Battleground: Uncle Red 1944 Scenario

UtahBeach44UncleRed

The action at the “Uncle Red” sector of Utah Beach on D-Day June 6, 1944 is a favorite at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Using one of the club’s sand tables, we have previously run the scenario for Flames of War in 15mm, and this past week we had a go with a game in 20mm using the Battleground skirmish rules.

utahmap2Map of US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach June 6, 1944 (“Uncle Red” circled)

The US 4th Infantry Division’s landing was less murderous than the casualties experienced by the Allies at Omaha Beach, but the German 709th Infantry Division’s defense was still substantial. German fortifications eventually fell to US assaults by both infantry and timely tank support arriving successfully on the beach.

IMG_6037 Skirmish Campaigns  “Normandy ’44 – First Hours” scenario book

We’ve been enjoying World War II scenarios at the skirmish level in both 28mm and 20mm, allowing for a more detailed feel to our games taken from the well-researched and detailed Skirmish Campaign books, including the Normandy ’44 – First Hours book.

IMG_6176Table set up for the “Uncle Red” scenario at Utah Beach

The table’s layout featured a heavily-defended beachhead with German machine guns firing from three coastal bunkers, lines of barbed wire, mines and trenches carved into the sand. The short, eight-turn scenario presents the Americans with the objective of taking the three bunkers at the seawall plus one at the rear of the table. The Germans must simply hold off the US invaders from seizing their objectives.

IMG_6179The US 4th Infantry Division arrives in Normandy

IMG_6178US soldiers hit the beach

US arrivals began with one boat of infantry arriving in each of the first two turns. The Americans used both of their actions in each turn to push forward on the beach with an eye on assaulting the bunkers at the German center and left.

IMG_6177American GIs push forward under German machine gun fire

IMG_6180The initial US landings take heavy casualties from German bunkers at Utah Beach

Under no cover on the open beach, the US soldiers took heavy crossfire from German machine guns in each of the three beach bunkers and one squad of infantry tucked behind barbed wire in trenches. The first two turns were deadly. One American squad were reduced to half strength by the time they pushed toward a gap in the minefields and on to their first bunker objective. Combined fire from the US poured into the bunker, cutting the German machine gun’s crew to a barely functioning unit as the Americans swarmed forward.

IMG_6188A brave American close assault leaves the first German bunker in flames

By turn three, the Germans in the trenches had shifted left to cover the oncoming Americans just breaching the seawall. In a close frontal assault the first American squad managed to lob a grenade into the German bunker, incinerating the remaining machine gun crew inside. With one objective one, the GIs set their sites on the bunker at the rear of the table beyond trenches, barbed wire and weakened German forces.

IMG_6194American armored support arrives

IMG_6193US engineers light up a German bunker with a flamethrower

The US Sherman and final boat of engineers arrived in turn four and immediately made way for the right side of the German lines. Exploiting a gap in the wire, the fresh squad made quick work of the bunker on the German right with a blast from a flamethrower in turn six. German infantry at the center trench were cut up through combined HE rounds from the Sherman on the beach and close fire from the encroaching American squad.

IMG_6190US troops get bogged down under German grenades and gunfire

Back at the German left, the initial US success became hung up in a tangle of trenches and barbed wire just beyond the burning bunker. German survivors at the second row of trenches tossed grenades and opened fire on US troops, and the Americans answered back likewise. In the bloody close action, the Germans offered just enough delaying actions while taking heavy casualties. By the time the Germans began to break in turn seven, the American forces were in no position to seize their final two objectives by the game’s end. Despite the aggressive American fight, the beach was held by the Germans.

Having played the Uncle Red scenario now several times using Flames of War rules in 15mm, we really liked the nuance of play at the skirmish level in 20mm. At the larger scale, individual losses and heroic actions seem to mean more and can swing the game from victory to defeat in a heartbeat on the sandy tabletop beach of Normandy.

Battleground: Brecourt Manor 1944 Scenario

brecourt1944

This year’s 71st anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 didn’t get the same attention as last year’s full weekend of D-Day gaming at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Even so, a few of us did come together for a quick run through a gamer favorite small-scale battle at Brecourt Manor.

101stABDDaydropsDrop zones of the US 101st Airborne on June 6, 1944 and the area around Brecourt Manor (circled in red)

Made famous in more recent years in the hit HBO series Band Of Brothers, the action at Brecourt Manor by a couple dozen men from the US 101st Airborne has long been a favorite for military historians and a textbook example of a small-scale assault on a heavily defended position. With four 105mm howitzers firing on Utah Beach, the German gunners were defended in a series of shallow trenches by several MG42 heavy machine guns and a number of infantry. Through surprise and quick movement through the trenches, the US Airborne quickly took the position and disabled the German guns.

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Skirmish Campaigns  “Normandy ’44 – First Hours” scenario book

For our replay of Brecourt Manor, we turned to the classic Normandy ’44 – First Hours scenario book from Skirmish Campaigns. The Skirmish Campaigns series of books offers well-researched and detailed campaign scenarios filled with orders of battle, terrain layout maps and deeply descriptive narrative of how actual engagements unfolded during World War II. Adaptable to a number of rules systems, the scenario as outlined in the book scaled nicely to our game. Using most of my recently painted 28mm German and US troops and classic Battleground WWII skirmish rules, we were set to replay Brecourt Manor.

