Metropolitan Wargamers D-Day Plus 70 Event – June 6th-8th 2014

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This June is the 70th Anniversary of the Allied D-Day landings at Normandy, and New York City’s oldest and largest wargaming club Metropolitan Wargamers is celebrating with a full weekend of events.

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La Fiere Causeway at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY

Whether you’re new to the hobby or an experienced gamer, there will be plenty of WWII action the entire weekend. On the evening of Friday June 6th we’ll begin with Flames of War airborne landing scenarios. Saturday June 7th kicks off at noon with a FOW beach landing scenario on one of the club’s famed sand tables. Sunday wraps up the weekend with a couple FOW breakthrough battles and a large Memoir ’44 board game. Other WWII-themed games will run throughout the weekend.

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Utah Beach on one of the sand tables at Metropolitan Wargamers

We’ll have FOW scenarios set up for the weekend with plenty of miniatures and stunning terrain on the club’s tables, so all you need to bring is your passion for wargaming and history. Our FOW miniatures games are fun and a feast for the eyes, and you can get a sense of what’s in store for the weekend by viewing some of our past scenarios at the club here.

Admission for the full weekend of gaming is just $10 and a great opportunity to visit a very unique community of gamers in the heart of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

For more information and to RSVP for the D-Day Plus 70 weekend, check the Metropolitan Wargamers website or join our Yahoo group.

Micro Armour: Getting Started

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After years of wargaming World War II with Flames of War, I’ve been looking for a change of pace for the period. I’ve recently caught up on the vast majority of my modelling projects, including fairly extensive American, British and German Late War forces as well as a bunch of terrain. I’ve also been interested in playing larger battles, something that becomes a bit unwieldy with FOW. In looking for a way to expand my WWII gaming experience, I’ve been weighing factors of scale, cost, storage and time. After a lot of thought, I’m going small and getting started with WWII in micro scale.

The standard in micro scale gaming is GHQ. Founded in the late 1960s and based just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, GHQ manufactures an extensive line of pewter miniatures for WWII, Modern, Napoleonic, American Civil War and various naval eras. In the early 1990s, GHQ also began offering N and HO scale vehicles targeting model railroading enthusiasts. Along with their gaming models, the company has developed a number of rulesets and terrain-building supplies appropriate for various eras of combat at the micro scale level. For over 40 years GHQ’s models have been held in high regard by wargamers as well as the US military which uses the company’s products for training and planning excercises.

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World War II miniatures scale comparisons (from www.historicalwargames.net)

The 1/285th (6mm) scale of GHQ’s WWII models offers a number of differences and potential advantages to larger scales, such as 1/100th (15mm) FOW miniatures and 1/56 (28mm) models from the expanding Bolt Action game line from Warlord Games.

  • Scale: In 6mm micro scale, an entire infantry platoon can be represented with approximately 3-5 figures mounted to a small square or round base. An inch on the table approximates 100 yards on the battlefield. This allows for larger multi-company or battalion level games compared to smaller single company and platoon skirmish games at a 15mm or 28mm scales.
  • Cost: Wargaming at any scale is an investment, but micro scale allows for the depiction of large battles for a fraction of the cost of larger scales. The starter sets from GHQ provide around twenty tanks for $40, making individual armour models just a couple bucks each compared to the 15mm scale where tanks can run easily to triple that cost. Fielding an entire 6mm infantry and armor company might run just $10-20 while that same company at 15mm could run hundreds of dollars. And, since each micro scale tank represents a platoon and a platoon in FOW may run to maybe six tank models (or more), the game scales cheap and fast into grand scale engagements.
  • Storage: As the website says, I live in Brooklyn, NY, so storage is always an issue for my board games, cards games, miniatures, terrain and hobby supplies. I keep a lot of my miniatures at my local club, Metropolitan Wargamers, but I like having stuff around the apartment for when the gaming mood hits. At the micro scale level, dozens of tanks, infantry and vehicles can be carried in a shoulder bag or kept in a drawer. Compared to my FOW collection which sprawls over multiple bags and boxes, micro scale makes for some quick and easy game deployment just about anywhere.
  • Time: Painting micro scale takes a fraction of time compared to larger scales. A quick spray of white primer followed by a thinned color basecoat, a couple dots of detail, a wash and maybe a tiny decal is all that’s needed to get forces on the table and ready to game.

