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.

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Flames of War: Fielding the FOW Cromwell and Firefly Tank

dratsBy the time of the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, the British 7th Armoured Division had already seen plenty of war. The division first distinguished itself early in the war in the dusty North African campaign, going brutally head-to-head with General Erwin Rommel’s tough Afrika Korps and earning the nickname “Desert Rats.” In the mid-war invasion of Italy, the division adapted to the southern terrain of Salerno and Naples and helped in securing the Allied push northward.

cromwellA British Cromwell in WWII Europe

fftankSherman Firefly on a street during WWII

Back in the UK following its successes in Africa and Italy, the 7th Armoured rested and retrofitted with new Cromwell and Sherman Firefly tanks in preparation as a follow-on force in the D-Day landings in mid-1944. Over the next six months, the division’s 75mm-armed Cromwells and 17-pound-gunned Fireflies were present during Operation Perch, Operation Goodwood, the Battle of Villers-Bocage, Operation Spring, Operation Bluecoat, Operation Cobra and the final pushes into the Low Countries and Germany. By the war’s end, the battle-weary Desert Rats had cemented themselves as one of the most celebrated divisions in World War II.

fowcromwellAfter being introduced to British Armoured forces with the excellent plastic Sherman and Firefly models included in Flames of War Open Fire! box set, I’ve recently swung some significant focus on building-out a decent amount of UK late-war forces. Modelling the storied 7th Armoured Division seemed like a logical next step in bringing the UK to my Allied forces on the table.

Through some serendipity, I happened to score a couple of half-price box sets of the FOW Cromwell Armoured Platoon from a fellow club member at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Between the two boxes, I’ve been able to assemble a company command of two Cromwells plus two platoons of three Cromwells and one Firefly each. The models feature individually-cast resin tanks, each with their own detail of stowage and ragged camouflage, along with cast metal treads, gun barrels, crew and other details. Compared to curvaceous US Sherman tanks, I also really enjoy the flatter hull profile and boxy riveted turrets on the Cromwells. Although pricier than alternatives from makes like Plastic Soldier Company and Command Decision from Old Glory Miniatures, official FOW models are generally hard to beat for their heft and historical accuracy.

IMG_2334Primer and base coat on treads and stowage

After assembly, my models were hit with a green armor base coat. Tank treads start with a black coat followed a slight wash of metal. Tools, stowage, ropes and the other stuff on the tanks all get a mix of built-up layers of browns, greens and metallic colors. I especially liked the tiny tennis rackets strapped to a couple of the tanks, a nod to the British gentlemen who came to Europe not only equipped for war but for hopeful yet unlikely leisure pursuits. These details really create a lot of depth, interest and personality among the tanks which can otherwise get very visually redundant en masse on the table. Finally, the exposed crews get a a bit of brown-drab uniform color and some flesh tones to finish off those brave Brits.

IMG_2344Decals being applied (grrrrrr….)

I do have to say, the red-and-white Desert Rats vehicle marking has a really big cool factor for me. The FOW kits conveniently come with appropriate decals for the 7th Armoured Division, making finishing off the tanks one step easier than with competitor model-makers that don’t generally supply decals with their models. That said, I find the FOW decals to be incredibly finicky and fragile, and I found myself re-applying several to get them on just right. Once the decals are dry, all the tanks got splashed with mud here and there with some earthy dry-brushing.

IMG_2350Cromwell command section

IMG_2352One platoon of three Cromwells and one Sherman Firefly

IMG_2354Cromwell close-up

IMG_2356Sherman Firefly close-up

In terms of gameplay, I can’t wait for the 7th Armoured Division to go up against some Germans. The combined one-two punch of the faster-moving Cromwells and the hefty-gunned Fireflies should reinvigorate my games away from the sameness I’ve had in just playing with my large group of US Shermans for a couple years. Already, I want more of these platoons to really get the division bulked-out. I’m thinking a follow-up with Cromwells and Fireflies from the Plastic Soldier Company will supplement the finished FOW models nicely. Until then, the 7thArmoured are ready to roll and there’ll be more to report soon on my post-D-Day British force project.

IMG_2348The Desert Rats ready for action in France and beyond…

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Flames of War: Fielding the PSC German Heavy Weapons and FOW Artillery Command

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After focusing on my Flames of War (FOW) Allied forces for a while, I decided to throw some energy back into beefing-up and diversifying my late war Germans. Although my German troops seldom see play, getting some infantry punch on the table led me to a number of mortar and other support weapons platoons the FOW rules offer.

Battlefront, the maker of FOW, has a number of good platoons which run anywhere from about $12-20 each. Having recently tried my hand at the Allied Stuart Tank set from the growing line of 15mm WWII kits from the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC), I spotted the Late War German Heavy Weapons box. At around $25, the set looked to be an excellent and economic way to get a lot more German infantry on the table at perhaps a quarter to one-third the cost of the official FOW models.

