Flames of War: 70th Anniversary Battle Of The Bulge Mission

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This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge fought between Allied and German forces in the snowy, wooded Ardennes region of Western Europe. The six-week German offensive through a frigid December 1944 and January 1945 surprised Allied forces and proved to be costly for all involved. At its conclusion, commanders on both sides counted nearly 100,000 casualties and much of the German ground and air reserves had been smashed as a result of their ill-fated gambit against the Allies.

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The Battle of the Bulge Mission rules from Flames of War

To mark the occasion, several of us met at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY to run through the big Battle of the Bulge Mission available free online for Flames of War. The simple scenario plays out on a huge 6′ x 8′ tabletop with 4000-point forces on either side drawn from the Nuts! and Devil’s Charge books as well as the Panzers To The Meuse PDF. We set our table using a large off-white canvas with roads crisscrossing the forested field dotted with a few small structures.

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101st Airborne US Parachute Rifle Company from Nuts!

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US Glider Rifle Company from Nuts!

On the Allied defending side, I ran my US 101st Airborne Division “Easy Company” list made famous by the book and TV series Band of Brothers. Several special character Warrior figures were included in my list and I also added a hefty group of five M4A3 76mm Shermans and an 81mm mortar platoon. My partner fielded a US Glider Rifle Company, also with 81mm mortars and a 57mm anti-tank platoon. In support, his list was rounded out with M7 Priests, M18 Hellcats and a tank platoon with a Jumbo, two Easy Eights and two more M4A3 76mm Shermans.

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Lehr Panzerkompanie from Panzers To The Meuse

For the armored attacking Germans, both players pulled Lehr Panzerkompanie lists from the Panzers To The Meuse PDF from FOW. Across the lists, a swarm of Panzer IV platoons were accompanied by Panther G and Jagdpanther tanks, Puma armored cars, rocket launchers, Wirbelwinds and two Panzergrenadier platoons. To supplement their massive armored ground forces, the German players also opted for limited air support from a ME 262 A2a Sturmvogel jet plane.

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Initial Battle of the Bulge set up as German players plot their offensive

Per the scenario, the largely infantry US forces were deployed with the exception of our 76mm tank platoon and anti-tank guns which we held in reserve. The US anti tank platoon deployed at the center of the board with their M20 Greyhound scout cars, ready to spring support with the soft but deadly Hellcats to either flank.

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Panzer Lehr forces deploy and move toward the American right

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The German armored assault pushes to the American left

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German ME 262 jet attempts to dig the 101st Airborne out of their positions

The German forces moved quickly onto the board with reconnaissance moves from the Pumas stretching across the table. A mass of Panzer IVs and the Jagdpanthers rolled to the US right. On the American left, Panthers moved to cover in a small wood while the two platoons of mounted Panzergrenadiers pushed down the road toward a US rifle team dug into another woods looking to attack with an armored assault. At the rear, the first run of the Sturmvogel took after the US Airborne in position protecting an objective to no effect.

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The German armored assault on the US rifles in the woods

The German armored assault commenced but was bounced back over the first couple turns with the Americans taking only a few losses from the protection of the trees. Panzer IVs moved in to support from behind the German halftracks and took fire from the Jumbo, Easy Eights and 76mm Shermans sitting in a treeline across the road. The Americans sprang their first ambush, placing anti-tank guns nearby the Panthers. While shots from the US AT platoon were unable to crack the heavy panther armor, their position would go on to strongly limit the maneuverability of the Panthers for the whole game.

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US 76mm tank platoon springs an ambush on the right

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US tanks receive heavy fire from the Panzer Lehr

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US Hellcats move to stop the German armor advance

Over on the German right, the Panzer IV and Jagdpanther force divided around a wooded area and was engaged by the platoon of five 76mm Shermans exposing themselves in ambush. Over the next several turns, armor fire was exchanged as the German tanks sought cover in and around the woods. Three 76mm Shermans were quickly destroyed and the position was quickly reinforced with the US Hellcats deploying from behind a nearby barn. One Jagdpanther quickly bogged and sat stalled over repeated attempts to unbog for the majority of the remainder of the game.

