Flames of War: Fielding the US M1 57mm Anti-Tank Platoon

m157mmIt was clear to the Allies from the early years of World War II that German tanks were a big problem. From the early Panzer models to the medium Panthers and finally to the famed Tiger I and Königstiger, German armor combined with German tactics were major threats to Allies forces throughout the war.

To help counter the German armor threat on the battlefield, the Allies quickly evolved their anti-tank weaponry. Building on earlier. lighter guns, the British introduced the “6 pounder” early in the war. Even before entering the war, the United States began production of its version with the M1 57mm anti-tank gun which it exported for use by UK and Soviet forces. Despite the gun’s mixed effectiveness against the strongest German tanks and only occasional use against infantry, the M1 57mm became the standard Allied anti-tank gun of the war with some 15,000 produced.

I’ve previously modeled the British 6 pounder version of these guns for Flames of War, but I wanted to add some of the American M1 57mm models to my miniatures arsenal ahead of the Sint-Oedenrode scenario I’ll be running at the upcoming Fall In! convention in November. As luck would have it, a member of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY was getting rid of some extra packs of the models and I picked them up on the cheap.

Getting these assembled, painted and ready for the table was a quick process. After gluing everything up and covering the bases in a layer of filler putty, they got hit with a basic olive drab spray base undercoat. Flesh and equipment details got picked out, and skin was topped off in a flesh wash. The guns themselves received a brown wash and a lightened green highlighted brush coat. The bases were flocked, I added little bits of shrubby and then everything got a matte spray finish.

The resulting four guns and two command stands gives me a lot of flexibility to add these to a lot of forces throughout the late war period I generally play. As a ubiquitous gun on the battlefields of World War II, these M1 57mm artillery pieces are certain to be making a lot of appearances in my games to come.

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Flames of War: Tanksgiving 2014 After Action Report

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This past weekend seven of us gathered at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY for our second annual Flames of War Tanksgiving event. One new player and six experienced FOW gamers (including two father/son pairs) played through five Late War games using 1750-point companies stretching over three tables — two from Western Europe and one from the Eastern Front. Over the course of the afternoon, British, US, German, Soviet and Hungarian forces fought it out with a mixed results but a slight edge toward the Axis for the day.

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Setting up two Western Europe tables for Tanksgiving 2014

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Western European tables ready to go at Metropolitan Wargamers with an Eastern Front table at the back

British Guards Armoured vs German Schwere SS-Panzerkompanie

The first Western Europe table presented a No Retreat Mission with the Guards Armoured defending a small town from a raiding Tiger-led German force attacking from the open farm area across a river. The Guards deployed an eight 25-pound gun Royal Artillery at the back edge of the table and one objective near the bridge spanning the river to the town. With three other platoons of Sherman and Sherman Firefly tanks in reserve, the initial British force would need to hold fast against the German onslaught.

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Guards Armoured tanks deploy at an objective

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Tigers roll toward the bridge and are covered in smoke rounds

The Germans began the game fully deployed and slowly moving their Tigers toward the bridge and an objective just beyond. With famed tank ace Michael Wittman commanding, the key for the spare British force was to stay away from the deadly guns of the German tanks. At the river ford in the center, the Panzer IVs moved to flank the other side of town with Panzer Grenadiers mounted in half tracks at the rear. The best the British could do was fire smoke rounds into the Tigers across the river and follow-up with long-range shots from the single Firefly deployed at the beginning of the game.

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A Firefly destroys a Tiger at the bridge

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Panzer IVs and Shermans face off in the town streets as a Firefly covers the bridge

Over the next two turns, British reserves arrived and made way for the center of the town, using the tight cobblestone streets and buildings as cover. Artillery spotters stationed in the rooftops of buildings called in several turns of artillery fire but failed to have any effect on the Tigers and destroying only one German halftrack at the river. A crack shot from a Firefly at the center of the town destroyed the first Tiger over the bridge. By the end of the fourth turn, the Panzer IVs wheeled to get into the town at the British left but were pushed back by fire from British Shermans.

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Reserve platoons from the Guards Armoured arrive to engage the Panzer IVs

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Tigers position themselves on two flanks of the town

In the fifth turn, the two remaining platoons from the Guards Armoured arrived to the British left and pushed forward toward the Panzer IVs. With two German tanks quickly lit up, the surviving Panzer IV fell back to the treeline where it was destroyed in the next turn. The British held their left for the moment, but in the cover of the raging tank fight, the dismounted Panzer Grenadiers had managed to slip into the town’s buildings unharmed.

