Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Fiddling About: French Armour Organization

I like to make some attempt at organising my AFVs into believable units, although not completely authentic. For example, if a complete British tank squadron appears on the table, the proportions of A13s, A9s, A10s (and maybe even Scout Cars and Bren carriers) will be realistic enough for my purposes.

Most units up to squadron level had a mixture of AFVs: PzIs or PzIIs teamed up with PzIIIs or PzIVs or the Czech based tanks depending on the Panzer Division for the Germans; the French recce battalions drew from Panhards, Lafflys, H39s, P16 half tracks and AMR33 & 35s depending on availability. As I mostly recreate typical battles, reasonable justification is needed to use certain vehicle types within hypothetical units and I do not concern myself whether the 6th Panzer Division was actually in combat with 3rd Division Leger Mechanique.

Various sources can be summarized by looking at David Lehman's Tank Numbers treatise and Niehorster's OOBs.

Let's have a look at my French armour first:

Awaiting weathering & decals
3rd DLM: slight weighting towards Somua S35s although in reality had H39s in equal numbers (this simply because of the numbers of miniatures in my possession and have quite enough without buying more! Same reason why my gaming tank squadrons may have 3 troops instead of 4). H35s instead of H39s in 1st or 2nd DLM.
2nd & 3rd DCC: one with slightly more Char B1, the other with the proportions in favour of H39s
4th DCC: a mixture of D2s, B1s and R35s. Charles de Gaulle's unit.
Recconnaisance: I had bought all manner of armoured cars and so on. Compacting them into representative units gave me a recce unit from a DLM of AMR33s, S35s & P178s; one GRDI recce company of Laffly 50s and Schneider P16s and two of differing proprtions of Panhards & AMR35s.
503rd Groupement BCC: FCM36s & R35s.
Groupement Organique: R35s, R40s & FCM36s. This is really some 'penny packets' lumped together.
11th & 51st BCC: Char 2Cs & FT17s, although the 2Cs, due to their crew size, was a standalone unit, or would have been if it had got into action.
As a nod to the French 'tactic' of using their tanks in 'penny packets', any troop could easily be found on its own in a support role.
To view: left click, right click & 'view image' then click + to zoom in
Photos to follow once properly weathered and decals applied.
British, Belgian & German to be summarized shortly...

Monday, 30 July 2012

6mm Resin Buildings

Hamlet in white metal
on a terrain board
I cannot think of many wargaming bits & bobs I need all that badly, but I have a search set up on EBay just in case anything random pops up & takes my fancy. Some of the white metal buildings bought back in the 1980's (I forget where I got them, probably Heroics & Ros (pre-Seven Kings version) are fixed to terrain boards, as are some I made myself out of bits of old wood planed off to form a gabled roof, sans chimney stacks and architectural detailing. Some are still loose but all need sprucing up and a bit of detailing. I've seen a couple of not bad sets of unpainted buildings on EBay but nothing at the right price. I even thought of setting up my own cottage industry in a spare room, to the extent that I looked into the resin casting process!

Battle Miniatures

There are, of course, some top quality castings which are based on historically accurate structures but as you would expect, this is reflected in the price.

Then, on another blog, I discovered Leven Miniatures, which do a good range of quite unusual excellently detailed buildings. I daresay I will buy some £4 or £6 buildings eventually (like those pictured above) but priced at £1:50 or £2 for larger items, well-packed rapid delivery at cost and friendly customer support, the Leven scenics are great value.
Leven large mill

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Rules Tweak: FreeMove Turn Sequence

Had a rare moment of clarity on the way to work the other week and decided to have a go at developing a turn sequence with no subphases. In other words, no "Fire-Move-Fire-Move-Morale-Comms" etc.

I was always attracted to the simplicity and uniqueness of Arty Conliffe's tape-measure-free Crossfire game mechanic. If I have understood this correctly, initiative switches to the other player when or if an element fails in an attempted activity. For example, a player attempts a risky shot, fails and so play switches to his opponent. In this way, a player can keep control of the initiative as long as possible by executing the less dangerous tasks first. Also, elements can move from cover to cover, ad infinitum, should they escape detection and an effective countermeasure.

It is a beautifully revolutionary idea and although I haven't played a Crossfire game I can't work out how certain anomalies would work out. For instance, it would appear to me that an FT17 could be sent way out on the flanks and make it all they way round in one subphase, so long as it was not detected or successfully defended against. So an FT17 can effectively move just as fast as a Panhard 178.

I had been subdividing my Turn Sequence into small, specific subphases and arranging the firing order and certain activities into a strict and exacting order. This worked pretty well but I couldn't stop thinking about some kind of freer system with fewer restrictions where player choice might determine the sequence of play instead of a dice roll, card-based unit activation or rigid firing order.

