Thursday, 31 October 2019

Book & figure review: Images of War Arnhem & 1/32 Arfix British Paratroops

This British para-themed combined review is the first of what I intend to be a series of posts. They will be a way of combining a relevant book review with presenting figures that have made it out the end of my slow and large painting production line (to which I regularly add more prep'd and/or undercoated figures!).

In most cases the subject will be Napoleonic, so will be presented on our other blog, but this first represents two completely different subjects from most posts by our group; WWII and 1/32 scale figures!

Firstly to the book.

Images of War: The Battle for Arnhem 1944-1945, by Anthony Tucker-Jones

The Battle of Arnhem and more broadly Operation Market Garden is an amazing tale that features heroism and determination in what became one of the greatest military blunders of the war. It was, at best a poorly planned and ill-conceived attempt by overly confident allied high command, particularly Montgomery, to end the war by the Christmas of 1944.

The bold yet flawed plan featuring consecutive attacks by airborne troops to secure three bridges and the headlong rush of XXX Corps to relieve them was doomed from the start. The fact that it was even close to being successful, despite the lack of sufficient transport planes and gliders for a single drop at all locations, the often-stalled drive of XXX Corps down ‘hell’s highway’, the ‘surprise’ presence of quality German defenders who mounted bold counter-attacks, the damage to many of the British paras’ jeeps on landing, ineffective combat radios, the capture of the drop zone near Arnhem by the Germans and of the allied plan for the operation in a crashed glider—to list but a few—is testament to the heroics of the troops.

There were many such events. The courageous crossing of the Waal river at Nijmegen (and the failed demolition of the Nijmegen bridge by its defenders), the bold river crossing by the Polish brigade in an attempt to provide relief/support the dogged defence of the Oosterbeek pocket and the tenacious, to the last-stand in an attempt to hold the position around the Arnhem bridge are particular standouts.

As Tucker-Jones points out in his introduction, it was the publication of Cornelius Ryan’s book “A Bridge Too Far” and its subsequent release as a film that increased knowledge and interest in the operation amongst historians and history buffs, himself included. In keeping with the ‘Images of War’ series, Tucker-Jones’ book is a re-telling of the key aspects of Market Garden combined with stunning, poignant occasionally funny and often moving pictures.

Two photographs showing the troubles for XXX Corps' armour. Destroyed Shermans have been pushed to the side to enable the column to continue its progress.

The photographs are the stars of this book. There are 129 in total, all in black and white and all from the author’s collection. They were taken by 1st Airborne’s photographers, those with German troops and with XXX Corps. They are an amazing collection of images of men, machinery, guns, casualties, prisoners, key features, destruction and officers and generals. Each is reproduced clearly and includes a detailed caption.

 Images such as this provide useful and interesting details for wargamers.

The nine chapters of text describe the chronological events. Tucker-Jones’ writing is clear and easy to read. He includes several quotes from key participants that add further detail and perspective about the tale. As an example, this one from Horrocks (commander of XXX Corps), from his memoirs, is particularly telling:
Even if the 2nd German SS Panzer Corps had not been in a position to intervene so rapidly, and if we had succeeded in getting right through to the Zuider-Zee, could we have kept our long lines of communication open? I very much doubt it. In which case, instead of 30th Corps fighting to relieve the 1st British Airborne Division, it would have been a case of the remainder of the 2nd Army struggling desperately to relieve 30th Corps cut off by the Germans north of Arnhem. Maybe in the long run we were lucky.
Each chapter begins with a map of the area relevant to the subject matter, featuring locations and indicating the key actions described in the text.

An example of the maps that are included at the start of each chapter.

Like a good scientific paper, the images and text are mutually exclusive yet support one another. The book may be understood solely by reading the text or, alternatively, by looking at the photos and reading the captions. Together, the two combine to provide the reader with greater detail, perspective and clarity.

The book concludes with a brief, 1 1/2 page piece entitled ‘Movie controversy’. Tucker-Jones points out the use of incorrect vehicles—something that is a fault in just about every film about the war that I can think of, but most of this section is devoted to the furore around Dirk Bogarde’s portrayal of General Browning. He does not draw a conclusion about this, but presents the complaints that were made, particularly from Browning’s family and Bogade’s responses.

All in all this is a most useful and interesting book. The combination of easy reading and well-captioned photographs that reward closer inspection will ensure that it is one that I will be leafing through often.

