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.

Flames of War: Tanksgiving 2014 After Action Report

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

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Setting up two Western Europe tables for Tanksgiving 2014

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

British Guards Armoured vs German Schwere SS-Panzerkompanie

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

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Guards Armoured tanks deploy at an objective

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Tigers roll toward the bridge and are covered in smoke rounds

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

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A Firefly destroys a Tiger at the bridge

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

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

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

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Tigers position themselves on two flanks of the town

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

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Firefly Shermans and Tigers face off to protect the objective

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Three Tigers charge hard toward the objective beyond the road

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

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

Final Result: Victory for the Germans!

Soviet Tankovy Batalon vs. Hungarian Harckocsizó Század

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

IMG_4725The Soviet line moves toward the Hungarian positions

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Soviet tanks roll toward the Hungarian positions

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Hungarian armor proves to be no match for the Soviets

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

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

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

Final Results: Two Victories for the Soviets!

US 7th Division vs. German Panzer Ausbildungs Abteilung

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

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

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

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

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Overwhelming German presence holds the objective

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

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Tanks on both sides jockey for effective shots near an objective

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

Final Results: Two victories for the Germans!

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

World War I: The Battle of Vimy Ridge 1917 with Price of Glory

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The Battle of Vimy Ridge, France over four days in early April 1917 was not just a victory for the Allies during World War I. The battle also served as a shining example of Canadian national pride as the overwhelming Canadian-led force was able to stand on its own for the first time without British leadership on the field against Germany. The decisive capture of the German lines at the ridge would hold this section of the Western Front for the Allies until the end of the war.

pogcover“Price of Glory” by Iron Ivan Games

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers we finally got some WWI gaming in with a quick scenario modelled on the Canadian exploits at Vimy Ridge with the Price of Glory rules from Iron Ivan Games. We unpacked over six feet of beautifully modelled trench works that had laid too long in storage and set up a gorgeous collection of 28mm WWI German and Canadian troops from Great War Miniatures. The three of us new to the rules divided the Canadians among ourselves with four rifle and machine gun squads, a grenade-armed bombing party and a Vickers machine gun to our right. Facing us across the cratered and barb-wired field was two lines of German trenches initially defended by two teams of Germans and a MG 08 on their right flank. The level of Canadian victory would be measured by the capture of the German front line, rear set of trenches or the treeline beyond in a ten-turn game.

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Canadian troops advance on the German lines at Vimy Ridge

The Canadians initially plotted four artillery targets along the front and rear trench lines. After the starting German deployment, we rolled off for the artillery bombardment which we had luckily ranged-in directly on the German rifles and machine gun on the front line. Unfortunately the dice were not with the Canadians, and all four artillery shots missed. From there, the Price of Glory rules progressed simple enough with a D10 roll-off for initiative which the Canadians won and began their advance. Teams alternate on each side of the table taking move, fire or melee actions with short movement of 3″ allowing for a full rate of fire, 6″ at fire at half-rate and a 9″ sprint allowing for now firing.

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Germans hold the front line in the trenches

As the first few turns elapsed, the Canadians at the right slowly advanced from crater to crater as they took heavy fire from the German rifles and machine gun. Defending from the trenches, the Germans were a hard target with only a “1” result counting as a hit on the fistfuls of D10s being thrown. In the rules, a team taking fire must also roll a D10 morale check or become suppressed. Morale rating is based on the command strength of the squad, with squads on both sides initially beginning with two officers each at a “7” and “8” rating. A morale check equal to or less than the command rating for the squad passes and may take an action on their turn. A squad losing their morale check must use their next activation to rally.

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Canadians advance through a gap in the wire

By mid-game, one Canadian squad had met their doom in the open wasteland in front of the German line and a second was torn in half as they limped to the trench line at the German left. At the center, a full Canadian squad made their way through a center gap followed by the bomb team. On the German right, the machine gun was eliminated and a final squad of fresh Canadians made way for the trenches. The Canadians continued to win initiative roll-offs which were modified at -1 on each side for lost squads or squads failing morale checks.

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Germans flee the front line to defend from the next line of trenches

As the remnants of one surviving squad of Germans fled the first line of defense after losing two morale checks against the encroaching Canadians, two reserve units of Germans emerged from the woods to the rear and ran to defend the secondary line of trenches. From there, the final turns of the game became a shoot-out between the two trenches with the Canadian bomb crew and a German rifle squad being nearly eliminated in the firefight. At the final turn, the Canadians had scored a minor yet costly victory by securing the first line of the German trenches for the Allies.

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The Canadian bombing party occupies the first line of trenches

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Germans hold the second line at Vimy Ridge

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Canadians hold the first line for victory

I hadn’t played a WWI game in a couple of years, and the figures and terrain at the club hadn’t hit the table in quite some time either. The Price of Glory rules ran fast, and we were all generally of the opinion it captured the combined fire and morale effects found during the conflict. We also agreed another larger game with a bit more complexity and perhaps some artillery, armor and cavalry would be in order. With many worldwide commemorations this year of the Great War’s 100th anniversary (including an excellent site from the Imperial War Museum), is was good to make time for our own journey back to the Western Front.

