Flames of War: Tanksgiving 2014 After Action Report

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This past weekend seven of us gathered at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY for our second annual Flames of War Tanksgiving event. One new player and six experienced FOW gamers (including two father/son pairs) played through five Late War games using 1750-point companies stretching over three tables — two from Western Europe and one from the Eastern Front. Over the course of the afternoon, British, US, German, Soviet and Hungarian forces fought it out with a mixed results but a slight edge toward the Axis for the day.

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Setting up two Western Europe tables for Tanksgiving 2014

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Western European tables ready to go at Metropolitan Wargamers with an Eastern Front table at the back

British Guards Armoured vs German Schwere SS-Panzerkompanie

The first Western Europe table presented a No Retreat Mission with the Guards Armoured defending a small town from a raiding Tiger-led German force attacking from the open farm area across a river. The Guards deployed an eight 25-pound gun Royal Artillery at the back edge of the table and one objective near the bridge spanning the river to the town. With three other platoons of Sherman and Sherman Firefly tanks in reserve, the initial British force would need to hold fast against the German onslaught.

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Guards Armoured tanks deploy at an objective

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Tigers roll toward the bridge and are covered in smoke rounds

The Germans began the game fully deployed and slowly moving their Tigers toward the bridge and an objective just beyond. With famed tank ace Michael Wittman commanding, the key for the spare British force was to stay away from the deadly guns of the German tanks. At the river ford in the center, the Panzer IVs moved to flank the other side of town with Panzer Grenadiers mounted in half tracks at the rear. The best the British could do was fire smoke rounds into the Tigers across the river and follow-up with long-range shots from the single Firefly deployed at the beginning of the game.

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A Firefly destroys a Tiger at the bridge

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Panzer IVs and Shermans face off in the town streets as a Firefly covers the bridge

Over the next two turns, British reserves arrived and made way for the center of the town, using the tight cobblestone streets and buildings as cover. Artillery spotters stationed in the rooftops of buildings called in several turns of artillery fire but failed to have any effect on the Tigers and destroying only one German halftrack at the river. A crack shot from a Firefly at the center of the town destroyed the first Tiger over the bridge. By the end of the fourth turn, the Panzer IVs wheeled to get into the town at the British left but were pushed back by fire from British Shermans.

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Reserve platoons from the Guards Armoured arrive to engage the Panzer IVs

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Tigers position themselves on two flanks of the town

In the fifth turn, the two remaining platoons from the Guards Armoured arrived to the British left and pushed forward toward the Panzer IVs. With two German tanks quickly lit up, the surviving Panzer IV fell back to the treeline where it was destroyed in the next turn. The British held their left for the moment, but in the cover of the raging tank fight, the dismounted Panzer Grenadiers had managed to slip into the town’s buildings unharmed.

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Firefly Shermans and Tigers face off to protect the objective

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Three Tigers charge hard toward the objective beyond the road

As smoke continued to hold the Tigers from firing at the bridge, a second Tiger was destroyed from a volley from the same Firefly that had sent the first Tiger into flames. While action at the bridge stalled, the three other Tigers had been working their way through wrecking the British tanks which had destroyed the Panzer IVs. All the while, the German infantry had continued to work through the town’s building’s untouched and toward the objective back the rear of town. The British command tanks rolled to stall the advance of the Panzer Grenadiers with machine gun fire and cover the objective.

With most of the British armour ablaze throughout the town, three Tigers rolled toward the objective at the bridge. The surviving British tanks had continued to make successful morale checks with the benefit of their special rerolls. The two surviving Firefly Shermans took a combined shot at a Tiger’s rear and missed. The Tiger’s spun around to return fire, destroying a Firefly. With further ineffective artillery rounds and just one Firefly sitting between three Tigers and the objective, the game was called with a victory for the Germans.

Final Result: Victory for the Germans!

Soviet Tankovy Batalon vs. Hungarian Harckocsizó Század

The day also saw a couple Eastern Front games with Hungarian and Soviet forces facing off on tables set up using a random terrain generator. The Eastern Front table showcased log structures from the excellent Miniature Building Authority Russian Village set along with some rural farm buildings from FOW. Each game saw the Soviets as the attacker, the first taking place on a table representing the bleak steppes of Russia in a Fighting Withdrawal Mission. The defending Hungarians began in prepared positions with a howitzer battery and Panzer IVs to their right, infantry at the center and tanks at the left. The Soviets with T-34 obr 1942 tanks at their extreme  left and right,  SU-100 tank killers and a Gvardeyskiy Tyazheliy Tankovy company at the center and a heavy mortar company at the rear.

IMG_4725The Soviet line moves toward the Hungarian positions

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Soviet tanks roll toward the Hungarian positions

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Hungarian armor proves to be no match for the Soviets

The second Eastern Europe match-up occurred around a collective farm complex with a Dust Up Mission. Starting from opposite corners, both the Hungarians and Soviets positioned themselves into a fantastic series of turns in and around the small farm. With both players moving, dodging for cover and firing at close range, the Hungarians and Soviets sparred for victory as tanks burned all around.

