Flames Of War: Encounter Mission

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

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

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

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Germans Stugs move to control the center

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

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

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

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Members of the 101st Airborne take position in the woods

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

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

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

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US Airborne and German Panzergrenadiers exchange fire over the river

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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US Shermans make quick work of the remaining Stugs

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

IMG_2710Panzer IV reinforcements move to take the US left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Thunderbolt engages German transports at the river crossing

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

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The final showdown at the contested objective

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

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

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

Flames of War: Metropolitan Wargamers Tanksgiving 2013

Tanksgiving PicAbout ten of us at Metropolitan Wargamers in beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn kicked off the holiday season this past weekend with a day of WWII armored action in conjunction with our first Flames of War Tanksgiving event. The official rules for the event called for 1500-point companies facing off in multiple games throughout the day. Given we had so many new players interested in playing their first games of Flames of War, a few of the more experienced players decided to play host with our own forces brought along for the day over two tables.

FFAMissionThe bigger of the two tables featured Allied forces facing off against Germans in a Late War Western Europe scenario. The Flames of War website offers a group of basic missions of increasingly-complex scenarios, each easily playable in about three hours. Given we were dealing with an entry-level game, we went with a beginner-friendly Free-For-All mission with two 1500-point companies on each side.

IMG_2442Allied defenders (left) and German attackers (right) deployed

Since this was a tank-focused game, we went easy on terrain with just a smattering of wooded areas, buildings and fields spread over the table. The Allied forces defended, beginning on the side of the table defined primarily by a small river crossing bridge on the Allied right and a field and nearby farmhouse on the Allied left.  On the attacking German side of the table, a walled farm complex surrounded by a tree-lined road sat to the German left and a group of wooded areas to their right. A small town was situated squarely at a crossroad at the center of the field.

IMG_2446Guards Armoured and 101st Airborne started in the farm field

The British Guards Armoured Company began near the farm at their left, deploying its Sherman and Firefly tanks along with one platoon from the US 101st Airborne. Near the bridge, the US 4th Armored Company set its 75mm and 76mm tanks and finally deployed its 105mm artillery platoon at the center of the table edge hidden behind a copse of trees. The Germans deployed Panzer IVs, two Tiger tanks and a Grenadier platoon near a forest at their right. A large group of Panthers started near the center behind the small town with a supporting dismounted Panzergrenadier platoon on their left and a two-tank Panther command platoon at their extreme left.

IMG_2444US 75mm and 76mm Shermans tanks at the bridge near the German objective

With the German player starting things off, their main thrust of Panthers moved toward the center of the table while their Panzer IVs and Tigers made a move looking to shutdown to the advance of the Guards Armoured and US airborne troops. The Panzergrenadiers made their way for the walled farm and the treeline at the neighboring road, and the commanding Panthers looped around the farm toward the river and the American right flank.

IMG_2448A Tiger sits burning after being hit by a Firefly

On the Allied first turn, the 101st Airborne made a beeline for the neighboring forest across from the field while tanks rolled into the gap between the forest and the field. A lucky opening shot from a British Firefly took out a German Tiger, providing one of the only bright spots for the Allies during the entire afternoon. The spotter for the US howitzers ran for the cover of the town’s buildings while the mass of American tanks on the right split to hold off the center German advance as well as the German command section’s coming end-run at the river.

IMG_2453The Armoured Guards take ferocious fire from the German tanks

In the second and third turns, the German players began running the table to their victory. A concentration of fire into the town destroyed the US artillery spotter, effectively shutting down any good chance of Allied artillery support. The Tigers began laying waste to the line of advancing Shermans in the field and rolling in the open. A failed assault on the German tanks by the 101st Airborne out of the woods stalled under a hail of machine gun before it began, but the Guards Armoured managed to route the Panzer IVs off the board and whittle-down the Grenadiers making their way between the town and farm house nearby.