Micro Armour: Fielding the GHQ German Kampfgruppe and Panzer IVs

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After getting my initial GHQ 6mm US armored infantry and tank force painted-up a few weeks ago, I’ve moved on to my Germans next. My Axis starter force comes from two GHQ box sets. Ten Panzer IV tanks are included in the Shermans vs. Panzer IVs Battle BoxTo this armor I’ve added the contents of the German Kampfgruppe 1944 box set which includes two towed 20mm Flak guns, two Marder IIIs, two 150mm Bisons, two Sdkfz 10/1 transports, a Kfz 15 command car, a couple horse-drawn wagons, infantry mortars, machine gun teams and a pile of infantry. All together, this gives me a pretty hefty late war German set of models with a solid mix of infantry weapons, tanks, transports and supporting heavy weapons.

IMG_4105GHQ’s Kampfgruppe 1944 Combat Command box set

As with my basic US force in 6mm, I’ve worked up a simple painting method for my Germans. The key is to get an even, thin base coat on the models so tiny details can show through as highlighted areas as I add subsequent colors. Using a magnifier is also a necessity at this scale, and staring at tiny models through the lenses makes painting a downright breeze.

IMG_4111Getting the models and workspace organized is key when working with 6mm

IMG_0599GHQ German infantry, machine guns, Sdkfz 10/11 and Marder IIIs

Painting German Infantry

  1. Glue a small piece of card over the center hole of washers.
  2. Glue models to washer bases.
  3. Basecoat models and bases with white spray primer.
  4. Wash models in a mix of 1 part dark grey, 1 part light grey and 5 parts water.
  5. Paint boots, gun stocks and equipment details dark brown,
  6. Paint hands and faces flesh.
  7. Paint gun barrels and equipment details gun-metal silver.
  8. Paint bases dirt brown.
  9. Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
  10. Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.

 IMG_0603Completed GHQ Panzer IVs

Painting German Armor and Transports

  1. Glue a small piece of card over the center hole of washers.
  2. Glue models to washer bases.
  3. Basecoat models and bases with white spray primer.
  4. Wash models in a mix of 1 part dark grey and 5 parts water.
  5. Lightly coat models in mud brown wash.
  6. Dry brush light grey highlights to models.
  7. Dry brush tracks, machine guns and body details gun-metal silver.
  8. Paint bases dirt brown.
  9. Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
  10. Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.
  11. Paint tire tracks on bases dark brown.

Getting decals applied to the Panzer IVs is finicky, but with some trial and error using my process I did get that last little bit needed to get my Germans rolling onto the table at a very small scale.

IMG_0607GHQ German machine guns

IMG_0605GHQ wagons and 20mm flak guns

IMG_0600GHQ German infantry and Kfz 15 command car

IMG_0601GHQ German infantry and mortar team

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Panzer Lehr Counterattack Campaign – ‘Hauts-Vents’ July 10, 1944 Scenario

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Although the Panzer Lehr Division was held out of action during the Allied D-Day landing at Normandy in June 1944 , they would go on to provide a number of important defensive, delaying and counterattack actions in the months following. They first distinguished themselves in the days immediately after, throwing up a hasty defense at Caen against encroaching British and Canadian forces. After battles at Tilly-sur-Seulles and Villers Bocage in mid-to-late June, the vastly depleted Panzer Lehr Division was called out of the fight. With only a short time to regroup, the war-worn division was ordered west to countetattack he Allied inland progress toward Saint-Lo. While the June battles had run the Germans up against British Commonwealth forces, the July engagements in the hilly fields and bocage-lined roads would be against the armored and infantry forces of the United States.

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Map of the Panzer Lehr Division counterattack in July 1944

(via US Army Center of Military History)

For a few months now at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, we’ve been playing a fair amount of I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules system for World War II. After a number of one-offs and our recent North of Caen game, we finally decided to jump into a mini campaign focusing on the Allied push inland toward St Lo and the German defense following the D-Day landings in  Normandy in June 1944.

SCHeroesofOmahaSkirmish Campaigns  “Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr” scenario book

For our campaign, we’re using the classic Heroes of Omaha and Panzer Lehr scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns. The Skirmish Campaigns series of books offers well-researched and detailed campaign scenarios full of detailed orders of battle, terrain layout maps and deeply descriptive narrative of how actual engagements unfolded during World War II. With just a little bit of work, the Skirmish Campaigns scenarios are easily adaptable to a variety of wargaming rules and scales including Battleground, Bolt Action, Flames of War and I Ain’t Been Shot Mum.

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Scenario set-up with two small houses as objectives at the middle of the table set amid rolling hills, small farms and thick bocage

The scenario at Hauts-Vents is set up on a long table with hills rolling into a valley from either end. Roads cross the table among fields lined with heavy bocage hedgerows. At the center of the table are two farmhouse objectives that are the focus of the US mission. All German platoons are deployed on blinds nearly everywhere on the table, accepting the northeast corner from which the US advance begins.

