Flames of War: Buchholz Station 1944 Scenario

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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.

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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.

IMG_2758Table 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.

IMG_2761The 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.

IMG_2760The 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.

IMG_2776US 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.

IMG_2777German 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.

IMG_2778Turn 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.

IMG_2779One 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.

IMG_2780US 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.

IMG_2781The 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.

IMG_2782Germans 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.

IMG_2783US 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.

IMG_2785The 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.

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Flames Of War: Encounter Mission

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The official FOW website makes all the missions from the third edition rules available online, and they’re a quick way to throw together a game and practice tactics without putting all the work needed into a historic scenario. Having been away from a Flames of War table for a week or two, a couple of us at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY threw together a quick, non-historic Encounter Mission last weekend.

IMG_2698Encounter Mission table (German deployment to right and US to the left)

My opponent, playing as Germans, rolled as attacker and chose the long side of the table with the church on his right and a farm and wooded area to his left. This left my US 101st Airborne with the bridged river at my right and a farm at my left as defender. As per scenario rules, we each began by placing an objective on either long edge of the table, placing half our platoons in reserve and deploying the remainder of our starting units along our edges.

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Germans Stugs move to control the center

The Germans won the roll to go first and immediately pressed toward the center around the church yard with their Stug platoon and on their left toward the river with Panzergrenadiers. It was clear the Germans hoped to make  speedy run to the objective just on the other side of the stone bridge and ford on the river.

IMG_2700US anti-tank platoon rolls to seal the German advance at the bridge

In my first turn, I moved my M-18 Hellcat tank destroyers to the bridge and hoped to get some quick kills in on the advancing German Stugs from the bridge.

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Members of the 101st Airborne take position in the woods

On the other side of the road to the bridge, my US Airborne hustled into the two sets of woods. Hiding among the trees, the paratroopers looked to seal the flank against the advancing German mounted troops on the other side of the river.

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One Hellcat burns at the foot of the bridge while another fires from the bridge

With my Hellcats missing their shots on the advancing Stugs, the German guns rolled to the intersection just beyond the bridge and destroyed one of my anti-tanks. While the loss of the Hellcat halved my anti-tank capabilities, the burning hulk effectively shut down the German path to the bridge.

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US Airborne and German Panzergrenadiers exchange fire over the river

Across the river, the 101st troops safely fired from the treeline toward the mechanized Germans across the river. With combined fire from a a nearby remaining Hellcat, Jeep and armored car from the tank destroyer platoon, a German halftrack was destroyed and forced its troops to dismount. Returning fire, the Germans destroyed the armored car and Jeep.

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Stugs cross the field as an Airborne platoon lies behind the bocage beyond

With the road to the bridge shut down, the Stugs turned to speed their way across the fields at the center of the board. An Airborne platoon took up position on the other edge of the field, lying in wait for the advancing Stugs.

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The US P-47 hits the Stugs in the open field

The Stugs sitting in the open field made for a quick target for the P-47 Thunderbolt which flew on in turn four, leaving one Stug in flames and a second with its crew bailed out.

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The Stugs reach the gap at the field edge and destroy the remaining Hellcat

I their next turn, the Stugs remounted and made their way to the gap at the far edge of the field. A couple quick shots to the side armor of the remaining Hellcat destroyed the remaining US tank destroyer which had been busying itself pouring fore into the still-mounted Panzergrenadiers. It looked bad for the Americans with nothing standing between the German Stugs and the objective just beyond the river ford.

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US Shermans make quick work of the remaining Stugs

Luck switched back for the Americans as they successfully rolled for their Sherman tank reinforcements in turn five. The Shermans moved to the river’s edge and destroyed the remaining three Stugs. Not only had the German armored advance to the objective been thwarted, but yet another easy path had been closed-up with a burning Stug clogging the exit from the field.

IMG_2710Panzer IV reinforcements move to take the US left

By turn six, the German Panzer IV reinforcements were rolling down the road looking to run around the far edge of the field and attack the US left flank. The left side was only held by a US light machine gun and rifle platoons, so armored support was badly needed if the Germans were to be stopped.

IMG_2716The first turn at the battle of the crossroads on the US left

At the intersection on the US left, ferocious fighting erupted as an assault from the usually stalwart 101st Airborne was repelled. The Shermans moved in and destroyed a Panzer IV.