IMG_3211GHQ’s US Shermans vs. German Panzer IVs box set

IMG_3210GHQ’s US Armoured Infantry Command 1944 box set

To get started at the micro scale, I ordered two sets from GHQ. The Shermans vs. Panzer IVs Battle Box comes with ten tanks per side, a storage case and a set of rules — everything needed to get a game started. To this, I added the US Armoured Infantry Command 1944 set with additional tanks, half-tracks, jeeps, armoured cars and a bunch of infantry. To get some Germans into action, I think I’ll be going for the German Kampfgruppe 1944 for a nice mix of infantry, transport, Marders and even some horse and wagon teams.

IMG_3214Assembly of my first GHQ micro armour sets

In well under less than an hour’s initial work, my first sets of micro armour glued up fast with some careful organization of parts and assembly with superglue and tweezers. Already I’m loving getting so many models ready for paint and then on to the table in no time at all. The saying is “go big or go home” but my new micro armour project looks like its already going to be a massive amount of fun in a very small package.

A Trip to Brooklyn’s Trainworld

trainworldbknyI’ve written several times about my lifetime love for model trains which served as my gateway to the scale modelling hobby and eventually to miniatures wargaming. Walking into a model train convention or local hobby shop as a kid was like opening an alternate fantasy world of endless possibility. On occasional nights after dinner as a young hobbyist, my dad’s announcement that we were climbing into his truck to take a trip to Kurt’s Trains & Hobbies in nearby Caledonia, NY was like declaring we were about to take a journey to another universe.

So, after some 16 years living in Brooklyn, NY I recently made my first stop at Trainworld in the Kensington neighborhood just a few subway stops from my front door. Located in an light industrial stretch of McDonald Avenue right under the elevated F line, Trainworld is an old slice of Brooklyn brimming with charmingly coarse but knowledgeably helpful staff and one of the largest inventories anywhere of model railroading and related hobby supplies.

IMG_2906Trains running on the layout at Trainworld in the Kensington area of Brooklyn, NY

Trainworld and their Trainland location in Lynbrook, NY in nearby Nassau County lay claim as “America’s Largest Discount Mail Order Discount Train Store” powered by their extensive and well-built website. The retail location in Brooklyn features a main store space packed from floor to ceiling with N, HO, O, G and S scale model trains, track, buildings, scenery and supplies. A small phone staff manages customer service queries in a second space off the main store which also features a small train layout which loops and clatters around all day long. The enormous warehouse opens through a door just past the main retail counter space, granting any walk-in customer full access to the store’s massive inventory.

IMG_2904Scale scenery supplies at Trainworld

It’s been years since I’ve had my own model railroad layout, but having a place like Trainworld nearby is a huge resource for a wargamer and miniatures modeller like myself. On my recent visit, I was able to grab a few bags of various ground cover products from Woodland Scenics right off the racks stretched the entire length of one wall. When one specific color I needed wasn’t on display, a quick call to the warehouse brought a package to the counter in about five minutes.

IMG_2905Shelves of trees and natural modelling details at Trainworld

A little further down the aisle are several shelves of ready-made model trees of varying quality, size, coloring and price point, as well as other packaged details like rocks, gravel, crop fields and a flowering meadows. All these scenic materials are just the thing  I enjoy in making my various tabletop battlefields come alive, a topic I touched on in one of my earliest posts on this blog.

I’ve got a number of scenery projects on my list for the coming months, including a re-basing of my trees and scratch-building bocage hedgerows. Discovering a place like Trainworld just 10-minutes from my apartment is going to make these projects all the easier and provide fuel for more ideas for some time to come.

Warfare In The Age Of Reason: Battle of Kolin 1757

drillmanual18th-century European military drill manual

Now that I’ve had my interest sparked in the Seven Years War (SYW) period, I’ve been doing some homework. For background, a lot of people point to the outstanding Wiki-style Kronoskaf SYW Project website for more than 2200 articles and 5500 pictures relating to the period. I’ve found the maps collection to be particularly compelling since I have a huge interest in how landscapes shape warfare in all periods.

