrangement and puts me in mind of a Medium Mark III in some ways, but essentially it is a St Chamond with a turret on top. 

I did this one in sand/green/brown, a perfectly respectable scheme for both France 1940 and France 1944 and similar to my Char B. It had and inkwash too which stained the sand paint a bit so I touched it up and it ended up producing quite a nice highlight effect. Maybe I should have got two of these, but I am sure one is plenty for now.

Operation Hannibal

In our continuing experiments with remote gaming, Tim put on an old scenario we've played a few times before - the German para drop on the Corinth Canal during the invasion of Greece in 1941 (Operation Hannibal). This was run using NBC, which like OP14, also uses a grid which helps keep things oriented, as uses card activation for the units, so players get to go in sequence which keeps the feedback and freezing of comms down.

Jerry, Simon and I were allocated the Germans. Simon and Jerry had a para battalion each, while I got to run the regiment and a company of glider assault engineers. Our objectives are listed above, the bridge is pretty obvious in the photo. The real canal canal is a horrible gorge about 200' deep, and I certainly wouldn't fancy parachuting anywhere near it!

Pre game we had to pick out LZs. The glider engineers went for one company at each end of the bridge, while Jerrys battalion went for the hill in column 2, 4 hexes up and Simon for the clearing between the woods in col 7, 3 hexes up.

Tim C and Richard ran the British and Greeks, with John as brigade CO. We had no idea where the enemy were, we'd have to find out the hard way.

So, my engineers found the Bofors guns fairly fast, we managed to land right on top of both batteries! I've played this scenario before and I usually put the guns a bit further away, and it was just blind luck that I picked two LZs exactly where they were. Sadly, elite FJ assault engineers against surprised AA gunners wasn't much if a contest and the fight was fairly brief. Good job too as those Bofors guns are pretty nasty in a direct fire role and would have made the mission very hard.

Over at LZ k, Jerrys battalion got down unscathed, just in time as a battalion of Greek infantry supported by Bren carriers and led by the Brigadier himself hove into view!

Over on the other side of the canal, Simon also got down in reasonable order but suffered a few losses in the drop. A rather scary bunch of ANZACs came piling down the road, but fortunately they were in clear view of the FJ engineers on the bridge who whistled up some of their other Luftwaffe pals.

Things weren't going to so well for the Greeks. More Stukas turned up and they became disordered under withering small arms fire from the FJ.

The dive bombers didn't inflict any losses, but they did break their morale and the Greeks routed back to Corinth, leaving the carriers on their own. The Brigadier withdrew with them to help reorganise.

In the north the ANZACs shrugged off the Stukas and piled into the olive groves to assault the FJ. A squadron of light tanks rolled up to support them and things were looking a bit sticky for the FJ here as their heavy weapons hadn't landed yet.

Sadly the FJ were far more effective in close combat and the ANZACs suffered very heavy losses, reduced to just two depleted companies their morale failed and they became disordered. The FJ counterattacked and and drove them off.

With all the allied infantry broken, we called it a day at that point. The Greeks could have reorganised, but didn't really have the time to do that and effectively contest the bridge. The Allies were unfortunate in losing their AA guns so early. It is certainly possible for the Allies to win, in some of the previous games the Germans have been virtually wiped out. Still, it was a good run through and the game mechanisms were a good fit for remote play, so I was inspired to design a new scenario myself. I've not played NBC in quite a while and I'd forgotten what fun it was.  

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Dicing with Death!

This was a playtest session of some Gladiator rules provided by Graham Evans. John ran it remotely using his shiny new web camera. It was a chance for John to try running remote games, and he;d come up with a rather ingenious webcam mount which gave us a panoramic view of the table.

In common with most gladiator games, it used a representative 'arena' and we each had individual characters.

The game board was divided into lettered the columns (not being certain that the Romans had rows) and numbered the squares. Figures were labelled with coloured tags (see the orange sample at the top of column “H”) bearing the player’s initials.

Johns webcam was fixed in a static location above the arena, and we all called out our instructions while his disembodied hand moved the figures. There was an initiative system which set the playing order at the start of the game. I was players six, so I got to go after everyone else. I've no idea if this was a  good thing or not. 

