Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Kuban: 1943

With my interest in the Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War currently on hold, it might seem a little odd that I have just bought a copy of THE KUBAN 1943: THE WEHRMACHT'S LAST STAND IN THE CAUCASUS by Robert Forczyk ... but the book covers such an interesting campaign that I wanted to buy it.

This is one of the lesser-known campaigns of the war, and featured a number of interesting land battles between Axis forces (including Germans, Romanians, and a few Italians) and the Red Army as well as coastal operations and amphibious landings by units of the Black Sea Fleet.

THE KUBAN 1943: THE WEHRMACHT'S LAST STAND IN THE CAUCASUS was written by Robert Forczyk and illustrated by Steve Moon. It was published by Osprey Publishing in 2018 as No.318 in their 'Campaign' series (ISBN 978 1 4728 2259 8).

Friday, 23 March 2018

Falconwood Transport & Military Bookshop

Yesterday I paid a visit to Falconwood Transport & Military Bookshop, and whilst I was there the proprietor – Andy Doran – informed me that the shop would be closed from 7th May to 1st June, and that after it re-opens on 2nd June, it will only open on Saturdays.

If you are ever in South East London when it is open, I recommend that you pay it a visit.

The contact details are:
Falconwood Transport & Military Bookshop
5 Falconwood Parade, The Green, Welling, Kent DA16 2PL
Tel: 020 8303 8291

The following map shows its location.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War project ... is going onto the back burner for awhile

Having played around with some of the models and terrain from Zvezda's ‘Art of Tactic’ OPERATION BARBAROSSA game (and had a few problems building some of the kits as a result of my general clumsiness and banana-like fingers!), I have decided to put this project on the back burner for a while.

It has become very apparent that I need to sort out the rules I am going to use before I embark on more work on this project, and the recent spate of articles from old issues of THE NUGGET that I have been uploading to my blog has given me pause for thought.

Currently I am thinking along the lines of melding my HEXBLITZ rules with some of the ideas from Ian Drury's SANDS OF NEW STANHALL and Martin Rapier's OPERATION URANUS and BATTLE OF CAMBRAI rules. In theory this should be quite a simple exercise, but experience tells me that what I first need to do is to take a break and come back to this project with a clear head and a fresh pair of eyes. This might sound a little odd, but over the years I have learned that when I do this, I seem to find it much easier (and faster) to achieve my goal than if I keep plugging away at something that I have been thinking about for some time.

Taking this action will also allow me to look at some of the other projects I want to do some work on, and may well lead to some progress towards my next PORTABLE WARGAME book!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Useful storage boxes

Sue and I often visit the shops in nearby Welling, which is to the east of Shooters Hill. It is not a major retail area although it does have several supermarkets and an inordinate number of fast food outlets, nail and tanning salons, and Turkish barbers! It also has several small, specialist shops, one if which – Bargain Kingdom – sells all sorts of hardware and seasonal goods.

We paid a visit to the shop yesterday, and I saw and bought a couple if small storage boxes that I thought might be useful for storing armies for use with my PORTABLE WARGAME.

Today I experiment with the boxes to see what I could store in them ... and the results were encouraging.

These boxes come in two heights in several different colours as well as in smaller and larger sizes. They are designed to stack on top of each other (there are locating tabs on the bottom and indentations on the lids) and they fit very nicely into the pigeon holes in my bookcases.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The start of The Hundred Days

It wasn't until I began watching Sergei Bondarchuk and Dino De Laurentiis' film WATERLOO on TV last Saturday that I realised that 20th March 1815 was the day that Napoleon returned to Paris after his exile on Elba, thus marking the beginning of the so-called 'Hundred days'.