IMG_6025The 101st Airborne plot their assault on Brecourt Manor

Two players split their command as the US Airborne and set their battle plans before my Germans deployed in the trench system. Beginning German positions were defined by four gun emplacements each crewed by a team of five rifle-armed gunners and an officer. I also placed three MG42s at different points in the trench lines and one patrolling battery command squad of four riflemen and two officers deployed at the western end of the position.

IMG_6027Germans sit at the ready in their positions at Brecourt Manor

The Americans moved first, slowly deploying a .30 cal machine gun crew from behind the farmhouse at the northwest corner of the table. Directly to the north, a bazooka team crept into position behind a copse of trees with two fire teams behind the nearby hedgerows in support. To the west and toward the south, the other two US fire teams set up and moved toward the German lines, also under cover of the thick bocage.

IMG_6026105mm gun crews stand at the ready

Spotting the American bazooka team to the north, I quickly redeployed one of my machine guns to hold back the advance on that side of my position. Not waiting to get their machine gun in place, the Americans advanced on two sides and took heavy fire to their fire teams leaving them pinned in place. Hoping to pin down the Germans at the strongly defended north and western edges of the position, the US machine gun attempted to lay down a stream of fire but jammed is the trigger was pulled on its first shot of the day.

IMG_6029A 105mm gun position is destroyed by an American bazooka

Even under fire, the US bazooka team managed to get into place and a shot destroyed the northernmost howitzer, killing one German gunner and suppressing most of the rest of the gun team. On the western side, another of my redeployed machine guns was instantly spotted and raked with American gunfire and all but knocked out of the rest of the game. With only one MG42 left in the western trench line, a US Airborne team moved with over confidence toward making their first assault. The foolhardy bravery of the Americans was met with combined arms fire from my remaining MG42, rifles at the gun position and shots from the command squad. When the smoke cleared, one American fire team was left with just one man standing and the other had been briefly pinned.

IMG_6028   US Airborne units ready for a close assault at Brecourt Manor

By turn three, the American machine gunners cleared their jam and were finally able to lay down strafing fire along the entire western edge of the German trenches. With bullets whizzing overhead, the Germans were forced to the ground and the remaining Airborne came over the hedge and made way for the German howitzer. The Airborne soldiers poured into the German gun position and hand-to-hand combat ensued leaving two Germans and two Americans dead in the melee. With no clear victory in the first close combat of the day, the Americans bounced out of the German position, pulling back toward the hedges from where they had just come.

Back to the north, the American bazooka team had been cut to just one man who had retreated under heavy fire. One other US rifle team at the north had been eliminated, and the last had been whittled to just two injured men. With just a few rattled troops strung along two sides of the field, the US Airborne retreated and left three guns ready to continue raining shells on the beaches in the distance.

What the scenario showed us, as it did on the actual day some 71 years ago, was the importance the US machine gunners in a tight assault like the one at Brecourt Manor. Met with a larger, more well-defended German force, the American machine guns were the equalizer in real life. Had the American soldiers on our tabletop focused their assault after pinning the German defenders, our game this month may very well have gone the way of history with another victory in the hedgerows of Normandy.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Gela July 11, 1943 Scenario

gelaWe continued our play through Operation Husky and the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 this past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. We’re working our way through the events of July 11th in the Sicilian Weekend book by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules for 15mm World War II play.

HuskyMap2Operation Husky, July-August 1943 (Gela in green)

The scenario represents the northeast section of the town of Gela where ferocious fighting had taken place the day before in the early actions of the Allied invasion of Sicily. The table was set up with a couple dozen buildings from a variety of manufacturers, including JR Miniatures, Battlefront, Mark IV Miniatures, Miniature Building Authority and Games of War. The occupying US troops all began hidden in  Gela with the Italians arriving on blinds at the opposite end of the table over a small railroad cut, bridge and road surrounded by open farm fields dotted with trees. The objective was simple: the Italians had to take back this corner of Gela and the Americans had to hold what they had fought so hard for the previous day.

Sicilianweekendcover‘Sicilian Weekend’ by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum WWII rules

The Americans deployed in well-defended positions in the town with two platoons of rifles and light machine gun squads perched in buildings. A combat engineer platoon armed with a 37mm M3 anti-tank gun in tow sat hidden along the main street through town. Off board, 4.2 inch M2 mortars and 105 mm M2A1 howitzers from the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion were available as support to be called in by the captain from the company HQ perched in the tall building at the center of town. Tough and dug into great positions, the Americans looked to have a clear advantage.

IMG_5651The tabletop battlefield for Gela

As in the previous scenario southeast of Butera, the Italians again represented a massing of manpower from the Livorno Division with six small rifle platoons and a machine gun support platoon. Accompanying them this time was Mobile Group E compromised of light French Renault R35 tanks and pre-war Italian CV33 Tankettes. What the Italians lacked in a starting position on the field and quality of equipment and troops, they certainly made up for in volume as they began the game arriving on three blinds per turn.

IMG_5652Italians arrive northeast of Gela

As the Italians neared the town, the Americans bided their time and sought not to reveal their positions until the approaching forces were nearly on top of their positions. Approaching in the open, the Italian blinds were spotted in the open to reveal tanks and infantry closing in at the center and edge of town. With IABSM’s randomly card-activated units mechanic, my US commander was perhaps overly cautious in waiting a turn or two too long to start getting the American cards into the deck. This all but negated off-board US artillery support for the game and allowed the Italian attackers to get dangerously close to seizing a quick victory with nary a shot fired.

