Wednesday, September 24, 2014

20mm WWII Canadian Infantry from AB Miniatures - The Battle for Ortona, 1943 (Part I)

About a year ago I was rummaging around my storage shed and came across a collection of 20mm WWII figures that I had originally painted-up for use with Arty Conliffe's Crossfire (a very fine and innovative set of rules btw). This group of figures primarily composed of old, but quite good SHQ, Britannia and FAA models. This discovery began me thinking of how I could make use of these figures for future gaming. I decided that I could conscript my 15mm Flames of War collection (a set of rules I'm not especially fond of) for use with Crossfire and then I could use these venerable 20mm figures for skirmish gaming (Chain of CommandBolt Action, etc). As I sorted through the lot I discovered that  I had scads of German Fallshirmjaegers (from a previous Crete scenario), but I needed some more Commonwealth figures to serve as opponents. 

So, I began snooping around the web and came across Anthony Barton's (of AB Miniatures) superb 20mm WWII range. So credit card was duly unsheathed and an order placed. Nonetheless, as these things frequently go, by the time the figures arrived I had abstractedly wandered off to another project (I know, how typical) so the castings were studiously unpacked, briefly admired and then stored away awaiting further inspiration.

Canadian armour moving through Ortona by Charles Comfort
The spark came a few weeks ago when I began reading about the 1943 battle of Ortona which occurred during the Italian campaign. In the larger scheme of things this battle was largely a sideshow, dwarfed by the campaigns in the Eastern Front and overshadowed by the impending landings in Normandy, but to many in Canada Ortona is regarded as our own 'little Stalingrad' due to its brutal and unrelenting house-to-house combat.

'Reinforcements Moving up in the Ortona Salient' by Lawren Philips Harris
As a brief background, Ortona is a port town situated on the Adriatic coast of Italy, relatively close to Rome along a east-west axis. In 1943, with the Allies lines of supply stretched to the extreme, Ortona was regarded as strategically important as it possessed one of the few ports which could accommodate deep-draught shipping. 

For this reason Montgomery wanted it taken and so General Christopher Vokes, commander of the Canadian 1st Infantry Division, ordered his men to batter their way into the town through a series costly frontal assaults along its approaches. Vokes wasn't necessarily a bad commander, but he really wasn't very good either. Monty regarded him as 'a plain cook' and I think that assessment is fairly accurate. So instead of bypassing the town and threatening to pocket the Fallshirmjaegers garrisoning it, Vokes decided to take Ortona by direct assault. 

Map of Ortona showing the path of the Canadian assaults.
The Germans had positioned themselves very well, establishing interlinking fields of fire for effective ambushes, and had littered the advance with mines and boobytraps. The Canadians found that attacking over the rubble-heaped streets while under enemy fire was extremely gruelling and so the casualty toll rose.  The Canadians realized that they had to develop other means in order to grind ahead or the attack would stall completely. One notable trick they came up with was the tactic of 'mouse-holing' (also used in the fighting at Stalingrad). This involved the Canadians blowing a hole through the adjoining walls between upper floors and then systematically working their way down. While this tactic was effective in keeping the men out of the fire-swept streets, the process was fraught with danger as the advance from room-to-room often involved ferocious close-quarters combat.

Over eight days, from December 20th to the 28th, the Canadians of the 2nd Brigade forced the German paratroopers out of the town, but at a cost of nearly 2400 in dead and wounded. The Moro River campaign (of which Ortona was a part) inflicted almost a quarter of all casualties suffered by the Canadians during the entire Italian campaign. After reading the accounts of the campaign one can appreciate why the term 'D-Day Dodgers' deeply rankled with the men fighting up the Italian peninsula.

I painted these figures to represent men from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Saskatoon Light Infantry which were two of the four infantry battalions which were committed to the battle (the other two units were the Seaforth Highlanders and the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry). 

I was struck by the photos of the incredible amount of pale/white rubble in Ortona so I tried to replicate the same in my groundwork, with lots of shattered masonry, dust and debris scattered about.

I've pretty much completed a full platoon, with various supports, but I thought I'd show them over two or three blog posts so the sculpts can stand on their own and not be lost within a mass of figures. 

These castings were a real pleasure to work on and I hope you enjoyed looking them over. 