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The second turn of the battle of the crossroads on the US left

With space and options getting tight, the Panzer IV’s returned fire and Sherman was left burning. With a two-on-two fight. the Shermans destroyed another Panzer IV in the sixth turn and the final German tank fled the field after failing a morale test for the pummeled platoon. With German armor destroyed across the field, the US rifle and light machine gun platoons scurried to the German right toward their objective behind the church.

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German half tracks struggle to cross the river on the weakening American right

The final turns of the game played out back at the river with the reinforced Germans struggling across the river. Fire continued to be exchanged with the US rifle platoon in the forest which eventually fell back into the treeline at the road.

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The Thunderbolt engages German transports at the river crossing

Another run from the Thunderbolt threw more Germans from destroyed transports. Remaining Germans trucked over the river and around the woods with only only a few US rifles between them an victory with capture of the objective.

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The final showdown at the contested objective

On the eight turn, it all came down to the contested objective. With a full US parachute rifle platoon in the woods and another heavily-damaged one nearby, the final battle looked like it was going to be decided with some bloody assaults. It looked like anyone’s game, but the Germans were now at half-strength on the table, and a failed motivation test caused the Germans to cede the battle.

German artillery never played a factor in the game, and the heavy terrain shut down use of US air support except for in two deadly runs of the game. Tanks on both sides wound up serving more as roadblocks at some key points on the road, and the river also played an important role in the US defense against the German advance.

We’ve got a couple historic scenarios at the club I’ll be reporting on soon, including a landing at Utah Beach and a scenario from the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. What makes FOW flexible and so enjoyable as a system is the ability to play historic and non-historic engagements, something I experienced last week and am certain to see more of in my after-action reports soon to come.

Flames of War: Fielding the PSC Panzer IV Tank

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One of the greatest military impressions Germany left on the face of warfare during World War II was in its feared armored forces. The famed Tiger I heavy tank gets a lot of the glory for its independence and near idestructability, but the Panzer IV medium tank served as the real backbone of German armored forces throughout the war. With improvements to its armor and gunnery made throughout the war, the Panzer IV would prove to be a tough nut for the Allies to crack until very late in the war. Especially in the period from the D-Day landings through to the Battle of the Bulge, the Panzer IV played an ever-increasing role in attempting to stymie the Allied advance right up until the eventual fall of the Third Reich in the spring of 1945.

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I already own a fair amount of German armor with Tigers, Panthers, Jagdpanzers and Stugs, but my force was sorely lacking in Panzer IVs. Most of my German tanks thus far have been from Battlefront, the makers of Flames of War (FOW). They offer a late war Panzer IV platoon in the pricey $50-60 range, depending on whether you pick the set up online or in a store. Going on some recent experience with the PSC Allied Stuart tank set, I went with the Panzer IVs from the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) at about half the FOW cost.

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Unlike the FOW sets, PSC kits come with options to model miniatures in several periods. This allowed me to model my tanks as the later war Panzer IV Ausf H with its extra armor and gun power. Like the Airfix kits of my youth, the PSC tanks are comprised of lots of little parts. The diagrams included in the box offer clear color-coded keys to getting the correct pieces off the sprues and blow-up schematics for gluing the pieces together. If you’re like me, keeping your workspace clean and organized will prevent you from losing your mind during the multi-step assembly process. The sprues also leave some leftover parts which either go straight into the trash or into container of miscellaneous plastic for future modelling use.

Lots of parts means lots of steps. The turrets alone are compromised of 9-10 parts and aligning the tank tread sections needs to be done carefully. I also found the hole on which the turret sits to be a bit tight, so I carefully drilled those out slightly larger. My Panzer IVs were completed with a basic grey-schemed paint job over a flat black spray base to match my existing models. With assembly, painting, decals and a matte finish finishing coat, these tanks are ready to hit the table in just a couple work sessions.

Compared to FOW models, the PSC tanks take a bit longer to put together and parts can be finicky, but I really like the PSC models when complete. The PSC tanks offer crisper molding and some fine details like a slight sag in the upper parts of the treads and hangers for the  side and turret Schurzen. Models are light, making for easier storage and transport. Putting together kits from PSC just feels a lot more like model building than what you experience with FOW and some other manufacturers.

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With so much economic pressure on miniature wargame funding budgets, you can’t beat getting more armor in the field for the low cost and fine results from the Plastic Soldier Company’s Panzer IV kit.