IMG_2460Panzer IVs and Shermans aflame as the 101st Airborne sprints across the field

By the fourth turn, German infantry making their way through the open both for the bridge and objective near the American artillery were mowed down under heavy machine gun fire from the US Shermans. Finding a gap amid the tank fight around them, the 101st made a dash to the next forested area while German tanks poured more fire into the British armor at the rear. At the bridge, American 76mm guns managed to destroy one command tank and bail the crew from the other. Unfortunately, the remnants of the American armor were outgunned and entangled in the burning shells of their comrade’s tanks. With nothing left to stop the advance, German tanks rolled to the center and seized their objective.

IMG_2458Nothing left to stop the German advance to victory

While things raged away on the European table, an Early War showdown between 1500-point British and Italian forces in Africa dustily clamored away one table over. You couldn’t get a more different game with less advanced equipment and differently skilled troops battling in a desert environment laced with prepared defensive positions. Since most of my gaming has focused on Late War Europe, the earlier war stuff fascinates me and I’m definitely going to make some time to try my hand at this other period soon.

IMG_2440Early War Italian and British desert action at Tanksgiving in Brooklyn

As it turned out, the Italians took the game on the Africa table, making our first Tanksgiving event a 2-0 victory for the Axis powers. I learned a mass of German armor is really hard nut to crack unless you’ve got some effective artillery and enough infantry to assault and push to an objective. Every game under my belt gives me ideas for the next. Win or lose, I think a few hours of playing may have hooked a couple new players on Flames of War. For that, we’ll all be thankful as we deploy our platoons for another game very soon.

Flames of War: Sint-Oedenrode 1944 Scenario

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Like many cities in the Low Countries, the Dutch city of Sint-Oedenrode was occupied by German forces after their invasion of France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the spring of 1940. The southern Netherlands and Belgium were the area of focus for the Allied Operation Market Garden in September 1944 which hoped to take several river crossings before the push on to Germany. At Sint-Oedenrode, the famed US 101st Airborne Division seized the bridge over the Dommel River but were met with a counterattack by German Fallschrimjäger regiments and other supporting forces. The battle that would take place at the crossing of the Dommel was typical of the action of the Allied push along what became known as Hell’s Highway. While Market Garden would ultimately prove to be a fiasco for the Allies overall, the grateful people of Sint-Oedenrode were liberated by US troops after a week of brutal fighting against the German occupiers.

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The Flames of War website has a scenario for the engagement at St. Oedenrode available in their list of historical scenarios on their website. The forces in the scenario were originally covered in the now out-of-print Hell’s Highway and A Bridge Too Far FOW books now available as Market Garden for the US, UK and Canadian forces and Bridge By Bridge for the Germans.

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY we ran a modified Sint-Oedenrode scenario with the US 101st Airborne facing off against the German Fallschirmjägers. My paratroopers deployed in the fields and woods across the river with two rifle platoons and a light machine gun platoon. In reserve were US mortar and parachute howitzer platoons along with a delayed reserve Sherman and Firefly tank platoon from the Guards Armoured Division. The Germans started defending the two objectives at the bridges with a mortars, heavy machine guns and a rifle-machine gun platoon dug in around the town buildings.

IMG_2324In the first two turns, the Airborne units made way for the river and first bridge while avoiding shots coming from the defending Germans. The US light machine guns poured fire into the houses across the river, but shots missed on all accounts but did manage to pin the units. With little US progress toward the objectives, my German opponent remained solidly in control of the bridge points in the early third of the game.

IMG_2322By the third turn, the Germans successfully rolled on their a reserve rifle-machine gun platoon as well as their PaK 40 anti-tank guns. While the US lacked tanks of the board, the US platoon crossing the bridge took heavy combined arms fire from the German artillery outside of the town and the infantry platoons hidden among the town’s houses. Another US platoon made their way across the Dommel, through a small wood and attempted a quick assault on the Germans defending from the nearby buildings. Under heavy fire, the US charge was repulsed with some losses pushing them back into the treeline.