My initial idea was to allow a player to execute any one (but only one) of the smallest of actions but then there has to be some sort of 'group move' otherwise an advancing line of units would get scattered all over the place. In Crossfire, initiative switches when one fails in an activity (shooting, rallying, etc) but if there is a close-range firefight there is a distinct possibility that all the elements of one side might successfully hit their targets to the detriment of game balance. By reversing the initiative switching to when an action is successful, a player can loose off all his risky shots and only loses the initiative when something goes right.

Holding up the advance

So I had an even smaller game than normal using this method and the section command rules mentioned in another post. It did work but next game I will use an initiative determination tweak I have just thought up.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Handy Hint: Painting Tyres

I may have mentioned this before but if, like me, you are a 'pretty average' model painter then you will probably have a lot of trouble getting similar-looking tyres on your vehicles. Should the Heroics & Ros order contain nearly 2 dozen Kfz69s or 70s, this is an especially effective cure for '6mil painting brain cave-in' syndrome. I tried using a fine marker pen to colour the windows on my old white metal buildings but the ink dried a very weird black with a not very subtle hint of bronze iridescence.

I forget who put me onto it but WH Smiths do a handy range of something called a Drawing Pen made by Pilot, from £3:00 to £3:49. Its a very resilient kind of fibre-tipped pen (so doesn't go fluffy & splay out) and uses 'pigment ink', whatever that is. In any case, it is waterproof when dry and does not run or bleed when a coating of matt varnish is applied and comes in a bunch of nib sizes. I have the very smallest, size 01, which I am thinking is OK for fine work like inking in windscreens and quarterlights but a larger size might be easier to use on 'big' areas like tyre walls.

I might give the lower surface of tyres a daubing of HU33 for scuffing prevention as the ink layer is very thin.

Rules Tweak: Armour Penetration

I am grateful to TTH on the WW2 Talk forum for his link to All Gun Penetration Data, a comprehensive list of WW2 AP data, as far as I can see. Certainly it amply covers the France 1940 period.

The datacharts show penetration for Rolled Homogenous Armour as well as Face Hardened Armour, which reminded me that that my AP combat charts in places uses a mixture of data. This was principally because I had only been able to find figures for German guns against RHA although there were a few other anomalies as well. The new information has enabled me to create a more level playing field for AP gun combat vs FHA only.

That just leaves me to have another look at the AP data for the 18 pounder and 75mm IG, as I came to the conclusion that the CS tank gun could be ruled out on the AP front as the only offensive round carried (if any!) was HE.

Logically, I suppose one day I will have to look into which tanks had RHA and which had FHA and on what part of the vehicle but hit plotting isn't something I intend to get involved in!

Plenty to keep me off the streets!
Meanwhile, back in the conservatory, there is a whole load of odds & sods to finish painting: foot figure faces, weapons & helmets and basing-up of these new strips and other figure group bases to flock, etc; minor detailing of 20-30 vehicles; completion of camo repainting on 20 -odd French tanks; and adding decals to a dozen aircraft.
After that, I will begin repainting another batch of tanks and tank unit identifiers, applying decals to tanks & vehicles and draping Swastika flags onto certain German AFVs & vehicles.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Pont Marais

After all the figure painting done recently, balance had to be restored by having a game. Plus I'd already said to Keith at Marquee Models in Harlow that I wasn't a gamer who had to have perfect and complete armies and never got them out of the box.

Start Positions
I fancied testing the new section level morale rules and also wanted to keep it small for a quick game, otherwise it invariably turns into a week long micromanagement session. Although it was going to be on a single 12" square board again I wanted a couple of river crossing points to stretch the British platoon a bit thin.

It was at this point the packet of cat litter gravel was unearthed because up 'til now the CO group has an officer figure, radio man & two foot soldiers and regular rifle groups have a variety of riflemen, troops with SMGs or in some cases, surplus standing gun crews to make the numbers up [there were no portable radios at the time, it's merely to recognise the CO group] With the introduction of some kind of NCO group, some of the regular rifle groups would have to have the Nikolas Lloyd boulder treatment, which is why some of the groups have a whitish grain of something on the base.

