2014: Opening New Fronts

wraondsnyIn the middle of 2013 I somewhat unexpectedly re-launched Brooklyn Wargaming with a new design and a renewed posting vigor. Since then, I’ve had more than 10,000 visits from readers all over the world. Together with these folks I’m sure to never know, we share a continued passion for gaming I am committed to infusing in every one of my postsings here.

My World War II Flames of War posts are clearly the favorites for visitors to the site. My FOW After Action Reports continue to garner a lot of daily views, and people in particular seem to love the Barkmann’s Corner scenario I played in July at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. More AARs and building-out my various national forces in my FOW Modelling posts will be a big part of 2014.

As for other stuff on the site, my few posts on Warfare In The Age of Reason are quickly shooting to the top of popularity. I really enjoy writing up my plays a variety of board and card games through my New Game Weekend posts, and taking a look backward at Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s often result in emails from people like me who have fond memories of hours spent at play in the past.

Looking to 2014, here’s where my focus will continue and grow on Brooklyn Wargaming and the tabletop each week.

World War II

For years, I’ve played a lot of FOW with a big focus on Western Europe. To start the year, I’ll be playing a beach landing or two as a way to prep for the 70th anniversary of D-Day this summer, and I’ve also got a handful of other historic scenarios I’ve been working-up over the past few months.

a3ee242c52

Over Thanksgiving, my brother (another lifelong gamer like myself) handed me a copy of Antony Breevor’s Stalingrad and told me it was the best military history book he’d ever read. The highly-readable account of the vicious siege of Stalingrad has gotten my hooked on the idea of expanding my WWII gaming into the Eastern Front in the new year.

Desperate-Measures

As a first step toward this front of the war, I picked up the new FOW Desperate Measures book. While this intelligence briefing is centered on the closing months of the war battled among German and Soviet forces, there’s also a newly-released updated edition of the FOW Red Bear book which gives a broader look at the Allied forces on the Eastern Front. These resources coupled with my historical reading on Stalingrad have whet my appetite for fielding some large masses of Russian forces on the table. A couple other guys at the club in Brooklyn have already started putting together some of Stalin’s finest and I’m very much looking forward to the Eastern Front opening up my WWII gaming with some scenarios this year.

716532

I spent a chunk of the past year reading Rick Atkinson’s Guns At Last Light, the third book in his World War II Liberation Trilogy. The book’s focus on the D-Day landings through the campaigns in Western Europe to the fall of the Third Reich squares with the majority of my FOW gaming from the past year. Working my way back through Atkinson’s books, I’m just starting in on The Day Of Battle for Christmas. As with my new swing in interest toward the Soviets and Eastern Front, I’m looking to Atkinson’s second WWII book to fill in my knowledge on the southern European campaigns in Sicily and Italy. Whether I get some Italian troops on the table by year’s end remains to be seen, but I’m really looking to 2014 as another big year of WWII gaming and learning.

Seven Years War

I grew up in Western New York State and then lived for a period of time in Western Pennsylvania, so the French and Indian War has always lingered as an interest but has never found its way into my gaming.

lastmohicanpen

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and other books in his Leatherstocking Tales series have also been favorites since boyhood. These colorful stories are set within the wilderness backdrop of the colonial wars of the Americas fuel much of my love for the French and Indian War period, and my visits to historic sites like Fort Niagara and Fort Necessity have added physical understanding to the frontier conflicts of the period.

ageofreasonrules

Toward the end of 2013, a fellow club member introduced me to the Warfare In the Age Of Reason rules and the Seven Years War. While my experience gaming battles from the period have thus far had a European focus, my long-time interest in what most consider the world’s first global-scale war holds tremendous interest for me. To this end, I hope to make wargaming the Americas front with the FIW a project for the coming year. Modelling 15mm miniatures of colonists, French, British and Native Americans, along with requisite early American frontier terrain, is sure to be making an appearance here in the coming months.

World War I

While I’m on the subject of world wars, I can’t help but acknowledge the calendar and the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of World War I this coming July.keegan_first_l

My only real exposure to the war so far has been with John Keegan’s excellent The First World War. I’ve read a half-dozen of Keegan’s books, and his 1999 overview of the Great War gave me a solid introduction to a war that’s often overlooked by most Americans like myself. Clearly this is a major period in modern warfare I could stand to learn more about.