The photographs reward detailed inspection. This one of the Arnhem bridge provides much information for representing it on the tabletop.

Since 'A Bridge Too Far', the battle for the bridges has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries and popular subject matter for the wargaming table. This leads us to the figure part of this combined review.

1/32 Airfix British Paratroops

I have a strong, nostalgic attachment to my little collection of 1/32 figures, which were some of my favourite toys as a boy. I recall on several occasions getting them all out and doing some impression of D-Day or such, complete with Russians, Japanese, Eighth Army, Afrika Korps and Aussies! Often this was initiated by viewing something such as 'The Longest Day' on the TV.

The figures sat, occasionally admired, but unused for many years. My father, who had kept hold of them, 'presented' them to me in 2001 after one of his early clean-outs. They remained in the old suitcase in which he brought them and last year I moved it into my new wargaming shed/room. Looking at them this year I thought, "I must paint them one day. Actually, why not now?!" So, I added them to the painting production line mentioned above.

 In May, I added these figures, plus a few more, to the painting production line.

 I had the base coat completed by June, but then away more than home with work.

Back to the figures in October, and it was time for the black-wash. This included, for the first time, the 'secret' ingredient of 'One go' floor polish. An additive recommended by Mitch of the Serpentine Group to increase the viscosity of the wash and hence to get it to gather in the folds rather than smearing across the figure. It seems to have worked a treat. Also gives a bit of a sheen' to the figures!

By the end of the month they were based and ready for the final application of detail and 'highlights'.

The set contains seven poses: paras with sten gun and grenade, with bren gun, firing rifle, advancing with rifle at high port (bayonet attached), firing using a telescopic sight, radio operator and officer. The snipers, radio operators and officer are wearing the 'red' beret, while all other men have helmet with camouflage netting. All wear the camouflage smock with equipment on the outside. The figures are well-moulded with sharp detail and plenty of folds and texture to enable the use of highlights and washes. 

 Painting completed and ready for varnishing and 'Plastidip'.

 Getting up too close, one can see the faults in my painting. Ah well!

I enjoyed painting these figures and especially finally having them in this state after some 40-odd years.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

White Tunis 31 BC - same outcome, different narrative

What we are told about this battle by Didorus Siculus is that the Carthaginians decided to fight in a relatively narrow pass, forcing them into double line. If true, given their numerical superiority, this would have been a decidedly unusual strategy, to say the least. They would surely not have been unaware of the legendary achievements of Leonidas' Spartans at Thermopylae, for one thing, and secondly, the terrain in the general vicinity would not necessarily demand such a sacrifice of their advantage.

We gave them every chance, the armies were not so vastly different in size. The Greeks: -

The Carthaginians:

And how both sides looked on the table, Greeks on the right. The Carthaginian strategy of strength on their own right is obvious. As Hanno I wondered if I ought not to be even more bold and place yet more troops on my right, but then the risk would be that the forces under Archagathus would outflank my dear friend and comrade-in-arms, Bomilcar.

As the armies advanced, the narrowness of the available frontage was already beginning to play on my mind. Initially, the chariot skirmishes were relatively indecisive on the Carthaginian right, and even that was something of a disappointment.

I retained high hopes, however, for my Numidian cavalry, where I had a superiority. If I could just get around the back of the hoplite phalanx, there might be a good chance of victory.

Rolling for initiative for Bomilcar brought only heartbreak, however, as his double one send him down to the very bottom of the league of generalship - only Agothocles' repeat of the same roll provided any comfort, although he was still adequately competent, which could certainly not be said of my comrade-in-arms, who was facing adverse odds: just look at that Cyrenian infantry moving up to support their chariots in the picture below.

As is the way with battles, especially ancients battles, the auxiliary forces' engagement seemed to go this way and that, with casualties on both sides, and nothing much decisive. I was beginning to wonder, as Hanno, whether nightfall might come (at the end of Move 10) before the Greek phalanx actually got into action. Indeed, delaying tactics were pretty much the sum total of my objectives. But the truth was, as the shot below of the Carthaginian right at the end of even Move 5 shows, that the winnowing out was moving inexorably in favour of the Greeks. There seemed little chance now that my depleted force of Numidian horsemen would actually make it to the rear of the Greek line.