Next: To mix things up, some Post Apocalyptic Raiders!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

1:1200 Napoleonic Naval - The Battle of Trafalgar or: 'Trafalgarage'

Sylvain here, reporting from my garage. A few years ago, I painted enough sail ships to play the battle of Trafalgar, and since I have been looking for a set of rules that could handle this huge engagement in a reasonable amount of time. "Trafalgar", by Mark Latham, is elegant yet it would take days of gaming to bring the battle to its conclusion. Another difficulty is the sheer size of the gaming surface. Even at 1:1200. Nelson's column is four feet long, making it impractical on any gaming table. 

So I came up with the idea of playing the battle in my garage. I decided to regroup ships in squadrons of three and set them on a twelve inch long block. Each block has been identified with a huge sticker to facilitate recognition from a standing point of view. Movement and firing have been simplified. Ships move at twelve inches per turn, which is exactly the length of a block. Here is an example of a ship display.

Flag Officers. Some ships carry a flag officer. Each die shown beside the name represents an opportunity to re-roll any die roll during a turn. This can be applied to any unit within 12" of the flag ship.

Orange boxes. Every time one or more orange boxes are marked off during a turn, the ship must test for morale.

Masts. Each box represent one hit and the white ones must be marked off  before the orange ones. For the leading ship, each box lost reduces the speed by 2", resulting in the whole squadron loosing movement. For the other ships in the squadron, damage on masts only counts towards a morale check.

Hull. Each box represent one hit, to be marked off from left to right. The number inside each box represents the number of attack dice.

Crew. Each crew box represents one die roll to be used for boarding.

We played during our regular Friday night session. Curt and Jeremy took command of the Allies, respectively as French and Spanish, while Sean and Conn shared control of the British fleet.

The Admirals and the Referee

The Hispano-French fleet, minding its own business, heading for Cadix, just beyond the garage door, already dreaming of the pleasures of wine and love... Many times during the evening I've heard suggestions to paint the garage floor the color of the ocean.

The British fleet, ready to enter from the West wall of the garage. Even my garage was to small to fully accommodate the original disposition at Trafalgar. The next logical step will be to play in the backyard.

Two British columns converging on the French and Spanish ships. In this new iteration of the battle, both Nelson and Collingwood sail in the same super column. But wait! What is the rearguard doing?

Admiral Curt, boldly changing history, tacks his squadrons in the opposite direction, trying to lure the British fleet into pursuit while the vanguard, lead by Admiral Jeremy, would go for a quick exit.

So, if I do this it will really cock-up the game right? Excellent...

Sylvain and Admiral Conn trying to puzzle through Curt's crazy gambit.

Okay, time to pay the piper.

The vanguard is almost at the door! Three British squadrons are close behind. Many ships will be able to escape.

The final, savage, melee for the rearguard.

The game was flowing at a nice pace and four players were able to bring this huge battle to a conclusion during the course of four hours. The gaming experience was satisfactory for both sides, although I should have had established clearer victory conditions at the start. The rules, although simplified to the extreme, produced results compatible with the historical outcome. All in all, I would say the experience was a complete success.

Monday, September 8, 2014

28mm Heroes Ready for Pulp Adventures from Statuesque Miniatures

I've been in a pulp fiction kind of mood lately. Probably from overindulging on too many graphic novels and schmalzy movies over the summer (as if the terms 'overindulging', 'graphic novels' and 'schmaltzy movies' could ever be mutually exclusive).

Anyway, here a four new additions to my Pulp Adventure collection. I present to you from left to right:

Captain P. Douglas D.S.C./R.N. (Ret.)

Captain Douglas is a grizzled veteran of the Great War where he made a reputation for himself as a hard-driving commander of a destroyer. He gained both his D.S.C and his prized 'Broomhandle' Mauser from a boarding action where he and his crew captured a light cruiser off the coast of Africa. (The same Mauser shattered his left arm, when he was wounded by the German cruisers captain.)

Viki 'Dead Eye' Krueger

Ms. Krueger is the daughter of a notable South African big game hunter and guide. After he was killed by a lion (a suitable end) she took over the family business. She is a rough-and-tumble character who never shies away when the path becomes perilous. Even though she lost her left eye to a pygmy dart when she was a teenager, she is still a crack shot with her pearl-handled Colt pistol.