We all had similar gladiators who were reasonably experienced (so they didn't just take one hit and die!). We all shuffled around the arena looking for an advantage. Movement was 1D6 spaces, adjusted depending how heavily armoured you were.

Combat was rather novel, it use poker dice. Highest set won. More experienced fighters could make a certain number of re-rolls depending on their skill, aiming to get  a better 'hand' but nether player knew what the other had until the final scores were revealed. This worked very well, and led to a degree of thought and cunning, and (possibly) represented fighters putting sequences of moves together.

There was an early kill. We discovered early on that being knocked over onto the ground when there were still other players able to move was very, very bad. (Being knocked down if you still had a turn to take wasn't so bad) - so the sequence of activation was actually very important.

The rest of us hacked away at each other for some time, inflicting the odd hit. Poor Simon was stunned and spent the rest of the game being belted by other players. His excellent parrying saved him from damage, but the constant attacks meant he never got a chance to recover.

We called it a night after a while and set up for another go the next day.

We all had a bit more idea what we were doing this time, in particular that trying to use armour was a two edged sword (it could result in you being stunned or knocked over), but mainly that as yuo accumulated damage, you had an ever increasing chance of asking for mercy and it being granted. So if you weren't going to win, the best thing to do was get stuck, take some hits then try to live to fight another day. This was really rather clever as it kept the crowd happy, and meant the more experienced fighters (who could take more damage) actually stood a chance of surviving.

I own;t bore you with another blow-by-blow account but here the melee is well underway and someone has already bowed out (took hits and was granted mercy).

The figure in IV is me. I'd been getting stuck in, inflicted lots of hits, taken lots of hits and was planning on going for mercy on my last hit box. Sadly it turned out I'd miscalculated, and my last hit box was literally my last hit box, and I died. Oops. Oh well, seems fate catches up with even the most experienced fighters.

That was a good playtest session and we gave lots of feedback to the designer. Really a very clever design with a lot going on beneath the surface. It would work particularly well in a campaign setting. Recommended. It is due for publication  fairly soon and Graham has reported briefly on the game on his blog

Tuesday 19 May 2020

QRF 15mm Pak 38

I have various calibres of German ordnance, 20mm and 37mm AA, 37mm AT guns, 75mm AT and infantry guns, 88m Flak and 105mm light howtzers and recoilless rifles. What I don't have is any 50mm AT, the mighty Pak 38 which  helped the Germans immeasurably in Russia when they met the T34, and gave the British huge headaches in the desert. It destroyed far more British tanks than the 88s as it was vastly more numerous, and perfectly capable of making big holes in anything, prior to the arrival of the Sherman (well, maybe not a Matilda II). It also soldiered on in regimental AT companies until the end of the war, albeit increasingly outclassed.

So, my QRF order included a pair of Pak 38s, which as ever with QRF guns are amazing value as they include the crew as well.

Here they are, ready to duff up some T34s or Stuarts. As regular readers will know, I'm not a fan of sticking teeny tiny metal guns together, so I was delighted to discover that these are single piece castings. Oh yes.

These probably aren't the best QRF castings ever. The gun barrels are long and very hard to get straight as they are quite thin. I'm also not sure about the size of these wheels, they look a lot bigger than the wheels on the Pak 38 in the IWM, but hey ho, it still looks smaller than a Pak 40 and most importantly, it is a single piece casting.

View from the side. I do like the variety of crew figures you get with QRF. These guys are all in helmets and very early/mid war looking to go with their field grey gun. The poses are very urgent, as if there really is a great big enemy tank in their sights.

Whereas for the sand/field grey gun they are in a mixture of helmets and caps. Might by GJ or Afrika Corps, might be later war guys in field caps. I painted these figures in a mixture of field grey and reed green (which might also pass for unfaded tropical green). You can see the breech detail from this angle. I do like the way the gun sits, it looks very 'anti tank'.

I did consider dong them both field grey, but in the end I added some sand disruptive to one. It might be mud camo applied in the Ukraine, it might be the transitional field grey/sand scheme used in early 1943, or it might be late war dunkelgelb and green (as Vallejo feild grey is RAL6006, quite a green shade). Anyway, they will do for the whole war, which is the main thing.

