29 June 2014

Options, options...the kid in a candy store

Decisions, decisions, all those options...

The Kid in the Candy Store

As with  most wargamers, I too am a sucker for the new and shiny, or different. Add to that the historical aspect, and you've got me hooked! So always looking at directions my wargaming can take, I thought I had been seduced by SAGA.

X-Wing did pique my interest too, being very playable, but I have to confess that the building and painting is as important to me as the playing. So pre-painted, Meh!


Remember Rackham's Confrontation? Well, they lost me when they started marketing pre-painted figures. They had some amazing sculpts, but why would you want to try and sell pre-painted minis?
Mass appeal and sales, I suppose. Killed Rackham, that did ! So despite the huge popularity of X-Wing I have decided not to indulge.


But then came SAGA. My, oh, my...looking very tempting. Paul over at Dog of War has got me interested.
Playing my first game in July. No, in fact I have been interested since I first saw the Gripping Beast Minis in a Wargames Illustrated a couple of years ago. Now who DOESN'T like Vikings?
So off I go onto SAGA websites, and find the closest Griping Beast retailer - over in Australia it seems.

Then comes Nick on Thursday:  "Hey, it's the anniversary of Waterloo next year! How about we but on a large scale Waterloo game. You're fond of the Germans! Why don't you take the Prussians or the Austrians?"

My knee jerk was "No, I have too many models, armies and scales as things stand"
Remembering then that I happen have some old 20 mm Airfix Black Guard.
 I did toss in the question: "Which scale?"
Says Young Nick: "28 mm !"  Hmmm... So on Friday I get the weekly epistle of deals from Hannants in the UK, and my fingers somehow find their own way over to the Napoleonics.

Victrix seem to have a nice plastics selection, quite cheapish too at around a dollar a figure, as does Perry. Interesting discourse on TMP (The Miniatures Page) about quality and finishing. Boxes of 50, as with SAGA. (Eat your heart out, GW)


Not much painting or building went on the weekend, as I had to attend an advanced cardiac life support training course in Wellington. Grabbed the chance to stay overnight and have an evening out with my lovely wife, without the kids. Saturday was spent in the National Clinical Simulation Unit training and then an exam at the end. Passed without event. Box ticked.

Got a little bit of painting done on my unpainted horde of warriors of chaos. Hoping some of these may double as Vikings one day...Who knows

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Poor quality phone photo of my horde

24 June 2014

Operation Bagration: The first shots fall

First Shots of Operation Bagration

Thursday night, games night. Happens to almost co-incide with the actual 70th anniversary of Operation Bagration.

Flames of War in 20 mm. Second or third FoW game for Laurie, ably assisted by David, and visitor (and  potential new member) Tielman, ex Frankfurt am Main in Germany (Impartial observer, but obviously an experienced gamer)

Operation Bagration 22 June - 26 June

22 June 1944: A German Panzer Comapny meets up with a Russian Tankovy suppported by a small Motostrelkovy.

2 pre-prepared 1000 points lists:
I roll to get the Germans, Laurie to command the Soviets.

Germans field a Panzer IV unit, 4 Panzer IV Gs and a command section with the Major and the 2 IC in similar tanks and a recovery SdKfz 11;  KWK 75mm long guns, 2 Reconaissance  Armoured cars: 2 Pumas with 50 mm KWKs, 3 Stug Gs, one with saukopf mantlet (Thanks Scott, nice and easy way to distinguish troop commander) and 2 with square mantlet. 2 x Pak 40s. No more points left after that :( 
Germans are confident veterans of the Ostfront.

Russkis have Command and 2-IC in T-34 Obr 1942's, another troop of 5 x T-34s, and a separate troop of 6 Sherman lend-lease tanks. Mortar section with 4 x 120 mm heavy mortars; and the Motostrelkovy with 2 Maxim HMGs. Kommissar to invigorate the somewhat reluctant infantry. Russians are confident trained

Laurie rolls, and elects that I deploy first.

