Flames of War: Fielding the 15cm sFH18 Heavy Howitzer Battery

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The long-lived and commonly-found 15cm sFH18 howitzer was fielded by German forces from the 1930s and all through World War II. Tough to haul and a lesser weapon than many of the large artillery pieces fielded by Allied forces during the war, the German gun nevertheless went through several wartime design iterations and served multiple nations in post-war decades.

I’ve been in the home stretch of getting ready for my Flames of War Sint-Oedenrode scenario at the upcoming HMGS Fall In! convention, and getting some big German 15cm sFH18 howitzers finished was the last on my to-paint list. FOW offers a beautiful box set of the German heavy artillery battery, featuring four guns, crew, staff, command, spotting teams and individually-sculpted resin bases. The set of models is a bit pricey, but given the heft of models and their usefulness in so many German army lists, the battery is sure to pay off over time.

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With so many parts in the box, getting organized from the get go is key. After cleaning up and dry-fitting all the pieces, I get everything glued up. After drying, I use wood filler to cover the spotter and command bases and to also hide any seams where the figures glue into the cast resin bases. From there, my usual German painting scheme in greys over flat black primer plus other details makes finishing the models move pretty quickly.

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Parts get cleaned and organized before assembly

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Glued models with filler being added to the bases

IMG_6862Base coats painted on the guns, uniforms, bases and ruins

As with most of the big sets of FOW models, the details on the models is a lot of fun. The intensely-posed four-figure vignette of the staff team in their little bombed-out bunker is a new favorite of mine. Even with repetitive gun crew figures, each unique base makes the whole battery just varied enough at arm’s length and are certain to make an impact when the Axis next hit the table.

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Battleground: Brecourt Manor 1944 Scenario

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This year’s 71st anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 didn’t get the same attention as last year’s full weekend of D-Day gaming at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Even so, a few of us did come together for a quick run through a gamer favorite small-scale battle at Brecourt Manor.

101stABDDaydropsDrop zones of the US 101st Airborne on June 6, 1944 and the area around Brecourt Manor (circled in red)

Made famous in more recent years in the hit HBO series Band Of Brothers, the action at Brecourt Manor by a couple dozen men from the US 101st Airborne has long been a favorite for military historians and a textbook example of a small-scale assault on a heavily defended position. With four 105mm howitzers firing on Utah Beach, the German gunners were defended in a series of shallow trenches by several MG42 heavy machine guns and a number of infantry. Through surprise and quick movement through the trenches, the US Airborne quickly took the position and disabled the German guns.

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Skirmish Campaigns  “Normandy ’44 – First Hours” scenario book

For our replay of Brecourt Manor, we turned to the classic Normandy ’44 – First Hours scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns. The Skirmish Campaigns series of books offers well-researched and detailed campaign scenarios filled with orders of battle, terrain layout maps and deeply descriptive narrative of how actual engagements unfolded during World War II. Adaptable to a number of rules systems, the scenario as outlined in the book scaled nicely to our game. Using most of my recently painted 28mm German and US troops and classic Battleground WWII skirmish rules, we were set to replay Brecourt Manor.

IMG_6025The 101st Airborne plot their assault on Brecourt Manor

Two players split their command as the US Airborne and set their battle plans before my Germans deployed in the trench system. Beginning German positions were defined by four gun emplacements each crewed by a team of five rifle-armed gunners and an officer. I also placed three MG42s at different points in the trench lines and one patrolling battery command squad of four riflemen and two officers deployed at the western end of the position.

IMG_6027Germans sit at the ready in their positions at Brecourt Manor

The Americans moved first, slowly deploying a .30 cal machine gun crew from behind the farmhouse at the northwest corner of the table. Directly to the north, a bazooka team crept into position behind a copse of trees with two fire teams behind the nearby hedgerows in support. To the west and toward the south, the other two US fire teams set up and moved toward the German lines, also under cover of the thick bocage.

IMG_6026105mm gun crews stand at the ready

Spotting the American bazooka team to the north, I quickly redeployed one of my machine guns to hold back the advance on that side of my position. Not waiting to get their machine gun in place, the Americans advanced on two sides and took heavy fire to their fire teams leaving them pinned in place. Hoping to pin down the Germans at the strongly defended north and western edges of the position, the US machine gun attempted to lay down a stream of fire but jammed is the trigger was pulled on its first shot of the day.

