I finally broke down and picked up four of the models from Warlord Games at about $30 USD each. As pure objectives, this was a high rice to pay for models that were going to serve no game purpose other than table decoration.
I have a lot of Warlord’s metal (always metal) models from their Bolt Action line, and I’ve always found the casts to be detailed and clean. The package comes with the gun, four crew figures and a couple pieces of crates to add flavor to the set-up. Assembly of the howitzers is a bit finicky but Warlord offers a diagram online to guide gluing up the kit. My one knock is there is no option for variation in the crew, given I’m fielding four of these, but this is a minor complaint.
I mounted up the figures and extra pieces on washers, filled the bases and primed black. Once I got to the painting, the work went fast with simple color schemes and just a few details picked out on the crew. Assembled and painted, the howitzer and crew really pay off. With one done, I had three more to go to get another step closer to getting my vision for the scenario closer to a gaming reality.
Drop 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.
Skirmish Campaigns “Normandy ’44 – First Hours” scenario book
For our replay of Brecourt Manor, we turned to the classic Normandy ’44 – First Hoursscenario 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.
The 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.
Germans 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.
105mm 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.
A 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.
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.
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.
The Battle of the Bulge Mission rules from Flames of War
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.
Panzer Lehr forces deploy and move toward the American right
The German armored assault pushes to the American left
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.
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.
US 76mm tank platoon springs an ambush on the right
US tanks receive heavy fire from the Panzer Lehr
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.
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.
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.
German Panthers are thwarted by smoke rounds at the US left
German 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.
101st Airborne troops rush forward to contest the crossroads objective
Panzer Lehr forces attempt to push out the 101st Airborne
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.
On December 16, 1944 what became known as the Battle of the Bulge began. The German surprise winter campaign offensive – Unternehmen Wacht am Rhen (“Operation Watch On The Rhine”) – would run until the end of the following month. In the cold, snowy forests of the Ardennes region of France, Luxembourg and Belgium, the series of ferocious engagements would see the highest casualties for the US during WWII severely set back the German war machine’s fighting ability for the remainder of the conflict.
Map of the southern flank of the Battle of the Bulge, featuring Buchholz Station
Early in the morning of the 16th, a US company at Buchholz Station was taking a quick break from the morning’s action. Lining up for a hot breakfast, the weary American riflemen spotted distant shadowy shapes moving through the fog along the nearby railway tracks. Initially figuring these troops to be fellow Americans, machine gun fire quickly erupted as the realization that these were in fact Germans moving to take the nearby train station. The Americans rushed to meet the Germans, eventually filling the area with exchanged mortar and gun fire. Late-arriving US anti-tank guns and some gutsy attacks eventually repelled the small German force.
Table set up for Buchholz Station at Metropolitan Wargamers
Recently on The Miniatures Page message boards I stumbled on a Buchholz Station scenario for Flames of War. A fellow blogger had sunk a fair amount of research into the scenario and presented a great overview on his blog known simply as Kevin’s Blog. Having never done a Battle of the Bulge scenario before, I was anxious to give Kevin’s game a try.
The US chow truck waiting for hungry GIs to show up at Buchholz Station
This past weekend I finally got around to running the scenario at Metropolitan Wargamers. Using the online scenario as a jumping off point, I modified it down to a 4′ x 4′ table decked out in snowy terrain (using regular baking flour). I also tweaked the US and German forces since my own collection didn’t have exactly what Kevin’s scenario called for as written.
The Buchholz Station depot — the main German objective
The Confident-Veteran Germans consisted of three rifle-machine gun Grenadier platoons, plus a heavy machine gun platoon. The Confident-Trained US company featured three rifle platoons, a light machine gun and mortar weapons platoon and a small anti-tank gun platoon towed by Jeeps. Both the US and Germans had large off-table mortars with German spotters deployed in the game and all US command spotting for their own mortar crews. Each company featured just under 750 points per side.
US deployment at the beginning of the game
As in the scenario outline, the Americans began with two rifle companies on the board. One was deployed within 4″ of the chow truck, and the second within 4″ of the small group of buildings at the table corner. All other US platoons were held in delayed reserve, meaning they would not come on until at least turn three. The towed anti-tank gun platoon would be the last reserves for the Americans.
German deployment after their first turn
The German platoons deployed all at once with their first turn, entering the table within 6″ of either side of the railroad tracks. They chose to move at the double and divided their force, heading toward the woods to hold off an American advance and straight toward their objective of the train station.
Turn one ends with a race to the train station
The Americans finished the first turn with their own movement at the double. The platoon at the chow truck headed for a small clump of trees, hoping the forest would provide just enough cover from the coming German fire. The second platoon stayed to one side of the road, out of range of German bullets and racing to the train station.
