Monday, 27 January 2020

A new direction on an old road

Bern front ranks
In the early 1980s, I, like many others were enormously inspired by the pictures in the early editions of Miniature Wargames of Peter Gilder’s Italian Wars collection and the accompanying range of figures he did for Connoisseur. 
I bought and painted them- a couple of Swiss pike blocks, a few Gendarmes and handgunners etc. Not a lot but enough for a few games with my mates Spanish using the great George Gush rules. Anyway, I think they were sold in the late 80s but I’ve always had a fondness for the armies. 
So last year I thought I’d revisit the period, using the more modern and fabulous Perry metal and plastic ranges alongside some still really terrific Foundry figures (which date from the late 80s iirc).
I’ve even shoe-horned in a few of the better old Connoisseur figures for old times sake. 
On top of this there are some superb figures available from Steel Fist miniatures and good old Front Rank has a few offerings.
So far I’ve accumulated a decent little Burgundian army and I’ll feature those in some later postings but to start with I’ll show a few pictures of the first 2 Swiss blocks I’ve completed.

Uri and Bern
 The intention with these was to make some dynamic looking units. I get a bit bored with units of purely upright pike. Yes, I fully appreciate their practicality but I’m starting to reach an age where I’d sooner do stuff I really like and thinks looks good than feel constrained by practicality! Plus in the aforementioned ranges there are some great figures.
So, the nitty-gritty. I’ve gone for blocks of 48 - 6 wide, and 8 deep to give a beefy look. For the Swiss I’ll be doing 6 of these (although this might, might turn into 12!) to allow them to be used as 3 x96 figure units which should truly look the part.
They are based theoretically on 20mm x 20mm per figure in a minimum of 4s with some more larger multiples. I have ordered a few big movement trays but I’m not sure if I’ll use them, we’ll see. Obviously there is an overhang of 40mm at the front of the unit to accommodate the pikes, this also allows a bit of battlefield detritus and casualty figures to enhance the look. The bases are my tried and tested sand/glue oil paint style with lots of Army Painter tufts and bit of flock.
The figures are a real mix, and I’ve taken advantage of the Perry’s who do extra Swiss heads for their plastic ranges. Steel Fist also do a set of 4 amazing armoured front-rankers with beautiful separate heads, so these have been swapped in with the plastic stuff for more variation

Uri and Bern 
The flags are mostly from Pete’s Flags on e-bay and the lovely Flags of War range. I’m going with 4 flags per block so they really stand out.

So, that’s the bare bones of how I’m approaching this project, I’ll put in more details as I add to this blog when I can give you more Swiss, the already completed Burgundians, before moving on to the Italians and Landsknechts.

Other Swiss blocks planned will be “red/white combination (Zurich and Schwyz) and a blue/white and black and white pair (Fribourg and Lucerne).

Monday, 4 March 2019

Barbarrossa pictures

A couple of weeks ago I ran a cracking weekend of 3 x 1941 Russian Front games for Big Chain of Command at the Wargames Holiday Centre for Mr Freeth - Here are a few pictures from the weekend, which was based around the German drive to Cherkassy in August 41
A great time was had by all, many thanks for a great weekend played in an excellent spirit

Rubicon T34 supported by Warlord and Crusader infantry  

Ruined building from Charlie Foxtrot

Germans chased out of the factory courtyard

T34 turns into a T26! (the wonders of photography)

Warlord T26, wrecked Opel from Anyscale models 

T26's move up past a Things from the Basement house, re-worked 20mm 4Ground house on the right 

The 2 rear buildings are from Scenic Store

Cat and mouse in the outskirts of Cherkassy

Rubicon Panzer III supports the infantry

Pioneer section moves along a ridge to clear the minefields

Black Tree Design and Warlord infantry, 

Soviets attempt to stop the pioneers clearing the minefields

Warlord and Crusader Soviets

T26 comes off worse from an encounter with a Panzer IV
BTD ATR section waits for a target
Building burns following a Stuka attack

Grenadiers come under fire

Soviets attempt to outflank the pioneers while they clear the mines

Game 2: Patrol phase

Outskirts of Cherkassy - ready for game 3

The table for the weekend
Anti- tank rifle section after scaring a Stug!
Game 2 - Stuka hits a Charlie Foxtrot building in its first game....typical

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Double CoC Play-test for Barbarossa