IMG_6029A 105mm gun position is destroyed by an American bazooka

Even under fire, the US bazooka team managed to get into place and a shot destroyed the northernmost howitzer, killing one German gunner and suppressing most of the rest of the gun team. On the western side, another of my redeployed machine guns was instantly spotted and raked with American gunfire and all but knocked out of the rest of the game. With only one MG42 left in the western trench line, a US Airborne team moved with over confidence toward making their first assault. The foolhardy bravery of the Americans was met with combined arms fire from my remaining MG42, rifles at the gun position and shots from the command squad. When the smoke cleared, one American fire team was left with just one man standing and the other had been briefly pinned.

IMG_6028   US Airborne units ready for a close assault at Brecourt Manor

By turn three, the American machine gunners cleared their jam and were finally able to lay down strafing fire along the entire western edge of the German trenches. With bullets whizzing overhead, the Germans were forced to the ground and the remaining Airborne came over the hedge and made way for the German howitzer. The Airborne soldiers poured into the German gun position and hand-to-hand combat ensued leaving two Germans and two Americans dead in the melee. With no clear victory in the first close combat of the day, the Americans bounced out of the German position, pulling back toward the hedges from where they had just come.

Back to the north, the American bazooka team had been cut to just one man who had retreated under heavy fire. One other US rifle team at the north had been eliminated, and the last had been whittled to just two injured men. With just a few rattled troops strung along two sides of the field, the US Airborne retreated and left three guns ready to continue raining shells on the beaches in the distance.

What the scenario showed us, as it did on the actual day some 71 years ago, was the importance the US machine gunners in a tight assault like the one at Brecourt Manor. Met with a larger, more well-defended German force, the American machine guns were the equalizer in real life. Had the American soldiers on our tabletop focused their assault after pinning the German defenders, our game this month may very well have gone the way of history with another victory in the hedgerows of Normandy.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Gela July 11, 1943 Scenario

gelaWe continued our play through Operation Husky and the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 this past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. We’re working our way through the events of July 11th in the Sicilian Weekend book by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules for 15mm World War II play.

HuskyMap2Operation Husky, July-August 1943 (Gela in green)

The scenario represents the northeast section of the town of Gela where ferocious fighting had taken place the day before in the early actions of the Allied invasion of Sicily. The table was set up with a couple dozen buildings from a variety of manufacturers, including JR Miniatures, Battlefront, Mark IV Miniatures, Miniature Building Authority and Games of War. The occupying US troops all began hidden in  Gela with the Italians arriving on blinds at the opposite end of the table over a small railroad cut, bridge and road surrounded by open farm fields dotted with trees. The objective was simple: the Italians had to take back this corner of Gela and the Americans had to hold what they had fought so hard for the previous day.

Sicilianweekendcover‘Sicilian Weekend’ by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum WWII rules

The Americans deployed in well-defended positions in the town with two platoons of rifles and light machine gun squads perched in buildings. A combat engineer platoon armed with a 37mm M3 anti-tank gun in tow sat hidden along the main street through town. Off board, 4.2 inch M2 mortars and 105 mm M2A1 howitzers from the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion were available as support to be called in by the captain from the company HQ perched in the tall building at the center of town. Tough and dug into great positions, the Americans looked to have a clear advantage.

IMG_5651The tabletop battlefield for Gela

As in the previous scenario southeast of Butera, the Italians again represented a massing of manpower from the Livorno Division with six small rifle platoons and a machine gun support platoon. Accompanying them this time was Mobile Group E compromised of light French Renault R35 tanks and pre-war Italian CV33 Tankettes. What the Italians lacked in a starting position on the field and quality of equipment and troops, they certainly made up for in volume as they began the game arriving on three blinds per turn.

IMG_5652Italians arrive northeast of Gela

As the Italians neared the town, the Americans bided their time and sought not to reveal their positions until the approaching forces were nearly on top of their positions. Approaching in the open, the Italian blinds were spotted in the open to reveal tanks and infantry closing in at the center and edge of town. With IABSM’s randomly card-activated units mechanic, my US commander was perhaps overly cautious in waiting a turn or two too long to start getting the American cards into the deck. This all but negated off-board US artillery support for the game and allowed the Italian attackers to get dangerously close to seizing a quick victory with nary a shot fired.

IMG_5653Italians swarm the edge of the town and the hidden American positions

On the Italian left, one of their early shots fired down the street took out a crew member of the M3 anti-tank gun, forcing the remaining American crew to haul it back around a corner to safety. In answer, the US engineers opened fire at close range and threw back the initial push by the Italians on the American right. At the center of town, US rifles, machine guns and bazookas firing from within a massive central building ripped into the Italians marching forward in the open. Under heavy fire at their center, the Italians fled for cover to either side as their approach was slowed and their returned rifle and tank shots had little effect on the Americans.

