Flames of War: Dust Up Mission With “Blood, Guts and Glory”

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Although actually made up of a number of battles and assaults during World War II, the post-D-Day breakout actions by the Allies in late 1944 in Northern France has become commonly known as the Lorraine Campaign to military historians. Frustrated by poor weather conditions and weak supply lines, the General George Patton’s 3rd Army push into Germany eventually led to the wintery and more famed German counteroffensive with the  Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945.

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Flames of War offers a book outlining the Lorraine Campaign with Blood, Guts and Glory. US lists in the book focus on the powerful tank and armored rifle companies which made up the steely backbone of Patton’s daunting force. For the Germans, the cobbled-together 106 Panzerkorps Felderherrnhalle and 111 Panzer brigade are outlined with forces full of some of the best Late War armor and equipment albeit under somewhat challenging motivation and experience ratings.

A couple of weeks ago at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, two of us had a go at a fictional battle set during the Lorraine Campaign. We play against each other a fair amount, and both of us were looking to switch things up commanding some very different forces. The tabletop terrain was also different with a more open battlefield lined with fields, woods, gentle hills and two farms. All of this was quite a departure from the games we have most played set in the days and months after the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944.

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My opponent’s Panzerkompanie was  full of armor – Stugs, Panthers and Panzer IVs – and  supplemented by an Aufklärungs platoon and a couple Wirbelwinds to chase away any US aircraft. For my US force, I wanted to try out some underused rifle platoons which were supported by 105mm M7 Priests, some Shermans and a P-47 Thunderbolt buzzing overhead. We also chose a different game framework, opting for a somewhat complicated Dust Up scenario from the official Flames of War missions list.

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Our Dust Up scenario with my US forces in the foreground and Germans in the distance

Well, as the game played out, I quickly discovered I had brought infantry to a tank fight. With one of my infantry platoons camped out in the woods near two objectives, my hope was to stave off the German armor advance with repeated bombardments from my Priests and diving runs from the P-47.

IMG_3398US M7 Priest platoon taking up position

IMG_3399US rifles deploy in the woods to guard a nearby objective

Things went well for me in the early stages as Panthers stalled moving through the woods. A Wirbelwind and two Panthers were subsequently destroyed from 105mm volleys , but my P-47 failed to get any traction in stopping a group of Stugs creeping along the table edge. Even so, a couple turns in I was feeling fairly confident my artillery fire would whittle away the rolling German advance.

IMG_3401A German Panther and Wirbelwind are destroyed by incoming US 105mm fire

IMG_3400Panthers make through the woods but one bogs in the terrain

IMG_3402The P-47 Thunderbolt attempts a run at a Stug platoon

IMG_3403More fire from the Priests take out another Panther

My plan fell apart as the first German Panzer IV reserves came on the table at the corner behind my Priest battery and made quick work of the nearly-armorless US mobile artillery. I swung my surviving Priest and supporting Sherman around and engaged the Germans at close range with direct fire, but succeeded in only cracking open one German tank. In another turn, the Priests were wiped from the board and only my infantry platoon remained to defend my end of the table. The P-47 appeared again to control the center of the battlefield, but missed on its run. The US center and flank were crumbling by the time turn four approached.

IMG_3405Panzer IV reinforcements surprise the Priests from the rear

IMG_3406The Thunderbolt tries to stall the German armor in the middle of the field

My reserve Shermans came on the table near a farm and quickly engaged with the Panthers which swung to meet the US armor advance. Shots from my heavier 76mm guns lit up a Panther and bailed another’s crew. The German tanks returned fire, destroying all but one 76mm Sherman as more Panzer IVs showed up with the Aufklärungs platoon close behind.

IMG_3407Reserve American 75 and 76mm Shermans roll on the board

IMG_3409The last of the Priests burn as more Panzer IVs appear

In the fifth turn, my final supporting infantry platoon arrived in their halftracks, dismounted and made a desperate run for an objective in the open field. The infantry on my side of the table also broke from the woods in a last-ditch assault on a mass of German tanks creeping toward an objective but were repulsed. With German armor swarming an objective, the game went to the Axis.

IMG_3410A reinforcing column of US rifles follows-up the Sherman advance

IMG_3413A lone Sherman survives as the US rifle company dismounts and heads for an objective

IMG_3414US riflemen break from the woods in a desperate assault on German tanks at an objective

IMG_3415With tanks aflame in the fields, the Germans take an objective

Clearly, my US plan from the outset was a stretch. Had I taken the more historic approach of Patton in the Lorraine Campaign of 1944, a fully-armored US force may very well have stood a fair chance against all the German tanks shuttling here and there on the tabletop. Balancing history and what-ifs is what makes playing Flames of war so engaging over and over again, but next time I’ll be careful not to second-guess the command decisions made in Northern France some 70 years ago.

Flames of War: Aalst 1944 Scenario

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

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

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

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German set-up at Aalst

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

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

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British set-up at Aalst

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

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 Vandeleur leads the Guards into position behind the town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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German armored reserves arrive

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

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British command tanks move to engage the Germans

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

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A Panzerfaust lights up a British command tank

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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: 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.