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Firefly Shermans and Tigers face off to protect the objective

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Three Tigers charge hard toward the objective beyond the road

As smoke continued to hold the Tigers from firing at the bridge, a second Tiger was destroyed from a volley from the same Firefly that had sent the first Tiger into flames. While action at the bridge stalled, the three other Tigers had been working their way through wrecking the British tanks which had destroyed the Panzer IVs. All the while, the German infantry had continued to work through the town’s building’s untouched and toward the objective back the rear of town. The British command tanks rolled to stall the advance of the Panzer Grenadiers with machine gun fire and cover the objective.

With most of the British armour ablaze throughout the town, three Tigers rolled toward the objective at the bridge. The surviving British tanks had continued to make successful morale checks with the benefit of their special rerolls. The two surviving Firefly Shermans took a combined shot at a Tiger’s rear and missed. The Tiger’s spun around to return fire, destroying a Firefly. With further ineffective artillery rounds and just one Firefly sitting between three Tigers and the objective, the game was called with a victory for the Germans.

Final Result: Victory for the Germans!

Soviet Tankovy Batalon vs. Hungarian Harckocsizó Század

The day also saw a couple Eastern Front games with Hungarian and Soviet forces facing off on tables set up using a random terrain generator. The Eastern Front table showcased log structures from the excellent Miniature Building Authority Russian Village set along with some rural farm buildings from FOW. Each game saw the Soviets as the attacker, the first taking place on a table representing the bleak steppes of Russia in a Fighting Withdrawal Mission. The defending Hungarians began in prepared positions with a howitzer battery and Panzer IVs to their right, infantry at the center and tanks at the left. The Soviets with T-34 obr 1942 tanks at their extreme  left and right,  SU-100 tank killers and a Gvardeyskiy Tyazheliy Tankovy company at the center and a heavy mortar company at the rear.

IMG_4725The Soviet line moves toward the Hungarian positions

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Soviet tanks roll toward the Hungarian positions

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Hungarian armor proves to be no match for the Soviets

The second Eastern Europe match-up occurred around a collective farm complex with a Dust Up Mission. Starting from opposite corners, both the Hungarians and Soviets positioned themselves into a fantastic series of turns in and around the small farm. With both players moving, dodging for cover and firing at close range, the Hungarians and Soviets sparred for victory as tanks burned all around.

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Game two on the Eastern Front with the central Soviet farm complex

As Hungarian reserves arrived late in the game, infantry climbed out of their trucks and assaulted the Soviet T-34s. Soviet reserves likewise entered the game and made way for the Hungarian howitzers and the objective at the opposite corner. With two intense assaults at either end of the field, the Soviets gained a slight edge and were able to score their second victory on the day.

Final Results: Two Victories for the Soviets!

US 7th Division vs. German Panzer Ausbildungs Abteilung

Back on the other Western Front table a spare rural village anchored by a prominent church and surrounding hill and forests, a deadly force of German Panthers, Tiger Is and Königstigers squared off against the US 7th Division. The Americans rolled into the first Pincer Mission with standard Shermans, M4A3E8 Easy Eights and M4A3E2 Jumbo. At the rear, M7 Priests and 81mm mortars mounted in half tracks were positioned to cover the field in smoke while a P-47 Thunderbolt was on call to swoop in against the German force.

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The US 7th Division deploys in cover on the Western Front

Hoping to avoid German fire, the US tanks crowded into position using the church and other structures for cover as they eased across the field. Once engaged, the Jumbos did their job of eating up fire from the German guns and allowed the other US tanks to advance toward the objectives. Even with smoke cover fired from the rear, air support above and a mass of US armor, the cautious pace of the Americans was no match against the German Tigers firing from the woods. By the time the Americans made a push for the objective in the open, the German tanks were squarely deployed to defend the objective and take the game.