I’ve also laid out a small initial investment on the very popular Warfare In The Age Of Reason rulebook written by Tod Kershner and Dale Wood, published by Emperor’s Press and available at On Military Matters. I also found a Facebook page dedicated to the rules which I plan on using for visual inspiration and gaming information in the coming months. At some point, tracking down a copy of the out-of-print Uniforms of the Seven Years War 1756-63 by John Mollo and Malcolm McGregor sounds like thing to do if I want a collection of handy plates on my bookshelf.

Fortunately there are a few players at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY who already have pretty sizable collections of SYW 15mm miniatures from a represenative cross-section of period armies. Some guys at the club also have figures from the period in 28mm, and one of the newer members is talking about running a campaign-style SYW game next year. Even with models at the ready for gaming at our club, I’m already eyeballing the 18th-century 15mm figures available from Old Glory Miniatures and Essex Miniatures as one of my projects for 2014.

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Battle of Kolin, June 18, 1757

This past weekend, my son and I got together with some club members in Brooklyn for another SYW game, this time the Battle of Kolin June 18th, 1757. The battle came a couple months prior to our previously-played scenario of Moys from September 1757, and proved to be the first defeat experienced by King Frederick II of Prussia.

Admired by contemporaries and scholars today as one of the greatest military leaders in history, Frederick The Great and his Prussian forces were viewed at the dawn of the SYW period as the greatest standing army in Europe. Aligned with Great Britain and surrounded by Austrian-aligned adversaries on the continent, Frederick’s tactical innovations led his often outnumbered forces to numerous victories.

At Kolin in the present day Czech Republic, Frederick led some 34,000 Prussians in a march hoping to destroy the Austrian army seeking to reinforce the besieged city of Prague. Unfortunately for Frederick, he chose to confront the superior force of 44,000 Austrians on their home turf defending from the rolling hills near Kolin. On the hot summery day in June, Frederick’s aggressive gamble would result in his undoing.

 IMG_2605Starting hilltop positions of the Austrians with the oak wood to their right and the Prussian lines before them

IMG_2591The central Austrian defenses with heavy guns at the front, cavalry in reserve and skirmishers in the town beyond

Our battle started historically with the Austrian infantry aligned across the defending hills, three heavy gun batteries at the center and cavalry to either end of the line. The Prussian advance began with a cavalry push on their left around a small town held by Austrian allied skirmishers. Frederick, near the center of the line, began a slow and cautious march to the hill objectives toward the center.

IMG_2597Prussian cavalry charge into the Austrian right

IMG_2596Austrians advanced on the skirmishers in the village

On the Prussian left, a cavalry charge was met with a counter charge from the Austrian-aligned Hussars. Nearby, Austrian line infantry advanced in the hopes of driving skirmishers out of the nearby town. If the initial Austrian press worked, the entire Prussian right flank would fold.

IMG_2602As disordered Hussars retreat, Austrian heavy cavalry ride to answer the Prussian charge

IMG_2593Austrian heavy cavalry gallop to defend their right

As the Hussars folded under the attack and retreated in disorder, Austrian heavy cavalry charged back toward the advancing Prussians. With the Prussian charge repulsed with losses on both sides, the Austrian cavalry now looked to turn the Prussian left flank with more heavy cavalry rushing from the rear.

IMG_2592Gun batteries at the Austrian center

IMG_2604Prussians advance on the Austrian center and receive cannon fire

IMG_2600Prussian lines continue the advance as cavalry reserves in the distance rush to buoy their softening left flank

At the center of the table, the Austrian lines held their ground and pulled into the nearby woods to defend against the coming Prussian advance. As Prussian infantry advanced several lines deep, they were met with several turns of cannon fire yet continued their press forward with Fredrick attached at the rear. If you listened carefully, I think you could hear Fredrick’s famed shout of “do you want to live forever?” echoing from the tabletop as he urged his Prussians onward.