Terrain
We have an open rolling pastoral landscape, some where east of the Dnieper river. (So 9th German Army and 9th Russian Tank Corps elements coming head to head, leading up to the large clash at Bobruisk. (!st Byelorussian Front) Pripyat (Pripet) Marshes do not feature (yet):

A single farm-house with two small wheat fields at the centre of the table, a small copse of fir trees to the north and south, and a low hill to the west. A chance engagement, with both forces vying for the farmhouse, with an unsubstantiated  rumour that went round that an attractive farm-girl who brews her own Vodka resided there...


The Panzerspaeh unit deployed first, off to the southern edge of the table. Knee-jerk response from Generalski Laurie saw the 6 Shermans deployed to cover the flank. The Germans then deployed 3 stugs threatening their flank in return.
Russians deployed their T34s on the Northern flank. Germans set 2 x Pak 40s in the centre of their lines, with direct lines of sight to T34 unit.

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Let's take out the soft armoured cars first! Then we take the woods.

The soviet mortars took position on the far left corner, with observers in the woods. German command tanks parked behind the Pak 40s, able to strike left or right, depending where the threat came from. 

Russian commander sought to bolster the numbers of his T-34 force, and followed in the furrows ploughed by the lead tanks. Russian Motostrelkovy deployed amongst the Sherman tanks, set to take the objective in the forest between them and the Pumas. Last to deploy were 4 Zis-3 AT guns, straddling the centre of the board on the Russian side. The bulk of the farm house interfering with line of sight to the Pak 40s (phew!)

Genl. Lauriski goes first: Shermans roll forward, and take a bead on the Pumas. Being recce vehicles they decide that discretion is the better part of valour. Or so they thought: Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Well, sort of. One vehicle was able to scoot behind the low hill and out of sight, but the lead armoured car went too far, and exposed himself to the line of fire of the rear-most Sherman. Fatal mistake.

Mortars range in on the Pak40s, succeed in dropping their 120 mm ordnance, but failing to do any damage.
Not so the T-34s. The two PzKfw IVs go up in flames. The Russians artillery fails to do any damage, and their unit commander radios for the Kommissar to come over.


The Germans are infuriated by the loss of their beloved PzKfw IVs, the troop commander fires off two rounds, two hits, and two T34s go up in smoke. "See Ivan, this is what Krupp Steel does !"

The Pak 40s follow suit, and soon 4 T-34s in total are blazing hulks. The hot-headed junior officer in the Puma is encouraged by the success of the artillery, and charges into the flank of the Sherman unit, quite foolishly. He pumps two shots into the nearest Sherman's flank, destroying it. In his urge to avenge his colleagues he ends his game turn hopelessly exposed. 

The grizzled veteran Heer stug commander shrugs. "Must have a throat ache !" (Wehrmach slang for a desire to obtain the knight's cross, worn at the throat) A volley of 6 armour piercing 75mm shots from the StugGs, and several Tommy Cookers live up to their names, except in this case it is Ivan receiving the heat, not Tommy.

Turn 2 sees the Motostrelkovy take the objective in the woods on the back of the Sherman thrust; without firing a single shot, and the Shermans turn their attention to the isolated Puma and the Stugs, destroying the Puma outright. The Ritterkreuz was bestowed posthumously on Leutnant Brasch. The low profiles of the Stugs and having to shoot through the woods makes life difficult for the Russian gunners. Shots hit, but fail to do any damage. Another dismal performance from the artillery. 

Mortars again make up for the lack of efficacy from the Zis 3s, and destroy the observation team for the 75mm guns.Glancing shots hit the Command Unit's tanks, they bale out, but remount in their turn.The remaining panzer fails its morale test, and flees off the table to warn the OKW about what is happening.

Germans counter-attack, with the Stugs wiping out the Shermans, and the Pak 40s sowing sorrow among the T-34s, destroying them to the man, commander included. The Soviets will have to start taking company morale tests!