The film included some wonderful battle scenes, not all of which were particularly accurate but which certainly gave an impression of what a horse-and-musket era battle involving thousands of combatants looked like.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Replacing my old notebook computer

Some years ago we bought a small, cheap notebook computer that we could take on holiday. It has served me well, but it is now beginning to show its age (like me it is getting slow and cannot do as much as it used to!) and we have been looking around for a new notebook computer to replace it. On Sunday morning Sue was looking through the online offers from Lidl and spotted what she thought might be a suitable replacement. It is a Trekstor Surftab® Twin 10.1 2-in-1 Convertible Notebook that was priced at £169.00, and after looking at the specification, we went and bought one.

I know that there will quite a few people out there who will tell me that I should have bought this or that notebook because it is better than the one I have purchased, but for the price and convenience this seems to suit my purposes.

Its specification includes:
  • Processor: Intel® Atom™ x5-Z8350
  • Operating System: Windows® 10 Home
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 64GB internal memory (expandable with an additional 128GB MicroSD memory card)
  • Graphics: Intel® HD Graphics 400
  • Screen: 10.1" 10-point multi-touch with Full HD IPS display
  • Facilities: USB 2.0 port, mini-HDMI, mic, audio jack, WiFi, Bluetooth
  • Cameras: front and rear 2MP
The only thing that it lacks is a port for normal SD cards (each day we are on holiday I back-up the photos we take have taken onto our computer), but as these can be purchased for only a few pounds from a number of retail outlets.

I am now looking forward to setting up our new notebook computer. Experience tells me to leave plenty of time to do so, and to expect things not to go as smoothly as I would like ... but once done, I hope that it will gives us as many years of useful life as its predecessor.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Battle of Cambrai: PDF of the rules is now available

I have converted the text of Martin Rapier's rules and his battle report into PDF format, and they are now available to read and download here.

Infantry from the 16th Infantry Division move forward.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Battle of Cambrai: An Army Level Game for One (or more Players) by Martin Rapier

An Army Level Game for One (or more Players) by Martin Rapier

1. Introduction
Many, many years ago, in an issue of Airfix magazine (or possibly the Airfix annual) I saw a photo of a World War One game where the author had assembled a number of Airfix Mark 1 tanks that were busily advancing on a reproduction of the German trench system around Hamel modelled out of Plasticene of all things. The tanks were supported by British infantry in caps and the Germans all had pointy helmets, (all that was available then) but it was an image which has stayed in mind ever since, and I thought that, one day, I too would put on a game with masses of rhomboid tanks poised to crash through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond. That day finally came last year when I realised just how many W.W.1 tanks the redoubtable members of Sheffield Wargames Club had between them. Time for a game ...

2. Design Concepts
After reading around the subject, I decided there were a number of elements of the battle I wanted to capture:
  • The sheer mass of armoured vehicles employed (almost 500 in all);
  • The key tactical role the tanks played in the destruction of German wire obstacles in lieu of a long preliminary bombardment;
  • The limited endurance of W.W.1 heavy battle tanks and the limits that posed on their operational significance.
Having decided to put a modicum of complexity into modelling the armoured side of things, then clearly the infantry, artillery etc. were going to have to be heavily abstracted to make a playable game, but these elements needed to be present and have the capability to play a significant role as W.W.1 armoured operations were most definitely a combined arms event. One element I made very abstracted was the creeping barrage, in the end allowing British field guns to fire fairly freely (although only able to hit the first two rows) as it wasn’t worth the extra complexity of specifying barrage or rates of advance etc.