My Germans deployed on blinds with a Pak 40, a Sdkfz 10/1 and an artillery spotter for the off-board 105mm artillery deployed around a farmhouse atop Hill 91 on the southern end of the table. German rifle platoons armed with Panzerfausts deployed in blinds in and around the objective farmhouses. One platoon also had a MG42 and another contained a Panzerschrek anti-tank team. To block the predicted US advance, one road was blocked with barbed wire and another was laid with mines.

The American blinds moved in straight in column along the road sloping down toward the valley. Heading the advance was a US recon platoon led by an M8 Greyhound armored car. Three platoons of mechanized infantry loaded up in half tracks and a platoon of Sherman tanks fell into line behind.

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A US recon Greyhound at the head of the column exposes barbed wire laid to block passage on the road to the objectives

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The recon unit moves to overlook the German position near the objective house as US half tracks roll into position

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 German infantry move out of the house to engage the US infantry

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Germans use their last Panzerfausts to destroy the remaining half track and its crew

The first few turns progressed quickly with the US column moving down the road under blinds while the Germans quietly defended from concealed positions. The lead Greyhound revealed the barbed wire blocking the road, forcing the first platoon of half tracks off the road toward the first objective. Closing in on the house, the German position was revealed and the Germans quickly destroyed two half tracks and their mounted infantry with shots from Panzerfausts. In subsequent turns, the US commander jumped from his vehicle and was followed in by the final half track which was also destroyed. With the lone US commander in the position, the Germans assaulted taking casualties before eliminating all Americans from the disastrous head-on assault on the objective.

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 The column of US Shermans and infantry mounted in half tracks rush down the road

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German 105mm artillery rains in from off the table wreaking havoc on the US column

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A German Pak 40 and Sdkfz 10/1 break their cover on Hill 91 to engage the paralyzed American column

As the first platoon of US infantry fell, the remainder of the column ran into problems of their own. The Shermans attempted a push into the field off the road but two of the three quickly bogged in the rain-soaked ground. With the Shermans stalled and the rest of the column bunched-up on the road, an off-board German 105mm artillery barrage made a direct hit to the US line. As a result, the tanks took severe damage to their sights, main guns and mobility. Infantry jumped from their half tracks and one platoon took immediate fire from German MG42s hidden in the bocage across the nearby field. As the Americans desperately attempted to spread out and move to cover, additional rounds of fire from the Pak 40 and Sdkfz 10/1 on the far hill continued to pour shots into the remnants of the burning US column.

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 US reinforcements arrive at the house and advance on the defending German left

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Germans attempt to hold the flank at the objective

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Smoke is laid down in front of the German position on Hill 91 to cover the US advance

IMG_4245A late game push up Hill 91 by the US Greyhound leaves it in flames

The survivors from the US column swiftly moved to position themselves for another round of assaults on the German position. Two surviving Shermans unbogged and rolled to position along the bocage, destroying the MG42 positions along the way. US infantry rushed in along both flanks of the German survivors at the farmhouse who were quickly reduced to a single operable fire team. US mortars followed up with a directly aimed smoke bombardment in front of the German guns on the hill, providing invaluable cover for the American ground advance. Pressure from the advancing Greyhound forced the Sdkfz 10/1 to fall back late in the game. As the armored car breached the crest of the hill, a quick shot from the Pak 40 eliminated it. Unfortunately for the Germans, this was one of their last bits of glory for the game.

IMG_4242German defenders get routed at the first objective during close assault and fall back

IMG_4243The last platoon of German defenders get spotted at the second objective

IMG_4244The final objective falls to the Americans as the German defenders are caught in combined infantry and artillery fire

Back at the two objectives, the US moved hard toward victory. A close assault at the first house sent the survivors of two German fire teams running for the rear with heavy casualties and all but eliminated from the game. With that, one lone German platoon was exposed at the second house objective, and all US focus turned toward them. Two turns of heavy US artillery strikes and small arms fire from the bocage across the road laid waste to all but a few of the last Germans holding out. With the US Shermans still working their way on the German left and US infantry closing on the front, my Germans threw up their hands in defeat.

The first day of battle at Hauts-Vents went to the Americans, but as dark was drawing near, another battle was already looming before dawn as more Germans rushed to the defense.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: North of Caen 1944 Scenario

BritsCaen1944The city of Caen presented a big target during the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. One of the larger cities in the region of the invasion, it also occupied an important series of crossroads straddling the Orne River. Less than ten miles from the British Commonwealth forces landing zone of Sword Beach, Caen was a target for British and Canadians wading ashore on June 6th. Despite a relatively easy landing at the beach, Allies with their eye on Caen were met with a hastily-organized armored counterattack from the German 21st Panzer Division. By the end of the day, the British sat just halfway to their objective and Caen remained in Axis control.