IMG_2326With the Airborne rifle companies pinned on the bridge and in the  trees over the river, I finally threw a successful roll for reserves on the fourth turn and brought in my mortars and howitzers. Firing at a distance from the fields, all my artillery missed their hard-to-hit German targets hidden in the buildings across the river. The platoon on the bridge took an additional round of combined German fire and fled the field. The US light machine guns to one side of the bridge likewise encountered heavy fire, finding themselves pinned and still unable to effectively knock the Germans from their defending positions in the town.

IMG_2328By turn four, things went from bad to worse for the Allies. With the Guards Armoured forces finally rolling in, they did quickly take out one of the German anti-tank guns. This was unfortunately quickly answered with two Allied tanks being destroyed with return fire from the crack shots from the German PaK 40s. With the beginning of the fifth turn, the US attempted a final series of artillery barrages and tank fire to chase the Germans from the town. Still at nearly full strength, the Germans had clearly overwhelmed the US and I conceded the game.

Even without their Panzer IVs on the table, the German position within the town proved hard to route. In retrospect, a concentrated Airborne end-run over the river and through the town might’ve proved more effective in chasing the Germans out of their defending positions near the bridge entry points. A lack of armoured and artillery reserves until late in the game also left the 101st outgunned and running on their own as German reserve strength mounted. Luckily for the Dutch people of Sint-Oedenrde things went much better for the Allies in 1944, but my replay of the attack just didn’t go my way this day.

Flames of War: Breakthrough Mission

bocageShortly after fighting ashore and in the iair drop zones on D-Day, the Allies quickly discovered a new enemy awaiting them: bocage.

Lacing the Normandy countryside, bocage was a tight overgrown network of hedgerows of shrubbery, stone walls and copses of trees lining the rural French fields. All but impassable by Allied armor and difficult to fight through for infantry, bocage slowed the push inland and delayed the taking of key objectives. It was only through the quick-thinking and inventiveness of the Allies that new tactics were hastily developed. To free-up the passage of tanks, hedgerow cutters were welded to the front of armored platoons and demolition crews blasted gaps to continue the forward march. Fighting amidst the bocage would prove to be deadly for both sides, as recounted in the 1988 paper by Captain Michael Doubler. It’s required reading for anyone interested in the tactics of bocage warfare.

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, four of us got together to slog it out in the bocage tabletop of a Breakthrough Mission as provided in the Flames of Wars rules. The mission scenario calls for use of the Mobile Reserves rule for the defenders and the Delayed Reserves rule for the attackers. The Germans chose to field a 1250-point Fallschirmjager company backed with heavy machine guns, a Nebelwerfer rocket battery, Stugs and Pak 40 anti-tank guns plus a 1250-point tank company armed with mechanized infantry, Panzer IVs, Stugs and one imposing Tiger tank. We Americans also fielded two companies beginning with a 1250-point rifle company with three infantry platoons, Shermans, a weapons platoon of light machine guns and mortars and a P-47 Thunderbolt for air support. The other US company was pulled from the 82nd Airborne with a Priest mobile artillery battery and Stuart light tanks. To aid in navigation of bocage, the US armor were outfitted with hedgerow cutters. The Germans had six turns to take an objective and it would be the Americans’ job to stop them.

BTMapThe table was laid out thick with bocage surrounding a small village and a nearby farm. Americans rolled as the defenders meaning all our mobile units — all the tanks and artillery we had — were going to be held off the board as reserves. I hid all my rifle platoons in the town’s buildings and stuck the machine guns and mortars in the field between the Germans and their nearest objective. In the opposite corner, the Airborne platoons deployed near the farm hoping to camp out on the German objectives for the duration of the game.

As the attackers, the Germans deployed in their assigned corner of the table. Their rocket battery, anti-tank guns, heavy machine guns and the majority of their infantry dug into the field outside of the town. The large tank company deployed in the adjacent field. Held off-table was a Stug and a Fallschirmjager platoon, hoping for the a delayed reserves roll beginning on the third turn to put them right on top of one of their objectives at the opposite corner.

