Flames of War: Modelling Western European Terrain in 15mm

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I’ve had a lot of great feedback from the past year of posting after action reports for Flames of War games. Fellow players have been universally complimentary on the layout of my terrain used in my scenarios. With that, I’m increasingly being asked questions about the make of my models, where I buy them and how I achieve some of the other rerrain modelled  in my games.

Modelling terrain, like any aspect of miniatures wargaming, has to take into account the three main factors of skill, budget and time commitment. I find myself somewhere in the middle of all three categories, and I feel my level of personal investment in my terrain modelling is reflective of this. One of the many benefits of belonging to a club like Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY is the opportunity to share in our massed collections of terrain and create some pretty impressive-looking games.

As a longtime miniatures hobbyist with a passion for scale modelling, I wanted to share a quick round up of the current state of my 15mm terrain collection I use for Flames of War. To date, my FOW gaming has focused on the European Western Front, so the vast majority of my terrain focuses on buildings and other features appropriate for France, the Low Countries and Western Germany. All that said, let’s take a European tour in miniature…

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Any small town or rural tabletop Western European battlefield needs buildings — barns, houses, shops and cafes — not only for visual appeal, but to provide covering positions and even possible objectives during game play. FOW offers a fine line of pre-painted buildings but I find them to be a bit on the expensive side and toy-like. I also like to paint, so breaking up modelling little tanks and soldiers with some miniature real estate projects makes for a nice change to hobbying routine.

Last year I discovered the cast resin terrain produced by Mark IV Miniatures. As a second-generation wargamer, the owner of Mark IV obviously invests a great deal of care to his Western and Eastern front models. All the buildings come with removable multiple stories and roofs, making their use in FOW gaming a breeze. I just acquired my second set of models from Mark IV (ordered from Musket Miniatures), giving me a number of houses, barns and shops which I set close together as a village center or spread out for use in the countryside. For my towns, I also have a set of Mark IV  walls, a cobblestone courtyard and nifty fountain monument model. At about $18-24 per model, Mark IV’s offerings are my hands-down favorite in miniature buildings.

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With so many Mark IV models on my shelf, I wanted to add in a few more commercial structures representing stores or cafes common to European towns small and large. The excellent Model Dads UK blog recently reviewed the 15mm town shop models from Games of War. Based on a shop in Caen, the GOW shops come in three different pre-painted varieties for about $24 each shipped from the UK.

The GOW buildings scale nicely with my Mark IV models, and just a little work weathering the existing paint blends them nicely into the streetscape. I also added some signage and posters to the exterior walls, bringing a bit more sense of liveliness to the townscape.

IMG_3111Painting Mark IV and Games of War buildings

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The first 15mm buildings I ever bought were from JR Miniatures. An old standby in the hobby, JR offers a wide variety of scales and themes for eveything from Ancients to Historicals to Sci Fi. I have a small, roughly-cast farmhouse and outbuildings from JR which I use as area terrain. Overall, I find JR’s buildings to be a bit less crisp in detail than those from Mark IV and GOW, and many buildings don’t open for placement of figures.

Last year, I picked up a basic JR European stone bridge at a convention for about $14. The simplicity of the model made it easy to paint with a few stone-colored dry-brushed layers of paint. The model stretches over just about every river running through my gaming tables, and I may very well pick up another bridge in a different design from them soon.

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On the higher end of the terrain options, I’ve always had a thing for the Miniature Building Authority. MBA’s extensive 15mm European line comes pre-painted with lift-off sections to place units in the buildings or model them as destroyed structures. They also carry some rather unique structures and large set-pieces like a multiple-model farm complex or full train depot set-piece.

My brother and his gaming friends have been collecting MBA buildings for years, buying a few buildings a year and sharing in their collection. Taking their gradual approach, I recently started small and ordered a couple of their shops and a large, beautiful hotel model for my collection. Over time, I hope to add more from MBA and grow toward larger, more urban scenarios.

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Laying out a gaming table almost always necessitates having roads. I bought some rubberized roads years ago at a convention which suit rural unpaved areas well. A small town or rural setting requires having paved streets, and cobblestones provide a suitable road surface for Western Europe at the time of WWII.