IMG_2603The Austrian battery takes casualties from the advancing Prussians

IMG_2601The Austrian battery is overrun in a Prussian charge

Eventually, the  overwhelming force of the Prussian lines closed on the Austrian batteries at the front of the line. One battery was destroyed and a second fled the field following a charged assault. With Austrian infantry now staring down from on the hill, the Prussians marched uphill to their objective and closed within charge distance.

IMG_2598Prussians press the attack into the woods and up the hill

IMG_2599The wood becomes a locked melee as firing erupts all along both lines and into the distance on the Austrian left

A charge and counter charge locked lines in melee in the woods at the Austrian right as Prussians pressed their advance now all along the line. On the center hill, an Austrian line wheeled down the hill to envelope the Prussian lines in fire both to the front and at their flank. The one remaining Austrian battery continued to pummel the Prussian lines scrambling for the center hill. On the far hill on the Austrian left, lines finally made a move on the Prussians.

With the cavalry charges at a stalemate on the Austrian right and the Prussian lines split into two losing combats at the hills, the Prussians failed a morale test under heavy losses and ceded the field to the Austrian army. Once again, Frederick’s gambit at Kolin had resulted in defeat.

fredIIkolin‘ Frederick the Great After the Battle of Kolin’ by Julius Schrader (1859)

After two games in the Seven Years War period in as many weeks, I’m hooked on the era. The games begin cautiously with slowly-deployed movements but quickly erupt into vicious volleys of fire, swift charges and hand-to-hand combats. Even with thoughtful strategic planning at the outset, the battles quickly evolve into chaotic back-and-forth tactical blood baths. The constant morale checks as the battlefield shifts and fire is taken becomes as much a path to outcome as men falling on the field. And, as with the original battle at Kolin, the Austrians defenders proved to be too much a match again for the Prussian invaders this past weekend.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Dover Cut & Assemble Books

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I had a whole host of hobbies as a kid. There were plastic model kits from Airfix and Revell. I had a huge HO-scale train layout in my basement. Model rockets from Estes regularly launched from my back yard. Roleplaying and historical miniatures gaming finally came along, allowing me to incorporate a lot of my passion for models  into the terrain, buildings and countless metal figures I’d need for my dungeon crawls or fields of battle.

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One of my fondest early memories of scale-modelling was with the Dover Publications “Cut & Assemble” or “Easy-To-Make” books. I recall a steady flow of these books in my house with my mother picking them up with some frequency off the book racks at five-and-dimes, toy shops and book stores. There were so many of these and other activity books piled in my room as a kid, and it seemed like nearly every time we went shopping there was a new one to add to the collection.

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These books offered models from many periods including ancient castles, Viking outposts, European villages, Old West towns, Victorian mansions, seaside settlements and even some modern structures. Along with the main buildings, many of the books included details like fences and walls, wells, animals, vehicles and people. These made each book a playset of its own but also allowed for a few different books to be used together. My western town might be settled right outside the fronteir fort, and civil soldier cut-outs would fight among the buildings included in the New England-themed village sets. The HO scale of the models also lent them for use with my plastic soldiers and livestock , and I’d often throw in some lichen bushes or custom-made roads to the set-up.

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Assembly of the models in the Dover books did take a fair amount of time, and the details on things like porches, roofs, stairways and chimneys often involved tiny multiple folds. The hours I spent cutting and gluing together the buildings, often with minimal instructions, certainly gave me plenty of practice in a small scale. The heavy cardstock made the buildings fairly sturdy once built, making them easy to throw in a box when done playing with them.

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The rise of at-home printing has created a resurgence in papercraft modelling no longer constrained to books like those from Dover and Usborne Books. A lot of miniatures gamers swear by the relatively-inexpensive and quickly-accessible papercraft terrain made specifically for gamers by companies such as Paper Terrain or uploaded for free on a number of gaming sites and forums.

Despite my time paper modelling as a kid in the 70s and 80s, I’ve moved on from it with my gaming today. That said, I have been spending a fair amount of time with my youngest son who has developed an interest as of late in searching, printing and assembling Minecraft papercraft models. With his new passion for papercrafting I’m thinking that revisting the Dover books of my past with my son may be a great way to nurture a newly-seeded hobby to last another lifetime.

Collector’s Note: While some of the Dover “Cut & Assemble” or “Easy-To-Make” books are now out of print, many are still available online both new and used starting at under $10 each.