IMG_2177As the attackers, the Germans got the first turn, quickly pressing their armor toward the center of the table while the rocket battery, heavy machine guns and anti-tank cannons poured fire into the town, pinning one US platoon. Reserves failed to arrive on the first US turn and the P-47’s first run came up empty. As per the plan, the US Airborne pushed into the farm buildings to hold the nearest objective.

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IMG_2181In the second turn, the Germans continued to light up the town with the US companies pinned in the buildings. A Stug opened fire down a lane but the Americans avoided being hit. US bazooka teams moved into the barn at the edge of town and took shots on the a German Stug and approaching half tracks but to no effect. The US machine gunners attempted to fire and then assault the nearing Germans but were thwarted by the thick bocage and failed terror test against a nearby Panzer. The Thunderbolt once again on did nothing its second run while the Airborne units at the farm ran across the road into the treeline, securing the second German objective.

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IMG_2191In turn three, the German players thankfully failed their first attempt at calling in reserves. Pressing on, German half tracks raced through the town toward the American weapons platoon which took heavy casualties and lost the machine gunners to fire from both sides. Stugs and artillery continued to pound the American rifle platoons in the town. At the top of their turn, the Shermans arrived and made a hasty path to cut a hole in the bocage standing between the rest of their reserves and the nearby road.

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IMG_2189Things really heated up in turn four as the Germans rolled on their first reserved Stug platoon near one of the objectives and the awaiting US Airborne. German infantry and Panzers pushed into the next field, knocking out the US mortars and eliminating their first platoon. The Americans pulled in the rest of their reserves but immediately created a bottleneck of Shermans and Stuarts as paths were cleared through the bocage. The P-47 came in hard on the Germans in the field, knocking out several units and destroying a Panzer. Finally, the fearless Airborne did what they’re trained to do and burst from the treeline to assault the newly-arrived Stug platoon. Two Stugs were destroyed and the third fled the field after a failed morale test. The objective was still held by the Americans but things were looking dicey with Germans coming in from all sides.

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IMG_2200The fifth turn started with the final German reserve platoon arriving amid their burning tanks and assaulting the US Airborne. Through a series of attacks and counterattacks, the two groups whittled each other down. The Germans were eventually ground down to two remaining stands, lost their morale check and were destroyed. The victory for the Americans was short-lived, however, and the heavily-damaged Airborne platoon also failed a morale save and likewise fled the battle. With the game nearing it’s end, a Sherman was destroyed and blocked the road. All the US armor and artillery was effectively shut-out of the game. As the Germans covered an objective, the American P-47 made one final run to force a German morale check but to no avail. The Germans had won the day.

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IMG_2210There were a number of things that had gone wrong for the Americans. The rifle platoons never got out of the town, contributing almost nothing to the battle. Had they hauled their way toward the forest in the middle of the board, pressure would been greater on one of the objectives. The restrictions on the reserves also hurt the Americans, with nearly half their force never getting a chance to get in the fight. The US Airborne were typically deadly in their assaulting enemy armor and ground troops and proved to be the one positive for the Allies. On the German side of the table, much of its large armor platoon, including the Tiger, was sidelined for much of the battle as they navigated the hedgerows and roads.

The game was a new experience for one of the German players who typically games in the wide-open spaces of the Northern Africa theater from earlier in the war. As in 1944, bocage played the role of a third unmovable enemy on the table. The bocage was frustrating for all players but this time sided more with the Germans in their breakthrough victory.

Flames of War: La Fiere Causeway 1944 Scenario

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In the late evening of June 5th and pre-dawn hours of June 6th, 1944, a steady flow of Allied paratroopers began dropping throughout the French countryside to clear the inland way for the D-Day beach landings to come later that morning. Like elsewhere, scheduled US Airborne drops near Sainte-Mère-Église left paratroopers scattered around the countryside. To the southwest of the town’s target area, a contingent from the 82nd Airborne found itself near a quaint French farm compound and a small bridge over the Merderet River. Recognizing the river crossing as a key defensive line, the assembled paratroopers established a perimeter along the river. A few hours later, the US troops were met by a German Grenadier and armored battallion hoping to stall the Allied invaders from moving inland. The battle that erupted at the river would rage for three days until the German force withdrew in time for the arrival of US infantry and Sherman forces rolling in from Utah Beach on June 9th.

