Flames of War: Forces of War Launches

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This month, Battlefront Miniatures, the makers of the popular World War II miniatures game Flames of War, took its first big digital step forward with the introduction of the first of their two new digital services — Forces of War.

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The soon-to-be retired EasyArmy.com

Debates have been raging through online message boards, Facebook groups, Twitter and over WWII-themed tabletops ever since the announcement that the beloved EasyArmy was being closed down and absorbed into Battlefront with Forces of War. During its run, EasyArmy had become a much relied-upon tool for FOW players worldwide. Battlefront has maintained a lengthy working relationship with EasyArmy’s designer in an incredibly rare example of a corporation willing to cede some control of their intellectual property. Now, like so many other companies working in the digital space today, Battlefront has brought the ideas and work of a passionate outsider in-house with this month’s launch of Forces of War.

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The New Companies menu on Forces of War

Beginning with Forces of War, buying a company list will run $1.00 USD with a 25% discount extended when buying all lists from an entire book or compilations at about $16.50 USD. The initial offering of lists is meager, focusing on the more recent FOW books Road To Rome, Barbarossa, Road To Remagen and the World War I themed Great War. Devil’s Charge is listed but the complete book is not available and instead points to the popular Panzers To The Meuse list. This set of German companies is the only free offering at launch, allowing for some limited experimentation with the site before buying additional lists. Being a Late War player who mostly plays US and British lists of the D-Day, Market Garden and Battle of the Bulge operations, my hope is that FOW quickly updated Forces of War with these lists as well as Eastern Front lists for Late War Russian and German players.

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 Company builder on Forces of War

As a test, I went through the quick PayPal process of buying the US 92nd Infantry list from the Road To Rome book. The performance was familiar to my experience on EasyArmy, although I did find the Forces of War site to be somewhat faster than its predecessor. Within a platoon, options are selected with simple clicks, and a running points total is tracked along the top of the page by company and platoon. Forces can be saved with custom names and a nice (but minor) new feature allows notes to be added within each platoon.

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A sample Saved Company page on Forces of War

Saved companies are accessed through easy to view lists which can be filtered by period, country, type, name, source, motivation and skill. Companies can be exported and saved as PDFs or printed. The printed lists are somewhat clearer with better page breaks than those with EasyArmy, a simple but welcome tweak. Frustratingly, the platoon motivation and skill ratings still print within unnecessarily colored text boxes which are nearly unreadable on the page.

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Scenarios selector on Forces of War

Most other aspects of EasyArmy have been ported over to Forces of War, including the handy Scenarios map. The Scenarios page could use some upgrades with a search or menu feature to allow quicker access and some better designed graphics or links.

Much like EasyArmy before, Forces of War offers an easy interface in which to view and manage force lists for FOW. In a nutshell, all the core functionality of EasyArmy has been preserved and then packaged with an official FOW wrapper.  Like a lot of players, I would have very much liked to have seen more lists available at launch. As more lists become available in the coming months, re-buying lists already purchased via EasyArmy is also a sticking point for many but I find the new pricing scheme to be completely in-line with FOW balancing customer usability with needed company profit. Some will also continue to complain about the inaccuracies in some lists, but clean-up edits over time, cross-checking the books and being a considerate, mindful and fair player will always trump any gaming tool.  Gone too are all the ads which cluttered the layout of EasyArmy — a true step forward for any premium digital offer. As transitions go, the evolution of EasyArmy to Forces of War is a good start with room for greater improvements to hopefully occur in the very near term.

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Flames of War: Fielding the PSC US Mortar Support Platoons

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As with so many armies past and present, the infantry man was the backbone of the US Army during World War II. Armed with the M1 rifle, his training and an enormous line of supply to the rear, the American soldier was arguably one of the most formidable combatants in the history of warfare.