IMG_5654Italians encounter fire from US engineers defending from buildings

IMG_5655Italian infantry duck for cover as they receive heavy combined arms fire from the Americans in the large central building

IMG_5656Italian armor repositions away from American fire

With nowhere to go but forward, an Italian rifle platoon at their left assaulted the US engineers holding down the American right from a building. The Americans took heavy casualties and were thrown backward from their position into the open street to the rear. In response, returned fire from engineers in a nearby building flung the Italians back from their brief victory.

IMG_5657Italian rifles push a US engineer platoon from the building position

Back at the center, another round of combined arms fire from the Americans in the large central building continued to feed shots into the Italians, forcing them to continue to slide into cover to either side of the open field outside town. While pushing the Italians back with casualties and shocking fire provided a short-term positive for the US, it also allowed the Italians the chance to redeploy and set themselves for a move into town on the American left.

IMG_5658Italians slide from the center toward the American left

Meanwhile on the US right, the surviving engineers were chewed up by additional fire in the street which stalled them out of the action. With the main street into town wide open, the first Italian tank positioned itself to roll down the cobblestones. Waiting in the distance was the American anti-tank gun with a clear field of fire down the street looking to stave off an armored assault into the heart of Gela.

IMG_5659Italian armor sneaks around the American right as the US 37mm M3 anti-tank gun waits in the distance

With the Italians abandoning the center, the fight moved to the flanks. One US rifle platoon moved to reposition into buildings further to the edge of town on the American left as two Italian platoons, one already having suffered heavy casualties, snuck between buildings for cover. The American engineers on their right sought to hold down the approaching Italian tanks and three rifle platoons, and the US anti-tank gun crew had yet to fire a shot. The American rifles, machine guns and bazooka crews who had caused so much damage at the center were facing a choice of redeployment as their Italian targets skirted to either side.

IMG_5644Italians mass for an attack on the US engineers

Several hours in, we called the game. The small-scale tactical nature of IABSM is highly contingent on when a platoon or command ‘big man’ card activates. With so many Italian cards in the deck, a run of activated Italian unit cards may have provided the push they needed to get to the main street and victory. That said, each US card drawn was continuing to have devastating results on the somewhat weaker Italians, causing casualties and flinging them into reconsidering different routes. The large number of Italian on the field were still poised to match up with the higher quality American troops, although the US had clearly blown an early opportunity to use their off-board artillery effectively. Good and bad command choices had left Gela contested for the day.

Flames of War: Fielding the FOW L-4 Grasshopper AOP

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Piper Aircraft was founded in the late 1920s with an eye toward building planes for general civilian use. From 1938 to 1947, Piper sold nearly 30,000 of their relatively inexpensive J-3 Cub models, making the plane one of the most ubiquitous non-commercial planes soaring over the United States by the mid-20th-century.

1943 industrial film of the building of a Piper Aircraft J-3 Cub

During World War II, Piper supplied the US Army Air Forces with nearly 6000 of their J-3 Cub planes in a modified military version known as the L-4 Grasshopper. The main modification of the light plane was the installation of wide banks of plexiglass windows, making it usable as a radio observer and reconnaissance plane during key missions like the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The Grasshopper also found varied service transporting supplies to the front, carrying wounded to the rear and ferrying military and political dignitaries. In rare cases later in the war, the plane was also equipped with light weapons for use as an air-to-ground attack platform.

IMG_4250My completed Flames of War US AOP Grasshopper

My modelling for Flames of War has been focusing as of late on filling in some odd little gaps in my forces. Since I run some US artillery from time to time, adding an air observation plane not only allowed me to add to my gaming but also take a break to model another plane. This time around I also decided to pay a bit more attention to basing my plane to add a bit of visual interest to an otherwise simple model. I like the quick work on the base so much that I’m going to go back and add the same to my US P-47 Thunderbolt and British Hawker Typhoon models. While relatively inexpensive and easy to assemble and paint like my other aircraft, my one criticism of the FOW Grasshopper model is the lack of decals.

Even with the one shortcoming in markings, my new Grasshopper will be a welcome addition to my FOW games. In most American army lists, adding an AOP is a cheap point spend while also greatly expanding the effectiveness of the already devastating US 105mm howitzer battery. Getting this little plane zipping over the heads of my Axis opponents on the tabletop battlefield may not prove to be a total game changer. It is, however, going to give the enemy one more thing to worry about and may just provide an edge like this classic of American engineering did some 70 years ago in the skies of Europe.

Flames of War: Metropolitan Wargamers Tanksgiving 2013

Tanksgiving PicAbout ten of us at Metropolitan Wargamers in beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn kicked off the holiday season this past weekend with a day of WWII armored action in conjunction with our first Flames of War Tanksgiving event. The official rules for the event called for 1500-point companies facing off in multiple games throughout the day. Given we had so many new players interested in playing their first games of Flames of War, a few of the more experienced players decided to play host with our own forces brought along for the day over two tables.