Soviets pass their first company morale check, and turn to their artillery to finish the job. It appears the artillery have finally found their mark! Maybe the threat of the Kommissar increased their zeal, or was it the sight of 2 PzIVs barrelling down on them ? Blam goes the SdKfz 11  recovery vehicle of the command platton

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Two stugs go up in flames, a Pak 40 is lost, and the gunnery command team too. The Strelkovy prefer sit on their objective in the woods, smoking those black Russian cigarettes with the acrid smoke...

The German turn sees their command unit making a bee-line for the farm-house, trying to shelter from the Zis 3 guns. The stug makes double time to get to the second objective. By hook or by crook...


A war of attrition ensues. Ivan hits and bails both the command panzers. The Pak 40 survives, but the Stug is also bailed. Looking pretty grim for the Germans. "Ach Hans, I could see the Liebling with the Vodka!"

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The Stug crew successfully remounts, but both the PzIV remain bailed. Looks like the writing is on the wall...

Lauriski rolls his company morale test: a 1!
No! The Soviets crumble and run ! Apparently they had enough. I suspect some harsh words and actions will follow from Herr Kommissar, Ja?

An epic slog-fest, and a very enjoyable game.




16 June 2014

Fires of October: Interesting What if ? for Wargamers

1962. The US invades Cuba. Wargaming of a "What If ?" scenario beckons


What if the US had invaded Cuba in 1962: An interesting scenario to play. A new book contemplates what could have been and newly declassified information. Apparently it came close to happening...



Fires of October is a critical and detailed analysis of the military aspects of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
This now tops my reading list!

 It describes how close we came to a nuclear conflict by outlining the strength of Soviet tactical and strategic nuclear weapons in Cuba, and how the use of these weapons was delegated to commanders in the field.
What is unique about this book?

This is the first book that explores the great “what if” of the Cuban Missile Crisis – the planned US invasion of Cuba. In a subject that has had hundreds of books and articles written about it, Blaine Pardoe has broken new ground in an area previously glossed over by most historians. With this book, readers will get their first glimpse into what the invasion, code-named Operation Scabbards, could have been like and what the US would have faced on Cuba.

What research material was used?

Fires of October has leveraged newly declassified materials from the US National Archives and other government agencies to tell the story of a military campaign cancelled only hours before initiation.  Many of these materials have only just come to light, having been incorrectly labeled and catalogued.  The author spent five years meticulously piecing together the information into a coherent narrative.

Just how close did the US come to invading Cuba?

The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most fluid and potentially dangerous situations that the US faced in the Cold War.  The United States was just 48 hours from initiating the air campaign, which would have been followed by a massive airborne and amphibious assault on the island ten days later.

Would it have been a cake walk?

Many authors have alluded to the fact that the US possessed overwhelming military might, and would have crushed the Cubans and Soviets on the island. But contemporary research shows that the US intelligence assumed only 12,000 Soviets were present, but actual forces totaled over 40,000.  The opposing forces had numerous front-line Soviet tanks and armored vehicles. The Cubans were deeply entrenched and prepared for an American attack as well, with over 100,000 troops ready and mobilized.

OP Plan 316-62 – Operation Scabbards – called for airborne assaults to seize airfields which, unknown to the Americans, were less than two miles from Soviet headquarters positions. Much of the fighting in and around Havana would have been vicious urban combat, which always favors the defenders.  The Americans were seriously hampered from landing the necessary tanks, and lacked sufficient armaments for a prolonged campaign.  It is quite possible that invading Cuba could have slipped into a Viet Nam-type campaign.

What about nuclear war with the Soviets?

Mr. Pardoe has sifted through Civil Defense and Department of Defense information to carry out the impact of nuclear conflict with the Soviets as a result of an invasion. He covers the potential nuclear trigger points and, using a simulation from only a month prior to the crisis, recreates what the potential impact might have been on the United States – city by city.

Blaine Pardoe is an award winning author of numerous books in the science fiction, military non-fiction, true crime, paranormal, and business management genres.  He has appeared on a number of national television and radio shows to speak about his books.  Pardoe has been a featured speaker at the US National Archives, the United States Navy Museum, and the New York Military Affairs Symposium. He was awarded the State History Award in 2011 by the Historical Society of Michigan, and is a two-time silver medal winner from the Military Writers Society of America in 2010 and 2013.