IMG_5653Italians swarm the edge of the town and the hidden American positions

On the Italian left, one of their early shots fired down the street took out a crew member of the M3 anti-tank gun, forcing the remaining American crew to haul it back around a corner to safety. In answer, the US engineers opened fire at close range and threw back the initial push by the Italians on the American right. At the center of town, US rifles, machine guns and bazookas firing from within a massive central building ripped into the Italians marching forward in the open. Under heavy fire at their center, the Italians fled for cover to either side as their approach was slowed and their returned rifle and tank shots had little effect on the Americans.

IMG_5654Italians encounter fire from US engineers defending from buildings

IMG_5655Italian infantry duck for cover as they receive heavy combined arms fire from the Americans in the large central building

IMG_5656Italian armor repositions away from American fire

With nowhere to go but forward, an Italian rifle platoon at their left assaulted the US engineers holding down the American right from a building. The Americans took heavy casualties and were thrown backward from their position into the open street to the rear. In response, returned fire from engineers in a nearby building flung the Italians back from their brief victory.

IMG_5657Italian rifles push a US engineer platoon from the building position

Back at the center, another round of combined arms fire from the Americans in the large central building continued to feed shots into the Italians, forcing them to continue to slide into cover to either side of the open field outside town. While pushing the Italians back with casualties and shocking fire provided a short-term positive for the US, it also allowed the Italians the chance to redeploy and set themselves for a move into town on the American left.

IMG_5658Italians slide from the center toward the American left

Meanwhile on the US right, the surviving engineers were chewed up by additional fire in the street which stalled them out of the action. With the main street into town wide open, the first Italian tank positioned itself to roll down the cobblestones. Waiting in the distance was the American anti-tank gun with a clear field of fire down the street looking to stave off an armored assault into the heart of Gela.

IMG_5659Italian armor sneaks around the American right as the US 37mm M3 anti-tank gun waits in the distance

With the Italians abandoning the center, the fight moved to the flanks. One US rifle platoon moved to reposition into buildings further to the edge of town on the American left as two Italian platoons, one already having suffered heavy casualties, snuck between buildings for cover. The American engineers on their right sought to hold down the approaching Italian tanks and three rifle platoons, and the US anti-tank gun crew had yet to fire a shot. The American rifles, machine guns and bazooka crews who had caused so much damage at the center were facing a choice of redeployment as their Italian targets skirted to either side.

IMG_5644Italians mass for an attack on the US engineers

Several hours in, we called the game. The small-scale tactical nature of IABSM is highly contingent on when a platoon or command ‘big man’ card activates. With so many Italian cards in the deck, a run of activated Italian unit cards may have provided the push they needed to get to the main street and victory. That said, each US card drawn was continuing to have devastating results on the somewhat weaker Italians, causing casualties and flinging them into reconsidering different routes. The large number of Italian on the field were still poised to match up with the higher quality American troops, although the US had clearly blown an early opportunity to use their off-board artillery effectively. Good and bad command choices had left Gela contested for the day.

I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: South East of Butera July 11, 1943 Scenario

SicilyJuly1943Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of the island of Sicily, commenced on July 9th 1943 with combined naval, air, airborne and amphibious forces from the United States, England and UK colonial nations attacking a largely Italian force backed by their German allies. Over the next five weeks, the Allies took the arid and rocky island of Sicily and opened up the Mediterranean for the eventual invasion of mainland Italy.

HuskyMapOperation Husky, July-August 1943 (area around Butera in green)

The Sicilian Weekend campaign guide for I Ain’t Been Shot Mum offers 24 scenarios from the opening days of Operation Husky on July 10th and 11th 1943. Like the other scenario books from IABSM publisher Too Fat Lardies, the Sicilian book presents solid historical background and maps, along with force lists and detailed briefings for each side easily adaptable to a number of lines of 15mm WWII miniatures. The scenarios may be played individually or as part of a linked campaign, and so we recently started playing through a few of the Sicily scenarios at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY.

Sicilianweekendcover‘Sicilian Weekend’ by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum WWII rules

We began with the eighth scenario in the book, southeast of Butera on the morning of July 11th 1943. Members of US 3rd Infantry Division are presented with a simple mission of aggressively pushing through the field to link up with their fellow Americans at Gela. The Italian force from the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the Livorno Division, must hold the invading Americans back.The scenario presents the Italian and American forces each entering the table in column on blinds. The counter attacking Italians rolled in mounted in trucks at one road at the table edge, and the Americans arrived on foot at one end of the table.

IMG_5605Initial forces arrive on the field in the early turns

IMG_5606Italians rush to the battle and deploy from a column of trucks

My first to arrive American machine gunners and bazookas quickly took up position on a rocky hill overlooking the road and a crossroads in the distance. Italian trucks moved in with their heavy weapons likewise leading the away with machine guns and 81mm mortars deploying at the road edge. Initial long range fire from the US machine guns pushed some of the Italian line back over the road. The Italians offered several rounds combined of direct mortar and machine gun fire in return, spraying bullets and landing rounds amid the bunched-up US machine guns. The Americans scooted back over the crest of the hill and the bazookas ran off to meet the other Americans arriving by the road to their right.

IMG_5608American machine guns take Italian mortar fire and fall back

IMG_5607US machine gunners rally back to their positions and pour fire into the Italian lines

 As the heavily-damaged US machine guns rallied, the Italian column continued to advance on the board in force. Four Italian rifle platoons spread out from the road to run at the advancing American column ahead and to cover the crossroads overlooked by two rocky hills. As the Americans moved straight on to meet the Italian front line, a recon platoon accompanied by four bazookas made way for the hills and the Italian flank.