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Panzer IVs are devastated by US armor fire from the woods at the left

Back on the US left flank, the German armored assault was pushed back with most of two platoons destroyed in a crossfire from American rifle infantry in one woods and tank fire from another. the combined fire from the US armor likewise laid waste to the approaching Panzer IVs and Pumas. At mid-game, the American left was holding but the US right was in trouble.

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The ME 262 Sturmvogel takes a run at the US Priests

Supporting fire from both sides proved relatively ineffective throughout the game. The German ME 62 failed to score a hit on multiple runs over the table both to infantry and the rear American Priest platoon. The Priests themselves served to only stall the German armor advance with poor results from multiple bombardments. German rocket fire from their rear also showed little for its repeated efforts once spotting teams were in position on both flanks.

IMG_4840German Panthers are thwarted by smoke rounds at the US left

IMG_4841German armor pushes for the crossroads objective

By the sixth and seventh turns, the game continued to progress steadily on two fronts. At the US left, Panther tanks moved into position after their allied Panzer IVs sat burning all around them. Smoke rounds from two US mortar platoons effectively kept the Panthers out of most of the fight as they crept forward and back in the woods. Finally, a couple of side armor shots from the American anti-tank 57mm guns took a couple of the Panthers out and effectively ended the German threat on one side of the field.

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101st Airborne troops rush forward to contest the crossroads objective

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Panzer Lehr forces attempt to push out the 101st Airborne

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German armor continues to roll to a second objective crossroads at the rear

Things were fairing much better for the Germans all along at the other end of the field. Over several late game turns, the German armor pushed forward, leaving all the US Hellcats in flame and the final surviving 76mm Sherman fleeing the field. The veteran 101st Airborne troops continued to snarl the German advance, remaining static and dug in under wooded cover. With the Americans handily holding their left, two US platoons ran to the right to shore up the defense of two objectives. Just as one platoon of US paratroopers broke, a round of fire from the Priests took out one of the Jagdpanthers. With German armor at one objective and pushing hard at a second, a lot of American troops were poised to go down contesting two crossroads with plenty of mortar support ready to shift their attention across the table.

The written scenario doesn’t call for a turn limit, but after having played for nearly eight hours we called the game at the ninth turn. This was one of the longer and larger FOW battles we had played at the club in Brooklyn in this year. In a year of 70th anniversaries, wrapping up with an exhausting and dynamic Battle of the Bulge game seemed the best way to play some tribute in miniature to the largest battle fought in US history.

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Flames of War: Dust Up Mission With “Blood, Guts and Glory”

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Although actually made up of a number of battles and assaults during World War II, the post-D-Day breakout actions by the Allies in late 1944 in Northern France has become commonly known as the Lorraine Campaign to military historians. Frustrated by poor weather conditions and weak supply lines, the General George Patton’s 3rd Army push into Germany eventually led to the wintery and more famed German counteroffensive with the  Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945.

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Flames of War offers a book outlining the Lorraine Campaign with Blood, Guts and Glory. US lists in the book focus on the powerful tank and armored rifle companies which made up the steely backbone of Patton’s daunting force. For the Germans, the cobbled-together 106 Panzerkorps Felderherrnhalle and 111 Panzer brigade are outlined with forces full of some of the best Late War armor and equipment albeit under somewhat challenging motivation and experience ratings.

A couple of weeks ago at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, two of us had a go at a fictional battle set during the Lorraine Campaign. We play against each other a fair amount, and both of us were looking to switch things up commanding some very different forces. The tabletop terrain was also different with a more open battlefield lined with fields, woods, gentle hills and two farms. All of this was quite a departure from the games we have most played set in the days and months after the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944.