A close of the later crew. I really like the kneeling crew commander with binos, a greatcoat and an MP40 casually resting on his knee. He'd do for a command or FOO figure too, but I already have plenty of those. 

So, a nice little model with no assembly required and some useful crew figures. Recommended.

Saturday 16 May 2020

The Road to Minsk

After running an OP14 game over Skype, I thought I'd try a non gridded game, in this case my WW2 version of One Hour Wargames. It fits the bill as it uses a small (3' x 3') table and has a mercifully small number of elements to manouvre.

I wanted to get some of my newer toys out, so I bodged up the 'raid' scenario from the rules and turned it into a Summer 1941 Panzer breakthrough on the Eastern Front! In this scenario, a smaller force (four units) tries to tear across the table evading a larger number (six units) of enemy.

Kampfgruppe von Gow. A panzer battalion (Pz 38s) and a motorcycle battalion with attached AT guns.

Kampfgruppe von Armatys. Two schutzen battalions, one supported by infantry guns, the other by extra AT guns.

These units are modelled on 20th Panzer Div which fought with Panzer Group 3 in the battle for Minsk. To make more of a game of it I had the Schutzen fight dismounted and made the nmotorcycle battalion operate as normal motorised infantry rather than Heavy Recce as otherwise the Germans would have been far too mobile. The HQ elements are just for show.

The Germans had some offtable air and artillery. I modelled these as 1D6 of offtable arty support and four missions of Stukas, each with 2D6. The Stukas had to be called in by the KPzBfw attached to a unit while the 105s were in general support.

10th Rifle Div. These elements are considerably bigger than the German ones, being entire Regiments. The division has three Rifle Regiments (modelled as standard infantry units) and a 76mm Artillery Regiment (modelled as a standard on-table artillery unit) which can fire in support of any unit of the division. Simon had this division, the stand with the red flag is the HQ.

15th Mechanised Corps. Two (weak) Tank Regiments and a Motorised Rifle Regiment reinforced with close support artillery. Despite the T34 and KV, the tanks are just treated as standard tank units. In June 1941 the heavier tanks were hugely outnumbered by obsolete light tanks, and many of the more modern tanks lacked basic like spares, or even ammunition.... The motor rifle troops don't have any trucks, as also common in mid 1941.

Jerry got  my shiny new NKVD detachment and an officer with a megaphone. Mainly there to provide support and encouragement, but also had a house rule which might allow the recovery hits.

The initial setup. One thing I'd learned from Galkow and Tims matrix games was the importance of keeping the players oriented. The big grid labels are pretty garish, as is the compass indicator, but the players said they preferred them as they could work out where stuff was. I might make them a bit smaller for the next game (Tim suggested 64 point text was fine).

The action opens with a single regiment of 10th Rifle Div set up a hill facing west. The Germans are trying to get across the table and leave by the road in square C3. The Henschel spotter is stooging around because I painted it and it looks nice.

Jerry set up to provide encouragement to the soldiers.

The Germans are forced to enter in A1, the top left hand corner. Von Gow turned sharp right and headed due south. Von Armatys meanwhile march stolidy straight ahead. I think some planning may have taken place.

Faced with this target rich environment, the Russians on the hill opened fire while Jerry shouted encouragement.

The managed to inflict some hits on the motorcycle battalion as it sped past, but the Germans called down artillery fire from their 105s which somewhat impeded the Russians aim and even inflicted some losses. Jerry sprang into action and shoved the skulkers back into line.

The Germans approached the road, but the Russian infantry edged off the hill, despite being slowed down by the artillery fire.

Oooer, a major part of 15th Mech Corps came driving down the road from the east. Time for the Germans to get their skates on or they risk being crushed in a vice.

The Germans accelerate their assault. Panzers attack frontally, motorcycles from the flank all shot in by artillery and Stukas.

Meanwhile, 15th Mech Corps drops off its Rifle Regiment and its close support artillery who busily start digging trenches across the road.

Under the overwhelming assault, the Russians give way and run for the rear, leaving the NKVD to face the panzers all on their own.

However help is at hand, as the Tank Regiment rolls up the road.