That said, even the most effective foot soldier often needs support. Along with machine gun crews, US infantry companies commonly contained the M2 60mm mortar. Crewed by just two men, the M2 added explosive punch in a highly portable weapon which could move swiftly with ground advances through varied terrain.

wwIIchemmortar M2 4.2 inch chemical mortar in use during World War II

At the battalion level, larger mortars with more diverse ammunition, longer ranges and greater effectiveness were also available. The M1 81mm mortar (pictured at the top of this post) was used throughout the war with its 3000 yard range and mix of explosive shells. The larger mortar, weighing in at about 150 pounds, required a larger team and was commonly transported by cart or mounted in the back of a halftrack.

By the time of the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, the even heftier M2 4.2 inch chemical mortar was added to the American arsenal. Designed but never used for lobbing various weaponized chemical payloads like poison gas, the M2 was set on a large rectangular base plate with a pinion-like stand to stabilize firing large explosive or smoke payloads over 4000 yards. The weight and over-sized shells of the M2 did limit its portability significantly, but even so, it helped to very effectively fill out the small artillery arsenal at the infantry level.

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Sprue detail for the PSC US Heavy Weapons set with 60mm, 81mm and 4.2 inch chemical mortars

I’ve been diversifying my mortar support when building my US force for our Flames of War Infantry Aces Campaign at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. The Plastic Soldier Company’s Late War US Heavy Weapons 1944-45 box offers a whole host of extra weapons for my infantry, including three types of mortars. My 92nd Infantry Division started out with a weapons platoon containing a few standard 60mm mortars along with some M1919 machine guns.

To my initial force, I’ve recently added both 81mm and 4.2 chemical mortar platoons (photos below). I continue to be impressed by the PSC sets both for their sculpting as well as their value. I love the mortar crews holding their ears as the mortars fire and the guys crouching with binoculars. The tiny arms can often be a bit wonky when gluing the figures up, but this also allows some flexibility in poses. I set up one pair of figures in a little vignette of one guy reaching over to console his comrade who has been rattled by all the noise.

IMG_4003Completed 81mm mortar platoon

IMG_4002Detail of 81mm mortar and command

IMG_3998Completed 4.2 chemical mortar platoon

IMG_4004Chemical mortar platoon observer and command stands

IMG_3999Detail of a 4.2 chemical mortar squad

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I’m putting my new mortar support platoons to use already in the Infantry Aces Campaign we’ve been running at the club for more than a month now. Although their first outing this past weekend wasn’t very successful, I’ve been studying up on FOW mortar smoke tactics. With strength only in numbers with my relatively inexperienced Confident/Trained riflemen, I’m going to be giving my force another try soon with mortars raining smoke and pinning fire on my German opponents. My hope is the mortars will provide just the support my American infantry need to fight to another tabletop victory.

Flames of War: Metropolitan Wargamers Infantry Aces Campaign

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Two weekends ago we kicked off a Flames of War Infantry Aces campaign at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY.

A friend of the club and organizer of the campaign has created a special Infantry Aces blog to track the campaign’s progress throughout the summer. The site will be updated weekly as the battle unfolds with after action reports, lots of photos and tracking of each player’s progress in the campaign.

While the battle rumbles on, here’s a brief look at the forces we’ve had fun researching, modelling and painting specifically for our campaign for Italy.

Allied Forces

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(clockwise from top left) 504th Parachute Infantry, 92nd Infantry “Buffalo Soldiers,” Gurkha Rifles and members of the 2nd New Zealand Division

Our Allied forces are a mixed group from the Road To Rome book and reflect the mutlinational forces which came together in the late war Italy campaign to break the Axis lines. From the United States, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment is bringing their experience to the field after having fought for years from North Africa and Sicily in 1943 to Operation Market Garden to The Battle of The Bulge in 1944. Joining them, are the untested 92nd Infantry Division “Buffalo Soldiers,” the first African-American infantry to fight as wholly-segregated unit in the war.

Allied with the US troops are some unique UK Commonwealth forces. The Indian Gurkha Rifles had a long history in service of the British dating back to the mid-19th-century, and their skill in close combat and rocky terrain would serve them well in Italy. The  2nd New Zealand Division served most of the war in North Africa and hopping around the islands of the Mediterranean until joining the Allied effort to break the Axis lines severing Italy from the rest of Europe.