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American tanks bide their time waiting for clear shots at the heavy German armor

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Overwhelming German presence holds the objective

The players switched sides in the second No Retreat Mission on the same table. Again, the Americans came on the table on the far side of the town but this time chose to race aggressively toward their objectives. Defending from the wooded areas again, the Germans were able to fire at will on the advancing Americans. Quickly moving to a close series of short-range duels, tanks on both sides shifted to get into important side armor shot positions. With a tight cluster of models crowding the field near the objectives, American artillery smoke and air support quickly became irrelevant and some lively debate erupted around lines of sight and facings. The second game was a much closer match, but in the end, the thick hulls of the German tanks were no match for the American guns.

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Tanks on both sides jockey for effective shots near an objective

With two victories for the Germans, there was a fair amount of discussion as to whether the Panzer Ausbildungs Abteilung list is an example of a “broken” and unbeatable list in FOW. The Americans tried their best with both cautious and forceful tactics using some great available equipment

Final Results: Two victories for the Germans!

At day’s end, the Axis came out with a slight edge of a 3-2 victory over the Allies across two European fronts. The presence of tough late war German Tiger tanks are a hard force to crack, even with quality American and British armor with lots of air and artillery support. On the other hand, the Russian tank horde always proves to be a formidable Allied opponent whether facing Hungarians or Germans. Force quality, tactics and a bit of luck always play a role, and our five Tanksgiving games were all unique examples of how Flames of War tank battles can go on any given day.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives 1944 Scenario

stlambertsurdives1944Just over two months after the Allied D-Day landings, the Normandy campaign marched toward a conclusion at the Battle of the Falaise Pocket in mid-August 1944. With orders not to withdraw, a last ditch German defense was cobbled together from surviving Panzer divisions in an area about 20 miles south of Caen. Over a nine day period desperate fighting, the German defenders were eventually encircled by overwhelming British, Canadian and US forces. Aside from tens-of-thousands of surrendering troops, Germany had suffered enormous losses in its dwindling tank forces. Elements of the German 7th Army managed to elude capture and slipped back to the German border, although they too took heavy losses in men and and equipment.

VCCurrieMajor David Currie, winner of the Victoria Cross for his actions at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives in August 1944

On August 18, 1944, Canadians from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and armored South Alberta Regiment made way for Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives. The objective was to take and hold the town, thus preventing more Germans from slipping out of the Allied encirclement. Over three days of infantry fighting and tank duels in and around the town, heavy losses piled up on both sides. With dozens of vehicles and tanks destroyed, the surviving Germans surrendered to Major David Currie. Currie’s actions at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives earned him the Victoria Cross, the only one earned by a Canadian during the Normandy campaign.

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View from the north entry point for Canadian troops in the IABSM Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives scenario

The rulebook for I Ain’t Been Shot Mum from Too Fat Lardies includes a scenario for the battle at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives which we recently ran at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Using 15mm terrain, we set up the table with a series of roads intersecting at the town sitting at the edge of a hill surrounded by fields, orchards and hedgerows.

IMG_4092View from the south of the IABSM scenario — the Canadian objective is the crossroads at the lower right

My first Canadian platoons arrived under blinds along the road to the north heading straight for the town where the Germans waited. With several turns of movement under blinds, the plan for each side was quickly exposed in two main areas of the field. My two platoons of M4 Sherman and Firefly tanks made straight down the main road toward the crossroads objective. To stave off the Canadian armor, the Germans quickly set up their Panther A and Tiger tanks behind a hedge southeast of town. The other German armor, two Panzer IVs operating without a commander present, set up in the orchard south of town and covering the other main road to the objective.

IMG_4095German Panther and Tiger tanks overlook the main road into Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives

IMG_4096Panzer IVs occupy the orchard at the southwest corner of Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives

Two platoons of Canadian rifle infantry crossed the river. One made way to the orchard just north of town at the middle. Meeting them was a single, smaller German rifle platoon. The veteran Canadians quickly destroyed half of one fire team from the tired, German regulars. The surviving Germans pulled back to take up position in the buildings in town as the Canadians pursued.

IMG_4094Canadian and German troops open fire across the stream just north of Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives

IMG_4098Canadian infantry press forward through vicious fire at the center of town

The second Canadian rifle platoon made way through the buildings nearby their fellow Canadian tank platoons. Once close enough, the Canadian rifles exposed a German platoon armed with a frightful MG42 camped out in a farmhouse on the eastern edge of town. Thus all the infantry settled into a series of firing positions at the center of town with the Canadians taking fire from German rifles and machine guns on two sides.