One US rifle platoon takes heavy fire while the second slides to cover the objective
In turn two, the Germans and US platoons each exchanged fire from their occupied woods. The US took their first casualties and were pinned from the withering German heavy machine gun fire. With most of the fire concentrated on the one US platoon in range, the second American platoon was able to slide toward the train station to control the objective ahead of the Germans.
US and German platoons fire between the woods
Turn three was somewhat of a repeat of turn two as the one US platoon swallowed a ton of German gunfire and remained pinned down in the woods. The US failed to roll any reserves on the table in their first attempt, but the platoon at the train station began occupying the buildings to hold off the coming German onslaught.
The Germans sprint in the open
With turn four, the Germans came out into the wide open looking to assault the remnants of the platoon in the woods and the train station objective. The Americans in the woods took more casualties but stuck it out with a motivation test roll as the Germans moved nearer to assault. The Americans in and around the train station benefited from cover and stayed in control of the objective with the Germans advancing. As the turn ended, two adjacent German platoons took American rifle and mortar fire, pinning the Germans in their advance to the train station.
Germans surround the train station
The last of the remaining Americans in the woods at the center of the table fled in turn five, just as the Germans prepared to assault them. Another German platoon reached the doors and windows of the train station but had their assault repulsed. At long last, the first American reserves arrived, and a light machine gun and mortar platoon platoon hit the ground running at the double. Additional US off-table mortar fire rained onto the assaulting Germans in the snowy open field.
US light machine gun and mortar reserves arrive
The Germans still in the woods broke from the trees iat the top of turn six and made way toward the train station. Germans already at the station destroyed the remaining Americans there, effectively taking the objective. A few Americans ran at the double to contest the objective. The US responded with fire from the newly-arrived light machine guns and more from the mortars.
The final US reserves arrive…but too late
Things ended on turn seven with the last of the American reserves arriving too late and too far out of range movement and fire to contest the train station objective now in control by the Germans. Timing on the battlefield is everything, and the lack of US reserves arriving earlier in the game made it a tough slog for the Americans. The scenario is pretty fairly matched, and playing a FOW game without the usual mass of tanks was a refreshing break.
The Battle of the Bulge also seemed fitting, given the snowy winter we’ve had here in Brooklyn this past month. With the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge coming up at the end of the year, playing this first scenario already has me thinking of more wintery tabletop warfare about 11 months from now.
Thanksgiving is upon us which means the annual run to holiday gift shopping is nigh. By some estimates, upwards to 40% of toy sales occur around the holidays which fits squarely with my memories of the plastic bounty of Christmas past. The arrival of store Christmas displays and holiday catalogs sent my childhood mind reeling. Before the arrival of electronic games in the late 1970s and early 80s, my dreams of toys stacked under the Christmas tree were filled with action figures, playsets, games and toy soldiers.
So, with visions of Christmas toys past dancing through my head, I find myself paging through the glorious selection from the recently-relaunched website from I The Toy Soldier Company. For almost 30 years this New Jersey-based company has been keeping plastic and metal toy soldier fandom alive with an enormous catalog of toys in all scales and hand-crafted playsets which harken back to the glory days of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
With so much play now relegated to screens and virtual fun, there is still nothing like seeing a kid moving dozens (or hundreds) of little plastic figures around the floor. These toys not only make for hours of fun across generations, but they can also open young minds to burgeoning interests in history and maybe some eventual wargaming. Going a step further and combining some toy soldiers with books, movies, documentaries and family outings that highlight the period is another great way to make up a fun and educational gift package for the holidays.
Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome
Kids are fascinated by the ancient eras of Egypt, Greece and Rome, and a lot of elementary school curriculums focus on these periods, their culture, arts and the gods they worshipped. Books and films full of pyramids, temples, gladiators and chariots dazzle young minds. Mid-century film classics Ben Hur, Spartacus and even The Ten Commandments are thrilling, family-appropriate entertainment to this day. From one-on-one arena battles between tiny gladiators to epic plastic battles on the sands and plains of the Mediterranean region will enliven the imagination for these ancient cultures.
Living here in the Northeast United States, I’m surrounded by history of the American War of Independence, inlcuding the Battle of Brooklyn fought right over ground I cover on the way to work every day. With forts, museums, battlefields and museums dedicated to the period dotting the countryside, the formative conflict of the nation is all around us. The classic 1943 children’s novel Johnny Tremain and Disney’s 1957 movie adaptation have been the hook for kids for years. There’s so much color and mythic personality to this period in early American history, and some plastic soldiers armed with muskets and cannons will easily spark interest in any wee patriot.