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

lafiere1944

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.

causewaygamemap

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: Modelling European Western Front Buildings

153770I got into miniatures wargaming through a combined set of interests I developed as a kid: history, role-playing and scale modelling. One of the aspects of gaming I enjoy is setting up a realistic and engaging tabletop battlefield, both for the visual effect but also to reproduce the playable advantages and challenges found in waging scenarios within scenery.

I’ve been searching high and low for an affordable and well-made set of buildings to add to my 15mm Flames of War World War II gaming set in the post D-Day Western Front. Battlefront Miniatures, the makers of Flames of War, launched their own series of buildings last year. The pre-painted buildings are beautiful, albeit a bit too perfect and pretty expensive at $40-50 each. Miniature Building Authority (MBA) has been a long-time producer of fine pre-painted buildings. Like the structures from Battlefront, MBA models feature removable roofs but also convert into ruined bombed-out versions. At $40-50 for single large buildings or for pairs of smaller ones, the MBA buildings are also pretty pricey. MBA keeps a small line in stock, but they have dozens of out-of-production models which you can also find at conventions and occasionally online. JR Miniatures is another standby in the industry, but I find their relatively low-priced line of buildings is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of casting and playability.

markivWith building up my gaming real estate on my mind, I posted to the message boards at The Miniatures Page. Some suggestions pointed to the above manufacturers, but several posters also mentioned Mark IV Miniatures. The company is run by Jeff McCarron, a second-generation gaming modeller out of Colorado who obviously puts great care and passion into his work. McCarron sells his models directly and distributes them through Musket Miniatures, and I found him to be incredibly responsive to a couple questions I had before ordering. As it turned out, a fellow member of Metropolitan Wargamers had recently picked up the large church model and a couple houses from Mark IV. After playing with his models during our big Summer FOW event and Barkmann’s Corner scenario at the club, I decided these were the buildings to sink an investment into.

1148873_10201247963855523_305675209_nI decided to go with several two and three-story buildings, a barn, a courtyard and some walls, all ordered from Musket Miniatures. With all these models, I’d have the flexibility to set up a fairly decent-sized town or play with them as a separate farm estates. The castings arrived clean and required little tidying-up of residual flash with a knife.

20130830-233936.jpgI did have to put in a bit of work gluing plastic tabs to the undersides of the floors and roofs to provide a snug fit for each story of the buildings. The larger one-story bank building also required a wall and metal cast windows to be glued in place.

20130830-234253.jpgFor painting reference, I searched online for photos of European villages. After a light grey spray basecoat, the stucco walls of the buildings were dabbed with a bit of foam sponge in sandy gray-brown stucco and then dry-brushed with an off-white paint to add variety to the wall surfaces. Exposed stonework, the courtyard cobbles and masonry details at the corners, doors and windows all got combinations of varying shades of grays, browns and whites to create some depth.

IMG_2115Shutters, doors and windows were painted with dull blue, white, green and red trim, mimicking some of the variety in paint schemes I had found in photos online. For the roofs, a black undercoat was dry brushed in a couple shades of grey with a bit of browns and dark green shades mixed in. On the barn model I glued on some thin pieces of lichen to add the look of vines covering part of the walls.

IMG_2117The walled courtyard and modular wall sections got a two-part paint scheme over the gray primer. A watered-down brown-black wash over the bricks and cobbles filled the cracks with a dark shading finished-off with an off-white dry-brushed highlighting coat. The courtyard and wall gates started with a dark brown base with a lighter brown adding aged detail to the wood. Iron hinges got a black undercoat with some rusty metal dabbed over it. The result was some very realistic stone and brickwork walls.

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IMG_2125I couldn’t be more pleased with the buildings. They’ve already seen some action on the tabletop in my recent Singling ’44 game and combining them with my existing trees, roads and lichen hedgerows really brings the battlefield to life. I’m already eying a few of the other models offered by Mark IV, including some ruined versions of the same buildings which come cast in some exciting bombed-out interior detail.