In 2013 Mr. Pardoe won the Harriet Quimby Award from the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame for his contributions to aviation history. Mr. Pardoe is also a board member of the League of WWI Aviation Historians.

His works have been printed in six languages, and he is recognized world-wide for his historical and fiction writing.

15 June 2014

Malady Part 2: The Allied Ordnance Factory

Allied Artillery: The Royal Ordnance Factory in Action

Seems that the cooler weather here in NZ has caused most gamers to have some introspection, or is that inspection of the into pile of shame. That lead and/or plastic pile that has not been touched, or that games system that you no longer play...

It is also a about balance and avoiding the avarice. (Pontificates the King of Avaricious collectors)
Stilling that magpie in us that wants to collect them shiny toys! I suspect I have not only a single magpie, but a whole colony!

Balance ! That's it boys! So this weekend I got stuck into my 1:1 earthworks project, rather than paint and model (too much)



Looking a bit like Rommel's west wall and hemmbalken to capsize Allied Higgins boats, my retaining walls start to take shape, Call them Herman's asparagus if you wish, but the posts are concreted in...

Rather satisfying, and now we have to wait for the concrete around the piles to set. So thoughts turn to a soak in a hot tub, and to the Royal Ordnance Factory:


Three Matadors with 3.3 inch guns bought off Trademe, and four in the process of being built


"Dead Ants" Matadors, glue drying and awaiting their wheels, as are two of the guns,all  freshly assembled.

And 2 QF 17 pounders to add to the existing battery to make 4. 
Surprisingly hard to come by these OOP models.


And my 105 mm medium howitzers


..and 2 Long Tom What the $@&?!s. 
Survivors from my childhood. Probably fictitious Chimera guns with little historical accuracy. 
Useful  in a pinch, as no-one can really accurately identify these horrors!  


QT 25 pounders

 

6 pounder AT guns. Nice little quick to fire devils!


And as I have no Allied AA apart from a single half-track mounted GMC and 2 Russian 37 AA guns, the Royal Ordnance Factory has now been instructed to build those 40 mm Bofors guns and tractors that have been lurking in that pile o' plastic for a while...





11 June 2014

Let the Cannon Speak !

Artillery galore! Project "Let the Guns Speak"

(or Get your artillery finished! -  Written before my Bagration photos)

I built quite number of artillery pieces for the D Day landing scenario we played a few weeks ago. Did not have time to get everything based, so I have been beavering away at these. Also have quite a few that were un-built or part built from the Kursk battle last year. Artillery crew needing painting and basing too.

Bases built and some flocked, in my current habitual autumn colour scheme, and allowing some snow for the Russki's. I obtained a number of JB Post-war 105mm Howitzers at bargain basement price, so I decided to bend time a bit, and employ these as medium artillery during WW2. Would also be useful for post-war / Korea / Cold war scenarios. I had purchased a Korean war set off Trade Me some time ago, and have some Persing Tanks that would do just fine for a Korea Battle. All to often that is a forgotten war, overshadowed by WW 2 and Vietnam.

So on my workbench now we have:

Russians:
5x Zis 3 guns (Italeri); to make a total battery of 11 when added to the fully built ones. - done



Italeri's Zis Gun and Crew (Photo WW2 Plastic Soldiers)

The box always brings a smile to my face. The Crew are called "Servants" - good old google translate!


4x M 30 122mm Howitzers  (Zvezda) - done
2 x 37mm Antitank Guns (Zvezda); battery of 4 - done
2 x 37 mm AA Guns (Zvezda) - pending

Western Allies:
2 x 17 Pounder Antitank guns, another 2 on the way off TradeMe (NZ Ebay equivalent) (Matchbox, me thinks) - base-coated



This kit has become quite hard to come by. 