CaenMap1944Map of the Battle for Caen, July 8-9 1944

Over the next two months, the area around Caen became a bogged-down front as Anglo-Canadian forces positioned themselves around the city. The eventual capture of the city on August 6th was costly for all involved. The ancient city was nearly leveled with Allied bombing campaigns and much of the French civilian population fled. The British forces suffered around 50,000 casualties, a devastating loss of men and equipment for British commander Bernard Montgomery. With the costly British victory, it had achieved not only the occupation of Caen but had also provided an enormous distraction for German forces which suffered even greater losses than the Allies.

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This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, a couple of us ran through a non-historical scenario typical of the British-Germany engagements just north of Caen in early July 1944. The “North of Caen” scenario is provided in the basic rule book for I Ain’t Been Shot Mum, the fantastic company-level World War II game that has fast become a favorite for some of us at the club.

Caen1British infantry advance through an orchard under blinds north of Caen

The small infantry engagement is set in the fictional hamlet of Le Moulin on a table of flat, open terrain with fields, orchards, low hedge rows and five stone buildings set at a crossroads. The game begins with three British infantry platoons entering from the north under blinds after an initial off-board artillery bombardment of the Germans dug under in around the farm and crossroads. The objective of the game is for the Germans to eliminate the British advance while the British are tasked with seizing four of the five buildings or otherwise eliminating the German troops.

Caen2A British rifle platoon takes heavy German MG42 fire and is pinned behind a barn

Following my initial bombardment, my British advanced under blinds for a few turns through the orchard northeast of the crossroads. The German blinds positioned themselves in a wood at the crossroads and in a small orchard southwest of the hamlet. Three of my blinds moved toward cover to my left behind a barn while my third false blind moved toward the road. My first blind was spotted behind the barn by a German platoon armed with three rifle sections and a deadly MG42. With the Germans deploying in a nearby barn and within the orchard, they opened up on the British rifles. With not enough cover behind the small barn, one British rifle section was all but eliminated in the first round of fire.

Caen4A British platoon runs bravely under a blind across an open field between two barns

The British survivors behind the barn returned fire, firing their rifles and 2″ mortar into the Germans in the orchards and nearby barn. In the meantime, my false blind was revealed as a second British platoon slipped to the hedge to the other side of the barn. Firing at the Germans from each side of the barn, the MG42 was forced to retreat back south of the crossroads. But the damage had been done to my first platoon at the barn, and two fire teams fell back to the orchard leaving one safely inside the barn. Sensing a brief opening, my final blind sprinted across the wide open field between the barn.

Caen3The British blind is exposed, take fire and break for hedge in the distance

Midway through the field, the German rifles in the second barn spotted and revealed my blind, slowing their run and forcing them to deploy in the open. The final German blind revealed itself among the buildings west of the crossroads. My fresh British platoon hopped the hedges and likewise crossed to the west of the road, opening fire at the Germans in the building just the other side of a small orchard. Subsequent turns of fire were exchanged and my British losses started to pile up on my right.

Back at the field on the British left, combined rifle and mortar fire poured into the Germans in the barn. Despite shock stocking up on the Germans, their position in the barn allowed great enough cover allowing them to slowly begin wearing down the exposed British platoon which became pinned from movement. With British taking losses to the right and less against well-protected Germans in the heavy stone buildings, it was not working out as a good day for the British who ceded the tiny hamlet to the Germans. More costly days were to come after this day just north of Caen, but a month off there would be victory for the British.

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.

Metropolitan Wargamers D-Day Plus 70 Event Report

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This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, dozens of gamers came together for three days commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Throughout the weekend, we ran multiple WWII-themed games, including Normandy ’44, I Ain’t Been Shot Mum, Flames of War, World In Flames and Memoir ’44. Dice were rolled, strategies were debated, prizes were won and Allied and Axis forces vied for control of France. In all, it was another great weekend full of gaming at our club’s space in the heart of Brooklyn.

Friday Games

IMG_3586The invasion of France begins with Normandy ’44 at Metropolitan Wargamers

Friday kicked off after work with a few players unpacking a fresh copy of the classic Normandy ’44 from GMT Games. This one-map game covers the pre-dawn D-Day Airborne landing areas, five Allied invasion beaches and the charge to the initial inland objectives. The game scale plays with regiments and battalions with each turn representing one day of action. The small, self-contained game provides a great introduction to game mechanics at this scale with a tight, clear rules set. With a quick look at the game, I decided I’m going to have to personally give this one a shot sometime soon.

IMG_3587 US infantry blinds move toward unsuspecting German defenders at a farm outside Vierville

At the back of the club, we ran a game of our new favorite WWII tactical miniatures game, IABSM  from Too Fat Lardies. In our ongoing campaign of the Normandy scenarios in the IABSM Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book, our game focused on the battle at Vierville-sur-Mer. With the 116th Infantry Division supported by the 5th Ranger Batallion, the Allied mission was to drive inland to capture and defend the church at Vierville.

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German and US units exchange fire in and around the farm at Vierville

As per the scenario, initial Allied blinds approach a farm outside Vierville where a German blind sits unknowingly in the complex of buildings. With Allied infantry closing in over dense bocage hedgerows and orchards, a firefight erupted and drove the German defenders through the buildings and into the orchard beyond.

