28mm: Panzer IV By Rubicon Models

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With 8000-9000 Panzer IV models rolling around over the course of World War II, this German tank was ubiquitous in engagements throughout. The tank itself went through a number of evolutions in terms of guns and armor, and the chassis wound up serving in many capacities as the carriage for other ant-tank and anti-aircraft guns. If you’re a wargamer like me fielding a WWII German force, chances are you’re eventually going to need a few Panzer IVs.

IMG_8768Unboxing the Rubicon Models Panzer IV kit

I’ve had a bit of experience in the past modelling the Panzer IV in 15mm with a kit from Plastic Soldier Company. For my 28mm models, I turned back to Rubicon Models which I had used in modelling a US M4A3 Sherman a while back. I chose Rubicon again for a consistency of scale, the clean casting of their kits and the deal I found on a pair of their Panzer IVs for under $50 USD. Unboxing their models is a real pleasure with separate sprues individually wrapped in protective plastic, clear instructions and decals included with the kits.

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Cutting and sorting pieces as construction begins

The clear step-by-step instructions make assembly a breeze as long as pieces are organized and the model is done in stages. The kit includes options for building the Panzer IV in its evolution from F2, G and H models. Uniquely, the kit allows the finished model to swap out the 75mm KwK L/43 and L/48 gun barrels with a friction fitting pin. The Schürzen on both the sides and turret are likewise removal, allowing you to effectively field two versions of the tank. For now I’m leaving the guns and Schürzen removable but I may decide to permanently glue them in the future.

Here’s my quick guide to getting the models assembled and painted:

Painting 28mm German Armor

  1. Carefully cut kit pieces from plastic sprues with small pliers.Keep pieces organized as you go and assemble the model in stages per manufacturer instructions
  2. Basecoat the model with flat black spray primer.
  3. Using three progressive coats of dry brushed greys, paint the entire model. I use Skavenlight Dinge, Mechanicus Standard Grey and Dawnstone (all from Citadel).
  4. Paint tracks Black.
  5. Paint wooden tool handles Dark Brown and metals parts with metallic Silver.
  6. Using a flat brush with only the very slightest amount of the same metallic Silver, dry brush the tracks. Use the same method on raised plates, hatches and edges of the entire model to create raised highlights.
  7. Paint the rear muffler a rust color by mixing Dark Brown and Red.
  8. Apply decals to the model and set the decals with Solvaset or some other decal sealer.
  9. Use a watered down Agrax Earthshade (Citadel) and add a muddy wash at edges, plate and hatch seams, muffler and on the Schurzen.
  10. Very, very lightly dry brush the entire model with Baneblade Brown (Citadel) to create a general muddied and weathered effect.
  11. Spray coat completed models with matte finish. Make sure you remove the turret so it does not stick to the main chassis during the spray coat.
  12. Rub pencil graphite on the edges where the turret meets the chassis to ensure free rotation.

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Dry brush coats of greys gradually lighter greys provide most of the color

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Included decals provide a lot of modelling options

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Watery mud is applied to the Schürzen

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Rubbing pencil graphite where the chassis meets the turret to ensure easy rotation

Aside from the drying time between steps, my tanks were finished in just a couple hours work over the course of a few week nights. I really love how slick the Rubicon Models kits assemble, paint up and look when completed. More views of the finished models are below, but I can’t wait to get these on the table at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY and see how they perform in pushing back the Allies.

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Boardgames of the French and Indian War

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To understand the founding of the United States, you have to understand the American Revolution, and to understand the American Revolution, you need to understand the French and Indian War. As I’ve learned more about these wars in my adult life, I’m increasingly surprised the FIW gets such short shrift in American education and the general cultural conversations of the country’s history.

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Major campaigns and battles of the French and Indian War, 1754-1763

As I’ve written about previously, I’ve spent a lot of time touring many sites where the French and British vied for control of the continent in the mid-18th-century. In that era the French held much of the country west and north of the Alleghenies while the British possessed the eastern regions of the coast. As an extension of the Seven Years War in Europe and around the globe, the French and British empires fought over territory in America during the FIW and pulled numerous native Indian tribes into complicated alliances along the way. The clash of cultures and motives among Europeans and native peoples carried ripple effects for years to come and old grudges from the period led directly to the American Revolution some two decades later.