7 x 25 Pounder Guns (Airfix and Matchbox) - done
7 x 6 Pounder antitank guns (Airfix) - done
2 x Bofors AA Guns (Airfix) - 1 done, one built
Un-built: 3 more Bofors, - all built
5 x 5.5 inch Field guns w Matadors - guns built, base-coated, Matadors 2 halfway built, 3 base-coated; (Another 2 models are in the post as I write) Tractors for the Bofors guns halfway through building process: Still need loading trays and wheels

Germans: 2 x LeFH 18s (Armourfast) Only to be based, the portly crews to be based and painted




Portly Armourfast German Artillery officers. Obviously life was good for them in occupied Europe
They would have lost that tube around the middle quite rapidly in a Soviet PoW Work Camp
Photo Plastic Soldier review

2 x Nebelwerfer (Hasegawa) 1x Pak 40 (Matchbox)

Quite handy: Many of the artillery pieces come with tractors and limbers, all of which have many other uses

As usual I have been side-tracked to research the history...

The Zis-3:


76 mm Divisional field gun model 1942 (Zis-3)

The design work on the ZiS-3 started in the end of 1940 at the  the Artillery Factory No. 92 under supervision of V. G. Grabin, the chief designer of medium caliber Soviet guns. There was no order for this work; moreover, at this time the attitude toward such development programs on the part of artillery commanders, such as Marshal Kulik, the head officer of Soviet artillery, was extremely negative. So the project was run purely on the initiative of Grabin, his design bureau and the Artillery Factory No. 92 head and his deputies. None of them informed state authorities (i.e. Marshal Kulik) about the ZiS-3 project.

It was a combination of the light carriage from the 57 mm ZiS-2 anti-tank gun and a powerful 76.2 mm barrel from the previous divisional field gun F-22 USV. In order to decrease the gun's recoil a muzzle brake was installed. This allowed the barrel to be mounted on a relatively light carriage without the risk of mechanical damage when firing. In comparison with the F-22USV gun, the ZiS-3 utilized better production technology. Many parts of the gun were cast, stamped or welded in order to reduce the amount of machining work. As a result, the amount of work required to construct a single ZiS-3 gun was three times less than that of the F-22 USV gun, and the cost only two thirds that of an F-22 USV.

The first ZiS-3 gun was hidden from the watchful eyes of state authorities, who continued to ignore the Red Army's need for light and medium field guns. The  main argument was that German heavy tanks carried exceptionally strong armour. Germany did not have such tanks in early 1941 and this misinformation was actually the result of successful Nazi propaganda. Kulik had believed the propaganda and stopped production of light 45 mm anti-tank guns and 76.2 mm divisional field guns.


The beginning of Operation Barbarossa showed that the early German tanks had weaker armour than anticipated. Some were even vulnerable to large caliber DShK machine guns. Pre-war models of 76 mm divisional guns penetrated German vehicles with ease, but almost all these guns were lost or destroyed.

Some were later used against Soviet forces as Panzerj√§ger self-propelled guns, built on captured or obsolete chassis.  Kulik ordered that mass production of 76.2 mm divisional field F-22 USV guns be relaunched. Grabin and the head staff of Artillery Factory No. 92 decided to organize the mass production of ZiS-3 guns instead of F-22 USVs. They succeeded, but ZiS-3 was not officially tested and adopted for Red Army service.

The Red Army was in urgent need of these guns, the guns themselves were fine and numerous due to improved production technology, but all of them were held  in stock at Artillery Factory No. 92, since the military representatives refused to receive non-official guns. After some internal struggle between Grabin's team and military representatives, ZiS-3 guns were finally transferred to the Red Army under personal responsibility of Grabin and Artillery Factory No. 92 head staff.


Combat experience showed the superiority of ZiS-3 over all other types of divisional level field guns. This allowed the ZiS-3 to be presented to a group of state authorities headed by Joseph Stalin and thus obtain all needed approval. After the demonstration was over Stalin said: "This gun is a masterpiece of artillery systems design." There was a five-day official state test run in February 1942. The result of this test was quite clear - ZiS-3 was adopted by the Red Army as Divisional field gun model 1942 .