At Metropolitan Wargamers, there’s some early plans being laid for another big day of gaming to coincide with the fall’s Flames of War Tanksgiving 2013 event and there’s certain to be plenty of WWII action before then. With my new buildings from Mark IV on the table, these miniature landmarks are certain to add even more depth an interest to all out future games.

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.

Flames of War: Barkmann’s Corner Scenario

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Ernst Barkmann was one of the top German tank aces to fight in World War II. Commanding a Panther tank, Barkmann served throughout the entire war on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. Not only was he deadly while at the command, but his crew became adept at making on-the-fly field repairs and getting back into action. By the time he surrendered to British forces in the spring of 1945, Barkmann had become one of the most decorated German tank commanders of the war. He was not yet 26 years of age.

barkmannmapFlames of War offers a special Ernst Barkmann warrior set which includes Barkmann commanding his Panther plus a separate mobile repair shop. FOW also provides free scenario rules for the famed “Barkmann’s Corner” engagement from July 27, 1944. Fought in the Normandy region of France, the small battle is a classic in which Barkmann’s single tank went up against a column of over a dozen US Sherman tanks. In the end, nine Shermans and other vehicles were destroyed before Barkmann was able to slip away to safety. I’ve had the Barkmann model painted up for a few years, but I had never fielded it in a game of his most famed run-in with the Americans. With a frequent summer guest of the Metropolitan Wargamers club leaving NYC for home in Florida this coming week, the two of us got together this past weekend to have a go at the scenario.

As per the rules, the small 4′ x 4′ playing area is set with fields and roads heavily crisscrossed with the high bocage hedgerows of Normandy in which I love to set my games. Barkmann’s tank and his supporting Panzergrenadier platoon begin dug into positions around a small farm at one end of the board. In the opposite corner, the US tank command group and their first platoon of M4A1s begin the game slowly rolling down the narrow road but blocked by a burning tank. The first platoon is strengthened by the presence of Staff Sgt. Lafayette Pool, another special figure offered from FOW. Historically, Pool wasn’t at this engagement but the inclusion of the hard-charging tank ace from Texas helps balance the scenario a bit. Two larger platoons of Shermans lie in the column off the board but enter on turn two and three. The Americans need to keep things moving and Barkmann’s there to stop them.

With the first turn, the US armor column begins down the road toward the farm objective in the near distance.

bark1Barkmann lies in wait behind a small copse of trees with the Panzergrenadiers gone to ground behind the bocage.

1075723_10201126852027803_1689119621_nIn the next few turns as the Americans slowly moved over the dense bocage lining the roads, the US plan became clear. The command tanks and Pool’s platoon headed toward the house and the German right flank. The remainder of the Shermans broke toward the German center and left, bogging repeatedly along the way. In the meantime, Barkmann moved to the far side of the farm house to protect his side and line up several shots on Pool’s platoon.

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3637_10201126853787847_675127225_nWith the Americans splitting in two directions and the German infantry safely in the house, Barkmann took several side shot’s at Pool’s platoon and then rode bravely to the road to begin taking shots at the approaching center Shermans. As Pool became the final survivor of his platoon, Barkmann swung his attention back to his left flank and the bulk of the closing US force which had freed itself from a series of challenging bogged turns.

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1012007_10201126856347911_1734345823_nAs the two largely-intact surviving Sherman platoons continued to attempt a flanking move on Barkmann, his Panther was forced into movement each turn to align shots and stay covered. Pool also managed to pour fire into the farmhouse with his main gun, eliminating some of the Panzergrenadiers before fleeing the table on a failed motivation test. With the twelfth and final turn, Barkmann had backed himself up to the house to protect the objective and eliminated a couple more tanks along the way. Had there been one more turn and roll of the dice, and the game would’ve gone for the Americans.

1011343_10201126857107930_1603972880_nAfter the large Total War scenarios at the club the previous weekend, it was a welcome break to play a small yet engaging battle with a limited amount of models to command. The bocage is the great equalizer in the scenario, providing alternate turns of benefit and frustration to each side as movement is stalled and lines of sight are blocked. Having read a number of historic accounts of the field-to-field fighting throughout Normandy in the spring and summer of 1944, the Barkmann’s Corner scenario went a long way in showing that choosing where you fight can be one of the most important factors in the outcome.

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