4 new terrain boards for Mark, 12 feet of canal!
 Spent a terrific day in the company of Mr Freeth and Mr Waple playing a couple of games of Eastern Front CoC in preparation for Mark's forthcoming Barbarossa Big CoC weekends at the WHC later this year, although the first one is only a month away! I still have a few bits and bobs to finish before then (a bit more Soviet infantry and 4 x T26s) but all is in hand.
One of the things we wanted for these games was a canal board - these will also do perfectly for planned France/Belgium/Holland 1940 games, not to mention Holland/Belgium 1944- Mr Waple is also keen to incorporate them into a Carentan scenario. They will also do fine for Mark's massive 20mm set-up.
So, over Christmas I made 12' of canal...that's it really! They had to be on a 12mm ply base to match with the existing boards, so I routed out the channel and some ditches, then built up the towpaths with a further layer of 9mm MDF. The water was just painted brown and then resin poured- I'll have to do a further post really to give a bit more detail- suffice to say I have a little more fine tuning to do on them to match them to Mark's boards, but overall they have turned out ok.  I'm well pleased.

Boards laid out for the game, some new-ish fields in the foreground
 We laid out terrain for a normal CoC scenario, a straightforward 1941 game with a 4 section German platoon with 2 Senior Leaders and a 50mm mortar attacking over the canal against a big 4 section early war Soviet platoon, with their massive sections and a senior leader and an inferior SL + a 50mm mortar. It was an attack /defend scenario, with the Germans having a generous 12 support points and the Soviets 7.
The Germans took a Stug III A (6 points), an Ig18 (4 points) and a preliminary barrage (2 points). The Russian picks (I think) were a BT5 (4 points) and 3 entrenchments (1 point each). Given that the buildings, although numerous, were all flimsy wooden ones only giving light cover the trenches were a wise choice for the Russians. For the Germans, my logic was the Stug is a hefty beast, solid in all departments with both good defensive options and  high offensive capability against both soft targets and any Soviet armour which might appear. The Ig18 gives another 75mm gun with which to hammer the Russians from range, this, in conjunction with the Stug should make it easy. The barrage was a nice bit of icing on the cake to hinder the Soviet deployment.
We played on a 6' x 6' (although we set up a bit more to make the pictures pretty 

The patrol phase for game 1 from the German side. Fields by Hotz matts
 So, onto the 1st game-FM was German 10 - Russians 9. The patrol phase was straightforward enough, The Germans only got a single free move which was disappointing, so we ended up with 2 fairly uniform straight lines across the centre of the table,. It meant the Germans got 3 Jump off points, 2 about 2' in, 1 to the right of the road, behind the barn 1 to the left of the road back behind the rise, and 1 way off to the right. The Soviets dropped all 3 of theirs right back down to their baseline, spread out uniformly giving them access to the ditch and buildings on their side of the canal.

Stug moves up the main road, buildings from Scenic Store pimped by my good self at CAC Terrain
So the German plan was simple enough, batter away with the Stug and the infantry gun from range, then strengthen with the infantry...Didn't quite work out like that.
Both sides were a bit cagey, I got the Stug on early and pushed up the road, the Soviets did very little, and both sides accumulated CoC dice points, as the Stug drew level with the barn, I deployed an infantry section to advance tactically with it, and perhaps draw some fire. They did. 2 Soviet sections deployed in the house by the bridge and in the ditches and opened fire...despite being tactical the big Soviet squads were putting out a lot of fire (more than a German squad) 17 dice iirc, and the german section took a few hits which mounted up fast. There was very little room to deploy another section to put down covering fire, and although the Stug hit back with HE because it lacked an mg it couldn't cover the infantry. Then a BT5 hove into view on the other side of the bridge. The Stug had to redeploy in order to get the BT in its sights (no turret...grrrr). The Russian infantry could carry on firing unmolested. A brief duel took place between the armour, with eventually the Stug coming off best - the BT's main armament getting Ko'd. It scuttled off and reversed behind the house.
 Meantime the Soviets got a couple of double turns, and the German section took more hits, including the Junior leader! he took a round right between the eyes. The German FM took a hit, and the firepower of the Stug just wasn't proving enough to do major damage to the dug in Russians.  