IMG_5609Italian rifle platoons sprint ahead through the open field

IMG_5611A US recon platoon moves to take position atop a hill as Italians deploy at the crossroads

IMG_5612A firefight erupts between two hills as American bazookas hump their way around the Italian flank

IMG_5613The Italian line folds back toward the road under US fire in the field

With an Italian front deployed across the field in several lines and more rifles rushing into the hills at their left, the battle settled into two main firefights. American rifles at the center gradually pushed through the field toward the overwhelming number of Italians. Between the two hills on the Italian left, Italian and American rifles echoed back and forth. As gunfire was exchanged across the lines, US bazookas attempted to run to engage the Italian trucks which had made their way to safety beyond the battle at the rear. Despite moderately mounting Italian casualties, the Americans just could not break through.

The US forces ultimately ceded the field to the Italians. Even with superior command quality, the initial deployment of the US machine guns had been a bit premature and was not met by the quick arrival of supporting rifle platoons. Rushing them to the hills at the crossroads might have made a difference. The Italians had also managed to get the vast majority of their troops on the board early in the game, and their neatly arranged front line allowed them to angle directly over a defense of the road. In our refighting of the early hours of July 11th, 1943 the massed Italian counterattack had stalled the US invaders southeast of Butera. What awaited at Gela later in the day would unfold in our next battle.

28mm: Artizan Designs US Airborne Support Weapons

BazookaOne of my favorite blogs, War Is Boring, had a very timely article this past week on the history of the M-9 bazooka. I had just sat down to work on a small project of outfitting my growing US 101st Airborne 28mm force with some additional support weapons, and the article provided some great inspiration for getting my force outfitted with more explosive back-up with some two-man bazooka crews and a 60mm mortar from Artizan Designs.

ADlogoI’d recently finished a bazooka team and mortar from Warlord Games, so two more bazookas and another mortar from AD not only fills out my gaming options but also allowed me to compare the metal models from two great manufacturers. The mortar stands look nearly indistinguishable side by side. As for the bazookas, the Warlord weapon is a bit thinner than the bulkier AD sculpts but the soldiers themselves look perfect together when painted using the consistent process below.

AB Paint Scheme

Painting 28mm US Airborne Support Weapons

  1. Clean flash from metal models with a sharp knife and glue to metal washer or plastic bases.
  2. Apply filler putty to bases. When dry, scrape off excess with a sharp knife.
  3. Base coat models and bases with flat black spray primer.
  4. Paint uniforms and bandages on helmets with Tallarn Sand.
  5. Paint helmets and knee and elbow patches with Waaagh! Flesh.
  6. Paint faces and hands with Tallarn Flesh.
  7. Paint webbing and packs with Baneblade Brown.
  8. Paint bases, boots, gun stocks and helmet straps with Dark Brown.
  9. Apply Agrax Earthshade wash to uniforms, helmet netting, webbing and packs.
  10. Mix 50/50 Baneblade Brown and Off White and lightly dry brush packs, webbing and socks.
  11. Lightly dry brush bases, gun stocks, helmet netting, holsters and elbow and knee patches with Baneblade Brown.
  12. Paint metal gun, bazooka and mortar parts with black and finish with a light dry brush of metallic silver.
  13. Paint eyes with small dots of Off White and Dark Brown. Clean up around eyes with Tallarn Flesh.
  14. Mix 50/50 Tallarn Flesh and Off White and brush highlights on cheekbones, chins, forehead, nose and hands.
  15. Apply Company B decals to shoulders and helmets, followed by a coat of Solvaset decal fixative from Walthers.
  16. Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
  17. Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.
  18. Spray coat completed models with matte finish.

I really love the detail in the AD miniatures. The two bazooka teams each uniquely portray guys on the move or ready to fire. The figure kneeling with a radio to his ear is a new favorite of mine and will probably be used as a spotter to call in mortar support. Check out all the photos below for the results from the AD miniatures waiting to provide additional back-up to my US Airborne troops.

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28mm: US Airborne By Black Tree Design

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My new 28mm World War II project is marching on, and I’ve recently added some US 101st Airborne models from Black Tree Design. The UK-based BTD offers a diverse line of metal miniatures from various historical eras, fantasy, science fiction and a nifty Doctor Who offering. The WWII US Airborne line offers a nice selection of poses and weapons, so I bought into my first BTD models averaging about $2 USD per figure during one of their frequent online sales.

BTDIMG_4977Nice packaging from Black Tree Miniatures

The BTD miniatures were quickly delivered in the US bagged and packaged in a little tin with a hand-written ‘thank you’ note. Compared to my earlier Airborne from Artizan Designs, the BTD models are a tad smaller and thinner but scale well on the table. Detail is a bit more sparse with less equipment slung on the backs of the paratroopers and rifles which read a bit more like that on toy soldiers. Aside from rifles, the models also came armed with Browning BARs, Thompson submachine guns and one guy hurling a hand grenade. While most of the models are set in generic poses, a few of the models show a lot of individual character with one officer calmly smoking a cigarette and another charging forward without a helmet.

AB Paint SchemeOne minor bummer was the delicate nature of some of the BTD models cast with both feet held tightly together, and one snapped off the base when I attempted to straighten his pose more upright. With the rest of the models successfully glued to bases, I painted up my first group of BTD miniatures using the same quick and simple process from my previous 28mm paratroopers.