Unfortunately it gets the full combined arms treatment, Pakfront, Stukas and artillery, all backed up by the panzers. Not a pretty sight.

The NKVD however urge them on.

Back down the road, the infantry finish digging in, overseen by the Corps Commander. Just off to the right can be seen the first Schutzen battalion approaching their position. Out of sight of the entrenched Russians for now (it is till a couple of miles away).

The Panzers assault the Russian tanks, shot in by AT guns, Artillery and Stukas.

The burning wreckage which results can be seen up the road. Meanwhile the NKVD fall back to the Motor Rifle troops, who reorient 45 degrees to face multiple threats. 

Dear me! The rest of 10th Rifle Div and 15th Mech roll down the road from the east, right behind the German motorcycle Bn. Not what you want to see behind you.

The Germans pause to take photos of burning T-26s. A popular past-time in 1941.

They hurry off, pursued by a great mass of Russians. Are they advancing or retreating? Who can say.

Fortunately the motorcyclists are bit nippier down the road than the KV-1s... they have accumulated quite a few hits by now.

The Germans rapidly regroup around square B3. This is a somewhat target rich environment for the dug in Russians, and the 76mm guns do grievous damage to the motorcyclists as they drive past.The panzers and one of the Schutzen battalions go for the 'table edge creep'. They do actually need to exit via the road though. The battered motorcyclists park up by the farm, while the other Schutzen cover the panzers flanks with their AT guns.

The Russians deploy into line while shelling the Germans. The 10th Rifle Div are trying to get within spotting range to call in their Div artillery, but the Germans keep running away. They are running out of table however...

Much to the annoyance of the Russians, the motorcyclist speed away. The Panzers finally make it on to the road. If only the Motor Rifle troops had deployed on the road exit rather than 6" forward... hindsight is a wonderful thing however.

The Germans call in their last airstrikes and artillery to pin the Motor Rifles in place. It would be very embarrassing if they close assaulted the Germans in the rear at this stage.

The Russians close in on the Schutzen battalion protecting the flank. They are looking distinctly ragged now, with four hits and disordered. The Germans drop artillery on the Russian tanks to slow them up even though it doesn't do any material damage. An armoured overrun would be disastrous.

The Panzers motor off to Minsk, followed by the Schutzen. The Motor Rifles pour fire into them but are hampered by the airstrike. The motorcyclist follow (with five hits!).

The flank protection battalion falls back.

The Russians form up for a mighty attack as the infantry close up behind the tanks and advance as close as they can to the remaining Germans.

The Schutzen battalion on the road is now also looking distinctly shaky, with four hits and disordered. German artillery keeps the Motor Rifles pinned in place though, precluding an infantry assault.

The German infantry are right at the brink, as the Russians close in.

The Russians aren't in a position to finish them off however as the Schutzen on the road march off east to join the Panzers, and the remaining Germans disappear eastwards cross country. The Germans have therefore achieved their victory conditions of exiting two units by the road (the ones which left cross country don't count) albeit with no less than 13 hits between them. The Russians are left with quite a force, three Rifle Regiments, a Tank Regiment and the entire 10th Div and 15th Mech Divisional Artillery . Sadly, with the Panzers racing up the road and hordes of German infantry rolling up from the west, this lot will being into the bag, unless they head south to the Pripyet Marshes and become partisans.

I was pretty pleased with that. Once again, it ran over two nights in two one hour sessions and I was rendered hoarse at the end of each, but the tech all worked OK this time and the players said they appreciated the big location markers to keep oriented. They'd obviously all read their briefings and hatched plans, and the Russians came so close to crushing the Germans in a trap.

The game mechanism worked well, and I was pleased with how the revised air and artillery worked. No-one attempted to rally so we didn't get to try out the new rally rules, but the NKVD house rule worked OK and provided a degree of entertainment, although I can always rely on Jerry to role play well. I realised that I wasn't using the mods for soft cover, and I think I'll drop that from future versions in  line with the rule that is you don't remember a rule and it doesn't break the game, it is probably unnecessary. It would mean that there are essentially three levels of protection in the game with 3+, 5+ and 6 to hit respectively (ie halving each time) which is nice and neat and lets me deal with CB fire against single dice artillery battalions.