IMG_4097Canadian and German tanks exchange fire to the southeast of Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives

At the farm to the east, a game-long tank duel erupted with the Canadian Shermans and Firefly tanks firing from positions behind the French farm’s buildings. The German Panther and Tiger fired from light cover of a hedgerow over the fields beyond. In two turns of fire, the Panther sat in flames and the Sherman platoons were able to focus on the Tiger which unsuccessfully returned fire over repeated tries. One Panzer IV shot harrassingly at the Sherman platoon closer to town which was forced to turn its guns away from the Tiger to return fire.

IMG_4100With German armor aflame, Canadian tanks roll to seize the objective

Back at the town’s center, the Canadian infantry took heavy casualties from German rifles shooting from building windows and the Panzer IVs firing from the orchard. The breakthrough for the Canadians came as the Tiger was destroyed and the Shermans were able to fire up their engines and make way across the fields. Turning the Sherman and Firefly guns to the orchard, the Panzer IVs were quickly destroyed. One more fresh German rifle platoon finally moved to occupy buildings in the town, but by then the path was wide open for the Canadian armor to roll unmolested to the crossroads objective and victory.

This was our first IABSM game using a lot of armor, and the unbalanced number of Canadian tanks firing and moving without a single loss clinched the game for the Allies. The veteran Canadian rifles had also served their purpose of locking down the town in a pitched battle with their numbers and quality allowing them to hold out against their German foes.

Seventy years ago at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives the German surrender was captured by a a film crew, and bits of the film survive today (see below). The exploits of the Canadians in the Falaise Pocket led by Major David Currie helped seal victory for the Allies after months of fighting in Normandy, and his miniature tank crews won the battle again on our tabletop historical repeat of this important victory at one more crossroads in the French countryside.

Newsreel footage of Canadian troops in action and the German surrender at Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives in August 1944

Flames of War: Fielding the FOW M10 Tank Destroyer Platoon

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The Blitzkreig of German armored forces is one of the more enduring tactics introduced in World War II. Swarmed masses of German tanks and mechanized forces in the early war period rolled through Poland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands in Western Europe and punched into the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa in 1941. With early Panzer and later Panther and Tiger tanks ruling the battlefields of Europe, Allied forces struggled for solutions to crack the German tide of iron.

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A US M10 tank destroyer comes ashore in Normandy after D-Day in 1944

By mid-war, the Americans had a solution with the M10 tank destroyer. Introduced first into the battlefields of North Africa in 1943, the M10 GMC (“gun motor carriage”) carried a big 3-inch/76mm gun and on a Sherman hull. After success in Africa against earlier model German tanks, M10s became part of the post-D-Day Allied breakthrough campaign. While effective against Panzer III and IV tanks, more heavily-armored Panther and Tiger tanks still proved problematic. Luckily, the M10 was supplemented by the British-modified Sherman 76mm Firefly and the later US-built M18 Hellcat which was quicker on the field. The combination of these three tank destroyers, along with the stalwart work of Allied infantry and deadly air support, turned the tide in Europe.

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One of my earliest 15mm WWII purchases years ago, and somewhat at random, was the now-discontinued M10 Tank Destroyer Platoon set from Flames of War. I think at the time, I just liked the look of the models and I was looking to fill-out my new US forces with more variety. To get to a full platoon of four M10s, a fellow club member at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY recently gave my two more M10s to which I’ve added an additional M20 scout car.

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IMG_3390US tank destroyer platoon with new models (left) and older models (right)

With my existing and new section sections, I now can field a full tank destroyer platoon using a variety of Allied Late War European lists. Anti-tank tactics in the game provide multiple opportunities for the M10 platoon to be used in combination with infantry and other Allied armor on the game table. With optional deployment as a recon platoon using the M20 scout cars, the M10s can create ambushes to wreak havoc on German tanks. Admittedly, using this full platoon will take some practice but I’m certain they’ll be causing headaches for my German opponents in the very near future.

Flames of War: “Desperate Measures” Tanks On The Steppe

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Late in 2013, Flames of War re-launched their Late War Eastern European Front books and models with the release of Desperate Measures. The slim guide to the German and Soviet forces of 1945 is packed with lots of fun and flexibility in fielding tons of armor and mechanized troops slugging it out in the final months of World War II.