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German reserves arrive at the flanks of the advancing US infantry outside Vierville

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Germans reinforcements push the Americans from the farm

As the first force of Germans fled the farm, their reinforcing comrades came on to the rear and flank of the US infantry. The Americans made consecutive moves of firing and moving back to defend at a series of stone walls across the road from the farm. The retreating defensive US actions held off the German onslaught until enough Americans could take up position amid Vierville’s houses. At the same time, the US Rangers moved in at the far end of town to hold the objective at the church.

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Americans pull back from the farm to take position in Vierville

The game eventually settled into a bloody house-to-house and hedge-to-hedge fight along the road leading toward the church. Occasional lucky shots from US Ranger light machine guns at the church also harassed the Germans lying low behind their stone wall position at the farm’s orchard. By midnight, much of the initial American force had been destroyed or was retreating to a final stand at the church held by the Rangers. While the Germans had also lost a sizable amount of their force, their heavy machine guns were still in play as they closed in through the town. This time around, we called the action at Vierville a draw.

Saturday Games

IMG_3603The Americans hit the Easy Green sector of Omaha Beach

The next day kicked-off with a running of a FOW beach landing at Easy Green on Omaha Beach. We have been play testing the FOW scenario over the past two months, tweaking our forces and strategies to cope with the clumsy beach landing rules. In our past games, the US invaders only manage to win about a third of the time. Even so, we decided no D-Day weekend was complete without a return to “Bloody Omaha” on one of the club’s award-winning sand tables.

IMG_3604German defenders hold their positions behind a burning bunker

The opening turns found a lot of US boats on the beach and a quick push to the seawall. So early combined arms fire managed to destroy the main bunker at the beach, but the battle was far from over. The initial US push followed on to the left of the beach, but multiple turns at clearing the barbed wire stalled the advance as the Americans took heavy fire.

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American armor and artillery follow-up the infantry landings

As US armor arrived, several tanks managed to drive off the beach to the minefield position to lay down fire on the German trenches. One tank wound up spending three turns bobbing in the surf offshore only to arrive and bog for two more turns on the beach. As this most inexperienced tank crew in Normandy struggled, the other Shermans took fire from German rockets and reserve tank platoon which rolled to bulk up the beach defense. American artillery also arrived but proved pretty ineffective to the Germans at the trenches. Wave after wave of US infantry pushed to the trenches, eliminating most of the defenders but never managing to clear the barbed wire lines to seize the German position. At the final turn, the Americans just hadn’t made enough headway to control the beach.

IMG_3627World In Flames continued over D-Day weekend

With action raging on the sand table, a group of club members showed up to continue playing their massive World In Flames game. Australian Design Group’s WIF from 1985 is the standard in grand-scale strategic fighting of the entire WWII period. The game’s rich playable detail, dizzying number of 1400 playing counters and sprawling maps makes it a commitment for only the most experienced gamers over many months of play.

IMG_3630Allied forces push from the beaches inland to Caen in Normandy ’44

The Normandy ’44 game from the evening before concluded with a decisive Allied victory Saturday afternoon. Pushing the Germans back from all but Utah Beach, the Allies captured Bayeux and several smaller towns. With German defenders routed from roads leading inland from the landing beaches, the victors rolled in to control half of Caen by the game’s end.

IMG_3625No one was going hungry at Metropolitan Wargamers over the weekend

Saturday also included a lot of other club members down for the usual variety of board, Euro and card games, making for a packed house. As the crowd rolled in, a longtime club member showed up with an enormous fresh-caught fish which he proceeded to gut with a huge military-style knife. With fish on the grill and food ordered in, there was plenty of food to sustain the crowd of gamers throughout the day.

We all took a mid-afternoon break to dice-off in a game, books, DVD and miniatures raffle to raise funds for the club. I was fortunate to score a copy of A Few Acres of Snow from Treefrog Games, and another lucky person picked up an unused copy of out-of-print the Games Workshop classic Dreadfleet.

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Initial deployment of Allied and Axis blinds in our Saturday evening IABSM scenario

As the main crowd thinned out, we ran an evening IABSM game continuing the assault beyond Easy Green. The scenario found initial US forces deployed around a small French farm with the objective of moving men off the table on the roads beyond. The Germans were tasked with preventing the American advance and seizing the farmhouse stronghold.

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Settling in for a contested fight at the farmhouse above Omaha Beach

Using initial blind deployment, Germans quickly moved to the farm along thick hedgerows as the Americans drove into the building for cover. Turns followed with the Americans jumping from cover to fire on the dwindling German force which returned fire over the hedges to unfortunate US infantry hanging out in the open. A US flamethrower attack from the window of the farmhouse decimated another German squad sitting close behind a nearby hedge. Pressing their luck, a group from the farmhouse made a run for the road exit only to be stalled by a reinforcing German heavy machine gun squad. Returning fire, the German MG42s were eliminated from their position in the open field. However, the damage had been done. Although the Germans had not captured the farm objective, the Americans no longer had a sufficient force to push off the table. The night ended with a German victory beyond Easy Green.