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Game two on the Eastern Front with the central Soviet farm complex

As Hungarian reserves arrived late in the game, infantry climbed out of their trucks and assaulted the Soviet T-34s. Soviet reserves likewise entered the game and made way for the Hungarian howitzers and the objective at the opposite corner. With two intense assaults at either end of the field, the Soviets gained a slight edge and were able to score their second victory on the day.

Final Results: Two Victories for the Soviets!

US 7th Division vs. German Panzer Ausbildungs Abteilung

Back on the other Western Front table a spare rural village anchored by a prominent church and surrounding hill and forests, a deadly force of German Panthers, Tiger Is and Königstigers squared off against the US 7th Division. The Americans rolled into the first Pincer Mission with standard Shermans, M4A3E8 Easy Eights and M4A3E2 Jumbo. At the rear, M7 Priests and 81mm mortars mounted in half tracks were positioned to cover the field in smoke while a P-47 Thunderbolt was on call to swoop in against the German force.

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The US 7th Division deploys in cover on the Western Front

Hoping to avoid German fire, the US tanks crowded into position using the church and other structures for cover as they eased across the field. Once engaged, the Jumbos did their job of eating up fire from the German guns and allowed the other US tanks to advance toward the objectives. Even with smoke cover fired from the rear, air support above and a mass of US armor, the cautious pace of the Americans was no match against the German Tigers firing from the woods. By the time the Americans made a push for the objective in the open, the German tanks were squarely deployed to defend the objective and take the game.

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American tanks bide their time waiting for clear shots at the heavy German armor

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Overwhelming German presence holds the objective

The players switched sides in the second No Retreat Mission on the same table. Again, the Americans came on the table on the far side of the town but this time chose to race aggressively toward their objectives. Defending from the wooded areas again, the Germans were able to fire at will on the advancing Americans. Quickly moving to a close series of short-range duels, tanks on both sides shifted to get into important side armor shot positions. With a tight cluster of models crowding the field near the objectives, American artillery smoke and air support quickly became irrelevant and some lively debate erupted around lines of sight and facings. The second game was a much closer match, but in the end, the thick hulls of the German tanks were no match for the American guns.

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Tanks on both sides jockey for effective shots near an objective

With two victories for the Germans, there was a fair amount of discussion as to whether the Panzer Ausbildungs Abteilung list is an example of a “broken” and unbeatable list in FOW. The Americans tried their best with both cautious and forceful tactics using some great available equipment

Final Results: Two victories for the Germans!

At day’s end, the Axis came out with a slight edge of a 3-2 victory over the Allies across two European fronts. The presence of tough late war German Tiger tanks are a hard force to crack, even with quality American and British armor with lots of air and artillery support. On the other hand, the Russian tank horde always proves to be a formidable Allied opponent whether facing Hungarians or Germans. Force quality, tactics and a bit of luck always play a role, and our five Tanksgiving games were all unique examples of how Flames of War tank battles can go on any given day.

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Flames of War: Lingevres 1944 Scenario

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By D-Day +8 on June 14, 1944, the British 50th Infantry Division had pressed about 5 miles inland from Gold Beach to the outskirts of Lingevres. Dug in at the town were elements from the Panzer Lehr Division with several Panther tanks ready to force back the looming British attack. With 6-pdr anti-tank guns in tow, the British pushed into town mid-morning following a bombardment by 25-pound artillery and runs from supporting Typhoons above. A ferocious battle commenced between the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and the German Panthers. When the smoke cleared, several Panthers sat burning as victims of Sherman Firefly and anti-tank gun fire. At day’s end, the British controlled Lingevres.

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British 6-pdr anti-tank gun deployed outside Lingevres, June 14, 1944

The WWPD website has a Lingevres scenario available which two of us adapted for play this past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Using the scenario as a guideline, we laid out the tabletop battlefield with cornfields stretching outside the town occupying two-thirds of the table. With our 1750-point forces on each side, the Germans began with two platoons of infantry and a heavy machine gun platoon inside two buildings and the church at the center of Lingevres. The British then deployed with their artillery battery, two rifle companies and a recon patrol. All other forces were held off table, with German delayed reserves set to arrive in turn three and British reserves eligible to arrive immediately at the beginning of the game.

Victory conditions as presented were simple — the British needed to take three buildings in the town and the Germans needed to drive the British from the field. How the game played was not simple and once again revealed my need to sink more work into creating accurate, playable scenarios for FOW.

IMG_3163Germans dug in at Lingevres in the town’s buildings while British artillery and infantry deployed from the cornfields in the distance

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Initial movement of British forces into Lingevres with recon carriers moving left and infantry moving into the woods near the church

The first two turns of the game saw the British marching from their edge of the table toward Lingevres. At the town, a German machine gun platoon sat waiting in a building at the crossroads while two other infantry platoons took up position in the church and shops across the road. By turn three, British artillery had opened fire on the machine gunners and pinned them. The first British tank platoon also rumbled onto the table, as did the German Panthers which made way for the center of town.