My usual FOW gaming opponent at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY has made a sizable investment in Soviet models and Eastern Front terrain. His rural church model in particular looks fantastic on the table with real gold leaf applied to the classic onion dome. Playing from the Desperate Measures book for the first time this past week allowed me to field a bunch of German armor which has mostly sat idle for a year or two as I’ve focused on playing Allied forces in Western Europe.

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My German list was a Confident-Trained Panzer Kampfgruppe with a Panther G HQ, two Jagdpanthers, two Panzer IVs and a Confident/Veteran Schwere Panzer platoon of three Tiger I Es. The Soviets rolled out a Confident-Trained Tankavoy Batalon with a T-34/84 obr 1944 HQ tank, a platoon of seven T-34/84 obr 1944 tanks, a ten-tank T-34 obr 1942 platoon and two four-gun platoons of the heavy SU-100 tank killers. At 1500-points on a side, there was a ton of Soviet hardware sitting on the tabletop against a small, but diverse German force.

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This was my first time playing these lists, so we went with a straight-forward Free-For-All from the basic FOW missions list. The table presented a mix of woods and buildings for cover, and roads and a railway cutting across the table. We placed out objectives, deployed our lines of tanks and the Soviets rolled for the first turn.

IMG_3092Following deployment, Soviet tanks roll forward on turn one

IMG_3094T-34s reach the railway and center with SU-100s in support

IMG_3093Panzer IV’s lie idling in the woods with Panther command tanks nearby

IMG_3096Tigers defend the objective at the middle of the table

With the Soviets beginning the game as having moved, they weren’t able to take any valid shots. The T-34s pressed to the edge of the railroad tracks on their left and the central forested area at the middle of the table. On either flank, the SU-100s sat parked and looked to take advantage of their ability to re-roll misses by firing from stationary positions. I perched my Jagdpanthers in a wood at my left flank and aimed at one platoon of SU-100s in the distance. The Tigers sat at the middle of the table, looking to attack from behind two huts and defend an objective. My Panthers and Panzer IVs took up position on my right, hoping to stall the massed T-34 assault over the railway.

IMG_3097T-34/84 obr 1944 tanks take up position around the central woods

IMG_3099The T-34 obr 1942 platoon is lit up by  fire from the Panzer IVs and Panthers

IMG_3098A Panther explodes with returned fire from the surviving T-34s

IMG_3102With one Panzer IV crew bailed out, the T-34s press the attack

IMG_3104Surviving T-34s burn after closing on the Panzer IVs

The game quickly divided into three main fronts. The Panzer IVs and Panthers dueled over the railroad with the T-34 obr 1942s. In three successive turns, the advancing Russian tanks were hit twice and then fled the field with a failed morale test. Along the way, the Germans lost a Panther from the command HQ and a Panzer IV, cutting German tank force in half on that end of the table.

IMG_3103T-34/84 obr 1944 tanks roll to the center and engage the Tigers

IMG_3105Tigers burn on the field

At the table’s center, the T-34/84 obr 1944 tanks moved into position around the central forest and fields. The Tigers moved in and out of cover, taking deadly shots. By the third turn, two of the Tigers had been bailed by combined fire from the T-34/84 obr 1944s and the SU-100s on either side. Struggling to remount their tanks, two Tigers were destroyed and the remaining tank fled the field.

IMG_3101Jagdpanthers blaze away at SU-100s in the distance

Beyond the church at the German left, the two Jagdpanthers destroyed the SU-100 guns in front of them in two turns. With the flank open and the rest of the table locked in mobile tank duels, the Jagdpanthers fired their engines at the double to occupy the objective beyond the burning SU-100s. With the Germans below half-strength following the destruction of the final Panzer IV, the game came down to one company morale check which the Germans passed to win.

We were both pretty pleased with how evenly matched the game had been on the Eastern Front. The sheer number of tanks kept the Soviets in the game even as the Germans rolled devastating hits in almost every turn. The SU-100s at the railroad, on the other hand, managed to miss most of the game until their combined fire with the T-34/84 obr 1944 platoon ran the Tigers off the table.

I’ve spent the past couple years gaming back and forth across Western Europe from D-Day onward, so a new front and some new forces was a great change of pace. Leafing through the rest of Desperate Measures, I can see there’s plenty of opportunity to run around more tanks and maybe even some poor, unlucky troops on the Eastern Front again soon.

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.