Axis Forces

germanyia (clockwise from top left) Fallschirmjagers, Hermann Göring troops and Grenadiers

Using the updated Fortress Italy book, our Axis players have fielded some of the classic, war-hardened forces whose mission it was to hold the line against the Allied push up the Italian Peninsula. The 1. Fallschirmjägerdivision in Italy had already proven themselves throughout Europe with wide-ranging early war operations in Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, Crete and the invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa.

Two other veteran companies fill out the Axis forces. The Hermann Göring Fallschirmpanzerdivision saw action throughout Europe and Africa before fighting in Italy. Finally, the 362.Infanterie-division had seen a long war (including the Battle of Stalingrad) by the time they joined the final Axis defense of Italy.

The Campaign Begins…

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Recent FOW Infantry Aces campaign action at Metropolitan Wargamers

We’ve got two weeks of campaign games in so far, and playing with small infantry forces of 500 points has been a refreshing break from the larger FOW games in which we all usually play. Special rules, varying troop ratings and small tables clogged with Italian terrain have also added to the challenges and enjoyment we’ve all had so far. There’s a lot of gaming to do as the campaign escalates over the coming weeks to 700 and 900 point companies with added support. Check back frequently for more of the action over at the Infantry Aces Metropolitan Wargamers Italian Flames of War site.

Flames of War: Fielding the 92nd Infantry Division Buffalo Soldiers

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Although African-Americans have fought in every war in US history, their fight has often come on multiple fronts of prejudice and acceptance at home and abroad. Segregated units such as the famed 54th Massachusetts during the American Civil War and the 369th Infantry Regiment Harlem Hellfighters in World War I have received their due in popular culture in recent years, as have the WWII pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen.

On the ground, African-Americans in WWII were most often relegated to support roles early in the war as truck drivers, stevedores and cooks. By late in the war with reserves of Allied soldiers dwindling throughout the European campaigns, black soldiers were pressed into service at the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge and the Italian Campaign. It was in the actions in Italy where the famed 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers added another chapter to their service history.

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Shoulder insignia of the 92nd Infantry Division ‘Buffalo Soldiers’

The Buffalo Soldiers in the Italian Campaign

The name “Buffalo Soldiers” dates back to the frontier Indian Wars of the 19th-century when post-Civil War free blacks volunteered for service in various US army capacities in the West. Later, these units continued serving in various capacities through the Spanish-American War and into WWI. Reactivated in 1942, the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division finally made their way to the war via Italy in the fall of 1944.

Video of the 92nd Infantry arriving in Italy in October 1944

As part of the US 5th Army, the 12,000 men of the 92nd Infantry made up part of the multinational Allied coalition of US, Brazilian, British and UK Commonwealth forces which sought to break the Gothic Line. Cutting across Italy, the Axis hoped to hold off any further Allied progress north to meet with other Allied forces pressing through Europe from Normandy inland toward Berlin.

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A 92nd Infantry Division mortar crew firing near Massa, Italy

Led by senior white officers in otherwise segregated units, the 92nd Infantry made up a key element of the left flank of the Allied push up through the Italian peninsula. Crossing the Arno River and proceeding north, the 92nd made its way up the Mediterranean coast  through Lucca, Massa and on to La Spezia and Genoa by the time of Axis surrender in May 1945.

The legacy of the contributions of the 92nd Infantry Division’s effectiveness in Italy has been much-debated. A paper from the 1950s does what I read to be a good job in explaining the challenges the Buffalo Soldiers faced — delays in reinforcements,  shortages in re-supply and a lack of training for the kind of terrain encountered in Italy. I believe much of this can be chalked-up to the ingrained organizational racism against the segregated units. Post-war, the members of the Buffalo Soldiers also returned to a United States still entrenched in racial discrimination. It was not until the late 1990s that two members of the 92nd were recognized with Medal of Honor commendations, some fifty years after the war’s end.

Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna

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As a wargamer and film fan, I often turn to the movies to cross-pollinate my interest in a period. Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna from 2008 tells the story of four soldiers from the 92nd Infantry who hide out in a small Tuscan village and bond with its residents amid the oppression and danger of German occupiers. Lee’s movies often run hot and cold, and Miracle at St. Anna met with mixed reviews, poor box office results and a fair amount of criticism over the lack of historical accuracy. All that said, the Italian locations and strong individual performances makes the movie worth a view for a rare glimpse of African-American soldiers in WWII cinema.

Modelling the 92nd Infantry Division for Flames of War

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In late February 2014, the revised Flames of War Road To Rome and Fortress Italy compilation was released as an updated and expanded guide to the Italy campaign of 1944 and 1945. The Fortress Italy book covers the German and Italian defenders, and Road To Rome outlines the Allied US, British, Polish, French and lesser-known UK Commonwealth forces from Canada, New Zealand, India and South Africa. A third book, Italy Battles, provides special mission rules, battle scenarios and campaign notes for Anzio (aka “Operation Shingle”) and Monte Cassino.

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Having dedicated years of my FOW modelling and gaming to Western Europe, these books provided a great opportunity for myself and other members of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY to dive into a club-wide Italian project. I’ve also been wanting to put together a unique company for my FOW collection, and I was pleased to find the 92nd Infantry Regiment outlined in the Road To Rome book. With all our focus on the Italy theater, we’ve decided to dive headlong into a multi-month FOW Infantry Aces campaign, and there will be more to come with updates on our new Infantry Aces blog.

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For my 92nd Infantry I decided to snap up the two sets from the Plastic Soldier Company – Late War US Infantry 1944-45 and US Infantry Heavy Weapons. At about $26 a box from my favorite online dealer The Warstore, the PSC kits are a huge value in fielding an entire infantry company along with bazooka, machine gun and mortar supporting weapons. Assembly involves lots of small parts and bases must be purchased separately, but getting a whole company on the table for a fraction of the costs of FOW models can’t be beaten.

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Pvt. Fred “Radio” Rogers and Lt. Daniel McFeeley

To fill out my force, I picked of the FOW Infantry Aces set for about $12. The pack gives you nine stands of character models to create special Infantry Ace command stands for use in the Infantry Aces campaign. The blister pack includes general US, British and German models with special Fallschirmjäger, Japanese-American Nisei, Kiwi and turbaned Indian characters. I shared the models with my fellow players at our club, and modelling these guys really adds some nice personality to the game. For my Command Ace stand, I’ve modeled the fictional Pvt. Fred “Radio” Rogers and Lt. Daniel McFeeley leading the way for my company.

IMG_3670One of my three rifle platoons for the 92nd Infantry Division

In the FOW Italy campaign, the 92nd Infantry Division is rated as Confident-Trained making my force cheap and numerous. To start, I’ve constructed three rifle platoons with two rifle squads each plus a platoon command and bazooka in support. Along with my rifles and McFeeley and Rogers leading the way, I’m also bringing a weapons platoon in support. The platoon packs a punch with three 60mm mortars and four M1919 machine gun crews.

IMG_3671My Buffalo Soldiers mortar and machine gun weapons platoon

For all my models, I glued the PSC soldiers and equipment onto FOW bases and then hit them with an army green spray coat base. Boots, equipment, rifle stocks and flesh got a dark brown. Pants were done in a tan paint and leggings got a brownish off-white color. Guns were finished off in a metal coat. Basing involved a layer of fine gravel and larger rocks coated in a brown wash and then dry-brushed in a grey-white. Finally, tufts of brown-green grass completed the Mediterranean look of the models.

The beginnings of my platoon will be hitting the tabletop shores of Italy this coming weekend in their first round of our club’s Infantry Aces campaign. In the coming weeks I’ll be adding additional infantry weapons support with additional mortars, machine guns and more infantry. Even before these guys see their first action, I’m pretty thrilled to have put in the time to create some pretty unique models that I haven’t found modeled anywhere else at this scale. As in WWII years ago, I think the 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers have been too often forgotten by mainstream history and many gamers alike. With my soldiers hitting the field again, I hope to bring a bit more glory back to these men who not only contributed to the fight against Axis fascism but also stood bravely against the tide of so much history against them.