The basic game elements were drawn from my various grid based games (most of which were in turn inspired by Peter Pigs ‘Square Bashing’ and Ian Drury’s ‘Storm of Steel’ and ‘Sands of New Stanhall’. I kicked around some designs for a two or three day battle which would include some of the German counter attacks but in the end decided to concentrate purely on the first day. This in turn meant that all players would play the British, as running the Germans on the wrong end of the initial attack would be a dismal job at best! The game then fell into place fairly rapidly, the mechanisms used in Operation Uranus being obvious candidates, the main things to note being:
  1. Dice rolls are required to enter particular terrain types, this made wire especially a formidable obstacle to infantry and cavalry.
  2. Rolling dice for movement meant vehicle reliability could be simply modelled by making low scores a bad result for tanks (losing vehicles to breakdowns etc).
  3. Whilst infantry, guns and cavalry were modelled as one base = one battalion (or cavalry brigade) and they fought as a single element, the tanks were represented as strength points assigned to each vehicle model so the attritional effects of movement and combat could be modelled without requiring truly immense numbers of toys. The available tank SPs were just distributed over the available tank models and recorded with little dice. The game was designed with twelve tanks in mind, but in the event we managed to assemble no less than eighteen!
  4. Artillery barrages attack everything in the square, this makes the defending artillery pre-registered on no mans land extremely powerful indeed if the attackers try and march through with massed infantry. This in turn means that reaching the enemy gun line is a high priority for the tanks and that infantry attacks against uncut wire are essentially doomed to fail (as there is very little chance of crossing the wire and the defensive artillery will destroy units stuck in no mans land fairly quickly).
  5. Similar command and control limits as in Operation Uranus apply i.e. units can generally only move straight forward once committed to combat.
3. Playsheet
A very simple set of rules, British move and then Germans move. Squares are attacked by ‘assaulting’ them i.e. trying to move into them. Those units which make a successful move roll are shot at by the defenders, the survivors then engage in three rounds of close combat. Stationary units are hit by fire on a 6 but moving targets on a 5 or more, which makes assaults extremely bloody. Only some units have a ranged fire capability, the rest fight by assaulting. Move distances and ranges are in terms of squares, orthogonal only.

Turn Sequence
  • British move, declare assaults.
  • German move, declare assaults.
  • Artillery fire.
  • Ranged fire.
  • Assaults.
  • Rally (4+).

  • * Dice per SP or base, Number after / is defensive fire only.
  • ** 3D6 if Anti-tank gun vs. tanks.
  • *** Pillboxes can only be destroyed by hits from artillery or by assault, all other ‘kills’ just disorganise them.
Move rolls (to enter/cross terrain). Use worst type in square.

  • * lose 1 SP on a '1'.
  • Stacking maximum 6 units per square.
Ranged, Artillery and Defensive fire
  • 1D6 per unit/SP.
  • To hit target: Stationary 6, Moving 5, Moving Cavalry 4.
  • Score = killed/1SP loss for tanks.
  • Heavy Artillery and barrage fire hits all units in a square.
  • Field artillery barrage disorganises if roll one less e.g. 5 disorganised hits on 6 vs. stationary. This is supposed to represent suppression from the creeping barrage.
  • Distribute hits randomly. Disorganised units may not move, conduct ranged fire and in assault shoot once and defend with 1 dice with no fortification benefits. Tanks are never disorganised.
  • Units may rally on 4+.
  • Units which make a successful move roll enter the square.
  • Defender fires twice using assault rating (unless disorganised).
  • Then fight three rounds using assault rating, 6 to kill.
  • Defender gets one extra dice for wire and one for trenches/cover (not pillboxes).
  • Attacker pushes out defender by rolling 6+, adding surplus troop bases, tanks and defenders in fortifications count double.
  • Guns and pillboxes are captured if the defender is pushed out, assaulting infantry are disorganised if they win.
4. Game Notes
  • 6 x 4 squares battle area, along with a further row of squares for no mans land and another row further back for reserves etc. No mans land is at the top of the battlefield (not shown) with a further line of squares behind that. The Germans have continuous lines of trenches across the first, second and fourth rows, the first two lines being covered by wire as well. The gun line is the third row. Each square represents approximately 2,000m, Cambrai itself is off the table at the bottom of the map.
  • The game lasts 8 turns (hours).
  • Defensive artillery may be surprised on the first turn if the British choose not to fire a preparatory bombardment. They open fire and are spotted but their fire has no effect on a 3+, roll for each target square.
  • The British have four turns of field gun barrage (two shots each) per division and 25 rounds of heavy gun ammo (maximum six shots per turn). One round of preparatory bombardment may be allowed (does not disorganise targets). If the guns move they lose all their dumped ammo and are only allowed one conventional ranged shot per turn. Field guns only support their own division.
  • British will need to allocate corps and divisional frontages, which may not overlap for infantry divisions, although a reserve division can overlap one front line division. No movement outside divisional areas. The cavalry boundaries can be allocated when they are committed. Once committed to NO MANS LAND units move straight forward, although tanks may deviate within the Corps zone to avoid obstacles.
German Forces
    2 x Infantry Divisions with 9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar and 3 x Field Guns each
The Hindenburg line has 6 x pillboxes, 3 further pillboxes in outpost and reserve lines. One gun is an Anti-tank gun (positioned in Bourlon Wood).