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The PSC box comes with four MG 42 teams, four 8 cm mortar teams, four 12 cm mortar teams, eight Panzerschrecks and eight Panzerfausts. Also included are four Panzerschreck loaders and four ammo carriers. With about 70 bits on the sprues, this set was going to add a lot of action to my already extensive German infantry collection.

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Cutting out and gluing-up the tiny pieces from the PSC sprues is a bit of nerve-racking task harkening back to my early years wrangling with assembling soft plastic HO scale Airfix soldiers. That said, following PSC’s simple assembly diagram (above) and keeping all the parts carefully organized on the workbench is key to getting the job done right and not losing anything along the way. Flames of War rules call for basing Panzerschreck teams in groups of four miniatures per medium stand, allowing for four total teams to be constructed from the PSC set with two Panzershrecks plus a loader and ammo carrier per team. The 8 cm mortar and MG teams likewise went on medium bases and the big 12 cm mortar teams were glued-up on larger bases. I had a few extra plastic FOW Germans on hand from a bonus promotional sprue I received from the Open Fire! box set, and adding those to the 12 cm mortar stands helped finished those off.

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With a bunch of new mortars in the field, I also needed to add some additional command and spotters to make them playable. FOW offers an artillery command headquarters blister pack which I added to the mix. The set comes with enough models that I was able to create three two-man spotting teams, a few command stands (adding in Panzerfausts from the PSC kit) and a nifty HQ vignette with a four figures surrounding a table with a radio operator.

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Painting Germans is a simple process for me with a base spraycoat in flat black followed by a darkish grey uniform and details picked out in flesh, blacks, browns and gun metal. The stands get finished off with some simple grass flocking and a matte varnish spray. Getting a consistent finish on the PSC models made them blend in nicely with my FOW models.

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For comparison’s sake, the PSC figures do tend to be a tad smaller and thinner than the typically-chunky FOW figures. Since most my PSC figures are being fielded on separate stands, I don’t see the minor scale differences being an issue at arm’s length on the tabletop battlefield. In addition, the extra poses in the PSC casting add some nice variety and animation in the troops once deployed.

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IMG_2217My FOW German force has long-relied on the strength of deploying large numbers of tanks in my games, so these new additions should be a nice compliment to getting more action from my German infantry. Now that it’s fall, I’m anxious to rush my new PSC and FOW Germans to the tables at Metropolitan Wargamers in Park Slope, Brooklyn and add a new season of playablity to my battleworn forces.

Flames of War: Fielding the Guards Armoured Division

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

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

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

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

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

Flames of War: Fielding the Grenadierkompanie

I got the Flames of War Open Fire! set this past Christmas and I’m finally getting around to painting-up all the stuff that comes packed in the box. At under $70 online, this big package is a real deal for new and experienced FOW gamers alike. The set includes over 100 plastic Allied and German infantry, tanks and artillery models, plus the full FOW rulebook, dice, markers and some other goodies included. A couple guys at Metropolitan Wargamers also picked up the set and are just getting into FOW. If you have any interest in gaming WWII at all, this set is the place to start.

First off, I’ve finished the German Grenadierkompanie, including anti-tank 7.5cm PaK40s, a Stug G tank platoon and two platoons of infantry. These will supplement the pretty extensive Grenadier and Fallschirmjäger infantry I already have. The Stugs will also add to the large collection of Panzer IV, Jagdpanther and Konigstiger platoons I’ve already got on the shelf.

The plastic models all glue together quickly, but handling them has to be a bit delicate so as not to snap off the tips of the gun barrels. For the infantry, I spray prime everything in flat black and paint the uniforms in a mid-dark grey. All the details — guns, boots, equipment and skin — get picked-out with quick dabs of paint. Everything gets a very watered-down brown wash in the end which gives the uniforms a more accurate grey/green muted finish and also tones-down the flesh.

My camouflage painting abilities are honestly pretty atrocious, so my default is to go with a more generic grey paint scheme on my armor, artillery and vehicles. For the Stugs and PaK40s, the flat black primer was hit with a quick dry brushing of mid-dark grey.  After the dry brush coat, tank cargo and other details were then dabbed on. The platoon commander got some special attention with white detail on his cuffs and collar, plus some detail on the radio headset he’s wearing over his hat. Finally, I applied some wet-transfer decals and then dry brushed some light brown mud in the areas most likely to see some splashing on the tracks, sides and fenders.

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With my Germans from Open Fire! complete, I’ll be posting soon with an update on the US Airborne and allied models from the set. Along with the Germans, a set of special FOW models from the famed Easy Company and a bunch of my existing models, there’ll be some major action from the Normandy campaign and beyond coming soon.