The Allies are deployed then a dice roll decides the German point of entry [in a solo game, you need lots of curveballs!] As the rest of the recce group bounces along the riverbank, one section debusses by the swampy ground and struggles through at walking pace [don't worry, the leader-designating rocks will be blended in by painting them a nice range of limestone buffs and slate greys]

The armoured cars reach the road, watched by Bren and Boys teams in the small pillbox.
"Ooer, meine damen!"
The beauty of the 1940 period is that armour cannot swan around willy-nilly, flattening all in its path without exposing itself to attack from infantry. Unfortunately for the armoured cars, the bridge must be secured immediately and with the loss of their CO, the rest fall back into the cover of a cornfield. Further back, a badly shot-up Opel Blitz disgorges its passengers way short of its objective [I was wondering how all that infantry got in 3 trucks and a Kubelwagen. Then I realised all my Kfz70s were still on the painting table...]

"Sorry, that's only a beech hedge..."
Sharpshooting on both sides of the river takes out another armoured car and forces the platoon 2" mortar atop the hill back over the crest. The Schutzen advance under cover of the field hedges.

Nothing wrong with anti-tank rifles in trained hands. Not in 1940 anyway.
Just as things are getting rather uncomfortable, the 'cavalry' arrives...on bicycles!

[I just use a pair of cyclists front and back of the platoon to denote indicate such troops]

Conference of COs

The motorised & cycle platoon COs get their heads together through a gap in the hedge.
Downriver from the marsh
I remembered after they had parted company that I should have coordinated the attacks or arranged a signal flare of some sort. Just as the Schutzen enter the marsh to back up their forward section, the cycle troops found the mines by the bridge.

Sneaking through the reeds, some very effective suppressing fire is put down onto the Tommies on the crest of the hill but similarly the enfilading fire of the pillbox Bren slows the Germans down.
Puffs of smoke for 'pinned down' work in a small game

Charge of the cycle platoon
Very few German elements gain the far side of the bridge unharmed but unfortunately, 'vorwarts' is the order of the day...
"Fork it!"
The turf around the Bren gun team on the crest overlooking the marsh is churned up by the suppressing fire.
Schutzen getting in position under the brow of the hill

The bridge crossing stumbles

Diving into a ditch, the cycle platoon CO motions his men to take cover. He is accompanied by a single MG34 team trapped in the shelter of the riverbank

Forming up

A moment of calm...
The British are forced back to the lane, watching the skyline for the enemy and hoping the 18pdr can repel any that attempt the bridge crossing...

After a firefight in the lane nearly wipes out both combatants the German cycle troops rush over the bridge for a dearly secured objective [I decided that the remaining British platoon CO, mortar, rifle group and 18 pounder gun could leave the scene having delayed the German advance, destroyed the armoured car troop and reduced two infantry platoons to less than one. A 'fight to the last man' often produces some surprisingly close-run outcomes but I drew a line under the proceedings after two whole evenings of micromanaged combat]
End of day

The tweaked command & morale rules for infantry sections worked well, didn't create any imbalances and activity felt more realistic without the restrictions of inflexible rules.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rule Tweak: Morale for Detachments

The Wargames Research Group rules that I used for many years insisted that the separation of elements of an infantry platoon should not exceed 50m. This forced the unit to remain together in what I think is a somewhat arbitrary 'footprint' and prevented the tasking of sections out to a flank or, for example, to spread itself 'too thin' defending a number of canal bridging points. I suppose the rules were after all designed for 'company level actions' and so such excursions were not part of the remit. In itself, the 50m separation of elements within a unit relying on voice and hand signals seem realistic enough to me (in fact, I have restricted it to 25m when the elements are in cover or drifting smoke).

Green tiddlywink markers: not that intrusive and a visual summary for a solo player

So how to manage this procedure? Having detached a section on a task which takes it beyond the normal comms separation distance, the morale of this subunit branches off with its own Morale Level. Although separated, parent unit and section do not neccesarily suffer directly as a result but the reduced numbers in each may make them vulnerable under certain circumstances.
Consider the detached section. It may well have an initial ML of 100 but as it only consists of three or four elements, the loss of one of them will reduce the Level by 25-30%, whereas loss of an element in a full compliment parent unit reduces morale typically by 7-11%. This replicates the possible vulnerability of sections split away from the main body. The parent unit, devoid of information regarding the detachment, does not suffer under these rules until the section rejoins it at the rendezvous point and any casualties are realised.

I would prefer to avoid whipping out a calculator when reuniting the two parts of the original unit but until I come up with a method, that will have to do. More mulling over ideas and insomnia, no doubt...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Rules Tweak: Infantry Sections

I was lying in bed a couple of hours before the dawn chorus, daydreaming about rule tweaks and what isn't working as well as I would like and concluded that I wasn't keen on keeping platoons of infantry clumped together for the sake of it. This was a really a throwback from the last set of published WW2 rules I ever used from WRG which stated that the maximum separation of foot elements and tanks with radios should be 50m & 200m respectively, or suffer dire morale consequences. I never got round to rewriting this properly, partly because I didn't want to track the morale for each infantry section, nor did I think three to five morale level markers for each platoon on the tabletop would look very good.