Sunday Games

IMG_3620The war continues on the Memoir ’44 Hedgerow Hell battle map

With the first days of Operation Overlord behind us, Sunday’s game focused on the breakout actions. A couple visiting players showed up for the club’s Memoir ’44 game around noon on Sunday. Using the wide Hedgerow Hell expansion map, the Allies beat the scenario odds to win the game in the Overlord scenario. There was much talk of getting larger games of Memoir ’44 back in rotation at the club soon, so hopefully getting the game back on the table will bring some renewed interest in the coming months.

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The initial armored encounter outside Lingevres leaves British tanks in flames

I finished off my weekend as the British at Lingevres using the same scenario I first ran at the club a few months ago. The mission ahead for the Brits was to move into the heavily defended town and take two of the buildings. Historically, the battle played out as a tank duel between UK Sherman Firefly and German Panther tanks, and our game this past weekend played out in a similar way.

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A Panther meets its end at the hand of the British Royal Artillery as a close assault is attempted on another in the woods nearby

At the outset, my first platoon of tanks got a bit overly aggressive and charged into contact with the full Panther platoon at the farm outside Lingevres. With the first Firefly destroyed in the opening turns, my remaining Shermans pulled back as the Panthers rattled to the middle of the field to hold off UK infantry advancing through the woods and bocage-lined fields beyond. One Panther bogged on a hedgerow and another was destroyed in an initial volley from the Royal Artillery in the fields outside town. Several turns became ensnared in attempted infantry assaults on the third Panther in the woods, but eventually the German tank rolled away to deal with the building reinforcing infantry and tank platoon in the fields on the other side of the table.

IMG_3622British Shermans and infantry break across a field toward Lingevres

With the Panthers moving away, fresh British infantry and the surviving Shermans moved to the farm and fields beyond. British artillery fire winnowed and pinned the German platoon in the church over several turns. Artillery fire also sought to keep the reinforcing German spotter pinned to limit the effectiveness of the reserve Nebelwerfer battery which as delayed reserves to the rear of Lingevres.

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The duel between the Panther and Firefly ends with the British tank in flames as the remaining Shermans destroy a Panzer IV platoon in the distance

In the meantime, a multi-turn tank duel had settled in between a lone Firefly and Panther while a reinforcing Panzer IV platoon arrived at the edge of town. Both tank groups traded fire, and in the end, the Panzers were routed with two or their three destroyed and the Firefly fell to the Panther’s gun. Back at the farm field, Shermans traded fire with Pak 40s and destroyed an anti-aircraft platoon defending the town’s flank. With two Panthers left on either side of the church, Shermans on each side of town and advancing British infantry, we called the game a draw.

 Weekend Debrief

After more than 20 hours of gaming over two nights and days, I was pretty worn out, but the interest in the D-Day event had made the weekend well worth it. WWII still holds enormous interest to this day, as demonstrated not only by our weekend of gaming but by the mainstream media’s coverage of D-Day over the week leading up. In the next week, we’re kicking off an FOW Infantry Aces campaign with fresh forces hitting the tables in rounds of Italy-themed WWII games. This fall we’ll be playing out some Market Garden battles and by the winter we hope to host some Battle of the Bulge engagements. It was a pretty special weekend in Brooklyn, but for regular visitors to Metropolitan Wargamers, there’s always the next game in this very unique New York City community.

New Game Weekend: I Ain’t Been Shot Mum

IABSMbook

As a World War II gamer, I have a newly-discovered love for a game which doubles my gaming possibilities with all the time and money I’ve  got invested in the 15mm Flames of War game which is the modern standard for the period. The past two weekends at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, I’ve been turned on to I Ain’t Been Shot Mum which is billed as “the other World War II miniatures game. For gamers with a lot of miniatures on hand and a hankering to play WWII at a different and more historical level, IABSM is well worth it.

TFLlogoNow in its third edition, IABSM has been published since 2002 by Too Fat Lardies, UK-based makers of a number of wargaming rules systems for a variety of historical periods. Overall, the game provides WWII wargamers with a simple, sleek set of skirmish rules that focuses far less on fielding shiny models and more on tactical decisions on the tabletop. IABSM is a true “what you see is what you get” system with a 1:1 scale at 15mm but easily adaptable to other model scales. One guy on the table equals one soldier in the field during battle, taking the game down to a level that really “feels” like commanding a group of troops. The smaller, less abstract scale of IABSM games provides a lot less “gaminess” to the systems, and relies a lot more on the decision-making skill of players commanding forces on each side. In many ways, the game is a throwback to original Kriegsspiel invented for use in Prussian army training two hundred years ago.