9780385351225_p0_v1_s260x420

To get myself back into the period, I’m planning on reading Max Hasting’s Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War which made many top nonfiction lists at the end of 2013. I’ve only gamed WWI once with a 28mm French-German trench warfare scenario at a convention back in 2011, but there are a number of club members with miniatures from the period I may prod into using in some games this year. There are also rumors afoot that the makers of FOW are expanding into WWI just in time for this year’s anniversary, but for now I think some time with a few good books should be enough tribute from me in 2014.

And…

I can’t really tell with complete certainty where this coming year in gaming will take me. Like with most battle plans, a grand strategy can be laid out but actual events often unfold very differently in the fog of war. I can say there will be more miniatures, more scenarios and more completely fresh games to come here on Brooklyn Wargaming by New Year’s Day 2015. For now, here’s to old fronts not forgotten from 2013 and new fronts to come in 2014.

Flames of War: Fielding the Guards Armoured Division

guardstanks

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.

IMG_1896

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.

Military Terrain Making in World War II

In the opening pages of the recently-released and well-reviewed final book of his World War II “Liberation Trilogy,” The Guns At Last Light: The War In Western Europe, 1944-1945, author Rick Atkinson takes the reader swiftly to St. Paul’s School in west London on the fateful morning of May 15, 1944. In a darkened room, the secret council of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) were awaiting a presentation on the final plans for the impending Normandy invasion. With the 145 collected commanders and dignitaries (including Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George IV) seated, the meeting is brought to order by Supreme Allied Commander, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Behind him in the cockpit of the Model Room lay an immense plaster relief map of the Normandy coast where the river Seine spilled into the Atlantic. Thirty feet wide and set on a tilted platform visible from the back benches, this apparition depicted, in bright colors and on a scale of six inches to the mile, the rivers, villages, beaches, and uplands of what would become the world’s most famous battlefield. A brigadier wearing skid-proof socks and armed with a pointer stood at port arms, ready to indicate locales soon to achieve household notoriety: Cherbourg, St.-Lo, Caen, Omaha Beach.

Over the next several hundred pages, Atkinson’s book goes onto to recount the trials, travails and eventual success of Operation Overlord and the eventual Allied victory in Europe. Although I’ve read accounts of the period before, the book is incredibly gripping and moves surprisingly briskly. In reading though, my mind keeps wandering back to that brief description of that enormous model of the invasion laid out before so many great military leaders nearly 70 years ago.

No one knows for certain when terrain models were first used in warfare. One might easily envision some leader of a primitive warband arranging sticks in the dirt before his subordinates as a way of planning for an upcoming attack on a rival force. What we do know is that by a few hundred years ago models were being used frequently by commanders and in military schools throughout Europe. It was out of these same elite war colleges that modern miniature wargaming would eventually spring.

It’s from this place where my mind keeps turning back to that plaster model in 1944 London. As a wargamer, I’ve previously written here about my passion for creating a well-laid-out terrain board for my gaming. With a bit of digging around online, I managed to uncover quite a few resources outlining the this bit of military craftwork and its importance in 20th-century war planning.

Terrain Models, a joint Swiss-American scholarly site dedicated to the European history of military topographic modelling, gives a great overview of how the tradition grew through the ages. With a bit of a slant toward Swiss model-making history, the site does provide a lengthy bibliography, a rundown of model types and a number of photos (sample, right).

In a 2002 article entitled “Allied Military Model Making During World War II” from the journal of Geography and Geographic Information Science, English lecturer Alastair W. Peterson also offers a bit of historical context before detailing the specific importance of models to Allied forces in WWII. Peterson outlines the evolution of methods and materials and also presents a nice chart of common scales and military uses for each (below).

The article also presents personal accounts of the people recruited for model making during the war, and the challenges they too faced far and away from the actual fighting. A recent interview in the Cleveland Plain Dealer provides another set of remembrances from a veteran who spent the war making topographic models, including one used ahead of the Normandy invasion.

Other discoveries I made include a 1945 Universal Newsreel entitled “Secret Maps Guided US Bombers” which offers up a rare behind-the-scenes look at the construction of massive 80 foot 3D map used in planning late war air raids on Japan. And the undated color photo at left shows what purports to be a group of students learning techniques in creating a terrain map for military use during or immediately following WWII.

The articles, sites and photos I’ve uncovered give a cursory overview of military terrain making and their role in WWII. There are some lost gems I’d like to dig into more, including tracking down an actual copy of the 1956 US Army training manualĀ Terrain Models and Relief Map Making (TM 5-249) which is referred to in a number of online bibliographies. But for now, I’ll carry all this history with me as I lay out my next wargaming battlefield in the context of all the historic importance many of the same skills and techniques have played in the wars of the past.