FIWBooksSome of my recent reading on the French and Indian War

My time spent touring various sites around the company has been supplemented by a stack of books. Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War (2001) weighs in at over 900 pages and provides a super comprehensive treatment of the war in depth. The French and Indian War (2006) by Walter Borneman provides a similar overview with detail stripped way back into a more historical narrative. For a focus on how Indian peoples shaped the 18th-century European settlement and wars for the continent, Peter Silver’s Our Savage Neighbors (2007) gives some fantastic insights which are usually breezed over in most histories. Finally, I’ve recently picked up a copy of Braddock’s Defeat (2015) by David Preston. This book provides a great bridge story on how a key campaign on the western frontier of Pennsylvania in 1755 echoed through the events of the FIW into the American Revolution and history beyond.

With many miles traveled and pages read, getting to play boardgames of the FIW — both tactically and strategically — has provided me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and experience the wilderness roads, forts, settlements and battlefields of this fascinating period.

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Wilderness War (GMT Games)

My longtime favorite of FIW games is GMT’s Wilderness War from 2001. Designed by Volko Ruhnke, WW is not only the standout game of the period but also ranks among the best of modern wargames depicting any period. The game’s gorgeous hardbound game board defines the game as the war was fought amid the geography of the Northeast with point-to-point connections between major landmarks, cities, settlements and forts.

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Sample strategy cards from GMT’s Wilderness War

Strategy cards featuring both abstracted military actions like recruiting troops and militia, building siege works or conducting campaigns and period-specific events and personalities drive the game. Alternatively cards are played for points to activate leaders, forces stacked with a leader or individual units. Points may also be spent to construct stockades and forts to defend against attack a provide a safe haven during wintering periods.

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Wilderness War by GMT Games

For me, the three key strategies to WW are in defending the important interior frontier, remaining exceedingly mindful of troop positions as winter seasons approach and playing a long game of carefully-planned campaigns. All of these factors are incredibly well factored into a game which balances abstraction with historic events, all of which can be experienced with a solid few hours of play.

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The French and Indian War (Decision Games)

For another grand strategic experience of the FIW, Strategy & Tactics magazine issue #231 from Nov/Dec 2005 by Decision Games offers up a full campaign level game with The French and Indian War. Traditional wargamers will feel right at home with this hefty game although it does offer some unique elements.

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S&T’s FIW map and counters organized in tray

Right off the bat, experienced gamers will notice a departure with the game map laid out on a square grid instead of the more typical hex style. Past the square grid, the map itself is gorgeous with well-delineated terrain, clear colonial control boundaries and abstracted French and British home country holding areas across the Atlantic in Europe. Charts and tables for terrain effects, supply points, balance of power and colonial control displayed right around the board. The tiny cardboard playing chits likewise feature some simple and colorful art clearly differentiating units types and nationalities. In all, there’s a lot to love visually in this magazine game.

Gameplay goes a long way toward representing the build up of tensions and eventual outbreak of war between the French and British in North America. Yearly turns between 1758 and 1762 are split into four seasons each, and the results of battles occupation of cities and towns shifts the Balance of Power track which drives income, initiative, random events and negotiating strength. The relatively weak and poor British at the start of the game quickly gain strength as the Seven Years War breaks out and men, money and ships begin to arrive from Europe. For the French, they have to take some early victories and then hold key cities like Quebec through the late game. Victory in one of the three included scenarios is determined by a straight points system accumulated during the game largely by capturing cities and settlements.

Aside from the game rules themselves, the magazine holds over 20 pages of background on the FIW, major battles and quick bios on some of the conflict’s major personalities. This plus some nice maps and a short bibliography makes for a great package for those wanting a relatively comprehensive experience of the war. Being a magazine game, there are a couple discrepancies in the rules here and there, but the design and heft of the game is entirely satisfying.

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Hold The Line: French and Indian War (Worthington Publishing)

The 2008 French and Indian War Expansion Set for the popular Hold The Line series by Worthington Publishing downshifts into a more tactical presentation of the war without sacrificing the flavor of the era.

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Scenario set-up for the Battle of Snowshoes for the HTL FIW expansion

Adding to the HTL base game components,  the FIW expansion comes with Indian, Ranger and French unit tiles to be played with using the British and Militia pieces in the original. Additional terrain hex tiles  are included to represent lakes, boats forts and Indian villages, all of which played important roles in the wilderness battleground of the FIW. Five historic scenarios round out gameplay which will be any lover of the original HTL.