For each division the commitment of forces to each line is:
  • Outpost line: 2 x Infantry, 1 x pillbox.
  • Main Battle Line (HKL): 5 x Infantry, 3 x pillbox, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar.
  • Gun line: 3 x gun.
  • Reserves: 2 x Infantry.
Only deploy defending units when the British try to enter the square or are adjacent on high ground (Welsh Ridge, Bourlon Ridge).

British Forces
    III Corps
      62nd Infantry Division (9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar).
      51st (Highland) Infantry Division (9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar).
      20th Infantry Division (9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar).
      12th Infantry Division (9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar).
    IV Corps
      36th Infantry Division (9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar).
      56th Infantry Division (9 x Infantry, 1 x MG, 1 x Mortar).
    Cavalry Corps
      5th Cavalry Division (3 x Cavalry).
      2nd Cavalry Division (3 x Cavalry).
      1st Cavalry Division (3 x Cavalry).
    Tank Corps with 380 Mark IV tanks and 96 support tanks. Approximately 1SP per 6 tanks so around 70 SP distributed over the available models, maybe more if feeling generous.
5. Player Briefings
Battle of Cambrai, 20th November 1917
British Briefing
General Scheme
General Sir Julian Byng’s plan for an offensive by his Army has been accepted by GHQ. We will make a surprise attack in the region of Cambrai using massed tanks supported by predicted artillery fire and no major preliminary bombardment. When a breakthrough has been achieved the Cavalry Corps can exploit the situation and advance on Douai and Valenciennes. Given the limited resources available following our great victory at the Third Battle of Ypres, the progress of the operation will be reviewed after 24 hours.

  • Break through the Hindenburg Line defences on a frontage of at least 10,000 yards.
  • Take the dominating Bourlon Wood/Noyelles position.
  • Pass the Cavalry Corps through to capture Cambrai and exploit.
Enemy Forces
The enemy is believed to have some six divisions in the area, but only two manning the immediate defences. It is likely that large enemy reinforcements will arrive after 48 hours, however most enemy units are exhausted after the Battle of Ypres.

The Hindenburg Line consists of the three main defensive belts; an outpost line some 2,000m deep; the main battle zone also some 2,000m deep and fronted by a 14' wide anti-tank ditch and a further reserve line 6,000m to 8,000m into the enemy position.

Each defensive zone is fronted by major wire entanglements, contains numerous dug in positions and bunkers and is reinforced with concreted machine gun posts (the so-called 'pill boxes'). The bulk of the enemy troops and fortifications are likely to be concentrated in the main battle zone, with counter attack forces in the third line.

The enemy field artillery is mostly located behind the main battle zone and will lay down a curtain of defensive fire once our attack has commenced. The enemy gun line is out of barrage range of our field artillery, but the heavy artillery is within easy counter battery range.

Friendly Forces
    III Corps
      62nd Infantry Division
      51st (Highland) Infantry Division
      20th Infantry Division
      12th Infantry Division
    IV Corps
      36th Infantry Division
      56th Infantry Division
    Cavalry Corps
      5th Cavalry Division
      2nd Cavalry Division
      1st Cavalry Division
Each division has 100 field guns with sufficient ammunition for four hours barrage fire each. If they move this ammunition will be left behind and they will be reduced to their ready supply.