Painting 28mm US Airborne

  1. Clean flash from metal models with a sharp knife and glue to metal washer or plastic bases.
  2. Apply filler putty to bases. When dry, scrape off excess with a sharp knife.
  3. Base coat models and bases with flat black spray primer.
  4. Paint uniforms and bandages on helmets with Tallarn Sand.
  5. Paint helmets and knee and elbow patches with Waaagh! Flesh.
  6. Paint faces and hands with Tallarn Flesh.
  7. Paint webbing and packs with Baneblade Brown.
  8. Paint bases, boots, gun stocks and helmet straps with Dark Brown.
  9. Apply Agrax Earthshade wash to uniforms, helmet netting, webbing and packs.
  10. Mix 50/50 Baneblade Brown and Off White and lightly dry brush packs, webbing and socks.
  11. Lightly dry brush bases, gun stocks, helmet netting, holsters and elbow and knee patches with Baneblade Brown.
  12. Paint metal gun, bazooka and mortar parts with black and finish with a light dry brush of metallic silver.
  13. Paint eyes with small dots of Off White and Dark Brown. Clean up around eyes with Tallarn Flesh.
  14. Mix 50/50 Tallarn Flesh and Off White and brush highlights on cheekbones, chins, forehead, nose and hands.
  15. Apply Company B decals to shoulders and helmets, followed by a coat of Solvaset decal fixative from Walthers.
  16. Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
  17. Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.
  18. Spray coat completed models with matte finish.

Finally, a few photos of my finished BTD US Airborne ready to hit the Normandy tabletop.

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I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Cabourg June 6, 1944 Scenario

LandingatOmahaOn the morning of the Normandy Landings of June 6, 1944, taking the eastern sector of Omaha Beach fell to the United States 1st Infantry Division. Despite some missed targeted landing zones on the beach and heavy losses at the far ends, the exit “draws” were largely secured by mid-morning. As additional troops and supplies began to arrive, the push inland began.

Omaha to CobourgMap of the US push to Cabourg from Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944

(via US Army Center of Military History)

Moving toward the objective of Colleville-sur-Mer, probing forces from the 1st Infantry Division pressed forward through the seaside fields of Normandy and began to encounter German defenders in various states of disarray. Tired from the fighting at the beach, the first group of Americans on patrol moved cautiously into Cabourg from the north and east while the German force scrambled to hold against any additional headway by the invaders. WhereTheHell After a couple of month hiatus, we jumped back into a 15mm World War II game at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend centering on the action at Cabourg. Using the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules and a post-D-Day scenario from the Where The Hell Have You Been Boys? book, all from Too Fat Lardies, our table was set to show the American advance and German defense at Cabourg.

IMG_4940Initial advance of US forces on blinds from the east and north toward Cabourg

Playing on the US side, my partner and I divided our force of three rifle platoons under blinds plus three false blinds. I swung two platoons and a false blind directly at the village from the east while my teammate took the other two false blinds and a single platoon around to the north behind a copse of trees. The mass of US blinds hiding a force only half the actual size provided a great simulation of the confusion the Germans felt that morning as they also lay hidden in and around the village in defense.

IMG_4941US forces near Cabourg on blinds from the east

IMG_4942The first US forces are revealed beyond a wood north of Cabourg

After a couple turns of US movement and prodding for Germans outside the town, the Germans spotted the Americans moving cautiously to the north. With two false blinds exposed, the third American blind revealed a rifle platoon armed with a mortar and two officers present. A false blind was also revealed near a farm at the eastern edge of the town as the Germans continued to burn up turn actions trying to find out where the Americans actually were.

IMG_4943American and German forces simultaneously surprise each other near the farm

IMG_4944A close assault erupts in the woods behind the barn

In close proximity to each other to the rear of a barn at the farm, US and German blinds were exposed nearly simultaneously with American gunfire tearing into the outnumbered Germans. A close assault at a hedgerow quickly pushed the first German fire team to the rear and out the action for the game. The remainder of the German platoon stayed to continue on firing from within the first barn and a hede nearby.

IMG_4945The final American blind is exposed just north of the farm

IMG_4946Americans give and take fire at a hedgerow

On the other side of the farm, the final American blind revealed another rifle platoon hunkered behind a hedge lining a road to town. At long-range, shots were exchanged between German defenders in and around the barn and the Americans now shooting from both sides of the barn. The action at the east end of Cabourg settled into a stalemate of fire across the fields and around the barns.

IMG_4947US forces inch toward Cabourg across hedges and fields from the north

IMG_4949US forces stall out to the northeast of Cabourg

Back to the north of town, the lone US platoon on the moved cautiously along a road and over fields, fences and hedgerows. With the Americans creeping toward Cabourg, the Germans opened up with MG 42s positioned in an upper story of a second barn and from the garret of a farmhouse near the entry road to town. With a cross-fire of heavy machine gun pouring into the Americans at the north and east, the US advance stalled somewhat until something could be done about the German fire ripping from building windows.

IMG_4948The remnants of the first German rifle platoon look to reposition to cover

IMG_4950Americans move to assault the German machine guns at the second barn

Back at the two barns, one US platoon swung around to the rear of the barn to assault the German machine gun crew inside. With the MG 42 crew thrown back into a retreat from the barn, the surviving German rifles on the other side of the barn retreated from fire into a nearby house. Firing from their new position, the Germans stalled the Americans pushing around the barns to the village. At the same time, the other MG 42 continued to fire into the other US platoon now pinned with dwindling numbers behind a hedge.

IMG_4951German reserves arrive late in the day to defend against the American push from the north

As the engagement progressed late into the scenario, the game’s referee announced the arrival of reserves on both sides. From the west, a fresh German rifle platoon joined the fight at the road and tree line at the northern edge of town. At full strength, two German platoons focused fire on the lone American platoon which had so cautiously moved toward that end of the village. Taking casualties, the shrinking US force began to fall back over the hedges and fields from where they had just come.