The Stug is given support in the assault on the Bridge. Really excellent rubber cobbled road sections from EWM
 Time for the Germans to up the ante, there now was room for the ig18 to come into play alongside the Stug, 2 x 75mm guns should do a bit more damage, they pounded away for a few phases, but it meant the concentrated fire of 2 sections now went against the little infantry gun...The Russians were simply rolling a lot more dice than the Germans, the casualties began to mount...the gun became pinned, then the JL commanding the gun was wounded- more FM loss, then he's hit again and killed- the gun breaks and the Russians sneakily end the turn with a judicious CoC dice. German FM at this point is 3....not great.
A 75mm Ig18 gives additional fire support. What could go wrong? All models by Warlord, Painted by me!
At this point I decided to call it. The Germans were not going to get over that bridge. Yes, they could plink away with the Stug but it was frankly going to take an age for anything much to happen, and if I deployed any infantry to up the firepower, any BTH roll could be fatal. It was still early in the day and we could get another game in.
Soviet infantry hunker down in the ditch and pour fire into the advancing Germans
 For speed, and rather than re-set terrain we decided to simply re-play the scenario, this time gifting the Germans an extra 2 support points, for a total of 14.
And this is where it all got interesting.
In many rule-sets simply replaying the same scenario with essentially the same forces would result in pretty much the same game, particularly in a scenario like an attack on clearly defined defence line. This is not what happened at all.
FM rolls went German 11 Russian 9- In the patrol phase the Germans got 2 free moves, but it played out fairly similarly however, this time the Germans got a bit further forward, getting a JOP behind the bomb-damaged building on the left.
For the Germans the support picks were very different.I took 2 x Pzr II's at 5 points each and an observer for a mortar battery. The Russians, it transpired swapped it about a bit - A BT (4) and an ATR (2) and a trench.
No hanging about this time, I quickly got on both Pzr II's and they advanced up the road, leapfrogging with one on over-watch as the other advanced, I got a section way out on the right which advanced in the lee of a rise, heading for some hedges. The FO got into the barn next to the road with a good view of the Russian left- any of them popping up to attack the German section there would get pounded by the 81mm battery.
It more or less (ok, less) went like clockwork. The Russians deployed the BT in a cunning spot where it could fire down the road but couldn't be spotted by the second Pzr II which by now was crunching through the gardens on the German left. A little duel ensued with both tanks dealing shock, with little result. As the second Pzr II advanced in order to get a view of the BT5 up popped the ATR in the ditch! it fired! CLANG! the Pzr II ground to a halt- immobilised
Game 2: A different approach, armour heavy, 2 x panzer II's leapfrog up route 1. An infantry section swings right in the distance
I quickly deployed a German section who could put fire down on the ATR, This combined with fire from the Pzr upset the ATR but couldn't get a decisive hit- the ATR fired again- this time disorientating the Pzr's gunner- no activation next phase- it was getting very tense- the BT kept firing at the other Panzer, and scores a winning hit- the Panzer is knocked out but the crew escape- things are looking bad for the Germans yet again.
Finally, the Germans get some hits...a Soviet section has deployed along the river to fire on the Germans hitting the ATR, A firefight ensues, the Germans lose an entire LMG team, The ATR goes down in a hail of cannon fire from the stranded panzer, both FM's are starting to trickle down. The Russians have opened up on their left and are duly met with a brutal mortar barrage, the Russians end the turn, but hadn't realised the Germans held a dice to continue the barrage- The Russians play a second CoC dice and the turn ends but not before the barrage gets a a couple of lucky kills on the Russians.
Infantry attempt to build a base of fire on the left flank. 
 The Germans are trading fire on both flanks,using a mix of covering fire and LMG fire
 on the Russians, the ability of the Germans to use individual teams paying off in the face of the sledgehammer Russian sections. A couple of Soviet  leaders get wounded, the little panzer pouring in cannon fire onto the infantry- finally with yet another Coc dice the BT advances, interrupts and fires on the PanzerII- it misses!
The little German mortar keeps chipping in with the odd hit on the guys in the ditch. The Germans are winning the firefight.

The lead Panzer II dukes it out with the BT5 over the canal while the mortar barrage pounds the Soviet infantry on the right. Bridge is a Sarissa kit.