Grabin and his team soon begun to improve on the technology used in the ZiS-3 mass production. Artillery Factory No. 92 was equipped by conveyor assembly lines, which allowed the factory to produce ZiS-3 in even greater numbers. The young men who worked on Artillery Factory No. 92 were exempt from conscription. By the end of World War II, ZiS-3 was the most numerous Soviet Army field gun. The total number of ZiS-3s produced exceeded 103,000 pieces. The Finns captured 12 units, and designated them 76 K 42.

After the war ZiS-3 mass production ceased. It was replaced by the next model of divisional field gun, D-44, which had a larger caliber (85 mm) and better anti-armour capabilities. But it weighed much more and its mobility was thus inferior to that of the ZiS-3.



Combat history
Soviet soldiers liked ZiS-3 guns for their extreme reliability, durability, and accuracy. It was easy to maintain these guns and train novice crews with them. Light carriage allowed the ZiS-3 to be towed by trucks and heavy jeeps (such as the American lend-leased Dodge 3/4) or even hauled by the crew.

ZiS-3 had good anti-armour capabilities, it could knock out any German light and medium tank with its armour-piercing round. The appearance of the Tiger I and later the Panther, however, made the lives of ZiS-3 crews much harder, for their frontal armour was immune except for some small ballistic windows.

A battery of ZiS-3 consisted of four guns, with three batteries combined into a division, or battalion. Independent anti-tank regiments consisted of six batteries with no divisions. In addition to the gun batteries there was a staff battery which included a fire control section.

The ZiS-3 saw combat service with North Korean forces during the Korean War (1950-1953).

During the Cold War many ZiS-3s were transferred to different Soviet allies, and often resold to Third World countries. Armies of several African and Asian countries still have ZiS-3s in active service today. Moreover, these guns are still used in combat during numerous local conflicts and border skirmishes.

All Soviet ZiS-3s were officially withdrawn from active service. Some of them were scrapped, some were transferred to holding facilities and others were converted to Great Patriotic War memorials. Such memorial cannons are quite common in modern Russia and Belarus. The Russian Army uses some ZiS-3s  as unit and barrack historical decoration in artillery units. Other surviving ZiS-3s are still operable. Sometimes ZiS-3s are used as salute guns or in re-enactment and military shows.

10 June 2014

The Extent of the Malady: Bagration and then some

The Obsession: Extent of the Wargames Malady Part 1

Surely every miniatures builder-painter-collector has to have an element of OCD.

Getting my Russian Troops ready for Operation Bagration also inspired me to document the extent of my malady: Why not photograph all of my armies ?

So here goes: Za Stalinha! : My 1943-44 Russian Army:

I have only photographed what is just about ready to roll out on the snow-covered steppe. No lend-lease vehicles or equipment either, only the hardware made in Mother Russia:


The River of Heroes, FoW book at the ready


Siberian Ski Troops and Guards Division Iosef Stalin IS 2 Heavy Tanks


Zis 3 Battery no.1 and Medium mortars 


IL-2 Sturmovik's Eye View of Soviet assault guns


The same Sturmovik taking a snap of Zis 3 Battery no 2 ... 


...and 122 mm Field Howitzers





And sweeping over the Tankovy: KV 1-Es, KV 2s and a single KV-85; 
T34s Obr 1941 (Stalingrad turret) and T34/76 Obr 1943s


The ungainly KV2s leading the way


T34/76 Obr 1943


T34 Obr 1941 w Stalingrad turren (I think)


Hastily applied whitewash Camo on two T34 Obr 1942 s and a T34/76


Pride of the Guard's Division: IS-2s


The heart of the Soviet assault: Strelkovy: The humble foot soldiers



Heavy mortars to beat the Hitlerites into submission


Medium Mortars too


Business end of the Medium 122 mm Field Howitzers



Cossacks on the warpath...

and dismounted


37 mm Antitank guns, and a commissar and standard bearer
(to enthuse those that may be slightly unwilling to fight for Mother Russia and Comrade Stalin)