I could imagine a tank troop leader not wanting to disperse his armour over a wide area but infantry is frequently forced to cover a wider frontage than it cares to, for example, a platoon forced to defend a series of bridges and lock gates over a canal or one section sent way out for flank protection. So under my new rules when a section is sent out on a task and needs a morale check out there it gets an (initially) identical morale level to its parent unit and when it rejoins the main body the morale scores are averaged out.

Different platoons, different base designs
Infantry platoons are distinguished by their different base colours and flock types anyway; CO or NCO groups will now have and additional bit of terrain on the base. 'Rock' sounds dependable so a fragment of cat litter grit glued to the base as a boulder will aptly signify a leader of some sort. (See Nikolas Lloyd's basing ideas)
There will be enough CO & NCO types for the authentic number of sections in the platoon, so I won't be fussing over squads becoming jumbled up when the platoon is united but if there is a CO and three NCOs (be they sergeants, corporals or lance-corporals) then four sections can split away on individual tasks.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Painting Progress

It is with certain amount of relief that I can report that I am up to the 'snagging' painting stage of the current batch of miniatures (to which I added all the German infantry, CO and gun crew figures) except for the French armour repainting which all has only had a good base coat.

Accidental overpainting onto undersurfaces had to be corrected many times on different aircraft. Also slight splodging of Fairey Battle retracted wheels, Storch cockpit glazing behind wing struts and I am still not sure if the cockpit glazing bars on the Me109s and MS406s look thin enough. I have left the MS406 as a three colour camo scheme by dropping HU70 red brown to avoid it looking too 'busy'. The green, after all my deliberations, turned out a bit light and bright but close enough for my purposes and due to a last minute crisis of authenticity, painted out my original yellow cowls and rudders on the Ju87s, which I must've once thought looked better with the Eastern Front identifiers.

Need to pop out tomorrow to Phil's Models for a tin of blue Humbrol suitable for the MS406 tail fin markings but that done, will then have to decide on what decals look correct out of the various manufacturers I have.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Painting & Repainting New & Old Stuff

After baking gently for one hour at 28C whilst painting the wendy house interior and remembering some unpainted Renault R40 tanks, I decided to switch to a sensible and indoors activity.

Painting in the conservatory
Thing is, right, once the storage boxes where my figures are segregated in neat little semi-landscaped fields were opened up and the plasticky, painty aroma wafted up, my modelling juices started flowing again. And my endless fiddling with tank squadron organisation. And buying more stuff.

I noticed a few highlit 'wanted' oddments in my excel figure lists (P16 halftracks originally from Ian Armstrong, Renault 1916 armoured cars from Heroics' WW1 range for the Beglians to potter around in and various odd single figures needed to complete certain foot troop bases) and added some DFS230 gliders to enable a platoon (well, it's better than nothing!) to be landed on some unsuspecting clump of forts. I decided against buying the H&R actual German Paratroopers but did order another infantry pack for good measure. And some French, command packs, a few standing & kneeling guncrews (good for making up the numbers on engineering & artillery spotter groups). Definitely at the 'filling up the corners' stage now!

Hardly any of the aircraft bought yonks ago were painted so research was started on paint schemes for the Morane Saulnier and thanks to Za Rodinu at WW2 Talk I was directed to Urban's Colour Charts and introduced to the science of camouflage colours. A couple of trips to Marquee Models (support your local hobby store-it's only 10p extra for a Humbrol tin!) bagged me some shades of brown and blue-grey, close enough for my purposes without mixing 4 or 5 different colours.

The recommended tins for the schwarzgun & dunkelgrun German splinter camo are 91 and 116 or 30. With my eyes, 116 looked almost indistinguishable from 91 so 30 was used for a bit of extra contrast but think it is overlight so will probably go back to 116. There is no easy match for gris bleu clair on lower surfaces of French planes. Plumped for 87 first of all but may change to another shade.

So current work in progress is:
  • filing excess Araldite off Stuka wings & repainting
  • paint Fairey Battles#, Boulton-Paul Defiants, Me109s, Lysander, Fieseler Storch, Morane Saulnier 406s and DFS 230s
  • paint numerous BMW combos, Kfz69s & 70s and Horch Kfz15s
  • paint Renault R40s & repaint* Char Bs/Hotchkiss H39s
#These may well end up as Belgian, for a bit of equality
*All Char Bs, H39s & S35s were daubed an overall green of some description, at a time when I cared even less about authenticity. In time this will all be rectified somewhat, to something more wiggly & intricate