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The Flames of War website offers a basic scenario of the encounter at La Fiere Causeway suitable for 1500 point forces on either side. This past weekend a visitor to Metropolitan Wargamers and I had a go at the scenario with my US Airborne facing off against his Germans. As with the historical record, my force held closely to the scenario’s outline with two parachute rifle platoons with plenty of bazookas supported by a platoon of light machine guns, parachute engineers, a glider artillery platoon and M18 tank destroyers. On the German side of the table, my opponent lacked the primitive French tanks that historically fought at the battle. Instead, he filled his force with a number of Grenadier platoons mounted in half tracks backed by two small platoons of Panzer IVs and a Nebelwerfer rocket battery.

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As per the scenario rules, each of us chose half of our platoons to be held in off-table reserve. Beginning with the Germans, we alternated deploying our starting forces on the table. My American engineers took up position in the courtyard of the farm on my left flank, the machine guns lined the hedge on the other side of the bridge and a rifle platoon deployed on my far right flank. As expected, the Germans deployed a tank platoon at the road entry point and the rocket battery and a mounted Grenadier platoon in the field on their left flank.

IMG_2165With the Germans taking the first turn, the first Panzer IV platoon made way for the river crossing at the middle of the table while the half tracks rolled for the ford on the American right flank. Deployed in and around the farm buildings, the US engineers quickly laid down mines at the foot of the bridge and an Airborne platoon crossed the river to meet the approaching Grenadiers and the rocket battery beyond.

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IMG_2167With turn three, German tank and Grenadier reserves appeared on the table edge opposite the farm and pointed their way toward the French buildings and the nearby bridge. Four US bazookas bailed one Panzer in the clearing across  the river but three other Panzers made it across at the middle ford. US tank destroyer reserves came on the table and immediately poured machine gun fire into the half tracks across the river. The Grenadiers bailed from their transports and the half tracks raced to the rear while the Nebelwerfers failed to score effective shots in the hearty US Airborne troops.

IMG_2171With the Grenadiers on the run back to defend the rocket battery, the US tank destroyers turned their attention on the Panzers and quickly destroyed one while the others continued to push on unharmed due to the protection of their side Schurzen armor. At the farm, the approaching Panzer and Grenadier platoons exchanged fire with the engineers and riflemen defending behind the stone walls. Even with heavy casualties, the engineers repelled a direct assault by two Panzers as a fresh rifle platoon rushed to reinforce the farmyard strongpoint.

Alas, by the fifth turn the game was effectively over for the Americans as the late-arriving US howitzers once again failed to hit in one final volley against the Panzers rushing to seize the objective. The Americans had chased both Grenadier platoons from the field and destroyed a couple Panzers, but the Airborne focus on defending rather than seizing objectives allowed the Germans to take the table.

At the game’s outset, both of us shook our heads with the difficult mission ahead of us. The Airborne never effectively engaged in a close-quarters assault that might’ve taken out more of the tanks sooner on in the game, and artillery on both sides contributed nothing to the game. As with the last few FOW games I’ve played, the engagement at La Fiere once again pointed out the strength and tactical importance that infantry played in WWII. Keeping men moving and in the fight is key to victory, and this time around the German troops got the better of the day.

Flames of War: Fielding the PSC Panzer IV Tank

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flames of War: Singling 1944 Scenario

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By the winter of 1944 the US 4th Armored Division had distinguished itself through a number of actions in France ranging from Operation Cobra in July and the Battle of Arracourt in September all the way through various engagements heading east toward the French-German border. Battleworn and bogged down in the wet winter slush of eastern France, the 4th Armored lumbered to the outskirts of Singling, Lorraine on December 6th, 1944. As part of the defensive Maginot Line, a hasty attack was thrown together to take the farm town with a small force of tanks and infantry. Finding themselves caught up fighting superior elements from the German 11th Panzer Division between the cottages and tight roads of the village, the day’s battle eventually fell to a stalemate and the 4th Armored pulled back. In the coming days, a hail of American artillery and subsequent ground force attacks eventually took Sibling.