300 Heavy guns (six brigades) with sufficient ammunition for a total 25 concentrations between them. These guns are immobile.

Tank Corps, three tank brigades with 380 Mark IV heavy battle tanks and a further 96 support tanks of various marks.

Special Order to Tank Commanders
  1. Tomorrow the Tank Corps will have the chance for which it has been waiting for many months – to operate on good going in the van of the battle.
  2. All that hard work and ingenuity can achieve has been done in the way of preparation.
  3. It remains for unit commanders and tank crews to complete the work by judgement and pluck in the battle itself.
  4. In the light of past experience I leave the good name of the Corps with great confidence in their hands.
  5. I propose leading the attack in the centre division.
Hugh Elles B.G
Commanding Tank Corps

6. The Game
Tim Gow, Sharon Langdridge and John Armatys turned up for this one, which worked out at a rather handy two divisions each for them to command. The addition of Tim’s extra tanks (the paint seeming suspiciously wet) meant we could field no less than eighteen Mark IV type tanks in a surprising variety of colour schemes and markings, all very realistic no doubt. This meant each division could be assigned three tank models to produce a nice even distribution across the front, all very historical, and a necessity given the victory conditions of 10,000m wide break through. The 20mm troops were deployed in the south, and the 15mm troops in the north as being further away they naturally looked smaller.

The progress of the game was recorded for posterity by the miracle of digital camera technology, and we managed to record the situation at the start of the game and at the end of each turn. As might be expected, the massed armour rolled over the Germans, although the game was not without its distinctly sticky moments. The photographic evidence reveals rather poignantly the ever diminishing number of operational tanks in the front line and the increasingly ragged progress once the main Hindenburg defences were reached, a couple of pillboxes in the centre proving extremely tough nuts to crack.

Highlights of the game:
  1. The sheer spectacle of the table groaning under masses and masses of tanks, supported by an impressive number of infantry (some 54 bases of infantry alone, excluding artillery and support weapons).
  2. The glee with which the assembled tank commanders rolled over the German outpost line
  3. The consternation when they hit the Hindenburg Line proper!
  4. A lone German artillery battalion holding Bourlon Wood for hour after hour, fronted by blazing Mark IVs, all very historical.
  5. The death ride of the 51st Highland Division as they launched wave after wave of infantry assaults across the St Quentin Canal, only to be mowed down a brigade at a time by the defending artillery (who eventually succumbed to massed mortar and Vickers machine gun fire).
  6. The triumphant march of the Cavalry who trotted through the middle of the raging battle and off to glory without a scratch.
I was very pleased with the way the game went, and the players were all delighted to have given the Hun a good kicking, although it was by no means a walkover – some divisions had lost all their infantry and few tank units had more than one or two SP left. The only thing which really concerned me was that the combination of benefits they got which made the defenders extremely tough indeed and even during the game I dropped the additional dice they were supposed to have in close combat. If running it again I’ll probably revise that area somewhat.

7. Conclusions
Apart from a couple of minor tweaks, this game seems to work well. It is perhaps a bit depressing that I seem to have to write a set of rules for every single game I do, perhaps one day I’ll crack the secret of writing a more general purpose set. I’ll be bringing this to COW2003, and I hope anyone with even a passing interest in W.W.1 can come and give it a go. Contributions of even more tanks will be welcome!

Friday, 16 March 2018

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 16th – 18th March 1938

Barcelona was subjected to round-the-clock bombing by Italian aircraft based on Majorca.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Operation Uranus: PDF of the rules is now available

I have converted the text of Martin Rapier's rules and his battle report into PDF format, and they are now available to read and download here.

Martin has kindly given his permission to also publish his Cambrai rules on my blog, and I hope to do that in the next few days. These were a development of his Operation Uranus rules and involved two German Infantry Divisions vs. British forces amounting to six Infantry Divisions, three Cavalry Divisions, six Heavy Artillery Brigades, and three Tank Brigades.