The Panzer now has a shot at the BT...gets 3 hits- zero saves from the Russians- BOOM! the Russian tank is burning, their FM plummeting. This leaves the panzer free to keep firing at the dwindling section to its front, The FO manages to call in the mortars for a second time which again start to hit the left flank Russians...A brutal lucky hit clobbers a couple more Russians including the JL. and the Russians break- BTH and the suddenly their FM is at zero.....the Germans have done it!
Great fun, a fine time was had by all.
BUT...what really got me thinking was how different the 2 games were. They were both exciting, they both had their moments of tension, but both sides employed similar forces and tactics for both games..yet they were totally different.
It could have been the first game where the power of the Stug prevailed, it could have been that the German mortars had no effect, The BT might have one-shotted the second Panzer...there were a lot of possibilities, and it shows why CoC is such an intriguing game.
Can't wait for the Barborrossa big CoC campaign week-end where the canal will double up as the Kharkov river at some point. In my crystal ball I foresee T34's...and a Soviet counter-attack!
Game 1:Whats left of the first German section cower behind a house, letting the Stug do the work

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Stonne 1940 Big CoC weekend Part 1

This has been in the pipeline for a few months now, the first public Big CoC public weekend at the WHC. In this first post I'll give some idea of the thought process (sic) behind the game and then I'll give you the scenarios and how the game played out...oh, and there will be a few pics.
Warlord and Crusader French
Mark Freeth was very keen to get an early war 1940 scenario together, initially we toyed with the idea of running a weekend with 2 games running side by side, one containing French and the other BEF taking on the invading Germans. While this was certainly achievable, it involved a few more logistical headaches concerning turning the games around, plus simply having to focus on 2 games at once rather than one. So, in the end we plumped for a single set of scenarios with just the French and Germans.
A small problem with running Big CoC games is that the scenarios are somewhat dependant on the number of players attending, and given the nature of the WHC the numbers can vary, Some players book months in advance, but often people will book relatively late so the scenario needed to be capable of being tweaked to fit this in. The nuts and bolts of the game don't alter that much, the idea being that each player will command an infantry (or armour) platoon, then the force as a whole has a degree of support which is then dished out. On the whole this is not a problem, but for quite a while we were looking at having six players (fine, 3 on 3) then suddenly the numbers went up to seven. My initial reaction was one of mild horror because it meant balancing the game for a three versus four. However, when I started looking at the way the Stonne game might play out, the imbalance of 3 platoons  against 4 became more and more attractive.

A little Panhard 178. It bogged in the ditch......
The battle at Stonne took place over 4 days commencing on 15th May 1940, with the Germans having the Grossdeutschland motorised infantry regiment, and elements of the 10.PzD (Panzer-Regiment 8)
They were encountering in these scenarios the 3e DIM (Division d'Infanterie Motorisée), supported by 3e DCr (Division Cuirassée)
Looking at the platoon lists for CoC the 1940 German infantry platoons are enormous. Each platoon contains 2 senior leaders and a 50mm mortar team plus 4 x 10 man sections, for a total of 44 men.
The French platoons are a similar size, with 2 platoon leaders (1 senior, 1 junior) a VB rifle grenade team of a junior leader with 4 men. plus 3 sections of 11 for a total of 40 men. 

So if we had seven players, with 3 on the German side and 4 for the French it wouldn't be too bad. 1 player a side would be playing a tank platoon anyway, so it would be 2 German infantry platoons against 3 French, however that is actually 8 German sections opposed to 9 French, making it less unbalanced than first appears. A little extra tweaking by making the Germans "superior regulars" meaning they treat rolls on their command dice of a single six also as a 5, giving them more CoC dice pips during the game, plus increasing the size of their panzer II platoon to a whopping 5 vehicles would compensate for the additional French numbers. Additionally, each German platoon would start with a full Chain of Command Dice. 

Poilus advance, CharB in support 
So I worked on that basis, and prepared everything with 7 players in mind, Then of course Mark called and said " I've got an 8th player"......So the superior regular, and the extra CoC dice went out of the window, and the Panzer platoon was cut from 5 down to 4, and the Germans went up to 3 infantry platoons to make it 4 a side. Also the Germans would not have a significant advantage in support points when they were attacking, while the french would.

 Even after this we had another couple of guys wanting to sign up, but at that late stage we sadly had to say no, and stick with 8, as I think a single game with 5 a side is really stretching it for this rule set - not saying its not possible, but I think the game might suffer.
So that is the format we ended up going with, having said that I'm pretty sure the scenarios will work fine with seven (or 5 for that matter) players if the Germans are bumped up a bit to cater for uneven forces.