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The WWPD site has a handy Flames of War scenario available for the action at Singling called Abrams’ Folly. In addition, there’s some other gaming-freindly write-ups available online as well as some great historical documentation (including maps and photos) on the battle at Singling. Before heading off to an annual family vacation to Cape Cod, I had a chance to try my hand as the Americans in the Sibling scenario this past Wednesday evening at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn.

bggbookEach of us fielded 2500 points, sticking as close to possible with the forces outlined in the scenario. I used the Blood, Guts and Glory book which focuses on the armor-heavy battles in this region of France in late 1944 through early 1945. My force featured a mix of 75mm and 76mm Shermans, some tank destroyers, two armored rifle platoons and an off-table 105mm Priest battery. My German opponent started with a Panzer IV platoon, a Jagdpanther platoon, an 10.5cm leFH18 battery, a platoon of Pak 40s and a couple infantry platoons. As it was historically, the Americans were clearly in for a tough fight.

In December ’44, the US entered Sibling from the south but the scenario places the American point of entry at the western edge of the table. The Germans deployed first with infantry and Jagdpanthers in the town, the Panzer IVs to the northwest and the Pak 40s in prepared positions to the southwest. The artillery battery was positioned to the northeast of town with spotters stationed in the church belfry and the attic of a house near the town center.

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With the first turn, the Americans rolled in around the main road to the west. Seeing the Pak 40s, all the armor rolled north toward the Panzer IVs parked around and behind a small copse of trees. Infantry platoons made way for the center and the orchard just south of the road. My US plan was to avoid the killing alley of the main road while the infantry would swoop toward an assault on the infantry and Pak 40s to the south and the armor would rumble to the north toward the German tanks.

The US 76s made quick work of the Panzer IVs in the first two turns and then turned toward the center of town. The Jagdpanthers crept out from behind buildings and took a few a shots down the road, eliminating a Sherman. A German platoon camped out in a house at the western edge of town made a misbegotten attempt at an assault on the Shermans, bailing two with Panzerfaust fire but ultimately running off when faced with return attacks from the US armor. Another Panzerfaust-wielding squad popped out from an adjacent cottage and destroyed another Sherman with a quick rear shot before being machine-gunned down. By the end of the third turn, the northwest area of the table was a snarl of burning German tanks and shaken but advancing US Shermans.

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To the south of the road, a stalemate which would run the whole game commenced. The Priest battery struggled to range in and hit the Pak 40s on every turn, proving to be a complete waste of points. The American armored infantry platoons to the south of the road spent most of the game being pinned by German sniper fire and artillery barages, all the while struggling to progress through the orchard. Not until the fourth turn of the game did the American infantry truly get in the fight, exchanging fire with two nearby platoons of Germans but losing nearly half their number to fire from the Pak 40s and German heavy machine guns.

In turn four, things got bad for the Germans. After littering the field north of town with charred wrecks of US armor, several American tanks broke to the middle of town toward the three remaining Jagdpanthers. A near-certain side blast to one Jagdpanther glanced off with no effect, but then an extremely lucky shot from a US 76 destroyed the Jagdpanther command tank. While the Germans scrambled to appoint a new command tank, the Americans ganged up to destroy one of the two remaining Jagdpanthers. With the platoon reduced to just one remaining tank, the German player rolled and failed a morale check and the last tank fled the center of town.

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With the center of town secured, all German armor destroyed, a stalled infantry firefight to the southwest and the American tanks advancing to the German artillery battery, the game was called at the fifth turn. I was honestly surprised by the American victory, upsetting the historic outcome of the battle. We stood around for some after-action what-ifs for both sides while packing up the table, and clearly there could be improvements in choices of forces and tactics the next time we head back to Singling.