I experimented with stone-textured papers and looked at rubberized stone streets, but none of them provided the depth or the solidity inherent in a stone road. Finally, I’ve bitten the bullet and invested in a set of the FOW cobblestone roads  at a slight discount from a seller on eBay. With a total of more than 6-feet of pre-painted cast resin roads, the box has given me what I think to be plenty roadway for my tanks to rumble down.

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Trees are one of the standard needs for any miniatures wargaming table in any era. Several wargaming manufacturers offer boxes of pre-made tree stands and bases for around $35-40 for maybe a dozen trees. I choose to go the economic bulk route and make my own using trees, flocking and modelling details from Woodland Scenics. For about $75 I’ve been able to make more than enough to fill even the largest battlefields.

IMG_3040Tree-making assembly line

Using two different sized trees from the WS Ready Made Trees Value Pack line, I first glued groups of 2-3 trees to cork coasters picked up at a craft store. On top of the spray-painted green coaster bases, I apply white glue and sprinkles of gravel of varying sizes in random places. After dry, another coat of glue to the remainder of the bases is then flocked with a basic green grass flocking. A few twigs and larger rocks glued here and there add some more depth to the little mini-scenes on each base.

IMG_3041Applying white glue to the tree bases before flocking

Bases are finished off with coarse clumped foliage to represent bushes and undergrowth. Mixing colors of the trees and foliage provides a realistic look. Gravel and larger rocks get hit with some brown washes to tone down the glaring brightness of the paths and piles on each base. All my work is done assembly line style in stages over an old baking sheet so excess flock and gravel shaken from the bases can go back in their containers to use again. When finished, I hit the bases with a matte spray to hold everything in place. In just a few hours time, my model forest on some 30 bases is ready to provide cover for any troops seeking concealment from enemy fire.

IMG_3156Completed homemade trees

Putting it all together, a dozen buildings, cobblestone roads, a bridge and a bunch of my homemade trees gives me more than enough terrain to present rural and town landscapes in Western Europe. Adding in some river sections, dirt roads and fields from fellow club members completes the look of just about any inland battle scenario in Normandy. Check out the pictures below of the results, and keep an eye on my after action reports for future glimpses into my tiny tabletop fields of battle.

IMG_3161Farm complex with Mark IV buildings and walls, JR Mini bridge and FOW fields and river

IMG_3159Games of War shops with added weathering and signage

IMG_3162Row of Mark IV buildings

IMG_3160Mark IV buildings and monument

IMG_3158Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

IMG_3157Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

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Flames of War: Aalst 1944 Scenario

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The ultimately unsuccessful week-long Operation Market Garden commenced on September 17, 1944 with an Allied push toward Germany. The ground “Market” portion of the campaign saw the British Guards Armoured Division taking point on the push into the Low Countries.

On the second day of the operation, a column of the Guards Armoured had rolled to the southern outskirts of Aalst, a Belgian town occupied by German forces since 1940. Led by Col. Joe Vandeleur, the division’s tanks encountered the remnants of German troops and guns which were dug in but heavily-damaged by the previous day’s Allied air bombings and artillery barrages. For the Germans, Aalst was a line in the sand protecting the Allied advance northeast to Antwerp and  the Netherlands beyond. For the Allies, keeping the long column of armour moving was key to reinforcing the Allied airborne troops already engaged with German forces along several bridges.

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY we ran the Aalst scenario for Flames of War with 2000-point forces on either side of the table. We pulled our British and German lists from the Market Garden and Bridge By Bridge books. As a jumping off point for the game’s outline, we referenced an Aaalst scenario originally designed for Battlefront. We planned a 10-turn game with points scored for destroyed platoons and an immediate end to the game when the British rolled a platoon off the German-defended north end of the table.

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German set-up at Aalst

As per the actual situation at Aalst in 1944, the Germans began setting up with half their force heavily dug in just north of the town’s center. Deadly 8.8 cm Flak guns were positioned on roads to their right and left flanks, and 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank guns stood closer to town. Infantry and heavy machine gun platoons hunkered down in the fields just outside of town, and a single Jagdpanther idled nearby. Expecting both ground and possible air forces, the German guns were well-prepared for the arriving British.