Panzerjeager I supports Black Tree and Warlord infantry

The other aspect of the games that numbers have an impact on is the size of the table used for each scenario. The recommendation for Big CoC is that the table size should be the same as for normal CoC (6' x 4')  with an additional foot width per additional infantry platoon added - you add nothing for the armour.
Well, The main table at the WHC is 24' long by 6' deep, and so we already play on a depth of 6' which I prefer over 4'. The patrol phase gets forces into action quickly enough anyway, and having the extra depth gives players a bit more room without slowing things down.
Just adding 2 feet per platoon gives us a width of 8' x 6 " which is fine, but the centres' terrain boards are 3' each so it is convenient to go for a slightly larger width of 9'. a bit more room both on the table and for player comfort. That meant that it wasn't too tricky to divide up the table into 3 sections - 9' at each end and then utilise the central 6' and 3' of one of the other sections to give us 3 x 6' x 9' areas.

The point of all this meant I could set up the entire table beforehand, and players go from game to game  with no great interruptions in order to maximise playing time. Also I think it looks good!

Stonne from west to east: Game 1 at the far end, game 2 in the foreground, game 3 in the centre. The Germans are advancing from the north, the French, the south.

I also planned to have a 4th scenario, which would have meant re-setting the terrain at one end of the table- it would have been that which was fought over in game 2 so we could do it while game 3 was in progress giving plenty of time. As it turned out, we didn't get in 4 games over the weekend, a bit of a shame but, sometimes CoC games can be like that, some go faster than others.
The table was made up simply from having a look at Google Earth, backed up with some excellent maps in Prieser's "Blitzkrieg Legend"- to  get the overall topography. Generally the village hasn't changed enormously since 1940, although it was rebuilt there has been no development sprawl, The critical points haven't changed, in terms of the woods, the road layout, and the extent of the village.Being able to get down at street view is an amazing resource, it shows just how winding and steep the only road the Germans had to approach the village from the north was, as it approaches the Butte De Stonne at the Eastern end of the village, and how despite it appearing very flat on the map, the countryside to the west and south actually has quite a lot of small undulations, the view south from the village is somewhat restricted. At the eastern end of the village the countryside is more wooded and broken, with the road becoming sunken before it winds down back on itself down the steep wooded slope to the north of the village (off- table)

Map showing the initial German attack on Stonne, May 15 at 0800. Influenced by Eric Denis' work. (wikipedia)
Given the nature of playing 3 or possibly 4 games over a weekend in a campaign format with 8 CoC novices I thought that the first scenario should probably be a bit gentle in order to ease them into it, and allow them to possibly make a few mistakes without getting horribly punished. I also wanted to keep it relatively simple.
Given the nature of the fighting in Stonne (the village apparently changed hands 17 times in 3 days), it lent itself to a relatively straightforward narrative: i.e. Attack and counterattack- So I decided to make the first game an attack/defence scenario with the Germans on the offensive at the eastern end of the table, the second game was to be another attack/defence with the French on the offensive at the western end of the table. Game 3 was to be in the central area of the table with the Germans attacking in an "attack on an objective" scenario.
I planned a 4th scenario which was to be played out on new terrain to the east of Stonne and that would have been the French conducting a flank attack. However, time sadly ran out. I'm sure we will do it one day.

The View from east to west, the broken ground of the Butte De Stonne in the foreground

The scene was set:
8 players, hopefully 4 games, Germans versus French at Stonne, one of the iconic battles of the campaign.
What were the salient features of the battle? The Germans had crossed the Meuse a couple of days earlier and were trying to exploit that relatively fragile bridgehead, the French had rapidly managed to assemble a counter attack force. The massif of which Stonne is a small part doesn't readily show up on a map, but have a look at Google Earth and you can see just how important it was for both sides. The village itself is rather innocuous, just a farming village with two roads entering from the south, however, it is the terrain to the north which both sides were focused on. There is a single road which leads out of Stonne to the north, this snakes down the hillside along a steep wooded slope before reaching the more gentle plain. The entire northern side of Stonne is covered in thick fir trees which extend down the steep slope- there is nowhere in the village itself (other than the "Butte de Stonne") which has a view to the north. However, if you hold the town and can establish OP's in this wooded hillside you have a magnificent vista stretching out 4 or 5 kilometres and more to the north, the German bridgeheads, and the routes they will take as they expand. Subsequently this tiny Ardennes village became vitally important.   

French section enters central Stonne