Flames of War: Fielding the Guards Armoured Division

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Among the multi-national Allied forces that participated in the campaign following Operation Overlord on D-Day on June 6, 1944 were the British Guards Armoured Division. Arriving a couple weeks late to the party on June 26, the Guards would roll on to participate in many of the key post-D-Day engagements including Operation Goodwood, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. I’ve been encountering the Guards over and over again in Rick Atkinson’s engaging The Guns At Last Light, the latest and final volume in his “Liberation Trilogy” telling of the Allied march to victory in World War II. And so, it is great timing that I’m finally getting around to adding the Guards as my first allied group supplementing my already extensive US forces in my Flames of War gaming.

FWOFBoxI’ve been working away for half this year on finishing up the models included in the excellent Flames of War Open Fire! box set. Among all the plastic goodies included, the set offers up a nice Guards platoon to provide support to their allied US Airborne infantry. The eight models include six of the US-supplied Sherman V tanks and two of the famed Sherman Firefly tanks, retrofitted by the British with a massive 17-pound anti-tank gun.

Aside from a rather significant and well-documented issue with some parts fitting together, the models glue up pretty nicely. To the included stowage and gear included on the sprues I also added some leftover bits. A quick coat of green armor spray paint followed by black and silver lightly brushed on the treads made up the majority of the painting work. The exposed drivers received a tan uniform, black beret and radio headset picked out in detail. Crates and tool handles strapped to the hull got a quick touch of brown.

IMG_1894For decals — a big oversight in not being a part of the Open Fire! kit — I used a set from the Plastic Soldier Company and guidelines found on the Flames of War site. I found the decals from PSC to be easier to apply than those I had used from FOW in the past, but I did still use a few Allied “star” markings I had lying around from previous US tank models from FOW. With the decals dry, a bit of dried mud color and watered-down brown wash added some wear and tear around the tanks before they were hit with a matte finish.

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IMG_1898Now that I’ve got some Brits on the table, I’m eying some UK infantry to add some depth to my collection and flavor to my games. There’s a big full-day Flames of War gaming event coming up in just a few days at Metropolitan Wargamers, but I don’t think the Guards will be making an appearance this time around. Still, it will be good to know they’re waiting to throw in with the Yanks on another day in the near future.

Favorite Kickstarters of the Month (July 2013)

Kickstarter can be a weird, volatile environment. Some projects come and go with little fanfare while others soar into the stratosphere with backer support. There can be all manner of highs, lows and outright trouble for projects on their journey from idea to funding to delivery. That said, four of the projects I wrote about in June wound up successfully funded in the past month. The fifth, the seafaring game Admiral, was funded but the project was then suspended inexplicably with a day to go. No doubt there’s a story there, but for now, here are the projects I’ll be watching as we hit the first hot month of the summer in July.

Cthulhu Wars: Drawing on the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, this game is the big story in games on Kickstarter right now. With dozens of gorgeously grotesque miniatures and many planned expansions, this strategy board game turns the tables and allows the players to play as Lovecraft’s beastly horde seeking to control the surface of a ruined Earth. Many of the pledgers have bought in at the higher funding levels of $200-500+, no doubt attracted by not only the theme but the tons of extra maps, gaming pieces and figures rewards. The project is trending toward nearly $1 million in funding in its closing days, and the more than 3300 backers are delivering a built-in fan base of this classic horror genre already popular with gamers.

Seas of Iron: I’m not a big naval gaming fan, but I really like the looks of this very modest battleship wargame from Battle Bunker Games. The battleships are comprised of two-sided cards defining the sections of each ship where you deploy your crew and fire volleys at your opponent. When a section is destroyed, cards are flipped over to show that part of your ship aflame. The Kickstarter exclusives include the famed Yamato and Bismarck warships. Just $20 allows for a backer to get a full version of the game which allows enough flexibility for 1-on-1 or small fleet play with combined sets.

Devil Dogs and Dragons: I’ve invested in more than a few of the Anglo-Zulu War 28mm miniatures from Empress Miniatures. They make quality, spirited and detailed miniatures, so its great to see them expanding their Modern Combat line. There’s a lot of interest in gaming modern warfare right now, and the 28mm scale seems to be a clear favorite with small squad-level engagements in the dusty and hot embattled corners of the world. These 28mm figures fill out modern US Marine Corps and Chinese People’s Liberation Army options for deployment in the Asia-Pacific desert and jungle regions. With a bit more imagination, these guys will even find a home in various zombie, alien invasion or post-apocalyptic scenarios.