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The 2016 remastered HTL French and Indian War game

The HTL series has been remastered in 2016 with a successfully funded recent Kickstarter campaign. The new version has some serious upgrades with plastic miniatures from the Plastic Soldier Company and redesigned board and tile artwork. For both the American Revolution and FIW sets there were a bunch of extra scenarios and options to buy add-on miniatures. The new game looks fantastic and breathes new life into an already immensely enjoyable game on the era of 18th-century American colonial conflict.

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A Few Acres of Snow (Treefrog Games)

A Few Acres of Snow, designed by Martin Wallace and published in 2011 by Treefrog Games, is my other go-to game on the period. While not strictly a game confined to the FIW, AFAOS takes two players through the broader French-British colonial period in North America.

Playable in just over an hour, AFAOS is an area control deck-building game where British and French players draft cards into and out of their hands in order to move, settle, construct, skirmish and conduct sieges. Managing cards gives the game a campaign feel as several turns may be taken up getting all the right cards in place before executing a plan. The British player generally has more financial and naval strength while the French are much more agile and open to trade opportunities in the wilderness interior. Essentially, the game captures the overall character of the opposing forces and provides for a ton of strategic play within a simple, gorgeous design.

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A recent game of  A Few Acres of Snow by Treefrog Games

The major downside to AFAOS that many critics will bring up is a broken mechanic within the game where one side can all but sew up a victory through a specific series of opening moves. I’m not going to provide any details since players agreeing to play fairly and ignoring this one issue with an otherwise perfect and wildly popular game is how I choose to play the game. The look and flow of AFAOS makes it what I consider to be the best at introducing even inexperienced gamers to the period.

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Struggle For New France (Schutze Games)

I picked up a copy of 2013’s Struggle For New France designed by Bill Molyneaux and published by Schutze Games in a charity auction at HMGS Fall In! 2015. It’s a super simple beginner’s game playable in about 90 minutes with event cards and point to point movement. With just a few pages of rules, including a solo game option, SFNF is a lean game designed for swift play while still reflecting the basic character of the war.

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Set-up for a play through Struggle For New France by Schutze Games

The relatively inexpensive game has a compact yet beautiful 11″ x 17″ color map, over 60 cards and over 175 small printed wooden tiles. Play is quick with a hand of five cards for each player, of which one can be played per season. In a season, both sides move and battle using standardized movement for regulars and Indians plus bonuses for having a leader stacked with a force. Forts, fortresses and Indian villages give defensive modifiers in battle along with leaders present and any cards added to the battle modifiers. Areas won or lost provide victory points, all tracked on either side of the map. After four seasons of play, cards are refreshed and the next turn year begins. Playing from the entire course of the war, British win at 50 points and taking Quebec, Montreal and Louisburg, and the French win with 45 points. While by no means as rich an experience as the offerings from GMT and Decision Games, SFNF achieves a remarkable amount in strategic experience of the FIW.

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French & Indian War Battle Collection (Two Buck Games)

Another charity auction win at Fall In last year was 2014’s French & Indian War Battle Collection by Two Buck Games. The game makes a nice companion to SFNF and is also designed by Molyneaux. Like SFNF, this is an easy game but with a pack of twelve major battles and engagements of the war instead of a grand campaign style of play. Each scenario is playable in anywhere from well under an hour to maybe two hours maximum. While not big on design, the game does allow a player to get down to the tactical level in some very small engagements including some personal favorites like Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity and the Mary Jeminson Raid.

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The Fort Necessity scenario from The French & Indian War Battle Collection

A brief set of rules is supplemented with specific scenario outlines for set-up and play. Maps for each scenario are printed front and back on card stock, and 88 counters come with generic information to make for flexible use representing a variety of regular and irregular French, British and Indian units at each battle or skirmish. As this is a tactical game, units move just one hex and may only by stacked alone or with an officer. Leaders die easily in combat, Indians are dangerously flexible on the attack and terrain can play a big role in a game’s outcome. All these factors make planning an attack or defense finicky down at the ground level and FIBWBC goes a long way toward mimicking the feel of up-close engagements during the period.