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My opponent’s Panzerkompanie was  full of armor – Stugs, Panthers and Panzer IVs – and  supplemented by an Aufklärungs platoon and a couple Wirbelwinds to chase away any US aircraft. For my US force, I wanted to try out some underused rifle platoons which were supported by 105mm M7 Priests, some Shermans and a P-47 Thunderbolt buzzing overhead. We also chose a different game framework, opting for a somewhat complicated Dust Up scenario from the official Flames of War missions list.

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Our Dust Up scenario with my US forces in the foreground and Germans in the distance

Well, as the game played out, I quickly discovered I had brought infantry to a tank fight. With one of my infantry platoons camped out in the woods near two objectives, my hope was to stave off the German armor advance with repeated bombardments from my Priests and diving runs from the P-47.

IMG_3398US M7 Priest platoon taking up position

IMG_3399US rifles deploy in the woods to guard a nearby objective

Things went well for me in the early stages as Panthers stalled moving through the woods. A Wirbelwind and two Panthers were subsequently destroyed from 105mm volleys , but my P-47 failed to get any traction in stopping a group of Stugs creeping along the table edge. Even so, a couple turns in I was feeling fairly confident my artillery fire would whittle away the rolling German advance.

IMG_3401A German Panther and Wirbelwind are destroyed by incoming US 105mm fire

IMG_3400Panthers make through the woods but one bogs in the terrain

IMG_3402The P-47 Thunderbolt attempts a run at a Stug platoon

IMG_3403More fire from the Priests take out another Panther

My plan fell apart as the first German Panzer IV reserves came on the table at the corner behind my Priest battery and made quick work of the nearly-armorless US mobile artillery. I swung my surviving Priest and supporting Sherman around and engaged the Germans at close range with direct fire, but succeeded in only cracking open one German tank. In another turn, the Priests were wiped from the board and only my infantry platoon remained to defend my end of the table. The P-47 appeared again to control the center of the battlefield, but missed on its run. The US center and flank were crumbling by the time turn four approached.

IMG_3405Panzer IV reinforcements surprise the Priests from the rear

IMG_3406The Thunderbolt tries to stall the German armor in the middle of the field

My reserve Shermans came on the table near a farm and quickly engaged with the Panthers which swung to meet the US armor advance. Shots from my heavier 76mm guns lit up a Panther and bailed another’s crew. The German tanks returned fire, destroying all but one 76mm Sherman as more Panzer IVs showed up with the Aufklärungs platoon close behind.

IMG_3407Reserve American 75 and 76mm Shermans roll on the board

IMG_3409The last of the Priests burn as more Panzer IVs appear

In the fifth turn, my final supporting infantry platoon arrived in their halftracks, dismounted and made a desperate run for an objective in the open field. The infantry on my side of the table also broke from the woods in a last-ditch assault on a mass of German tanks creeping toward an objective but were repulsed. With German armor swarming an objective, the game went to the Axis.

IMG_3410A reinforcing column of US rifles follows-up the Sherman advance

IMG_3413A lone Sherman survives as the US rifle company dismounts and heads for an objective

IMG_3414US riflemen break from the woods in a desperate assault on German tanks at an objective

IMG_3415With tanks aflame in the fields, the Germans take an objective

Clearly, my US plan from the outset was a stretch. Had I taken the more historic approach of Patton in the Lorraine Campaign of 1944, a fully-armored US force may very well have stood a fair chance against all the German tanks shuttling here and there on the tabletop. Balancing history and what-ifs is what makes playing Flames of war so engaging over and over again, but next time I’ll be careful not to second-guess the command decisions made in Northern France some 70 years ago.

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.

Flames of War: Singling 1944 Scenario

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By the winter of 1944 the US 4th Armored Division had distinguished itself through a number of actions in France ranging from Operation Cobra in July and the Battle of Arracourt in September all the way through various engagements heading east toward the French-German border. Battleworn and bogged down in the wet winter slush of eastern France, the 4th Armored lumbered to the outskirts of Singling, Lorraine on December 6th, 1944. As part of the defensive Maginot Line, a hasty attack was thrown together to take the farm town with a small force of tanks and infantry. Finding themselves caught up fighting superior elements from the German 11th Panzer Division between the cottages and tight roads of the village, the day’s battle eventually fell to a stalemate and the 4th Armored pulled back. In the coming days, a hail of American artillery and subsequent ground force attacks eventually took Sibling.