There was worse news from the other flank, where on Move 7 the combined arms assault of Archagathus tore into my dear colleague Bomilar's depleted flank. The result was never really in doubt.

Agothocles spent one more move hesitating, but as the sun began to go down he recognised that victory lay in his grasp if was prepared to be bold, and my last hope was extinguished. A double move disordered much of his phalanx on the charge, but put him now perilously close to my line. How impressive it looks, as if it could envelop the hoplites at both ends. But the relative weakness of the troops is sufficient, in Impetus, to make the difference - as it should.

Left with little option, I charged myself, with further disorder, to my own men this time. The final clash of arms was upon us. Only Baal could save us now, I thought to myself. For Bomilcar certainly would not.

The Sacred Band were unimpressive, although some units fought bravely alongside them. The Carthaginian line began to crack, the photo below showing the North African evening sunlight picking out our units streaming from the field.

The following move, 10, it was all over: the Carthaginian army routed, and the strategically placed remaining chariots on the Greek right were in an ideal position to turn a rout into a massacre. Had Agothocles been able to fly, he would have seen his foe in flight across the entire field.

A magnificent Greek victory, exactly as historically. A wonderful day's wargaming - many thanks to Mark as usual for painting so many beautiful troops. Impetus 1 served the purpose perfectly well, and certainly seems to me a considerable improvement over WRG 7, which is what I used when I last played ancients a generation ago.

A lingering doubt remained for us over this question of the narrow frontage. Eventually, the Carthaginians were able to tell the story from their own standpoint. Blaming the terrain and the commanders was surely easier than blaming the inferiority of their own soldiers. Wargaming sometimes leads to a different perspective on the history. Though as Hanno I did no better than historically. White Tunis, a good place for Carthaginians to die.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Fire and Fury in the Kentucky Heartland

For our second ACW battle, and after Mark's usual superb painting on an industrial scale had added substantially to my original purchases, the ANF ventured a step up, to a Corps level encounter, the Battle of Perryville. Historically, a gallant, outnumbered Union force under Major-General McCook delayed the Rebel advance, with heavy casualties on both sides, until his opponent, the Rebel General Bragg, realised that he would be facing the entire Union army if he stayed where he was, and wisely withdrew. No mean feat, for as a result Kentucky was retained for the Union, so I was under considerable pressure to do at least as well - readers will have gleaned by now that you are likely to read an account from a Union perspective if I'm writing it. We used a scenario Mark adapted from one in Practical Wargaming in 1996, designed for Johnny Reb rules but easily adapted for Fire and Fury 1st edition. Wargaming's own history has now become a fertile source for research.

It's a cluttered battlefield. Cornfields, woods, and hills. For simplicity's sake we didn't place the roads, but it was all looking quite difficult enough for everyone by the time everything was laid out and the long Union line was deployed. My judgement was that Brigadier-General Terrill's men were way out of place, in advance on the Union left. By accidental misjudgement, the 80th Indiana had found their way into his brigade instead of lining up along the stone wall with the rest of Colonel Webster's brigade, a mistake that was to have serious consequences. 

The view from the Union line at the opening of the battle

As McCook, I formulated a grand plan, which was to allow Brigadier-General Terrill to fall back, get Brigadier-General Jackson to command Colonel Starkweather's seasoned men personally, and eventually to attack the Rebels on their flank when they made their predicted assault on the hill. Given the numerical superiority the Rebels enjoyed, and the importance of holding that hill in the centre of my position, there seemed little alternative to a counter-attack.

At first, things went really well for the Union. Appalling die rolls kept some Rebel brigades from advancing at all, leaving Brigadier-General Donelson's green men to climb through the high corn on their own.

The loneliness of the long-distance assault

General Terrill refused to retire, however, and instead used his numerical superiority to begin a prolonged, and ultimately highly successful, series of melées against Brigadier-General Maney's men, who were initially unsupported by a battery.

Overview of the Union left and centre - Peters Hill off to the left out of view

General Bragg's infuriation with his slow-moving brigades led to a piecemeal attack rather than the co-ordinated blow he had intended to inflict. 

Donelson's brigade was especially exposed in the centre.

Half-way through the battle, and General Bragg was feeling the heat. The Union command began to have a glimmer of hope that they would be saved by the fall of night, and still yet be able to cling onto their line, both at the stone wall and on the hilltop. But it was not to be. Finally, the Rebel infantry reached Colonel Lytle's men, and began their inevitable assault, assisted by now by a considerable superiority in artillery. 