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Empires In America (Victory Point Games)

My latest addition to my FIW games is the recent second edition reprint of Empires In America from the States of Siege series by Victory Point Games. This one stands apart from the others here as a purely solo game with the player’s French and Indian allies pitted against the game’s British and their allied Indian forces.

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My first try at the re-issue of Empires In America by Victory Point Games

It took me a few times to get a handle on the single player flow of the game and I was beaten by the non-player AI in my first two games. Having played through it about a half dozen times now, I’ve finally got the hang of it with quick play and a fairly rich experience. Leaders wind up being key in winning the game much as leadership could make the difference during battles during the war.

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Photo from my visit to Fort Necessity in the summer of 2014

So where to start with the French and Indian War?

The 21st-century has already given us a bunch of fantastic games to take us back to the forest, rivers and battles of the French and Indian War of some 260 years ago. Despite having a half-dozen of the recent FIW games under my belt, there area always more games to play. Wilderness Empires, also by Worthington Publishing, puts the war in a block game format with beautifully-illustrated event cards and game board. Columbia Games re-released its 1972 classic block game of Quebec 1759 in 2009, and the game still stands as probably the best way to experience this pivotal siege of the war.

For me, Wilderness War sits at the top of the list for its design and depth, not only for the FIW but among all the games I play. A Few Acres of Snow, Empires In America and Hold The Line likewise win big design points for me, and their speed of play sacrifices nothing in telling the story of the period. A gamer wishing to get into the FIW with a couple very different yet always rewarding gaming sessions could hardly do better by starting with these games.

28mm: M4A3 Sherman By Rubicon Models

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I’ve been quickly fitting out my 28m World War II infantry over the past few months with models from Artizan Designs, Warlord Miniatures and Black Tree Design. With scores of figures on the table, I thought it was high time to add some hefty support to the mix. So, at my recent journey to the excellent NJ Con I picked up a copy of the Rubicon Models M4A3 Sherman tank

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Retailing for under $40 USD, the 1/56 scale Rubicon Sherman comes on three sprues of well cast plastic. The very detailed instructions allow for the construction of three versions of the tank with 75mm, 76mm or 105mm guns and multiple turret variations. As this was my first at this scale, I opted for the most common 75mm gun, and the assembly allowed for loose gun for elevation at multiple angles. The interlocking turret also enabled easy rotation as did the top machine gun when left unglued but snuggly fitted into the turret. No stowage parts were included, but since this was my first model, I didn’t mind keeping it a relatively clean, right off the assembly line version of the workhorse Sherman of WWII.

IMG_6250My go-to basecoat for my US wargaming miniatures

After a quick assembly, my Sherman was hit in a basecoat in the US olive drab color from the Plastic Soldier Company. I’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of this product as a foundation for 15mm Flames of War models in the past, and it worked equally as well at this larger scale. Following the base spray, the treads got a black and then metallic drybrush. Seams in the hull were washed with a black-brown, and the hull received layers of dry-brushed rusty metallics and layers of varying brown mud. The included decals were easily applied and then washed and muddied up before the whole model was dull-coated in a final protective spray.

The resulting M4A3 Sherman armed with a 75mm gun is shown below in detail from a few angles and is ready to operate in support of my Allied models in the months to come.

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Flames of War: Fielding the PSC US Mortar Support Platoons

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As with so many armies past and present, the infantry man was the backbone of the US Army during World War II. Armed with the M1 rifle, his training and an enormous line of supply to the rear, the American soldier was arguably one of the most formidable combatants in the history of warfare.

That said, even the most effective foot soldier often needs support. Along with machine gun crews, US infantry companies commonly contained the M2 60mm mortar. Crewed by just two men, the M2 added explosive punch in a highly portable weapon which could move swiftly with ground advances through varied terrain.

wwIIchemmortar M2 4.2 inch chemical mortar in use during World War II

At the battalion level, larger mortars with more diverse ammunition, longer ranges and greater effectiveness were also available. The M1 81mm mortar (pictured at the top of this post) was used throughout the war with its 3000 yard range and mix of explosive shells. The larger mortar, weighing in at about 150 pounds, required a larger team and was commonly transported by cart or mounted in the back of a halftrack.

By the time of the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, the even heftier M2 4.2 inch chemical mortar was added to the American arsenal. Designed but never used for lobbing various weaponized chemical payloads like poison gas, the M2 was set on a large rectangular base plate with a pinion-like stand to stabilize firing large explosive or smoke payloads over 4000 yards. The weight and over-sized shells of the M2 did limit its portability significantly, but even so, it helped to very effectively fill out the small artillery arsenal at the infantry level.