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Panther reserves roll into the center of Lingevres

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British infantry in the woods take fire and are pinned as armored reserves move from the rear

The first British infantry platoon made way through the woods at the center of the table but were pinned and cut down over two consecutive turns of fire from nearby Germans. The British recon patrol, edging its way through the bocaged fields near the church, was chased away with the appearance of the Panthers.

IMG_3167A British Sherman takes up position to spot for the artillery battery

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British infantry move from the farmhouse across the field

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Panthers destroy a Firefly and the Sherman spotter tank at the edge of town

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British infantry fall back after taking fire from the German half-tracks

On the main road to town, the British ran their Sherman spotter tank and lead Firefly toward the nearby farmhouse. On the other side of the farmhouse, a British infantry platoon moved into position using the building and nearby bocage as cover as they made way for the open field. The heavy British push around the farm was stymied with the arrival of German halftracks which fired machine guns into the field. By turn five, the Sherman spotter tank and spearheading Firefly also lay in flames after some quick shots from the German Panthers.

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British machine gun carriers and tank reserves roll on

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Armored reserves move to support infantry

IMG_3172 British infantry reserves move in near their artillery battery

By turns six and seven the inital British assualt had been repulsed at a safe distance from town. All German infantry platoons remained safely bunkered up in the town’s buildings, and the spotter for the German’s reserve 12cm mortar platoon was now camped out in the church’s bell tower. The three Panthers prowled back and forth at the center of town, and the incoming fire from the British artillery in the distance was the only real agitation to the occupying Germans. The Britsh rolled on their final reserves of machine gun carriers, Sherman/Firefly tanks and a fresh infantry platoon.

Even with all reserves on the table, the British attack was stumped. With one rifle platoon destroyed and a second whittled down, the British had just one intact infantry platoon on the field. One tank platoon struggled through the fields to one side of town, while the second sat idling on the road to town. Clear lines of fire around the church and town center presented open killing zones for the Germans in the town’s buidings and the three Panthers. All the Germans needed to do was sit in place and mow down the coming British.

I love playing wargames for historical scenarios, but our game this past weekend at Lingevres presented some serious limitations to the FOW rules as written. Playing an even match of 1750-point forces per side ultimately did not allow for a satisfying game for either player. What works for a head’s up FOW tournament game or randomly-rolled mission simply does not play well in recreating historic engagements.

In our Lingevres game, the British simply didn’t have enough units to create a critical mass to advance into town under what was sure to be withering fire from the Germans. We decided we liked the scenario, but perhaps the British needed a 50% increase in points, perhaps with additional rifle and tank platoons and a Typhoon providing air support.

With a three-day D-Day weekend being planned at our club this June, we’ve got multiple historic airborne, beach and inland fights to sketch out in the coming months. There’s going to be a lot of playtesting and tweaking to get our historic games to play well. With wargaming, striking the balance between a game that provides both historic accuracy and the potential for different outcomes is the real challenge that lies beyond just the roll fo the dice.

Flames of War: Fielding the FOW Royal Artillery Battery

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My progress on my new British forces continues with my fielding of a full  Royal Artillery Battery for Flames of War. Dating back nearly 400 years, the British Royal Artillery Regiment (or RA) has been a mainstay of support for British infantry over many continents for a couple centuries. In World War II, the massed 25-pound guns were important for their rapid fire when manned by capable British crews.

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FOW provides specific rules to account for the adept British guns with the ability to field eight or twelve guns and range in on targets even under initial missed attempts with massive bombardments. In short, these guns provide incredibly deadly strength to any Late War British companies in post-D-Day scenarios the likes of Villers-Bocage or Operation Market Garden.

IMG_2840My RA Battery is made up of two FOW kits, one of which I scored for a song from a fellow club member during a summer flea market at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. After gluing everything up, the models get a basic green undercoat followed by my quick finish of drab brown for the uniforms with brown boots and off-white coverings. Figures get finished off simply with a wash to add depth, as do the guns with some rusty dirt streaks.

IMG_2836Sand bag emplacements are finished with a few layers of browns, and stonework get a some built-up coats of grey. Stands are finished with details for stacked crates and discarded brass shells on a brownish dirt basecoat followed by two different grass flockings.

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My sets came with two different command bases, the first with a nice diorama of a demolished building with a motorbike parked out back. As orders are being passed between officers, another pours tea from an aluminum kettle. The other command stand features a crowd of staff around a field table and radio operator with one dapper officer standing to the side, cane in-hand.

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Each four-gun battery is filled out with two other command teams and a spotter, waiting to call in the guns on the unsuspecting German forces. All together, I’m anxious to get my British RA into action with my 7th Armoured and Guards Armoured tanks in the very near future. All that’s left is some British infantry, so stay tuned for their appearance on the field in the very near future.

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