Major Marty 'Gimme' Mohr

Like Douglas, Mohr is also a veteran of the First World War, but that is where the likeness ends. 'Gimme' Mohr ended his Great War as a German Stormtrooper, where he was finally captured while entering the outskirts of Paris... by himself. (From this, he has the unique distinction to have personally marked the furthest point the Imperial German army had advanced on the Western Front.) His martial skills were quickly recognized by his captors and he was quietly recruited into the secret 'League of Nations League'.

Lt. Jarmila 'The Hand' Fedorak

Jarmila is also a valued member of the elite 'League of Nations League'.  As a teenager she was a member of a Ukrainian nationalist group who fought with the Whites during the Russian Civil War. She attracted attention to herself when it was found that she could, through shear force force of will, throw devastating shock waves from her withered right hand. The League has helped her harness and focus her powers through arcane psychic training and utilizing a unique power gauntlet developed by the renown Nikola Tesla.

All these figures are from the Pulp Alley range offered from Statuesque Miniatures (sculpted by Andrew Rae). Really fabulous bunch of castings, with very fine features and almost no seam lines or flash - an absolute pleasure to work on. I have no idea of what I'll use these for, as I just picked them up because I liked the castings, but I'll try to come up with something suitably silly and fun to get them on the game table.

Next up: Post-Apocalyptic Gangers or WWII Canadians (whichever rolls off the table first).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

'From the Prairies to the Trenches: Saskatchewan and the First Months of World War One, June 1914 - February 1915'

Me proudly mugging for the camera as we install our exhibit at the Legislature. Picture by the ever-radiant J. Fedorak.
Well, sadly, it looks like summer is slipping through our fingers. Usually my work is fairly low-key during the hot months, but this year it has been very busy indeed.

One thing that my unit was tasked to do during July was to create and install an exhibit at our Provincial Legislature in order to commemorate Canada's entry into the Great War, one hundred years ago. Even though we only had four weeks to pull it off I decided that we should be ambitious and create a video installation as I thought it would better showcase the various collections/media held by our archive. Anyway, it was all hands to the sweeps each day, but my team more than showed their mettle and I think they hit the ball right out of the park. I'm very proud of them and of what we managed to create under such a tight deadline. My hat is off to you Donald, Jaimie, Madeleine, Taras and Tim - thanks so much for your hard work.

So, without further ado here is our video exhibit (which also debuted on YouTube a few days ago). It is titled, 'From the Prairies to the Trenches: Saskatchewan and the First Months of World War One, June 1914 - February 1915'. I invite you to check it out and if you like it please forward it on to others who may be interested. 

Note: I recommend turning on Closed Captioning / Subtitles as one of the interviews is with a WWI veteran which was recorded in 1975 and so can be a bit of a challenge to hear in parts. We will be creating follow-up videos for each year of the war so, rest assured, I will be pestering you all to view them when they are each released. 

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Worst Case Scenario #12: 'Condor Down! Condor Down!' - Stuka Crash-Site Recovery, Bilbao 1937

On the night of the 6th of August 1936, a nondescript freighter from Hamburg quietly slipped into Cadiz harbour. Secretly packed within the ship's hold was the first prototype of a new weapon, an experimental aircraft to be tested by the Condor Legion in Spain, the very first Ju 87 'Stuka' dive bomber which  later was to become the icon of the dreaded Blitzkrieg.

The Stuka prototype was piloted by Unteroffizier Herman Beurer, who, after conducting a series of non-combat flight trials, took part in the Nationalist campaign against Bilbao in June 1937. No account survives today which describes Beurer's operations, but it's presumed that his Stuka finished its tour, was quietly crated back to Germany and modifications were made to later models based on his combat experiences.

In Anthony Beevor's 'The Battle for Spain' the author mentions that the head of the Condor Legion's Luftwaffe, Wolfram von Richthoffen (cousin to the famous Manfred), was so concerned about having any of the Stukas shot down that he assigned inordinately heavy ME109 fighter-support to help protect them.   