On the far end of the table, three more American platoons arrived from the beach to the east. Looking to advance quickly on the road straight toward town, the US reserves just couldn’t get in the fight fast enough. With the US forces already near Cabourg greatly reduced and in retreat to defensive positions, the game was called with the Germans holding Cabourg from the American assault.

At Normandy in 1944, the result was the same and the German defense halted the US advance which broke off by mid afternoon. The IABSM scenario at Cabourg is a great illustration of the dozens of small inland battles which raged after the morning’s landings along the Normandy coast over 70 years ago, and we’ll be returning to more follow-up actions in the weeks to come.

Flames of War: 70th Anniversary Battle Of The Bulge Mission

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This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge fought between Allied and German forces in the snowy, wooded Ardennes region of Western Europe. The six-week German offensive through a frigid December 1944 and January 1945 surprised Allied forces and proved to be costly for all involved. At its conclusion, commanders on both sides counted nearly 100,000 casualties and much of the German ground and air reserves had been smashed as a result of their ill-fated gambit against the Allies.

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The Battle of the Bulge Mission rules from Flames of War

To mark the occasion, several of us met at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY to run through the big Battle of the Bulge Mission available free online for Flames of War. The simple scenario plays out on a huge 6′ x 8′ tabletop with 4000-point forces on either side drawn from the Nuts! and Devil’s Charge books as well as the Panzers To The Meuse PDF. We set our table using a large off-white canvas with roads crisscrossing the forested field dotted with a few small structures.

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101st Airborne US Parachute Rifle Company from Nuts!

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US Glider Rifle Company from Nuts!

On the Allied defending side, I ran my US 101st Airborne Division “Easy Company” list made famous by the book and TV series Band of Brothers. Several special character Warrior figures were included in my list and I also added a hefty group of five M4A3 76mm Shermans and an 81mm mortar platoon. My partner fielded a US Glider Rifle Company, also with 81mm mortars and a 57mm anti-tank platoon. In support, his list was rounded out with M7 Priests, M18 Hellcats and a tank platoon with a Jumbo, two Easy Eights and two more M4A3 76mm Shermans.

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Lehr Panzerkompanie from Panzers To The Meuse

For the armored attacking Germans, both players pulled Lehr Panzerkompanie lists from the Panzers To The Meuse PDF from FOW. Across the lists, a swarm of Panzer IV platoons were accompanied by Panther G and Jagdpanther tanks, Puma armored cars, rocket launchers, Wirbelwinds and two Panzergrenadier platoons. To supplement their massive armored ground forces, the German players also opted for limited air support from a ME 262 A2a Sturmvogel jet plane.

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Initial Battle of the Bulge set up as German players plot their offensive

Per the scenario, the largely infantry US forces were deployed with the exception of our 76mm tank platoon and anti-tank guns which we held in reserve. The US anti tank platoon deployed at the center of the board with their M20 Greyhound scout cars, ready to spring support with the soft but deadly Hellcats to either flank.

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Panzer Lehr forces deploy and move toward the American right

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The German armored assault pushes to the American left

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German ME 262 jet attempts to dig the 101st Airborne out of their positions

The German forces moved quickly onto the board with reconnaissance moves from the Pumas stretching across the table. A mass of Panzer IVs and the Jagdpanthers rolled to the US right. On the American left, Panthers moved to cover in a small wood while the two platoons of mounted Panzergrenadiers pushed down the road toward a US rifle team dug into another woods looking to attack with an armored assault. At the rear, the first run of the Sturmvogel took after the US Airborne in position protecting an objective to no effect.

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The German armored assault on the US rifles in the woods

The German armored assault commenced but was bounced back over the first couple turns with the Americans taking only a few losses from the protection of the trees. Panzer IVs moved in to support from behind the German halftracks and took fire from the Jumbo, Easy Eights and 76mm Shermans sitting in a treeline across the road. The Americans sprang their first ambush, placing anti-tank guns nearby the Panthers. While shots from the US AT platoon were unable to crack the heavy panther armor, their position would go on to strongly limit the maneuverability of the Panthers for the whole game.

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US 76mm tank platoon springs an ambush on the right

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US tanks receive heavy fire from the Panzer Lehr

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US Hellcats move to stop the German armor advance

Over on the German right, the Panzer IV and Jagdpanther force divided around a wooded area and was engaged by the platoon of five 76mm Shermans exposing themselves in ambush. Over the next several turns, armor fire was exchanged as the German tanks sought cover in and around the woods. Three 76mm Shermans were quickly destroyed and the position was quickly reinforced with the US Hellcats deploying from behind a nearby barn. One Jagdpanther quickly bogged and sat stalled over repeated attempts to unbog for the majority of the remainder of the game.

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Panzer IVs are devastated by US armor fire from the woods at the left

Back on the US left flank, the German armored assault was pushed back with most of two platoons destroyed in a crossfire from American rifle infantry in one woods and tank fire from another. the combined fire from the US armor likewise laid waste to the approaching Panzer IVs and Pumas. At mid-game, the American left was holding but the US right was in trouble.

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The ME 262 Sturmvogel takes a run at the US Priests

Supporting fire from both sides proved relatively ineffective throughout the game. The German ME 62 failed to score a hit on multiple runs over the table both to infantry and the rear American Priest platoon. The Priests themselves served to only stall the German armor advance with poor results from multiple bombardments. German rocket fire from their rear also showed little for its repeated efforts once spotting teams were in position on both flanks.