IABSMcardsSample cards from I Ain’t Been Shot Mum from Too Fat Lardies

The core rules of IABSM retail at under $20, and provide a number of basic underlying mechanics easily usable in any battle or theater of WWII. As an avid FOW player who is often faced with hundreds of pages of more grand-scale rules, army lists and ongoing modifications, the elegance of the skirmish-level IABSM comes down to five main areas:

1. Random Activation: Rather than playing by a simple “I go, you go” turn-based mechanic, IABSM games are powered by a set of cards which randomly activate deployed troops in the field. At the beginning of the game, a deck of cards is shuffled with each card representing a unit in the game. Cards are drawn and units are activated in turn, with units choosing a number of actions based on their quality. Highly-trained US Airborne troops may have four actions when activated, while less elite regulars may only have three. Actions include movement, firing, spotting the enemy and many other activities which makes commanding a unit’s turn one of many possible choices. Cards are added to the deck as new units arrive and removed if a unit is destroyed. Drawing a “tea break” card ends the turn with one final round of shooting for available inactivated units before the cards are shuffled a new turn begins.

2. Morale: Troop morale is nearly as important as firepower on actual battlefields. A well-armed but rattled group of soldiers may prove to be nearly ineffective in the field without some stalwart command leading the way. IABSM offers several levels of morale with pinning, shock and suppression which progressively eats into how effective a particular force can perform on the table. When being shot at, a simple table resolves possible kills as well as whether a unit is progressively shocked into poorer performance in subsequent turns or entirely immobilized due to overwhelming fire.

3. Command: Commanding and junior officers in IABSM are represented as “big men,” with individual cards allowing for their separate officer actions to drive gameplay. Through proximity or attachment to their forces, commanders can greatly affect morale by clearing shock from troops and boosting their strength in subsequent exchanges with the enemy. The presence of command also doubles the chance of troop activation, as a drawn “big man” card can press an attached unit into action without its own card being drawn.

4. Blinds: In real-world combat, knowing the enemy position through intelligence, observation or contact is almost as important as the engagements that result. While many miniatures games present an open table where nearly everything is known from the get-go, IABSM preserves a “fog of war” element with the deployment of “blinds” on the table. Represented by oval-shaped markers, blinds are able to move around the table without revealing their actual make-up. Thus, a player might move a small unit, a large platoon or even a false blind containing no troops around the table without the enemy knowing its true make-up until revealed. This allows players to add an element of diversion to the game, as an enemy way burn up several turns chasing a ghost across the table as real forces jockey into position.

5. The Game Referee: One of the hallmarks of wargames until recent decades was an all-seeing, all-controlling game referee. As a non-player, the referee not only provides clarifications on rules and contested play on the table, but they also are able to maintain a level of secrecy between each player as a scenario unfolds. The game can be played without a referee, but the presence of one adds yet another depth of to the “fog of war” randomness employed already with blinds and random card activation.

WTHbook

Beyond the base rules, Too Fat Lardies offers a number of IABSM scenario and guide books for Europe, Italy, North Africa and the Pacific. General lists allow for the creation of custom scenarios, but I really like the historically-specific books. The past two weekends, I played the first two games in the D-Day-themed Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book which contains over twenty scenarios from Omaha and Utah beaches to the inland. Following the United States advance and subsequent German counterattacks, each scenario lays out a simple briefing for the German and US players along with a referee sheet, terrain map and a guide to forces and cards needed for play.

IMG_3554“Protect The Guns” scenario set-up for IABSM

IABSMGameScenes from the German defense above Pointe du Hoc in “Protect The Guns”

My first game — “Protect The Guns” — saw me playing as the defending Germans looking to hold off the Allied advance from Pointe du Hoc with a couple heavy machine guns, snipers and some off-board artillery. One of the remarkable things about IABSM is the vast amount of space represented on the table, making decisions of movement and firing  very important. My artillery was also very unreliable, representing some of the German communication challenges come alive. That said, with only a few men at my disposal, I was able to stave off and force the Americans to redirect through constant harassing fire until their reinforcements entered under a blind at my rear. With one of my machine guns and both snipers finally destroyed, the last of my Germans found themselves pinched on two sides of more-skilled US troops who took the game.

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“Holding The Pointe” scenario set-up from IABSM

In “Holding The Pointe,” my Germans were on the counter-offensive and looking to push the Americans back into the sea. With all my forces deployed at the game’s start and all American units under blinds, my Germans began in overwhelmed confusion. This disadvantage made the game play so much more like the actual action in Normandy as German forces scrambled to head-off the Allied attack inland. Rather than focus my attack, I made the poor gamble of splitting myself to chase two sets of US targets. By the time a large force of German reinforcements arrived in the seventh turn, my initial force had gotten chewed-up in a series of stand-off firefights amidst the thick bocage near my original deployment. My divided force tactics were ultimately my undoing, and I’m certain a more textbook massed attack may very well have giving me a greater shot at victory.

With a couple of games under our belts, we’re going to continue right through the IABSM D-Day scenarios and beyond. We’ve managed our games without a referee so far through some really good fair play, but we’re anxious to try some scenarios with the referee element. Overall, the up-close feel for command and the heightened tactical realism in IABSM has given me a second WWII game to love at the 15mm scale.