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German 88’s dug in at the northeast and northwest ends of town

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British set-up at Aalst

The British laid out their 8-gun 25 pdr battery at the rear of the table and rolled on two platoons from the Guards with Joe Vandeleur attached. Spotters for the artillery were deployed in Shermans to the right and left hoping to provide eyes across the entire table for. Towed 6 pdr anti-tank guns, infantry, machine gunners and additional tanks lay in reserve off-table to follow the initial wave of armour. The plan was to use Vandeleur’s special rules to rush tanks to the center of the table, saturate the Germans with artillery fire and pave the way from additional supporting platoons.

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 Vandeleur leads the Guards into position behind the town

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German infantry and Pagdpanther make for the church at the center of Aalst

In the first two turns, the Guards quickly rolled up to take position behind the town to the south with their Vickers machine gun platoon riding on the tanks. The British artillery spotter hopped from his Sherman tank and ran for back door of a building. The Germans made way to the north of town with infantry looking to occupy the church at Aalst with a lone Jagdpanther in support.

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A Firefly lays waste to the approaching Jagdpanther with its first shot

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The Guards take heavy fire and two Shermans and a Firefly sit in flames

Fire opened up in the next two turns with a well-positioned Firefly scoring a kill on the nearing Jagdpanther. Returning fire, German 88s destroyed the Firefly and PaK 40s bailed and subsequently wrecked two other Shermans. Machine gunners made their saves, jumped off their tanks and made way for cover in a nearby building at the town’s intersection. Meanwhile, British artillery lobbed a volley over the town hoping to slow down the German infantry and machine guns looking to take hold of the town’s buildings. The barrage resulted in a destroyed PaK 40 just to the north of the church, but the German infantry pressed on to take up positions in the church.

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British infantry move to assault the church as reserve armor rolls to the town center

With British infantry reserves moved at the double to the town and then moved in a subsequent turn to assault the church. At the same time, a reinforcing Guards tank platoon raced to the town center. Shots from the Shermans failed to destroy nearby PaK 40s but fire from the Vickers guns in a nearby building pinned the Germans in the church ahead of the assault. Despite all the British fire lighting up the center of town, the assault failed and the British infantry fell back to the other side of the street.

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German armored reserves arrive

With the British stalled at the crossroads in Aalst, German reserves moved onto the table. A Stug platoon, Wirbelwinds and a fresh Jagdpanther began closing in from the northwest of town, drawing fire from the British battery looking to slow their advance. Volleys from the 25-pound guns blew up an 88 and a PaK 40, but the mass of German hardware kept rolling forward.

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British command tanks move to engage the Germans

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A swarm of German armor and troops push forward under British artillery fire

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A Panzerfaust lights up a British command tank

Hoping for a hard push of combined arms on the German right, British command tanks followed by two platoons of infantry pressed forward from a nearby woods. The British tankies proved to be tough, surviving a turn of fire from nearby Stugs and an attempted infantry assault with  Panzerfaust-wielding infantry as British guns continued to range in and rain shells on the Germans to no effect.

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The lone surviving command British tank awaits its fate from the German onslought

Back at the center of town, the last tank platoon took fire from the 88s, PaK 40s and a Panzerfaust in the church steeple and was destroyed. The one lone command tank on the western outskirts of town was surrounded and destroyed by combined tank and artillery fire. With only the remnants two rifle platoons and the Vickers left spread through the town, the game was lost for the British. As the sun set in the west, Aalst remained in Axis hands.

In our discussion after, the British artillery had only been effective only about 50% of the time and only eliminated a few units throughout the game. Too many British tanks burned too quickly against overwhelming crossfire from German guns, and reinforcing British infantry could never make headway beyond Aalst’s crossroads. More British tank platoons with Fireflies might have gone a long way toward at least pushing through the town.

Fortunately for the people of Aalst, the engagement during Market Garden resulted in the liberation of the town by the British. Pictures from the victory show a very different outcome from our game with smiling faces all around. The very nature of wargaming sometimes just makes things go a different way, and this past weekend the dice rolled against the tide of history with a victory for the Germans at Aaalst.