We’re right in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, so the time is ripe to get burgeoning historians interested in the period. With the release of Lincoln last year and many past offerings available like 1989’s Glory and Ken Burns’ epic 1990 The Civil War, the War Between The States maintains its cinematic hold on the American narrative. The seminal book on the war in many ways remains Red Badge of Courage which is still a rite of passage for many a young reader . Spending the holidays learning about the Civil War might kick off some family visits to battlefields and historic sites when winter breaks to spring, but getting some blue and gray toy soldiers out on the floor now can make for a very timely history lesson through play.
Europe is in the midst of the 100th anniversary of World War I, and next year America’s involvement in “the war to end all wars” will be quietly memorialized. The US came to the war late and it’s effects on our country were nowhere near those on the European continent, so learning about this conflict is a great way to broaden young minds to 20th-centtury history beyond our usual American-focused history education. My oldest son read All Quiet On The Western Front this past year, and the adaptation of that classic novel as well as films like Paths of Glory and Gallipoli are engaging ways to get a view inside the troubling politics and tactics of the war. Lining up multinational plastic armies bridging the gap of 19th to 20th-century warfare makes for a great intro to the period.
The above are just a few of my favorite periods in which I think kids could easily establish a lifelong interest. Through a combination of books, films, field trips, games and plastic soldiers from the likes of the Toy Soldier Company, you can make this holiday season a bit fun, a bit unique and maybe your kids or grandchildren will even learn a little something in one of the most time-tested ways: play.
I’m not unique in being a World War II gamer and a big fan of HBO’s Band of Brothers miniseries from 2001. I also finally got around to reading Stephen Ambrose’s same-titled book on which the series was based. Both works follow the exploits of “Easy” Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division from training to D-Day to the end of the war. The story is absolutely riveting and presents a dramatic account of how the collective action of individuals contributed to the Allied victory.
I’ve been working away recently at finishing my long-overdue modelling of Easy Company and a large US Airborne force. Nearly two years ago I purchased and painted up an entire company of Command Decision Paratroopers from Old Glory Miniatures, including command, machine guns, mortars, bazookas and parachute artillery support teams. This past week I’ve wrapped-up the small plastic parachute rifle company from the Flames of War Open Fire! starter box set I received this past Christmas. To this collection of troops, I’ve added the excellent Easy Company set from FOW containing a number of the real historic US servicemen portrayed in Band of Brothers.
While the casting is a bit skinnier and lacking in the detail of the official FOW miniatures, the value of the Command Decision models can’t be beaten at the low price of $15 for a hefty bag of 50 solidly serviceable figures. At under $70 online, the big Open Fire! box is a real deal for all the troops, tanks, artillery and other stuff included. The FOW Easy Company set itself runs about $12 for the few specific personality figures, and fielding these models is going to add significantly both to the look and effectiveness of my force on the tabletop battlefield.
With a good mix of FOW and Command Decision models painted-up, I turned to the “Nuts!” campaign book to put-together my order of battle for Easy Company. The book focuses on the 101st Airborne’s involvement in late 1944’s siege of Bastogne and other Battle of the Bulge engagements and then on to the German border and the eventual Allied victory in 1945.
In creating my list I wanted a highly-mobile and playable 1500 point force heavy on infantry with just a bit of tank support. In the FOW rules, the parachute rifle company is rated Fearless/Veterans, making them hard-hitting and tough to chase from the field. Their special use of Gammon bombs enhances their impact in risky infantry assaults on otherwise-intimidating German tanks. Adding the special characters from Easy Company makes for an even more resilient and daunting force, reflecting the historic bravery these men brought to the late war European campaigns.
I’ve modeled my infantry pretty simply with a quick coat of flat green primer, lighter brown on backpacks and equipment bags, a contrasting watered-down brown wash and some equipment details picked-out. Finally, the shoulders get a dot of black and a dab of white to mimic the famed Airborne eagle insignia (shown at the top of the page).
The first photo below shows the specific men of East Company which come packed with a lot of individual personality. Leading the platoon is Capt. Richard Winters and Capt. Lewis Dixon (front row, center) with the Nixon model taking a swig from a bottle as he was known to do. Pvt. Eugene Roe (middle row, far left) is shown patching-up an injured comrade. Corp. Darrell “Shifty” Powers (top row, far left) is hunched aiming on a barrel and ready to take out his German target. With so many generic models in my force, these guys are all a real treat.
And below is a look at the plastic Airborne platoon included in the Open Fire! box set:
In July, I’m organizing a big FOW day at Metropolitan Wargamers with two simultaneous 2500-point games of Soviets vs. Germans and US Airborne vs. Germans. To the above list I’ll be adding some significant artillery muscle and I also hope to have a new P-47 Thunderbolt air support model ready to go. With Easy Company ready to lead on the tabletop, I can’t wait to get my new Airborne force into action.