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Sprue detail for the PSC US Heavy Weapons set with 60mm, 81mm and 4.2 inch chemical mortars

I’ve been diversifying my mortar support when building my US force for our Flames of War Infantry Aces Campaign at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. The Plastic Soldier Company’s Late War US Heavy Weapons 1944-45 box offers a whole host of extra weapons for my infantry, including three types of mortars. My 92nd Infantry Division started out with a weapons platoon containing a few standard 60mm mortars along with some M1919 machine guns.

To my initial force, I’ve recently added both 81mm and 4.2 chemical mortar platoons (photos below). I continue to be impressed by the PSC sets both for their sculpting as well as their value. I love the mortar crews holding their ears as the mortars fire and the guys crouching with binoculars. The tiny arms can often be a bit wonky when gluing the figures up, but this also allows some flexibility in poses. I set up one pair of figures in a little vignette of one guy reaching over to console his comrade who has been rattled by all the noise.

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IMG_4004Chemical mortar platoon observer and command stands

IMG_3999Detail of a 4.2 chemical mortar squad

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I’m putting my new mortar support platoons to use already in the Infantry Aces Campaign we’ve been running at the club for more than a month now. Although their first outing this past weekend wasn’t very successful, I’ve been studying up on FOW mortar smoke tactics. With strength only in numbers with my relatively inexperienced Confident/Trained riflemen, I’m going to be giving my force another try soon with mortars raining smoke and pinning fire on my German opponents. My hope is the mortars will provide just the support my American infantry need to fight to another tabletop victory.

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.

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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.

Flames of War: Fielding the PSC Cromwell and Firefly Tank

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I started out a month ago putting together my British 7th Armoured Divison for my Flames of War gaming with a couple platoons of FOW’s boxes. I wound up with two great looking platoons and a command section, but I really wanted two more platoons of the storied Desert Rats to beef up the company to maximum size in my post-D-Day break through scenarios.

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While I love the detail in the cast resin FOW models, you can’t beat the value of the kits from the Plastic Soldier Company. For about half the cost of the FOW boxes, I’m been able to double the size of my company and field a formidable wall of nimble British armor on the tabletop. Ordering directly from PSC, I was also able to add an extra Cromwell to the five included in the box plus two Firefly models for a total of two additional four-tank platoons.

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Two platoons of the 7th Armoured Division PSC Cromwells and Fireflies

Assembling PSC kits always reminds me of the hours I spent frustrated and thrilled gluing-up Airfix models as a kid. While FOW cast resin and metal tanks go together in a couple simple steps, there’s a particular investment in time and focus needed with boxes from PSC. The FireflyPSC molded turret  is simple to assemble, but the multi-piece tracks are a challenge even though the results with the sagging upper tread is a nice detail. The turrets on the PSC Cromwells have many pieces but fit nicely with patience, and their single-piece tracks are a breeze.

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Close-up of the PSC Cromwell and Firefly models

PSC tank sprues come with multiple modelling options, although there’s no stowage included in PSC offerings. To add a bit of detail, I attached some folded mesh panited as camouflage netting to rear the hulls of a few of my PSC models.

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Members of the 7th Armoured Division with their Firefly in Normandy

Comparing the PSC and FOW models, there are some differences. PSC models tend to be thinner than the chunkier FOW kits, expecially in regards to the main gun barrels. The PSC tanks are also significantly lighter and their turrets require a bit of extra drilling to provided free movement more easily found in the magnet-mounted FOW turrets.

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Firefly model comparison from PSC (left) and FOW (right)

The FOW Cromwells and Fireflies both come draped in camouflage and other cast details, yet when mixed together side-by-side with the more sparely-detailed PSC kits some nice variety across the four platoons is acheived. Separate decals are also needed to complete the PSC tanks which do not include any markings options in the kits.

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 Four platoons and command for the 7th Armoured Division “Desert Rats” from PSC and FOW

Ultimately, the PSC and FOW models come together quite nicely with a consistent paint job and markings. If anything, the slight differences in the models will make tracking cohesive platoons on the table a bit easier when the Desert Rats roll onto the game table in the very near future.

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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