So from this information my mind began to churn and I came up with a hypothetical 'Chain of Command' scenario. In it, Beurer and his prototype Stuka, much to the horror of von Richthoffen, have been forced down behind Republican lines and both sides are frantic to recover both the aircrew and the wreckage of the prototype.

The scenario is essentially a race against time for both sides. The Nationalists want to retrieve the aircrew and destroy the Stuka before the Republicans can secure them for their obvious propaganda and technical value. The Republicans, in turn, want to capture the aircrew for interrogation and they also wish to film the crashed Stuka in order to display it to the world press (and we can assume that more than a few Soviet commissars would be very interested in the prototype's design).

Scenario Details

The Nationalists

Beurer and his rear gunner, Willi, have pulled themselves from the wreckage along with some supplies. Nonetheless, before they can attempt to destroy their aircraft they hear a vehicle approaching from the Republican lines. Spooked, the two airmen manage to dash to cover where they lay concealed awaiting an opportunity to escape to their own lines.

The German aircrew are kept off-board and their possible locations (four sites) are marked on the tabletop for all to see. If the Republicans close to within 4" of any of the marked locations it is revealed whether the aircrew are there or not. 

The aircrew are armed with a MG34 taken from the Stuka. Due to them only being able to recover a few drums of ammunition from the Stuka, the MG34 will run out of ammunition when more 1's than 6's are rolled in a burst.

The Nationalist rescue force starts off-board, but will have initiative at the game's start. They consist of:

- The force commander with an attached 50mm Light Mortar team.

- One section of Moroccan Regulares armed with rifles. They also have a LMG team and a Tank Hunter team. They are considered Veteran troops and are Aggressive.

- One section of Guardia Civil armed with a mix of rifles and SMGs. They also have a LMG team. They are considered Green troops

- One section of Carlist Requites armed with rifles. They also have a LMG team. While they are considered Regular troops they also carry a reliquary cross giving them bonuses in close assaults and moral tests (they have to call out 'Viva Christo Rey!'). Also, if they are within 10" of the Moroccans they have to test whether they take a few pot-shots at them (their Catholic sensibilities being offended by the presence of Muslims on Spanish soil).

- An Italian CV33 Tankette (just 'cause I love the look of the little guy)

- Finally, but perhaps most importantly, a Panzer I with a Luftwaffe air observer in the turret.

These can come in from each of the two Jump-Off points in any order that the Nationalist players desires. The vehicles have to enter from the short edge.

The Republicans

The game begins with the Stuka crash-site being approached by a squad of Assault Guards mounted in an armoured truck. They are Veteran troops armed with rifles. They also have a Tank Hunter team (SMG and dynamite) and are considered Aggressive.

The rest of the Republican force is as follows:

-The force commander with an attached 50mm Light Mortar team.

- One section of Bilbao Civil Guard. They will have a LMG team and a Tank Hunter team. They are considered Green.

- One section of International Brigade infantry. They have a LMG team and a Tank Hunter team. They are considered as Regulars.

- A Hispano Suiza towing a Bofors anti-tank gun. Regulars.

- A press film crew from Bilbao.

As mentioned previously only the Assault Guard section is on the table at the start of the game. The rest of the Republicans will enter piecemeal. At the start of each Republican phase each component 'section' needs to roll a '6' to be able to enter the table.

The Friction

Every phase a die is rolled. If it is a '1' or '2' a flight of ME109s are sighted coming in for a strafing attack. This attack will happen at the end of the next phase (meaning that usually both sides will have a chance to take cover with some of their units before the strafing attack begins, if they desire).

The ME109 strafing is random as the fighter pilots are in a panic to deny anyone access to the crash-site (being humiliated in allowing the Stuka to be shot down in the first place). Re-roll the target randomization if the PzI is initially selected as the pilots should be aware of its silhouette and air-recognition markings. The ME109 strafing is an 8 dice HMG attack with an AT of 1 (but always hitting the top armour). 

When the Pz I enters the battlefield with the air observer they will discover that, due to atmospheric conditions (or whatever), they cannot raise the Luftwaffe on their wireless set to direct their attacks. Instead, the air observer will have to splice into the telephone line crossing the table to establish a 'land line' to gain control of the Luftwaffe attacks. This will take one phase where the Pz I is activated next to one of the phone poles. Once communication is established the air observer will be able to call in air support from his position.