Fife & Drum American Revolution Range: Just in time for the 4th of July weekend, Fife & Drum Miniatures is also expanding their established line of miniatures. Sculpted in a large 30mm or 1/56 scale, these majestic figures offer incredible detail for the Colonial Period ranging from the Seven Years War to the American War of Independence. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the company’s expansion into new British cavalry, Hessian, Highlander and French infantry offerings. At the $50 level, backers receive a special three-figure “Spirit of ’76” vignette, making this project perfect for any patriot and fan of the AWI period.

Gettysburg: The Tide Turns: Finally, and in keeping with the theme of American military history, I’m throwing in one video game offering to round out the list. The Battle of Gettysburg is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month, and so this timely iOS game for the iPad and iPhone looks to be a deal at just $10 to back the project. Developed by Shenandoah Studio, the makers of the previously Kickstarted Battle of the Bulge iOS game, this simulation looks to be a very promising 21st-century tribute to the strategy, tactics and heroics found on the famed Pennsylvania battlefield 150 years ago.

Flames of War: Foy 1945 Scenario

With a big full day of Flames of War gaming coming up at Metropolitan Wargamers on July 20th a few of us got together for a practice game this past weekend. There’s a renewed interest in FOW at the club as of late, and one of the great things about the group is the way experienced and new players alike come to learn together.

Wanting a manageable but interesting late war Western Europe scenario with US Airborne and German forces, we settled on the Battle of Foy from January 1945. The battle was just one small part of the brutal and much larger Battle of the Bulge campaign in the Ardennes forest region of France, Belgium and Luxembourg during the winter of ’44-’45. The engagement near Foy is featured dramatically in an episode from HBO Band of Brothers miniseries (clip here), so I was looking forward to trying my hand at commanding Easy Company from the 101st Airborne Division on the table for the day.

The FOW website offers a downloadable PDF outlining the scenario which fairly represents the German defensive position in and around Foy. No guidelines are given on the make-up of forces, but we decided on 1780 points on a side with flexibility beyond the historic record. The US Airborne begins in two divided deployment areas with I Company pinned due to indecision by its commander Lt. Norman Dike. Only by the daring sprint across open ground by Ronald Spiers sent on orders by Capt. Richard “Dick” Winters to relieve Dike of command can I Company join the assault on Foy. In the FOW scenario, the US forces have six turns to wrest control of one of two objectives from the defending Germans. The Germans must hold their ground against the bravery and skill of Easy Company.

The US struck first with an airstrike from their P-47 Thunderbolt taking out two of the three German PaK 40 anti-tank guns tucked behind the churchyard walls at the center of town. After being pinned by the P-47, the anti-tank platoon wound up rolling poorly and remained pinned and ineffective for the remainder of the game.

That was pretty much the last major good story the US could tell for the rest of the game. Some house-to-house fighting took place along the German right flank with the Airborne eventually beating the Germans back from the protection of the row of houses along the road to town. The American Sherman tank platoon rolled up the center but remained stuck for the whole game attempting to machine-gun the German platoons dug in behind the churchyard walls. Four of the five tanks wound up taking fire and being destroyed where they sat.

With the US infantry moving too slowly on both sides of the table, the Germans rolled their armored reserves in on turn three as their Stug platoon entered the table to hold off any US advance on the German right flank.

US volleys from the parachute artillery platoon tucked far back in the field did little more than occasionally eliminate a few German infantry and keep the units protecting the objective on the German left flank pinned.

Aside from a deadly late game P-47 strike on the German mortars which had harassed the Americans for the entire game, US air support never did much more for the rest of the game. By the sixth turn, the final German Panzer IV armor support rolled onto the table. With both flanks locked down by the Germans, a final desperate US attempt at dual assaults on the German armor platoons were ineffective. With three American platoons eliminated and most others with heavy casualties, the US ceded victory to the Germans in a revisionary result from the actual American victory in 1945.

Games like this are fun but also an opportunity to consider lessons learned. My US 101st Airborne was entirely too cautious and didn’t get into the fight fast enough, losing the opportunity to control the town’s center before the arrival of the German armor. My machine gun platoon got stuck mid-field and got chewed up bit by bit without having the opportunity to truly unleash its full effectiveness on the Germans who remained out of range and dug in for most of the game. Other infantry platoons hung back too much in the woods or buildings and never really got up in the fight.

With a much larger game coming up in a few weekends, I see that taking greater advantage of Easy Company’s aggressive, daring and deadly experience is going to be key to an Allied victory. Looking back at our re-running of the battle at Foy this past weekend, I can see I was a little too much like the wavering Lt. Dike and never let the heroics of individuals like Ronald Spiers to take over.