IMG_4840German Panthers are thwarted by smoke rounds at the US left

IMG_4841German armor pushes for the crossroads objective

By the sixth and seventh turns, the game continued to progress steadily on two fronts. At the US left, Panther tanks moved into position after their allied Panzer IVs sat burning all around them. Smoke rounds from two US mortar platoons effectively kept the Panthers out of most of the fight as they crept forward and back in the woods. Finally, a couple of side armor shots from the American anti-tank 57mm guns took a couple of the Panthers out and effectively ended the German threat on one side of the field.

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101st Airborne troops rush forward to contest the crossroads objective

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Panzer Lehr forces attempt to push out the 101st Airborne

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German armor continues to roll to a second objective crossroads at the rear

Things were fairing much better for the Germans all along at the other end of the field. Over several late game turns, the German armor pushed forward, leaving all the US Hellcats in flame and the final surviving 76mm Sherman fleeing the field. The veteran 101st Airborne troops continued to snarl the German advance, remaining static and dug in under wooded cover. With the Americans handily holding their left, two US platoons ran to the right to shore up the defense of two objectives. Just as one platoon of US paratroopers broke, a round of fire from the Priests took out one of the Jagdpanthers. With German armor at one objective and pushing hard at a second, a lot of American troops were poised to go down contesting two crossroads with plenty of mortar support ready to shift their attention across the table.

The written scenario doesn’t call for a turn limit, but after having played for nearly eight hours we called the game at the ninth turn. This was one of the longer and larger FOW battles we had played at the club in Brooklyn in this year. In a year of 70th anniversaries, wrapping up with an exhausting and dynamic Battle of the Bulge game seemed the best way to play some tribute in miniature to the largest battle fought in US history.

New Game Weekend: Fire In The Lake

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I sometimes forget that I was born during the Vietnam War, one of the more complicated military conflicts in American history. In April 2015 we’ll be sitting 40 years after the fall of Saigon and the pullout of American involvement in the region’s conflict which began in the mid-1950s. To mark the occasion, the US government has quietly launched a special 50th anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration website this past year. Decades later, the complicated legacy of Vietnam continues to reverberate as even the website has proven to be controversial.

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Game set-up for the Fire In The Lake 1965-67 beginner’s scenario

Having played a few games of Cuba Libre over the past year, I’ve finally had a chance to dive into another in the COIN Series from GMT Games this fall with the Vietnam War themed Fire In The Lake. The counterinsurgency (COIN) games focusing on modern conflicts have fast become new favorites among a lot of us at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, and since the summer a core group at the club have been working through multiple games of FITL and getting a decent handle of this richly complex game.

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Sample cards from Fire In The Lake

Like other games in the series, FITL uses a card-activation mechanic to drive the game among the competing factions of US forces and US-allied South Vietnamese ARVN counterinsurgency and the insurgent northern NVA and Viet Cong guerrillas and regulars. Cards provide turn order at the top of each with a symbol for each faction. Each player chooses to use the Event on a drawn active card, conduct an Operation and/or possibly also conduct a Special Activity related to the Operation. Operations include such things as Rally or Train (recruiting troops, irregulars and/or building bases); March, Patrol or Sweep (to move and expose and/or remove guerillas), Assault or Attack (to remove enemies); and, Terror (to effect support and opposition). Adding in Special Activities such as the VC’s Tax and Subvert, the devastating Air Strike from the US, Ambush and Infiltrate from the NVA and the ARVN’s Govern and Raid makes for a powerful set of player actions.

The card text contains effects beneficial to the US and ARVN COIN players at the top and NVA and VC events in a shaded box at the bottom. Events can produce either immediate benefit to the player using the card or a negative result to another player, so a player might choose to act on a card’s Event merely to prevent another player from using the Event. Keeping an eye on turn order and the next available card also drives decisions, as one player’s choice can limit or enable the next choice available to the following players. Every nine cards contains a random Coup card which pauses play for a round of faction-specific series of phases whereby resources are gained, troops are redeployed, pieces are reset and victory conditions are checked.
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FITL Support/Opposition, Control and US, NVA, ARVN and VC Victory track markers

Each of the four groups has their own path to winning the game with victory points scored at the edges of the board on a track that also marks Resources, Aid and Patronage levels. The VC score by shifting the population of provinces toward opposition and constructing bases while the somewhat allied NVA win through gaining population control and creating bases. The ARVN player gains points through population control and earning patronage from the population of the cities and provinces. The United States wins through shifting support and building up the number of available bases and troops (reflecting a victorious withdrawal of the military from Vietnam).

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Another FITL game in progress this week

The combination of random turn order, Events, Operations and Special Activities creates a dizzying amount of variation to how a FITL game plays out over a few hours. With many interdependent actions and victory conditions, an unpredictable stack of Event cards and uncertainly timed Coup scoring rounds, Fire In The Lake makes returning to Vietnam again and again a most worthy choice.
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New Game Weekend: Force On Force

Enduring FreedomFor a person who spends an outsized amount of time reading about, researching, modelling historic soldiers and playing wars of the past, I have pretty much ignored the wars of my own lifetime from the late 1960s to present. Born during the Vietnam War, I grew up in the last two decades of the Cold War. From there, the protracted engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ever-shifting nation-less “War On Terror” have occupied my adult years. The United States has been at war for most of my life and all that of my two sons. For a whole host of reasons, I prefer to set my wargaming in the comfortable distance of the past.