The PzI rushing up to link into the phone lines while the Nationalist infantry begins their assault.
Finally, a Film Crew is being rushed to the crash site to film the wreckage for newsreels around the world. Unlike the other Republican Reinforcements they do not roll to arrive on each Activation Phase but instead will come onto the scene on Turn 2.

Once the film crew arrives they will need time to set up their equipment. This is reflected in them accumulating 12 points. Each time the film crew is activated in a Phase (they are a Team) they roll a D6 and accrue that many points. 

Our Game

Our game began with the Stuka aircrew dashing into the walled field to hide while the newly arrived Assault Guards cautiously advanced down the riverbed towards the stone hermitage on the other flank. Meanwhile, the nationalists entered the battlefield with both the Moroccans and Carlists sections (initially kept apart a safe distance) while being supported by the Panzer I which picked its way through the woods. 

The Nationalist command conferring to organize their advance.
The ME109 strafing attacks were felt quite early with some Moroccans becoming casualties to their 'blue-on-blue' fire. Spurred to action, the Luftwaffe observer ordered the Panzer I driver to take them to the phone lines as fast as possible to stem the uncoordinated air attacks. (The Pz I never did tie into the phone lines as the Nationalist players always had something better to do with their command dice - or so they thought...)

The situation at half-time.
As the game progressed the rest of the Republicans infantry managed to make it onto the battlefield with the International Brigade fighters and Bilbao's Civil Guard taking long-range pot shots at the Moroccans and Carlists from their positions along the riverbed. On the other flank, the Assault Guards discovered that the Stuka aircrew was not hiding in the Hermitage and so began to shift their search towards the small church. 

The Civil Guard dishing it out and taking it.
The Republicans managed to 'fill up' their Chain of Command dice first and moved the game to Turn 2, allowing them to bring in the film crew. Nonetheless, the Nationalists responded to this up by retaining the initiative over the next two Phases moving up, and throwing in, the Guardia Civil and Carlists against the Assault Guards who were moving through the cornfield. 

The Guardia Civil and Carlists move forward to attack the Assault Guards (seen just right of the cornfield).
The close assaults were bloody with the Guardia first being thrown back in disarray by the Asaltos. Undeterred, the subsequent Carlist attack, led at the front by their reliquary standard bearer, screaming 'Viva Christo Rey!', forced the Assault Guards back with heavy casualties being suffered on both sides. 

'Viva Christo Rey!'
Two critical events happened at this point. First, the Moroccan Regulares met up with the German aircrew in the walled field, rescuing them from immediate capture. The second was that the Film Crew had arrived onboard and were beginning to set up their equipment behind the protection of the armoured truck in order to film the wreckage of the Stuka. 

The Film Crew setting up for their newsreel...
In the last few phases of the game the Moroccans and Luftwaffe aircrew advanced to the edge of the field and managed to catch the International Brigade troops in the flank with withering fire to which they were forced to fall back to the riverbed near the crash site.

The Moroccans and aircrew fall back firing...
...taking the International Brigade troops with enfilading fire.
As the film crew were masked by the armoured truck and supported by both the Civil Guard and the fighters from the International Brigade, the understrength Nationalists tried to drop mortar rounds on the truck, but to no avail. 

It was at this point that the Nationalist players realized that if they had access to the ME109s circling above the battleground they could have had them attacking the Stuka crash site. Oops! A mistake to be sure, but we all know how games can give us tunnel vision when we have the bit between the teeth...

So with darkness falling the Condor Legion will have to be content with the recovery of their aircrew, while suffering the humiliation of seeing their new secret weapon filmed for all the world to see - von Richthofen will be furious. All in all, a Republican victory.

It was a great game and I wish to thank all the guys for making it such a fun night. I have to mention that two of our young players, Conn and Aiden (sp), where initially just supposed to be stopping by to drop off spectacles for Conn's father, Sean, and take a brief look at the table before going out to chase girls. Well, I'm quite chuffed to say that the game managed to draw them away from their prurient pursuits for the entire evening. They looked a little chagrinned at midnight when they realized that they had missed their party, with their girlfriends texting them, wondering where they ended up. To me that's as good a compliment as I can expect for any game!

Next up: A few new additions for the Pulp Adventure collection.