The Union line under assault - a view from the South-West 

In a dramatic manoeuvre to pincer Cleburne's 2nd brigade, Webster's men charged their front, whilst at the same time Starkweather's brigade, having pushed back Johnson's 3rd brigade, about faced and crashed into their rear. Unfortunately, Starkweather's men were too far to the North-East when they launched their charge, and Cleburne slipped back through the gap. It saved the stone wall position, at least. And it gave me a magnificent feeling of place and participation: it is not often a plan like this comes to fruition in a wargame, albeit that I had envisaged a flank attack, not an about-face.

Before the Manoeuvre: Brigadier-General Jackson in the centre of the photograph looking earnestly at the rear of the Confederate line, before giving the call to about face and charge.

After the Union manoeuvre: interpenetration of Webster and Starkweather's brigades at the wall, and Rebels in retreat

Unfortunately, like so many excellent theoretical plans, it was quite insufficient to win the battle. For meanwhile it had finally all proved too much for the Union brigades holding the hill. The dispatch of Colonel Starkweather's brigade to the left flank, whilst it had brought limited success, came too late to prevent the loss of the central hill and the collapse of the staunch defence put up by Colonel Harris' brigade, which fled the field. Colonel Lytle's men had stood firm, but were now outnumbered 4:1, in evident danger of being outflanked and destroyed in detail, and had to retire.It was small comfort that over on the left flank, Terrill's men had had a great day, with Maney's brigade finally disintegrating. The inadvertent error of stationing the 80th Indiana with him had led to serious consequences: if they had been where they were supposed to have been, the envelopment of Cleburne would have been much more likely. Swings and roundabouts. 

Not how it was supposed to be: McCook stares at a sea of grey in front of him and a sea of blue behind him, and prepares to ride to save his own skin

We judged the battle a draw, after a very hard-fought action indeed, which was close to the historical result [...]. Overall Confederate casualties were a little higher than the Union, somewhat over 3,600 [3,396] compared to 3,000 [4,241], largely because of their failure to attack in a co-ordinated way in the centre early on, and some very unlucky die rolls at shooting as well - Union forces consistently outshot their opponents, even having to fall back to replenish ammunition on several occasions (a roll of 10 on the decimal die when firing). But these casualties were extremely close to their historical equivalents given the better luck on the day that the Union enjoyed compared to history, and reflected, I like to think, great competence shown by the brigade and divisional commanders as well. 

One of the many great things about the unmistakably ACW feel of Fire and Fury is the way an independent character quickly forms around the brigade commanders, as a result of their die rolls, which in turn enables an assessment of the divisional commanders as well. They come alive as personalities on the table. Of course as Major-General McCook I shall express my great thanks to my own commander, Major-General Buell, to the President, and of course to God. As for the Rebels, as historically, they were nowhere to be seen in the morning....

Sunday, 16 June 2019

The 17th May 1742, exactly as it was historically, only the complete reverse

The Battle of Chotusitz, the second, large battle of the War of Austrian Succession (First Silesian War) was the 'subject' of our most recent game set in the mid-18thC (aka 'Mark's period'). Fitting then that his newly 'rediscovered' (i.e. cleaned out) shed was venue for the game that he planned using information from Jeff Berry's marvellous 'Obscure Battles' blog and single-handedly staged using his now extensive Prussian and Austrian armies and his/our version of Zimmermann's 'Wargames Handbook'.

The historical action, began as an encounter battle in which Prince Charles Lorraine of Austria saw an opportunity to attack with his army of around 25 000 and destroy Prince Leopold's isolated advance guard of around 12 000.

 Leopold's command, with a 'sea' of white in the distance.

 Not bad odds; if you are Austrian.

 Cavalry on the Austrian left/Prussian right.

The Austrians began with my favourite, subtle tactic, 'advance everywhere'. I advanced my infantry slightly, so as not to be pushed from the board.

On the Prussian right, I pushed the cuirassiers forward slightly as I had a 'cunning plan'.

 Good news for we Prussians as the lead elements of the heavy cav. arrived on the left.

 Jeetze's infantry awaited the arrival of the white horde.

The following events left me feeling pretty happy with things at this early stage.