FFAMissionThe bigger of the two tables featured Allied forces facing off against Germans in a Late War Western Europe scenario. The Flames of War website offers a group of basic missions of increasingly-complex scenarios, each easily playable in about three hours. Given we were dealing with an entry-level game, we went with a beginner-friendly Free-For-All mission with two 1500-point companies on each side.

IMG_2442Allied defenders (left) and German attackers (right) deployed

Since this was a tank-focused game, we went easy on terrain with just a smattering of wooded areas, buildings and fields spread over the table. The Allied forces defended, beginning on the side of the table defined primarily by a small river crossing bridge on the Allied right and a field and nearby farmhouse on the Allied left.  On the attacking German side of the table, a walled farm complex surrounded by a tree-lined road sat to the German left and a group of wooded areas to their right. A small town was situated squarely at a crossroad at the center of the field.

IMG_2446Guards Armoured and 101st Airborne started in the farm field

The British Guards Armoured Company began near the farm at their left, deploying its Sherman and Firefly tanks along with one platoon from the US 101st Airborne. Near the bridge, the US 4th Armored Company set its 75mm and 76mm tanks and finally deployed its 105mm artillery platoon at the center of the table edge hidden behind a copse of trees. The Germans deployed Panzer IVs, two Tiger tanks and a Grenadier platoon near a forest at their right. A large group of Panthers started near the center behind the small town with a supporting dismounted Panzergrenadier platoon on their left and a two-tank Panther command platoon at their extreme left.

IMG_2444US 75mm and 76mm Shermans tanks at the bridge near the German objective

With the German player starting things off, their main thrust of Panthers moved toward the center of the table while their Panzer IVs and Tigers made a move looking to shutdown to the advance of the Guards Armoured and US airborne troops. The Panzergrenadiers made their way for the walled farm and the treeline at the neighboring road, and the commanding Panthers looped around the farm toward the river and the American right flank.

IMG_2448A Tiger sits burning after being hit by a Firefly

On the Allied first turn, the 101st Airborne made a beeline for the neighboring forest across from the field while tanks rolled into the gap between the forest and the field. A lucky opening shot from a British Firefly took out a German Tiger, providing one of the only bright spots for the Allies during the entire afternoon. The spotter for the US howitzers ran for the cover of the town’s buildings while the mass of American tanks on the right split to hold off the center German advance as well as the German command section’s coming end-run at the river.

IMG_2453The Armoured Guards take ferocious fire from the German tanks

In the second and third turns, the German players began running the table to their victory. A concentration of fire into the town destroyed the US artillery spotter, effectively shutting down any good chance of Allied artillery support. The Tigers began laying waste to the line of advancing Shermans in the field and rolling in the open. A failed assault on the German tanks by the 101st Airborne out of the woods stalled under a hail of machine gun before it began, but the Guards Armoured managed to route the Panzer IVs off the board and whittle-down the Grenadiers making their way between the town and farm house nearby.

IMG_2460Panzer IVs and Shermans aflame as the 101st Airborne sprints across the field

By the fourth turn, German infantry making their way through the open both for the bridge and objective near the American artillery were mowed down under heavy machine gun fire from the US Shermans. Finding a gap amid the tank fight around them, the 101st made a dash to the next forested area while German tanks poured more fire into the British armor at the rear. At the bridge, American 76mm guns managed to destroy one command tank and bail the crew from the other. Unfortunately, the remnants of the American armor were outgunned and entangled in the burning shells of their comrade’s tanks. With nothing left to stop the advance, German tanks rolled to the center and seized their objective.

IMG_2458Nothing left to stop the German advance to victory

While things raged away on the European table, an Early War showdown between 1500-point British and Italian forces in Africa dustily clamored away one table over. You couldn’t get a more different game with less advanced equipment and differently skilled troops battling in a desert environment laced with prepared defensive positions. Since most of my gaming has focused on Late War Europe, the earlier war stuff fascinates me and I’m definitely going to make some time to try my hand at this other period soon.

IMG_2440Early War Italian and British desert action at Tanksgiving in Brooklyn

As it turned out, the Italians took the game on the Africa table, making our first Tanksgiving event a 2-0 victory for the Axis powers. I learned a mass of German armor is really hard nut to crack unless you’ve got some effective artillery and enough infantry to assault and push to an objective. Every game under my belt gives me ideas for the next. Win or lose, I think a few hours of playing may have hooked a couple new players on Flames of War. For that, we’ll all be thankful as we deploy our platoons for another game very soon.