FOFRulesForce On Force rule books from Ambush Alley Games

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, I took a rare trip to a modern tabletop battlefield with my first play through a couple of scenarios using the Force On Force rules system. Published in 2009 by Ambush Alley Games and distributed by Osprey Publishing since 2011, FOF has become the go-to rule set for miniatures gamers focused on modern conflict. The rules provide elegant gaming mechanics for asymmetric warfare between elite regular units and irregular forces. Using this, the FOF system accounts for the more advanced tactics, leadership, communications and equipment of US and NATO forces against the highly motivated yet less professional and poorly equipped irregular Taliban forces.

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The Afghanistan battlefield for our Force On Force scenarios

Our two scenarios presented a generic engagement between US Marines and Taliban forces in and around two typical walled compounds in rural Afghanistan in 2010. Amid the arid trees, hills and fields, the table was set with a hefty collection of 25mm Middle East structures from the Miniature Building Authority. The eight-turn scenario involved two four-man Marine squads attempting to hold a walled compound against the encroaching Taliban forces.

IMG_4792US Marines squad in Force On Force

As elite forces in FOF, the US Marines carry initiative and announce two actions  at the beginning of the turn. Actions include combinations of such things as shooting, remaining on overwatch, hiding, tactical movement of up to 6″ or rapid movement up to 12″ with a subsequent penalty for firing. The elite nature of American Marine regulars allows the unit to function without a troop quality check. Shooting for the US is achieved with D8s, one for each figure in the squad, with additional dice thrown into the mix for special or heavier weapons. For the Taliban without leaders present, movement must first be determined with a troop quality check with one D12 per each figure in the squad, and shooting is done using D6s. With their local knowledge, Taliban forces can also choose to move anywhere at any distance on the table provided they do not cross line of sight of any US forces.

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Thus the differing size of the dice thrown for each squad type — US regulars and Taliban irregulars — is used to determine all the variations in asymmetric troop quality. In FOF, any rolls of 4+ are considered successes, so the relatively easy D12 motivation tests for the Taliban account for their zealous dedication while their weaker D6 combat rolls mimic their relatively untrained fighters and poor weaponry with only a 50/50 chance of hitting anything. In addition, a Taliban figure firing a rocket-propelled grenade RPG gains two extra D6 but hits must be re-rolled with results of a 1 indicating a dud rocket and no effect to the target. On the other hand, US forces hit 2/3rds of the time using their D8s. Hits are applied randomly to figures in the unit, except for successful hits from US snipers which allows for a choice of targets.

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Second US Marines squad with sniper advances

In our game, the first US Marine squad began in a field adjacent to the objective compound with a single Taliban unit perched on an adjacent rooftop. The Marines chose to remain in cover on overwatch, allowing the Taliban a first ineffective round of fire. The Marines returned fire killing one of the Taliban fighters. Turn two saw the entry of the second US Marines team, including a sniper, while the first team scooted into the compound at a full 12″ of rapid movement through two open doors. The Taliban’s second unit, including an RPG, entered the table with a lucky roll of 6 which allowed them to deploy at the corner near the second US unit and the compound.

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Second US Marine squad takes heavy fire from two Taliban units

Over the next two turns, the first US team remained within the compound guarding the objective while the second US squad crept to a copse of trees just outside the compound’s walls. At the wall, the Taliban fired their RPG to open a hole in the wall to expose the US Marines inside. Another Taliban unit with two RPGs and a leader rolled another 6 to also deploy near the compound, moving close to their nearby allies to give the other unit the benefit of the leader.

Along the way, “fog of war” event cards were drawn on rolls of 1 during reactive fire. These cards add an extra element of randomness to a FOF game. The first card eliminated the Taliban’s ability to move anywhere on the table out of line of sight due to an US drone launching overhead. The second card drawn allowed the Taliban to set an improvised explosive device (IED) between the second US squad and the compound, effectively eliminating a direct path to the objective. The final card was pulled by the Americans an allowed for an “excellent position” to be created to protect the second team at the trees.

In the meantime, combined fire from the Taliban eliminated the US sniper in the trees and injured the other three members of the squad, effectively pinning them for the remainder of the game with no friendly force nearby to attempt a first aid check. With one American squad left and the Taliban poised to close in on the compound from multiple directions, the game went to the Taliban.

We switched sides for the second game with one US Marine unit immediately taking up position within the compound and the second unit moving under cover through the nearby ruins and trees. The Taliban reinforcements were not as lucky with their placement, and all entered at the far end of the table with stalled movement due to a lack of leadership. Again, a fog of war card eliminated the Taliban’s free movement on the table. A RPG shot blew up one building in the target compound, but the Marines survived and pulled back to another building. By turn six, the second US squad most moving to protect the compound and the Taliban forces, while great in number, had failed to advance far enough to prove a threat. A final fog of war card brought in a sandstorm, effectively shutting down shooting and movement for the remainder of the game. The US Marines had done their job and held the objective and the day.

One of the benefits of gaming modern war is the wealth of immediate information available in refighting actual engagements or creating other realistic scenarios. For our battle, some of the excellent coverage from National Geographic’s documentary Inside The Afghanistan War was used, and countless books, articles, photos, videos and websites provide further information and inspiration. The Force On Force rules do a masterful job at representing small engagements between regular and irregular forces, and I look forward to another series of games bringing in additional types of weapons, support and vehicles to the mix. Yes, our modern wars are still unfolding immediately in real-time, but with FOF a better appreciation of the tactics and challenges of today’s soldier is well represented for the interested wargamer.