Waldow's lead 7th cuirassiers managed to deploy, with the 12th behind. Still outnumbered, but at least not in road column.

A sneaking unit of infantry loaned a hand, unseating some of the Austrian heavies who opposed Waldow's men.

Ha ha! My cunning plan. Prussian heavies on the right charged the Austrians, ensuring the advantage of the charge impetus not afforded to their foes. 
The Zimmermann rules operate in two 'cycles' in which the first player moves half distance, second then follows, any artillery/musket fire occurs, then second player moves second half, followed by the first and any mêlées are conducted. Troops that did not move in the first cycle may conduct a full charge move. This is what I did with my cuirassiers, fortunately getting the '2' to '3' on the die required for each of the three right-most units in photo. The Austrians did their part and 3/4 units failed to loose their carbines effectively.

Four mêlées in which we had the advantage, surely it should go pretty well?

What the phuck?! Apologies dear reader, but I was astonished and full of 'blue' language as 3/4 mêlées were lost, two Prussian units retreated in disorder, two standards lost, to one captured, while the only defeated Austrian unit retreated in order. So much for the cunning plan...

This was repeated on the left, admittedly where the Prussians had the lower odds thanks to the failure of the 12th cuirassiers to assist their fellows. This also left them (the 12th) 'stuck' in place (and effectively blocking the bridge, at the crossing of the creek).

At least the first exchange of volleys had not gone too badly for our 'boys in blue'. We had, however, taken more casualties where we needed to inflict more.

Back on the right, I sent the 3rd dragoons against the nearest Austrians (dragoons). Needed a '2' or better. Rolled '1'. Oh dear, that left them ripe to be charged in the next turn.

At this point the Austrians were, rightly, feeling pretty chuffed with the situation.

Then, the greatest captain of his age sprung his trap. On he came with the main Prussian infantry. Look at all those lovely grenadiers. Wvenge, wvenge, time for me to have some fun! In a turn or two we'd be smashing through that Austrian centre, I thought.

Not again? On the left, the 5th cuirassiers (heavily disguised) at full strength, charged the formerly victorious, now somewhat undermanned Austrians, who were unable to get the impetus bonus. I have to stop rolling '5's in mélée (two dice). Even though my opponents were only rolling '8's or '9's it was sufficient. More 'blue' language...

Perhaps a 'fit of pique'?
I figured that it was better for what remained of Jeetze's infantry to charge against the weakest Austrians rather than to stand and get 'blown' away or to withdrawal, since that would have left them ripe to be charged in the rear in the next turn.
It wasn't.

Another cavalry mêlée on the right. Combat factors around 70 to 60, so we were behind, but it only needed a few 'pips' more on the dice to win.
 Nah. *And* Buddenbrock was captured.

Of all things, it was a unit of pesky hussars that victoriously charged into the rear of the beaten Prussian cuirassiers. They panicked, as did three of their mates.
The language was bluer than a West Australian summer sky!

In what was to be the final act of the day, most of the cavalry on the left decided to withdraw along with the defeated 5th cuirassiers. Basically putting them back to the starting positions.

With only one unit of Leopold's (Jeetze's) infantry still on the board and five cavalry units gone, the Prussian losses required an army withdrawal test at over 1/4 losses. There is a 2/3 chance to pass. I rolled a '2'. Game over.

While basically decided by the die roll, it would have been a sensible decision for Frederick, as the photos below demonstrate. Leopold's command was shattered. In a repeat of the historical Mollwitz, the Prussian heavy cavalry had performed dismally. By withdrawing, Frederick could fight another day, keep his developing name intact, while laying the blame at the feet of Leopold.

The game statistics add weight to the sense of the die in this decision.

Captured two flags, lost 158 figures.
Victory points 8

Captured four flags, captured General Buddenbrock and suffered 89 figure losses.
Victory points 19

So, the game lasted four turns (hours) and ended with one army withdrawing. As Mark quipped, " was exactly the same as the historical action, only the complete reverse"!

I don't usually like to blame the dice, so reflected on what I did wrong. Since it was the accumulated losses that were the Prussian undoing, I guess my mistake was to leave Jeetze's/Leopold's men under fire for too long. I should have manoeuvred to form two lines and enabled a withdrawal/exchange. This may well have worked as the Austrians would have taken too long to outflank the Prussians, perhaps...