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The WWPD site has a handy Flames of War scenario available for the action at Singling called Abrams’ Folly. In addition, there’s some other gaming-freindly write-ups available online as well as some great historical documentation (including maps and photos) on the battle at Singling. Before heading off to an annual family vacation to Cape Cod, I had a chance to try my hand as the Americans in the Sibling scenario this past Wednesday evening at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn.

bggbookEach of us fielded 2500 points, sticking as close to possible with the forces outlined in the scenario. I used the Blood, Guts and Glory book which focuses on the armor-heavy battles in this region of France in late 1944 through early 1945. My force featured a mix of 75mm and 76mm Shermans, some tank destroyers, two armored rifle platoons and an off-table 105mm Priest battery. My German opponent started with a Panzer IV platoon, a Jagdpanther platoon, an 10.5cm leFH18 battery, a platoon of Pak 40s and a couple infantry platoons. As it was historically, the Americans were clearly in for a tough fight.

In December ’44, the US entered Sibling from the south but the scenario places the American point of entry at the western edge of the table. The Germans deployed first with infantry and Jagdpanthers in the town, the Panzer IVs to the northwest and the Pak 40s in prepared positions to the southwest. The artillery battery was positioned to the northeast of town with spotters stationed in the church belfry and the attic of a house near the town center.

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With the first turn, the Americans rolled in around the main road to the west. Seeing the Pak 40s, all the armor rolled north toward the Panzer IVs parked around and behind a small copse of trees. Infantry platoons made way for the center and the orchard just south of the road. My US plan was to avoid the killing alley of the main road while the infantry would swoop toward an assault on the infantry and Pak 40s to the south and the armor would rumble to the north toward the German tanks.

The US 76s made quick work of the Panzer IVs in the first two turns and then turned toward the center of town. The Jagdpanthers crept out from behind buildings and took a few a shots down the road, eliminating a Sherman. A German platoon camped out in a house at the western edge of town made a misbegotten attempt at an assault on the Shermans, bailing two with Panzerfaust fire but ultimately running off when faced with return attacks from the US armor. Another Panzerfaust-wielding squad popped out from an adjacent cottage and destroyed another Sherman with a quick rear shot before being machine-gunned down. By the end of the third turn, the northwest area of the table was a snarl of burning German tanks and shaken but advancing US Shermans.

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To the south of the road, a stalemate which would run the whole game commenced. The Priest battery struggled to range in and hit the Pak 40s on every turn, proving to be a complete waste of points. The American armored infantry platoons to the south of the road spent most of the game being pinned by German sniper fire and artillery barages, all the while struggling to progress through the orchard. Not until the fourth turn of the game did the American infantry truly get in the fight, exchanging fire with two nearby platoons of Germans but losing nearly half their number to fire from the Pak 40s and German heavy machine guns.

In turn four, things got bad for the Germans. After littering the field north of town with charred wrecks of US armor, several American tanks broke to the middle of town toward the three remaining Jagdpanthers. A near-certain side blast to one Jagdpanther glanced off with no effect, but then an extremely lucky shot from a US 76 destroyed the Jagdpanther command tank. While the Germans scrambled to appoint a new command tank, the Americans ganged up to destroy one of the two remaining Jagdpanthers. With the platoon reduced to just one remaining tank, the German player rolled and failed a morale check and the last tank fled the center of town.

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With the center of town secured, all German armor destroyed, a stalled infantry firefight to the southwest and the American tanks advancing to the German artillery battery, the game was called at the fifth turn. I was honestly surprised by the American victory, upsetting the historic outcome of the battle. We stood around for some after-action what-ifs for both sides while packing up the table, and clearly there could be improvements in choices of forces and tactics the next time we head back to Singling.