Flames of War: Omaha Beach “Easy Green” 1944 Scenario

OmahaBeachSandwiched between tall bluffs on either end, a five-mile stretch of Normandy coastline was designated Omaha Beach near the center of the Allied D-Day landings on June 6th, 1944. Landing at Omaha was the relatively fresh US 29th Infantry Division. With British and Canadian troops landing on beaches to the left and other US men landing at Omaha Beach to the right, the 40,000 Americans at Omaha met with the highest rate of casualties of the day with some 3,000 falling in the French surf and sand.

OmahaEasyGreen“Easy Green” sector on Omaha Beach, Normandy 1944

Lying in wait at Omaha was a mix of green recruits and older veterans in the German 352nd Infantry Division. Dug in at the coast in a wall of pillboxes, bunkers, gun pits and trenches, the German men (and unknown number of boys) met the US invaders with a storm of machine gun, artillery, mortar and rocket fire. For the US, little went right as landing craft drifted off course and special floating DD M4 Sherman tanks were swamped and sank offshore. Only through improvised efforts and a slow, methodical pace under withering fire did the American infantry finally make it through the German lines to control the beach by the close of the day.

EasyGreenFOWMap set-up for the Flames of War “Easy Green” scenario

In preparation for our upcoming D-Day Plus 70 weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY on June 6th-8th, a couple of us have been playing out beach landing practice games. Flames of War offers a specific outline for coastal assaults with their “Hit The Beach” rules, but we’ve found them to be very difficult to play with US invaders losing more often than not. Last summer we ran through our first beach landing on one of the club’s sand tables with a Utah Beach “Easy Red” scenario in which the US failed horribly. Since then we’ve been studying up, tweaking our forces and diving deep into the particular rules for a tabletop beach landing game.

German352

29thinf

This past week we ran through the Omaha Beach “Easy Green” scenario to what was probably our most evenly matched and played game to date. The scenario sticks pretty closely to the situation at Easy Green with one beach exit road guarded by lines of barbed wire, trenches, mines and anti-tank obstacles. Finally, a combined defense of heavy machine guns, a 5 cm KwK 39 gun bunkered at the coast and Nebelwerfer rockets at the rear provide a daunting nut for the US infantry to crack. For our game, my German opponent was able to field forces as outlined in the published FOW scenario but I had to modify my American list slightly to fit my model collection. Even with slight changes, our final lists had the US at a few more points stronger than the Germans as per the mission outline and the game rules.

IMG_3452The first US boats land and platoons rush ashore

After an initial US naval bombardment which destroyed one stand of German infantry, my boats and DD tanks headed for the beach. In the initial wave, one DD tank sank in the water offshore and one boat was delayed in the bouncing surf. With two platoons of US infantry on French ground, they made way for the barb-wired seawall. Further down the beach to the right, my three surviving Shermans rolled to the one exit causeway from the beach.

IMG_3453DD Sherman tanks make it across the beach toward the exit ramp

In the opening salvo from the Germans, rocket fire came in from the rear of the table as entrenched guns fired from the beach defensive lines. US troops did well with dice roll saves and lost just a few teams before ending the turn pinned high on the beach.

IMG_3454German Nebelwerfers sit atop a hill overlooking the Allied objective

In the next couple turns, landing craft continued to meet mixed success in landing and stalling on the sea. Luckily, most boats didn’t drift too far down the beach, allowing me to execute my general plan of running infantry to the left while my tanks dealt with the heavier nests and pillbox to the center and right. One tank bogged in the sand but the other two rolled over the barbed wire to take up position at the line of minefields, sending fire into the Tobruk nests and gun bunker. A couple turns in, the bunker was in flames and the German machine guns had been dealt with. The way was clearing for the US infantry to push inward.

IMG_3455The 5 cm KwK burns in its bunker as US troops push over the seawall

IMG_3456DD tanks struggle through the coastal defenses and take heavy combined fire

With several US platoons whittled-down in their struggle through several tiers of barbwire, one platoon of German infantry arrived and made way for the row houses near the objective and remaining rockets on the hill. In the open, the Germans took fire from naval guns but most survived to find shelter in the buildings. Back on the beach, my final US reserves of M7 Priests landed at the center of the beach and one heavy machine gun section tramped forward at the extreme left. With these late arrivals so far back from the main action, it was up to the forces already inland to get the job done.

IMG_3475German defenders rain mortar and machine gun fire into oncoming US troops

IMG_3476With German defenders destroyed at the beach, the 29th Infantry Division hustles inland

With the major defenses eliminated at the beach, the Shermans turned their machine guns on the remaining German infantry manning the trench line high on the central hill. At the same time, US infantry began pushing into the German position after spending turns alternately being pinned by rocket and mortar fire, removing barbwire and shooting back with light machine gun, rifle and direct mortar fire. Despite their losses, the combined arms of my US troops really shined, as was often the fateful experience of their German opponents 70 years ago.

As the game moved into the second-to-last turn, the Americans were ultimately just too far away and too weakened to make the final push to the objective still held by the remaining German infantry comfortably defending from the nearby houses. It had been a pretty even match, but timing was everything. Luckily for the Allies on June 6th, 1944, the only limits on the day’s outcome at “Bloody Omaha” was the grit and dedication of the storm of humanity hitting the beach.